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Miracle

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Jesus often withdraws to deserted places to pray.
Image source: Lumo Project

Yesterday, we looked at Jesus’ secret to overcoming temptation. In today’s Bible reading, we see the secret to Jesus’ life overall.

Simon and his business partners, James and John have been fishing all night. They have caught nothing. It happens occasionally. When you make your living fishing, some days are diamonds and some days are coal. Last night was stone hard, dirty, black coal and the men are discouraged and tired. But at Jesus’ suggestion, they cast their freshly-cleaned nets and haul in two boats full of fish! There are so many fish that both boats begin to sink! This was a diamond of a day! Completely overwhelmed, Simon cries out to Jesus, “Get away from me. I’m a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)

Jesus simply responds, Simon, James, and John, your fishing days are over. This is the fishing story of all fishing stories! You’re retiring at the top of your game. From now on, you’ll fish for the souls of men. Immediately, they drop everything and follow Him.

Wait! What? They don’t even take their catch to the market! They just leave the fish and the nets in the boats and walk away. Obviously, they saw that Jesus was worth more than the value of two boatloads of fish!

As Jesus travels, news about Him travels faster. He finds Himself being greeted by large crowds of sick people, desperately asking Him to heal them. And He does.

Next, Dr. Luke tosses in a nugget of information that we might otherwise overlook. “Yet he often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.” Luke 5:16 (CSB)

One might think that Jesus was successful because of all that he accomplished. Or maybe He was successful because of the miraculous things that He did. But Dr. Luke’s little piece of information speaks volumes. Yes, the ministry was great. The numbers were growing. Yet, Jesus often withdrew to secluded places to pray.

Some people are energized by the crowds and rubbing elbows with lots of people. But as an introvert, I can relate a bit to Dr. Luke’s statement. Sure, I can be “out there” with people. I can speak to lots of people. I can greet lots of people. But it takes a lot of energy. I have to withdraw from people to recharge my batteries.

Application

Note that Dr. Luke doesn’t just say that Jesus withdrew to pray. He points out that Jesus often withdrew to pray. It wasn’t just once a week. It wasn’t just once a quarter. It wasn’t every seven years for a sabbatical. No, Jesus often withdrew to pray. It was his habit, his normal mode of operation. A.T. Robertson says,

The more the crowds came as a result of the leper’s story, the more Jesus turned away from them to the desert regions and prayed with the Father. It is a picture of Jesus drawn with vivid power. The wild enthusiasm of the crowds was running ahead of their comprehension of Christ and his mission and message. [1]

Do you often withdraw from your activities to pray? I’m sure that you’re not as busy as Jesus. I know I’m not. But if Jesus needed to take some time to pray, we do, too! And we need to do it more than He did!

So… When was the last time you spent some extended time praying? Extended time…. like more than a couple of minutes? Like more than ten minutes? Like an hour or more?

Simon and his business partners knew that being with Jesus was worth far more than whatever they would get from selling their catch, their nets, and their boats. Do you? Do you see that being with Jesus (yes, now, on this side of eternity) is worth far more than anything you could do with your time? That’s what Christian Hedonism is all about: seeing Jesus as being worth way more than anything else.

Maybe you and I need to get away (not together) for a little while to spend some extended time in prayer.

Often.

[1] Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933. Print.

This devotional was originally published July 3, 2019.

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Zechariah breaks into spontaneous praise
Image credit: LumoProject

We begin reading Luke’s Gospel in today’s Bible reading. Unlike John and Matthew, Dr. Luke was not an eyewitness to Jesus. He had to interview people and learn a lot about Jesus before he could write his Gospel. Dr. Luke spent considerable time traveling with Paul and he records these adventures in his second book, Acts.

Luke begins his gospel addressing Theophilus. He is only mentioned here and the beginning of Acts. His name means lover of God. Some have suggested that Theophilus may have financed the writing of the Gospel and the Acts. But that is speculation.

Luke tells us about Zechariah and Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Jesus’ mother Mary were cousins. Zechariah and Elizabeth were along in years and had not had any children. Dr. Luke gives us the impression that Elizabeth, like Sarai in the Old Testament, was postmenopausal. Both Sarai and Elizabeth experienced a miraculous conception. But if these women experienced a miraculous conception, Mary’s was extra-special! Dr. Luke tells us that Mary was not just a young woman kind of virgin, but she was a virgin kind of virgin; she had never had relations with a man.

Both Zechariah and Mary asked Gabriel a question. The question sounds similar, but they were very different. “How can I know this?” Zechariah asked the angel. “For I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.” Luke 1:18 (CSB) Mary asks, “How can this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?” Luke 1:34 (CSB)

Zechariah asked, How can I know this is true? and Mary asked, How is this possible? Both Zechariah and Mary accepted their role in God’s plan. Zechariah had to pay for his question with nine months of silence.

Can you imagine Zechariah’s experience with the angel in the Most Holy Place in the Temple and then not be able to tell anyone about it for nine months? I’m sure he had a lot of time to reflect on the nature of his desire to be absolutely sure that Gabriel was telling the truth.

One additional point I want to draw from Luke 1. Elizabeth is five months pregnant when Mary visits and tells her that she’s pregnant, too. Upon learning that Mary is pregnant, Elizabeth, feels John kick (remember that Gabriel said that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit before he was born (Luke 1:15). Elizabeth is midway through her second trimester and feels John’s reaction as he is filled with the Holy Spirit. Note: The first person to celebrate the announcement of Jesus’ conception is a pre-born baby! Given today’s political climate and the never-ending debate over abortion (including second and third-trimester abortions), I think it’s very important to highlight this encounter.

Finally, note that Mary and Zechariah burst into praise as they remember their encounter with Gabriel.

Application

Zechariah and Mary had their encounters with God’s “messenger” (that’s what “angel” means) and they couldn’t help but break into praise.

Spontaneous praise should be a normal response
to hearing God’s message.

When was the last time you heard a message from God and you couldn’t help but burst into spontaneous praise? Maybe you need to look back over Luke 1 and let God speak to you.

As with Elizabeth, God knows your situation. He cares. And He’s big enough to do something about your situation. He may bring a miracle. He may use some type of therapy. Or He may do something else that He sees as being better than that.

Remember that you can trust God to work together all things so that you would be more like Jesus. (Romans 8:28-29)

This devotional was originally published June 27, 2019.

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anxiety

My barber had a sign in his barber shop, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It’ll keep you busy, but it won’t get you anywhere.” In today’s Bible reading from Philippians 4, Paul gives the best remedy to worry: prayer.

Most of the time when we come to verses like Philippians 4:6, we see anxiety/worry as a completely negative thing. However, I think Paul would argue that anxiety/worry can be a good thing. That is, anxiety/worry can be a good thing if it reminds us to pray. But if we don’t use anxiety/worry as a reminder to pray, it can quickly become paralyzing.

Just a few minutes ago, I came across a blog post that pointed out that not worrying doesn’t mean not caring. You can care a great deal, and yet not worry. And that’s what we’re called to do. (Romans 12:15)

Philippians 4:6-9 could be summed up, “Instead of worrying, pray and let God handle it.” Verses 6-7 are the main statement about turning our worry focus onto prayer focus: Don’t worry, but pray. And God promises to give incomprehensible peace.

But Paul doesn’t stop with verse 7. He gives us tangible things to think about as we shift our focus from worry to prayer.

“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8–9, CSB)

Paul says that if we’ll turn our focus from worry to prayer and think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, of moral excellence and praiseworthy, not only will God give us His peace (Philippians 4:7). God will give us Himself! (Philippians 4:9) The peace of God and the God of peace!

Application

I know. I know. Not worrying is difficult. Turning your focus from anxiety/worry to prayer is hard. I know.

Most of the things you worry about will probably never come to pass. And anxiety/worry takes your eyes off the One Who can actually do something about what you’re worried about.

It’s OK to tell God you’re having problems obeying his command to not worry. (Mark 9:24) We’ve all been there way more often than we’d like to admit.

Note: There is a clinical condition called anxiety. If you’ve been diagnosed with this mental illness, follow Paul’s instructions: Pray. At the same time, don’t be ashamed to take your prescribed medications. God can heal you of your anxiety: Sometimes He chooses to do it miraculously, and sometimes He chooses to use doctors and meds. Acts 28:8–9 records both ways God healed people through Paul and Dr. Luke. A few months ago, I commented on this passage. You might want to check it out. Someone you know may need these words of encouragement.

This devotional was originally published June 19, 2019.

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free gift

Paul paints a pretty grim picture of fallen mankind in today’s Bible reading. We saw him paint the same picture a few weeks ago in the beginning few chapters of Romans.

He says we were dead. He says we were alienated from God. He says we lived according to our fleshly desires (that’s all we had!). He says we lived according to our enemy’s rules. We were by nature children of wrath. I can’t think of anything he could have missed. There is nothing positive that Paul says about us in our lost, fallen condition. Nothing. And then two of my favorite words….

But God.

While all of these bad things were true of us, God steps in and makes all things new. He makes all things good. He makes all things right so that we might be justified — to have a right standing before Him, not just on judgment day, but today. Jesus served as the final, ultimate, once-for-all atoning sacrifice that made all things right between a holy God and a fallen humanity.

In Romans 5:8, Paul puts it this way. “God shows His love for us us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.”

God made us alive. He raised us up and sat us next to Jesus in the heavenly places so that at some point in the future, he can display the immeasurable riches of His grace through kindness. (Ephesians 2:5-7)

And then in just two verses, Paul drives home the fact that all of this is a miraculous work of God. The only thing we brought to the bargaining table is the sin that made Jesus’ sacrifice necessary.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8–9 (ESV)

  • Grace is unmerited favor. He gave it because He wanted to.
  • We have been saved. This is a passive mood in Greek. It happened to us. We didn’t do it to/for ourselves; it happened from outside of us.
  • We have been saved. This is the perfect tense in Greek. Salvation is a done deal. There is nothing left for us to do to complete it.
  • Salvation is through faith and it (the process of salvation) is not of our own doing.
  • Salvation is the gift of God. It’s something given, not earned.
  • Salvation is not of works. Again, we didn’t earn it by doing anything for it. Otherwise, by definition it wouldn’t be grace, it would be “wages“.

SEVEN TIMES IN TWO VERSES!

No one can boast of salvation. Why? Because we were passive in the process when it happened to us from outside of us, not of our own doing, but rather was a gift that we didn’t work for.

Paul highlights the fact that this was a miraculous work of God because He wanted to do it (He wasn’t obligated to do it)!

Application

As they say, “If that doesn’t light your fire, your wood is wet!” How else could anyone respond to such a great salvation that God has given to His kids, but respond in joy and praise!

Spend some time doing that today!

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There are so many things about God and His Kingdom that I don’t understand. And it seems the longer I walk with Him, the more I know… and the less I know.

grafting one branch onto another

In today’s Bible reading, Paul talks about a partial hardening of the hearts of Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25) I think what this means is that God has hardened their hearts — as He did to Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus 4:21 — for a time, and all for His glory. And as soon as the set number (who knows what it is?) of Gentiles are saved, God will remove the veil that covers their eyes to see God’s Kingdom at hand. Until then, God will continue to graft Gentiles into the True Vine.

I’ll repeat what I said a few days ago: we need to approach things from a Biblical, God-centered viewpoint when we ask questions about God’s unconditional election of some people. (I say “unconditional election” because there is no condition that anyone can meet that would earn God’s approval.) If no one deserves salvation in the first place, and if only a miraculous work of God can save someone, then we can only plead for God to save our family members and friends who don’t (yet) know Jesus.

Yes, plead for their salvation. Plead for their sensitivity to God’s voice. Plead for a soft, moldable heart. Plead for God to overwhelm them with a sense of His presence so that they call out to Him. Plead for opportunities for you and others to talk with them. And tell them lovingly about how good God is. For what it’s worth, lovingly telling them what God is doing in your life and how their lives can be changed will probably work out better than continually beating them over the head with a 25lb Bible every time you talk with them.

To be able to answer the question of why God would save one and not save another is above my pay grade. I have to leave that up to God because I know that He is good and His ways are always right. I have to leave it up to God, but I have to be willing to be part of bringing them to Christ. Oftentimes, we are — at least partly — the answer to our own prayers.

Application

You may be heartbroken about a child or grandchild who no longer goes to church. Or maybe it’s a sister or a brother. Maybe it’s a friend. People can become disenfranchised with church for any number of reasons. If you’re part of the reason by being a stumbling block to them, or if you have hurt them in some other way, seek reconciliation today. Live at peace with everyone as far as you have control over the situation. (Romans 12:18)

But also realize that it isn’t about going to church. It’s about a relationship with Jesus Christ. If someone dropped out of church, it may have nothing to do with church and everything to do with not having a relationship with Jesus; in other words, they aren’t saved! Perhaps your prayers should be, “God, please bring them back!” Or perhaps your prayers should be, “God please save them!”

This devotional was originally published May 29, 2019.

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