Saturday, May 31, 2014

Flowers in a Lei – Strung Together with Love

Photo by Janine, Hawaii, 2007

At our lovely Ladies’ Fellowship Luau I described last week, I spoke about the symbolism of the luau and the lei, and their parallels to Christian symbolism. As members of the church, or body of Christ, we can be thought of as a lei, bound together in love as a family (Romans 12: 5).

My devotional continued on the theme of the lei, which is made from various kinds of decorative plants . Some of the names of Christ refer to plants that are highly valued for their fragrance, taste, or medicinal qualities, and that reflect different aspects of His character. Jesus is our role model, and in our Christian walk we should become more like Him (Galatians 5:25; Ephesians 5:2,8).. So, ideally, plants that describe Him should also describe us.

Each born-again believer is like a flower, each different, but more beautiful and fragrant to God when we come to together in unity of spirit than we would be separately. To illustrate this, I made a flower arrangement and a lei of different plants representing different names of Christ, as well as other plants with special meanings in Scripture.

Lily of the Valleys (Song of Solomon 2:1) Jesus is the Lily and Lord of the valley, because His most beautiful fragrance is in the valley of sadness or trials (Psalm 23:4). The Syrians, enemies of Israel, knew that the God of Israel was the God of the mountain top, but they thought He would abandon them in the valley. But God proved them wrong, giving the victory to Israel, and showing that He was not only God of the hills but also of the valleys (1 Kings 20:28).

Although the Lily of the valleys is a delicate flower, the Day Lily, or Easter Lily, which grows in sunny places such as the mountain top, is showy, and we use it at Easter as a symbol of Christ rising from the dead. It is even more stunning than the royal robes of King Solomon (Matthew 6: 28-33), just as Christ outshines any earthly King.

God designed and maintained the lily like this without the lily having to work for its beauty in any way. Similarly, in Christ, we are saved by His grace and clothed in His righteousness without having to work for it (Isaiah. 61:10; Ephesians. 2:8-9).

Like the Lily of the Valleys, the Rose of Sharon described in Song of Solomon (2:1) may refer either to Christ as the Bridegroom or His beloved, the Church. The Hebrew flower is more like a crocus or a tulip than a typical rose. Nonetheless, the rose is the most glorious flower, just as Christ in His second coming will be the most majestic Being ever seen (2 Peter 1:16).

The most popular colors for the rose are red, symbolizing His blood, shed for us to wash away our sins, and white, symbolizing His purity and holiness (Revelation 1:5; Matthew 28:3). The rose is also a symbol for God’s chosen nation of Israel, which will bloom joyfully like a rose when Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior, rules over it in the Millennial Kingdom (Isaiah 35:1).

But the rose not only has a gorgeous blossom, it also has cruel thorns. The thorns in Christ’s crown were much longer and sharper than those of the garden rose, and pierced far deeper than His skin. He is the true King Who will rule over Israel in His second coming, but in His first coming, the Jews rejected Him as Messiah and King and gave Him a crown of thorns to humiliate and torture Him (Mark 15:17).

Flax, a plant bearing a blue flower with five petals, is of great Biblical significance. The prostitute Rahab used flax stalks to hide Joshua’s men (Joshua 2:6), once she realized they served the only true God, and her faith earned her not only salvation for her household but a place in Hebrews’ “Hall of Faith” (Hebrews 11:31) Burning flax is a symbol of tenderness and weakness, as when the ropes chaining Samson gave way like flax that was burnt with fire (Judges 15:14) It also describes Christ’s mercy to those who realize their helplessness and need of Him: the smoking flax shall He not quench: He shall bring forth judgment unto truth (Isaiah 42:3).

Fibers in the flax stem are spun into thread used to weave linen (Proverbs 31:13), one of the finest fabrics and a symbol of great wealth (Ezekiel 27:7; Proverbs 7:16; Luke 16:19; Revelation 18:12,16, etc.). Linen fabric was used to adorn the temple (Exodus 26:1,31.36, etc.), to clothe the priests (Leviticus 16:4, 20, 32, etc.), and to wrap the precious body of Jesus Christ after He suffered and died to pay the price for all our sins (Matthew 27:59; Mark 15:46, John 19:40).

In Heaven, linen clothes the angels (Revelation 15:6); the army of saints accompanying Christ in His triumphant second coming (Revelation 19:14); and the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:8), for it symbolizes the righteousness of saints imparted to them by Christ Himself.

Spikenard, a small blue flower that looks like forget-me-not, was made into very expensive ointment used by Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, in a great example of true worship (John 4:23). She lavishly poured out her heartfelt adoration for Jesus by anointing His feet with this precious ointment and wiping His feet with her hair (John 12:3-8). The spikenard ointment may have represented her most valuable treasure in the world – it may even have been her dowry.

Judas was critical of her because he thought this was wasteful, but Jesus praised her, saying that she was anointing Him in preparation for His burial. He said that wherever the Gospel was preached, she would be remembered for her complete devotion, holding nothing back from her Lord (Matthew 26:13). We should never forget to give our very best to Jesus – our time, treasure and talents – for He gave His all for us.

We can worship from the heart, giving back to Him what He has given us, only if we have faith that God is Who He says He is and will do what He has said He will do (Hebrews 11:6). The mustard plant, which has a very tiny seed and grows into a huge bush with yellow flowers, reminds me of faith.

Jesus said that if we have faith as small as a mustard seed, we would able to move mountains and uproot huge trees just by asking them to move (Matthew 17:20; Luke 17:6). He compared the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed, grown from a tiny seed into a huge tree that shelters all the birds (Matthew 13:31-32).

God will grow even the tiniest seed of our faith, but without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). We can inherit the kingdom of heaven, because we are saved by His grace through faith (Ephesians 2:6-9) in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6).

All these flowers representing different qualities of Christ remind me that we are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), so we can be like flowers also, growing in God’s garden to encourage one another and glorify Him. The Bible tells us that our prayers rise up to Him like a sweet-smelling incense (Psalm 141:2; Revelation 8:3-4).

But in our earthly bodies, we will not last forever – our time on earth is short to glorify God with our lives (Job 14:1; James 4:14). Flowers fade, yet our eternal soul lasts forever, like God and His Word, which are unchanging (Isaiah 40:7-8). By spreading the Good News of the Gospel, we will bring the sweet fragrance of salvation to those who accept it, but those who reject Christ will be reminded of the eternal death they face (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).

We honor and remember Christ’s sacrifice every time we celebrate the communion of the Lord’s Supper. And whenever we notice the sweet fragrance of flowers in our garden, may we also remember the beautiful, perfect sacrifice Christ made to save us and to give us eternal life.

© 2014 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Luau: Let’s Celebrate Our Joy in the Lord!

Photo by Samba38 2007

I was so blessed to be the speaker at the Ladies’ Fellowship and Banquet at Fowler Avenue Baptist Church on May 3! Everyone worked together to make this “Luau” themed party a memorable event, and with God’s blessing, the results were truly spectacular! There was a great turnout of church members, their families, and guests, all made welcome by a gracious hospitality committee.

The food was abundant and delicious, including a whole island of tropical fruit, with strawberries the size of plums and palm trees made of pineapples! The Fellowship Hall was transformed into a Hawaiian resort adorned with flowers, leis, and Tiki lanterns everywhere! All the ladies and girls were lovely in their floral prints and island resort attire.

As I was preparing my devotional and researching the Hawaiian custom of the luau, which is a party or celebration, I realized that much of the symbolism has a parallel in Christian beliefs. In Christ we have great reason to celebrate, no matter what our circumstances, because we have joy in the Lord (Psalm.32:11; Isaiah. 61:10; Matthew. 25:21,23) and the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah.8:10). Even while chained in a cold, gloomy prison cell for preaching the Gospel, the apostle Paul was so filled with joy that he said to Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

The luau is held not only to celebrate, but also as an occasion to show hospitality to those outside our immediate circle of family and close friends. Scripture tells us to be hospitable even to strangers, because we may be entertaining angels without even knowing it! (Hebrews 13:2). When Abraham offered a feast to three strangers who dropped in, it turned out to be the LORD and two angels, and he was blessed by the news that Sarah would give birth to a son in her old age, giving rise to a great nation (Genesis 18).

In ancient times in Hawaii, men and woman ate their meals separately, and women were not allowed to eat foods that were served only to men on special occasions. However, in 1819, King Kamehameha did away with these religious laws and taboos (Romans 14:2-3) and ate with all the women during the luau, with everyone enjoying the special dishes formerly given only to men.

This reminds me that Jesus Christ, Who is King of Kings (Revelation 17:14; 19:16), is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), for all who trust Him are equal and all one in Him (Galatians 3: 26-28). Regardless of sex, race, nationality, or religious upbringing, all those who place their trust Him will take part in His marriage supper, which will be the most amazing celebration of all time! (Revelation 19:9)

To honor the guests of the luau, the host gives each one a lei, which is a garland or wreath given as a symbol of affection. It can be any series of objects strung together, like a necklace of beads, but it is usually made of fresh natural plants such as flowers, leaves, vines, fern fronds, nuts, and seeds.

On May 1 of every year, Hawaiians celebrate "Lei Day," so named in 1927 by poet Don Blanding. Since World War II, it has been the modern custom in Hawaii to give a lei with a kiss. The apostle Paul four times in his letters tells believers to greet one another with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26).

But the traditional custom is to give a lei by bowing slightly and raising it above the heart as a sign of love, allowing the person to take it, because raising the hands above another's head, or touching their face or head, is considered disrespectful.

This reminds me of the apostle Paul’s encouragement for us to submit ourselves to one another (Ephesians 5:1) and to be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another (Romans 12:10). Even in relationships where one person has rightful authority over another, such as parent to child, boss to employee, or teacher to student, we should still consider the needs of the other person over our own. If we brag or boast or lord our authority over someone, God will bring us down, but if we have a servant’s heart toward others, God will lift us up (Matthew 23:12).

Hawaiians honor leis and what they represent by never throwing them away casually. If they cannot return leis to the place they were gathered, they return them to the earth by hanging them in a tree, burying, or burning them. Because a lei symbolizes the love of the giver, to toss one in the trash would be a sign of disrespect or ingratitude. Many types of lei can be left in a window to dry, allowing the natural fragrance to fill the room.

As we celebrate Memorial Day, we remember and honor those who went home to the Lord before us, especially those who lost their lives for our freedom in self-sacrificing love, reminding us of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice (John 10:15,17; 15:13; 1 John 3:16). I am thankful for the Godly legacy left me by those who went before me, and their memory lingers on like a sweet-smelling fragrance.

Although we typically think of a lei as a flower garland, more loosely defined, a lei is any series of objects strung together. In Hawaii, children, family and sweethearts are poetically referred to as "lei." Paul describes the church as we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another (Romans 12: 5). So we, as members of the church or body of Christ, can be thought of as a lei, bound together in love as a family.

Each of us is like a flower, different, but more beautiful and fragrant to God when we come to together in unity of spirit than we would be separately. Throughout the book of Acts, we hear of Christians in the early church acting together with one accord, accomplishing far more to spread the Gospel than they could if each were to act separately (Acts 1:14;2:1,46; 4:24; 5:12,7:57, etc.).

The Haku lei is a type of lei crafted by braiding three cords together. Haku mele means to braid a song. A song composed out of affection for an individual is considered a lei, because it is words and notes strung together in love. Paul encourages Christian believers to speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19).

The three cords of the Haku lei remind me of Solomon’s wisdom that a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12), meaning that friends who are united in their faith in God strengthen and build up one another through trials and temptations (Galatians 6:2; Proverbs 27:17).

The threefold cord is also reminiscent of the Trinity (Matthew 3:16-17). Christ is the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9). When our heart believes in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), the Holy Spirit enters us (2 Corinthians 1:22) to teach us about Jesus Christ, Who is the only Way to God the Father (John 14:6).

So as we enjoy holiday celebrations this weekend and throughout the summer, may we remember the legacy of those who went before us and encourage fellow believers. May we celebrate our joy in the Lord, show hospitality and love to one another, and be united in Christ, like flowers woven together in a threefold lei!

© 2014 Laurie Collett
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