Your Incense…

…to God and the world.

Let’s follow this thread from the Old Testament into the New Testament—

“When Aaron trims the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense. There shall be perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations.” (Exodus 30:8)

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1)

“For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 2:15)

“The incense which you shall make, you shall not make in the same proportions for yourselves; it shall be holy to you for the LORD.” (Exodus 30:37)

“Our lives are not to be about us, lived out in private and for self-glory. Our lives are to be about God, lived out in full view of the nations and for His name’s sake.” —Dick Brogden

What incense is your life—your witness, your testimony—sharing with those around you?

Sabbathing

On the Wednesday of Christ’s Passion Week, all of the Gospel writers are in perfect agreement. Between all four of them, they write not one word about what happened on that day. That silence actually speaks volumes to us!  

Jesus is almost surely in Bethany (since that has become is nightly retreat this week), and He is taking a Sabbath rest. “Wait,” you might be saying, “sabbathing on Wednesday?! I thought that was supposed to be Saturday or Sunday?” 

The Sabbath is not a day; it’s an attitude of the heart. 

Jesus followed the example His Father set right at the beginning. 

The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between Me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed. (Exodus 31:16-17)

Notice that God rested and was refreshed. The word rested means to stop working and celebrate. It’s a time to reflect on the work completed and celebrate what has been done. Then the Bible says God was refreshed, which literally means “God refreshed Himself.” He took a deep, satisfying, rejuvenating breath! 

Resting and being refreshed—or sabbathing—is not a luxury; it’s a necessity! 

Jesus understood this principle of sabbathing. Remember that He had only a limited time to accomplish all that the Father had for Him: “We must work the works of Him Who sent Me and be busy with His business while it is daylight; night is coming on, when no man can work” (John 9:4 AMP). If anyone was a Man on a mission, it was Jesus, and yet rest was vital to Him…

  • …from the very beginning of His life, Jesus practiced healthy habits
  • …He started each day in prayer 
  • …He rested and refreshed after expending Himself in ministry, and encouraged His disciples to do so as well (see Luke 2:52; Mark 1:35; 6:30-32, 45-46) 

Now—just before the intense, horrific, inhumane experience He is about to go through—Jesus is sabbathing. He is resting and refreshing His body, soul, and spirit. 

So what keeps us from sabbathing? 

  1. Guilt—“I feel guilty taking time off.” Remember that is Jesus did it, we should too. 
  2. Misplaced priority—“If I don’t do it, it won’t get done.” But remember Who is in charge. The psalmist reminds us, “The Lord is king!” (Psalm 99:1). 
  3. Fear—“If I ‘tune out’ what might I be missing?” Remember: Your Father is watching over you every single moment (see Psalm 121).  

If you wanted to experience more productivity in your life, don’t try to go 24/7—take a sabbath break. Stop working and celebrate what God has done, then take a deep breath of worship in God’s presence. Jesus demonstrated that sabbathing was vital for ministry success. 

Joining The Angel Choir

The angels are highly visible around the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, but here’s the amazing thing—we are invited to join the angelic choir singing praise to Jesus! 

Nowhere else do we see such a concentration of angels as during Christ’s time on earth, and especially at His birth. In the Old Testament prior to Christ’s birth, and in the New Testament following Christ’s ascension, we don’t see as many angels clustered together on Earth— 

    • Gabriel brings a birth announcement to Zechariah 
    • Gabriel brings a birth announcement to Mary
    • an angel talks to Joseph in a dream (three times!) 
    • an angel gives instructions to the wise men in a dream
    • angels minister to Jesus in the wilderness after His battle with the devil 
    • angels are poised for action in case Jesus calls on them prior to His crucifixion
    • angels are present at Christ’s tomb after His resurrection
    • and a massive angel choir sings at Christ’s birth (Luke 2:8-14) 

Charles Wesley wrote a Christmas carol called Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. In the first stanza, we’re invited to “join the triumph in the skies.” But how can someone sing a song grand enough, majestic enough, or worthy enough to honor Almighty God?! That would be like me being asked to compose a song or play something on the piano to honor Mozart—how could I play anything worthy of his musical talent? 

In a similar way, when the Israelites thought about coming into God’s presence, they were gripped with knee-knocking, gut-churning fear (Exodus 19:16-19; 20:18-19)! 

But notice that the angels didn’t sing, “God is born in Bethlehem.” They sang, “Christ is born in Bethlehem.” Christ: the Messiah; the One who sets things right. No wonder this is such good news of great joy that brings peace and God’s favor (Luke 2:10, 14). 

The simple fact is that we couldn’t approach God and join in their angelic song. Instead, Jesus approached us as our Messiah, our Deliverer. How could this happen? Wesley’s carol reminds us that Jesus came so that God and sinners are reconciled! 

The First Advent is God approaching us. If we allow Jesus to reconcile us to our Holy Heavenly Father, then we have no fear of Christ’s Second Advent. His Second Advent will be attended to by angels just like His First Advent (Matthew 25:31-32; Mark 8:38; Jude 1:14-15). Those who haven’t had their sins forgiven will hear a song that is soul-crushing to them, while those who have accepted the reconciling work of Jesus will join with the angelic host in a victorious song bringing glory to God forever and ever (Revelation 14:9-11; 15:1-4). 

We don’t have to wait until we get to Heaven to join the triumph of the skies. We can join the angelic choir right now in singing our praise to God today. And every day! 

Join me this Sunday as we continue to look at the fantastic messages in our Christmas carols. 

9 Prayers From “Praying The Promises”

In Praying The Promises, Max Lucado gives us valuable instruction on how to turn Scriptural promises into powerful prayers. Here are a few of those prayers (the biblical reference in brackets is the passage that helped form the prayer). 

Thank you for being a God who wants me to know You.… Your wisdom surpasses all wisdom on this earth. Your ways are so much higher than mine. I could study You and Your Word for the rest of my life and still only scratched the surface of the depths of who You are. You are at once knowable and unknowable.… Deepen my knowledge of You, God. [Psalm 19:1-2; Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 1:19-20]

Help me rely on Your promise of grace because I have been found righteous through Jesus. When trouble comes, use those troubles to increase my faith and draw me nearer to You. [Hebrews 7:25]

Father, sometimes I convince myself that I need to earn Your salvation. I feel like I should do more, be more, and achieve more. But You simply want my faith. Help me let go of my striving and this need to perform for You and for others. [Romans 4:5; Philippians 3:4-7] 

Guide me during the difficult times. Give me hope as I pray and wait. Remind me of Your power and authority so that I will trust Your ways, even when I can’t see where the path before me is going. [Genesis 50:20-21; Ephesians 1:11-12; Romans 5:3] 

Forgive me when I look for guidance outside of Your Word. When I ask friends what to do before I open my Bible. When I am resistant to reading Your Word because I want to guide myself rather than be guided by You. Renew my desire and passion for reading the Bible. … May I learn something new about You and Your character each time I read it. [Psalm 32:8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17] 

When a worry arises, remind me of Your presence so I will turn to You and not fear. [Psalm 23:1, 4]

Gracious Father, nobody is beyond Your redemption. Because of Your love and mercy, You provided a Redeemer for us in Christ, who graciously stopped us while we were on the path of sin, gave us refuge, and pointed us toward the road of redemption. [Galatians 4:4-5]

Forgive me when I try to fight my own battles. … If I try to fight for myself, I end up feeling exhausted and defeated by my own efforts. You have said You are fighting for me. Help me believe that truth even when I am so tempted to fight for myself. Go before me this week as I face temptation. Go before me as I face anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. Protect me in every spiritual battle. Fight for me and help me surrender each battle to You. [Exodus 14:14; Deuteronomy 1:30; Psalm 20:7-8]

As concerns and questions come up, remind me to turn each of them over to You in prayer. I lift up my family to You. I lift up my work to You. I lift up my to-do list to You. Cover each worry with Your peace. Prioritize my day so that it aligns with Your will and not mine. [1 John 5:14]

You can check out my review of Praying The Promises by clicking here, and you can read some other quotes from this book by clicking here.

Finding God’s Favor

“It was because of His grace that God the Father sent His only Son to die in our place. To say it another way, Christ’s death was the result of God’s grace; grace is not the result of Christ’s death.” —Jerry Bridges

God had been showing us His love throughout the Old Testament period, but the Advent of Jesus made it abundantly and unmistakably clear that God is for us! 

Check out how Luke focuses on God’s favor in a way that no other Gospel writer does:

  • John (the one who would announce the arrival of Jesus) means Jehovah is a gracious Giver.
  • Elizabeth (John’s mother) said that God had not only shown His favor to her by making her pregnant, but she also said God had removed her disgrace. 
  • Mary (the mother of Jesus) was greeted by the angel with the phrases “You are highly favored” and “You have found favor with God.” 
  • On the night of Christ’s birth, the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.” 
  • Jesus, in His first public sermon, quoted Isaiah’s words, saying He had come to proclaim God’s favor. 

But please notice this truth—We don’t try to find or earn God’s favor. It’s already there; we just need to realize it’s there! 

You see, we don’t grow in God’s favor, nor do we get more favor, but we progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with God’s favor that is already there. Check out what Moses said:

If I have found favor in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with You, perceiving and recognizing and understanding more strongly and clearly and that I may find favor in Your sight (Exodus 33:13)

The angel said to Mary, “You are HIGHLY FAVORED” (Luke 1:28). God uses the same word when He says to us: God made us ACCEPTED in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6). 

How can this be?? Because on the Cross, Jesus switched places with us. He took all our sin and DISgrace, and gave us all of His righteousness. Now when God the Father looks at us, all He sees is the righteousness of His Son. Now all praise to God for His wonderful kindness to us and His favor that He has poured out upon us because we belong to His dearly loved Son (TLB).

God’s grace is undiminished. It is as full today as it ever has been. God could never love you more than He already does. God could never love you less because of anything you do. Keep your eyes on Him and you will find just how much favor He has for you! 

Join me this Sunday either in person or on Facebook Live as we continue to learn more about God’s favor. 

13 Introspective Questions From “Longing For A Changed World”

As Ralph Lehman made his case for Christian to (re)establish a prayer focus for revival in his book Longing For A Changed World, he asked several penetrating questions. Here are a few of them for you to consider.

“[Josiah’s revival] was one revival that began with the leaders of government. Are we praying for our leaders?”

“Our government has entered many areas that were once considered to be the Church’s sphere of ministry. How can we lead our churches back into these areas?”

“Have you considered that you are grieving the Spirit when you deprive Him of conversing with God by choosing not to pray?”

“As men of prayer, should we not strive to be like the great prayer warriors of the Bible?”

“Tertullian, a church father who lived in the Roman Empire around 200 A.D., stated that the Roman emperor and his armies benefited greatly from the prayers of the Christians who interceded on their behalf. Can we present the same argument to our political leaders today?”

“What would we be willing to leave or to set aside for the sake of more time in prayer, seeking the Kingdom and righteousness of God?”

“Do we seek the Lord of revival, or merely desire His blessings?”

“If we do not enjoy God’s presence, through His Word and prayer, we are missing the true blessing God intends for us—the blessing of Himself. If we will not seek the presence of God day by day, how can we expect Him to go with us in our daily lives?”

“If God was willing to take the Israelites into the Promised Land without His presence [Exodus 33:3-4], what does this say to the proponents of the ‘health and wealth’ gospel?”

“Even though we have been blessed immeasurably by living here in the United States, do our hearts long for God’s rule to be acknowledged in our land? Do we yearn to abide in His presence? Or are we idle in our contentment with the milk and honey?”

“Sometimes, our areas of giftedness become spheres where we fail to ask God for strength. Have you considered your strengths may be the very areas that satan exploits?”

“Are we praying for revival, are we also praying that we would conduct ourselves in such a way that the world would take notice, even if this meant for us to suffer?”

“Is the God of today’s church big enough to surprise us?”

You can check out some other quotes from Longing For A Changed World by clicking here, and my full book review is available here.

Does Your Life Have A “BC/AD” Split?

Today we live in 2017 AD. But 1800 years ago the A.D. stood for “Anno Diocletiani” which means “the year of Diocletian,” a ruthless, anti-Christian Roman emperor. In 525 AD, a monk named Dionysius proposed changing the A.D. to “Anno Domini” which means “the year of our Lord,” referring to the Advent of Jesus Christ. Then to mark the dates of the calendar before Christ’s birth properly, the “B.C.” (before Christ) period was introduced.

But BC/AD is just a dating system. There is no such thing as “BC”—there has never been a time before Christ! He has always been! Throughout what we now refer to as the Old Testament (or the BC period),  Jesus is constantly revealing Himself through little hints here and there, but when He comes to earth as a Man, all the hints become a bright, blazing, unmistakable Truth!

Just like Dionysius came up with a new dating system based on the Advent of Jesus, the Israelites had a new starting point marked by the Passover (see Exodus 12:1-7). Everything from this point backward is reset and dates are now counted forward from this moment. Before this time they were slaves in Egypt; after this time they were free and called God’s special people.

The “BC” Passover had three important components:

  • A perfect lamb without any defect (Exodus 12:5)
  • The lamb is slaughtered at twilight (v. 6)
  • The blood is applied to the door (v. 7)

When Jesus came to Earth, He showed how He was all three of those elements. In the “AD” Jesus is—

In both BC and AD God declares the same message: “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” The blood seals the deal and brings God’s forgiveness of sins, and His blessings on the life that is now completely His.

The word remember appears frequently in the BC, as in “remember what God did for you.” In the AD remember appears at a pivotal time—when Jesus shared His last supper with His followers, He told them that Communion would be a time for them to remember all that Jesus did for us as the Perfect Lamb, whose Blood is applied to the Door of our heart, so that God’s judgment could pass over us.

Do you have a Passover date? A time when the BC became AD in your life? If so, good! Keep remembering that, and don’t ever go back to being a citizen of anything but God’s Kingdom.

If not, today can be the first day of a new era for you. By faith you can apply the Blood of the Perfect Lamb to the Door of your heart, and you will no longer be a slave of “Egypt” (a picture of being utterly trapped and unable to help yourself), but a citizen of Heaven! All it takes is for you to believe that Christ’s blood purchased your freedom, so you can ask God the Father to forgive you of all your BC past, and then you can live forever in the AD with Jesus as your Savior and Master!

Check out this video where I explain this BC/AD system more, and join me next week as we learn more about how Jesus Christ bridges the BC/AD divide.

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