Romans 15:4 says, "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope." One of the distinct qualities of God's people is that they have hope. God sent His Word to plant that in us. The Bible is more than a book, as it tells us in John 1:1-5. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
You may ask, "What is the purpose of the Bible?" I believe that one of the main purposes is to give us revelation of God's nature and character and His desire for relationship with us. His desire for intimacy with us is so great that He used the beginning of the Book to show us our sinful condition and His plans for redemption. Our need for a Savior is why He sent His perfect Son to redeem us. He assures us of His ability to enact His plan of salvation through the stories in the Bible that tell of His loving care and power to overcome the schemes of the enemy, and to set us on the right path for eternal life.
A song written by Elevation Worship has inspired me and affirmed my hope in the Lord. It tells us how the world will never satisfy us but that His love overcomes our weaknesses and failures. While it is true that HIs love gives us hope, it is also true that His power is supernatural and changes our surroundings to give us access to God's Kingdom. Let's look at the words to the song, "Graves into Gardens."
"I searched the world, but it couldn't fill me. Man's empty praise and treasures that fade are never enough. Then You came along and put me back together, and every desire is now satisfied, here in Your love.
Chorus: Oh, there's nothing better than You. There's nothing better than You. Lord there's nothing, nothing is better than You.
I'm not afraid to show You my weakness. My failures and flaws, Lord You've seen them all, and You still call me friend. 'Cause the God of the mountain is the God of the valley. There's not a place Your mercy and grace won't find me again.
Bridge 1: You turn mourning to dancing. You give beauty for ashes.
You turn shame into glory. You're the only one who can.
Bridge 2: You turn graves into gardens. You turn bones into armies.
You turn seas into highways. You're the only one who can. You're the only one who can.”
God's love for us and its accompanying power operate together to transform our lives. Declaring HIs power and love will change our atmosphere and bring about hope for the present and the future.
I was undone this week as I listened to the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir so beautifully sing "The Song of Moses." The words come from Revelation 15:3-4. "Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You. For Your judgments have been manifested." (NKJV) The key question here is, "Who shall not fear You?" The word "fear" as used in the Bible has several meanings. Fear of the Lord contains a mixed feeling of dread and reverence, awe and wonder. The Hebrew word is "Yirah." It is directly connected to trembling. It happens when we encounter something beyond our understanding and should lead us into worship.
A warning is issued to the leaders of nations in Psalm 2. I like the way it is expressed in The Passion Translation. "How dare the nations plan a rebellion. Their foolish plots are futile! Look at how the power brokers of the world rise up to hold their summit as the rulers scheme and confer together against Yahweh and His Anointed King...Listen to me, all you rebel-kings and all you upstart judges of the earth. Learn your lesson while there is still time. Serve and worship the awe-inspiring God. Recognize His greatness and bow before Him, trembling with reverence in His presence." (Verses 1-2, 10-11)
By not putting God first in their lives, the rulers of nations, the leaders of churches, and the masses are forfeiting amazing blessings from the Lord. At the forefront is wisdom. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." (Proverbs 9:10) Job comprehended the ramifications of the fear of the Lord for his life. "The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding." (Job 28:28) Scripture is filled with verses describing the benefits of the fear of the Lord. "He whose walk is upright fears the Lord, but he whose ways are devious despises Him." (Proverbs 14:2) It seems that fearing the Lord brings great benefits to families. "He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge." (Proverbs 14:26) Here is one we should remember: "Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil." (Proverbs 16:6)
Verses 8 through 11 in Psalm 33 make clear the power of the Lord. "Let the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere Him. For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm. The Lord foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, and the purposes of His heart through all generations." When David wrote Psalm 86, he knew the importance of having an undivided heart. "Teach me Your way, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may praise You, O Lord my God. With all my heart, I will glorify Your name forever." (Verses 11-12) God gives us undivided hearts when we give Him permission to search us and know our hearts. (Psalm 139) With the fear of the Lord comes a generational promise as written in Psalm 103:17. "But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children's children." Psalm 147:11 tells us, "The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love."
Let's look at what the prophet Isaiah says about fear of the Lord. I believe Isaiah 33:5-6 is one Scripture that encourages and directs us for such a time as this. "The Lord is exalted, for He dwells on high; He will fill Zion with justice and righteousness. He will be a sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure." Isaiah 11 describes the Spirit gifts that Jesus carried: "And the Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him--The Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power (might), the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD." These verses should be encouraging to us as we are made in the image of God. We must pursue and embrace the fear of the Lord and pray that our leaders will do the same. Why don't you listen to the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sing "The Song of Moses"? As you do, ask the Lord how to renew your fear of the Lord and contemplate these words as written by Jeremiah the prophet: "'Should you not fear me?' declares the Lord. 'Should you not tremble in my presence...'" (Jeremiah 5:22)
"O come to my heart, Lord Jesus—there is room in my heart for Thee!" This refrain from the song "Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne" (written by Emily Elliott for her father's church, St. Mark's Anglican Church of Brighton, England) gives one the opportunity to personalize their commitment to Jesus. The verses tell the story of the birth, life, death, and victorious return of our Savior. The first four verses use the word "but" to contrast the differences between heaven's actions and earth's response. The final verse rejoices at Christ's return to bring us to His side. He makes room for us at His side as we make room for Him in our hearts.
Below are the words to the song. As you read them, pay attention to what comes after the "but."
"Though didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown when Thou camest to earth for me; but in Bethlehem's home was there found no room for Thy holy nativity.*
Heaven's arches rang when the angels sang, proclaiming Thy royal degree; but of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth, and in great humility.*
The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest in the shade of the forest tree; but Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God, in the deserts of Galilee.*
Thou camest, O Lord, with the living word that should set Thy people free; but with mocking scorn and with crown of thorn they bore Thee to Calvary.*
When the heav'ns shall ring and the angels sing at Thy coming to victory, let Thy voice call me home, saying, 'Yet there is room—there is room at My side for thee,' My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus, when thou comest and callest for me!"*
* "O come to my heart, Lord Jesus—there is room in my heart for Thee!"
The world found no room for the Christ child who came in great humility even though He is a king and a priest. He was crucified wearing a crown of thorns, but death could not keep Him down. All of heaven proclaims that one day our Lord will return in victory.
Here is what we must consider: Do we have room for our Savior in our hearts? Last year prophet Shawn Bolz put a beautiful new year prayer on Instagram. The first few sentences are the best, in my opinion. "God, I give you my most precious commodity you have given me this side of eternity. I give you space to create more of Yourself in me. I commit to daily time with you to develop our deep connection. I open my heart to you and listen with hungry ears. I will look for you in my days."
As we welcome in the New Year, let's make it our goal to invite the Holy Spirit of Jesus to take more space in our hearts so that we become more like Him. Paul explains how Jesus emptied Himself of His glory in obedience to Father God. "He existed in the form of God, yet He gave no thought to seizing equality with God as His supreme prize. Instead, He emptied Himself of His outward glory by reducing Himself to the form of a lowly servant. He became human." (Philippians 2:6-7 - TPT) Consider what Jesus told the Jews who were questioning Him about His testimony. "Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are Abraham's descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for My Word." (John 8:35-37)
The Word is filled with truth, wisdom, and power. The Word is our Lord. What better way to make room in our hearts for Jesus than through spending time in the Word. Jesus is ready to create more of Himself in us when we give Him room to do so. May 2022 be the year when we make more room in our hearts for the Lord!
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?
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!
“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.
When the Apostle Paul writes to the Colossians, he expresses his gratitude for them because of their faith in Christ Jesus and their love for all of God's people. He writes, The faith and love that springs from the hope stored up for you in heaven..." (Colossians 1:5) Isn't it great to be reminded that we have hope stored up for us in heaven? How we need hope right now!
I feel compelled to share a wonderful testimony from Paul Wilbur, Messianic worship leader. He shared his epiphany of hope at Glory of Zion's Shabbat Service at the beginning of the year. During a difficult season in his life, he was inspired by a Scripture that has been one of my "war Scriptures." In Zechariah, Chapter 9, Verses 11 and 12, the Lord encourages Israel: "As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you." What an exciting promise!
Let us look at how this Zechariah Scripture undergirded Paul Wilbur. He and his pastor led 72 pastors to Auschwitz during Purim at the end of February 2020. The group sang and declared God's truth to reverse the curse in that part of Poland and in the crematorium where over a million were killed. They returned to the United States just before the borders were closed because of the Covid breakout. When Paul got home, he discovered that he had lost his voice. The doctors told him that his vocal cords were burned and blistered. The burning was so severe that he could barely talk. March was the first of several months that Paul could not speak, and discouragement and doubt set in.
Paul Wilbur was inspired to research the words of Zechariah 9:11-12, especially the word hope. We must look at all the phrases in these verses, starting with "because of the blood covenant with you." The first time we see God make a blood covenant is in Genesis 15. He instructs Abram to bring him a heifer, goat, ram, dove, and pigeon. All were cut in half and arranged by halves opposite each other. The Lord passed through those animals and told Abram what to expect in an unbreakable blood covenant. He and his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan. Through his blood, Jesus made a better covenant with us, one where we receive His promised eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:15)
Because of the blood covenant, God promises to release us from the "waterless pit." During Bible times, dry cisterns or pits were used as places of bondage or imprisonment. Remember how Joseph was placed in one of these cisterns? (Genesis 37:22) I imagine it would be easy to lose hope in one of these dry, hot places unless you trusted the Word of the Lord from Zechariah: "Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope." The song "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" tells us He is a "bulwark never failing." Here is how the Psalmist sees it: "He alone is my rock, and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken." (Psalm 62:2)
If we follow God's lead, we will be rescued, and what was stolen from us will be returned two-fold. As we trust in the Word of the Lord, His blood covenant and His faithfulness, our belief in God's promises will be rewarded. Paul Wilbur was encouraged by the story of Rahab when the spies from Israel paid her a visit. The spies promised to save her and her family from the pit on two conditions: (1) They could not leave the building. (2) A scarlet rope had to be tied to the window. Paul was reminded of a Scripture that comes from Ecclesiastes 4:12 that says, "A chord of three strands is not quickly broken." Perhaps Rahab's rope had three strands. Paul asked the Lord the significance of each strand. Here is what he senses: Strand 1 represents the Promise or blood covenant. Strand 2 represents the patience that we must have while we wait for the promise. Strand 3 represents the appointed time. We must trust in the promise and remember that patience must have her appointed time. Paul says, "Do not let the rope slip out of your hands!"
Wilbur's voice did return. While he waited in his waterless pit, he wrote new songs as he played his guitar. One that really touched my heart was inspired by 2 Chronicles 20 when it looked like all hope for the Israelites was gone. But the Lord prevailed when the praisers went out ahead of the army. Here are a few lines from the song: "I will dance in the midst of the fire. I will sing in the eye of the storm. I will shout you are faithful forever. The victory is mine 'cause the battle is yours." Remember that we have hope stored up for us in heaven. Make it yours, and do not let go!
It was not until God breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of Adam that he became a living being. (Genesis 2:7) Acts 17:24-25 explains, "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else."
I have contemplated the importance of the breath of God as I sing the song, "Great Are You Lord" by James Ingram. Think about these words: "You give life. You are love; You bring light to the darkness. You give hope, You restore every heart that is broken. And great are You Lord! It's Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise, we pour out our praise. It's Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to You only."
Job has much to say about the breath of God. "In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind." (Job 12:10) "The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life." (Job 33:4) "If it were His intension and He withdrew His Spirit and breath, all humanity would perish together, and mankind would return to dust." (Job 34:14-15) Likewise, the Psalmist recognizes how the Word of the Lord and His breath created the world we live in. "By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth." (Psalm 33:6) "...Each man's life is but a breath. Selah.” (Psalm 39:5)
We were made in God's image. (Genesis 1:26, 9:6) His intent was and is that His children partner with Him in creating. How do we do this? We co-create by our breath, speaking life into the world around us. God wants us to bring heaven to earth through our spoken words. God also realizes that the enemy of our souls will do anything possible to stop our agreement with the Kingdom of Light. So, we are in the middle of a ferocious battle to stop us from speaking or even breathing. Covid 19 literally takes away our breath!
God explains His provision for us in the area of battling against the powers of darkness in Ephesians 6. There are five defensive weapons in our toolbelt: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the helmet of salvation, and the shield of faith. However, the Lord has given us two offensive weapons: the sword of the Spirit and prayer in the Spirit. Both weapons require us to use our breath and speak out truth. Jesus demonstrated how to use the sword when the devil came after Him in the desert. As Jesus spoke out the truth of the Word, the devil had to flee from Him. In his book, Spiritual Warfare, Joseph Prince says, "It is not enough to just know God's Word in your heart. You have to speak it out. That is when latent power becomes actual power...God's Word in your mouth is like God speaking." (Page 83-84) "When you declare the Scripture aloud, the Word of God fights for you. The devil has no defense against the Word of God." (Page 86)
We must not allow the enemy of our souls to keep us from declaring the truth and the praises of God Most High. Remember that Jesus brought the breath of His Father to earth. When He was getting ready to return to His Father in Heaven, He breathed on His disciples and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:21) The breath of God is in us to bring about life. Much territory has been stolen from us during this past year. We have been equipped with weapons for warfare. God wants us to use them so that we not only recover what has been stolen from us, but we also take plunder from the enemy camp. Start taking plunder, dear ones. That is our inheritance!
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?
America was preparing to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1876. A 35-year old rector of a small Episcopal church in Brandon, Vermont, thought that the country should have a new national hymn for the occasion. Daniel Crane Roberts introduced the song he wrote to his parishioners on July 4, 1876, and they sang it together at their Brandon village church. Later, there was a National Centennial Observance to commemorate the adoption of the Constitution. Roberts' song was selected as the official hymn for the event. The words remind us of the rich heritage of our country and how God was a part of the foundations. It is called "God of Our Fathers."
God of our fathers, whose almighty hand leads forth in beauty all the starry band; of shining worlds in splendor thru the skies, our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.
Thy love divine hath led us in the past, in this free land by Thee our lot is cast; be thou our ruler, guardian, guide and stay; thy word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.
From war's alarms, from deadly pestilence, be Thy strong arm our ever-sure defense; Thy true religion in our hearts increase; Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.
Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way. Lead us from night to never ending day; fill all our lives with love and grace divine, and glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.
The words of this song are powerful! Can you imagine the delight it gave God when it was first sung? It includes praise, thanksgiving, confession of our need for Him, requests for His presence, and truth. To me, it seems like the perfect song for us to sing today. We have strayed from our country's foundation and are in desperate need of God's continued guidance, defense, and peace. Without the Lord in charge, I believe our nation is doomed.
I found an interesting quote on the Internet from John Mathison of Leadership Ministries. He says, "The first two colonies established in American made it clear that they were being established for 'the glory of God and the propagation of the Christian faith.'" How far we have fallen from their intent! How we need the breath of God to blow upon us and bring us back into His fold!
In Genesis 18:23-25 we read how Abraham spoke to God about saving Sodom on behalf of the righteous. He asked, "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?...Far be it for you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked..." Abraham began to test God, asking Him if He found 50, then 45, then 30, then 20, and finally 10 righteous, would he still destroy Sodom. Each time, the Lord would relent. When Abraham asked about saving the city for only 10 people, here is how God responded: "For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it." (Genesis 18:32)
How merciful is God that he would have saved all of Sodom for the sake of ten righteous people! We need to join together in a chorus of repentance, humility, and worship to ask for God's mercy on the United States. Perhaps He will have compassion on us and bring our nation back to its intended purpose. Psalm 33:12 says, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His inheritance." I believe that God chose our nation, along with Israel, to represent Him on the earth. Join me in interceding for our country. Surely, we have more than 10 righteous in our nation. Let's bow before the God of our fathers to remind Him of our past and plead for our future.
Joan E. Mathias