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?
Yearly, an organization called HaYovei (The Jubilee) has been helping farmers with small properties in the regions of Judea and Samaria harvest their grapes. A recent story by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz in "Biblical News" told about the organizations faithfulness in bringing more than 3,000 Christian volunteers from 30 countries to Israel for the past 15 years. As they helped pick grapes, these Christians breathed life into the Biblical prophecy in Isaiah 61:5. "Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards."
This year was different from all others. Israel's Health Minister placed travel restrictions on the country so that their borders were closed to all non-citizens. It is reported that about 400 tons of grapes were in danger of rotting on the vines because of the restrictions. The leaders of HaYovei pulled out all the stops to get the Israeli government to relax their regulations. Eventually, 50 volunteers were permitted to enter the country as long as they committed to staying for three months, with the initial two weeks being set aside for quarantine. On September 2, the first group of volunteers began harvesting the grapes. Pickers came from The United States, Canada, and Germany.
When the harvesters are finished, it is expected that approximately 500 tons of grapes from 10 farms in the Biblical heartland will have been picked. Some of the HaYovei volunteers are motivated by the prophecy in Ezekiel 36:36. "Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the Lord have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate..." Although the volunteers may not proselytize, their generosity in assisting with the harvest demonstrates the love of God.
What a blessing it is to be alive during a time when so much Biblical prophecy is coming to life! The grapevine is a symbol of the Jewish people. As the grapes mature, so are the Jewish people as they come to know their Messiah. God told King Hezekiah to look for a sign from Him. "This year you will eat what grows by itself, and the second year what springs from that. But in the third year, sow and reap, plant vineyards, and eat fruit. Once more a remnant of the kingdom of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above. For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this." (Isaiah 37:30-32) I would imagine that the Jews who own the vineyards in Israel's heartland and the Christians who are helping with the harvest will join together to celebrate and give thanks to God (the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) for bringing in the crop.
The Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) began on Friday evening. Saturday, September 19, is the first day of the new year and Tishrei, the seventh month on the Jewish calendar. Typically, families gather together in their synagogues and read Leviticus 23:23-25 and Numbers 29:1-6. They also read the story of Abraham taking Isaac to Mt. Moriah to sacrifice him as instructed by the Lord. (Genesis 22) God rewarded Abraham's obedience and provided a ram as a substitute sacrifice. It is the ram's horn that is blown on the New Year as a reminder of Father Abraham's obedience to God. Those farmers in Judea and Samaria who have help with harvesting their grapes have another reason to celebrate God's goodness.
The "Grapevines" continue to thrive despite efforts by the enemy to kill them. God is invested in and committed to HIs covenant with the Jewish people. He has made and kept His promises to His people and uses the Christian community to help in their fulfillment. "...New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills, and I will bring my people Israel back from exile. They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them." (Amos 9:13-15)
As the Jews celebrate their new year, we as Christians should be praying for their prosperity and taking our places as harvesters for the Kingdom of God. God looks with favor on those who help His chosen ones.
After Covid 19 hit our country, my church decided to hold services outside. The worship team and pastor minister under a large, 2-story front entrance porch. The congregation sits facing the front of the building either in a tent on the parking lot or on the lawn. As my husband and I worshiped together on the lawn, we have a great view of the building and the steeple that rises to the sky above. The history of the architecture of American churches goes back to when our nation was settled. One of the first buildings the pioneers constructed in their villages was the church. It was the center of all activities. Worshiping God was their chief priority. Most of the churches built had a steeple that was topped with a spire. It symbolized the church's heavenly aspirations.
When I sit at one of our services and look at the front of our church, my eyes are instantly drawn to the steeple. Recently, I noticed that hornets have been very busy over the summer, because there is a huge hornet's nest at the juncture of the steeple and the spire. The hornets chew wood to build their paper-like structures. The teardrop-shaped nest only has one opening for the hornets to enter and leave. Fortunately, the nest attached to our church steeple is so high that we do not have to be concerned about an attack by the hornets. In addition, fall and cooler temperatures are approaching. The nest will deteriorate over the winter. I began to wonder how a hornet determines where it will build its nest. My research shows that they look for a location that has cracks in it so they can firmly attach their nest. It is recommended that homeowners caulk and seal any cracks in the sides of their buildings so that hornets will not attempt to build their unwanted structure.
As I looked at the nest on our church steeple, I felt like God was telling me that there is prophetic significance to this picture. There is a battle going on between good and evil in our world today. Sadly, much of the Church has compromised their position and allowed the enemy to have his way. We are warned about this in Ephesians 4:27: "...Do not give the devil a foothold." Just as the hornets built their nest in the cracks of our steeple, the devil found cracks in the foundation of our churches and has built a nest so that he can operate inside the life of the church to influence her decisions for evil. Our country has bought into the lies of the enemy and has made decisions that are directly opposite of the commandments in Scripture and the foundations upon which our nation was formed. The Church cannot continue to compromise! The soul of our nation is at stake, and the country needs the prayers and actions of the saints to bring it back into alignment with the intentions of our founding fathers. This could be the Church's greatest hour of achievement or failure for the Kingdom of God.
The enemy is attacking the Church's foundation. For seven months our lives have been severely restricted through government regulations meant to protect us from Covid 19. At this point they have been softened somewhat; however, it appears as though they will continue through the rest of the year. They hit at the heart of the Church--worship and fellowship! In addition, fear has struck many—not only fear of sickness, but fear of violence that is ravaging our cities. Rage and anarchy have been unleashed by those who want to control our nation in an unholy agenda.
I praise God for the churches that are standing their ground! They found the cracks in their foundations and are filling them. They are leading their congregations in repentance and return to lives of purity and love. They see that God has given us a period of grace. But I wonder how long this grace will last. Peter gives us good advice for this season: "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your bothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings." (1 Peter 5:8-9)
Paul gives us solid advice in Colossians 4:2-6. "Be faithful to pray as intercessors who are fully alert and give thanks to God...Walk in the wisdom of God as you live before the unbelievers, and make it your duty to make Him known. Let every word you speak be drenched with grace and tempered with truth and clarity. For then you will be prepared to give a respectful answer to anyone who asks about your faith." (TPT)
As the summer draws to a close the flowers planted in the spring are pushing out their last blossoms before the frost does them in. One of my favorite annuals, growing on my deck, is a Mandevilla vine. Its oblong leaves are shiny green, and its trumpet-shaped flowers have 5 pure white petals with a pale pink blush at their base and a yellow throat. The vine grows aggressively from many different shoots, with the new growth frequently intertwining. Yesterday I found three of the shoots circling an oblong flower bud ready to break open. This would not have been possible had I not freed the bud from the restricting tendrils. I must be vigilant in keeping the new grow from choking the flowers.
The enemy of our souls acts somewhat like these choking vines. He targets anything new and beautiful in our lives, attempting to choke it out. With restrictions binding us, we are unable to bless others, because we are fighting for our own lives. Just as new flower buds on the Mandevilla vine break open daily to swell and reveal their lovely pristine petals and calyx, God gives us new possibilities to reflect His beauty daily. We must push against the enemy attacks to share the Lord's beauty in our lives.
I discovered this summer that squirrels love to eat the Mandevilla leaves and flowers. One evening I came home to find a squirrel sitting on my deck chair with an entire shoot in its paws. He was eating one leaf at a time and saved the flower buds for dessert. Ugh!! I will not allow this enemy of my beautiful vine to destroy it. There is a yardstick by my door that I use to chase the squirrels. My persistence has helped in keeping them away.
What have I learned from my experience with this vine? A Christian receives attacks from within and without just like the Mandevilla vine. Vigilance is mandatory! The enemy attacks when we are unaware. He may come upon our physical or our emotional wellbeing. He attempts to incapacitate us through the frequency and nature of his attacks. His strategy is to wear us down. Along with vigilance, we must have persistence. This will stop the enemy of our souls from developing strongholds. If we give him an inch, he will take a mile. Cutting him off before he gets rooted into our souls will benefit us in our battle.
The wonderful news is that we do not fight our battles alone. The Gardner of our souls is vigilant and persistent—always ready to come to our aid. He teaches us how to fight the fight. Paul gave Timothy this advice: "Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confessions in the presence of many witnesses." (1 Timothy 6:12) Paul also gives us advice in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
Jesus wants us to capture the hearts of the people of this world through our beauty that reflects Him. He is ready to fight with us in the battle against the enemy of our souls. Let us join Him in being vigilant and persistent so that we overcome the enemy and spread the Good News.
As we pulled into the parking area of the Newtown Township park on Rt. 413, memories of childhood visits to Stone Harbor, New Jersey flooded my mind. A distinctive smell of salt water was present from the marshes along the waterways at the entrance to the resort. The marshes are prime territory for unique types of birds. In particular, I remember seeing red-winged blackbirds flitting between the cattails in the marshes. Our Newtown park has fresh-water marshes that are thick with cattails and the home of a small flock of red-winged blackbirds. To quote a web site on blackbirds: "A cattail marsh is the quintessential red-winged blackbird habitat." We were greeted by several male birds that flew from a small oak tree to a perch at the top of the cattails. When the male sings he expands his wings so that one can see his entire brilliant, red and yellow shoulder area. In this way, he shows off to the females. Females stay out of sight as much as possible, especially during nesting season. Their bodies look somewhat like a sparrow with heavily streaked brown. Their cone-shaped bills have short yellow feathers around them, and above their eyes is a patch of white.
Female red-winged blackbirds try to remain at the base of the vegetation where they can find insects and seeds to feed on and to guard their nests. However, if a larger bird or human comes too close to the marsh, both male and female come to the top of the cattails to protest loudly. The birds' nests are weaved together of grass, reeds, and leaves. After they are completed, the birds attached their nests to standing vegetation. They have two or three broods a season, each with three to four eggs that are incubated by the female. The young stay in the nest for 11 to 14 days while both parents feed them.
Watching the blackbirds in their favorite habitat, I began to think about all the creatures on the earth and the multitude of unique ecosystems that the Lord created. In the seven days of creation written about in Genesis, we read that God made a myriad of land forms, water bodies and vegetation and then filled the earth with a plethora of birds, fish, sea creatures, and animals. It is obvious that God loves diversity and variety and provides a perfect environment for every creature on the earth. A place called the Garden of Eden was created by God for mankind, who was made in His image. "In the image of God He created them; male and female He created them." (Genesis 1:27) God created man with a mission. "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." (Genesis 2:15)
Although Adam and Eve had to be taken from the Garden because of their sin, God's plans for mankind moved forward. "From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:26-28) God has created everyone and everything uniquely for a special purpose and all of this was done out of love. "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
God declares that "His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made..." (Romans 1:20) When we take time to look and see God's handiwork, can there be any doubt that His glory is visible in all creation? In the book of Nehemiah, we are told how the Levites led the Israelites in adoration of the Lord. "Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name...You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship You." (Nehemiah 9:5-6) Psalm 104 is a declaration of praise to God for all He has created. I want to make the end of this psalm my declaration and hope that you will join me in this. "May God's glorious splendor endure forever! May the Lord take joy and pleasure in all that He has made...I will sing my song to the Lord as long as I live! Every day I will sing my praises to God. May you be pleased with every sweet thought I have about You, for You are the source of my joy and gladness...I will keep on praising You, my Lord, with all that is within me. My joyous, blissful shouts of 'Hallelujah' are all because of You!" (Psalm 104:31-35 - TPT)
Fruit trees were very important in the Jewish culture. In fact, on the 15th of Shevat (the 11th month) they celebrate "The New Year for Trees," known as Tu b'Shevat. Tomorrow is that day, sometimes called Rosh Hashanah for Trees. We see in Deuteronomy 20:19 that people are compared to trees. The chapter includes instructions on how to go to war. God's people were not to cut down fruit trees when they laid siege to a city. The question is asked in Verse 19, "Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?" Fruit trees were planted so that their fruit could be eaten.
The main reason this holiday was established was so that God would be correctly honored with the fruit the trees produced. Leviticus 19:23-25 tells us this: "When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden. For three years you are to consider it forbidden; it must not be eaten. In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. But in the fifth year you may eat its fruit. In this way your harvest will be increased. I am the Lord your God." The purpose of the new year is for calculating the age of trees for tithing. Each tree is considered to have aged one year as of the 15th of Shevat. If you plant a tree any time before the 15th of Shevat it begins its 2nd year on the 15th. But if you plant a tree two days later, for example, it does not reach its 2nd year until the 15th of Shevat the following year.
What does this mean for us? When Jesus spoke to His disciples, He told stories to make His point. It was common for Him to talk about trees and compare them to humanity. In Matthew 7:15-20 He warned His disciples to watch out for false prophets. How were they to recognize them? They would do so by the fruit they produced. Good trees bear good fruit, but bad trees bear bad fruit. He repeats this theme of judging a tree by its fruit in Matthew 12:33. "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree will be recognized by its fruit."
In Psalm 1 we are compared to fruit trees and told that the Lord blesses those who delight in His law and meditate on it day and night. "That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers." (Psalm 1:3) Verse 6 tells us that "The Lord watches the way of the righteous." The prophet Jeremiah repeats this theme. "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)
What we take in impacts our fruit. We need to be all about producing strong roots through our faith and commitment to the Lord, for strong roots produce good fruit. What we partake of can produce nourishment which strengthens us. Let's be aware of what we are eating and drinking. It is the Word of God and the Living Water that strengthen our roots and help us to grow in righteousness. Righteousness needs to be our foundation.
We must ask ourselves, "What kind of fruit are we producing?" Are we producing a crop that will feed the next generation? What kind of "trees" are planted in our fields? Are they bearing good fruit, or do they need to be cut down? The Lord is our Righteous Savior (Jeremiah 23:6)—Jehovah Tsidkenu—"The Lord our Righteousness." As we partake of Him, our Daily Bread and our Living Water, we will produce a bounty of good fruit.
Perhaps you remember a story that broke in 2004 about a sheep that was lost for six years. He ran away from his home in Bendigo Station, New Zealand, and hid in caves. "Faith Inspired" recently posted the story on Facebook. Named Shrek, he was one of a flock of 17,000 Merino sheep. This breed does not shed their fleece, unlike other breeds. After six years of growing wool he was unrecognizable as a sheep. He could hardly see because there was so much fleece in his face. We are told how dangerous it is for a sheep to carry such a weight of fleece. Shrek was shaved with his fleece weighing in at 60 lbs. A normal weight for sheep's fleece is just under 10 lbs. Dave Thomas, Head of Sheep Studies at the University of Wisconsin warned how dangerous it is for a sheep to carry so much weight for the following reasons: (1) Heat stress commonly occurs in the summer. (2) The weight creates mobility issues. (3) Vision is impaired. (4) If the sheep fall over, they may not be able to get off their backs.
What weight Shrek carried without a shepherd to care for him! This wanderer could represent any Christian who strays from our Shepherd. David, the writer of Psalm 23, writes about the Good Shepherd: "The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing." In Hebrew the word is Roi which means "watches over." We are blessed that God saw our great need for someone to watch over us. God gave His only Son, Jesus, to be the Lamb who laid down His life for us and the Shepherd who brings us home when we stray. Here is how Isaiah 53:6-7 expresses it: "We all like sheep, have gone astray, each has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all."
In mercy God calls us back to Himself. He wants us to remain in His flock so that He can lead us beside quiet waters and restore our souls. He guides us on paths of righteousness for His name sake. We need not fear evil for His rod and staff comfort us. (Psalm 23:2-3) A beautiful picture of our Shepherd is painted in Revelation 7:17. "For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
Our cave-hiding sheep, Shrek, carried a horrible burden from the weight of his fleece because he stayed away from his shepherd for so long. The Lord spoke to our issue of carrying unnecessary burdens in Matthew 11:28-30. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is all in as it tells us in John 10:14-18. "I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen, I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason the Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord..."
Christ our Shepherd, extends amazing love to us with a promise to care for us and lead us into our destiny. We belong to Him! Recognize that He spares nothing for our welfare. Let's not be like Shrek and carry unnecessary burdens that keep us from our Shepherd whose loving care will cause us to prosper and flourish.
Have you feasted your eyes on all the beautiful Christmas plants in the stores? One particularly interesting one is the Christmas cactus. Its unique form consists of hanging branches made up of flat, green segments. The flowers appear on the tips of the branches and have tiers of petals in a multitude of colors: red, white, pink, purple, yellow or a combination of these colors. Unlike most cactus that grow in dry desert climates, this plant is native to the Brazilian coast where the atmosphere around the plant is humid.
Another interesting feature of the Christmas cactus is that it is an epiphyte or air plant. Like orchids, they grow primarily on branches or trunks of trees. They are called air plants because "they have no firm grip in the earth." The web site "Gardeningknowhow.com" tells us this: "One of the amazing adaptions of epiphytes is their ability to attach to vertical surfaces and capture their water and much of their nutrient needs from sources other than soil." The name epiphyte comes from the Greek word "epi," meaning "upon," and "phyton," meaning "plant."
It is common to find aerial roots growing from the branches of the Christmas cactus. These roots serve several purposes in helping the cactus grow in its native Brazil. They help the plant attach to the tree branches. Tree bark and the crotches of branches collect organic debris that is rich in nutrients for the plants' roots. In addition, the entire plant, including the roots, also gathers the moisture it needs from the air.
Let's take the information we have on the epiphytes to see how it corresponds to our life in the Spirit. Go back to the fact that these plants have "no firm grip in the earth." Jesus told Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world...But now my kingdom is from another place." (John 18:36) Like Jesus, our inheritance is in the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 25:34) Hebrews, Chapter 11, describes our fathers of the faith. "They admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth." (Verse 13) And, Peter writes, "I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul." (1 Peter 2:11) We must not sink our roots into the soil of the world for we belong to the Kingdom of God. Our tenure here is temporary. Like the epiphytes, we must gather our water and nutrients from our source of life--The Spirit of God. "So then, just as you receive Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." (Colossians 2:6-7)
Living water and the bread of life come from Jesus. He came to earth to demonstrate how to drink and eat from Him and His Kingdom. A song called "Breathe," written by Marie Barnett, comes to my mind. She wrote it to describe the life-giving presence of our Lord:
"This is the air I breathe; This is the air I breathe--Your holy presence, living in me.
This is my daily bread; This is my daily bread--Your very Word spoken to me.
And I'm desperate for You. And I'm lost without You."
That is it, dear ones. We must spread out our roots and attach them to the Tree of Life. Like the epiphytes, be fed and watered from the true Source of Life.
How does one live an abundant, joy-filled life? Do we understand that each of us was created uniquely to impact the world around us? Have we discovered what brings us satisfaction and freedom? Life is a journey that is meant to help us discover the treasure God has placed within us to bring joy to our lives and the lives of others. As I contemplated these questions I was reminded of a story or allegory written by Richard Bach called "Jonathan Livingston Seagull." Jonathan, the gull, found himself caught in a dilemma. His flock spent their days searching and fighting for food, a lifestyle he found completely unsatisfying. However, he discovered, more than anything else, he loved to fly. His passion for flying grew as he perfected his techniques and became an expert at it. Jonathan was so thrilled with flying that he told his friends he discovered "there's a reason to life." This alienated him from his friends, so they cast him out of the flock.
Since Jonathan could not continue in the meaningless gull lifestyle of conformity and limitations, he returned to his new-found love of flying, practicing until he reached the pinnacle of his abilities. Just as he thought he could go no higher, he met two gulls who took him to a "higher plane of existence." Here a society of gulls spent time perfecting their flying skills. He was told, "You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way." Jonathan fine-tuned his own flight skills, learning much from his primary teacher. As his expertise increased, so did his desire to return to earth and share what he had learned with other gulls. His teacher explained that there is a key to success: "Keep working on love." Jonathan could not be free without the ability to forgive and shed any hurt feelings. Before he could help others, he had to be released from the bondage of unforgiveness. A new Jonathan Livingstone Seagull returned to earth and found other gulls who desired to know the freedom he was experiencing. He became a coach and mentor as he taught the fine skills of flying and helped others have a sense of their own freedom.
How does this story speak to the family of faith in God? Jonathan understood that there was something different inside of him that he needed to pursue. It became his passion. We too have unique qualities in our lives that are meant to help us live the abundant life, full of joy and freedom. Jesus spoke to his followers about this lifestyle. I have come to give you everything in abundance, more than you expect—life in its fullness until you overflow!" (John 10:10 -TPT) Only as we live out our purpose will we be able to soar. "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31 - KJ)
As Jonathan lived the way he was intended to live, he punctured the ceiling that held him down and lived in a place with like-minded gulls. The apostle Paul reminds us of our true home. "So, you are not foreigners or guests, but rather you are children of the city of the holy ones, with all the rights as family members of the household of God." (Ephesians 2:19 - TPT) We live as aliens in this world; our home is in heaven. It is up to us to live accordingly.
Joshua Silverberg, musician and producer, once said, "God has created us uniquely to touch His heart.
We have a unique worship to give Him." I would like to suggest that one of the ways we touch Him is when we use what He has placed within us to help others grow in their freedom and identity. This was the outcome of Jonathan's journey to live the way he was created to live, soaring in the heavenlies. May I encourage you to ask yourself, "What makes my heart sing?" In discovering this, you will find the pathway to follow that will bring you joy and freedom.
If we were to study the growth cycle of different kinds of plants, we would be in awe of the systems that God developed for them to mature into beautiful specimens. Such is the case for the sunflower. Have you ever driven by a field of sunflowers with their golden heads all facing the same direction and wondered why? There is an internal mechanism in these plants that enables them to turn to the sun. The scientific term is "heliotropism"--"helio" meaning sun and "tropism" meaning turn. This is also called "solar tracking."
The sunflower only has a single blossom so its goal is to grow a head that can produce as many seeds as possible. Inside the green parts of the plant is a hormone called "auxins" that are sensitive to light. The auxins migrate to the shaded part of the stem and behind the bud head to stimulate cell growth so that the shaded side of the plant grows longer and faster than the rest of the plant. Then the flower head follows the arc of the sun. At night, it repositions itself so that it is east facing and can begin the process of following the sun all over again in the morning. Note that even on a cloudy or rainy day the sunflowers still follow the sun.
By turning its face toward the sun, the sunflower takes full advantage of the light for photosynthesis, the process whereby it obtains energy for growth. Once the flower matures, it no longer tracks the sun but faces east all the time. By facing east, the flower is warmed by the morning sun and attracts pollinators, primarily bees, who travel from head to head and fertilize the centers so that they produce seeds. Is this not fascinating?
I see a correlation between the sunflowers and our growth as Christians. First, God planted each of us in the ideal place for relationship with Him. "...He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us." (Acts 17:26-27) Then, He placed within us the desire to worship. Everyone has their own "auxins," so to speak. David recognized this and expressed it in Psalm 27. "My heart says of you, 'Seek His face!' Your face, Lord, I will seek." (Verse 8) In Psalm 105:4 it says, "Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always." Even when we go through dark times and the Lord is not so visible, we need to turn toward Him to help us in our time of need.
As we seek the Lord and find Him, we will be growing in the likeness of Him. God delights in watching us produce the fruits of His Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22. (Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) It is through our growth in the Spirit that we will begin to plant seeds in others so that the Lord will have a magnificent harvest. When seed is planted in good soil it "produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown." (Matthew 13:23)
One day the Lord will return for His harvest. Scriptures tells us He will come from the east and all of us will face toward Him, our Lord and Master. Matthew describes how it will look: "For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." (Matthews 24:27) What a glorious day it will be! We must keep facing the Son to be ready for that day.
Joan E. Mathias