Four Names of the Cosmic Christ Child: “Wonderful Counselor” Part 1

For the next four weeks leading up to Christmas, I would like to share a few thoughts about the four names of the Cosmic Christ Child, all of which are rooted in these words from the pen of the prophet Isaiah:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Let’s begin with a brief word about the context of this passage. In the ancient world, when a king was crowned, he would be given names or titles that would identify his rule and his reign and the reach of his kingdom. The same was true of the four names bestowed upon this child that was born and this son that was given to us. This week we will focus on the meaning of “Wonderful Counselor,” the first name for our Lord Jesus Christ. We will look at the first half of the name on Monday, the second half of the name on Wednesday, and both combined to close out the week on Friday.

Wonderful is a word we are all quite familiar with, especially at Christmas time. It is part of the title of a Christmas movie beloved by millions: It’s A Wonderful Life. I’m sure we will all hear “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” played on the radio and in department stores throughout the Christmas season.

However, if we are to fully grasp the meaning of this word Wonderful in the context in which it is used in sacred Scripture, we must divorce ourselves from the way we typically use it. To say something is a “wonder” or is “wonderful” is to talk about how it makes us feel and the emotions we experience. But in the biblical context, it would be better for us to see wonderful as something holy, transcendant, and utterly outside our experience. If I were to use one word as a synonym, it would be supernatural. When the psalmist Asaph was inspired to write about the “wonders God did in the land of Egypt” (Psalm 78:11), he was pointing to the supernatural and miraculous power that God put on display before the watching world.

David marveled that “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (Psalm 139:6). Clearly, he meant that God’s power and grace are wonderful, magnificent, and awe-inspiring, far above and beyond our ability to fully comprehend.

So when we read the words of Isaiah, we see that “Wonderful” is something supernatural. This means that Jesus is not only wonderful in what He does, but in who He is. Jesus is wonderful. On Wednesday we will take a look at the second part of the name given to Him: Counselor.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race.NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Are You a Builder?

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.  (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

The verse before us today is a powerful word from God about the importance of being a builder. As you can see, being a builder is another word for being an encourager. There are only two things we can do in the lives of others: we can either build them up or break them down. Which of these actions best describes you?

Let’s first be clear on what biblical encouragement is not. Biblical encouragement is not some cheery, emotional pick-me-up, delivered with timeworn statements like, “Things could be worse!” or “Hang in there!” or “This too shall pass!” There is a long list of such empty phrases, and they bring little or no measure of encouragement to the listener. What true, biblical encouragement is has been clearly defined on the pages of Scripture. Here is perhaps the most encouraging statement uttered by our Savior, words that have been a powerful source of eternal encouragement to all those I have shared them with during my years as a pastor:

“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Jesus was preparing to go back to His Father in heaven when He uttered this empowering, comforting statement. “I am with you always!” Pause for just a moment and let that truth sink in. Jesus is with you when things are going well and also when things are going wrong. Jesus is with you when the sky is blue and the clouds are fleecy and also when the sky is gray and storms winds are blowing.

Christian, no matter what you are going through, you are not going through it alone. Jesus has promised to be with you every step of the way. If you remember the poem “Footprints,” whenever you see only one set of footprints on the path you have been traveling, you can be sure that that was the time when Jesus was carrying you. No matter where this message finds you, it finds you with Jesus by your side. There is no place you can go and there is nothing you can do to cause Jesus to walk away from you.

So . . . how encouraged are you to know that you are always in the presence of your Savior? Think about it this way: When you love someone, you want to be in their presence, and you will do whatever it takes to be with them. Well, the same is true of Jesus. He loves you so much that He did whatever it took to be with you forever – He died on a cross so that you could be with Him for all eternity, simply by trusting in Him alone for salvation.

As we close out our time together today, may these words from Jesus remind you that to be a builder in the lives of others, you need only bring them into the presence of Jesus:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Thanksgiving – Not Just a Day, but a Discipline

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. (Psalm 9:1)

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and, as I said in my previous post, it comes to us in the midst of an unprecedented year that has forced us to deal with the COVID pandemic for the past nine months. So many things are different this year! Even the Macy’s Day Parade, which began in 1924 with massive crowds of people lining the 2.5-mile route in New York City, will be “virtual” this year, to be experienced as a TV-only celebration from the “safety” and comfort of home.

To be sure, these are strange and stressful times that have brought forth many challenges. Yet through it all, we must remember that our God remains upon His throne and is in complete control of everything . . . even those things that look like they are completely out of control.

And so, before we come to tomorrow, I want to encourage you to be truly thankful for a year that has been unlike any year we have ever experienced. My goal is to help us all remember that “Thanksgiving” is not simply a day of remembering God’s many blessings; rather, it is a discipline to be developed and lived each day of the year. Perhaps no one has said it better than the Dutch Catholic priest and professor, Dr. Henri Nouwen:

In the past I always thought of gratitude or thanksgiving as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can and should also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude or thanksgiving is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and all I have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.

I think the challenge for most of us is that we believe we fully understand what giving thanks is all about: it is a feeling that we express when we are blessed by some good in life. Most of us have become so familiar with various “attitude of gratitude” sayings that we have never elevated thanksgiving to the level of a spiritual discipline, such as Bible-reading, prayer, or fasting, to name just a few. However, I submit to you that thanksgiving certainly is a spiritual discipline, one requiring our consistent, disciplined approach to cultivate and communicate it 365 days each year.  

Let me encourage you to take a few moments this Thanksgiving weekend to consider all that God has done for you throughout this strange and difficult year. Remember that everything happens for His glory and for our ultimate good, even those things that don’t feel “good” at the present time. Consider how God has been glorified through your life this year and what good He has given to you.

A great technique for making this a discipline is to write out each blessing. Take some time to consider the top ten blessings you have received as a gift of love from the hand of your Lord and write them down. Encourage your family members to join in with their own list. We have been doing this as a family for more than twenty years, and we make it a point to go back over our lists from time to time to help us remember all that God has done in our lives and to strengthen our discipline of thanksgiving.

In closing, here are three results you can expect from making thanksgiving a consistent spiritual discipline in your life:

  • It shifts your focus away from yourself and on to God and others.
  • It shifts your focus away from the busyness of life to the blessings of life.
  • It shifts your focus away from the negative, which can overwhelm us, to the positive.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

From the Boland family to yours: We wish you a very happy Thanksgiving!

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Count Your Blessings and Make Your Blessings Count

“I will bless you . . . and you will be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2)

This week is we will observe the annual celebration of Thanksgiving Day. This year may feel different from past years; we’ve all endured nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic . . . nine months which have felt like nine years at times. And yet despite all the change and unrest we’ve experienced in 2020, one thing will always remain the same: Thanksgiving is a time not only to pause and count our blessings; it is also a time to pause to make sure our blessings count. Read on and be encouraged today!

To count our blessings is simply to consider the goodness of our God, who gives generously to all His children. From Genesis to Revelation, we see that it is God’s desire to bless, and bless He does. He blesses us with life. He blesses us with liberty. He blesses us with love. And He blesses us with a longing that can only be fully satisfied when we fulfill it through an intimate, personal relationship with Him. It is God’s nature to bless – not because we deserve it or have earned it, but because He is our gracious and loving heavenly Father.

There was, of all things, a “Dennis the Menace” cartoon that painted this picture far better than I can articulate it. Mr. and Mrs. Wilson were next door neighbors to Dennis. One day Dennis and his friend Joey were shown walking out of the Wilson home with as many cookies as they could carry in each hand. Joey wondered what they had done to deserve this cookie blessing, to which Dennis replied “Joey, Mrs. Wilson doesn’t give us cookies because we’re good. We get cookies because Mrs. Wilson is good.” That’s the way it is with our God. He is a good and kind and faithful Father, and He desires to bless His children beyond all that we could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

But what about the second part of Thanksgiving – making our blessings count? This means that we are blessed to be a blessing to others. We are to live our blessed lives as conduits, not cul-de-sacs. Using the example from Dennis the Menace, if we have been given a fistful of “cookie blessings” from God, we are to promptly share some of them with others.

So, as you move into this Thanksgiving week, I hope you will take a moment to consider just how blessed you truly are. Then prayerfully consider how you can make your blessings count as your put your blessings into circulation for the glory of God and the good of others.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race.  NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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To Die For

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel. (Genesis 3:15)

What was the first thing that came to mind when you read the title for today’s word of encouragement? Perhaps you pictured the view from your last vacation home and it was “to die for.” Maybe you remembered grandma’s homemade apple that was “to die for.” There are many things to which we add the phrase “to die for.” But today, I want to encourage you with the deepest meaning of this phrase, which is all about you. God the Father sent God the Son to die for you. You, Christian, are considered by God as to die for!

Here is the way the storyline of the Bible goes. In the beginning, everything was very good, including the relationship between God and mankind. Adam and Eve were living in a perfect paradise with every imaginable pleasure and only one prohibition: they were not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If they did so, God warned, they would die. Our first parents chose to rebel against God; they took and ate from that tree. Immediately they died spiritually and later they would die physically. This death—both spiritual and physical—was passed on to all of their offspring. But God graciously promised to rescue them and reverse the curse, which is the promise we see in our verse for today.

The Lord said that in order for the Redeemer to rescue fallen man by crushing the head of the serpent, His heel would be struck. That promise points us toward the cross, where Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins—all our sins, past, present, and future. Jesus died in our place, taking the wrath and judgment of God upon Himself. But Jesus, the Seed of the woman, did not stay dead. On that glorious third day He rose from the grave, and today He offers eternal life to anyone who will trust in Him alone for salvation.

How does it make you feel to know God loves you so much that He was willing to die for you? Many people find it difficult to accept the truth that God so desired them. But it is completely true. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Regardless of what anyone might think about you today, in the mind of God, from eternity past, you were to die for!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race.  NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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A Broken Blessing

Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand. (Jeremiah 18:6)

For those of us who are saved by God’s grace, living in a fallen and broken world as fallen and broken people, there is never a lack of need. The question is, are we putting in all that we have and all that we are, despite our many imperfections, to be used by God to meet those needs?

Here is a wonderful story that will make this point far better than I could; I am sure it will both encourage and empower you to let God use you just the way you are. A water-bearer in India had two large pots both hung on the ends of a pole, which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and at the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot always arrived half full. The other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.

The cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection and miserable because it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, one day by the stream the pot spoke to the water-bearer.

“I am ashamed of myself,” the cracked pot said, “and I want to apologize to you. I have been able to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts.”

The bearer replied, “Did you notice that there are flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That is because I have always known about your flaw, and I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my table. Without you being just the way you are, we would not have this beauty to grace our house.”

The simple reason that God uses broken people like you and me is because that is all He has to work with. Every person in the Bible that God used to be a blessing to others was broken . . . except One. Every person other than Jesus was flawed, many of them deeply flawed, but their flaws did not make them failures. When we allow God to use us just the way we are, flaws and all, we become fruitful because of God’s faithfulness to use our flaws for His glory and the good of others.

Do you sense your own brokenness? Good. Are you aware of your flaws? Excellent! Accept the way God made you, because that is exactly the way God wants use you as the broken beauty you are to expand the cause of His Kingdom and to grace His house. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race.  NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends. (John 15:15)

Today’s word of encouragement has nothing to do with the television sitcom that aired for ten seasons from 1994-2004. Rather, “Friends” is about you and how your relationship with God rises to the level of friendship. If have, by grace through faith, placed your trust in Jesus Christ for your eternal salvation, I want you to stop and think about that for just a minute; the sovereign Lord of all the universe—He who simply said “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky” and the blazing furnace that is the sun was instantly formed (Genesis 3:15), the God who commands lightning where and where not to strike (Job 36:32) and commands the seas just how far they may encroach on the land (Job 38:11)—that awesome, infinite, majestic God calls you His friend!

We can classify friendship under two biblical headings: friendship with God or friendship with the unbelieving world. Scripture tells us plainly that we cannot be friends with both. “If anyone loves the world,” John warned, “the love of the father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Our God is a jealous God and He will tolerate no rival . . . nor should He! If we are friends with the world, we simply cannot be friends with God. This is because –

  • The world does not acknowledge His authority.
  • The world does not seek after His will.
  • The world does not worship His perfections.
  • The world does not bow to His Lordship.
  • The world does not love His Word.
  • The world does not confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Jesus described His relationship with the world this way: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). The unbelieving world gave Him no shelter, they gave Him no support, and they gave Him no submission. In the end, they cursed Him, condemned Him, and ultimately crucified Him. They mocked him as He was dying.

But for those whom Jesus calls friends, even in all their imperfections, Jesus loves and protects them, and not one of them is lost, for no one and nothing can snatch His sheep out of His sovereign hand (John 10:28-29). Scripture says of both Abraham and Moses, two men whose flaws are writ large in Scripture, that they were friends of God. The same is said of Jesus’ disciples . . . and Christian, it is also said about you today.

Friendship with God is not a privilege extended only to a select few on the pages of sacred Scripture. No, that friendship belongs to everyone who calls on the name of Jesus and follows Him wherever He leads. You are a friend of Jesus by grace and grace alone. You remain a friend of Jesus by grace and grace alone. And yet, at the same time, the clear and present sign of that friendship is our devotion and dedication to the One who calls us His friend.

What does it mean to you today to know Jesus calls you His friend? What does the confession of your life say? Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He did just that for you to make you His friend. May that truth both encourage and equip you to live out your friendship with God while forsaking friendship with the world. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Follower of One

At this, many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him (John 6:66)

Did you know that good and godly leadership is about following? Yes, it is about becoming a follower of One . . . and that One is Jesus Christ. I pray that today’s word of encouragement will bless your soul.

Whether you are leading your company, your family, your small group, or just yourself, we are all leading others. Even when we are not in any position of obvious leadership, others are watching us, simply because we have professed our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In order for our walk to match our talk and bring the most glory God and lasting good to others, we must commit to becoming a follower of One.

When we are fully and unreservedly following Jesus, we will go wherever He leads us, unlike the many disciples who deserted Him because His teaching was too “hard” (John 6:60). To be sure, there are times when following the Lord can be hard. It is easy to stay in step with Jesus when He is leading us down the smooth path of progress, where the sky is blue, the clouds are fleecy, and the sun is brightly shining. But what about when Jesus leads us down a difficult path that is littered with pitfalls, problems, and even pain? How do we respond when we cannot see the sun and the storm winds begin to blow? Our natural, sinful tendency is to separate ourselves from Jesus, thinking we will create distance from the difficulties we are facing by doing so. But nothing could be further from the truth! Our loving Lord has ordained the difficult path for us to walk, but He has promised to walk it with us every step of the way.

Can you imagine what Levi (Matthew) must have been thinking when Jesus said, “Follow me”? Here is this hated Jewish tax collector, seen as a traitor by his countrymen because of his service to Rome. Levi was making a lot of money at the expense of his own people and was completely protected by the Roman government. This is the last person anyone would think Jesus might be interested in; furthermore, Jesus would be the last person anyone would think a self-serving tax collector would be interested in following, yet “Levi got up and followed him” (Matthew 9:9). In an instant, Levi abandoned his old life and embarked on a new life in Christ. He gave up his position of power and protection to become a follower of One.

Who have you been following lately? Remember, we cannot judge the direction of our lives based on the difficulties we are facing. Jesus leads us down the difficult path because He is more concerned about our holiness than our happiness. The ultimate purpose, of course, is to conform us into His image. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Held Hostage By Unforgiveness

Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

As a pastor I encounter far too many people in the church who are held hostage by seething feelings of unforgiveness. What these folks need to practice is a dose of the Gospel forgiveness Jesus shared with Peter . . . seventy-seven times! Read on and be greatly encouraged today.

When we withhold forgiveness from others, we hold on to some of the most damaging and deadly emotions we can experience: hurt, anger, blame, and vengefulness. These feelings not only cloud our judgment, but they discolor every aspect of our lives. It has been well said that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for your enemy to die.

When Peter asked Jesus about forgiveness, he knew that the rabbis taught that forgiveness was to be extended to the wrongdoer . . . up to three times. So Peter, being Peter, supposed that if he went way beyond that and suggested that up to seven times should be sufficient, the Lord would approve. Jesus immediately course-corrected Peter by giving him a dose of Gospel forgiveness, the same kind of forgiveness Peter had been given by God.

In the 2009 film Invictus, actor Morgan Freeman played the part of Nelson Mandala, who was imprisoned for 27 years and subsequently elected President of South Africa to begin the task of unifying a country that was divided by race. In one powerful scene, Mandela vows to the African National Congress, “Forgiveness starts here. Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon. The past is the past; we look to the future.”

Have you been held hostage by unforgiveness? I think we all have from time to time. The key to forgiving from the heart is to remember how unconditional God’s forgiveness is for us and to trust Him to give us the strength to offer forgiveness to anyone who has wronged us.

I am not saying this is easy! Some of you have endured unimaginable pain and hurt from others. Forgiveness can only be done in the strength of our Lord. We must keep in view how our Lord offered forgiveness to His enemies as He hung in agony on that cross, bleeding and dying for us. When we do that, we will be given the strength to forgive, even when we would rather not.

20th Century Christian theologian Lewis B. Smedes said it beautifully: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Lesser Loves

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

It is good for all of us to examine our hearts from time to time. Beyond the fact that Scripture commands us to do so, experience has taught me that this practice is absolutely necessary in order to identify those lesser loves that have a tendency to crowd God out of our thoughts and plans. I am not talking about the easy-to-identify stuff of this life; I am talking about good things that can become bad things because they have become ultimate things.  

The cosmic comfort that comes from today’s message is found in the fact that God’s love toward us is not conditional upon our love toward Him. When we chase after lesser loves and forsake the love we had for God at the first, God’s constant, unwavering love is both a great reminder and a gentle rebuke to return to Him and forsake our worldly ways. It is God’s holy and righteous jealousy that moves Him to search our hearts by the light of the Gospel, which ultimately moves us back to where we belong, sitting at the feet of our Master.

I am often reminded about the story of Mary and Martha preparing to receive Jesus and the disciples for a meal. Both worked hard in the process of the preparations, but it became evident that Martha had gone after a lesser love when she became far more focused on doing things for Jesus than spending time with Jesus. Mary knew when to shut down and sit down at the feet of her Master. Jesus gently reminded Martha that Mary had chosen the greater love of spending time with Him, rather than doing things for Him.

Are there any good things you have been doing for God that have kept you from spending time with Him? We all need the truths of the Gospel to convict the performer within us to stop all our doing and pause to ask our loving Lord to renew our mind, recalibrate our heart, and realign our will. Remembering to regularly examine our hearts will keep us on guard against lesser loves that distract us from the Savior Himself, He who is the most important love we are to seek all the days of our lives. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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