Happy Thanksgiving!

Rosenbl‰tter in Schale r‰uchern

“O Lord, I call to you; come quickly to me. Hear my voice when I call to you. May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” Psalm 141: 1-2

One way that I know I am moving closer to God and an intimate relationship with Him is the presence of an ever-increasing sense of gratitude in my life.

We know that we are being wooed and won over to the heart of God when we experience a deep sense of thankfulness for all the benefits and blessings in our lives, despite the fact that we live in a fallen world, burdened with hurt and disappointment, and populated by fallen, flawed people (including myself!).

The Psalmist describes the act of calling upon the Lord, of praying to Him, as incense. Revelation 5:8 describes the “prayers of the saints” as “golden bowls full of incense.”

Incense is a pungent and overpowering scent, searing your sense of smell and invading your sense of taste. The aroma of incense is meant to bring beauty and awareness to the atmosphere. Our prayers to God bring Him great pleasure and fill the heavens with a powerful sense of beauty.

“May the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice,” wrote the psalmist, David. Lifting our hands before the Lord is the sweet release of surrender. All of us wrestle with the weight and worries of cares and burdens and anxieties—until we realize we are carrying a burden we are not meant to bear.

If we “cast our cares upon Him,” and release those worries, we can transfer the weight and responsibility of fixing them by ourselves to the place they belong. From our shoulders, to the broad shoulders of our Savior and God. Oh what burdens are lifted, stress relieved, and hearts lightened when we learn to give our cares to the Lord. For that, we can give thanks and praise Him!

Whatever your interpretation of America’s history, remember, there was a moment in time,when warring factors, when men and women of different persuasions, when Native Americans and pilgrims, both struggling to survive in this land, found moments of camaraderie, of desiring to live together in peace. There was a moment when we declared, it is time to give thanks. When it is time to send prayers like incense to the heavens, and thank God who loves us, for all our blessings.

 

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Grace Expanded

 

THE-GOOD-WHO-STOOPS2There is more to grace than I ever imagined.

We sing of amazing grace with hope and longing. Grace is a word that inspires and encourages people of all faiths and walks of life.

Theologically, grace is defined as “unmerited favor.” A good, sound concept.

But there is something more tangible about grace. Something we can picture in our minds.

“Show me your glory!” Moses asked God. He had such a close, intimate relationship with the Almighty that Moses could speak directly to Him as a friend and ask for favors.

God responded, “I will make all My goodness pass before you…I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (Exodus 33:19).

The Lord was willing to impart grace to Moses. Grace, as I discovered by studying the original Hebrew language, is even more than a favor granted in spite of our failings.

When God explained that He will be gracious (to whomever He chooses, even if it doesn’t make sense to us), He used the word chanan, which adds a new layer to our understanding. Chanan means to show favor, mercy, “to bend or stoop in kindness.” God is not only granting favor and mercy, but the word picture is of Him bending down to us in kindness, like a father getting down on his knees to embrace his child.

There’s even more to this picture. The root word of chanan means to pitch a tent; to encamp, abide camp, dwell, rest in a tent.

This kind of grace is more than an almighty God granting favor. He wants to dwell with us, to “camp out” with us! The God who is so very beyond us, not of this world, desires for His glory to abide with us and in us. In an act of great love, He bends, stoops down from the heavens in a wonderful gesture of revelation.

Remember Jacob, who lied to his father, Isaac, and cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright? Conniving Jacob.  One day, running away from Esau, he camped in the wilderness, alone and vulnerable. God did not use this opportunity to punish Jacob. Instead, He blessed him through a dream in which He said, “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants” (Genesis 28:13).

jacobJacob woke up and exclaimed, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” Jacob had no clue, was not even expecting to hear from the Lord. But grace. Grace changed everything. Even Jacob’s character.

He took a stone, poured oil over it, and named the place Bethel, the house of God, a holy place where God dwelt. He made a promise that “the Lord shall be my God.”

God will be gracious to whomever He chooses. He will come and live with, dwell with, campout out with whoever He chooses, even when it makes no sense to anyone else. Even if it doesn’t meet our standard of approval.

The Almighty Lord desires to dwell with us. Not just rule over us. Certainly not to start a religion. But to love us and live with us in a tangible, real way. To show us the way, the truth, and the life.

The ultimate experience of God bending down, stooping down to the ground to come into our lives and literally “pitch His tent” and dwell among us, is the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus is the living tent of God who came down from heaven. When we receive Him into our hearts, the Holy Spirit of God abides in us.

Jesus bent down from heaven to lay down His life and to show us eternal life in human form, in the flesh. He came to redeem us and to join us in the trials of life. “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap” (Psalm 113: 7).  He comes down to our level.

And He will be gracious, even unto us. That’s grace.

*Strong’s Concordance reference H2603 and H2583.

 

 

 

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Getting Ready to Celebrate the Resurrection

The Resurrection“What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These perishable bodies of ours are not able to live forever. But let me tell you a wonderful secret God has revealed to us. Not all of us will die, but we will all be transformed.” (NLT) – 1 Corinthians 15:50-51This life is  a short journey, merely preparing the way for something greater. If we could just get that idea into our hearts and minds our perspectives will dramatically change

When Paul got it, a great mystery had been solved.

The meaning of the Resurrection hit him. Flesh and blood cannot inherit a spiritual kingdom. We can’t move into a perfect realm in our current state of being. Our perishable, corruptible bodies have to move into an imperishable, incorruptible state. Our mortal lives have to be transformed into immortality.

That’s when Paul said (and you can almost hear the excitement in his voice), “Death shall be swallowed up in victory!” He went on to cry exultantly, “Death, where is your sting? Where is your victory?”

The purpose for Jesus’ death was clear now!

Paul understood. 

He couldn’t wait to tell others. 

It really is good news!

For me, after the loss of people I love, this was a wonderful revelation. When I, like Paul, finally grasped the power of the Resurrection, life took on new meaning.

I don’t know if anyone has ever described the transition from this life to the next better than C.S. Lewis in the closing paragraphs of the Chronicles of Narnia.

Aslan the lion, who symbolizes Jesus, has just told the children in the story that they have been in a railway accident. “You father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadow-Lands—dead…the dream has ended; this is morning.”

Lewis continues, “For them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world…had only been the cover and title page; now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Jesus taught us, “I am the way, the truth and the light.” He also said, “I am the light of the world.”

He is the way—the only way—to heaven. He is the truth that exposed death as a powerless, defeated enemy. He is the light that can push away he clouds. In Him we can be free of fear. In Him we can find the peace that passes understanding. In Him we can truly live.

[Photo: Joel Milhouse, CreationSwap]

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How to Be Free of Bitterness and Unforgiveness

 

Fast40Cover2Week Three of the Forty-Day Fast

Do you long to be free of the anxieties and fears that hinder your life and keep you bound up?

Nothing holds us back like anxiety and fear and the lies we believe that perpetuate these negative emotions. And nothing nurtures fear and anxiety like strongholds that root themselves deep down inside our hearts and souls and chain us to their harmful lies.

Maranatha Chapel is in week three of our Forty-Day Fast (which you can read about here and here).

One of the goals of prayer and fasting is to release the strongholds in our lives.

When a pastor says something like that—it’s time to release strongholds—people often start taking inventory of the faults in their lives, listing the dos and don’ts and their many perceived failures, coming up pretty short of abundant life. That can be defeating and discouraging.

I believe the biggest strongholds in our lives are rooted, not in our actions, but in unforgiveness and bitterness.

When we are bound up by a lack of forgiveness and the bitterness that follows, we are burdened by all kinds of mental, emotional, and physical stress. Freedom and joy are trampled upon, shoved into a hopeful, someday closet of our lives that we are afraid to open. Our destructive emotions and actions are usually rooted in deep wounds and painful memories that become what the Bible calls a “root of bitterness” (Hebrews 12:15).

Asking God to reveal areas of pain and bitterness is not always about confronting people. That typically just doesn’t work. Even if we have to do it without facing the person who caused the pain, we need to release forgiveness and allow the bitterness to be rooted out (sometimes you need a counselor or prayer partners to help you with this).

Jesus set the example when He forgave those who hurt Him while He was being crucified! No one was repenting as He cried out, ”Father forgive them!”

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, one of the most powerful statements He made was, “Deliver us from evil” (Luke 11:4).

A Current that Flows Through Us

I looked up “deliver” in Strong’s Concordance Hebrew and Greek dictionary and found the original word for deliver is roumai (Strong’s 4506), defined as, “through the idea of a current.” The root word, rew, means, “to flow” (ref. 4482).

Evil is like a current flowing through our lives, strangling us with bitterness. It’s like being tasered — jolted by a lie, burned by a lie, then wounded too much to let it go.

Being delivered from evil is to break the current of evil in our lives to allow the Holy Spirit to flow. You can begin to stop the evil current by recognizing it for the lie that it is and then rejecting it.

Prayer and fasting activate our longing to be free and help us let go of unforgiveness and bitterness. Then the Holy Spirit will flow into our lives like currents of living water, freeing us to love, to forgive, to hear God’s voice, to see His visions, to know His voice with clarity.

living watersWe can experience what Jesus described when He stood up on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles and said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

I pray that as we continue our 40-Day Fast, you will experience healing and freedom and see God’s glory manifested!

 

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How We Are Healed

Fast40Cover2

But He was wounded for our transgressions,

He was bruised for our iniquities;

The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,

And by His stripes we are healed. — Isaiah 53:5  

As we continue our 40-Day Fast, I want to encourage you with a promise of healing. (You can scroll down and read about the 40-Day Fast below if you haven’t already). 

“By His stripes we are healed,” the prophet wrote. By the stripes that He bore from a severe flogging, we are healed. By the pain He suffered on the Cross, we are healed. Other translations say, “By His wounds we are healed” or “He was whipped so we could be healed.” The stripes on His body were the rows of deep wounds inflicted by a scourging with iron-tipped leather whips.

But there is more to understand. Another level and meaning.

In a study of the original language, I discovered that the word for “stripes” in Hebrew is chaburah, meaning “a black and blue mark, bruise, hurt, stripe, wound” (Strong’s Concordance, ref. 2250, Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary). However, chaburah comes from a root word, chabar, which has among its meanings, “to unite, to join, to be compact…to have fellowship with” (Strong’s, ref. 2266). In modern Hebrew, it is translated as “friend.”

We are healed by His wounds, but we are also healed by our fellowship with Him. As we draw close to Him, we can experience His compassion and His power to heal. “No longer do I call you servants,” He said to His followers, “for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).

Our intimate friendship with Jesus is healing, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Be encouraged as we continue to fast and seek God’s glory. He will draw us closer to Him as we open our hearts and surrender our lives, and I know we will see His glory and experience His healing power in all aspects of our lives.

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