God (Re) Visits His People

As I was reading How God Became King by N.T. Wright this week, I was struck by the fact that the story of Jesus is the story of Israel’s God visiting His people. The truth is the story of Jesus can only be rightly understood in light of the story of Israel. Why? Simply put: the story of Israel finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The story of Jesus is really the story of Israel’s God re-visiting His people. During the exile, the presence of God had departed from the temple due to Israel’s idolatry and wickedness. The four hundred years between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament is known as the four hundred “silent” years because there was no prophet or divine revelation of any sort. During this time, history was unfolding of course, but God seemed distant.

Mark the evangelist intentionally begins his gospel account by reminding us of God’s promised visit as told through the prophets Malachi and Isaiah:

“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” (Malachi 3:1; ESV).

And in Isaiah we read:  “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God …” (40:3).

Time for a pop quiz. Who was going to visit the people of Israel according to both Isaiah and Malachi? Yes, that is right: God. God was going to re-visit His people! This is huge! This is how explosively encouraging the beginning of the gospel of Mark is. I can only imagine how encouraging this was for the Jewish people during Malachi and Mark’s time.

As I was reading Mark 11:15-19 this week, one phrase stood out to me:

15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city.

And he entered the temple. It hit me there and then: God was re-visiting His temple in the person of Jesus! God was re-visiting His people in the coming of Jesus in general, but here we see, God re-visiting His temple in particular. Malachi’s prophecy was being fulfilled before their very eyes.

Jesus had been preparing His disciples for the moment in which He would enter Jerusalem and all events associated with it would unfold as written in the Old Testament Scriptures.

The disciples were told that the Son of Man was going to suffer, die, and rise from the dead not once, not twice, but three times (read Mark chapters 8-10). In Mark 11:15-19, we see Jesus entering the temple for the first time in the gospel of Mark. The Lord was finally visiting His temple in the person of Jesus Christ, and unfortunately, they completely missed it.

Now, what does Jesus say and do inside the temple? Jesus entered the temple and began to cleanse it. Jesus was bringing God’s judgment to bear on the corruption of the temple. “Why judgment?” you may be wondering. This may seem strange at first, but here we have to go back to Malachi to get more insight. After sharing about God’s promise to re-visit His people, Malachi goes on to say:

“But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the  Lord” (3:2-3).

Here is the main point: God was, indeed, re-visiting His people in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This was both encouraging, but frightening as well. Why? God’s visitation meant that His life-giving presence was returning to His people alongside His purifying judgment to bring about restoration and renewal.

 

 

Following Jesus

The call to follow Jesus as Messiah is a not an easy one. It is a costly and challenging invitation. Why? The call to follow Jesus is a call to die to self and to take up one’s cross. Then, and only then, can one truly began to follow the Messiah. We would be wise to hear and heed the heart-cutting, soul-penetrating, life-giving words of the Messiah Himself:

“If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34b-35, HCSB).

The radical call to follow Jesus only makes sense in light of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. In other words, apart from the person and work of Jesus, the call to live a selfless and sacrificial life sounds a bit scandalous, counter-cultural, and altogether, impossible for one to live out in his or her own strength or wisdom.

It is important to note that Jesus’ call to follow Him comes right after Mark 8:27-30 and Mark 8:31-33—two important passages that share a light on the identity and mission of the Messiah.

In Mark 8:27-30, we see Jesus asking His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” (v. 27). After the disciples respond by stating the various opinions of the day, Jesus goes on to ask them directly, “who do you say that I am?” (emphasis added). Peter, standing up and speaking on behalf of the group, expressed the following: “You are the Messiah!” (v. 29). Peter got the right answer, but he—along with his fellow disciple buddies—misunderstood the Messiah’s God-given mission (at least during His first coming).

The predominant Jewish belief in regards to the Messiah was that he was to be a military/political leader, whose very coming meant the liberation from Roman oppression and the restoration of Israel’s kingdom.

But the Messiah had something else in mind. His primary purpose was not to bring about Rome’s demise, or the restoration of Israel’s earthly kingdom for that matter, but to bring about spiritual restoration. If this spiritual restoration was not going to come through military conquest, then how exactly was this going to be accomplished? The second passage will give us insight to this question.

In Mark 8:31-33, we read that Jesus began to teach His disciples the real purpose for His first coming. What was it? Mark puts it this way:

“Then He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, be killed, and rise after three days” (v. 31).

The Messiah was supposed to suffer and die? That cannot be right. This was God’s great plan? Yes, that is correct. Jesus taught His disciples that He must suffer and die at the hands of Israel’s religious leaders. This is what the disciples did not understand, let alone believe. The Old Testament alluded to the Messiah’s suffering (look at Isaiah 52 and 53, for example) but the majority of the people—including His disciples—was not able to discern what this meant.

Jesus is, as Peter exclaimed, the Messiah and His God-ordained task was to suffer and to die. But it did not stop right there. Jesus was going to rise from the dead on the third day. Jesus was going to conquer the grave through the resurrection. And this was the way in which He was going to bring about spiritual restoration to His people.

God, through the person and work of Jesus, was restoring people to a right relationship with Himself. And this was only made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Having said all of that, the call to follow Jesus, then, is a call to restoration; a call, indeed, to life—but life through the way of the cross. The call to follow Jesus is a call to be restored and to be part of the kingdom of God. For this, one must, as mentioned above, deny himself, take up one’s cross, and follow the Messiah.

But this is hard. We would be fooling ourselves if we say otherwise. It is our natural tendency to be self-centered. Jesus’ call to follow Him is a direct attack at our selfish nature. Jesus’ call to abandon our selfish way of living does not only sound outrageous and unappealing, but also foolish and out-of-this-world crazy, especially in today’s self-absorbed, self-obsessed society.

A call to die is not an easy pill to swallow. But following Jesus is also a glorious call. How? The fact that Jesus gives an open invitation to follow Him as Lord is an expression of God’s amazing grace. When was the last time you and I saw the call to die to self, take up our cross, and follow the Jewish Messiah as an expression of grace? But this is exactly what it is! The call to follow Jesus is an opportunity to experience the undeserved grace of Almighty God.

Many Christians today can testify that choosing to follow Jesus as Lord has been the most important decision they have ever made. The truth is one cannot be drawn—by the power of the Holy Spirit—to accept and follow the Messiah and not have his or her life radically transformed.

To follow the Messiah is—as challenging as it may sound and be—the single, most important, heart-changing, worldview-shaking, spiritually-satisfying, and life-transforming decision/commitment one can make in life.

The invitation is open. The call is challenging, yet glorious. Let’s follow Jesus as Messiah for the glory of God and for our joy. Amen.

Deeper

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” —A. W. Tozer

Knowing about God is one thing; knowing God personally is a whole different story. The bottom line is people need to know God in a personal and intimate way. Head-knowledge and the mere approval of biblical doctrine will not suffice it anymore. We need to encounter the living God in fresh and powerful new ways.

The truth of the matter is we are all desperate for more—more of something that can quench our spiritual thirst and satisfy our spiritual hunger. We need something that can blow our minds away, changes our hearts, and transform our lives forever.

Unfortunately, our Christian gatherings can sometimes be dry, shallow, and superficial. Something needs to change. Something needs to happen…and soon.

What is this something that must happen? It is a lot simpler than we think. The answer may (or may not) surprise you. What we desperately need is a double dose of, none other than, God Himself, and a more biblical view of who He truly is.

Programs, gatherings, and special activities (as good as they may be), will not ultimately fulfill us. We need to possess a richer, more profound understanding of who God is—His character, attributes, and dealings with humankind—all of which has its ultimate fulfillment and consummation in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

But it doesn’t stop right there. We must allow that knowledge of God to penetrate the inner, most personal chambers of our heart and soul and bring about real, positive change in our lives. This will not happen instantly or naturally, but prayerfully as we strive to live in submission to, and obedience of, the Holy Spirit.

The incredibly good news is more of Him is available! But in order for us to know and enjoy Him more, we need to dive in. We need to go deeper—deeper into the oasis of His grace, mercy, and infinite love.

Are you ready to go deeper?

For His glory,

Jonnathan Menendez

Filled with Gratitude

By the grace of God, I have been granted another year of life. Looking back, I consider my first eighteen years a “waste” mainly because I did not honor Christ as Lord.

The last five years have been challenging in so many ways, but the hand of God has never been more evident in my life.

About three years ago, I started doing something different on my birthday. Instead of celebrating me, I celebrated God by setting some time aside to give Him all the praise and worship that is due to His name!

On my birthday, I celebrate the gift of life and reflect on my God-given purpose. In a way, it’s a time to refocus mentally and recharge spiritually. I take some time off to be alone with the Lord, my loving Creator, and connect with Him through prayer and solitude.

Why do I do this? It is simple: to reflect on life and give thanks to God. It is kind of like a spiritual check-in with my heavenly Father.

Here am I Lord. Thank you for another year of life. I have tasted and seen your goodness. Thank you for everything. I renew my commitment to you. I dedicate this new year to you and put it in your hands. May your will be done in my life. Help me to number my days and live in light of eternity and serve you with excellence, integrity, and passion. May you be the center of it all this year. In Jesus name, amen.

You see, my life belongs to Jesus and Jesus alone. He graciously chose to create me and put me on this earth with a glorious purpose—to glorify Him and spread His fame across the nations. That mission is what keeps me going even through life’s most difficult circumstances.

Living for the glory of God—striving to pursue and honor and treasure and value and praise Him above all things—has become my heart’s desire and my ultimate aim in life.

Living for the glory of God has become, indeed, a motto I try to live by everyday. (If you know me, I hope that this stands out to you as one of my core values). I feel like it is part of my DNA or something. It is just the way I am wired—I was created by Him and for Him. And I have resolved to live for His glory.

As I look back, I am filled with gratitude for the love, mercy, grace, favor, and provision of the Lord these last few years. I am forever indebted to Him!

All that I am, and all that I have accomplished thus far in life would not be possible without the grace of God.

I am thankful for my family, in particular, my beloved parents and wonderful sisters. Thanks for putting up with me all these years. You are all a gift from God!

I am also thankful for all the friends, colleagues, classmates, teachers, pastors, leaders, mentors, co-workers, classmates, and middle school and high school students, that I have the great honor and privilege of knowing and serving.

There is no doubt that God has used each and every single one of you, in some way, to impact, influence, and/or shape me into the man that I am today.

Thank you all for the birthday wishes. I highly value and appreciate you all!

For His glory,

Jonnathan Menendez

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Encouraged, Challenged and Inspired

I just came back from a three-day, church-planting boot camp for Hispanic leaders in San Diego, CA, coordinated by the EFCA (Evangelical Free Church of America). I was really encouraged to see many Hispanic leaders, seasoned pastors, and future church-planters in one small place (literally) to share ideas, past experiences, and of course, practical tools for planting and developing effective and healthy local churches.

I was really honored to be present among such hard-working, Christ-loving leaders. I had the privilege of meeting (and sharing a place with some) pastors from other states who are doing great things for the glory of God and the well-being of their local congregations.

The highlight for me was that a lot of my desires and passions and dreams of pastoring/planting a church were, in some sense, confirmed and rekindled. My heart was moved and stirred by the necessity of planting new churches for the glory of God and the edification of people.

I been contemplating the idea of church planting ever since I felt called by God to serve in pastoral ministry. You may be asking yourself: “Why plant a church?” Good question! Church planting is, in my opinion, the primary way to reach a community with the gospel, make disciples, provide pastoral care and counseling, development and train leaders, and ultimately, expand the kingdom of God.

One of the few things that fill my heart with an inexpressible joy is when I see and/or hear stories about new churches being planted locally and abroad; how the gospel is being preached and people are being saved; and how the kingdom of God is expanding. I spend hours (no joke) reading blogs about church-planting stories and movements. (Who does that?!?)

Ever since I started serving in ministry, my love for God’s people has grown to the point that I cannot see myself doing anything else than using my God-given gifts to edify and bless others in the context of the local church.

Now, let me be honest: planting a church is one of the most challenging things ever! Don’t believe me? Just ask a church planter and his family how difficult it is to plant a church.

The trials, temptations, shortcomings, unmet expectations, lack of resources, weekly responsibilities, criticism, and discouragement, among other things, makes church planting an unappealing and daunting task.

Why in the world would I want to plant a church (in the near future)? To simply put it: I feel God is calling me to do just that—to plant a church—and I want to be obedient. When? Where? How? I honestly do not know.

In the meantime, I will continue to learn, grow, and serve God passionately and faithfully…and the rest is up to Him. After all, He was the one who changed my life and put those desires in my heart in the first place, so why wouldn’t He guide and direct my steps in order to fulfill that for which He has called me to?

I believe that God is in control and that He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,” (Eph. 3:21). Amen!

*Discuss: What is God calling you to do? And, how is He preparing you for that task? Share your comments below.*

It Is Hard to Share Our Faith

Yesterday I had another great conversation with a friend from school. My friend is not a follower of Jesus, but she is interested and curious enough to listen and have a conversation about God.

We became friends last fall, and since then, we have had several fruitful and enjoyable conversations about Jesus, life, faith, relationships, and the like.

It is always a joy for me to connect with others and hear their stories, passions and dreams. I find this fulfilling and energizing, especially when Jesus is the center of it all. I could spend hours and hours talking about Jesus, without realizing (and noticing) that time is passing by. (I mean, come on, time flies when you are having fun, right?).

Every morning (well, at least when I remember), I always like to pray for God to give me an opportunity to talk, pray, encourage, teach, disciple, motivate, and love others.

To this day, God has been faithful in answering that prayer. It always amazes me to see how God works in and through my life, for His glory and for the good of others.

As I was sitting in my car, writing and thanking God for a wonderful day at school, I asked myself the following question: Does my friend, Jessie (not her real name), know me more for what I am against rather than what I am for? It was something to think about.

What about you? Do others know you mostly for what you are against or for what you are for? When others hear your name, what do they think of? What do they say?

It is so tragic to hear that there is a lot of Christians who are known mostly for what they are against, and not for what they are for. This is a big turn off for the unbeliever and the skeptic.

There are so many people out there—neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family members—who are eager to hear more about Jesus, but because we are too busy proclaiming what we are against, they tend to walk away without having the opportunity to hear about the gospel.

This is due primarily because of the barriers that we sometimes create due to our lack of communication, patience, and if we are honest, love. Such walls prevent us from having gospel-centered conversations and fruitful dialogue, which is essential for building long-lasting, and intentional relationships.

As believers, we know God’s eternal and unchanging truth, and we are responsible to communicate it; but, we must communicate it in a loving and kindly way, not by forcing or imposing it on others against their will. We must imitate our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and be humble about it.

Speaking the truth and sharing the gospel with others is not easy. If I told you otherwise, I would be lying. There are times when my friend and I have our disagreements and points of tension.

Sometimes she does not accept or agree with what I say, but at the end, we walk away thanking each other for the chance to talk and converse and build a stronger friendship.

Next time we pray, let’s ask God to give us more opportunities to share the gospel. I believe there will be a time to unapologetically speak God’s truth, and there will also be a time to show others what we are for rather than what we are against.

Now, let me be clear. The problem is not speaking the truth, but when and how we go about it. We must be careful and wise enough to know when to speak and when to listen.

As believers, we are called to preach the gospel, both in word and in deed, just like Jesus did. Each opportunity is unique and there is not a “one size fits all” method of sharing the gospel.

How we go about sharing the gospel will vary depending on the situation we are involved in, and the people we are ministering to.

The message—the gospel of Jesus Christ—does not change, but our communication methods must adapt and adjust according to the need of the moment.

Sometimes, we are called to defend the truth against atheism, and at other times, we are called to preach the gospel by showing love and compassion. Both are necessary and important when it comes to reaching out to others.

It will take wisdom to know what to do in a given situation. When an opportunity arises, and God puts someone in your path, take full advantage of it and tell him or her all about Jesus and His unconditional, life-transforming love.

You can do it! I believe in you, and so does God!

Do you have any similar examples or stories about sharing the gospel with others? If so (and I know you do), please write a comment and share it with me below. I would love to hear all about it.

For His glory,

Jonnathan Menendez

Forgiveness

Forgiveness. What a hard thing to live out! The truth is we should forgive others, no matter who they are or what they have done. That is challenging. How can we forgive others when they use, abuse, disrespect, or mistreat us? You may be asking, “How can I forgive someone, when he or she hurts me emotionally and/or physically?”

If we are honest, forgiving others is a hard, and sometimes impossible, thing to do, especially in our own strength. I know that this will not be surprising at all, but here it goes. Are you ready? We all make mistakes! Yes, all of us. As in, every individual in the world. In other words, no one is perfect. We all mess up or blow it, one way or another.

But guess what? This is inevitable! You and I will continue to make mistakes in life because we are sinners and we live in a fallen world. That is just plain ol’ reality! I think that recognizing this and admitting our own sin is the very first step in growing and learning to forgive others.

So, since we live in a fallen and sinful world, where there is the possibility to get hurt by others, and others getting hurt by us (whether it is intentionally or unintentionally), the real question, I think, we should be asking is: how will we respond when others make mistakes or treat us in a negative way?

You and I can respond the usual (and common) way—by treating others harshly, acting out in revenge, calling them out, etc. But what good will that do? Absolutely nothing! It will just start a never-ending cycle of arguments and debates, mutual confrontation, and exchange of inappropriate, and sometimes, demeaning terms. Who wants to get caught up in that mess? Not me!

In such a case, no one wins! But there is hope because of Jesus! You and I can start living differently and make a difference, by treating others the way we would want them to treat us. This is called “The Golden Rule” for a reason—because it works!

Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12, NIV).

Do you want to be treated well? Do you want to be treated with respect, honor and dignity? (I hope you answer those questions with a big and loud, YES!) Well, do the same to others, but take the initiative and do it first. Do not wait for others to change. You and I are called to a new life in Christ first, and then we are called to live that new life with others.

To sum it up, forgiveness is hard and challenging but not impossible. God can (and will) give us the strength, courage and humility to love others and forgive them for their sin against us. If you are in Christ, you have been forgiven of your sins. Yes, that is right! You have been forgiven of your sins because of what Jesus has done on the cross. That my friend, is called grace!

If you and I have tasted the unconditional love of God, and have been forgiven much, doesn’t it make sense to do the same to others—to love and forgive them for their sin, no matter who they are or what they have done? (Yes, I just repeated what I said at the beginning, so what?).

The Apostle Paul stated, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).

If we practice forgiveness, others will be dramatically impacted by our testimony and willingness to do such a thing. They will come to the realization that our ability to forgive is initiated by God, inspired by the Spirit, and fueled by the love of Jesus. And for that we praise and worship the King!

For His glory,

Jonnathan Menendez

**P.S. Feel free to leave a comment or prayer request below.**

Some Thoughts on Appearance

I was reading Scripture the other day and came upon a passage that struck me as fascinating. The passage, when originally written, was specifically for the ladies, but the principle applies to men as well.

“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:3-4, ESV).

An observation I made was that the problem is not the act of adorning, but how you go about it, or better said, what type of adorning you will primarily focus on.

In this passage, the apostle Peter seems to emphasize the importance of the inner person. In today’s culture, people praise and admire external and superficial appearance. Why? Well, for starters, all we see and hear through the media is culture’s unbiblical perspective of beauty.

We are constantly being bombarded with an unhealthy view and definition of beauty (just look at Hollywood). Believe it or not, we are heavily influenced by such a view to the point that we judge ourselves and others based on that standard.

In a culture that values superficial appearance, one has to ask, “Where are those who are known for their inner person and good character and moral values?” “Where are those who strive to be godly and pure and modest?”

True beauty comes from within a person and it flows outward. Now, do not misunderstand me, there is nothing wrong with adorning ourselves. (I think that God is pleased when we look and feel good about our appearance. Wouldn’t you agree?) But the problem is that sometimes we make our appearance our number one priority and focus, to the extent of neglecting our own personal character development (and worst, we forget about God).

True beauty begins and ends with God. Let me explain what I mean. You and I were created in the image of God and that is not just an old, outdated Bible fact, but a relevant one that has many implications for our daily lives.That means that you and I do not have to look a certain way to have value and meaning because we already have it in Jesus Christ. That’s revolutionary!

You and I are beautiful in God’s eyes. Now, let me be honest, it is so hard to accept that truth sometimes because we have the tendency to base our worth and value on performance alone.

To sum things up, our definition of beauty should come from God, and our perception of beauty should be grounded and firmly rooted in our identity in Christ (read Eph. 1:3-14) and not in our external appearance.

What a difference it will make when you and I accept the truth of God’s Word—that we are beautifully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)—and live in light of that reality!

Evento: ¿Donde Esta El Amor?

¡Hola a todos!

Desde hace un ańo atrás, Dios me ha dado el honor y privilegio de formar parte de—Eastern Sky Theatre Company—un gran ministerio que esta predicando el evangelio de Jesús a través de la musica, drama y el teatro. Este ministerio esta impactando todo el Sur de California con un mensaje de amor, fe y esperanza.

Quiero tomar este momento para darles una cordial invitación para que nos acompañen a nuestro proximo drama en Español, que mi hermana y yo tenemos el honor de participar en.

Informacion acerda del evento:

  • Drama: ¿Donde Esta El Amor?
  • Fecha: Doming Marzo 10, a las 12:30 pm
  • Lugar: Iglesia Cristiana Puente de Vida
  • Dirreccion: 18644 W. Sherman Way, Reseda, California 91335
  • Telefono: 818-776-1500

El drama es evangelistico, por esa razón les animo que inviten a personas que no conocen al Senor—familiares, vecinos y amigos—para que vengan y escuchen el mensaje de salvación.

¡Le entrada es completamente gratis, así que no tienen excusa para no venir! Si tienen alguna pregunta o comentario, por favor haganmelo saber. ¡Gracias!

Para Su gloria,

Jonnathan Menendez