Peace by Peace: The Full Armor of God

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I put my armor on first thing today.  No, I’m not re-enacting a joust or trying to blend in at a Renaissance Faire, I’m referring to the full armor of God that the Apostle Paul wrote about in Ephesians 6:10-18

It might seem peculiar to some that the God of peace, love and forgiveness would also make a soldier’s armor necessary.  However, if you have been a follower of Jesus Christ for any length of time, you know all too well the battle that rages on around you.  Thankfully, nothing about this struggle is a surprise to the Almighty.  Therefore, He gives us access to all we need to carry on each day.

Paul knew full well the spiritual battle that was happening in his time.  He used the familiar picture of a Roman, dressed in full battle regalia, to describe what and how God was providing for our spiritual protection.  The Apostle then describes why we need it:

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:11-12) NIV

Paul establishes that there is an unseen battle going on around us and that we do have a common enemy, the devil.  Not to give the old liar too much credit, but he is a powerful and nasty adversary who wants nothing more than to cause strife and division, especially among those who profess faith in Christ.

I am eternally grateful that our God is more powerful than Satan.  (Spoiler alert: if you read the Bible all the way to the end, you’ll see it proved forever!) Having said that, the Bible also teaches that the devil is still active in this world.  Peter describes him as a roaring lion prowling around looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Knowing this, putting on the full protection of God’s armor seems like a no-brainer.

Let’s go through the various pieces of this God-given armor to see how they work to protect us.

The belt of truth is the first piece.  Whereas if may sound weird to us to put a belt on first, in this case it makes sense.  A Roman soldier put this piece of his armor on first because all the rest of his gear would be attached to it.  This holds true for our spiritual protection as well.  We must be able to ‘wear’ the truth of who God is if we are going to be able to stand at all in the battles we encounter.

With apologies to those who hold that truth is a relative thing, the truth of God is all encompassing and unchanging.  God is who He says He is and does what He promises to do.

The truth is that Jesus is the Savior of the world; there is no other way to heaven accept through His death and resurrection.  This has to be firmly buckled into our being if we are to put on the rest of the armor of God.

The breastplate of righteousness then attaches to the belt of truth.  A soldier’s breastplate protected his vital organs from harm.  This piece of godly armor does the same for us.  Righteousness, a term that sometimes gets thrown around in Christendom, simply means to be in right standing with God.  The position of being righteous in God’s eyes is necessary because He is perfect and without sin.  I, for one, am not.  The bible says He imputes righteousness to believers and I could never hope to be in His presence if He didn’t.  Because of this breastplate He provides, I am protected from His wrath.  God hates sin; the breastplate of righteousness keeps me shielded from the eternal consequences of it because He provides it to those who have put their faith in Him.

Verse 15 of Ephesians Chapter 6 then tells us that our feet are fitted with readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  I love the fact that this is fitted to each of us personally.  God’s peace, which we cannot fully grasp, is tailor made in such a way by the Master that even though we don’t understand it, we can live and move about with the assurance of the peace that salvation brings.

Once our shoes are on, we are to take up the shield of faith because by carrying it we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  The Roman soldier’s shield was curved in such a way that things would bounce off it.  As we carry our shield of faith, the lies and deceptions our enemy throws at us will also be deflected, bringing us no harm.

With our bodies now protected, we are instructed to put on the helmet of salvation.  Helmets, of course, are designed to protect the head.  The helmet of salvation does the same in a spiritual sense.  By donning it, we are to keep in the forefront of our mind the salvation God has given us.  By staying mindful of the of the grace of God that has been poured out on us, we are better able to stay focused on Him.  As we go through our days in this way, we are far less likely to fall victim to wrong thinking of the deceitfulness of the world around us.

As we are now fully clothed in the armor of God, we are then to pick up the only weapon we need, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17).  Much as a sword was the common weapon of the foot soldier in Paul’s day, the word of God is for us.  However, this sword has no equal.  In fact, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews describes it thus: The word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), God’s infallible Word is unmatched by any other weapon or tool.  It contains the very essence of God, making it supreme to all things.  What weapon would we possibly want to carry in its place?

Paul concludes this teaching of the full armor of God by reminding us all that once clothed in it, we must never forget to pray.  The list of what we could pray about is endless, but in this context, I would recommend praying to have awareness of the battles going on around us, and the wisdom to now when to engage the enemy and when to wait for re-enforcements.  It is then a very good idea to be praying for others that are on the battlefront, that they too are fully protected and moving within the will of God.

There you have it, my friends.  The full armor of God.  As was recommended to me years ago, I pass on to you.  Get into the practice of thinking about putting on this armor every day.  As you do, consider what each piece represents and how God has supplied it for you and the specific battles and struggles you are up against.  Remember, He who has made this armor is perfect.  What He makes is also perfect and perfectly molded to fit your needs.  All that is left is for us to put it on.

Thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

The Fuzzy Line Between my Wants and Needs

In my role as pastor, I often find myself giving counsel to folks concerning their finances.  For couples, the stress of maintaining a budget at home can be overwhelming, especially in those cases where no budget is in place! This entry, however, is not going to be about Budgeting 101, as important as that is.  Rather, I would like to address what I perceive as being the major cause of financial struggle:  the blurring of the line between our wants and needs.

As usual, these thoughts pertain as much to me as anyone.  I find the above-mentioned line getting fuzzy far too often.  Here is a recent case in point: I enjoy reading very much, and in this season of life, I have much more time to do so.  I generally have two or three books going at once, with one pertaining to ministry, another to American History and the third being some kind of mystery novel.  Allow me to give a shout out to my precious wife at this point.  Betsy is our primary wage earner so that I can attend to our ministry full time.  Being blessed with the ability to manage my time well is how I can do this and still find time to read.

Part of this time-management skill includes the ordering of books on line, quite often through Amazon.  I like that I can type in an author’s name an instantly get all that person’s work to choose from.  That part of instant-gratification is helpful.  To the point of my want/need line getting fuzzy, however, I must consider how quickly I am going to receive my order.  If I subscribe to Prime, I can get them the next day, usually before 10 am!  The simple question is do I need it that soon or is it something I want because it sounds interesting/fun/new/different etc.  Seen in this light, I easily recognize that the line has gotten fuzzy and simply pay for traditional shipping, which will get my package to me in a reasonable time frame anyway.

I see another way the want v. need line can get blurred easily.  As I mentioned earlier, my wife is the one who brings home the bread to our household.  She has an incredibly demanding job that keeps her in the office 10 or more hours day, 5 to 6 days a week! Betsy has a deep faith in, and love for God which undoubtedly gives her the strength to meet the demands of her work life with such a cheerful and positive attitude.  Because she is so well grounded, I don’t see her struggle with her want/need line very much, if at all.

This is true even though she uses several different services that send her clothes to try on in styles she has selected in the profile given.  I enjoy that she gets to try different things (without me having to ride shotgun to the mall) in the midst of her hectic schedule.  What is even more wonderful is the ease with which Betsy simply sends back the majority of the items, because she does not need them.  It’s a great example of the clarity between what wants and needs should be.

Not surprisingly, examples can be found in the Bible that are written to help us clarify our wants and needs as well.  Psalm 37:4 tells us to delight yourselves in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart (NIV).  This is really another place that speaks about our priorities in life.  David, who wrote this psalm, had experienced a vast amount of wealth and comfort in his life, as well as much strife and hardship.  The lessons of life had taught him that when he put the Lord first in his heart and mind, he found that all he had materially paled when compared to the relationship God had established with him.  Once he discovered the pure delight of God’s love, the rest of the desires of his heart fell in line behind this most important one.  He could see the difference between a want and need.

The Apostle Paul gives yet another example of how to prevent the wants/needs line from getting fuzzy when he wrote to the Philippians: And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19 NIV).  Here too we can see that the Scriptures teach that when we seek God to fulfill all  we truly need, His inexhaustible storehouse will supply us fully.

How then does someone like me come to see the want/need line more clearly? The answer is that it starts and ends with God! The bible tells us that His care and faithfulness toward us never ends or even takes a break.  If I (or anyone) is seeking to fill life with instant gratification only to find these things quickly fading into non-importance, we need to better focus on our unchanging and all-powerful Creator.  By seeking Him first and always (see Matthew 6:33 for more on this!), we will realize that He is indeed the fulfillment of every need we have.  With this comfort in the bank, the wants of life can assume their proper place at the back of the line.

The issue is that most, myself included as always, don’t have a thriving relationship with God, usually because we don’t know Him all that well.  Thankfully, this is a correctable situation that can be rectified in two easy steps.  One: Pray like you believe someone is really listening (He is) and two, read more about Him (His entire story is available in print!).

Any relationship that is vibrant includes getting to know the other person more deeply.  It is an on-going proposition.  This means that all healthy relationships are two-sided.  With regard to the relationship God offers, He is all in all the time, which leaves it up to us to grow into our part.

I’m not one for making idle promises, so please don’t take the following lightly: If you will make the effort to deepen your part in your relationship with God, I promise that the line between your wants and needs will become easier to discern.  I speak from personal experience, having both lived in the blessing of intimate contact with God and knowing the loneliness of shunning Him as I try to fill the void by pursuing the things on my want list.  Trust me, having this line more clearly defined has been one of the greatest blessings to me, as I’m sure it can be for you!

Thanks For reading,

Pastor Chuck

Truth and Consequences

There was an old radio turned television show called Truth or Consequences that ran through the late 1980’s.    Wikipedia describes it this way: On the show, contestants received roughly two seconds to answer a trivia question correctly (usually an off-the-wall question that no one would be able to answer correctly, or a bad joke) before “Beulah the Buzzer” sounded (in the rare occasion that the contestant answered the question correctly before Beulah was heard, the question inevitably had two or even three parts). If the contestant could not complete the “Truth” portion, there would be “Consequences,” usually a zany and embarrassing stunt.

Whereas the TV show was built on the premise of an either/or with regards to truth or consequences, real life, as the title of this blog entry mentions, provides a more accurate description: Truth and Consequences.  The truth is that all of our actions result in consequences, either for us or someone/thing else or a combination of both.

King David, one of the biggest heroes of the Old Testament, would find out first hand that the truth carried a severe set of consequences.  Reading through the Book of 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12 is a case in point.  These chapters tell of his affair with Bathsheba.  Here’s the Pastor Chuck condensed version: David sees a beautiful woman as he looks out from the roof of his palace.  Giving no thought to future consequences, he has her brought to him for his pleasure.  The fact that she was already married to another man wasn’t enough to dissuade him.  She gets pregnant as a result and David then plots to have her husband murdered under the guise of putting him in the front lines of the war that was going on at the time.  This scheme succeeds and the King is then ‘free’ to marry Bathsheba.

Enter Nathan the Prophet, one of the bravest figures in the Bible.  He has received a message from God about David’s sins and is instructed to call the King out on them.  There are many accounts from back then where the messenger is killed simply because of the message he bears, but this didn’t stop Nathan from carrying out his orders.  He reveals to David that God does indeed know the truth of what he has done.  Because of these actions, there will the consequences, the worst of these being that the baby born from this was to die.  As this all comes to be, David admits his guilt and asks forgiveness of God.  It’s important to note that while forgiveness is granted, the consequences of the actions still happen.

Of the many lessons you and I are to take from this sad situation, probably the most important is to realize and remember that our actions and choices will all have consequences too.  Obviously in this space I am referring to the bad or poor choices we make, but let’s not forget the opposite: that our good and proper choices can have positive consequences as well!

As we come to accept the truth about consequences, the more vital issue becomes what are we going to do about them going forward.  I have shared in this space before about the ruinous life I lived as an active alcoholic.  My totally selfish and senseless life style left a great deal of damage in its wake.  One place specifically was in our finances.  I accumulated a heap of debt because of my choices.  This was just one consequence that I had to deal with as I came to understand the truth of what I had done.

When my wife and I began to pick up the pieces of our life together, we realized the enormity of this debt.  In 1991 dollars, I owed well over $100,000.  Filing for personal bankruptcy protection alleviated some of this, but not to the IRS and the State of New York.  By failing to pay income and sales tax on the business that I owed, there was a substantial amount of restitution to be paid.

To the point of this blog, what was I to do when confronted with this truth? Was I to take out the mail carrier for bringing these notifications and demands for payment like some ancient prophet who delivered bad news? Of course not! How about running away or simply ignoring them? That approach had never really worked for me in the past, so I had to assume it wouldn’t now either.  What then was left?

Something that was new to me; owning up to my responsibilities.  I had to face and accept the truth.  I had screwed up and there were consequences to be paid.  God, true to His always faithful character, led the way out from under the cloud of debt that I had caused.  Once I accepted my part in this, I asked for His guidance in doing the right thing to clear it up.  He did.  Not with a winning sweepstakes ticket or some huge inheritance, but rather He with supplied me the opportunity to go back to work.  With this blessing came the chance to learn how to deal with money in the proper way, paying my obligations and deciding to pay off the government agencies that I owed.

The grace filled ending to this chapter of my life was that God saw us through it all.  Nowadays, I consider myself one of the richest people I know, though my checkbook my want to argue that point! I count my riches in a different way these days, all because God in his mercy saw to point out to me the consequences of my actions.  As He did, He has changed my heart, and continues to do so.  Am I above consequences for my actions now? Of course not.  What I am, however, is more aware of the bigger picture of life going on around me, which helps me to look for and find ways to have the consequences of my actions today be much more positive and good for me and those around me.

Thanks for reading.  Please feel free to share any stories of truth and consequences that God has seen you through.

Blessings to all,

Pastor Chuck

 

 

Selective Hearing

I don’t know if selective hearing is an actual diagnosis, but I have come across several examples of it in my life.  My Grandfather, after years of factory work, had real loss of hearing.  Yet there seemed to be times when it was worse than others.  If a conversation didn’t interest him, he would claim later that he hadn’t heard what was said.  However, if his beloved New York Mets were on TV, he could hear everything the commentators had to say.

Another type of the phenomenon of selective hearing falls under the sub-title of ‘hearing what we want to hear,’ regardless if it is actually said.  An example of this that remains firmly lodged in my memory is the time my partner at work and I were called into the superintendent’s office.  He regretfully had to tell us that our positions were being eliminated.  He expressed genuine sorrow over losing two good workers and promised to help us in any way he could to find other employment, without specifically pointing us toward any other jobs.

As my co-worker and I left the building we discussed what our options were going forward.  He then said something to me that stopped me in my tracks: “At least John said we could have those jobs in the warehouse if we wanted them.”  I was flabbergasted.  I’ve recorded above pretty close word for word was said at that brief meeting.  There was no mention of warehouse jobs being offered to us. My friend was apparently exercising selective hearing rather than facing the real prospect of losing his job.  When I pointed this out to him, he indignantly told me that I must not have been listening!

These things all came to mind this morning as I read 1 Samuel Chapter 8.  A brief summary of this chapter finds Samuel, a long-time and devoted servant of God growing old and less able to lead the people.  He assigns his two sons to take over, but they are corrupt.  The people then begin to clamor that Samuel appoint a king over them, just like all the nations around them have.  Samuel takes this as an affront to him, but God points out that it is Him the Israelite’s are truly turning their backs on by demanding a worldly leader.

Now to the connection to selective hearing: After God has told Samuel to appoint the people a king, the old prophet then relays to them what God has said will happen because they have chosen this course of action.  For the full run-down of what God’s warning was, go to 1 Samuel 8:10-18.  I summarize it this way: By choosing to snub your nose at God, your king will basically take away all your freedoms, making life burdensome, hard and without hope.

The people, choosing selective hearing of these things, would hear none of this.  But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8:19-20 NIV).

This reads to me like the people not only were using selective hearing, but also were looking at the nations around them through rose-colored glasses! The neighboring nations they wanted to be like were usually led by tyrants, who took what they wanted and oppressed their own people without concern.  Yet this was somehow more appealing that trusting and following God.

How many of us, myself included, have tendencies like these? The old saying is that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  What we have seems to pale when compared to the greater things that are always just out of our reach.

What I/we lose sight of when we get to this place is the never-ending faithfulness of God.  He has promised to always be with us.  He will never forsake us.  His record for keeping His promises is a perfect 100%.  And though He is always there with us, at no time has He promised that by having faith in Him will our lives be lived on Easy Street.  In fact, our faith will at times cause us to suffer the scorn and ridicule of others.  In some places on the globe, it can cost you your life.

So why not ask for a king? Why not have someone else fight your battles for you with the only cost being the lost of all your basic freedoms?  That’s what the people basically said to Samuel.  We must not fall into this same trap.  Don’t allow selective hearing to obscure the full-measure of God’s care for you.  Taken in its entirety, the word of God promises a peace the world can neither supply or understand.  Our ever-present, merciful and loving God delivers this peace, if only we will give Him our complete attention.  As we do, we will hear His voice, in whatever form He chooses to let you hear it, unfiltered by selective hearing.  What you will hear will be beyond wonderful.  Keep your ears fully open to what He has for you; you’ll find the selection awesome beyond words!

Thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

OUCH! That Hurt!

 

Sarah Young: It is easy to make an idol of routine, finding security within the boundaries you build around your life.  Although each day contains twenty-four hours, every single one presents a unique set of circumstances.  Don’t try to force-fit today into yesterday’s mold. (Jesus Calling; HarperCollins Christian Publishing: 2004) February 17th.

What Ms. Young wrote for February 17th in her devotional Jesus Calling really grabbed my attention. You see, I find great comfort in routine; so much so that I am often zealous in protecting it.  In fact, as I ponder what she has written, I see how easy it can be to make an idol of routine.  As a pastor, I will often caution folks about the sly way things in our life can become idols in our hearts.  I usually define an idol as being anything that wants to bring attention away from God and toward whatever the particular thing is.  A thing becomes an idol when it assumes more importance in one’s life than it should.

I am beginning to see that I need to take my own advice! I have begun to notice several ways in which I have allowed the striving to maintain my routine to do this to me.  As I said, I really like the comfort of my routine.  This is a crazy world in which we live, and retreating to the comfort of the familiar is easy for me to do. I often see first-hand the ways in which the world today so easily turns lives upside down.  Nor am I personally immune from this.  Personal upsets such as loved ones being ill or injured, misunderstandings within my family and that ONE MORE demand on my time can all shake me from my cozy routine that I put such emphasis on maintaining.

As I continue to think about this as I type, I am wondering why it is that routine provides such comfort to me.  Am I really saying that I prefer the comfort of my snug little schedule over the opportunity to operate more fully under the divine guidance of the Lord?  Ouch if that is true!

For if it is, it means that I am relying more on my ability to manage life than I am on the always available and overflowing grace of God.  In other words, I’m saying “Thanks, but no thanks to you God, I’ve got this.’  Ouch indeed! How shallow and short-sighted of me.  How hypocritical of me, as one who teaches and proclaims the abundance of God’s care for people, to snub my nose at it.

Ok, God got my attention with this one.  Again, following what I guide others with, I have asked His forgiveness for my selfish attitude.  With this acknowledgement also comes a request that He keep me aware of my tendency to go self-reliant; that as I practice being more aware of His ever-present presence, I keep my eyes and heart on Him.  In this way I will learn to be more trusting of His ability to always keep me in His care, thus keeping me away from more OUCH! that hurt times of realizing I’m tearing off on my own again.

How about you? Do you struggle with control of your time like me? Or anything else you might want to share? I’d love to hear how you have/are overcoming these issues.

Blessings to you all,

Pastor Chuck

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.