Thursday, June 30, 2011

Steadfast, Watch, Glorify

Praying rightly, specifically, and intentionally

Col 4:4 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

Col 4:3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison--

Col 4:4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

If you ever want a quick encouragement, or to find a wealth of wisdom from a text of scripture, go to the end of one of Paul’s letters. Like at the end of a telephone conversation cut short, Paul blurts out many but quick truths he wants to get across to the receiver of his message. In this letter to the church in Colossi, Paul gives a quick but deep command to them about praying.

Col 4:2a Continue steadfastly in prayer…

Steadfastly: Firm: with resolute determination

Could you say that you are firmly, with a resolute determination, praying to God? This is not just a command for a single prayer, but it is a command for your prayer life. If you were praying with resolute determination, does it seem like that would also reflect frequency of prayer? I know that if I am firmly resolute in determination about something, I’m going to be tenacious about it until what I am determined about is accomplished. Are you praying like that? If not, why? Does the answer speak to you about where your heart is whether good or bad?

Col 4:2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

Paul tells the church to be watchful in it their prayers. So they are to continue steadfastly not only in prayer but also in watchfulness while praying. Why would he say that? Why would someone be watchful in prayer? When someone is watchful, they expect something to happen. People watch the news to see what is happening, people watch sports to see who will win, and people watch the stock market to see how the economy is doing. They watch because they expect something to happen. That is why we should watch while we pray with firm, resolute determination. We watch because we expect and trust God to do something. Are you expecting him to move? Are you expecting him to do anything?

Jas 1:3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

Jas 1:4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Jas 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

Jas 1:6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

Jas 1:7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;
Jas 1:8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

If we don’t expect him to answer, if we doubt his many promises of answering prayer, James says that we cannot expect God to do anything. Are you watching for God with eager expectation?

Col 4:2b …being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

Paul says that thanksgiving is going to come with our watchfulness. This can only mean one thing, God is going to do something. This is crystal clear. There will be thanksgiving when we watch because when we are attentive, alert, and searching for God’s answer without doubt, we will see his answer to our prayer. He has promised to answer them in his word.

Joh 14:13 whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

That is the key. God loves to answer prayer because he receives glory by our thanksgiving. God loves to be our giver. It is more glorious to be the giver than the receiver. God loves to answer prayer because he wants us to know that he loves us, he wants unbelievers to know that Jesus is the true Son of God, and he wants all the earth to give him Glory.

Mat 7:7 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Mat 7:8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Mat 7:9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?

Mat 7:10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?

Mat 7:11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

1Pe 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,

1Pe 5:7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Joh 15:7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Joh 15:8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

Psa 50:14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High,

Psa 50:15 and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.

Are you praying like Paul commands us to? Are you steadfastly praying, are you watching eagerly, and are you glorifying him when he does answer prayer? This is the most important thing for us to do. If we do not humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, and firmly with determination go after him in prayer, believing that he is going to do something, we are not being responsible with the work God has given to us. We cannot be self-reliant because self-reliance is spiritual suicide.

Pray now for him to glorify himself through answering your prayers and then watch for his answer.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

Luk 1:5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.

Luk 1:6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.

Luk 1:7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Luk 1:8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty,

Luk 1:9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.

Luk 1:10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.

Luk 1:11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

Luk 1:12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.

Luk 1:13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.

Luk 1:14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,

Luk 1:15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.

Luk 1:16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,

Luk 1:17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared."

Luk 1:18 And Zechariah said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years."

Luk 1:19 And the angel answered him, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.

Luk 1:20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time."

Luk 1:21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple.

Luk 1:22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute.

Luk 1:23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

Luk 1:24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying,

Luk 1:25 "Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people."

Luke is the only gospel writer who documents the promise and birth of John the Baptist. But why is this so important? Why is it worth Luke’s time and our understanding to include John the Baptist? John the Baptist is the second most prophesied person in the Old Testament beside Christ. These prophecies spoke of one “preparing the way” of the coming of the Messiah. Israel was looking for this person prophesied about whom was, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” They were looking for this first indication of the promised Messiah.

Joh 1:19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?"

Joh 1:20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ."

Joh 1:21 And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No."

Joh 1:22 So they said to him, "Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?"

Joh 1:23 He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said."

John the Baptist says in this text that he is the one prophesied about in Isaiah 40. "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord.” Two other prominent prophecies about John are found in Malachi.

Mal 3:1 "Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.

Mal 4:5 "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.

Mal 4:6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction."

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and said, “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared," Gabriel validated John as the one in the prophecies.

In validating John the Baptist as the one prophesied about, Gabriel is in fact validating the eminent arrival of the promised Messiah. So, documenting John, validates Christ as the arrived Messiah.

Another reason to document John’s promise and birth shows that God’s hand was in both John’s and Christ’s arrival.

Luk 1:18 And Zechariah said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years."

Unlike Abraham who responded with faith, Zechariah did not have any. Zechariah understood that his wife was too old and it was impossible for her to have a child in her old age. He could not see God supernaturally overcoming the impossible. But God did. In fact, in both cases, John and Jesus were born supernaturally. Do you think that this fact is a coincidence? Maybe God brought the arrival of John and Jesus in a supernatural way as more validation of His involvement. God is saying, “I am doing this. I am ushering in ‘the day of the LORD’. These are the two prophesied about.”

Two Final Thoughts…

John denied that he was “Elijah” and “the Prophet” even though Gabriel says he will have the spirit of Elijah and Gabriel connects him to the prophecies about God sending Elijah to prepare the way. It seems odd that John would deny that. But the fact is, he was not literally Elijah the prophet but that seems too easy an answer. What do you think?

Second. With all of this considered, it is hard to believe that Israel then and even today, can’t see the truth of who Jesus is with their knowledge of the Old Testament prophecies. God did many things to validate Jesus as the Messiah including fulfilling all of the prophesies about Him in the Old Testament and performing the miracles to the extent that He did; Not to mention the big one, Jesus risen for the dead. Scripture does speak of this hardening on Israel in Romans.

Rom 11:25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

Rom 11:26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob";

Rom 11:27 "and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins."

Rom 11:28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.

Rom 11:29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

All the proof is there for us to use as a tool to share the gospel to those around us. But the question is, are we serious enough and faithful enough to seek out, learn, and understand the proof? Are we serious and faithful enough to actually share the gospel? How many people have you spoken to about the gospel this week? This month? Last year?

Do not follow the way of Zechariah. Believe in the promises of God, that he will be with you.

Act 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

We are empowered. God saves. We are faithful. Go.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Family's Story

This is the testimony of Maria Vasquez, a mother who has been waiting for a home from Casas por Cristo for two years. She has a powerful and encouraging testimony that continues to find hope in life through the God that we serve. Please take 5 minutes to hear her story.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

John's Mission and Christ's Identity

John 1:19-34

John was baptizing in the Jordan and he is about to defend his ministry and proclaim the deity and mission of Christ…

Joh 1:19                And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?"
Joh 1:20                He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ."
Joh 1:21                And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No."
Joh 1:22                So they said to him, "Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?"
Joh 1:23                He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said."
Joh 1:24                (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)

In everything John ever did, he directed it all straight to Christ. John accepted no praise and demanded none. He denied what he could not claim but he also denied what he could have claimed. He had the spirit of Elijah and he did prophesy the Christ to come. But why did he deny it?

John’s mission was to point everyone to Christ, to show His infinite worth, and to inspire a need for the Messiah. John came to prepare the way of the Lord, not his own.  John’s denial in what he could claim, was him fully embracing his purpose on earth. John essentially was saying, “This is not about me. This is about the Messiah.”

The amazing thing about this story is that we have the same mission today. We are to proclaim the messiah, we are to show people Christ’s infinite worth, and we are to inspire a need for Jesus in everyone we come in contact with. We join together with John the Baptist in the same mission. The question for us is, do we point everything to Christ like John did. If this is our same missions, are we in all things saying, “Not me, Christ! He is infinite, He is perfect, and He is all!”

Do you talk more about yourself or about Christ? Do you boast more in Christ’s work or your own? Does your heart and mind lean more toward lifting yourself up or exalting Christ? Do you give Christ the credit in all you do? Is He your aim? Is His glory your goal?

Joh 1:25                They asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?"
Joh 1:26                John answered them, "I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know,
Joh 1:27                even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie."
Joh 1:28                These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Joh 1:29                The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

This is a huge testimony from John. Up until this point, Israel had been using an actual lamb without spot of blemish to sacrifice for their sins.
 It was only a temporary price though. The sacrificial system in which Israel had operated in from the days of Moses pointed toward one final payment for their sin and it was prophesied that it would be delivered by the Christ to come.

John is proclaiming Jesus as that final payment not just for Israel but for the entire world. Do you see and feel the weight of this? The Christ, from God, was going to be slaughtered like a lamb. He was going to bleed for everyone so that we could be forgiven. Forgiveness and salvation was here in a horrific display that reveals how serious sin is to God.

Joh 1:30                This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.'
Joh 1:31                I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel."

If Jesus’ deity was not clear up until this point, it was now. “He out ranks me because though I was born before Him, He was before me.” Christ is eternal. He is the God of the Old Testament and of eternity. He is the word became flesh.                                                                                                                        

Joh 1:32                And John bore witness: "I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.
Joh 1:33                I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'
Joh 1:34                And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God."

Will you proclaim Christ as bold, courageous, and selfless as John? Our Testimony should echo Isaiah 53.

Isa 53:3                  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Isa 53:4                  Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
Isa 53:5                  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
Isa 53:6                  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Isa 53:7                  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.
Isa 53:8                  By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?
Isa 53:9                  And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Isa 53:10                Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Isa 53:11                Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
Isa 53:12                Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mexico Jeans

Thoughts from a team member...
Earlier today, when I was getting ready to go horseback riding, I picked up my jeans to put them on. These jeans (because I don't have a washing machine and because I'm really financially frugal) haven't been washed since they crossed the border and built a house a couple weeks ago. As I was putting them on, a lingering little Mexican dust cloud came up out of them. At that point I realized that everything about these jeans was still exactly as they had been in Mexico; well, mostly everything. My pocket knife was still clipped on, they still had spare nails and screws in the pocket, there was black roofing tar on the leg. But after I got them on and looked in the mirror, I realized that everything about where they are at now (as well as myself) is different. For starters, I was freshly showered. I was in my carpeted room, with my bed behind me, my computer sitting on it, my stuff all over the place. I proceeded to put on my other clothes from Mexico until I was clothed in exactly the same way I had been in Mexico. It's funny, I sometimes referred to these clothes as dairy clothes, work clothes, or riding clothes, but now they're Mexico clothes. These dusty Mexico jeans sent me into a huge time of thought and realization the rest of my day. 
As I was driving out to where I keep my horse, I began to notice how vastly different everything was from the scenes of Mexico. I saw rolling green hills, and trees, big fancy houses, and nicely paved roads. It's funny how being gone for a week can make me look at my surroundings so differently than I did before; surroundings that I've been seeing almost daily for the past two years. I've been having similar thoughts since I got back from Mexico, but today it really hit me that I have got absolutely no reason to complain about anything. Ever.

Here's a picture of those same jeans in Mexico. There, I'd wake up every morning on the hard floor of the sanctuary at the church where we stayed. I'd get dressed, eat a bowl of cereal, brush my teeth in the small bathroom, and go to bed without a shower. We were actually living in comfort, compared to the average Mexican family. We had an abundance of food to eat, a vast supply of clean water, a large gated area to leisurely hang out, eat, and worship, a flushing toilet, and a fairly decent kitchen with a refrigerator  stove, and sink. But during the day we'd be working on a house, where they didn't have all of these commodities. There I met one of the most amazing people ever.
Juan Jose, the father of the family receiving the home we were building, is truly an inspiring person. He'd stay up working at night, then get up and work on the house with us every day. The day we poured the cement slab, he kept working on it even after we left. He was just as much a part of the building process as any of us were. He knew so much more about building houses than any of us on my team did, but he never got frustrated with our ignorance and he was very willing to teach us better ways of doing things. In addition to all the work he put into the house, he spent all of his money to feed us a delicious lunch on Tuesday. He never complained or asked for anything in return. It's almost ironic to think about our situation. We went to Acuna, Mexico to show God's love, by way of building a home and giving to a family in need. On the flip side, that family showed us God's love by being open and welcoming from the start, helping us build their home, and feeding us great food when they didn't have to. After three days of working alongside our family, this empty lot became their home.

  Thanks, Casas, for making this happen.
Aimee Sonnier
(Aimee is currently spending her summer serving with Casas por Cristo and building homes for families every week!)