A. At the Missouri Synod Lutheran church, the pastor preached about John 15, in which Jesus compares himself to the vine and his disciples to the branches. V 16 states: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you” (KJV).
The pastor said that the promise in that verse does not suggest that God will give us, say, a pony if we ask for it in Jesus’ name. Rather, it should be read in light of the themes in John 15: abiding in Christ, bearing spiritual fruit, and love for one another. The pastor also brought up John 20:21, in which Jesus affirmed that, just as the Father sent him, so he is sending the apostles, as the apostles are to carry forgiveness. Jesus’ point is that God will grant the disciples’ requests so long as they are the sorts of things Jesus would ask for, and this occurs as they abide in Christ and have Christ’s mind. God will grant them what they need to produce spiritual fruit, to love one another, and to perform their mission as Christians. This is important because, apart from Christ’s empowering, an institution could fall apart due to irritability, unforgiveness, and ego. We may prefer to receive a pony, the pastor said, but what Jesus offers is far more important.
The pastor also talked about how God’s Word prunes us, cutting away our dead branches that we might produce more fruit. It does so by challenging us, and in some cases cutting us, as it confronts our selfish mindsets.
B. At the Missouri Synod Sunday school class that I attended, we watched another Rob Bell video. Bell was talking about anger, and how we get angry at personal inconveniences, while we are not angry over larger world problems, such as death from hunger. Jesus, by contrast, was angered over the hard hearts of his critics, who did not care for a man with a withered hand, whom Jesus would heal on the Sabbath (Mark 3:5). Bell suggested that we channel our anger into worthwhile endeavors.
We talked about our struggles with anger, and how we can work at least to make a dent in societal problems. One lady said that all she felt she could do about certain societal problems is pray. A couple, which is planning a mission trip to an orphanage in Romania, said that one should not sneeze at prayer! It was when they prayed about a problem that concerned them, that God placed on their hearts something that they could do about it.
C. At the “Word of Faith” church, the pastor talked about the part in Ephesians 4:8 about Christ giving gifts to people. These are spiritual gifts, and they entail Christians going out and helping to renew the world: the world is crying out for them to do this, a la Romans 8:19. In pursuit of this, God has given people gifts. Some are apostles, who are entrepreneurs. Some are prophets, who have a vision. Some are teachers, who point out the practical things that need to be done to fulfill that vision. Some are evangelists, who remind the church and those outside of the church that one does not earn God’s favor through merit but has it by grace. The pastor said that Christians are a new humanity, whom God is freeing from the strongholds of thought that enslave the world, strongholds such as unforgiveness. Yet, the pastor also said that he would like to see the church as a place where everyone, good and bad, feels as if he or she matters.
D. This item will include some of my reservations about what was said above, and I hope that does not imply to anyone any negativity or nit-picking on my part.
On John 15:16, I have heard similar things to what the pastor said, although the pastor stressed more the relationship of bearing spiritual fruit to things that we request. I would not be surprised if abiding in Christ does lead us to ask for things for which Christ would ask. My question is, though, why God would not answer certain prayers for healing. Are not those consistent with Christ’s character, since they reflect love? Plus, Christ healed people. Incidentally, one interpretation of John 15:16 that has long intrigued me is one that states that it related to the apostolic miracles in the Book of Acts: God answered the apostles’ request for miracles, as a way to confirm their message about Christ. I have encountered this interpretation among classic dispensationalists and Church of Christ people. They make that point from a cessationist perspective, claiming essentially that John 15:16 applied to the original apostles, but not to Christians since then, as, according to them, the time of Christians performing miracles was over after the apostolic age.
On Romans 8:19, Romans 8 appears to me to concern the saints’ eschatological glorification, not their attempts to improve the world in the here and now. Paul himself did not appear to promote community service, per se. He encouraged Christians to love and to serve one another. He still cared about non-Christians, as he preached the Gospel to them. But I cannot recall any Pauline passages about Christians going out into their towns and cities and serving people. I do think that such a concept is consistent with the Bible, though. Jesus promoted such a concept when he healed people and encouraged the giving of alms. There are Old Testament passages about the pursuit of justice.