All About Miracles

All About Miracles

Matthew 14:22-33

Dr. Jim Denison

A friend recently sent me this story. An Amish boy and his mother were in a shopping mall. They were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart and then slide back together again.

The boy asked, “What is it, mother?” The mother, having never witnessed an elevator, responded, “Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life. I don’t know what it is.”

While the boy and his mother watched with amazement, an overweight elderly man in a wheelchair rolled up to the moving walls and pressed a button. The walls opened and the man rolled between them into a small room. The walls closed and the man disappeared. The boy and his mother watched for a while, then the walls opened again, and out stepped a 24-year-old body builder. The mother said quietly to her son, “Go get your father.”

Amazing things happen with some regularity. But what about true miracles? That which C. S. Lewis defines as “an interference with Nature by a supernatural power”? Help from above, engagement of the divine with the human, strength and power beyond ourselves?

Where do you most need God’s help today? If you could experience one miracle this morning, what would you want it to be? How can you believe that it’s really possible for God to do that miracle in your life?

This week we come to my favorite story in Matthew’s gospel. Let’s join the disciples, and learn how to experience God’s miraculous power for ourselves.

Witnessing the miraculous

It is late at night, around 3:00 in the morning. We’re on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has sent us off in our boat while he climbs one of the nearby hills to pray. Suddenly a catastrophic storm attacks us. Matthew got it right: we are “buffeted” by the waves (v. 24), a Greek word which means to be “tortured.” And our boat is very small. Archaeologists recently discovered one like it, measuring 27 feet by 7 1/2 feet, with sides just over an inch thick. It’s no help in a storm. Water is stinging our faces and drenching our clothes. The wind is howling in our ears. We are fighting for our lives.

And Jesus sees our crisis. He walks on the water, three or four miles. It is a sailor’s superstition that just before we drown, we’ll see the ghosts of others who have died in our spot on the lake. So some of us think he’s a ghost, and we’re even more sure we’re doomed.

But then he cries out over the storm, “Take courage! It is I”–literally “I Am,” God’s own name for himself. “Don’t be afraid”–literally, “Stop being frightened.”

And Peter takes him at his word: “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water” (v. 28). Jesus calls, and to our astonishment, Peter goes. He’s actually walking on the waves, until he sees them. Then, taking his eyes from the Lord in fear, he begins to drown.

So he cries the shortest prayer in the Bible, “Lord, save me!” And Jesus does. And we all worship him: “Truly, you are the Son of God” (v. 33).

It’s an amazing story. But does it describe the way God works today? Do you believe that Jesus still walks on water? Are you willing to get out of your boat of security and safety, and trust his miraculous power with your life?

Many are not. I talked recently with a guest in our services who was honest enough to admit that he couldn’t reconcile his commitment to science with the miracles Christians claim. He was speaking for thousands of people who live all around us but didn’t join us for worship. To them, our belief in a miracle-working God is myth and superstition, a worldview they’ve outgrown and categorize with fairy tales and Greek mythology. What can we say to them?

And what about many of us who are here for worship?

You’d vote for miracles. You pray for miracles–for people to be healed and helped, souls to be saved and lives changed. But do you really believe that God intervenes in supernatural ways today? I remember praying for a woman in my first pastorate who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given only months to live. She came back the next week to report that the cancer was gone. And I will confess that my first, instinctive reaction was: I’m so glad the doctors were wrong.

Isn’t there a shadow of doubt in your minds? I know a man whose heart stopped beating during an operation; then, after the doctors had given up, it started again and the man is now fine. But are we sure it was a miracle? A Romanian pastor I know tells of a girl who had been dead four days when she was raised to life in response to the church’s prayers. But do we really believe it’s true?

Subconsciously, do we really expect God to do miracles when we pray for them? Do you assume that God will grant you the miracle you need or something better? Or if something unexplainable does happen, are you shocked or at least surprised?

The Bible says that Jesus could not do many miracles in Nazareth because of their unbelief (Matthew 13:58). How can we be sure our faith isn’t limiting God’s power, that our anti-supernatural, materialistic culture isn’t affecting our souls?

Let’s spend a moment working on the intellectual issues before us. I’d like to offer you four reasons to believe in miracles, then show you how to put your faith into action today.

Arguing for the miraculous

Reason one: the contemporary, scientific bias against the supernatural: science and faith are separate methods of inquiry, neither of which is qualified to judge the other.

Our culture tells us that the scientific worldview makes miracles impossible. It’s either science or belief in the miraculous, either the natural or the supernatural. And we must choose. But that’s not so.

Here’s the logic of that position. The scientific method begins with a theory which is tested empirically. If the data supports the theory, the experiment is repeated. Only if repeatable evidence supports the theory, is it considered valid. And a miracle is by definition unrepeatable. My friend who was healed of pancreatic cancer didn’t get it again, and experiencing healing again, to verify the data. If you cannot walk on water, Peter did not walk on water. If you have not seen the dead raised, Lazarus was not raised. Science makes the miraculous impossible.

How do we respond? With the fact that proper science uses the right method for the subject under study. Researchers don’t use test tubes for quantum physics. They don’t use telescopes for microbiology. Science itself, the study of the natural world, cannot by definition investigate the “supernatural,” any more than you can measure a marriage by a microscope or tell me how much love weighs.

The fact that the scientific method cannot verify the supernatural is the fault of neither. You don’t use a cookbook to repair a car or play tennis with a football. You don’t use the “natural” to verify or falsify the “supernatural.” It’s simply the wrong tool for the job.

Reason two: the argument that miracles are outdated myths, with the fact that miracles are essential to the Christian faith, not extraneous superstitions.

It’s common today to hear that miracles are leftover first-century myths which must be removed from the faith before thinking people will accept it. So Peter’s walking on water is simply the principle that God will help us with the storms of life.

How do we respond? With the fact that miracles are essential to the Christian faith, not mythology which can be removed from its message.

The very heart of the gospel is a miracle: “If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised, either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor. 15:16-19).

Miracles are not outdated–they are the essence and foundation of our faith. If Jesus cannot walk on water, the Bible is wrong and our God is not real. We cannot abandon miracles without abandoning the very God we have come to worship today.

Reason three: those who have never experienced miracles are by definition unqualified to pass judgment on their existence or nature.

It is impossible for a blind person to experience “red.” We can explain color spectra all we like, but the person may continue to reject the existence of color.

Growing up in Houston, my experience would require me to reject completely the possibility of an ice storm. A spiritual skeptic is less qualified to discuss the miraculous than one who has experienced personally the supernatural God.

Reason four: the origins of the Christian faith demonstrate its miraculous nature. Look at the beginnings of this spiritual movement. Is it more or less probable that something miraculous sparked it? Is it likely that men who were too afraid of the authorities to stand at Jesus’ cross would soon die as martyrs rather than abandon their belief in his resurrection?

That a scattered, frightened group of fugitives would lead a movement which would replace the Roman Empire as the dominant force in the Western hemisphere? That a faith held by just a few hundred would today be cherished by a third of the world’s population? Is it more probable that this movement is founded on the lie that Jesus rose from the dead, or on the truth of his resurrection and divinity?


So, to experience the miraculous power of Jesus today, wherever you most need to walk on the storms of your life, first believe in that power. Believe that he can walk on the waves you are facing and calm the storm you are fighting. Believe that the God who created the universe can do whatever he wants with it. Believe Hebrews 13:8, that Jesus Christ is still the same yesterday, today, and forever. If he could ever walk on the waves, he can walk on yours.

Next, surrender to his will, whatever it may be. Get out of your boat. Put your security in his hands. Trust your future, your plans, your problems to him. Pray first, not last. He’d rather guide you than fix you. He’d rather drive your car than repair it. When he says, “Come,” then come. When the waves are too high, call for help. Call him “Lord,” your Master and King. Ask him to “save,” to rescue and help. Ask him to save “me,” personally and urgently. And keep asking until his perfect will is done.

Last, seek the temporal for the eternal, the spiritual within the material.

Jesus performed 35 recorded miracles: nine times he changed nature; six times he exorcised demons; three times he raised the dead; and 17 times he healed the sick.

Nearly always, he performed a physical miracle for a larger spiritual purpose. He raised Lazarus so that more people would believe in him, and they did. He healed the man born blind (John 9) so the man would trust in his saving love, and he did. Here he saved Peter and the disciples so they would worship him.

I’ve learned to pray for the sick to be healed, so that God will be glorified and more people will trust more fully in him. To pray for the Lord to intervene so that we will exalt him. To ask him to provide so that we will trust and serve him. Every one of the men saved from this storm died eventually. But the spiritual purpose of this physical miracle endures still today.

And know that you have already experienced the greatest miracle of all. Augustine said it well: “I never have any difficulty believing in miracles, since I experienced the miracle of a change in my own heart.” If Jesus is your Lord, you have been saved from hell for heaven, your old person changed for the new, your life transformed by his grace. That’s an eternal miracle, one which will endure long after a healed body or raised corpse is returned to dust. If he has saved your soul, he can save you in a storm.

But only if you’ll get out of the boat. The next step is yours.

Darth Vader Doesn’t Wear Gray

Darth Vader Doesn’t Wear Gray

Matthew 16:13-20

Dr. Jim Denison

As everyone in the so-called “civilized world” knows, the final Star Wars movie opened this week. The first Star Wars movie, made back in 1977, used 360 visual effects; the last episode has 2,151. The six movies have sold $9 billion in merchandise to date. Darth Vader even made the cover of Time magazine.

I’m not giving away any of the plot to tell you that in the world of Star Wars there is good and there is evil. The Emperor is bad; the Jedi are good. Darth Vader doesn’t wear gray. In the “real world,” of course, things aren’t so simple.

Last week, tattoo professionals attending their convention in New York City complained that tattoos have gone so mainstream that they have lost their “artistic value.” Individual expression rules the day.

A middle school girl in Oregon made the news after hugging her boyfriend in a hallway and getting detention for violating the school’s no-hugging rule. The parents of the students involved are the ones most upset–they don’t understand how school administrators have the right to force their ethics on their children.

In a world of gray, what are we to do with black-and-white passages such as this week’s text? In truth, if we cannot answer that question, we cannot understand the origin and essence of the Christian faith. Let me explain.

What Jesus claimed

The scene is one of the most dramatic locations on earth. Standing 1150 feet above sea level, the massive rock outcropping is the largest I’ve ever seen, gray with streaks of metallic brown, flat and imposing. I will never forget standing on that rock at Caesarea Philippi as long as I live.

As I stared in awe, I could feel the religious significance of the place.

Just a short distance away stood the brilliant white marble temple built by Herod the Great as an altar to the worship of Caesar, hence the name of the place, “Caesarea.”

Beneath our feet was that cavern where the Greeks said Pan, their god of nature, was born. And so I knew that Greek and Roman gods were worshiped here.

Scattered around the place were fourteen temples to Baal, the Canaanite fertility god, where the Syrians worshiped.

Somewhere below was one of the origins of the Jordan River, the holiest river in all the Jewish faith, the water Joshua and the people walked through to inherit the Promised Land. On this gigantic rock, standing in the midst of temples to every kind of god known to his culture, a Galilean carpenter asked, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter declared, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And the Galilean said, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” What “rock”?

Was it Peter? No, Jesus said in the Greek language, “You are petros” [small pebble], “and on this petra [giant boulder] I will build my church.”

Was it Peter’s confession of faith? Many think so, but I don’t think Scripture teaches that God builds his church on our faith. Our faith is too fleeting, too weak, to be the foundation of his kingdom on earth.

I think Jesus pointed to himself when he said, “On this rock I will build my church.” 1 Corinthians 3:11 is clear: “no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” The church, and this church, is built on the foundation which is Jesus himself. Our lives and eternal lives, our future destinies, all depend on him. Not on Caesar, or Roman gods, or Canaanite idols, or the Jewish traditions. On him alone.

Such is the consistent claim of God’s word:

When Jesus stood on trial for his life, the high priest challenged him: “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63). His answer sealed his fate: “Yes, it is as you say” (v. 64).

Earlier he had told his opponents, “‘My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, too, am working.’ For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:17-18).

Later he claimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

When Peter was threatened with his own execution if he did not stop preaching the gospel, he replied, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Let there be no mistake: Jesus believed himself to be the only way to his Father. The apostolic Christians held the same conviction. They did not die by the multiplied thousands for announcing that Jesus was a great moral teacher, or that his message was but one of many ways to the same God, or that sincerity is spirituality. They died for the conviction that Jesus is the only rock upon which eternity stands.

Remember again the most famous words C. S. Lewis ever wrote:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Mere Christianity).

What the world believes

But we live in a different world now. Relativism is the ethos of our day, the idea that all truth is relative and subjective. Everyone “knows” that our minds process our sense data, and the result is “knowledge.” However, your senses and mine may experience the data differently. Your mind may process your experiences differently. And so words do not describe reality, only our version of it. There can be no objective truth claims, only subjective experiences. It’s fine if Jesus is your way to God, but don’t insist that he must be mine.

The second word for our society is pluralism: different religions are roads up the same mountain. They’re all worshipping the same God, just by different names. A recent poll revealed that 64 percent of Americans believe all religions pray to the same God. Believing that your faith is the only way to God is the kind of intolerance which led to 9-11. It’s fine if Jesus is your rock, your road to God, but don’t make the rest of us travel it.

And pluralism typically leads to universalism, the idea that everyone is going to heaven, no matter what they believe. Only two percent of Americans are afraid that they might go to hell. Sixty two percent say it doesn’t matter which God we believe in, so long as we’re sincere. We’re all on the road to God, whatever we might believe about him.

Make no mistake: if this conventional wisdom is right, Jesus was wrong. The Bible was wrong. The first Christians were wrong.

If the world is gray, if good and evil are only the subjects of Star Wars movies and fairy tales, then we need to change a few things around here. We need to take down the painted glass window over the baptistery with its Great Commission mandate to “teach all nations,” because we have no right to do so. We need to remove “Night Cometh” from the clock tower, and the cross over those words, lest they offend someone.

If your neighbors and friends who are good, moral people but haven’t trusted Christ as their Lord–if they are going to heaven along with the rest of us, if the gospel is not truth but only opinion, if the Bible is only a religious diary and Jesus only one way among many, then the church is only a social agency. Our missions and evangelism ministries are a waste of time and money. As Paul said, “We are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

But Jesus, and his word, and his first followers weren’t wrong. Relativism is wrong. To claim there is no absolute truth is to make an absolute truth claim. Everyone I know believes that the Holocaust is wrong, and that terrorism is wrong, and that AIDS should be cured. Absolutely.

Pluralism is wrong.

If Buddhists are right, you and I will one day experience Nirvana after multiple reincarnations, and we will cease to be. If Hindus are right, we will be absorbed into Brahman and cease to exist individually. If Muslims are right, we will spend eternity in heaven or hell based on our obedience to the revelation of Allah as given in the Koran. If the Orthodox Jews are right, we will be judged on the basis of Torah. If any of these is right, the others are by definition wrong.

No other religion believes the deception of pluralism. Muslims are doing all they can to convert the world to Islam. Hindus and Buddhists are actively seeking to spread their worldview to as many as possible. Darth Vader and the Jedi are not different roads up the same mountain–they are very different mountains.

Universalism is wrong. God’s holy word is clear: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).


So the ignorant must be told. A third of the world has never had a chance to hear the only news which can save our souls from hell for heaven. We must redouble our efforts to pray for missions, to give to missions, and to go as missionaries.

The informed must be won.

Every person you will meet this week stands without excuse. They have access to the truth of God’s word. They have heard of God’s Son. They will spend eternity in either heaven or hell.

And you are the Bible they will read, the Jesus they will meet. Their relativism and pluralism and universalism keep them from coming to hear me, so they must hear you. You have the only cure for their eternal cancer, the only hope for their hopeless hearts.

For whom are you praying by name? When last did you tell someone of your faith? Invite them to something spiritual? Tell them of God’s love in yours? To believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and to refuse to tell those who need to know him most, is not to believe it at all. It’s practical universalism.

And Jesus must be Lord of all. He is not only the only way to life eternal, he is the only way to life present. He came to give us life to the full, now. His Spirit wants to fill us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). But he can give only what we will accept.

So begin each day at his feet. Start the day in his word and worship. Seek his will first. Pray before you act. Submit to his Lordship. And you’ll build each day on the only rock which will withstand the storms of life.

I was reading about the Golden Gate Bridge this week, one of the engineering marvels of its day. It was completed in 1937, at a cost of $35 million. It stands directly over the San Andreas Fault, and yet it can withstand an earthquake measuring 7.0 in the Richter Scale. Why?

Its two great cables contain enough strands of steel wire to circle the globe three times. The concrete in its piers would pave a five-foot wide sidewalk from New York to San Francisco. But the cables and the concrete are not the secret to the bridge’s great stability.

The secret is simple. Every part of the bridge, from the concrete roadway to the steel railings and cross beams, is related ultimately to two great towers and two anchor piers. The towers are deeply imbedded into the rock foundation beneath the sea. In other words, the entire bridge is totally committed to its foundation.

So must we be. Each of us. In the midst of the earthquakes and storms which surround us, stand on the rock. Invite all you know to join you. This is the invitation, and the command, of God.

Help for Desperate Housewives

Help for Desperate Housewives

Matthew 12:46-50

Dr. Jim Denison

Laura Bush made history with her remarks at the White House Correspondents Dinner last Saturday night. Her most repeated line complains that her husband, “Mr. Excitement,” is in bed each night by 9:00 o’clock, leaving her to watch “Desperate Housewives.” Then she added, “I am a desperate housewife.”

Some of you know the feeling. This is a wonderful day for many of you. Your family is with you today, or will be in touch soon. Your husband loves you, and your children and even grandchildren are doing well. This is a day of celebration and joy.

This is a hard day for others. You’re worried about children who aren’t making the choices you wish they would. Or you’re a single mother trying to be mother and father to you children and support your family. Or your child is already in heaven, and this is a hard day for you. Or you want to be a mother–you’re happy for those who are, and a bit envious as well, wondering if this will ever be your day.

God has a word for every woman I just described, and every person who cares about the women I just described. Here is help we can get nowhere else but God’s word. First we’ll explore the connection between Mother’s Day and the Lord’s Day, the spiritual significance of this occasion. Then we’ll apply what we learn to our families and our own souls.

Be the person you want your child to become

Our text reminds us that Jesus had a mother, brothers, and sisters. Remember how it all started, as the angel Gabriel appeared to a peasant teenage girl to ask her to be the mother of the Messiah. If she agreed, she would likely lose her fiancée–how will he ever believe a virgin birth story? Her family and his would reject her. She will then be a single mother; her only options would be prostitution or begging. That’s just the reality of the moment.

But remember her response: “I am the Lord’s servant–may it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). She submits herself to God.

Now consider her Son’s response when he faced his own life-and-death test of obedience. When he struggles in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing that he will die if he agrees to God’s request. What is his reply? “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away from me unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Matthew 26:42). Mary’s Son submits himself to God. I wonder why.

Now skip ahead to Mary’s visit with her relative Elizabeth, where this young mother-to-be prays one of the most remarkable prayers in all of Scripture. It’s composed entirely of parts of the Bible, including 1 Samuel, Psalms, Isaiah, Micah, and Exodus. She quotes God’s word and claims its promises as his own.

How did her Son respond when faced with the attacks of Satan? Three times he quoted Scripture. How did he respond when challenged to name the greatest commandment in the Law? He quoted Scripture. How did he respond when he was on trial for his life? He quoted Scripture. How did he respond when dying on the cross? Mary’s Son quoted Scripture. I wonder why.

Now move ahead to Jesus’ problematic relationship with Mary’s other children.

When Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth to teach, the people responded: “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3).

Now Jesus, the oldest brother and caretaker for this family, has left them to begin his public ministry. Opposition against him affected his siblings. John informs us that “even his own brothers did not believe in him” (John 7:5).

With this result: “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He’s out of his mind'” (Mark 3:21).

Then, when they arrived, they couldn’t get to him because of the crowd, so they sent someone to call him (v. 31). His response is in our text: “Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:49-50). His own siblings are clearly not acting in that will.

But Mary never gave up on her eldest Son or her other children.

She continued to trust in Jesus and his mission. She was at his cross to watch him die. She stayed with his followers, risking her own life. She must have continued to pray for her other children to trust in her Son as she did.

Then came the pivotal moment when, after his resurrection, Jesus “he appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:7). This James was his oldest half-brother, the oldest child of Mary and Joseph. He eventually became the first pastor in Christian history, leading the Jerusalem church to reach the world and writing probably the first book of the New Testament, the letter of James.

And he and his mother had a remarkable influence on the rest of their family. A few weeks later, in the upper room, Jesus’ disciples gathered along with “Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14). His once-rejecting brothers received his Holy Spirit along with the rest of his church, joined the first witnesses to the world, and led the movement which would win a million converts within a generation to their older brother, now their Savior and Lord.

Mary would serve her Son as her Lord for the rest of her lives, and so did her children. I wonder why.

Learn to be a deliberate mom

We have established today the clear link between a mother’s faith and that of her children. What Mary was, her children became. While our children have free will and may not follow our example, the chances are much better that they will. The vast majority of conversions and baptisms in churches across our land come from Christian homes. The same is true of our church as well.

So, how can you who are blessed to be mothers maximize your influence? How can you help your children grow in their faith? I asked Dr. Brad Schwall that question this week. Brad is the director of our HomeWorks ministry, an enormously effective outreach program to children and their families across Dallas and beyond. A published author and frequent guest on local television, Brad is also a godly father and committed minister of the gospel. I asked him for the practical steps he gives those who attend his workshops. Here is his advice, with my paraphrased comments and biblical references.

First, be calm. Know that there will be daily challenges in parenting. Don’t be surprised when problems come and crises arise. Choose to respond to your children rather than reacting. Keep your heart close to the Lord, so that he can give you his peace and wisdom. Go to him first, and find the calm you need.

Claim this promise: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Claim this remarkable assurance: “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31).

Then you can heed this warning: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20).

Meet the Father before you meet your children. Start the day with him. Surrender your family to his Spirit, and your day to his power.

Second, be consistent. Since children learn from what they see, show them your consistent faith. And children learn from repetition, so that every interaction with them is instructive. So consistently teach the values you want your children to develop. Be consistent about your expectations for your children’s behavior. Be consistent in your responses to their choices. Seek the wisdom of God, then walk in that wisdom whatever comes.

God’s word promises, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). Pray for God’s wisdom and will, then be consistent in fulfilling it.

Deuteronomy 6 instructs us: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). Show your children a consistent faith, no matter your circumstances.

Third, be committed. Focus your efforts on your children’s faith, putting their souls ahead of their social success. Invest in their spiritual lives before you invest in their grades, athletics, popularity, appearance, or status. Prioritize your time around this commitment, avoiding outside obligations which prevent you from nurturing your children in the faith. Put eternity before today.

Claim Jesus’ promise: “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). As C. S. Lewis says, put heaven before earth, and you’ll get earth thrown in.

Above all, be Christ-like. Model the faith you are training your children to follow. Be the same at home that you are at church, the same when you talk to people as when you talk about them. Seek places to serve, identifying and using your spiritual gifts for God’s glory. Give his grace to your children and family. Love unconditionally. And worship the Father every day and every weekend.

Paul wrote his son in the faith, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Follow your Christ, and the chances are excellent that your children will also.


So mothers must model the faith they want their children to follow. How can we encourage them in their hard, relentless, demanding job? How can we help our mothers with the tremendous pressure they feel every day? Here are Dr. Schwall’s very practical suggestions for making every day Mother’s Day:

Understand how much she does. Do things to help her; pick up after yourself; do your chores, and hers as well.

Understand that she gets tired. Give her time to rest; allow her to be alone. Be proactive in finding her time to get away, to rest, to relax.

Understand that she deserves appreciation. Show your gratitude; applaud her verbally (and maybe even literally); tell her you notice all she does. Give her flowers “just because”; show affection; throw a party for her (and don’t let her clean up).

Understand that she wants your best. So listen when she speaks; have a good attitude; follow her directions; speak and act respectfully. Understand that she is on your side, and that she’s your best friend in the world. And you’ll make every day into Mother’s Day, which is the way it should be.

The most important work you and I can ever do is the molding of other lives. You’ve never met a mortal. Your children and friends and associates will be alive long after this planet is gone. If you’re a mother, renew your commitment to the spiritual influence you are called to give your children. If you’re not, make this your day to do the same for those you influence. And as a mother’s child, use this day to thank God and your mother for their eternal influence on your soul.

I read this week the story of Joseph Rosenbaum, a 19-year-old Jewish concentration camp prisoner. He was marked to die, when his mother stepped in line and took his place. Though it was many years ago, he says he will never forget her last words to him: “I have lived long enough. You have to survive because you are so young.” Every mother here would do the same thing. Rosenbaum comments: “Most kids are born only once. I was given birth twice–by the same mother.”

If you can say the same spiritually, you are blessed indeed.

The Solution for a Stressed Soul

The Solution for a Stressed Soul

Matthew 11:28-30

Dr. Jim Denison

Rogers Cadenhead is one stressed individual. The Florida resident and technology author registered shortly before the new pope took that name. Now he’s heard offers from all kinds of businesses which want to purchase the site. He promises not to sell it to pornographers or others who would use it improperly, and in fact is trying to arrange its sale to the Vatican.

He says he’d like “one of those big papal hats, and maybe three days/two nights at the Vatican hotel they built for the conclave.” His site received 1,000 hits a minute after the election. But he promises not to anger 1.1 billion Catholics: “Even though I’m a lapsed Catholic, I’m not lapsed that far.” He’s a wise man.

Mr. Cadenhead is not the only person under stress today. The Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology reports that during exams, students are less likely to control their behaviors. They eat more junk food, exercise less, and leave more dishes in the sink. They also neglect to shave, brush their teeth, wash their hair, change their clothes, and do laundry. Sounds like a normal day for me in college.

Workplace stress continues to grow, sparked by demands for increased productivity and longer hours; the need to gather and synthesize growing amounts of information; job insecurity; and the need to balance obligations between work and family as women enter the workforce worldwide.

Twenty five to 40 percent of U.S. workers say they deal with burnout caused by stress. Depression caused by stress is predicted to be the leading occupational disease of the 21st century. $300 billion is spent annually in the U.S. on stress-related issues.

Women who work full-time and have children under the age of 13 report the greatest stress worldwide. More than 20 percent of all executives and professionals say they are “super-stressed.”

The six leading causes of death in America are heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide. Each is linked directly to stress.

Some of us are experiencing acute stress today, dealing with short-term issues which cause anxiety and pressure. Some of us are victims of “episodic acute stress,” living in a constant state of acute stress.

But many of us are dealing with chronic stress, defined by one physician as “the grinding stress that wears people away day after day, year after year.” It results from situations which have no solution, unrelenting demands and pressures, a sense that things will never get better.

Whether you’re stressed today or you will be tomorrow, there is only one solution guaranteed to work. Only one way to find a deep sense of satisfaction and purpose which transcends the struggles of the moment. Only one way to get ready for acute stress, and to get rid of chronic stress.

I need this week’s study as much as you do. Let’s find help together.

Read your invitation

“Come to me,” our text begins. Jesus constantly invited people to come to himself. The fishermen and tax collectors who became his disciples, the lepers and prostitutes who became his followers–always he was inviting others to follow him.

“Come” means “come on.” It is both an invitation and an encouragement. “Hither to me”–hurry on to me, now.


“All the ones laboring.” This is in the active tense–those who are wearing themselves out today with work, what we would call “acute stress,” the stress and burden of the moment. Jesus knows that we all face such stress. If his invitation applies to you, you have met every requirement to come to him.

And those “having been burdened.” The tense expresses a state of weariness, the kind of chronic stress that others place on us. The immediate context is likely the Jewish law, 613 daily requirements the people must follow. For instance, a woman could not look at herself in a mirror on the Sabbath, lest she see a gray hair and be tempted to pull it–which would be “work,” a violation of the law. There were 612 other laws like that. More generally, his words apply to all of us who are living under the constant grind of demands placed on us.

Whether your stress is acute or chronic, self-imposed or caused by the world around you, you’re invited to Jesus’ promise. Stress is the only requirement.

What happens when we come to him? “I will rest you.” “I” is emphatic, implying that only Jesus can do this. The syntax is similar to a doctor’s promise, “I will heal you.” “Rest” means to refresh or reinvigorate. It is the picture of a weary, tired person being refreshed by water and rest. Something like a sideline rest for a player, or a pit stop for a race car.


“Take my yoke on you.” The yoke was used by the master to control the animal, usually a donkey or ox. As each animal’s shoulders and neck were different, a good yoke was fitted specifically and personally. The yoke then told the animal where to go, when to go, and how fast and how far to go. Everything the ox needs to know, the yoke tells him.

“My” yoke shows that we are to choose his alone. There are many yokes you can wear–the one you design for yourself, your own plans and ambitions; or the yoke made for you by your employer or colleagues, or friends or culture, or religion or family. Jesus says to wear his yoke, his plan, his direction only.

“Learn from me,” sometimes translated “enroll in my school.” The rabbis of Jesus’ day typically had schools of disciples. Here is Jesus’ invitation to enroll in his school of life. We may not be able to go to Harvard or Stanford, but we are all accepted into the university of the God of the universe.

Why? “Because,” for this reason. He is “gentle.” The Greek is praus, which means to do always the right thing and never the wrong thing. His will and purpose are always best and right for us.

He is “humble in heart,” the One who is humbled before his Father and his plan. Jesus wants only that which honors and glorifies his Father. He wants our good and God’s glory.

We will “find rest for your souls.” This is the second time he has made this promise. Anything repeated twice by a Holy God is guaranteed!

His yoke is “easy.” The word means that it fits properly and well, like a tailor-made suit or dress. It is perfect for us.

And his “burden is light,” for it is made exactly for us. When I carry luggage through an airport, if the strap fits my back the burden is much lighter than when it cuts off my circulation or slips from my shoulder.

Now, what does this invitation mean to us today? Four facts are clear.

Answer your Lord

God has a yoke for you. The gods of the ancient world were mean and capricious. In the movie Troy, for instance, the gods afflict people with plague and disaster. Or they are weak and irrelevant, as the sun god which Achilles beheads with his sword. The gods are more powerful than us, but just as sinful.

The god of the modern world is a clockmaker who created the world but no longer interferes with its operations. No miracles, no intervention, no relevance, a grandfather watching his children play.

The god of the postmodern world is personal, individual, subjective. Your truth, your faith, not mine. Spirituality = sincerity + tolerance.

The God Jesus represents is personal, individual, and relevant. He knows the hairs on your head, and sees tomorrow from today. He has a yoke which he has made specifically for you, a plan and purpose for every day of your life.

God’s yoke is best for you. It fits perfectly and makes your load light.

His yoke is his plan “to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). His will is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Because he made you, he knows what yoke fits you best. He knows what purpose will most fulfill his glory and your good.

God has prepared you for your purpose. Such is true of every person used greatly by the Lord in all of Scripture. Moses was “educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action” (Acts 7:22). Josephus states that he was “educated with great care. So the Hebrews depended on him, and were of good hopes that great things would be done by him; but the Egyptians were suspicious of what would follow his education” (Antiquities 2.9.7). He was prepared for his purpose.

When Saul of Tarsus was learning the larger Roman culture, he had no idea he would use such knowledge to win intellectuals to faith in Christ on Mars Hill (Acts 17) or serve as God’s apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7-8). When he learned to master the Hebrew Scriptures, he did not know he would quote them across the Roman Empire. Matthew did not know that the stenographic skills he perfected in tax collecting would one day enable him to record the Sermon on the Mount. God has prepared you for your purpose. His yoke fits best.

You must choose to wear his yoke.. Unlike an ox or donkey, you have a choice in the matter. You can make your own yoke, or wear someone else’s. But you can wear only one at a time. You’re wearing one now–the only question is whose.

The key to purpose is humility, choosing to serve God rather than yourself. It is the decision every single day that you will serve God’s glory and not your own, that you will submit to his authority and not your own, that you will pay any personal price to be faithful to his will. That you will go where he leads you and let the chips fall. You cannot wear his yoke and your own. And only you can make the right choice.

You wear his yoke by surrendering to his Spirit. Now we come to the topic of the spring–being committed daily to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, every Christian among us is commanded to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), to be yielded every day to the Spirit’s leading and direction. When last did you make that decision? When next will you make it?


My first pastor was a great storyteller. My favorite of all his stories is one I’ve repeated often since. It concerns F. B. Meyer, one of the greatest preachers of his generation, and the young minister he had preach for him one Sunday. The man spoke with a power Dr. Meyer had never before encountered, so he asked the man his secret. He said, “I don’t have any secret. It’s just that I’ve given all the keys of my life to the Lord.” That night Dr. Meyer had a dream in which an angel came to ask for his keys. He gave all but one, and the angel said, “All or none.” Finally he gave that last key, and his ministry and life were never the same.

Dr. Meyer later made a statement I discovered this week: “the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ is present in all true Christians. He is prominent in some, and he is pre-eminent, alas, in only a few.” Meyer spent the rest of his life and work trying to convince people to make Jesus pre-eminent in their lives.

Would those who know you best say that the Spirit is present in your life? Prominent? Pre-eminent?

Whose yoke are you wearing today?