Special Thanks to the Christian Women’s Connection for the foundational pieces of this message.
1st Sunday of Advent 2020
Experiencing the World Changer: Wonderful Counselor
In your lifetime and mine there have certainly been scenarios that have impacted and changed our country. Such as various wars, natural disasters and 9-11. Events that have actually brought our country together.
But for the first time, in a long time, the whole world has been brought together through this global pandemic. When we first saw how Covid-19 ravaged China and Italy, we may have thought, only in Asia or Europe, could such a thing happen.
But then in March of this year, we began to identify with other places in this world as Covid-19 crossed borders we may not have thought it could ever cross. Now over 265,000 death’s later, we recognize this pandemic as a world changer. The world will simply never be the same because of this pandemic.
How fitting, then, that as we prepare our hearts for Christmas, we look at the one person who truly changed the world more than any event or other living and breathing soul in human history.
This advent we will be “Encountering the World Changer.”
This virus that we continue to battle around the world is not the only enemy we face. Covid-19 may impact our physical, emotional and economic lives. However, a different virus impacts our spiritual lives.
What is this enemy?
Illustration: In the 2000’s…Reading…Go to Youtube and look for “Still Face Experiment” for this illustration.
…But before we can understand just how world changing this was, we need to understand some of what Jesus came to change. Jesus helps us see God’s face. To realize that God’s face towards us isn’t still or disappointed.
So, why does it feel like it’s that way so often.
To answer that question we need to look at Genesis 3: 1-8…
How did Adam and Eve respond to God after the fall? They hid, right? Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve had a great relationship with God. In fact, that is all they had known. They could always turn their faces to God with no fear or worry of him being still-faced or looking away (like the experiment of the child and mother I shared earlier). Things were really good between them and God.
But after the fall they became like the child when her mother turned back with a still face. They felt anxiety…they felt shame (an emotion they had never experienced before). Before the fall, they had a perfect relationship with God. But that relationship was now shattered and all they wanted to do was hide.
Dr. Bill Senyard, in his study, Take Heart YZ, shows that the three biggest needs of humans are significance, security, and belonging.
On Screen Slide:
Before the fall, they/we/humankind had all these things. We were given the task of naming the animals. We were put in charge of all creation. That’s significance. God placed us in the garden with everything we could ever need. If something was missing (human companionship for Adam) God took care of it. That’s security. God walked with us. From the text it appears He spoke face to face with us. We had a depth of relationship that was unparalleled. That’s belonging.
But when the fall happened. Things changed. Why? Because humanity turned their face away from God. When we assume now that His gaze toward us is still/stoic, we fall into different and destructive patterns. After the fall our new defaults are:
Shame, Loneliness and Addiction (slide)
Notice from the Scripture that Adam and Eve’s immediate reaction was shame. Instead of running back to the security of their perfect relationship with God, Adam and Eve put on coverings and hid. Their fear that God would look at them with a still face was so powerful that shame became their reality.
And that shame and fear of not wanting to face God, also took away their security, significance and sense of belonging…all in one devastating moment. Like the child in the experiment, we turned our face away from God and became overwhelmed with pain and shame.
Shame still hides us from God. It still causes us to look away from God.
In Senyard’s study of 20 and 30 year olds, he found that older generations (when it came to our separation from God) often feel guilt, but our younger generations struggle with shame.
At one point he surveyed 200 people who self-identified as followers of Jesus. These were people that are probably sitting in church (or at least watching online) right now.
When he asked this group what their greatest fear in life was, over 60% said that their greatest fear is what God really thinks about them. Here are some of the real responses: (slide)
“I am afraid I’m not good enough.”
“Do I really deserve love from anyone.”
“God, are you still pleased with me?”
“God, how disappointed are you in me that I didn’t listen to your direction for my life but instead went my own way?”
“Why do I feel like I am not worth anything?”
Do you hear that? Do you resonate with that?
If so, you are not alone. Even though our deepest needs our significance, security and belonging, so many are feeling shame, loneliness and addiction.
And when we feel this way, the last place we want to turn our face is towards God. Because if we do all we believe we will see is a blank, disapproving expression.
But that is why the world changer came…to change all that!
Key thought (screen): Our world changes when we turn our back on shame and return our faces toward Jesus.
We have an Old Testament promise that was fulfilled in our Savior. A promise meant to change our lives…to change the world. Let’s look at Isaiah 9: 1-6.
Each week leading up to Christmas we will take a look at one aspect of verse 6. Today, we will take a moment to consider what it means for Jesus to be our Mighty Counselor.
In more than once instance during the past year, I have seen news programs that have highlighted how more and more people have turned to counselors to try and deal with the pandemic. I think that’s a good thing as we try to navigate the gloom of life and reclaim hope for a brighter future.
In many ways, Isaiah 9 is just what the doctor/counselor ordered for the dark and gloomy world that Christ entered into. When Isaiah wrote this he was pointing people toward the Messiah. Writing nearly 800 years before Christ was born, these people lived in a uniquely difficult period of history, where neighboring countries raided the land and were taking people into captivity. These oppressed people were in need of hope. They needed to see that there was something beyond their current pain.
I believe these words in Isaiah are just as important for our world today as they were when they were written more than 2800 years ago.
If you are struggling with shame, loneliness or addiction this is the time to turn your face toward God and not away from Him. Satan is a liar and he tries to convince us that we are not worthy of God’s love. That shame is exactly what we should feel. And that God has abandoned us. And that what we are addicted to is the only thing that will get us through this life.
Folks, that is nothing but a bold-faced lie!
We must turn our faces back to God, believing that His response will not be a stone faced stare or a disapproving glare. But that His face will simply say, “I love you…welcome home my child.”
Jesus is not just a counselor. He is Our Counselor. A Wonderful Counselor. In ancient Israel a counselor was synonymous with a wise king, giving guidance to people. A counselor is one that helps people uncover the things that may be holding them back from being vulnerable, and from truly desiring change. To help move them from the darkness to the light.
In Isaiah, we see God promising to restore honor and to bring light into the darkness. We see a promise that devastated lands will be restored. We see a reason to hope and turn our backs on shame.
As our Wonderful Counselor, Jesus seeks to restore us from the effects of sin. This includes praying for our sins, but it also means fully restoring our relationship with God, including our ability to look in His eyes. When Jesus came as a baby 2000 years ago or so, he came as the Mighty Counselor. And, His angels proclaimed the good news of great joy. They proclaimed the Gospel…the word literally means: Good News!
Jesus wants you to know that in the context of a Pandemic, in the context of your shame, loneliness or addiction, He has hope for you today.
The reality of the Gospel is this: God, in the form of man, was born into our world. Jesus walked in our shoes. He experienced temptation, yet, He was sinless. As God’s only Son, a sinless offering, Jesus went to the cross and took our punishment.
And Jesus took our shame so that we can freely look into the face of a Holy God and see just how much He loves and cares for us.
Slide: Shame will try to cause us to hide, the Gospel empowers us to return.
Today I want to facilitate an experience between you and the God who calls you His beloved child.
I am going to read a letter to you from God. This letter isn’t found in the Bible directly, but each thought is completely soaked in God’s Word. This is the Gospel. This is the Good News. And this is Jesus’ heart towards you right now.
So, I want to ask you to take a risk, lay open your shame, and turn towards Jesus for a moment. Maybe you want to close your eyes. Or, look at the cross. You may want to kneel at your seat.
As I read this letter, I invite you too look into God’s face. I invite you to hear God’s heart. I invite you to be vulnerable for the first time in a long time. I promise, as you turn towards Him, His face will not be still.
A Letter from God…
Do you know how much I adore you! When I look into your eyes – into your weary and beat up soul – do you know the joy that I feel? I see your struggle. I see the hurts and pains. I see the fear in your heart that maybe, somehow, I’ve turned my face away from you.
Up until now, you have been resistant to my love. You’ve had your reasons. I know your struggles. But, it’s time for you to experience a love that you have only dreamed of from a distance. This is what your soul has been longing for. It’s what it has always longed for. This is the love that you have been searching for all your life…in all the wrong places.
I love you as you are right now – with all the scars and mistakes. I look at you and I know the real you, not just the mask you’ve put up to protect yourself. I love you far more than you love yourself. You look in the mirror and you see distortions and fractures. You see the labels others have put on you, and the doubts you’ve believed about yourself. You’re worried you’ve messed it all up.
Stop looking into dirty and broken mirrors. I invite you to see yourself as a reflection in my eyes. Then you will see yourself as I see you. I created you on purpose. I created you for so much more. I know your deepest fears, doubts, and dysfunctions…and, yet, I still see my child. My arms are open. There is nothing you can do to earn my love. It cannot be earned. It has already been paid for by My Son on your behalf. Because of Him, it is perfectly yours forever.
But, I get it. Love has betrayed you too often. It has cost you so much. It has left so many scars. It is scary to be vulnerable to such a love. You, no doubt, imagine that my love is just more of the same, and that I will eventually tire of you or be ashamed of what I see. You’re afraid to look into my eyes and find that I am angry with you. But that will not happen. I only desire to honor you with boundless love and glory. I want to restore you.
You haven’t known this love, because you haven’t asked Me for it, and instead you have pursued lesser loves…counterfeit gods. Hear this. Know this. My love will not leave you as you are. My love heals. Do not look within or pursue more empty lovers. Come to Me. Your soul is weary, but I offer living water. Come and drink freely. Don’t be ashamed. Come. It is time to leave the darkness and shadows that plague you and enter the light. I’m ready to show you a love that changes everything.
This is the Good News. This is our Wonderful Counselor.
You should know that Satan will try and mess with you before you even leave this room today. Don’t allow him to. Rest in God’s grace and love for you. In fact, I’m offering you a copy of this letter to take with you. Read it daily if you need to. But use it as a reminder of God’s love for you. I promise that when you look into His face, He will never have a still face or turn away from you…you are His beloved child.