God Is The Boss

Sermon Text – 01.12.2019
[Romans 9]

          Is God in control of every single thing in our universe, or do human beings have free will? We are all gathered here today on a Sunday morning because we believe there is something out there. Some higher power, divine being that is out there. We want to know more about this thing that created us, that thing that’s out there that we call God. And so God gave us a book, a guide, a revelation of who and what he is – which we call the bible. Which is why we take is so seriously. This book one of the primary ways we can learn the truth about what’s out there. Theology is a word that means the study of God. Kinda like biology means the study of life. Ology means “Study of” and theo means God. Theology – study of God. Now, some of you might be thinking – that’s for bible nerds. Normal people don’t do theology. I just want Jesus. That’s why we have you, Pastor JJ – you do theology, I’ll just love Jesus. But the truth is that we all think something about God, we all do theology at some level. For some reason there’s been this tradition or habit of religious groups to try and make theology some fancy intellectual thing that only super-genius’s can understand. But at the core, theology is nothing more than what we think about God. It’s how we answer those really tricky questions like “Is God in control of everything in our universe, or do humans have free will?” Now, inside theology there are lots of subcategories – pieces of the study of God. And I always make fun of it, because religious leaders can’t help themselves – we just had to go and make up ridiculous complicated titles for every category. So I thought we’d start this morning with a little game. I’m going to read one of the ridiculous words and you guys are going to come up with your best guess as to what on earth it means. We’ll start with something easy: Pnuematology. (Study of the Holy Spirit). Alright let’s get a little tricky Eschatology. (study of the end times). Or here’s a really easy one Christology (study of Christ). [Can also do: Soteriology (study of salvation) Ecclesialogy (study of church relations) sacramentology (study of the sacraments).]

       Today is the start of a brand news sermon series called Road to Rome, Part III. As a church we have been reading through the entire book of Romans, in four chapter chunks, and now we’re into part 3, chapters nine through twelve. Now if you’ve been with us through the whole thing you know that Romans is basically like an introduction to Theology. It’s a letter written by a guy named Paul to the church in Rome, trying to explain the basics of Christianity. The first four chapters were all about God and the glory of God and how great God is. The next four chapters were all about humans, mostly about our brokenness and how not so great we are. So now, in part three we start to put the two together. How does an infinite, all powerful, perfect God interact with the finite, not-so-perfect humanity? How do we answer the tricky questions about God’s power and human free will? That’s what chapter nine is all about.

          So let’s dive right into the text. [read v.1-3]. Now, I’m already confused, but you can definitely pick up on the theme. He’s very upset about something. “Unceasing anguish” he says, and it has something to do with his people, the people of Israel. Verse 6 [read 6-8]. Again, it’s a little confusing – but I hope you can feel it as you read, there’s a lot of emotion in Paul’s statement – whatever he is saying is a big deal. So here’s what’s going on. For hundreds of years the Jewish people were God’s people. God was their God, and he protected them and watched over them and punished them and saved them and was always connected to the people of Israel. He is literally known as the God of Israel. So the Jewish people felt they had claim on God. He is OUR God. All you had to do was be born Jewish and you were part of the chosen people. That’s how it had always been. Jewish people are God’s people. But then this Jesus shows up, and he makes God’s love available to ALL people. He opens the doors. He expands the boundaries. He says, being Jewish is not the way, I am the way. Only through Jesus can we access God. It doesn’t matter what country you are from, it doesn’t matter what family you are born into – it only matters if you have Jesus in your life. So let’s read Paul’s words again, [read v.8]. It’s the children of the promise. It’s no longer about bloodlines and physical descent – it’s about the promise of salvation found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But here’s what you need to understand – this was outrageous to the Jewish people. It changes their system. It used to be: I was born Jewish, I do Jewish traditions and I’m set with God – that’s all I have to do. I can act any way I want, I’m a part of the chosen people. But Paul is changing the rules. Paul is shifting the dynamic – it’s not about family, it’s about your connection to Jesus. And Paul is a Jewish guy, he knows how upset they are going to be about this. Remember at the beginning of the chapter – I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. Basically, Paul is saying – “I know you’re not going to like this, but here’s the deal; the family of God is about to get a lot bigger. We are about to open the doors and let anyone who loves Jesus come right in.” The first ten verses of the chapter are basically Paul giving us one concept: Faith is greater than Works. Faith in Jesus is greater than any level of good deeds. We are saved, brought close to God, through faith alone.

       And Paul was right – the Jewish people did not like that! You might remember from before that Paul has this writing style where he anticipates their objections and then he responds to it. So the next ten verses are basically Paul dealing with the objections to the idea that faith is greater than works. Basically there’s two objections – and the first one is 1.) It’s not fair. Verse 14, [read v.14-16]. Have you ever had that question – “What shall we say? Is God unjust?” In this situation, that Paul is dealing with – they’re all mad because God changed the covenant. It used to be a relationship based on bloodlines, family and sacrifices – and now there’s a relationship to God based on a connection to Jesus, God’s son. Old covenant, New Covenant. And they are upset about it, but I think the bigger question echoes into our lives. I don’t know about you, but I don’t get that upset about God changing the old covenant with the people of Israel to the new Covenant – but I do ask the same question they asked. Is God unjust? Maybe we’re afraid to ask it, because it feels like we’re not supposed to. But really, what do we do in life when it seems like God is not being fair? Then he goes further, [read v.17-19]. I feel like I could spend a lot of time unpacking these objections that Paul puts there, but basically it boils down to humans objecting to the unfair relationship between God and his people. Seems like God is on a different level than humans. Seems like God is in control of this world, and it’s always about what he wants and that doesn’t seem fair to us – why isn’t it about what I want? You see we have this seed of pride in each of us – where we bristle at the idea that anything or anyone would tell us what to do. We don’t like the idea that anyone would have control over us, would Lord over us. We are, each of us, the center of our own little world. And today’s scriptures challenges that. The words of the bible push us to realize that no, we are not the center of the universe. Something else is. This world, this life – it’s not about us. Paul has this insane idea that God is God, and humans are humans. Now I’m being a little silly about it, but the truth is we don’t like that.
      Verse 20 has his response, [read v.20-21]. The key to understanding Paul’s response is to realize the difference between humans and God. There is a relationship between creator and created, and we have to remember which one is which. We are created. God is the creator. At the end of the day it’s not about our glory, it’s about God’s glory. Now I want to be careful here. Some people read this as “you should never question God” – but I don’t think that’s what it means. All throughout the bible there are moments of people asking God questions, crying out in injustice, seeking God’s mercy and favor. In your life when you are hurting, or you don’t understand something – it’s not wrong to cry out to God. It is good to cry out to God. It’s good to ask questions and seek answers. When you are going through the valleys of life, and you’re feeling beat up by the world it is a good thing to tell God how you feel. To ask him to set you free from your struggles is beautiful. Take a stroll through the book of Psalms and you’ll see what I mean. The problem comes when we judge God’s response. When we tell God, “I don’t like your answer, it’s not good enough for me” and we try to make ourselves the center of the universe. Our position in the world as the created means that we cannot judge the creator.
      So then Paul does a really strange thing, he uses a hypothetical in verse 22. Both verse 22 and 23 start with, “What if” – What if God chooses to do this? Or What if God chooses to do that? Who are we, as created, to argue with the creator? Hypothetically if God wanted to make a rule that says every Tuesday you have to eat Tacos – who are we to argue? Now remember, he’s talking to Jewish people about the new covenant that includes everyone and not just Jewish people. He says [read v.23-24]. Basically Paul is saying if God wants to include people that are not just Jewish – who are we to argue with God? If God wants to exclude some Jewish people because they’re not living by faith – who are we to argue with God? If God wants to move from old covenant to new covenant – move from a system of works and sacrifices to connection based on faith in Jesus – who are we to argue with God? Then Paul uses some quotes from Hosea and Isaiah to prove his point and he wraps up at the end of the chapter with this. He starts out with a summary, so let me get this straight [Read v.30]. Wait a minute, you’re saying that Gentiles, ie non-Jewish people, who don’t follow our rules receive God’s love because they have faith in Jesus? And then he keeps going [read v.31]. But the people of Israel, who follow the rules do not connect to God? Is that what you’re saying? Then verse 32 Paul says, “uh, yeah! That’s exactly right.” We pursue God by faith and not by works. By a relationship with Jesus we are connected to God, not by any list of good deeds. When Jesus showed up, God reshaped the story. He reframed the family – we are united, not because we’re perfect rule followers, but because we all love Jesus. It doesn’t matter your background, your past, your mistakes, your blood family – because Jesus shed his blood for you – God welcomes you.


     The good news this morning is that we are not equal to God. God created us, and so we are the created. Now, on the one hand – we don’t like that. We don’t like to be honest about the fact that we are not the center of the universe. J. Vernon McGee once said, “This is God’s universe, and God does things His way. You may have a better way, but you don’t have a universe!” We are not equal to God. God created us, and so he’s the boss. He gets to decide how the universe is crafted.  Now, at first that seems restrictive. It seems like God is the father to a teenager, and we are the teenager and we just want to have fun, and God wants to ruin it with his rules.


And I was trying to figure out how to express that God being in control, that God being our loving Father is a good thing – and then I turned on the news. Well, I’m a millennial – so we don’t “turn on the news” but I opened my phone. And I saw terrorism, and retaliation, I saw bombs and threats. I saw people afraid that war was coming, I saw people hopeful that it still will come. I saw starvation and abuse. I saw murder in the Genesee county news. I saw new Protocols for the UMC and lots of articles falsely claiming that we had already split as a denomination. It’s been a rough couple of weeks. And then I read a quote from a famous preacher named Charles Spurgeon, where he said, “There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that sovereignty overrules them, and that sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children ought to more earnestly contend to than the doctrine of their Master over all creation – the Kingship of God over all the works of His own hands – the Throne of God and His right to sit upon that throne…for it is God upon the Throne whom we trust.” 


See what I want you to realize this morning is that the idea that God is in control of everything might be annoying and inconvenient when we want to do something God tells us not to, or we don’t want to do something but God tells us we have to – but in the valleys, in the dark places of life suddenly we are glad that God is in control. Spurgeon says in the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials – if we remember that God is in control – we know that his goodness can wash over our pain and redeem it. No matter how far down we go, God can bring us hope. The promise of redemption is trustworthy because God is in control. We should want God to sit on the throne, we want God in control, because that God who sits on the throne is the one we trust.

The Good news is that God is the creator and we are not. The good news is that God is in control – and so our response is to trust the one who is in control. My son Amos is turning into quite a firecracker. He’s so happy and energetic and he’s always chasing after his big brother, wants to do everything Liam does. And he’s pretty solid on his feet, but sometimes Liam will climb up on something or jump off of something and Amos is not ready for that – but he’ll try. And sometimes he falls and hurts himself. The other day he was standing up on a chair, which he is not allowed to do, and I was coming towards him to catch him, but I wasn’t fast enough. He fell. It was like a crazy flipping tumble that terrified me as a parent. And he wasn’t hurt, but it was really scary for him to fall. He was so freaked out. And there’s nothing to do about it. So I just wrapped him up in my arms and squeezed him tight until the tears stop. And I know that it’s an overused metaphor, but seriously – that’s what I want in life. When the world gets scary and hope flickers, and feels like it might disappear – I’m so grateful for a God who is in control. In those moments, which have come up a lot lately – I don’t want to be the adult. I don’t want to be strong. I don’t want to pretend that everything is going to be okay. I don’t want to be that responsible, non-anxious presence I’ve heard so much about. I want to be the child, huddled safe in God’s arms. And I think maybe that’s okay for today. God is in control. Maybe that will annoy me tomorrow, but for today I am grateful.


There’s really only one piece of application for today. Trust the one who is in control. Have faith, trust God. He’s got this. Don’t trust God to do what YOU want, trust God to be God. And if you don’t know what that means – read the book. See what God has done for his people over and over. Trust God to be the one who comes to you where are, trust God to meet you in your valley, in your darkness, and trust God to pull you out of it. Jesus Christ, the son of God came into this world to find sinners who were far away from God. He died for them, so that they could find their way back to God, so they could leave their sin behind. That’s how he chose to come. This is the way God has given us, the way God has reframed the family – faith over works. Maybe if you were in charge you would do things differently, but it’s not our world. Trust the one who is in control.  


      Is God in control of everything in the universe or do we have free will? Short answer is both. God is in control, and because he is a God of love – he has chosen to give us free will. You have the free will to trust God, and he’s the one who put it together that way. He crafted the universe so we could love him, and love requires free will. And so I’ll leave you with this. When you stand before God each day, may you remember which one of you is creator and which one is created. May you let go of the idol of our control and trust the one who is actually in control. And may that good news carry you through every valley. Amen.



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