Saturday, May 23, 2015

Three Found Treasures

When I was six, I traveled with my parents to Houston, where we visited Neiman Marcus, a fancy department store. I remember being entranced by so many beautiful shiny things! Sparkling crystal, baubles encrusted with glass jewels, golden plates, and gowns shimmering in sequins and beads all caught my eye.

Before I knew it, I had wandered off from my parents, and they were nowhere to be found! I ran around frantically, calling out for them, but there was no answer. Devastated, I broke into uncontrollable sobbing. A kindly woman approached me and asked what was wrong.

“I’ve lost my parents!” I exclaimed.

“What do they look like?” she asked.

“Don’t worry,” I reassured her. “I’ll know them when I see them.”

All is well that ends well, and my parents were just around the corner, apparently caught up in some treasure hunting of their own. But that was long before the days of children being kidnapped in malls or the need to be paranoid every moment they are out of sight.

Remembering this story made me realize that to be found, three things must happen. We must first realize that we are lost; we must want to be found; and we must recognize the person who will find us.

God is a Triune Being: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that nature is reflected in patterns of threes found throughout His Word. Salvation is the central theme of Scripture, so it is not surprising that Jesus spoke three parables about salvation in which a lost animal, object or person is found (Luke 15).

The chapter opens with Jesus teaching the publicans and sinners, namely those thought by society to be wicked beyond help. But many of them realized their own sorry state, and therefore came near Jesus to hear His words of wisdom, comfort, and healing (v. 1).

This ministry grouping of three is diametrically opposed by a judgmental grouping of three: the Pharisees and scribes criticize Jesus for associating with the baser element of society. The religious leaders of that day, who should have been most receptive to Jesus as the Son of God, instead were gossiping about Him, accusing Him of receiving sinners and of defiling Himself by eating with them (v. 2).

Jesus then teaches three parables aimed at the repentant sinners, the religious leaders trusting in their own self-righteousness, and all readers of the Gospel thereafter. Each of these parables has three elements: the lost treasure; those not considered lost; and the One Who finds the lost.

Jesus later describes Himself as the Son of man Who came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). In three verses He states that He came to call not the righteous, but sinners, to repentance (Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32). Until we know that we are lost in our sins to the point of death (Ephesians 2:1,5; Colossians 2:13); that we have no righteousness of our own (Isaiah 64:6), and that we  need to repent (Acts 3:19; 5:31), we cannot be saved.

The first parable tells of a shepherd whose priorities seem somewhat unusual by worldly standards. He leaves the bulk of his flock – 99 of 100 sheep – to fend for themselves in the wilderness, while he goes looking for one lost sheep until he finds it (Luke 15:3-4). An earthly shepherd who did this would be considered somewhat daft, as he would leave most of his livelihood vulnerable to being eaten by predators, falling down a cliff, or wandering away from the flock.

But thankfully, Jesus is the Good, Great and Chief Shepherd (John 10:11-18; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 5:4) Who is everywhere to save His flock from danger, and Who will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5)

Like sheep, people are also vulnerable to three types of danger. In spiritual terms, these are being devoured by the devil (1 Peter 5:8), falling into temptation because of our sinful flesh (1 Corinthians 10:12), and wandering away when we are lured by worldly pleasures (James 1:14-15; 2 Timothy 4:10), namely the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).

Sadly, we are unaware of our exposure to these dangers until we are saved, and we can’t be saved until we know we are lost. In the parable, therefore, the Shepherd, Who is Christ Himself (Psalm 23) makes the lost sheep His highest priority, not resting until He can safely place it across His shoulders Luke 15:5).

Praise God that He goes to such great lengths to seek us out once we want to be found (James 4:8; Ezekiel 34:11), to work on our heart, and to save us through His grace! (Ephesians 2 8-9) But He does this only if we come to the end of ourselves (Psalm 40:2), know we can’t make it to Heaven on our own (Habakkuk 3:19), and realize we need the Saviour! (1 Timothy 1:15) Then He saves us by our faith in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way (John 14:6) to Heaven.

Once the lost sheep in the parable is found, there is great rejoicing by the Shepherd, His friends and neighbors (Luke 15:5-6).Jesus explains the parallel to the joy in heaven over one sinner that repents of his sin and knows that he needs the righteousness of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 1:11; 3:9). Those who rely on their own good deeds to get to Heaven far outnumber (in the parable, 99 to 1) those who trust only in the Saviour (Matthew 7:13).

But these “good” people bring little joy to heaven even if they appear to lead moral and just lives on earth (Luke 15:7). Anyone who relies on keeping the law to get to heaven is doomed to failure, because all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23), and whoever has broken the smallest part of the law is considered guilty of transgressing all of it (James 2:10). Any joy over their “good” deeds is short-lived, for their destiny is eternal separation from God in hell (John 3:18) unless they realize they are lost so they can be born again (John 3:3-8).

In the second parable, Jesus tells of a woman who drops everything she is doing to find one silver coin she has lost from her stash of ten. She lights a candle, sweeps the house, and seeks diligently until she finds the missing treasure (Luke 15:8). I believe this parable gives further clues to God’s loving and thorough process in saving the lost sinner.

God gave us His Word as a light for our path (Psalm 119:105), for saving faith can only come by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Often, part of the process of our realizing how lost, helpless, and needy we are involves God sweeping away the clutter that hinders our dependence on Him. These weights (Hebrews 12:1) may be idols of money, power, health, relationships, and even family, for if these give us too much satisfaction, we may not realize we need God (Matthew 19:24).

Which brings me back to my childhood anecdote – I knew I was lost, I wanted to be found, and I knew whom I was seeking. I had no worries that I would fail to recognize my parents. But when I grew up, I spent much of life feeling miserably lost and wanting to find truth, peace and joy, yet not knowing the only One Who could save me. Like so many, I was a “seeker,” looking for truth in all the wrong idols, philosophies and false teachings (2 Peter 2) until the only Way found me (Acts 17:26-27).

In the parable, there was great rejoicing by the woman who found her lost coin, and by her friends and neighbors, just as there is by the angels in heaven (Luke 15:9-10) every time a lost soul is found! We shall also see this next week in the third parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).

 © 2015 Laurie Collett

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Schooling is for Christians, Not Just for Fish

Photo by Avoini 2013 (note shark below, stalking the school)

If you have ever marveled at the beauty of the seas from the unique perspective of a diver or a submergible vessel, no doubt you have been awestruck by myriads of small fish swimming in organized patterns, known as schooling.

Each fish on its own is tiny, weak, and often brilliantly colored or gleaming in silver scales, making it easy prey for larger fish or marine animals. Yet together, the school takes on a life of its own, swirling and darting about as a single organism, confusing and warding off predators while promoting foraging, feeding, and reproduction.

Scientists suggest that there is a genetic basis for this behavior, which has many advantages including the multiplied sensory input to many pairs of eyes, making it easier to spot danger and avoid it, or to find food and swim toward it. The hydrodynamics of swimming in a group formation make travel faster and more efficient, with each fish expending less energy than it would if it were swimming alone. And, being in a group has many social advantages including making it easier to find a suitable mate.

Schools of fish are an apt metaphor for the church, or body of Christ, and Christians who are faithful to church enjoy many blessings not available to those out of church. When Jesus recruited Peter to be one of His apostles, He promised that if they followed Him, He would make them “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17).

In the early days of the church, the fish was used as a symbol of Christianity (Acts 11:26). The Greek word for fish, “ichthus,” is an acronym containing the first letters of the Greek words translated into English as "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour" (Mark 1:1; John 20:31; Acts 8:37).  

The two intersecting arcs, representing the profile of a fish, were easy to draw in the sand as a subtle declaration of one’s faith. If a newcomer was a Christian, he would recognize it and announce that he, too, was a follower of the Way (Acts 16:17), But if the stranger was hostile to the cause, he would not know the symbol and would assume the Christian was just doodling, so the Christian would avoid persecution.

Like fish, born-again believers (John 3:3-8) are meant to engage in schooling rather than going it alone. Once we are saved by placing our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), we become members of the body of Christ (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12,27).  When we come together as His body, we can follow Him with new beauty, submission, and holiness, glorifying Him (Ephesians 5:24,27).

The unity that should bind together the body of Christ allows the church to function “in one accord” (Acts 1:14; 2:1,46; 4:24; 5:12, etc.). The church acting as one can sail on currents of peace and righteousness (Isaiah 48:18); feed on God’s Word (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4) encourage one another even while swimming against the tide of public opinion (James 1:6); and ward off attacks of Satan, who constantly tries to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). 

Sadly, few churches today accomplish this ideal. Instead of following Christ’s command to carry out the Great Commission by sharing His Word at home and throughout the world (Matthew 28:19), many churches function essentially as social clubs designed to entertain their members. Because they are focused on self rather than on Him, they tend to stagnate, like schools of fish that remain in one place too long, becoming slowly poisoned by buildup of their own wastes and depletion of oxygen.

Praise God that He is the Living Water Who will forever satisfy our thirst (John 4:10-15) with His pure, flowing fountain (Song of Solomon 4:15; Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13; Revelation 7:17), if we remain sensitive to move freely (Acts 17:28) wherever and whenever He leads us! A church should facilitate this in its members by having a clear, Christ-focused, Bible-centered mission to follow Him.

Many churches today do attempt to encourage their members and foster a sense of belonging, but not always as members of the body of Christ. Even atheists have banded together in “churches” that sing “feel good” songs, discuss self-help, and contribute to community causes.

But when Christians assemble together (Hebrews 10:25), their main purpose should be to glorify Him, and to encourage one another through God’s Word rather than apart from it. They should strengthen the body by submitting their own needs to those of one another and to the common good (Ephesians 5:21), Then the church experiences the joy and peace of unity (Psalm 133:1), loving, praying and caring for one another (1 Peter 4:7-11).

As the tide of political correctness turns against Christianity (1 Peter 4:12), church members should encourage one another to strengthen their faith and to know and follow what they believe (Ephesians 3:17-19), not only individually, but corporately (Hebrews 3:13). But this is difficult, if not impossible, when leaders in some churches allow their thinking to be conformed to the world, rather than transformed by the renewing of their mind through God’s Word (Romans 12:2).

False doctrine and false teachers (Matthew 7:15; 24:11) can then infiltrate the body, introducing corruption and heresy instead of Scripture-based schooling (2 Peter 2:1-3; Revelation 2:8-23). Even worse, they can cause division and argument among the members, which is an abomination to God (Proverbs 6:16-19).

When worldly entertainment and dress (1 Peter 3:1-4), focus on self-help instead of Scripture, and social networking replace the unity of purpose to serve God and spread His Word, that church is doomed to leave its members vulnerable to spiritual attack. Instead of small groups for age- and gender-appropriate Bible study, cliques form based on popularity, multilevel marketing, or other worldly pursuits (Revelation 3:14-19).

Those left out or even actively wounded by other church members often drift away from the school, where they are most vulnerable to Satan’s attack (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). The Christian can expect spiritual warfare daily (Ephesians 6:12), but his chances of defeat are much greater if he is not part of a loving, protective, strengthening body of Christ (Ephesians 6:18).

My husband and I are blessed to be part of such a God-honoring church family, and my prayer is that all Christians would be equally blessed to serve Christ in a body of believers moving as one to serve, worship and honor Him.

Because every church is made up of people, all of whom are sinners (Romans 3:23), no church is perfect. Yet it is also my prayer that members of every evangelical church would work together in unity to serve God, support their pastor, encourage one another, pray fervently (Romans 12:11-12), strengthen one another in God;s love and in His Word, and to spread the Gospel in their local neighborhoods and across the globe!

May we learn from schools of fish that there is strength not just in numbers, but in unity of purpose. May that purpose be to move in synchrony with His perfect will in all that we do, and to help our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same!

© 2015 Laurie Collett
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