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Monday, December 30, 2013

The Names of the Lord - The Prince of Peace

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6

Peace is defined as "freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility; stillness."  Is it just me, or does that seem like a foreign concept these days?  As I type this post, it is less than a week before Christmas, the time of peace on earth, good will toward men.  Yet, I can only shake my head as I read horror after horror of just how mean, hateful and selfish mankind has become.

I read the story of a woman who pepper-sprayed over twenty people on Black Friday because she wanted to "beat the line" to get to the great deal on an X-box.  A few days later, I heard the tale of a woman who was stabbed to death at a local Wal-mart.  News footage shows evidence of the sad state of men's hearts as people fight one another with a "me first" attitude.  Good grief!  No deal is worth hurting another individual.  What is wrong with people?

The world, as a whole, is missing peace.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  Without Him, peace does not exist.  I can have peace in my heart because Jesus resides within me, but as I mingle out and about in the world, I find it more and more difficult to remember that the peace is there.  Additionally, in the hustle and bustle of everyday activities, I struggle to find time to seek peace.

It's no accident that the words "be still" are in the Bible.  We are commanded to "be still" and know that God is God.  The only way we can do that is to step away from the chaos and determine in our hearts that we will be still and quiet for a period of time.  We all need that time, and I believe it would be much easier to find peace the rest of the time if we would set aside some time to become reacquainted with the Prince of Peace.  The One who spoke peace to the storm can speak peace into our lives as well.  We need only to allow Him to perform His work.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Names of the Lord - The Everlasting Father

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6

Okay, you may want to grab some Tylenol before we try to tackle this one.  This verse in Isaiah is obviously foretelling the birth of Jesus Christ.  The baby in a manger.  The son of Mary.  The Son of God.  The everlasting Father?  How can one Person be both the Son and the Father.

The Trinity is a concept that always gives me a headache if I try too hard to wrap my brain around it.  It's simply impossible for my poor brain to comprehend.  Three in One.  The fact that the Father can also be the Son.  How God the Father could forsake God the Son on Calvary.  The entire thing just baffles me.  I believe it is so, but I certainly don't understand it.

And if the title "Father" isn't baffling enough in this passage, Isaiah throws in the adjective "everlasting."  You talk about something that will get your brain turning!  Everlasting means without beginning or end.  I can't fathom that.  I get confused watching movies and shows dealing with time travel, so you can imagine my dilemma in trying to understand God who lives outside of time.  There are no watches, clocks or calendars in Heaven.  God doesn't need them.  He's a big God and is not contained within the limits of time.

In fact, He is currently everywhere at all points in time.  He is with me as I type this post, but He's also witnessing the very first Christmas while simultaneously watching the death of His Son on Calvary.  It's all one big picture to Him, and that truly boggles the mind.  I guess, though, it serves as an excellent reminder that Jesus is Wonderful and the mighty God.

The everlasting Father -- what a concept!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Names of the Lord - The Mighty God

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6

The word mighty is defined as "powerful, strong, very large, vast, very great in extent or importance."  Not the thoughts that come to mind when we picture baby Jesus in the manger.  Powerful?  Not likely.  Strong?  Impossible.  Very large or vast?  Laughable.  Very great in extent or importance?  Now we're getting somewhere.  Yet, while many of the definitions just don't seem to fit, they do, in fact, describe Jesus, the mighty God.

Do you ever find it difficult to remember that the tiny Baby in the manger is the same One who spoke the world into existence?  It's just so remarkable and difficult to wrap our finite brains around.  Jesus is the mighty God, the One who created Mary, of whom He would be born.  Mind-boggling, isn't it?  But it shouldn't be.  

Follow His story.  Witness His miracles.  Turning water into wine.  Healing sickness and disease.  Calming storms with the power of His voice, the same voice that called Lazarus up from the dead.  Yes, in fact, Jesus is so mighty that death itself could not hold Him.  When He gave up His spirit on the cross, He cried, "It is finished", not as a cry of defeat, but as one of victory.  It was a shout of "I've won!!!"  And so He has.  Despite his thoughts to the contrary, Satan cannot and will not defeat Him.  Jesus is the Mighty God, and nothing can stand in His way!

And just think, He's on our side!  Isn't it great to have a Friend in high places?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Names of the Lord - Counselor

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6

A counselor is someone who offers advice or counsel.  The best counselors are those who have not only been trained to deal with various circumstances, but have also lived through the circumstances themselves.  No one can relate to us better than someone who has faced the same situation we're facing.  And that, my friend, is what makes Jesus the best counselor of all.

He left the splendor of Heaven to come to this earth so that He could walk in our shoes.  Weary?  Jesus understands.  Feeling betrayed?  Jesus has been there.  Wonder if you have a friend left in the world?  Jesus can relate.  Lonely?  Overwhelmed?  Brokenhearted?  No matter what we may face on this earth, we can rest in the knowledge that Jesus understands.  He's walked the same paths before.  He's faced the same trials and temptations.  He's borne the very same burdens.  He knows.  He understands.  He can relate.

And with that knowledge and understanding, He offers us counsel.  He listens wholeheartedly to our every plea.  He allows us to cry on His shoulder.  He understands our tears.  Then, He guides us with His love.  He directs our paths and encourages our hearts.  He leads us out of our depression and discouragement and into a place where we can hear His voice more clearly.

His counsel is wise and never in error.  We needn't fear following bad advice if we are heeding the voice of the Savior.  Oh, what a blessed Counselor!

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Names of the Lord - Wonderful

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6

This is a very popular verse that is most often quoted around Christmastime.  But what does it really mean?  I'd like to take the next few posts to pick apart this verse and define each of the names of the Lord listed here.

The word "wonderful" is defined as "marvelous, astonishing, unusually good."  Wow!  Doesn't that describe Jesus?  From His angel-announced birth to His bodily resurrection, everything about Him is good and astonishing.  His sinless nature and state of being make Him unusually good, not to mention His unending patience in the face of worldly opposition, faithless disciples and fickle followers.  Yes, Jesus is truly Wonderful!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Charlie Brown Christmas - Jingle Bells

Being a pianist myself, I can so relate to Schroeder's frustration.  I absolutely love this scene, and it just wouldn't seem like Christmas without sharing it with some of my closest friends.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

God's Presence Amidst Chaos

This is the time of year for joy, love, and peace. But it seems that the feelings provoked in me are not those of peace, but those of stress. Between shopping and parties, cantatas and cards, banquets and business, I find myself turning in circles wondering which direction I'm supposed to be headed in.

Having two dogs in the house certainly makes the experience a little more "interesting." Mitch keeps carrying off my firewood so he can chew it into mulch. Tippy refuses to get off the Christmas tree skirt so that I can actually put presents under the tree. And I have to be very careful about what I put under the tree. If the dogs think it's food, I'll find the package unwrapped and usually out in the back yard. So, I keep food gifts in a safe place, although that didn't help the banana nut muffins that I made yesterday. There were eleven when I left for the Christmas banquet, but only five when I returned. Since Mitch is the only one who can reach the kitchen counter, and Tippy has been nursing a hurt leg (courtesy of Mitch landing on her when he jumped off the bed), I'm pretty sure I know who the culprit is. No, there's never a dull moment around my house.

Amidst the chaos, however, I am reminded that God is with me. I see Him in every sunrise. Feel His breath with every breeze. Sense His love in every smile. And cherish His joy in every unusual circumstance that happens around my house (from hijacked firewood to stolen muffins). Yes, through it all, God is with me, and better yet, He understands. He can relate to every tear and every chuckle.

So, as you rush about today from task to task, take time to notice the many ways God has made His presence known in your life. And don't just notice, but rejoice in it. Let it wash over you and bring you peace. From what I can see, that's the only way you'll find it this time of year.

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. - Isaiah 41:10

Monday, December 9, 2013

Taking On Burdens We Weren't Intended to Bear

I read a story about a man who met with God one day and was given a very special task to complete.

"I need someone to take this wagon with these three stones in it up to the top of the hill," God said to the man. "Are you up to it?"

"Of course," answered the man. "I'd do anything for you, Lord."

And so the man set off, pulling the wagon behind him and whistling a merry tune. His heart was so full of joy at the opportunity to do something for the Lord. Before long, he came upon a village. At the last house, a man stopped him and asked what he was doing. After explaining his mission to the man, the wagon bearer smiled and thanked the Lord for such a beautiful day in which to serve Him. The villager quickly spoke up, "What about that? You're going to the hill, and I was just praying this morning that someone would come along to take this rock of mine to the hill. Would you mind?"

"Of course not," the wagon bearer answered. "I'm sure God wouldn't mind if I help out a neighbor." He took the rock and added it to the three stones in the wagon, which was noticeably heavier, but the man didn't mind. With each village he passed, however, his load became heavier and heavier. Many people had burdens to bear, but they just didn't have the time or the means to take them to the hill themselves.

As the wagon grew heavier and harder to maneuver, the man's attitude grew bitter. He was hot and tired. His shoulders ached. He song had turned to grumbling, and his thanksgiving had turned to accusation. "This is too hard!" he shouted at God. "How am I suppose to make it up this hill? The burden is too great. I just can't do it!"

Immediately, God was there beside him. "What's the matter, my friend?"

"What's the matter?" the man complained. "You gave me a job that was too hard. I can't possibly make it up this hill. The load is far too heavy."

God walked over to the wagon and held up a small bag of pebbles. "What is this?"

"Oh," said the man, "that's from my friend, John. "He asked me to carry it for him since I was heading this way."

"What about this?" God asked as He pulled a large rock from the pile. "And this, and this, and this?" He continued as He dumped rocks of all shapes and sizes onto the hard ground.

"You said we should bear one another's burdens," the man replied defensively.

"Yes," God replied, "But I never asked you to do what others weren't willing to do for themselves. You've become so weighed down that you can't complete the job I called you to do."

The man was stunned. "You mean I only need to take these three stones?"

God smiled. "Yes, my child. That's what I asked you to do."

Happily, the man picked up his lighter load and headed up the hill, once again singing a happy song. In a short amount of time, he reached the top of the hill where he praised God for the opportunity to serve Him and to complete the task he had started.

God did tell us to bear one another's burdens, but there are some burdens He never intended for us to bear. It's easy to get weighed down and become an ineffective servant of the Lord. Have you looked at your wagon lately? Is it full of burdens that would be better off left on the roadside? Is your sense of duty and obligation weighing you down? There are needs to be met, but we can't possibly meet them all, and we become of little use to God when we try. We might better examine our lives today and make sure we're not making our work here on earth harder than it's suppose to be.

 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden. - Galatians 6:4-5

Friday, December 6, 2013

To Be Continued. . .

Jason and I don't watch a lot of television, but we do enjoy pulling up some of the older shows and
watching via internet. The great thing about this is that there are no commercials and no reruns. We can watch each episode when we want and as many times as we want. This is especially important when we come across episodes like the one we watched last night.

Things were looking very bad for the heroes of the show. Their new enemy was already greater than any enemy they had faced before, but now, the enemy had grown stronger. They had found a way to counteract the heroes' weapons, rendering them useless. They were swiftly overtaking the entire galaxy. And just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse, they did. The heroes found out about the ultimate weapon that not only had the power to destroy the enemy, but all life. To be continued. . .

Normally, this would not be a problem. Jason and I would look at each other with wide eyes, and one of us would reach forward and tap the "Play Next Episode" button. But I had to go to work last night, and fifteen minutes after I got home, Jason had to go to work. So we weren't able to see the second part to see how the heroes will win the day. Instead, we'll have to wait until he gets home later tonight. Oh, the suspense!

Writers know how to make good use of "the hook." They know how to leave their readers (or watchers, in this case) in suspense. This ensures that the reader won't put the book down and the watcher will make it back for the next episode. It's a good tool, really, but while I enjoy it in a book or show, I don't enjoy it so much in real life.

Flip through the pages of the Bible, and you'll see suspense. You'll see dire circumstances that seem impossible. You'll see heroes who don't know what to do or how to defeat the enemy. You'll see problems that seem to have no answers.

Abraham, following the Lord's command, holds the knife above young Isaac. . .To be continued
Moses and the children of Israel stare at the expanse of the Red Sea in front of them and peek over their shoulders to find Pharaoh's army behind them. . .To be continued
Joseph looks up from the dark pit and peers out from the prison cell. . .To be continued
Daniel snuggles up between the hungry lions. . .To be continued
The three Hebrew children stand boldly in the midst of the fiery furnace. . .To be continued
The violent storm rages on the Sea of Galilee, tossing about the disciples' boat. . .To be continued
The thousands are gathered, and there's not enough food to go around. . . To be continued
The tomb is sealed, and the Messiah is dead. . .To be continued

Page-turners, huh? Time and time again, God sets up the perfect story. And time and time again, God shows how He will always come through. No matter how strong the enemy. No matter how dire the circumstances. No matter how big the problem. God will come through in the end.

Perhaps you are facing "a hook" in your life. Right now, troubles and heartaches are staring you in the face, and it looks like there's no way out. I have good news for you. The story isn't over yet. God is simply setting the scene for the grand finale. How's that for suspense?

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. - Romans 8:28

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ain't That a Shame! - Part Two

The Saturday after Thanksgiving is the day set aside for our family gathering.  This means a day
filled with food, laughter, food, conversation, more food and talk of the upcoming Christmas events.  It also, unfortunately, means a day of football games on the television.  I hate football!  What is the point?  I mean, seriously.  It's a bunch of guys throwing around a pigskin and jumping on each other like a bunch of wild animals.  I just don't get it, but I also don't begrudge those who do.  To each his own, right?

What got my attention this year, however, was the distinction between what I saw on the television on Saturday evening and what I saw in the church house on Sunday morning:

At the various games we viewed, there wasn't an empty seat in the stadium.  Unfortunately, there were far too many empty seats in God's house on Sunday morning.  It seems many were too tired or had other plans and couldn't spare a couple of hours to meet with the Lord of the universe.

The fans at the games were excited and spent more time on their feet cheering their team than they did sitting in the seat for which they'd paid a good amount of money.  On Sunday morning, churches across the country were occupied by those who checked their watches, counting down the minutes until lunch time or their much-needed afternoon nap.  Not only were people not on their feet, but excitement and encouragement were lacking as well.  There may have been an occasional holy grunt, or perhaps that was just a bit of indigestion left over from Thanksgiving dinner. 

My social media pages were slammed full for several days before and after the long-awaited games with information on who won and by how much.  Stats, bragging rights, taunts and even bets.  It seemed like that was all anyone could talk about.  I didn't, however, see one post about church.  What was planned?  What happened?  How was the sermon?  Did the spirit move in on the service?  No, it seems most were too busy talking about football to mention the happenings at God's house.

What is wrong with this picture?  Why is it we can find the time and energy and motivation to go to sporting events, cheer on the team, clog up our social media with talk of the latest and greatest sports events or figures, yet we can't seem to gather enough initiative to make it to church?  And if we do go, we sit there with our arms folded, our lips pursed and our hearts closed to the working of God.  We're distracted.  We're unmoved by God's presence.  We're bored.  We have no voice left to praise God on Sunday because we used it up shouting at the television on Saturday.

Just as with Black Friday, I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with sports or with following sporting events.  But there is definitely a problem when we spend more time and energy talking about sports than we do in spreading the gospel.  What would our churches be like if people were as excited to be there as they are to be at a football game?  How powerful would the preaching of the pastor be if the people cheered him on like they do the players on the field?  How much would God be lifted up if we spent as much time preparing for Sunday services as we did getting ready for game day?  How much would our churches grow spiritually if the members knew their Bibles as well as they knew the game stats and various players?  I think it would blow our minds!  I can only hope and pray that one day we'll find out.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ain't That a Shame! - Part One

I saw a quote on Pinterest the other day that literally made me shake my head.  It read, "Black Friday:  Because only in America people trample each other for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have."  So sad, yet so true.  Unfortunately, I have to wonder how many people even notice Thanksgiving in the midst of their cooking elaborate meals and planning for Black Friday.  Please don't get me wrong.  I'm not against shopping or Black Friday.  I used to be among the many nuts--I mean, people--who rose before the sun and stood in line for hours in hopes of getting the best deals.  I'm a deal-shopper, so I get it. . . to a point.

But I can't help but wonder if, at some point, Americans crossed the line between looking for a good deal and doing whatever it takes to fulfill the shopping "needs."  Meanwhile, in parts of the world, children are rummaging through garbage dumps to find food.  The homeless are freezing and starving.  We Americans are so blessed that we've forgotten how to distinguish between wants and needs, and it shows.  It shows by the lack of respect shown during the holiday rush.  It manifests itself in the form of road rage.  What happened to good will toward men?  Isn't that supposed to be part of the holidays too?

Even though I didn't partake of the Black Friday madness, God still convicted my heart about taking for granted the many blessings I have.  I have my health, a wonderful husband, two rotten dogs, a loving family, a caring church, precious friends, a roof over my head, food to eat and clothes to keep me warm.  Above all that, I have salvation and an eternal home in Heaven.  So what would be the best use of my time:  fighting for items that I don't really need or thanking God for what I already have?

Shopping is fine.  Even Black Friday shopping.  But let's do our best to keep things in perspective.  We are blessed beyond measure, and many of those blessings are things that money can't buy.  Let's not lose sight of that during the Christmas season. . . or any time during the year, for that matter.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Morning Wish

The sun is just rising on the morning of another day. What can I wish that this day may bring me? Nothing that shall make the world or others poorer, nothing at the expense of other men; but just those few things which in their coming do not stop with me but touch me rather, as they pass and gather strength:

A few friends, who understand me, and yet remain my friends.

A work to do which has real value, without which the world would feel the poorer.

A return for such work small enough not to tax anyone who pays.

A mind unafraid to travel, even though the trail be not blazed.

An understanding heart.

A sight of the eternal hills, and the unresting sea, and of something beautiful which the hand of man has made.

A sense of humor, and the power to laugh. A little leisure with nothing to do.

A few moments of quiet, silent meditation. The sense of the presence of God.

And the patience to wait for the coming of these things, with the wisdom to know them when they come, and the wit not to change this morning wish of mine.

-- Walter Reid Hunt