Saturday, November 24, 2012

Running from Death

In this dream, I was walking through the corridors of a hospital, as I had a dreaded appointment to get a medical test result. The dim fluorescent lighting, antiseptic smell, and looks of sadness and worry on the faces of people I passed all added to the dark, heavy feeling of oppression. There were no windows to give any sense of time of day or location. Artificially pleasant voices over the loudspeaker, even when announcing “Code Blue” or other disasters, made me feel as if I were stranded and jet-lagged in an international airport. 

I entered the doctor’s office, a small cubicle lit only by an X-ray viewbox covered in chest films. In the corner sat a forlorn woman dressed plainly in black, hunched over, not lifting her eyes from her gnarled hands twisting nervously in her lap. The doctor, a handsome and distinguished man in an expensive tailored suit, offered me a chair, nodded toward the X-rays and began to explain the apparently dismal situation.

The news was not good, he said with a façade of compassion nearly undermining his professional authority. My heart was doomed to failure. But he had the solution to the problem and the cure for the disease, if I would put my trust in him. The answer was inside myself, and he could help unlock it.

What frightened me most was what he did not say. I wondered what would be the cost of his cure, in terms of time, money, pain and suffering.

Suddenly the woman in the corner sat bolt upright with a shudder. “I feel a very cold chill in this room,” she said.

With that I realized that the “doctor” was actually evil and death; that his “cure” was eternal misery and damnation; and that what he was offering was nothing but lies and hatred disguised as truth and good will.

I scrambled to my feet and ran out of the office as fast as I could, not once looking back. I tore through the tangled maze of dark hallways in search of the light, and as I ran faster, the light grew brighter and more intense. A refreshing breeze chased away the stale odor of sickness, and I felt my lungs expanding more fully and my heart beating stronger with every breath.

As I awoke from the dream I was surprised that I was not in a state of panic, as I had been with other dreams in which I was running away from danger. Instead, I was exhilarated, thrilled to be alive and running the race God had set before me.

Since the fall of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3), every person is born with a terminal heart condition – namely our sin nature. The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), and if left to plot its own destiny, it will continually choose sinful thoughts and actions to fulfill lusts of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-17; Ephesians 2:3; 1 Peter 2:11; 4:2). This course of action may seem right to us, for we fail to realize that it leads to death and destruction (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25)

But the devil tries to convince us, with his lies cloaked in a thin veneer of truth, to follow our heart. If it feels right, it must be, he reasons. Why should we thwart desires so intense? Why would a kind, loving God not want us to have what we crave, and even what should be rightfully ours, were He not so demanding?  The devil promises everything – knowledge, happiness, fame, fortune, status – but all he delivers is delusion, sorrow, shame, and poverty of spirit – and ultimately death (John 8:44).

The devil’s way is not worth the cost, for what do we stand to profit if we enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (Hebrews 11:25). or try to gain the world and lose our soul? (Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36)

The only Great Physician is Jesus Christ. He is the Healer of our heart (Psalm 147:3), our balm in Gilead (Jeremiah 8:22). He cleanses our dying heart from its sin sickness and lets the blood of His righteousness course through our veins (Romans 3:23-26).

He alone has defeated death and hell (2 Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 2:14-15), so that we need not fear being separated for long from our loved ones who die in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54-56). He will never forsake us nor leave us (Hebrews 13:5) in the valley of the shadow of death, but He will safely carry us through death to live with Him forever (Psalm 23:4).

The Light of His Word (Psalm 119:105) shows us the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). Once we turn from our sin and allow Him to enter our heart through our faith in His death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven, He gives us eternal, abundant life (John 3:16; 10:10).

If we keep our eyes fixed on Him (Matthew 14:28-31), and not wandering back to the world of the devil’s temptations (James 4:7; Genesis 13:12-13), He will give us strength, speed and stamina to run the race (1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1). Christ will keep our feet on the right path that leads to high and heavenly places (2 Samuel 22:34; Psalm 18:33), by way of spreading His Gospel of peace (Romans 10:15; Ephesians 6:15). 

His grace is sufficient, and His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).With each detour and setback our faith grows, for He proves Himself to be faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9: 10:13). 

Our hearts can be filled with joy and peace as we follow the course He has planned for us, knowing that as we cross the finish line, a great cloud of witnesses will be cheering us on (Hebrews 12:1). He Himself will wipe the sweat from our brow and every tear from our eyes (Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 7:17; 21:4) as He places the victor’s crown on our heads (James 1:12) and says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”  (Matthew 25:21-23)

What a day that will be when we truly realize that Jesus has permanently defeated death and that we no longer need to run away from death, for we have run straight into His waiting arms!

© 2012 Laurie Collett

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Give Thanks for the Giver!

With the Thanksgiving holiday begins the official Christmas shopping season, as stores vie for our attention and our dollars while we seek the perfect presents for our loved ones. No matter how much we try, some gifts fall short, and instead of the joyful surprise and appreciation we had hoped for, we hear a polite “Gee, you shouldn’t have,” or “It’s the thought that counts.”

Often we try to give our loved ones, especially our children, what we know they need instead of what they think they want. Classic books, educational software, warm mittens and socks get left behind under the piles of wrapping, while the child disappears into his room with the worldly video game given by a well-meaning family friend or relative. For an older son or daughter, a membership to a towing and roadside protection emergency service has a lot less appeal than a gift card to the mall, until that fateful night when their car breaks down on a dark, lonely road.

Hopefully as the child grows up he would realize that Mom and Dad gave gifts motivated by their deep love and caring, wanting to nurture him and to guide him along the right path. Better yet, he would be thankful not only for the gifts, but for the giver, realizing that he was blessed with loving parents who wanted to encourage their child to follow God’s perfect plan for his life.

It may be a lot to hope for such maturity in our children, especially if we ourselves are less than thankful for the gifts God gives us. Even when things are going well, we tend to gloss over God’s many blessings upon us. But God knows what we need even before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8). God is always faithful to provide for the physical needs of His children (Psalm 37:3, 25; Matthew 6:25-33).and showers them with good and perfect gifts (James 1:17). Even for those who do not recognize or love Him, He is the source of all blessing (Matthew 5:45).

In the Thanksgiving season, and whenever we take the time to reflect on God’s provision, it is easy to give thanks for what we perceive as blessings -– religious freedom, prosperity, good health, loving relationships, quality time with our family.

But do we faithfully thank God for those blessings that are harder to recognize? When we go through trials of sickness, financial loss, death of a loved one, rejection, divorce, do we give thanks? Our first reaction may be like that of Job -- to question God or to be angry with Him, even though we lack wisdom and He knows all (Job 38:1-4).

Yet Paul tells us to give thanks in EVERY thing, for this is the perfect will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Paul is our role model not only of being thankful, but even joyful, in the midst of tribulation including persecution, punishment, imprisonment, deprivation, and physical infirmity (Philippians 4:4; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; 2 Corinthians 11:23-30)

How is it possible to be thankful in trials? Clearly not in our flesh, but only through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He teaches us that God is sovereign and all-powerful; that He loves His children infinitely (1 John 4:9); that it gives Him great pleasure to give His children good gifts (Matthew 7:11); and that He works all things together for good for those who love Him, who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

This side of glory, we cannot always understand or see the amazing ways that God is using tribulation in our life to accomplish His perfect will for us. We do know that trials can strengthen our faith in and dependence on God, can build our character by conforming us more and more to the image of His Son, and can give us the compassion and experience needed to help others going through similar circumstances (Romans 8:16-18; Philippians 3: 10-14).

As the infinitely good Father, God always gives us what we need, even if it is not what we think we want. We would not allow our children to gorge themselves on candy until they got sick, or to play with fire or broken glass, even though they might cry and even say hateful things in a vain attempt to change our mind. They lack the wisdom, experience, and perspective to know what is best for them, and we love them too much to allow them to get hurt.

Similarly, God will not answer prayers motivated by selfishness or lust or that are not in accordance with His will, for to do so would be harmful to our spiritual growth (James 4:3). Instead, as we find joy in our relationship with Him, He grants us the desires of our heart, for those desires become conformed to his perfect will for our lives (Psalm 37:4).

If we trust and love God, we can be thankful in all circumstances. The phrase “He really shouldn’t have,” truly applies with Him, because it is beyond our comprehension that the Creator of all things would willingly subject Himself to the suffering needed to pay for our sins in full (Colossians 1:12-29; 1 John 3:16).

With Him, the thought really does count, because He thought enough of us to give His only Son as the perfect sacrifice for our sins (Romans 8:32), so that all who repent and trust in His death, burial, and resurrection have eternal life (John 3:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; Romans 1:1-6; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). How amazing that as Jesus faced the agony of crucifixion and the even more painful separation from His Holy Father as He took on our sins, He thought of us and prayed for us in the Garden of Gethsemane! (John 17)

At Thanksgiving and always, let us give thanks not only for all our blessings and in all our circumstances, but especially for the ultimate Giver Who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer (Psalm 103:3-5; 104:1-15). He loves us enough to give His only Son to save us, to clothe us in His righteousness (Isaiah 61:10), and to give us eternal and abundant life in His presence (John 10:10).

As if that were not abundantly more than we could ever dream of (Ephesians 3:20), He adopted us as His children (Romans 8:14-17), made us joint heirs with Christ (Galatians 4:6-7), and appointed us as His ambassadors on earth (2 Corinthians 5:20) and joint rulers with Him in eternity!

It is not about what He gives us, but about Who He is. Thank you, God, that You are all we need!

© 2012 Laurie Collett


Friday, November 9, 2012

What Can Grow in Your Heart?

Commenting on my last post on the cornfield, a faithful reader raised an interesting question about the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20; Matthew 13:1-22). Does the seed (Word) planted in rocky ground or among thorns represent the beliefs of those who were saved and then turned away from God, or the beliefs of those who were never truly born again?

This is a crucial issue, for how we respond to the Good News of the Gospel is the most important decision anyone can make, one that will affect our eternal destiny. Those who repent from their sins and place their trust in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15) as the only way to Heaven (John 14:6)  will spend eternity with Him in glory, and those who reject this truth face eternal punishment in hell.

In this parable, Jesus uses the sower to represent one who spreads God’s Word; the seed as a symbol of the Word itself, and the soil as the state of the heart of the one who hears the Word. Mark 4 and Matthew 13 have nearly identical accounts of the parable and its explanation, emphasizing the importance and veracity of this passage in Scripture.

Jesus describes four conditions of the soil, or of the heart, when confronted with the Word. If the seed falls alongside the furrow that the farmer has prepared, birds will eat the seed before it can even germinate (Mark 4:4). This represents the person who hears the Word but is immediately distracted by one of Satan’s lies (Mark 4:15), which replaces the truth of God’s Word. Clearly, this person rejected the Word and was not saved by hearing it  

The second condition of the heart is like that of stony ground (Mark 4:5-6). Seeds planted here sprout quickly because they are in shallow earth, but the rocky ledge beneath the seed prevents it from rooting. In the heat of the sun, the shoot withers away because it has no root to nourish it with water.

By using the word “likewise” in His explanation of the stony ground (Mark 4:16-17), right after He explains the seed sown by the wayside, Jesus implies that the person whose heart is rocky ground also undergoes no permanent change after hearing the Word. They react at first with gladness, but the Word has not taken root in their heart, and the Holy Spirit has not indwelled them because they “have no root in themselves.”

Such a person might be pleased to hear that Heaven could await them, but they do not repent of their sins, trust Christ as their Lord and Savior, or enter into a personal relationship with Christ. We speak of such a person as having a “head knowledge,” but not a “heart knowledge” of the Gospel. They may call themselves Christians and may join a church, but if it becomes politically incorrect or dangerous to do so, they will renounce the “faith” that they never had in the first place (Mark 4:17).

They may even believe that Jesus lived, died and rose from the dead, but that truth does not change their life in any meaningful way – they are not a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). They could be happy with the idea that Christ died so that they could have a “get out of hell free” card, but they see no reason to labor for His Kingdom.

A Biblical example of such a person could be King Agrippa, whom Paul “almost persuaded” to be a Christian (Acts 16:28). Sadly, you can’t be almost saved any more than you can be almost pregnant, and a person who is almost Christian is doomed to eternity in hell.

The third type of soil or heart condition described by Christ is the thorny soil, in which the thorns rapidly overtake the good seed of the Word, choking it so that it cannot grow and bear fruit (Mark 4:7). In this situation, the Word never has the chance to affect the hearer, because worldly cares, such as the love of money or power, crowd it out (Mark 4:18-19).

The rich young ruler, for example, asked Jesus how he could inherit eternal life, but it was clear that he believed he was righteous in his own merit and that wealth was his god, leaving no room for the true Savior (Luke 18:18-25). Jesus explained that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25).

Another example was Judas, who may have latched on to Jesus because he thought the Messiah would overthrow Roman rule, but his greed (John 12:6) and desire for military power outweighed any alliance he felt to Jesus. The devil entered into Judas (John 13:2), and he was described as the “son of perdition,” (John 17:12) confirming that he was never saved.

Jesus will disown those who hear His Word but have hearts like stony or thorny soil, even though they may have done good works in His name and may even have shared the Scripture with others:

Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

It is not enough to believe that Jesus was a good man, that He died for our sins, or even that He rose from the dead. It is not enough to call ourselves Christians, join a church, or be baptized. We must trust Him, and Him alone, with childlike faith and love (Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:14-15), as our Lord and Savior.

As our pastor likes to say, the distance between knowing about Christ and knowing Him as Savior, Spouse, Brother and Friend could be as little as 15 inches – that length representing the distance from head to heart. Only when we accept His precious gift of salvation by grace alone through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) will the Holy Spirit of Christ indwell our heart (Ephesians 1:13-14).

That state of heart is represented by the good soil in the parable of the sower, in which the seed of the Word grows to maturity and allows the hearer to bear fruit in an increase 30 to 100 times over the seed that was sown (Mark 4:8,20). Ask any farmer what it takes to have good soil, and he will answer that it must be plowed up to remove rocks and weeds and to allow nourishing air and water to penetrate it.

Similarly, our hearts must be thoroughly worked over before we ache and groan with despair over our sinfulness, and before we realize that without our Savior, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Trials and heartache often precede coming to the end of ourselves, making our hearts fertile and ready to receive His saving grace.

The good soil is the only one of the four heart conditions that bears fruit, confirming that this is the only condition resulting in true salvation, in being born again (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:23). Jesus tells us that we can know others by the fruit they bear (Matthew 7:16-20).

Although we are saved by grace through faith and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9), we are saved not to sit idly by waiting to go to Heaven, but to do good works, because faith without works is dead (James 2:20,26).

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Once we are genuinely saved through faith and the Holy Spirit has taken root in our heart, we can never lose our salvation (Romans 8:35-39) even though we may go through barren, rocky or thorny patches. Born-again Christians may grow cold in their faith, backslide and become disobedient, or become unproductive for Him.

Nonetheless, He will never leave nor forsake His children (Hebrews 13:5), and He is there waiting like the prodigal son’s Father to run to us and shower us with love once we take the first step back to Him (Luke 15:20). If we repent of our sins, He will renew our faith and revive our hearts (1 John 1:9; Psalm 51:8-12).

May our hearts be like good soil, ready to cultivate His Word and nurture our growing faith to maturity, so we can sow more seed and bear much fruit!

© 2012 Laurie Collett

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