by Pastor Jack Matheis
by Pastor Jack Matheis
God as Comforter
by Abbey Drury
I will not claim to understand the comfort of God at a level that some of His children understand it, because I have not yet experienced the pain some of you now know. But I can say that what little I do know of it has helped me better understand “the length and width and height and depth of His love.”
Because the interesting thing about comfort is that it does not fix the problem that caused us to seek comfort in the first place. When we lose a member of the family and turn to a friend or a sibling or a parent looking for consolation, we do not expect them to breathe life into our lost loved one. They cannot undo what has been done. In fact, most of the time all they can do is sit quietly with us.
Instead, comfort does something else: it becomes a source of joy and lessens the distance between the comforted and the comforter. Although in our pain we know a friend cannot solve the issue at hand, in comfort our burden is somehow lightened, and our relationship with our friend, our comforter, is deepened.
So what does that mean in the relationship with a “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort?” (2 Corinthians 1:3) How much more joy, that joy that draws us closer to our comforter, will we find when we seek comfort in Him?
His Word tells us:
“Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains!
For the Lord comforts his people,
and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.” -Isaiah 49:13
“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me
out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place
to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” -Psalm 40:1
Comfort will not erase our afflictions, but when it is sought in the Father of compassion it can replace our song of sorrow with a hymn of praise, praise to Him. For the more we receive His comfort, and find such joy, the more we will want Him and His unfailing love to be its source (Psalm 119:76), and the more the distance between the Comforter and the comforted will be lessened.
Jesus “The Vine”
by Pastor Bert Hitchcock
I’ve seen a lot of grape-vine wreaths! In craft shows, hobby stores, and in the homes of
“crafty” friends, there they are: branches trimmed from grape vines, woven together and
decorated – transformed from dead branches into works of art.
But as beautiful as grapevine wreaths can be, they cannot compare with the live branches of a grape vine: covered with rich green leaves and loaded with clusters of ripened grapes.
So, what is the difference? The branches used to make grape-vine wreaths have no life in
them; they are dead sticks gathered after the grape vines were pruned. But the branches
bearing grapes are alive – growing and receiving nourishment from a living vine.
Jesus said, “I am the true vine,” and then used this contrast as a metaphor to describe our
relationship to him. According to Jesus we are either connected to him and therefore
bearing fruit for the Father, or we are cut off from him, unable to bear any good and
lasting fruit, and soon to be destroyed.
We are quick to see the value of ourselves and others, based on talent, intelligence, and
training. But Jesus indicates that one thing trumps all our human assets: our connection
to Him, the True Vine. For, “without me, you can do nothing.”
John Michael Talbot wrote a song to communicate this truth:
Jesus as “Mighty God”
by Pastor Bert Hitchcock
As Isaiah prophesied the coming of the Messiah Jesus (in Isaiah 9:6), he identified him by
means of four names: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of
But, undoubtedly, the most interesting of those titles is “Mighty God”. For, the Hebrew
word translated “Mighty” has a different meaning than our English word. It most simply
means “Hero”. So “Mighty God” would accurately be translated, “An Heroic God” or
“A God of a Hero”.
Since childhood we have picked up heroes – some real, some imagined – but too often
they are unworthy to be heroes.
Some are over-paid, self-centered, single-talent sports figures.
Some are angry, out-of-control, exhibitionist rock singers.
Some are politically-correct Disney creations.
But Jesus is the Hero worthy of the title! He is not a wimp in a white dress, as he is often
portrayed. But neither is he the latest, fantasy action hero.
-Jesus is a strong, uncompromising, man of principle, who loves truth, justice and
-He is a man self-controlled and fearless enough to stand up against evil authorities –
unafraid of the ruthless Pilate or the gutless Herod.
-He is a man with incomparable inner strength and integrity.
-But at the same time, He is boldly compassionate and unashamed to be tender.
-He delights in children; shows mercy to the fallen; cares about the broken-hearted;
identifies with the weak; and touches the outcast and diseased.
Jesus is the God-Man Hero, and He came to make us like Himself – which, after all, is
what heroes always do!
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness, from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this”
Isaiah 9: 6-7, NASB
Zeal, a noun, is defined as intense, high-wrought emotion that compels to action.
What is your first thought when you hear the word zeal? Is it these verses written by Isaiah, God-breathed by the Holy Spirit? Or, perhaps, it is the fact that our Lord is a zealous God, as well as a jealous God. (Exodus 20: 1 – 6)? Or do you think, “My zeal for my Lord is exactly what I want it to be?”
Although “Zeal,” is not a name, per se, that is ascribed to Jesus, it is an inherent characteristic, that is vigorously expressed on certain occasions. A similar reference is found in Isaiah 37: 32, concerning God’s destruction of 185,000 Assyrians, in protecting Jerusalem, as he had spoken to Isaiah: “The zeal of the Lord of hosts shall perform this.”
God spoke through Ezekiel, explaining His planned judgment against Jerusalem, “Thus My anger will be spent, and I will satisfy My wrath on them, and I shall be appeased. Then they will know that I, the Lord, have spoken in My zeal, when I have spent My wrath on them” (Ezekiel 5: 13, NASB).
Certainly Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, was a demonstration of zeal (Luke 19: 45 – 46).
But His greatest zeal was demonstrated in obedience to His Father on Calvary’s cross, where He paid with His life the cost of atonement for our sins (Philippians 2: 5 – 8).
The Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 9: 6 – 7, is yet future. In His first Advent, Jesus came as the “Suffering Servant” described in Isaiah 52: 13 – 53: 12. When He said, from the cross, “It is finished,” He had completed His Father’s will for the redemption of sinful mankind. Then He stepped from the tomb, having conquered death. Returning to the Father, Jesus established the way into the eternal presence of God.
Jesus’ promised return (Acts 1: 9 – 11) still holds mystery, but will take place as explained in Matthew 24: 1 – 51; Revelation 19 – 22, and other passages. I believe the Isaiah 9: 6 – 7 prophecy pertains to the kingdom which Christ shall finally establish, and over which He will reign for all eternity as King of kings and Lord of lords.
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace –
Jesus, on David’s throne, there’ll be no end to His government’s increase.
He will establish and uphold it, with justice and righteousness forever assured.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this, as promised by God’s word.
– Pastor Neil G. Thompson
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.
1 Corinthians 3:10
Our family had the privilege of being able to rebuild a 100+ year old cabin in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. As we peeled back layers of outer wall and flooring we were amazed at the hidden craftsmanship. Walls were made by hand-woven meshes of bamboo and twine, each small square perfectly sized and spaced. The floors were built on rough hewn posts floating on rocks, and in areas not damaged by time or this massive earthquake still perfectly straight according to our modern laser level. The bones of the cabin, logs and beams mortised and tenoned together using hand saws and hammers, had flexed as designed under the spectacular stresses of what they call a 1000 year earthquake and remain strong and safe. In fact, most of the damage we repaired was because of modifications made later that undermined part of that masterfully built structure. As much as possible we tried to work with the existing craftsmanship rather than just replace it.
To fully appreciate this verse we have to keep it in the context of the chapter. Jesus is the foundation already laid (11), and we are all builders from that point forward. All of us are part of, and responsible for, the building of the Kingdom. From that firm foundation Paul talks about the materials of building in a way that quickly brings to mind the three little pigs: gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw (12). The craftsmanship will be “revealed with fire and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work”(13). But then we get a glimpse of incredible grace and acceptance when we are told that, even if our efforts are burned up, “the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved…”(15).
I also find great comfort in this chapter’s emphasis that we are not in this by ourselves but “co-workers,” and that we are “God’s building” (9).
If you are a worrier as I am, you might find yourself asking too often: “what have I really accomplished” or “am I up to the task”? The concepts of grace in the face of failure and being part of a larger team and scheme then come as welcome assurance.
~Brian Vander Haak
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
What hath each passage to do with the other?
The Philippians verse, above, is one of my favorite scripture passages anywhere. I love it because I have learned that it isn’t a wag a finger in your face passage, but rather is a passage inviting us via a loving hand stretching out to us; beckoning to us to join Him. It is Jesus asking us to join Him in His grace.
Time after time we are urged by Paul to be “in Christ” and this is one of many, many such passages. The scriptures aren’t a rule book ready to punish us if we fail but is an open door showing us Christ standing outside after he has knocked. He is waiting for us to invite Him in to eat with Him and partake in His fellowship.
He is the Vine, we are the branches. He gives us our food and life-giving water to sustain us. He invites us daily to partake of Him and there is nothing and no one better.
Do we trust Him to prune us? Yes, He says, because then we will bear fruit and some of us at times will bear much fruit. If so, we in our season have more to share with our brother and sister branches that may have had a slim year. Next year it may be reversed, we are the body, He is the Vine.
Trust Him, the Vine will see to it that His branches will all be provided with much fruit.
And what is our goal of being in Him and seeking His face and the wisdom and gift of His Word?
He tells us a few verses later:
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
“Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!”
2 Corinthians 9:15
Japan is a culture of gift-giving. The list of occasions for the giving of gifts runs long, from the custom of bringing a gift for your host when invited into their home, to the custom of bringing お土産 (souvenirs) back for family, friends and co-workers after traveling, to the exchange of extravagant monetary gifts at weddings.
This last one in particular may surprise you: Depending on your relationship to the bride or the groom, you may be expected to bring anywhere from several hundred to a thousand dollars in cash for the new couple! Even more fascinating is that the bride and groom are in turn expected to pay back half of the money they received from you, when sending “thank-you” cards.
Japan is a culture of gift-giving. But it is not a culture of gift-receiving. Every gift given carries the unwritten expectation of somehow paying the giver back, no matter how grand the gift. And indeed, most gifts can be repaid on some level.
However, what happens when a gift cannot be repaid? This is, in fact, a very real obstacle to the spread of the Gospel in Japan. Various translations of the Bible use the adjectives“unspeakable”,“indescribable” or “inexpressible” to refer to God’s giving of His only son to die for our sins. In Jesus, we receive a gift that cannot be quantified; a gift without a price tag; a gift impossible to repay. For a culture insistent upon parity in the exchange of gifts, this is not only difficult to swallow, but perhaps even repugnant.
America may not have the same strict gifting etiquette that Japan has, and our visceral reaction to the gift of grace may not be quite so strong, but are our hearts really so different?
How do we respond to the Unspeakable Gift? Do we insist on trying to be more deserving of it, as though this were within our power? Do we harden our hearts because we would rather not receive something we cannot repay? Or, do we acknowledge that we are wholly undeserving and accept the Gift as we are, knowing that it will transform our hearts?
In a season often characterized by gifts under the tree, there may be no greater object lesson than this. Let us turn our eyes to the Gift who hung on the tree so that we might live. Regardless of our culture, may we receive this Gift humbly, responding with gratitude and joy unending!
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
When I read this verse and think about my Savior, there are two things that stand out to me. First, the inconspicuous and humble nature of a seed, and secondly, the apparent lack of strength and power of a tender shoot. It makes me hesitant, at first blush, to compare these things to Jesus.
Every spring I have the same struggle, maybe some of you out there have a suggestion or two for me, I cannot evenly space my carrot seeds. I fight with their size and I fight with their ability to blend into the soil around them or float away on a breeze. Unlike the bright orange and crisp carrots I am able to pull out of the ground once they have reached their maturity, I am not attracted to any beauty or majesty in those seeds. Their appearance does not make me desire them and their humble beginning does little to predict their future as a life giving plant. Similar maybe to the man many thought was a simple son of a carpenter laying claim to a heavenly heritage and then offering up His life to save the world.
Then it happens, those tiny unassuming seeds germinate and I can see my row of future carrots! It is beautiful and it is hopeful seeing those tiny green tender shoots. They become precious and their appearance starts to reflect their life-giving nature. Sadly, the growth of these life-giving tender shoots often exposes the carelessness and impatience that plagued my planting of the seemingly less gratifying seeds as oftentimes my rows are full of clumps and gaps. I then vow to be a better gardener and I throw myself into protecting these tiny vulnerable shoots of green. They seem like a breath away from being eaten, trampled, choked out or dried up (Matthew: 13). They seem so new and full of life, new life, yet so powerless. Speaking as a new mom, NOTHING has changed my day-to-day more than a seemingly powerless new life. What is it that God tells us about the least of these? He says that they will become the greatest. How many times have we seen those little green leaves pushing up through and cracking concrete?
Jesus, our Tender Shoot, our life-giving Savior with a tender love and humble beginning, our POWERFUL New Life every day.
I came upon a crack today
In my cement foundation,
Your love was fighting to get in
And break my isolation.
Hammers and the like abound,
Who knew tender was the key.
In awe I pray these two small leaves
Will grow into a tree.