Jan 032014
 

counsellorLast week we looked at the passage from Isaiah 9 and the fact that many names have been attributed to Jesus. This week we are going to look in a bit more detail at the first name that Jesus was called in verse 6: ‘Wonderful Counsellor’.

In the original King James version of the bible this name was split into two separate names by a comma; “Wonderful”, “Counsellor”. However, more recent scholars regard the comma between the two words as an error. I am going to assume it is one name, ‘Wonderful Counsellor’.

Being a counsellor is a huge responsibility. Counsellors are those who advise, instruct and guide. They are people we put our faith and trust in to not disappoint us or betray our confidence. In ancient times they would advise kings, much like the prime minister’s cabinet or the president’s advisors in our modern day world. A counsellor plays a key role.

Jesus doesn’t need advisors. He is THE wonderful counsellor who advises all. Let’s look at a few essential qualities of a counsellor and see how Jesus fits this role perfectly:

A counsellor needs to be near and accessible, not aloof and distant. Jesus is close, always available, never too busy. It says in Deuteronomy 31:8: “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

A counsellor needs to be trustworthy. When we speak to Jesus we can be open and honest. He will never betray our confidence. He promises to hear our cry for help.

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” (Psalm 34:17)

A counsellor needs to be compassionate, someone who is tender and loving; concerned for us. Someone who will not treat us simply as another ‘client’ but rather as a good parent lovingly treats a child. Someone who really knows us, instinctively knowing what is best for us despite our complexities. Jesus understands exactly what we are like because He made us: “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because He knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for He himself knew what was in man”. (John 2:24-25)

A counsellor needs to be capable. Jesus is all-knowing (omniscient). He is wisdom itself; He never makes a mistake.

Finally, a counsellor is someone who communicates with us. They listen and help us, asking the right questions and doing the right thing. God communicates through His word, through the wisdom of other Christians and through prayer, (which is a two way process, not simply us telling God what we need but also listening to what He has to say.)

May I just add that none of this is to say we shouldn’t consult Godly human counsellors when necessary; they demonstrate a degree of these gifts as they are made in the image of God. But we should always consult God first and look to Jesus, our truly wonderful counsellor.

 January 3, 2014  Posted by at 9:00 am Names of Jesus No Responses »
Dec 272013
 

whats in a name 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 Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Have you ever considered the importance of names throughout history? Alexander the Great wouldn’t sound quite as good as “Alex the quite good”, or William the Conqueror as “Bill, the chap who sometimes does quite well”. Silly examples, but I’m sure you understand what I mean.

Parents can sometimes take a long time choosing names for their children. So many names have meanings behind them and we wouldn’t want to inadvertently label our children with an inappropriate moniker that would cause embarrassment for the rest of their lives.

In biblical times, a name would have significant meaning. It would often define a person’s character.

On a few occasions we see God change the names of people in the bible. For example, Abram was re-named “Abraham” which meant ‘father of a multitude’. Jacob, whose name meant ‘supplanter’ (quite apt), after wrestling with the angel, had his name changed to ‘Israel’, meaning ‘he who prevails with God’.

Jesus famously changed the name of His disciple Simon, to Peter (meaning ‘rock’).

However, of all the names that have ever been, the most important is Jesus, whose name is…”above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21b). And again in Philippians 2:9 it says “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.

Our passage today is heavily associated with Christmas. There are 4 names for Jesus which we will look at over the next few weeks. We will then continue to look at the many other different names of Jesus, which all describe a different facet or characteristic of this wonderful man who has transformed history.

It is my prayer that over the following weeks we will discover new and wonderful things about Jesus. Come back each Friday to discover more.

Until next year, have a very happy and peaceful New Year.

 December 27, 2013  Posted by at 12:00 pm Name of Jesus No Responses »
Dec 202013
 

When has been the earliest reference to Christmas you have seen in the shops? For me, I think it has been as early as September!

With the usual Christmas frenzy in the media and in the shops at this time of year it can be so easy to get fed-up with the whole thing, especially as it can lead to a lot of stress and disharmony-the exact opposite of what it should be about. However, if you will forgive my play on words, we need to be careful not to throw the baby (Jesus) out with the bathwater.

There are a number of reasons given by Christians for not celebrating Christmas (apart from the rampant commercialism): Some say we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas because it is largely a pagan festival, with many pagan objects used as idols such as the Christmas tree, yule logs, mistletoe etc. Some would say that scripture doesn’t authorise it, even suggesting that some obscure passages forbid it.

In my opinion, to boycott Christmas altogether would alienate us further from society when, on the contrary, we should be building bridges to reach our society. We can choose to be negative and critical, or we can make a decision to be positive and use the season as a time to remember and communicate the birth of our saviour.

Let’s consider how we can sanctify the season and show by our lives what God has done for us by sending his son into the world to save mankind. We can represent our saviour in all kinds of ways during the Christmas season: not getting drunk or over-indulging ourselves with too much food; not grabbing presents or constantly thinking about what we can get, but instead being generous; we can contribute our time and our money to various excellent charities such as ‘Food-bank’ or ‘Surviving Christmas’; we can seek to be peace makers even when others (in many cases some of our closest family members) are looking for a fight.

Let’s determine to be a blessing to others this Christmas, in a small way reflecting our wonderful, generous God.

 December 20, 2013  Posted by at 11:39 am Christmas 2 Responses »
Dec 172013
 

jesus v santaThis is not a personal attack at Santa, honest! But just after I pressed ‘send’ on my last blog post, I discovered a link to a great podcast by John Piper on exactly the same subject as mine and of course he put it so much more eloquently than I could.

It’s only six minutes, so I have put a link to it here:

http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/rethinking-santa

To briefly sum it up he said;

“It is mindboggling to me that any Christian would even contemplate such a trade, that we would divert attention away from the incarnation of the God of the universe into this world to save us and our children. … Not only is Santa Claus not true — and Jesus is very truth himself — but compared to Jesus, Santa is simply pitiful, and our kids should be helped to see this.”

· Santa offers only earthly things, nothing lasting…. Jesus offers eternal joy with the world thrown in (1 Corinthians 3:21–23).

· Santa offers goodies only on the condition of good works: “he knows when you have been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake.” That is a pure works religion….. Jesus offers himself all the gifts freely, by grace, for faith.

· Santa is make-believe….. Jesus is more real than the roof on your house.

· Santa only shows up once a year….. Jesus promises, “I will be with you always” (Matthew 28:20).

· Santa cannot solve our worst problem…… Jesus did solve our worst problem, our sin and our alienation from God. Santa can put some icing on the cake of the good life, but he cannot take a shattered life and rebuild it with hope forever. And our kids need to know that about Christmas.

· Santa is not relevant in many cultures of the world……. Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords over all the peoples of the world.

· Santa will be forgotten some day……. Jesus “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

There is no contest, Jesus wins ‘hands down’ Santa is simply irrelevant.

So my counsel is to give all your efforts to making your children as happy as they can possibly be with every kind of surprise that is rooted in the true meaning of Christmas. Let your decorations point to Jesus. Let your food point to Jesus. Let your games point to Jesus. Let your singing point to Jesus. Out-rejoice the world, out-give the world, out-decorate the world, and let it all point to Jesus.

If being Jesus-focused is a killjoy for your Christmas, you don’t know him well.

 December 17, 2013  Posted by at 11:06 pm Christmas 1 Response »
Dec 122013
 

Does santa existIs Adrian having another ‘bah humbug’ moment? Is he fed up with Christmas already and now wants to ruin it for everyone else?

Actually, no. I’m looking forward to Christmas this year. Thinking about what to write in this blog has helped me focus on the important aspects of Christmas.

One of the less important aspects of Christmas that my wife and I decided to ditch as soon as we had children was to play along with the whole charade of pretending that Santa exists. As it happens, this decision was fairly easy to make: From an early age our daughter was petrified of Santa (in fact, anything dressed up in a costume). At children’s parties, the various giant cuddly characters that other children would run to, she would run screaming in the opposite direction from. She was terrified of the thought that some red-suited stranger was going to descend the chimney and wander around the house in the dead of night. This obviously made our decision easier, but we had determined to do it anyway.

This may seem cruel to you but I would like to set out our reasons below so that you can have an informed opinion:

As a Christian family, believing in God is very real. We don’t doubt that God exists. He has changed our lives and led and guided us over the years. We have many years of experiencing his goodness and nearness to us, through good times and bad. A child does not have this wealth of experience. They believe in Santa, they believe in God, almost the same thing to them. From the outset we wanted to differentiate between fairy tales and reality. Fairy tales are fun but we don’t ask our children to believe in them. On the surface, to a child, Santa and God can both seem quite similar. After all, Santa is omniscient (all knowing). Well, he certainly knows if you’ve been bad or good! He is omnipresent (everywhere at once), at least for one night of the year! He is an old man in the sky with a white beard who loves giving out presents. (Actually God is not like that but the popular conception is that He is). You get my point.

The fundamental difference and the heart of the gospel is that God knows we have all been bad. There is no-one good at all. Romans 3:23 states that “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard.” None of us deserve our gift of eternal life, and the reason we celebrate Christmas is because God provided the solution. The sacrifice that Jesus made by appearing as a baby in a stable and then going on to die a cruel death 33 years later has meant that we can be saved and receive the greatest gift of all-eternal life.

Showing our children the difference between a fictional Santa and the ever present reality of a loving heavenly father is fundamentally important. And there are other encouraging points as well; being truly thankful for gifts received from parents who love them rather than a gift from someone they have never met; in many cases, knowing that these gifts come from family members with limited resources will engender an appreciation of the gift given rather than presents received from a ‘bottomless sack’; and finally, knowing that God’s generosity is reflected by God’s people encourages a sense of willingness to help others and bless those less fortunate.

Whether you tell your children about Santa or not, let’s determine this Christmas to reflect on the greatest gift that has ever been given to us and imitate this grace and kindness by being generous and expressing our love to others.

Finally, on a lighter note. What do you call someone who’s scared of Santa? …………..Claustrophobic

 December 12, 2013  Posted by at 10:17 pm Christmas No Responses »
Dec 052013
 

god-came-downBy now the preparations and planning for Christmas have probably reached fever-pitch: so many things to think about, lists to write and things to do. It can be a time of great pressure but I hope also brings a sense of fun and expectation.

During December I am going to be writing some Christmas reflections, some thoughts to share with you that I hope will bless you. In all the busyness of this season, it is so important to take time out and reflect on what Christmas really is all about. (If I get time myself I may send a few extra blogs out on other days, not just Fridays, but we will see!).

One of the most amazing mysteries in the history of the world is that the God who made us, the creator, the one who spoke and stars were formed in a moment, should come to the earth and live as a man for about 33 years.

He could have come in so many ways; He could have come as a fully formed man (without the fragility of being a baby); He could have come as a king in a palace; He could have come with a perfect body which didn’t get tired and hungry. He could have appeared in any way He wanted to but He chose to come as a baby, born in a smelly cattle shed to an unmarried couple in a desperately poor third world country.

God Himself became a man. I have become very familiar with this fact over the years. Maybe you have too if, like me, you have been a Christian for a long time. I have been told this story since childhood many many times, not just at Christmas. But I never want to get used to the wonder of what this actually means. ‘God Himself became a man’. Perhaps this could be a reason why so many people don’t believe it; because it is simply too amazing to be true.

But why would God do this? The answer is woven throughout the bible and perfectly summed up in one of the most well known verses:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)

Jesus came because He loves us, because He knew there was no other way. A perfect man had to die and so God became a man and lived a perfect life.

I don’t know whether you feel loved at Christmas or not. For some it can be a very lonely time, but even if you have nobody around you at Christmas, consider this when you look at a nativity scene: this is God in the manager and He is lying there because He loves you. Now that’s a great thought to start with.

 December 5, 2013  Posted by at 10:35 pm Christmas, The gospel 1 Response »
Nov 282013
 

praying_in_the_spirit1[1]We have finished listing through the various items and different parts of “the armour of God” and I hope you have found it useful. Before we move on, however, there is a very important aspect of the warfare we engage in when our armour is on, mentioned in verse 18 of Ephesians 6:

“…and pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”

The act of praying is the action that keeps us moving forward. It is the energy that drives us forward into the battle. You see, if we are not moving forward, “putting on” the armour may be seen as a defensive exercise. We are constantly batting away the attacks from the devil, perfectly defended by our God-given armour, yes. But without moving forward we will not be taking very much ground.

Prayer keeps us in touch with our commanding officer. When we take the time to ask Him what His plans are, we know where and how we should be fighting.

I believe that prayer energises all the other pieces of equipment, especially the sword. We use scripture when we pray it back to God and remind Him of His promises and what He has said.

The fighting we engage in is not a ‘one- off’ fight, but rather something we need to be prepared for every day. We need to always be on our guard and in a permanent state of readiness. Look at some of the language in the following passages:

“…But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:36)

“…But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word”. (Acts 6:4)

“…Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving”. (Colossians 4:2)

“…..do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

“…..pray without ceasing”. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

“…..I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day”. (2 Timothy 1:3)

Prayer should not just be reserved for prayer meetings. It should be an attitude we take with us every day. Prayer is communicating with our Father, thanking Him, making requests, interceding for others, praising Him etc. It’s not always easy. When life doesn’t go smoothly we can ask Him “Why did that happen?” So many things happen to us that we don’t understand, it can feel like God has forgotten us or even that He doesn’t care. At times like these we must push through in prayer and trust Him that He knows what He is doing.

My final thoughts on this subject are that whatever happens to us, we know we are on the winning side and we have a great captain who is leading His troops into victory. If the battle seems harsh at the moment, take heart that the victory is won and that you have been equipped to stand your ground, and that….

“….no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 54:17)

 November 28, 2013  Posted by at 10:00 pm Armour of God, Prayer No Responses »
Nov 212013
 

The sword of the spiritAt last a weapon! I’ve enjoyed writing about ‘the armour of God’ and we are now on the sixth blog in this series. Everything so far has been about defence, armour that we put on to protect ourselves, and rightly so. It is very important that we are protected, but we must keep a good balance so we don’t become overly protective. (We can imagine cowering under the onslaught of the enemy’s schemes, just surviving.)

This week we are going to look at our offensive weapon, the sword.

I used to absolutely love sword fighting when I was a child. If I didn’t have a sword, a branch from a tree would do. I was inspired by films such as Robin Hood or The Three Musketeers, imagining myself as the hero (though not rescuing the maiden – I didn’t like girls very much then!).

The sword we are referring to in the context of this blog is, of course, the Bible, the word of God. It has tremendous power for defeating the enemy:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16)

Just as my heroes from the movies were expert swordsmen, my ultimate hero of all time- Jesus Christ, was expert at wielding the sword of the spirit. One of His many names is “The Word of God” as written in John 1: 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

I love the swordplay that Jesus uses when He is tempted by the devil in Matthew 4:1-11. The devil attempts to quote scripture at Jesus to tempt Him but Jesus expertly parries every thrust and comes back with a verse each time. Jesus is our example of how to handle the word of God. He regularly meditated on scripture and memorised it, so when the attacks came, He always had an answer.

As soldiers of Jesus we need to know our weapons, we need to be familiar with them and know how to use them. I have written previous blogs on memorising scripture here which you may find useful. Also if you click on the tag to the right called ‘Bible’ you will see other blogs I have written about this very important subject.

As I have said before, the battle we are in is not physical. Wielding the sword of the spirit will damage the enemy in different ways, such as when we bring comfort to others through scripture and use it to build one another up. Let me encourage you again to pick up your sword daily. You never know when you might need it.

 November 21, 2013  Posted by at 11:39 am Armour of God, Bible 2 Responses »
Nov 142013
 

helmet of salvationThis week in my series on the armour of God we will focus on the ‘helmet of salvation’, a very important piece of the soldiers’ attire.

Moving away from the soldier analogy for just a moment, I have not worn any of the equipment we have mentioned so far, but I am very familiar with helmets. I wear one every day when I ride my scooter. Apart from the fact that it is illegal not to, I wouldn’t dream of riding my bike without a helmet. I have come off my bike a number of times and although I haven’t landed on my head, if I ever were to land without having a helmet on, it would be extremely messy.

When I travel to Spain in the summer holidays I am constantly amazed by the amount of people who ride their scooters and mopeds without helmets. Many of them carry them on their arm, I presume in case they see a police officer and can quickly pop them on. Of course it is hot in Spain and wearing a helmet can make the head very sweaty, but the consequences of not wearing one could be fatal.

Our heads are amazingly designed. The skull is pretty hard and for every day bumps it offers great protection, but when hit harder, serious damage can be caused to the brain which is of course a vital organ. We all know what can happen when our brains don’t function correctly. The goalkeeper of my favourite football team was knocked unconscious last week and although he appeared to make a fairly quick recovery, the damage inflicted if he had got concussion could have been serious. The subsequent news stories of people dying from double-concussion (second-impact syndrome) have been quite frightening, albeit very rare.

I am not entirely sure why the helmet in Ephesians 6 is ‘of salvation’. I can only assume it is because our thoughts and intellect are under constant bombardment. Salvation is such a precious gift and we need to live our lives in the good of it. As soon as we start to doubt our salvation (and this can often come from wrong thinking) we become susceptible to depression, doubt and fear. If we become complacent and wear our salvation helmet on our arm, whenever we fall we are very vulnerable.

There are two great ways of remembering this precious salvation that God has given us; the first is to tell it to others. When we share with others what God has done, in an amazing way it becomes even clearer in our own heads. The second way is to meditate on scripture. When was the last time you dwelt on your own salvation? Unusually I haven’t included any bible passages so far, so let me just share these few at the end for you to meditate on and get your helmet securely in place:

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (Psalm 62:1-2)

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)

“….that if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28)

 November 14, 2013  Posted by at 10:18 pm Armour of God, Salvation No Responses »
Nov 072013
 

Stelios (MICHAEL FASSBENDER) crouches behind his shield as shrapnel tears through the air in Warner Bros. Pictures’, Legendary Pictures’ and Virtual Studios’ action drama “300,” distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.
PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTIONSo far in our series on ‘The Armour of God’ we have looked at armour that is worn; ‘the breastplate of righteousness’, ‘the belt of truth’ and ‘the shoes of peace’. This week we will look at ‘the shield of faith’. This shield is not so much something we wear, but rather something we take up. It is no use simply strapping it to our arm; we need to raise it in order to deflect the fiery darts of the enemy.

Faith is described in Hebrews 11:1 as follows: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It is a trust in God, not only that He does exist, but also that He reveals His character and nature in the bible. Christian faith believes in a God who has made very certain promises to His children, promises that can be trusted.

The enemy’s fiery darts are designed to cause us to doubt God’s promises and not trust in His goodness. The very first dart that he threw was to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, when he said “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1). He has been throwing similar darts of doubt to all mankind ever since.

Every day we find ourselves constantly bombarded by doubts about God. There is so much cynicism in this world, so we need to keep our faith shields up. It is our first line of defence. We would never go into battle without shields, simply relying on our breastplate, belt and helmet to take all the blows. Our faith is what keeps us moving forward in the battle.

It is important to see as well that we are not fighting alone. Our faith can rub off on our brothers and sisters around us. If you spend any length of time with somebody who has great faith, you will find that your faith grows as well. Faith is infectious. The protection of faith together is like the Roman soldiers who locked their shields together into a ‘tortoise’ so that their defence almost became impenetrable. It is said that in this formation a chariot could drive along the top of the shields!

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If you have only a little faith, seek out those in your church who have a lot of faith and allow them to encourage you. If your faith is relatively strong, see who you can encourage and strengthen. We are in this fight together and we can make huge inroads into the enemy’s territory when we fight as one.

 November 7, 2013  Posted by at 9:47 pm Armour of God, Faith No Responses »