He was a godly man of faith who wanted to see his people freed from oppression. He quoted Scripture in his speeches. He encouraged peaceful protests and was resolute in his mission. Martin Luther King Jr. was eventually killed for his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement. But, his dream did not die. He left us his "I Have a Dream" speech as a picture of the goal and an inspiration for the future.
Peppered throughout the "Dream" speech are words that come from Scripture: "We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." (Amos 5:24) We should remember that the foundations of God's throne are righteousness and justice. (Psalm 89:14) "I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope." This portion of the speech was taken from Isaiah 40:4-5.
Could it be that King recognized the mission of Jesus Christ to set captives free and so quoted the prophets that told of the coming of this King who would fight for the weary and oppressed and bring hope to the hopeless? As the apostle Paul writes to the Galatians, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." (Galatians 5:1) Jesus Christ Himself made His mission known when He stepped into the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scroll of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoner and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)
Freedom in every realm of our lives is a God-given right since we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection. However, many of us are not walking in complete freedom. The battle for our freedom is a spiritual one. God gives us direction on how to obtain freedom. Here are the words of Jesus: "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free...So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:32,36)
Like last year, this year our celebration of the birth of Christ occurs in the middle of Chanukah. When events on the Jewish calendar converge with events on the Church's calendar, I like to look at the similarities between them. Both these events land in the month of Kislev, the ninth month on the Jewish calendar. Since Kislev is associated with the Hebrew letter SAMEKH, which pictures trust and support, it is time for us to do just that in our relationship with the Lord.
The constellation Sagittarius, the archer, appearing in Kislev, reminds us that this is the month to develop our warfare strategies for the season ahead. We must "fight against empires and cultures,” as Chuck Pierce says in his book, A Time to Advance. And, it is important that we trust God to guide us and give us mercy. Psalm 23:5-6 says, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
During the time when the Temple was overtaken by the Syrian-Greek army the flame of the candelabra had been extinguished and the altar defiled. There was little hope for the future; times were dark. Likewise, at the time when Christ was to be born the darkness of oppression covered the people. But God had a plan. With His help, warfare strategies were developed to overcome the enemy.
A group of Jewish patriots called the Maccabees had hope and developed a battle plan to retake the Temple. They bravely fought and defeated the Greek army to free their people from tyranny and re-establish worship in the Temple. As they set about to cleanse it, they realized there was only enough purified oil for the lampstand to burn for one night. Miraculously, it burned for eight. God arranged for the light to continue burning and followed them with goodness and mercy.
God's plan to overcome darkness and bring freedom for the oppressed was to ultimately be done through Christ Jesus. He came to shine His light in the darkness and to defeat Satan and the kingdom of darkness. His battle strategy includes us, His Church. Victory is promised through the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony and not loving our lives as much as to shrink from death. (Revelation 12:11)
As we look back in history, we see that God has always been faithful to His people. He is trustworthy and sent Jesus as the Lord of Hosts, Light of the World, Prince of Peace and Redeemer to help us develop battle strategies and lead us in triumphant procession (2 Corinthians 2:14) and who "made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God..." (2 Corinthians 4:6) It is time for us to develop our strategies for the New Year and to look to the One who leads us in victory and follows us with goodness mercy.
Have you feasted your eyes on all the beautiful Christmas plants in the stores? One particularly interesting one is the Christmas cactus. Its unique form consists of hanging branches made up of flat, green segments. The flowers appear on the tips of the branches and have tiers of petals in a multitude of colors: red, white, pink, purple, yellow or a combination of these colors. Unlike most cactus that grow in dry desert climates, this plant is native to the Brazilian coast where the atmosphere around the plant is humid.
Another interesting feature of the Christmas cactus is that it is an epiphyte or air plant. Like orchids, they grow primarily on branches or trunks of trees. They are called air plants because "they have no firm grip in the earth." The web site "Gardeningknowhow.com" tells us this: "One of the amazing adaptions of epiphytes is their ability to attach to vertical surfaces and capture their water and much of their nutrient needs from sources other than soil." The name epiphyte comes from the Greek word "epi," meaning "upon," and "phyton," meaning "plant."
It is common to find aerial roots growing from the branches of the Christmas cactus. These roots serve several purposes in helping the cactus grow in its native Brazil. They help the plant attach to the tree branches. Tree bark and the crotches of branches collect organic debris that is rich in nutrients for the plants' roots. In addition, the entire plant, including the roots, also gathers the moisture it needs from the air.
Let's take the information we have on the epiphytes to see how it corresponds to our life in the Spirit. Go back to the fact that these plants have "no firm grip in the earth." Jesus told Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world...But now my kingdom is from another place." (John 18:36) Like Jesus, our inheritance is in the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 25:34) Hebrews, Chapter 11, describes our fathers of the faith. "They admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth." (Verse 13) And, Peter writes, "I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul." (1 Peter 2:11) We must not sink our roots into the soil of the world for we belong to the Kingdom of God. Our tenure here is temporary. Like the epiphytes, we must gather our water and nutrients from our source of life--The Spirit of God. "So then, just as you receive Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." (Colossians 2:6-7)
Living water and the bread of life come from Jesus. He came to earth to demonstrate how to drink and eat from Him and His Kingdom. A song called "Breathe," written by Marie Barnett, comes to my mind. She wrote it to describe the life-giving presence of our Lord:
"This is the air I breathe; This is the air I breathe--Your holy presence, living in me.
This is my daily bread; This is my daily bread--Your very Word spoken to me.
And I'm desperate for You. And I'm lost without You."
That is it, dear ones. We must spread out our roots and attach them to the Tree of Life. Like the epiphytes, be fed and watered from the true Source of Life.
Although God intended the fifth month of Av to be a time of yearly celebration of His goodness, the sin of unbelief by the Israelites caused a complete change in what would happen. According to the Hebrew calendar, on the 9th of Av the children of Israel chose to believe a negative report instead of the promise of God. The voice of faith spoken by Caleb and Joshua was ignored and the voice of unbelief was embraced. Caleb said, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it." (Numbers `3:30) The ten spies reported: "We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are." (Numbers 13:31) This is a vow that led to a curse that is still in place today.
We are now at the beginning of Av. A yearly cycle of cursing occurs because repentance of past sins never took place. Unbelief was repeated when Jesus walked the earth. Though the Jews heard God's words of truth through Him and saw the miracles He performed, they did not receive their Messiah. They crucified the Promise.
Jesus came as a Redeemer with the intent of rebuilding everything that Satan has destroyed. He requires us to repent and make a choice to walk in freedom. We must be extremely careful who we agree with. Any time we agree with Satan a bad root develops and gives him permission to operate in our lives and those of our descendants. When we are overwhelmed with what we see we must listen to the voice of truth. Truth trumps what we see. The promises that God placed in the Bible are for us to stand on. "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ. And so, through Him the 'Amen' is spoken by us to the glory of God." (2 Corinthians 1:20)
In Deuteronomy 11 God's instructions to the children of Israel were written down. He was letting them know the importance of His words. He said, "Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your foreheads. Teach them to your children...Write them down on the door frames of your house and on your gates so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the Lord swore to give your forefathers...If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow—to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to hold fast to Him—then the Lord will drive out these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. Every place where you set your foot will be yours...No man will be able to stand against you. The Lord your God, as He promised you, will put the terror and fear of you on the whole land, wherever you go." (Verses 18-28)
We have a choice today to agree with the blessing or the curse. As God said in Deuteronomy, curses come to rest on our lives when we agree with the wrong kingdom; blessings come when we obey the Lord. We are warned in Hebrews 3:12: "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God." If we discover that we have made an agreement with the kingdom of darkness, we can repent, rebuke it and declare the truth. We must declare that our alliance is with the Lord. He is the one who will restore what has been stolen and help us rebuild what has been destroyed.
An interesting visitor comes to our Maple tree on a regular basis. His colorful feathers stand out in the drab winter landscape. His head and throat are bright red and are surrounded by black and white stripes. His back is a mottled black with markings of white. He gets his name, yellow-bellied sapsucker, from his dull yellowish belly. The sad part about our visitor is that he comes to drill holes in our tree. Over the years he has weakened the tree, and we see branches slowly dying from the impact of his feeding habits. He bores 1/8" holes into the cambium layer or inner bark of the tree, causing the sap to ooze out. With his long, brush-tipped tongue he laps up the sap. It is common for these birds to drill several holes in a perfect row around the trunk. Too much of this will kill the tree. The holes provide entry points for insects or diseases which also contribute to the weakening of the tree.
Once the yellow-bellied sapsucker discovers a good feeding spot, he returns to it again and again. In order to discourage these birds, one must wrap the tree trunk and larger branches with burlap, particularly where the first holes are drilled. This keeps the bird from reaching the sap in the tree. It is critical to stop the path of destruction before it goes too far.
We have an enemy who would like to destroy us. He comes to "drill holes" in our minds. He wants to destroy our clarity of thought. Frequently he comes as a whisperer to whisper an idea or bad thought into our minds. If he finds "fertile ground" he will return with more lies. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for serpent is Nahash, which literally means whisperer. King Solomon, known for his wisdom, made an interesting observation in Proverbs 16:28. "A whisperer separates close friends." (ESV)
The serpent first appeared on the scene when he whispered into Eve's ear. He put thoughts that are counter to God's truth into her head. Once these thoughts prevailed, she sinned by eating the fruit from the forbidden tree and giving her husband some of it. Consequently, Adam and Eve died a spiritual death and became separated from God.
Just as burlap protects the bark of a tree from the yellow-bellied sapsucker, the Word of God protects our minds from our enemy--the one who whispers lies. We must not allow him to continue his litany of lies. Every whisper that turns into a thought must be taken captive so that it is obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5) Both King David, in Psalms, and King Solomon, in Proverbs, write that "Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him." (Psalm 18:30/Proverbs 30:5)
Indeed, not only is God a shield, but He is our Redeemer. God sent His Son Jesus as a "second Adam" to restore and redeem us from the curse of the enemy. He came as the Living Word to bring light and life to us. John 1:12 tells us, "To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God." Victory over the enemy is ours as we shut down the whispered lies by declaring the truth of our God and Savior.
What does it mean to go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah as was prophesied about John the Baptist? John's father, Zechariah, declared, "And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins." (Luke 1:76-77 - NLT) He certainly had an important call on his life! I think that every Believer has the same call—that we should live our lives to "prepare the way for the Lord," in the spirit of Elijah.
We can read about Elijah's life in the Bible in 1 Kings 17 through 2 Kings 2. Here are some of the highlights of his life:
The prophet Malachi declared, "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers..." (Malachi 4:5-6) The angel of the Lord repeated this prophecy to Zechariah to let him know that his son John would fulfill it. (Luke 1:15-17) And John's life is seen as a standard for all of us to follow. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it." (Matthew 11:11-12)
We are in the season of celebrating the break-in of heaven to earth. Jesus came to earth as a seed in his mother's womb. As that seed grew, John the Baptist would prepare the way for Him. Time would show that Jesus is the Lord of the breakthrough. He demonstrated the power and love of His Father in heaven. Many around us are celebrating Christmas but may not comprehend its true meaning. We are those who can and should prepare the way of the Lord through a ministry of power and love that fosters reconciliation between family members and friends. The anointing is upon us: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19) These promises from the Word of God may challenge us, but let us not bring the truth of the Word down to our level of experience. Ask Holy Spirit to bring our experience up to the truth of the Word. Let's claim these promises over our lives and launch out into a lifestyle to "prepare the way of the Lord."
The Cape Florida Lighthouse at Key Biscayne, Florida has been preserved along with a house that the light keeper and his family would have lived in. The job description for the "Keeper of the Light" is on the wall of the house. As I read about the duties of the light keepers, I was reminded that they are like the duties of the priests in the temple and the responsibility of those of us who carry the light of God within us.
For the Light Keeper, self-sacrifice, loyalty and dedication to the care of the light and the property around it were of utmost importance. Here are some of the duties of the Keeper of the Light:
Spring flowering trees that are blossoming in October? What is going on? As I look out my bedroom window I see clusters of rosy-colored crabapple blossoms. The tree has been confused by our uncharacteristically warm weather. Spring blooming trees set their flower buds for the following spring in the summer. The extra warmth of our autumn brought those buds into bloom. Now I am seeing both flowers and fruit on the same tree.
Like the crabapple tree, Christians are to blossom and bear fruit. God made it clear to the Israelites that He wants priests who blossom and bear fruit to minister to Him. He instructed Moses to place a staff from the leaders of each tribe in the Tent of Testimony. "The next day Moses entered the Tent of Testimony and saw that Aaron's staff, which represented the house of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds." (Numbers 17:8) This was a confirmation that those in the tribe of Levi were to perform duties in the Tent of Testimony and minister before the Lord.
Jesus dealt with the issue of spiritual unfruitfulness while He was walking with the disciples from Bethany to Jerusalem through the cursing of an unproductive fig tree (representing Israel). "The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to find out if it had any fruit. When He reached it, He found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then He said to the tree, 'May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And His disciples heard Him say it." (Mark 11:12-13)
God's desire for us to blossom and bear fruit for His Kingdom is talked about in Isaiah 27:6. "In days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit." How can we increase our season of bloom and fruit bearing? The crabapple tree blossomed out of season because of the warm environment around it. We must be atmosphere changers!
God rewards those who seek Him with all their hearts. (Jeremiah 29:13) Let us ask the Lord to draw us unto Himself. "Take me away with you--let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers." (Song of Solomon 1:4) Let us strengthen our faith. "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6-NAS) Let us be diligent in our pursuit of the Lord and watch the flame of love bring us into blossom and increasing fruitfulness.
I was not looking forward to a recent visit to the dentist to have a filling replaced, but God turned this visit into an opportunity for me to have a Kingdom discussion with the dental assistant. He told me how important it is to have good oral hygiene and that the health of our mouths can impact the health of every area of our bodies. Holy Spirit quickly showed me how this conversation about the physical body could be applied to the spiritual realm.
When I returned home I researched what we had spoken about on "webmd" and "absolutedental.com." The sites confirmed what the dental assistant had said about the importance of oral health. The mouth is called "the gateway to the body," and because of this, "Poor oral health can have negative consequences for the entire body." "Absolutedental.com" says this: "Bacteria from the mouth can easily get into the bloodstream and cause infection and inflammation wherever it spreads...The following health problems can be caused by poor oral health: cardiovascular disease, dementia, respiratory infections, diabetes, pregnancy complications, infertility, erectile dysfunction, cancer, kidney disease and rheumatoid arthritis." Honestly, I was completely surprised by this extensive list.
Spiritual good health for our mouths is just as important as physical. What comes out of our mouths will impact all aspects of our being, and that of others, for good or evil. There are over one hundred Scripture verses in the Bible that give us direction on how to use our mouths. The book of James dedicates most of Chapter 3 to the subject of taming the tongue. "The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." (Verses 5-6) "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be." (Verses 9-10) As we see, our words have the power to bring life or death to our own souls and to the souls of others.
The power of our tongues is confirmed in the fact that we are made in God's image and that with His words, He created the universe. "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth." (Psalm 33:6) Learning that our mouths can be used to bless or to curse, King David asked the Lord for help in controlling it in Psalm 141:3. "Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips."
The book of Proverbs has much to say about what comes out of our mouths. "The mouths of fools are their undoing, and their lips a snare to their very lives." (Proverbs 18:7) "A wise man's heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction." (Proverbs 16:23) Matthew wrote, "What goes into someone's mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them." (Matthew 15:11) Paul understands the ramifications of what comes out of our mouths and how it affects others: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Ephesians 4:29) Jesus warned about the judgment day and said, "For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:37)
We must recognize the power we carry to bring about good or poor health in our bodies and souls and those of others. As I have told you before, whatever kingdom we agree with impacts us and those around us in a positive or negative way. The Holy Spirit can and will assist us if we ask Him for help in controlling our mouths. Let this be our prayer: "May the words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer." (Psalm 19:14)
If I had to select one Scripture that means more for living in the power of Christ than any other, it would be 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. These three verses are packed with wisdom from on high, and if the Body of Christ lived according to them we would be victorious against the forces of evil. "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension (claim) that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ."
The truth is that when we received Jesus Christ as our Savior, He gave us power and authority in His name. We were made in the image of God who used His voice to create the universe. Repeatedly, the book of Genesis tells us, "And God said." Then it describes the results of what God said. For example, "And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light." (Genesis 1:3) Like God, the words that we say have power and authority to change the world around us. However, we must remember that these changes can be for the good or the bad, because our words are weapons. There are two kingdoms, and everything that comes out of our mouths will agree with one of these kingdoms, either the Kingdom of light or the kingdom of darkness.
As it says in 2 Corinthians 10:3, we do not wage war like the world does. God has given us a spiritual weapon that is stronger than any physical weapon the world can produce. Ephesians 6:7 tells us that the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. This Word comes from the Kingdom of light, and as we speak in agreement with it we have the power to produce life. On the other hand, anything we say that does not agree with the Kingdom of light agrees with the kingdom of darkness and ultimately produces death. Negative words make an agreement with the demonic that give it permission to bring about the consequences of these words. Proverbs 18:21 confirms the power of the spoken word: "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit." (NKJV)
We are here on earth on assignment from God, to live our lives like Jesus did. When we are doing this, we live in His power and authority. 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us how to maintain them: We must use the words of God, declaring His whole truth, to destroy every argument and claim that does not agree with the complete truth of God. We must not speak in a negative way that agrees with the proclamations of the world. We must believe that all things are possible with Christ and speak in agreement with His Kingdom.
Cindy Trimm, former senator, author and dedicated Christian whose goal is to expand the Kingdom of God, has good advice on how to use our Scripture. She says, "Use every thought like an architect uses a blueprint. Think about every detail. Ask God to enlarge your capacity for thinking and imagining." As we allow the Lord to do this, and trust Him to work in our best interest, we will speak positive words that transform us and the world around us and lead us to victory.
Joan E. Mathias