Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January 31: Matthew 21:18-22; Faith to Move Mountains

             After Jesus heals two blind men in Jericho he stops near the Mount of Olives and directs his disciples to get a donkey with her colt so he can ride into Jerusalem fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy for the Messiah (Zech 9:9). Everyone seems to recognize this and celebrates his arrival thinking he will save Israel. After chasing the merchants out of the temple, Jesus goes to Bethany for the night. The next morning, he curses a fig tree and it withers. The disciples are amazed, but Jesus tells them if they have faith and don’t doubt, they can tell a mountain to be thrown into the sea and it will happen (Matt 21:21).
            Really? These verse and others about faith and receiving whatever we ask (John 14:13-14) are always puzzling to me. I know some people will look at them and quote them as proof that God will answer their prayers exactly the way they want. The truth is evident that more often than not, he doesn’t answer our prayers exactly the way we ask. We pray for the end of sex trafficking and it is still happening. We ask for a loved one who is 89 years old to be healed of cancer and she dies. We ask for world peace and wicked people to be destroyed and it doesn’t happen. What’s wrong? If we look only at Matthew 21:21, it is obvious I am doubting and that would be the simple answer. But John 14:13-14 doesn’t have a qualification of praying without doubt. It only requires praying in Jesus’ name so that the Father may be glorified. Wouldn’t God be glorified if an old person is healed? However, John 15:7 has qualifications of abiding in Jesus and having his word abiding in us. Bearing fruit in our lives looks like a qualification in John 15:16. Then there is 1 John 5:14-15 which tells us we need to pray according to God’s will.
            I am compelled to believe that the reasons we don’t see pray answered more often in the way we ask is because of one basic problem. We are sinful people. Though the blood of Jesus Christ and has saved us and he lives in us by faith, we still have a sin nature that will not be completely eliminated until we reach heaven. That means we will always have a very small element of doubt when we pray. That means that we will not always be able to discern God’s will 100% when we pray. It means that though Jesus lives in us, we are not completely abiding in him. The fruit we bear in our lives is never “100 fold,” but is something less that perfect. It means that we have some element of wants that are simply sinful.
            We can still rejoice and pray confidently. Some of these prayers simply are waiting to be answered. World peace and elimination of wickedness is going to happen, God has said so. When the Lord has said he will do something in Scripture like this, we know without any doubt it will happen. That kind of prayer is always answered, but not necessarily now. Where we aren’t confident, guess what. We have the Holy Spirit interceding for us because of all the weaknesses I’ve listed (Rom 8:26). He takes the imperfect prayers of imperfect people and translates them into prayers that are according to the perfect will of the Father (Rom 8:27).
            Isn’t that great? I am imperfect, flawed, doubtful, and many other things that hinder prayer. However, when I pray, I can trust the Lord to make sure my prayers are what he wants. I shouldn’t be flippant about it and pray for things I know are against his will thinking he will do what is right anyway. That’s like sinning more to show his grace more, which is contrary to what God wants (Rom 6:1-2). We should try to pray according to God’s will and without doubt. We should be abiding more and more in Jesus and living fruitful lives. Many people see God working as they pray when they are progressing in these things because they are understanding God more and more and living according to his will.
            Me? I have a long way to go and I won’t stop praying because the one to whom I pray is perfect, holy, omniscient, and omnipotent. He knows what is best and works that out in all our lives and the world. I can trust his answers.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

January 30: Matthew 20:1-16; God’s Grace

            Jesus tells the parable of a landowner who goes out and hires people to work in his vineyard. The first negotiate for a denarius for a full day’s work. Throughout the day he hires more. Some he tells he will pay what is right and others, he tells to go and work not even mentioning pay. When evening comes, he pays a denarius to those who came last and worked only an hour. The ones who worked all day then expect to get more but only get a denarius because that was their agreement. They are upset but the landowner tells them he can do what he wants with his money and be generous to whom he wants.
            We can make many errors from this parable by applying it in ways that it was not intended. We must remember that this is about the kingdom of heaven and not about how we are to treat employees or how we can do what we want with what we own. We can’t use this parable to argue for fair or unfair wages. We have laws that apply to those and we must work within the law. We may be generous with our property in some ways, but we have restrictions on how we use it both legally and morally. There are laws about what we can and can’t do such as zoning laws. We also can’t give to terrorist organizations. So, let’s forget about trying to make the parable say something where it doesn’t apply.
            This is a representation of what God does with those whom he calls and how he gives his grace. There are some obvious and some not-as-obvious conclusions we can draw from it.
·         Some people who are called come early in their life. They usually have a good idea of what it means to follow the Lord and what their reward will be – eternal life. However, some of these may expect more because they have served all their lives. They may feel that they should have greater rewards in heaven or on earth because of it. They may become bitter like the Pharisees when they see those who haven’t worked the way they did coming to the Lord without paying the price by following all the rules. There are churches like this that want conformity to their practices before they accept people as having received salvation.
·         Some people come to the Lord at other times in their life. They don’t necessarily understand the full impact of what they are doing, but they are willing and trustful. When the Lord says he will take care of them, they go. Since their expectations are that the Lord will do what is right, they have no problem getting whatever reward they receive.
·         Some people come to the Lord at the end of their lives. While they are not promised anything, they still go. Their knowledge of the kingdom and what lies before them is minimal. They are generally very thankful that the Lord called them before it was too late.
·         God looks at all three classes of people and bestows his grace on them all. His grace isn’t affected by their length of service or by their knowledge of his kingdom. This is God’s unmerited favor. We can’t complain about who he saves or when. Paul explained it clearly, “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy” (Rom 9:14-16 NIV).

            Who is greater in the kingdom of heaven doesn’t depend on our evaluation or on our desires. James and John learned that when their mother asked Jesus to put them on his right and left in his kingdom. Even though they believed they could drink his cup and Jesus affirmed that they would, that still didn’t give them the right to those position because it is the Father’s choice (Matt 20:22-23). Our job is to keep our eyes on the Lord and not become concerned about how the Lord is rewarding our coworkers. We need to extend the same grace to other Christians in the same way Jesus gives it to use, freely and lavishly (Eph 6:1).

Monday, January 29, 2018

January 28-29: Exodus 5:22-23; Matthew 19:17; Does God Do Evil?

            As soon as Moses and Aaron asked Pharaoh to let the people go, Pharaoh made life even harder for Israel. What did Moses do? He blamed God and actually accused him of causing the evil and not keeping his promise (Ex 5:22-23). If I hadn’t already read the account, I would have expected God to punish Moses on the spot. But what does that reveal about me? It reveals that in a way, I agree with Moses. My expectations of God fit with his accusation. But God’s grace extends even when we don’t realize how sinful we really are. The Lord didn’t even rebuke Moses. Instead, he just kept on with his plan and assured Moses of who he is and what he will do.
            When we have the assurance of who God is and of his nature, we can trust him. Moses was new at understanding God and needed this assurance that even though this situation appeared evil to him, God wasn’t done. What he called evil was what God used to strengthen Israel and prepare them for the future.
            When the rich young man came to Jesus and asked him what good deeds he had to do to have eternal life, Jesus replied with an interesting question. He wanted to know why the man asked Jesus about what was good and stated that there is only one who is good. In Mark 10:17, the man addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher.” Jesus answered that the only one who is good is God (Mark 10:18).
            When we start talking about what God does and whether or not he does evil, we need to remember these fundamentals about God. God is good and he is the only one that is 100% good. What appears to be evil that comes from God is more often us not getting what we want when we want and in the way we want. It shows our limited knowledge of God and the way he works. Our earthly existence is riddled with sin by us and against us. These are not God’s fault. God knew Pharaoh’s heart and knew exactly what he would do. He knew the rich young man’s heart and what he needed. Like him, we need to understand we are not good and fall short of God’s goodness by so much that it isn’t even measurable.
            What appeared to be the most horrific evil of all time, the crucifixion of Jesus by sinful men, turned out to be God’s greatest expression of good for us. It was the only way we could have eternal life because we will never be good enough. Being God, Jesus was the only one who could die for our sins in our place. There is the God we can trust completely.