Saturday, March 30, 2013

Salvation’s Mysteries

As I reflect on God’s unspeakable gift of eternal life through the death and resurrection of His Son, I am utterly undone by His love. My mind cannot begin to comprehend what He has done, or how or why. The paradox is not only in the cross, but in all aspects of His awesome salvation plan

These thoughts inspired the poem below. May all of you have a blessed Resurrection Sunday reflecting on the mysteries of His amazing grace! Trust in Him and live forever!

Hebrews 12:2; John 13:12-17; Revelation 20:4; 17:14; 19:16; Colossians 1:12-22; 1 Corinthians 15; 1:27; John 10:17; 1:3; 3:3-8, 16; 16:28;  1 John 3:16; Isaiah 53; 1:18; 55:9; Romans 5-6; 12:2;  2 Corinthians 5:19-20; 1 Peter 5:5-6; Matthew 19:30; 20:16; 18:3-4; Luke 9:24; 17:33; Ephesians 2:5-9

Salvation’s Mysteries

Jesus Christ was born to die
Endured the cross to feel the joy
Of saving sinners who were lost.
Jesus served so we could reign
Laid down His life to rise again.

Maker of all, the King of Kings
A lowly worm crushed by our sins.
The cruel thorns, the ugly scars
Reveal the beauty of His heart.

His blood-soaked cross made peace with God
His holiness removed our sins --
Washed white as snow in His shed blood
Reconciled our souls to Him.

He loved us despite our hate
He forgave while we rebelled
The Lord bowed down to take our shame
He gave all for our great gain.

His ways are not our ways.
His thoughts are not our thoughts.
If cast down, He will raise us up.
If we are last, we will be first.

We die to sin to be reborn
We lose our life to save our soul
We leave the world to live in Him
He died and rose so we can live.

Foolish things confound the wise
You can’t earn your way to Paradise.
Let Truth win out – think like a child.
Turn to Him – forsake your pride.

Trust in Him with childlike faith
Accept His precious gift of grace.
That moment seals your destiny.
You’ll live with Him eternally.

© 2013 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, March 23, 2013

“Let’s Do Church” -- NOT!

I am blessed to be part of a loving and supportive church family that honors and glorifies God in their worship, preaching, teaching, missions, outreach, and all that they do. But others may not be as fortunate, as I was reminded by a dream that I had recently of what a Bible-based, God-honoring church is NOT.

In the dream, my husband and I ran into a former business acquaintance. I half expected a vague offer of “Let’s do lunch,” but instead he invited us to visit his church. To avoid offending him, we accepted.

On the appointed day, we were ushered in, not to the ornate sanctuary, but into what appeared to be a large family room of an assisted living facility or other institution. Many elderly people, some drooling with vacant stares, occupied the large, overstuffed chairs covered in cracking vinyl. Yet there were also toddlers and young children looking bored, despite the attempts of a few frazzled women to amuse them.  There was no other place to sit, so we made our way to the back of the crowded room and sat down awkwardly on a daybed.

I had brought a pair of prescription glasses to read my Bible and made the mistake of setting them on the bedside table, for I soon realized that several other pairs were already there, gathering dust, and I could no longer tell which pair was mine.

Finally the gentleman who invited us came in, dressed in a finely tailored business suit and power tie, and asked my husband to go with him to assist in the service. He complied, and I assumed that he would be praying or perhaps reading a passage of Scripture aloud.

After a long while, no one had returned for me or the others, even though I was sure the service had already started. I heard a loud band blaring contemporary music and crowds roaring in response. I grew restless just sitting there, so I wandered out. To my surprise, I spotted the minister, dressed in clerical garb, apparently killing time in the hallway and reluctant to lead his own congregation in worship.

He seemed to welcome the diversion of my presence and offered to show me some artifacts the church had recently purchased. Not wanting to be rude, I feigned interest as he pointed out an extensive coin collection and an antique German spinet inlaid with a variety of finely carved woods, but too old and fragile to be played. I wondered to myself why church funds would be spent on these expensive trinkets that served no purpose in worship, rather than on supporting missions.

I excused myself with “Don’t let me keep you from the service,” to which he replied, ”Oh, no problem – hope you’ll both stay for the social after.”

I entered the sanctuary, but the service had ended, and I was sorely disappointed at not having heard God’s Word read or preached or having had the opportunity to worship in song or prayer. Most of the congregation was already outside, sunning themselves around a large pool, and many of them had changed into swim wear.

I suddenly realized I was hungry and thirsty, but I didn’t dare try the drinks they were sipping with paper umbrellas in them. “Dinner” was being served in a fenced area, but after I paid a hefty price for a plate, I realized that all they had was Twinkies and other junk food desserts.

Thankfully I awoke, more grateful than ever for our own church. The Biblical definition of church is NOT a building or a social organization, but a called-out assembly of born-again believers (Acts 2:47; 11:26; 14:27; 16:5) comprising the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23-32; Colossians 1:18,24) and the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:22; 22:17).. Yet the dream left me wondering how many who attend church services do so for ungodly purposes, and how many churches pander to those unbiblical motives.

Church is NOT someplace to go to strengthen one’s social or business network, to meet people of influence or to be seen in a flattering light. Jesus criticized the Pharisees for wanting the best seats in the synagogues and for making a big show of prayers and tithing (Matthew 23:2-7; Luke 11:42-44), even though their hearts were far from him (Matthew 15:8).

The bride of Christ is to be separated from the world and holy in their lifestyle (1 Peter 1:15-16). If a church group seems no different from the world in dress, habits, music and behavior even while at God’s house, how can the members be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) when they leave the building and return to their communities, schools, and workplace?

God’s house should be well maintained to honor Him, but without ostentation and foolish spending on earthly treasures (Matthew 6:19-21). Good stewardship should ensure that funds are used to spread God’s Word locally and across the globe through missions (2 Corinthians 11:8-10; Philippians 4:15). 

Although churchgoers should assemble to encourage and build up one another through fellowship, prayer, and bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 10:25), which should enhance our joy and peace in the Lord, church is NOT merely a form of recreation or a pleasant family pastime. Yet some churches seek to attract congregations by providing music, media, games or social settings that seems to be only secular entertainment, and not sacred worship or Scriptural teaching.

This trend seems to be most prevalent and appalling in some youth groups. Adolescents must cope with so many painful struggles in which God’s Word should be a great source of strength and comfort (Psalm 119:9-11). But instead, some churches subject their youth to foolish and demeaning “ice-breakers” like eating peanut butter out of the youth pastor’s armpit! Small wonder that so few remain in church once they leave home.

Smaller classes or worship groups based on age or sex may be appropriate, provided that they do not segregate or isolate anyone, and as long as all teach the Word. Yet in my dream, the elderly, young, and women were excluded from the main service, and no one was fed the daily bread of Scripture (Luke 11:3). Churches offering a great variety of classes, programs and services should be careful not to prevent families from worshipping together, to fragment the congregation into groups that are too small to be supportive, or to distract from teaching and preaching the Word.

In my dream, the eyeglasses collecting dust may symbolize a church that no longer bothers to read the Word. The boredom in the youth and apathy in the elderly (Revelation 3:15-16) were the exact opposite of a church that is alive through the Holy Spirit  (Revelation 22:17). This “church” must have been expecting the members to fall asleep, for it even had a bed!

The minister seemed more interested in the social aspects of church and in acquiring treasures of no practical or spiritual value (Revelation 3:17), while shirking his responsibility to lead and to feed his flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:15; John 21:15-16). I left feeling hungry spiritually as well as physically, for there is no nourishment in “church” without worship or the Word (Matthew 6:11; Acts 2:46-47).

We don’t need to “do church” – only the Holy Spirit can empower the body of Christ, by His light shining through every believer (Revelation 3:6,13,22). Only through Him can churches bond together in love, shunning disputes and divisions and unified by faith in Him and His Word (1 Corinthians 11:16), and using their spiritual gifts to grow the church and build up one another (1 Corinthians 14:12).

Why don’t all churches just devote themselves to Jesus – to telling others of how He died for our sins, was buried and rose again to give eternal life to those who trust Him? (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 3:16)) Why don’t churches just preach Christ (Acts 5:42; 8:5; 9:20; 17:3; 1 Corinthians 1:23), worship Him, and encourage one another in the Lord? Isn’t Jesus enough?

© 2013 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Paradox of the Cross

Can you even begin to imagine agreeing to the death of your child for the good of others? Until we reach glory we will never fully understand or appreciate the mysteries of the cross – how and why God the Father gave His Son Jesus to die for our sins that we might have eternal life (John 3:16).

God is perfectly holy (1 John 1:5) and perfectly just. Although He is love (1 John 4:8), and has infinite love, He cannot allow sinners or sin to enter into His presence. We have all broken the law (Romans 3:23), and our fitting punishment is eternal death in hell (Romans 6:23). But in God’s mercy and grace, He devised a perfect plan of salvation for whosoever would accept it. He gave His only begotten Son as the perfect, sinless sacrifice, to take the punishment befitting our crimes (Isaiah 53:5-8).

Jesus is part of the Triune God, fully Divine, yet fully human in His earthly ministry and tempted in all ways as we are, yet He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Only He could be the perfect sacrifice – the Lamb Who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29) -- to reconcile sinful man to Holy God.

In a transaction of infinite love, justice, holiness and perfection, Jesus took on, suffered and died for all the sins of the world, which were imputed to Him, or debited against His account. Simultaneously, His perfect righteousness and holiness were imputed to all believers, or credited to our account. (Romans 5:12-18; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Isaiah 53:4-11). He completely removed our sins from us, in a perfect transaction foreshadowed by the "scapegoat" in Old Testament times that carried the sins of Israel far away into the wilderness (Leviticus.16:20-22).

Therefore, when Holy God the Father, the righteous Judge, looks at believers who have repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus' finished work on the cross, He sees not us and our filthy sins, but only the perfect holiness of His Son. Therefore, as joint heirs with Christ, just as Jesus was resurrected from the dead, believers will be resurrected to eternal life in Heaven with Christ (Romans 6;8; 8:17).

Yet, here is one of the mysteries: God the Father "turned His back" on Jesus as He suffered and died for our sins, because His perfect holiness could not look on sin (Isaiah 53:4). For that reason, Jesus cried out "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22:1-8) because in that moment, He felt the agony of being separated from His Father with whom He had always known perfect, intimate fellowship.

At that moment, Jesus related to God not as His Father, but as the righteous Judge Who had to punish sin. The pain of separation from the Father and the shame of bearing all our sins (Hebrews 12:2) must have far outweighed even the physical torture of crucifixion.

So, the conundrum is, given that both God the Father and Jesus the Son are both perfectly divine, how could Jesus bear all our sins while God the Father could not even look at them? I believe that is one of the mysteries we will not fully understand until we reach glory. However, one clue to this might be that while all three members of the Trinity are equally divine, they are different.

God the Father always demands perfection, whether through animal sacrifice in the Old Testament (Exodus 12:5; 29:1; Leviticus 1:3), which only covered sin, and ultimately in the perfect, sinless sacrifice of His Son (1 Peter 1:18-19; Ephesians 5:2), which removed us as far away from our sins as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12).

Jesus came to earth expressly to save sinners (Luke 19:10), and He died for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). He was the perfect fulfillment of the Old Testament law (Matthew 5:17), yet He touched lepers, He allowed Himself to be touched by diseased and sinful women, He ate with sinners, He cast out demons, and He forgave sins (Luke 7:14, 21-22, 34-39).

All three Members of the Trinity always act together to fulfill their perfect and unified will. In this case, the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus to fulfill His earthly ministry, including His suffering and death on the cross, and continues to work in the heart of every born-again believer (John 3:7-8) who places their faith in His death, burial and resurrection as the only way to Heaven (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 14:6).

Thank God that Jesus does not demand perfection from us, but that He died for us while we were yet sinners, and that He freely gives salvation to all who repent and trust Him, taking us just as we are in our lowly and sinful state. Thank God that through the perfect, sinless sacrifice of Jesus (Hebrews 9), His righteousness is imputed to our account (1 Peter 2:21-25), and when God the Father looks at us, He sees not our sins, but only the perfect holiness of His Son!

Not the least of the mysteries of the cross is that it pleased God to sacrifice His only Son in this cruel and torturous way (Isaiah 53:10), and that Jesus faced the ordeal with joy for our sakes (Hebrews 12:2). My limited mind cannot begin to wrap itself around a love so perfect, so pure that it not only allowed the agony of the cross, but that it rejoiced in it.

None of us earthly parents can begin to imagine agreeing to the death of our child for the good of others, let alone planning and orchestrating it. I have heard a sermon illustration of a child with rare antibodies in his blood, capable of curing all diseases known to all mankind. The catch is that the cure requires every drop of that precious blood.  How many parents would step forward magnanimously to sacrifice their child’s life, even for such a supremely noble cause? How many children would find joy in giving up their own life, even to heal others?

Now add to the scenario the fact that those whose lives will be saved are not friends, but mortal enemies of the parent and child. The child’s suffering and death will be prolonged and excruciatingly painful as the blood is shed drop by drop. The parent cannot be present to comfort the child during their suffering.

Far from being thankful and honoring the parent and child for their sacrifice, the vast majority of people will mock, despise and shame them. When the sacrifice is complete, and the cure available to anyone who wants it, most will shake their heads in disbelief, walk away in scorn, and refuse the freely offered, life-saving gift.

Yet that is exactly how the world reacts to the perfect, completely self-sacrificing gift of God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son. His blood was painfully and completely shed for the remission of all our sins (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 9), while we were still His enemies (Romans 5:10), yet most people mock God and refuse His precious, freely given gift of eternal life in Heaven. God is omniscient, and knew from the beginning of time that all this would occur. Yet He sacrificed for us not only willingly, but joyfully, that whosoever believes will have eternal life in His presence!

Don’t refuse His cure for sin and death! Be washed in His life-saving blood today!

© 2013 Laurie Collett
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