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It’s Holy Ground

  God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:8

God was angry with Moses. ‘Your brother, Aaron the Levite, can speak well. He is on his way to meet you. He will be your spokesman. Take your staff in your hand so you will be able to perform miracles.’ – Slide 20 Moses had just met God through the experience of a burning bush when God spoke these words to him. The details of this experience were unique. However, spiritual experience is a universal human phenomenon.*

It can produce fear, confusion, questions, peace, direction, joy and almost any other imaginable reaction positive or negative. It is often sought and sometimes intentionally evaded or avoided. It can be misunderstood and misused. It can be divine or demonic, even satanic. We have it on no less authority than Jesus.

For the Christian, spiritual experience is the life blood of a relationship with God and God’s son, Jesus.

One of the common results of an experience of God is how often it is connected to a place. There have always been places identified as sacred—places where God has shown himself or often shows himself. Chances are you have a specific time or place where you experienced God’s presence. However sometimes it is possible to be so tied to a certain place or experience that we become closed to God’s fresh presence.

And we need that fresh, that new encounter with God. It is a place where God is welcomed, expected, believed and honored. That place can be here. It can even be now, this moment. We can allow God to produce a climate an atmosphere here in Messiah Church where God is given the freedom to renew us all so that He can accomplish His purpose here. God is not confined to one place but fills with his love, wonder, and power wherever people desire Him more than all else. Will that be here? I pray it will.

One of the best places to experience God is in the presence of other followers of Jesus in a small group setting. Check out a small group at Messiah or a church near you.

*Picture from freebibleimages.org

This article also appears in the February Messiah Newsletter.

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It’s a Covenant

“I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” -Hebrews 8:10b (NIV)

For more than 200 years many Christians have begun a new year with a worship time called a “Watch Night Service.” Influenced by a Moravian practice, in 1740 John Wesley held the first Watch Night Service. It was a time of reflection, testimonies, singing, and prayer. Later Wesley would call them “Covenant Renewal Services.”

In the book of Hebrews, the writer places this statement in the context of God’s dealing with His people in the Old Testament: “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Hebrews 8:10)

Few concepts or terms are more basic to the Bible story than that of covenant.  It is not a concept unfamiliar to us either, though the term may not be as common as some others—contract, agreement, deal.  God’s relation to His people (from the Biblical perspective) is a covenant relationship.  It is about a relationship governed by promises, obligations.  God is the initiator and prime determiner but His people have a part to play.

The blessings of the covenant are more than part of a ceremony. They become reality in the life of His people.

The Bible makes clear that at the heart of the covenant is God’s love. You are important to God, more important than the whole world.  And that applies not just to the saints.  Whoever you are, whatever your past or present state, even your future, God loves you.

The Old Testament story shows a people who are hard-headed, unfaithful, ungrateful, unloving, and untrustworthy who repeatedly break their promises to God and break His heart.  The book of Hosea compared them to an unfaithful wife, an adulteress.  His book is 14 chapters of sins and shameful behavior.  In dramatic fashion, God compares his love to that of a husband to an unfaithful wife:

The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” (Hosea 3:1 NIV)

What does God say about all that?  I love you.  I have chosen you. God’s love (graciousness) is prior to everything else—our sins, our faith, our righteousness and it lasts beyond all else, in spite of all else. Even if we have been a total disaster as a person, a church; no matter how long the list of charges against us might be; how far we have left God, He is pursuing us like the “hound of heaven.”  Should we ultimately make our bed in hell, it will be over the broken pieces of God’s heart for He will still love us.

In 2017, can we assume our part of the covenant and love God back with all our heart, soul, and mind? It is my prayer for you and for myself.

 

Thanks Giving-Why?

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth… Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. -Psalms 100:1a, 4 (NIV)

A few years ago, I wrote a post (Thanks Giving Is What We Do) that was a reminder of the main reason we are to give thanks. It is the most basic Christian action.  Failure to give thanks is the basic charge against the “ungodly” and “wicked in the Bible.

But there is another reason for giving thanks. Giving thanks changes us.

It brings us joy. Grateful people get more out of life.  In a best selling book, “Thanks! How The New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier,” author and researcher Dr. Robert Emmons argues that what gives life meaning is gratitude.

Emmons, a University of California, Davis professor, backs up his claim with eight years of intensive research on gratitude…. [He] found that people who view life as a gift and consciously acquire an “attitude of gratitude” will experience multiple advantages. Gratitude improves emotional and physical health, and it can strengthen relationships and communities. “Without gratitude, life can be lonely, depressing and impoverished,” said Emmons. “Gratitude enriches human life. It elevates, energizes, inspires and transforms. People are moved, opened and humbled through expressions of gratitude.” (www.gratitudepower.net/science)

In the Biblical record thanks giving is joy. Grace, gratitude, and joy come from the same basic Greek word. Someone has said, “Joy is what you feel when you’re grateful….[It] is the subjective experience of gratitude.” Many lack joy because they are not grateful.

As I emphasized in that earlier post that it is not just about feeling grateful but actively “giving,” expressing thanks, verbally or by deeds motivated by gratitude. In fact expressing thanks makes us grateful. Actions often precede attitudes and feelings.

Of course for those who follow Jesus, the recipient of thanks is God. Words closely connected to it are praise and magnify. Some time ago I read this:

If you were to look at the words on this page through a magnifying glass, it would not change their size, shape, or meaning in any way. All that would change would be your perception, and the words would appear larger and clearer.  So it is when you praise or magnify God. He isn’t changed, but your perception of Him is – you see Him in a new light, from a new perspective, and more clearly.1

So don’t just feel it. Say it, express it. Thank you God!

1CrossWalk.com

Praying for Effect

Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers. -Ephesians 6:18

Praying is an important human activity. Historically Christians have believed it essential:

John Wesley, the father of the Methodist movement, said, “God will do nothing but in answer to prayer.”
S.D. Gordon said, “The greatest thing anyone can do for God and for man is to pray….”You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”
E.M. Bounds: “God shapes the world by prayer. The more praying there is in the world the better the world will be, the mightier the forces against evil.”

It seems the American people agree. A 2010 survey by the National Opinion Research Center determined that 86% of Americans pray; 57% pray at least once a day and 75% at least once a week. Surely then for Christians, the percentage is much higher. Certainly our church does a lot of praying. We have our prayer lists, prayer chains, prayer groups, prayer teams, prayer meetings. We invoke and “benedict” every meeting or occasion and have several prayers in every service. We request prayer for ailments, troubles, decisions, for friends, relatives, ourselves. The last thing we need is someone telling us to pray—right? Maybe, but why does our praying sometimes seem to make so little difference? How can we pray “for effect” so to speak?

Maybe the problem is not so much how often or how much we pray but the nature of our prayers. The most obvious characteristic of our praying is we pray “for.” We are asking for something we want from God—healing, direction, comfort, strength, peace. Now that’s appropriate and important but not primary. And until we get the order right, our praying will be less than what God intends.

Christian prayer begins with listening to God. In silence, in meditation, reflection but most of all the context of the Scriptures. Then we need to respond in praise, adoration and action.

As Eugene Peterson says, such praying is essential to keep the reality of the Good News (vs Bad News) as a basis for living:

“It is hard to believe and much-denied…The sheer quantity of wreckage around us is appalling: wrecked bodies, wrecked marriages, wrecked careers, wrecked plans, wrecked families, wrecked alliances, wrecked friendships, wrecked prosperity” (Peterson, Working The Angles, 15)

It is also essential to maintaining our relationship to God. Only as prayer fills that place in our life can we really pray for effect. Only then does it change us and change the world.

“Thanks Giving Is What You Do”

Understand what the Lord’s will is…. Speaking. …Sing…. always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. –Ephesians 5:17-20

There is a popular story about the writer Rudyard Kipling.  In his prime he often wrote for newspapers.  He received fifty cents a word for his work.  Some Oxford University students were not impressed.  One of them sent Kipling fifty cents with a request: “Please send us back one of your very best words.”  Kipling cabled back to the student a one-word message:  “Thanks.”

 Kipling was right.  “Thanks” is one of the very best words, especially for a Christian.  And to have a day on the calendar set aside to give thanks is more important than we realize.  It sometimes gets distorted as “turkey day,” a time for gluttony and football.  It seems insignificant compared to Christmas and Easter.  But make no mistake; there is no more important activity than giving thanks.

 It is the most basic Christian action.  Failure to give thanks is the basic charge against the “ungodly” and “wicked in the Bible:  “So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.” (Romans 1:21)  The Apostle Paul tells us all God does for us has a purpose—to increase thanksgiving.

Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. (II Cor. 4:15- NRSV)

Thanksgiving is not complete just because we feel grateful.  Nor is thanksgiving just a day.  It needs to be expressed, through our words and our actions.

Thank you God for Jesus.

A New Song

Psalm 40:3- “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.”

 How much, how often do you praise God?  For most of us (myself included) it’s not nearly enough.  Part of reason for that I suspect is that we see praise as motivated by good things happening to us, things going well for us, etc.  Certainly it is important that we are grateful and express that.  But praise for God goes beyond that.  It is an important part of our discipleship.

It is clear from Scripture that praise pleases God.  Here are just a few examples:

“For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise” (I Chron.16:25)
Psalm 33:1- “it is fitting for the upright to praise him.”
100:4- “Enter  his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.”
The last 5 psalms begin and end with “Praise the Lord.”
150:6- “let everything that has breath praise the LORD.”
I Peter 4:11- “so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ”

Praise has a profound effect on us.  It makes God real and triggers joy in my heart.  Few things so rejuvenates us as to praise God.  When the New Testament describes the church it is this way: “We’ll be praising Christ, enjoying each other.”( Phil 1:26 msg)  Does that sound like the church you know?  What about you personally?

Besides that, it does something to those around us.  It makes Jesus attractive.  I’m not talking about some of the mindless examples—slogans, or trite phrases that seem artificial and forced.  From  Charles Wesley’s first hymnbook (1737) this song was sung:

Let every Land their Tongues employ,
And hymns of Triumph sing.

Release his Praise with awe profound,
Let Knowledge guide the Song.
Nor mock him with a solemn Sound
Upon a thoughtless Tongue.

Phillipians 1:10-11 reads:

You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God. (msg)

It has been said, “God is preparing the whole universe to be an orchestra of praise and adoration to his Son.” (FB Meyer)

I read about the conductor of an orchestra of 500 who missed the piccolo and waited for it.

God is waiting for your voice to join in! Praise the Lord.  Let all that have breath praise God.

Thanksgiving

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thess 5:18)

Someone has said, “The most intense moments of thankfulness are not found in times of plenty, but when difficulties abound.” It was that attitude that led Abraham Lincoln to proclaim the first official Thanksgiving Day in the midst of our country’s civil war.

Some people simply do not know how to give thanks.  The London Times reported this story several years ago:

Thousands of letters sent each year to God end up in a sorting office in Jerusalem. According to the Associated Press, the letters arrive from all over the world in the city’s undeliverable mail department. “We have hundreds of thousands of letters sent either to God or Jesus Christ, and for some reason they come to Jerusalem,” said post office spokesman Yitzak Rabihiya.

In one letter an Israeli man asked God for 5,000 shekels ($1,000), to ease his poverty. Postal workers were so moved that they sent him 4,300 shekels.

“After a month, the same person wrote again to God,” Mr. Rabihiya explained, “but this time he wrote, ‘Thank you, God, for the contribution, but next time please don’t send it through those postmen. They’re thieves; they stole 700 shekels’.”

In the classic story, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” the Grinch expects cries and wailings after he steals all the village gifts and even food.  Instead he hears them singing a Christmas carol.  And he learns, “Christmas resides not in things but in the heart which is thankful.  He could not steal their gratitude.”1

In Joe Batten’s book, Tough Minded Leadership, he says that gratitude is “highest form of mental and spiritual health.”   It creates humility.  I defy you to maintain pride while thanking God.  It also produces generosity and overcomes discouragement.

But most of all it leads to praise which honors God.  In the last book of the Bible when God’s great plan is coming to its conclusion these word reverberate through all creation: “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.”  (Rev. 11:17)

My prayer for you and me is for a grateful heart.

1Brett Blair, http://www.eSermons.com, November, 2003