"Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give, and don't give reluctantly or in response to pressure. 'For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.' And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need, and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, 'They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.' (Psalm 112:9) For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer, and then bread to eat. In the same way, He will provide and increase your resources and produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous, and when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God." (2 Corinthians 9:6-11 - NLT)
The Lord rejoices in those who are generous! And generosity flows from the heart of one who loves the Lord and is thankful for all He has done. Psalm 112, in the Passion Translation is titled "The Triumph of Faith." Let us look at some of the verses in this Psalm that describe a person of faith who loves the Lord with his entire heart: "Shout in celebration of praise to the Lord! Everyone who loves the Lord and delights in Him will cherish His words and be blessed beyond expectation. Their descendants will be prosperous and influential. Every generation of His godly lovers will experience His favor." (Verses 1-2)
"Life is good for one who is generous and charitable, conducting affairs with honesty and truth. Their circumstances will never shake them, and others will never forget their example. They will not live in fear or dread of what may come, for their hearts are firm, every secure in their faith. Steady and strong, they will not be afraid, but will calmly face their every foe until they go down in defeat. Never stingy and always generous to those in need, their lives of influence and honor will never be forgotten, for they are full of good deeds." (Verses 5-9)
Our country has set aside an entire day to be thankful. Our forefathers did not want a year to go by without a time for thankfulness to God for His generosity to us. When God began to pour out His riches upon the people of the United States it was because He trusted them to use these resources wisely to invest them for Him. The "seeds" He poured out were to be planted in fertile soil and cultivated to produce more seeds. The world was to be the seedbed for the Lord.
In 1 Chronicles 29 we read about the preparation for the building of the Temple. King David was going to task his son Solomon with overseeing the building of a “palatial structure" for the Lord. All of David's resources (seeds) were given to construct this "holy temple." 1 Chronicles 29:9 says, "The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord." David asks a question and implores the Lord to help them: "But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this?" (Verse 14) "Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building You a temple for Your Holy Name comes from Your hand and all of it belongs to You...And now I have seen with joy how willing Your people who are here have given to You...Keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of Your people forever and keep their hearts loyal to You." (Verses 16-18)
King David wrote a prayer to honor the Lord and give Him thanks: "Praise be to You, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is Yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; You are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from You; You are ruler of all things. In Your hand are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give You thanks, and praise Your glorious name." (2 Chronicles 29:10-13) May we all use our resources to the glory of God and adopt David's prayer as our prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord.
“Jesus said, 'Go,' but He never promised you would come back! Are you willing?" What a question! It stands as a testimony to the man who said it--Andy van der Bijl, better known as Brother Andrew. This giant of the faith was received into heaven on September 27, 2022, at the age of 94. My husband agrees that his life story is worth telling. He had the privilege of meeting Brother Andrew in the 1970s at Princeton University and has commented on his humility and kindness. Jac was so impressed to receive a personal letter from him after they had a one-on-one discussion at this meeting.
Brother Andrew is known for his willingness to place his own life at risk for the sake of the Gospel. He was fearless as he relentlessly brought Bibles into countries that persecuted Christians. What would compel a person to do such a thing? Let's look at his life story. He was born in the Netherlands in 1928 into a family that was quite poor. His parents' love of God seemed to have little influence on him as a child. When the Nazis came to his country, they attempted to capture boys his age to make them serve as Nazi soldiers. Andrew's intolerance for the war, starvation of his family and others, and oppression and lack of freedom made him join the Dutch Resistance Army at the age of 18. He took his mother's Bible with him and learned that she died while he was away. At age 20, he was shot in the ankle and almost had his leg amputated.
The nurses that cared for Andrew while he was in the hospital were Franciscan nuns. He was curious about the joy they carried with them. When questioned by Andrew about why they were so joyful, one of the nurses replied, "It's the love of Christ. Why it's right here in the book beside you." She was pointing to his mother's Bible. When he was released from the hospital, he started going to church and Bible studies which led him to give the rest of his life to Christ. He decided to attend the World Evangelist Crusade (WEC) in September,1953. His ankle was completely healed while he attended WEC Glasgow Bible College in Scotland.
Missionary training was quite challenging. Each student was sent out into Scotland with one pound. They were to rely on God for every need. The mission was a success as Andrew returned with more money than was given to him. After completing college, he decided to attend a youth rally in Warsaw, Poland. The devastating impact communism had on the Poles was on display for him and drew him even deeper into missions. As he helped the poor, Andrew received his calling from the Lord: To bring Bibles to the communists and Christ to where Christians were persecuted.
Going from country to country behind the Iron Curtain in his Volkswagen Beetle filled with Bibles, he put his life on the line. When he stopped at the border of a country he was about to enter, he would pray: "Lord, in my luggage I have Scriptures I want to take to Your children. When You were on earth, You made blind eyes see. Now, I pray, make seeing eyes blind. Do not let the guards see those things You do not want them to see." This prayer was answered innumerable times. Andrew took on a partner named Hans. As the two men continued to take Bibles into non-Christian countries, others joined the mission until they named their group Open Doors. In 1967, Andrew's first book was published. It is reported that more than ten million copies of the book were sold. But Brother Andrew always kept his focus on the mission God gave to him. Through the 1990s and into the 2000s, Bibles were delivered into Albania, North Korea, China, and several Middle East countries.
Open Doors became an international mission organization located in more than 27 countries with an outreach to more than 60 persecuted nations. For Brother Andrew, no nation was considered impossible to visit. He had personal meetings with the head of Hezbollah in Lebanon and with Yasar Arafat and leaders of Hamas. He believed and taught others that no one is beyond the reach of God's love and that it is our responsibility to pray for them. God's hand of blessing seemed to be on everything that Brother Andrew did. One of the Psalms of David seems perfect to describe his life: "Surely, Lord, You bless the righteous; You surround them with favor as with a shield." (Psalm 5:12) Brother Andrew's life should be an inspiration to all of us!
Life's circumstances have completely changed how I am writing to you tonight. My intention was to bring the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) before you since it takes place on Wednesday. This holiest day on the Hebrew calendar is meant for reconciliation with God. In Biblical days, the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies to present God with an offering to cover the sins of the people. Today Yom Kippur is a day of remembering, fasting, and praying so that the new year (5783) starts properly. Of course, those who believe that Yeshua/Jesus is our Savior know that He took our sins upon His body once and for all. He is the Atonement!
What I want to focus on is what has happened in the southern part of the United States and Cuba. Unimaginable destruction and devastation took place when Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 storm, barreled through the region with monumental winds and water and created surges that completely destroyed entire communities, bringing death and major loss of property. The infrastructures that supported communities are also gone. It is interesting to note that the hurricane is named Ian. What it did as it blew through our country is incongruent with its name. Ian is of Scottish Gaelic origin and is the Scottish version of John or Yohanan in Hebrew. The name means, "God is gracious" or "Gift from God." How do we put this together? It seems like the kingdom of darkness has throne us a curve ball.
I too was thrown a curve ball at the same time. While all this is going on, I was mourning the loss of a friend from church, Linda, who is one of our "Dear Ones." It was at her funeral that I began to feel sick and dizzy. The next day I found myself in ER. The medical staff discovered that I had a small stroke. Praise God there are no lasting effects, and I am home to write this letter. There are still many in hospitals, battling sickness and disease and many whose lives have been pulled apart by the overwhelming losses created by the forces of nature.
The human part of us wants to ask God the question, "Why?" Very rarely have I gotten the answer to any of my why questions. Here is what I do know: God breaks our hearts with the things that break His. We are His ambassadors on earth. We are on earth to glorify Him. He can use our smallest offering to help others, and He will multiply our efforts. God is not the author of pain and suffering, but He will use it to draw us closer to Him. He is with us as we rebuild our lives and will send others to help us.
Remember the Scripture in Zechariah 4:10? Zerubbabel's hands had just laid the foundation for the rebuilding of the temple, and God reminds Zechariah the importance of the first step. "Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin..." (NLT) In circumstances that look impossible, let us remember that God is the Lord of the impossible. We must take the first step. Join the Psalmist in declaring, "...I will hope in Your name, for Your name is good." (Psalm 52:9) Remember Psalm 54:4. "Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me." We must release the turmoil within us to the Lord: "Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge." (Psalm 62:8) The Lord stands by to help us with our greatest needs. He desires for us to rest in Him and to be assured that He is our rock and salvation. "He is my fortress. I will never be shaken.” (Psalm 62:2)
As a part of Israel's remembrance of the 9th of Av, the Israel Antiquities Authority made public their findings of a research project that investigated the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD. They report that one of the primary weapons used to destroy the temple was an instrument called a ballista. This is an ancient missile launcher with wooden frames and a central band of twisted ropes made into a sling. On 8/8/22 All Israel News reported the discovery of a stockpile of chiseled stones, what the Romans called "ballista stones." Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote about them being used to penetrate the northwest side of the wall in Jerusalem.
I find it fascinating that it was catapulted stones that destroyed the Temple. It also interesting that the prescribed way to punish many crimes in Israel during Biblical days was through execution by stoning. Here are the crimes that required stoning, as taken from the Old Testament: Idolatry (Leviticus 20:2-5), Sorcery (Leviticus 20:27), Blasphemy (Leviticus 24:14-16), Picking up sticks on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:31-36), Inciting others to apostasy (Deuteronomy 13:6-10), Worship of false gods (Deuteronomy 17:2-7), Rebellion against parents (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), Sexual immorality by an unwed woman (Deuteronomy 22:20-21), Sexual relations with a betrothed woman (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). This method of execution required community participation and became a strong deterrent for the listed crimes.
Stones can be reminders of death and destruction as we see above, but also of the faithfulness of God. He opened a path through the Jordan River so that the Israelites could cross over into the Promised Land. "When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 'Choose 12 men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up 12 stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing; and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight...These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.'" (Joshua 4:1-3, 7) These stones would be called "stones of remembrance." When David was going to battle against the giant Philistine his weapon of choice was a sling shot and five smooth stones. 1 Samuel 17:50 tells us that "David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone..." and the Philistine army ran in fear.
For me, the most encouraging Scripture in the Bible about stones comes from 1 Peter 2:4-10. Jesus Christ is described as a living cornerstone of God's temple. Though He was rejected by many people, He is God's chosen Son. Those who follow Christ are called "living stones that God is building into His spiritual temple." Here is the assurance that we receive from God. "I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honor, and anyone who trusts in Him will never be disgraced." We are reminded that "The stone that the builder's rejected has now become the cornerstone." (V. 7 - NLT)
We, being living stones, have spirits that cannot be destroyed by stones. The promise of God is that we will spend eternity with Him when we embrace the Cornerstone of His Temple, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Have you ever thought of the verb "steward" in the context of pain, suffering, and sorrow? Bill Johnson, Senior Pastor at Bethel Church in Redding, California, taught me about this concept. In a recent sermon he preached after the death of his beloved wife, Beni, Bill spoke about the mystery of life and death and how it impacts our relationship with God. He made it clear that we cannot reevaluate what God is like because of loss.
Mark 10:15 quotes Jesus: "Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Jesus affirmed child-like faith to His disciples. Bill explains living with mystery in relationship to childlikeness. "The inability to live with mystery is your resistance to childlikeness. It is childlikeness that gives us access to dimensions and realms of the Kingdom that you can't get any other way. Childlike faith trusts no matter what."
Pain and loss, Bill says, presents us with an opportunity. "We only have one opportunity to steward a moment of pain." This word steward really caught my attention. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the verb steward with the following words: manage, supervise, direct, handle, oversee, tend. I believe Bill is suggesting that we redeem our pain by directing it into a time of worship. He explains that the best way to mourn is through hope. Those of us who know Jesus understand that with Him there is always hope. He is the Redeemer! Let's look at Romans 5:2b-5. "And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirt, who has been given to us."
God gave us His first and best gift—His Son, Jesus, as a sacrifice so that we could have everlasting life with Him. This poured out love is never ending. The best way for us to connect with His love is through worship. Worship expressed in difficulties and sorrow and during times of inexpressible pain is what puts us into His Presence. Bill says, "Answers don't fix the problem; Presence does." True worship presents the Lord with an offering that costs us something.
Didn't Jesus model this for us? His pain and suffering on the Cross were unimaginable! He experienced separation from God and yet He trusted Him. His last words were, "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit." (Luke 23:46) Jesus knew that His Father is always good and would use the seed of His death for a great harvest. We must follow HIs example by stewarding our moments of pain when they present themselves to us. We must embrace childlike faith and trust the Lord to redeem our pain. Remember, in heaven we will not be able to worship in pain. Bill says this "privilege" only comes on earth. He continues: "Worship is expressing joy in loss and celebration in pain. I must honor Him as the Healer that I know He is even when I do not see it. He does not owe me an explanation. I must give Him an offering that costs me."
Job 13:15 begins, "Though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him..." We have a reason to embrace hope, as Bill explains. "Every loss and disappointment can become a seed that brings increase. God uses our crisis's to help us grow. Jesus takes our pain and loss and gives them to God. He will plant them and will be glorified by the blessing." Bill prayed a prayer for all of us: "May you be blessed with courage to lean into mystery and experience who He is as an unfailing, unchanging Father who is always good!" Amen!
Those who were in the twin towers on 9/11/2001 and lived through it were forever changed. Such is the case for Leslie Haskin, who put her experience into words in her book Between Heaven and Ground Zero. The horror she endured left her with PTSD. Making her way down 36 floors amidst collapsed walls and stairs, shell-shocked people, and dead bodies imprinted her mind with confusion, pain, and fear.
Here is some of what Leslie wrote about her life after 9/11: "I rode an elevator 36 floors and got off in the middle of a lunatic's delusion of justice. The terrorist attacks of September 11 shattered my life and left me with nothing to rebuild...I had flashbacks that caused me to react. They felt as real as being there all over again. I could smell the building. I could hear the bells. I was drawn to roadkill...I was anxious all the time and afraid of my own backyard, convinced that the Taliban was hiding inside my shed...My future was hopeless...I had panic attacks when left alone and anxiety attacks when too many people were around. Sleep was impossible without sleeping pills, which only worked for a few hours." (Pages 122 - 123)
Leslie felt the tug of God on her heart as she went through her healing journey. Psalm 13 became significant to her. It starts with questions: "How long wilt Thou forget me, O Lord? Forever? How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me? (Verse 1 - KJV) The Psalm ends with an acknowledgment of God's faithfulness. "But I have trusted in Thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation. I will sing unto the Lord because He hath dealt bountifully with me." (Verses 5-6 - KJV) As she healed, the Lord began to speak to Leslie about forgiveness. On one of her morning walks she heard it. "This morning, through the open heart of a CD, there is an insistent yet gentle call. 'Forgiveness is absolute.'"
God's timing is perfect. He knows what we are capable of and when we can do what He desires. Leslie records what happened on her walk: "For the first time, I cried with my whole heart and soul—with abandon—like there was no one else in the world but me, and Islam. I fell to the ground and my knees scraped against gravel. Tears poured down my face. I was weak and divided and I remembered… Everything that I couldn't forget. I remembered what they did. I remembered all that they did—the massacre, the horror, and all the intent. Then...I let go. You see, I knew in my heart that there was no turning back. Because when it is time to leave a place, it is impossible to stay. I was moving on. Forgiveness is not conditional. 'And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.'" (Pages 142 - 144)
Leslie calls the chapter on forgiveness "Light of the World - Into the Heart of Islam." She begins by re-writing a note found in the clothing of a dead child at Ravens Bruck Concentration Camp. Here is what it said: "O Lord, Remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us: Instead, remember the fruits we have borne because of this suffering, our fellowship, our loyalty to one another, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown from this trouble. When our persecutors come to be judged by you, let all of these fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness."
This brings me to tears. I am sure that our Savior, Jesus Christ, must have a seat of honor for this person in Heaven. What maturity! What insight! What compassion! What love! Whoever this person is, they truly understood what the Lord did for them on the Cross. We should think in a similar way!
Back in the Garden of Eden, before the fall of Adam and Eve, the law of sowing and reaping was operational and designed to increase blessings. However, when sin came into the world the same principle applied to destruction. This universal principle found in both the Old and New Testament also manifests in natural laws. For example, if a farmer sows wheat, that is what he will reap. In physics we know that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. We find the principle of sowing and reaping in Galatians 6:7. "...A man reaps what he sows." Another explanation of balancing the scales, so to speak, comes from Matthew 7:12. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." There is further clarification of this concept in Romans 2:1. "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things."
Let us look at how the law of sowing and reaping may manifest in our lives. God made us sovereign over our own hearts when He gave us free will. Our inner freedom gives us the option of making choices that may have ramifications for years to come. Our enemy, the devil, looks for ways to ensnare us, especially during our times of innocence. It is common for the enemy to lead us astray when we do not know the ways of God by enticing us to make inner vows. Children are a prime target for the enemy. Hosea 4:6 says, "My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge." The prophet Isaiah reveals the words of the Lord concerning this in Chapter 5, Verse 13. "My people will go into exile for lack of understanding."
It is so important for us to follow the ways of God so that we can recognize the schemes of the enemy to trap us. On their web site, Smoky Rain Counseling Services points out how vulnerable children are to the enemy. Here is their definition of "bitterroot judgments" and inner vows. These are "responses to hurts, unfulfilled expectations, or unmet needs. They can be defined as decisions or determinations designed by a child (or person) and set into the heart as templates or 'tracks to follow.'" We tend to make judgments and vows when we find ourselves in uncomfortable, fearful, or painful situations that we want to avoid in the future. We may be attempting to break a generation pattern or correct another behavior in our own strength. What we do not realize is that as we "sow a vow" based on a judgment we are putting a burden on ourselves to fulfill it instead of on the Lord. Doing this not only blocks us from receiving God's grace to overcome a specific behavior but also binds the one we have judged from being able to see their problem.
Inner vows based on judgments stay with us throughout life until we confess and repent for making them so that we can unbind ourselves from the powers of darkness. Smoky Rain Counseling calls them "threads that continue to be woven into the fabric of our lives and relationship as adults." Unfortunately, our misguided attempts to avoid repeating or experiencing certain behaviors we dislike in others only lead us to frustration. How many young men do you think vowed, "I will never treat my kids the way my father treated me," and then end up doing exactly what they said they would not do? How many women determined through a vow that their marriages would be better than that of their parents and find themselves in hurtful marriages? These are just two examples of the law of sowing and reaping in action.
The good news is that Jesus came to set the captives free. (Isaiah 61 and Luke 4:18-19) We must come into agreement with the Kingdom of Light by confessing and repenting of our sins of judging others and making vows accordingly. Then it is important for us to forgive all who brought about our judgments and renounce and break any vow we made that agreed with the kingdom of darkness. After declaring that the cycle of sowing and reaping is broken, we are free to receive God's blessings and to walk in freedom. Be encouraged, dear ones. The Lord wants us to prosper and is ready to help us cut the cords that bind us so that we can ascend into higher realms with Him.
God was intentional in the way He led the Israelites out of Egypt. Initially, he took them away from the Philistine country so that they would not have to face battle and "perhaps change their minds and return to Egypt." (Exodus 13:17) He led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He deliberately led them to a place opposite Baal Zephon (The Lord of the North) between Migdol and the sea. He told Moses, "And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord." (Exodus 14:4)
Verse 9 of Chapter 14 tells us, "The Egyptians—all Pharaoh's horses and chariots, horsemen, and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth (Mouth of wrath) opposite Baal Zephon." Imagine how the Israelites felt as they looked up and saw the entire Egyptian army marching toward them! They found a scapegoat for their difficulties in Moses and proclaimed, "It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!" (Verse 12)
Moses responded to the people's cry as the Lord instructed: "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still." (Verses 13-14) I am reminded of Psalm 46:10-11. "'Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.' The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress." God was introducing Himself to the Egyptians and the Israelites. He was teaching them that there is only one true God. Again, the Lord tells Moses, "And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots, and horsemen." (Verses 17-18)
All through the day, Scripture tells us, the Lord separated the children of Israel from the armies of Pharaoh through the pillar of cloud. All through the night, as Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, the Lord drove it back and prepared a path through the sea. The Israelites walked right through on dry ground. They were pursued by the Egyptian army who became defenseless against the Lord. He threw them into confusion, jammed the wheels of their chariots, and then pushed the waters back into place, drowning all of them. "And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him and in Moses His servant." (Verse 31)
A song was written by Moses and Miriam to glorify the Lord and to help the Israelites remember the awe and majesty of the one true God. Here are parts of it as written in Exodus 15: "I will sing to the Lord, for He is exalted...the Lord is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise Him, my father's God, and I will exalt Him...In the greatness of Your majesty You threw down those who opposed You...Who is like You—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? You stretched out Your right hand, and the earth swallows Your enemies. In Your unfailing love You will lead the people you have redeemed. In Your strength You will guide them to Your holy dwelling...You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of Your inheritance—the place, Lord, You made for Your dwelling, the sanctuary, Lord, Your hands established. The Lord reigns for ever and ever."
Indeed, this song that gives glory to the Lord is meant for us as well as the Israelites. The testimony of the Lord's power and love is to encourage us and remind us that we can take the mountain of our inheritance as we stand still and know that He is God! He tells us through the prophet Isaiah, "'...My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please...What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.'" (Isaiah 46:10-11) The Lord is with us. He can and will move heaven and earth to accomplish His purposes in us. Let us take encouragement, rejoice, and give glory to the King of kings and Lord of lords.
In the center of the Garden of Eden there were two trees called the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. When God placed Adam in the Garden, He warned him not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:9, 17) Because Adam and Eve ate from this tree their close relationship with God changed. God made a covering for them from animal skins. Then an interesting conversation took place in heaven: "And the LORD God said, 'The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever.' So, the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken." (Genesis 3:22-23)
It is not until the book of Revelation that we read again about the tree of life. The Lord sent a message to the church at Ephesus that said, "To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God." (Revelation 2:4) Adam and Eve were barred from eating of the tree of life because of their sin. They tried to hide from Him, but God, in His mercy, kept them from eating of the tree of life so that they would not have to spend eternity hiding from Him. God cannot be in the presence of evil and so He had to make a way to redeem what had happened in the Garden of Eden.
Another tree was brought into the picture. The "seed" of this tree was planted before time began on earth. God makes refences to its shape throughout the Old Testament—the shape of a cross. The pattern of the cross was shown to His people in the construction of the tabernacle, in the bronze snake on the pole, and in the pattern that the Israelites camped. Jesus spoke about it to those who followed Him. When He was explaining to His disciples that He would be killed and raised from the dead on the third day, He spoke about the cross: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." (Matthew 16:24-25) Every one of us has a cross to bear. However, as we die to self, we come alive; as we surrender, we win.
Jesus knew that the cross He was to die on would be a tree of life for all of us. By partaking of this Cross, we are partaking of the fruit of the tree of life, which includes new and everlasting life with Him. The fruit of the covering of the blood of Jesus over our sin is what allows us to partake of eternal life with Him.
The final chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22, describes the tree of life in heaven. A river flows from the throne of God. "...On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse..." (Verses 2-3) "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city." (Verse 14) The tree of life waits for those who have been made righteous through the blood of the Cross of Jesus. In essence, this Cross is the Tree of Life.
We are celebrating what Jesus did for us in going to the Cross. We are in awe of the power of God to raise Jesus from the dead. What else can we do but worship and praise Him for the Tree of Life waiting for us in heaven?
I was undone this week as I listened to the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir so beautifully sing "The Song of Moses." The words come from Revelation 15:3-4. "Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You. For Your judgments have been manifested." (NKJV) The key question here is, "Who shall not fear You?" The word "fear" as used in the Bible has several meanings. Fear of the Lord contains a mixed feeling of dread and reverence, awe and wonder. The Hebrew word is "Yirah." It is directly connected to trembling. It happens when we encounter something beyond our understanding and should lead us into worship.
A warning is issued to the leaders of nations in Psalm 2. I like the way it is expressed in The Passion Translation. "How dare the nations plan a rebellion. Their foolish plots are futile! Look at how the power brokers of the world rise up to hold their summit as the rulers scheme and confer together against Yahweh and His Anointed King...Listen to me, all you rebel-kings and all you upstart judges of the earth. Learn your lesson while there is still time. Serve and worship the awe-inspiring God. Recognize His greatness and bow before Him, trembling with reverence in His presence." (Verses 1-2, 10-11)
By not putting God first in their lives, the rulers of nations, the leaders of churches, and the masses are forfeiting amazing blessings from the Lord. At the forefront is wisdom. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." (Proverbs 9:10) Job comprehended the ramifications of the fear of the Lord for his life. "The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding." (Job 28:28) Scripture is filled with verses describing the benefits of the fear of the Lord. "He whose walk is upright fears the Lord, but he whose ways are devious despises Him." (Proverbs 14:2) It seems that fearing the Lord brings great benefits to families. "He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge." (Proverbs 14:26) Here is one we should remember: "Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil." (Proverbs 16:6)
Verses 8 through 11 in Psalm 33 make clear the power of the Lord. "Let the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere Him. For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm. The Lord foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, and the purposes of His heart through all generations." When David wrote Psalm 86, he knew the importance of having an undivided heart. "Teach me Your way, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may praise You, O Lord my God. With all my heart, I will glorify Your name forever." (Verses 11-12) God gives us undivided hearts when we give Him permission to search us and know our hearts. (Psalm 139) With the fear of the Lord comes a generational promise as written in Psalm 103:17. "But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children's children." Psalm 147:11 tells us, "The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love."
Let's look at what the prophet Isaiah says about fear of the Lord. I believe Isaiah 33:5-6 is one Scripture that encourages and directs us for such a time as this. "The Lord is exalted, for He dwells on high; He will fill Zion with justice and righteousness. He will be a sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure." Isaiah 11 describes the Spirit gifts that Jesus carried: "And the Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him--The Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power (might), the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD." These verses should be encouraging to us as we are made in the image of God. We must pursue and embrace the fear of the Lord and pray that our leaders will do the same. Why don't you listen to the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sing "The Song of Moses"? As you do, ask the Lord how to renew your fear of the Lord and contemplate these words as written by Jeremiah the prophet: "'Should you not fear me?' declares the Lord. 'Should you not tremble in my presence...'" (Jeremiah 5:22)
Joan E. Mathias