You Will not die Before you see Him

By Hiram Vega

Prophets, priests, kings and peasants – they all waited for the signs of the coming Messiah.

Their constant question was, “When will the Messiah come?” He was to be the Anointed One of God who would end the disgrace of the people of God.  Four hundred years had passed since the Prophet Malachi, and God had not spoken.

Well, he did continue to speak, but only to a few chosen people.  It seemed that one in particular, an enigma named Simeon, had a direct line to heaven.  How important of a person must he have been to have God himself share what was going to take place?  Humanly speaking, he was completely unimportant.  He was a common old man with an even more common name. He was unknown on earth, but known and respected in heaven.  His character was of the same caliber as Joseph and Mary’s.  The gospel tells us that he was an upright man.  Not only that, he was a sincere seeker of God. Heaven took note, and God poured his Holy Spirit out on him.  Did you think that the Holy Spirit first came at Pentecost?  God says in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

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We know almost nothing about this elderly man except that the Holy Spirit confirmed to him that he would not die until he saw the Anointed One of the Lord.

Today Christians await the return of the Lord, and no one knows the day or the hour of his second coming.  But Simeon was waiting for his first coming.  When the moment arrived, the Holy Spirit guided him to the temple just in time to find a humble carpenter from Bethlehem and his wife presenting a newborn.  On earth there was no fanfare, no great chorus, no royal assembly to commemorate the moment.  Heaven gave this aged worshiper the privilege that kings and prophets longed for: he was the first to recognize the Messiah.

Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 

People continue to live in darkness today. Millions have not experienced the salvation of our Lord.  God continues to speak to his Simeons—men and women who long to know God and to make him known.  Their hearts desire for more people to be saved, until the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 

 

Advent: Four Elements of “Wait Training”

In the previous post, we heard from Pastor Rich Villodas as he taught us about how Advent is a season for “Wait Training.” In part two of his article, originally published at Missio Alliance, we now look at four practical ways we can learn to bear fruit in our spiritual lives as we wait during this season.

By Rich Villodas

Four Important Elements of Waiting

1. Reflective Prayer

Henri Nouwen has said, “Active waiting is waiting that pays attention, is fully present to what is really going on, even when to all outward appearances, nothing is going on.”

One of the primary ways of this kind of waiting that pays attention is in reflective prayer. Prayer is not simply articulating our needs before God. It’s also making ourselves available for God to articulate his movements before us.

Advent is a season of waiting in a posture of prayerful attention. It’s often when we get silent that we can finally begin to trace God’s movements in our lives.

2. Friends on the Journey

Waiting is much easier when done in community. This is one of the reasons Jesus asked his disciples to join him as he awaited his death (unfortunately they fell asleep on him!). Advent is a reminder that waiting is a communal act.

Mary and Elizabeth wait together.

Simeon and Anna wait in community.

The people of God expectantly waited together.

Advent is an invitation to seek out friends on the journey who will help us process, discern and sit in silence with us as we discern God’s activity.

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3. The Hearing of the Gospel Preached

As we wait, our souls need to be grounded in hope that comes from the proclamation of the gospel. We each need a word spoken to us regularly that reminds us of God’s faithful coming in Jesus.

Sunday worship is not a time to get religious goodies and head home. It’s an opportunity to open ourselves to God’s creative word, which is to anchor us in a story that is often at odds with the stories we tell ourselves.

4. Waiting is an Active Activity 

To wait on the Lord doesn’t mean inactivity. It doesn’t mean a refusal to take initiative, or to seek and search for opportunities (a new job, a romantic relationship, etc.). Rather, it’s a refusal to move without connecting our lives to God in prayer and reflection, first and often.

Eugene Peterson has said, “Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts.”

Sometimes waiting on the Lord means “staying put” in a particular situation until you get further instructions. At other times, it requires us to move forward—but in a way that is grounded in prayer.

Ultimately, to wait on the Lord is a way of life that comes against our tendencies to be impulsive, to be anxiously reactive, and wise in our own eyes.

If decisions are being made that are anxiously reactive and impulsive, chances are we need some practice in waiting on the Lord.

Advent reminds us that God has come, is coming, and will come again. It’s a great opportunity to train our souls in waiting.

This article was originally published at: Missio Alliance.

Advent: A Season of “Wait Training”

By Rich Villodas (originally published on Missio Alliance)

There’s nothing that unites us in the experience of being human quite like waiting. No matter our age, our education, our accomplishments, or time spent following Jesus, we will have to wait.

This is why the Advent season is necessary for the shaping of our lives.

Each of the seasons of the Liturgical Calendar leads us in paying particular attention to Christian themes and practices. Lent reminds us, among many things, to place God’s way—and not our appetites—as the guiding principle for our lives. Eastertide calls us to live a spirituality of feasting and joy anchored in Christ’s resurrection. Pentecost gives us a vision of life filled with God’s power because the Spirit has been poured out on us.

The Advent season is one in which God trains us in waiting.

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Wait Training

This training is oriented towards the formation of our lives because what God does in us as we wait is more important than what we are waiting for.

Many of the stories of scripture point to the excruciating pain and trouble experienced by the people of God because of their refusal to wait for God. This has been our story to this day.

For example, in Exodus 32 (the story of the golden calf), the Israelites, in a moment of anxiety, impulsively fashion an idol to provide security for themselves because Moses was nowhere to be found. This idol creation came days after God informed them that this kind of religious practice was off limits now that they were delivered from Pharaoh.

Anxiety will make us do irrational things.

Their waiting was difficult because they couldn’t see what God was up to. 

It’s hard for us to wait—and not just because we are impatient.

It’s hard to wait because we often don’t believe God is at work in our lives.

But Advent reminds us that God has come, is coming, and will come again. It’s the annual reminder that God is for creation and moves towards us.

Even so, it’s hard to wait. One of the primary reasons it’s hard to wait is because our understanding of waiting has been incomplete.

As a pastor, I’m frequently asked to help people understand what it means to wait on the Lord. In the next post I will share four elements that I have learned along the way about WAITING. 

Welcoming the Wilderness During Advent

The following excerpt is from “Advent is a Season of Longing,” written by Carolyn Arends and published in Christianity Today.

People are rarely neutral about the approach of Christmastime. Some of us reside at a North Pole of intense anticipation and excitement, while others of us hole up at a South Pole of irritation and dread.

If the latter is the case, it’s important to remember that Advent is a season all about longing and emptiness and waiting. It is a season set aside to help us realize that we need deliverance from our current condition.

Not coincidentally, two of this year’s Old Testament and the New Testament lectionary readings—Isaiah 40 and Mark 1—each begin in the same place. They are both set in the wilderness.

In Isaiah 40, the Israelites are at a South Pole of political exile and spiritual desolation. After chapter upon chapter of warnings and judgment, God begins to speak assurance through his prophet.

“Comfort, comfort my people,” he begins. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem” (v. 1). And then a voice cries, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (v. 3).

This metaphor of a kind of superhighway being made through the wilderness is a favorite theme of Isaiah’s. It asks the listener to picture the rough, nearly impassable terrain to the east of Jerusalem being smoothed out into a wide and welcoming path. To the Israelite ear, the voice of one calling to prepare the way in the wilderness means not only that they are going to get to go home, but also that the Lord himself is on his way.

And it’s not just Isaiah calling us to prepare a way. In the New Testament Advent reading, the opening verses of the Gospel of Mark include a direct quote from Isaiah 40. Mark tells us that now the “voice of one crying in the wilderness” is John the Baptist, who has arrived on the scene as a direct fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. And John’s sole focus is heralding the coming of the king—of Jesus—who is the direct fulfillment of every promise ever made to God’s people.

It’s important to note that John is not only a voice crying to the wilderness—he’s a voice crying in the wilderness, from the wilderness. He’s a desert dweller, and his ministry is unfolding in the barren places east of Jerusalem.

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So, why did John choose to live in the wilderness? You would think a young man with a spiritual pedigree would set up shop in the most influential synagogue around—or better yet, in the temple—and wait for the religious leaders to recognize his authority. But John chose instead to head for the hills. What did he know about the wilderness that we don’t?

Maybe John chose to live in the wilderness because he’d heard enough of the history of Israel to know that God specializes in bringing good things out of unpromising places.

After all, God had worked out salvation history through childless couples, feuding brothers, stuttering leaders, wayward kings, and, now, in Jesus, a young man of questionable paternity born and raised in a series of backwater towns. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” a potential disciple had incredulously asked when he heard where Jesus was from.

John knew that, yes, when God is involved, something good could come from even a town of questionable repute like Nazareth. And something good could come from the wilderness, too.

So, if you find yourself at a South Pole this Advent, consider the possibility that you are being offered the gifts of the wilderness. Advent is a time for waiting, and the wilderness is as good a place as any—maybe the best place of any—to wait. If you’re feeling a little empty, maybe that’s a good thing. After all, there is a voice crying in the wilderness, and he’s asking us to prepare him room.

–Carolyn Arends is director of education at the Renovaré Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation. She is also a recording artist, speaker, author, and college instructor.

We Saw the Rising Sun

By Hiram Vega

Of all the names of Jesus, one rarely mentioned is the Rising Sun, or the New Dawn.  The name evokes the image of the soft red light that comes before the sun.  It is the prelude to a new day. 

In Chapter 1 of his gospel, Dr. Luke tells us that God visited a priest called Zechariah, who lived in a town in the mountains of Judah.  His wife, Elizabeth, also belonged to the priestly family of Aaron.  Zechariah and Elizabeth were upright in the eyes of God and carefully obeyed the commandments and regulations of the Lord.  They did not have children because Elizabeth was barren.  Both of them were already very old.

Why did God choose a common priest, old and childless, to play a fundamental part in the work of salvation?  Maybe the answer is the one that the Apostle Paul wrote: He chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important (I Cor 1:28 GNT). God continues to call both young and old to speak on his behalf! Have you heard His call?

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God told an elderly couple without children that they would be parents of a prophet more important than any of the others. John the Baptist would prepare the way of the Lord.  The revelation was so great that Zechariah could not believe it, and as a result he was mute for a time.

I would like to say that I would have believed God in that moment, but the truth is that many times I believe my circumstances more than I believe God.  I believe my finances more than I believe God.  I believe my symptoms more than I believe God. I need a divine yank on the ear to clear my doubts away and strengthen my faith.

When Zechariah saw his newborn son, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and he prophesied (Luke 1:76-79):

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;

for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,

to give his people the knowledge of salvation

through the forgiveness of their sins,

because of the tender mercy of our God,

by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven.

Today the prophets of the Most High proclaim the same good news. These women and men, young people and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, bring the light of Christ to all those who are in darkness in every place, city and neighborhood.

How will you embrace the opportunities of this season to announce the New Dawn?

Face to Face with the Truth

By Hiram Vega

During his ministry on earth, Jesus impacted many lives.  One of them was the most powerful man present before his death: Pontius Pilate, representative of the Roman empire and governor of that region. Jesus was brought before Pilate by the religious authorities, to be judged by him, even though they had already determined the outcome of the trial. Pilate was a hardened ruler, accustomed to crushing rebellions in order to preserve his position and to maintain Roman rule. 

What, then, could be expected from Pilate agreeing to see Jesus? Most likely he would have considered his time too valuable to be spent judging a prisoner offering him little political capital, and he would quickly order him to be executed anyway. However, something remarkable took place: 

Pilate became so convinced of the innocence of Jesus that he declared him not guilty on three different occasions.

On the first occasion, “Pilate said to the chief priests, and to the people: I find no offense in this man” (Lk. 23:4).

On the second occasion, he said to them, “You brought me this man accused of inciting rebellion among the people, but it turns out that I have questioned him before you without finding him guilty of what you accuse him of” (Lk. 23:14-15).

And the third time, just before he was handed over to be crucified, he asked for water and washed his hands in front of the people. “‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. It is your responsibility!’” (Mt. 27:24).

He also tried to avoid condemning Jesus in different ways.

  • First, he sent him to Herod for him to be questioned (Lk. 23:5-12).
  • Second, he proposed to flog him instead of crucifying him (Lk. 23:16).
  • Then, in a third attempt to free Jesus, he appealed to the custom that during the Passover a prisoner would be released. It was to no avail since the crowd asked for Barabbas (Lk. 23:17-25).

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It is clear that Pilate knew that Jesus was not a normal prisoner, not even an ordinary person.

Pilate’s final words to Jesus come to us in the form of a question: “What is the truth?” Having asked that, he went out again to see the Jews. But he did not wait to hear the answer! 

Is it not incredible to be face to face with the truth and still not see it? The man who had the last chance to dialogue with the Truth, did not take time to hear Him. 

Today the same thing happens. Many people look forward to Holy Week with eagerness, not so much in order to experience the miracle celebrated during these days, but more so to escape the daily grind and take vacation. However, for each Pilate who chooses not to listen, there is another one who says yes. That is the Victory of the cross! 

Aware of this reality, let us not allow the disbelief or distraction of a few to deviate us from the mission.  Let us carry the message of truth to the multitudes who are longing to hear it and respond.

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Hiram Vega is a member of the Spanish Teaching and Preaching Team of Chase Oaks Church, Plano, TX.

Barabbas, the Son of the Father

By Hiram Vega

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the name Barabbas? You most likely remember a murderer who was released instead of crucified.  And you certainly remember that Jesus died in his place. This is very true.

After being arrested, Jesus faced several trials: one of them before King Herod, another one before the religious authorities, and also before the Roman authorities.

It is precisely in the trial before the Roman governor, Pilate, that the name of Barabbas appears. His name is mentioned in all four Gospels: Matthew 27:15-26; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:18-24; and John 18:40. And it is interesting to discover how the life of this dark character intersects with that of Jesus.

Jesus was standing before Pontius Pilate, who had already declared him innocent of anything worthy of death (Luke 23:15). Pilate knew that Jesus was being accused by the religious leaders because he was a threat to their power and privileges.  They felt that the crowds were siding with this new prophet. Pilate, strangely, sought a way to liberate Jesus and at the same time maintain the peace. Thus, he gave the crowd a choice: the release of Jesus or the release of Barabbas, a well-known rebel who had been imprisoned for insurrection and murder (Luke 23:19).

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The release of a Jewish prisoner was customary before the Feast of the Passover (Mark 15:6). The Roman governor would grant pardon to a criminal as an act of goodwill towards the Jews whom he ruled. The choice of Pilate before them could not have been clearer: a high-profile killer and inciter of violence who was unquestionably guilty, or a teacher and a miracle worker who was clearly innocent. The present crowd, spurred on by the religious leaders, chose Barabbas to be liberated.

Pilate did not expect this answer. He was looking to free the innocent. Even Pilate’s wife, intruding in a surprising way in an area that did not correspond to her, sent him a message: Do not have anything to do with this innocent man (Matthew 27:19). However, they did not know that the death of Jesus on the cross had already ben prophesied.

The appearance of Barabbas, which in Aramaic means the son of the Father, was to remind humanity that Jesus, the Son of God (the other son of the Father), had come to seek and save what had been lost – in this case you and me! – and He came to die on a cross to pay the price for our salvation and to reconcile us with the Father. What great news! However, today there are still millions of “Barabbases” who have not heard of the Son of the Father who came to die in their place. Today is the day to share this message with those who are far from the Father’s house.  Now is the moment we must show them that the price has already been paid and that it is time to go home.

Will you go? Will you tell them?

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Hiram Vega is a Member of the Spanish Teaching and Preaching Team of Chase Oaks Church, Plano, TX.