Reflecting God's Beauty
As the summer draws to a close the flowers planted in the spring are pushing out their last blossoms before the frost does them in. One of my favorite annuals, growing on my deck, is a Mandevilla vine. Its oblong leaves are shiny green, and its trumpet-shaped flowers have 5 pure white petals with a pale pink blush at their base and a yellow throat. The vine grows aggressively from many different shoots, with the new growth frequently intertwining. Yesterday I found three of the shoots circling an oblong flower bud ready to break open. This would not have been possible had I not freed the bud from the restricting tendrils. I must be vigilant in keeping the new grow from choking the flowers.
The enemy of our souls acts somewhat like these choking vines. He targets anything new and beautiful in our lives, attempting to choke it out. With restrictions binding us, we are unable to bless others, because we are fighting for our own lives. Just as new flower buds on the Mandevilla vine break open daily to swell and reveal their lovely pristine petals and calyx, God gives us new possibilities to reflect His beauty daily. We must push against the enemy attacks to share the Lord's beauty in our lives.
I discovered this summer that squirrels love to eat the Mandevilla leaves and flowers. One evening I came home to find a squirrel sitting on my deck chair with an entire shoot in its paws. He was eating one leaf at a time and saved the flower buds for dessert. Ugh!! I will not allow this enemy of my beautiful vine to destroy it. There is a yardstick by my door that I use to chase the squirrels. My persistence has helped in keeping them away.
What have I learned from my experience with this vine? A Christian receives attacks from within and without just like the Mandevilla vine. Vigilance is mandatory! The enemy attacks when we are unaware. He may come upon our physical or our emotional wellbeing. He attempts to incapacitate us through the frequency and nature of his attacks. His strategy is to wear us down. Along with vigilance, we must have persistence. This will stop the enemy of our souls from developing strongholds. If we give him an inch, he will take a mile. Cutting him off before he gets rooted into our souls will benefit us in our battle.
The wonderful news is that we do not fight our battles alone. The Gardner of our souls is vigilant and persistent—always ready to come to our aid. He teaches us how to fight the fight. Paul gave Timothy this advice: "Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confessions in the presence of many witnesses." (1 Timothy 6:12) Paul also gives us advice in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
Jesus wants us to capture the hearts of the people of this world through our beauty that reflects Him. He is ready to fight with us in the battle against the enemy of our souls. Let us join Him in being vigilant and persistent so that we overcome the enemy and spread the Good News.
Dwelling with the King
The sixth month of the Spiritual year on the Hebrew calendar is also the 12th month of the physical or civil year. Six is represented by the Hebrew letter Vav which is a tent peg or nail used to connect or make something secure. The Hebrew letters Yod or Bet are for 12 and represent leadership and government. I find the conjunction of these two letters interesting, especially when we consider the times and seasons we are in. We truly need our government and leadership to be secured or pegged to the King of kings.
We have just entered the month of Elul when it is said, "The King is in the field." God is especially accessible to us during this time before the high holy days of the seventh month of Tishrei. Elul is when He offers us special access so we can meet Him face to face. How we need an encounter with the Lord! Elul could be called "a haven in time." It is when we should look back to assess what has happened and prepare for the holy days ahead. During Elul, it is said that the holy visitation of God comes in the mist of our daily lives.
Picture yourself working in a field. How would you feel if the King of your nation came into your field? Wouldn't you feel a change in the atmosphere around you? At the same time, we would be honored that the King came into our environment on our terms, so to speak. Let this remind us that every effort we make should be directed toward bringing God's presence into what we do. Every realm of our existence should have a goal of transforming each aspect of life, so it becomes a dwelling place for our king. Ordinary life is meant to be intertwined with godliness so that it brings honor to the King.
Elul should remind us that our world is God's dwelling place. As the King's kids, this is our season to refine our relationship with Him. Daily repentance would accelerate this process. The prophet Isaiah encourages us this way: "Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near." (Isaiah 55:6) The month of Elul is when one is to assess the year gone by and prepare for the high holy days of Tishrei. (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Succot) It is said that God relates to us in a more tangible way during Elul. Therefore, we should evaluate our past, repent for our sins, and prepare for the future. Take advantage of the fact that we can approach the King in our own fields, because He comes to encourage us. It is said that here "the holy meets the mundane." I believe it is meant to be a season when the King spurs us on to do good works and to get to know Him more intimately through prayer and Bible study.
The story of the King in the field should remind Christians of how Jesus left the comforts of heaven and came to earth to demonstrate His love and die for our sins. The shepherd boy David was a prototype of this. He went from his father's house into the field to tend the sheep. He became a worshiper of God, playing his harp and singing songs to the Lord as he tended the sheep. It would be from his line, the tribe of Judah, that our Messiah would come. Jesus was indeed a King who left his throne to become the Passover Lamb and "The King of the Jews." (Matthew 27:37)
King Jesus, Yeshua, is our Messiah. He came so that those who seek Him would find Him. (Matthew 7:8) He came into our field for 33 years, taught us the lessons of heaven, and gave us a picture of life in heaven with Him and Father God. Before dying for our sins, He let us know that there is a table prepared for us in heaven, and that we can have life everlasting with the King of kings and Lord of lords. This King invites us to come into His presence as He draws very close to us. Jesus presents us with this haven in time as we get ready for the high holy days of Tishrei. God wants to meet us in the everyday affairs of our lives. He wants intimacy with us. The letters of Elul actually form an acronym for the words of Song of Solomon 6:3. "I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine." Look for the King in your lives during this month, and rejoice that He delights in being with us.
A Step of Faith
China is in the forefront of the news today. There is no portion of the world that has not been negatively impacted by the tentacles of the Covid virus that has its origins in Wuhan, China. Leaders of China have been uncooperative in helping to get the pandemic under control. Their focus in this season seems to be on persecuting Christians and stopping the amazing growth of their community. Believers in Jesus are being thrown into prison while their churches are being destroyed. The latest scheme from the Chinese government is to offer money to anyone who will lead them to an underground home fellowship. The Chinese people are aware that when they take a step of faith and confess Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they may face great difficulties. However, they gladly commit their lives to love and serve Jesus. Missionaries from the west, who came to China in the early 1800s, demonstrated the love of Jesus and the persistence needed to sustain their faith. Chinese Christians are dedicated to their faith, at all costs.
Among the individuals who were called to share the good news of Jesus in China were two British women willing to take a step of faith into the unknown. Knowing that God had called them to the far east, they traveled to China without knowing their final destinations. Since no missionary society would back Gladys Aylward as a missionary, she worked as a parlor maid to raise money to take the Trans-Siberian Railway to China in 1930. At the age 26, Gladys planned to join another self-supporting Scottish missionary named Jeannie Lawson in Yangcheng in central China. Her trip was not for the faint of heart. After the train reached the end of the line, she continued her travels by sailing, taking a bus ride, and finally riding on a mule. She came to the broken-down inn that Jeannie had purchased. The two women fixed it up as a place to accommodate mule drivers who came through the City. They provided the men with meals, a clean place to sleep and stories of Jesus. Gladys was famous for taking in orphan children, some of whom she adopted. After Jeannie's death, the Mandarin leader of Shansi Province appointed her to be a foot inspector in surrounding villages. As Gladys enforced the prohibition against the ancient custom of binding infant girl's feet, she shared the stories of Jesus. In the spring of 1938, the Japanese attacked China. Gladys led 100 children to an orphanage in Sian where they would be safe. She and the children walked for 100 miles over mountains to Sian. During the trip they saw the miraculous provision of God as He fed them when they ran out of food and provided a boat to cross over the Yellow River.
At the age of five, Jackie Pullinger made a commitment to become a missionary. In her teenage years, she learned to play the piano and did so for her youth group meetings. Jackie wanted to be faithful in the call of God on her life but did not know where it was that God was calling her. At one of the meetings she heard from God: "Go. Trust me, and I will lead you. I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you shall go; I will guide you with my eye." (Psalm 32:8) Willing to go but frustrated that she still did not know where to go, Jackie confided in Parish Minister Richard Thompson. He advised her to trust God and gave this recommendation: "If I were you, I would go out and buy a ticket for a boat going on the longest journey you can find and pray to know where to get off." This is exactly what she did. Jackie found peace when the ship reached Hong Kong and began her ministry at age 22.
The people of the Walled City, whose name in Chinese--Hak Nam--means darkness, would become her life-long mission. The narrow walkways of this City, covered with slim, excrement, rotten food, and rubbish, would become the paths that Jackie walked regularly as she ministered to the drug dealers and addicts, prostitutes, and pornography peddlers. During her time of ministry, she founded the St. Stephen's Society where she could help those in need. She became a trusted, well-respected friend of the people in the region and was known by the heroin addicts as one who would help them withdraw from addiction without pain. Jackie would lead them to Christ; then they would receive a prayer language. Complete freedom from addiction came as they spoke in tongues for a prolonged period.
Both Gladys and Jackie had challenges that kept them totally connected to God. His intervention on their behalf led them to trust in Him unconditionally, and they looked to Him for every step of faith. They were like Father Abraham. "By faith, Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going." (Hebrews 11:8) These women inspire me to trust God for help in today's difficulties and in life in the future. Are we willing to take a step of faith? He may not be calling us to go to a foreign land, but He is calling us to live a life of trust and obedience to Him.
Peace in the Storm
Lake Winnipesaukee sits at the foothills of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. The spring-fed lake is 72 sq. miles. Winnipesaukee is an Indian name meaning "The Smile of the Great Spirit." (In my opinion, God‘s smile was placed upon this outstandingly beautiful lake. He must have put extra attention into creating it.) It is the largest lake in New Hampshire and the third largest in New England. There are six main bays on the Lake and approximately 264 islands. The large central portion of the Lake is known as "The Broads." It runs from the northwest to the southeast, is relatively free from islands, and is very deep.
High winds are common on Lake Winnipesaukee. The shape and location of the Lake makes it vulnerable to the southeast winds that come inland. It is not unusual for hurricane winds to hit the Lake. The "personality" of Winnipesaukee can change quickly if the winds arise, particularly in the open area of The Broads. A boater may embark on a trip across the Lake with calm waters only to find that an hour later the winds have increased significantly, making the surface of the water choppy with high waves and white caps. The trip home for this boater will be uncomfortable as the boat will pound across the water. This is particularly true if the boat is moving against the wind. My family and I experienced the fury of the recent hurricane at Lake Winnipesaukee last week. Trees were bending over from the strength of the wind, and the surface of the water became rough and chaotic. Boaters who were on the Lake quickly set a course for home.
Watching this storm, I remembered that Jesus stilled a storm for the disciples who were trying to get across the Sea of Galilee. They left the spot where Jesus had been teaching and headed toward the Gerasene region. Scripture says, "Suddenly, as they were crossing the Lake, a ferocious tempest arose, with violent winds and waves that were crashing into the boat until it was all but swamped. But Jesus was calmly sleeping in the stern, resting on cushion. So they shook Him awake, saying, 'Teacher, don't you even care that we are all about to die!' Fully awake, He rebuked the storm and shouted to the sea, 'Hush! Calm down!' All at once the wind stopped howling and the water became perfectly calm.
Then He turned to His disciples and said to them, 'Why are you so afraid? Haven't you learned to trust yet?' But they were overwhelmed with fear and awe and said to one another, 'Who is this man who has such authority that even the wind and waves obey Him?'" (Mark 4:37-41 - TPT)
Do you understand what happened here? The disciples lost sight of the fact that Jesus was in the boat with them! Yes, they were in a ferocious storm, but the One who commands the wind and water to do His bidding (Psalm 148:7-8) was with them. Yes, He was sleeping, but peace was all around Him. When the disciples woke Him up it only took a word from Jesus to calm the water and waves. "Hush! Calm down!"
We are also in a season of storms of many different kinds. We are in uncharted territory without knowing what to do. However, every Believer has the answers on how to survive the storms. Look to Jesus, the One who is in our boat with us. "...He makes the clouds His chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He makes the winds His messengers, flames of fire His servants." (Psalm 104:3-4) Look to Jesus and receive His peace.
Hope in the Battle
The legend of King Arthur and the knights of his Round Table is one that has been told in many forms. My favorite is through the musical "Camelot." Arthur had a vision of a land and people who live in peace and harmony. He gathered prominent knights from around the world who swore loyalty to him, agreed to observe a code of chivalry that required them to be brave and courteous, fight injustice and evil, and protect the weak and underprivileged.
The brotherhood of knights sat at a round table to discuss their adventures and make plans for peace. King Arthur's dream for Camelot came to an end as one of his knights, Sir Lancelot, fell in love with the Queen. Arthur's illegitimate son, Mordred, exposed the affair and rose up against the orderly kingdom. In the final scene of Camelot, Arthur is with his battle-ready troops. A small boy named Tom comes and asks to become a knight of the Round Table. He knows well the requirements for the knights and repeats one of their pledges: "Not might makes right, but might for right!" Arthur realizes that his dream has not died because someone from the next generation can inspire others to live it. On the spot, Arthur commissions Tom as an ambassador to spread the story of Camelot. King Arthur's hope for the future is restored.
Doesn't King Arthur's dream remind us of the one that our King has for us? The plans of the Lord are for our salvation through Jesus Christ, our prosperity through living in peace and unity with one another, and our generosity in helping those in need. He sent Jesus to the earth to share the good news. While here, Jesus selected 12 disciples to live with Him, learn about Kingdom living and then demonstrate it to others. Not only were the disciples commissioned, but so are we who are His children.
Look how the prophet Isaiah prophesied to Jerusalem after they endured many calamities. "My people will know my name...How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!’ ...Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted His people. He has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord will lay bare His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God." (Isaiah 52:6-10)
In Paul's letter to the Romans, he quotes Isaiah after asking some questions: "...And how can they hear the message of life if there is no one there to proclaim it? And how can the message be proclaimed if messengers have yet to be sent? That is why the Scriptures say: 'How welcoming is the arrival of those proclaiming the joyful news of peace and of good things to come!'" (Romans 10:14-15-TPT) We are like the small boy, Tom, being the sent ones. Jesus told His disciples, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." (Mark 16:15)
Dear Ones, we are the sent ones tasked with sharing the gospel of the Kingdom of God. We are citizens of God's heavenly Kingdom. God has "entrusted to us the ministry of opening the door of reconciliation to God. We are ambassadors of the Anointed One who carry the message of Christ to the world, as though God were tenderly pleading with them directly, through our lips..." (2 Corinthians 5:19-20-TPT) The Passion Translation footnote says that "to be ambassadors for Christ means that we are diplomatic agents of the highest rank sent to represent King Jesus and authorized to speak on His behalf. We are the voice of heaven to the earth, invested with royal power through the name of Jesus and authority of His blood." As we share the good news, we are bringing joy to our King and helping to expand His Kingdom. Psalm 78 tells the details of the journey of the Israelites and of God's faithfulness to them. The Psalmist declares that the story must continue to be told: "So the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep His commands." (Psalm 78:6-7) Amen! Let's keep the good news alive!
Joan E. Mathias