When a new year is about to take place, do you look to the past to see what has happened and then to the future to determine what you could accomplish? I think the practice of setting informed goals helps us in being able to chart the course for our lives. Perhaps this is what God was thinking when He established a yearly cycle for His people beginning with Nisan. This first month was planned for the deliverance of the children of Israel from slavery to the Egyptians and victory in taking the Promised Land where freedom would be theirs.
Presently, we are at the beginning of the month of Nisan. If we look at the book of Exodus during this time period, we see how God was showing the Israelites His power by sending plagues and natural disasters upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. We can relate to some of those plagues. East Africa and South Asia are battling billions of locusts that are destroying their crops and livelihoods. And, of course, thousands have died around the world from Coronavirus. The disease is taking its toll on our physical bodies, our economies and our way of living life.
When God was about to send the plague of the death of the firstborn throughout Egypt, He told His people to begin a new cycle of life. Nisan was to be the first month of the year for them. He told Moses the following: "Tell the whole community of Israel that on the 10th day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household...The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the 14th day of the month, when all 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 door frames of the houses where they eat the lambs… This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord's Passover." (Exodus 12:3, 5-7, 11)
After the Isralites selected their lamb, slaughtered it on the 14th of Nisan and spread the blood on the door frames, they were to stay in their homes until morning. They would be protected by the blood of the lamb. The destroyer would pass over the doorways covered by the blood; the Lord would protect them. After 430 years of bondage in Egypt, the children of Israel were set free to begin their journey to the Promised Land. A Passover meal has been celebrated ever since this first one. Jesus celebrated it with His disciples before His crucifixion. Today Christians call this meal communion.
I would like to suggest that the quarantine that we are now experiencing may have the unexpected outcome of bringing us freedom from the bondages of our age. God's people are meant to be different from the rest of the world. This time alone is a time of rest where we can repent of our worldly lives, remember the Lord's deeds for all humankind, and look to Him, our Redeemer, to lead us on paths of righteousness and to a life filled with purpose. When we accepted Jesus as our Lord, the blood of the Passover Lamb (Jesus) was placed over our hearts. And Jesus demonstrated and admonished us to practice taking the meal called communion so that we remember Him.
My husband and I have come to understand how important our daily practice of taking communion is to our relationship with the Lord and for our protection and healing. Daily we remember the Lord's benefits by declaring the beginning of Psalm 103. "Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all His benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's." Then we remember that Jesus is our Passover Lamb and that "He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5) The Lord wants to set us free from the bondage of this world and lead us into our promised lands. Let's use this time of seclusion to draw closer to Him and watch as He leads us triumphantly out of bondage and into a life of victory and Kingdom authority.
Extensive thought has been given to what I am about to write. I have been challenged by a particular Scripture. After much study, I have more questions than I do answers. But I decided to post my dilemma in the hopes that one or more of you may have some revelation. "...In a multitude of counselors there is safety." (Proverbs 24:6 - KJ)
How often have you read or heard 2 Chronicles 7:14? "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." Frequently, I am sure. Yet have you looked at the context of this verse? Solomon had just successfully finished building the Lord's temple. He asked that the Lord come to His resting place at the temple. The Lord appeared to him and said, "I have heard your prayer and chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people..." (2 Chronicles 7:12-13 - NIV) The King James version says, "If I shut up heaven," and NLT says, "At times I might shut up heaven."
Knowing what is going on in our world today (droughts, locusts and plagues) I began to wonder if these things were sent by the Lord. The crucifixion of Jesus on the Cross was a gift from God to cover our sins. I know God as compassionate, loving, merciful and altogether wonderful. Would He send such a destruction and death to the earth? I also know Him as completely pure and holy, worthy of worship. He is a jealous God, wanting our affections and honor. How do we reconcile these characteristics?
We are battling a pandemic in the world called Coronavirus or COVID-19. It is overwhelming the medical community, affecting the economy and changing our lives. Though medical scientists are rushing to find a vaccine to stop the virus it maybe too little too late. I read about a church in France where 15 people came to know the Lord because of their fear of death. Could this virus come from Him in order to bring many to salvation? Is this what we need to humble ourselves and call out to God for mercy?
In the midst of all the chaos, I wonder: Does God still send plagues? Other Old Testament Scriptures sound somewhat like 2 Chronicles 7:13 including 2 Chronicles 6:26-31, Deuteronomy 11:17-18, Ezekiel 14:19-21, Amos 4:7. Wise King Solomon wrote, "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people." (Proverbs 14:34) The United States is a nation in sin. Chuck Smith calls it a national sickness caused by forgetfulness, neglect and rejection. We are guilty of idolatry, sexual immorality, killing the unborn and neglecting the Lord’s Day. Are we being disciplined by God? Has He reached the end of His patience with us? Is He using instruments of judgment talked about in Jeremiah 14:12 (sword, famine and plague) to redirect our course?
If we look back in the history of our nation we find that in the summer of 1623 there was a severe drought in Plymouth, MA--so severe that the native Indians had never seen anything like it. The settlers called for an assembly of all of the people. They humbled themselves together before the Lord with fasting and prayer according to Edward Winslow's book The Light and the Glory. For one day they stopped all work and gathered to acknowledge God and repent of their sins. Before the day was over the rain clouds blew in and it began to rain. The rains lasted for 14 days.
Sometimes we need to look back in history to chart our course for the future. Past presidents, including George Washington in 1789, John Adams in 1799, and Abraham Lincoln in 1863, called for national days of fasting and prayer to ask for repentance for past transgressions and mercy from God. Here is my conclusion. It does not matter where Coronavirus came from. It does matter how we respond! The future of our nation is at stake. Thankfully, our president has seen the need to call our nation to prayer. He said, "It is my great honor to declare Sunday, March 15, as a National Day of Prayer. We are a Country that, throughout our history, has looked to God for protection and strength in times like these...No matter where you may be, I encourage you to turn towards prayer in an act of faith. Together, we will easily PREVAIL!" The Church must lead the way in this call to prayer. Let us get on our knees and call out to God for mercy and revival. May I also suggest that you read Psalm 91 aloud every day.
God instructed Elijah to go to the top of the "mountain of God," Mt. Horeb, while He passed by. A powerful wind that shattered rocks, an earthquake and then a fire confronted Elijah, but the Lord was not in any of them. Finally, their came "a gentle whisper." This is how the Lord came to Elijah. (1 Kings 19:11-13)
The Lord still speaks in a gentle whisper, desiring us to stop our activities and be still before Him so that we can hear what He has to say. He has much competition through our world that is filled with sounds. Many individuals cannot walk down the street without plugged in ear buds. Computers and TVs offer us a plethora of talk shows where we can listen to people's opinions on numerous subjects. We are talking and texting our friends throughout the day and night. Have we remembered to set aside time to heed the voice of the Lord?
Our relationship with the Lord is dependent on hearing Him, and our well-being is dependent upon hearing and obeying Him. After crossing the Red Sea, the Israelites were introduced to the character of God. They began to see His characteristics manifest before them. The first one was Jehovah Rapha, the God who Heals. As God healed the bitter waters at Marah, He told them, "If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in His eyes, if you pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, I will not bring any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord who heals you." (Exodus 15:26) Notice the keys to good health: Listen carefully and Obey (Do what is right).
These directions are repeated in Deuteronomy 28. When Moses told the children of Israel the key to God's blessings, he said this: "If you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all nations on the earth, and all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obeyed the voice of the Lord your God." (Verses 1-2, NKJV) We must hear the voice of the Lord to know how to be obedient. Notice also that these instructions were the first ones that God gave to the Israelites after they came out of Egypt. In His economy, the things He places first have priority.
Jeremiah the prophet had to correct the children of Israel concerning their priorities and activities as written in Chapter 7 of his book. He stood at the gate of the Lord's house and declared, "Hear the word of the Lord...Reform your ways and actions...You are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless...The Lord declared, 'I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer.'" (Verses 2, 3, 8, 13) The Lord spoke through Jeremiah when He said, "For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, 'Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people.'" (Verses 22-23, NKJV)
Jesus affirmed the instructions in the Old Covenant when He said, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." (John 10:22) As Believers we are in covenant with God. Our part is to listen for His voice and then obey His instructions. May I suggest that not only does this tell us that we should regularly set aside time just to hear from the Lord but should also be listening for His still small voice as we go throughout our days. We carry the Presence of God wherever we go and have opportunities to demonstrate His love to others as He directs us into situations and tells us how to reflect His glory. Let us tune ourselves to the Lord's frequency so that we can hear Him and obey.
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.
What adjectives go through your mind when you think of a snake? How about evil, poison, death, craftiness and betrayal? For me, it is all of these. I don't even like to look at snakes and avoid the snake house at the zoo. Interestingly, snakes are also a symbol of fertility, life and healing. But I have been following the most recent news on the virus that started in Wuhan, China. The Coronavirus is so named because it appears like a crown under a microscope. Its "protein codes" are most similar to those carried by bats and snakes. Researchers believe there is a strong possibility that the virus jumped from bats to snakes and from snakes to humans. This is because there were snakes in the fish market where scientists believe the virus started. The Coronavirus is transmitted through the air. Its method of movement is called zoonotic transmission because people acquire the virus directly from an animal.
My research on the Coronavirus was taken from two scientific journals. On January 22, 2020, "Scientific America" and "New Scientists Newsletter" wrote about the virus. Here is something interesting that I found: The snake is the host for the virus however, the virus must go through genetic mutations in order to infect humans. The Taiwanese or Chinese Krait is a highly venomous snake and is what was being sold in the Wuhan market. The medical community is still trying to learn more about the virus since so many people have been infected with it. They are looking for ways that it can adapt to both cold-blooded and warm-blooded hosts.
As I was praying about this dire situation, I remembered that the children of Israel were also impacted by snakes. After they were freed from bondage in Egypt, Moses led them through the wilderness as instructed by God. The Israelites began to grumble and spoke against God and Moses. They said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!" (Numbers 21:5) I am in dismay as I read this. Where is their gratitude? Where is their respect? God did not take kindly to their insolence. "Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, 'We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.'" (Numbers 21:6-7)
God did answer the prayer of Moses, giving him unique instructions. "'Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.' So, Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived." (Numbers 21:8-9) What was God trying to do with this solution? I believe He was pointing us to Jesus. Just as the bronze snake was lifted up on a pole Jesus would be lifted up on a cross. The pole represented the Cross and the bronze snake judgment. God provided a means for deliverance through admission of sin and faith in His way to redeem His people from death.
The children of Israel were condemned to death because of their sin. The serpent was a symbol of their sin and death. All who looked on the representation of sin with eyes of faith were healed. We too have been condemned to death by God because of our sin. Jesus came to save us by becoming sin on the Cross. God ordained that all who look at Jesus in faith will be redeemed from death. "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."
(1 Corinthians 5:21) Let us take time to thank and worship the Lord for His amazing sacrifice. Even before the time of Moses, God had a plan to redeem us. "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life."
He was a godly man of faith who wanted to see his people freed from oppression. He quoted Scripture in his speeches. He encouraged peaceful protests and was resolute in his mission. Martin Luther King Jr. was eventually killed for his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement. But, his dream did not die. He left us his "I Have a Dream" speech as a picture of the goal and an inspiration for the future.
Peppered throughout the "Dream" speech are words that come from Scripture: "We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." (Amos 5:24) We should remember that the foundations of God's throne are righteousness and justice. (Psalm 89:14) "I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope." This portion of the speech was taken from Isaiah 40:4-5.
Could it be that King recognized the mission of Jesus Christ to set captives free and so quoted the prophets that told of the coming of this King who would fight for the weary and oppressed and bring hope to the hopeless? As the apostle Paul writes to the Galatians, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." (Galatians 5:1) Jesus Christ Himself made His mission known when He stepped into the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scroll of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoner and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)
Freedom in every realm of our lives is a God-given right since we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection. However, many of us are not walking in complete freedom. The battle for our freedom is a spiritual one. God gives us direction on how to obtain freedom. Here are the words of Jesus: "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free...So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:32,36)
Do you see the beginning of a new year and new decade as an opportunity to examine the call on your life and the assets you possess? I do. Let us remember that each of us is unique in the gifts and callings placed within us by God. Our time on earth has been establish by God. "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." (Acts 17:26) "Man's days are determined; You have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed." (Job 14:5) The Psalmist recognized the blessing he had been given by God. "Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance." (Psalm 16:5-6)
How do we take possession of our inheritance and produce a harvest that blesses God, those around us and the generations to come? First, we must recognize that we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, one of expansion and increase. Bill Johnson, Senior Pastor of Bethel Church in California says, "Our very purpose in life is intertwined with the in-breaking of God's Kingdom and the unveiling of God's glory." Second, we must live our lives according to God's commandments. This means putting God first (Matthew 6:33) and allowing Him to lead us. Paul the Apostle had the right perspective. "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now, as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death." (Philippians 1:20) We must live according to an eternal perspective, honoring Christ in every decision we make and action we take. In addition, we must become students of the Lord's plans and purposes for our lives. We must evaluate our gifts and the territory that God has called us to possess. We must set goals for our lives through intimacy with the Lord that brings revelation of our part in bringing His Kingdom to earth.
We have been assigned a territory on earth where we will have the greatest impact for the Kingdom of God. The gifts He has given to us are seeds to be planted in our territories. Unfortunately, the kingdom of darkness is scheming to destroy the good seed we plant in our land. Remember that Satan's plan is to steal, kill and destroy. (John 10:10) After Moses died, Joshua was called to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land and to take possession of it. Here is what God said to Joshua: "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9) This is a word for us! There will be battles as we possess the land and plant seed in the territory we have been ordained to take. We must courageously battle the enemy. Jesus has encouraged us with these words: "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
We have a vital role to play in the establishing of God's Kingdom on the earth. If every person took responsibility for their territory and planted their seeds so that they take root and produce fruit, we would see an explosion of the Lord's glory throughout the earth. Our world is in desperate need for the "sons of God to be revealed." (Romans 8:19) Let's make 2020 and the decade to come the season for the earth to be "filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." (Habakkuk 2:14)
Yearly, on Christmas Day in Washington Crossing, PA, the story of George Washington and his troops crossing the Delaware River to march to Trenton is re-enacted. The Continental Army attacked the Hessian garrison on Christmas in 1776. They overcame freezing rain, snow, ferocious winds, an ice-choked river and a long, cold march to Trenton to win the battle against the Hessians. The victory helped to bolster the sagging morale of the army so that they continued to fight the British and their allies.
One year later, the troops were in Valley Forge from December 1777 to June 1778. When they arrived, the cold and hungry troops built log huts to live in during the months to come. There is a legend that one of the soldiers at the Valley Forge encampment was a Jew who encouraged George Washington. Author Stephen Krensky was so inspired by this story that he wrote a book called Hanukkah at Valley Forge. Interestingly, in the year 1777, the first night of Hanukkah fell on Christmas Eve. The story is told that the lone Jewish soldier waited until the other soldiers were sleeping before he set up his Menorah. He lit the first candle and wept. As he was walking around the huts, George Washington saw the soldier and stopped to ask him why he was crying.
The Jewish soldier explained that he was crying out to God for the success of the troops. He had experienced persecution in his hometown in Europe and came to American to escape from it. He assured Washington that he would be victorious in his campaign because God is on the side of the righteous, just as He was with the small band of men led by the Maccabees who overtook the large Greek army. It was God who granted them a miraculous victory because of their faith in Him. This story served as an inspiration for Washington to move forward against the British. Doesn't this sound like the fulfillment of Isaiah 49:6? "I will make you a light for the Gentiles that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth."
The legend continues that the same Jewish soldier was at home in the Bronx in New York a year later. On the first night of Hanukkah, the veteran placed a Menorah in his windowsill with one candle lit. After hearing a knock at the door, he opened it to find George Washington on his front step. Washington said to him, "There is that fabulous light, the Hanukkah light! That flame and your remarkable words kindled a light in my heart on that dark and bitter night. We were in a tight situation then, and your words encouraged me so! They spurred me on with new hope. You will soon be awarded a Medal of Honor from the United States of America for your bravery in Valley Forge, but tonight you will receive a personal memento from me." The General then placed a gold medal on the table. Engraved on it was a Menorah with one candle burning. These words were inscribed on it: "As a sign of thanks for the light of your candle. George Washington."
Here we have the Jewish vet reminding Washington of the faithfulness of God. The size of the army coming against these small bands of soldiers was not important. What was and is important is the abilities of our God and His delight in helping us. Scripture talks about quite a few battles where the armies of the Israelites were so much smaller than the armies of their enemies. One example is when the Assyrian army came against King Hezekiah and his people. Here is what he told them: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him. There is greater power with us than with him." (2 Chronicles 32:7)
Tonight, Jews all over the world will be lighting the final candle on their Menorah and will remember the faithfulness of God and His miraculous power to help them re-take the temple in Jerusalem. There will always be forces of evil who attempt to defeat and discourage the people of God. But here is the truth from John 1:5. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." Our Lord still fights for us when evil attacks. Be confident in the Lord's faithfulness and His miraculous power on our behalf.
Like last year, this year our celebration of the birth of Christ occurs in the middle of Chanukah. When events on the Jewish calendar converge with events on the Church's calendar, I like to look at the similarities between them. Both these events land in the month of Kislev, the ninth month on the Jewish calendar. Since Kislev is associated with the Hebrew letter SAMEKH, which pictures trust and support, it is time for us to do just that in our relationship with the Lord.
The constellation Sagittarius, the archer, appearing in Kislev, reminds us that this is the month to develop our warfare strategies for the season ahead. We must "fight against empires and cultures,” as Chuck Pierce says in his book, A Time to Advance. And, it is important that we trust God to guide us and give us mercy. Psalm 23:5-6 says, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
During the time when the Temple was overtaken by the Syrian-Greek army the flame of the candelabra had been extinguished and the altar defiled. There was little hope for the future; times were dark. Likewise, at the time when Christ was to be born the darkness of oppression covered the people. But God had a plan. With His help, warfare strategies were developed to overcome the enemy.
A group of Jewish patriots called the Maccabees had hope and developed a battle plan to retake the Temple. They bravely fought and defeated the Greek army to free their people from tyranny and re-establish worship in the Temple. As they set about to cleanse it, they realized there was only enough purified oil for the lampstand to burn for one night. Miraculously, it burned for eight. God arranged for the light to continue burning and followed them with goodness and mercy.
God's plan to overcome darkness and bring freedom for the oppressed was to ultimately be done through Christ Jesus. He came to shine His light in the darkness and to defeat Satan and the kingdom of darkness. His battle strategy includes us, His Church. Victory is promised through the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony and not loving our lives as much as to shrink from death. (Revelation 12:11)
As we look back in history, we see that God has always been faithful to His people. He is trustworthy and sent Jesus as the Lord of Hosts, Light of the World, Prince of Peace and Redeemer to help us develop battle strategies and lead us in triumphant procession (2 Corinthians 2:14) and who "made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God..." (2 Corinthians 4:6) It is time for us to develop our strategies for the New Year and to look to the One who leads us in victory and follows us with goodness mercy.
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.
Joan E. Mathias