Monthly Archives: March 2020

All Things Are Possible: Saying Yes to God When That Is Impossible

If “nothing will be impossible with God,” then it is true that “all things are possible” for Him. Jesus declared that all things are possible on two occasions: The first was immediately after the transfiguration, when He healed a boy with an unclean spirit in Mark 9:14–29. After the father has asked Jesus to heal his son, and Jesus saw how the demon afflicted him, we read the following exchange:

Image by “Tookapic,” via pexels.com.

“And Jesus asked his father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘“If you can!” All things are possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:21–24, emphasis added; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version).

Some time later, Jesus would make a similar statement after meeting a rich young man who could not bring himself to accept Jesus’ terms of discipleship: to sell all he had, give the money to the poor, and follow Him.

“And Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” (Matthew 19:23–26, emphasis added).

Salvation is impossible without God. We cannot save ourselves. Only God can do that. However, for God it is possible.

Deliverance from the power of the devil is impossible for the natural man. Only God can win that battle. However, when His Spirit and strength dwells within us, victory is possible.

The Christian life is itself impossible for normal human nature. It goes against all that dwells within us. Several months before I surrendered my life to Christ, I was reading the Sermon on the Mount and was stunned by how much Jesus called His disciples to live above basic human nature. Love your enemies? Turn the other cheek? Don’t worry about what you will eat or drink; instead, seek first the kingdom of God? Such commands go against human nature. It would seem to make as much sense to tell us to flap our arms and fly away.

The ability to repent and surrender to God’s will are gifts that He alone can give. They are not possible without His assistance and empowerment. However, with Him, all things are possible. In His strength, you can do whatever you think is impossible.

Worldly pleasure, material goods, and comfort often hinder us from doing God’s will.

“Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:18–19).

Christians are often zealous to watch out for the so-called “big sins,” like sexual immorality or drug abuse. However, we can easily be led astray by things like materialism or commercialism, which most do not even consider sinful. These keep us from making sacrifices for the Kingdom of God. They discourage us from giving to the needy in hard times. They keep us from making time for others, since we may be using our time to accumulate more wealth. Perhaps, while many of us are in a state of self-quarantine during the coronavirus outbreak, we may be challenged to examine what is really important to us. Perhaps God has used this time to force many of us into a much-needed solitary spiritual retreat, so that we can gain His perspective on what really matters to Him and what should matter to us. The rich young ruler realized something was missing in his life and asked Jesus what he was lacking spiritually:

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:21–22).

Watchman Nee. Photo via Wikimedia (public domain).

Giving up his wealth was too much. He knew he was missing something. He thought he would be willing to do whatever it takes to enter the kingdom of God. However, he did not expect this. He knew Jesus would give him something to do, but he did not expect Jesus to demand “the impossible.”
In his book The Normal Christian Life, Chinese pastor Watchman Nee tells the story of “Mr. Paul,” an American pastor who eagerly wanted to earn a Ph.D. He believed he could bring glory to God by being “Dr. Paul” instead of merely “Mr. Paul.” However, he could never gain the peace that God really approved of his plans. He continued to study—and to bargain with God, trying to convince Him that nothing was really wrong with an advanced degree and that he could do so much more for God’s kingdom with the prestige that came with the title “Dr.” He eventually surrendered to God’s will just before taking his final examination. Prestige, title, relationships, reputation, wealth: All of these things must be surrendered to God’s will.

Ask yourself: What do you think “I cannot live without?” That is the thing you most need to surrender to God’s will. In many cases, that is the thing you need to give up. Whatever seems to be impossible must be given to God.

Surrendering to God’s will is impossible for all people. It is especially impossible for those who have become accustomed to comfort and luxury, who do not know what it means to go without food, clothing, or shelter. It is impossible for us, but not with God. With Him, all things are possible. We need to rely on His strength when we face what seems impossible.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality, Omnipotence | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nothing Will Be Impossible: Trusting God With the Difficult

“For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

The angel Gabriel said these words after explaining to Mary how she could bear the Son of God, even though she was a virgin. I can imagine Mary’s perplexed look as Gabriel pronounced the news that she would bear the Son of God: “Okay. I know God sent angels to tell women in the Scriptures that they would have great sons, but they were all married. You’re making this sound like I’m going to get pregnant any time now. How can this possibly happen?” Thus, the angel replied:

“And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35).

I still imagine Mary looking confused. “What do you mean, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you,’ and somehow that’s how I become pregnant? That’s not how Mom told me babies are made!”

It is easy for us, after 2000 years of hearing the Gospel and seeing Christmas pageants, to overlook how radical—how insane—how illogical—Gabriel’s announcement must have sounded. The Virgin birth and the truth of the Incarnation—that Jesus Christ is the immortal God who has become a mortal man—are so central to our faith that we can easily forget that they were at one time radical incomprehensible mysteries, and that ordinary people like Mary had to live those mysteries, not merely ponder them.

Omnipotence—that divine quality that means He is able to do all things—emphasizes this truth: that “nothing shall be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37) and its corollary, “All things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). Science and centuries of human experience tell us that virgins do not get pregnant. Mary recognized this. She could sense that Gabriel was leaving her fiance, Joseph, out of the equation. “How can this be?” “Nothing will be impossible with God.” Mary’s response was the purest statement of complete faith in God:

“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:38).

Mary still had to tell her parents what was going on, but probably could not even begin to explain how it happened. Nevertheless, she trusted God, so she obeyed Him, even if she could not understand what was happening.

“The Annunciation,” by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This is our responsibility as children of God, to trust and obey, even if we cannot understand what God is doing. Even when circumstances seem impossible, we trust and obey. When life forces us to believe in the impossible, the child of God must do so, because nothing shall be impossible with God.

As I write this article, residents of New York State are urged to stay at home to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The New York City metropolitan area has been called “ground zero” for the disease’s outbreak in America. Some people are afraid. “Will I get sick? Will I die? Will I run out of toilet paper? Can I pay my bills?”

New Yorkers and millions of other Americans are worried about the difficult. Life will be difficult. People will get sick. Some will die. Most of us will survive, but we will face difficult challenges over the next few weeks and months.

Even after the disease dissipates, difficulties will arise, just as they always have. People will continue to battle cancer and other life-threatening diseases, just like they did before and do now. People will face economic hardship. People will lose jobs. Families will endure conflict and chaos. These difficulties happened before, they are continuing alongside coronavirus, and they will remain after the disease has disappeared.

The difficulties are real, but they are not impossible to face or overcome. God has promised us that nothing will be impossible for Him. Can we trust Him with the difficult, when He has already told us that nothing will be impossible for Him? Can we trust Him with the difficult-but-apparently-possible, when He has told us that we can trust Him to accomplish what reason, science, and experience tells us is impossible?

Child of God, trust and obey Him. His Word promises that we can trust Him to do the impossible. Let us at least trust Him with the difficult.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Current events, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality, Omnipotence | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Coronavirus, Faith and Fear, Wisdom and Folly

“Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen” (Book of Common Prayer).

The Book of Common Prayer’s collect for the day on the third Sunday in Advent was very fitting this year. As I write this post, Americans are living in anxiety, if not outright fear. People are rushing to stores to buy whatever they can to prepare for quarantine due to the spread of a new strain of coronavirus, known as COVID-19. Good luck finding toilet paper; apparently, some people think you need 666 rolls if you are going to be stuck in your house for two weeks. Hand sanitizer is also hard to find; some online sellers have charged over $100 for one-liter bottles that sold for under $20 not very long ago. One pair of brothers hoarded about 17,700 bottles, clearing out countless stores’ inventories of the products, to sell them at highly inflated prices online. Amazon and Ebay have removed his listings; too bad the local stores did not start limiting sales of these items earlier.

Now, schools are closing: some for two weeks, others for a few months, and a few colleges have ended their spring semesters prematurely. Sports leagues have postponed games or prematurely ended their seasons. We suddenly know the meaning of the new term, “social distancing.” Handshakes and kisses on the cheek during the passing of the peace at my church have been replaced by elbow bumps; I have not banged elbows with so many guys since my days playing youth hockey. Some businesses are closing their doors until further notice; others are encouraging employees to work from home.

Some may say that all of this caution is unnecessary. After all, many more people have died in the USA from the flu this winter than have died worldwide from COVID-19 since it was first identified in December. This is the first time that I recall public health officials going beyond the standard advice (wash your hands, cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, stay home when sick, etc.) to pushing for mass quarantines.

The precautions may seem extreme, but I will do my part to avoid the disease. My greatest concern, though, is about the proliferation of irrational fear in response to this disease. So, here are a few thoughts worth considering:

  • Humanity has survived worse epidemics and pandemics throughout history. The bubonic plague killed perhaps one-fourth to one-half of the population of Europe in just a few years during the fourteenth century. A little over one hundred years ago, the Spanish flu took more lives than any other pandemic in history. (A little trivia for my fellow sports’ fans who are bemoaning cancellations: That flue pandemic forced the cancellation of hockey’s Stanley Cup Finals mid-series after Montreal Canadiens’ star Joe Hall died of the disease and several other players fell ill.)
  • Most people will not catch the virus. China has had a little over 80,000 confirmed cases. While that is a lot, remember that it has over one billion people, and the city where COVID-19 was first diagnosed, Wuhan, has almost nine million. That means that less than 1% of the people of Wuhan have caught the disease. It is possible that the number of cases in China was reduced by aggressive social-distancing practices.
  • Most people who catch the disease will recover. Less than 4% of confirmed cases worldwide have died so far. If you calculate all who have died and those who have fully recovered, the mortality rate is about 7.25% worldwide. The vast majority of deaths have been the elderly and others with underlying health conditions or weakened immunity. Most otherwise-healthy people who catch COVID-19 eventually recover. We should take wise careful precautions, especially for the sake of elderly and unhealthy friends, family, and neighbors. However, we should not act crazy as if the world is about to end.

Christians must avoid the temptation to spread fear and falsehood. Whenever a disaster or possible threat arises, some Christians will claim it is the end of the world and spread extreme, exaggerated, or absolutely untrue statements in the name of “discernment” or “prophecy.” Some have even claimed that Bill Gates owns the patent for this disease and is using it for some diabolical agenda! Such people should be forced to place a dunce cap on their Facebook profile pictures. It is true that Gates’ foundation has funded research involving genetic engineering of coronaviruses. However, there are numerous kinds of coronavirus, and the ones he has funded have been patented as vaccines. (Actually, many viruses and bacteria are genetically engineered and patented for medical purposes.) They are not the same as COVID-19. Christians must repent of their godless practice of spreading falsehoods to promote an end-time agenda. Making up lies about people—even if they are celebrities or politicians, and even if they have promoted questionable or immoral activities like abortion—is a sin. God is not glorified when His people violate the biblical commandment against bearing false witness (Exodus 20:16). If you have joined in sharing or posting such libel, confess your sins and repent.

Likewise, Christians must not join in promoting an environment of fear. Yes, we should take necessary precautions, but we should not instill fear in people. Our mission is always to advance the kingdom of God by sharing His love, grace, and mercy. He calls us to bring hope. He calls us to speak life into the hearts of others. He does not call us to instill fear. Be prepared to minister in faith, hope, and love to those around you.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18, ESV).

“… {F}or God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV).

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Current events | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“You Can Do All Things”: When God Does Not Follow Our Rules

“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2–6; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version).

Creation gives us a mere glimpse of God’s glory, power, and sovereignty. Photo from PxHere.

“I know that you can do all things.” The believer’s statement of faith accepts God’s omnipotence and sovereignty as part of his life.

Job came to understand this. The book that bears his name is 42 chapters long, but it is easy to summarize in a few brief paragraphs. Job was a faithful and righteous man, and God had blessed him because of his faithfulness. He had a large family and many possessions.

One day, Satan came before God and questioned Job’s faith. He claimed that Job was not really so righteous but merely worshiped God from selfish motives: Take away his wealth, and he will curse God. So, God allowed Satan to take away everything Job had: his sheep, other livestock, and even his children. (See Job 1.) Despite all of this tragedy, Job did not question God:

“And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’” (Job 1:21).

In chapter 2, Satan raised the ante:

“Then Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.’ And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life’” (Job 2:4–6).

So, Satan inflicted Job with painful sores. This pushed Job to the brink of despair. Even his wife gave up and urged him to “curse God and die.” This began the great temptation, as others began to challenge and question his faith.

Job’s friends accusing him of some secret sin, which they assumed must have been the reason for his suffering. From William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job (published in 1826, now in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

For most of the rest of the book (chapters 3-37), Job finds himself in an argument with a group of friends who had come to comfort him in his time of suffering. However, instead of offering true comfort, they tried to offer explanations: “Job, it’s obvious. You have sinned. God is angry at you. You need to admit what you did wrong.” Job would essentially respond, “No! It’s not my fault! God needs to explain Himself to me! God, why are you picking on me?” (Neither of these passages are from the ESV, but are the “Michael E. Lynch Brief Summary Paraphrased Edition.”)

God would finally answer in chapters 38-42. However, He did not directly answer Job’s challenge or his friends’ accusations:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2).

For the next four chapters, God basically asked Job: “Do you have any idea what you are talking about? Were you there when I created the universe? Can you explain why animals do the things they do? If you can understand what I have done and what I have created, then I will answer you.”

We think we can explain how God works and why He does the things He does. God essentially tells Job—and the rest of us—that we do not know all that we think we know.

One does not follow Christ for too long without realizing that life does not always fulfill our expectations. Financial difficulties may come. We may lose our jobs. We may make financial decisions that backfire on us. Loved ones may die suddenly. We may pray for sick family members who do not recover. Our own health may fail, even though we claim our healing in Jesus’ name. Those who love us may say and do things, perhaps even with the best intentions, to discourage our faith.

Job had been through all of that, and yet he could say, “I know you can do all things,” even though God had chosen not to do everything he expected. When we understand Who God is and how great and powerful He is, we can begin to recognize how small we are and how little we know. We see our current situation: God sees how our choices today will affect the lives of those around us, including generations who have not been born yet. We might see two or three ways to handle a problem; God sees related problems that we have not considered.

God sees our personal weaknesses that we have chosen to ignore. Sometimes, He allows hard times to bring our character defects to light so that we can confess our sins, repent of them, and grow in faith and godliness. God is working in these situations, even if He is not doing the things we expect or want Him to do.

Faith in God recognizes that He is sovereign and all-powerful. However, it also acknowledges that He will not always do everything we want Him to do. Genuine faith recognizes that God is working and in control even we do not see Him working. Even when Satan seems to have the upper hand, God is in control.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality, Omnipotence | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Divine Sovereignty and Omnipotence

“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory…” (Revelation 19:6–7; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version).

Image created with the YouVersion Bible app.

One cannot speak of God’s sovereignty without also speaking of His power. Theologians use the term “omnipotent” to describe God. That is not a term most people use frequently. Comedienne Lily Tomlin’s character, Ernestine the telephone operator, defined it as “That’s ‘potent’ with an ‘omni’ before it.” If that does not help you understand it: The prefix “omni” is from a Latin word meaning “all” or “every”; “potent” means “powerful” or “able.” Thus, “omnipotent” means “able to do everything.”

This would be necessary for divine sovereignty. Sovereignty demands the power or ability to back up one’s authority. Imagine a sovereign nation whose government is unable to enforce its laws: its citizens refuse to obey; the police cannot do anything about it. Usually, the government is unstable and easily overthrown. It may claim the authority to rule, but without power—potency—to back up that claim, it is not truly sovereign.

God has made bold claims for His authority to rule. His bold claims demand bold power. Fortunately, He is such a God.

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

God created the entire universe by speaking it into existence. He exercises His authority and power merely by speaking. As expansive as the universe is, it is no challenge to the power and greatness of God’s word!

Jesus said that His authority extended beyond the grave. Throughout creation, death strips every living creature of its power and authority. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office and assumed the role of President immediately. Why? Because Kennedy could no longer exercise any authority. He could no longer do anything. As a dead man, he no longer had any ability or authority.

However, Jesus was not like other men in this regard:

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17–18).

Pay close attention to what Jesus said.

  • “No one takes {My life} from me”: Nobody had the authority to kill Him. The Jewish leaders, Roman soldiers, and Pontius Pilate thought they were in control, but they had no authority beyond what God had allowed them (John 19:11). “I lay it down of my own accord.”
  • “I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” It is pretty easy to lay one’s life down. Thousands do that every year by committing suicide. These people are exercising the ability, if not the actual God-given authority, to choose their time and means of death. However, it is not easy to take one’s life back up after laying it down. Only Jesus could do that. The rest of us are just left to decay. However, Jesus did not merely say He had the ability to take up His life again after dying; He said He had the authority. His ability and His authority went hand-in-hand.
  • He had received His authority and ability from His Father. Jesus’ ability and authority were intimately linked to His heavenly Father’s ability and authority.

All humans are limited in our ability and authority. Natural strengths and weaknesses limit us. Somebody may have legal authority to replace all of the electrical wiring in his house, but without a working knowledge of electrical wiring or training as an electrician, he would not have the ability to do so. Illness and death will eventually weaken and eliminate any ability and authority we may have.

However, Jesus does not have this problem. He has conquered death:

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades’” (Revelation 1:17–18).

The keys denote authority. Just as keys to an apartment indicate that the holder has authority to open the door and enter, the keys of death and hell indicate the Jesus has authority over death. While physical death eventually conquers all of us, Jesus had authority over death. It did not hold Him down.

This is the God Christians worship. Death could not stop Him. His power is infinite. No problem you face is too big for Him. If His own death could not stop Him, no problem you have is too great for Him. He has the power and the authority to heal, save, restore, and deliver.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, divine sovereignty, God's Nature and Personality, Omnipotence | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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