|Photo by Kenny Louie 2012|
Saturday, May 21, 2016
As I was walking toward our front door about two weeks ago, I noticed three long, thin, dried up oleander leaves lying on the walkway in a distinct formation. As regular readers of this blog know, I am intrigued by patterns of three, in Scripture and in nature, as reflections of the Trinity (Matthew 28:19). So these leaves caught my eye, especially since they were aligned to form the Roman numeral for “9” – one leaf vertically by itself, to the left of two leaves crossed in an “X” pattern, the three leaves clearly displaying “IX.”
Odd, I thought, and wondered if God might be sending me a message, although I had no idea what it could be, until I stepped inside the house and turned around to shut the door. At that point, I was viewing the leaves upside down from my original vantage point, so I now saw them as “XI,” or the Roman numeral for “11.”
9-11: the telephone number to call in case of emergency. Since September 11, 2001, these numbers have always evoked even more dire warnings of terrorism, death, and destruction. I also felt that the oleander leaves spelling out 9-11 may have had additional significance. The oleander is a beautiful evergreen tree with colorful, attractive blossoms, but all parts of the plant are highly poisonous. What seems attractive at first glance is often not what is best for us (Proverbs 23:31-32; 31:30; 1 John 2:16).
So I thought God was sending me a warning, but about what? I had a sense of restlessness in my spirit, and although I prayed about it, I had no clear answer. But God, Who is not the author of confusion but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33; Isaiah 26:3) kept getting my attention with various other references to warnings.
At a Bible study one night at our church, the Pastor’s message was about those who disobeyed God’s law and pursued their own will instead, at their own peril. Because they did not “observe to do” His commandments, He removed His blessings and allowed curses instead (Deuteronomy 5:32; 6:25; 27:8-26; 28).
God’s Word serves to “admonish,” or warn us (1 Corinthians 10:1-14) by giving us examples of those who disobeyed God and succumbed to idolatry, meaning not just worshiping statues, but having anything stand between us and our relationship with God. The devil can trap us and destroy our testimony and ministry (1 Peter 5:8) even when we are saved and want to fulfill God’s perfect plan for our life (Jeremiah 29:11; 33:3). However, Satan’s power is limited by what God allows (Job 1:10), and once saved, we can never lose our salvation (John 10:28-29; Romans 8:39).
Later that week I heard a Charles Stanley sermon about listening for God’s voice so that we can hear Him and obey. Most often He speaks to us through our reading or hearing of His Word (Psalm 119:105), which can correct, instruct, and encourage us (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 4:2-4),
If we take time to be still (Psalm 46:10), He may speak to us in our quiet time (Jeremiah 29:12-14), or even through dreams (Daniel 2:19; 7:13; Matthew 2:12,22; etc.) or nature (Psalm 19:1). Sometimes God speaks to us through fellow Christians who warn us of behavior that displeases God (1 Corinthians 4:14; Colossians 1:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:14).
When Dr. Stanley said that sometimes God wants to give us a warning, that surely caught my attention! He related an incident in his own life when he was a seminary student and had planned to spend the summer working in his church’s missions’ office. One day he tripped, hitting his head, and he felt God was sending him a warning. He became restless in his desire to know what God had planned for his life, when one day in prayer He clearly felt God telling him not to work in the missions’ office that summer, but to vacation in a small town in the mountains instead.
At first he dismissed this idea, thinking it was just his own selfish desire to relax over the summer rather than providing needed service to his church. But he also clearly felt God asking him to trust and obey Him (1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 50:10). So he did, and the first week he was there, the church where he had visited asked him if he could fill in the following week by preaching for the pastor who was unexpectedly called out of town. After he had preached there several times, the church invited him to be their new pastor and was even willing to wait for him to complete his final year at seminary!
He ultimately accepted the position; the church grew; and his ministry expanded astronomically to the point that his sermons and messages are now broadcast on television, radio, and online around the world. None of this would have happened, and he would have fallen short of this amazing plan God had for his life (Ephesians 3:20; 1 Timothy 1:14), had he not listened to and followed God’s call to do something that made no earthly sense at the time (Isaiah 55:9).
God often works that way, with miraculous results when we obey! Servants poured water into pots at Christ’s command and watched it drawn forth as the best wine (John 2:7-10), and armies marched silently around Jericho and then saw the walls come tumbling down at the sound of the trumpet! (Joshua 6:1-11)
In my own quiet time, I had been asking for God’s guidance about financial issues, and how to balance these with time and resources to be spent in ministry and in fulfilling His perfect plan. Soon I sensed that the warning God had for me was in that vein, that our earthly life is but a vapor (James 4:14), and that it will soon be the time when we can no longer use it to serve Him (John 9:4).
He does not want us to waste our mental energy on worry (Philippians 4:6), for perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), and we can cast our cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7). Rather, He wants us to find joy in Him and in our salvation (Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 21:1; 35:9; 51:12). Every day is a gift from Him, and He wants us to rejoice in it (Psalm 118:24), for we are not promised tomorrow (James 4:14).
As we left our house one morning a few days later, we heard sirens, then spotted an ambulance at a neighbor’s house, followed by two police cars, and soon thereafter by a medical examiner’s car and hearse. This neighbor had worked very hard for many years to take an early retirement. He had purchased the vacant lot next to his property, built his dream house there to live in, and gave the house where he had been living to his son, so that he could watch his grandchildren grow up.
But he had lived there only a few short months when he unexpectedly died in his sleep, and he could no longer enjoy all that he had worked so hard to achieve.
So now I feel I understand the warning – our time here is short; we can’t take our earthly possessions with us; and only those rewards we have stored up in Heaven will have eternal value (Luke 12:15-34). Work is necessary to provide for our families (2 Thessalonians 3:10), but overemphasis on wealth, albeit admired by the world, is a distraction that can keep us from God’s best (Proverbs 23:4-5).
Sadly, I don’t know whether or not our neighbor was saved, and now the opportunity is forever gone to witness to him. I’m ashamed that I never took the time to knock on his door and tell him that we are saved only by our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6). But it’s not too late to give his widow a copy of God’s Word, a plan of salvation, and an invitation to visit our church.
May we always heed God’s warnings before it is too late, for the night is fast approaching when no man can work. The numbers 9-11 in my special warning may have had yet another meaning: if we commit our lives to God, He will give us more time to serve Him in joy, peace and love.
Proverbs 9:11: For by me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased.
© 2016 Laurie Collett
Saturday, May 14, 2016
As we have seen, the three women named Mary whom the Bible highlights as being especially significant in the earthly life, mission, and ministry of Jesus Christ are Mary, mother of Jesus; Mary of Bethany; and Mary Magdalene. The name “Magdalene” indicates that this Mary came from Magdala, a city on the southwest coast of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus stopped to preach (Matthew 15:39)
Mary, mother of Jesus, was the central figure in Jesus’ family, biologically related to Jesus as His mother. Mary of Bethany, along with her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus, were Jesus’ closest friends. But Mary Magdalene initially had no family or friendship ties to Jesus. Rather, she experienced the miracle of His healing firsthand, for she was the woman from whom Jesus cast out seven demons (Luke 8:2).
So it is with knowing Christ – some are blessed to be born into a Godly family of born-again believers serving Him (2 Timothy 1:5). Being surrounded by the Word, fellow believers, and church from a young age encourages the child to be saved (Proverbs 22:6). Others may not have a Christian heritage, yet God brings saved friends into their life to lead them to the Lord (Proverbs 17:17; 27:17; Mark 5:19). Still others have neither saved family nor friends, yet they realize the depths of their own depravity and that they are sinners needing a Savior (Psalm 30:3; Matthew 9:13).
Regardless of how we come to the Lord, it is an individual decision of faith in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6). Being associated with a Godly family or Christian friends is no substitute for our own personal salvation, which is why many “good” churchgoers are doomed to hell (John 3:18) unless they repent of their sins, accept Christ and believe in His completed work on the cross (John 19:30) as the only sacrifice that could pay for all our sins (John 1:29).
When we face Christ, we will do so alone, and we cannot claim any rights to Heaven by virtue of our family, our social circle, or our own good works (Ephesians 3:8-9). Only His righteousness, which is credited to our account the moment we trust Him, can wash away our sins by the precious blood He shed for us (Romans 3:25).
So Mary Magdalene represents the sinner who knows she truly has no merit apart from what Christ has done. She and other women were plagued by evil spirits, infirmities and devils before they met Jesus. After Jesus cast out seven demons from Mary, she became one of His closest followers, as did Joanna and Susanna, also mentioned by name among other women healed by Jesus who devoted their resources to His ministry (Luke 8:2-3). Once we are saved, may we also give Him freely (2 Corinthians 9:7) of our time, talents and treasure!
Mark tells us that Mary Magdalene and the others had followed Jesus, had ministered to Him in Galilee, and had come with Him to Jerusalem (Mark 15:41). But in contrast to all the movies showing Mary Magdalene intimately involved in all the key events of Jesus’ earthly life thereafter, the Bible does not give us any details of her ministry until we see her at the cross.
Mary Magdalene was at His cross, accompanied by Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome, the mother of Zebedee’s children (His disciples James and John). Mary Magdalene remained with His body at the cross, as Joseph of Arimathea laid it in the tomb, and she even remained by the stone after the tomb was sealed (Matthew 27: 55-61; Mark 15:40,47).
For her faithfulness, Mary Magdalene received a very special three-part reward -– she was among the first to see the empty tomb; she was the first to see the risen Christ; and He gave her the awesome privilege of telling His disciples that He would see them again!
At the tomb, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary met with the angel of the Lord who had descended from Heaven, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. He had a face like lightning, clothing white as snow, and a terrifying appearance causing the tomb guards to fall down as if dead (Matthew 28:1-4).
Praise God for the angel’s good news: Jesus was crucified, but was no longer in the tomb, for He had risen! The angel told the women to fear not, but to go quickly, and tell his disciples that He was risen from the dead, that He would go before them into Galilee, and that they would see Him there. So the two Marys left the tomb quickly, ran toward the disciples’ meeting place, and were about to tell them when Jesus Himself appeared to them! And they came to Him, and held him by His feet, and worshipped Him (Matthew 28:5-9).
John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, emphasizes Mary Magdalene’s role in his narrative of these events (John 20:1-18). She came to the tomb early, on the first day of the week, while it was still dark. This illustrates that Jesus is most likely to meet with us if we seek Him first (Matthew 6:33), giving Him top priority, even while the darkness of yesterday’s despair still lingers (Psalm 30:5).
When she saw the stone rolled away, she ran to Peter and John, and witnessed to them of what she believed to have happened: someone had taken their Lord’s body, for He was no longer in the tomb, and she did not know where He was. Whether or not they believed her, Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves (John 20:2-10), for her testimony had prompted their action. Even if we cannot directly lead someone to the Lord, our sincerity should stir them at least to consider what we have said.
In despair as she stood outside the tomb, Mary wept, stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre. But she was not alone! Two angels in white, one at the head and one at the feet of where Jesus had been laid to rest, asked her why she was weeping, and then Jesus Himself, standing behind her in the garden, asked her the same question (John 20:11-13).
At first she did not recognize Him, and said that if He had taken Jesus away, would He please tell her where the body was, and she would claim it. It makes me wonder how often Jesus speaks to us through another person, and yet we fail to recognize His voice! But when He called her name, she knew Him to be her Lord, Teacher and Master!
Jesus instructed Mary not to touch Him, for He had not yet ascended to His Father, but to return to the disciples and to tell them that He was ascending to His Father and their Father, and to His God and their God! (John 20:14-18) How amazing that Jesus confirmed here that His followers are worshippers of the One Triune God (Colossians 2:6-10), His Father’s children, and joint-heirs with Christ! (Romans 8:17)
What an awesome blessing, privilege and responsibility for Mary Magdalene to be the first to see the risen Christ, to hear His voice, and to receive His commandment to tell others the Good News! Once we have our first encounter with the risen Christ by trusting Him as our Lord, Master and Savior, may we follow Mary Magdalene’s example of faith, obedience, and faithfulness!
© 2016 Laurie Collett