Friday, December 23, 2011

Four prayers. One Spirit. One Mediator. One God.

    Amidst the busyness of Christmas shopping, Christmas events, Christmas parties with friends&families, Christmas concerts, Christmas baking, and everything else "Christmassy", I have absolutely cherished the down time where I have been able to quiet myself before the Lord and simply be in His Word. I've especially enjoyed being in the book of Malachi this Christmas season. When I celebrate the birth of Christ, I can't help but see it in light of the thousands of years of prophecy foretelling the coming of Messiah. The book I am most drawn to about Messiah is the book of Malachi, largely because these were God's last words to Israel before He sent His Son to be born as Man on earth over 400 years later. It's intriguing. To say the least.

    As I was reading through the book of Malachi, my mind kept wandering back to my favorite prayer in the Bible, which is that of Nehemiah's. Malachi's words seemed to so perfectly echo Nehemiah's prayer, but for some reason I always imagined these two men lived hundreds of years apart? I'm sure you can imagine how thrilled and surprised I was when I found out that Malachi was the prophet in Israel during the time of Nehemiah! It totally makes sense! In comparing the two, I kept coming back to Malachi 3:1, specifically to the fact that God told the Israelites that the Lord (YHVH) would come to the temple, even the Messenger of the Covenant. Naturally, I was intrigued by the only two Israelites awaiting YHVH in the temple over 400 years later; Simeon and Anna. I've been trying to find out how many Jewish people lived in Israel at the time of Jesus' birth, but I can't seem to find an authentic answer. One Bible teacher told me 500,000 to 600,000 Jews, but this could be wrong. Regardless, out of all the Israelites, only one man and one woman were recorded in the Scriptures as waiting for YHVH to come to the temple. Absolutely stuns me.  I mean, seriously, God told them that YHVH (Messiah) would literally COME to the temple!!! And only two people were waiting there? I'm certainly not going to cast the first stone though; makes me wonder how many of us will be watching, waiting, and ready for Christ's second coming (Malachi 4:1-3)? Though these four unique individuals be separated by either time and/or space, they all seem to have one mind. Only a God as great as our God could do this. Only one Spirit could move in the hearts of these four individuals and cause their hearts to beat in unity toward one thing. Ultimately, they all knew there was only one Mediator that could save them all. (Nehemiah 1:4-11; Malachi 1-4; Luke 2:25-35; Luke 2:36-38).

The thing I love most about Nehemiah's prayer is his consuming passion for his people. May we all mirror Nehemiah in our love for people! I've asked myself when is the last time I have "sat down and wept, and mourned for many days" over people who have not come to the knowledge of salvation through Jesus Christ? Nehemiah was so burdened that it drove him to be "fasting and praying before the God of and night" Ne 1:4,6. When is the last time we have fasted? How about the last time we have prayed all day or all night? "You do not have because you do not ask" James 4:2. It seems there were similar burdens on the hearts of Malachi and Nehemiah, and even after more than 400 years later, the Spirit still gave at least one other person the same burden: Anna. Her heart was aligned with Nehemiah's; "this woman...did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day" Luke 2:37. Nehemiah and Anna not only understood prayer, but they believed God would answer their prayer. And He did answer them, of course! "Whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive" Matthew 21:22.

    Anna was a great woman of faith. She must have known the prophecies of the coming Messiah well, because it obviously did not faze her that YHVH was in the temple as a baby. I wish I could've seen her expression the moment she saw Simeon holding that tiny cooing baby! Luke says she immediately recognized who baby Jesus was, because she instantly gave thanks to the Lord for Him. "And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord..." Luke 2:38. Not only that, she went around Jerusalem telling those who were looking for redemption all about baby Jesus, their Messiah!

   And I admire him. Patiently waiting on the Lord is one of the hardest things for me to do...but, like Simeon, I have found it to always be worth it. I serve a Good and Faithful Father who knows me so much better than I know thankful I am for Him. Simeon understood and lived what it means to wait on the Lord. "Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" Isaiah 40:31. You can just feel Simeon's agony of joy in his prayer. Reading his prayer almost always moves me to tears. He whose eyes were probably dimming from old age and ready to face death's door, got to behold the Salvation of the Lord and hold the Consolation of Israel! Simeon had truly found delight in Jesus, the Messenger of the covenant, just as Malachi prophesied would happen; "and the Lord [YHVH], whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight." Malachi 3:1. Just imagine what Simeon must have felt...put yourself in his shoes. Amazing. What a beautiful picture to see Malachi, Nehemiah, Simeon and Anna, all with one heart, looking forward to see their Salvation come from God YHVH, the Lord Jesus Christ. Although I know the book of Malachi is not a prayer, I can see his prayer in it; it echos the prayer of Nehemiah, as Simeon's prayer echos that of Malachi's, and Anna's prayer echos Nehemiah's prayer. Absolutely beautiful.

   You know, I've heard people speak of Jesus as if His life didn't "really" start until He started His ministry when He was around 30, but we should know that He, as the only begotten Son of God from eternity, started His life on this earth the moment His little human body took a breath, right? To Simeon, baby Jesus was not just a special little baby that would someday be someone great, but He was THE Prince of Peace to him the  moment Simeon beheld Him, "Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation" Lu 2:29-20. Jesus, as a baby, fulfilled His role as the Prince of Peace almost 30 years before He started His ministry! It is because He is peace. We've all sung Christmas songs about peace on earth, but I wonder if this has partly been misunderstood? After all, even Jesus Himself said, "Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division." Lu 12:51. The reaction Jesus, as Peace, made to this sinful world caused all kinds of havoc, because "...the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" Jn 3:19, and Satan would not stand by to let this Peace reign in the hearts of men. Have we forgotten that turmoil, evil, hatred and cold murder of innocent baby boys followed that peaceful silent night (Mt 2:16-18)? In fact, turmoil, evil, hatred and murder followed close behind Jesus all the way to His cross. And yet, amidst the turmoil, Jews and Gentiles alike found Peace in Jesus.

How is it possible to live in a world today that is full of evil and yet still have complete, whole, and pure Peace in your heart? "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." John 16:33. It is only possible if you are in Him! There is no other peace, no other way, no other Mediator between us and God, except Jesus the Messiah. I am in Him! He reigns, first and foremost, on the throne of my heart, and I can celebrate His birth as knowing that was the day Peace stepped down from heaven and took His place in a manger to be Peace in the hearts of those on earth who know Him as their Savior. I say a hearty amen to the multitude of the heavenly hosts who proclaim, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" Luke 2:14! Merry Christmas to all :)

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Manger and the Cross


   Christmas is my favorite time of the year because it brings me to recall all of the wonderful things the Father has done for us, mostly in giving us His Son! In remembering the joy of His birth, I can't help but see it through the blood of His cross. This was His message, even as a babe in a manger. "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." Matthew 1:21.

   That silent night was the beginning of a cycle Jesus was to complete in living out His life on earth. It wasn't until His death on the cross that we could see more clearly that He would end this journey with life in His resurrection and that He would be the Way in which we could receive new life. Life Death Life. In following His footsteps, we too experience this same cycle. The joy and privilege of life being breathed into us the day we were born into this world is something we should never stop thanking the Father for! The humility of dying to our sins is something we should never let ourselves forget. The pure happiness and honor of receiving new life through the blood of the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, is something that demands our soul, our life, our all. This Christmas when we survey the manger, may we also survey the wondrous cross beyond it, and may it bring us all to our knees to worship this glorious King who came to save us from our sins!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Son of God

Son of God, purest light
Lord on high is here tonight
Stamping through this sacred sky
Suddenly our eyes behold
Heaven's perfect plan unfold
Son of God

Son of God, love divine
Timeless one steps in to die
Who could dream of such a thing
With us now the King of Kings
Man and angels bow and sing
Singing Hallelujah, Hallelujah

We're singing Gloria, Hallelujah!

Our God is with us
Emmanuel, our God is with us
We're singing Hallelujah
Singing Gloria

-Ferrante, Arthur/Teicher, Louis
(It's a Wonderful Christmas, Michael W. Smith)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Blessed are the poor in spirit

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:3

     To be poor in spirit is to have a humble opinion of ourselves; to be sensible that we are sinners, and have no righteousness of our own; to be willing to be saved only by the rich grace and mercy of God; to be willing to be where God places us, to bear what He lays on us, to go where He bids us, and to die when He commands; to be willing to be in His hands, and to feel that we deserve no favor from Him. It is opposed to pride, and vanity, and ambition. Such are happy. -Albert Barnes

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Why I Believe...

...because the Lord has captured me, heart and soul, with His love. Love is not love without Him.

I believe because apart from the Lord Jesus Christ I've found there is literally no other hope. No one knows me as God does, and still, He accepted me. I believe because I know God could never accept me unless He first sacrificed His only begotten Son on my behalf, and I know His beloved Son personally. I believe because Jesus offered me a gift that was free for me, but cost Him a very high price, so I accepted it, and it literally saved me. I believe because I know I can't come to God because of the sin that I was born into is unavoidably in me, which makes me a sinner, and I know sin literally cannot be in God's holy presence. But God is literally in me today, so I believe Jesus came and took my sin upon Himself, and thus, He paid the price that was meant for me: death and separation from God, therefore, because He had victory over that death and was once again united with the Father in eternity, I am the one that received victory because Jesus literally cleansed me of my sin and made me holy, thus allowing the Holy God to literally dwell in me now and me to literally dwell with Him when I physically die one day. I asked Him to forgive me for my sins against Him, and this great and awesome God...forgave me. Forgiveness is not forgiveness without Him.

I believe because I've found no other proof of a god or reason for our existence, except for what is explained in the Holy Bible, so I trust it and take it literally. He says HE is Truth, and then inspired over 40 writers in the course of approx. 1,500 years to write a Book to prove (not because He needed to, but because He loves us) He is Truth. There is a reason there are literally billions of copies of it out in the world today. I believe because no human mind could ever come up with a plan like this, and I mean that literally, because no human would or could do what Jesus did. Read the Bible to find out why. Truth is not truth without Him.

I believe because I have been in turmoil and still been in joy. I have been is desperation and still been in contentment. I have been in pain and still been in comfort. I have been in uncertainty and still been in peace of mind. I have been in sorrow but still had happy peace that passes all human understanding. I stay close to Him through the trials of this life because I know He holds me close like a loving mother holds her little baby close. Peace is not peace without Him.

I believe because HE has made me so incredibly happy that I could never express the depth, height, and length of how much joy I have! I am unhappy when I am far from Him. I am the happiest when I am the closest to Him! I want more of Him and He is more than giving of Himself! I love nothing more than simply being with Him in prayer! I believe because I know and literally can feel that I am loved by Him. He is the life within me! I believe because I live and I live because I believe! He has made me inexpressibly happy!! I believe because I've come to know the joy of having Him live within me. Joy is not joy without Him! 

"God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." 
1 John 4:8-10

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Here am I Lord! (...I think?)

"Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: 'Whom shall I send and who will go for Us?' Then I said, 'Here am I! Send me.'" -Isaiah 6:8

      This is a common verse that I hear quoted a lot concerning Missions/Missionaries. I always thought I understood it's meaning, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how significant it is and how little I had actually understood it. Have you ever stopped to consider what it would mean if it you offered yourself to God like Isaiah did in this verse?

    I was talking to someone about this verse recently and they told me they always considered this verse to be a sort of farewell prayer that is only prayed by "missionaries." As if by praying "Here am I, send me" instantaneously seals your fate that you'll be headed out to Africa, Asia, Russia or wherever else. Almost making this prayer something to be avoided, in fear God may tell you to leave your comforts of life here in the US. I wonder if our modern day mindset of what it means to be "sent out" is false? Sent to Africa, sent to Asia, South America, India, Europe, Mexico, Canada, anywhere as long as it's not in the US; this is the most common viewpoint I've come across of what it means to be "sent out" and be a "missionary." If you're "sent" to any other country outside the US, (no matter what you're doing there), you're, more than likely, defined and stamped as being a missionary. Would if the Lord sent someone out to California, Texas or Florida? Would we recognize them as a missionary? Are missionaries really only needed outside the US? Would if the Lord wanted to "send" you out to your neighbor's house, on the streets of your city, another city a couple hours away, or the next State over? What would that make you? Does simply being in another country confirm you are truly a missionary?  

These thoughts have been running through my mind the past couple years. There are times when I am hesitant to use the word "missionary" when referring to a desire I have to serve the Lord in another country where the good news of Jesus has never been proclaimed yet. I've wanted to be a "missionary" since I've been 13 years old and I've always told people this when they asked me what my ambition for life was, but I noticed when I said that, Christians would tend to treat me like I was something special and praise me for wanting to be "sacrificial," so since then, I try to not use that word whenever possible, whether referring to myself or other believers serving the Lord. I believe if every laborer in the Lord's work I know of could speak here, they would be the first ones to say there is nothing special about themselves, and would shutter at the thought of anyone thinking anything greater of them than that. They would say ALL the glory is due His Name and not their own. They don't want to be up on the pedestal, so why do we so often put them up there? I'll admit I'm guilty of this sometimes, too. So often we like to adore the vessel rather than the Maker - but may we always see Christ in our brothers and sisters and only hold Christ up on a pedestal!

Yes, some believers may temporarily sacrifice things of this life to serve the Lord, but those who do that are only following the lead of One greater than ourselves. The Lord Jesus Christ knows the true meaning of sacrifice, because He lived it and was it; the absolute least we can do is offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God, and I don't mean to say that lightly. Only a conviction from the Holy Spirit could spur a believer to live such a life, but it is something we should all strive to gain. Simply being called a disciple of Christ is sufficient enough to press onward in living a committed life for God, and we know that all who belong to Christ have the privilege of being called His disciple. Where that will bring you is up to the Lord, but the question we should ask ourselves is if we are even willing to go wherever He would send us? Often times I saw Christianity as a ladder, and I thought being a "glorious" missionary was at the top, so I wanted to get there. Problem was...I kept falling short. It took years for the Lord to break me and set me free from these twisted ideas I was deceived into believing and had been entangled in.

    Christ is our standard to live up to - He is at the top of the ladder in fact, He IS the ladder. He had it ALL, but gave it up to be a bondservant, of no reputation, humiliated, in lowliness and gentleness forgave those who tortured and shamed Him, loved, showed mercy, served the lowest so He could become the lowest, was just, but suffered by the hands of the unjust, died.     Darkness.    Separated from Him whose bosom He was in from eternity. Carried the unimaginable weight of our sins, took it to our grave, alone. It is the least we can do to declare to Him, "Here am I send me."

What is it worth, though, if it is not said with sincerity? Perhaps if we changed our mindset of what it means to serve the Lord, it would change our willingness to do what He calls us to do. Right now I live in the US, and I am thankful for that, and thankful for the freedoms we have here to worship the Lord. But...just because we have this freedom does not mean everyone who lives here is free. Many here are in the dark bondage of sin; do they not need a missionary to come to them and tell them the good news of Christ? These are our neighbors, classmates and co-workers. We may call this home, but it is temporary and we are mere pilgrims and sojourners...have we forgotten our true home is in heaven? Even thinking of Paul and Barnabas is quite amazing and unusually different than the normal pattern we see today in preparation for missions. We go through all sorts of training, fundraising, and short term missions trips to "test the waters" or see if we are "fit for it." But if you look at Paul and Barnabas, man, they had no time to prepare! There was no "testing the waters" for them; it was just about trusting the Lord, submitting to the Lord, and then obeying the Lord. And I'm not saying there isn't a place for preparation, but what is all the preparation in the world worth if one isn't fully submitted to the Lord and ready to serve Him whenever He sends you?

I've been thinking a lot about Jesus' words in Matthew 9:37, "Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest." Is the harvest only found in Africa? In Asia? Is the harvest only found in third world countries? Is the US really such a "Christian Nation" that we wouldn't consider it to be the harvest? What would America really look like today if every Christian in the US considered himself to be a "missionary?" If we all  shared the gospel with the lost, instead of leaving the evangelizing to the missionaries? If we were to sacrifice our comforts for the sake of the gospel? If we were to live by faith? Really...what would the Church here in the US look like?

   If God asked you to go to your neighbor's house, would you go? And if He asked you to go to your co-workers cubicle, would you go? To the "unsafe" part of town, would you go? To a homeless mans shelter, would you go? Across town, would you go? Across the State, would you go? To North Dakota, would you go? To England, would you go? To the deserts of the Middle East, would you go? To the deep dark jungles of Papua New Guinea, would you go? If He asked you to go the ends of the earth...would you go? He may have not told you specifically where on this earth to go, but He has already asked us to go and make disciples of all nations. The truth is, we have already been sent, and this is the fact we quite often completely miss. Hasn't He already called us to go then? To go to the people closest to you? And then if He chooses to set you aside and send you somewhere else, will you be ready to lovingly obey? "Do not be afraid, only believe!"

     This entire earth is the harvest field, and the good news of Jesus is needed wherever there are people, this I believe to be true. BUT...I don't want to belittle the great need of those in dire need, both physically and spiritually, in third world countries. I know I don't need to mention how great we have it here in the US, but I will: we have it great here in the US and literally have everything we need and want, while humans in other lands are drowning in the darkness of evil and sin where people are suffering from hunger, diseases, suffering, hatred, and death. They so, so desperately need the gospel and love of Jesus. I am praying all the time for them and am always encouraging young people here to also consider and pray for them, with an open heart that the Spirit may set them aside to go one day. I think of all the orphans that have no one to love them, take care of them or tell them about God, then I think of all my love and Jesus' love I would love to absolutely pour out on them...and my heart absolutely melts within me. But, what am I to do? My hands are tied. I cannot go, no matter how badly I want to, unless the Holy Spirit sets me aside and sends me. So...I will go and serve Him where I am now, and should that one day lead to another country, I'll happily keep following Him wherever He goes. Perhaps the question we should ask ourselves is not where we will serve the Lord, but when? Will you serve Him right now where you are today while it is still called today? Are you available  to the Lord to be sent across the street or across the ocean?

I've found that true joy and fulfillment come from simply serving Him and simply being in Him. Together, let's live our fullest for Him in this present day, wherever we are on earth!

Let's not worry about tomorrow. Open your eyes to the needs already surrounding you - to the plentiful harvest. We have already been bought at a precious price, we are already in the harvest, we are already the laborers, and we have already been called. Can you declare to the Lord today, "Here am I, send me"?

"whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men" 
Colossians 3:23