How are the New Year Resolutions Going?

Did you make some New Year Resolutions as 2018 turned into 2019? As I write this on January 7th, 2019, I hope you are still going strong if you did.  Unfortunately, statistics on long-term completion of these types of plans aren’t cause for much hope.  My own experience with ‘New Me’ in the New Year resolutions have helped compile the negative numbers.  Diets, exercise regimens and pronouncements to get and stay in touch with family members have all faded, usually before January becomes February.  I can readily relate to any of you who have experienced these same types of short-comings.

As I mulled over my dismal record of changing negative behaviors in my life, I recalled something the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans.  If you have read any of my stuff in the past, you may have recognized I use the New International Version in my studies.  This is my go-to translation, but that doesn’t keep me from reading others (something I highly recommend to all my Bible reading friends).

By doing this, I found what I needed to read this time in The Message, an easy to read, paraphrased version of the Bible.  The verses I read from the letter to the Romans are rendered like this in it: I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.  My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions.  Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. (The Message; Romans 7:18-19)

This description fits me to a T! I feel a need to change something in me, whatever it is, as a new year looms.  I then start, usually with great enthusiasm and not a little hoopla, that This Time I am going to do this! I have neither learned from, or have simply forgotten my past mistakes, making success with this year’s resolutions a certainty.

As noted above, my decision to make a change for the better turns out to be flimsy.  Whatever storm of upset or disappointment comes my way knocks all the wind out of my gung-ho start.  Before long, it’s only a month (or weeks) into the new year and the old ways don’t seem so bad anymore as I slip comfortably back into them.

I know I am not alone in failing to keep New Year Resolutions.  I’m confident that as you read this, you can relate to my struggles.  It leaves the question: What to do with this information?  The first two ideas that came to me are negative ones that I don’t advise anyone to take, like maybe I just won’t try to change anything will be my new plan.  At least that way I only have to deal with the consequences of what my poor choices bring me as opposed to acknowledging another failure on top of going back to the original activity.

Second, and worse still, my warped mind has fantasized about making resolutions that will be easy to keep.  For example, this year I will gain weight.  That’s easy for me, and I have a long track record of success.  Pass the cookies and ice cream please!  Or perhaps I will resolve to continue to avoid exercise; another area of strength, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Thankfully, God’s Word is having a greater influence on my decision-making process these days than my ‘poor me, I just can’t do it’ whining is.  The verses we are considering today are truly helpful.  First, they identify our struggle; we want to do better, but we are largely unable to create these changes on our own.  They go on to explain why this is:  Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

With the understanding that something is broken inside of me that is causing my struggle(s), I’m then left with two distinct courses of action: Do nothing or do something about it.

I don’t recommend the first option.  Having tried it, nothing positive comes from it.  Lamenting that I can’t change (and adding, ‘No matter how hard I try,’ for sympathy), is really just giving up.  With this mind-set, I can rationalize to my heart’s content and wallow in self-pity until December comes again and enough guilt kicks in telling me to try, try again.  It is the perfect storm of a cycle I cannot break on my own.

Which leads to the highly recommended other option: making the change (yes singular, change) necessary to break the pattern.  It’s a simple solution, but necessarily an easy one; especially if pride prevents us from admitting our helplessness.

The answer is this: Have some humble pie; it has no calories and it will open the door of your heart and mind to receiving the perfect help that is always available.  I speak of course of our Loving God, who wants us to enjoy our relationship with Him to the fullest.  It starts by realizing He has to be the priority in this.  When you do that, many other things that have been out of alignment in your life will begin to straighten out.

As always, Jesus says it best.  In Chapter 6 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus explains to a crowd of people that God the Father knows of all their concerns and is more than able to meet all their needs.  The Lord sums this all up by saying, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33 NIV)

God will indeed give you the desires of your heart, so long as your priorities are in proper order: God first, everything else after that! This is how many before us have learned to overcome the difficulties in their lives.  Trusting Jesus for salvation, as awesome as that is, only starts the life God has for us.  When we can humble ourselves to let Him have control over all the aspects of our lives, the need for a New Year Resolution becomes obsolete.  May we all experience this wonderful change that only God can orchestrate. Then we won’t have to swear off destructive, non-healthy behaviors, but instead ask only for more of Him in our life.  That is truly being done with the old to be filled with the new!

Thanks for reading!

Pastor Chuck

 

 

 

 

Have a Forever Happy New Year!

Happy New Year.  I’ve said it to plenty of people again this year with my heart in the right place, but when I stop to consider what I am really saying, it falls far short of I truly hope for them.

Mirriam-Webster’s Dictionary (does anyone other than me still use a hard- covered dictionary?) defines happy as: favored by luck or fortune.  Knowing and believing what I do about the two possible destinations that await each of us when we die, this wishing for a happy new year to those I meet rings shallow.

Please understand that I have nothing against someone experiencing some good luck in 2019.  If you golf, may a fortuitous bounce give you a hole-in-one.  If collecting coins is your hobby, may that rare find find you.  Or maybe by chance you’ll step on a $100-dollar bill on your next walk outside.  Whatever it is in things like this, I do indeed wish that you are favored by luck or fortune.

The pastor/teacher in me yearns for all of us to experience a far deeper and everlasting peace that none of these fleeting examples listed above can offer.  If you are reading these words and you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, I rejoice with you!  My 2019 greeting to you is that you take the time to come to know Him even better in the days ahead.  As you do, may you be filled to overflowing with the peace and contentment only He can provide.  Please don’t keep this blessing to yourself! It is meant to be shared with the world in which you exist.  I pray that you daily manifest the love God has poured out on you to others.  In 2019, may you be a true example of what a follower of Christ is to be.

Friend, if you are reading this and don’t know the salvation that Jesus died to offer you, my 2019 greeting to you is please consider it! At the top I mentioned there are only two destinations for us humans when our physical life ends.  It is an eternal reality: One is to live in bliss for absolutely ever in the very presence of God, the other is to live on forever with the knowledge that what you heard about, but never acted upon, was true.

Maybe that doesn’t sound too bad to you on the surface, but consider this: We’re talking about eternity here.  That’s a long time to ponder the hugest mistake you could ever make.  It breaks my heart to even consider the utter loneliness of that existence and the total inability to change your circumstance once set in it.  This is an isolation from all other life but even worse, it means you are forever separated from God; hopelessly lost forever.

I realize that is some heavy stuff to be thinking about on the first day of the new year, but so be it.  I believe you are worth talking to about this! And as strongly as I feel for you, God has an infinitely greater desire to be in relationship with you.

The Bible makes many direct references about God’s heart towards those who have not yet come to believe in Him.  One that says it clearly to me is this: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 NIV).

The promise mentioned here is that there will be and end of the world as we know it.  It doesn’t say when, just that it will happen.  God’s heart for you is revealed in the second part of this verse: He is patient, not wanting anyone to miss out and He even tells us what we need to do; repent (meaning to be truly sorry for our mistakes and failures).

His offer of eternal security remains in place until the Lord comes back again, another promise from the Scriptures.  I’m not claiming to have any inside-trader information of when that might be, only that it will.  Please, please, please don’t be left out when that happens.  Why not start this New Year with a brand-new you!  Not one that is sculpted at the gym or through dieting, but one that is eternally transformed by your Creator God.

Will this then be a ‘happy new year?’ Not it the sense of good luck or fortune, but it will have at its base an unshakable certainty that God’s love will care for you always.  I pray you consider God’s invitation and take Him up on his desire for you: to be happy, fulfilled, content, peace-filled, forgiving, etc. forever!

Blessings to all and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

 

How was your holiday?

 

I’ve noticed an interesting change in the most frequently asked question in the days following Christmas.  As a kid growing up, my parents asked the question that I subsequently asked all my buddies: ‘Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas?’ From my parents, I suppose the query was meant to justify the stretching of the family budget to make sure that the deep-pocketed guy in the red suit always came through for the ‘good’ kids.

My friends and I couldn’t wait to ask each other the same question.  For me, I wanted to know if they made out as well as I did, or perhaps my motive was a little less pure. Maybe I wanted to have the opportunity to gloat some if they didn’t.  Regardless of my true intention, the question: Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas was asked seeking a quantifiable answer.

As adults, the question changes to, “How was your Christmas,” or for the more politically correct, “How was your Holiday?” It seems to be the most common of greetings in the week between Christmas and the New Year.  We ask friends, neighbors, bank tellers, just about everyone meet.  In some ways, I suppose we’re still looking for that quantifiable something.  Perhaps we ask as a means to justify and commiserate about the frenzied shopping most have recently completed.  Whatever the reason, asking how things went on or about the 25th of December is a long way from what I believe the celebration is meant to be all about.

“How was your holiday,” in my opinion, takes more than the word Christ out of the question, it implies that He isn’t even in the mix.  The true meaning of Christmas ought to exclude any idea of attempting to justifying our actions by the putting of a hard number on them.  I realize that much has been said, more eloquently than I am able of producing, regarding the commercialization of Christmas.  I won’t attempt to add any more to it except to say that God choosing to break into human history through the miraculous birth of His Son is slightly more important than any great deal you might have found at the mall.

I will take the opportunity to rephrase the question in question from ‘How was your holiday’ to: Who was Jesus to you on December 25th?  I’d love to hear from you.

Blessings to all and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

That’s a Big God in a Small Baby!

 

The Bible teaches that God created everything.  I don’t want to get into the particulars of how He did it just now, I just know that He did.  As I said, everything!  That’s big beyond any concept of large I can muster.  I am too limited by space, time and lack of brain-power to get my mind around this in any reasonable way.  I accept on faith that there was a time when there was nothing until God put creation on the board.

So He’s a Big God with unlimited power and creativity.  The way He has designed things in nature, the working inter-dependence of all these moving parts is evidence enough for me that an immeasurable mind is behind all we can see.

Reading the Scriptures also reveals that God has an equally large heart.  He knew/knows we are a broken lot, like lost sheep without a shepherd.  Even on our best day, we fail at times to live lives that are worthy of the praise God deserves.  Still, His heart is for absolutely everyone to enter in to a personal, one on one relationship with Him.  We are invited, just as we are, to enter into the most one-sided relationship there ever could be: us with God!

The question then, with the unequaled vastness and power of God established, why come into the world as a tiny baby? My logical mind says He ought to have made a bigger splash upon entry.  Blessedly, my logical mind is not the impetus behind God’s salvation plan!

I believe the answer to this question lies in the very greatness of God I’ve mentioned: He knew He could have blown away people with a display of fireworks that got their attention.  He could have written across the sky “I HAVE ARRIVED.” And should He have entered history more like this, it seems even less likely that an infant child would be the preferred vessel to carry and then bear the message of salvation.

Ah, but there’s that heavenly, boundless wisdom again.  God knows how much we are drawn to the bright and shiny new thing.  Our curiosity and desire to be entertained draws us like a moth to a light.  The problem is, like that moth, it is the brightness that is the attraction, not the Maker of the light.  Furthermore, we tend to be quickly bored, making us look for the next bright thing.

I believe God chose to come to us as a baby to challenge us to grow out of that shallow life of bouncing off one light to look for the next.  Also, Scripture teaches us that God desires us to come to Him, that we may develop into the children He wants us to be.

How can this be? Recall that He is beyond measure in all things, allowing Him to be more than capable of meeting the desire of every heart that chooses to follow Him.  As we do, we can joyfully discover the depths of His love, evidenced first in His humbly coming to us a babe.

When we approach the God of the Universe with our own measure of child-like wonder, He reveals the greater plan at work that He set in motion at the birth of Jesus we rightfully celebrate this season.

The greater plan, of course, is the saving of a lost world.  The plan is set and is at work, but much darkness still persists.  The world chases the next shiny thing or follows the person will the most bombastic rhetoric while the baby in the manger still calls.

Only a God beyond measure would downsize enough to come as a baby to show all mankind He is more than big enough to handle the job of salvation.  In this Christmas season, I invite you to allow the super-natural wonder of the birth of Jesus to amaze you, for the first time or the One-hundredth; and may the joy it is intended to bring be yours beyond measure, just like God is.

Merry Christmas from Pastor Chuck at Lakeside Christian Ministries!

Jesus is the Prince of Peace

(This is the 4th and final installment of a series I preached several years ago at Lakeside Christian Ministries.  Using Isaiah 9:6, we have previously considered how Jesus fulfilled this awesome prophesy of being the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God and Everlasting Father.  This entry wraps things us as we see how Jesus was/is the Prince of Peace.  My heart-felt thanks to all who have taken this journey with me!)

Isaiah 9:6 tells us: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

These awesome words, spoken some 600 hundred years before His birth, have come to life in Jesus Christ!  We have considered over the previous three entries how the Lord not only fulfilled this prophesy through His perfect life on earth, but that he continues to do so on the throne of heaven and through the work of the Holy Spirit here on earth today.

Today let’s consider Jesus as the Prince of Peace.

What a glorious and fitting title for Jesus: Prince of Peace. This as yet unborn Prince Isaiah predicted was to be a ruler in every way.  He would rule over military, religious and governmental spheres.  Jesus is this ruler now, and will be seen completely as such when He returns to earth at His Second Coming to proclaim God’s eternal victory over sin, establishing a kingdom that will last throughout eternity.

With Christmas only one week away, what time could possibly be better than now to see how we can come to know this peace Jesus brought/brings.  In fact, Jesus Himself is peace. It is not overstatement to say that this, along with salvation, are the greatest gifts the Lord came to give.

To get started, let us once again be clear about the true meaning of the word peace as it is used here in Isaiah 9 and in fact throughout much of both the Old and New Testaments.

The Strong’s Strongest Concordance defines this peace as: intact, whole; a peace that has a sense of security and safety.

I hope this gives you some clue as to the depth of the word peace as Isaiah used it.  Today, we tend to think of peace as having no hostilities or at the end of a war.  However, history has proved that a signed peace treaty does not necessarily mean there is true peace.  One need only consider the Treaty of Versailles signed at the conclusion of WWI to understand this as WWII came only twenty years later, officially ending a most non-peaceful period in history.

Thankfully, Jesus establishes a lasting and complete peace.  Consider the definition of the word peace again: intact, whole; a peace that brings a sense of security and safety.  Only our Lord, the Son of God, has the ability, strength and love to make His peace a lasting one.  His peace brings completeness to a person and a sense of wholeness.  There is joy and contentment in the peace Jesus gives to those who place faith in Him alone for salvation.

Let’s take a moment to compare and contrast the peace the world offers to the peace that Jesus gives.  The peace the world has to offer pales when compared to this heavenly peace.  First, worldly peace is something that is to be achieved, not received.  Worldly peace is based on resources and personal ability.  This type of peace relies totally on externals; what can I get or have that will bring me peace in my troubles.  It seems so difficult to get and then if finally grasped it becomes seemingly impossible to hold.  The world’s concept of peace is that of being something one hopes for but rarely finds.

Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, brings a peace that is opposite of this. The peace of God is dependent upon a relationship, not resources; a relationship with the Almighty.  This relationship is made possible by God’s desire to be at peace with us.  Unlike the world’s concept of peace being something to be earned, the Lord brings His peace as a gift that we need only receive through faith.  And perhaps most importantly, God’s peace can be realized in the midst of our trials and struggles.  We don’t have to be burden free before we can know His peace, in fact the troubles we face ought to reveal the power of God to bestow His peace.  In other words, we can experience God’s peace in the very height of our personal storm.

Jesus, because He is the Prince of Peace foretold by Isaiah, did a considerable amount of teaching on the subject of peace. Speaking to His disciples, He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)

This in one of my all-time favorite scriptures, as it reveals so much about our Lord and the world in which we live.  Jesus doesn’t mix any words here, ‘In this world, you will have trouble.’ That’s a plainly stated truth, and one that we must accept as we live this side of eternity.  I’ve yet to encounter anyone, myself included, who has not had/does not have trouble in their life.  Notice Jesus words: “in this world you will have trouble.” Jesus knew the stuff that would happen in this sin-infested world.  Sickness, death and unexplainable tragedy befall each of us.  The question is not ‘where was God when this happened,’ but should be, ‘how do I find Him in the middle of what’s happening’ This is where faith must come in.  The rest of the Lord’s statement tells us to ‘take heart,’ because only He can overcome all the world throws at us.

How do we get this faith? By believing the truth that He has indeed overcome the world.  We joyfully celebrate His birth in this season.  To know His peace however, we must consider His birth in the greater context of why He came at all: His crucifixion and resurrection from the dead.  This is the ultimate victory that has been achieved by Jesus Christ.  No longer is death the final verdict for people.  Instead, we can know that the Lord has secured our forever home in heaven by dying for our sins and then being raised from the dead. The result of Jesus’ sacrifice is the payment of the debt we could never repay.

This same Isaiah who boldly spoke of the coming Messiah was also clear as to why He would come to earth: But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and be his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5) By this awesome act, the peace of God can be known by all!

This is what we are ‘to take heart in.’ The peace and comfort of eternal security is meant to see us through our worst trials and pain.  When we have peace in Christ, we can have peace through our turmoil.  Will this peace lessen our pain or our hurts? Maybe not in the moment; but if you will allow more of God’s peace into your heart, the more He will minister to you in your particular trouble and thereby make more or His peace known to you.

Here are some more incredibly encouraging words about the peace of God spoken by the Prince of Peace Himself: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27 NIV)

Like any gift, it must be received and opened to be truly appreciated.  During this Christmas season, part of the fun we have in exchanging gifts is simply in watching the other person open the gift we have given them.  It may be an over-simplification, but for a gift to be truly enjoyed, it must be opened.  Likewise, as we open our hearts to God, we can receive the blessing of the awesome gift of His peace.

Remember, Jesus does not give as the world gives.  He doesn’t, because the gift of peace He brings is not a thing to be grasped, it is the Lord Himself!  Pastor and author Ray Stedman explains this as he writes: when Christ Jesus makes peace — between individuals or between nations — that peace will be a satisfying, permanent, and genuine peace. It will be a real peace that will last and last. And it will be a totally satisfying experience. The problem with most of us is that we want to start by clearing up only the results of conflict. God never starts there; he starts with the person. He says peace is a Person, and in order for you to live at peace with someone else, you must be at peace with the Person of Christ. If you have his peace, then you can start solving the conflict around you. But you never can do it on any other basis. So the place to start, the origin of peace, is the settling of any problems between you and Jesus Christ. That is always the place to start.

I love the clarity this explanation brings to my mind.  I so often want to clear up the turmoil and any damage caused by it so that life can go back to an easy and even keel.  Doing this, even as it is well-intended, does not ultimately embrace or portray the peace of God.  But, as Stedman has so wonderfully written, we must have the peace of Christ first if we are to be peace-makers in our troubled circumstances.

Peace is often spoken of, especially at Christmas. It can be yours in Christ. Warning: this peace is not the same as complacency or warm, fuzzy feelings. Real, true and lasting peace comes only through faith in Christ.  The Prince of Peace, promised hundreds of years before His birth, has made the peace of God not only known, but available to all mankind.  Please don’t leave this most precious gift unopened.  Tear the paper and bow off it and relish not only in the gift itself, but cherish the One who gives it.  Remember, real peace is not earned, it is received.  The greatest giver of all time, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, is offering it to you!

 

 

 

What’s in a Name?

(The following is an excerpt from a message I preached several years ago at Lakeside Christian Ministries.  The four-part series focused on the names the Prophet Isaiah gave to the coming Messiah.  This is the third installment which examines Jesus as Everlasting Father).

What’s in a name? Quite a bit actually, especially when we consider the names the Prophet Isaiah gave to the coming Savior some 600 years before He was born! They are recorded in Isaiah 9:6: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (NIV)

Before we dive in, allow me to share a question I have been wrestling with to get us started: What, if anything, is different this Christmas season from last year’s? Or any other Christmas season, for that matter?

Where is the focus? If it is to get the many things done and to go to the many places we go simply because it is Christmas time again, may I kindly suggest that the focus is misdirected.

Because December 25th is approaching ought not put us into a frenzy to get the house decorated or the perfect gift purchased.  Yet, like most, if I look back at this time last year, that pretty well describes the lives of many of us.  We celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus by running ourselves ragged with what we think has to be done to make this season successful, happy, memorable, etc.

If you find you are caught up in any or all of the busyness going on around you, please take some time to consider Jesus Christ.  Yes, this is the time of year we celebrate His birth, and rightly so! This is the Savior of the world, who came to the world because He so loved us.  Take this time to re-set your focus.  Place it solely on Jesus and watch if all the other ‘important’ stuff going on doesn’t fall into its rightful place.

As I said, we’ve been discussing some of the wonder of the birth of our Lord through the lens of the prophesy of His birth given us by the prophet Isaiah.  I find it truly amazing that God’s word spoke to people in their context over 2000 years ago, and it is still speaking clearly to those who would listen today!

Remember, the ancient Israelites Isaiah wrote to were living in a dark period.  They had weak leadership nationally and spiritually.  They were in this condition because they had turned their backs on God. Despite this, God in His mercy and love gave them the encouragement of the awesome promise of a Savior.  He still holds this promise out to all today.  His light can/will still shine brightly into any area of darkness.

So far in this series we’ve considered how Jesus fulfilled the names Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God by which Isaiah said He would be called.  All the wisdom and power of heaven was/is on display through the child born, this son given.  His counsel is true, his power unlimited; we should seek Him out continuously as we walk this earth.  He will guide us if we ask Him, his power will supply us if we allow it to.

To help us discover the light God wants to shine on all of our lives, let’s look at the third title Isaiah gave to the coming Messiah, Everlasting Father.  Let me help with any confusion this title might cause at first: How can Jesus, the Son, be an everlasting Father?  It’s an excellent question that comes with a straight-forward answer that the original language will help us to find.

In Hebrew, the phrase translated Everlasting Father is literally “the Father of Eternity.” This speaks of the purpose of his coming.  Ray Pritchard of Keep Believing Ministries explains it this way: He (Jesus) is before, above, and beyond time. He is the possessor of eternity. He is eternally like a father to his people. This is not a statement about the Trinity but about the character of our Lord. All that a good father is, Jesus is to his people.

Jesus is this type of father, forever.  My earthly dad, Ken, was a wonderful man who taught me life lessons by his words and deeds.  He played a large part in making me who I am today.  But, like all mortal fathers will, he has passed away.  He was a great dad, but not an everlasting one.  Only God possesses eternity.

Ray Pritchard again: Because he is like a father, he cares for his people. Because he owns eternity, he can give us eternal life. That’s important for those who live on this sin-cursed planet. No one lives forever. Sooner or later we will all find our own place in the graveyard. We are not immortal but transitory. We’re here today, gone tomorrow. A dead Christ will do us no good. Dying men need an undying Christ.  Praise God, our Lord Jesus is eternal!

This had to seem like a bit of a stretch to those who first heard Isaiah utter this prediction.  After all, he was proclaiming prophesy of a child not yet born in Isaiah 9:6.   However, the text clearly says that this newborn Messiah is in fact to be an Everlasting Father! Go ahead, get your mind wrapped around that!

Helping us to do this will be the mind-set we bring to it.  We talked last time about child-like wonder at the things of God; how God often challenges us to get past our logical thought process in order that we might see more clearly how He is at work around us.  Remember, this is God Almighty coming to the world as an infant.  God chose Bethlehem, not even big enough to make most maps back then, to be His birthplace.  Given these facts, in all their heavenly contrast, let’s see how Jesus was/is indeed an Everlasting Father.

To do this, we do have to consider the term Father in the context that the Prophet Isaiah used it.  In our day we have watered down the concept of father in many ways.  Be it the bumbling portrayal of a Homer Simpson, to the real-life dad who works 2 full-time jobs, supplying materially but not emotionally to his family, to the no-account who fathers children and then disappears from their lives; part of each of these, plus many others, tend to make up today what we consider the title ‘Father’ to mean.

Being a father in Isaiah’s day carried with it much more than the above.  To be a proper father then meant that you oversaw the entire process of family life.  As one commentator put it, the father was the head who provided nutrition, education and protection for his household, including all those who might work for him.  It was a title of respect that was earned through bringing compassionate care as well as proper discipline and correction.  The Father was involved in all aspects of life in order that those under his care could live and grow in a loving and nurturing environment.

It will also help our understanding if we realize there was a tremendous stigma attached to those who didn’t have a father back then.  Being fatherless as a child in Isaiah’s time was to be virtually an outcast in society.  You had no advocate or anyone to look out for your best interest. This information ought to help us see all the more clearly that Jesus fulfilled/fulfills the title of Everlasting Father.  God left clear instructions in the Old Testament that teaches about providing care and provision for those who were in need (For more on this, read Deuteronomy 24:17-21).

Throughout His earthly ministry the Lord Jesus displayed this type of loving, paternal heart as He met the needs of so many.  Here are just a few examples found in John’s gospel:

  • He turned water into wine at his mother’s request when they had run out at a wedding reception.
  • Jesus took the time to explain to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, the necessity of being born again through salvation. He took the time to show a Samaritan woman at the well that he was Messiah.  Jesus invested His time in others.
  • He spoke a word and healed the royal official’s son; healed a lame man at the pool called Bethesda, gave sight to a man born blind and to a beggar on the road, miraculously fed thousands of people from a few fish and a loaf of bread and, let’s not forget that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. All evidence of a Father’s heart beating in His chest.  In this case, the Everlasting Father who showed great love and compassion for people.

But Jesus went well beyond merely meeting needs.  His love for all people, especially those who were lost in their sins, was abundantly clear. There is a poignant example of this recorded in Luke 13.  As the Lord approaches Jerusalem, he receives a warning to not go there as King Herod is planning to have him killed.  Rather than avoid the problem by not going or giving in to anger about this threat, Jesus instead reveals His loving parental heart:

“O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34)

On another occasion, as the Pharisees looked down at Jesus for dining with ‘tax collectors and sinners,’ the Lord told the parable of the Prodigal son.  Of the many lessons that can be gleaned from that teaching, primary among them is the loving and patient heart of the Father who longed for the lost child to return:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

There are many more examples of the parental heart Jesus had for people.  As it is my hope that our previous examinations of the Scriptures revealed Jesus to be the Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God Isaiah spoke of, so too my prayer is that this brief study sheds light on how Jesus clearly fulfilled the pronouncement that He would be the Everlasting Father as well.

As mind boggling as it can appear to be, our Lord Jesus, along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, is God.  These three distinct persons, the Trinity, exist simultaneously together as God.  Jesus was well aware of the confusion this was bringing to his original audience, as well to people still today.

Because of this fact, Jesus made many other statements that were meant to bring clarity that He was indeed the prophesied Everlasting Father in Isaiah 9:6.  One can be seen as He spoke with Thomas:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.  From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)

To bring this all into focus in our context this Christmas season, please remember that the Messiah promised in Isaiah Chapter 9 is indeed Emmanuel, God with us.  Today we have concentrated on the eternal Father that Jesus is.  That He is everlasting is more than a statement of time; or of His always having been there or that He will always be there.  Though wonderfully true, the point of application is that He is always with us now!  We can know that this promised Messiah, Emmanuel, is indeed with us each and every moment.

My hope and prayer for all of us in this particular season is that we can experience a deeper sense of God being with us.  This is God; who made us and loves us.  He’s not merely sitting somewhere above, watching and ready to pounce on our mistakes.  Rather, He is always and everywhere around us, as our Everlasting Father, offering us His peace.  The Messiah, Jesus Christ, stepped into this darkened world to bring forgiveness and salvation to all who would accept Him.

The miracle only began at His virgin birth because the miracle continues in the heart of each person who puts their faith in the Lord.  Once you have done this, the everlasting care of God is available to you.  He will guide and comfort you, He will direct your steps.  You need only allow Him to and He will do so as your Everlasting Father. Amen.

 

Jesus is Mighty God

(The following is an excerpt from a message I preached at Lakeside Christian Ministries a few years ago.  It is the second in a four-part series that examines the four different names the prophet referred to the Christ child as, some seven centuries before His birth.  This one is titled: Jesus is Mighty God)

The world around us proclaims with excitement that this is the holiday season.  On the simplest of levels, I suppose it is.  If you start the clock, if you will, at Thanksgiving, over the next six weeks there is Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa.  Each of these traditions hold their own unique celebrations, keeping many people busy and filled with expectations of merry times with presents to be exchanged.

I’m not here to put a damper on anything, but at the same time I am here to speak as clearly as I can about what the birth of Jesus meant and means for all people and for all time.  How Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies, like the one I’m writing about again today, points to the power and love of God, who predicted and then fulfilled His awesome salvation plan through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, the world has successfully turned this incredible time into a materialistic mania. This has caused much spiritual darkness, so much so that many who know that God has given the Light of the World, Jesus, still live in fear of the darkness.  It is my hope and prayer that by considering the prophesy of Isaiah concerning the coming Messiah, we can all experience more of the awesome light of God in our own lives, and thus be able to shine it better into our hurting world.

Let’s continue with our discussion of Isaiah 9:6 as we consider the four titles the prophet gave to the coming Messiah.  Please recall that these words were first uttered some 700 years before the Lord was born.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 NIV)

In my previous blog I examined Jesus as the fulfillment of the Wonderful Counselor.  Jesus was/is the incomprehensible and perfect counselor, full of all the wisdom and knowledge of everything.  His counsel is divine, and ought to be sought by us in all things.

This time let’s uncover some more of who this Mighty God is.  Let’s start by not overlooking the obvious; this child born is God.  Ray Pritchard of Keep Believing Ministries says it this way: Who is Jesus Christ?  This baby born in the manger is not just the Son of God, he is also God the Son.  He goes on to say; if he is not God, we are fools to worship him.  If he is God, we are fools not to.

The Hebrew word that was translated as God in Isaiah 9:6 is El.  It means the Strong One.  Once again God stretches us to consider His unfathomable power.  After all, what is less mighty than a newborn baby; and yet this is the title that the prophet gives Him.  Much the same as how this child was to be born in a town so small it didn’t even make the map of those days (Micah 5:2); here we have our all-powerful God coming to dwell among us as an infant.  God challenges us to think beyond our finite limitations to behold His magnificence.

As per Jesus’ advice, we must take these deep issues of faith as a child (Luke 18:17).  This can be difficult to do in our time with so much information available at our finger-tips.  If I thought that this wealth of knowledge was in fact bringing with it real peace for folks, I might suggest we use it exclusively in our quest for understanding of this Mighty God.  But as I do not see this happening, why not join me in taking a bit of a child-like look at Jesus.

The title Mighty God that Isaiah gave to the coming Messiah gives the indication of a conquering hero, a warrior that fights against anything that might injure His people.  Who better than a child can picture this type of hero overcoming to save the day?  Yet the comfort here goes beyond just knowing these battles are being fought for us because this Mighty God is the ultimate conqueror who cannot be beaten.

Consider what Matthew Poole’s commentary has to say about this: The mighty God: this title can agree to no man but Christ, who was God as well as man, to whom the title of God or Jehovah is given, both in the Old and New Testament,  (Jeremiah 23:6 John 1:1 Romans 9:5), and in many other places. And it is a most true observation, that this Hebrew word El is never used in the singular number, of any creature, but only of the Almighty God, as is evident by perusing all the texts where this word is used.

Understanding that Jesus is the Mighty God opens our hearts and minds to so much that the scriptures tell us about Him.  Our Mighty God Jesus is the reason to not let our hearts be troubled because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).  Our part in this is to have strong enough faith to believe Jesus meant us and our trials when He made this promise.

It is only Jesus, as Mighty God, who could/would defeat the power of sin and death by His victory on the Cross.  Once again, we see God stretching us to see that eternal life springs from physical death.  It is through the unlimited power of God that the bridge back to Him is constructed.  The vast separation sin cast between us and God could only be spanned by Jesus, the Mighty God.

I wrote last time how Jesus fulfilled the prophesy of Messiah being the Wonderful Counselor.  I have endeavored today to shine some light on to the fact that the Lord was/is/will always be Mighty God as well.  The well-known worship song Indescribable written by Laura Story and Jesse Reaves and made popular by Chris Tomlin, pretty well sums up these points about our Mighty God.

Indescribable, uncontainable, you placed the stars in the sky and you know them by name, You are amazing God.  All powerful, untamable, awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim, You are amazing God.

The child who has been born, the son who has been given, is our Mighty God.  My words cannot adequately express the might He contains, but with the child-like wonder I mentioned earlier, we can gaze upon Him and give our praise to Him.  We can offer thanksgiving to Him who has this incomparably great power. 

We do this because of all the mighty power that we’ve talked about and witnessed, there is nothing greater than what Jesus did for all mankind on the cross.  What is impossible for us to do, Jesus did, as He explained in Luke 18:31-34.

The Lord accomplished, as only God could have, the atonement for man’s sins.  What is impossible for us to achieve, Jesus has done by willingly taking our punishment on Himself.  This baby, so often pictured in a peaceful scene in a manger with farm animals looking on, came to this world to die an ugly and incredibly painful death, so that the awesome, mighty power of God could be displayed in His resurrection.

May we all come to a greater appreciation of just what this season celebrates, as we do joyfully proclaim the birth of Jesus.  A birth foretold centuries years before the fact by the prophet Isaiah, which allowed the Mighty God of heaven to take up his dwelling among us.  My we sing joyfully at the sight of His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father full of grace and truth (John 1:14).  Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophesy of the Mighty God.  He continues to fulfill it in the hearts and lives of believers since then until now and forever more.  He is the all-powerful creator.  He is the light of heaven shining on all people.  He is Mighty God.   Amen.

Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6 NIV).

(The following 4 blogs are excerpts from messages I preached at Lakeside Christian Ministries a few years back as we explored the meaning and application of the four names prophesied by Isaiah of the coming Messiah whom me know to be Jesus Christ)

We hear this scripture read often as we enter into the Christmas season.  It speaks of the awesome promise fulfilled by the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ.  God chose that point in history, some 2000 years ago, to start into motion His plan of redemption for mankind.  His marvelous light shone into a dark world bringing the hope of salvation to all who would believe.

As I contemplate the current world around me, I wonder if ever there was a time that we needed the light of God to shine on us more than we do right now.  The deep divisions within my own country of America are threatening the very fabric of our nation.  Fear and dis-trust are at an all-time high and the future seems anything but certain.  Racial, economic and political strife are the daily reality for a growing number in our land.  To sum up, a deep darkness has enveloped us, seemingly blocking out any light of the hope God brought through the birth of His Son.

The Scripture verse at the top is part of the prophesy spoken by the Prophet Isaiah over the troubled land of Israel, some six hundred years before the birth of Christ.  The people lived in gloom (you can read about it in Isaiah 8:19-22), they were hungry for something and searching for answers from everything but God.  Spiritual confusion had replaced their hope.

As unsettling as our times are, one thing they are not, is unique to the human experience.  History is marked with both long and short-term examples of prevailing darkness.  In the 1300’s, it is estimated that 100 million people in Europe died from Bubonic Plague.  Biblical history also gives many accounts of the darkness that existed periodically over the nation of Israel as they suffered at the hands of various conquerors, as well as oppressive rule from their own.  Just skim the historical books of 1&2 Kings to get of sense of this.

Thankfully, our God is an ever-faithful God! Throughout the scriptures He has promised, and fulfilled, to never leave us nor forsake us.  Whenever His people, whether individually or as a nation, recognized they have strayed from His marvelous light, He forgives and brings them back into His fold.  That’s the ‘bottom line’ we must all remember.  God has provided the means for our forgiveness through the life, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus.

Isaiah 9:6 is one of the most frequently quoted verses of the Old Testament.  Together let’s consider what it is God is promising and has done in fulfillment of this prophesy, with the emphasis being on the four names Isaiah referred to this coming child as, starting with Wonderful Counselor.

As usual, we have to work through the language to get at what God’s word is saying to us today.  To this point, consider how you and I often use the word wonderful.  We say things like ‘isn’t that wonderful,’ or, ‘that’s a wonderful idea.’ We use wonderful to describe things that are pleasant or enjoyable.  Isaiah had a much deeper meaning in mind when he told us the Messiah would be called Wonderful Counselor.  The Hebrew word used that has been translated wonderful means miracle or astounding, something that is incomprehensible and totally set apart from the normal (Strongest Strong’s Concordance).

Carrying this thought forward to Jesus’ actual life, we see many examples of this being fact.  Actually, start with His conception through the Holy Spirit and his virgin mother Mary.  Incomprehensible? You bet.  That’s not how conception normally works is it?  True, but this was no normal child to be conceived.  I would add the record of His healings and His sinless life to the list of the miraculous, astounding and incomprehensible things about this Wonderful Messiah named Jesus.

The biblical meaning of wonderful counselor as it applies to Jesus means that He is, as one commentator puts it; beyond anything we have ever seen, that He is so extraordinarily vast that we cannot possibly understand all that He is because he is outside the realm of human possibility.  John’s gospel captures this thought:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NIV).

But Isaiah not only described the coming Savior 800 years before the fact as Wonderful, he ties this word with Counselor.  Once again, we must look more deeply into its meaning to get the full richness of the intent. There are no shortage of counselor’s in our world today.  Many are highly trained professionals, whose clinical knowledge and expertise help people with myriad ailments plaguing them.  According to research done in 2013, there were over 1 million practicing counselors in this country alone.  They span the spectrum of professions, from mental health to educational and vocational, just to name a few.

Please know that I am in no way depreciating the work and dedication of these men and women, for a vast majority are modeling the very heart of Christ as they bring care to so many who are in need. What we must understand, however, is that Isaiah was not describing a counselor as we have come to recognize the term.  Whereas today’s usage of the title often describes a particular area or field a counselor works in, the term Counselor as applied to the coming Messiah was meant to be singularly applied to the ruler giving counsel to his people.  The advice from this kingly counselor was to be known as trustworthy and full of godly wisdom.  You should act in confidence about what this Counselor told you, for He has had access to the wisdom of heaven.

Jesus, as the Wonderful Counselor, has been described as being the sum total of all knowledge.  He is/has all wisdom, all guidance, all direction, all truth and insight.  He knows everything about everything and is never wrong.

Now that’s quite the list of qualifications for Counselor, wouldn’t you agree?  They certainly go well with the adjective wonderful, for Jesus, as this perfect counselor, is indeed incomprehensible to us.

Knowing what we now know and as we enter in to the Christmas season, let me encourage you to really consider what this time is all about.  Of course, we ought to celebrate our Savior’s birth and I’ve nothing against trees and presents and parties, but please take the time to remember this: For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son. (John 3:16)

He did so to save us from judgment we all deserve and thus to offer us eternal life through the saving work of the cross of Christ.  That certainly is a cause to celebrate!  Just don’t let the hectic days of planning and travel and shopping lessen the marvel this time should be inspiring within us.

And while you are thinking about God, ask yourself this: Have I been using the awesome resource of this Wonderful Counselor?  I/we are often so quick to seek advice to try to gain understanding on our own; shouldn’t we be at least as eager to seek the counsel of Jesus Christ?

He is the definition of Wonderful!  Let that thought linger in your mind.  Everything about our Savior is Wonderful.  As such, He is the One from whom we ought to be daily seeking counsel.  His wisdom is eternal, His understanding unmatched and His compassion unending.  And He has left the on-going connection to God the Father by leaving us the Holy Spirit to remind us of all He has said.

Please don’t think that this is not for you, because it is.  We read it at the top: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.  That us is you and me and absolutely everyone.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Amen.

 

 

 

It’s Personal: Part 3

 

Though the Christmas season is filled with joy and excitement for many, it isn’t that way for everyone.  As I stated in part one of this series, I have been given the honor of speaking at several gatherings recently that recognize this fact.  The first was a Hospice Commemoration service, where families who have lost a loved one over this past year gathered to remember family members and friends who have departed this world.  These folks came together to support one another in their shared grief and to hear the words of hope that our All-loving God has for us.  The other gathering was similar, where the entire community was invited to a ‘Blue Christmas’ service.  Again, people were encouraged to recognize the loss and emptiness this season can bring as loved ones are missed.  In both I used Psalm 23 as a means of expressing God’s love and care for these tender and hurting hearts.

I’ve broken this blog into smaller parts (knowing how busy we all can be), to allow you, my friends, the opportunity to read each one in its entirety.  Each one has attempted to bring to light the personal quality of the relationship God extends to those under His care.  Let’s consider the last two verses of this wonderful Psalm today:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (NIV)

Once again, please note the personal way David, the author, addresses God.  In the first four verses he recognizes the deeply caring relationship the Shepherd has for His sheep.

Moving ahead to verse five, the table being prepared isn’t like what we would call to mind in the West with linen and silverware.  The table referenced in the psalm would most likely be a flat area of ground where the shepherd could inspect each sheep individually.  If a wound was discovered during this exam, oil would be poured on it to cleanse it and to promote healing.  Saying that this is done in the presence of enemies tells us that we are truly safe and secure under the watchful eye of the Great Shepherd!  Even when we think we are most vulnerable, the Lord has us protected all the way round.

David concludes his thoughts in verse six by stating the ‘now and not yet’ promises of God: Saying that surely (which might be better translated as always) goodness and love will follow him all his days is living in the realization of God’s promise to never leave or forsake His children.  And writing that he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever speaks of the eternal promise of heaven for all those whose faith is in the saving power of God.  Though the appearance of Jesus on the earth was still many centuries away, David believed that God was going to provide a way for mankind to be with Him forever.  Those of us living on the other side of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have seen this promise come to fruition.

According to the NIV Cultural Background Bible, the metaphor in Psalm 23 of a shepherd was a royal one, with connotations of strong leadership but tender care. I can give personal testimony of having received this kind of tender leadership from the Lord.  He has met every need I have ever had.  As He cares for the sheep in Psalm 23, I can relate in His watch over me.

Because of this, I have learned it’s ok to be a sheep.  I know they get the rap of not being very smart animals, but haven’t I displayed a similar lack of sense in many of my thoughts, actions and words? By acknowledging I have some sheep-like tendencies, I therefore must admit that I need a shepherd to guide me.  Sheep, like me, will never make it alone.

I need the loving guidance that God freely provides.  Only He can fully heal all my hurts.  It is Jesus, whose birth we celebrate this month, who is the Great Shepherd.  It is His personal touch that leads us to the pastures He has for us and His personal care that reveals His love.  He is our comfort, our protector and our Savior.  He takes you personally, I invite you to do the same with Him.

It’s Personal: Part 2

 

Before we dive into Part 2, allow me to thank everyone who takes the time to read/comment on the thoughts I share.  It warms my heart that you would choose to spend some of your precious time with me.  As always, your thoughts and constructive criticism are welcome.  I only want to honor God in this venue; any suggestions you might have to help me do so will be greatly appreciated.

In Part 1 of this series we looked at the first three verses of the 23rd Psalm.  In them we discovered God describing His caring relationship toward us as a shepherd tending to his flock.  This truly is awe inspiring when we consider it is the Creator of everything who extends to each of us individually His care, guidance and protection.

This time let’s consider verse 4 (if you have a bible nearby it may be helpful to re-read all six verses of the psalm first).  There is a big change when we reach verse 4.  David, the author, is no longer talking about the Great Shepherd, he is talking to Him!

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4 NIV)

Verse 4 begins with the recognition of the darkness that often engulfs us in this life.  The shadow can refer to physical death and the sadness it brings, or any other challenge in our life that wants to turn our attention away from God.  Grief can certainly be a culprit, just as disappointment and discouragement can be as well.

One of the important things to remember, especially when sadness and loss want to overwhelm you is that Lord, as your personal Good Shepherd, never leaves you.  The times in my life when I couldn’t/wouldn’t sense His presence was because I allowed circumstances to interfere with my awareness of Him.  One of the many awesome characteristics of our Shepherd is His omnipresence, He is always everywhere all the time.  I can’t explain it, I just know it to be true through faith.

Much as the psalmist now recognizes the personal presence of the Lord, we must too.  Acknowledging His presence doesn’t mean we simply bury our heads in the sand with regard to our pain.  To the contrary, being aware of the loving guidance of our Shepherd ought to encourage us to open our hearts to Him.  Verse 4 states that I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Here is another key point for us: We are to walk through this valley.  In other words, keep moving! Don’t get stagnant and wallow in a pool of self-pity.  Yes, the loss and pain you feel hurts.  Let it hurt, but don’t allow yourself to get comfortable in your pain.

We need to then find the way that works best for us to deal with our hurt or loss.  The best example of how to do this can be found in what David wrote next; I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Fearing no evil tells us to have complete trust in God, that His very presence as our Shepherd is the balm we need for our wounds.  His rod and His staff comfort us as well.  These are the tools the shepherd used to protect his flock from danger.  The rod was a club used to beat back predators.  The staff was used to guide the sheep along the right path and was also used at days end to count each sheep as it passed into the pen.

For us to know this level of godly care, we must allow the imagery of the shepherd protecting and caring for his flock to bring us comfort.  Our Great Shepherd knows exactly how to guide us so that we can live in His peace.  He can care for every wound we might receive as we occasionally veer off the path He makes for us.  It is this level of personal care that only God could extend to each of us.

If you are aware of your personal Shepherd’s presence today, I rejoice with you! If, however, you are not in that place, I gently remind you of how the Lord feels about the sheep that have wondered: He leaves the ninety-nine in safety to go retrieve the one missing.  Why? Because it’s personal; to Him as well as us.