No Foolin’

April Fool’s Day has come and gone again for another year.  For the most part, I enjoy the shenanigans that accompanies the first of this month, though I could have gone without seeing Mother Nature’s 6 inches of snow prank on us here in Central New York!

Those who know me are aware that I love to laugh, remaining always ready to laugh at myself first.  If laughter is indeed the best medicine, I must be a pretty healthy individual.

What I know for sure is that the joy that is in my heart, ready to bubble over at any given moment, has been placed there by the Spirit of the Living God, whom I trust without reservation for my salvation.

I say all this to preface what I would like to briefly share with you all today.  I was asked to preach at a local church this past Sunday, filling in for their pastor who was not available to do so.  My style, if you can call it that, is to deliver the message of hope from God’s word in the same way I attempt to communicate all the time: straight forward, down to earth and with a touch of mirth so that we take the message, but not ourselves, seriously.

The title I gave to my sermon was Truth and Consequences, pointing out from numerous places in the Scriptures the truth that there are consequences for all our actions, both good and bad.  I concluded my presentation with an invitation for anyone in the audience to see me afterward to discuss the truth and consequences of making/not making an informed decision about Jesus Christ’s call to salvation, having outlined the consequences of believing in Him or not.

As I stood at the front, an older gent, I’d put him at about 80 years young, came up to me.  I had noticed as I spoke how attentive he and his wife had been, interjecting a fair amount of Amens! to the various points I was trying to make.  What he said to me is what has inspired this entry.  As he thanked me for speaking, he said, “Now that was preaching like we used to hear.”

I asked him what he meant by that.  He simply told me that the message was clear: Jesus Christ is the way to salvation and that there are indeed consequences that affect us forever based on our decision to the Lord’s invitation to be forgiven.

Here’s what I am still pondering and I welcome any and all thoughts and opinions: If plainly speaking about the pros and cons of recognizing our need of a Savior is ‘old school,’ exactly what is being preached/taught in churches today?

I started this entry speaking of the joy I experience daily.  I love a good laugh, usually at my own expense.  I’ll often refer to my lack of height (Vertically Challenged), my inability to jump and overall lack of athletic skill (Prisoner of Gravity) or my lack of good looks (Face made for radio) to get the humor started.

It is with the same joy that allows me to be not so serious about myself that I attempt to spread the simple yet all encompassing Good News about Jesus Christ.  The line between harmless self-deprecating humor and the absolute importance of making the choice for Jesus is crystal clear however, no foolin’.

Thanks for taking the time to read this,

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

 

 

Thoughts about Ash Wednesday from a non-denominational pastor

Many of my dear sisters and brothers in Christ will be receiving ashes on their foreheads today.  As a non-denominational pastor, I’d like to share a few thoughts about what Ash Wednesday means to me.

I was born to Roman Catholic parents.  They faithfully went to Mass each Sunday, dragging my brother and me along with them.  They also hit all the Holy Days of Obligation with us in tow.  That meant that we got ashes on our foreheads every year at the beginning of Lent.  At the time, all I cared about was that this was bringing us closer to Easter and a basket filled with chocolate bunnies.

As I got a little older, I listened to the readings at these gatherings, again without any real impact on my life.  As soon as I was old enough to decide whether I wanted to continue down my parent’s path of religious belief, I opted out.

Many years later life-changing things happened to me, and I found my self back in a church.  This time it was Lutheran.  These good folks also had a special midweek gathering at the beginning of the Lenten season where they, too, had ashes put on their foreheads.

By this time, thankfully, I knew more about the reasons behind this, which gave me a better appreciation of the symbolism.  My faith journey continued and my family and I landed in a non-denominational church.  I was, and am, still deeply moved by this approach.  When church life here is lived in the proper light, the non-denominational church answers to God and not the traditions of men.  Therefore, I found no Ash Wednesday celebrations among these good people.

More time has passed, and I am now an ordained pastor of a non-denominational ministry.  What may be surprising to some is that I will be assisting at an Ash Wednesday service at a Lutheran Church this evening.  How did this come about, you might ask?

My wife and I have been blessed to become friends with the Pastor of the local Lutheran Church.  She is a dynamic person of God, whose devotion to the Word, to prayer, and to others is inspiring.  We met at an ecumenical gathering of local pastors who get together every Saturday morning at 7 to pray for revival in our area.

Pastor Wheatley has invited Betsy and me to participate at this evening’s service at her church: Betsy will lead us in song and I will help distribute ashes.  This is what got me thinking about this topic today.  Why me?  And why ashes?

Non-denominational or not, I have concluded that the receiving of ashes on this day is a very good thing to do.  The ashes themselves symbolize three things: our sinfulness, our mortality, and the hope we have in God through the finished work of Jesus Christ.

The first two of these of go together; the bible teaches (and my life proves) that all people are hopelessly lost in sin.  Only God, in His mercy, can save us from eternal doom.  The ashes remind me of this fact today.  They also serve to refresh my memory about my own mortality; that no matter how good I feel physically today, at age 59, I am still much closer to the end of my natural life than I am to its beginning.  When this sobering thought is taken with the first point made, I am ever so glad for the third one!

The ashes, placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross, are a visual reminder of the reality of the love of God for us all.  Jesus, God’s Son, chose to die an awful death on a cross in order that sinners (that’s all of us) could be saved.  Peter expressed it this way: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

I can’t save myself, and no other human can do it for me either.  Only faith in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ can.  The ashes on my forehead remind me of this awesome truth again today.  I’ll gladly hand them out and humbly receive them.  The only title I bear today is follower of Christ, for it is the only one that truly matters.

Blessings,

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

Too cold for just fig leaves!

 

Part of a normal winter here in upstate New York has a couple of weeks of truly cold weather to accompany the prodigious amounts of snow that falls.  This winter is no exception.  Today’s high temperature is forecast to be 5 degrees (that’s Fahrenheit my friends!).  What has the weather people in an even greater dizzy is the wind-chill factor.  That they tell us this will bring the ‘feels like’ temp to -30.  I was just outside walking our dog Violet and I can assure you, it is cold outside.

Having lived in this area all my life, I have learned the importance of dressing in layers for protection against this kind of cold, keeping as much skin as possible covered to prevent frostbite.  This morning was no different: two pairs of pants, 2 shirts, wool socks, hoodie, hat, insulated jacket, lined boots and insulated gloves.  Both Violet (I suppose her fur keeps her warm) and I survived and even enjoyed our morning walk today.

Staying warm in these conditions got me to thinking about this week’s bible study as we will be looking at Genesis Chapter 3.  Reading this we see the awful result of Adam and Eve’s falling to the temptation of the serpent.  They believed his lie and subsequently got banished from Paradise.

It’s not only that God cast them out, bad as that was, but that they knew they screwed up. Verse 7 of Chapter 3 explains it this way: Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (NIV)

There is way more to glean from this chapter that I have space for today, so let’s focus in on the inadequate coverings Adam and Eve made for themselves.  If I understand this correctly, their realizing they were naked tells us they were ashamed of what they had done.  Because of this, they no longer saw their bodies as just being the way God made them, but rather something objectionable and forbidden, thus making it necessary to cover up what then became inappropriate parts.

Sadly, the world hasn’t learned much since then.  We (I include myself), tend to want to hide our imperfections.  We feel very exposed if they become known.  Same thing with our mistakes: hide them as best we can or try as Adam did to pass the blame on to someone else.

Reading on in Chapter 3, we discover that Adam and Eve knew that their new coverings were not much of a cover-up.  The second half of verse 8 tells what they did when they heard God walking toward them: and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (NIV).  Not only did they attempt to cover their nakedness, they also tried to hide from God.  It amazes me that they (and many of us) think that we can somehow hide our activities from an all-knowing and ever-present God.

Thankfully, our God has a heart that loves us enough to cover our weaknesses.  It the case of Adam and Eve, the bible says that, The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21 NIV) God saw that what they had made for themselves was woefully inadequate for protection.  Wearing garments fashioned by God is certainly preferable to running around with just a few figs leaves on!

Taken a step further, we can see God’s creative work in the protective covering he supplies us through His Son Jesus Christ.  Christianity 101 teaches us that it is only by believing that Jesus Christ took our place and died for our sins on the cross that gives us access to spend eternity with God.  In essence, it is the Lord’s shed blood that covers us.  Only in this way can we be made acceptable to the glorious God of heaven.  The Apostle Paul, quoting from Psalm 32 says it this way: Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him. (Romans 4:7-8 NIV) We receive this incredible blessing of forgiveness because God knows we can’t do it for ourselves.

Just as Adam and Eve’s self-made garments proved no real help, neither would flipflops, shorts and a tee shirt be any good against the bitter cold we are experiencing here where I live.  And truthfully, even my best layering technique would ultimately fail me if I had to stay outside to long when it is this cold.

The bottom line is this: We are to take care of our outer-selves being mindful of weather conditions and dressing appropriately.  It’s nobody’s fault but mine if I go outside in these conditions without gloves to shovel the driveway.  The ensuing frost-bitten fingers would be my fault.

Just as we learn how to do the practical with regard to dressing for cold weather, so we must know and believe that the most important covering always and forever is the one the Jesus Christ offers.  We cannot cover up or hide from God and the blessing is He doesn’t want us to! Come to Him, just as you are, and allow His love to cover you like no wool garment ever can.  His love is an all-season love and it is a perfect fit, just for you!

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

 

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.

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.

Giving Thanks in ALL Things

 

I have so much to be thankful for.  In no particular order (other than the first 2), I thank God for my Savior Jesus Christ.  That He would willingly take my place for my sins boggles the mind, but I am eternally grateful that He did! Second is another gift God has given me, my wife Betsy.  The most a grace-filled, loving, patient, brilliant; the list goes on, person I have ever known.  To realize that before time began our Creator had it so planned that she and I would spend so many years together is another mind-blowing event that I am thankful each and every day.

There is so much more: my two adult kids, my good health, my sobriety, my friends, my dog.  It could (and should) go on and on.  I was told very early in recovery that gratitude is an action word, meaning that if I am truly grateful for what I have received, my face, actions and words ought to reflect that fact.  For these more obvious things that have come my way, I think I do a pretty good job showing how thankful I am for them.

But something else has come to mind recently about which I am far too slack in giving thanks for: the challenges and problems that I face.  That they occur shouldn’t be a surprise.  Jesus even tells us so: “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, emphasis added).

Jesus gives us so many promises in the Bible: I am with you always, my sheep know my voice, I’m going to prepare a place for you, etc. These and so many others are exciting, fulfilling and comforting promises.  And He always does what He says He’s going to do, never once deceiving us.  Therefore, the promise that there is going to be troubles is also true.  If I’m going to accept the ‘good’ ones, I have to accept the others as well.

But being thankful for troubles and trials? Why, you might ask, should I or anyone be grateful for the issues that come up in life? With so much bad in the world, why not just count as blessings the good I have experienced.  The answer for me lies in the fact that without the challenges and struggles, I too quickly become lethargic about being thankful.  When I stop giving thanks for the bounty that surrounds me, I become lazy in giving praise to God.  If I allow this to go on for long, a feeling of entitlement can start to grow.  Left unchecked, I can get to full-blown complacency in a very short time.

Thankfully, God knows this about me even better than I do.  It’s not that He is up there in his throne room keeping score on my gratitude meter, but rather that He allows the various challenges and things that make me struggle come my way so that I will keep Him in the proper place in my heart and mind.

It seems I grow the most in my faith when I can get over my wounded pride or selfishness or whatever other shortcoming gets illuminated during a trial or conflict and come to that place where I simply trust God and His sovereignty.  Without fail, when I realign my heart with God’s during these times, He will point out some aspect of my life that needs to get reined in; or maybe better said that I bring this area to Him, humbly asking that He lead me in the way He would have me go in regard to it.

Like most, I seem to learn best from my mistakes.  Now if I could just stop screwing up the lessons might be over! However, my track record would indicate that more mess-ups are likely.  I’m trusting that with each one God will help me to turn to Him more quickly, thus shortening the time that I need to suffer or be at a loss of how to go on.

God is faithful.  He has seen me through even trial and tribulation I have ever faced.  His track record is perfect; as is everything about Him.  I am thankful for this truth.  I am thankful for every struggle that has brought me to know this more fully and I’ll be thankful in the future when these types of things come up against me, because I know I am under His complete care.  When I remember that, I am indeed so very grateful for everything in my life.