Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What If?

Photo credit: Jo Kautt
If 2014 was your last year to live, what would you do?
God’s Word says, “It is appointed unto men once to die; after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).  If you knew 2014 was going to be chiseled on your head-stone, how would you want to live this year?
The fact is, you don’t have to be sick to die and neither do you have to be old!  Death has no friends and takes no holidays!
Two friends were talking.  One asked the other, “Would you like to know in what place you are going to die?”  The other responded, “I certainly would – then, I wouldn’t go near that place!”
For the child of God, death is ‘going home’.  God’s Word says, “For me to be absent from the body, is to present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).  For the unsaved person, however, death is the door to eternity in hell.  In hell, there are no atheists.  “Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God our Father” (Philippians 2:10 – 11).
Elvis Presley once was asked, “Are you happy?  I mean, Elvis, you are rich – you have everything money can buy – and you are famous – but are you happy?”  Reportedly, Elvis’ response was, “I am as lonely as hell!”  Elvis, like many people living today, had everything to live for, but apparently did not have enough to live for!  Only Jesus Christ can fill the emptiness in people’s lives!  What about your life?
If you knew 2014 was going to be your last year to live, what would you do differently?
May I suggest four things to do differently with the possibility that 2014 could be your last year?
First, if 2014 were your last year upon earth, wouldn’t you be sure to forgive others so that you will be forgiven?  When Jesus gave us the beautiful ‘Lord’s Prayer’ in Matthew 6:9 – 13, He made ‘forgiving others their debts [i.e., sins against us] a requirement if we wanted to have our debts forgiven [by God]’.  When we refuse to forgive those who have wronged us, cancer-like effects begin to devastate our souls, our minds and even our bodies.  Forgive because Jesus forgives you (see Ephesians 4:32).
Number two, if 2014 were your last year upon earth, wouldn’t you be sure to make material possessions less important? Instead, make sure that God’s work is done in you, through you and with you.  Have you ever seen a funeral hearse pulling a U-haul trailer?  As the rich, but foolish farmer, found out too late, one’s soul can be required by God at any moment.  “Then whose will these [earthly possessions] thing be?” (see Luke 12:16 – 21).  God’s Word says that we all came into this world naked [owning absolutely nothing] and that we will leave it naked (see Job 1:21).
A preacher ate Sunday dinner in the home of a wealthy farmer.  The farmer was not a Christian.  After the meal, the farmer took the preacher to a hill, high atop his huge farm.  From that overlook, the farmer pointed in every direction and proudly exclaimed, “Preacher, it’s all mine!  As far as you can see, I own it all!”  Pausing for a moment, the Preacher pointed his finger toward heaven and asked, “Mister, what do you own up there?”  Is there a place prepared for you in heaven?  Is your name in the Book of Life?
If 2014 is to be your last, what is the most important thing for you to do before your life is over?
Number three, if 2014 were your last year upon earth, wouldn’t you be sure to “Seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33)?  One way to seek God’s kingdom is through consistent, active and cheerful church involvement.  Some people say, “I love Jesus; but the Church – well, I can do without it.”  Consider this:  “Jesus Christ loves the Church and gave Himself up for it” (Ephesians 5:25).  Doesn’t it make sense that the things that are important to this Jesus we claim to love ought to be important to us also?  According to God’s Word, all who are saved are added to Christ’s Church (see Acts 2:36 – 47).  In fact, the Church is made up of millions of ‘trophies of God’s grace’ (see Ephesians 2:8 – 10).
Last of all, if you knew that 2014 was going to be your last year, wouldn’t you want to make sure your life counted for Jesus Christ?  The apostle Paul urged the Corinthians like this:  “Be steadfast, immovable; [and] always abound in the work of the Lord, since you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (see 1 Corinthians 15:58).  Solomon put it like this:  “Here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear  God, and obey His Word, for this is entirety of man’s duty [before God]” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Here’s a motto for 2014:  ‘Only one life, [it] will soon be past!  Only what’s done for Christ will last’.
If 2014 was going to be your last year on earth, what is the most important thing for you to do before your life is over?  Answer:  “Prepare to meet your God” (Amos 4:12) or, as Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (see John 3:1 – 19).  As someone once quipped, “No man is ever really ready to live until he is ready to die!”
Because our lives are so fragile and so uncertain (see 1 Peter 1:23 – 25), I urge you to live every day and every year as if it were your last.  Someday, it will be!  Let’s stop living like we will never die, and start living today like we will stand before God in 2014!
Praying that 2014 is the best ever for you – as you live ‘Coram Deo’ (‘Before the Face of God’ – see Psalm 1:1 – 6; 121:1 – 8; 124:1 – 8) and in submission to His plan for your life (see Matthew 6:9 – 10; James 4:13 – 17).
(Excerpted from a 2014 New Year’s Letter from Cecil Todd of Revival Fires Ministry)

Jesus: Our Wonderful Counselor

Preached at Community Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, December 15, 2013

Isaiah 9:6-7, “For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,

Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

One of the most meaningful things to me about the Christmas season is the Christmas cards we always receive from various friends and loved ones, who write to express their tender greetings and to share their joy with us.  One of the things I consider most precious about all those beautiful, and often quite creative cards, is their focus on Jesus, and in particular, the NAMES of Jesus. 

Just off the top of your head, rehearse with me some of the names of Jesus we see mentioned in the accounts of Jesus’ birth found in Matthew and Luke and John.  In John chapter one, He is the Eternal Word – “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…”  (John 1:1)  Jesus is the Eternal Word and the Incarnate Word, the Word made flesh, who came to dwell among us (John 1:14), and whose glory people like the apostle John had the privilege to behold – “glory as of the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth…”  Yes, in John’s prologue, the first 18 verses of the first chapter of his gospel, the apostle John describes Jesus as the Eternal Word, the Incarnate Word, and also as the Light, the True Light of the World, who illuminates all who follow Him, so that they might no longer walk in darkness, but have the light of life (John 1:4-9; 8:12).

Now, what about in Matthew?  Matthew chapter one and two is where we read that He was to be given the name ‘Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins (1:21).  It’s also where we come across that amazing name, rooted in the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 - the one where it says, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which means, “’God is with us.’”  (Matthew 1:22-23)

Then, there’s Luke’s record, Luke chapters one and two.  What are the awesome names given for the Baby to be born in Bethlehem?  Pick up the reading with me, if you would, in Luke chapter one, verse 30.

Luke 1:30-37, Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” 35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”

Jesus is the Son of the Most High.  Jesus is the Son of God.  Jesus is the Holy One…  Then, in Luke chapter two, who can forget the joyous announcement of the angel of the Lord who spoke to the shepherds out in the fields, watching over their flocks at night?  Luke 2:10-11, “Fear not!  For behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord…” 

Yes, I love the Christmas cards, and even more, I am overwhelmed by the powerful, the incredible names ascribed to this One we simply call Jesus, as His conception and birth are prophesied and announced in these three portions of Scripture. 

The name, and the names of Jesus.  What is in a name? 

Though we live in a day and time, in a place and culture where names may not always have that much significance; but from the point of view of Scripture and Biblical times and culture, names and their meanings are very significant. 

Isaiah 9:6-7, one of the most important prophecies in all the Old Testament, foretells the birth of a Child, and the gift of a Son – did you notice that interesting turn of phrase?  “For unto us a Child is born…”   Looking ahead to the birth of Jesus, what is the point, the emphasis, of that phrase, “Unto us a CHILD is born?”  I believe that one of the things God’s Spirit is communicating to us about the promised Messiah, Jesus, is that He would be FULLY human!  He would be a child, born.  Like us, He would be a child, born.  However, take a look at the next phrase.  What does Isaiah’s prophecy declare about Him?  The Messiah, the Promised One, Jesus, would be a Son given.  A Son given.  Anybody ever run across these words before:  “For God so loved the world that He GAVE His only begotten Son…”?  (John 3:16)  According to this amazing Old Testament prophecy found in Isaiah chapter 9, the promised Messiah, would be fully human – a child, born - and at the same time, fully God, fully divine: a Son given!  We could close our Books right there, couldn’t we, and go home, blown away by the magnitude of the mighty God/Man, Jesus Christ and the incomprehensible nature of His fully divine and fully human nature! 

But, don’t close your Bibles just yet…  Read on a little further with me, will you?  Isaiah 9:6 says, “For unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace…”  What do you know about this One whom Isaiah’s prophecy describes as a “Wonderful Counselor”?

I met a young man yesterday about the age of my daughter Abby, he came to the Angel Tree party.  The young man’s name was Nashoba.  He told me he was going to school to prepare himself to be an adolescent counselor.  I asked him, “What would make you want to choose something as challenging and rewarding as counseling and mentoring young teenagers?”  As his 14-year-old nephew listened in, he said, “I almost died four years ago; crashed my motorcycle going 65 miles per hour.  I was flat on my back for four or five months with a lot of time to think about where I had been going with my life.  I decided I didn’t want young kids like my nephew to go down the paths I had been taking before my wreck…”  Sounds like Nashoba is well on his way to becoming the kind of counselor who’ll make a big difference in a lot of young teens’ lives, wouldn’t you say?

You know why I say that?  Because it sounds like Nashoba knows what it means to be a wayward, or, at least, a guide-hungry adolescent.  You know something?  Nashoba - just met him yesterday, don’t really known him intimately – but, if what I heard and observed is true and accurate, then I’d have to say that Nashoba is a little like Jesus.  He’s a little like Jesus.  What is it that makes JESUS, the Child born, the Son given – what is it that makes Him the Wonderful Counselor that He is?

Are you listening?  He knows you.  He knows you personally, intimately.  Some counselors sit across the desk from their clients, with their arms folded, nodding their heads like they are all there, that they are with you, and really understand, really know what you’re talking about and how you feel.  But, as soon as they open their mouths and start talking, you - the client – know that they haven’t heard a word you said!  They haven’t understood anything you said!

But not Jesus!  He is a Wonderful Counselor – why?  Because He knows, really knows, you – personally.  One day a fellow named Nathanael was standing under a fig tree.  And Jesus saw him standing there, just saw him standing there, didn’t ask him to fill out a 5 page client disclosure sheet first; didn’t run him though a 2 hour long personality inventory first, Jesus just SAW him there, under the fig tree, and Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor that He is - knew all there was to know about him!  How could that be?  Jesus was a walking, talking, living, breathing: Beth-el…  John 1:48-51.  Jesus was a walking Bethel.  Do you remember the ladder from heaven dream that Jacob had, recorded back in Genesis 28 (28:10-22)? 

Jesus knew what He knew about Nathanael, and He knows what He knows about you, because He is a walking, talking, living, breathing Bethel: house of God.  For Him, the door of heaven’s throne room was always open.  For Him, angels were always ascending and descending upon Him.  Jesus is a wonderful counselor, a living, breathing Bethel, in your life, who knows you better than you know yourself! 

I don’t know about you, but this thick-headed, short-sighted preacher-friend of yours NEEDS a Counselor like that!  Jesus (“The Lord Saves”), He is my/our Wonderful Counselor.  He is the One who knows us personally.

Secondly, thank God with me today, will you?  Jesus, the Great Physician, the Wonderful Counselor, He is not just in ‘counseling practice,’ and I’m His ‘test-case,’ I’m His ‘guinea-pig’ – trying to figure out what the deal is with me.  No!  Jesus is the one and only Wonderful Counselor because He is able to diagnose me properly!  Our Wonderful Counselor who knows you better than even Mom and Dad know you, He is able to do what no other counselor can ever really do:  He is able to diagnose you properly. 

A long time ago, my parents and my brother and sister and I lived next door to a young man who was mentally ill.  Donnie was his name.  From what I remember about Donnie, he was in his own little world.  And his parents, especially his mother, simply didn’t know what to do with him.  And, so they took him to the counselors and the psychiatrists.  I’m not sure that those folks knew exactly what to do with him either.  For they tried electric shock treatments, and any of a number of high-powered medications, varying from month-to-month, depending on what the counselors and advisers thought might be wrong with him.  Unfortunately, for Donnie, none of it worked.  No one ever got the diagnosis right. 

One day Jesus sat down beside a well in a Samaritan village called Sychar.  There, at that important place in the daily life of that village, Jesus met a woman, who, in her own way, was a little like Donnie.  She had been married 5 times, and had failed at marriage 5 times.  And, at the time she met Jesus, she had given up on marriage, and was simply “living with” yet another man.  You gotta wonder if all the counselors in the vicinity of that village had each given their ‘best shot’ at helping her learn to get along with each of the men in her life.  But, none of it worked.  No one could help her - no one - until the day the Wonderful Counselor sat down beside her at that well. 

This One, the living, breathing Beth-el, who walked into her village, and sat down beside the well she visited each day, He knew all there was to know about her, and in knowing her, even her current marital status, He knew what her problem was, and what she needed in the way of ‘soul-medicine’.  Do you remember how Jesus stated His diagnosis and prescription?  He said, “Whoever drinks of this well’s water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.  Instead, the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”  (John 4:13-14)

This woman’s problem wasn’t the men in her life – it was herShe was the problem!  Her idea - that the water of that Samaritan well was all she needed to live - was wrong!  She needed the Wonderful Counselor’s proper diagnosis and prescription.  She needed to hear Him say, “You need Me.  You need what only I can give you!” 

Do any of you have a counselor like that?  A Wonderful Counselor who always gets the diagnosis right?  Jesus wants to be that Counselor for you! 

Isaiah 9:6-7 – The awesome names of Jesus.  The tiny Baby Mary laid in Bethlehem’s manger - the only begotten Son given by God the Father, He came to be our Wonderful Counselor - He came to be the One whose penetrating insight would startle Nathanael and whose laser-beam precise understanding of her past and her problems would prompt that unnamed Samaritan woman to make one simple, but life-changing request: “Sir, give me this water.  Give me this living water.” 

Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor who knows us - each one of us personally - and Who alone is able to diagnose us properly, you know what the best thing is about our Wonderful Counselor, Jesus?

The best thing about Him is that He is able to deliver us powerfully!  Our Wonderful Counselor is able to deliver us powerfully

1 Peter 2:24 – While you are looking up that verse, allow me to ask you one quick question: what is it, really, that all the Donnies, and Davids and Nathanaels and Divorcees need, more than anything else? 

1 Peter 2:24 – Take a look at that verse, and you’ll have your answer:  “Jesus Himself carried our sins” – our sins, that’s the root of every one of our problems, isn’t it?  But what does this verse say about Jesus, our Wonderful Counselor, that cannot be said about any other counselor?   “Jesus Himself carried our sins in His own body on the tree (on the cross).”  Why? 

Two reasons:  Number one - “So that we, having died to sins, might live to righteousness.”  And then, the verse says, “By Jesus’ stripes we are healed…”

Why did Baby Jesus, our Wonderful Counselor, live and carry our sins in His own body on the cross?  Second reason - so that Donnies, and Divorcees, and yes, even Davids, might be healed!  Yes, healed!  Forgiven!  Cleansed of their deepest, darkest sickness: the sickness and awful effects of sin, guilt, shame, condemnation and eternal punishment!  By His stripes – by His stripes - our wounded, Wonderful Counselor becomes our glorious Healer!  Praise God!