Only God

I spent a few days fishing this week with my father and brothers in Alaska. What an unbelievably beautiful place! Upon getting back to our vacation rental after the second day of fishing, I noticed that my face was red. Why wouldn’t it be red? I’d spent two days in the sun and strong winds. I had covered my head and ears but failed to put sunscreen on my face. Naturally, I didn’t realize my error until after two days of neglect. Sunburn or windburn is a slow process. We don’t realize it’s happening until after the damage is done.

We’re seeing a slow burn take place in our country. We’re all still shocked and heartbroken that someone could go into a Walmart in El Paso or to an entertainment district in Dayton to kill people. We mourn the loss of at least thirty-one people in this insanity and many more are suffering from wounds. During the same weekend, fifty-three people were shot in Chicago, seven killed. Who knows how many other atrocities happened last weekend?

I’m also stunned at the stupidity and selfishness of politicians. It’s shocking to see political candidates immediately use these events in an attempt to gain an edge in the election. It’s mind blowing to hear news reporters lay the blame for this shooting on the President. We’re also hearing that it’s the fault of the NRA. Really? Can these political leaders and news reporters not recognize the slow burn of a nation who has neglected the importance of fearing God and strengthening families?

As the fabric of our society comes apart, we should go backward in our history and find the things that have been washing away our foundation. We kicked God out of the schools in the 60’s. We devalued life with the passage of Roe vs. Wade in the 70’s. In the 80’s, we experienced continued growth in greed, rampant narcissism, increase in divorces and single-parent homes, and the promotion of free and safe sex. I could go on and on about the growth of immorality at every level, the continued destabilization of the home, the normalization of same-sex marriages, and the total disregard for honesty and truth. We removed the Bible from our public places, mocked prayer and the truth of Scripture, and openly persecute Christians for demonstrating their faith. The spiritual decline in our nation is significant.

Our decline has been slow and gradual. When immorality becomes a civil right and righteousness can no longer be defined by a society that has no moral bearing, our country is in trouble. We really can’t even call something evil because our society has determined that all truth is relative. Evil and moral relativity cannot coexist.Should we be surprised at mass shootings? Can our country back away from the edge of the abyss?

The problem is that immorality has been accepted, and broken has become the new normal. The only thing that can save us is a sweeping, spiritual revival. Immorality, broken governmental systems, and unstable families do not naturally reverse themselves. God can restore America, but only God can do it. Pray for America. Pray for your family. Pray for our leaders. Pray for our churches. Pray for God to help you strengthen your own home and order your own steps. Only God is a healer, and only God can heal broken people.

Enjoy the Flow

I’ll never forget standing on the edge of the Niagara River watching unbelievable amounts of water flow over the edge of one of the most famous tourist spots in the world: Niagara Falls. It is hard to fathom the constant flow of water, 365 days a year, that pours over this landmark. In fact, more than six million cubic feet of water goes over the crest of this falls every minute. Unbelievable!

I’ve enjoyed many rivers throughout my life. I’ve kayaked down some and simply sat beside others enjoying the peaceful beauty of a quiet flowing stream. When I was a kid, I rafted down the Chattooga River. We got out of our rafts at one point, and our guide instructed us to get out in the middle of the river (we were wearing life jackets), lift up your feet, and enjoy the ride. It was a blast!

Jesus stood on the last day of the Feast of Booths and made this declaration: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38). Jesus offered an amazing parallel to an ancient tradition of the Jewish priests on this important day in Jewish life. It was on this day that the High Priest scooped up a pitcher of water from the Pool of Siloam and poured it out at the temple as a reminder of God’s provision of water for the Children of Israel as they wondered through the wilderness. With this backdrop, Jesus said, “If you are thirsty, come to me and drink and I’ll make sure you have a river of living water flowing from deep within you.” John’s commentary teaches us that this river to which Jesus referred was indeed His Holy Spirit. When thinking about the flow of the Holy Spirit from within our lives, I don’t think the Niagara River does God’s Spirit justice as a visual parallel. The flow of God’s Spirit from within us is a flow of power, of peace, and of refreshment. Do you need refreshment? Do you find your life right now to be a bit barren? Could you use the supernatural power of God’s Spirit in your life to deal with a particular challenge in your life? Jump in the flow, raise up your feet, and enjoy the ride.

Can God Do Anything?

I’ve always known that there is nothing that God cannot do, but is that statement true? Before you think I’m writing heresy, consider the words of Mark 6:5: “And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.” Has that story ever bothered you? In response to that scripture, you could easily say that Jesus’ miraculous power seems to be dependent upon people’s faith. When something in the Scripture seems to disconnect from something else in the Scripture that has been presented as truth, we should be careful not to build a theology on a casual reading of a passage. For example, the angel Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:37, “For nothing will be impossible with God,” yet in Mark 6:5 we’re told, “He could do no miracle there…” Let’s consider what message Mark 6:5 has for us today.

When I come across a “fuzzy” passage, I first look at other translations. ESV, NIV, KJV, and others all carry the same message: He could not do miracles in Nazareth because of the lack of faith of the people. In this case, the English word that is translated “could” seems to be consistent. When I consider my own use of the English language, is it possible I can use the word could to mean different things? Yes. I might say, “He could not lift the heavy stone,” which is to say it was impossible for him to lift the object because it was beyond his human capacity to do so. Consider this statement about Dr. Billy Graham, “He could never mislead the American people.” While Dr. Graham technically could be deceptive, we know that such actions would stand in stark contrast to the character we have come to know and love in this awesome man of God. We would be correct in saying he could never do such a thing. The statements about the stone and about Dr. Graham are true, but they portray different messages.

When you are studying passages in a Gospel, you can look for parallels in other Gospels. God’s word will never contradict. Matthew 13:58 is a parallel passage: “And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.” Matthew’s version provides an interesting contrast that may help us to better understand Mark’s version. Maybe while Jesus literally could do anything, including miracles in His home town, He would not because of their unbelief.

You can also look at the original language, if you can find the proper resources. One writer described the Greek word translated as “could not” as possibly denoting that someone deliberately purposed not to do something as opposed to being physically unable to do it.

With all of this in mind, is it possible that while Jesus can do anything, He purposed not to do it because it stood in opposition to how He chooses to work. Scripture is clear that faith and surrender are key ingredients to God’s plan, and since the people of Galilee would not believe, performing miracles in that context would be contrary to God’s plan.

What does this understanding mean to you? Is there something that God would like to do in your life, but He can’t (or won’t) because you are not surrendering to His leadership in your life?