Saturday, October 3, 2015

It’s the Message, Not the Medium

Photo by Adam J.W.C. 2009

In this dream I was teaching an adult continuing education class. It was held in a kindergarten classroom filled with tiny desks and chairs and cluttered with piles of toys. Some of the adults attempted to sit down, but most huddled awkwardly at the back of the room. I had brought in many visual aids, books, and notes but could find nowhere to set them down. I tried to write on the chalkboard, but it was filled up with an overabundance of writing and pictures. I tried to erase it, but the eraser was heavy with chalk dust and only made more of a mess.

To make matters worse, I could find no suitable chalk. I had an old, splintered piece of lavender chalk that was too brittle to write on the board. One of the students brought me a crayon and showed me that it wrote easily and visibly on the board, but I was concerned that it could not be erased and would ruin the board for other teachers. 

Another student brought me a small gift box, saying it might contain a solution to my dilemma. I opened it and shook out a sea of confetti, only to find small decorative soaps within, sculpted like sea shells, starfish, jellyfish, and other sea creatures. I tried marking the blackboard with one of them, but it was too soft and crumbled like sand.

Finally I realized that I could use my finger to write in the chalk dust already on the board, just like pranksters write “Wash Me!” on the dirty window of a car. My plan was to draw a diagram of the human brain and show how different regions were involved in various interactions with the environment. But to my horror, as I lifted my finger, I realized that I no longer remembered how to draw the brain!

So I turned my attention back to the class, only to find that most of the students had already slipped away, no doubt put off by the clutter, confusion, and inadequate preparation. But an elderly, overweight woman with swollen legs remained, and she said softly, “I thought you were going to tell us about Jesus.”

My heart sunk as I realized that I had gotten so caught up in the presentation that I had forgotten the most important message! I knelt on the floor beside her and explained that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23) deserving eternal punishment in hell, but God gave His only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to pay for all our sins so that we could have eternal, abundant life with Him (John 3:16; 10:10).

A younger couple also remained. “Oh, we’ve been to church a few times and heard songs about Jesus. They had a great band and videos, and they even served Starbucks! But all they wanted to do was convert us, so we left and didn’t go back.”

As I awoke from the dream, I realized that the Holy Spirit was speaking to me about the importance of witnessing – of preaching Christ, and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23). We must not be ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16) in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6).   

Before I was saved, God had blessed me with the opportunity to teach neurology to medical students and residents. To me, this field was the most challenging in all of medicine, because no created system or being can fully understand itself, and therefore no human can completely fathom the mystery of the brain.

As fascinating and elusive as the field of neurology is, it pales in comparison with the mystery of the Gospel (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 6:19). Why would God robe Himself in human flesh (John 1:14), suffer and die to pay for our sins, and open His plan of salvation to “whosoever” would trust Him (John 3:16; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13), and not just to His chosen people (Joel 2:32) with whom He made His initial covenant?

His design of the human brain is truly a wonder (Psalm 139:14), and He has given us the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5). But how much greater is the awe He inspires by His freely given gift of grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), offering eternal life with Him (1 John 5:11, 13.20) to all who call on His name!

I am thankful that long before I knew Him, God transformed me from an awkward, stammering child who almost got held back in kindergarten to a well-educated, highly trained academician, public speaker, dancer, and singer. Looking back, I realized that He was equipping me to share the most important message of all time – the only Truth that matters to our eternal destiny and to that of our fellow travelers on earth.

The training He allowed me has given me entry to spheres of influence and unusual forms of ministry. I pray to be always yielded to His will to be a vessel fit for His service (Romans 9:21; 2 Timothy 2:20-21), and to realize that without Him, I am and can do nothing (John 15:5).

The dream showed me that we don’t need a large, modern venue; a sophisticated media presentation; or even specialized education or a divinity degree to share His Word. A learned, erudite speech will do no good if it goes over the heads of the listeners, any more than a complex neurology lecture is suitable for a kindergarten class.

Speaking in tongues that no one can understand does not edify the listeners, but only fills the speaker with pride (1 Corinthians 14:1-33). Speaking with fluent oratory or brilliant philosophy means nothing unless we are speaking the truth in love (1 Corinthians 13:1).

It’s not about us, or about showing off our knowledge or talents. If we get too attached to our own plan for ministry, God may humble us (Proverbs 16:18), just as I was embarrassed in the dream when I could no longer even remember how to draw the brain. Sometimes our words or artistic expressions seem beautiful and artistic, as were the sculpted seashell soaps in the dream, but they lack substance and fail to communicate.

All we have to do is to get real, and to tell others about Jesus. It is not our job to “convert” anyone, for only the Holy Spirit can convict the sinful heart of the need for a Savior Who paid our ransom price in full (1 Corinthians 3:6-7; Jeremiah 17:9; Luke 19:10; Mark 10:45; 1 Timothy 2:6).

All we need is obedience and desire to fulfill His Great Commission, to go and teach (Matthew 28:19-20). This is only possible when we yield to the power of the Holy Spirit Who enters us at the moment we are born again (John 3:3-8).

As He teaches us and as we grow in our diligent study of His Word, through His grace we will be more effective in communicating His love and truth to others, whether through language, song, dance, or other arts. But from the moment we are first saved, we can and should immediately share with others how He has changed our destiny and made us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15).

Let us shout from the rooftops (Matthew 10:27) how He delivered us from the pit of hell (Job 33:28; Isaiah 38:17) to abundant, eternal life (John 3:16; 10:10) in heavenly places in Him (Ephesians 1:3; 2:6).

We should pray for direction on how to prepare and how to be receptive to His guidance (Proverbs 3:5-6). But we don’t need to obsess over what to say, for He will give us the right words at the right time (Luke 12:11-12) if we listen to His still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12). We don’t need to arrange for a comfortable, well-equipped auditorium, a Power Point or multimedia production, or even a piece of chalk or a clean blackboard, for He will provide all we need (Philippians 4:14-19).

Jesus taught His amazing truths from a fishing boat (Matthew 13:2-3); He wrote His Word with His finger on stone (Exodus 31:18), plaster (Daniel 5:5) and sand (John 8:6); and He used His powers of observation and allegory to construct timeless parables from everyday events and ordinary people.
The Samaritan woman whom Jesus met and saved at the well did not put off witnessing until she could go to Bible school or rent the town hall for a revival. She left her water bucket behind and immediately ran off to tell everyone in her village that she had found the promised Messiah, and to invite them to come meet Him (John 4:28-29). May we be boldly go and do the same! 

© 2015 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, September 26, 2015

When Prayer Becomes Worry

The apostle Paul told us to be anxious about nothing, but to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Philippians 4:6). Why, then, did I find recently that my prayer time on occasion left me with a feeling of unrest, rather than the peace that passes all understanding? (Philippians 4:7)

My husband and I were blessed with the unique opportunity to dance as soloists with the Spectacular Senior Follies in Dallas, an amazing, high-caliber, professional level show featuring a cast of more than one hundred talented, seasoned entertainers over age 55. 
There were five performances in Dallas at the Charles Eisemann Performing Arts Center, a beautiful venue seating more than 1500 people.

God brought together all the arrangements, working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28), and we were delighted with the hospitality and professionalism of all those involved in the show. Our early rehearsals had gone well, with much enthusiasm and support from the directors and cast, and we were blessed to know that many in the cast were praying for us.

We were thrilled by the experience of dancing our choreography to a live band and an amazing Christian vocalist who brought new expression and meaning to the song, “You Light Up My Life,” with her unique, powerful, and Spirit-anointed interpretation.

But our first rehearsal at the Eisemann was a disaster. The floor surface, space, lighting, and music were all accommodating to our dancing; our bodies were in good shape and well prepared; and we were well rehearsed, with no reason for mental distress. Yet our balance, timing and connection were off to the point that we missed many moves ordinarily done with ease and consistency.

Our confidence being shaken, we turned to the Lord in prayer even more fervently than before. I felt like I was wrestling with God in prayer (Genesis 32:22-32). I found my prayers focused on God’s Word that without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5), and that thought reverberated through my prayers so much that I feared it had become a vain repetition (Matthew 6:7).

Even worse, I wondered if constantly voicing my fears in prayer would result in a self-fulfilling prophecy, just as Job admitted that the thing he greatly feared had come to pass (Job 3:25). Yet I knew that with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26), and I longed to yield to His Holy Spirit, to be an empty vessel He could use to His glory (Romans 9:21; 2 Timothy 2:21).

Our next rehearsal and first two shows went well, yet I still felt that something was missing. I kept fretting over being able to do nothing without Him. One of the cast members had encouraging words about our dance ministry and told us of his approach to praise and worship. He compared it to floating weightless in outer space, lifted up by Him to heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3; 2:6) where there is no pressure, only the blessing of being filled with praise to Him (Psalm 71:8; Philippians 1:11).

Suddenly I realized why my prayers had turned more to worry than to praise, and why my dancing lacked the inspiration I sought. I was obsessing over being able to do nothing without God, and all the while God was saying, “This is true, but you are not without Me. Fear not, for I am with you!” (Matthew 28:20)

As our friend in the cast reminded us, and as we read in his book that he gave us, we have God the Father above us (Ephesians 4:6); Jesus the Son is Emmanuel, or God with us (Matthew 1:23); and the Holy Spirit is within every believer (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30). We have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5), and He will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He will answer our prayers exceeding abundantly beyond what we could ask, imagine or think (Ephesians 3:20).

I felt that God was grieved (Ephesians 4:30) by my apprehension and worry, which actually represent the sin of unbelief (Mark 9:24). His Word commands us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and to be anxious about nothing, but to bring all our requests to Him in prayer (Philippians 4:6). Giving thanks and praise in our prayer, knowing that He knows what we need before we even ask Him (Matthew 6:8), should remove all anxiety. His perfect love casts out our fear (1 John 4:18).

Without faith, it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). He has given us richly all things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17), and He wants us to share in His great joy and rejoicing over us (Zephaniah 3:17) by expressing our joy in the Lord (Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 27:6; 32:11; 35:9). This reminder allowed us to let go in our dancing, to yield completely to His guidance (Romans 6:13), and to experience our dance as worship and praise to His glory (Psalm 149:3; 150:4) and not as a performance that we had to control or manipulate.

For the remaining three performances we felt transported to heavenly places in Him (Ephesians 1:3; 2:6), and we pray that the audience was moved closer to Him also. Many who approached us afterwards had a tear in their eye or spoke of watching us dance as being a spiritual experience. One of the cast who viewed our dance from the wings said he felt as if I had gone into a trance and become like an angel, used by God to communicate His message.

In our flesh we can do no good thing (Romans 7:18), but with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). May we yield to Him, praise and worship Him in every word and deed, and let Him use us mightily to His glory!  

© 2015 Laurie Collett
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