God longs for fellowship with us. He looks for a cooperative relationship with us. As we respond to His desire for fellowship He increases our spiritual hunger for more. The way for us to draw closer to the Lord is through worship. Through worship we reveal the nature of our commitment to Him. Commitment involves sacrifice. "The sacrifice You desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God." (Psalm 51:17 - NLT)
At the Washington Crossing United Methodist Church we have made a yearly commitment to dedicate the evenings of the last week of July to the Lord. During that time we remember how He visited us in 1994 and changed everything that we did. His sweet Spirit led us to amend our priorities so that the only thing that seemed important was worshiping Him. We connected with Him in a deeper way and realized the importance of setting aside time for Him. Last week that is what we did.
In John 4 we read how Jesus had a conversation at Jacob's well with a Samaritan woman. He told her, "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks." (John 4:23) I was reminded of this verse as we worshiped with one another at The Crossing last week. Several times we sang the song, "Worthy of It All" by David Brymer. The song tells about heavenly worship: "All the saints and angels, bow before Your throne. All the elders cast their crowns before the Lamb of God and sing. You are worthy of it all..." 24-7 all the saints, angels and elders worship around the throne of God, and yet He seeks true worshipers on earth. He would leave the throngs of heaven for the sacrificial worship of earth.
The worship that took place at The Crossing did have a sacrificial element to it. We made worshiping the Lord each evening a priority. But the most fragrant offering of all was offered up at The Crossing on Friday morning. A dear couple from our Church invited us to share in their sorrow of the death of their new baby girl a few hours before delivery. They gave her a name that means abundant life, and they acknowledged that in heaven alone will she experience the truth of her name. They led us in songs declaring their trust in the unfailing love of God. A true sacrifice of praise was offered to Him through a veil of tears.
The words of the songs that our brave and committed couple had us sing with them let us know—along with the hosts of heaven—of their steadfast belief in the goodness of God in the midst of tragedy. The offering that was made to the Lord declared these truths: "I believe in You; I believe in You. You're the God of miracles. The God who was and is to come, the power of the Risen One. The God who brings the dead to life; You're the God of miracles!" and "It is well; it is well with my soul." and "How great Thou art; how great Thou art!" Their spirits rose above their souls to present the perfect offering; the kind that the Lord seeks.
The worship that takes place in heaven does so in a perfect environment where there is no sorrow or tears. It pales in comparison to the sacrificial worship that took place on Friday morning. The Lord received the sacrificial offering, and His Spirit came to dwell with us. In the midst of pain and suffering and trials, may we all offer unto the Lord the pure worship that He desires—sacrificial worship in spirit and truth!
The infamous month of Av (5th month on the Hebrew calendar) begins tomorrow. Israel's sin of unbelief, lack of trust and rebellion against God set into motion a string of calamities that occur year after year. Here is how it is described in Deuteronomy 9:23. "And when the Lord sent you out from Kadesh Barnea, he said, 'Go up and take possession of the land I have given you.' But you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. You did not trust or obey Him."
It was at Kadesh Barnea that God made it clear that He would give the Promised Land to the Israelites. Ten of 12 men came back with a bad report, refusing to believe the truth of what God said. As a result, the children of Israel were doomed to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. In addition, the cycle of destruction in the lives of the Jewish people has repeated itself. Chuck Pierce says, "When you don't repent of the sins of the past, Satan is free to bring the curse of that sin back around to you." The ramifications that come from unbelief and lack of trust in God are dire.
Historians have pinpointed the day of Israel's sin on the 9th of Av. This day is notorious for the destructive events that have occurred on it. Here are a few of them: Babylon destroyed the 1st temple (587 BC), Romans destroyed the second temple (AD 70), Jews were totally defeated by Rome (AD 135), 1st Crusade launched that kills thousands of Jews (AD 1095), Jews expelled from England (AD 1290), Jews expelled from Spain (AD 1492), Jews deported from Warsaw ghetto to concentration camps (AD 1942), and Jews removed from Gaza (AD 2005)
We need to be aware of the history of this time period and how it can affect our own lives. There are two voices in our heads--the voice of faith and the voice of unbelief. We have choices. We can break the curse of the enemy through repentance of the sin of unbelief. As we choose to believe God's promises we can receive God's blessings. As children of God we are grafted into the covenant of Abraham. For Believers the sinful patterns of the covenant are under the blood of Jesus. He has reconciled all things through the Cross. However, our enemy tries to activate these patterns so that they manifest and give him legal rights to operate in our lives.
Who are we agreeing with? Despite what appears to be happening around us, we must be intentional in operating in faith. We must not allow the enemy of our souls to bring us into alignment with him. Our confession must be that God is faithful and that we trust in Him alone. Our lives are impacted by who we agree with (make an alliance with). The decisions we make today have the potential to impact our lives for years to come. We must be careful with what we say and who we make alliances with. Let's give the Lord permission to guide our lives.
Av is associated with the Hebrew letter TET which is a picture of a womb. What are we conceiving? Are we bringing heaven to earth? This month is also associated with the constellation of Leo, the lion. God calls us to be a prophetic people that let the sound/roar of the Lion of Judah resound. Let the promises of God and our trust in Him be declared in a sound that the world will hear. Make your alliance with the One True God and your confession the ROAR of the Lion of Judah. “…See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed…” (Revelation 5:5)
On the day that Adam and Eve chose to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil their relationship with God completely changed. Genesis 2:16-17 says, "And the Lord God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." The death that God refers to is the death of their covering—the Shekinah glory.
Genesis 3:7 is one of the passages in the Bible that demonstrates a principle that occurs throughout life: The spiritual and physical realms mirror one another. "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves." When God came to walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day they hid from Him, because they had become aware of their nakedness and were afraid. They were no longer covered—spiritually and physically.
Without the Shekinah—the manifest glory of the Lord—Adam and Eve were unable to abide in His presence. Eating the fruit of the forbidden tree gave them the right to be independent and unsubmitted to the Lord. Since the day of the fall God has been on a mission to restore us. He began by killing an animal and starting the requirement of shed blood for forgiveness. A physical covering was made for Adam and Eve with the skin of an animal.
The Lord still longs for us to have full communion with Him. We must play a part in restoring of the Shekinah glory. To do so, we must be willing to give up our freedom of choice to surrender unconditionally to Him. Wade Taylor, in his devotional, Being Made Ready, writes about the process of restoring the Shekinah in one of his daily devotionals titled "Arrayed in His Glory." He explains that when we vocally give up our right to do as we please and ask God for forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus we are covered with the "Garment of Salvation." However, the Lord is calling us to join Him at the banqueting table as the Bride of Christ. The "Garment of Salvation" is meant to be replaced by "the Bridal Garment." Wade Taylor says that we weave our own "Bridal Garment." The weaving "begins with the commitment of our lives to unconditional submission and obedience to His will and purpose, as we walk with Jesus...The first step is to separate ourselves from the 'tree of knowledge' and re-attach ourselves to the 'tree of life,' through the victory that Jesus gained in our behalf on the cross...As we rightly respond, we will grow into spiritual maturity and receive the linen bridal garment."
What are we weaving? Daily we have the opportunity to weave our "Bridal Garment." Revelation 19:7-8 describes it: "Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory. For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given to her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)"
As our desire for intimacy with the Bridegroom supersedes all earthly desires, the Shekinah (the manifest glory of the Lord) will cover us. Are we getting ready? "...And those who were ready went in with Him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut." (Matthew 25:10)
On July 4th I had the privilege of going to the Johnson Ferry House at Washington Crossing State Park in New Jersey. The curator of that house planned special events in honor of our country's Independence Day. Outside of the Ferry House, raspberry ice cream was being made the way it would have been made in colonial days. As we stood outside, the sound of patriotic melodies with beautiful harmonies came wafting towards us and drew us inside. Several musicians and singers dressed in period costumes greeted us. We were invited to join them in song.
Singing all of the verses of the patriotic hymns moved me emotionally as I contemplated the words that describe the founding of the United States of America. Each song that we sang recognized that God is the one who has blessed us and confirmed that our forefathers truly established our nation on a godly foundation. Most of us would be familiar with the first verse of the songs we sang but not the subsequent ones. I want to record the powerful words of some of the lesser known verses of three of these songs.
America the Beautiful by Katharine Lee Bates (1859 - 1929)
Katharine Bates wrote about the message of her hymn: "We must match the greatness of our country with the goodness of personal godly living. If only we could couple the daring of the Pilgrims with the moral teachings of Moses, we would have something in this country that no one could ever take from us." I am particularly fond of the third verse of her hymn:
"O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life! America! America! May God thy gold refine, till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine."
Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe (1819 - 1910)
Julia Howe wrote this hymn in the midst of the Civil War. It inspired the entire nation when it went public. The third and fourth verses speak of God's plans and the birth of Christ as our Savior:
"He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat. He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat. O be swift, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet! Our God is marching on." Refrain: "Glory! Glory! Hallelujah" (3 times) "His truth is marching on."
"In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, with a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me. As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free! While God is marching on.” Refrain: (See above.)
The Star Spangled Banner by Frances Scott Key (1779 - 1843)
It was during the War of 1812, while on the deck of a ship, that Frances Scott Key wrote what was to become our national anthem in 1931. Rarely do we sing the second verse, but I believe it is noteworthy:
"O thus be it ever, when free men shall stand between their loved homes and the war's desolation! Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation! Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just; and this be our motto: 'In God is our trust!' And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"
Psalm 33:12 says, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His inheritance." The authors of the above hymns understood this. We must add the Amen!k here to edit.
The disciples traveled by boat from one shore of the Sea of Galilee to another. It is recorded in Scripture several times that they encountered storms as they went across the Sea or Lake. Matthew writes about the time a "furious storm came up on the Lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping." (Matthew 8:24) Did you ever wonder how Jesus carried such peace that He was able to sleep in a storm?
Songwriter, musician and contemporary Christian music singer Steven Curtis Chapman found the answer to this question in 2008. In May of that year he and his wife lost their youngest daughter, Maria, in a horrific accident. When interviewed about how he lived through this heart-breaking time, here is what he said: "God, this is what's most true. The pain is true. The questions are real. The grief is real. The anger is real. But what's most real, and what's most true, is that you are God. You're faithful."
Chapman went on to give this advice: "Drop your anchor in the promises of God." Indeed, Chapman's season of loss and mourning gave him an entirely new perspective on writing music. He said that proclaiming the truth was what sustained him. He began to write songs highlighting the promises of God. I surmise that as he declared the truth, peace began to flow and reign.
Jesus knew the promises of Father God. (Not only this, but He is the promise of God.) He was anchored in the promises of God; this is how He slept through the storm. The prophet Isaiah wrote one of God's promises to Israel: "I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem." (Isaiah 66:12-13) If only Israel would drop their anchor in this promise!
The purpose of an anchor is to hold a ship in place. Our spiritual anchors are to function like a physical one--to keep us from drifting away into uncharted territory. The anchor is to keep us from entering the place of anxiety, doubt, fear and unbelief. Dropping the anchor into the promises of God allows us a time of rest during the journey.
The writer of Hebrews understood not only what the anchor is made of but how it is to be used. "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf..." (Hebrews 6:19-20) Here, the hope and promises of the gospel are compared to an anchor for our souls. Drop your anchor in the promises of God. They will sustain and encourage you and give you peace in the storm.lick here to edit.
Joan E. Mathias