Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why Making Plans Doesn't Work...

Read Isaiah 14:24-27, James 4:13-15

You've heard it a thousand times..."God has a plan." This is a truth continually taught in evangelical churches, but because we hear it so many times, it can often lose its meaning to us. If we were truly to grasp the fact that God has a sovereign plan for the world, and more specifically, our individual lives, we would never worry. We wouldn't fret when unexpected tragedy struck, we wouldn't fear the unknown future, and we wouldn't be anxious about things we can't control. Wouldn't that be a wonderful way to live your life?? This morning, as I was reading Isaiah, I was struck with an incredible passage on God's sovereignty, and I'd like to share these powerful verses with you.

Isaiah 14:24 states, "The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, 'Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand.'" God has constructed plans that He fully intends to carry out. Nothing can thwart His sovereign will or change what He has set to take place. In verse 25 we see that He is specifically talking about an attack on Assyria, which is fulfilled later in Isaiah 37:21-38. Though He is speaking about Assyria's fate, is this not applicable to our own fates as well? Some people dislike the idea that God is sovereign and is bringing about His own plans on earth, but I find it overwhelmingly comforting. Who better to direct your life than the all-knowing, almighty, King of the universe? He can do a much better job of it than you or I can!

The following verse describes the Lord's hand as being stretched out and His plan devised. I love verse 27 which states, "For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?" Those are powerful words. Man is no match for God. His way will ultimately succeed, and no one on earth can stop it. How silly we often are as we sit around making our own plans as if we were somehow in control. James gives us a much-needed reminder on this topic in James 4:13-15, which states, "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.' Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.'"

Is this the mentality you have? Are you trying desperately to be in control of your life and to make your own plans? I learned early on that making my own plans just doesn't work. God seems to always have something different in mind for me, and though it's normally not something I would have picked myself, it's always superior to my own plans. Let your heart be content and at rest as you wait for God to direct your steps according to His sovereign plan. Trust me, He knows what He's doing!!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dear God...In Jesus' name, Amen.

Read Matthew 6:9-13, John 16: 23-24, and Hebrews 4:14-16

Recently, Lee and I got to attend the Greek Orthodox Church's annual Greek Festival, which is something we've done every year since we first started dating. I know it doesn't sound all that exciting, and I was skeptical at first too... But let me tell you, we have such a blast there each year! One thing that was different about our experience this year, was that we had the opportunity to go into the actual church. The festival is held on the church grounds, but the sanctuary is only open at certain times, and in the past it always seemed to be closed when we were there. Anyway, this year we were able to go inside, and when we went in, we heard one of their pastors/priests (not sure what they call them), speaking about their church doctrine. He was speaking on the issue of prayer, and explaining why they pray to saints, specifically Mary, mother of Jesus. Much to my dismay, he went on to give a completely wrong interpretation of the passage of Jesus' first miracle (turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana), as a defense for this practice.

To make a long story short, he basically was saying that this passage showed Jesus submitting to His mother Mary. Because of this, we should ask Mary to intercede for us in heaven, because Jesus listens to her. Without getting into it in depth, I have to say that this interpretation is dead wrong. This passage glorifies Jesus as God in the flesh, in which He is displaying His power in this incredible supernatural miracle. It is absolutely in no way glorifying Mary or showing any power that she has over Jesus. He is God, and this miracle is about His power, not hers. Anyway, all of this got me thinking that there is probably some clarification needed on why evangelicals pray the way they do. Why don't we pray to saints? Is there a scriptural model for prayer? Well, I'm glad you asked! Let's look at the text.

Obviously the first place to look would be the Lord's prayer, which is the response Jesus gave to His disciples when they said, "teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). In Matthew 6:9-13, we are given a model of how we should pray. In this model, which Christians now call "The Lord's Prayer," it is clear who the prayer is addressed to...God the Father. This is plain in the text. We also see that the prayer ends with the word "Amen," which is how Christians should likewise end their prayers. What does "Amen" actually mean? The Blue Letter Bible Commentary says that "Amen" means "may it be fulfilled," "surely," "truly," "so it is," or "so be it." According to this commentary, it is an expression of absolute trust and confidence.

So now we have found a biblical basis for the reason we pray to God the Father, and why we close our prayers with "Amen," but why do we pray "in Jesus' name?" We see the biblical basis for this is John 16:23-24, in which Jesus says, "In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full." When Jesus says "in that day," He is speaking of the time after His ascension into heaven, so He is referring to the time we are living in now. Before Christ came and the cross occurred, Jesus did not play the role of intercessor on our behalf. Now that He has come to earth and died for us, He has become our great high priest, the one who intercedes to God for us.

Because of the cross, we can now go directly to God in prayer, in Jesus' name. The author of Hebrews describes this in Hebrews 4:14-16 when it says, "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Because Jesus acts as our priest and advocate before the Father, we can approach God's throne with confidence when we pray.

Oftentimes we do things in church out of habit, but we have never researched whether those things we do have a biblical basis or not. There is a danger in that. Regarding specific things which our church does differently than other denominations within Christianity, it is especially important to examine our reasons for doing things differently. On this specific topic of prayer, different denominations approach the practice differently. My aim in this blog post was to show you from a biblical standpoint why we pray to God the Father, why we pray in Jesus' name, and why we close our prayers with "Amen." While some may use certain scriptural passages to defend their practice of praying to the saints, they are off base in my opinion. There is absolutely no biblical basis for this practice, and the passages that are looked to defend the practice are grossly misinterpreted. We have no evidence that past believers can hear our prayers to heaven, or that they are speaking to God on our behalf. Even if they could hear our prayers, this practice wouldn't make any sense to me. I mean, why would you pray to a saint when you have a privilege of going to God directly?? Like I said, it makes no sense logically or biblically. This is a bit different than my normal posts, but I felt the need to make a clarification on this certain point, and I hope it was helpful to you!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God"

Read John 12:20-50, Matthew 6:1-21

I don't know about you, but this past week and a half has been a rough one for me! Maybe you can relate. Here's the problem. When we do something good, something that we know God wants us to do, we usually expect some kind of recognition or reward for it. We may never admit that, but it's oftentimes true nonetheless. However, instead of having someone sing our praises, our good deeds often go completely unnoticed...or even worse, they're misunderstood. After a while, we start to think, "What's the point to all this? I'm doing my best to do God's work and be obedient to Him, and I'm either getting burned for doing the right thing, or my work is going unnoticed and unappreciated. Why even bother?" Do you see a problem with this type of thinking? Lately, I've been starting to think this way. That's when God hit me hard with His word in John 12:43, and He certainly got my attention. Let's take a look at this passage and see if you can have the same "Aha" moment that I did!

In John 12:20-50, Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem just a few short days before He would be crucified. In this passage, He is teaching the people who have gathered to meet with Him. As He is speaking, He says, "Father, glorify Your name, " and in response, a voice actually comes down from heaven and responds, "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again" (28). The crazy thing is, that in response to hearing a literal voice from heaven, many of the people still can't believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that the voice that they heard was actually God's voice. Instead, we read in verse 29 that some people attributed the voice to some thunder, while others claimed it was an angel. It's hard to believe that people could hear God's voice sounding from heaven, and still refuse to believe Jesus is the Messiah. Verse 37 says, "But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him." This is truly tragic. What's equally tragic is the group of people described next.

In verses 42-43, we read that many other people actually did believe, but they would not confess Jesus, because they were afraid of what the Pharisees would think. Verse 43 is the one that jumped out at me and hit me hard..."for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God." Wow. When you put it like that, it really shows the folly in the type of thinking I was describing in my opening paragraph.

In Matthew 6:1-21, Jesus instructs people not to do their good works in a way that will get them noticed by other people. The examples He gives are when believers give tithes, when they pray, and when they fast. If we are doing these things in a way that will get us recognized by others, people's approval of us is the only reward we'll ever get. Matthew 6:1 says, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you will have no reward with your Father who is in heaven." This is the dilemma Christians find themselves in. In our flesh, we have a desire to have our works noticed by others. However, when we do our work for God in a way that will get us noticed by others, God refuses to recognize those works or reward them in the kingdom. We have a choice. We can either gain approval from other men, and have a great reputation in which everyone thinks very highly of us, OR we can do our works in secret and have God reward them in heaven. The question is...are we seeking man's approval, or God's approval??

This passage has been a wake-up call for me! It feels so great to get noticed by others. My love language is hands down, "words of affirmation." When someone praises me for something I've done, I feel like a million bucks. However, that feeling quickly fades! Is this momentary feeling of approval by others really what I should be seeking? Of course not!

If you're feeling discouraged right now because you're trying so desperately to follow God's will and please Him, but are getting either ignored or misunderstood by others, I hope you will be encouraged by this passage. There is no one in history who followed God as perfectly as Jesus Christ, yet He was misunderstood, hated, and reviled. He is our example.

Maybe you're not one of these discouraged behind-the-scenes people, but are instead a shameless self-promoter. Maybe you're one of those individuals described in Matthew 6 who make a show about all they are doing for God, so other people will notice them. If this is the case, I hope these passages of Scripture will change your perspective. Remember that the small feeling of gratification that you are experiencing when someone notices your works does not even come close to comparing with the incredible riches you are forfeiting in the kingdom...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Psalm 55: Stabbed in the Back

Read Psalm 55

Ever been stabbed in the back? If you're a teenage girl, you'll probably answer yes to this question. Let's face it...girls can get pretty ugly. We've probably all faced our share of mean girl drama, but in my opinion, the worst kind is when the mean girl is a former friend of yours. How can someone be your friend one day, and then completely turn on you the next?

One thing that continues to blow my mind when I read the Scriptures, is how relevant they are to the present day. As Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, "there is nothing new under the sun." Though several thousand years have passed since the Old Testament was written, people haven't changed much at all. They faced the same problems we face today. Don't believe me? Let's take a look at Psalm 55, a passage in which David laments about getting stabbed in the back by a close friend...

In the first 5 verses, we quickly can sense the tone of this passage. David is restless and distracted, he's scared and full of horror, and his heart is in utter anguish. Why? He has an enemy who is making his life miserable. In verse 6 he says in total honesty, that he wishes he could just fly away from it all and be at rest! I don't know about you, but I've often wished I could do this when troubles arise. Unfortunately, it doesn't work. It sounds cliche to say that you can't run from your problems, but it's true. Though that would be a lot easier, it wouldn't solve anything.

In verses 9-11 David describes his enemy in a little more detail. This enemy is causing violence, strife, iniquity, mischief, destruction, oppression, and deceit in the city. All of these things add up to make a pretty hefty list of offenses against this enemy that give David reason to be upset. However, we see the worst offense in verses 12-14. This person was David's friend. David reasons that he could bear all of this trouble if it was just coming from one of his enemies, but the person who is causing him harm is someone he once called a friend. David describes him as "my companion and my familiar friend," and states that they "had sweet fellowship together," and "walked in the house of God in the throng" (13-14). Thinking of the sweet friendship they once shared is like pouring salt on the wound...it makes it all the more painful to endure. David even goes as far as saying that he wishes his enemies would just die (15).

David is at the point in which he wants his enemies to be judged and put to death, but that's not how he responds to this crisis. David was a mighty warrior, and he could easily have put this enemy to death. However, instead of taking justice into his own hands, he decides to turn everything over to God. In verse 16 he states, "As for me, I shall call upon God, and the Lord will save me." He decides to trust God to deliver him, rather than taking vengeance from his own initiative. I love verse 17, in which he states, "Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, and He will hear my voice." He talks to God all day long about his problems with this person! How often are we as girls tempted to gossip and complain about those who have wronged us, to anyone who will care to listen! David instead gives all his complaints to God, and prays to Him at all times. Is the Lord truly your best friend, and the one you go to first when you have problems?

In verses 20-21, we get a greater glimpse of what this traitor was really like. One thing that we learn about him is that, "his speech was smoother than butter, but his heart was war; His words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords" (21). Does this sound like any girls you know? I certainly can think of a few that fit this description! The person David is describing would be fake-nice around others and say all the right things, but in reality, he was inwardly downright mean.

Verse 22 is my favorite one out of the whole passage. It says, "Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken." I love this! What in the world would I do if I couldn't give over all of my heavy burdens to the Lord? Where would I be if I didn't have Him sustaining me? This is so encouraging to me.

In the final verse, David asks God to bring about justice to his enemy. He voices his desire to have his enemy destroyed. However, he closes with this simple but profound phrase..."BUT, I will trust in you." David is hurting, he's frightened, he's worried, and he's angry. However, rather than lashing back in retaliation against the one who wronged him, he decides to instead, trust in God. God will bring about justice, God will bring him relief, God will be his refuge, and God will deliver him from his troubles. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010