Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Difficult Counselor

He shall be called Difficult Counselor...

Isaiah 9:6

We have to be fair.  If we're going to use "wonderful" in place of "difficult" in the story of Sarah, let's see if they can be exchanged in a descriptor of Jesus, since as we learned in our last post, they are the same word in Hebrew.

For those who have tasted of the goodness of God's grace and mercy, we quickly and clearly testify that He is a WONDERFUL Counselor.  His words bring healing.  His words bring peace.  His words transform every aspect of our lives.  He is wonderful and we want no other voice in our ears but His.

But it is also true that He is a DIFFICULT Counselor.  I would be lying if I did not agree that this statement is true.  But let me be clear on this - His counsel is difficult because of my sin nature.  My sin nature is incredibly self-focused and selfish.  I am totally self-conscious, as in completely conscious of what I want, what I need, what I think will make me happy and what I demand from myself and those around me.  That's my existence because of sin.  

Salvation defeats this nature and gives me a new identity.  My new identity is encapsulated in my Savior.  I want to be like Jesus, because He has given me life.  It's not my flesh that is now ruling my heart, but it's Jesus - He is alive in me and guess what, He's a pretty sacrificial guy.  He's giving and loving and patient and kind and merciful and honest and...well...it goes on and on.  And He's not sinful, fleshly or selfish.  So when my sin nature shows up, and trust me, it does, His counsel is right in my face, telling me to deny my natural tendencies and follow Him.

Therein lies the rub.  This is why He is a DIFFICULT Counselor.  His words can be hard to hear, almost like the one on top of the mountain, instructing the struggling climber on what to do next.  But like that instructor, He's been there and He knows.  So listening and acting on His counsel, while it may be hard, it is the right thing to do, the best thing to do, the most rewarding and the most Christlike way to live.  

What are some of the hard things Jesus says as our Counselor?  Glad you asked. Here's a list from one sermon found in Matthew:
  • Anger is murder - 5:21
  • Don't offer anything to the Lord with outstanding issues - go reconcile first -5:23,24
  • Lust is adultery - 5:27
  • Radically amputate whatever causes you to sin - 5:29,30
  • Divorce can lead to adultery in the sight of God - 5:32
  • Be a man of your word - 5:33-37
  • Turn the other cheek, be generous with your enemy- 5:39-42
  • Sacrificially love your enemies - 5:44
  • Give quietly - 6:1-4
  • Be sincere in your prayers - 6:7
  • Be a fantastic forgiver - 6:14,15
  • Fast privately - 6:17,18
  • Serve Jesus, not money - live with an eternal perspective - 6:19-24
  • Do not be worried - 6:25
  • Seek God first in all things - 6:33
  • Don't be judgmental - 7:5
  • Be careful with the gospel - 7:6
  • Pray sincerely - know your Father well - 7:7-11
  • Treat people how you want to be treated - 7:12
  • Be a fruit producer, a fruit inspector and take your calling seriously - 7:13-27

Looking at the list, you might think what He tells us to do isn't that hard.  That tells me that you are not dangling on the line right now.  But you will be and when you are hanging there, struggling, thinking there's no way out of your predicament, your best option is to stop wrestling with your flesh and just do what He says.  Remember, He is not only a difficult counselor but a wonderful one!

As you head into the Christmas holiday, may the words of the old prophet Isaiah ring true in your heart...

Monday, December 12, 2016

Too Wonderful

"Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?"
Genesis 18:14

This is the question that Jesus asked Sarah and Abraham when Sarah laughed at the declaration that she would have a baby within a year.  She was nearly ninety years old and the promise of a child was dead in her heart. At the sound of the visitor's mention of it, the absurdity of it made her laugh.  We know it was Jesus who was chatting with them, because of the continued story, but that's really not my point today.

Most translations say, "Is anything too difficult for the Lord?", but as we learned at church this weekend, that word "difficult" can also be translated as "wonderful."  I love that - is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

What a great question to ask yourself, but I want you to be very careful.  Too often we grab a line from scripture and we cling to it so tightly that we lose sight of the context.  God had made a promise to Abraham and Sarah and in announcing the coming fulfillment of the promise He said, Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?  We must remember this context.

This is not a prosperity gospel support verse.  Your greatest hopes and dreams are not suddenly a possibility because of this verse.  What this verse tells us is that when God promises something, even though we think it's impossible and never going to happen, that nothing is too difficult or too wonderful for the Lord to accomplish. If He said it, it will happen.

Let me give you a few examples:
  • If we search for the Lord, we will find Him (Deut. 4:29)
  • Blessing and growth come from meditating on the Word (Psalm 1)
  • God is working within the circumstances of life for our good (Romans 8:28)
  • God will complete the work He started in us (Phil. 1:6)
  • If we confess our sin, God promises to forgive (I John 1:9)
  • Jesus promised rest from our burdens (Matthew 11:28-30)
  • Jesus promised to come back for us (John 14:2,3)
  • God will supply all our needs (emphasis on needs - Phil. 4:19)
  • God will comfort us in our trials (II Cor. 1:3-4)
  • God will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5)
  • We have an inheritance that is eternal (I Peter 1:4)
These are but a few of the many promises of the Lord.  These promises will give you strength and hope when you are going through the difficult times of life, but they won't help you if you don't know them!  So a simple study on the promises of God is a very valuable one.

But the greatest promise of all is the one we see this time of year, lying in the manger.  On the very day that sin entered the world, God promised to send a Savior.  Through the life and death and resurrection of this little baby, we are made completely new. This is a promise that is so wonderful, it's hard to even imagine. According to the first chapter in Ephesians, in Christ we are:
  • chosen
  • holy 
  • blameless
  • adopted 
  • redeemed
  • forgiven
  • enlightened
  • inheritors
  • predestined
  • sealed
How often do we place earthly, temporal desires above the fulfilled promise of restoration that is ours in Christ?  Why do we complain that He is not caring for us or providing for us, when the cross is a completed event? What do we long for that is greater than salvation?  What in our past is so horrific that the Lord is unwilling to cover with His blood? Knowing the past is unchangeable, why can we not choose to give the Lord today and everyday, trusting in His promise that He is making all things new?  

How can we look at that baby in the manger and not shake our head in wonder and whisper, is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

The gift of the promise of a Savior that we see at Christmas is one that is an eternity changer.  The answer to the Lord's question is, "No, nothing is too difficult or too wonderful for the Lord."  I know this is true because of what was accomplished on the cross.