Wednesday, July 25, 2012

John 16:29-33 I'm back!

Been crazy busy and doing little trips filled with hard labor! I’ve been really missing my morning quiet time!!! Today we finish up chapter 16 and then go into chapter 17 to listen in on the amazing prayer of Jesus before His crucifixion. That will be sacred time! But I did not want to miss these last few verses of chapter 16, when Jesus ends the preparation of the disciples for what is ahead. When we left off, the disciples were about to make their declaration of understanding:

Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech.  Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.” 

“You believe at last!” Jesus answered.  “But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. (John 16:29-32)

They claim to understand, and yet Jesus knows they will scatter in fear. My sense is that they understand more with their heads, but it hasn’t gripped their hearts yet. It will take the resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit to embolden these men. The statement, “You will leave me all alone,” really speaks to me. Jesus would be abandoned by His closest friends. When we feel far away from God, it is NOT because He has moved! How often do we abandon Him, because we are just too busy to take time for Him. That has been my experience since summer started: so many distractions and being pulled in so many directions! I’ve really missed my time with Him!

Note, however, that He tells them He is NEVER alone, because His Father is with Him. [There was only one point when He would be feeling separated from His Father - when the sin of the world was laid upon Him.] This was another statement that really jumped out at me. I have several friends who seem to be walking their journeys alone (some even in their marriages). And yet, the Father is with them, and He has enabled them to find their joy in Him.

Finally, as Jesus closes this discourse with His disciples, He explains why He has felt it necessary to prepare them:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (v.33)

The next few days for the disciples would be filled with fear and confusion and even a sense of hopelessness. There would be great trouble and trials in their future, as in ours. This is one of those “promises” of Jesus that people don’t want to claim! We WILL have trouble. But we can take courage and have peace in the midst of all of our trials, because Jesus has overcome the world!

Oh, if we could just grasp that! Yes, we are in the midst of spiritual battles. We have financial worries, serious health problems, marital conflicts, children who are rebellious, and a world in political, social, and economic turmoil. How do we find peace and joy in the midst of all of this? We remember that the end of the story has already been written. Jesus has won the victory and overcome! This should give us courage and peace! God is sovereign, in control, and His Kingdom will come! Hang onto that assurance! It is our great hope!  

Friday, July 13, 2012

John 16:23-28

Today’s passage I find somewhat difficult, so it surprises me when the disciples declare in verse 29 that they finally “get it.” I’m thinking at that point, “Really? Because I’m a little confused!” Thank you to Jon Courson for helping me through the first verses of this passage! He doesn’t really touch on my questions for verses 25-28, so I’m relying on the Holy Spirit for clarity here. See what you think...

Jesus is encouraging the disciples by assuring them that their grief at his departure will be replaced by joy. First joy in knowing that their pain will be transforming, and next, as we’ll see in today’s passage, joy because they will have the power of answered prayer.

In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.  Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:23-24)

Many people seem to take this promise to mean that you can request ANYTHING and force God, like a genie, to answer your prayer so long as you tag “in Jesus’ name” at the end. But what does it really mean to pray in His name? Jon Courson says it means two things: in His authority and in conformity with Jesus’ character.

Praying in Jesus’ name means that I don’t come to the Father with my own authority or counting on my own righteousness to seal the deal. Courson writes, “... when I approach the Father in heaven, I don’t come saying, ‘Did You see how long I prayed last week, Father? Fourteen hours logged in, eighteen chapters read, twenty-two verses memorized. On that basis I come to You with these requests, and I’m sure You’ll give them to me.’ No, I simply come on the authority of the name I’ve been given to use: Jesus’ name.” (Courson, P. 571)

We pray in His name in conformity to it. My prayers need to be in line with Kingdom values. They need to reflect the heart of Christ as it is revealed in the New Testament. My pastor is currently doing a series that will continue through the year called “Reading the Red.” We are looking at everything Jesus said to discover His will. Learning what His Word says is how we will know whether or not our prayers are in conformity. For sure I know that when I ask the LORD to help me love someone or to forgive someone, I know I’m praying in His will. When I pray that someone will come to know the LORD, I know I’m praying in His will. When I pray that my coworker who hurt me will suffer, I know I’m NOT praying in His will!! :)

Jesus tells the disciple that when we receive what we ask for in His name, in His authority and in conformity to it, our joy will be complete! There is no greater joy than knowing we have pleased our Father by our prayers! And He delights to answer! This seems clear to me from the next verses:

“Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father.  In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf.  No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.  I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” (vs. 25-28)

The Father delights to answer our prayers because He LOVES us - and that is because we have loved the Son and have believed in Him. This is John’s constant refrain in His gospel. We are made right with God when we BELIEVE in Jesus - in the fact that He is the Son of God and God the Son, who died for our sins, was resurrected and now sits at the right hand of the Father. And when we pray in the authority of His name, and in conformity with His character, the Father answers.

 Now I thought those were difficult passages, but apparently the disciples claimed to finally understand. We’ll see next time if that is truly so! In the meantime, I have a new appreciation for that rote, “in Jesus’ name” that we ritualistically tag onto our prayers. I’m going to try to be mindful of what I’m saying, what it means, and the power behind it!  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

John 16:16-22

I’m so grateful to be back from Washington, DC! I was a delegate to the NEA (National Education Association) Representative Assembly, which included about 8,000 delegates (mostly teachers) from all over the country. It was a long week of meetings from 7:00 am to about 6:00 pm. Delegates had one day for sightseeing - the rest was business! Thankfully we were in air conditioning, because the temperatures ran from 98 - 104, with LOTS of humidity. Great fireworks on the 4th! I was reminded at this convention that teaching is not what I DO, it is who I AM. I love that!

But I feel like I’ve been in a desert and am so glad to be back into God’s Word!!! It’s been a while, so just want to remind you that in this chapter Jesus is speaking to his disciples as He prepares them for His arrest and crucifixion.

“In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” Some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?”  They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.” (John 16:16-18)

Jon Courson, in his Application Commentary, finds humor in the fact that the disciples start murmuring in confusion to one another, rather than taking their questions directly to Jesus: “Here the disciples are discussing things about Him when they should have been talking to Him... I’m always amazed at how ready I am to talk to another person - when it is the Lord alone who knows the solution.” (Courson, P. 570)

Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’?  I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.  A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.  So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (vs.19-22)

Courson points out that the disciples had left everything (family, friends, business) to follow Christ for three years, and now He’s telling them He’s leaving them. No wonder they were confused! But Jesus affirms that the grief they will feel will eventually be replaced with joy. He uses the illustration of the woman in childbirth who is suffering great pain in the process. In fact the very thing that is causing the pain is what will bring her great joy. Here’s where Courson makes a remarkable observation that blew me away!

“Yes, there’s pain and struggle, perspiration and anguish. But yet it’s the very object that produced the pain that provides the joy when the baby is finally born. In other words, Jesus says, ‘My leaving, My being crucified, My death is going to cause you great joy when you see me again in heaven, when you finally understand it was necessary for Me to go to Calvary in order that your sins be forgiven completely.’

“When you go through pain, the Lord does not take away that which caused the pain and replace it with something else to bring joy. It is not substitution, but transformation as He produces joy with the very thing that once caused pain.” (Courson, P. 570)

Here’s what I take from this that I find mind-boggling! It is NOT the answer to prayer that produces the ultimate joy; it is the need for prayer (the situation that makes us turn to Him), the struggling in prayer, the WAITING for the answer that is what transforms us and actually brings joy! All of those things that have been negative and hurtful in our lives - the disappointments, the struggles, the betrayals, the losses, the financial and health crises - these are what God uses in our lives to transform us and make us people God can use for His glory and our joy.

Courson uses the example of Joseph in the Old Testament. Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused and thrown into prison for years, then finally brought to the place of second in command in Egypt so that God could use him to save the Jewish nation, from which the Messiah would come! Joseph utters one of my favorite statements in all of the Bible when, facing his brothers and looking back on it all, he declares, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20)

Joseph did not merely put a happy face on the situation. He acknowledged the evil intention of his brothers. What they had done was WRONG! However, Joseph saw that the sovereign God of the universe works ALL things together for good for those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) That was the key to Joseph’s being able to forgive and love his brothers freely.

What struggles have you gone through that have been excruciatingly painful? What betrayals have been unbearably hurtful? In your struggle to overcome or forgive, don’t be looking for something to REPLACE the hurt, rather look to the object causing the pain and ask God to help you see it with His eternal perspective, so that you may find joy in your transformation! God will use the very thing which causes the pain to bring great joy to you and glory to His name! Amen?