Advent – A Time Of Answered Prayers

An angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. The angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” – Luke 1:11-17

What prayer weighs on your heart? What desperate plea fills your waking thoughts and leaves you with disturbing dreams? “Do not be afraid. . .” the angel says. But commanding fear to flee does not seem to help. Are you willing to consecrate this prayer to God? To give it over to him to do as he wishes? Would your plea be so bold if you knew it would break your heart?

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” – Luke 1:35

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. – Luke 1:41

There it is, the joy of answered prayer. Your heart leaps at the thought that at last, the thing you so desperately seek is near. Only now there is a new nagging, an uneasiness that cannot be explained except by seeking after God. And as you draw nearer to him, there is a growing sense this gift will demand all of you.

Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied. – Luke 1:67

You cannot help yourself. You must tell of what God has done for you. But in doing so your neighbors call you ignorant, uneducated, simple-minded. Smart people know better than to believe in God. Only a fool dares to claim that God speaks to people. And to admit you are possessed by a spirit? There are institutions for those who hear voices.

The child John grew and became strong in spirit, and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel. – Luke 1:80

Inspired, galvanized, fanatical . . . and now confined to a desert wilderness. What leader builds a following while isolated from society’s influencers, kingmakers, and power brokers? Only an individual following the voice of one.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:13-14

Peace and the favor of God. Oh, if only you would bless me in this way, Lord. I so desperately need your strong hand of favor, your peace that passes understanding.

There was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. – Luke 2:25-27 

Moved by the Spirit, cloaked with its power, we catch a glimpse of what’s to come.  Not all, but enough to confirm that if we hold firm, we will see God’s glory.

Simeon took [the child] in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:  a light for revelation to the Gentilesand the glory of your people Israel.” – Luke 2:28-32

Now we understand that our prayer is not for us alone, not for merely our family, our people, but a blessing for those we may never see.

Then Simeon blessed the child’s parents and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. – Luke 2:34-35

Our prayer began in our hearts. Now as if a mirror, it reveals the hearts of others. Will they see God’s glory in this thing we consecrate to God?

When his parents saw him [in the temple], they were astonished. “Why were you searching for me?” Jesus asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house? – Luke 2:48-49

Home. We miss it. We wish to return. And yet we cannot remember our home. We only know this life is not our final resting place. We came from more. We will return to more. Until then, we sometimes find community, encouragement, and the strength among God’s people while we serve and love others in this foreign land.

Advent – A Time of Signs, Dreams, Visions. . . Miracles Are Coming

Today’s Christian seldom expects miracles. Oh sure, during Advent we recount the birth of Christ, tell its story, read of how God intervened in human history, but few of us act as if we believe the foolish tales of wise men watching, shepherds praising, and heavenly angels singing. The idea that God’s Holy Spirit would come upon a virgin and inseminate her with his son are at odds with our sense of what we know of science and the realities of nature.

Advent. . . a time of signs, dreams, visions, and the miraculous is best left on the pages of a Christmas book we dust off each year to remind ourselves that once upon a time we believed – or said we did. But what if the wise men, shepherds, a poor priest, and the young couple were telling the truth?

During the time of King Herod, Magi (wise men) from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1

A star. One among hundreds in the sky. Why this star? Why now? How did these wise men, these expert astrologers, know this star was for the one who had been born king of the Jews? And why had they left their homes in Mesopotamia to travel for a month or more in order to find this one whose star settled over Jerusalem? Would we? On a Sunday morning after a week of work, we can barely find the energy to drive to church.  And yet. . .  these wise men risked being robbed, killed by wild beasts, and slept under a frigid night sky in order to see if what they sought and saw was in fact God’s miraculous intervention into the lives of men.

Are we waiting for a sign from God? Are we watching? Or are we so settled in our comfortable lives that we no longer look up with expectation? Are we so wise in our own ways that we no longer expect God to intervene in our sickness, finances, families? One star among hundreds. . . but this one is different. And only a few recognize its significance.

Dreamer of dreams. . .

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. That dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 13:1-4 

Death. That is the end of dreamers and prophets and priests who lead others astray. And yet this man Joseph, a man of little significance, is willing to risk his reputation, and possibly his life, in order to lead others to an encounter with God.

What are we willing to risk? Our reputation? Certainly not. Who among us will say with boldness to a stranger that we hear God in our dreams, in our prayers? Better to let those whom we encounter remain lost in darkness than admit that we hear voices.

After Joseph had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 1:20 

The punishment for adultery is death. . .  and yet Mary was pregnant. Not by Joseph, that much he knew. But by who? God’s Holy Spirit? Who would believe such nonsense? Would we? If so, based on what evidence? An angel in a dream? Is that how the miraculous comes, how faith begins? By rejecting death and grasping for life?

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” Matthew 2:13

A nighttime departure. No time to pack. No time for goodbyes.  Jolted awake from a dream so disturbing that it leaves him shaken with fear, Joseph finds himself visited once more by the God of dreams. His life and that of his wife and son are in danger. The king, the one with legions of Roman soldiers at his disposal, has placed a bounty on Joseph’s head and that of his family.

Suddenly awake, would we turn over, think about what our mind’s eye saw, our mind’s ear heard, and conclude it was all too much to believe? Has God warned us of what’s to come? Do we have a sense of uneasiness regarding someone we love? Do we respond with action? Or do we conclude that God no longer speaks to his people through dreams? Not like before, not like in the old days before we knew better than to believe in such fables?

And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, the wise men returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:12

Another way. Not the well traveled path of before. Not with the easy route. No, this time our journey will be different. Harder. Perhaps more painful. For our safety and the safety of others, we must go a different way. And yet. . . here we are still wishing we could take the familiar route. There is comfort on the old road. There are places of rest along the old way. Acquaintances welcome us. But we have been warned. For the sake of others we can not go back by the way of old. Before us lies a vast landscape filled with dangers we’ve yet to face. So in darkness, alone, scared of what we will find as we travel through this land of death, we follow God’s whisper and take the narrow road.

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. Matthew 2:19

We can go home, now. The threat is gone. But we’re not so sure home is where we wish to be. We have made a place for ourselves in this foreign land. We know it is not our home, but it is safe. Who knows what this next journey will bring. In fear we arrived; in fear we return, for we are fearfully made. Fear is our default state of mind. We worry about what is ahead, if we can endure the journey. Though we knew this call would come, we are not ready. And yet. . .  we gather our loved ones around us and announce: “It’s time to go. Home awaits.” But will home look anything like what we remembered?

When Joseph heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee. – Matthew 2:22

Now every small detail matters. One wrong step and we could lose our life, our soul. No longer is it enough to believe in a vague God. Now we must know him so well that his every whisper reaches our ears. We now see it is not the destination that matters, but our walk, our way of listening and responding to the giver of dreams.

When Zechariah came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple. Luke 1:22

No more dreams. Now visions interrupt our reality. We can discount dreams. Dreams come to all who sleep. Why should our dreams be more significant than those of my neighbor?

But visions? To be suddenly blinded by the light of an angel speaking to us? Hallucinations happen to the heavily medicated. And yet I am sober. This can’t be. . . and yet it is. What of those other visions we saw? We had thought them only our wishful thinking. Now we see that all along those visions were from God.

In these last days he has spoken to us in such a way that we can no longer deny the truth: God is coming. He wants us to proclaim his arrival. And if we doubt, if we question the authenticity of his voice, silence may be our final word.

 

Advent – Benefits of Life Through the Holy Spirit

Romans 8

Now that the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you are in Christ and Christ is in you. You, God, Christ, and His Spirit are one.

But of what benefit is this new union? Let’s explore how this new birth will change you.

  • First you are no longer under condemnation. Romans 8:1
  • You are set free from the law of sin and death. Which is to say, sin no longer rules over you. Romans 8:2
  • You now meet all the righteous requirements of the law through your union with Christ. Romans 8:4
  • Your mind is now set on what the Spirit desires, not on the sinful desires of the flesh. Romans 8:5
  • You have peace of mind through the controlling nature of Christ’s Spirit. Romans 8:6
  • You please God and now willingly submit to His law, not to be saved, but as an act of love. Romans 8:7
  • In all things you are controlled by the Spirit of God. Romans 8:9
  • You belong to Christ. Romans 8:9
  • Christ is in you. Romans 8:10
  • The Spirit of Christ has given new life to your mortal body. Romans 8:11
  • Your earthly body will be redeemed. Romans 8:23
  • You are now obligated to live by the Spirit and produce its fruit. Romans 8:12-13
  • You are led by the Spirit. Romans 8:14
  • You are free from the spirit of fear. Romans 8:15
  • You are now a son or daughter of God. Romans 8:14 (Before you were God’s enemy.)
  • You received a Spirit of sonship. Romans 8:15
  • The Spirit of Christ testifies before God that you are His child. Romans 8:16
  • You are an heir of God and co-heir with Christ. Romans 8::17 This means you now share in all the benefits due a child of God.
  • You share in the sufferings of Christ. Romans 8:17 This may not sound like a great benefit, but when you recognize that those who persecute you do so because you are in Christ, you will enjoy a sense of honor in knowing you are worthy to be counted with Christ. Romans 8:17
  • Through your suffering in Christ you will also share in his glory. Romans 8:17
  • You enjoy a hope others lack. A hope that saves. A hope that endures patiently, expectantly. Romans 8:24-25
  • The Spirit of Christ prays for you. His Spirit knows what to pray on your behalf and intercedes for you. Even if all you can do is groan, if words fail you, Christ searches your heart. He knows the mind of the Spirit. You no longer need to wonder how to pray. The guesswork is gone. Even if you pray incorrectly, the Holy Spirit intercedes for you, correcting your requests. These prayers will align with the will of God. Romans 8:26-27
  • When God calls you to a task, whatever you do, however you do it, regardless of the circumstances or perceived outcome, God will work it out for the good. Not necessarily for your good, but at least your efforts won’t be wasted. Romans 8:28
  • You will be conformed into the likeness of Christ. If you like how Jesus behaved, cared for others, listened before speaking, never seemed to be in a panic or hurry. . .  You’ll like the way He fits on you. Romans 8:29
  • You will possess: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23
  • All your sins will be rinsed and removed. Not once, but each time you go through the wash cycle.
  • As a result, you will be glorified. Romans 8:30
  • God will have your back. He will be in your corner. Romans 8:31
  • No charge lodged against you will stick. Though others will slander you, God will eventually clear your name. Romans 8:33
  • God is your justice. Romans 8:33
  • Not only is the Holy Spirit tweaking your prayers so they align with God’s will, but God himself is praying for you. Romans 8:34
  • You will remain fixed in the love of Christ. Romans 8:35
  • No amount of trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, danger, violent threats, or poverty will take you from the arms of Christ. Romans 8:35
  • You not only win your battles, but you are the champion of champions. Romans 8:37
  • No power, neither death nor life, angels or demons, your past, present or future, your deepest valley (depression) or highest mountain top experience (ecstasy) can take you from the love of God. During any and all of this you will remain in Christ and he will remain in you. Romans 8:38-39
  • You will know the thoughts of God. The Holy Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 1 Corinthians 2:10-11
  • You will receive wisdom and revelation, so that you may know God and his Word better. Ephesians 1:17
  • When you read God’s Word, your heart will be warmed. Luke 24:32
  • When you read God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will explain what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Christ. Luke 24:27 This is as it should be. The author of the text always has a greater understanding of its meaning than the reader. When you read Scripture with the Holy Spirit as your guide, the Author is revealing His deep truths to you. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God (His Word), for they are folly to him. He is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14 All Scripture is God-breathed (God’s Spirit). 2 Timothy 3:16 
  • You will know the hope to which you have been called. Ephesians 1:18
  • The eyes of your heart will be informed. Ephesians 1:18
  • You will have power. Acts 1:8
  • The Spirit of Truth will guide you into all truth John 16:13 Christ says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” John 14:6 His Spirit will guide you in His Truth. “You will know the truth (Christ), and the truth will set you free (of sin).” John 8:32 & John 8:34-36
  • Your inheritance is guaranteed. When you believed, you were marked in Christ with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13
  • You will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry (loving anything more than God) and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies. Galatians 5:19-20 The transformative process of the Spirit may take time — maybe a lifetime. But in the same way a child grows from infant to toddler to child to young adult to maturity, you should over time, see these changes take place.

A Barna survey in 2009 showed that only 25% of professing Christians were certain the Holy Spirit is real and dwells within those in Christ. This lines up with Jesus’ parable of the sower where only 25% receive the seed and produce a good crop. Clearly, it’s hard to grow fruit when you are not connected to the vine. Those in Christ and who have Christ in them “now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root.” Romans 11:17 We should not boast in this. It is not our doing. We do not support the root, but the root supports us. Romans 11:18

If you wish to enjoy all the benefits of being in Christ and having Christ in you — in having the mind of God, character of Christ, and clear insight into God’s words and meaning — then ask Christ to come into you so that you may also be in Him. Become one of the 25% who produce a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Be like Christ. With His Spirit, you can!