Saturday, February 22, 2020

GPS

Photo by Ximonic, Simo Räsänen, 2010

Back in the day when GPS, or global positioning system, became popular, I had mixed feelings about this new technology that could map your position anywhere on earth using coordinates. On the one hand, it was reassuring to know that my car could be located in the event that I got stranded in an accident in a remote place. Yet it evoked suspicion of Big Brother watching me wherever I went, compromising my privacy even though I had nothing to hide. 

Those were the days when motoring associations still issued trip planners, or booklets with a separate page for each leg of a proposed road trip, giving directions, a map, mileage and fuel costs, and even sightseeing attractions, restaurants, and lodging along the route. Yet to be fully effective, using these required a navigator who would read the (often unclear) directions to the driver, both of whom were too preoccupied with getting from point A to point B to be able to relax and enjoy the journey. 

As computer technology took quantum leaps forward, the directionally challenged such as myself could depend on Alexa, a virtual assistant, whose consistently calm and steady voice would give us directions, allowing us to keep both hands on the wheel and to focus on the traffic and sights we might encounter. 

I remember an episode of the sitcom “The Office” in which the disorganized boss and his obsessive-compulsive employee were taking a road trip. Free-spirited Michael wanted to wing it rather than follow directions, which was the pattern of his life, while Dwight insisted on rigidly obeying every GPS command, even as it led his new car straight into a swamp. 

“Back up 3 feet and proceed to the route,” intoned the pleasant, ever calm voice, while Michael waved his arms in desperation. 

Now that GPS-directed travel has become routine, my husband and I still disagree about its optimal use. When we are meeting our son for dinner downtown, my husband wants to take the usual highway route because it’s familiar and he knows the way. But I prefer him to use GPS, because it sees the whole traffic, construction, and accident situation and can route us around any obstacles or delays. 

Most of the time I win, but as soon as Alexa has us looping through back streets in what appear to be pointless circles, my husband gets aggravated and wants to go his own preferred way. 

“Well, there’s no sense in using Alexa if you’re not going to trust what she says,” I protest. Usually he gives in to the two female voices in the car – mine chiding and a bit impatient, while Alexa maintains her unruffled calm. At least until we pull over for gas or a pit stop, at which point she keeps repeating “Proceed to the route.” Even the most unimpassioned voice can seem annoyingly insistent when the message does not change! 

But Alexa prevails in the end, and we arrive at the restaurant safely, having made the best possible time thanks to a minimum of traffic delays. 

It reminded me that God is our unfailing GPS, our navigational system throughout life, keeping us on the best path even if that involves unexpected twists and turns. Once we are born again (John 3:3-8) by trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), His Holy Spirit enters our heart (2 Corinthians 1:22; 3:3; Galatians 4:6). His still, small, voice is always there, if we choose to listen (1 Kings 19:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30). 

How reassuring, and yet sometimes how terrifying, to know that we can never escape God’s watchful eye. Wherever we go, anywhere on earth or even into outer space, we cannot escape His faithful presence. Even more profoundly than the GPS, He tracks our every move, whether we are in the center of His perfect will, seated in heavenly places with Him (Ephesians 1:3; 2:6), or backslidden into the miry pit of this world (Psalm 139:1-10). 

This is a tremendous source of comfort when we are following His plan for our life. It should also be a fearsome motivator to return to Him when we know we are in disobedience, for He will chastise or even scourge His children when needed (Hebrews 12:6-11).  God has eyes and ears everywhere in the universe He created and sustains (John 1:1-3), so nothing escapes His attention. 

If Alexa directs our car into a swamp, she may be relying on outdated or inaccurate information, but God’s wisdom and knowledge are perfect, comprehensive, and complete (Proverbs 2:6; Romans 11:33; Colossians 2:3). If we listen to Him, He will keep us out of trouble and on His best path (Proverbs 3:5-6). 

Despite her pleasant, almost sultry voice, Alexa is a computer program devoid of will or emotion, and she has no interest in our ultimate destination. Yet our God is a jealous God Who desires and deserves our full attention and loyalty (Exodus 20:5, Deuteronomy 5:9), but Who loves us infinitely (1 John 4:8-9; 3:1, Romans 5:8, 8:39) and wants to bless us with His very best gifts (1 Corinthians 2:9; Ephesians 2:4; 3:19, 5:2; James 1:17). When we yield control of our journey to Him, He gives us the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), as well as the blessings of beautiful sights and sounds along the way. 

The choice is ours – we can ignore God’s voice at our own peril, relying on our own flesh to get us to where we think we want to go, or we can follow Him, willingly placing our destiny in His loving, all-powerful hand where we are safe from all dangers (John 10:28-29). 

The bumper stickers that say “Jesus Is My Copilot” have it all wrong. Don’t you want God to be in the driver’s seat?  


© 2020 Laurie Collett

 




Saturday, February 15, 2020

How is Marriage like a Cup of Tea?



Valentine's Day is a popular time for proposals and weddings, so I thought this might be a good tme to revisit how marriage is like a cup of tea.

The unique leaves, spices and blossoms combined in our favorite tea create an experience far greater than the sum of its ingredients. When God brings together a husband and wife, He unites their special blend of gifts, talents, and personality traits to create one flesh from two individuals – a single being with far greater potential than each has separately (Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:8).

The one required ingredient for tea is water. No marriage can thrive without the “rivers of living water” (John 7:38) flowing from Jesus Christ as the Head of the couple, portraying the self-sacrificing love husbands should have for their wives (Ephesians 5:25). That Living Water forever quenches their thirst and gives them everlasting life, so that not even death can separate them (John 4: 14).

Tea refreshes, revives, comforts, warms and relaxes us all at the same time, just as husband and wife do for one another. This is possible only through the fire of the Holy Spirit, or Comforter (John 14:16), Who lovingly nurtures all who have trusted in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as the only Way to Heaven (1 Corinthians. 15:1-4; John 14:6). 

A hearty cup of hot tea can give us our second wind when our spirits sag, just as husband and wife rejuvenate one another. God Himself has promised to revive our spirit and our heart (Psalm 85:6; 138:7) when we turn to Him asking forgiveness (Psalm 51:10), with the humility (Isaiah 57:15) of knowing that without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). But with Him, all things are possible! (Matthew 19:26). 

God gives the couple strength (Isaiah 40:31), patience (James 1:2-8), peace (Isaiah 26:3; Philippians 4:6-7; 2 Corinthians 13:11) and joy (Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 27:6; 32:11; 35:9) when they seek Him daily (Psalm 61:8; 68:19), and not just in times of trouble. Those of us who enjoy tea normally do so daily, and so it should be with seeking God’s comfort. 

Tea needs just the right amount of heat and steeping to brew to perfection. So husbands and wives shouldn’t be surprised when God allows them to get into hot water! We don’t always understand why God allows trouble into our life, but we can trust Him to work all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). 

Tough times strengthen our faith in Him, our dependence on Him and our closeness to one another (James 1). Suffering makes husband and wife resemble Christ more closely (Philippians 3:10), and gives them compassion, wisdom and experience to help one another and others going through similar trials (Galatians 6:2; James 3:17). 

Offering another person a cup of tea (or even water; Mark 9:41) is a loving gesture of kindness and hospitality, evoking images of a grandmother inviting her grandchild to snuggle under a warm blanket in her rocking chair while sipping tea, or a family allowing a stranger to come in out of the storm and warm himself by the fire as a cup of hot tea takes the chill off his bones. 

God comforts us in our sorrow and trials by showing us His tender mercies (Lamentations 3:22), so that we can comfort others who are suffering (2 Corinthians.1:3). May our love for our spouse always exemplify kindness, patience, self-sacrifice, joy, truth and hope (1 Corinthians 13). Once the tea has brewed, the process is irreversible. Unique blessings from husband and wife mingle together forever in this mystery that portrays the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church (Ephesians 5:32). So what God has put together, let no man put asunder! (Matthew 19:4-6)

Praying for all married couples to grow closer daily to one another and to Him, fulfilling the amazing plan He has for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11), and for renewed joy in and commitment to one another and to Him! 

© 2016 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives
children's ministry blogs


Saturday, February 8, 2020

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

art by The Catholic Guy 2012

I had a dream in which I was an undercover agent assigned to infiltrate and expose a religious cult that was indoctrinating children and others to be terrorists. 

The cult leader was a reasonably well-known figure in theatrical circles. I had met him before and found him to be pompous, but I had never realized he was dangerous, perhaps because I was misled by his charisma, eloquence, and talent. 

But after I had spent some time in the meetings of his cult, I realized how wrong I had been. He used his charm and powers of persuasion to convince vulnerable, emotionally scarred individuals to bend to his will and to worship him as their leader. They eagerly accepted his distorted view of the truth to the point of harming themselves or others just to please him. 

I was pretending to lead a ritual in which all were wearing long white robes and lifting their hands to praise the false prophet, while marching in troughs filled with ice. Suddenly he became suspicious that the police were near and commanded that everyone evacuate the premises. He scooped up a black cat that was supposed to represent a pagan spirit and thrust it into my arms, demanding that I be responsible to carry it safely to our next destination. 

The cat snarled at me, bearing its saber-like teeth in a diabolical grin, and thrashed about in my arms so that it could claw me. I was finally able to subdue it by holding its hind limbs and grabbing its collar so that it had no wiggle room to attack me. But one of the cult members, a simpering, would-be actress, rushed over and cooed delightedly over the cat. 

“Such a sweet, gentle kitty,” she cried. “Don’t hold it so tight – just give it some room.”  

With that the cat meowed plaintively, only to growl and fight harder once I headed for the exit. 

Once outside the compound I ran for shelter to a nearby farmhouse, where the cat seemed to let down his guard once I released him and the couple who lived there offered him some milk. Surprisingly, the cat allowed me to pet him and even purred appreciatively. 

I called my handlers and let them know that the cult was on the move. The couple offered to let me stay with them until the cult leader had been apprehended, but warned me that there was a fugitive on the loose, an escapee from an institution for the criminally insane. He had been described as armed and extremely dangerous. In return for them giving me shelter, I was to guard their front gate and protect them if the fugitive appeared. 

So I stood outside the door, wondering how I had escaped from one dangerous situation, only to find myself in another that was even more fraught with peril. Suddenly my worst fears were realized as a young man wearing a backward baseball cap approached menacingly from the end of the long road leading to the front door. 

Paralyzed in terror, I shivered as he swaggered down the path, his bulky frame casting a giant shadow in the afternoon sun.  As he drew nearer, I saw his face, with features characteristic of a neurodevelopmental disorder, but they were contorted in anger. Worst of all, he clenched a long knife, its blade coldly gleaming in the sun’s rays. 

I was unarmed and knew I could not possibly overcome him in my own strength. From about six feet away, he suddenly charged forward at full tilt, brandishing the knife in his outstretched arm. My heart sank in dread and my knees felt like rubber. But then I was shocked that as he ran toward me, I embraced him in a warm hug! He dropped the knife and hugged me back, sobbing with tears of release, joy and acceptance. 

As I awoke with a great sense of relief, I thought of the Bible verse, “Perfect love casteth out fear” (John 4:18). We live in the end times where wickedness and sin abound (Romans 5:20), and false prophets (Matthew 24:11,24; Mark 13:22; 2 Peter 2:1) are rising up to deceive many, leading them into evil and danger (2 Timothy 3:1-7). The cult leader in the dream came from a theatrical background, which is appropriate for a false leader (Jeremiah 14:14) with the acting skills to transform himself from a demon into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-15), or from a wolf into a sheep just by a change of costume (Matthew 7:15). 

His followers were marching in troughs of ice, perhaps symbolizing that in the end times, the love of many will grow cold because of the abundance of sin (Matthew 24:12). It also is a striking contrast to the beautiful feet of those who spread the Good News of the Gospel, which we can imagine are burning as they tread the hot, dusty roads (Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15). 

Yet once we are saved by trusting in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), we have nothing to fear from false prophets or from anyone, for His Holy Spirit within us gives us the discernment to differentiate God’s Word from distortions from the devil (1 John 4:1; Romans 8:16-17). 

We are then able to speak the truth in love to those who have been fooled or misled (Ephesians 4:14-15), and we have the responsibility to do so, for we are soldiers in God’s army (2 Timothy 2:1-5). The gift of such witness is the greatest act of love we could show God and one another (1 John 4:12, 17), except to lay down our life as Christ Himself did for us (John 15:13; 1 John 3:16). Yet God asks us not to sacrifice our own body, but to make it a living sacrifice to His service, honor and glory (Romans 12:1). 

The cat in the dream appeared to be possessed by an evil spirit with the aim of deceiving others into false worship and of harming me. And yet once removed from its evil environment and treated with kindness, it changed into a harmless and even loving creature. When others attack us in anger, we can choose to retaliate or to diffuse their wrath with loving words (Proverbs 15:1). 

The farmer and his wife displayed hospitality toward me, yet their “love” was conditional in that I was expected to protect them and their property by risking my own life. Praise God that His love is unconditional and infinite, for He is love! (1 John 4:8) 

Even the fugitive, portrayed as a depraved murderer hell-bent on destruction, transformed into an empathic fellow human being once treated with love. It reminded me that we can love one another only because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19) with perfect agape love, even while we were His enemies (Romans 5:10). 

As the world celebrates Valentine’s Day, it is wonderful to shower our loved ones with gifts, flowers and expressions of affection, as long as we do not lose sight of Christ’s perfect love. There is so much hate in our world today – senseless killings, wars motivated by political ideologies, and cruelty for the sake of convenience and expedience. 

While we need to remain vigilant, for our enemy seeks to devour us (1 Peter 5:8), we would do well to remember that Christ told us to love our enemies, to do good to them, to bless them and to pray for them (Matthew 5:44). Showing Christ's perfect love to one another can go far toward dissipating fear in ourselves and in others, even our most dreaded adversary!

© 2020 Laurie Collett