When I read the news or see the images of refugees pouring out of countries in the Middle East and Africa into camps in Europe my heart sinks. Hundreds of thousands of people are camped in desolate surroundings wondering if there is any hope for their future. Violence against them and destruction of their own homes and cities are the catalysts that drew them to a new land. However, the longer they stay in these camps, the more hopeless they become.
Those of us who have received new life by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ know hope and know that it is alive in Him. "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." (1 Peter 1:3)
The Lord has a plan. I think of what He says to Israel through the prophet Hosea: "Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor (trouble) a door of hope..." (Hosea 2:14-15) God will stop at nothing to bring the nations to salvation. Sometimes it takes bringing them into the desert place in order to capture their attention. When you have nothing, where does your hope come from? When you have no plan for your future you may as well listen to someone who gives you a word of hope centered on Jesus.
God has already set in motion a plan to bring many of the refugees of today into His Kingdom. One of the ways in which He does it is through Believers who are sold out of Him. I met with such a person this week. Diminutive in stature and quiet in voice, you might miss the fact that she has a heart like Esther in the Bible and the courage of a lion. Years ago God started to prepare her for the call on her life by speaking a word to her heart--"Transformed to Hope." She faithfully wrote it in her Bible next to the verses she had opened to: "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." (Proverbs 31:8-9) After years of preparation through schooling, helping on the mission field with her parents and waiting upon the Lord, the time has come for Erika Gokcen to launch out into a ministry to the refugees in France.
Erika is walking on an unknown path, but she is determined in her steps. She has seen firsthand the need for hope in the refugee camps. She found people who are hungry for the truth. They eagerly listen to the Gospel as she shares the hope she has in Jesus. Webster's New World Dictionary defines hope as a feeling that what is wanted will happen; a desire accompanied by expectation. But it is so much more to a Christian! Hope is actually a place of refuge and an anchor for the soul. (Hebrews 6:17-20) Hope is a person. (Colossians 1:27 and Titus 2:13) Hope leads us to perseverance and patience. (Romans 8:24-30) Hope is brought to us through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures. (Romans 15:4) Hope abounds by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13) Hope rises as we recall God's faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-25) Prophet and author Bob Hazlett puts it this way: "Hope is an expected end that will exceed your expectations."
Erika is being transformed into the likeness of the Lord with ever-increasing glory. (2 Corinthians 3:18) Her hope in the Lord is secure so she moves forward, trusting Him for every need. She knows that "Christ is faithful as a son over God's house. And we are His house, if we hold onto our courage and the hope of which we boast." (Hebrews 3:6) If you are in the Valley of Achor, reach out for the Door of Hope. Hope is alive and well! And please, support and pray for Erika as she holds out the Word of life/hope from the Gospel. Also, please pray for those who will hear the truth--that God would work powerfully in their lives so that they are transformed to hope.
Rugby is a national sport for Fiji. This nation, comprised of 125 inhabited islands, has a population of about 900,000 people. I read that about two-thirds of the people are Christian. The deep faith of these people was put on display when the Men's Rugby Seven team won the gold Olympic medal--the first Olympic medal ever! Nick Mulvenney of "The Herald" wrote about how the team gave honor to God: "Their mission complete, the Fijian players, many of them in tears, linked arms in a circle on the halfway line and sang together with eyes raised up to the dark skies above."
I watched as Fiji’s players sang their hearts out. They also prayed and then came together in a tight circle. Every player had his hand pointed up to heaven as they gave God the glory for the victory. These players represent the fruit of a great revival that occurred in Fiji in 2002.
Before the revival Fiji was in deep trouble because of the practices of the many tribes that comprise the nation. Horrific tribal fighting was taking place. Superstition, sorcery and cannibalism were practiced. The crime rate was high. The sins of this nation impacted the earth and sea. Coral beds were dying, fish were depleted, streams were filled with toxins, fields were unproductive and the economy was going down the tubes. With this as a backdrop, a prayer movement was birthed by a few and began to grow. Pastors joined together across denominational lines to pray. The movement started to touch members of the government. Acting Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase gave a public apology for the shameful way in which certain ethnic groups had been treated. Leaders in the highest levels of government modeled repentance and fasting and prayer. Entire island populations joined the movement.
George Otis, Jr. (OpenHeaven.com), who studied revivals around the world, came to see for himself the phenomena that began to occur in Fiji. He found that the dying coral reefs were coming back to life, fish were returning, streams were healed, and crops were growing. He saw the manifestation of 2 Chronicles 7:14 before his very eyes. "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
The Fiji study done by George Otis found that there were 10 keys to the revival and its long-term impact: (1) key leaders faithful to intercede, (2) deep humility in leaders, (3) youth with a zeal for intercession, (4) unity among all churches, (5) leaders first to humble themselves and repent, (6) the importance of repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation and restitution, (7) corporate repentance before individual response, (8) simple faith, (9) historical sin dealt with, (10) spiritual warfare undertaken. The healing that came to Fiji was amazing! Years later the imprint of revival remains as was seen by the humble Fiji Rugby Seven team. They unashamedly gave glory to God on the world stage.
I long to see revival in our nation. I believe that the Lord wants to give it to us when the timing and circumstances are right. In the meantime, it is up to us to be faithful in prayer--prayer for our churches, leaders and land. As the prophet Hosea says, "Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord until He comes and showers righteousness on you." (Hosea 10:12)
Lake Winnipesaukee is uncharacteristically quiet in the early morning. The wind and the wakes have not rumpled the water yet. The surface of the water is flat and looks more like a pond than a huge lake. The still of the morning is appealing to wildlife. Animals and birds emerge from their night time rest. A chipmunk scurries across the deck. A loon swims close to the shore and dives for food below. The heavens and the earth are awakening. The clouds in the sky are turning golden as the sun rises in the horizon.
As I stood on the end of our long dock looking at the morning scene I noticed hundreds of tiny water bugs shooting across the water's surface. The water was so still that I could see how each bug left a small "V"-shaped wake behind it. Together these bugs made a beautiful pattern on the water. The morning sun was rising, and it made every water bug look like a point of light. It seemed like I was looking at a pyrotechnic quilt on the water.
I am astonished at how God reveals His glory through creation! If only we would be still and wait, we could know God. (Psalm 46:10) This is one of the ways in which God planned for us to know Him. "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--His eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Romans 1:20)
God reminded me that another way in which He reveals Himself on earth is through the Body of Christ. Just like those bugs shining on the surface of the water we are meant to shine the light of Christ to the world around us. "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you." (Isaiah 60:1) God sent Jesus as the "Light of the World." Apostle Paul explains God's intention in 2 Corinthians 4:6. "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."
Jesus told His disciples, "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise Your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-16)
Do you see how this scene of lit up water bugs, transforming the surface of the water into something beautiful, is like what the Body of Christ is meant to do? The Son shines on us so that we reflect His glory. Together we transform the environment. The wake that we leave behind us should create a pattern of beauty, and the light that is within us should shine the love of Jesus to those around us. Here is what is written in Habakkuk 2:14. "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." Could it be that the prophet saw a time when Believers came together in unity and spread the glory and love of the Lord around the world? I think so.
Jesus prayed to Father God before returning to heaven. "I pray also for those who will believe in me through their (the disciples) message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you...I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:20-23) We are meant to be glory carriers and to reflect the love of Christ all over the world. During a time of worship this morning we sang a song called “Your Glory,” written by Leslie Jordan. The words make a confession: “And my life is Yours…Cause Your glory is so beautiful I fall onto my knees in awe. And the heartbeat of my life is to worship in Your light; Cause Your glory is so beautiful.” May this be our heart cry.
The 4th chapter of Hebrews talks about entering the Sabbath rest of God. Sadly, the children of Israel, except for Joshua and Caleb, never entered that rest because they did not apply faith to God's promises. Their lack of faith started Israel on a cycle of destruction that frequently manifests during the month we have just entered--Av. The cycle began on the 9th of Av when God's people chose to listen to the wrong voices.
God had good plans in mind for the month of Av. Av, meaning "father," was to be a month to celebrate the Good Father. It was the month when Israel was to enter the Promised Land where God's rest would be realized. His intention was that every year the month of Av would be a time to remember God's goodness. Instead the people of Israel remember Av--especially the 9th of Av--as a time when destruction occurred.
The Sabbath rest that God intends for His people can only be reached when we believe in His goodness and His dedication to keeping the promises and covenants He has made. How can we enter a place of rest if we do not believe in a faithful God?
Trust in our Heavenly Father was modeled by Jesus when He came to earth. Daily, He went before Father God for wisdom and guidance and was able to live in peace and rest despite unsettling circumstances around Him. The writer of Hebrews exhorts us: "Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess." (Hebrews 4:14)
The month of Av is a time for us to make choices. The way in which we live can restore God's plans for this month. Listen carefully to the voice of God and choose to live according to His guidance. Choose to walk in freedom by repenting for iniquitous patterns of behavior in your life. Choose to believe in God's promises and receive His blessing. Seek the counsel of the Lord and follow His lead. Agree with the Psalmist and declare, "Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you." (Psalm 116:7) "My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress. I will never be shaken." (Psalm 62:1-2)
Joan E. Mathias