A Miracle in Your Hand

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:17-18

The Consumer Electronics Show gave an award to a Bluetooth-connected water bottle. Its built-in speaker plays music, takes and receives phone calls, and offers caller ID. It also recognized a countertop dishwasher that requires no plumbing connections; you load your dishes, add a gallon of water, and turn it on. And a laptop computer with a keyboard that turns into a writing pad.

Of innovations there is seemingly no end. But nothing humans can invent compares with the words in that ancient book we call the Bible. Its truths are ancient and yet more relevant than tomorrow’s news.

One of the greatest challenges America faces today is our declining experience with God’s word. Only 35 percent of us read it even once a week.

In the 1960s, Americans began rejecting the concept of absolute truth and biblical authority. A smaller percentage are church members than ever before. Should we be surprised by the epidemic of substance abuse, loneliness, pornography, broken families, crime, and suicide that have resulted?

I’m convinced that the single greatest key to experiencing God’s power and purpose is meeting him in his word every day. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Jesus says about the relevance and transforming power of God’s word in our lives today.

Value the word of God

Jesus continues the most famous sermon ever preached: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” (v. 17a NIV). “Do not think” is very strong in the Greek, literally “Never think that . . .” “That I have come to abolish”—to deny the divine authority, to demean. “The Law or the Prophets”—the entirety of God’s word to this point.

Our Lord goes even further: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

“Truly I tell you” translates a phrase known to be used only by Jesus in all of ancient Judaism. It means literally, “I guarantee you this . . .” “Until heaven and earth disappear”—when time ends (Revelation 21:1).

“Not the smallest letter” refers to the Hebrew “yod,” the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. “Not the least stroke of a pen” refers to the points on a Hebrew consonant. We would say, “not the dotted i or the crossed t.”

“Will by any means disappear”—this is the double negative, will “no, not ever disappear.” “Until everything is accomplished”—until the Bible does its work, fulfills its purpose. More of this in a moment.

For now, make this decision: value the word of God, for its work in our lives is miraculous.

  • It keeps us from sin: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
  • It guides our lives daily: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
  • It brings us joy: “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes” (Psalm 19:8 NIV).
  • It gives us hope: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

God wrote a book. Value it, for it is his miraculous gift to us. J. I. Packer calls it “God preaching.” Augustine describes it as “love letters from home.”

Value it today, if you want God to use it to give your life true success.

Study the word of God

Next, study it. Every word, “the smallest letter” and “stroke of a pen” is the word of God. And so it deserves not only our affirmation but also our study. But we must know how.

I still have my first Bible—a red Gideon New Testament I received in the fifth grade. I valued it so much I carried it in my jeans pocket, which is why it is so tattered today. But when I began reading it, I found the “begats” of Matthew 1 and got no further. I valued the Bible but didn’t know how to study it for myself. We need to do both.

Begin by deciding to meet God in his word every day. Set a place and time as your appointment for the Bible. Purchase a study Bible—several are very good; the ESV Study Bible is my personal favorite. Get a notebook to serve as your journal. And begin—with the Gospel of John if you don’t have another place in mind.

As you read, seek to know the author’s intention. I told hundreds of students at Southwestern Seminary, “The Bible can never mean what it never meant.” Your goal is to learn what the Bible means to say, so you can relate this intended meaning to your life.

To do this, first pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your study. Then ask foundational questions. If you begin with the Gospel of John, ask who wrote it. (John, Jesus’ beloved disciple and best friend.) To whom and why? (People who needed to know why Jesus was and is God.) When? (After the other Gospels had been written, to give his interpretation of Jesus’ life and meaning.) Any good study Bible will give you this information.

Now ask four crucial questions as you study:

  • What does the text actually say? Know the grammar, the meaning of the words you are studying. As an example, I’ve given you this today with the words of our text.
  • What does history reveal? Know the culture and times which explain the text.
  • What theology is taught? Learn what the text says about its intended theme, whether it is teaching about God, salvation, sin, the future, etc.
  • Finally, what practical action is required? What does this text want you to do, now that you’ve studied it?

Write these truths down in your journal as you learn them. Ask the Spirit to relate them to your life, and he will. And God will use this book to lead you to true success.

Find Jesus in the word of God

Why? Because this is his definition of success: “For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). You are a success with God to the degree that you are like Jesus. And studying the Scriptures is how this happens, for each of us.

This is why Jesus said of the law and the prophets, “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” “Fulfill” means “to complete” their purpose. And this is his purpose: to make us more like himself. This is success with God, the only kind which matters ultimately and eternally.

Then we can know Christ intimately and represent him to our world. Then we can be the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Then we can reflect his light to our dark world. Then we can be the presence of Christ today.

Then we are successful with our lives. You’re not finished with the word of God until you’re more like the Son of God. When did this last happen to you? When will it happen next?


The Bible available to you today is a miracle. Now let it do its miraculous work in your life. Start today.

When I was a missionary in East Malaysia during college, I was honored to distribute paperback New Testaments in the Malay language to the people. I will never forget an elderly woman who took her copy of God’s word in trembling hands and held it to her heart. It was the first copy of Scripture she had ever owned. As tears streamed down her face, I thought of all my Bibles at home gathering dust.

When we love God’s word as she loved God’s word, our lives will never be the same. This is the promise and the invitation of God.

Christmas and the Power of Christ

Topical Scripture: Colossians 1:15-17

This morning we’re going to try a strange experiment. While sitting in your chair, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles. Now, while doing this, draw the number “6” in the air with your right hand. Could you do it? Neither could I. I have no idea why.

The older I get, the less I understand.

Scientists don’t really know why gravity exists, how plate tectonics work, or how animals migrate so successfully. The cosmos bewilders me. But it’s no challenge for its Creator.

This Advent season, we’re going to see what we can learn about the Christ of Christmas. Today we’ll learn about his power and why that omnipotence is so relevant to us today.

Where do you most need the power of God in your life? Let’s learn how to experience such omnipotence today.

The power of creation

Our text comprises one of the most exhaustively studied paragraphs in all the New Testament. One commentary in my library (O’Brien, Word) devotes seventy-one pages to it. This is a single sentence in the Greek, probably one of the earliest hymns in Christian worship.

It begins with this phrase as the title of all that follows: Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (v. 15a). These six words capture the very essence of the Christian faith. This truth claim changed the world. This is the heart of our hope today. Why?

The Bible teaches that “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18). The Lord told Moses, “man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).

You cannot look at the sun for more than a second or two without significant damage to your eyes. I’ve read that you’d have to get as far away as Neptune or Pluto before you could stare at it for as long as you like. So it is with the holy God of the universe. Sinners cannot be close enough to him to see his face, or they must perish.

But Jesus is his “image” (icon in the Greek), the exact representation or “mirror image” of God.

St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle is famous as the burial place of Henry VIII as well as the location where Prince Harry and Princess Meghan were married. I have toured it two or three times and am always amazed at its remarkably beautiful ceiling. But staring at this exquisite architectural masterpiece is difficult, so a mirror has been placed on the ground. We can look down to see up.

That’s the idea here—Jesus came down to earth so we could see the God who lives in heaven. However, the Greek word also shares in the nature of that which is reflected. A mirror is not a person, though it reflects one. But Jesus is God, not just his reflection. He is “God made visible.”

What else do we learn about the Christ of Christmas?

He is “the firstborn of all creation,” not meaning that he was born first but that he rules over all creation as the firstborn rules the family.

We next learn: “By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (v. 16). He was the creative agent of all creation.

What’s more, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (v. 17). He rules all that is and holds together all that is.

Our planet is spinning on its axis at 1040 miles per hour. The earth is spinning around the sun at 66,600 mph. Our solar system is moving around the Milky Way galaxy at a rate of 558,000 mph. And the Milky Way is moving through the universe at 660,000 mph. I get dizzy just being on one of those spinning rides at Disneyland. Jesus is holding our entire universe together, right now.

The power of Christmas

And then came the moment when the God who made our universe entered our tiny planet. He folded down all that omnipotence to become a fetus, the tiniest human life form, in the womb of a Galilean teenage girl. He demonstrated his inestimable power not just in making the universe but in making himself a baby.

Then the baby grew up. The Christ of Christmas would walk on water and calm stormy seas. He would open blind eyes and heal leprous bodies and raise dead corpses. He would feed five thousand families and cast out demons and defeat death at Easter.

Now, all the power of the Christ of Christmas is available to those who trust him fully. Here’s what that power means to your life, practically.

First, you have power over temptation: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). There is no sin you must commit, because the Christ of Christmas lives in power in you.

Second, you can overcome Satan: “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:14). The power which defeated Satan at the grave will defeat him again in your life.

Third, you have power to take the gospel to the entire world: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The power to win the world to Christ lives in you.

Fourth, you have the power to pray effectively: “We do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

Fifth, you have power to see the sick healed: “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (James 5:15). God will answer your prayer and give the sick person what you ask or something even better.

In short, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). At Christmas, the Mighty God proved that he could live in human flesh. He still can.

How to experience the power of Christmas

But someone is asking: if that’s true, why don’t I defeat temptation more easily? Why doesn’t God answer my prayers as powerfully as he answered Jesus’ prayers? How do we experience the Mighty God each day? By following the example of his Son, our Lord.

Let me offer some lessons I’ve learned the hard way.

One: Go to God first. We must connect to God’s power to experience it. That’s why Jesus started the day with his Father: “rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). He sought God’s power first, before he would need it.

I often don’t. Most of my problems come when I try to prepare the message or solve the problem in my power. When I fail, I then turn to him. But the car is already in the ditch, and I wonder why I don’t have the victory of God.

You will have the power of Christmas when you trust the Christ of Christmas.

Two: Stay close to God all day. Jesus prayed all night before choosing his disciples (Luke 6:12–13). He prayed before going to the cross. He prayed on the cross. He prays now for us. He stayed connected to the power of God.

Often I don’t. I’ll pray at the beginning of the day, then go hours without reconnecting with my Lord. Meanwhile the battery runs down, the car runs out of gas, and I’m on my own again. I’ve learned to take time all through the day to stop for a few moments of Scripture, prayer, and worship. As Moody said, “I’m a leaky bucket, and must be refilled often.”

You will have the power of Christmas when you stay close to the Christ of Christmas.

Three: Focus on the purpose of God. God give his power as it accomplishes his purpose. We will receive power, if we will be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). The Creator of the universe is no genie in a bottle, waiting to dispense blessings. God is up to one thing on earth: building his Kingdom, because that is best for us all. The most loving thing he can do for us is to make it possible for us to live in his Kingdom.

This is my third problem. I want God to help me succeed, to empower me to teach this message, to lead this church, to fulfill my agenda and ambitions. But he only empowers me when I am dedicated to his purpose. He heals us if such extends his Kingdom. He empowers this message if it is advancing his Lordship and glory. He empowers this church if we will take Christ to our city.

You will have the power of Christmas when you join the purpose of Christmas.


What does Christmas teach us about Christ? We learn that the One who is “the image of the invisible God,” who made and sustains the entire universe, has the power to enter our small planet as a tiny baby.

Now his followers have his power to defeat temptation, overcome Satan, take the gospel to the world, pray effectively, and see the sick healed. If we will go to God first, stay close to him through the day, and join him in taking Christ to our culture, he will empower us and use us for his glory and our good.

Where is such power most relevant to you today?

Solo Climbing on Mt. Everest

Topical Scripture: Genesis 1:26–31

If you’re planning a solo climb of Mt. Everest this year, I have bad news for you: the Nepalese government has amended its mountaineering regulations. They are now prohibiting foreign individual climbers from scaling all mountains in the country without an escort.

One reason for the new prohibition: Nearly three hundred people have died while trying to climb the world’s tallest mountain. More than 200 bodies are still on Mt. Everest, some because they cannot be retrieved and others because it was their wish to remain on the mountain if they died there.

Climbing Mt. Everest solo is not only an aspiration for many—it is a proverb for us all.

You and I were designed to depend on our Designer. We were created by God for relationship with God. We are cars that need a driver, tools that need a carpenter.

When we try to scale the mountains of life on our own, we are destined for failure. But when we climb with our Guide, we can go higher than we ever imagined.

Across the next several weeks, we will explore the book of Genesis together, learning how to walk through life in the power of God. As my wife taught our sons, the key to life is living a life God can bless. We will find principles each week for living our “blest life.”

What challenges and opportunities lie before you? How can you climb your mountain in the power of your Maker?

Let’s begin at the beginning.

How did we get here?

For thirty-five centuries, the Judeo-Christian tradition has taught us that we are created by God and that his creation is “good.” That our purpose and identity are found in the fact that we are God’s creation, that we are each given lives of purpose and eternal significance.

However, recent generations have done battle with this foundational belief and emerged victorious in our culture.

Isaac Newton determined that the universe operates as a machine, according to fixed laws.

The “deists,” Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin among them, believed that while God created this mechanical universe, he has nothing to do with it now.

Then Charles Darwin taught us that God did not create our lives at all, that we are here as the product of random, chance evolution.

Along the way, philosophers taught us that we cannot know this world, however it came to exist, but only our personal, subjective experience with it. Your ethics are just your truth, and you have no right to force them on me or anyone else. I may disagree with homosexuality or sex before marriage, but who am I to tell someone else how to live? Tolerance is the great value of our day.

Postmodernism is the result, the worldview that dominates our culture today. It claims that all truth is subjective and personal. There is no “reality,” only yours and mine. Our lives have no real destiny—this is all there is. You can believe what you want about the origins of life and its purpose and destiny, so long as you tolerate my beliefs.

Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard: “Many people who accept evolution still feel that a belief in God is necessary to give life meaning and to justify morality. But that is exactly backward. In practice, religion has given us stonings, inquisitions and 9/11. Morality comes from a commitment to treat others as we would wish to be treated, which follows from the realization that none of us is the sole occupant of the universe. Like physical evolution, it does not require a white-coated technician in the sky.”

Are you here by chaos, chance, or coincidence? A cell floating in a pool of water that mutated to its present status? If your past has no purpose, your future has no plan. And Martin Heidegger is right: you’re an actor on a stage, with no script, audience, or director; courage is to face life as it is. Jean Paul Sartre was right to title his most famous play No Exit, and his autobiography, Nausea.

His story is ours. Or is it?

God’s answer to the question

Here’s how God’s word begins: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Everything starts with him. You say life began as a cell floating in a pool of water—Genesis asks where the water came from. You say life began as a cataclysmic, natural Big Bang—Genesis asks where the big bang came from. It all started somewhere. Genesis says it started with God.

And you and I started with him as well. God made us as part of his universe, and in fact as its crowning work: “Let us make man,” God said. When he made the other days, he called them “good.” But when he made us, he called his work “very good” (v. 31).

We must agree with him, or nothing else I’ll say today will matter. If you think you’re nothing more than random, chaotic chance, with no intrinsic value or design, you’ll not be interested in a conversation about purpose and destiny. So let’s examine what Genesis says God made.

Think about the organ with which you think. Your brain contains about 100 billion nerve cells, called “neurons.” Each neuron is connected to surrounding cells by a network of fibers called axons and dendrites, and has as many as ten thousand fibers leading from it into other cells. As a result, the number of possible interconnections between the cells of your brain is theoretically many times larger than the number of atoms in the entire universe.

New research shows the human brain may be able to hold as much information in its memory as is contained on the entire internet.

Consider the ears with which you are hearing these words. The human ear works with the brain to turn vibrations into sound…20-20,000 a second. Your heart is no larger than your fist, but it will beat on average 100,000 times a day, pumping 2,000 gallons of blood.

The average adult has 100,000 miles of blood vessels carrying blood throughout the body. The average tongue has between 2,000-8,000 taste buds. 206 bones make up your frame; some 640 muscles cover those bones. You are special.

In fact, you are made in God’s “image” or “likeness” (v. 26). An “image” is a representation of something, as with a “mirror image.” God says this is true of us—not of anything else in creation, just you and me.

Four biblical imperatives

What does it mean that you and I are uniquely created in the image and likeness of our Creator? Consider four biblical imperatives.

One: Be a good steward of God’s creation.

Genesis says that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). “Work” translates the Hebrew abad, which means to nurture or sustain. “Take care of” translates shamar, which means to protect, preserve, or guard. When we misuse the skies and soil, rivers and oceans he made, we violate the stewardship he has entrusted to us.

Scripture is clear: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). Earth belongs to God, not to us. We are to manage it for the purposes and glory of its Maker.

At the same time, our planet was created to serve us. God made it to meet our physical needs (Gen. 1:29-30; 9:1-3). By his design, our lives are sustained by its resources. We have a spiritual obligation to develop and utilize these resources in ways that honor God and his creation.

Such stewardship includes our bodies, gifts of his creative grace. For Christians, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and reflect on our Owner and Resident (Gen. 1:27; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Romans 12:1-2). We are to extend this care to the physical lives of others.

Two: Care for human life, beginning at conception.

David said to the Lord, “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). The Lord told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). We belong to our Creator and King from the moment we are conceived.

Three: Serve the neediest members of society.

This obligation begins with the preborn, who are the most innocent and helpless of us, and extends to the diseased, the elderly and the infirm. They are all creations of our King and residents of his realm.

Four: Seek shalom for all.

Biblical “peace” is more than the absence of conflict—it is the presence of righteousness in our relationship with God, others, and ourselves. Our Father wants our best, and calls us into a divine-human partnership by which we are to serve him and one another.


Name your mountain today. Ask God to help you manage his resources as his partner in his creation. Ask him to help you care for others and offer his shalom to all. And remember all week long who you are and Whose you are.

Theodore Roosevelt was one of our greatest presidents. He was also a man who knew his place in the universe.

His friend, the naturalist William Beebe, would often visit him at the White House. They would typically step outside before retiring to bed and look up into the night sky, searching for a tiny patch of light near the constellation Pegasus.

Then they would chant together, “That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each larger than our own sun.”

After a moment of silent awe, the president would turn to his friend and say, “Now I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed.”

Are you small enough to go to God?