Posts Tagged With: faith

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: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ash Wednesday: Rules or Relationship, Faith or Fellowship

I was a young Christian when I attended college in the mid-1980s. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior following my freshman year, in the summer of 1984. During my senior year, 1986–87, a hall-mate in my dorm asked me once, “So, I hear that you’re a born-again Christian? What does that mean? Does that mean you’re not allowed to drink or smoke or have sex?”

Cross of ashes on a believer’s forehead. Photo by Jennifer Balaska (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

I replied, “Actually, I’m allowed to do everything that God allows you to do!” For a few brief seconds, I enjoyed the slightly confused look on his face.

“To be born again means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” I continued, probably quoting John 3:3 while sharing some other details about the Gospel. “Because I have a relationship with Jesus, I want to know His will and do it. He has forgiven my sins and I want to honor Him by trying to be more like Him.”

God’s kingdom extends to all. The greatest difference between Christ’s followers and others is that Christians recognize that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. We are forgiven, and we follow Him.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent in many churches. The season lasts 40 days, plus Sundays, culminating in Easter. Many Christians will receive ashes in a cross shape on their foreheads, as a reminder that “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Those who observe Lent will fast during the 40 days: some may give up a favorite food, beverage, or activity. Catholics and some members of other churches may give up meat on Wednesdays and Fridays.

For those who are observing Lent: Do not let it become a season of “Does that mean you’re not allowed….” Let it be a season of renewal in your relationship with Jesus. Yes, give up those cookies, if that’s what you feel God is leading you to do. But, do not stop there. Figure out how you can use this time to enhance your relationship with Christ.

One of the ministries in my church is hosting a series of “Life in the Spirit” seminars during Lent. This made me think: How can I allow the Holy Spirit to more clearly direct me? How can Lent become a time when I become more in tune with the leading of the Holy Spirit and less driven by habit or routine? How can I hear more clearly from the Holy Spirit?

This leads me to one of my goals in Lent. I have developed a routine of praying at the computer: I have my online Bible open in one tab, the Book of Common Prayer open in another. It can be easy and convenient to have everything I need right in front of me.

Unfortunately, this convenience can lead to distraction. It is too easy to open another web browser that goes directly to Facebook. My email client will keep popping alerts onto my screen. This Lent, the computer stays in sleep mode during my prayer times. I still have a few “ancient” Bibles from the 20th century, printed on paper with actual covers and binding (OK, one or two have lost their covers!), along with an equally-old copy of the Book of Common Prayer. Neither of these artifacts from the last millennium give email alerts or social media links. This will avoid the temptation to allow my prayers to be distracted by less important things. It is rude to stare at your computer screen when a person in the same room is telling you something important. Could it be just as rude, perhaps, to wander off to Facebook and email while talking to God or, even worse, when He is trying to speak to you?

Lenten fasts and practices should be personally meaningful and relevant. God may be calling you to do something very different from what He is calling others to do. I have shared some advice regarding Lenten fasts here and here.

Ask God: “Is there anything I can try to do differently in Lent? Should I pray differently? Should I spend more time in Bible study? Should I find ways of serving You that might challenge me to step out of my comfort zone?”

Lent, like the rest of the Christian life, is not primarily about what you are allowed to do. It is about who God is in your life. May this be a time when you invite Him to claim a greater role in your life.

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

Categories: Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Divine Sovereignty. I. God Is In Control

As I write my next few posts about the sovereignty of God, I may at times be preaching to myself. Over the years, I have struggled with depression. During hard times, it is easy to slip into doubt; to believe I have made choices that will haunt me for the rest of my life; to think there is no way out; or to think that even God cannot help me now. Those are some of the lies of depression, and one of the believer’s weapons against it is to fill your mind with the truth of God’s word. If you need to be reminded that God is in control the same way that I do, I pray that these posts about divine sovereignty give you hope, faith, and encouragement. A clear biblical understanding of divine sovereignty is essential to a faith that can trust God in hard times.

“Jesus walks on the Sea,” by Gustave Doré (1832-1883). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

What do we mean by “sovereignty”? The Disciple’s Study Bible (Holman Bible Publishers, 1988, p. 1738) defines it as follows: “God’s freedom from outward restraint; His unlimited rule of and control over His creation.” This is closely related to some of His other majestic attributes (being all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere present, eternal, etc.) and describes how God utilizes His majestic power and glory to govern the universe He created.

In some forthcoming posts, I will share different areas where God’s sovereignty extends. For this post, I will remind you that God’s authority extends over all of creation:

“For I know that the Lord is great,
and that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
in heaven and on earth,
in the seas and all deeps” (Psalms 135:5-6; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

God created the universe. He created the sky, earth, atmosphere, seas, oceans, lands, and every part of our planet that we cannot see. He observes our planet’s molten iron core! He created every other star and planet in the universe. He is in complete control over all of them. When He became a man, Jesus Christ, He exercised His authority over nature by changing water into wine (John 2:1-11), walking on water (John 6:16-21), commanding a storm to cease (Matthew 8:23-27), and other miracles that defied the laws of nature.

Let this statement encourage you. God is in control of those things that man says are uncontrollable. We cannot control the Sun, but God can. We cannot control the weather, but God can. If problems are beyond your control, place them in God’s hands. If He can handle the Milky Way galaxy, He can handle your health, finances, marriage, job situation, etc. No matter how many bad choices you have made or how badly you have failed in different areas of your life, God is in control.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

That statement applies to all who follow Jesus. He will cause all things to work together for good for you. His hands are not tied. No matter what your problem is, He is in control and He is able to resolve it. Just trust His love, grace, and sovereignty.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, divine sovereignty, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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