Saturday, April 29, 2017

Backward to Forward, Down to Up: God Lifts Us from the Valleys

Photo by Jeff from Denver 2005

An arrow has no forward momentum unless the archer first draws the arrow backward. As a dancer, I learned long ago that to spring upward in a jump, there must first be a knee bend, known as a plie, lowering the center of gravity, and that the height of the jump corresponds to the depth of the plie. From their compressed position, the legs straighten and push against the floor, creating upward momentum.

In each case, the backward or downward movement stores energy which can be released to propel the arrow or the dancer in the opposite and desired direction, which might at first seem to be counterintuitive. Yet we see many examples of this in daily life.

In a kinetic sculpture of steel balls suspended from a frame, displacing the ball on one end backward and releasing it toward the others propels the most distant ball forward, and the cycle continues as that ball returns to its original position and the furthest ball moves backward, thanks to conservation of momentum.

Similar principles are at work in something as simple as a seesaw, or as complex as a rocket blasting into space. A seed must be planted deep in the earth before it can be transformed, shooting up to the skies as a tall plant (1 Corinthians 15:35-38). As natural as all this is in the physical world, we often lose sight of its spiritual application.

Because of the complex interaction of matter, space and time, nothing ever truly remains stationary. We either progress along our spiritual journey (Hebrews 12:1) or we backslide (Jeremiah 3:22; Hosea 11:7). Once we are born again (John 3:3-8) by trusting Jesus Christ as our Savior who died, was buried and rose again (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins (Romans 3:25) and to give us eternal life (John 3:16), we are secure in our salvation (John 10:28-29; Romans 8:39).

However, our relationship with Him is not static. Either we draw closer to and become more like Him (Isaiah 55:6; Romans 12:1--2), or we allow our sin to create distance from Him and to disrupt our fellowship (1 John 1:6-10). Thankfully, the same God of the mountains is God of the valleys (1 Kings 20:28), and He can use even our low points to draw us closer to Himself (Psalm 23). He never leaves nor forsakes us (Hebrews 13:5), and Jesus Himself is the Lily of the valleys (Song of Solomon 2:1), fragrant with mercy, grace and compassion even in our deepest pit.

The very act of salvation is impossible unless we have sunk into the depths of despair, realizing that we have sinned against Holy God (Romans 3:23; Matthew 9:13), that we deserve eternal punishment in hell (Romans 6:23), and that no good work we do could help us climb out of that pit and into Heaven (Ephesians 2:8-9).

We cannot pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, nor can we use our own strength, merit or pride to save ourselves. Only when we come to the end of ourselves, realize that we are helpless and that we desperately need a Savior (Luke 18:13-14), will the Holy Spirit enter our heart and save us (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13).

Once that occurs, our position in Heaven is forever secure, for our inheritance is eternal life with Him there! He has even promised to elevate us to heavenly places with Him during our life on earth (Ephesians 1:3; 2:6). But until He brings us home (2 Corinthians 5:1-8) or the Rapture occurs (1 Corinthians 15:51-57), our earthly journey consists of twists and turns, forward and backward excursions, sometimes toward the summit, but often slipping a few steps down or even falling precipitously off a cliff.

But He is always there, catching us (Psalm 37:24; 91:11-12), mending and reshaping the broken pieces (Jeremiah 18:4-6), encouraging us to get back up, to retrace the steps of the wrong turn or to keep climbing with new resolve. In the valleys and missteps is where we realize anew how much we need Him, and how without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

In our trials and even in our transgressions, He grows our faith in and reliance on Him, proves His faithfulness (Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalm 89:8; Isaiah 25:1; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 10:13; 1 John 1:9), molds us into His image (Philippians 3:10), and gives us compassion and experience to help others in similar valleys (Romans 8:28).  Sometimes we need the quiet, reflection and restoration of the spiritual valley to prepare us for the next spiritual victory, as was the case with Elijah (1 Kings 19).

In the Psalms, David praised God for lifting him from the deep pit he had dug for himself through the devastating consequences of his sins (Psalm 9:15; 28:1; 30:3; 40:2). He recognized that God would not leave him in hell (Psalms 16:10; Acts 2:25-36), or allow him to die before his time, for the dead cannot praise or serve Him (Psalm 30:9).

Praise God that His Word is true (2 Timothy 3:16), faithfully recording the missteps, soul-searching and restoration even of a man like David, who was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). We can find hope and comfort in David’s story and in that of so many other Godly men and women whom God used to accomplish His purposes, despite their weaknesses.

God may allow Satan to tempt and test us, as He did in the case of Job, but always for our ultimate good and His glory. Satan cannot as much as touch us if God does not permit Him to, for He has surrounded His children with a hedge of protection (Job 1:8-12).

As we shall see next week, God even allowed Jesus Christ, His only begotten son, to descend from Heaven, first to earth and then into the heart of the earth, but always to rise again!

© 2017 Laurie Collett
Womanhood With Purpose
Adorned From Above
No Ordinary Blog Hop

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Absent from the Bride

In a dream I had recently, my husband, son and I are attending the wedding reception of my childhood friend, who in reality was unmarried and has recently gone home to be with the Lord. The reception is held in the meeting room of a hotel, which looks more suitable for a business convention than a celebration. 

There are no decorations, music, or special lighting, and no signs of the bride, groom or wedding party. At each seat, instead of wedding favors, are clear plastic bags containing a mismatched assortment of advertising trinkets – a key chain, shoe shine cloth, pen and matches each bearing the slogan of a different company. There is a printed program, also containing ads, with an announcement stating “If anyone wishes to toast the wedding couple, they may do so for $15, payable in advance.”

A woman I don’t recognize comes over to our table and acts like we are long-lost friends, claiming that we worked together when I was Director of Nursing at a VA hospital, which I never was, nor did I ever even work as a nurse or an administrator. She says she is looking forward to my husband and I performing a solo dance in honor of the wedding couple, which is news to us, and we look at each other in surprise.

Before I can answer her, another woman comes over, carrying a sheet of pictures with my photo on it and photos of four other people, saying “Oh, you’re obviously the best person to do a toast.” Apparently she thought flattery would work on me when it hadn’t on the other four on her list, and it didn’t seem that she knew anything about any of us, even our names. She had been given the sheet of photos to identify the most likely suspects who might pay to give a toast to the wedding couple.

On the one hand, I think it is wrong for the host to ask for money from those who want the opportunity to publicly honor the bride, and I am even having second thoughts about the whole affair, which seems far more commercial than festive. But on the other hand, I want to publicly praise and honor the bride and groom, who, oddly, are still nowhere in sight, and I am concerned that they will be hurt if I forego the toast.

So I agree to do the toast, advance payment and all, and excuse myself to freshen up before I am called to the podium. As I stand up, I realize in horror that my gown is a mess. It is bright pink taffeta, the color of bubble gum, and way too long, so that I’m afraid I’ll trip over it. Even worse, there is a large, dark stain across the bodice.

As I awaken in a panic I begin to consider the meaning of the dream, which I believe was warning me about the need for a right spirit within the church, or bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:23-32). One day, I hope and believe very soon, all those who are saved 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) will attend the most important wedding celebration of all time. 

At the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9), we will celebrate the eternal union of Christ the Bridegroom with His bride, namely the called-out assembly of born-again believers (John 3:3-8), or the church. This will occur in Heaven after the Rapture of the church, when Jesus calls us home and meets with us in the air, along with the Old Testament saints who were saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) before Jesus’ resurrection, and those New Testament saints who went home to be with Him before the Rapture. 

These two groups will be resurrected into glorified bodies and ascend to meet Jesus in the air. Immediately thereafter, those believers who are still living will be instantly transformed into glorified bodies and also rise to meet Jesus and the resurrected saints (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17).

When Jesus had His last Passover meal with His disciples on the eve of His crucifixion, He said that He would not drink the fruit of the vine again until He drank it with them in the kingdom of God (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25). I believe He was referring to that Marriage Supper of the Lamb, where Jesus Christ will be united with His bride the church, and all the Old Testament and Tribulation period saints will be in attendance.

In the meantime, He commanded His apostles to remember the promise of salvation through His shed blood and broken body each time they shared a meal or Communion together (Luke 22:19-20). Communion therefore remembers the past, completed sacrifice Jesus made to pay for all our sins; honors the present fellowship of the bride of Christ with Him and with one another; and anticipates the future Marriage Supper of the Lamb (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

Communion with fellow members of the bride of Christ should be filled with service to and love for one another, and remembrance, love and honor for Jesus Who paid our sin debt in full (Hebrews 10:10) so that we can eagerly look forward to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and blissful eternity to follow.

The apostle Paul warned the church at Corinth not to take part in communion lightly, and to reflect on our relationship with Christ and with one another to restore any wrong attitudes before we partake in this fellowship (1 Corinthians 11:16-22,27-34). I believe that the dream was warning me that if we’re not careful, individual churches can lose sight of the Church, the dearly beloved Bride of Christ for whom He died (Ephesians 5:25), and even of Christ Himself (Revelation 2:4).

My husband and I are blessed to be part of a loving, Bible-based, Christ-honoring church that prays for and ministers to our members, visitors, community, and global missions. The precious Name of Jesus is exalted at every service and His Word is preached, taught and sung. But there is a disturbing trend among many churches to forget their identity as part of the bride of Christ, and to incorporate worldly traditions and ideals in their services, meetings, and community interactions (1 Corinthians 11:16-22).

The strangest part of my dream was the absence of the bride and groom at their own wedding celebration. Christ, the Bridegroom, has promised that if two or more are gathered in His Name, He will be in their midst (Matthew 18:20). But if churches honor others instead of Him, His Spirit may no longer grace their meetings with His presence.

I was shocked and saddened recently to see a large, expensive advertisement for a church Easter celebration that not once mentioned the Name of Jesus, His Resurrection, or plan of salvation. Instead, it spoke of “celebrating the new you” and featured a large head shot and name of the musical guest artist. It boasted “no ticket needed,” for in fact this service seemed to be more about a concert honoring a singer, than a worship service praising our risen Savior.

In my dream, even the bride was absent. If churches are not careful, their meetings will become little more than social networks to catch up on the latest news, fashion and gossip, rather than to strengthen fellow believers in their faith and understanding of Scripture (Hebrews 10:25) and to bear their burdens (Galatians 6:2) and share their joys. In such meetings, the true Bride of Christ is missing, for the “church” members are relating to one another as they would to unsaved acquaintances, focusing on worldly things and not on Jesus.

Some churches today are so large that most of the members do not know one another, which may deprive the members of accountability and opportunity for Christian friendship. In my dream, even the hostess appeared to lack any genuine relationship with or even knowledge of the guests.  

Not surprisingly,  the atmosphere in my dream was impersonal, drab, lifeless, and lacking the joy (Psalm 21:1; 35:9) and hope (1 Peter 1:3) that should perfume the air (Hebrews 1:9) at any wedding celebration, and especially one honoring the union of Christ and His bride. As is common in the world, commercialism prevailed, with advertising gimmicks and even fees charged to honor the bride and groom.

Many “Christian” organizations charge dues or require “suggested” donations, and many churches not only regularly sell merchandise, beverages and food but have become meccas of multi-level marketing. I wonder, if Jesus were walking the earth today, if He would throw down the sales racks, cash registers and catalogs and chastise the churches for becoming a den of thieves instead of a house of prayer (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46).

Sadly, some church budgets seem to prioritize branding, giveaways and worldly entertainment to draw in large numbers, preferably the wealthy. Meanwhile, they neglect the poor and hurting in the community whom Jesus has called us to serve (James 1:27; 2:1-9); they overlook sound doctrinal teaching (2 Peter 2); and they omit the Name of Jesus (Acts 4:12) and His shed blood from their music, which is designed to soothe itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3) rather than to glorify Him (Psalm 95:1).

Those who attempt to serve at such world-oriented churches may find that they have to pay for the privilege, or that the churches are hiring paid musicians and denying their own members service or even giving opportunities. I heard of someone who joined a megachurch and reported excitedly, “They’re so rich that we don’t even have to tithe!”

How sad that “church” members would be led to miss out on the blessing God has promised (Malachi 3:8-12) to those who faithfully obey His Word, including the tithe! But much of today’s “church” has become like the church at Laodicea, rich in goods but poor in spirit, causing Jesus to be nauseated by their lukewarm attitude and wrongly placed self-sufficiency (Revelation 3:14-22).

In such a setting, the lost are unlikely to be saved, and even saved believers will not thrive spiritually. Every believer should be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, shining and spotless as a wedding garment (Isaiah 61:10). But many at such churches will be left behind when Christ returns for His bride, and they will be ashamed at their ill-fitting, inappropriate, sin-stained garment (Matthew 22:1-14).

May we not forget our first love! May our hearts burn with passion for Him and for one another, honoring Christ and His bride until He comes again! 
© 2017 Laurie Collett
Womanhood With Purpose
Adorned From Above
No Ordinary Blog Hop