When the Israelites had traveled through the wilderness and were preparing to enter the Promised Land, God gave them reminders of their journey, instructions on how to live their lives, and promises for the future. The book of Deuteronomy is filled with these. We can read what God told them about the Promised Land in Deuteronomy 11:10-12. "The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end."
Throughout the time that they were moving toward Mt. Sinai God was drawing His people to Himself by revealing who He is and what He had in store for them. He told them, "Now, if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Exodus 19:5-6) He wanted a people who were set apart and formed in His identity. One of the concepts that was introduced to the Israelites was that of firstfruits. It required them to be dedicated to celebrating it at the beginning of the grain harvests and was an act of worship. They needed to go into their fields to select the first and best stalk of grain to present to the priests as an offering to the Lord. The firstfruits offerings were brought to the priests during the three primary feasts and at the beginning of each new month. The principle is that the first of everything belongs to the Lord—crops, livestock, and children. By giving the first part of their blessing to God, they were dedicating and sanctifying the rest.
The Israelites learned much as they spent 50 days traveling to Mt. Sinai where God would give them the law and a new identity as a people. On the Jewish calendar they moved during the end of the month of Nisan and the entire month of Iyar. The second month, Iyar, became a time of transition for them as they were led into a new level of relationship with the Lord. He introduced them to His nature. First, God showed them that He is Jehovah Rapha, the God who Heals. Then He introduced them to His names Jehovah Jaira, the God who Provides, and Jehovah Nissi, the Lord, my Banner of Victory. As they moved from Passover redemption to the place of praise and giving the Lord a firstfruits offering, they learned about keeping covenant.
God was indeed faithful to His children and eventually demonstrated to them that He was willing to give everything in an act of sacrifice that reverberates through the ages. God gave His Son, Jesus, as an offering of redemption. He was crucified, but resurrected, and became a firstfruits offering Himself. First Corinthians 15:20 says, "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." It is no coincidence that Jesus, our Passover Lamb, was resurrected on the day of firstfruits, when the children of Israel would have been presenting their Passover barley sheaf to the priests who lifted it up before God as an offering to Him.
How does this relate to us today? God has given us His very best in the sacrifice of His Son. Just as the children of Israel brought their first and best to God, we can use this time up until Pentecost to present a daily offering to the Lord. A way for counting God's goodness was introduced to the Israelites. We can read about it in Leviticus 23:15-16. From the first day of a firstfruits offering, they were to count 50 days and then present God with another firstfruits offering during Shavuot, called Pentecost by the Church. Today this is called counting the Omer. As they counted, it was important for God’s people to remember the goodness of God. Like the children of Israel, let's be dedicated to giving the Lord a daily thanksgiving for His goodness and love between now and Pentecost.
A question is posed at the beginning of the song "Wonderful, Merciful Savior." "Who would have thought that a Lamb could rescue the souls of men?" But that is what was done by the Lamb of God! We see foreshadows of the Lamb of God throughout the Old Testament beginning in Genesis when Adam and Eve sinned. By eating the forbidden fruit their eyes were opened and "they realized that they were naked." (Genesis 3:7) Another way to say this is that they experienced shame, so much so that they tried to cover their nakedness with fig leaves. But man could not cover his own sin. God had to provide them with "garments of skin." (Genesis 3:21)
Specific instructions were given to the Israelites in Egypt when God was going to deliver them from bondage and death. "...On the 10th day of the month each man is to take a lamb for his family...The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect...Take care of them until the 14th day of the month when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs." (Genesis 12:3, 5-7) The blood of the lamb was the covering that was needed to protect the children of Israel from the plague of death.
It was on Mt. Moriah that Abraham took his son, his only son, whom he loved, and offered him as a burnt offering at the request of God. (Genesis 22:2) At the moment he was about to slay him, God provided a ram for the sacrifice. The binding of Isaac is called "the Akedah" in Hebrew and the story is retold in synagogues across the world on Rosh Hashanah.
In Isaiah 53 we read the foretelling of the substitutionary atoning sacrifice of the Messiah. Verse 7 compares him to the sacrificial lamb: "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth."
When asked by the priests and Levites who he was, John the Baptist told them, "I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.'" (John 1:23) John was the one who prepared the way for Jesus and identified Him so that all the world would know the call of God on His life. "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29) Those who practiced animal sacrifice so that those who violated the Mosaic law could approach God must have been shocked by the statement of John the Baptist. How could John compare Jesus to the sacrificial lambs?
The Passover season is upon us. The Jewish people will be remembering how each Israelite household in Egypt brought a perfect lamb into their homes from Nisan 10 to 14. Imagine how each family must have become attached to their lamb as they lived with him, only to turn around and kill him as a sacrifice to protect them. Christians are remembering the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem this weekend. To fulfill what was spoken by the prophets, He entered riding on a colt of a donkey. Crowds followed Jesus shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" (Matthew 21:9) Afterward, Jesus entered the temple where He would be questioned and scrutinized. For four days, "The Lamb of God" was examined. He was then chosen as the Sacrificial Lamb.
It is the love of God that nailed Jesus to the Cross. He was the sacrifice that purchased our souls. He is our Redemption. The Lamb of God is described in Revelation 5:6, 9-10. "Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders...And they sang a new song, saying: 'You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." We are those that Jesus purchased for Father God. We are part of God's Kingdom and priests to serve Him. It is ordained that we shall reign in victory. How can we not praise Him?
Yearly the Jews commemorate the time when God freed the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. They tell the story at a Passover Seder which means "order." Today's Seder has changed from the original Passover meal. As families and friends gather together, they use a guide called the Haggadah which means "The Telling." To help us remember the events of the children of Israel in Egypt and on their way to cross into the Promised Land, the Seder uses symbols.
Many Christians do not realize that when Jesus broke bread and shared it and the wine with the disciples at the Last Supper, he used the same elements shared at the Passover feast. There is an interesting mystery concerning the matzah (bread with no leaven) that is used in the service. At the beginning of the Seder, the leader lifts up three pieces of matzah. Why three? Could it be that they represent the Trinity? (Father, Son and Holy Ghost)
The matzah itself is striped and pierced like Jesus at the crucifixion. Think about this interesting part of the ceremony: The middle piece of matzah is removed and lifted up to be broken in half. This piece is called the "Afikomen," a Greek word meaning, "that which comes after." The larger piece of broken matzah is wrapped in a white linen napkin and hidden. So too, the body of Jesus was wrapped in white linen and hidden away in a tomb.
At the end of the Seder the young ones search for the hidden matzah so they can bring it back to those at the table. The Seder cannot be completed without the Afikomen. When it is found it is unwrapped and passed around so that all may partake of it. Can we assume that the Afikomen represents Jesus? I think so! The Messiah, Jesus, is the One who must still come to His people. He comes to everyone. He is the one who who led His disciples in the Passover feast at the last supper before His death. "While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, 'Take it; this is my body.' Then He took a cup, and when He had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 'This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,' He said to them. " (Mark 14:22-24)
Romans 11:25-26 gives us insight into God's plan to reveal Himself to all mankind. "...Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written, 'The deliverer will come from Zion; He will turn godlessness away from Jacob.'"
None of us can be complete without our Messiah, Jesus. He is revealing Himself to many through signs, wonders, and miracles. Let us pray for the eyes of the Jewish people to be opened as they celebrate their Passover Seders next week. The Lord is not willing for anyone to perish. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
On my dressing table is a picture of two colorful parrots sitting side-by-side. There is an appropriate quote in the background of these two love birds. "Love has nothing to do with what you're expecting to get—only with what you are expecting to give—which is everything!" The quote comes from actress Katherine Hepburn. 1 Corinthians 13 gives us some words for the definition of love: "Love is large and incredibly patient. Love is gentle and consistently kind to all. It refuses to be jealous when blessing comes to someone else. Love does not brag about one's achievements nor inflate its own importance. Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honor. Love is not easily irritated or quick to take offense. Love joyfully celebrates honesty and finds no delight in what is wrong. Love is a safe place of shelter, for it never stops believing the best for others. Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up. Love never stops loving...There are three things that remain: faith, hope, and love—yet love surpasses them all. So above all else, let love be the beautiful prize for which you run." (Verses 4-8, 13-14 - TPT)
Today, Valentine's Day celebrates romance and love. However, that is not how it originated. According to Wikipedia, Western Christianity made February 14 a minor yearly feast to honor a Christian martyr named Valentine. He was executed by the Roman emperor on this date during a time when persecution of Christians was common. The story is that he never lost his love during of the trials he endured. Eventually, he gave it all.
As Christians, it is important for us to understand the characteristics of God's love for us so that we can follow His lead. God's love is unconditional and is described by the Greek word "agape." Our focus must be intentionally centered on Jesus Christ because His love for us is the highest form of love and its demonstration will show us how we are to love others. The love of Jesus is faithful and sacrificial. Just as the Lord was willing to give up all His rights before Father God and man, we must be willing to do the same. To know what true love looks like, we must be willing to make the trip on the road to Calvary to see the Lord's sacrifice. Saint Valentine determined to take this walk and ultimately gave up his life for his love of Jesus.
The love that the Lord has for us is so amazing that He became our Substitute, our Scapegoat, on The Cross. He carried our sins in His own body on The Cross so that we might be forgiven. "He took up our pain and bore our suffering...He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:4-5) Romans 8:34 tells us just how far Jesus went for us and how He continues to help us: "...He gave His life for us, and even more than that, He has conquered death and is now risen, exalted, and enthroned by God at His right hand. So how could He possibly condemn us since He is continually praying for our triumph." (TPT) God's complete love for us should give us the desire to completely surrender to Him and His will.
In Isaiah 54:10 the Lord makes a promise to His people. "Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will never be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed.” What are we expecting when we hear the word love? The love of God is calling to us. He gave it all! Can we do likewise? I think so because of what The Word of God tells us: "...The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5:5 - NKJ)
Long ago the prophet Isaiah told of one who would be the hope of all humanity: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this." (Isaiah 9:6-7)
We move from Isaiah's description of our God in the Old Testament to Peter's explanation in the New Testament of why we should have hope. The author of The Passion Translation Bible titles the book of 1 Peter as "Triumphant Hope." That hope is described in Verse 3 of Chapter 1: "Celebrate with praises the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has shown us His extravagant mercy. For His fountain of mercy has given us a new life--we are reborn to experience a living, energetic hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
O how glorious! We are not forgotten. Our merciful God knew that we would need a Savior who would bring us hope through His multiple offerings. He comes as a Wonderful Counselor to help transform our fallen world by His saving grace. As a Counselor, the Holy Spirit guides and advocates for us. The Psalmist asks, "O Lord God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you." (Psalm 89:8) We can take comfort in the truth written in Zephaniah 3:17. "The Lord your God is with you; He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you; He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing." Let us take in what Psalm 90:2 tells us about our Lord: "Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God." He is our God for eternity! Only through the Lord Jesus, our Prince of Peace, can we receive the true tranquility we so desire. Through every aspect of His being, He carries us on His shoulders and encourages us with hope.
I would imagine that throughout the ages people have thought that the times they lived in were more difficult than any other and that they had a greater need of hope than any other generation. Isn't that how we are thinking today? Chaos, sickness, death, persecution of Christians, financial need, and insecurity about the future all converge in our day to make us wonder if we can have hope for our future. The answer is a resounding Yes!
We just celebrated the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He came that we might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) We have a new year upon us. How will we walk into it? Hebrews 6 has words of great encouragement for us: "And now we have run into His heart to hide ourselves in His faithfulness. This is where we find His strength and comfort, for He empowers us to seize what has already been establish ahead of time--an unshakeable hope! We have this certain hope like a strong, unbreakable anchor holding our souls to God Himself. Our anchor of hope is fastened to the mercy seat which sits in the heavenly realm beyond the sacred threshold and where Jesus, our forerunner has gone in before us..." (Verses 18-20-TPT)
Let us walk into the new year with our heads held high and our confidence in the Lord secure. He is still sitting on the throne. He is still Almighty and All Powerful. He is inside us, encouraging us and reminding us that He is the God of Living Hope.
How far would you travel and how much difficulty would you endure if you were really hungry and knew you could receive bread from a certain place? Our nation is living through hard times caused by the plague called Covid. Many are sick and finding themselves living in poverty from the ramifications of this virus. On the nightly news we see people in cars lined up for hours as they wait for a bag of groceries.
Through the centuries many populations have gone through times of hunger—both physical and spiritual. The prophet Amos talked about a day when "a famine of hearing the words of the Lord" would come. (Amos 8:11) When people find themselves without something they are used to or need they begin searching for a way to obtain it. Scripture is full of stories of individuals who were set on going to a place whose name means "House of Bread" or Bethlehem. Their journeys were directly connected to the life of Jesus--"The Living Word," "The Bread of Life," "The Redeemer." The prophet Micah prophesied about the significance of Bethlehem: "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:2)
The tribe of Judah received Bethlehem in their inheritance from the Promised Land. After they became established in this territory, there was a time of famine. The family of Elimelech and Naomi left Bethlehem and moved to Moab so that they could get food. Their sons married Moabite women while there. After 10 years in Moab, all the men died, leaving their women as widows. Naomi's daughter-in-law, Ruth, insisted on staying by her mother-in-law's side even though Naomi was returning to Bethlehem. Ruth told her, "Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God." (Ruth 1:16) They arrived in Bethlehem during the barley harvest.
Because Ruth was willing to make the journey, there was a new life waiting for her, filled with promise. She was noticed by Boaz from the clan of Elimelech as she gleaned in his field. Boaz became her husband, and she became part of the genealogy of Jesus by bearing a son named Obed (Servant of Worship) to Boaz. He became the father of Jesse who was the father of King David. When God decided to appoint a new king to replace Saul, the prophet Samuel was instructed by God to go to the city of Bethlehem to anoint David as the king of Israel. David went from tending sheep to tending God's people.
From David, 14 generations passed to King Jeconiah, meaning "Established of the Lord." During his reign, the Israelites were exiled to Babylon, after which 14 more generations were birthed. (See Matthew 1) At the end of that run of 14 generations Jesus was born of the virgin Mary from Nazareth. His earthly father, Joseph, was a descendant of David. When Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census would be taken of the entire Roman empire, Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem exactly at the time when Mary gave birth to Jesus. Because there was no guest room for Joseph and Mary, Mary gave birth in a room meant for animals. She wrapped the Son of God in cloths and laid Him in a manger. (Luke 2:7)
Shepherds who were tending their flocks in the fields nearby were told about the birth of a Savior in Bethlehem by an angel of the Lord. They made the trip to Bethlehem and were filled with praise and glory for God after seeing the baby laying in a manger. Magi from the east also took a long journey to Bethlehem to worship Jesus. After seeing His rising star in the sky, they followed that star to the place where Jesus was. Being overwhelmed with worship, they gave him their treasures.
Much fruit came from every trip that was taken to Bethlehem. In fact, the region of Bethlehem is called Ephrathah, meaning fruitful. The trips required sacrifice however, all were rewarded. "The House of Bread" fed every visitor. During this season, I believe that we are being called to make a spiritual journey to Bethlehem. Our year has been difficult. A "famine," so to speak, has overtaken us. However, God wants to prepare us for a new season—one of blessing where we will be filled with the Bread of Life that revives us and brings us into a time of greater intimacy with the Lord. We can visit The House of Bread by calling out to the Lord and asking Him to nourish and sustain us with the Bread of His Holy Presence. We must tell Jesus we are hungry for more of Him. He is the answer to every difficulty and the source of eternal life.
A small army of dedicated Jews is all that was needed to take back the temple in Jerusalem from the Syrian Greeks. King Antiochus Epiphanes, ruler of the Greek empire, had a goal to unify his kingdom by making Hellenism the only acceptable culture. Judaism was outlawed. Jews were executed for observing their Sabbath and Feasts or for circumcising their baby boys. The Temple became a place where pigs were sacrificed to the image of the god Zeus.
A priest named Mattathias and his five sons led the Jewish rebellion against the Syrian Greek empire. One of the sons, Judah, was nicknamed The Hammer or "Maccabee" in Hebrew. Consequently, the revolutionaries became known as The Maccabees. It took the rebels over three years to obtain victory. When they re-entered the Temple, they found only a one-day supply of consecrated oil to light the Menorah. The Maccabees decided to light the Menorah even though it would have taken eight days for the priests to consecrate more oil. Miraculously, the Menorah kept burning for eight days. Since that time, the Jews celebrate Hanukkah, or the Feast of Dedication, or the Feast of Lights for eight days beginning on Kislev 25.
If we look back in history to 323 to 171 BC, we see that some of the Jewish people were adopting the more liberal lifestyle of the Gentiles around them by ignoring Torah and inciting others to join them. The pattern of moral decay within Israel led to severe oppression and persecution of the Jews. What started as an alternative lifestyle for some of the Jews became a state-mandated way of life. There is so much to learn from history! Do you see the repetition of the pattern of moral decay in our own society? There is a warning in Hebrews 2:1 against drifting: "We must pay the most careful attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away." Almost without perception, the Church has embraced worldly ways in an attempt to increase their following. The results are devastating. We see the ways of the world becoming normal. Compromise is the order of the day, while we need to be more firmly rooted and built up in Jesus. (Colossians 2:7)
The enemy of our souls has been at work. The time that we live in is chaotic and volatile. Our freedoms and rights to worship the Lord are being stolen from us. We are in a season of darkness. What is being done in the dark must be exposed to the light. Could there be a more perfect time for us to carry the light of Jesus into the world? Jesus used the time of the Festival of Dedication to reveal that He is the Son of God. When He spoke to Nicodemus about salvation He said, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." (John 3:19-21)
While speaking to the crowds of people, Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." (John 8:12) We who believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world carry His light. Our prayers for our lives, our churches, and our nation can change the course of history. Let us use this season to keep the fires of our prayers burning. Ask the Lord to help us focus on Him and to remove the old mindsets that keep us in bondage. Pray that our churches will be cleansed and restored in purity and power. Pray that our nation and its leaders will walk in the truth and take a stand against the enemies of God. Ask the Lord for HIs miraculous provision of light and truth and His guidance on the path of righteousness. He is faithful to those who dedicate their lives to Him. We can be assured that light will be victorious over darkness.
The harvest feast shared between the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Native Americans in 1621 may have been one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in our country. The second Thanksgiving celebration occurred in 1623 at the end of a season of drought. It started with a religious fast called for because the drought had been so long. It was during the Civil War, in 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that the United States should celebrate an annual Thanksgiving in November. Lincoln entreated all Americans to ask God to "commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife" and to "heal the wounds of the nation."
As we sat at our Thanksgiving tables this year, I wonder how many of us remembered to ask God to care for the mourners and sufferers and to heal the wounds of our nation. What we have lived through in the year 2020 has brought much suffering and loss. We certainly do need to lift to the Lord our fellow men and women for God's tender mercies to be poured upon them. Between the plagues, election intrigues, economic instability, and the necessity for people to quarantine from one another, the stress is over the top.
Let us remember that one of the best ways to deal with stress is to give God thanks! There is always something that we can give thanks for. The Old and New Testaments are filled with admonitions to give thanks. "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever." (1 Chronicles 16:34) "I will give thanks to You, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds." (Psalm 9:1) "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift." (2 Corinthians 9:15) "And in the midst of everything be always giving thanks, for this is God's perfect plan for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 - TPT) When we give thanks to the Lord, we activate His action.
I recently listened to Chuck Pierce of Glory of Zion International speak on what happens when we come before the Lord with grateful hearts. Let's look at 2 Kings 4:8-37. Here is the story of a well-to-do woman from Shunem. (Shunem means two resting places.) The woman invited Elisha to stay at her home for a meal. Realizing what a blessing Elisha was, the woman and her elderly husband decided that they would build a small room on their roof for Elisha with a bed, table, chair, and lamp. This was the woman's way of honoring Elisha and thanking God for his presence. Elisha desired to show the Shunammite woman his gratitude and prophesied that she would have a son the following year. This happened just as it was said.
The boy grew until one day he experienced an awful headache and died. His mother carried him up to the prophets room and "laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and went out." (Verse 21) She saddled a donkey and rode him to Mount Carmel (fruitful field) to talk with the man of God. Elisha returned to Shunem and found the boy "lying dead" on his bed. Twice Elisha stretched out on top of the boy laying "mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, and hands to hands." (Verse 34) The boy awoke and was returned to his mother.
In her acts of kindness, the Shunammite woman not only prepared a place for Elisha to rest but also "prepared the way for the Lord." Elisha's bed was built because the woman had a heart of gratitude. She wanted to bless the man of God. Chuck Pierce tells us that we must be like her in preparing a bed of thankfulness to the Lord. Not only will this bed glorify the Lord, but it also gives us a place to lay all our distress. Lay all your distresses on your bed of thankfulness and watch as the Lord breathes life back into them.
The prophet Ezekiel watched as the Lord brought new life into the dry bones of Israel. God told Ezekiel, "...I will put breath in you, and you will come to life, then you will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:6) It is time for us to prepare our beds of thankfulness. Let's join the Psalmist in declaring, "You turn my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever." (Psalm 30:11-12)
Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has been the mainstay of the organization Samaritan's Purse. They have delivered 178 million shoeboxes to 170 countries and territories in that time. Every shoebox contains gifts and a few essentials for day-to-day life. Most important, however, is the telling of the Gospel to the children who receive the boxes. Each child is invited to participate in discipleship classes called "The Greatest Journey."
A pastor in Guam told those who visited his island with shoeboxes, "We're seeing salvation come not just to one or two children, but to families through Operation Christmas Child." Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Luke 18:16-17) God knew that the joy and faith of children would have an impact on those around them. So, these boxes given to children have the potential to transform entire families. Here is another exciting fact written about in the newsletter: "Over the past two years, God has used this project to plant more than 2,000 churches in 73 countries." Wow!!
The focus of this month's newsletter from Samaritan's Purse is testimonies of children and adults who received or gave shoeboxes. One young man from a kingdom in southern Africa called Lesotho lost both his parents and grandmother by the time he was 11 years old. This sad and lonely little boy was encouraged through receiving the gift of a shoebox and by hearing the Gospel at a local church. Years later he reports that he still carries the comb that was in his shoebox. Here is his testimony: "It is a reminder that God knows my needs. Even the little things can bring joy. God used the shoebox to give me hope and to fill my brokenness. I had a desire to know Him more, and I surrendered my life to Him. Today, I have eternal life in Christ because of His love for me."
There is a 24-year old woman named Amanda in Pennsylvania who is packing almost 1,000 shoeboxes this year. The number of boxes is amazing in itself, but what is more amazing is that she packs the boxes from her wheelchair. She believes in prayer and prays for each child who will receive a gift from her. She said, "I want them to feel loved and know that Jesus is the reason we packed them."
From the impoverished nation of Burundi came a thank you note sent by one of the church workers: "As I think of those who are packing the boxes, frankly I have tears in my eyes. How can someone from a different continent think of someone on another continent in Africa? All I can do is pray for them, that the Lord will continue to cover them with His love—each one who packs boxes. Some day we will all rejoice together when one day the Lord says, 'Well done, my faithful servant.' That will be you, that will be me, and we will rejoice in this work."
Franklin Graham, the organization's leader, says, "Many are desperately looking for comfort and peace, and we want to do all we can to help them find eternal hope in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I'm thankful that God has given us a simple yet powerful way to do this—by packing shoebox gifts for Operation Christmas Child, sending them overseas in the name of Jesus, and handing them out to millions of children through our global church network." "Shoebox gifts can go to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8)—even places that missionaries can't reach right now. Operation Christmas Child is a global missions opportunity that can be done safely at home...I hope that you and your church have already started packing shoebox gifts this year. Remember that the most important thing you can put into a shoebox is your prayers."
More details about this vital ministry can be found on their website at samaritanspurse.org/occ. Why not help by packing a shoebox, donating money and/or praying?
During the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles the Israelites cut branches from three different trees--the palm, the myrtle, and the willow. The branches were an integral part of their celebration that included remembering their wilderness journey. According to Rabbi Jonathan Cahn, the people were reminded of the desert plains by the palms, the desert mountains by the myrtle, and the desert brooks that gave them water by the willow. Yearly, the Jews celebrate the journey of life as they remember the wilderness times that led them to the Promised Land.
The Feast of Tabernacles is a celebration of the harvest and a time of remembering God's provision and protection in the wilderness. It is referred to as "The Feast" because it is the culmination of all the Biblical holy days and is a time to meet with God. It actually points toward the culmination of God's redemptive plan and represents the final stage of His plan of salvation. The Feast is a fore-shadow of the millennial kingdom. The prophet Zechariah tells us that "The Feast" or Sukkot, will be celebrated in the millennial kingdom: "Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, The Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. If any of the people of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, they will have no rain. If the Egyptian people do not go up and take part, they will have no rain. The Lord will bring on them the plague He inflicts on the nations that do not celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles." (Zechariah 14:16-18)
The feasts of the Lord were appointed by God before Jesus was born. We can read how they were celebrated in the Old Testament. However, they would have lacked authority because they were not celebrated under the authority of the name of Jesus. Now, we can see Jesus revealed in the feasts. We must look forward to that day when He returns as a triumphant King on a white horse. (Revelation 19:11) Believers from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue will worship Him, waving palm branches before Him.
Do not miss the significance of the week of celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles; it is rich in symbolism. Contemplating these times appointed by God can bring us into a deeper communion with Him. We must celebrate our journey of life. The wilderness is a symbol for our life on earth now, and the Promised Land is a symbol of heaven. That is our goal! Rabbi Cahn says, "Remember, in heaven, you will give thanks for the heavenly road you're walking on right now, on your way to the Promised Land."
Why not pause and reflect on your journey during this season? Life is full of struggles, sorrows, and disappointments along with times of joy, fruit bearing, and harvest. God's plan for us is written about in John 15:8. "This is my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit..." The journey is meant to strengthen us and point us in the direction of our ultimate destination—Heaven! Let us meet with the Lord during this kairos (opportune or strategic) time at the table He sets for us. It is time to feast with Him as we look for His victorious return!
Joan E. Mathias