Write It In A Book

     I sat with my friend, Robin, as we talked home décor and paint colors, casually sipping our hot, afternoon coffee. My “new” friend was quickly becoming my dear friend. We had known of each other for years, as we both lived in the idyllic town of Tupelo, Mississippi, and shared many common interests not the least of which was love of God, country, and family.

     Both her sister, Carolyn, and her brother, Lyle and their families have been my kind neighbors in North Tupelo for years. I knew of her family’s tremendous story, as I had watched from afar as snippets of the story came to me through newspaper articles and my children, who were in school with her nieces and nephews. Her dad, COL Carlyle Smith “Smitty” Harris, had been held captive as a POW for almost eight years, and he was well respected in our community. I knew bits and pieces of his story, but I had never met the man himself.

     On this day in my living room, Robin began to share more details of their family’s story, and I was fascinated. Having read some of my books, Robin asked me if I would consider writing the story in book form.

     Though flattered, I immediately thought, “Me? What do I know about the Vietnam War?”

     I was not yet born when Smitty was shot down in enemy territory. When he was suffering torture and malnutrition, I was growing up in a loving family, filled with joy and fun memories, in an even smaller town, fifty miles down the road from Tupelo. When Smitty returned home, I was finishing kindergarten. Though as a writer, I was attracted and tempted by this story, drawn to it like a moth to a flame, I still was not convinced I was the one to write.

     “You write it, Robin. I have read some of your writing. You can do it! I will help you!”

     “It needs to be written by someone who is not so close to it. Someone who can see all the details from far away,” she explained. “At least pray about it,” she said.

     “I promise I will pray,” I replied, and we even prayed together right there at my dining room table.

     That night, I reached for my Bible, which is my daily custom. I like reading the One Year Bible, which gives assigned readings for each day and takes the reader through the Bible in one year. On this day, my assigned reading included Jeremiah 30. By the end of the chapter, I was thunderstruck at what I read.

     “This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says, ‘Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you. The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their forefathers to possess,’ says the Lord.”

     Stunned, I continued reading as I made my way to Chapter 31, verse 8 “See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth.” And verse 16 and 17 continued in this theme with, “They will return from the land of the enemy. So, there is hope for your future,” declares the Lord.”

     These words written thousands of years before seemed a mirror image of what little I knew of the story of Smitty and Louise Harris.

     “Okay, Lord. I will do my best,” I prayed.

     And my best I have done. This work is not perfect, nor is it complete. A hundred books could not hold all the beautiful, intricate details of this story of one faithful family. I could have written it from so many different perspectives, and all would have been worth telling. But as I gleaned more and more information, I realized that my focus should simply be on Smitty and Louise and their human spirit and great love for God, country, and each other.

     I will never forget the first of many days I spent on their sofa in North Tupelo. The room—their den—is both comfortable and elegant. Smitty, now 90, and Louise, 81, are as sharp, witty, and together as any persons decades younger. Though they sat on opposite couches, I noticed how they looked at each other, as if they were speaking at once—together—in unison—as one told a snippet, then allowed time for the other to speak. Louise, with her beautiful, clear blue eyes and pure, soft white hair, seemed as if she were holding Smitty’s hand, just by the way she looked at him across the room when he spoke.

     “We get along very well,” Louise commented one day. “We never argue. Why would we waste time on that?” she said as if it made perfect sense. And that small piece of wisdom has crossed my mind many days since, etching its way into my own life.

     When the inevitable delays in writing came, they were filled with grace and patience. They approached this project as if they were delighted to share, but unconcerned when or if it ever happened. The story was told to me with great detail and superb memory. I marveled at their grace. I marveled at their healing. And I marveled the many times they insisted that the main objective was for people to see that overall, the net effect has been positive on their lives and that of their children and grandchildren. “We are truly blessed in every aspect of our lives. God’s been good to us,” they repeatedly told me.

     As you read through this true story, know that an imperfect person took a brilliant accounting which Smitty started in the late 70’s but never finished, and wove in many more details, scenes, and memories which were told to me by Smitty and Louise as we sat in their lovely home. From there I researched websites and articles and read more wonderful books by other POWs than I would have ever imagined to read. And yet, our readers, if you find mistakes in my accounting of the details of the most complex war our nation has ever fought, those mistakes are mine alone and were unintended. I hope you see this book as I see it—an amazing and inspiring story of the human spirit.

     COL Larry Guarino spoke of Smitty and the tap code in his book, A P.O.W. Story: 2801 Days in Hanoi, saying, “Neither Smitty Harris nor any of us realized that this would be the most valuable life and mind saving piece of information contributed by any prisoner for all the years we were there.” After reading Tap Code, I hope you will be inspired, as I have, to emulate the grit, honor, and courage of both Smitty and Louise. Through the telling of both sides of their story, which were lived out on opposite sides of the world, I believe you will not only learn important details of American history, but will also see a glimpse of true and enduring love.

     As I tearfully told them one day after a lovely session at their home, I am profoundly honored to be given the opportunity to help them tell their inspiring, life-changing true story. It is my great desire that this book brings honor to both of them, their family, our military men in all walks of service, and their families. Most of all, I hope to bring honor to God, who has set me free from my own captivity, just as He has every believing soul. To Him be the glory.

Check out videos, photos, and sample pictures at www.tapcodebook.com

 


To All You Moms Out There

To all you moms out there:

I sat on my sofa in the same spot, with the same countenance as I had thousands of times before, lifting my children one by one to the Lord.

“Lord, I plead the blood of Jesus over Katie, Ellie, Joseph, Troy, Joshua, Sally, Charlie, Owen, Drew, and Rorie…” Over the years, as the number of my children grew through births, adoption, and marriage I simply tacked on names. This stream of names flows easily over my tongue as I have spoken this prayer aloud and silently many times each day. Many of my prayers are covered like a blanket over my children as a corporate plea.

“Thank you that no weapon formed against them will prosper and every tongue that rises against them will be shown to be in the wrong, as they walk in Your ways and Your truth…”

“Protect their mind, their bodies, their spirits, their souls, and their emotions.”

“May they hear a voice behind them saying this is the way, walk in it.”

“May they have the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…”

On and on, these scripture-based prayers flow naturally over my tongue because of the frequency with which I have prayed.

Sometimes, as my Mama-Anxiety grows for one reason or another, my prayers become bolder, louder even. And this boldness comes for my benefit, to remind myself of what I know and Who I believe.

I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

                                                                        2 Timothy 1:12

I often must recount and remind myself of the promises of God.

“Lord, You said: ‘I will contend with those who contend with you and your children I will save’. I believe You, Lord, help me with my unbelief.”

“Lord, You said: ‘All your children will be taught of the Lord and great will be the peace of your children’. You said ALL, Lord. I believe You, Lord, help me with my unbelief.”

Sometimes, I remind myself of the strength and authority that is ours in Christ.

“Lord, thank you that our weapons are not carnal but they are mighty for the pulling down of strongholds. I therefore cast down imaginations and destroy speculations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. I believe You, Lord, help me with my unbelief.”

And sometimes, after all of this, I still feel needy and afraid. And that is what I felt as I sat in that familiar place on my sofa that day.

“Lord, I need a word from You. I need the peace to know that this current worry for my child is a blip on the screen of life. I need to know that You are with us and that You are hearing my prayers.”

And then I opened my Bible. The assigned reading for that day was Isaiah 40. I have read this chapter countless times over the years. But my eye paused on verse 11, and I saw this Living Word in a new, fresh way which breathed life and hope and peace to my worried and troubled Mama-Heart.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
    He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
    He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.

Isaiah 40:11

My lambs—my children—are carried by the Great Shepherd. They are safe in His arms and He holds them close to His heart. What relief!

And as the their mother, He gently leads me along with them.

For the first time, I stopped to think about mother sheep. We as believers are often referred to in scripture as sheep being led by Jesus, the Great Shepherd. But I had never thought specifically of mother sheep. Mother sheep can nuzzle their young. They can be near their young. But they cannot carry their young. They can’t hold them up. They are not physically capable of doing so. They were not created nor designed by the Creator to do so. Oh, we try. We try really hard to carry our kids along, carry their burdens, make life easier for them, stress-free, failure-free, pain-free. But we can’t.

But Jesus, the Great Shepherd can. He can carry them. He can protect them. He can help them. He can hold them close to His perfect, powerful heart. And then in His great compassion, He turns gently to us, knowing our Mother-Heart, and leads us along as well.

As peace filled my heart, praise filled my mouth. I praised Jesus for His provisions and His promises. I praised Him for carrying my children and comforting me. I praised Him for helping me, once again, in my unbelief. I once again, for the millionth time, gave my children to the only One who can carry them. Praise God that it is not up to me.


I Didn’t Make It to All of His Games

My precious son is getting married. In three months, three days, he will be officially grown and gone. We are beyond happy with his choice of bride and feel that she is one of those blatant answers to my prayers that God would do far more than we could ever hope or dream or imagine. We are blessed, indeed, with the maturity and godliness we see coming from those two. They love Jesus. And I thank my Jesus each day for that abundant answer to my prayers.

But there is one thing that the enemy of my soul keeps bringing up in my mind as I reflect on his growing up years. And though it may sound silly to most reading this post, I believe that some of you will relate.

I didn’t make it to all of his games.

There. I said it. For some reason, that is the source of my Mama Guilt. You see, I always envisioned myself front and center at every event each one of my children would participate in. I thought I would be “that mom”. The one who volunteered to be homeroom mom. (This only happened three times in all my children’s combined school years, which so far has equaled 62 school years, given the whole seven kids and all.)

I thought I would be the one with the healthy snacks, the homemade valentines, the carefully prepared lunches, and of course dinner on the table every. single. night. Instead, I was the one who sent the tacky valentines, most often signed by me because it was quicker. I was the one who used paper plates so I wouldn’t have to wash the dishes. I was the one who made my kids fix their own sack lunches if they didn’t want to eat in the cafeteria, because let’s face it, it is far easier to give them lunch money (or now prepay online!) than it is to go to the grocery for all the special requests they have, prepare the what they actually want to eat for lunch, and do it all before 7:25a.m. Nope. Didn’t happen at my house.

Recently, there was an article circulating around entitled “Why Parents Should Go to All of Their Kids Games”. Each time I saw it being shared I cringed. That Mama Guilt would rear its ugly head and throw fiery darts at my mind. Because guess what? It is too late. I can’t go back and go to every game.

Actually, it wasn’t that I totally agreed with the article. I think supporting our children should be an upmost priority. However, I think the mentality that we should drop everything and focus solely on them has potential to create self-centered adults. It also has the potential to create unrealistic expectations for them when they are parents. But the truth is this: I just couldn’t do it all. I wasn’t strong enough. I didn’t have enough stamina. I didn’t have enough emotional or physical energy to do it all. But maybe because I couldn’t do it all, my kids will receive some comfort when they come to the realization that they can’t do it all either.

That is the thing that rubs a raw spot in my mind. I couldn’t do it all. I tried, I really did. But having a lot of kids (or let’s face it, even if you don’t have a lot of kids) is very humbling. I was the late mom. I was the scattered mom. I was the one who missed the best play of the game because I was taking another child to the bathroom. I was the one who actually cheered an entire game for a child that was not my own, thinking he was the whole time. You see, they were built the same. Same weight, same height. And I had somehow forgotten that my son had been given a different number that year. He was supposed to be number 14. He had been number 14 from the time he was in T-Ball. But oh, no. They had to give the number 14 jersey to someone else that year—someone who was the same weight and height as my son. I am sure the other moms were wondering why I jumped up and cheered at every play of number 14 and sat silently eating my chips when my own son was up to bat. Lord, help me! I couldn’t do it all!

But when faced with that reality I hear a deeper truth whispering in my soul. Jesus comes softly, sweetly and calms my Mama Guilt. I hear him actually saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

“But, Lord, I yelled at my kids sometimes.” And I hear whispered, “But you also taught them about Me.”

“But, Lord, my words were sometimes impatient, even angry at times.” And I hear whispered, “But you spoke My words over them every day in prayer.”

“But, Lord, I wasn’t at every game”. And I hear whispered, “But I was. And because you pointed them to Me, they knew they were never forsaken.”

“But, Lord, I wasn’t the perfect parent that I always imagined I would be.” And I hear whispered, “But I am the Perfect Parent. Because you weren’t perfect, they relied more on Me. Because you pointed them to the Perfect Parent, they know Me. In your weakness, I am strong.”

And with those whisperings, my mind and heart settles. Yes, there were things I would have done differently. But I know my children know I love them. They know Jesus in a personal way. They love me and more importantly, they love Jesus. So, I guess in light of that great truth, the other one—the Mama Guilt truth—simply doesn’t seem so important after all.

 

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

                                                                                    3 John 4


The Way I See It

I don’t like politics.

Yes, I have strong opinions, you can call them convictions; but I don’t like politics. I really avoid speaking out on political issues, especially on social media, because there is the whirlwind of anger, misunderstanding, hate, and separation of friendships that often follows.

But there is this one issue …

And before I express my opinion let me address my friends who see it differently. Listen carefully! I. Love. You. And actually, I like you. And respect you and admire you and think you are funny and compassionate and kind. And that doesn’t change because we see it differently.

But I have to tell you how I see the topic of abortion.

I see it through the eyes of dear, godly friends who have struggled for decades with regret, emotional pain, anxiety, and depression because they chose abortion.

I see it through the eyes of dear, godly friends who desire more than anything to feel the movement of life within them, yet can’t no matter how hard they have tried to conceive.

I see it through the eyes of my role as a mother, who has felt life within my belly 5 different times. Each time I saw that pink line on the pregnancy test, I knew there was life. When I heard their heartbeats as early as 8 weeks, I knew there was life. When I felt them kick and roll around inside me, I knew there was life. When my back ached and the labor pains came and my life was forever changed, I knew it was worth it, for there was life.

I see this topic of abortion through the tear-stained eyes of seeing one of mine blue and unresponsive when born. I also see it through joyful tear-stained eyes when I heard the gasp for breath we longed for, then the loud, screaming cry announcing she was still with us. (Admittedly, that cry had a different effect on me at 3am for 8 weeks, but it was relatively a short season!)

I see it through the eyes of one who has longed for and prayed for and filled out miles and miles of paperwork, so that we could bring home two adorable Asians, who didn’t look like us, but were so very us. When I look at them, I see life. And when I look at them, I see the love of two different birthmothers who had a choice to make.

Yes, they lived in a country where they could have easily made a different choice. They could have ended the life of my children without repercussions, or social stigma. Not only is it not illegal in China, but it is also encouraged to end the life of a baby in the womb. But these brave women chose differently. They chose life. They chose life despite these children having birth defects which could have been dangerous and complicated. And because they chose life, the world gets to experience the joy of Sally and Charlie. They are healthy and funny and smart and silly and kind and generous and accepting of others. They love life. They are my life. All because two mothers in difficult circumstances chose life.

To the women of New York, who may feel that your answer has come and your difficult problems are solved …

To the women who are rejoicing that they now legally have the choice to abort their baby whenever they want to …

Let me tell you that I am sorry for your pain. I am sorry for your difficult circumstances. But let me encourage you in this: you do have a choice. And would you please stop and think about adoption over abortion? Before you make your choice, would you pause long enough to investigate the process of life within you? The heartbeat, the development of hands and feet and brain and fingers and toes.

You do have a choice. Please know that choosing life is still on the table. And the way I see it, it is really the only wise choice to make.

Now, to my friends who see it differently. Wanna go get a cup of coffee together? Wanna talk and laugh and go see a movie? I’m here. And I love you.


Today Is Important

Today seems important to me. Can you give me just a few minutes? (You may want to stop and go get that second cup of coffee!)

Today is September 30, 2018. In the One Year Bible that is the day for the assigned reading of Isaiah 60:1-3:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come the your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

It’s also the day for the assigned reading of Isaiah 60:21-22, which is the last verses of Is 60.

“Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor. The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation. I am the LORD; in its time I will do this swifty.” Is. 60:21-22

Following the prophetic words in Isaiah 60, are more prophetic words in Isaiah 61, which were Jesus’s first words in a public setting—his first sermon. After he read these words, he said, “Today these words are fulfilled in your hearing.” These were the prophetic words that Jesus fulfilled.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” Is 61:1-4

Today, September 30, 2018, is also the last day of the Sukkot—the Feast of the Tabernacle, which is the remembrance of the desert wandering. Today is the 7thday of the Sukkot. Today, the 7thday of the Sukkot, is called Hoshanah Rabbah. It means “the great hoshanah”. It was considered the last and greatest day of the Sukkot. It was the final day to receive God’s divine judgement (verdict) concerning the fruitfulness of the coming year.

A hoshanah is a series of 7 liturgical poems calling on God to rescue and redeem His people. It is viewed as a mini-Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. It is a cry for the water of the seasonal rains to come—for Christians, we cry for the Rain of the Holy Spirit, to cleanse, refresh, and nourish our spiritual lives, so that we may be fruitful for God’s kingdom.

Today, after the seven poems, Jewish people will strike the ground with a willow branch 7 times in a symbolic attempt to rid themselves of any remaining sin. Now, let’s think for a moment about the branch that they will use symbolically to rid themselves of remaining sin, and let’s think for a moment about the Branch God has already sent to us. Look at what I wrote in my book, Stones from the River Jordan.

“Read the following vision, given to Zechariah, a beautiful, symbolic picture of our place before the judgment throne:

Then the Lord showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.  The Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan!  The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you!  Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?’

Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.  The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’  Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.’  Then I said, ‘Put a clean turban on his head.’  So they put a clean turban on his head, and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.

The angel of the Lord gave this charge to Joshua:  ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘If you walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.  ‘Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come:  I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.  See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua!  There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.  ‘In that day each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree, declares the Lord Almighty.’

         (Zechariah 3:1 – 10)

This vision was given to Zechariah about his friend Joshua.  Just after this vision, another was given to describe to Zechariah the anointing that was about to come to Joshua and Zerubbabel so that they could serve the Lord in an extraordinary way. And all the power would come from God, not from their own feeble efforts, for God gave this word:  ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit’, says the Lord Almighty’ (Zech. 4:6).But the initial vision had to be fulfilled first.  Work needed to be done to prepare the ordinary for the extraordinary.  Picture the vision as if it were a courtroom scene: Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord with Satan right beside him continually accusing him.  Were the accusations accurate?  Perhaps, but that is not the point.  The point is that the Lord himself stepped in to defend.  The Lord himself rebuked Satan, declaring that Joshua was a burning stick snatched from the fire.

What a beautiful description.  Joshua, ordinary man, was snatched by God himself from the eternal destruction of a fiery hell. That is me, too.  God snatched me from the fire when he graciously saved me. And to further bless my soul (and yours, if you are a believer), He declares in John 10:27-29 that, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”  What a beautiful picture!  The Father will not let go of His people.  He will personally defend them, snatch them from the fire, and not let go!

Next, we see that as the accuser is forced to leave the scene, the repair work begins.  Joshua was standing there in filthy clothes.  Those clothes represented the priestly order, and taking them off represented removal from the priestly office.  Yet, this was also representative of the removal of sin. Perhaps Joshua was in all appearances a “priest,” yet God saw his heart.  In the same way, we often have an effective Christ-like appearance on the outside—we go to church, tithe, talk the talk, etc., but what about the state of our hearts.  I, too, have had times that God exposed my “filthy clothes,” only to reveal a heart that was in desperate need of revival.

What about you?  Is God calling you to the humbling position of admitting, even if only to yourself, that you too need to have your filthy clothes removed?  If so, there is good news to come!  Listen to what God says directly to Joshua just after the filth had been exposed: “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you” (Zech. 3:4).  What grace and mercy is displayed in those words.  Mercy is not getting the punishment and death that we deserve.  We could never get rid of our filthy clothes on our own merit.  Only God can take away our sins.

But then He goes even further.  He does not leave us unclothed, in shame and embarrassment.  He then promises to clothe us with rich garments!  In fact, Romans 13:14 says “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.”  No brand of clothing could ever compare to these rich garments!  That is the grace of God in action.  Grace is getting what we don’t deserve.  It is receiving far more than we could ever hope, or dream, or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)  God takes the ordinary man, removes the sin and obstacles that hold him back, then clothes him in preparation for the extraordinary work that God has planned for him.

As we see in the vision, a clean turban is put on his head.  This action re-instated him into the high-priestly order, only now with the purity and holiness and power that could not come from ordinary man, but only from the Holy Spirit.  Now he is ready for the extraordinary work.  But the experience was not complete without the acceptance of the charge laid before Joshua:

This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.  Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua!  There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day. In that day each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree, declares the Lord Almighty.”  (Zech. 3:7-10)

This charge sounds very much like the charge laid before Joshua, son of Nun in Joshua 1:7-8:

Be strong and very courageous.  Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.  Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.  

You see there is a cause and effect in action.  There is a charge that we have to keep.  Though it clearly is not based on our own good actions, there is an acceptance of the charge.  There is a “if you, then I” principal.  God clearly says, “If you follow in my ways, then I will anoint you for extraordinary success.”  And as if that promise was not thrilling enough, God added something even more phenomenal!  God did not want the significance to be lost, so he prefaced it with the word, ‘Listen’.

When I am telling something important to my children and I want them to understand the importance of what I am saying, I will often use that preface of ‘Now, Listen!’  In the same way, God wanted Joshua and his associates to understand the importance of what was to come: ‘Listen…I am going to bring my servant, the Branch’ (Zech 3:7, 8).  That is a Messianic title.  He was talking about Jesus.  Note the comparison of Joshua, ordinary man, as a burning stick, and Jesus, the Branch, with a capital B!  We are nothing, He is everything!  Yet, He was sent for us!

God again prefaces his announcement with an attention grabber word, ‘See’. It is as if He is saying, ‘Don’t you see the significance!’  There is a stone set before ordinary man, Joshua; a stone with seven eyes, perhaps symbolic of the completion and perfection of the stone. And this same stone is engraved with an inscription and a promise for the instant removal of sin.  This sounds very much like what we find in Isaiah 49:15, 16: ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…’

We find in Exodus 28:9-12 that the names of the tribes of Israel were engraved on stones and fastened to the ephod of the high priest as a memorial before the Lord.  At the cross, Jesus, the greatest high priest, the Chief Cornerstone, engraved our names on His palms as a memorial and remembrance before the Lord. He will not forget you if you are His! No matter what happens, God will not forget His children. The removal of sin in a single day refers to the day that Christ died for us.  And what should our reaction be to all of this? ‘In that day each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree, declares the Lord Almighty’ (Zech. 3:10).

After I began studying these scriptures, I came across the ‘vine and fig tree’ phrase many places in the Bible.  When these truths finally hit home, our reaction should be two-fold: first, ‘sit under his vine and fig tree,’ according to the NIV study Bible, is a ‘proverbial picture of peace, security, and contentment’.  And secondly, we should invite our neighbors to join us!  How are we doing in these two areas?  Have we forgotten what has been done for us?  Do we really ‘get it’?  If we stop and think, and remember, then we will be a ‘proverbial picture of peace, security and contentment,’ and that alone should be such a witness to our ‘neighbors,’ or anyone that we come into contact with, that they, too, will want to come and receive what we have so graciously been given.”

Hoshana Rabbah 2018 began last night and ends tonight. Each of the poems recited today begin and end with Hosha Na—“Save, we beseech Thee.” In between this beginning and ending prayer are words which indicate why we would be saved (eternally as well as from various situation which would thwart our fruitfulness) and who gets the glory for it. The words are: “For Your Sake, our God”, “For Your Sake, our Creator”, “for Your Sake, our Redeemer”, then “For Your Sake, O Thou who searches us”. These are good prayers and good words for us as Christians to reflect on. All we do, and all we are is for Him. He saves us for Himself, for he loves us with a jealous love. It is important to note that in the first three of these phrases we see the word “our”—our God, our Creator, our Redeemer. It is personal. He is ours and we are His and because of this most precious and intimate relationship with our God, we can feel safe as He searches us. In fact, we should invite Him to do so.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

On each day of the Sukkot, the priests walk around the altar 1 time, but on the 7thday (today!) they walk around the altar 7 times, carrying the palm and willow branches. We know the willow branch represented atonement, the finished work of removal of sin. But what about the palm branch? It is associated with praise. Specifically, the praise we give when we experience victory. This was also conveyed in the passage of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho. After the seventh turn around, they shouted victory and “the walls fell flat.”

When the people waved palm branches when Jesus entered Jerusalem during His triumphal entry, they were shouting out that He was the victorious one. They would have learned this significance by celebrating the 7thday of the Sukkot. (Which, may I remind you is today!)

Little did they know that their announcement of his victorious title would not come about as they imagined. However, Jesus would indeed wear the Ultimate Victor’s Crown when 7 days later he defeated sin and death forever when He rose from the grave.

Tomorrow, October 1, is Shmini Atzeret, which is the Jewish holiday which commemorates the answer of God for the coming rain in the coming year. It is observed because of Numbers 29:35, which says, “On the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly.” The Sukkot—the 7 days of the Feast of Tabernacles was over, but God asked his people to tarry with him one more day, so that they may continue to ask for the coming rains and hear His reply. For Christians, we too, need to tarry with the Father for another day and ask for the “rain” of His Holy Spirit in the coming days, that we may be fruitful for His kingdom.

John 7:37, 40-42 is the account of when Jesus, Himself, was celebrating 7thday of the Sukkot—the Hoshanah Rabbah. It was on this day, even as the people were praying for the water of the coming rains, that Jesus said:

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

May we all praise Him who is the giver of the water which cleanses and satisfies our thirty souls—the One who sends rain in due season to cleanse us, nourish us, and make us fruitful. And may we tarry with Him another day as we look for His answers to our heartfelt prayers. May we receive mercy to help in our time of need. May we have ears to hear.