The Christmas Names of Jesus (Part 4)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV) Merry Christmas! Isaiah gives us the last of the Christmas names next. He declares Jesus is the Prince of Peace. We are in Texas at this writing. The day will be filled with family, food, and exchanging gifts. However, the greatest gift ever given was over two thousand years ago in a quiet little town called Bethlehem. It was the gift of peace. So, what is this Peace? According to Webster’s dictionary, peace is a state of tranquility, quiet, calm, freedom from civil disturbance, a state of security – being secure within a community, freedom from oppression, strife and disorder. In harmony in personal relations. Untroubled by conflict, agitation or commotion. In a world filled with war and violence, it’s difficult to see how Jesus could be the all-powerful God that acts in human history and be the embodiment of peace. But physical safety and political harmony don’t necessarily reflect the kind of peace He’s talking about. The Hebrew word for peace, “shalom,” is often used in reference to an appearance of calm and tranquility of individuals, groups, and nations. The Greek word eirene means unity and accord; Paul uses eirene to describe the objective of the New Testament church. But the deeper, more foundational meaning of peace is the spiritual harmony brought about by an individual’s restoration with God. In our sinful state, we were enemies with God. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are restored to a relationship of peace with God. This is the deep, abiding peace between our hearts and our Creator that cannot be taken away and the ultimate fulfillment of Christ’s work as “Prince of Peace.” But Christ’s sacrifice provides more for us than eternal peace; it also allows us to have a relationship with the Holy Spirit, the Helper who promises to guide us. Further, the Holy Spirit will manifest Himself in us by having us live in ways we couldn’t possibly live on our own, including love, joy, and peace. This love, joy, and peace are all results of the Holy Spirit working in the life of a believer. They are reflections of His presence in us. And, although their deepest, most vital result is to have us live in love, joy, and peace with God, they can’t help but to spill over into our relationships with people. Is peace desirable? Do you have it? Would you like to have it? Accept this Child of Bethlehem today! He offers you the greatest gift on this wonderful morning of receiving...

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The Christmas Names of Jesus (Part 3)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV) Next Isaiah declares Jesus is the Everlasting Father. In the Hebrew the phrase is literally “the Father of Eternity.” This speaks of the purpose of his coming. He 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. 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. Charles Swindoll relates a story that draws us an appropriate picture of what Christ has done: “Eight-year-old Monica broke her leg as she fell into a pit. An older woman, Mama Njeri, happened along and climbed into the pit to help get Monica out. In the process, a dangerous black Mamba snake bit both Mama Njeri and Monica. Monica was taken to Kejave Medical Center and admitted. Mama Njeri went home, but never awoke from her sleep. The next day a perceptive missionary nurse explained Mama Njeri’s death to Monica, telling her that the snake had bitten both of them, but all of the snake’s poison was expended on Mama Njeri; none was given to Monica. The nurse then explained that Jesus had taken the poison of Monica’s sin so that she could have new life. It was easy for Monica.” She then understood the work of Christ on her behalf very clearly. Jesus makes the spiritual life possible. He is a father forever! That’s important to me. He taught me many things. He taught me the importance of family. He taught me what it meant to sacrifice for your children. He taught me some of the most endearing and important lessons in life. However, he was not a father forever. He is gone now. He was a very good man, but he could not be a father forever. I am a father to Kyle, David, and Aaron, but I am not a father forever. I will someday pass away. All human fathers must go. But Jesus is a father forever! He’s just what we need....

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The Christmas Names of Jesus (Part 2)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV) Next Isaiah declares Jesus is the Mighty God. There is something very interesting in the contrast that God provides in the birth of Jesus. The people both at the time of Isaiah and when Jesus was born were looking for a Savior. It was always a part of their belief that God would send a redeemer to liberate them from their enemies. However, they were looking for a superhero not a baby born in a stable! They wanted someone who could return them to physical power, financial power, and political power like they had experienced under King David. Jesus’ power would not be found in his "super powers." Jesus would show us his power in love, righteousness, justice, mercy, and forgiveness. It’s no wonder people were shocked by what He claimed. They knew who Jesus was. He had grown up in their neighborhood. He may have even played with their children. He had flesh and blood just like them. How could He say He was God? But it wasn’t just His words that surprised people. Jesus not only claimed the amazing, but He did the amazing. At His command, violent seas went still, the sick were healed, and the dead came to life. While many denied His claims, no one could deny His power over nature, sickness, death, and the supernatural. If we look into the Gospel of John we discover that Jesus had the power over all creation.  Jesus was the one who created our world!  He is the Creator and the Sustainer of all creation. He doesn’t just have authority over the earth. He has authority also over the heavenly realm. He has ALL authority.  Any authority on this earth is "derived" authority. When you put all these claims together you must come to a clear conclusion. Jesus claimed and His disciples declared that Jesus was God. The authority and power of Christ was unique.  Throughout the Gospels Jesus claims god-like authority for His words, claimed that He had the authority to forgive sin, and declared that He was God. Any view of Christ that makes Him merely a good man, misses the true declaration of the Bible. The promises of Jesus are wonderful and they provide us hope.  But those promises often seem distant.  They seem sometimes unrelated to what we are going through in the present. The fact that Jesus is the Mighty God also means that He is able to help us where we need that help right now. He will draw close to the person who is filled with loneliness. He will give strength to the one who is engulfed with fear. He will provide comfort to the one whose heart is broken. He will give direction for the one who doesn’t know which way to turn. He will give new courage to the one who is discouraged. He will protect and defend the one who feels their life has come crashing down around them. He is the Mighty...

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The Christmas Names of Jesus (Part 1)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV) For the next four days we will look at the prophetic names of Jesus given by Isaiah. Each of these reveals a special part of the Gospel. The first of these is Wonderful Counselor. Some have thought to separate these two words. And, while it is true that Jesus is both wonderful and a counselor, the sense is that he is a "wonder of a counselor." In Isaiah’s day the people lived in a pervading darkness. There were wizards, witches, sorcerers, and those who sought to consult with the dead for their wisdom and understanding of life. They lived in a world that gave no comfort or reason for their pain and suffering. They had no hope and no future. God, knowing this, prepared for the day when he would send his Son who would be a counselor beyond imagination in his goodness and compassion. There are three things that strike me clearly in this truth. First, Jesus listens with compassion. Jesus understands the hurts, the needs, and the rebellion of men. The Lord understands our tears. Take your best friend, the person who listens when no one else will, the person who understands your deepest need, the person who will not jump on you when you make a mistake but will help you get back up; Jesus is like that, only extraordinarily better. Second, Jesus interprets things in a new light. The old wisdom introduced at the fall when Adam and Eve first sinned skewed everything in favor of deception and darkness. It is altogether too easy to believe that is the truth. Jesus changes that. He brings light into the darkness and reveals the truth. Third, Jesus confronts with the truth. There are many who would twist the truth for their own purposes. They respond with a "spin" to turn opinion to their purpose and desire. However, Jesus never distorts the truth. He confronts us with truth because he is the truth. There are those times when the truth is difficult for us to hear, but it always brings us to freedom. What I hope you see is that when Christ came into the world as a baby in Bethlehem, it was not some historical event that is irrelevant to you and me. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem the Wonderful Counselor was born. He is one we have been looking for all our lives. He is the one who understands when no one else does. He is the one who stands by us when everyone else turns away. He is the one who really can help us confront the past and begin again. He is the one who can help us find the God we knew was present but couldn’t reach. Maybe it is time to stop hiding from the things that haunt your life. Why not take your hurts, fears, and failures and bring them to...

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Just 43 Years!

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV) Happy Anniversary, Mary! Yep, it has been 43 years since I stood in the altar of First Baptist Church, Bryan, Texas as the organ played Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and Mary walked arm in arm with her dad down the aisle for us to say our vows to one another.  There were so many things about that day that I could recite as the memories have been etched into our minds. Some of them were very serious, others very humorous. Though I was not aware of it at the time, a dear lady named Alice Butler had gotten the dates and times for a special choir practice confused with our wedding. She was running a bit late and thought she would simply burst into the choir loft with an aria. Of course, had she not caught herself in mid-breath opening the door behind us, it would have made for an even funnier story! But, she did and no one was the wiser. We have laughed about that near disaster for many years. Lots of folks had wise words to share with me both before and after the wedding. Honestly, I can remember most of them even today. The wisest bit of wisdom came just as Mary turned the corner into the aisle with her dad. Bailey Stone, then pastor, and a dear friend and mentor to me today, leaned in to me and said, "Get where you can see Mary Anne (he has always called her by both her names). This will be a sight you will never forget." He was absolutely correct. She turned the corner, waiting for the trumpets, and it seemed as if there was a glow surrounding her. She was beautiful beyond words, but the most wonderful sight was in the strength that she represented. It would be in those next few moments that we would become that threefold cord. There have been times when the strength of that cord would be tested, but never broken. The disappointments and challenges of life would never fray that cord! Through the years I have been able to understand better why that’s so true. While Mary is incredibly strong, and I have some strength as well; the two of us alone could never withstand these challenges. It would always be that third strand. His name is Jesus. In the many opportunities I have had through the years to counsel other couples during difficult times, it always comes back to the strength of Jesus. That is the essence of the grace of God operating in our lives. As I wish her Happy Anniversary today, may I challenge you to examine your "threefold cold"? What better time than Christmas to do that? Nothing and no one will do like...

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The God of All Comfort

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7 ESV) You only need look around to see the constant presence of suffering in our world. There is an elderly woman with a walker slowly making her way from the car into the grocery store. There is a young lad in a wheel chair. There is a parent suffering from cancer. There is a child with chronic asthma. To one degree or another it is all around us. And the size of the medical profession is mute testimony to its extent. Why does a loving God permit all this suffering? Elizabeth Prentiss’ story offers and answer. Elizabeth Prentiss, the wife of a Presbyterian minister, spent most of her adult life as an invalid, seldom knowing a day without constant pain throughout her body. Yet her friends described her as a bright-eyed, cheery woman with a keen sense of humor. Elizabeth was always strong in faith and encouraging to others, until tragedy struck the Prentiss family beyond what even she could bear. The loss of two of their children brought great sorrow to Elizabeth’s life. For weeks no one could console her. In her diary she wrote of “empty hands, a worn-out, exhausted body, and unutterable longings to flee from a world that has so many sharp experiences.” During this period of grief, Elizabeth cried out to God, asking Him to minister to her broken spirit. It was at this time that Elizabeth’s story became a living testimony! During this time she wrote one of the church’s most familiar hymns: More love to Thee, O Christ, more love to Thee! Hear Thou the prayer I make on bended knee; This is my earnest plea: More love, O Christ, to Thee… Once earthly joy I craved, sought peace and rest; Now Thee alone I seek—Give what is best; This all my prayer shall be: More love, O Christ, to Thee… Let sorrow do its work, send grief and pain; Sweet are Thy messengers, sweet their refrain, When they can sing with me, More love, O Christ, to Thee… Then shall my latest breath whisper Thy praise; This be the parting cry my heart shall raise; This still its prayer shall be: More love, O Christ, to Thee. Yes, we do encounter afflictions of various types in this world. But God is the author of real comfort. And we learn about the comfort only God can give by trusting Him and leaning upon Him. Without first experiencing pain and then knowing God’s comfort, you really can’t say to others, "This is what God can do for...

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