Footprints

 

Footprints-in-the-Sand-Poem.jpg

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

Many of us are familiar with Footprints.  It hangs in many offices and fellowship halls.  It serves as a reminder that God keeps His promise to never leave nor forsake us, no matter how tough the going gets.

Like many things I get familiar with, however, the purpose of this poem gets put into the back of my mind.  I may see it on a wall, but won’t stop to read it because I already know what it says.

I caught myself walking by Footprints the other day as I hurried to my next appointment.  Allow me to tell you what happened next.  I recognized (and more unusually) listened to the still, small voice of God telling me to stop and look at it.  I did.  The words were the same as always, yet something appeared to me that never had before.

The premise of this beautiful piece is that God carries us Himself when we can no longer carry on.  I have known this truth in my life and have witnessed it many times in the lives of others.

Here’s what grabbed my attention like I had never seen this before: The depth of the Lord’s footprint never changes.  Regardless of how much of our burdens He collectively carries, He is not slowed in any way.  Also, His gait never changes.  The stride remains consistent.  He carries our burdens, never having to stop and re-adjust the load.

The Lord can, does and will carries us along.  The question becomes, why don’t we let Him?

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck

image re-printed from onlythebible.com

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

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

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!

How are the New Year Resolutions Going?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

Pastor Chuck

 

 

 

 

Have a Forever Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings to all and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

 

That’s a Big God in a Small Baby!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas from Pastor Chuck at Lakeside Christian Ministries!

Jesus is the Prince of Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

What’s in a Name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jesus is Mighty God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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