|Photo by Nevil Dimins 2005|
Saturday, February 21, 2015
In this dream I am at a dance audition held in a studio at the beach. As I watch the choreographed combination each of us will have to perform for the judges, I feel confident that I will be able to dance the steps with ease and grace. But when it is my turn to take the floor, I can barely move and I almost fall over because I am wearing a bulky winter jacket and coat and heavy street shoes.
I ask the director if I can remove these, and she says yes, but that I’ll have to leave them outside on the beach because there is no room in the studio.
When I reach the sand dunes and hear the pounding surf, I am reluctant to set my extra clothes and shoes down on the beach, wondering if they’ll be safe. Will they wash away, or will someone take them? But finally I remove my winter gear, and I feel a great sense of freedom as the waves lap at my feet and the ocean breeze ruffles my hair.
As I look out at the waves, I am thrilled to see three dolphins swim by, parallel to the shore. I glimpse the first leaping from the water then diving back in, just long enough for me to appreciate his beauty and vitality. The second is invisible, not emerging from the sea, but I can tell from currents on the water’s surface that he is there.
The third dolphin is a fantastical creature, much larger and more powerful than the first. As he flies out of the ocean and hovers over the waves, I can see his elaborately developed and ornate fins gleaming on his silvery body. One brilliant gold, fan-shaped fin on his back is like that of a sailfish; several fins crown his head; and a long sword-like bill protruding from his mouth resembles that of a swordfish.
This vision of the dolphins fills me to overflowing with unspeakable joy. With no fear I leave my excess garments on the beach and run off to tell the others what I have seen. But back in the studio, everyone is preoccupied with the audition and no one listens to me. Some clearly just don’t care; some politely brush me off; and a few are rude and even hostile as they order me out. So I leave, with great sadness that no one would be able to see the majestic dolphins or to experience the joy they brought me.
As I awaken, I think of the burdens, sins and weights that encumber me as I try in my own strength to run the race He has set before me (Hebrews 12:1; 1 Corinthians 9:24). Why do I so foolishly cling to these, instead of laying them down at the foot of His cross (1 Peter 5:7; Matthew 11:28) where I can exchange my burdens for His blessings? The dance of life is effortless in His grace when I follow His lead, but when I rely on my own flesh, I can barely move.
Jesus Christ is the Living Water, our endless Source of energy, freedom, and cleansing (Song of Solomon 4:15; Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13; John 4:10; Revelation 7:17). His shed blood washes away our sins and carries away our excess baggage, just as the tides faithfully empower the waves to clear out debris left on the shore (Revelation 1:5).
The first dolphin represents Jesus the Son, come to earth in the flesh (John 1:14) to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). The second, unseen dolphin symbolizes the Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus Christ to live within the heart of every believer (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30), invisible like the wind except in the effects He has through His great power (John 3:8).
And the third glorious creature reminds me of Christ Who will come again, wearing His crowns (Revelation 19:12) as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16) and carrying His fan of judgment (Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17). His victorious Word will proceed from His mouth (Revelation 19:15,21), sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), to defeat the enemies of Israel, Satan, sin and death (Revelation 19:15-21).
Once we believe that Jesus died to pay our sin debt, was buried, and rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), and recognize Him as our personal Lord and Savior, His Holy Spirit enters our hearts and lives there (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) until we go home to be with Him. In the meantime, we have the glorious, blessed hope of His second coming (Titus 2:13), when we will accompany Him as armies led by our King of Kings (Revelation 19:14).
What an amazing message that anyone who is born again (John 3:3-8) should want to shout from the rooftops to all who will listen! The Bible shows us many examples of those who were saved and immediately left what they were doing to proclaim the Good News to everyone, including the shepherds (Luke 2:17-18), the woman at the well (John 4:28-29), and the apostle Andrew (John 1:40-42). Many of us, in the excitement of being newly saved, did the same.
But sadly, many to whom we witness are apathetic, polite but unconvinced, or even aggressive in response to our testimony. Sadder still, that response may quench our fire to tell others the life-saving, destiny-changing Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Thankfully, our mission is not to save or even to convert anyone, for only the Holy Spirit can do that. Our mission is to sow the seed of God’s Word and our story of how He changed us forever (2 Corinthians 5:17). We may think our sowing is bearing no fruit, but there may be many whose heart is softened by our words and deeds, later becoming receptive to accepting Christ (Matthew 13:3-23).
For the most part, we won’t know of these until we reach glory, but what a joy it will be to meet them and realize we played a part in their being in Heaven! And I believe Jesus Christ will reward us for all good words spoken on His behalf, whether or not they reach fertile soil (Matthew 25:21, 23).
May we not grow weary in spreading the Good News, regardless of what reaction we encounter! In the right season we will reap our harvest (Galatians 6:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:13), for God notices and will reward our labor!
© 2015 Laurie Collett
Saturday, February 14, 2015
|Photo by Horia Varlan 2008|
Do you want God’s best that He has planned for you, or do you settle for what you think is best?
As we grow from babes in Christ to mature Christians through daily Bible study and prayer (Acts 17:10-11), joining a church (Hebrews 10:25), and getting involved in regular service, we may fall into the trap of thinking we’ve mastered our role in Christ, or at least that we have a good handle on it. We may fall into the routine of a “spiritual checklist,” mentally giving ourselves a gold star for sticking to our Scripture reading schedule, church attendance, and ministry opportunities.
In our flesh, we may have shaped our behavior to the point that we can at a moment’s notice put on our Sunday face, give appropriate words of encouragement and perhaps Scripture verses, and even prepare a lesson or write a blog post. But have we forgotten that without Him, we can do nothing? (John 15:5) Do we decide on a plan of action for our Christian service and ask Him to bless it after the fact, or do we pray first about seeking His will?
The apostle Paul clearly had a sincere desire to follow God’s plan for His life (Acts 9:6,18,20), which he understood was to preach the Gospel of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only way to Heaven (John 14:6). Jesus Himself had revealed to Paul the mystery that he was now to spread this message to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews (Romans 16:25-26). Paul was prepared to endure great hardships and sufferings to fulfill that mission (2 Corinthians 11:25-27).
God was clear in His directive; and Paul was obedient, faithful and sincere in following it. So I imagine that Paul may have felt frustrated when God seemed to be blocking Paul’s plan to carry out his mission. He and his fellow missionaries had started churches in Phrygia and Galatia, and these were starting to grow. He then intended to preach in Asia, but he was “forbidden” by the Holy Spirit. So they tried to take God’s message to Bithynia, but once again the Holy Spirit did not allow it (Acts 16: 5-7).
Why? God knows everything, past, present, and future, including things we can’t possibly know (Psalm 139:1-18). He sees the whole picture unfolding in the context of time, while we only see a single puzzle piece, and often from the wrong side, at that. God always knows best, and going to Asia at that time was not part of God’s plan for the early Christian missionaries.
Paul was practically God’s right-hand man on earth, at least at that point in church history, and yet God still revealed information to him only on a “need-to-know” basis. It reminds me of Abraham, taking the first step of faith, and then the next, without even knowing where God was leading him (Genesis 12:1-4). But Abraham was a pagan with no track record (Genesis 11), and Paul had a long pedigree of the best ancestry, religious education, and fervent zeal to serve God, albeit misdirected until he saw Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:3-10).
Nonetheless, God did not spell out all the details of His plan for Paul’s ministry. We may grow impatient when we don’t understand the overall picture of where and how God is leading us. But if He showed us the whole plan at once, one of two things would happen.
Either we would back away terrified at the enormity of the plan, realizing correctly that in our flesh we could not accomplish it, but forgetting that with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26; 2 Corinthians 12:9). Or we would be filled with pride that God chose us for such an awesome plan, again forgetting that it is all about His glory, not ours (Acts 12:23).
He strengthens our faith by ensuring our reliance on Him each step of the way. He gets the glory by choosing those who have no hope, by earthly standards, of accomplishing the plan. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit within every child of God guides us to want what God wants for our life, and to actually do His will, for our good and His glory (Philippians 2:13).
With His perfect timing, God sent Paul a vision of a Macedonian man asking for Paul’s help (Acts 16:9). God often used visions and dreams in Bible history to direct His children, and He still may, if we take the time to seek stillness in His presence. When testing these visions, we can rest assured that God would never contradict His Word, so that a “vision” commanding us to sin cannot be of God.
From this vision Paul understood correctly that God wanted him to set sail immediately for Macedonia, which he did (Acts 16:10). How often do we clearly understand what God is asking us to do, yet we delay in following Him? Sadly, delayed obedience is the same as disobedience (Psalm 119:60). If a parent asks their teen to take out the trash, and they obey – three days later – can we say they honored their parent’s command?
Because of Paul’s willingness to follow God’s plan and his immediate obedience, God promptly found him passage and gave him a straight course to the appointed country across the sea (Acts 16:11). If we trust in God completely rather than in ourselves, and acknowledge God in all our doings, and not just in what we consider to be most important, He will direct our paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).
By worldly standards, Paul’s arrival in Philippi (Acts 16:12), the chief city of Macedonia, looked like a mistake. But God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9).
Paul’s usual practice was to find a synagogue and ask the faithful Jews if he could tell them about the Messiah (Acts 17:1-3,10). But Philippi had no synagogue, meaning that there were not even ten Jewish men living there, which was the minimum number needed to start a synagogue. God led Paul to the river, where people sometimes gathered to worship so that they could use the water in their cleansing rituals.
There Paul found a group of faithful women praying (Acts 16:13), which emphasizes the role that women have had since the early Church Age of gathering together as prayer warriors (James 5:16), to study the Scriptures to faithfully teach their children (2 Timothy 1:5), to encourage one another by sharing their joys and burdens, and to serve and support fellow believers (Galatians 6:2).
Among these women at the river was Lydia, a well-to-do business woman who was a seller of purple cloth, available only to wealthy buyers because of the large numbers of a special, small shellfish needed to concentrate the purple fluid used as a dye. She already believed in God (Acts 16:14), as so many people claim to even in our present world.
But sadly, believing in God is not enough to be saved, for even the demons believe in God and tremble (James 2:19). Salvation requires faith that Jesus Christ is God and God’s Son, Who came to earth in human form as the perfect, sinless sacrifice to pay for all our sins, to reconcile sinful man to Holy God (John 1:29; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Hebrews 2:17). Only when we are born again (John 3:3-7; 1 Peter 1:23) by believing this, turning from our sins, and asking Jesus to be our personal Lord and Savior can we receive God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life.
Faith comes only by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17), which Paul preached to Lydia and the others. When she was saved by believing the Gospel, she evidently led her household to Christ, for they were all baptized (Acts 16:14-15), not for salvation but as an act of obedience. Often one person being born again leads to salvation of the whole family, even though each family member must make a personal decision for Christ.
Lydia offered her time, talent and treasure to Christ, opening her home to shelter the missionaries for as long as they needed and to hold worship meetings (Acts 16:15, 40). Through her efforts and those of Paul’s other converts, the church at Philippi became a prominent center of Christian ministry and evangelism.
God used Paul at Philippi to show His awesome power in casting out demons (Acts 16:16-18); showing that joy in the Lord allows His children to sing His praises even after being whipped and then imprisoned (v. 23-25); and in freeing His children from jail by sending a great earthquake. Even better, this gave Paul and Silas the opportunity to preach to the jailer, who accepted Christ, as did his family (v. 27-34)
The book of Philippians, Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, is crucial to the Christian’s understanding of joy in the Lord, and of how we can rejoice always (Philippians 4:4) knowing that we have abundant, eternal life in Him (John 3:16; 10:10), no matter what our earthly circumstances. Paul himself wrote this joyful epistle from the gloom of a prison cell!
Had Paul not trusted God’s direction, paid attention to the vision God sent him, and obeyed God immediately in changing his destination from Asia to Macedonia, none of these blessings may have come to pass. What we perceive in our limited understanding to be good may not be God’s best. We must believe that God knows what we need before we ask Him and that He wants to give us His best (Matthew 6:8; 7:11).
If we delight in Him, He will give us our heart’s desires (Psalm 37:4). This doesn’t mean that we’ll win the lottery just because we’re saved! But it does mean that as we become more like Christ, we want to submit to His will (Luke 22:42) and to fulfill God’s perfect plan for our life, which is the best blessing we could possibly have (Jeremiah 29:11; 33:3). He answers our prayers “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
Charles Stanley tells the story of desperately needing a car in his early days as a pastor. He prayed about it, searched diligently for a used car, and finally found one he could afford. He thought it was a good deal and would serve him well, but he did not have a real sense of peace about it. As he sat in the car dealer’s office and was about to sign the papers, he had a clear perception of God saying, “Do you want this, or do you want my best?”
So he got up from the table, apologized to the dealer, and told him he could try to explain why he had such a sudden change of heart, but that the car dealer might have a hard time believing him! Charles Stanley decided to put off his car search for a while. Three days later a wealthy member of the congregation gave him a free gift of a brand new, high-end car!
Instead of deciding on our own what we’re going to do, and then asking God to bless our plans, may we pray to Him first, listen for His still, small voice, and immediately follow His guidance!
© 2015 Laurie Collett