Good Question

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 

Matthew 22:29

The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, so they tried to trap Jesus with a theologically difficult hypothetical situation. They wove this complex story that they thought would trap Jesus.

Jesus responds with the above reply. He tells them that the question itself is based off of faulty assumptions and that the question itself is in error. He would then go on to give them an answer to their question and challenge their assumptions about the resurrection.

But we should stop and notice that it wasn’t the answer that the Sadducees got wrong; it was their question that they got wrong. If we ask questions that are filled with faulty assumptions and poor understandings then it doesn’t matter the answer; any and all answers will be in error. Jesus had to correct their question before He corrected their answer.

Notice why their question was in error. Jesus lists two reasons: 1) they didn’t know the Scriptures and 2) they didn’t know the power of God. In other words, if we don’t have a working knowledge of BOTH the Scriptures and the power of God we’ll not only get our answers wrong, we’ll ask questions that are full of error.

How many evangelicals know the Scriptures but have no understanding of God’s power? How many charismatics have understanding of God’s power but have no understanding of the Scriptures? How many mainline protestants have no working knowledge of either? We shouldn’t then be surprised when the questions people are asking are full of error, not to mention their answers.

If you’ve never operated in the power of God, then learn from those who have. It’s arrogance to do otherwise. If you don’t know much about the Bible, then learn from those who do. It’s arrogance to do otherwise. Only then will we start to ask good questions, questions that lead to the truth instead of questions that lead to unbelief and doubt.

For example, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is a question that is full of error. It assumes the people are good and puts God’s goodness on trial, as if God should prove Himself to us, and yet our goodness goes without question. Can you see how arrogant this question is? Can you see how full of error it is? Once you ask such a poorly framed question, you’re bound to get a bad answer.

Yet, we know people are not “good” but are full of sin. We know people do all kinds of evil in the world. We know secret sins of every kind abound. Yet, God can only and always be perfectly good. So His goodness is never on trial. He never has to prove Himself to humanity (especially not after what He did on the cross).

So a better question would be “Why do so many good things happen to all of us who are so deeply messed up?” This is a good question, one worth pondering. And ultimately, while our goodness is on trial (as it should be), God is revealed for who He really is–a loving and gracious Father, slow to anger and abounding in love.

If you ask bad questions, you’re bound to get bad answers. Are there questions that you’ve been asking that are full of error? Do they need to get reframed in light of truth?

If we want to ask good questions, we must know the Scriptures and the power of God. Only then will our questions align with the truth. And God is pleased to answer all of our questions aligned with the truth.

At The Temple

The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them.

Matthew 21:14

Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last few days of His life on earth. The crowds shouted, “Hosanna!” Then He entered the Temple courts and overturned the tables of the money changers. His house was to be a house of prayer not a den of robbers.

Then this sentence sneaks in there. If we read it too quickly it’s easy to miss. Jesus was always healing people so we may not think much about it. But if we sit with it for a bit, we can learn somethings from it about healing.

These were not medically easy cases. Blindness has many causes and, even with all of our advancement in medicine, we still can’t cure most of them. If someone was lame, it could have been a skeletal issue, a muscle issue, or a neurological issue. Medicine is still struggling to find solutions to neurological problems. Yet, for Jesus, He easily healed them all. It didn’t take more effort for Him to heal these very difficult cases.

I’m sure these blind and lame folks had cried out to God for healing right where they were, right where they sat or in their own homes. But they never received healing. It wasn’t until they got up and went to Jesus that they were healed. Here we see the scandal of “particularity” or “chosenness,” and we see this all throughout scripture.

Israel was God’s chosen nation. That means other nations were not chosen. Yet, part of the reason they were chosen is because Abram responded to God’s invitation with faith. I wonder how many other men got invited before Abram but never responded to God’s invitation. We only know about Abram because he was the one who took that step of faith to trust God. The result is that his entire ancestry was blessed as the chosen nation.

Yet, chosenness isn’t just about being blessed. It’s about being a blessing to others. Israel’s role was to be blessed so that they could bless the world with a revelation of who God really is and what He is really like. The Messiah, Jesus, was the full embodiment of this role. If you want to know what God the Father is like, just look at Jesus.

And so God’s Kingdom came pouring through Jesus in the form of love, truth and power. Imagine a huge storm with clouds overhead. It is true that a tornado could drop from anywhere. But storm chasers go toward the tornados that have already dropped. They don’t sit around looking at the clouds. They run toward where the storm has dropped to the earth.

This was Jesus. He was the embodiment of God’s Kingdom come to earth. The scandal of “particularity” is that Jesus didn’t heal everyone on earth, yet He did heal everyone that came to Him. Then He raised up His disciples to be sent out and be lights in the world just as He was. The massive tornado became many tornados, spreading out as they invited God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

We learn from this that we must go to where God is moving. We can’t sit back and look at the storm clouds waiting for a tornado to drop. We don’t sit back and declare that God is sovereign so He can drop a tornado in our laps whenever He wants. That truth about what could happen doesn’t negate the truth about how God tends to operate in the world.

Learning about God also means learning His “ways.” And the pattern we see from Jesus and the New Testament is that we must go to where God is moving in power. We must go there first, and then we take that back to wherever we came from. This is exactly how it played out in Acts 2 with the Holy Spirit and the Jews that were in Jerusalem that day for the feast of Pentecost.

God is not a random and capricious God. He has certain ways of doing things. Our job is not to demand that God do things the way we want. Our job is to learn how He operates and adjust our lives accordingly. His ways are better than our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Our lack of understanding should direct us back to Him as we continue to learn how He moves in the earth.

Serving from sonship

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28

Sonship with the Father will always lead to serving others. But serving others does not always lead to sonship with the Father.

Jesus was teaching His disciples about greatness in the Kingdom of God. If we want to be great, we must go low. If we want to be top dog, we must be the last one in line. Jesus didn’t come to be served but to serve. If we, as His disciples, are to imitate His life with our own, we too must make it our lifestyle to serve others (and not to expect to be served).

Yet, our servanthood has to come out of an identity of sonship. On the one hand, if we try to elevate ourselves and don’t serve others, we become the younger son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Yet, if we serve out of obligation–thinking that if we perform all of our duties then God will owe us good things–then we become the older son.

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.

Luke 15:28-31

When we serve, we must do so from an intimacy with God the Father. We must serve from an overflow of the love God has for us and the love we have for Him. Everything we do to serve others must be “rooted and established in love” (Ephesians 3:17) and not out of obligation. True servanthood comes from sonship.

When all we have is obligation and duty, we are operating out of a performance mentality of the older brother. We are not acting as a son but a slave. We are hoping to win points with God by doing good things for Him. We ended up serving others for Him and not with Him. Eventually we’ll wonder, “What’s in it for me” just as the older son did. We’ll forget that, as a son or daughter of God the Father, everything He has is ours.

Many Christians in the Church who are always serving look like the model Christians (because they follow all the rules), yet they have hearts that are far from the Father. We have churches full of older sons, thinking that God owes us something for our good behavior and good works. Yet, intimacy with the Father–the overflow of the love of God in their lives–is gone. They are demanding, harsh, competitive, impatient, angry, and condemning behind closed doors all while looking like they have it all together. Their love tank is on empty.

God is calling us to be servants, but not out of obligation and duty. God is calling us to serve out of the overflow of our love and intimacy with Him. He’s calling us to be sons and daughter first, and then servants second. This is who Jesus is. This is who we are called to be as His disciples.

Are you serving others? Where does your service come from in your own heart? Is it duty? Is it obligation? Or is it love?

Comfort and Mystery

“I, even I, am he who comforts you.
    Who are you that you fear mere mortals,
    human beings who are but grass,
that you forget the Lord your Maker,
    who stretches out the heavens
    and who lays the foundations of the earth…

Isaiah 51:12-13

So often we comfort ourselves by using the tool of “comparison.” We feel like we are struggling financially and so we compare ourselves to someone with less and say, “At least I’m not that poor.” We feel like our career has stalled and so we compare ourselves to someone who got fired and say, “At least I have a job.” This is often how we comfort ourselves when we are facing a hard time.

But using comparison to bring comfort has an ugly side to it. When you are the one completely broke, when you are the one who lost their job, when you are the one with a terminal illness, comparison only leads to more despair. Far from bringing comfort, comparison brings feelings of deep pain and hopelessness.

God makes it clear that He alone is our comforter. We need to take our pain to Him and let His presence exchange our sorrow with joy. Psalm 16:11 says, “…you will fill me with joy in your presence…” It’s in the presence of “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles“(2 Corinthians 1:3-4) where we find comfort and a lasting joy that can’t be taken from us by hard circumstances. Comparison can never do this!

The Lord recently revealed something to me in regard to mystery. We humans tend to be hypocrites when it comes to what mystery we’re comfortable accepting. We ask questions regarding the mysteries of pain and suffering but never ask the same questions about our blessing and provision. We don’t wrestle through why we were born into a country with freedoms, a strong economy, job opportunities, clean water and sanitation. We know it is a mystery as to why we were born here and others were born into countries with none of these things. Yet, we accept this mystery often without a second thought.

However, we love to ask “why me” when we get an illness, or have a financial crisis, or troubled relationships. We embrace the mystery of blessing just fine but can’t bear to embrace the mystery of suffering. If the answer to the question “why was I born into a middle-class family in the one of the greatest countries in the world” is above my pay grade, then certainly why my friend got cancer is above my pay grade. Both are mysteries and both are beyond my understanding. To accept one as mystery and demand answers for the other is hypocrisy.

The healthy response to suffering in our life is to take our grief and our pain to the Lord. We take it to Him and allow Him to comfort us. When we think we have to make sense of it and figure it all out, we step out of our role as trusting sons and daughters of the Father. Embracing mystery and trusting the Lord with things that are beyond our understanding is a part of living in a broken and fallen world.

What mystery in your own life is the Lord asking you to trust Him with?

What do you need to take to the Lord to receive His comfort?

You Don’t Know What You Are Asking

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

“What is it you want?” he asked.

She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them.

Matthew 20:20-22

Was it wrong for this mom to ask for good things for her sons? No. Was it an unreasonable request if Jesus was about to establish His earthy kingdom with a throne in Jerusalem? Nope. After all, her two sons were two of Jesus’s closest friends and companions. Was it an act of faith to believe that Jesus was the Messiah and that He had the power to fulfill her request? Yes! It was a bold, faith-filled request, and we know God is pleased with those kinds of requests.

So, what was the problem?

The problem was that she didn’t know what she was asking.

I think that many of our prayers fall into this category, and we don’t even realize it. She didn’t realize that Jesus wasn’t yet establishing an earthly kingdom and that when His Kingdom comes “on earth as it is in heaven” it looks different than she was imagining. She didn’t realize that Jesus’s coronation would be His body nailed to a cross, a crown of thorns pressed down on His head. She didn’t realize death would precede His ascension to His throne. She didn’t realize the kind of Kingdom over which He would rule.

Garth Brooks popularized the saying, “Thank God for unanswered prayers.” And we should thank God for unanswered prayers because so many of our prayers have consequences that we can’t possibly foresee. Yet, God can foresee them. He knows that we don’t fully understand what it is that we are asking.

God can see that if we got that promotion how much traveling it would involve. He can see what it would do to our family. God can see that if He healed right now, one person would get better, but if He heals two years from now, 200 people will be impacted. God can see the weight and pressure that would come upon you if you actually got what you’ve been asking for. He can see how your heart would be crushed under the weight of responsibility. So while He’s preparing you for that thing, He loves you too much to give it to you right now.

Of course this isn’t true of all of our requests of God. But this is where trust comes into play. We aren’t going to automatically know which requests fall into the category of, “You don’t know what you’re asking.” We won’t know ahead of time, just like the mother of Zebedee’s sons didn’t know.

So we come boldly before the throne of grace with confidence and we make our requests to God (Hebrews 4:16). Then we trust God to fulfill our request or to adjust it as necessary. In humility, we need to be ready for God to tell us that we don’t really know what we’re asking and allow Him to reshape our request in line with what only He can foresee.

Are you willing to trust God even when your prayers aren’t getting answered the way you want?

Unfair

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

Matthew 20:8-15

In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Jesus is trying to teach us about what the Kingdom of God is like. He’s trying to show us a different understanding of justice, grace and mercy. If Jesus were to stand up and tell this story today, He would surely offend our American sense of justice and righteous indignation.

This is the scandal of grace. The principles of God’s grace and generosity do not operate on principles of justice. Jesus was trying to reorient the people’s definition of “fairness” toward a gospel of grace rather than a gospel of justice.

God desires to be generous with His grace. Those who get saved at the final moments of their life will inherit eternal life just as those who have been faithful followers of Jesus their whole life. We see this with the criminal on the cross who was hanging next to Jesus (Luke 23:42-43). We see this with the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). God loves to be generous with His grace.

Jesus makes it clear that God is not being “unfair”(verse 13). Everyone got what they agreed to. If we read “injustice” into this parable then we have a different definition of justice than God, and it is we who need to adjust, not Him. The real problem that this parable exposes is not God’s sense of grace or justice, but our sense of righteous indignation.

When you read this parable, who did you identify with? Were you celebrating God’s grace and mercy with the workers who got hired in the last hour of the day and got a full day’s wage? Or were you identifying with the workers who had worked all day and got the same thing as the guy who only worked an hour?

This parable exposes our heart. Who do we think we are? Are we the one who “earned more” and should have gotten more? Or are we the one who has graciously been saved by unmerited mercy and the extreme generosity of God?

Let me give you a hint. We ALL are the workers who only worked an hour. This parable was designed to expose the unhealthy sense of entitlement that rises up in us all. We like to call it “justice” but this parable exposes it for what it is–self-righteousness.

Let this parable sit with you. Let it bother you. And then let it return you to gratitude for the extreme grace the Father has show us through His Son Jesus.

Left Behind

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 

Matthew 19:28-29

We will face hardship in the world. Some of it will be just the inevitable result of the brokenness of a sinful world. Some of it will be the result sinful choices of people around us. Some of it will be the consequences of sin in our own life. Some of it will be opposition from the enemy trying to hamper who we were created to be and what we were created to do.

Yet, there is another category of hardship that comes with following Jesus. There will be times when Jesus asks us to leave behind something that we love in order to pursue His calling on our life. There will be times when we are called to take up our cross and follow Him.

He may call us to give up food at certain intervals in order to fast and pray. He may call us to get up earlier to exercise or spend more time with Him. He may call us to change jobs, move to a new place, or give our money to an organization in a sacrificial way that feels painful. He may call us to leave behind the American dream in order to pursue His dream for our life.

Whatever it is that we are called to leave behind, Jesus gives us a promise in its place. Whatever we give up for the sake of the name of Jesus will be repaid to us a hundred times over. Whatever we allow to die will be planted in the ground and will produce a harvest much larger than whatever we gave up. Our inheritance from the Lord will be much bigger that whatever we sacrificed.

How gracious is our God! If He tells us to leave behind something not good for us, like sin, it sets us free and makes us whole. If He tells us to leave behind something that is good for us as a sacrifice to Him, He ends up paying us back a hundred times over anyway. This is the generosity of the Lord! This is the grace of God!

What is God asking you to leave behind as He calls you further into Himself?