It was during the month of Tammuz, the fourth month on the Hebrew calendar, that Moses sent the spies into the Promised Land to explore it. He appointed one leader from each tribe to investigate the situation. They were to check out how the people lived and the soil conditions and the kind of trees that grew in it. If possible, they were to bring back some fruit. Twelve men returned on the eve of the ninth of Av, the next month, with a mixed report. All acknowledged that the land was flowing with milk and honey and that the fruit was huge. However, ten of the twelve men insisted that the giants who lived in the land, descendants of Anak and part of the Nephilim described in Genesis 6:4, would be too much for them to overtake. Even though Joshua and Caleb reminded the Israelites that God had promised to go before them and give them the land, fear overtook them, and they were unwilling to move forward into their destiny.
Since we are now in the month of Tammuz, it would benefit us to look at the story in Numbers 13 and 14. It was the giants in the land and the belief of the ten spies that they could not overcome them that kept the children of Israel, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, from receiving their inheritance. God had promised His children that they would overcome the giants and take possession of the Land. (“Then the Lord said to Moses…'Go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, I will give it to your descendants.’” - Exodus 33:1) They were on the threshold of victory but allowed fear and oppression to overtake them.
At a recent Global Awakening conference, Sean Smith, prophetic evangelist and Director of Point Blank International, spoke about this situation and suggested our present generation is in a battle with the spirit of Anak. That spirit causes us to doubt and accept mediocrity. It erodes our resolve to fight and keeps us from occupying our promises and producing fruit. The spirit distorts our goals so that we do not want to take on a challenge and desire to return to "Egypt." Anak piggybacks onto trauma and disappointment and causes us to become complacent, apathetic and passive. In essence, that spirit puts a cap on us.
Sean gave us some truths to remember in order to deal with Anak. Bill Johnson, lead pastor at Bethel in California, inspired this one: "When you come into agreement with the principles of the world, you come under the authority of the principality that released it." Do not believe in the magnitude of the problem, but in the certainty of God's promise. Sean says we must be aware of the spirit of Anak and develop a game plan to overcome it. Why? "You face your greatest obstacle when you are on the doorstep of your greatest miracle."
Let's be aware of this challenge and push ourselves to move forward instead of regressing into the territories we have already won! We must make the month ahead of us a time to stand on the promises of God and a time to worship Him. Evaluate your situations through the eyes of Christ. I would like to suggest that Rita Springer's song "Defender" articulates a strategy for success in our battles to take the ground that God wants to give us. Soak in her words and let them inspire us to have confidence in our God and every promise He has given to us:
"You go before I know that You've gone to win my war. You come back with the head of my enemy; You come back and You call it my victory. (1st Verse)
You go before I know that You've gone to win my war. Your love becomes my greatest defense; It leads me from the dry wilderness. (2nd Verse)
You know before I do where my heart can seek to find Your truth. Your mercy is the shade I'm living in; You restore my faith and hope again. (3rd Verse)
All I did was praise; All I did was worship; All I did was bow down; All I did was stay still. Hallelujah, You have saved me; So much better Your way. Hallelujah, Great Defender; So much better Your way."
Hallelujah indeed! Our Great Defender goes before us to prepare the way and give us the victory. He is worthy of all praise and honor!
"When religion has said its last word, there is little that we need other than God Himself. The evil habit of seeking God-and effectively prevents us from finding God in full revelation. In the and lies our great woe. If we omit the and we shall soon find God, and in Him we shall find that which we have all our lives been secretly longing." So writes A. W. Tozer in his book, The Pursuit of God.
God wired us to worship Him. It is part of our DNA. This unique characteristic that God placed inside of every person must be satisfied. The desire to worship is so strong that we will do anything to fulfill it. We will build an altar and bow at it, if not to God, to someone or something else.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us this: "...He has set eternity in the hearts of men..." God is an Eternal God. Worship is a condition of the heart. Our hearts are on a quest to be satisfied through worship. The truth is that worship that is not God-centered will never satisfy. However, worship that is God-centered is sacrificial and requires that we yield ourselves to Him. Here is how Romans 12:1 says it: "...In view of God's mercy, offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—This is your spiritual act of worship." Worship is a choice. We get to choose the altar where we will bow.
The psalmist knows how to express the details of worship. "Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and glory are in His sanctuary. Ascribe (Offer a concrete expression of praise.) to the Lord, O families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering and come into His courts. Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness; tremble before Him, all the earth." (Psalm 96:4-9)
Here is the good news: The Lord draws closer and closer to us in response to our worship. (James 4:8) Worship is total surrender to God's will. God's desire is for us to be immersed and saturated in His Presence. He wants us lost in worship. Lost means that we are hidden in Christ, ruin for anything else and cannot find our way back to life as it used to be. As we abide in Him and express our love and awe for Him, we will begin to carry the evidence that we have been with God.
I want to leave you with the words of a worship song written by Israel Houghton--"I Live to Worship You."
"Away, Away from the noise, alone with You.
Away, Away to hear Your voice, and meet with You.
Nothing else matters. My one desire is...
Chorus: To worship You, I live. To worship You, I live; I live to worship You.
To worship You, I live. To worship You, I live; I live to worship You.
Oh, Oh, Oh, Ohhhhh. Oh, Oh, Oh, Ohhhhh. Oh, Oh, Oh, Ohhhhh. Oh, Oh, Oh, Ohhhhh.
Away, Away from the noise, alone with You.
Away, Away to hear Your voice; It's been a while,
But hear my heart cry again." Chorus.
These are words that demonstrate a true heart of worship!
The song "Reckless Love" by Steffany Gretzinger recounts some of the ways the Lord displays His love for us. He sings over us, breathes life into us, fights for us, and paid it all for us. The love of God is relentless! The song declares, "There's no shadow You won't light up, mountain You won't climb up, coming after me. There's no wall You won't kick down, no lie You won't tear down coming after me." Indeed, God's love is reckless! This word conveys the thought of a person who is so consumed with love that all concerns for their own welfare are set aside. The dictionary defines reckless as careless, heedless, foolish, wild and rash.
When trying to describe God's love the chorus of the song says, "Oh the overwhelming, never ending, reckless love of God. Oh, it chases me down, fights 'till I'm found, leaves the ninety-nine. I couldn't earn it, I don't deserve it. Still, You give yourself away. Oh, the overwhelming, never ending, reckless love of God."
Let's think about this word reckless. The Lord loves us so much that He would leave 99 others just for you or me. Both Matthew and Luke tell how Jesus taught this truth using sheep as an analogy. After having explained to His disciples that they need to be humble like little children in order to be great in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus launches into a teaching on the love of God. "See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost." (Matthew 18:12-14)
Luke 15:5-7 repeats the words of Jesus on this subject with more insight regarding finding the lost sheep. "And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulder and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."
Those hearing the story of the shepherd who left 99 sheep to find one would understand that the head shepherd would leave the rest of his flock with his helpers so that they are not unattended. However, it is significant that the head shepherd is the one who leaves to seek the lost sheep. His priority is saving that one! So too our Shepherd King, Jesus. He left the throngs of heaven that worship Him day and night to come to earth to seek the lost. "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save who was lost." (Luke 19:10)
Every single person on the face of the earth is important to our God. As it says in 2 Peter 3:9, He is patient with us, "not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." He went to extraordinary measures to run after us. Our King Jesus gave up everything and subjected himself to death on a cross so that we could have everlasting life and be in heaven with Him for eternity. Oh the love of God! It is incomprehensible! His love is overwhelming, never ending and reckless!
God longs for fellowship with us. He looks for a cooperative relationship with us. As we respond to His desire for fellowship He increases our spiritual hunger for more. The way for us to draw closer to the Lord is through worship. Through worship we reveal the nature of our commitment to Him. Commitment involves sacrifice. "The sacrifice You desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God." (Psalm 51:17 - NLT)
At the Washington Crossing United Methodist Church we have made a yearly commitment to dedicate the evenings of the last week of July to the Lord. During that time we remember how He visited us in 1994 and changed everything that we did. His sweet Spirit led us to amend our priorities so that the only thing that seemed important was worshiping Him. We connected with Him in a deeper way and realized the importance of setting aside time for Him. Last week that is what we did.
In John 4 we read how Jesus had a conversation at Jacob's well with a Samaritan woman. He told her, "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks." (John 4:23) I was reminded of this verse as we worshiped with one another at The Crossing last week. Several times we sang the song, "Worthy of It All" by David Brymer. The song tells about heavenly worship: "All the saints and angels, bow before Your throne. All the elders cast their crowns before the Lamb of God and sing. You are worthy of it all..." 24-7 all the saints, angels and elders worship around the throne of God, and yet He seeks true worshipers on earth. He would leave the throngs of heaven for the sacrificial worship of earth.
The worship that took place at The Crossing did have a sacrificial element to it. We made worshiping the Lord each evening a priority. But the most fragrant offering of all was offered up at The Crossing on Friday morning. A dear couple from our Church invited us to share in their sorrow of the death of their new baby girl a few hours before delivery. They gave her a name that means abundant life, and they acknowledged that in heaven alone will she experience the truth of her name. They led us in songs declaring their trust in the unfailing love of God. A true sacrifice of praise was offered to Him through a veil of tears.
The words of the songs that our brave and committed couple had us sing with them let us know—along with the hosts of heaven—of their steadfast belief in the goodness of God in the midst of tragedy. The offering that was made to the Lord declared these truths: "I believe in You; I believe in You. You're the God of miracles. The God who was and is to come, the power of the Risen One. The God who brings the dead to life; You're the God of miracles!" and "It is well; it is well with my soul." and "How great Thou art; how great Thou art!" Their spirits rose above their souls to present the perfect offering; the kind that the Lord seeks.
The worship that takes place in heaven does so in a perfect environment where there is no sorrow or tears. It pales in comparison to the sacrificial worship that took place on Friday morning. The Lord received the sacrificial offering, and His Spirit came to dwell with us. In the midst of pain and suffering and trials, may we all offer unto the Lord the pure worship that He desires—sacrificial worship in spirit and truth!
On July 4th I had the privilege of going to the Johnson Ferry House at Washington Crossing State Park in New Jersey. The curator of that house planned special events in honor of our country's Independence Day. Outside of the Ferry House, raspberry ice cream was being made the way it would have been made in colonial days. As we stood outside, the sound of patriotic melodies with beautiful harmonies came wafting towards us and drew us inside. Several musicians and singers dressed in period costumes greeted us. We were invited to join them in song.
Singing all of the verses of the patriotic hymns moved me emotionally as I contemplated the words that describe the founding of the United States of America. Each song that we sang recognized that God is the one who has blessed us and confirmed that our forefathers truly established our nation on a godly foundation. Most of us would be familiar with the first verse of the songs we sang but not the subsequent ones. I want to record the powerful words of some of the lesser known verses of three of these songs.
America the Beautiful by Katharine Lee Bates (1859 - 1929)
Katharine Bates wrote about the message of her hymn: "We must match the greatness of our country with the goodness of personal godly living. If only we could couple the daring of the Pilgrims with the moral teachings of Moses, we would have something in this country that no one could ever take from us." I am particularly fond of the third verse of her hymn:
"O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life! America! America! May God thy gold refine, till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine."
Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe (1819 - 1910)
Julia Howe wrote this hymn in the midst of the Civil War. It inspired the entire nation when it went public. The third and fourth verses speak of God's plans and the birth of Christ as our Savior:
"He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat. He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat. O be swift, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet! Our God is marching on." Refrain: "Glory! Glory! Hallelujah" (3 times) "His truth is marching on."
"In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, with a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me. As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free! While God is marching on.” Refrain: (See above.)
The Star Spangled Banner by Frances Scott Key (1779 - 1843)
It was during the War of 1812, while on the deck of a ship, that Frances Scott Key wrote what was to become our national anthem in 1931. Rarely do we sing the second verse, but I believe it is noteworthy:
"O thus be it ever, when free men shall stand between their loved homes and the war's desolation! Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation! Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just; and this be our motto: 'In God is our trust!' And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"
Psalm 33:12 says, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His inheritance." The authors of the above hymns understood this. We must add the Amen!k here to edit.
The National Prayer Breakfast is the brainchild of Abraham Vereide, a Methodist minister who immigrated to the United States from Norway. He, along with his friend Senator Frank Carlson and Billy Graham, saw the Breakfast as an opportunity to nurture Christian leaders in our country. After presenting the idea to then President Dwight Eisenhower, they got the green light. Eisenhower recognized that this would be a positive influence on our country.
Invitations were sent to leaders in the United States and in other countries. In part, the invitations said, "This is a time to seek the Lord's guidance and strength...and to renew the dedication of our Nation and ourselves to God's purposes." The first Prayer Breakfast was held in 1953 and has been held on the first Thursday in February ever since.
The 65th National Prayer Breakfast took place last week and can be viewed on You Tube. I found it so encouraging and inspirational! About 3,500 people gathered to be led in singing and prayer and to listen to several speakers. The keynote speaker was the Chaplain from the United States Senate, Dr. Barry Black. His address was stellar! As I listened to it I felt hope for the revival of our country rising within me and a sense of excitement over God's plans for our future.
Joel Rosenberg, Founder of the Joshua Fund, communications strategist, best-selling author and international speaker, was one of the attendees at the Breakfast. Here is what he said about Dr. Black's address: "It is one of the most powerful, most compelling, most winsome and moving presentations of the Gospel of Jesus Christ I have ever heard delivered. We all urgently need to hear and respond to the message the Chaplain preached so passionately to us."
Dr. Black encouraged his listeners to pray, calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus in three different ways.
The Chaplain made it clear that this nation will not prosper unless our faith is built upon the foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ. His impassioned presentation of Edward Mote's hymn, The Solid Rock, stirred everyone who heard it. "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand--all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand." I praise the Lord for the bold proclamation made by this man of God. He left no doubt in anyone's mind of the course this nation must take in order to prosper. It is vital that we pray in agreement with him.
The story of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, has been an inspiration for those who write poetry and music. Divine influence on those writers produced melodies and verses that have endured year after year. Details of the circumstances surrounding Christ's birth and the reason for His coming put to song draw us in so that we join in singing.
Did you ever think about how many Christmas concerts are produced each year? Many music directors in churches and schools from elementary through college level prepare their students to play and sing the Christmas songs that have been handed down from generation to generation. As I was growing up, preparing for our yearly concerts was exciting and culminated in a production attended by my family.
Life has a way of going full circle. Last week I found myself attending a Christmas concert put on by the residents of the senior living center where my mother lives. Over 50 residents were part of the choir that was accompanied by a piano player and two trumpet players. The director had a diverse program of songs including, "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen," "Gesu Bambino," "What Child is This," "Lo, How a Rose," and "Joy to the World." Most of the choir members sang with great abandon, except for one gentleman sitting on the front row. He looked distressed and hardly moved his mouth. When I questioned my mother about this she told me that he is almost totally deaf. Yet, he wanted to be part of this celebration. I am sure that he was hearing the songs in his mind as he tried to sing along. My mother went on to tell me that everyone is welcome to participate in the choir.
As I reflected on the conversation I had with my mother a fun song by Celtic Thunder came into my head that depicts the all-inclusive choir. The verses of this song--"A Place in the Choir"--tell of different animals and how they uniquely participate in singing. Then comes the chorus: "All God's creatures got a place in the choir. Some sing low and some sing higher. Some sing out loud on a telephone wire. Some just clap their hands, or paws, or anything they've got now." This song presents a wonderful picture of God's intention to draw us all in and to use whatever He has given us to worship Him. The Lord is certainly an all-inclusive Savior! He came to invite everyone to join Him for eternity. For everyone who receives Him, His message is clear and meant for every individual on the face of this earth. As it says in the song, "Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne," "There is room at My side for thee."
Life on earth is practice for eternity where worship of the Lord will occur 24/7. John writes about what he saw in heaven in Revelation 5:11-14. "Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: 'Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!' Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: 'To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!' The four living creature said, 'Amen,' and the elders fell down and worshiped." Yes, there is a place reserved for each of us in the great choir in heaven where we will worship our Lord and King for eternity. In the meantime, we can practice as members of the choir, just as one of the lesser known verses of "Silent Night" says: "With the angels let us sing; Hallelujah to our King! Jesus Christ is here! Jesus Christ is here!"
(Psalm 27:13-14) - "I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." David is speaking to his soul in these verses after declaring his heart cry: "One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple." (Verse 4)
There is no simple answer to the question, "How do I enter the manifest Presence of the Lord?" We know that it was the death of Jesus on The Cross that tore the veil in front of the Holy of Holies. (Matthew 27:51) He made access for us through His willingness to go to The Cross. And from the day that we accept what Jesus did for us and confess Him as Lord and Savior, we are on a journey. The destination of our journey is mirrored by the tabernacle with its three courts: the outer court (redemption and cleansing), the holy place (provision), and the Holy of Holies (glory and Presence). Our journey is one of progressive intimacy with Him. Our goal is to meet Him face to face, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. This occurs in the most holy place.
We must be intentional in the way we travel, willing to lay everything down for the sake of our Lord. We must be ready to run to Him as He appears to us. The book of Mark tells us about the time when Jesus healed the boy with an evil spirit. A crowd was gathered around some of the disciples. However, "as soon as they saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet Him." (Mark 9:15) The crowd ran to Jesus because of their sense of awe and wonder. These combined with child-like faith delight the Lord and bring us closer to Him.
It has been a tradition of The Crossing Church to set aside one week every year for the sole purpose of worshiping God and seeking His face. This is a time when we remember how unexpectedly He came to visit us in 1994. The Spirit of God was poured upon us in a mighty way. In unity we gather together to declare the wonders of God's love and cry out for Him to come and dwell with us. We set aside last week to seek the Lord. One particular song seemed to capture the cry of our hearts. It is called "Here As In Heaven," by Elevation Worship:
"Overflow in this place; fill our hearts with Your love, Your love surrounds us. You're the reason we came to encounter Your love, Your love surrounds us. Spirit of God fall fresh on us, we need Your Presence. Your kingdom come Your will be done here as in heaven. Spirit of God fall fresh on us; we need Your Presence. Your kingdom come Your will be done here as in heaven."
Deep down inside we know that the Lord has more for us. He told His disciples that there would be more after He ascended to heaven and sent His Holy Spirit. Cultivating His Presence has become a priority through our worship and meditating on His Word. Nothing can compare to an encounter with the Living God. The journey continues. Only His Presence can satisfy!
One of the first signs of new life erupting in nature is that the buds on the trees and shrubs begin to swell. The entire silhouette of the trees has been changing for the past two weeks. This is a sign that they will burst out in new growth within a short time. This sign is an assurance that the plant community will bloom again.
As I contemplate this sign in nature I see a similar swelling, so to speak, in the Christian community. As all of nature prepares to burst forth in bloom, the community of faith in Jesus Christ is swelling through their prayers and fasting for our nation that is in desperate need of a great awakening.
Sadly, the Church became ineffective when complacency set in, and the enemy of our souls filled the void. Our nation has become like a parched desert, in desperate need of living water. God addresses this issue in the letter to the Church in Laodicea. "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent...He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Revelation 3:15-22)
There are powerful leaders in the Christian community who have heard from the Lord and have been willing to sacrifice their lives to rally the troops to turn America back to God by uniting us in prayer and fasting for our nation. Such leaders as Dutch Sheets (Appeal to Heaven), Lewis Hogan (United Cry DC16) and Lou Engle (The Call Azusa Now) have been sent by God, like Elijah, to prophesy over our dry bones and to call forth breath into our very being that we may live the way God intended for us to live.
The remnant of God's people is pregnant with anointing to break the yoke of oppression, to set the captives free and to restore righteousness to our land. We are like the people of Israel when God told them through the prophet Isaiah that the burden of the Assyrians would depart from them. "In that day their burden will be lifted from your shoulders, their yoke from your neck; the yoke will be broken because you have grown so fat." ("because of the anointing." - KJV) (Isaiah 10:27)
I hear the Lord calling us to abundant life. I sense His desire for deep intimacy with us. I remember that Jesus came to earth as the Redeemer. I wonder if this might be the Kairos time for the Kingdom of Heaven to break into earth in its fullness. We are in the midst of the year of Jubilee, a year meant for freedom, redemption and restoration. Could it be that we are on the earth for such a time as this? I believe that the remnant of God's church is being called to join the movement to restore our nation to its godly foundations. We are pregnant with the purposes of God, like the swelling tree buds that are preparing to break forth and are a sign that the time is drawing near.
We want to be part of this remnant to restore our nation to its godly inheritance. The labor is not easy, but we do not want to miss this opportunity to birth the purposes of the Lord here on earth. The word of the Lord goes out from His mouth. It will not return to Him empty, but will accomplish what He desires and achieve the purpose for which it was sent. (Isaiah 55:11) I hear Him saying, "The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom, it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy...'Be strong, do not fear, your God will come...' Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert." (Isaiah 35:1-6)
Joan E. Mathias