"Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4) I can testify to the truth of this Scripture. God knows what is in our hearts, and He cares about what we carry there. For years I have carried the desire to visit Alaska in my heart. He knew it and put together a plan that would allow me to realize this desire. Along with my husband, I spent the middle two weeks of July in an environment that stunned us. Author of the book Alaska - Saga of a Bold Land, Walter Boreman, describes the landscape this way: "What you notice first, and what remains with you long afterward, is the scale. Here is a land where superlatives abound, and comparisons are few. Here is a land that dwarfs almost any wilderness you have known...Alaska is 615,230 square miles of rugged mountains, grinding glaciers, seemingly endless tundra, broad rivers, and rushing streams--larger than all but 17 of the world's countries..."
When I look back, it is hard for me to select a favorite location in this land of "Wows!" Our first stop in Fairbanks, Alaska, contained several treasures, my favorite being Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. Here we found a huge field covered in the yellow flowers of the mustard plant. The majestic scene was framed in the back by mountains. We were entertained by a flock of Sandhill Cranes as we took in the landscape before us.
From Fairbanks we made our way southwest to Denali National Park that holds the crown jewel of mountains, Mt. Denali (or McKinley) with a height of 20,320 feet. The snowcapped peaks remain that way year-round, and on a clear day you can see them from miles away. We were told that only five percent of the visitors to Alaska get to view the top of the mountain as it is usually shrouded in clouds. On our day in Denali Park we started with clouds, but by mid-day they were lifting, and we had a glorious view of the snow-capped mountain.
Another treasure of the Alaskan wilderness is its many glaciers. We were able to see three of them in Glacier Bay National Park that can only be accessed via boat or plane. As we slipped into the Bay, mountains came down to meet the tropical-colored water. Since we came so close to the glaciers, we could feel the cool breezes from the ice. Over the years, these glaciers have advanced and then retreated again. Margerie Glacier calved (released a wall of ice into the water) as we were there. My favorite glacier, however, is Mendenhall Glacier, part of the Juneau Icefield. It sits at the back of Mendenhall Lake in Tongass National Forest. The blue spectrum of the rainbow appears in all the cracks of the glacier. That, against the white snow, makes for a magnificent landscape.
I have shared only a portion of our trip that has given us memories for a lifetime. But one cannot take all of this in without giving glory to the One who created it. I know from Scripture that God created the heavens and the earth with His spoken Word. I am overwhelmed with the scale and majesty of it! I want to leave you with verses from Psalm 65. "Praise awaits You...You who answers prayer, to You all people will come...God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth...who formed the mountains by Your power...The whole earth is filled with awe at Your wonders...The grassland of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing..."
Our hearts are full of awe as we have experienced such an awesome part of God's creation. It causes us to bow in worship, because not only has He made this, but has given us a new-found respect for Him that compels us to worship Him forever.
It is common for different emotions to partner with one another. For example, Nehemiah 8:10 tells us that, "The joy of the Lord is our strength." When we have joy based on the truth that the Lord is our salvation, refuge, and guide, an inner strength grows in us. On the other hand, when we look at negative emotions, fear frequently travels with doubt and unbelief. This combination was a major problem for the children of Israel when they came out of Egypt. God made promises to all of Israel that have become known as the "Five I Wills." (1) "I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians." (2) "I will free you from being slaves to them." (3) "I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment." (4) "I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God." (5) "I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession." (Exodus 6:6-8)
God proved His faithfulness to the Israelites by bringing plagues upon the Egyptians that did not touch them. In addition, He brought them out from under the yoke of slavery with plunder. In a mighty show of power, the Lord opened the Red Sea for all of Israel to walk through and then drown the armies of Egypt. In celebration, the Israelites sang, "The Lord is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation." (Exodus 15:2) Guiding His people with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, He was with them every step of their journey. He healed the bitter waters of Marah, so that they could have drink. He brought them manna daily. He helped defeat the Amalekites. At Mount Sinai, they were given God's commandments to follow, and they made a covenant with God. "We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey." (Exodus 24:7)
When the Israelites reached Canaan, at the Lord's command, Moses sent twelve leaders of the tribes of Israel into the Promised Land to investigate. After exploring for 40 days, they returned with a report. Ten of the leaders spread a bad report and doubt that led to fear concerning God's promises arose. Psalm 78:11 says, "They forgot what He had done, the wonders He had shown them." Psalm 106:13 reports, "But they soon forgot what He had done and did not wait for His plan to unfold." The bad report from the explorers caused the people to lose faith in God. They doubted their ability to occupy their God-given inheritance. Unbelief and fear overrode faith, and they refused to move forward into the land that God had promised them.
According to Rabbinic tradition, the children of Israel refused to enter the Promised Land on the ninth of Av. This refusal set into motion yearly disasters, including the destruction of the first and second temple, that all occurred on the ninth of Av. The writer of Hebrews describes God's decision concerning the future of the children of Israel who were rescued from Egypt. "So, God swore an oath that they would never enter into a calming place of rest all because they disobeyed Him. It is clear that they could not enter into their inheritance because they wrapped their hearts of unbelief." (Hebrews 3:18-19 - TPT)
The month of Av begins this week; the ninth of Av is on July 27 this year. It would be beneficial for us to remember His faithfulness in our lives, and to meditate on the promises that God has given us. If we find doubt or fear arising, we must resist it and, by faith, claim His promises. It is faith that conquers doubt. Although the Jews mourn on this day, they also proclaim God's greatness. "You turn my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever." (Psalm 30:11-12)
As I walked down the driveway to my boss's office, I saw something that looked impossible. In a small crack between the foundation of the building, the driveway, and the sidewalk there was a stunning, deep pink petunia blooming as though it was living in perfect surroundings. Apparently, a small seed from the pot of flowers that sat on the front stoop of the house the year before had blown into the crack and lodged itself there for the winter. Its perseverance paid off, and when the warm weather began, the seed shell broke open, and roots grew. Those roots produced the petunia plant and the beautiful flower.
This amazing picture gave me great hope as I began to think about other seeds that have been planted. In Scripture, the word seed has different definitions. If we go back to the days of Abram in Genesis, we see that the Lord referred to Abraham's descendants as seed. "Yahweh brought him (Abram) outside his tent and said, 'Gaze into the night sky. Go ahead and try to count the stars.' He continued, 'Your seed will be as numerous as the stars!'" (Genesis 15:5 - TPT)
Not only can seed refer to descendants, but it can also refer to the Word of God. The seed is planted in the "ground" of our hearts. God designed all of us to produce fruit when His Word is planted and germinates. He also expects us to partner with Him in seed sowing. "Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening, let your hands not be idle." (Ecclesiastes 11:6a) The apostle Paul explains to the church at Corinth that we are servants of God, each with a task. "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow." (1 Corinthians 3:6)
May I encourage those of you who are praying for prodigals to come home? When I think of them, I think of the seeds that they carry. I am well aware that parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends intentionally plant seeds in their loved ones who have left the faith or who never fully embraced it. Let us remember that once a seed is planted, it does not go away! In the natural world, the shell of a seed must be broken before it begins to root. When I think of the petunia seed that brought forth the beauty held within it in an almost impossible situation, it reminds me that the seeds planted in hard hearts of God's children will also beak forth and produce fruit. Jesus, when he told those He ministered to not to worry, He pointed to the flowers. "...See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." (Matthew 6:28-29)
Perhaps our prayers for the prodigals in our lives should include asking the Lord to break open the shells surrounding the seeds that are already in their hearts. Then, let us pray that those seeds planted by our prayers are used to soften our loved ones' hearts. When the ground around a seed is soft, we have optimum conditions for growth. As the seeds begin to break and root, God will help them to grow. Be encouraged! God is a gardener. The first family was placed in the Garden of Eden. God continues to place each of us in ideal growing conditions for the fruit that He desires to harvest. He is all about collaborating with us to break up the hard ground so that the fruit of righteousness is forthcoming.
July 4, 1776, 247 years ago, our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence with two main objectives: (1) A declaration of independence from Great Britain, and (2) a declaration of dependence upon Almighty God. Its writers used the Bible as their example. I wonder how they would feel about the chaos that has ensued in our country. It seems we have endless battles between Christians and non-Christians whose opinions are opposite when it comes to the evidence of a Creator and creation. Moral absolutes are being challenged by those who say there is no such thing. Yet, on the day of America's birth a bell was rung that had a Scripture inscribed on it from Leviticus 25:10. "Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof." That bell remains as a testimony to the foundation from which our nation was established--The Bible.
Our 30th president, Calvin Coolidge (who was born on July 4, 1872), said it well when he looked into the future of our nation. "The foundation of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country." Sadly, I see these words beginning to bear fruit. Let us not forget that the Bible was the foundational book used in our schools at the dawning of America. Those of us who hold to the truths upon which our country was established must come into agreement with our forefathers. Dutch Sheets, in a post written on June 22 entitled "God Needs Our Agreement," confirms this. He reminded us of the importance of agreeing with previous generations.
Dutch shared interesting information about the foundations of our schools. He wrote, "One hundred six of America's first one hundred eight colleges and Universities were founded on the Christian faith. Students at Harvard and Yale were required to read Scriptures twice daily. Harvard's founders stated: 'All knowledge without Christ is vain.' Its motto was 'For Christ and The Church.' Yale's founders stated that 'Every student shall consider the main end of his study is to know God in Jesus Christ...' Princeton's motto was 'Under God's Power She Flourishes.'...Noah Webster, who published the first American Dictionary of the English language in 1828 said, 'Education is useless without the Bible.'...Webster also said, 'The principles of genuine liberty, and of wise laws and administrations, are to be drawn from the Bible and sustained by its authority. The man, therefore, who weakens or destroys the divine authority of that book may be accessory to all the public disorders which society is doomed to suffer.'"
There is a remnant of people in the United State who understands and believes in the foundational truths upon which our nation was established and on the precepts and commandments that are the underpinning of our Constitution. We must declare these truths in agreement with the generations that came before us. We cannot allow the loud voices of descension to override truth. The future of our nation depends upon us. In a post from June 21, Dutch Sheets reminded us of the powerful hymn written by Martin Luther titled, "A Mighty Fortress is our God." I would like to highlight a line from the third verse. "And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed HIs truth to triumph through us..." Triumph occurs through our declaration of truth. We must take every opportunity God gives us to make truth known. We can take heart from the words of Scripture: "Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him." (Proverbs 30:5)
Joan E. Mathias