Saturday, October 14, 2017

Triplets of Salvation: Restore

Photo by mbboston 2009
As I am slowly recovering from my illness by God's grace, the word "restore" comes to mind for the physical, mental and spiritual healing only God can provide. Only in Him can we be made a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15), once we are saved by our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Hoping my readers enjoy this repost from the archives on the topic "restore."

In the comedy movie Bean, Rowan Atkinson plays a bumbling security guard assigned to protect the portrait of Whistler's Mother, bought by a museum for $50 million. When Bean is alone with the masterpiece for a few moments, he accidentally sneezes on the painting and then wipes it with his handkerchief, not realizing that it is soaked in ink from a pen that broke in his pocket. Things go from bad to disastrous as the ink stains the portrait; Bean tries to remove the stain with lacquer thinner, which dissolves Whistler’s mother’s face; and Bean “restores” it by drawing a cartoon face on the canvas.

In reality, the skill of fine art restoration is a highly technical, painstaking and detailed process requiring expertise, knowledge, and artistry. Man’s attempts at restoring broken lives, relationships and situations can be as clumsy as those of Bean unless they are guided by the Holy Spirit. Only God is the master Restorer, or Potter (Jeremiah 18:4; Isaiah 64:8; 29:6; Romans 9:21) who can reassemble the broken shards of our lives into a unified whole, remove the stain of sin from the canvas of our soul, and fill the empty spaces with an even better design than the one that was lost.

As we saw previously, three key words for salvation are redeem, restore, and renew.  Each of these is described in patterns of three in the Scripture, echoing God’s triune nature,

In the literal sense of the word, it may be necessary to restore physical property (Genesis 42:25,28; Leviticus 6:4,5; 25:27,28; Judges 11:13;17:3; etc.), animals (Exodus 22:1,4; Leviticus 24:21; Deuteronomy 22:1-2; 28:31; etc.), or persons (2 Kings 8:1,5; Isaiah 57:18; Matthew 12:13; Mark 3:5; 8:25, etc.) that are damaged, stolen or killed. Restoration may involve being repaired, replaced, or reunited with the rightful owner, spouse, or employer.

At God’s instruction, the pagan king Abimelech restored Sarah to Abraham as his wife and also gave him sheep, oxen and servants to make up for him desiring her, not knowing she was married to Abraham (Genesis 20:7,14).
Naomi lost her sons to starvation in the famine, but God restored to her, through her daughter-in-law Ruth, descendants who would not only bring new purpose to her life but who would lead to the blood line of Jesus Christ Himself! (Ruth 4:13-22)

When Joseph was imprisoned along with Pharaoh’s butler and baker (three prisoners), he correctly interpreted the butler’s dream of three budding branches on the vine, from which the butler plucked the grapes, pressed them into a cup, and gave the cup to Pharaoh (Genesis 40:11,12). Joseph accurately predicted that in three days, Pharaoh would restore the butler to his former position, as described in three verses using the word “restore” (Genesis 40:13, 21;41:13).

Joseph asked the butler to remember him when he was released, to be kind to him, and to mention him to Pharaoh so that Joseph would also be released (Genesis 40:14). Joseph also correctly interpreted the baker’s dream of three white baskets on his head filled with baked goods eaten up by birds to mean that in three days, Pharaoh would behead the baker, hang his body on a tree, and allow the birds to eat his flesh (Genesis 40:16-20). What a dark contrast to the butler’s dream foretelling restoration!

Moving from the physical to the spiritual realm, there are three main uses of the word "restore" as it applies to spiritual restoration: personal restoration of the believer by God; restoration of other believers by children of God led by the Holy Spirit; and restoration of God’s creation by Himself at the end of the age.

In the Shepherd’s Psalm (Psalm 23), David praises God for restoring his the midst of difficulties and trials, which involves God’s provision of green pastures (physical sustenance), still waters (spiritual peace), and paths of righteousness (deliverance from sin; v. 2,3).  Despite the dangers of death, evil, and enemies (v. 4,5), David thanks God for preparing a feast for him, anointing his head with oil, and filling his cup to overflowing (v. 5). He looks forward to God’s ongoing blessings of goodness, mercy and eternal life (v.6)

In Psalm 51, David begs God to restore to him the joy of his salvation (v.:12) as he repents of sinning wickedly against God in adultery with Bathsheba, deceit in attempts to cover his sins, and ultimately murder of Uriah (2 Samuel 11). This type of spiritual restoration involves God looking away from our sins, blotting out our sins (Psalm 51:9), and not rejecting us because of our sins (v. 11). Once this cleansingphase of restoration occurs, God can complete the process by creating a clean heart in us, renewing a right spirit within us (v.10), and upholding us with His spirit (v. 12).

The second type of spiritual restoration refers to born-again (John 3:3-8), mature believers restoring fellow Christians who have fallen into habitual sin, which is possible only through Holy Spirit guidance. This process has three goals: bearing one another's burdens, teaching one another from the Word, and doing good to everyone, but especially to fellow believers (Galatians 6:2,6.10).

However, Paul gives three warnings concerning this. Firstly, only spiritual Christians living for God, and not carnal Christians led primarily by their sin nature (Romans 7:15-25; 8:1-17), should attempt this process. Secondly, they must correct the fallen Christian in meekness and humility, not committing the sin of pride with a “holier-than-thou” attitude. Third, they must avoid temptation themselves, remembering the ever-present sin nature that may make it easier for a carnal Christian to pull a spiritual Christian into his own wayward lifestyle or habit than for the spiritual Christian to restore the backslider (Galatians 6:1,2).

Paul expands on these three warnings regarding restoration of other believers by counseling the one attempting the restoring not to think too highly of himself (v.3), not to sow to his own flesh (v.8), and not to get tired and give up on helping others (v.9). For those following Paul’s advice in restoring fellow believers, three rewards await: eternal life (v.8), spiritual harvest (v.9), and being a new creature glorying only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (v.15). They will be blessed with God’s peace, mercy (v.16) and grace (v.18).

The third type of restoration in the symbolic sense refers to God’s plan for His creation at the end of the age. May we trust God to restore us from sin and to joy in Him, enabling us to encourage and guide one another!
© 2014 Laurie Collett

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Lessons Learned In Illness

The Bible and our own lives overflow with examples of why God allows us to suffer through trials for our ultimate good and His glory (Romans 8:28; Philippians 4:12). They draw us closer to Him in faith and complete reliance on His strength (2 Corinthians 12:9); they give us wisdom, compassion and experience to counsel others going through similar trials (1 Corinthians 10:13), and they mold us into the image of His Son through suffering (Philippians 3:10).

Praise God, my husband Richard and I have been blessed with generally excellent health since being saved, although we have not been immune to other trials. But now as he is recovering from bronchitis, and I far more slowly from pneumonia, we have realized that there are additional lessons to be learned from illness in particular. These include:

Gratitude for blessings we ordinarily take for granted. There is a saying, “What if we had today only those things we thanked God for yesterday?” As the pneumonia grabbed hold, I wished I had thanked God more for the gifts of breathing freely, undisturbed sleep, appetite, and walking across the room without having to cough or get short of breath.

The apostle Paul tells us to give thanks in all things, for this is the will of Christ Jesus concerning us (1 Thessalonians 5:18). In other words, it is God’s will that we have a thankful heart through all trials. In addition, we can have faith that whatever He allows into our life is His perfect will for us – not something we would choose or may even understand, but something He will use for our ultimate good and His glory.

Humility. When I am well, part of my ego and flesh are invested in my worldly accomplishments: teaching, singing, dancing. I have long realized and acknowledged that these are only possible as He allows, and that He has entrusted these gifts to my stewardship provided I am faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2).

But nothing drives the point home that without Him, I can’t even take my next breath, when I struggle to do just that. By the grace of God, three weeks ago we completed in four days a series of five physically demanding dance shows (ten dances) to a total audience of more than 5000 people. Today it is a struggle to stand up long enough to brush my teeth, and I am thankful that no one witnesses that struggle.

Without Him I am nothing and can do nothing (John 15:5), but with Him all things are possible! (Matthew 19:26) I pray that He will restore my strength in His perfect will and timing. But in the meantime, praise God that His grace is sufficient, and that His strength is made perfect in my weakness! He gives me reason to glory in the illness, for when I am weak, He is strong, and His power may rest upon me! (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Compassion and intercession for others. It is relatively easy to pray for those who are sick and hurting as their names come up on our prayer list. But sometimes it takes being sick ourselves to have empathy for what these dear ones are going through, empathy that brings them into our heart in the still of the night and leads us to lift them up before the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). If we pray one for another, we will be healed (James 5:16), for when we do that, we are not praying for our own selfish desires (James 4:3).

God finally ended Job’s troubles and restored him completely once he began praying for his friends (Job 42:10). Personal sickness reminds us of what the apostle Paul said about the whole church body being out of joint when a single member hurts (1 Corinthians 12:26-27). It teaches us to pray fervently, not only in our affliction, but once our health is restored, for those brethren in physical need. Only then are we showing God’s love, by bearing one another’s burdens and so fulfilling the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

I am humbled by expressions of love and kindness, as well as prayers, from those who are chronically ill and have health and other issues far worse than mine, May this illness teach me to follow their Godly example of self-sacrificing love!

Knowing that God is working all things together.  Once we are saved by placing our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), we are His called and chosen people, for whom He has had a specific purpose or mission since before the world began (Ephesians 1:5,11). This illness did not catch Him by surprise, and He made provision to lessen the burden in so many ways.

My husband’s illness began before mine, so that I was able to take care of him at his worst, and to do household chores and order supplies that would simplify our lives once my illness began. When my pneumonia was at its peak, Richard had already begun to recover, and I am truly blessed and humbled by his loving care and attention to me when I need it most.

Because of our extended time away for the dance shows, we had cleaned and organized the house before we left, so the environment was more conducive to healing once we returned. Because of Hurricane Irma, the Missions Conference at our church, to which we ordinarily devote a considerable amount of our time, energy, and resources, was postponed.

At the worst point of the pneumonia God gave me the wisdom to realize that we could not be ready for a major event scheduled at our ballroom in only two weeks, despite our best intentions. Richard was in complete agreement and made all arrangements for it to be rescheduled for early next year, which turned out to be an unexpected blessing for many others involved, as well as a considerable load off our minds and weary bodies.

A traveling family who does Gospel singing and preaching had an unexpected cancellation, allowing them to be in church this Sunday as our pastor recovers from a minor procedure. Of course, nothing is unexpected for God, and our whole church is thankful for His provision. For me personally, it was also a sign from God not to try to attempt to return to teaching or singing before He allows me to be able.

Praying and living moment by moment. As I lay awake one night feverish and unable to sleep, I thoughtlessly prayed, “Dear Lord, Please let me sleep restfully through the night and let me be completely healed in the morning.” We always want what we want, and we want it now!  

But God knows what we need before we even ask Him (Matthew 6:8), even if it is not what we think we want; He answers in the best possible way (Matthew 7:11); and His timing is always perfect (Galatians 4:4). Tribulation gives rise to patience and increased faith as we wait on His perfect solution, and patience in turn leads to experience, hope, and the love of God flowing from our hearts to others (Romans 5:3-5). 

We are not promised tomorrow (James 4:14; Luke 12:16-20), so we should be mindful of and thankful for every moment He allots us. God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23), and He asks us to pray each day for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11), not for supplies to hoard for the future. When the Israelites attempted to gather manna for the next day, it would spoil (Exodus 16). Praise God that He gives us fresh blessings every moment!

As I thought about my prayer, I realized that in an extreme form, it would be like being born again (John 3:3-8), and then praying: “Dear Lord, Thank You for saving me. Now please let me have a great life serving You, and when I see You face-to-face, I’ll give You all the glory!” A Christian praying such a prayer in isolation could not be a useful vessel to Jesus Christ, as our walk with Him (Colossians 2:6; 1 John 1:7) depends on constantly listening for and following the sound of His still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12).

So I modified my sleepless prayer, “Dear Lord, You have promised never to leave me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5), Please enfold me in Your arms for the next hour and give your beloved sleep (Psalm 127:2) that is peaceful, healing, restoring, and renewing. Thank You for the healing You will bring about with Your perfect timing and grace.”

God answered that prayer, and when I awoke in a little over an hour I prayed it again, this time sleeping for more than two hours, for He answers our prayers exceeding abundantly beyond what we could do or think! (Ephesians 3:20). Throughout the night I alternated between refreshing sleep, sweet fellowship with Him, and prayer for others He brought to my heart. In the morning I felt that healing was beginning to be underway.

Under Divine inspiration, the apostle Paul commanded us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Romans 1:9; 2 Timothy 1:3). When life seems to be going as we had planned and hoped, we are less likely to thank God in constant praise and worship and to seek His face regarding His will for our life. But when He brings us to our knees, we are in the best possible position to pray continually to be aligned with His specific mission for us,

This involves not only His overall will for our life, but specific assignments He gives us daily to test our obedience and accomplish His purposes. What would have happened if Jesus, Who had the single most significant God-given destiny, did not take the time or considered Himself too important to be interrupted by the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), or the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8:43-44), the lepers, the blind, or so many others?

May the lessons learned in illness and other trials stay with us, reminding us to rely solely on Jesus Christ and His perfect plan for our lives; to pray for and help others with sincere, heartfelt compassion; and to live empowered by Him, thank Him and pray to Him moment by moment!

© 2017 Laurie Collett