Saturday, March 21, 2015

Take the Plunge!

Photo by Hubert Stoffels 2009


Many years ago I went to a swimming hole in a pristine wooded area with a waterfall plunging into a refreshing stream. Some young people had a Labrador retriever puppy with them, and they took great delight in carrying him to the top of the falls, releasing him into the current, and letting him plunge to the bottom of the falls into the stream, where one of them waited with open arms to catch him.

Labradors love water, and he seemed to enjoy the experience. But even though he could see his master waiting below with open arms, he paddled all four limbs frantically the whole way down and even after he was safely in his master’s embrace.

I was by far the worst swimmer at school and at summer camp, and I know I tried the patience of many instructors who attempted, to no avail, to teach me to dive head first. Even though I could see where I was going and had my body aligned properly as I stood on the diving board, my head inevitably lifted the moment before I entered the water, resulting in a painful “belly flop.” 

One day the swimming instructor had me repeat this so many times that my chest turned beet red, and as a last resort, he picked me up and hurled me into the water head first. But in my stubborn refusal to submerge my head under the water, I belly-flopped yet again.

A popular beverage commercial urged us to “Take the Nestea plunge!” It showed a parched cowboy in the arid desert reaching for a can of tea and experiencing refreshment so profound that it was like falling backward into a cool blue swimming pool.

It was fear that kept me from diving head first even though I could see where I was going, and a survival instinct in the puppy that kept him paddling even though he didn’t need to. I can only imagine what it would be like to abandon all fear and plunge backward into a refreshing spring, not seeing where I would land and surrendering all control.

Yet that is exactly what we should do in our Christian walk. Trusting Christ means total surrender, with His perfect love casting out all fear (1 John 4:18), and His Living Water refreshing us so deeply that we will never thirst (John 4:10-14). Once we are born again by trusting in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), we are a new creature in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Once we are saved, baptism is a picture of “taking the plunge,” falling back into the water as a symbol of dying to our sin nature, then rising again to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Christians should no longer be governed by the desires of our flesh and sin nature, but instead we should yield control of our life to His Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25) Who enters us at the moment of salvation (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5.

But so often I am like the puppy, paddling frantically against the current of my Lord’s will instead of trusting His everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27) to shelter, protect and lead me. In my own flesh, I can do nothing (John 15:5), but with Him, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26; Philippians 4:13). Peter even walked on water when Jesus willed that he do so, but the instant he looked at the turbulent storm instead of his Lord’s steady gaze, he began to flounder and sink (Matthew 14:28-31).

We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), so ideally our journey in Christ should be more like the Nestea plunge rather than my painful experience of diving only when I can see where I’m headed. Only if we trust His infinite love (1 John 4:8-10), absolute power (Genesis 17:1, etc.), and complete wisdom (Psalm 139:1-18) can we fully experience the fountain of His blessings (Song of Solomon 4:15; Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13), being in His perfect will.

But if we try to do it ourselves, whether “it” is being saved, serving God, or loving others as He loves us, we are doomed to failure. How many people want to put off trusting Christ until they “clean up their act” or “get it all together”? How many new Christians put off witnessing to others until they learn “enough” about the Bible? Yet all that reasoning is futile because none of us is capable of doing anything in our own strength (2 Corinthians 12:9).

As Bible-believing Christians, we know that we are saved by God’s freely given gift of grace through our faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). There is nothing we can do to earn our way to Heaven, and any attempt to do that is an insult to God, Who gave His only Son as the perfect Sacrifice to pay for all our sins (John 3:16; Romans 3:23-25; 1 John 2:2). On the cross, He said “it is finished,” (John 19:30) because he paid our debt in full, once and for all, to reconcile sinful man to Holy God (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

The tremendous relief many feel at the moment of salvation, far more refreshing than any earthly equivalent of the Nestea plunge, comes from leaving our burdens of sin and guilt behind and releasing them to Him, freeing us to receive His great blessings. In our gratitude, relief, and worship, it is natural to want to serve God by good works (James 2:17-26; Philippians 2:12). But there lurks the trap of feeling we need to work to please God or to figure out on our own how to serve Him.

Praise God that His love is infinite, so He can’t love us any less even when we fail Him, and He can’t love us any more when we work hard to please Him. As a loving Father, He places no pressure on us, yet sometimes we collapse under the self-imposed pressure to try in the flesh to work “for” Him. But paradoxically, the harder we work, the less we trust in Him. Only complete surrender to His will (James 4:7) and faith in His power to accomplish His good work through us (1 Corinthians 15:58; Philippians 1:6) allows His perfect plan to flow through our life (Ephesians 2:10; Jeremiah 29:11).

Saul of Tarsus learned that the hard way. As a religious zealot, he thought he was pleasing God by persecuting and killing Christians, for he did not accept Jesus as the Son of God. Finally, when Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus, he recognized that He was God and surrendered completely to Jesus Christ as Lord of his life. The glorious light of Christ blinded him, perhaps in part so that he would have to rely on faith and not on his own vision (Acts 9:1-18).

Jesus gave Saul the new name of Paul, and more importantly, He gave Him new life, just as He does to everyone who asks Him (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13). Except for Jesus Himself, Paul is the best Biblical example of what God can do through a fully surrendered life. Yet even Paul had the daily battle with his own desires and his own flesh (Romans 7:12-25) and had to put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) to die daily to self (1 Corinthians 15:31).

May He empty us of self, leaving us as a conduit through which His Living Water can flow to others. May we remember that it’s not about what we can do, but about Who He is and what He does through us! May we not be afraid to take the plunge headlong into the rushing current of His will, for the reward of a surrendered life is blissfully exhilarating!

© 2015 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, March 14, 2015

It’s All About Me



I dreamed that I was invited to a gala banquet honoring a famous philanthropist. I was dressed to kill and excited about making my grand entrance in the posh lobby of one of the most elegant downtown hotels where this ritzy affair was held. But to my dismay, as soon as I crossed the threshold, before the paparazzi could even snap my photo, a butler escorted me downstairs to the basement, to a small, dingy meeting room.

The room was already overcrowded with other guests who apparently also had not made the cut to be seated in the main ballroom. The chairs and benches along the narrow tables were already taken. There was also a sofa on one side of the table that could have easily seated four people, but a young woman was sprawled out there head to toe, occupying the entire couch.

The nerve! I thought angrily, then found that my thoughts had vocalized and I was berating the woman for taking up so much room. She ignored my tirade with an insolent sneer, so I managed to find a stool and barely squeezed it in by the corner of one of the tables and awkwardly sat down.

A waiter brought a tray of hors d’oeuvres, hardly deigning to acknowledge us as he hurried away to the more important guests in the main dining room. One of the guests seated at my table, who apparently fancied himself to be a gourmet chef and food critic, proceeded to take a bite of each of the different types of canapĂ©, and attempted to impress us by announcing the spices and other ingredients used in each. Not that it did me any good – he sampled so many, leaving the bulk of each appetizer uneaten on his plate, that the tray was empty when it finally came my way.

A kitchen maid brought a vat of what was to be the main course. “Cheddar Welsh Rarebit,” the self-appointed food connoisseur pronounced. To me it looked and smelled like vomit. What a wasted evening, spending hours selecting the right ensemble and looking my best, only to be shuttled to this miserable room with these insufferable people, eating pig slop and straining my back sitting on this hard wooden stool.

Aha! I saw my chance as the rude young woman excused herself to go to the ladies’ room. I raced to her couch and promptly stretched out on it as she had done, even though several other guests huddled anxiously in the doorway looking for a place to sit.

As I awoke, I recalled the excellent sermon at our church the night before about the dangers of self. The three main enemies of the Christian are the world (Matthew 6:24; 16:26; Mark 4:19, 2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 6:14; 1 John 2:15-16); the devil (1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 12:9), and self (Genesis 49:6; Titus 1:7; 2 Peter 2:10). But as the pastor said, “We’re often our own worst enemy.”

In the dream, I was invited to a banquet honoring another, yet in all my preparation and even at the event, it was all about me, without a single thought for the guest of honor. As a born-again child of God who has placed her faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), I am blessed to know that I am invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9). In the meantime, I have the privilege of going to His house every week (Hebrews 10:25).

As I prepare for church, am I more concerned about how I look or about whether my heart is right to be in His presence? (Psalm 51:10; 139:24; James 1:23-25; 4:8) Am I participating in ministries there for my own self-justification, or to bless and edify others and glorify Him? (Matthew 6:1-4; Hebrews 3:12-14) Am I focused on the message, or is my mind wandering to what’s for lunch or how I will spend the afternoon? Even if I listen to the message, am I applying it to my own heart, or do I assume it’s meant for another?

It was fitting in the dream that I was seated in the worst location, as I had pridefully assumed I would be at the head table, and yet I had not a single thought during the dream about the person I was supposedly there to honor. Jesus warned us about taking the best seats at places of worship and wanting to be seen and admired as we pray, fast or tithe (Matthew 6:1-6; 16-18; 23:2-7; Mark 12:38-40). If we do that, our reward is from men and not from Him, for we have left Him out of the equation. But in the dream, instead of realizing I deserved my uncomfortable accommodations, I was filled with self-pity.

How quick I was to judge the young woman for her selfishness, thoughtlessness, and rudeness, only to act the same way when I had the opportunity. Even worse, I lashed out at her in angry words (James 1:26; 3:6). May we not pounce on the flaws of others while overlooking or excusing our own, often far worse, faults (Matthew 7:1-5).

God created and saved us to enjoy abundant life (John 10:10) in the here and now as well as eternal life with Him (John 3:16). He wants us to enjoy good things (Psalm 103:5; Proverbs 28:10; Matthew 7:11; Luke 1:53), including food, but like any other basic need or pleasure that is wholesome when used as God intended it, there is the danger that it can become a form of self-indulgence or even an idol (Matthew 6:25-33).

The food served in the dream was not to nourish or to delight but to impress. Instead of appreciating the host’s providing food for the guests, the food critic was more concerned about glorifying himself through his critique, and his selfishness spoiled the meal for the other guests. Not that I was any better – my selfishness in wanting to lie down on the couch kept other guests from being seated at all.

In the past month I have had several dreams about food, in strange combinations, in excessive amounts, or having to be discarded. I initially dismissed these as simply being hungry or having eaten too much before going to bed, until a variety of unusual symptoms made me realize that God was warning me to pay far closer attention to my diet. I had been self-indulgent in eating too much of the “king’s dainties,” (Proverbs 23:1-8; Psalm 141:4). Since eating simpler and more wholesome foods in smaller amounts, these symptoms are under much better control.

May we bear in mind that our self-righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), and that in our own selves, we can do nothing (John 14:6; 5:30). We are saved not by anything we could do or merit by ourselves, but by His righteousness and His grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). May we not look to elevate ourselves over others, but to have a servant’s heart (Matthew 23:12; Philippians 2:1-9). May we love God and love one another (Deuteronomy 6:5; 11:1,13; Luke 10:27; 1 John 4:7-8), dying daily (1 Corinthians 15:31) to the idol of self!

© 2015 Laurie Collett
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