Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The God Who is Able to Do


One of my favorite passages in Scripture is the doxology of praise Paul wrote at the end of Ephesians 3. Verses 20-21 say, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”


Warren Wiersbe wrote that Paul seemed to be trying to use every word at his disposal to describe God’s ability to grant all that we ask or think—He is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all. He is truly the God who is able to do all these things. But I think it is interesting if we shorten that last sentence. God is able to do. We serve a living God, one who is able to do. This is in sharp contrast to the dumb idols and statues made by human hands that the Jews of old would frequently serve. 


In the same city of Ephesus where Paul sent this letter, the silversmiths who made statues of the goddess Diana became furious that people were turning from Diana to Jesus because of Paul. Their business took a major hit. Their accusation against Paul was that he told people that gods made by human hands were not gods at all (Acts 19:26). On Mount Carmel the prophets of Baal realized their god could not send fire, even though Yahweh did as soon as Elijah prayed (I Kings 18). 


In Isaiah 44 the prophet issued a challenge to the gods made of wood: Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear... But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless (v.19,24).” “Do something! Anything!” But obviously the false gods could not do one single thing. Our God is able to do.


He is also able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think. The Bible shows us that God has always been working through his people:


He caused the widow’s oil to never run out, 

And Elijah was fed by ravens in the midst of a drought.


He gave Hannah the child for which she prayed, 

And Philip to the eunuch that he might be saved.


He opened Blind Bartimaeus’ eyes, 

And called Lazarus out and brought him back to life. 


He made Esther the queen for such a time as this, 

And rescued three boys from a fiery furnace.


He provided Ruth with a kinsman Redeemer, 

And let Simeon live long enough to see the Savior.


He granted weak Samson’s dying wish,

And Jonah was spared from the mouth of a fish.


Noah was saved from a world-wide flood,

And we are saved by Jesus’ shed blood.


He made salvation possible across all races,

And seated us now in heavenly places.


So lets be people of prayer, no matter the task,

For He can do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

When the Devil Quotes the Bible



The biblical account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is a favorite one for many people; it appears in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is a great narrative because it gives us a manual for how to handle our own temptations—each time the devil tempted Jesus, the Lord responded by quoting Scripture. We too should rely on God’s Word, hidden in our hearts, to help us in our spiritual battles. 


But today I want to focus on a different part of the temptation account. Often lost in the telling of this story is the fact that Satan also quoted Scripture. Its as if the devil tweaks his strategy and says, “If you’re going to quote Scripture, then I will as well.” In Matthew 4:5-6 we read, “Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”’”


So here is what I want to point out: we need to be very careful about finding one phrase from the Bible and running too far with it. Satan was able to find a sentence from Psalm 91 that may have applied to the situation. Jesus could seemingly throw Himself from the top of the temple and the Father would be forced to dispatch the angels to rescue Jesus. But notice how Jesus responded. Jesus did not tell Satan that the verse was wrong. Jesus said “Again it is written (in other words, “It is also written,” or “It is written elsewhere”).” Yes, the Bible may say X, but it also says Y. 


As Christians we need to know all that the Bible says on a topic (X AND Y). It may say this, but it also says that. I am not suggesting that these phrases contradict each other; rather, they complement each other. The Bible is a unique book. It is not written like a self-help book, where each chapter tells the reader all there is to know on a topic. It reveals information, sometimes little by little, through the use of narratives and teaching. 


Some people read a verse on prayer, such as, “If you ask in my name, I will do it (John 14:14),” and they operate as if that is all the Bible says on prayer. But “again it is written,” that a person who lacks faith should not expect to receive anything from the Lord (James 1:6-7), and the person who asks with improper motives will “ask and have not (James 4:3).” (We also need to understand what it means to ask in Jesus’ name) 


The same can be said of the oft-repeated phrase “Judge not (Matthew 7:1),” and the oft-ignored instruction, “When you judge, use righteous judgment (John 7:24).” 


The point is, we need balance with Bible study. We need to be careful not to grab one verse and form an entire theology, but to research all that the Bible says on a given topic. 


Sunday, January 2, 2022

Fishers of Men

I have always been fascinated by the miracle Jesus performed when He called Simon, James, and John as His first disciples. These three men owned a fishing business together, and when Jesus approached them one morning they had just finished a night of futile fishing. They had worked unto the point of exhaustion without so much as a nibble (a feeling I know a little something about). Jesus told the crew to push out into the deep and throw their nets out one more time. 


Simon, who Jesus later nicknamed Peter, did this for a living. He knew at the Sea of Galilee you fish in the shallow end during the night, but Jesus told him to fish in the deep end in the morning. Peter may have been thinking that Jesus should stick to carpentry and leave the fishing to him. He had even begun the process of washing his nets. If they weren’t cleaned and dried, they would rot and break. His body had to be ready for bed, but he replied, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets (Luke 5:5).”


Peter trusted Jesus and dropped his net one more time. The result was not just one boat, but two boats filled with fish, even to the point where they were about to sink. That miracle not only demonstrated the power of Jesus, it served as a foreshadowing of what these fishermen would do if they would continue to trust and obey. 


“And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him (v.10-11).” Jesus turned fishermen into fishers of men. These disciples would soon be bringing people to faith in Jesus, and that is what we have been called to do as well. 


Following Jesus isn’t always easy

But it pays off in the end;

If you’ve fished all night without a bite

Drop your nets in again.


Push your boat out into the deep

It doesn’t matter what you think—

The fish you’ll take will cause your nets to break

And your boats begin to sink.


What if we had this kind of faith

For whatever the Lord will say?

We surrender all to answer the call

And all of His words obey.


This isn’t about just catching fish

But reaching all mankind;

We’ll see lost men give their lives to Him

One soul at a time.


Sunday, December 26, 2021

Taking Care of Ourselves

This might seem like an obvious statement, but we are supposed to take care of ourselves. As Christians we speak so much about self-denial, and about putting the needs of others ahead of ourselves, that we may sometimes give the impression that there is something wrong with meeting our own needs. I would like to try to clear that up. 


Yes, we are taught to look out for other people. When asked which commandment was the greatest in the law, Jesus said to love God with all of one’s heart, soul, and strength. Then He added a second command—to love one’s neighbor as himself. Based on this, we often say the best way to have true J.O.Y. is to put Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. But that does not mean that we should never take care of ourselves. 


Yes, we are told to practice self-denial. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23).” But this self-denial is not an ascetic lifestyle where we give up food, electricity, or even talking. This means we deny the body’s natural tendency to find enjoyment in sin. When the flesh craves that which is off limits, the believer practicing self-denial will say no to the temptation. This self-denial is spiritual. 


We need to take good care of ourselves, and not feel guilty when we do. Paul wrote that no one has ever hated his own flesh, but takes care of it (Ephesians 5:29). When we are hungry, we eat; when we are tired, we sleep. We go to the doctor and take our medicine. This isn’t wrong, and there is nothing extra holy about denying ourselves (periodic fasting is a different issue). 


If you have ever flown in an airplane, during the preflight instructions passengers are told that, in the event that oxygen masks are needed, to always secure their own mask before helping other passengers. This may sound selfish, especially to a mother whose first instinct is to help her children. But think about it: if the mother passes out while securing the child’s mask, will that child be able to put the mother’s mask on her? Once the mother has secured her own mask, she will be able to help as many people as she wants. 


In the same way, if you think taking care of yourself is selfish, understand that you can do much more for other people when you are at full strength. So eat healthy. Exercise. Get a good night’s sleep. Have annual checkups. Reduce your stress. Take a day off work (and a weekly Sabbath). Say no sometimes. Spend time with family. Never feel guilty about taking care of yourself, because you are of much better use to us when you are well.


Taking care of ourselves is also worship. I Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” We can glorify God by taking care of the bodies He has given us. 




Sunday, December 19, 2021

Mary’s Magnification


After the angel told Mary she had been chosen to carry the Son of God into the world, she went to visit her relative Elizabeth, who herself was experiencing a miraculous conception with John the Baptist. After the two ladies shared their experiences with one another, Mary burst forth in a song of praise. This hymn is known as The Magnificat, taken from the Latin rendering of the opening phrase, “my soul magnifies [the Lord].” 


In Luke 1:46-55 we read her words, saturated with Old Testament language, intended to demonstrate how good God was to her, and to her people Israel. One phrase from the Magnificat says, “for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name (v.49).” I love that Mary introduces this song with the word magnifies; she used her words as a magnifying glass to help us get a better picture of her God. 


Did you ever play with a magnifying glass when you were little? Like Sherlock Holmes, I pretended to be a detective on the hunt for clues, putting my magnifying glass on anything I could find. I recently downloaded a magnifying glass app that uses my phone’s camera lens to zoom in on things. If you have noticed that the print on your page seems to be getting a little smaller, you might invest in magnification to assist you in your reading. A good magnifying glass can make things come to life, as things missed by the naked eye jump out at us. 


Mary’s glad heart was magnifying the Lord, so she used her words to help us see what she was seeing. In her song she emphasizes her lowliness and God’s holiness; Mary was not perfect and did not become divine. She even referred to God as her Savior (v.47). Only sinners need saving, so Mary lumps herself in with fallen humanity. She magnified God because He offers salvation to those who put their trust in Him, noting, “and His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation (v.50).”

Mary said that God had done great things for her. What sort of great things had He done for Mary? Here’s the thing: we don’t know much about Mary’s life. But without having a biography of this young girl, I can deduce a few great things God had done. Mary had a roof over her head, clothes on her back, food on her table, and air in her lungs. These daily blessings are often taken for granted, but they are great things from God. Mary also had a godly fiancĂ© in Joseph and what we would call a Christian upbringing. She knew Scripture, as her song indicates. Those are great things from God. 


We like the big, flashy miracles from God, but we need to remember that not all of God’s blessings are immaculate conceptions. There are a handful of once-in-a-lifetime great things, but let us never forget that day in and day out, God is doing great things for us.  


Sometimes we get so busy in life that we forget about all the ways God has blessed us. Whenever that happens, use Mary’s words like a magnifying glass and take a good, long look at how good God is. 


Merry Christmas! 


Thursday, December 16, 2021

Israel’s Consolation


One of the often overlooked characters in the cast of Christmas is Simeon. Mentioned only in Luke’s Gospel, this man somehow recognized the baby Jesus as the promised Messiah. Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to be presented to the Lord; this was in accordance with the Mosaic law’s requirement concerning firstborn sons. It was while they were at the temple that Simeon perceived that Jesus is the Christ. 


From his statement we learn that the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had the opportunity to see the Messiah with his own eyes. Having now held Jesus in his arms, Simeon said he could die in peace because he had seen God’s salvation. Although we do not know much about Simeon outside of this passage, I love the way Luke describes him: “And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him (2:25).”


What does it mean to wait for the consolation of Israel? This is part of how Luke proves Simeon was devout, for a common prayer that Jews prayed was, “May I see the consolation of Israel!” The phrase referred to the Jews’ hope that the Messiah would come. The word consolation carries the idea of comfort and encouragement, and one of the titles for the Messiah was the Comforter. The idea goes all the way back to the prophet Isaiah. 


In 40:1 we read, “‘Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God.” Then dropping down to verse ten the prophet identifies the Lord as the one who would be sent by God to bring comfort. Based on this, Jews looked forward to God sending the Lord who would be the comforter, or the one who would bring consolation to Israel. The nation needed consolation because it was the silent era and God had not spoken through a prophet in 400 years. More than that, they needed consolation because they needed saving from their sins. Isaiah 40 was written as a promise that, even though Israel would be exiled to a foreign land, God would one day restore them. 


That served as a metaphor for humanity being captives to their own sin, but God’s Comforter would come and set them free and put them in a right relationship with God. 


If the world needed a soldier, God would have sent a five star general. 

If the world needed a monarch, God would have sent a dynastic king. 

If the world needed a fighter, God would have sent a heavyweight champion. 

If the world needed a teacher, God would have sent a wise scholar. 

But the world needed a Savior, so God sent His perfect Son, an innocent baby. 

If the world needed a thinker, God would have sent Plato. 

If the world needed a mathematician, God would have sent Einstein. 

If the world needed an inventor, God would have sent Edison.

If the world needed an artist, God would have sent Michelangelo.

But the world needed a Savior, so God sent Jesus. 


Simeon got to see the consolation of Israel because He recognized Jesus as the only Savior for mankind’s spiritual captivity, and you can do the same. We can sing along with the great hymn writer Charles Wesley: 


Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free;

From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in Thee. 

Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art;

Dear Desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.


Born Thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King;

Born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring.

By Thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;

By Thine all sufficient merit raise us to Thy glorious throne. 


Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Lord Remembers



Have you ever felt like God has forgotten about you? You try your best, you go to church, you obey the law, but it seems like God forgot you exist. What makes it worse is when you look around and see all the people God has not forgotten—all the people who seem to have it so easy, who get whatever they want, and see everything go their way. Has the Lord forgotten about you?  


I certainly don’t think so. We get a reminder of that truth in the details from the birth of John the Baptist. In the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel God sent the angel Gabriel to deliver a special message. There we read: “But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John (v.13).’” This single verse provides us with three important names. 


Zacharias is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Zechariah, and the name means, “Yahweh has remembered.” Elizabeth is the Greek form of Aaron’s wife, and her name means “God has sworn an oath.” Their son was to be named John, which means, “Yahweh is gracious.” When we bring these three names together we are reminded that God makes promises, and He remembers to keep those promises because He is gracious. The birth of John was proof of that fact; not only was the boy the answer to his barren parents’ years of prayers, but he also was the fulfillment of prophecy that there would be a messenger in the spirit of Elijah who would prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. The prophet Malachi told Israel that before the Christ comes, there would be a messenger, and John was the fulfillment of that prophecy. 


A fact we cannot overlook is that this account ends the silent era, the four centuries in which God did not speak through a prophet. The silence is broken by an angel speaking to Zacharias, and the last time God sent an angel to speak to someone was 500 years earlier—to the prophet Zechariah. The silent era was bookended by God speaking to two men with the same name, and it stands as a promise that Yahweh remembers. 


To return to my opening question, have you ever felt like the Lord has forgotten you? You may be experiencing your own silent era in which God isn’t speaking, but that doesn’t mean He has forgotten. God has sworn an oath; in fact, He has sworn many, and because He is gracious we can count on Him to keep His promises. We have been awaiting the Lord’s return to earth for 2,000 years; He has sworn an oath and will remember His promise. The same is true for all of His other promises: He will not deal with us according to our sin, He will prepare a place for us in the Father’s house; He will forgive and cleanse as often as we confess, and on and on. 


The Lord remembers His promises, and because He is gracious, we can rest knowing that He will come through.