“If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

wordtolife copyJesus makes two very important promises to his disciples in John 14:12-14.  It just so happens that these two promises have resulted in some of the most hi-jacked and perverted interpretations of Scripture. In turn, such interpretations have provided the foundation for some of the most prominent false theological systems of our day.  It is true that Jesus does use some very strong language in the words he chose.  These words can be confusing, especially when we allow them to stand alone, apart from their greater context.

[12] Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do and greater works than these will he do because I am going to the Father.  [13] Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  [14] If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.    John 14:12-14

So, what does Jesus desire to communicate to his disciples, both the ones in his midst as well as us today?  What do these promises mean for the church?  What do these promises mean for God’s mission?

Promise #1: Greater Works

What are these ‘greater works’ that Jesus promises his disciples will do?

These works are NOT greater because they are more powerful than the ones Jesus did.  Jesus is not declaring that his disciples will necessarily do more powerful works than he did.  It is not a promise by Jesus that we will be able to raise people from the dead or bring healing to people as a result of ‘enough’ faith, either.

These works are NOT greater because they are done over a longer period of time than the 3 years that consisted of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Some would suggest that greater here simply means more.

Rather, these works ARE greater because they are based on the fully accomplished work of Christ and because of the abiding and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.  The works Jesus did were infinitely powerful, yet they all took place before the full completion of his redemptive mission by way of the cross.  He had not yet gone to the Father, which opened a way for the Spirit to indwell the lives of believers (Acts 2).

These greater works speak of the fulfillment of the mission of the Church, empowered by the Spirit (think Matthew 28:18-20 & Acts 1:8).  These greater works exist for the purpose of HIS Kingdom, HIS purpose, HIS fame, HIS glory.

Promise #2: Fruitful Prayer

What does Jesus mean that he will give anything we ask in Jesus’ name?

This is NOT a promise that God is obligated to do everything we ask with enough faith and by saying “in Jesus’ name.”  It does not serve as an opportunity for us paint God into a corner, so to speak, forcing him to provide all we think of to ask.

This is NOT permission to use Jesus’ name as some sort of spiritual genie or superstitious tag line.

This promise has absolutely NOTHING to do with the empowering of our own ambition or desires.  Jesus is not promising that God will grant everything it takes for us to experience our ‘Best Life Now.’

Rather, a look at 1 John 5:14-15 helps us in our understanding of Jesus’ promises.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.   John 5:14-15

First, that passage recalls the very confidence we have in offering prayer in the first place.  We only have that access because of the way opened to us through Jesus, who removed the dividing wall between us and God (Ephesians 2:14).  As he worked to redeem us on the cross, the Scriptures tell us that the vail in the Temple tore in two (Luke 23:44), symbolically illustrating for us this access that we now have been granted with the Father, through Jesus.  Hebrews 10:19-22 speaks more about this great confidence we now have through Jesus and his redemptive accomplishments.

Second, we learn a more pronounced qualifier for the anything Jesus asserts in John’s gospel.  Asking for anything in Jesus name is to ask only those things that accord to his will.

The Logical Progression in Understanding These Promises

IMG_0009As I prepared to preach through this passage this past week, I began to recall all that we have heard Jesus say and do throughout the first 13 chapters of John so far.  I remembered hearing much of the same language throughout those other chapters that are seen here in chapter 14.  Jesus has continually alluded back to the central truth that he and the Father are one, that the Father is in him and he is in the Father.  I began to realize that this message of Jesus has everything to do with the promises he declares here in John 14:12-14.  This central truth provides a basis for our understanding, especially when we couple them with who the Scriptures declare us to be as disciples of Christ and what our lives are to look like as the gospel continues its work of transformation in our lives.  You can see in the picture to the left how I began to see that word ‘authority’ as a key word to every mention of speaking and doing throughout the rest of the passage.  In light of this, I sat down and just began to write.  The following is what I came up with.  This is nothing more than my stab at following the logical progression of Jesus’ message to his disciples and how that can help us understand how to view these two important promises of Jesus.

Jesus makes clear that he only speaks and does out of the authority of the Father.  Whatever, then, he asks of the Father is granted, but only and always for the purpose of the Father.  Whatever he does flows out of the Father’s authority for the pursuit of his agenda.  Again, he and the Father are ONE.

We, through the gospel, have been united with Christ.  Our lives are said to be hidden in him.  We are called to follow Jesus (the Way), enlightened by his light (the Truth), and to experience the abundance of abiding in him (the Life).  We experience this only as we abide in him and remain connected to him.

As we live then, united with Christ, the outward expression of our lives begins to flow out of our unity with Christ through the empowerment of the Spirit.  We begin to speak and do out of that authority and not our own (this is a picture of Christian obedience).  That ultimately points back to the Father’s authority and glory in ALL things.

So the greater works we do are greater because of all that is finished in Christ, and because of the power of the Spirit that now indwells the believer.   Only when our minds and hearts are aligned with the Father’s purpose, plans and will, will we truly be able to ask anything “in Jesus’ name.”  Our requests, then, will consist of those things that only accord with the Father’s purposes, authority and glory that will drive our prayers only as our hearts and minds are aligned with his.

Our focus, then…

We can experience the fullness of v. 13-14 ONLY as we consistently walk IN Christ and are focused on HIS grand story.  We are not compelled to ask “in Jesus’ name” for him to come and join us and empower the vision we have for our little stories. As we walk IN Christ, we are compelled to ask “in Jesus’ name” for all that we need in giving our lives completely for His grand story!  God is glad to grant all that we need and ask in order to demonstrate his power in completing the mission he has given us, through us (2 peter 1:3-4).

Jesus does not intend for our focus to be on greater works!  He doesn’t intend for our focus to be on deciding what we should pray for “in Jesus’ name!”  He desires for our focus to be on him.  He is our greatest treasure.  He is the author and perfecter of our faith!  He is our desire and passion.  Only when we keep our eyes focused on him will be able to truly pray in accordance with God’s will, in Jesus name.  We will not have to look for greater works, they will be the natural by-product of living life in Christ and giving ourselves to his mission!

So, here is the most important question: Are you walking in Christ?

The Gaping Hole in Matthew West’s Call to ‘Do Something’

Matthew West’s latest single, “Do Something,” sounds a call for a revolution among Christians who are tired of mediocrity while turning a deaf ear to the suffering of the surrounding world.  Christian radio has embraced this call, promoting the song’s message with great repetition.  Now, understand, I am not against urging Christians to both awareness and service in the area of injustice.  I am, however, super critical of the way West declares his message and defines the Christian mission.  Allow me to offer a few points of contention, all dealing with the glaring absence of the gospel in West’s lyrics.

1. The song promotes a false savior & fails to recognize the true problem.

In one of the most troubling lines in the song’s lyrics (in bold below), West sings the following

I woke up this morning

Saw a world full of trouble now

Thought, how’d we ever get so far down

How’s it ever gonna turn around

So I turned my eyes to Heaven

I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”

Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of

People living in poverty

Children sold into slavery

The thought disgusted me

So, I shook my fist at Heaven

Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”

He said, “I did, I created you”

The problem with this assertion is that God never said that.  Nor will he ever say that.  This statement offers a humanistic perspective rather than a biblical one.  That somehow God seeks to bring an end to human suffering through other humans includes flawed thought, theologically.  Humanity is not the ultimate answer by God, or rescue, to human suffering.  The wonderful news is that God has indeed done something, something definite and final.  The final line there should instead read something like, “He said, ‘I did, I sent Jesus.'”  The Father sent Jesus as the only solution to sin, which is the root of all human suffering.  Jesus is the only Savior capable of the rescue all of humanity needs, yet West mentions him absolutely NOWHERE in his song.  Instead he proposes a functional savior that can only offer a temporary ease for the physical needs of the poor and disenfranchised, which presents a poor and insufficient savior indeed.

2. I, and my capacity to ‘do something’ does not offer the hope that those suffering in our world so desperately need.

It follows, then, that any relief we can offer in light of human suffering within ourselves can only temporarily treat the symptoms of the greater disease.  At best I can only ease someone’s suffering for a brief period of time.  The point of being the hands and feet of Jesus, as West does mention (although he uses ‘God’ instead of ‘Jesus’), is found in our pointing those who are suffering to reconciliation with God through Christ, not in our ability to eradicate their suffering.  In this way, West offers false hope to those who are suffering.  If we simply do something, we offer no more than any ‘secular’ humanitarian entity in the world.  What sets our mission apart from say, the Peace Corps, is that we ultimately offer what is eternal through the ministry and relief to temporal needs we provide.

I might be motivated by the fact that children are starving to go and feed a child.  However, if all I do is feed a child, that child’s hunger will return.  In order to provide true hope to that child, I must offer him spiritual, eternal, food.  If that child embraces the gospel, though he may live the rest of his earthly life in abject poverty, his inheritance is secure in Christ and his eternal life sure.  He then embraces the hope that one day his suffering will truly come to an end, being fully adopted into the family of God to live forever in the Kingdom of God.

In another one of West’s hit songs, “My Own Little World,” the same holds true.  He sings,

Stopped at the red light, looked out my window

Outside the car, saw a sign, said “Help this homeless widow”

Just above this sign was the face of a human

I thought to myself, “God, what have I been doing?”

So I rolled down my window and I looked her in the eye

Oh how many times have I just passed her by

I gave her some money then I drove on through

in my own little world there’s

Population two

So, in order to meet the perceived need in his scenario, he “gave her some money and drove on through.”  This proposed solution actually accomplishes two things.  First, it offers a temporary relief to the homeless widow.  Perhaps that money provided a meal or some clothing, which is nice for her.  But, at best, the money only offers a temporary solution.  Perhaps if he continues to do this each day, it will provide many temporary solutions, but all temporary nonetheless.  The act of giving her some money and driving on through will never meet her greatest need.  Second, the act of giving her some money brings personal validation for doing something good.  For West, he can drive away with the personal satisfaction that in some little way his scope of perception has increased to now be ‘population two.’  That’s fine, but at the end of the day the widow remains hopeless, eternally speaking.  We are not called by the Scriptures to increase the population in our little worlds for the sake of a greater perspective, but rather to advance the scope of the Kingdom, which can only be accomplished through the gospel!

Also, any belief that we can somehow bring an end to human suffering illustrates both a misunderstanding of suffering and of sin.  Suffering will not end as a result of Christians meeting the physical needs of those who are suffering.  Suffering (the symptoms) will only end when Jesus returns to once and for all bring an end to sin (the true disease).  Jesus alludes to the fact that this fallen world will never right itself.  In John 16:33 he says to his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation,” and then offers the solution by declaring, “I have overcome the world.”  Earlier, as the story of Mary anointing Jesus with expensive oil unfolds, he rebukes his disciples who asked why that oil had not been sold and the money used to alleviate the suffering of the poor.  Jesus states, “The poor you always have with you…” (John 12:8).  Suffering, sadly, will always be the reality of our broken world.  Once again, West asks a good question in his lyric, “If not now, then when will we see an end to all this pain,” only to completely fail to provide the appropriate answer for his listeners.  Instead, he promotes an idea rooted in some ‘social gospel,’ suggesting that somehow Christians can accomplish this through enough acts of service.

3. The song offers believers the wrong motivation for pursuing justice.

Our hearts should break in light of suffering around the world; however, this brokenness should pale in comparison for our reaction to their eternal reality apart from Christ.  Our motivation, ultimately, must be for God and his glory, not just for the satisfied feeling that we have ‘done something’ in light of what we deem to be unjust.  God has commanded us to make disciples, not just to fill empty bellies and ease the pain of suffering.  We must pursue work in light of injustice and suffering, but only through the vital lens of the infinitely more dire mission of the gospel.  After all, we are ambassadors of God, but the Scriptures define our primary ministry as one of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).  Our acts of ministry, then, must serve as vehicles in meeting the greatest need of those who are suffering, which is reconciliation with the Father through the Son.  If we only provide remission from the temporary suffering, in the end we have offered them nothing in light of eternity.

I am all for motivating believers to action.  It saddens my heart, though, that a song completely devoid of the gospel seems to have motivated so many.  But motivated to what?  Believers should be motivated to action because God himself has given us a commission to pursue.  We should be motivated because there are millions of people in the world that have never even heard the name of the only one, Jesus, who can truly rescue them from their greatest need, sin.  We should be motivated by the God-breathed words of the Scriptures, not the driving beat of a song that completely neglects Scripture’s greatest focus.  We should be motivated as we are “filled with the knowledge of his will,” as Paul prays in Colossians 1:9.  Now, perhaps West intends for that to be the case in his call to action, but if that is the case, there exists one great problem: He does not say it.  Anywhere.

Clarifying our Call

The Scriptures do call to us have beautiful feet, but those feet are beautiful only because they “preach the good news” (Romans 10:15), not because they come to eradicate temporary suffering.  That is impossible because our world groans from the effects of sin.  Only when Jesus returns will he do away with sin and its effects for good will that be the case.  And when this happens, the only hope for people will not come from any temporary humanitarian work done for them prior, but rather in their having right standing before the Father through Jesus.

I agree that service and the pursuit of justice belong as a part of the mission God has given us.  Jesus healed people and commanded his disciples to heal.  But Jesus always pointed to the greater issue of sin and eternal life as he healed.  Jesus met the physical needs of the the multitudes when they became hungry.  However, just hours later, he refused to feed them again, instead pointing them to their greater need for the Bread of Life (John 6:25-35).  We have an account that includes a man asking the apostles for temporary reprieve from his suffering in Acts 3.  As he reached his hand out to receive some money, Peter responds, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” (v6).  Yes, Peter meets his immediate physical need through the power of God (his being lame); however, as the rest of the chapter unfolds, Peter and John use that opportunity as a platform to proclaim the gospel to him and many other people in Solomon’s Portico.  The men exalt the gospel as the difference maker in the story, not themselves and their ability to heal.

We have been given the gospel to steward, and part of that responsibility includes clearly proclaiming its message.  At the very least these two songs by West, both of which have gained huge popularity among Christians, present a call to a mission that completely lacks the power of the gospel itself.  West proclaims, “we’re never gonna change the world by standing still.”  While that may be true, we will never change the world by just getting ourselves busy ‘doing something’ either, without offering the only true change available.  That’s the gospel of Jesus.  After all, it is the gospel that “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

How Are You Waging War?

I have embedded a video below that has greatly convicted me.  It is about 9 minutes long and includes an excerpt from a sermon by Allistair Begg.  Begg’s incredible accent alone offers reason enough to watch all 9 minutes, not to mention the great beat in the background; but, it will be well worth your time for a number of reasons if you click play.

Before you watch it, though, please consider some of my thoughts…

I would consider myself a fairly political person.  Most of the time you will find my radio dial in my car set to talk radio!  I know, I’m boring.  I enjoy political banter more than most, probably, and am generally interested in the happenings of the day.  I consider myself a strong conservative, as well as someone who very much loves his country.  Why am I telling you this?  Because, as you watch the video below, you will understand my struggle with it.  Although I did struggle, I would consider it a very good struggle.  I am posting the video because I believe that many people like me need to experience this struggle.  I will also say that the conviction I experienced far outweighed any struggle I had.

All I would ask is that you would watch the video and listen to Begg’s words with an open heart and see if you do not experience some of the same conviction.  Struggle with his words, but in an introspective way.  Allow the questions he raises to penetrate your own heart and life.  Ask yourself, “How do I wage war in this culture?”  Perhaps you will discover that your waging looks more like the world and less like the Scriptures. I know that has been true for me as I listened and evaluated.

One last observation before you watch.  I do NOT believe that Begg advocates for a complete removal of the Christian from all things political.  I have never heard his stance on that, but that is my conclusion gleaned from this 9 minute clip.  In fact, at one point, he even suggests that ‘becoming an activist’ is ok.  I do think he challenges the way we would seek to *ultimately* view our culture, fight to transform our culture, and set our ultimate hope.  I would LOVE to both see and engage in some further dialogue concerning the thoughts presented here.  So, please comment below and share your reaction and let’s chat about this most important topic together!

The Only Cure for Bullying

Awareness has been raised.  The hashtag campaign is in full force.  Celebrities and stars have enlisted in the fight.  Bullying, in many ways, has become one of the key issues of our day.  And for good reason.  Bullying poses a real threat to young people all across our country.  It has brought about trauma and tragedy.  It is an issue that really must be addressed.  However, can the pandemic of bullying be solved through celebrity shout outs and hashtags?  Although all these things might raise awareness, the ultimate answer to this question is ‘no.’  The primary reason for this is that the anti-bullying message becomes convoluted and confusing when it comes from a culture of bullying.  Consider the following. Continue reading

Life Groups Are Not and Can Not Be the End for Spiritual Growth

growingAs pastor of discipleship at Westwood, I have been struggling with something for some time now.  I believe our Life Groups are vital to the health and growth of our church Body.  I have heard many testimonies about how they have strengthened individual believers.  My family has benefited from taking part in our own Life Group.  I know that most people at Westwood know just how important Life Groups are in my view.  However, I want to make something clear.  Life Groups are not and can not become the end for Spiritual Growth and discipleship.  Let me explain what I mean.

Although we focus on three very important values within our Life Groups–those being discipleship, ministry and mission–we simply cannot pursue all areas of discipleship within that one small group program.  Life Groups are wonderful for connecting families together, reflecting and applying what has been taught from the pulpit, intentionally ministering to each other’s needs, encouraging each other in the area of personal evangelism/mission, and occasionally going on mission together.  But there is so much more to discipleship!  I know of the frustration of some that would like to go deeper, more intimate, in Life Groups, but are hindered by the fact that our groups are ‘open’ and ‘multiplying.’  Well, let me clarify my answer to that frustration.

Life Groups are not designed for that level of intimacy. Continue reading

What Would Your Spiritual Flipagram Look Like?

A couple of days ago, as is often the case, I found myself having to delete some stuff off of my iPhone in order to make room for a new update. If you have an iPhone, surely you can understand that process! First, you open the ‘usage’ part of the settings to see if there are any space-hogging apps that you can part with. Second, you go ahead and start hacking away at all of the temporary stuff, like photos and videos. One thing that I have found out about myself is that I am a picture hoarder. I hate deleting photos…especially ones of my kids! But, you gotta do what you gotta do, so you spend what feels like an eternity scrolling and checking pictures that can go. The worst part about this process is that with each rep it seems like you delete almost everything on your phone only to find out you have only freed like .02 mb of space!! This leads to yet another round of space clearing. I hate this process.

Anyway, as I scrolled through my pictures, painfully checking the ones to delete, I came across a video I had made at the beginning of the year. This particular video included pictures that I had uploaded to Instagram throughout the year. In 30 seconds that video quickly navigated through my year via Instagram. After leaving that box unchecked and completing my current rep of deletes, I went back and re-watched the video for the first time since uploading it in January. I especially loved watching my children grow through the pictures and reliving special moments that had occurred during the months of 2013. I also realized just how much of those neat events that I had almost completely forgotten. I became thankful for the opportunity to remember and relish once again in those memories.

A thought struck me as I watched the video through for the third time. If I were to make a spiritual recap video for 2013, what would that look like? What kind of snapshots would be included in that 30 second video? I became convicted on a number of levels as I pondered this thought. Continue reading

The Power of Grace

In his sermon this past Sunday our Pastor, Gerald, spoke of one of the deepest reasons that we fail to share the gospel with others.  He said that perhaps we have just come to believe that some people are simply too far gone.  He reminded us that salvation is a supernatural work of God that can open the eyes of any person, no matter how heinous, apathetic or hateful we believe them to be.  As he proclaimed this truth, a powerful portion of Les Miserable came into my mind.  It includes a soliloquy by Jean Valjean just after he has been shown incredible mercy and grace by a priest who took him in.  I was reminded of just how powerful demonstrations of grace can be in a rebellious life.  As I went back and watched that clip, especially ValJean’s struggle with the grace he had been shown, I was reminded that often God uses such demonstrations of grace through us to bring lost people to repentance and draw them to himself.  Instead of being pessimistic toward the lost state of others, may we be conduits of God’s grace, trusting him to draw even those whom we deem to be the most radically lost sinners to himself!
Here are the lyrics, as well as Hugh Jackman’s performance from the 2012 film, which I believe to be his most powerful of the whole movie. Continue reading