Saturday, April 27, 2013

Water and Oil: Cleansing and Holy Fire

I was about to enjoy a crispy salad for lunch when I was reminded that oil always floats on water. As long as I kept shaking the bottle of salad dressing, oil droplets swirled through the vinaigrette, but as soon as I stopped, the oil rose to the top in a smooth layer. That got me thinking about Bible references to water and oil, and their complementary qualities as symbols of God’s mercy and grace.

In Scripture, cleansing water (1 John 5:6,8) and burning oil may each symbolize the Holy Spirit, Who has qualities of Living Water (Jeremiah 17:13; John 4; 7:38) as well as of holy fire (Isaiah 10:17). John the Baptist practiced baptism by water as the forerunner to Christ’s baptism by the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:36). John’s baptism by water was an act of repentance for sin, but Christ’s baptism with the Holy Ghost was compared to fire (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16).

Christ’s shed blood washed believers clean of all sins (Revelation 1:5). After Christ’s completed work on the cross and His resurrection, the Holy Spirit, like cloven tongues of fire, landed on the disciples at the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). The parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25) suggests that only those virgins with oil burning in their lamps – those who are indwelled by the Holy Spirit – will be admitted to the marriage supper, representing the Rapture to meet the Bridegroom in the air.

To be indwelled by the Holy Spirit, we must be born again, first by water (the physical birth) and then by the Spirit (John 3:5-8). This requires cleansing from our sins through our repentance and God’s forgiveness due to the substitutionary death of His Son (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). We must place our faith in Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (1 Cornthians 15:1-4) as our only Way to Heaven (John 14:6). As we realize, and continue to learn more and more about, Who He is, our hearts will burn within us (Luke 24:32), and we will be on fire for the Lord.

Water is sometimes called the universal solvent, because its cleansing action dissolves impurities and flushes them away. In contrast, oil tends to adhere to small particles, keeping them in contact with the skin or other surface. First we shower and then we apply perfumed body oil or beauty cream – it wouldn’t make much sense to reverse the order!

Similarly, we need the cleansing action of the Living Waters before the oil in our Spirit-filled lamps can burn brightly with a sweet fragrance. God dealt with Jerusalem and His chosen people in a similar sequence – first He cleansed them with water, and then He anointed them with oil (Ezekiel 16:9).

We see a moving example of cleansing and anointing in Luke 7 (38-48), in the sinful woman who wept at Jesus’s feet, washing them with her tears. No doubt her tears were shed in Godly sorrow, in repentance for her sins, as were the tears of David (Psalm 6:60;119:136) and Jeremiah (9:1,18; Lamentations 3:48). First her tears cleansed His feet from the dust and grime of the dirty roads, symbolizing the sins of the world, for Jesus Himself had no sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Then she wiped His feet with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with precious ointment. The oil in ointment allows it to preserve and convey perfume, spices and other costly substances. This woman stored her ointment in a costly alabaster box, which may have represented her dowry or all her worldly treasure. Yet she broke open the box and bestowed all the ointment lavishly on Jesus without considering the cost, because her heart was ignited by the Holy Spirit with passion to serve Him.

In a rainy parking lot, we may see oil drops floating on the wet pavement, causing a striking, rainbow-hued, swirling pattern known as a fractal. The light would not reflect in this jewel-toned design were the oil not aligned in a thin film, buoyed up by the water beneath. Similarly, the light and beauty of the Holy Spirit are not visible unless carried afloat by the Living Water indwelling each believer.

Cleansing, purification and anointing, as symbolized by water and oil, are essential to true worship. Oil and water in Scripture also reflect God’s provision, blessing, power, and judgment, as we shall see in subsequent posts.

May currents of living water flow forth from each of us, supporting the oil of the Spirit to reflect His brilliant light!

© 2013 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Infant, or the Kitten?

Photo by Mehregan Javanmard

In 1882, Frank R. Stockton wrote a famous short story, “The Lady, or the Tiger?” about a convicted man who had to choose between two doors. One door led to freedom and marriage to a beautiful maiden, and the other to cruel death by a ravenous tiger. I had a dream recently in which I was faced with an equally life-changing decision.

In the dream, I was living in a strange country far from home. I had no provisions for my stay, but I heard that the ruler was giving away special gifts uniquely suited to each recipient. I lined up with many others to receive my gift, and one by one we were seated in small cabins ascending into the sky, like a ski lift.

When my seat reached the platform where an official was distributing gifts, I was shocked when he placed an infant in my arms. I had hoped for money, or a job, or a house, or some other way to sustain myself in this foreign land, and here I was with another mouth to feed!

But as soon as I held him I felt an unaccustomed sense of peace, hope, and awe at his perfect composure and regal bearing, so unexpected from such a young child. When he smiled, his eyes sparkled with sunbeams that lit the darkest recesses of my heart. Although I didn’t know how, I vowed that I would devote my life to caring for him.

As I held him on my knee he laughed with delight at various sights, drawing my attention to delicate flowers hidden along the path below, butterflies wafting on the breeze, a breathtaking waterfall that I would have missed otherwise. I had never before felt such joy or anticipation for the journey.

Suddenly I was distracted by a crawling sensation at my feet that made me shudder, and I feared that it might be a spider or even a tarantula. But to my surprise, on the floor of the cabin was a tiny white kitten, rubbing against my calves, wanting to be petted. I was concerned about the infant, but the kitten seemed so helpless and innocent that I reached down to stroke it.

Photo by Alicia Harvey 2007

With a plaintive “Meow” the creature leaped into my lap, still out of reach of the infant. But the baby fixed his eyes on me with a reproachful glance that cut through to my very soul, and my eyes filled with tears as I realized that I had betrayed him. The velvety skin on the pads of the kitten’s feet retracted suddenly to reveal cruel talons, and it pounced upward, clutching my throat.

I awoke in a panic, relieved that it was just a dream. Yet it got me thinking about the message our preacher gave last Sunday about the danger of letting sin creep into our life.

We are indeed strangers in a distant land, for our life on earth will be over in a flash (2 Corinthians 4:17). Then we will spend eternity in heaven or in hell, depending on whether or not we have been born again and trusted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Life on earth is full of trouble (Job 14:1), with no promises even for tomorrow (James 4:13-15). The best gift anyone could ever receive while on earth is the gift of salvation, of placing your faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only way to heaven (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 14:6). Not only does that guarantee your eternal life in heaven, but it gives you abundant life here and now (John 10:10).

Not only will God provide for your physical needs (Psalm 37:25), but He will bless you spiritually with joy in Him (Nehemiah 8:10; Isaiah 61:10; Philemon 1:20), peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), and faith that He is working all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

The infant in my dream symbolized Jesus Christ, Who took on human flesh to come to earth as an Infant while retaining His divinity (John 1:14). He is all we need (2 Corinthians 12:9; Philippians 4:13). At the moment of salvation we are filled with joy, hope, and zeal to serve Him and to dedicate our lives to Him. If we remain faithful to that vow, we will be richly blessed by being in His perfect will (Romans 12:2).

But sadly, it is all too easy to let temptation creep into our lives, distracting our focus from Jesus. Why would we waste any of our time and energy on anything so clearly inferior to His perfection, especially when He promises us an escape from temptation? (1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Peter 2:9)  If we yield to temptation it becomes sin – often a vicious cycle of sin compounded upon sin -- and the wages of sin is death (Luke 11:4; Romans 6:23).

If we have truly been born again (John 3:3-8), our salvation and eternal life in heaven are secure no matter what sins we commit (John 10:28-29), for His death on the cross paid for it all (1 John 2:2; 4:10). Yet sin inevitably results in other forms of death (Romans 5:12-21). Sin kills our testimony and effectiveness as ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20); it demolishes our fellowship with Him (Luke 15:18-21); and it ultimately destroys our physical body through injury, substance abuse, and/or illness.

The devil doesn’t cloak temptation in black robes and warn us with thunder and lightning bolts to stay away. Instead, he lures us in, disguising temptation in beauty appealing to our eyes, our flesh, or our pride (1 John 2:16). He may tempt us into evil plans and deeds through the sympathetic whisper of a “friend.” (2 Samuel 13).

Temptation may appear as innocent and harmless as a kitten, but if you accept its advances, it will ultimately turn on you and endanger your very life (Proverbs 7).  Samson (Judges 16:4-20), David (2 Samuel 11:1-15), and Solomon (1 Kings 11:4) all succumbed to lovely temptations, with disastrous results.

In the dream I was concerned about the infant, although not enough to resist the kitten. Yet it is not Christ Who is endangered by our sins, for He has forever conquered sin and death (Romans 5:12-21). We ourselves suffer the consequences of sin, not the least of which is the sadness of knowing we have quenched and grieved His Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30). 

Which will you choose, the Infant or the kitten? Eternal life and abundant life blessed by His fellowship and being in His perfect will, or the downward spiral of sin and death? The choice is yours. But thankfully, He provides all you need to make the right choice. 

© 2013 Laurie Collett
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