When the Apostle Paul writes to the Colossians, he expresses his gratitude for them because of their faith in Christ Jesus and their love for all of God's people. He writes, The faith and love that springs from the hope stored up for you in heaven..." (Colossians 1:5) Isn't it great to be reminded that we have hope stored up for us in heaven? How we need hope right now!
I feel compelled to share a wonderful testimony from Paul Wilbur, Messianic worship leader. He shared his epiphany of hope at Glory of Zion's Shabbat Service at the beginning of the year. During a difficult season in his life, he was inspired by a Scripture that has been one of my "war Scriptures." In Zechariah, Chapter 9, Verses 11 and 12, the Lord encourages Israel: "As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you." What an exciting promise!
Let us look at how this Zechariah Scripture undergirded Paul Wilbur. He and his pastor led 72 pastors to Auschwitz during Purim at the end of February 2020. The group sang and declared God's truth to reverse the curse in that part of Poland and in the crematorium where over a million were killed. They returned to the United States just before the borders were closed because of the Covid breakout. When Paul got home, he discovered that he had lost his voice. The doctors told him that his vocal cords were burned and blistered. The burning was so severe that he could barely talk. March was the first of several months that Paul could not speak, and discouragement and doubt set in.
Paul Wilbur was inspired to research the words of Zechariah 9:11-12, especially the word hope. We must look at all the phrases in these verses, starting with "because of the blood covenant with you." The first time we see God make a blood covenant is in Genesis 15. He instructs Abram to bring him a heifer, goat, ram, dove, and pigeon. All were cut in half and arranged by halves opposite each other. The Lord passed through those animals and told Abram what to expect in an unbreakable blood covenant. He and his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan. Through his blood, Jesus made a better covenant with us, one where we receive His promised eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:15)
Because of the blood covenant, God promises to release us from the "waterless pit." During Bible times, dry cisterns or pits were used as places of bondage or imprisonment. Remember how Joseph was placed in one of these cisterns? (Genesis 37:22) I imagine it would be easy to lose hope in one of these dry, hot places unless you trusted the Word of the Lord from Zechariah: "Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope." The song "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" tells us He is a "bulwark never failing." Here is how the Psalmist sees it: "He alone is my rock, and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken." (Psalm 62:2)
If we follow God's lead, we will be rescued, and what was stolen from us will be returned two-fold. As we trust in the Word of the Lord, His blood covenant and His faithfulness, our belief in God's promises will be rewarded. Paul Wilbur was encouraged by the story of Rahab when the spies from Israel paid her a visit. The spies promised to save her and her family from the pit on two conditions: (1) They could not leave the building. (2) A scarlet rope had to be tied to the window. Paul was reminded of a Scripture that comes from Ecclesiastes 4:12 that says, "A chord of three strands is not quickly broken." Perhaps Rahab's rope had three strands. Paul asked the Lord the significance of each strand. Here is what he senses: Strand 1 represents the Promise or blood covenant. Strand 2 represents the patience that we must have while we wait for the promise. Strand 3 represents the appointed time. We must trust in the promise and remember that patience must have her appointed time. Paul says, "Do not let the rope slip out of your hands!"
Wilbur's voice did return. While he waited in his waterless pit, he wrote new songs as he played his guitar. One that really touched my heart was inspired by 2 Chronicles 20 when it looked like all hope for the Israelites was gone. But the Lord prevailed when the praisers went out ahead of the army. Here are a few lines from the song: "I will dance in the midst of the fire. I will sing in the eye of the storm. I will shout you are faithful forever. The victory is mine 'cause the battle is yours." Remember that we have hope stored up for us in heaven. Make it yours, and do not let go!
One of my great joys is watching the sunrise from our east-facing bedroom window. It is always unique and can be counted on to give me an outstanding display of beauty as it rises. The changing eastern sky pulls me in as I watch the deep orange-red line of light close to the horizon change. Next the sky is touched by pinkish-orange, wispy clouds. Eventually, the orange sun rises in the sky to become a golden white, radiant ball ready to send its warm rays to earth. My soul is soothed as I remember the faithfulness of God. He never changes! He is dependable and always shows up at the right time just like the sun.
The Bible is filled with God's promises that bring us assurance of His presence and action on our behalf. A "go-to" Scripture that reminds me of the faithfulness of God gives us these instructions: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6) This is such a word for our season! It is extremely difficult to understand what is happening in our days and easy to get discouraged by the bad reports that come to us daily. But discouragement is not our portion. God told the Israelites, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9)
It is critical that our trust in the Lord is solid. Look at Psalm 125: "Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endure forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore. The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous, for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil. Lord, do good to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart. But those who turn to crooked ways the Lord will banish with the evildoers. Peace be on Israel!" We must hold on to God's promises. As He has been faithful to Israel, He will be faithful to us. As the sun rises in the eastern sky, the Son rises to our defense. He is trustworthy!
Remember that we are heirs to the promises of God and that the Lord confirmed His promises with an oath. He holds out hope to us so that we may be encouraged. Hebrew 6:19 tells us, "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure..." We are assured by the Lord that "hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us." (Romans 5:5) Isaiah prophesied to Israel: "...You will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed." (Isaiah 49:23) Let the assurance of the rising sun give us hope and remind us of the Son's position on our behalf.
The Lord is known for His faithfulness. The prophet Jeremiah writes during a time of great turmoil and affliction: "...My soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion; therefore, I will wait for Him.'" (Lamentations 3:20-24) We can count on the faithfulness of the Lord just as we count on the rising of the sun each morning.
The bottom line is that we need to let the peace of the Lord fill us. Here is a promise from Isaiah 26:3 that we should grab hold of: "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You." Later in the book of Isaiah there is another promise of peace: "'Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,' says the Lord, who has compassion on you." (Isaiah 54:10)
It is time for us to focus on God's promises rather than the world's problems. Begin the new year by declaring the Lord's promises of trustworthiness and hope. Let's allow His peace to settle on us and our hope to rise just as the sun rises every morning without fail.
Long ago the prophet Isaiah told of one who would be the hope of all humanity: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this." (Isaiah 9:6-7)
We move from Isaiah's description of our God in the Old Testament to Peter's explanation in the New Testament of why we should have hope. The author of The Passion Translation Bible titles the book of 1 Peter as "Triumphant Hope." That hope is described in Verse 3 of Chapter 1: "Celebrate with praises the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has shown us His extravagant mercy. For His fountain of mercy has given us a new life--we are reborn to experience a living, energetic hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
O how glorious! We are not forgotten. Our merciful God knew that we would need a Savior who would bring us hope through His multiple offerings. He comes as a Wonderful Counselor to help transform our fallen world by His saving grace. As a Counselor, the Holy Spirit guides and advocates for us. The Psalmist asks, "O Lord God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you." (Psalm 89:8) We can take comfort in the truth written in Zephaniah 3:17. "The Lord your God is with you; He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you; He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing." Let us take in what Psalm 90:2 tells us about our Lord: "Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God." He is our God for eternity! Only through the Lord Jesus, our Prince of Peace, can we receive the true tranquility we so desire. Through every aspect of His being, He carries us on His shoulders and encourages us with hope.
I would imagine that throughout the ages people have thought that the times they lived in were more difficult than any other and that they had a greater need of hope than any other generation. Isn't that how we are thinking today? Chaos, sickness, death, persecution of Christians, financial need, and insecurity about the future all converge in our day to make us wonder if we can have hope for our future. The answer is a resounding Yes!
We just celebrated the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He came that we might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) We have a new year upon us. How will we walk into it? Hebrews 6 has words of great encouragement for us: "And now we have run into His heart to hide ourselves in His faithfulness. This is where we find His strength and comfort, for He empowers us to seize what has already been establish ahead of time--an unshakeable hope! We have this certain hope like a strong, unbreakable anchor holding our souls to God Himself. Our anchor of hope is fastened to the mercy seat which sits in the heavenly realm beyond the sacred threshold and where Jesus, our forerunner has gone in before us..." (Verses 18-20-TPT)
Let us walk into the new year with our heads held high and our confidence in the Lord secure. He is still sitting on the throne. He is still Almighty and All Powerful. He is inside us, encouraging us and reminding us that He is the God of Living Hope.
It was not until God breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of Adam that he became a living being. (Genesis 2:7) Acts 17:24-25 explains, "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else."
I have contemplated the importance of the breath of God as I sing the song, "Great Are You Lord" by James Ingram. Think about these words: "You give life. You are love; You bring light to the darkness. You give hope, You restore every heart that is broken. And great are You Lord! It's Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise, we pour out our praise. It's Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to You only."
Job has much to say about the breath of God. "In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind." (Job 12:10) "The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life." (Job 33:4) "If it were His intension and He withdrew His Spirit and breath, all humanity would perish together, and mankind would return to dust." (Job 34:14-15) Likewise, the Psalmist recognizes how the Word of the Lord and His breath created the world we live in. "By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth." (Psalm 33:6) "...Each man's life is but a breath. Selah.” (Psalm 39:5)
We were made in God's image. (Genesis 1:26, 9:6) His intent was and is that His children partner with Him in creating. How do we do this? We co-create by our breath, speaking life into the world around us. God wants us to bring heaven to earth through our spoken words. God also realizes that the enemy of our souls will do anything possible to stop our agreement with the Kingdom of Light. So, we are in the middle of a ferocious battle to stop us from speaking or even breathing. Covid 19 literally takes away our breath!
God explains His provision for us in the area of battling against the powers of darkness in Ephesians 6. There are five defensive weapons in our toolbelt: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the helmet of salvation, and the shield of faith. However, the Lord has given us two offensive weapons: the sword of the Spirit and prayer in the Spirit. Both weapons require us to use our breath and speak out truth. Jesus demonstrated how to use the sword when the devil came after Him in the desert. As Jesus spoke out the truth of the Word, the devil had to flee from Him. In his book, Spiritual Warfare, Joseph Prince says, "It is not enough to just know God's Word in your heart. You have to speak it out. That is when latent power becomes actual power...God's Word in your mouth is like God speaking." (Page 83-84) "When you declare the Scripture aloud, the Word of God fights for you. The devil has no defense against the Word of God." (Page 86)
We must not allow the enemy of our souls to keep us from declaring the truth and the praises of God Most High. Remember that Jesus brought the breath of His Father to earth. When He was getting ready to return to His Father in Heaven, He breathed on His disciples and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:21) The breath of God is in us to bring about life. Much territory has been stolen from us during this past year. We have been equipped with weapons for warfare. God wants us to use them so that we not only recover what has been stolen from us, but we also take plunder from the enemy camp. Start taking plunder, dear ones. That is our inheritance!
The harvest feast shared between the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Native Americans in 1621 may have been one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in our country. The second Thanksgiving celebration occurred in 1623 at the end of a season of drought. It started with a religious fast called for because the drought had been so long. It was during the Civil War, in 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that the United States should celebrate an annual Thanksgiving in November. Lincoln entreated all Americans to ask God to "commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife" and to "heal the wounds of the nation."
As we sat at our Thanksgiving tables this year, I wonder how many of us remembered to ask God to care for the mourners and sufferers and to heal the wounds of our nation. What we have lived through in the year 2020 has brought much suffering and loss. We certainly do need to lift to the Lord our fellow men and women for God's tender mercies to be poured upon them. Between the plagues, election intrigues, economic instability, and the necessity for people to quarantine from one another, the stress is over the top.
Let us remember that one of the best ways to deal with stress is to give God thanks! There is always something that we can give thanks for. The Old and New Testaments are filled with admonitions to give thanks. "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever." (1 Chronicles 16:34) "I will give thanks to You, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds." (Psalm 9:1) "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift." (2 Corinthians 9:15) "And in the midst of everything be always giving thanks, for this is God's perfect plan for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 - TPT) When we give thanks to the Lord, we activate His action.
I recently listened to Chuck Pierce of Glory of Zion International speak on what happens when we come before the Lord with grateful hearts. Let's look at 2 Kings 4:8-37. Here is the story of a well-to-do woman from Shunem. (Shunem means two resting places.) The woman invited Elisha to stay at her home for a meal. Realizing what a blessing Elisha was, the woman and her elderly husband decided that they would build a small room on their roof for Elisha with a bed, table, chair, and lamp. This was the woman's way of honoring Elisha and thanking God for his presence. Elisha desired to show the Shunammite woman his gratitude and prophesied that she would have a son the following year. This happened just as it was said.
The boy grew until one day he experienced an awful headache and died. His mother carried him up to the prophets room and "laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and went out." (Verse 21) She saddled a donkey and rode him to Mount Carmel (fruitful field) to talk with the man of God. Elisha returned to Shunem and found the boy "lying dead" on his bed. Twice Elisha stretched out on top of the boy laying "mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, and hands to hands." (Verse 34) The boy awoke and was returned to his mother.
In her acts of kindness, the Shunammite woman not only prepared a place for Elisha to rest but also "prepared the way for the Lord." Elisha's bed was built because the woman had a heart of gratitude. She wanted to bless the man of God. Chuck Pierce tells us that we must be like her in preparing a bed of thankfulness to the Lord. Not only will this bed glorify the Lord, but it also gives us a place to lay all our distress. Lay all your distresses on your bed of thankfulness and watch as the Lord breathes life back into them.
The prophet Ezekiel watched as the Lord brought new life into the dry bones of Israel. God told Ezekiel, "...I will put breath in you, and you will come to life, then you will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:6) It is time for us to prepare our beds of thankfulness. Let's join the Psalmist in declaring, "You turn my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever." (Psalm 30:11-12)
Chuck Pierce of Glory of Zion International says we are in a season of "RE." God is resetting, re-firing, and renewing His Church. If you follow the Hebrew calendar, you know that we moved into the ninth month called Kislev, meaning trust, rest, and security. It is associated with the letter "SAMEKH" which is a picture of a circle. This month we come full circle from last year and can have a second chance at missed opportunities. In addition, we should be on guard so that we break out of any old cycles that are unproductive.
The constellation Sagittarius (the archer) is in the night sky and reminds us that it is time to fight against empires and cultures that are not in agreement with the Kingdom of Light. Here is a celestial reminder that Benjamin, Jacob's youngest son and the only one born in the Promised Land, was a gifted archer. Although this is a month for rest and hope, we must develop our war strategies. These will come through prophetic revelation, dreams, and experiences that guide us into our call.
Observing the battles presently being fought in our country, we could be easily discouraged. According to the news media, Covid 19 cases are increasing and fighting, caused by political differences, abounds. But whose report do you believe? (Isaiah 53:1) The month of Kislev points us in the right direction. As we develop war strategies to take down our enemies, we take an offensive position so that we can maintain peace amid conflict.
One way that God encourages us is through dreams. Reading through the Torah portions for this month (Genesis 28-44), we see that two major dreamers are highlighted: Joseph and Jacob. Dreams are not always easy to understand. God's desire is that we pursue Him for revelation. Daniel 2:28 tells us, "There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries." Just like He revealed Jacob's true identity as Israel through a dream so that he would birth a nation, He will reveal our identities and the purpose for our lives as part of the Body of Christ. ("Show us, O Lord, how to make a difference in this world for the glory of Your Kingdom during this season.")
I wonder! Could this be the season God is using to redeem His Church to bring her back into full agreement with Him? Is He rekindling our desire for prayer and worship that brings us into greater intimacy with Him and puts us into His army to transform our nation? All of us must shine the light of the Lord brightly so that we dispel the darkness. We are part of a mighty army to re-establish justice and righteousness.
Ephesians 6:10-18 describes how we are to prepare for spiritual warfare. Here are these verses in The Passion Translation: "...Be supernaturally infused with strength through your life union with the Lord Jesus. Stand victorious with the force of His explosive power flowing in and through you. Put on God's complete set of armor provided for us, so that you will be protected as you fight against the evil strategies of the accuser! Your hand-to-hand combat is not with human beings, but with the highest principalities and authorities operating in rebellion under the heavenly realms. For they are a powerful class of demon-gods and evil spirits that hold this dark world in bondage. Because of this, you must wear all the armor that God provides so you're protected as you confront the slanderer, for you are destined for all things and will rise victorious. Put on the truth as a belt to strengthen you to stand in triumph. Put on holiness as the protective armor that covers your heart. Stand on your feet alert, then you'll be ready to share the blessings of peace. In every battle, take faith as your wrap-around shield, for it is able to extinguish the blazing arrows coming at you from the Evil One! Embrace the power of salvation's full deliverance, like a helmet to protect your thoughts from lies. And take the mighty razor-sharp Spirit-sword of the spoken Word of God. Pray passionately in the Spirit, as you constantly intercede with every form of prayer at all times. Pray the blessings of God upon all His believers." May the message of this passage become a reality in our lives.
"There is an all-out attempt to finally turn our nation from God and His original plans for us." So says Dutch Sheets, pastor, author, and warrior for God's plans and purposes in the United States. In addition, he writes, "There is an evil attempt to keep what is true, righteous, and holy from coming to the surface of awareness in our nation; however, we are coming to the moment when it will no longer be withheld." It has become obvious that what God ordained for our nation must be fought for. All of this has not caught God by surprise. He has in place what we will need to "fight the good fight of faith." (1 Timothy 6:12)
First, there is a network of well-respected prophets in the United States that agree in their prophecies for our country and its leadership. Those who honor God and His Word and who partner with Him in His plans and purposes find favor with the Lord. We must come along side of these God-appointed prophets to pray in their words. This is what God told the king of Judah, Jehoshaphat, when his nation was being threatened by vast armies of the enemy: "Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in His prophets and you will be successful." (2 Chronicles 20:20)
Secondly, it seems like the Church is awakening and finding her voice. She is reconsidering the way that she walks. The prophet Jeremiah reminded his people that they had forgotten God. "...They burn incense to worthless idols, which made them stumble in their ways and in the ancient paths." (Jeremiah 18:15) Jeremiah declared God's word to return to the ways of Israel's forefathers: "Stand in the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls..." (Jeremiah 6:16) The wind of change is in the air. God is aiming His church back onto the right paths and the foundation of HIs unchanging truth.
Thirdly, there is a groundswell of people who are remembering our history and our call from God. Our nation was birthed in prayer! Author, Dr. Peter Lillback did exhaustive research on our nation's first president. His book of over 1,100 pages, titled George Washington's Sacred Fire, is filled with the prayers of our founding fathers. Lillback records Washington's thoughts and prayers and devotion toward Almighty God. He tells us this: "In his first Inaugural Address, Washington explained that an experiment had been entrusted to the American people. What was at stake in America's experiment in self-government was the 'preservation of the sacred fire of liberty.' This 'sacred fire' had been entrusted to Americans by heaven. Liberty's flame was sacred or holy because it was sustained by heaven's 'eternal rules of order and right.'" (Page 711)
Finally, just as Esther was placed in the king's palace to partner with God in saving her people "for such a time as this" (Esther 4:14), we were also placed on earth at this time and place to partner with God in the turning of our nation back to Him. The prophet Isaiah says it well in Chapter 33:5-6. "The Lord is exalted, for He dwells on high; He will fill Zion with His justice and righteousness. He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure." Our responsibility is to join the groundswell of prayer and to declare and decree God's plans and purposes for our nation to prevail.
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?
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.
Joan E. Mathias