Living Faithfully in Trying Times – Part 6

By: Dr. Michael Easley; ©2005
Dr. Easley answers audience questions on a variety of topics.

Living Faithfully in Trying Times – Part 6

This message was recorded at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina. Through the ministry of The Cove, we are training people in God’s Word to win others to Christ. It is our goal to develop Christians who experience God through knowing Him better, knowing His word, building Godly relationships, and helping others know Him. We trust that this message will strengthen your walk with God and help you experience Him right where you are.

Ron went down and checked me out and according to The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis, the precise quote is “Pain plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.” But frankly, I like my quote better: Pain plants the flag of surrender in the fortress of a rebel heart. So C.S., you should have written it my way.
Question: Are God and Allah the same?
No. God and Allah are not the same. Yahweh/Elohim is not the same as Allah. If you want to pick up a great, very controversial book, Franklin Graham wrote on The Name, I’m certain it’s downstairs in the bookstore. I wrote Franklin a letter, not as though he would ever have received it, but I told him how proud I was of him for having the courage to step up and swing. He took great heat for that book. But the name of Jesus is distinct. This is where I could tell you a number of stories about dealing with Muslims both in Virginia, particularly after 9/11, as well as a little bit in Chicago, but mainly in Virginia the day after 9/11. Maybe I’ll come back to that if I have time.
But I think we need to use every civil, governmental arm we have, not to go in and scream as Christians about having mosques, but use the government, use the building codes, use the zoning codes, the parking ratios for parking lots; do everything we can as individual citizens to put in check the spread of Islam. But listen to me: number 2, we need to love them as our neighbor. And love them as Jesus would want us to love them. And I think we are naïve – this is on tape for the Billy Graham Association, I’ll be disinvited next year, maybe – I think we are very clueless and very foolish to think that it’s no big deal. You talk to Christians in England. In 1992-93, I sat with friends in England and Nigeria and they talked about how, not just peaceful Muslims, it’s a euphemistic phrase, when they come in there are factions – yes, there are men and women in our country who are peaceful Muslims and we want to be their friends and love them. Yes, yes, yes. But do not underestimate. This is not Jehovah’s Witness or the Mormons or some other large umbrella group. This is a very different group and we need to love them as Christ would love them.
One of my favorite experiences in Acts is when Paul claims his Roman citizenship, right before he’s about to be beaten. Now think about that for just a moment. He appealed to the government to stop a beating. He’d been beaten a lot; we’re going to look at that later. He’d been beaten a lot, but he plays his Roman citizenship card when it’s appropriate. So I think you can play your American citizenship card when it’s appropriate. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I have the freedom to speak of Christ even though the politically correct noise is loud. Be courageous, be kind, smile, be gentle, be firm.
Murfreesboro, Tennessee is undergoing a huge fight right now about a mosque being built. A little debate in New York about that right now too.
Question: How do we respond when we are called narrow-minded and bigoted by non-believers?
Don’t worry about it. Just turn the page. The enemy, as well as those uneducated, will always hammer us. This is what’s interesting. Is there any religion you can vilify today except Christianity? You stand up and say something anti-Semitic and see what happens to you. You stand up and say something anti-Islam and see what happens to you. Draw a cartoon of Allah and see what happens to you. You do anything toward some of these major religious groups and see what happens to you. But you can badger and beat up evangelical. Now, some of it, we have to own, we bring it on ourselves. Just turn on televangelism. God help us! Sometimes we are just easy targets; we have to concede that. Not all, but sometimes. So we’re lumped together. Christianity in America is a gigantic umbrella. If you’re a person that doesn’t understand faith, Howard Hendricks called it “Methobapterian,” it doesn’t matter what you are, you’re one of them stupid Christians. If you’re a reader, Marsden wrote a book called Fundamentalism and American Culture, and it’s the most revealing, uncomfortable story of our legacy. We have a bad legacy, in many ways. Own it.
But what you do, and what they teach you in media training, is to “block and bridge.” You block the accusation and bridge and talk about what… This is what politicians do. They say, do you think X? And they go, “Well, let me tell you about my plan for reform.” Now, they’re not necessarily good at the bridge, but they block the question and they’re on message all the time. And that’s what we need to be. This is your greatest power is to say, “Let me tell you how Christ has changed my life. Can I just tell you how Christ has changed my life?”
I know there are a lot of voices in our country. I’ll give you one quick story. Post-9/11, we were in Washington, DC. Our church was hugely affected. We were less than 10 minutes from the Pentagon and we lost one gentleman in the Pentagon. Brian Birdwell, whom, if you have not had Brian and Mel here, you ought to talk to them. Brian lived 12 weeks in the Washington Burn Center; he wrote a book called Refined by Fire. Brian and Mel have a ministry of going to burn centers and talking to children who all want to die when they’re burned at this level. And Brian’s story is unbelievable. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army and I think has passed the 20-some surgery mark for his burns. He just became elected as a state senator in Texas, which is an interesting story. But Brian was burned.
He’s the one, by the way, when the story was going around about Bush saluting a soldier. Remember that? He went to Walter Reed and they said, “No, the Commander-in-Chief never salutes a soldier.” It was Brian Birdwell, who was completely wrapped in gauze, and when George and Laura Bush saw him, they were crying. The president saluted Brian, and Brian tried to return the salute but he was in so much pain he couldn’t bend his arm. True story. And that’s Brian. It’s not awesome but it’s pretty good. Only God is awesome; only God!
So when they say you’re bigoted and narrow-minded you just say, “I know we get that rap, but can I tell you about how Christ has changed my.” No one can argue with a changed life.
Question: Does God allow bad things to happen or does He direct bad things to happen?
Yes, and yes. You can’t modify the word “sovereignty,” but I like to say God is so sovereign that….” What I mean by that is, yes, He allows it and yes, sometimes He sends it. The most difficult passage for me to swallow, in my journey, has been the “messenger from Satan” that God sent. The thorn he prayed three times for God to remove was a messenger of Satan. Now, you try to choke that one down in your theology. We’ll look at it later, I don’t want to spoil too much of it, but you remember Ananias is sent to Saul, who becomes Paul. And you love Ananias’ dodge: “Lord, have you heard about this man?” Remember that story? You know what he’s done to your people? I’m going to get killed! And he says, “Go, for he is…” what? “A chosen instrument of Mine; and I will show him how much he will suffer for My name’s sake.” Now, that falls under the direct part, in my opinion.
So suffering is this thing we’re always trying to put in neat little boxes, and say it was because,… Job, it’s because you sinned; it’s because this; it’s because that. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ve confessed every sin I’ve ever done and some I haven’t done. Maybe God will take the pain away. You know, I can’t live there. God has unconditionally forgiven me of my sins on what Christ did on the cross for me, and he loves me. I’ll never get over that. And I live with pain. I don’t understand it, but I want to live faithfully. And so do you.
So does he allow things? Yeah. Now, sin obviously impacts us under the sovereign will of God. He doesn’t direct sin into our lives, but there are consequences. A DUI comes across a lane and kills a pastor and his family of three children and his wife. And the pastor and his family had their seatbelts on and let’s say they weren’t using their cell phones and were driving 55 miles an hour, both hands on the wheels. The consequences of a fallen world. So we live in a fallen context that groans and longs for redemption, as well as you and me. So it’s our sin condition.
Question: In Psalm 103 we read, “Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” What does this mean for disease? Does it refer to the disease of original sin that we are born with?
Let’s just take a look at it; jump over in your Bible to Psalm 103. It’s a great question. I love Psalm 103. Of course, Fanny Crosby, “Bless the Lord, oh my soul,” from here? Someone told me she wrote over 8,000 hymns. “Who pardons all your,” verse 3, “Who pardons all your iniquities, heals all your diseases, redeems your life from the pit.” In technical language, we’re asking if it is exclusive or inclusive. Does it cover all of them, or is he saying when you recover from a disease, he heals you. So if that’s the case textually, when you get a disease he heals you, we point back to the way God has wired you. But the problem with that is, it says he pardons all your iniquities. That’s not compartmental, it’s all of our iniquities. So the hangnail is; does he heal all your diseases? I’m a big proponent of “context covers a multitude of interpretational sin.” You have to know the context. And I don’t always know the time-stamp of every single Psalm, but most of these Psalms are going to take you back to the Exodus and to the plagues of Egypt. Psalm 78, Psalm 103, I would argue, probably falls in that category of David reminding Israel of their history. And when they had a disease and were healed, it was God’s business. We know he doesn’t heal inclusively all diseases, because he doesn’t heal Paul; the eyes fade when Abraham gets old; when David gets old he’s too cold. So we know God doesn’t heal everything.
The other possibility is the “disease” here is a play on sin. Iniquity and sin are two different words in Hebrew, but I can’t prove that. So that’s the best I can give you on that one.
Question: Could you speak briefly on entering the rest of God when we cease from our labors and striving? How do we get there? Rather, when will we know?
Rest is when you are trusting in Christ for the situation and you’re not worried or anxious or fretting, and you know when your heart is calm. You will not be at rest in sin. If you are an anxious man or woman by nature, for a decade I woke up with a knot in my stomach: 2:00 in the morning, 3:00 in the morning, 4:00 in the morning. And once I woke up, I was up for the duration. I had a mentor friend, Floyd Sharp, now with the Lord, a retired psychologist. He and I talked all the time about anxiety. He’d always say to me, “Michael, anxiety in the heart of a man weighs down.” I said, “Mine’s in my stomach, Floyd.” And it would just get me up with a start. He told me I had a strict conscience. He said, “If it’s 2:00 in the morning and you come to a stop sign and there’s no lights or traffic anywhere in the world, you’re going to come to a complete stop.” I go, “That’s right.” And he goes, “That’s a strict conscience.” I said, “I thought I was obeying the law,” and he would laugh. I’m a rule guy. That was the way the Catholics beat it into me; I’ve got fear of nuns running around with yardsticks in my nightmares. So for me to enter rest is to be in a non-anxious presence, even though I’m a sinner.
How do you get there? Number one, you’ve got to be a disciplined person who’s got his or her nose in the Book every single day, all the time. It’s not an option, it’s a privilege; it’s not should, it’s because you can; it’s not because you ought to, it’s because it’s a privilege to be able to. I tell people there’s two things I need every morning – oxygen and caffeine. Caffeine is God’s third greatest gift to mankind; Jesus being number one, air conditioning number two, caffeine being number three. And if I don’t have a cup,… Cindy and I are coffee snobs and we make our coffee every morning and we sit with our Bibles in our laps before the children and the world distracts us. And if I turn the computer on or check the email or text, I’m toast. That’s why even though I use electronic software I stick with the Bible to read, because if I don’t do it I start to slide: 3 days out of 5, and 5 out of 7, and 7 out of 7, and I would check a box in an accountability group. I did that for three full years. And one day I woke up and said, you know, I’ve got 24 hours in a single day. I can’t give one of them to Christ?
Luther was the one, I believe, I’ll probably quote him wrong too, who said before he began his day he needed three to four hours in prayer and in the Word. So he got up at like 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. Crazy people. But that’s how he started his day. And look at how God used him. So I think until you are intimate with Jesus, you cannot find rest. Until you are intimate with Jesus, you’re trying to use the props of the world to give you rest. If you do this out of guilt or out of should, you’ll never find rest. But if you just take it and put it in your lap and read a few pages and pray them out loud. I pray every single morning when I get out of bed, literally. This sounds pious; it’s not that pious. I get out of bed and I say “Jesus, I want to serve you today and not myself.” I say it every single morning when my feet hit the rug. Jesus, I want to serve you today and not myself. Because I am a selfish preacher and I want to serve myself. And I will never find rest if I don’t know him well. So intimacy with Jesus is the corollary to rest.
Now, if you’re still doing that, you feel close to Christ and you’re still not at rest, you might need a little counseling. I’m not a big proponent of long-term counseling, but Floyd Sharp mentored me for 15 years, as a mentor-counselor. And he would always tell me, “Michael, you’re obsessive-compulsive; you’re a perfectionist.” I would say, “No, I’m not.” He goes, “Then why do you keep working on that sermon? Stop.” I’ve never preached a sermon I’ve liked, ever, in 30 years. Never. I’ll go back to the cabin and I’ll critique what I just did; all the things I should and shouldn’t have said. He says, “Let God use it. People know you’re imperfect, believe me. They know you’re imperfect.” I’ve got this demon back there saying, You’re not good enough; you’re never smart enough; you can’t get it right; you’re going to teach something wrong. And that demon keeps me awake at night sometimes. The closer I walk with Christ, the quieter the demon gets. That’s the corollary. Floyd helped me tremendously.
Question: (Uncertain)
I noticed Hebrews 12:2, thinking about our trying times. Acts 7:55, let’s look at the questions they’re asking. Acts 7:55-56, Stephen’s death. “When they heard this, they were cut to the quick. They began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand; and said, ‘Behold I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand,…’” standing in preparation to come back.
We have a couple of pictures of Jesus when it comes to the throne. Last night, I think I even said it incorrectly “sitting on the throne.” Obviously, the Father’s presence somehow incorporates the throne; obviously Jesus is at the right hand of power; but it is the messianic throne, the messianic throne of David, that there will never lack someone on the throne of David.
Question: Is that an allusion to the trinitarian Godhead, or is it Jesus? Sometimes I think we’re splitting hairs when it comes to the triune God. Is he preparing to come back?
I think, in Stephen’s case, to use my sanctified imagination, as Stephen is being killed, I think Jesus was sitting and he stands up to look down at Stephen. That’s just my sanctified imagination; I’ve got no basis for it theologically. It’s just my emotional reaction to the passage. Stephen looks up and,… Who gets to see Jesus on the throne anyway? Paul and Stephen, it looks like.
Question: What do you think about current signs and end times?
You know what the doctrine of imminency means? We believe Jesus could return at any time. My Reformed brothers, whom I love dearly, would disagree with the imminency of Christ. The imminency of Christ is, Jesus could return at any single time. When we sang the hymn “may be morning, may be noon, may be evening, and may be soon,…” He’s coming again; that’s the doctrine of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. There are friends of ours in this room who have figured out timelines and signs and wonders. Y’all remember the “87 reasons” for Christ’s return in ‘88, and then the “88 reasons” for ‘88? What was the guy’s name? Edgar … I think it was something, Edgar. And I remember he was interviewed after Jesus didn’t come in ‘88 and he said, “Well, when I see Jesus I’ll tell him I gave it my best shot.” You gotta love it! Dr. Charlie Dyer, a dear friend of mine, Provost at Moody and expert on Israel, Dr. Dyer always says, “The minute a person says I think Christ is coming back then, you can be sure it’s not that date because no one knows the date.”
So the imminency doctrine seems to suggest he’s going to come back whenever he well pleases. Now, here’s my tongue-in-cheek theological joke that nobody ever gets. My wife always says,” Why do you tell it then?” I like it, so that’s why I tell it. I believe in the imminent return of Christ – just not in my lifetime. Now, see, some of you got it! I’m going to tell Cindy, some of you laughed! What do I mean by that? I believe it could be any time, but Michael Easley, the half-glass, cynical, pessimistic guy says it probably ain’t going to be now. Here’s why I don’t think it’s going to be now: Some of you probably were around during World War II. If there was ever a time for Christ to return, to me it was World War II. Six million-plus Jews; well, they weren’t the Jews; well, there was no holocaust; balderdash. Six-million-plus Jews: go to the holocaust museums in Washington, DC, or elsewhere, or Dachau, or go to Yad Veshem. Go with us to Israel and go to Yad Veshem and see the holocaust museum in Israel. Go see the children’s holocaust museum in Israel – that one will wake you up, baby – and see how many of this Jewish group that have been slaughtered for that. Why didn’t Christ return then? My goodness.
So I believe in the imminent return; I’m just not smart enough to say when this happens and that happens. I’m a pre-Mil, pre-Tribulation guy. I believe he’s going to come back before the Tribulation. My Reformed friends who don’t believe it, I pray they get out of the Tribulation. I also believe there’ll be a literal millennial reign, for 1,000 years, where Jesus will be King on the planet. I believe the world will hate him, people will die a martyr’s death during that time. I think I’m going to be out of here, if it happens in my lifetime when that occurs. And there are far better prophetic scholars than me that you can study until you’re blue in the face.
The issue really is, are you and am I living faithfully now? That’s all he’s asked us to do. The wise and foolish virgins: are we living faithfully now? The stewards: are you doing what he gave you to do now? Is your hand at the plow? And the great part about Christ’s coming is, you don’t have to be looking for it, because when it happens you’re going to know it. And you won’t need to worry about Obama or anybody else as our president. He’s going to take care of everything.
Question: I’d be interested to know your views on American politics.
Oh, boy! Politics have changed in the last three decades. Wayne Grudem has just published a book by Zondervan. If you know Dr. Wayne Grudem, he’s a dear friend of mine. We disagree on a number of theologies, but I will tell you he’s a prince of a man. He is one of the kindest scholars I have ever met. He’s got a PhD from Cambridge, one of the most brilliant evangelical minds of the day. He’s got some different views on end times and gifts than I do and we have a collegial disagreement. He’s smarter than me, but I’m right. I have never met a man that has been so dear to pray for my back as Wayne Grudem. He’s written a monster book, just came out in the last ten or twelve days on politics in America. That’s the short, deferred answer.
The off-the-cuff answer: In the last three decades, the margins of our political parties have become narrow, to where if you win with 60% it’s a landslide victory. When I was in school, a 60 was an “F.” So what has happened in our country is, everything’s about the middle. It’s about the women’s vote, the African-American vote, the young vote, the independent vote, because those tried-and-true Democrats and tried-and-true Republicans are not going to, generally-speaking, change parties. So as you watch polls and you watch elections, you’re watching for a margin. They’re spending millions of dollars to move three or four percentage points one way or the other.
Number one: politics will not solve America’s problems – this from a guy who loves politics, who has great friends in office and in the government still. I’ve got a number of congressional friends, a couple in the Senate, many former, and I love them dearly and pray for them constantly. And they all will concede they are just trying to fight a good fight.
The thing I fear for American Christians is we don’t understand policy. This is where the church is afraid and unwilling to be engaged. I don’t mean registering for votes, I mean being engaged. For example, The Defense of Marriage Act, that we never could get the former president, whom I liked as a person, to get through. If there had been a Moral Majority-kind of effort or a Tea Party-kind of effort, or whatever effort – I don’t care what side it was on – that said we believe in marriage and we want an amendment that says a marriage is defined as a male and female in monogamous relationship, and that would have been passed, that policy then is going to be tested in courts. But once you have an amendment it’s a lot tougher to change than state by state. When states change those laws – Massachusetts and California being the two most vitriolic in this debate – that leaks into other areas. So let’s say a civil union or a multiple-partner relationship or whatever starts to become law, these policies seem abstract to you when you live in Brentwood, Tennessee. But someday there’s going to be a teacher in one of my schools, or one of my children’s or one of your grandchildren’s, that’s in a three-way marriage, civil relationship, or that vilifies Jesus without incrimination. But if you say something unkind toward a homosexual, you’re going to be in trouble.
So this is where I think the American Christian is asleep – to understand policy matters. Policy matters. This is what I think a church should do. A church should say, there’s not a person in this audience that shouldn’t be a registered voter, number one. Number two, you feel passionate about a particular issue, whether it’s life or marriage or as an African-American about some program that helps African-American single parents or adoption or whatever it is, go do it. Go get involved in some grassroots candidate thing. Go find out about these people; help them. You work a campaign, you’ll learn a lot about your country, and there’s a lot wrong with it. But it’s still free.
As long as I live, I will say I love Christ first, and I love my country. And I’m not afraid to say I love my country. It’s in a mess right now. No matter what fence you’re on or what tea party you’re brewing, it’s a mess. It used to be abortion and marriage were the two, I call them our fathers’ Oldsmobile politically. The 20-something generation cares about digging wells in Sudan and AIDS. They could care less about homosexuality, they could care less about marriage, they could care less about taxes. They’re clueless. Now, when they get 55 and are working for Merrill Lynch, they’re going to care about their taxes. But as long as mom and dad are paying their medical insurance and paying their car insurance, and they’re living at home and going to college on mom and dad’s nickel, I’m sorry, they’re just clueless about what it’s about, right? Those of you here that have got kids, you understand this.
I’m the worst parent in the whole of Brentwood, because I make my children work a little part-time job. And my kids hate me for it; they hate me for it. I will not give my 16-year-old son a license until he has all C’s and respects his mom and dad. And he’s the only kid in Brentwood that doesn’t drive a car at 16. And he hates me for it. I just smile at him and say, “When you have all C’s and better” – because he’s really smart – “and when you respect your mom and dad all the time, you get the keys to the car, and not before.” “Well, Hanna,… well Jessie,…” “I don’t care, pal. I love you more than that. You can hate me all you want, because you’re 16 and you don’t have a brain right now. And if you live to be 17, 18, 19, 25, you’ll come back and bless me, if I live that long to see it.”
So you’ve got to smile at the future and trust Christ and do good work and not be afraid of speaking your mind policy-wise. So that long, surreptitious answer. America is not the solution to our problems: Christ is the solution to our problems. As Christians who happen to be Americans, use your freedom to talk about these things, and don’t be afraid. Grow a backbone. Maybe God will use you.
Question: How have folks come to terms with you leaving the Catholic faith?
Oh my, I should have read that one before. I’m sure we have some Catholics or former Catholics in the audience. I want to be very, very careful. The Roman Catholic Church, as an organization, teaches a gospel of faith and works. The Council of Trent, if you doubt me, has not changed. If you go back and read the Council of Trent, you will read statements that use the word “anathema.” “Anyone who believes in salvation by grace alone, let him be anathema.” It’s a massive document but you can find it online. And the Council of Trent has not changed.
Now, are there Roman Catholics who believe in Jesus Christ and salvation by grace alone and faith alone, yes. I truly believe there are many Roman Catholics who believe the true gospel. That they remain in the Catholic Church, for Michael Easley personally, is a little bit of a complex discussion. As a parochial school student, as a person raised by nuns and priests, as a person who came to Christ in a dramatic way out of that background and started the Bible, and the more I read the Bible the fork in the road got wider and wider, either the Catholic Church was right or the Bible was right. I straddled it for three years and I finally had to decide, not the Bible Church, but do I trust the Scripture or a denomination? That’s the question.
A denomination is formed for lots of good reasons; all historic, all reactionary. When I left the Catholic Church, I double-dipped for three years. I went to mass and I went a Bible-teaching church. Broke my parents’ heart. I may as well have become a Hare Krishna. I did everything wrong when I came to Christ, in relation to how I talked about it to my mom and dad, brother and sister. And if I think about this for too long, I’ll start sobbing, because I wrecked some relationships. My mother and father, because they’re gracious and parents, have long since forgiven me. But I think my brother and sister are still mad at me, because I tried to “gospelize” them. I took my big fat new Bible home and showed them they were going to go to hell unless they understood this. Because I’d found Christ, in a dramatic way, I thought everybody was going to find Christ the same way. You’ve heard these stories. Some kid comes to Christ in Awana, in 4th grade Cubbies, whatever, and they go home; next Sunday the whole family gets baptized. That didn’t happen with me. I disenfranchised my family. So I tell my Catholic friends who come to Christ, love them and live out your faith. But don’t try and convert them.
Now, here’s the plus side. They believe in Jesus. The best part of Catholics; they’re the most guilty people on the planet. They’re a lot like Jews. We are the most guilty people on the planet. All you’ve got to do is say, “you didn’t do something,” and we’re going, “I didn’t. I’d better go do some penance.” Because we’re ingrained as little children: you’re guilty and you’re going to go to hell and go to purgatory, just the fear of the whole thing put into us. My dad went to mass every day. Every day. He traveled as a salesman. Every day he went to mass. Mom still goes to mass every single day. They brought communion to my dad every single day, in the V.A. as he was dying.
So I love the Catholic Church because I came to Christ in the Catholic Church. But I also see some of the erroneous teaching. The Latin countries are trying to make Mary a co-redemptrix with Jesus. Mary is an intermediator to Christ. There’s a lot of really bad stuff that’s taught in the Catholic Church. The average Catholic in the average pew doesn’t understand any of these theological arguments. They see a crucified Christ on a cross every single day; they go through a ritual that for many of them is rote and meaningless. Can they find Christ in there? Sure, by God’s grace and God’s call.
I’ve been in five or six different churches in my life, attending and pastoring, maybe seven now. And I’ve learned something in every one of them. And every one of them has got problems, even the one I’m currently in. Not me, of course, but there’s problems in the church. Here’s the deal: you’ve got a room full of sinners trying to worship Jesus in their own way. So don’t vilify it, but know that there are some hangnails in it and pray and live a life of Jesus, and talk about Him gently, firmly, smiling, and tell people how He changed your life and let the Lord take care of the rest.
Question: Matthew 21:22 – “Whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” How do you reconcile prayers not being answered in light of this promise? Jesus even told them they could move mountains.
I don’t know. I don’t know. In context, under close scrutiny, the passage is hard to explain away. The one litmus I give to these exclusive statements is that the answer to the prayer would have to glorify Christ completely. When the man in John 9 is congenitally blind and healed, Jesus creates a new set of eyes. No one’s ever done this before. This wasn’t scales falling from Saul’s eyes, temporary blindness; this was a man born blind, the text says many times in John 9. So Jesus creates a new set of eyes. I think that also explains why people don’t recognize for sure if he’s the one, because his face is changed. You’ve seen congenitally blind people: can you imagine them having eyes all of a sudden? Their whole facial countenance would change. So he was different. His parents were brought: “Is this the guy?” This is a dramatic enough miracle, that has never been done before, a miracle reserved for the Messiah; “It has never been heard before,” the rabbis who accused. “No one has ever heard before of a man receiving new sight.” The guy says, “This is an amazing thing. You don’t know where He comes from, yet I see.” The guy is great. He defied the laws of physics, biology, and everything by creating a new set of eyes. Remember the question the disciples said, “Was it this man’s sin or his parents’, that he was born blind?” Remember that? The rabbis thought you could sin in utero. Jesus says what? “Neither; but that the glory of God might be displayed.”
So when I come across these exclusive statements that are so overwhelming, my only retreat – and I don’t have a good answer for you; a smarter person than me would have a better answer – is that unless it gives pure glory and attention to Christ, there’s no reason for God to answer it. And I think some of the things we see in the New Testament signs and wonders, were designed to authenticate the apostles, to give glory to the risen Christ that he indeed was who he said he was. This is why he appeared so many times.
We have bands in the Bible. We certainly have miracles in Moses’ times, Elijah’s times, Elisha’s times, but a lot of times there’s no miracles. We have some extant miracles. We have a lot or miracles during Jesus’ early ministry, then they stop. Because a miracle doesn’t prove anything except to authenticate the power was from above. And once he puts the apostles in place and they write the New Testament, we have God’s Word, God’s people and God’s Spirit. Miracles don’t prove, they demonstrate. My Reformed friends say it’s metaphorical, “you move mountains.” How many people came to Christ when Peter preached? Over 3,000. Apparently more than any one Jesus preached. That was seen to be a cause and effect that they did something pretty spectacular. I’ll quit prattling on that one.
Question: Could you discuss the temptations that Jesus had, he faced the same temptations we do, at least in a like manner. With James that says we’re tempted when we’re drawn away by our own evil desires? Since Jesus didn’t have evil desires, what are the differences?
Excellent question. The origin of the temptation for us is the human heart. That’s where they come from and that’s what James is referencing to. Jesus is being tempted. Very important process: baptismal identification – “This is My Son in whom I am well pleased.” The Spirit descends upon him as a dove, a voice from heaven. Then he’s led into the wilderness and then he’s tempted. So we see the full humanity. We strip him of the human props; he’s hungry, he’s in the desert, he’s being harassed by Satan. So the records of the temptation accounts, if he is the immutable Christ unable to sin – as I said last night, we go into this doctrinal craziness – but if Jesus was able to sin as a human being, fully human/ fully God, then the temptations had to have some substance to them or they were just perfunctory. That’s the big debate. Because Jesus is sinless. I gave you a list last night of three different things: he knew no sin,… my brain is gone, but you remember what I talked about last night. Three references I gave you. There was no sin found in him, etc. I do not think he was able to sin. Many evangelical, smarter people disagree with me on that. But the temptation shows the humanity.
Secondly, the account of the wilderness of the temptation parallels the Exodus very closely, because everything has been stripped away except water, manna, and the presence of God in the form of a cloud. So Jesus is the second Moses in that sense – I’m using that term, not biblically – in that he goes into the wilderness as Israel did and failed for their Kadesh-Barnea failure, and then they scrounge for manna and water their whole existence. And they can’t even get those two things right, remember? So Jesus is going to completely fulfill the Mosaic law, that they couldn’t complete, in his temptation account. So he’s tempted in every way.
The records are a little different in the Gospel accounts. But one, of course, is to worship him rather than God the Father, all the kingdoms of the world, if you do this. Two, usurp his submission to the Father to make bread, which is a wordplay because he is the Bread of Life, you can’t miss that one. So each of the temptations has a parallel to will he submit to his Father. He’s going to be the king of the universe, not under Satan’s timeline but under God’s timeline.
Number one, he was fully human; I don’t think capable of sinning. You see the tension there, some think he was. I think it’s fulfilling the Moses and the Israel failure, and I think each one of them shows the uniqueness of Messiah in relationship to his Father, that nothing in the world – lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, boastful pride of life – will tempt him. He will succeed where Adam failed, where Moses failed, where all the law failed. So all those culminate in the temptation accounts. It seems there were much more things that went on; the harassment seems to have gone on the entire time, but the Scriptures only give us the two brief accounts. Don’t know if that helps.
Question: This is not really a question, it’s a comment I’d like to see what you think about. The question you had earlier about why some of the prayers don’t get answered. With me, I feel like God couldn’t really answer all the prayers because it gets to the point where we would be asking for just silly stuff. I’m serious, I think that basically, if he answered the big prayers, we’d be saying “God it’s cold this morning, would you turn on the thermostat for me?” So in a way, I think that has some bearing on why he answers some and not others. Just want to see what you think about that.
There’s a part of me that thinks a lot of my prayers are pretty silly and stupid and selfish and nonsensical. But because he’s the perfect Father who loves me completely as his beloved son, somehow he cares. I don’t get it. I tried to write the little book on prayer and I think it was Gert Behanna who said, “The question is not what is prayer; the statement is, that is prayer.” The Mennonites said, “pray until you have prayed.” I think the part of prayer that we miss is not the answer or unanswer; I think the part of prayer we miss is, prayer is dependence upon God, not self.
We’ll look at Psalm 116, God willing, tonight. I love the first two stanzas of that Psalm: “I love the Lord because He hears my prayer.” And I often stop there and say, just because He hears me; not that He answers me, but that he hears my prayer. And there’s something in that that says to me, it’s not always about answers, it’s about the discipline and relationship. Prayer is a relationship. Do I need and depend upon Him enough to say I need your help, God. I don’t have to be King James, stained glass English to pray. The Psalms are full of every single identifiable emotion, from lust to power to war to fear to imprecation to kill my enemy, you can’t miss an emotion in the Psalms. A lot of Psalms end with a haunting lack of an answer, the way we look at it: “Give me an answer, God.”
So I don’t think he’s disinterested; I don’t think he’s disenfranchised; I don’t think he’s,… Was it Rabbi Kushner who said he can’t handle it all anymore, it’s just too big. I don’t think that’s it. I think we just see such a tiny stinkin’ perspective of our little teeny lives, in the sense of God’s sovereign plan. But my sovereign Father is an intimate God who loves you uniquely and knows everything about you and still calls you his son. And he cares.
Put it in perspective. I don’t know. I think we miss the rich texture of prayer when we try to slice it too thin. I tell folks the Valley of Vision revolutionized my prayer life – the Puritan prayer compilation by Arthur Bennett. I know they handle it downstairs. And the Psalms: I pray the Psalms and I write psalms of my own, and I just beg God to help me. I think it’s dependence upon Him and not self and friends and money and power and position and doctors.
Question: If I can live by this, I think I’m going to be all right. It’s Philippians 4:6, “Don’t worry about anything. Instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for what he has already done.”
Amen. I had a wonderful assistant when I served at the church in northern Virginia, DC area. She quoted that verse to me all too often. “Be anxious for nothing,” she always told me, “Everything by prayer and supplication, let your request be made known to God.” The problem is, application is where I always fall short. But I do think if I could give each one of us – and in God’s kindness I get there more than I used to, and not because I’m smart but because He’s been kind to me – just to stop and rest. I think a lot of you are just frenetically, crazy people. You wake up with a start, you’re controlling everything, you’re running 100 miles an hour, you never take time. You’ve got kids, you’ve got grandkids, you’ve got dogs and cats, God forgive you for that, you’ve got all these distractions in life, you’ve got motor homes and properties, you’ve got travel schedules and plans, you’ve got three and four calendars, and emails and text messages and face time and Facebook and,… you know, all from hell. You just can’t do it all. You can’t do it all. You can’t do it all.
Put this [the Bible] in your lap in the morning for an hour every day, and learn to drink coffee without cream and sugar. When I was a child I put cream and sugar in my coffee; when I became a man I put childish things aside and drank my coffee black. No point drinking it without caffeine; that’s why God made it. It’s called de-; they had to take it out – de-caffeinate it. It’s in there for a reason.
Last story and then I’ll shut up. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Seminary. Back in those days coffee was a no-no; you couldn’t drink coffee. That was looked down upon in Christian circles. Very formal. He was in his 50s and he was struggling. He went to the doctor and had a big physical workup and the doctor said “I want you to drink coffee, Dr Chafer.” He said, “I can’t drink coffee. Can’t do that in my circles.” He said, “You have to drink coffee.” He said, “I can’t do that.” He pulled out a prescription pad. He said, “Two cups in the morning before 10:00, one cup at lunch, and one cup at 2:00 in the afternoon.” So Chafer took the prescription out and said, “Alright, the doctor said to do it.” And Dr Edwin Deibler, who was one of his students –he’s with the Lord now; I got to have him as a professor – said, “And after that Dr Chafer took every opportunity to extol the virtue of coffee.”
Oxygen – the breath of God. The life. Because I forget it. And caffeine, the third greatest gift God ever gave to man.

[Prayer] Father, what a privilege to be here. We are stumbling, fumbling all. Some in this room have tracked very well and would outstrip me by a dozen, and I thank you for their faithfulness to you and their kids and grandkids and those around them, their businesses, their friendships, and how You’ve used them. You’ve put each one of them in a place where they have a voice for You. And I pray that they will have eyes to see that You are using them, even in spite of whatever trouble they have. Father, as I always ask you, we love You but help us love You well. Amen.


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