Afghanistan's Need for Prayer
During the five years that my friend lived in Afghanistan she heard many heart-wrenching stories about how hard it was to live in a country that followed Sharia law. Yet she was there to share the truth of the love of Jesus and the hope that He brings for them. Currently, we are looking at what seems like a hopeless situation in Afghanistan. The people of this country find themselves in the clutches of a terrorist organization with no respect for human dignity or freedom. They are watching the destruction of their lives and are horrified by the possibilities for the future. Please let this letter encourage you to pray.
In a recent post from "All Israel News," Joel Rosenberg wrote about the history of Afghanistan. It was not until 1747 that Afghanistan became a nation-state. Before that the region was ruled by kings. The country was largely ignored by the world until 1979 when the Soviets invaded. With the help of American aid in the early 1980s (money and weapons), the Afghans were able to chase the Soviets out of the country. Had the United State continued to help the Afghans with humanitarian relief, perhaps the picture of this country would be different today. Without resources to help the many refugees who live in country, The Afghan leadership fell. Mohammed Omar, who Rosenberg calls "a ferocious and fanatical mujadeen commander," created the Taliban, an extreme jihadist organization. The Taliban took over the Afghan government and decided to thank Allah for their victory by establishing an Islamic country governed by Sharia law. Later Osama bin Laden would join with the Taliban forces to plot the 9/11 attacks on the United States. In the meantime, terror was unleashed on the Afghan people. They lived in fear! Here is Rosenberg’s description of Afghan lives just before 9/11: "Their children were being recruited for jihad or forced to do unspeakable things in the name of Allah. Hope was fading quickly. Depression was rising; drug use was rampant. The country was becoming the world's No. 1 source of opium and heroin, and there seemed no way out." Here is what women faced: They were treated with total lack of respect and were expected to live in forced marriages as slaves. With Taliban ruling, women were publicly punished for working or not wearing a burqa by stonings, whippings, and hangings.
After the 9/11 attack on the United States, life for the Afghan people changed again. As the US poured troops and bombs into the country and set up a new government, the freedoms for the Afghans began to return. It was during this time that my friend was able to go into the country to live among the people and share the Good News. New lifestyles were established throughout Afghanistan. The US government set up a military network to train Afghan soldiers to fight and protect the land and people. For 20 years there was a US presence that gave the Afghans a sense of security. As we have seen, however, all this ended abruptly a few weeks ago with the pullout of US troops. The Afghan military collapsed as a Wall Street Journal article describes: "In the week of President Biden's withdrawal, the US pulled its air support, intelligence, and contractors servicing Afghan's planes and helicopters. That meant that Afghan military simply couldn't operate anymore." With the Taliban fully in control, chaos, fear, and terror reign over the Afghans who helped the American military, those who profess to be Christian, and others who understand the ramifications of being ruled by a terrorist organization.
Sadly, terrorist organizations throughout the world are feeling empowered to start their own terror campaigns as they observe the destruction of America's credibility. The Americans have opened a door for evil to enter with no fear of reprisal. In his second letter to the Church in Thessaloniki, Paul wrote, "And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one...May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance." (2 Thessalonians 3:2-5) Let us pray this and a prayer written by Joel Rosenberg that is below. Please pray for the Afghans in any way that The Spirit leads you.
"We must pray that they (Afghan Christians) will be lights in the darkness, that in both their conduct and their speech they will be witnesses of the true and glorious hope, redemption, transformation, and eternal salvation they have experienced by placing their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And we must pray that Afghan Muslims who are terrified of being enslaved or slaughtered by the Taliban will see the hope in their Christian neighbors, and ask why their neighbors have hope amid such horror, and that the Christians will be brave enough to explain the good news of Christ's great love and mercy with clarity, simplicity and trusting in the power of the Word of God—not their own wisdom or cleverness—to convince and persuade." We must not be silent! Light will prevail over darkness as we battle in the Spirit!
The Blessings of the Fall Feasts
God's three main feasts--Passover Pentecost, and Tabernacles--are shadows of Messiah. The Fall Feasts prophecy the Lord's second coming and paint a picture of Christ's return to bring His Bride unto Himself. Each feast has a specific spiritual transaction for us that draws us closer to God. Passover brought redemption, Pentecost brought the Holy Spirit, and Tabernacles looks forward to the second coming of the Lord.
The cycles ordained by God are for rest and refreshment and increasing intimacy with the Lord. All of them are wrapped around the number seven and occur weekly, monthly, and yearly. As we align ourselves with God's cycles of life, His blessings are poured out upon us. When we keep God's divine appointments we will walk in a blessed lifestyle. Let us keep in mind that God's intent is for His church to celebrate His feasts forever. Leviticus 23:37 talks about the fall feasts and says, "This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live." Sadly, many Christian churches today have moved far away from God's appointed times of rest and celebration except for the weekly one. Is it not time for us to change our mindset? Paul gives us advice in Romans 12:2. "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind..."
Just as the Church has Advent, a time of preparation to celebrate the birth of Messiah, the high holy days of the Fall Feasts begin in the sixth month on the Hebrew calendar, called Elul. From the beginning of Elul until the 10th day (Yom Kippur or The Day of Atonement) in the seventh month called Tishrei, there is a time of preparation for meeting the King. Preparation includes repentance, forgiveness, and submission to the Lord. The first day of Tishrei begins the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) or "The Head of the Year." At the beginning of this New Year the shofar will be blown to announce the year 5782 and the beginning of the Sabbatical year called The Shemitah.
The importance of the number seven in God's world is demonstrated by the times of rest that He appoints for His people. Like our rest on the seventh day of the week, we are also to rest and celebrate during the Fall Feasts in the seventh month of the year. Once every seven years a Sabbatical year occurs where God directs His people and their land to rest. There is a dual purpose in this year to improve the condition of the land and to increase the faith of those who follow God. It is so appropriate that the meaning of the seventh year of rest, Shemitah, is release. Here are some of the benefits of releasing the land and our care to the Lord: When the farmer "fallows" (leaves bare) his field, he is setting it up to produce a healthier and larger crop in the season to come by increasing the nutrients in the soil, increasing moisture in the sub-soil, and disrupting the life cycle of pathogens. As we follow God's directions in Scripture by resting at His designated times, we also set ourselves up for an increase in faith and trust in the Lord. I find it interesting that Genesis 22, the story of Abraham's obedience to God when he was asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac, is read at the celebration of Rosh Hashanah. This story introduces us to the concept of substitutionary atonement for those who trust in God to provide for every need.
The Jews will be celebrating the New Year 5782 beginning at sunset on September 6. They will rest from their daily work to celebrate the faithfulness of God in their lives and in the lives of their ancestors. Their time will be spent in contemplation, repentance, and prayer. Through the grace of God, Gentiles have been grafted into "The Vine," God's family. Romans 11:17 confirms this: "...Though a wild olive shoot, you have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root…” Joining in this celebration could only be a blessing for us. If we position ourselves before the Lord to follow HIs times and seasons listed in the Old Testament, there will be an increase in intimacy with Him, and He will help us determine a direction for the year to come.
God still calls us to remember what He has already done through His Son, Jesus, and to rehearse for what is yet promised. We have an opportunity to prepare for the Jewish New Year and pray for the fulfillment of God's promises that all Israel will be saved, and that the world will come to know our Messiah as Savior.
Cycles of Life
God speaks to me through His creation. Such was the case this past weekend when we went to visit the Delaware Bay and learned about what is considered one of the top 10 environmental phenomena on the planet. We found an abundance of horseshoe crab shells on a narrow beach at the edge of the Delaware Bay. As I began to research the reason for this, I was treated to information that confirms my faith in a God who cares for every creature He created. "The birds of the sky nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. He waters the mountain from His upper chambers; the land is satisfied by the fruit of His works. He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate--bringing forth food from the earth...All creatures look to You to give them their food at the proper time...I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praises to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to Him as I rejoice in the Lord." (Psalm 104:12-14, 27, 34)
Horseshoe crabs, I read, are older than dinosaurs and one of nature's oldest creatures. Millions of horseshoe crabs migrate from the ocean to the Delaware Bay in the spring. The warm sand that surrounds the shallow waters of the Bay is perfect for incubating the eggs of the females. They come to shore when the moon is full, making the tides high. The males attach themselves to the back of the females who drag them ashore to fertilize the eggs. During each tide cycle the female may lay four to five clutches of eggs or about 100,000 eggs. When the sands are disturbed by the females' repeated trips to the shores, the clutches of eggs are split apart, and millions of eggs are washed into the water. This is the reason for another phenomena at the Delaware Bay.
There is an ecological connection between the horseshoe crabs and migratory shore birds. From the first week of May through the second week of June shorebirds migrate to the Delaware Bay. The Bay is a critical habitat to more than 400 species of birds, and it is estimated that between 425,000 to one million of them converge on this sanctuary yearly. A yearly migration takes place between different regions of South America and the Artic territories where millions of birds breed. The birds only make one major stop to refuel during the middle of their 8,000-mile trip. Their flight burns many calories, so there is a need for them to rebuild their fat reserves. In order to complete their migration, they need to double their weight. Horseshoe crab eggs provide just what the birds need to rebuild their fat reserves. In one day, the eggs help the birds regain four to nine percent of their body weight. It is common to see a huge congregation of birds pecking at the shorelines of the Bay during the full moon when the high waters are awash with horseshoe crab eggs. (Check out this web site for pictures and additional information: Delmph.org/shorebirds)
Isn't it magnificent to know that God cares for every creature on the earth and establishes within them patterns of behavior and cycles of life that bring them the provision they need? The Psalmist describes this in Psalm 145:15-16. "The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing." Jesus teaches us not to worry about our lives in Matthew 6:25-27. "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" We should be inspired by the yearly migration of the horseshoe crabs and birds. Let us remember the words of Jesus during times of difficulty. We are more valuable to Him than the birds and provision is waiting for us.
A Visitation from King Jesus
We start Elul, the sixth month on the Hebrew calendar, at sunset tonight. The name Elul is a Hebrew acronym, "Ani L'dodi V'dodi Li, meaning "I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine." (Song of Solomon 6:3) This being the sixth month, we should look at the picture that represents the Hebrew letter for six or Vav. Vav is a picture of a tent peg or nail used to make something secure. Indeed, God wants us to be secure in our relationship with Him and did something spectacular to show us how much He loves us and desires to be in our company.
What did God do that is so amazing? Luke 1:26-27, 30-31, gives us the answer. "In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary...The angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.'" The angel went on to give more details of this immaculate conception and God's intent for His life. “…So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
Could Mary's pregnancy that begins in the month of Elul be why the Jews say, "The King is in the field?" I believe God appointed this time for us to connect with Him in such an intimate way that we will never doubt His great love for us. To confirm this in the heavens, He placed the constellation Virgo (The virgin) in the night sky. Elul is a month of nurturing or mothering. I think it is no accident that Rebekah gave birth to her twins, Jacob and Esau, during Elul.
Contemplate with me what a woman does when she learns she is pregnant. A time of preparation begins so that the baby can be welcomed and cared for in the best way possible. Since this is the season when "The King is in the field" should we not be prepared to meet Him? He welcomes our approach. He demonstrated His love for His people during this month by allowing Moses to return to Mount Sinai for a second set of tablets. He truly is a God of mercy! Elul precedes the month of Tishrei, when the fall feasts are held. An invitation is given to all of us to join the Lord for these feasts.
The manifest presence of the Lord is described perfectly in John 1:14. "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." Dwelling is a name for tent or tabernacle. He tabernacled among us. Imagine the King of all creation leaving HIs perfect heavenly throne to be with us! Such love! "This is love: Not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4:10) It is time for us to remember the nail that secured our King to us. Isn't it significant that the Lord was nailed to the Cross? He was attached and secured to the Cross because of His amazing love for us. That love should lead us to repentance, which leads to God's mercy and fruitfulness for our lives. What an awesome God we serve!
Carrying the Flaming Torch
The Olympics originated in Olympia, Greece about 3,000 years ago. They started as a religious festival honoring Zeus in the 8th century BC and continued until the 4th century AD. In 393 AD, Christian Emperor Theodosius The First banned "pagan" festivals, which ended the Olympics for almost 12 centuries. The first modern Olympics took place in 1896 in Athens with 12 participating nations. Fire became part of the ceremony during the 1928 Summer Olympics. Inspired by the ancient Greek drawings and writings of Plutarch, Dr. Carl Diem of Germany introduced the Torch Relay. It was not until 1938 that the flame also became part of the Winter Olympics.
The flame was meant to emphasize the link between the ancient and modern games. In the ancient ceremonies, the flame was kindled using a type of crucible positioned to face the sun so that its rays concentrated on one spot and set fire to dry grass. Today there is a ceremony in Olympia, Greece where a parabolic mirror catches the sun's rays to ignite a flame. Several months before the games a flame is lit, and a torch relay begins where runners move from region to region until the torch reaches its destination of the host country. This Torch Relay is meant to express the handing down of the fire from generation to generation.
In the Body of Christ there is a remnant of Believers in Jesus who understand the importance of keeping the flame of the Lord burning. The first covenant made by God with man came through the Father of our Faith, Abraham, or Abram. In this unilateral covenant, God gave Abram a dream where a smoking pot and flaming torch passed between animals cut in half as a sacrifice. A smoking pot was a small clay container shaped like a beehive, 2' to 3' in diameter, and called a "tannur" in Hebrew. The flaming torch signified the holy presence of the Lord moving among HIs people. "Lapped" is the Hebrew word for the flashing light.
It is thought that the passing of these two objects between the two halves of a sacrifice represent the manifestation of God and confirm the covenant that He was making with Abram and all of Israel. God showed Abram that his descendants would go through suffering before He would give them an inheritance of the Promised Land. Here is how Genesis 15:17-18 describes what took place: "When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, 'To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates—'"
After the Israelites spent 400 years in slavery to the Egyptians, God prepared a deliverer to lead them out of bondage. The angel of the Lord appeared to Moses "in flames of fire from within a bush." (Exodus 3:2) While traveling through the wilderness, the children of Israel constructed a tabernacle that became the center of their lives. "So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels." (Exodus 40:38) God made it clear to Aaron the priest that burnt sacrifices were to be offered to Him daily. He was told, "The fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must not go out...The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out." (Leviticus 6:12-13)
Believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have been handed the mandate to keep the flame of God burning. Today that flame represents our unabandoned worship of the Lord—a lifestyle of sacrificial love of God and those around us. Just as the flame of the Olympics symbolizes the link between the ancient and modern games, the flame of God has been a consistent symbol of our priestly duty to keep the flame of worship alive. In addition, just as the flaming torch is handed down from one person to another until it reaches its destination, we must keep the flame shining brightly and pass it from one generation to the next. Let us think back on the introduction of the flaming torch to Abraham, remember how fire has been used by God to refine and define His people, and recommit and choose to select a lifestyle of sacrificial worship that pleases God and draws Him closer to us.
Joan E. Mathias