John T. Willis

Friday, January 10, 2014

"If the Lord wishes"

If a person is seriously committed to God, he/she realizes that God is always present in life, his thoughts and ways are far above and beyond the thoughts and ways of any human being or any group of human beings, and that he/she must always fully dependent on God in every sense.

This truth is vital in the ongoing practice of prayer. Prayer is NOT a one-way conversation. God speaks and acts first, and all human beings response. These come from new circumstances and understandings and belief and concepts in life. The Bible offers numerous examples of concrete circumstances which apply to this principle.

I. The Lord's Prayer.
    a. At the heart of the Lord's Prayer [the Disciples' Prayer] in Matthew 6:9-10 are the words:
           "Hallowed be your name,
             Your kingdom come,
             YOUR WILL BE DONE."
    b. These three lines are actually synonymous poetic parallelisms. All three terms mean the same thing. The use of synonymous parallelism is common throughout Hebrew poetry in the Bible.
    c. Note that in all three lines, the emphasis is on YOUR. What is important in prayer is not the one praying or the problem or concept or desire under consideration, but God. What God wishes is all that really counts. Psalm 115:3 makes this point clearly:
            "Our God is in the heavens;
                 he does whatever he pleases."
When we realize this truth, everything changes in our hearts and lives.

II. Jesus' Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his Crucifixion.
     a. Matthew 26:36-46 contains one of the most important passages in all scriptures. It contains Jesus' prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane when he brought three of his disciples with him to prepare for his suffering and crucifixion. His prayer was this:
          "My Father, if it is possible, let thus cup pass from me; YET NOT WHAT I WANT BUT WHAT YOU WANT." Matthew 26:39.
     b. At this point, Jesus did not know what would happen and what his Heavenly Father desired. So, he did the only spiritual thing; he turned to prayer in God, and first told him what Jesus would prefer to happen, namely, that he would not have to suffer as God the Father had previously announced. Then Jesus stopped and said, even though this is MY desire, My preference, I REALLY want YOUR WILL to be done.
     c. This attitude of Jesus must guide every follower of God the Father through Jesus Christ to boldly ask God the Father what we prefer or desire, and THEN STOP and genuinely ask: Not my will, but YOUR will, be done.

III. Paul's desire to come to Ephesus and Corinth.
      a. Acts 18:19-21 relates the account when Paul on his Third Missionary Journey spent time in Ephesus left his fellow-Christians said: "I will return to you, IF GOD WILLS." Acts 18:21. Paul reveals the same attitude about Corinth in 1 Corinthians 4:19: "I will come to you soon, IF THE LORD WILLS," and again in 1 Corinthians 16:7: "I do not want to see you now just in passing, for I hope to spend some time with you, IF THE LORD PERMITS."
      b. We all make many plans through life. We work out an itinerary. We KNOW where were are planning to go and do what we plan to do. But we all know that this does not all work out the way we plan. Sometimes we become disappointed, but often we later realize it was much better to do THIS rather than THAT which we had originally planned.
      c. Examples like this remind us that God's plans are much better than our plans, and we need to embraces the changes which we had anticipated and desired.

IV. An Individual's Career.
      a. James 4:13-17 contains this engaging paragraph:
         "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to  such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.' Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What if your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'IF THE LORD WISHES, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin."
      b. Every year, thousands of students graduate from universities throughout the world, carrying dreams and aspirations and goals for their lives. All this is very important. But each person must realize the realities of life. Many of our dreams do not work out as we plan. Many of our aspirations do not materialize. Many of our goals will never be achieved. Yes, we should continue to strive, but God's thoughts and ways are far more important than our own.
     c. A great text which reminds us of all these truths is Isaiah 55:6-9. Each person should put this text on the refrigerator and meditate on it daily.
         "Seek the Lord while he may be found,
               call upon him while he is near;
           let the wicked forsake their way,
               and the unrighteous their thoughts;
           let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
               and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
           For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
               nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
           For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
               so are my ways higher than your ways,
               and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Share YOUR dreams and reversals and fears and secret sins and aspirations with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Jesus' Concerns about Participants in the Lord's Supper--Luke 22:21-38

After initiating, explaining, and participating or sharing in the Lord's Supper with his disciples, like Mark, Matthew, and John, Jesus delivers a series of lessons to his table companions. This falls into FOUR parts, and strikes at the center of the significance and practice of the Lord's Supper from God's perspective through Jesus Christ, to which every participant in every generation must pay careful attention. This appears in Luke 22:21-38.

I. Betrayal. Luke 22:21-23.
   a. Some who partake of the Lord's Supper will, in time, betray Jesus for one reason or another. This is a heart problem. All of us are VERY SELF-CENTERED, FULL OF PRIDE, and PERSONAL INTEREST AND CONCERN. A great example of this is Judas Iscariot. Just after sharing in the Lord's Supper the very first time, Jesus said to his own disciples, with whom he had lived and shared and taught for three years: "The one who BETRAYS me is with me, and his hand is on the table." Often people have looked me right in the eye with solemn look, I will meet you for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, knowing all the time that they never intended to do that at all. YOU have undoubtedly experienced this sort of activities. Throughout the centuries, many people have loudly declared that they are DEVOTED to Jesus, but in daily life, they never really intended to do this. 22:21.
   b.  Jesus declared that whatever happens, he is going to [headed for] the crucifixion, BUT "WOE to the one to whom he is betrayed!" All the disciples began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do such a thing. Judas Iscariot had not yet departed, and he was certainly participation in this discussion, pretending WHO WOULD DO SUCH A THING? knowing all the time that that is precisely what he was planning to do. 22:22-23.

II. Seeking Superiority in a Position. Luke 22:24-30.
     a. Shortly after participating in the first Lord's Supper with Jesus present, a DISPUTE among his disciples about which of them was to be the GREATEST. This sin is just as bad as the sin of Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus. Many religious people want the rest of the church to recognize them as the most important in the church, the most intelligent in the church, the most spiritual in the church, etc., etc. This is a very live ISSUE in all churches even today. 22:24.
     b. When this dispute broke out, Jesus told his disciples: You are like "the kings of the Gentiles who LORD IT OVER THEM," and like "those in authority who are over them called benefactors." Jesus flatly told them NOT to think or act like this. Rather, "the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves." "For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table. But I am among you as one who serves." In The Gospel according to Luke (X-XXIV) in the Anchor Bible 28A, Joseph A. Fitzmyer writes on pages 1412, 1415, 1417, 1418:
     "Those directed to repeat the rite of the Lord's Supper are now exhorted not to lord it over the community, but to serve it. . . . Jesus recalls the mentality of pagan lord; because they are in power, they let their power be felt. . . . He [Jesus] is the master who puts on an apron and serves the faithful servant. . . . Real apostolic leadership must be service to others! . . . In all, the 'greatest' must act like the last one to arrive on the scene, the youngest, the least significant. . . . Jesus' life is interpreted as service, and it is all to be taken as the norm of apostolic ministry. No matter what rank the disciple or apostle may achieve in human eyes and by human estimate, their role as Christians is to serve in a lowly, humble way." All of us have much to learn from this in our hearts and lives. 22:25-27.
      c. Having dealt with the conflict among the disciples that each one wanted Jesus to recognize HIM as the greatest, emphasizing that each one of them must not be LEADERS, but SERVANTS, Jesus now encourages them to know that Jesus knew they had stood by him in his trials. Because of this, Jesus now declares that just as God the Father conferred a kingdom of his Son, Jesus Christ, Jesus confers of his disciples a kingdom that they might eat at Jesus' table in his kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (See further Matthew 19:28; Psalm 122:4-5). Jesus NEVER intended to separate himself from God's chosen people Israel. Just the opposite, His purpose is to bring them back to God the Father in Heaven. 22:28-30.

III. Wavering Trust or Faith. Luke 22:31-34.
       a. Jesus now addressed Peter directly. He told Peter that Satan demanded to sift all his apostles, the well-known process of separating wheat from chaff (see Amos 9:9), but Jesus had PRAYED for Peter that Peter's faith might not fail, and when Peter has repented, strengthen his brothers, the other apostles. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S. J., The Gospel according to Luke (X-XXIV), Anchor Bible, 28A (1985), page 1424, astutely observes: "Satan's seeking out may be an allusion to his roaming to and fro upon the earth in Job 1:7; 2:2." The NRSV does a fairly good job in communicating this line of thought. One who knows Greek understands that "you" in verse 31 is PLURAL, thus "all the apostles." But then Jesus changes to use the word "you" in the singular referring to Peter [and not the other apostles]. It is very crucial to grasp this difference. The point is: ALL the apostles, including Peter, will falter or waver in their faith or trust in Jesus. But Jesus has already prayed to his heavenly Father that Peter's faith might lead him to repentance, deepen his faith, and then strengthen his spiritual brothers, the apostles. 22:31-32.
       b. Peter immediately reacted saying, "I am ready to go with you [Jesus] to prison and to death." In a safe environment, many Christians will make such a declaration. But when heat is applied, often people back off and deny Jesus. Jesus knew this, and thus said to Peter, "I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have DENIED three times that you know me." Jesus knows a human's heart. What we say often is not what is in our hearts. What protected Peter was not his own spiritual strength or growth or character, but the protective prayer of Jesus in his behalf. Intercessory prayer is very important and very powerful. We all must pray for one another. 22:33-34.

IV. Appropriate Preparation. Luke 22:35-38.
      a. Finally, Jesus warns his disciples not to be na├»ve, but instead prepare themselves properly for the crises approaching them. First, Jesus reminded them that when they followed his instructions to go out with purse, bags, or sandals, they lacked nothing. And they agreed. 22:35.
      b. Now Jesus gives them new instructions: You must take a purse and a bag and a sword to fulfill the announcement: "And he was counted among the lawless," based on Isaiah 53:12. 22:36-37.
      c. The apostles responded by telling Jesus that they had "two swords." Jesus responded, saying, "It is enough," that is, it is unnecessary to defend me when the authorities attack him, capture him, and crucify him. God the Father will take care of this whole situation. 22:38.

When we partake of the Lord's Supper, God our Father through Jesus Christ is watching and intensely concerned about our hearts. Jesus focuses on the importance of betrayal, seeking superiority over others spiritually or in any other way, wavering or failing faith or trust, and preparation for the future. This is very current for every situation for every person and every assembly of God's people.

Share YOUR concerns and aspirations and shortcomings and experiences and concepts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Ask in Faith--James 1:5-8

Daily problems confront every person. When fresh and old problems continue to flood in our lives, many time we attempt to work out these problems in various ways. God declares that the only correct approach is to come to Him in daily prayer with full faith in Him. A great text which reminds us of this reality is James 1:5-8:

    "If any one you is lacking in wisdom, ASK GOD, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and IT WILL BE GIVEN YOU. BUT ASK IN FAITH, NEVER DOUBTING, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being DOUBLE- MINDED and unstable in every way, must not expect to RECEIVE anything from the Lord."

This divine promise calls for faith or trust in the human heart. If one can only trust in God, it will be amazing to see what and how God works. The Bible is full of examples of this very point. Just one example is the time when Sennacherib and the Assyrians besieged Jerusalem and sent King Hezekiah of Judah a written letter declaring that if he does not surrender to the Assyrians, the Assyrians will destroy the city of Jerusalem. When Hezekiah received this letter, he took it to the Jerusalem temple, spread it out before the Lord and PRAYED that God will deliver Jerusalem from the threatening Assyrians. God responded by sending an angel that night who killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers, and the rest of the Assyrians fled back to Nineveh. Read 2 Kings 19:8-37;
2 Chronicles 32:1-23; Isaiah 37:8-38. What God has done God can do. When problems face us, let us turn to God in prayer with full faith and trust in Him.

Share YOUR insights and views and reservations and fears and experiences with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis