The Lesson of Seaweed
Never do I cease to be amazed at the variety and detail of God's creation. Recently, my curiosity about seaweed was peaked when I saw piles of it on the South Florida beaches. Seaweed is made up of thousands of macroscopic, multi-cellular marine algae. It comes in colors of red, green, gold, and brown and is found in a multitude of shapes and sizes. Each specie has a specific purpose in the oceans of the world. However, when their environment is adjusted, they may damage the life around it. Such is the case for a type of seaweed called sargassum, a free-floating brown seaweed. Since 2011 this specie has inundated the Caribbean and Florida coastlines in such a mass that it has a negative effect on the coastal environments. In large quantities, this particular seaweed strips oxygen from the water and kills fish and seagrasses that offer habitat for many species. It also smothers shallow coral reefs and reduces the amount of sunlight that shines on the plants that need it.
You may ask what causes this phenomenon. Scientists have discovered three likely causes: (1) Saharan dust clouds that land on the surface of the water whose content is rich in iron, nitrogen, and phosphorus encourage large bloom and subsequent growth in the algae. (2) Warming temperatures also create an environment for growth. (3) Rising nitrogen levels caused by the human footprint is a growth enhancer. Scientists have discovered that large amounts of fertilizer flows from the Amazon River and then to the oceans. Stephen P. Leatherman of Florida International University discovered this problem area and one along the Mississippi River that dumps into the Gulf of Mexico.
At the present time, there seems to be no good way to dispose of the great volumes of seaweed being deposited on the shore lines. Some of it can be plowed under the sand to help stabilize the beaches. In Ft. Lauderdale it is collected, washed to remove the salt, and converted into fertilizer or mulch. When we look at other species of seaweed we should keep in mind that it is beneficial as habitats for fish and other marine life. In some countries, seaweed is used for food and even produced on farms. In addition, it can be used in the production of medicines, fertilizers, cosmetics and paint. Many varieties, especially kelp, have life-giving qualities in that they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen.
I know that God created every creature and its habitat with a plan and a purpose. All creation is to work together for the good of humankind and for the glory of the Lord. We see, however, that humans have not done a good job of caring for creation. Psalm 24:1-2 says, "The earth is the Lord's and all of its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein. For He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters." (NKJV) Seaweed is meant to be a blessing to the creatures who live in and around it. It stands as an example of a small part of creation that can have a major impact in the world for good or evil. We too can impact the world around us for good or evil. Let us be declarers of truth and agree with the Psalmist when he says, "Let heaven and earth praise Him, the seas and all that move in them." (Psalm 69:34)
Signs of New Life in Nissan
When God was ready to deliver His people from the bondage of Egypt, He introduced a new calendar order for the months. "The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 'This month (Nissan) is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.'" (Exodus 12:1-2) I believe God wanted the Israelites to associate their deliverance and the Passover they would experience just before leaving Egypt with new beginnings. Spring is a time of new beginnings and a reminder of how all creation has recovered from a death process in order to rise to new life.
In this year (2023), the first month on the Hebrew calendar begins on Wednesday at sunset. It is called Nissan or Abib and is a Hebraic term for when the seeds of the grain have reached their full size. This was demonstrated as the children of Israel entered the Promised Land. God told them, "...When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain of your harvest. He is to wave the sheaf before the Lord so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath." (Leviticus 23:10-11) Isn't it amazing that the Promised Land was ripe for harvest when God's people were given it?
The details of God's timing and coordination of the events of each month are amazing! When Nissan began, the children of Israel were told that each Jewish family was to bring a spotless, year-old lamb into the household on the tenth of the month. The lamb was to be cared for until the fourteenth of the month when it would be slaughtered. The blood of that lamb was to be placed on the sides and top of the doorframes of their homes. As the angel of death passed through Egypt to kill their firstborn sons and animals, the children of Israel were protected by the blood of the lamb, and their homes were "passed over." The plague that struck Egypt did not touch the Israelites. In memory of this event, the Israelite families killed a Passover lamb yearly until God stopped the lamb sacrifices by bringing His Son, Jesus, to earth to die once and for all time. He became the true Passover Lamb that redeems us from our sins. As we receive Jesus into our hearts, His blood is applied to the doorframe of our hearts. We become "born again." 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: The old has gone, the new is here!" And, as a sign that heaven was touching earth, the Lord placed a reminder of our Passover Lamb in the heavens during Nissan. The constellation Aries, the lamb, is prominent in the night sky during this month.
With God, nothing is left to chance. He even assigned a marching order to the children of Israel when they began their journey to the Promised Land. The tribe of Judah was to go out first. The Lord knew that HIs people would face battles on the way to their destination. What better way to overcome the enemy than with praise to the Lord? Judah comes from the Hebrew word Yadah, which means "to praise, to give thanks, and to glorify God." We find two interesting verses in Psalm 114: "When Israel came out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of foreign tongue, Judah became God's sanctuary, Israel His dominion." (Verses 1-2) This means that God lived among them. He chose to dwell in their presence, and they became His dominion on the earth.
Let us rejoice in the reminders that we see of God's redemption and praise Him for what He has done. As spring erupts around us, He is calling each of us to join Him in a journey to our own Promised Land. If we walk in the will of God, He will empower us to live there and partake of the fullness of HIs provisions.
Do I Have What it Takes?
How could it be? It seems like it was just yesterday when I was holding my oldest grandson in my arms. Now, he is on the threshold of entering his teenage years. My grandson, Jack, is starting a new stage of life. Voices from many different spheres of life will be demanding his attention. As he begins to separate from the safety of his home, he will have new decisions to make. According to writers of The Power of the Blessing, Terry and Melissa Bone, our souls ask unique questions at the entrance of each stage of life. The major question asked by a child entering puberty at the beginning of their teen years is, "Do I have what it takes to make it in this world?"
Life is designed to help us discover our true identities—the one God ordained. Along with this, God has a divine destiny for us. His desire is to bless us, as was shown at creation when He created mankind in His image. "God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it...’" (Genesis 1:28) The teenage years are critical ones for identity formation. To help in this process, the Lord has assigned certain people, particularly parents and grandparents, to bless them through their words and deeds and to affirm who they are.
The Bones make an interesting analogy in their book that describes a teenager as an arrow, based on Psalm 127:4-5. "Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them." The Bones say, "Children, like mere sticks in a warrior's hands, require shaping. For a while they are protected in a quiver, but there comes a time when they must be taken from their safe place, loaded into a bow, aimed, and fixed at God's destination for their lives. Puberty is that time. Fathers have spiritual authority to call forth their sons and daughters from childhood into maturity. We like to say that a mother is called to string the bow and a father to shoot the arrow. But to shoot an arrow, it first has to be aimed. The shift in spiritual roles of mothers and fathers during the teen years needs to be accompanied by a shift in our parenting approach from teacher to coach." (Page 81)
We can see this scenario being played out when Jesus went to the Temple to engage with the rabbis. Jesus had to remind His parents of the call on His life. The first recognition of His call came from those outside of His immediate family. Teens are looking for honor from family members who will listen to them. The rabbis in the Temple listened to Jesus because they recognized the insight He had been given.
How can we who have teenagers in our lives encourage and bless them? We can be good listeners. We can be sure that every word we speak to them imparts a sense of value and worth. Birthday parties are meant to impart blessing to children. If a child wanders from the straight path, we can pray for them and forgive and love them. We must always remember that the Lord is on our side and that we partner with Him in helping teenagers realize that they do have what they need in their lives to make it in the world. Not only that, but the Lord does also "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us..." (Ephesians 3:20)
We can count on the truth that God is a Redeemer! He sent His son, Jesus, to redeem all of us from the curse of the law. (Galatians 3:13) Even before Jesus came to earth, God was working redemption in the lives of His people. The story of Esther demonstrates this.
Esther and her cousin Mordecai, from the tribe of Benjamin, lived in Persia (Modern day Iran). The generation before them had been exiled to the capital of Susa. Because of her great beauty and sensitivity to the Spirit of God, Esther became queen to King Xerxes without him knowing that she was a Jew. In this position she was introduced to Haman, the second in command to the king. Haman's immense pride, jealousy, and hate for the Jews led him to plot their destruction. We learn that Esther was placed in the palace "for such a time as this." (Esther 4:14) Her cousin Mordecai encourages her to go before the king without being summoned so she could plead for his mercy for her people.
By honoring the king with two exquisite banquets, Esther showed the king her loyalty to him and took advantage of this time to reveal her true identity as a Jew. She also exposed the plan that Haman was about to carry out in killing her and all the Jews in the Persian empire. The king wrote out another decree that allowed the Jews to fight for their lives against those who would attack them. Great fear of the Jews came upon those in the Persian empire, and they won a victory over their enemies. The king gave permission to the Jews to collect plunder from those who were going to kill them. However, no plunder was taken! The Jews understood that doing this would have been an idolatrous action. By not doing so, they could redeem the sin that had taken place years ago.
To understand the redemption that took place, we must look back to the days of King Saul and remember that he was from the tribe of Benjamin. 1 Samuel 15 tells how Saul went to battle against King Agag and the Amalekites. God's instructions to Saul were very clear: "Now go and attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belong to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys." (Verse 3) "But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good." (Verse 9)
The prophet Samuel confronted Saul: "Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?” (Verse 19) "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams." (Verse 22) Saul, representing the tribe of Benjamin, committed a sin of disobedience and arrogance against the Lord by stealing His plunder. As Benjamites, Mordecai and Esther were given the opportunity to redeem the taking of idolatrous plunder by the Benjamite King Saul. Is it not fitting that their enemy, Haman, was an Agagite of the Amalekites? With their actions, the Jews vindicated the tribe of Benjamin and all of Israel and destroyed the descendants of God's enemies.
If we look at the larger context of this story, we can see that Haman represents satanic opposition to the Christian community along with the Jews. We too have redemption from Christ's death on the cross and resurrection. Christ won the battle for us so that we can win plunder for Him through sharing the good news of Jesus with those who need to hear it. We can celebrate this season and rest assured of the Lord's redemption for every season. What an encouragement!
Joan E. Mathias