Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pride and Unbelief

In my opinion, all sins can be boiled down to pride and/or unbelief. The first four Commandments deal with our relationship to God (Exodus 20:1-11); when we break any of these, it is because we fail to believe that God is Who He says He is. He is the only true God, the Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer (1 Peter 4:19; Isaiah 54:5,8), with attributes of infinite love, mercy and grace (1 John 4:8; Hebrews 4:16), as well as omnipotence (Revelation 19:6), omniscience, and omnipresence (Psalm 139:6-8). Knowing and believing this, why would we put any god before Him, worship an idol, take His name in vain, or not honor Him with our worship at designated times and always?

The fifth Commandment is transitional, dealing with our relationship to our earthly parents as the first model we have for our submission to God’s authority (Exodus 20:12). The remaining five commandments deal with our relationship to others (Exodus 20:13-17). If we are guilty of pride, we consider our own worth and our own needs to be greater than those of others. Pride could therefore lead us to commit murder, theft, lying, adultery, or coveting, in thought even if not in deed.

Faith, the opposite of unbelief, keeps us from breaking the first four Commandments. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:5-6). Jesus said the first, or most important Commandment, was to love the Lord your God with all your mind, heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:29-30). Self-sacrificing, agape love, along with a servant’s heart, keeps us from the sin of pride and from breaking the remaining Commandments. Jesus summarized these by saying, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Mark 12:31).

Our pastor gave an excellent message on what he considered to be the worst sin, namely the sin of prayerlessness. This, too, could be considered a sin of pride and of unbelief. We may fail to pray because we pridefully trust in our own flesh to solve our problems, mistakenly thinking we don’t need God’s help, even though without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Or, unbelief may keep us from prayer, if we don’t believe that God loves us infinitely, wants to bless us, can do anything in His will, and works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).

Pride was the sin that caused Lucifer, God’s chosen, wisest, and most beautiful angel of light, to fall from Heaven and become Satan. He imagined that he was superior to God and should be exalted over Him, not realizing that God had created him and endowed with all his gifts and talents (Isaiah 14:12-15). How sad when anyone, driven by pride, uses what God has given them not to glorify God, but to rebel against Him, leading to their own destruction (Proverbs 16:18; 1 Timothy 3:6). Yet Lucifer, even after he became Satan, was not guilty of unbelief, and even all the angels that rebelled along with him and fell to earth as demons still believed in God’s power and trembled at it (Matthew 8:28-29; James 2:19).

Unbelief as well as pride led to the fall, as Eve began to doubt God’s Word when Satan tempted her with the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). So, pride also played a role, as Eve imagined that eating the forbidden fruit would make her as wise as God (Genesis 3:4-6). The sin of unbelief by those in Jesus’ home town resulted in their missing out on His miracles (Matthew 13:57-58)

The only sin that cannot be forgiven is the ongoing, persistent denial that Jesus is Lord, Son of God and God Himself, Who died, was buried and rose from the dead as the perfect sacrifice for our sins (1 Corinthians 15). John even referred to those who denied Christ as antichrists (1 John 4:3). Pride and unbelief are what keep people from being saved. When people trust in their own good works and religious practices to get them to heaven, their pride prevents them from realizing they are sinners in need of a Savior. When people foolishly misplace their belief in the false god of evolution (Psalm 14:1), or in the leader of any religion who lies dead and buried, their unbelief in the living, risen God keeps them from salvation.

A good example of both sins can be found in Luke 22, at the Last Supper on the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion. Judas betrayed Jesus when Satan entered into him (v. 3-6; v. 47-48), which would not have been possible if he believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the Son of God. Pride was paramount in the disciples’ dispute over who among them was the greatest (v. 24), which is particularly shocking as it immediately followed Jesus’ symbolic portrayal of giving His body and shedding His blood for them (v. 15-20). Jesus then reminded them to follow His example of having a servant’s heart (v. 26-27).

Immediately after Jesus warns Peter that Satan wants to destroy him and all the disciples, and that Jesus is praying for Peter to have unfailing faith (v. 31-32), Peter succumbs to the sin of pride, boasting that he will follow Jesus even unto death (v. 33). But Jesus accurately prophesied that Peter would deny Him three times before the rooster’s morning cry.

At the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples fall into the sin of prayerlessness, which, as we have seen above, may result from pride as well as unbelief. Jesus asked them to pray not to fall into temptation (v. 40), yet they fell asleep (v. 45-46) when He most coveted their prayers. Rather than asking them to pray for Him, for the agonizing ordeal He was about to endure, Jesus selflessly was concerned about them falling into temptation. The temptation to lose faith and fall prey to unbelief would be great as they were about to see their Messiah unjustly accused, sentenced, whipped, beaten, scourged and crucified.

May the remembrance of our risen Lord, Who allowed His body to be broken and His blood to be shed to pay for our sins in full and to grant eternal life to all who trust Him (John 3:16), keep us from the temptation of giving in to pride and unbelief.

© 2012 Laurie Collett

Saturday, March 24, 2012


GUIDANCE = God – U & I Dance. This acronym for “guidance” is not my own, and it has been circulating on the Internet in various forms for more than 20 years, but it is one that bears repeating. Partnership ballroom dancing is to me a wonderful metaphor for a Biblical marriage (Mark 10:6-9), which, in turn, pictures the relationship between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:22-33).

In a fallen world, partnership dancing, like marriage, is subject to the influences of our own sin nature and of worldly distractions and idols (Mark 10:1-6). Before I was saved, my dance practices with my husband Richard were more like a shouting match than a harmonious collaboration, and our competitive energies and frustrations were mostly aimed against one another rather than at our actual competitors.

On one memorable occasion nearly 20 years ago, furious that Richard was not seeing things my way (because of course I knew I was right!), I stormed out of an evening practice session and proceeded to walk home. Never mind that home was about 5 miles away, through dark streets, and that I was wearing a skimpy practice dress and high-heeled Latin shoes, and that I didn’t even have the house keys.

After realizing that I wasn’t planning on returning to the practice, and that I was too “directionally challenged” to find my way home safely, Richard set out after me in the van. When he caught up with me he quietly but sternly asked me to get in, only to have another car stop and the driver ask me if this man (Richard) was bothering me! At that point I had enough sense to say “No, ma’am,” and to humbly get in the van and beg Richard for his forgiveness.

So before salvation, our stormy dance partnership reflected neither an ideal marriage (Colossians 3:18-19) nor the submissive and trusting attitude a believer should have toward her Savior (Proverbs 3:5; Romans 10:3-4; James 4:7). But in its pure and perfect form, dancing can be a beautiful illustration of both relationships.

The gentleman invites the lady with an extended hand; the lady accepts and moves toward him. He clasps her hand in his, protectively yet tenderly; she delicately balances her free hand on the support of his outstretched arm. He cradles her shoulder blade with his other hand, and she melts into their point of connection at the rib cage where she is keenly aware of his intended movement. He leads with power but without force; she responds by following with sensitivity, without tension or doubt.

Together they dance as one, creating a far more beautiful picture than either could alone. In her flowing, colorful ball gown, the lady resembles an orchid nourished and supported by a sturdy tree, able to sway in the breeze without separating from the stability and protection of her partner.

For all this to occur, the lady must completely and graciously submit to the gentleman’s lead, which is only possible if she senses that he can be trusted to always do what is best for her, even if it means sacrificing his own comfort or glory or putting himself in harm’s way to protect her. Most of the time, she dances backward, so she cannot see where she is going and must trust her partner to navigate around the other couples or obstacles that may be in the ballroom. Dancing on stage is particularly perilous, as she must trust him not to let her stray over the edge into the orchestra pit!.

Theatre Arts ballroom dancing involves even greater trust, as the gentleman balances the lady in overhead lifts (video). Sometimes their only point of connection is his hand on her back while she faces the ceiling, trusting him to balance her entering, during and exiting the lift, and not to drop her even if something goes wrong. If she panics or struggles, the shifts in balance make the lift even more dangerous and likely to result in a fall.

Despite the greater challenges of this style, Richard grew fond of it early in our dance career, for as he said, “When you’re overhead, you’re not in a real strong bargaining position!”

The Bible tells us that wives should submit themselves to their husbands, and that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it (Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19). The two go hand in hand – submission to one who loves sacrificially with an agape type of love. Why would we not willingly submit to One Who loves us so much that He gave His own life to save us? (John 15:13; Romans 5:8)

So not only is the dance partnership a mirror of the marriage bond, but also of the believer’s relationship to Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives (Acts 10:36). He never imposes His will on us, but where He leads, we should want to follow because He alone is completely faithful (Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalm 89:8; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 10:13), true (Isaiah 25:1; Revelation 3:14; John 14:6), and loving (Ephesians 2:4; 1 John 4:7). As in the dance, He always initiates (1 John 4:19), awaits our response, and then takes us further based on how closely we follow (James 4:8).

The outcome is up to us -- we can pout in the corner and refuse to dance. Or, we can begin to follow Him and then fall out of step or even flat on our face, because we listen to our pride and impatience and insist on making our own moves (Proverbs 16:18). Ideally, we accept His dance invitation and attune ourselves to His subtle signals, shutting out all distractions so we can swiftly and completely respond to His direction with sensitivity and commitment (Acts 17:28), following Him every step of the way.

He will give us guidance -- the wisdom, joy and fulfillment we desire -- if we follow Him (Matthew 16:24; 19:21,28; Mark 2:14; 8:34; 10:21; John 10:27). He is the one Partner Who will guide us through the dance of life with perfect grace and harmony until He safely leads us home.

Before Richard and I begin each dance practice, we pray that He will empty us of ourselves so we can yield completely to His Holy Spirit. We pray that we will dance together as one person, his leading and my following in perfect harmony, reflecting to each other and to our audience the love that He has for us. May this prayer also be the model for every precious moment we spend with Our Savior, following Him wherever He leads, trusting in His perfect direction, protection, provision and timing.

© 2012 Laurie Collett

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Don’t Fight Him!

Our ballroom had major drama over the last few days. Ladies would run out of the restroom screaming, and even gentlemen would gasp and lose their composure while leading a dance move. The source of all this commotion was a small lizard who had apparently sneaked in under the door and refused to leave, appearing unexpectedly at the most inopportune times.

Such lizards are common in Florida, where the sunlight, heat, humidity, vegetation and insects offer them an ideal environment. They blend well into their outdoor surroundings, where their intricately patterned colorations and interesting behaviors usually cause us to admire them as an example of God’s perfect and creative design (Genesis 1:24-25). But within the ballroom, this tiny intruder took on monstrous proportions and was described as “that humongous, nasty creature!”

Richard, my husband, opened the door and tried to show him the way, and got behind him and shooed him toward the threshold. But the little rascal obstinately stood his ground in the corner, then fled even further into the ballroom corridors. Richard extended his hand to gently scoop him up and out the door, but he scurried away.

Finally Richard dropped an empty wastebasket upside down over the culprit so that he would be safely contained inside. His plan was to slide the wastebasket to the door, then to safely release the lizard outdoors where he could find the sunlight, water, and food he so desperately needed. But that rebellious lizard flung himself against the walls of the basket and even tried to escape through the bottom. In the resulting struggle, a tiny piece of his tail broke off, and when Richard finally brought him into the sunlight, the lizard seemed dazed and exhausted by his journey, lying peacefully in his hand for a moment before leaping to freedom.

“It would have been a lot easier on him if he hadn’t fought me the whole way,” Richard said.

It made me wonder how many times God says the same thing about us. Like Lot (Genesis 13:12-13;19) and Samson (Judges 14-16), we leave the provision of His presence to stray into places and situations where we don’t belong. Outside His will, we no longer fit harmoniously into the order He has designed for us as members of His body (Romans 12: 4-5; 1 Corinthians 12), but instead we disrupt the peace and fellowship of others. We cut ourselves off from His life-giving love, safety, and blessings (Philippians 4:19), and strike out on our own as if we could supply our own needs once separated from His nourishing care (John 15:5).

But thankfully, God loves us too much to leave us in our desperate predicament (Isaiah 54:7-10; Luke 15:4-6). When we were His enemies, rebelling against His authority and even against acknowledging His existence, He pursued us to get our attention (Romans 5:8-10; James 4:4) and to show us His love (1 John 4:19).

Saul of Tarsus was arguably the most zealous enemy of Christ, for he persecuted, imprisoned and even killed Christians (Acts 7: 57-Acts 8:1-3). Yet Christ appeared to Him on the road to Damascus, and Saul became Paul, entrusted by Christ with the mission of spreading the Gospel to the Gentiles and writing most of the New Testament (Acts 9:1-2).

Once we trust Christ as Savior and place our faith in His death, burial and resurrection as the only way to Heaven (1 Corinthians 15), He will not let us stray far from His will without intervening to call us back to Himself.

The good life the lizard was seeking lay just outside the ballroom door, yet in his ignorance and confusion he ran further away from it, fighting Richard’s rescue attempts with every fiber of his being. When the lizard strayed from his outdoor home into the ballroom, he was so far out of his element that he was viewed as a nuisance and a menace, rather than as one of God’s awesome creatures playing his part in the harmony of nature. When we are out of God’s will, we cannot glorify Him because others see our sin nature, and not His light shining through us (Romans 8:5-9).

Why don’t we listen to God when He speaks to us in a still, small, voice (1 Kings 19:12) and just obey Him, stepping back on the path lit by His Word? (Psalm 119:105). Why do we run further away from His fellowship, and that of other believers, into the darkness of sin? (2 Corinthians 6:14-18) Why do we wait for Him to use drastic measures to get our attention (Hebrews 12:3-11), as He did with Jonah? (Jonah 1-4)

I felt sorry for the lizard as my husband slid him to safety in the wastebasket, because he couldn’t see where he was or where he was going and had no idea of his destination or fate. God made us in His own image (Genesis 1:27) with the ability to love, trust, and obey Him, yet sometimes we lack faith (Hebrews 11:6). We panic and fight back like the lizard, which only makes our situation worse.

When we can’t see Him at work and can’t hear His voice, we may think that He has abandoned us or that He no longer cares enough to see us safely home.

Yet He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Once we are His children and joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:35), and nothing can pluck us out of the double grip of Jesus and the Father (John 10:28). We cannot go where His love cannot rescue us (Psalm 139:1-12), and if we take even the smallest step on the journey home to Him, He will run to us with open arms (Luke 15:20).

Even if we can’t understand how He will see us through our distress, we should trust in His love and in His ability to bring about His perfect will for our lives (Romans 8:28). Don’t fight Him – trust Him!

Psalm 19:13: Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins.

© 2012 Laurie Collett

“It is as if [David] said, ‘Keep me back, or I shall rush headlong over the precipice of sin.’ Our evil nature, like an ill-tempered horse, is apt to run away. May the grace of God put the bridle upon it, and hold it in, that it rush not into mischief. What might not the best of us do if it were not for the checks which the Lord sets upon us both in providence and in grace!
C. H. Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, March 16

Friday, March 9, 2012

It's Not My Job!

In today’s economy, where jobs are few and applicants plentiful, going the extra mile at work can really pay off. As more and more are laid off, those who remain are expected to carry the brunt of the workload. Flexibility and willingness to assume the responsibilities formerly carried by others can go far in assuring an ongoing paycheck. Now is not the time to tell our employer “It’s not my job!”

Yet I wonder how often Christians shrug off the responsibilities God has placed on us with a similarly cavalier attitude. His commandments are clearly spelled out in His Word, yet we often dismiss them because many in authority and in positions of worldly influence seem to blatantly disregard them (Ephesians 6:12).

We judge ourselves by the cultural norm, and conclude that we look pretty good in comparison to the lost, forgetting that we serve a just and holy God who demands a higher standard (Leviticus 20:7; Romans 6:13,16; 2 Peter 3:11). Our sins are forgiven and washed away by His righteousness (Romans 3:25; Romans 5:21), but that does not give us liberty to continue in a sinful lifestyle or to stay where we will be tempted into habitual sins (Romans 6:15).

He has plainly told us, “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” (John 14:15) and “feed my sheep” (John 21:16). The last words of Jesus before He ascended into Heaven were the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), where He commanded believers to spread the Good News about Him and to teach one another from His Word.

This job is not reserved for pastors and teachers, but is the responsibility of everyone who has trusted Christ as Savior and has faith in His death, burial and resurrection as the only way to eternal life (1 Corinthians 15). He has placed each of us in a unique sphere of influence and equipped each of us with different gifts, personality traits and talents to be able to reach people no one else could reach (1 Corinthians 12).

Sharing His Word and leading others to Him is, however, not really a job but an awesome privilege, blessing, and opportunity to worship and thank the One Whose sacrifice gave us eternal, abundant life (John 3:16;10:10). He could have written the plan of salvation in the sky for all to read; He could have entrusted the Gospel message to angels; but instead, He appointed every believer to be His ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20) and allowed each of us to share in the joy of leading a lost sinner to Him!

If we are faithful to carry out His general will for our life by avoiding and hating sin, praying, loving and witnessing to others, and if we listen for His voice, He will also give each of us specific instructions for how to best fulfill His specific will for our lives (2 Timothy 1:9).

Ultimately, it is not our job to “save” anyone, for that can only be accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit convicting the lost person of his sin and of his need for a Savior (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). Our job, and our amazing privilege, is to plant and water seeds of His Word by our testimony, of His holiness through our lifestyle, and of His love through how we treat others (1 John 4:7).

We may not know in this lifetime what effect these had, but we know that our labor for Him is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). If we carry out His commission, we will meet in glory those we helped lead to Him, and we can present them to Him as a crown of rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2:19). He will say “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” (Matthew 25:21) and He will reward us throughout eternity! (1 Corinthians 3:12)

© 2012 Laurie Collett

Friday, March 2, 2012

Corrupt Communication

The shrill ring of the phone startled my husband Richard and me from a sound sleep. It was a business acquaintance of his, asking if it were true that Richard was stranded in Spain after his credit cards, cash and passport were stolen. How much money did he need to borrow, and how could she wire it to him?

Emerging from our dazed confusion, we finally pieced together that Richard’s email account had been hacked, and that the hacker had sent an individual email to each of my husband’s contacts, explaining the above made-up scenario and requesting a loan. Unlike most junk email and phishing scams, this one appeared to come from my husband’s correct email address and contained his name, increasing the chances that a good-hearted recipient would think it was a legitimate call for help rather than a blatant lie.

Earlier that night I had awakened from sleep with two Bible verses going through my head: “evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33) and “let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay” (Matthew 5:37). I hadn’t even made the connection until I mentioned this to my husband later in the day, and he said, “Sounds like that email hoax to me.”

It made me think about how important it is for us to avoid “corrupt communication” (Ephesians 4:29). Our family, friends and brothers and sisters in Christ who know we claim His name regard us, at least to some extent, as His representative (2 Corinthians 5:20). What we say therefore reflects on Him, whether rightly or wrongly. Those in positions of leadership must be especially careful not only that their speech honors Him, but also that it is doctrinally sound and pure.

We must speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), not being hurtful or judgmental, or causing offense that would be a stumbling block to another’s faith (Romans 14:13; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 8:9; 1 Peter 2:8; 1 John 2:10). Yet in our eagerness to be kind, accepted or politically correct, we must not gloss over truths that may be painful to hear. Saying “He’s in a better place,” about a lost person who died may make his family feel better, but it is directly opposed to Biblical truth and may remove the urgency the family members might otherwise feel about getting right with God.

It is true that only God knows the heart(Psalm 44:21; Luke 16:15; Acts 15:8; 1 John 3:20) and that deathbed conversions may occur, so we can’t know for sure what any person’s eternal destiny may be. In the above situation, it may be best to focus on that, and to thank God for offering eternal life in heaven to “whosoever” believes in His Son’s death, burial and resurrection to pay for our sins (John 3:16).

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul explains the Gospel of grace – that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again, that all who have faith in Him will have eternal life. He warns against “evil communications” (v. 33) with those who would dilute or even deny this truth, which is the only means to salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). We must not allow false teachers to compromise our knowledge of this truth (2 Peter 2:1) and our urgency to share it with others, as Christ commanded (Matthew 28:18-20).

Our own testimony and witness to others must not in any way corrupt the Gospel. Instead, it must build up and instruct the hearer regarding God’s grace and salvation through His Son (Ephesians 4:29). Similarly, Jesus warns us to speak the truth plainly – yes meaning yes, and no meaning no (Matthew 5:37). If we muddle these together, we distort what is right and wrong, black and white, into shades of gray.

Recently there has been a controversial trend, known as the "King's Way," for some in positions of Christian leadership to attempt to reach out in friendship to Muslims by saying that we all worship the same God. Evangelical Christian groups are invited to participate in this partnership with mosques, but they are prohibited from sharing the Gospel.

However, our God is clearly different from how the Koran portrays Allah. Christians recognize a Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all equally God, whereas Muslims do not recognize Jesus as God, but only as a prophet superceded by Mohammed. Our God is love (1 John 4:8), and He is faithful (Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalm 89:8; 1 Corinthians 1:9), unchanging (Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17), and true (Romans 3:4; Titus 1:2), promising eternal life to all who have a personal relationship with His Son (John 14:6-7). This promise is based only on His grace, and not on any works we could do to try to earn our salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). When God chastises His children, He does it as a loving Father, for our ultimate good (Hebrews 12:5).

But Allah is viewed by some as punitive and one to be feared, and salvation demands works such as pilgrimages to Mecca and repetitive daily prayers. Even so, Muslims can never be sure they have done enough to merit entrance into Paradise.

The truths of Christianity may be viewed by some as exclusive and even as intolerant and offensive. This is hardly surprising, because Christ and His Word say that His truths cause division among family members (Matthew 10:21; 34-35); that He is the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6; Acts 4:12); that our hearts are wicked (Jeremiah 17:9); and that we have all broken God’s laws in thought if not always in deed (Matthew 5:28). The doctrine emphasized by Paul is indeed offensive -- that we are all sinners; that no one is righteous; and that we have all fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:10, 23).

Yet to “reach out” to nonbelievers or to strike up “friendships” with them by denying these Biblical truths may gain a “friend” during this lifetime, yet lose a soul to hell for all eternity. What kind of “friend” keeps silent about the words of eternal life? (John 6:68) Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39), but doesn’t true love demand that we speak the truth? We have the Good News that keeps people from hell, so why would we not share it?

Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, a former Muslim who has been preaching the Gospel since he was born again, is awaiting execution in Iran rather than renouncing the truth. He is a true friend to his flock, one who lays down his life for his friends (John 15:13), willing to die for telling the truth so that others may live.

May our prayers be with him and others who face persecution and death rather than speaking corrupt communication. His captors have offered to spare his life if only he would renounce Jesus, but Pastor Yousef says:

"I am resolute in my faith and Christianity and have no wish to recant.”

© 2012 Laurie Collett