Sunday, May 25, 2014

Conflicting Prayer

Conflicting Prayer
May 26, 2014
Romans 8:26  "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans."

My wife and I have five children and though we are not perfect parents, at this stage in the game we truly have their best interests at heart.  So far, our children are young enough to still take direction and instruction.  Though they may question why or complain occasionally, they understand we know what is best for them, even if they do not think it at the time.  There will come a day, however, when one of our children is bound to rebel against our instructions for his or her life, even if it seems like a good idea at the time.  It will probably end up in regret.  Hopefully, with a few smaller mistakes early on, none of my children will end up with life altering regrets.  But there may be some of you with a few major regrets.  Maybe you didn't listen to conventional wisdom or maybe you simply made a mistake.  All of us wish there was a do-over at some point in our lives.  While we cannot erase the past, it can be avoided going forward.

Scripture says the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, prays on our behalf as we move forward in life.  Specifically, it says He is constantly trying to keep us on the Lord's path, the straight and narrow, the Lord's best for our lives.  I often wonder how many times I have strayed from that path, even unknowingly and without bad intentions.  I have a vision of myself trying to open a door and the door is stuck.  I try with all my might but to no avail.  I ask friends for help, I pray to the Lord to help me open the door but it will not budge.  Then the Holy Spirit reveals Himself in the scene and I see Him blocking the door with all His might, keeping me from opening it.  I think I want to go through the door but He knows it is better for me not to enter.  Like a parent knows better for his or her child, the Holy Spirit knows what's better for you and me.  But this can create conflict.

If I pray ten thousand times a day for the Lord to do something specifically for me, but it is not in my best interests in the long run, I have created conflict between my prayers and the prayers of the Holy Spirit on my behalf.  The Holy Spirit doesn't simply echo my own prayers, making them louder, He correctly prays for my best interests, even if that is directly opposite what I am praying.  This is huge so let me say it again.  The Holy Spirit does not merely repeat my own prayers; He prays better ones on my behalf.  He knows what's best; He knows what would be most beneficial for me in the long run.  This gives me (and you) an opportunity.  We can chose to create conflicting prayers, thinking ours is best, or we can submit to the will of the Father and the leading of the Holy Spirit and let both of them guide our lives.  If we continue to go the way we are going, however, we will simply end up with the same results we've already had.  It is time to end up with a different result, a better result, through your prayer!  It is time to leave the specifics to the Holy Spirit in working out the details of the prayer.

While this is easier said than done, it is critical to our success in life.  We might think we know what we want, but the Lord knows better.  He is the Father and we are the child and we get to submit to His leading.  No longer should you tell the Lord how you think He should work out the scenario.  Pray that the Holy Spirit intercedes on your behalf and trust the Father as you walk through it, whatever it looks like.  Maybe your unanswered prayer is a conflicting prayer request for your life?  If the door won't open, maybe that's a good thing!

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Numbers 22:21-34, Romans 8

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Scripture Correction

Scripture Correction
May 19, 2014
Romans 8:28  "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

The New Testament was not written in Hebrew.  There are no original manuscripts of the Gospels or letters that make up the New Testament, so no one really knows what language everything was originally written.  The best guess is that most of the epistles of the New Testament were written in Greek.  But regardless of the language of the original manuscripts, translation and then interpretation has been applied to our modern day versions of our Scriptures.   While I am in no place to offer an alternative to our translation of our Scriptures, I can shed some light on a few common misperceptions we perpetuate.  One such perpetuation of Scripture is found in quoting Romans 8:28.  Please read it in the translation provided above.  Most people, not all, but most people think that this scripture has to do with our own personal "good," regardless of the definition of good.  By reading it in the above translation, the most common translation, it is easy to think that the Lord works things out for our "good."

However, if you read the full verse in conjunction with the verses around it, there is a huge clue at the end of the sentence most of us miss.  The clue reads, "...who have been called according to his purpose."  This is not singling out a few people, maybe strategic prophets, but rather speaking about each individual's participation in the Lord's design for mankind and His master plan for everything, "his purpose."  You and I have a role to play in the Lord's master plan.  That role is as specific and unique as every individual out there.  I doubt anyone of us will know until we reach Heaven, what tasks we performed were perfectly strategic on the Lord's behalf.  If you are Christian, you have specific tasks the Lord requires of you, whether you know it or not, to accomplish for Him.  The Bible says the Lord causes us to will and to act according to His good purposes.  If you are reading this devotional, there is no doubt in my mind that you have participated in the Lord's master plan, both knowingly and unknowingly.  That is huge.  You have been used by the Lord for His good purposes, most of the time without being quite clear what that is exactly.

In reading or quoting Romans 8:28, we must keep the Lord's master plan in mind.  John the Baptist was a man for whom everything worked out for the Lord's perfect plan, but it did not include John's personal "good" as we'd like to understand it.  John was beheaded for the Lord's benefit!  This certainly was not for John's personal good but for the good of the gospel.  Messed up as it sounds, it is true.  The Lord allowed John's beheading and somehow it benefited the Lord's master plan for mankind's salvation.  If you are intent on understanding Romans 8:28 to include your personal benefit, then it is only a small stretch to maintain the belief that it would and could include your personal spiritual benefit.  But this understanding is only in keeping with Scripture if you understand that the Lord desires to keep you in His fold in order to effectively utilize you in His master plan.

The famous Bible commentator, Matthew Henry, likens elements in this verse to a "golden chain," keeping us tethered to the Father.  Henry suggests the Lord is intent on your spiritual enhancement, even if that means severe discipline.  If you must maintain the "good" in Romans 8:28 pertains to you, then this is the understanding you must perpetuate.  The Lord IS intent on keeping you in His flock and would go to the ends of the earth to maintain you as His child.  If you stray, He is willing to use every means necessary to keep you from Hell.  This certainly is for your "good," as ultimately you will be in Heaven with Him someday.  But "good" does not mean, nor was it ever meant for your personal enjoyment.  The word "good" in Romans 8:28 has nothing to do with your physical ease and EVERYTHING to do with the Lord's passion for the salvation of mankind.  This should excite you to understand the difficulties you might experience are intended for His glory and your participation in His master plan.  You are integral toward His goal!

I would like to suggest an alternate understanding of Romans 8:28, an understanding you could even memorize.  Consider it this way: But we understand that everything works out for the benefit and perfection of His plan by Him who calls upon us toward His glory.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Acts 13:36, Romans 8, Phil 2:13

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Show Me Your Help

Show Me Your Help
May 12, 2014
Matthew 23:4  "They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them."

There is an entire chapter in the Bible where Jesus does nothing but call the religious leaders of His day hypocrites.  His tongue seems rather harsh over the entire Chapter of Matthew 23.  Jesus says they are in-effective in their roles as teachers and leaders.  He goes on to say they are actually causing more harm than good.  In short, Jesus is very offensive, but of course Jesus only spoke the truth, so they rightly deserved it.  When He calls them hypocrites and then lays out all the reasoning and rationale for the title, He sets Himself up for a huge undertaking.  By speaking out so boldly against the religious leaders, pointing out all their flaws, He is suggesting He is and would be just the opposite.  He now has to put up or shut up, if He is going to prove Himself the opposite of a liar.

Specifically, He says the religious leaders where making rules to live by, placing an impossible burden on the shoulders of the common man to live a righteous life.  Jesus said the leaders weren't even willing to help them out with that burden, being willing to show them how it could be done or walking along the road with them.  When Jesus was saying these things, He was juxtaposing what He would do for the common man.  If you re-read Matthew chapter 23, it is permissible to assume Jesus is the perfect opposite of His description of those religious leaders.  They were not willing to help with the heavy burden of living a righteous lifestyle, but Jesus was saying He would gladly do that for you and me.  Jesus was saying He would happily lift His finger to lessen the burden you and I carry, whatever that burden.  They were not willing to prove it could be done or help out, but Jesus was saying He would gladly walk alongside each and every person on whatever road life has for them.  Jesus said He wasn't in it for the show but was willing to prove it to you and me by getting His hands dirty.  Jesus said He was better, because He was and is here to help!

If you think Jesus isn't here to show you His help, you are incorrect.  Jesus is here, no matter the task.  The problem is we either don't ask Him for help or let Him help.  Sometimes we don't even want the help He is willing and able to give us.  We want Him to remove the thorn from our flesh and He wants to give us grace to endure it.  We want Him to satisfy our desires with our perception of good things but He wants to satisfy our desires with things that are good FOR us.  We want Him to remove the work from our hands, but He wants to role up His sleeves and help us with the work at hand, even if it means getting dirty.

Jesus is not a hypocrite.  He is the opposite of everything wrong as described in Matthew chapter 23.  He is here to help and that means in the physical sense, too, not just with spiritual guidance.  If you've asked Him for help, and you perceive He isn't helping you, then you have a problem.  He has NEVER once turned down the opportunity to help someone, especially His children who are calling on His Name.  If you perceive He is not helping then you have the opportunity to ask Him to show you HOW He IS at work.  Maybe your perception is misaligned with reality.  He is at work the moment you ask for help AND He is more than willing to show you His part in it.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:
  Ps 103:4-6, Ps 121:1-3, Matt 18:19-20, Matt 23, Gal 5:6, 1 Cor 13:1-8, 2 Cor 12:8-10, James 2:14-26, 1 John 3:16

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Concern for Concern

Concern for Concern
May 5, 2014
1 Peter 5:7  "Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you."

Jesus, during His first miracle, turned water into wine.  It is quite the oddity of all His miracles, because it provided no physical healing or spiritual benefit.  Nobody got "saved" and it really wasn't critical to the salvation of mankind.  He didn't even want to perform the miracle.  If you read the account in John, judging by His response to His mother who requested it, Jesus appears slightly reluctant.  He suggested that running out of wine wasn't an issue that concerned His ministry or mission in life; it wasn't time yet to reveal Himself.  So, why did Jesus break protocol and perform the miracle?  Two things come to mind.

The first reason that comes to mind was out of His respect for His mother.  She asked it of Him and Jewish law required a child to obey and honor his parents. Jesus was bringing honor to His mother.  But if you examine that reason closely, Jesus was an adult male, not a child.  In fact, if you read the account, He spoke to her as her superior, suggesting He was the head of the household, calling her "woman".  Sure, He wasn't allowed to disrespect her, but not performing a miracle over running out of alcohol for a party would not have crossed the line into disrespect.  Honoring His mother, though a valiant reason to perform such a miracle was probably only part of His reasoning.

The second factor to consider why Jesus performed such a miracle is quite simply human compassion for a human concern.  Scripture says very clearly that we are to cast our cares on Him because He cares of us.  He was honoring His mother, but more importantly He was loving His mother; He was caring for His mother.  It was a concern for His mother, therefore it was a concern for Him.  This miracle demonstrates that even human concerns, which sometimes have no spiritual consequence, are still important to the Lord.  If it is important to you, then it is important to Him.  The concerns of your heart are the concerns of His heart.

This does not mean every time your heart has a whim that He will grant your every wish.  First you must weigh your own heart against all selfish motives.  If, putting selfishness aside, your heart is still concerned with a matter, then His heart is concerned with the exact same matter.  It doesn't mean He will grant the request; maybe He will simply comfort you, consoling your heart.  But either way, your heart matters are His heart matters.  Today your heart is concerned with an issue and His heart is concerned for you.  It is important to you and you are important to Him.

This is an opportunity to bring all your concerns to Him, giving Him the opportunity to be concerned with the matters of your heart.  He does care about them, despite you feeling like He is ignoring you.  There is a small caveat to Him being concerned for your concerns, though.  When scripture says cast all your cares on Him because He cares for you, it means you have to give them to Him.  It doesn't mean you simply share them with Him and you hang on to them.  It means you throw them at Him like a hot potato, getting them out of your lap.  If you hang on to your concerns, He isn't able to manage them for you.  Give your concerns to Him today, because He does care for you.  He is quite aware of your heart matters; they matter to Him.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  John 2:1-11, James 4:1-3