At the sound of a familiar song, we can be transported to a special time and place. That happened to me this week as I listened to Marty Goetz play and sing "This is My Father's World." In my mind I was a 12-year-old girl at summer camp. Camp Sunnybrook was in a beautiful spot in the PA Poconos. Part of the camp program included vespers that would take place on a White Pine tree-covered peninsula that extended out into a small man-made lake. The floor of the peninsula was covered in a bed of aromatic pine needles. When the late afternoon sun was shining on the needles the smell was out of this world.
A group of campers would gather on the peninsula at the end of the day to listen to a devotional and sing songs of praise and worship. As I sat in the heavenly atmosphere, we sang "This is My Father's World.” After vespers were completed and everyone left, I stayed behind, because I was not ready to walk away from a holy moment. With deep gratitude and renewed commitment, I continued to sing the song, knowing the truth that our world was created and sustained and ruled by our Heavenly Father.
Scripture is filled with verses that confirm that God is our Creator, Maker, and Sustainer. He is all that and more! Psalm 8:3-4 asks a question: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?" Indeed, how blessed we are that the One who is ruling the world stops to care for us. Let's look at 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 where David praised the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel. "Praise be to You, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor for everything in heaven and earth is Yours. Yours, Lord, is the Kingdom; You are exalted as head of all. Wealth and honor come from You; You are the ruler of all things. In Your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name." Amen!
I want to share the words from "This is My Father's World" (Verses 1 and 3) with you, because they are comforting to me, especially when I consider the state of our world today. It is my hope that they also comfort you.
"The Earth is the Lord's and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for He founded it on the seas and established it on the water. Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. They will receive blessings from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior. Such is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek Your face, God of Jacob.
Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is He, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty--He is the King of glory."
Let the truth of this Psalm strengthen us and bring us peace. Remember that this is our Father's world!
Ruth Heflin's book, Glory, is written to help us understand not only what it is but also how to experience it. Her vast service to the Lord took her to the nations where she shared the revelation that God gave to her. She was a song writer and pastor and was known for her ability to lead people into spontaneous worship. She explains that glory is the realm of eternity, the atmosphere of Heaven, and the revelation of the presence of God because He is Glory. Her ministry of praise on Mt. Zion was birthed after God spoke to her in the middle of the night. He said, "You sow to the heavens, and I will sow to the earth." After hearing this word from the Lord, Ruth realized that there is a progression that must take place for us to operate in the glory of God. She says, "Praise until the spirit of worship comes, worship until the glory comes. Then, stand in the glory!"
What does praise look like and what are its benefits? According to Ruth, praise is an instrument of harvest, celebration, warfare, and ascent. Praise to voice thanksgivings to God (Psalm 26:7), to declare triumph (Psalm 47:1), to sing a new song to Him (Psalm 98:1), and to shout with joy for His might (Psalm 118:15). We "enter His gates with thanksgiving and the courts with praise..." (Psalm 100:4) Psalm 45:1 declares that our "...tongue is the pen of a skillful writer." Just as God created the world with His breath, we must use our mouths to release the sound that sows to the heavens so that God sows back to the earth. Hosea talks about God's response to what we sow: "And the earth shall hear the corn, and wine, and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel." (Hosea 2:22 - KJ) Jezreel means "God sows." These three symbols are of revival that leads to harvest. Ruth says, "You can stand in one place and minister to the Lord and affect revival to the ends of the earth."
Praise is a form of celebration. Doesn't the frequent number of festivals on the Jewish calendar indicate God's love for celebration? In addition, our praises change the atmosphere, and they invite the presence of heaven to come down and make it uncomfortable for the enemy. Look at Psalm 8:2. "Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger." Praise is the best warfare strategy! And then, our praise leads us up. The temple in Jerusalem was built at the highest elevation. The Psalms of ascent were meant to be used as the people of God climbed the hill of the Lord. We must always look up as we praise.
The transition from praise to worship starts when we begin to lose our sense of the surroundings. In this place we only have eyes for the King. We bow to His majesty. Ruth believes that it is the simplicity of the songs we sing that allows us to move into worship. We must focus on who He is, as the King of kings, the King of Majesty, and the One worthy to receive "glory and honor and power." (Revelation 4:11) According to Ruth our worship must begin at His feet and bring His majesty. Our worship experience is for us to know the Lord and to fall in love with Him. The final stage of worship is intimacy where we begin to know Jesus as our Bridegroom. He longs to hear our unique expressions of love. We should get to know Song of Solomon in the Bible as it teaches us how to confess our affections for the Lord.
As we come into the secret place, the glory realm manifests. "If we have vibrant praise, then we'll have deep worship, and we'll have the fullness of the glory of God manifested," according to Ruth. She also says, "In the glory realm we are more conscious of His holiness. This is why the angels cry, 'Holy! Holy!'" All aspects of ministry become easier in the glory realm: prayer, healing, revelation. Once the glory has arrived, we must linger with the Lord, because He wants to fill us with the riches of His Kingdom.
Just writing about the glory gives me a deeper desire to pursue it. We are meant for the glory realm. Let's not give up until we experience the glory that He promised as a result of our praise and worship! "Praise until the spirit of worship comes, worship until the glory comes. Then, stand in the glory!"
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)
“Cast your cares on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken."
(Psalm 55:22) What a promise for today! Shaking is going on all around us, but those who are rooted and established in the Lord's love will not be shaken and will grow strong and produce fruit. This truth is so appropriate for the Hebrew month we have just entered--Sh'vat--the 11th month on the spiritual calendar. Sh'vat's theme is "His Righteousness is My Foundation." The 15th of Sh'vat is called the "New Year for Trees" or Tu B'Sh’vat. Rabbis use this date to determine the beginning of the agricultural cycle for Biblical tithes of fruit. Those who grow fruit trees know the most important part of their job is ensuring that the trees have strong, healthy root systems. Farmers go to great lengths to prepare their land. They improve the soil texture and structure by loosening it and adding organic matter for nutrients. When a seedling is planted the soil around the roots is tamped and watered to eliminate air pockets and secure the plant. The seedlings may be staked to keep them firmly in the soil until their roots are established.
Imagine that you are a fruit tree and could select the place where you will be planted. Wouldn't we all look for a place that is near water and that has rich, well-textured soil? We would look for a place where our roots could grow strong to anchor and keep us stable. Two Scriptures talk about this very thing:
"Blessed is the one who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." (Psalm 1:1-3) "But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." (Jeremiah 17:7-8)
Here is a question we must answer. How we answer it will reveal the strength of our spiritual roots: What are we meditating on, taking in, and following? The above Scriptures make it very clear that we must be consuming God's Word of Truth and trusting in it and His never-ending faithfulness. Though the world around us is shaking, we can be assured that the Lord will hold us fast. A worship team named Selah sings a song titled, "He Will Hold Me Fast." Please Google this and listen to the powerful music, and let the words encourage and lift you up. In the meantime, meditate on the truth of these words that you can read below:
"When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast; When the tempter would prevail, He will hold me fast.
I could never keep my hold through life's fearful path; For my love is often cold; He must hold me fast.
He will hold me fast, He will hold me fast; For my Savior loves me so, He will hold me fast.
Those He saves are His delight, Christ will hold me fast; Precious in His holy sight, He will hold me fast.
He'll not let my soul be lost; His promises shall last; Bought by Him at such a cost, He will hold me fast.
He will hold me fast, He will hold me fast; For my Savior loves me so, He will hold me fast.
For my life He bled and died, Christ will hold me fast; Justice has been satisfied; He will
hold me fast.
Raised with Him to endless life, He will hold me fast, 'Till our faith is turned to sight, when
He comes at last!
He will hold me fast, He will hold me fast; For my Savior loves me so, He will hold me fast.”
May we take in everything that God has for us so that His love and care keep us stable and secure, producing much fruit.
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.
My message this week has been inspired by some life cycles. I have been contemplating God's faithfulness and the evidence of His attention to our lives. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, always drawing us closer so that we can see life through His eyes. He uses everything we experience to strengthen our understanding of His amazing love for us and what it means to live in the Kingdom of Light. He loves all of creation and has set times and seasons for each. (Ecclesiastes 3:1) Changing seasons are meant to give us unique encounters with different aspects of the Lord's character.
Three years of marriage to my wonderful husband, Jac, is worth celebrating and thanking the Lord for His goodness. We decided to do so by taking a trip to Bushkill Falls in the Poconos. One cannot travel this time of year without being in awe of God's creation. Hillsides full of evergreens and deciduous trees bearing leaves of golden yellow, rust, red and brown are like painted pictures that take your breath away. It was only seven months ago that the trees were beginning to push out their new leaves for the season. Quickly the leaves matured so that they could fulfill their God-given purpose—to supply food for the plants through photosynthesis. Having completed their job, the leaves give us a final gift by going out in a blaze of glory. What a blessing it is to live through these cycles of life!
As my husband and I walked through the forest at Bushkill Falls, we were delighted by a native, multi-stemmed shrub that does things differently than most others. The Common Witch Hazel is native to the moist soil of the PA woodlands and is growing in abundance at the side of the waterfalls. They display their yellow, spider-like flowers in the fall along with their yellow leaves, looking quite beautiful next to the bold, green leaves of the native rhododendron. God surely does have beauty for every season. Listening to the sound of the waterfalls and seeing the clear water splashing down on the rocks reminded us of Psalm 42:7-8. "Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day, the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me--a prayer to the God of my life.”
We came home filled with awe and wonder at the magnificence of God and the precision by which He orders the seasons of the earth. However, we were about to experience the completion of another life cycle. Sixteen years ago, my daughter, Laura, told me about a skinny cat she saw who was eating out of her college dumpster. She begged me to allow her to bring the cat home for adoption. Not wanting the responsibility of caring for an animal, I directly said "No!" God had other plans. That night He gave me a dream in which I was holding a gray cat with gold eyes. I heard Him say, "I want you to adopt the cat." Waking up, I started a conversation with God that went like this: "Why would you ask me to adopt a cat who I do not want?" "Because, through this cat I will show you beauty for ashes. I will take the ashes of your life and transform them into something beautiful." I told Laura that I wanted to see the cat. Of course, she was the cat that God showed me in my dreams. We named her Cinder. After taking her to the vet for de-worming and cleaning, she joined me at my condo and became my constant companion.
I have no regrets. Cinder was faithful to greet me at the top of the stairs every time I came home. In her early years, she would amuse me by doing "calisthenics" on the open staircase. She loved to sleep next to me on the bed until my husband joined us. Jac would joke with me and say, "Beauty has arrived. It is time for ashes to go." Cinder's season of life came to an end on Friday. She had been losing weight and struggling with bad health. I delayed the inevitable. Thursday night God gave me another dream. It was time for Cinder's life to end. Even though the vet told us we were doing the best thing for Cinder, my heart broke. I am grateful for the years I had with her.
Seasons come and go. There is beauty and ashes. And, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, "He has made everything beautiful in its time." (V. 11) An artist by the name of Josh Baldwin recently wrote a song that seems appropriate to repeat. Here is part of it: "All throughout my history, Your faithfulness has walked beside me. The winter storms made way for spring in every season from where I'm standing. I see the evidence of Your goodness, all over my life, all over my life. I see Your promises in fulfillment, all over my life, all over my life." Let us remember that no matter what season we are living in, God is by our sides orchestrating events, changing times and seasons, and drawing us closer to Him. What more could we ask for?
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!
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.
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.
Of this I am sure: It is the Lord's desire to bless us. This is probably the main reason why He instructed the priests ministering to the Israelites to say a special prayer over them. "The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift His countenance upon you, and give you peace." (Numbers 6:24-26 - NKJ) Several Bible versions use the word "Countenance" when speaking about being in God's presence. It is like being with Him when He looks you in the face. We get more understanding about His appearance through Revelation 1:16. "In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. And His face was shining like the brightness of the blinding sun." (TPT)
Other Scriptures describe the appearance of our Lord as "dazzling like lightning." At the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples who were with Jesus saw Him being transformed. Matthew 17:2 describes the face of Jesus: "A radiant light as bright as the sun poured from His face..." (TPT) Moses had several encounters with the Lord. When he came down from Mt. Sinai with the tablets of the Testimony "his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord." (Exodus 34:29) 2 Corinthians 3:7 (NKJ) records that "the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance..."
One of the definitions of countenance is the expression of one's face. What do you think the Lord is expressing with His dazzling, glowing face? I believe the light that radiates from Him is generated by His powerful love. The Lord's passion for His children is so great that His face explodes with the light of His love. Psalm 84:11, in The Passion Translation, has an interesting way of describing Him. "The Lord God is brighter than the brilliance of a sunrise! Wrapping Himself around me like a shield, He is so generous with His gifts of grace and glory..."
One encounter of looking into the eyes of the Lord's liquid love can transform a person and set them on a course of God's choosing. I would like to share Michele Perry's story of meeting the Lord from her book, Love has a Face. “Even as a child, I was a bit of a romantic. I do not mean mushy sort of romantic, but as a little girl my heart cried out for more than I could see. It longed for a love bigger than I was and more powerful than my fears. One night I met Him. I was seven...I was facing a serious spinal surgery and had overheard that I could die...I was born missing my left hip, leg and kidney. I had a plethora of birth defects that required 23 surgeries by the time I was 13. I used crutches to walk (and still do). But I was never as scared as I was that night."
"All I had was a cry: 'Jesus, if you are who those stories in that book say You are, then I want to know you!' Instantly, supernaturally, normally--as if it had happened a million times before--He was there...He was real. The Man who walked on water walked into my bedroom. It was that simple. The love in His gaze made time stand still...He looked with eyes that saw deep inside of me and loved every part...And the minute He appeared, fear left so quickly that the memory of it varnished as well...I looked into His eyes of liquid love and got lost...I looked into the face of Love...He is the definition of love. He is its substance, its beginning and its end. Love that is true and real looks like what I saw in His eyes. I met the Man who walked on water. He chased away my fear as a little girl. I had that surgery. I recovered. I grew. I learned. My life started that night, and so did my journey to find His heart."
Michele's quest to share the love of Jesus began with the homeless, sick, and brokenhearted. She ministered in the United States first and then went on to Calcutta, India. From there the Lord sent her to care for children in the war-torn country of Sudan. She went with faith in the promises of God and a face that reflected the love of her Savior.
God's Kingdom comes as we pursue relationship with Jesus and soak in His love so that we become an expression of His love and grace to the people He brings to us. God's desire is to make His face shine upon us and lift His countenance upon us. Why else would He want the Aaronic blessing declared over us?
Joan E. Mathias