Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Visit

Photo in Central Park by Steveen Manon 2012

In this dream, I am expecting a visit that evening from someone I’ve never met before, but whom I know is very important to my life. At last I will meet face to face with the formerly anonymous patron of my college education, and I want to make a good impression on him so that he’ll continue to support me in achieving my life goals.

On a gray wintry day in New York City, I’m preparing for this visit that could determine my destiny. I want my benefactor to know that I am physically fit, but then I realize that actually I’ve let myself go and I’m no longer in very good shape. So I begin jogging around Manhattan and even stop at the gym, but I’m too exhausted to complete this last-minute workout.

Knowing that my physical fitness is less than exemplary, I wonder if I can find the perfect outfit that would at least help me look my best. I spot a gorgeous, turquoise lace pageant gown in a boutique window. But it costs $460 and I haven’t saved up any money or even established any credit, so I leave the store empty-handed.

I enter another upscale store, but no one is there. I spot a package of crackers on top of a cabinet and suddenly realize I’m ravenously hungry. After toying with the idea of leaving some money to pay for my “purchase,” I just take the crackers and leave, reasoning that they won’t be missed. Filling my stomach reminds me that I should be hospitable and prepare a meal for my guest. So I decide to rush home to see if I have any provisions in my cupboard and to buy whatever else is needed.

I find myself in Central Park, where the trees are ablaze in fall colors, brightening the dreary sky and momentarily lifting my spirits. My apartment is on the East River, so it shouldn’t take me too long to get there. But then I realize too late that I’m on the wrong side of the park, and that I’m headed west instead of east.

I want to hail a taxi, but the streets are strangely deserted. In a panic, I realize that night is falling, the appointed hour for the visit has come and gone, and that I missed him because I was unprepared and preoccupied with unimportant things.

As I awoke, my thoughts turned to the Visit I am most eagerly awaiting – the Rapture when Christ shall return to meet His children in the air (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). Jesus Christ alone is my Benefactor Who has not only blessed me so richly in my life to date (John 10:10; James 1:17), but Who has secured my eternal destiny in Heaven through His death on the cross, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Based on Bible prophecy and current events (Matthew 24), it seems like the remaining time before this meeting in the clouds is very short, although no man knows the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36). How we spend this time can alter our eternal future. Those who do not know Christ as their Lord and Savior will be left behind to face the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21). If they accept the mark of the beast, who is the Antichrist, they will be irreversibly doomed to eternal hell (Revelation 14:9-11).

Even many who are now in churches, yet not born again (John 3:5-8), will be left behind and no longer able to make the crucial transition from having an intellectual understanding of Who Jesus Christ is to having an intimate heart relationship with Him (Romans 10:9). Sadly, they will be deluded and believe the lie that the Antichrist is God, accepting his mark and then being doomed to eternal punishment in hell (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

These “Christians” in name only will be like the foolish virgins who are unprepared for the wedding feast, representing unsaved people who think they will go to Heaven because they are church members or come from a Christian home. Unlike the wise virgins, representing born-again believers, the foolish virgins lack oil in their lamps, which symbolizes the indwelling Holy Spirit. When the Bridegroom returns unannounced, the foolish virgins are locked out from the feast and from His presence because they had left to buy the oil they should have already received (Matthew 25:1-13).

For those of us who are saved, how we spend these last moments before His return could determine whether we have crowns to lay at His feet (Revelation 4 9-11) and eternal rewards to enjoy in Heaven, or whether we will suffer loss when we face Him at the judgment seat (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). The fields are ready for harvest, and yet the laborers who are bringing souls to Him are few (John 4:35-36; Luke 10:2). Are we doing all we can to spread the Good News of salvation through our faith in His grace? (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Each day we face choices, and our decisions can glorify Him or be a meaningless detour set up by Satan to distract us from God’s will for our life. Physical fitness is good because it helps to preserve our body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). And yet if we neglect our spiritual fitness, we cannot possibly fulfill God’s perfect plan for us (1 Timothy 4:8).

In the dream, it was futile for me to engage in a last-ditch effort to get physically fit. In reality, we cannot achieve physical or spiritual development in a single, short-lived burst, as both require daily discipline over the long haul.

Many churchgoers spend excessive hours and dollars in selecting a flattering outfit and stylish accessories for church, and even having their hair and nails done. Yet I know that Christ loves and accepts me unconditionally, whether I’m dressed to the nines in a pageant gown or just wearing my old pajamas. There is nothing wrong with wearing our best to God’s house if we do so out of respect and love for Him and it does not hinder our service, make others uncomfortable, or deplete our money better spent on offerings.

I have seen young women in church wearing stiletto heels that were so high that they could not climb the few steps to the choir loft without help, often from elderly singers who could have used assistance themselves. I have heard of women who were struggling financially hesitate to come to church for fear of looking shabby next to their well-heeled sisters. Sometimes our priorities are sadly misplaced.

As we dress and get ready for church, do we spend enough time and prayer in preparing our hearts (1 Chronicles 29:18; Job 11:13) to receive God’s blessing and to bless others with His light (Matthew 5:14) and love shining through us? Our obedience can be a testimony to His mercy and grace, or we can lose the power of our testimony by sins that Satan convinces us are harmless, even something as seemingly insignificant as taking a package of crackers that belongs to someone else.

The Christian race set before us (Hebrews 12:1; 1 Corinthians 9:24) is a marathon, not a sprint, and last-minute efforts are likely to be too little and too late to be of lasting value. Yet if we have gone off course (Hosea 11:7; Jeremiah 3:14), as I did in my dream, neglected the daily discipline needed for a meaningful walk with Christ (1 Corinthians 9:27), or never entered the arena, now is the appointed time (2 Corinthians 6:2) to get on track!

We don’t know when Jesus will come again (Matthew 24:42-44), so may we be ready for His all-important Visit! Come quickly, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)

© 2014 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Why Does God Allow Us to Suffer?

As we saw last week, Jesus is always there to hear and answer the prayers of His children, and He always does so in the best possible way, motivated by perfect love and enabled by infinite power and wisdom. This is often difficult to understand when we are praying earnestly and in His will, and yet He is allowing us to suffer, for one of several reasons, as part of His perfect plan.

If our suffering is a consequence of our sin, God may use this as part of the chastening process, as a loving Father disciplines His children to shape their character and behavior (Proverbs 13:24; Hebrews 12:6; Revelation 3:19)

Yet not all our suffering is the result of our personal sin (John 9:1-3)  Physical or emotional pain unrelated to our own sin helps to make us more like Jesus Christ, as we can identify with His suffering for us on the cross even though He was blameless, pure and holy (Philippians 3:8-10).

Or, God may permit us to experience loss – of health, wealth, power, cherished dreams, and even of loved ones – to strengthen our faith in and dependence on Him (Job 1). If we ignore His still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12) and His more urgent calls, and if we quench and grieve His Spirit living in our heart (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30), it may take disaster to bring us to our knees and to call out to Him in distress (Psalm 34:18). He receives our broken spirit and heart as cherished sacrifices to Him, allowing Him to restore us (Psalm 51:17).

Even when we are submitting to His will, God may allow painful experiences to afflict us so that we gain wisdom and compassion to counsel others going through similar trials (2 Corinthians 1:7; Colossians 3:12). His light within us shines the brightest when we are in the darkest of circumstances. Job refused to renounce his God even when he had lost nearly everything he once held dear (Job 23:10-12).

Paul found the peace that passes all human understanding and perpetual joy in the Lord (Philippians 4:4,7) when he had undergone countless hardships and was imprisoned in a miserable jail cell (2 Corinthians 11:24-30). He was able to thrive in all circumstances because of His intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, Who provided for all his needs (Philippians 4:12-13;19). Paul teaches us to receive that peace by handing our anxieties over to Him in prayer with thanksgiving and praise (Philippians 4:6-7).

God’s grace is sufficient and His strength is made perfect in our weakness, so we have reason to rejoice in our shortcomings (2 Corinthians 12:9). We can even rejoice in our sufferings, as our perseverance through trials builds our character and gives us the sure hope of God’s love through His Spirit that lives within every believer (Romans 5:3-5). No matter how dark is the night of our sorrow, He promises that joy will come in the morning and that He will turn our mourning into joyful dancing (Psalm 30:5-12)

Once we begin to try to appreciate the limitless depths of God’s love, wisdom, and power, and to trust His grace and mercy (Psalm 119:76-77) to always work all circumstances together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28), we can begin to find the emotional and physical healing we so desperately need (Psalm 147:3). His compassion and mercy are unfailing, faithful, and new every morning, always giving us new hope and a fresh start, no matter what our circumstances (Lamentations 3:19-26).

First, we should realize that He knows what we need before we even ask Him (Matthew 6:8,32; Luke 12:30), yet He wants us to pray because it changes us. His perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18), and His presence strengthens and upholds us so that we have no need to be afraid (Isaiah 41:10). God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). The Bible commands us to “Fear not!” 365 times – one for every day of the year!

He urges us to cast all our cares, or anxieties, on His broad, loving shoulders (1 Peter 5:7). We can find peace by keeping our mind, heart and priorities fixed on Him (Isaiah 26:3-4), through prayer, studying and mediating on His Word, and praising and worshipping Him in all circumstances, knowing that this is His perfect will (1 Thessalonians 5:18). God is not the author of confusion, but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33).

We can try to carry our own burdens of sin, guilt, shame, regret, unforgiveness and bitterness ourselves, and grow weary to the point of exhaustion and despair. Or we can lay them down at the foot of His cross, where He paid the complete price for all of these, once and for all, freeing us to find His rest (Matthew 11:28) and to receive all the blessings He longs to give us (Luke 11:13).

He exchanges our burdens for His blessings, and He renews and transforms our mind if we turn from thoughts of evil and the darkness of this world (Romans 12:2) to meditating on His light of truth, beauty and excellence (Philippians 4:8).

The greatest blessing we could have in this life is to be in the center of His perfect will, for He created each of us for a purpose designed long before we were even conceived (Psalm 139:13,16). We are His workmanship (Ephesians 2:8-10), created for a specific plan destined for good and not for evil (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

When believers face Jesus Christ at the judgment seat, it will not be to pay for our sins (He has already paid for these in full) or to determine whether we can enter Heaven, for He has given us His perfect righteousness allowing us to spend eternity in the presence of Holy God (Romans 3:25).

Rather, at the judgment seat, believers will be rewarded for service done for Christ with the right motives, or we will suffer loss for not using opportunities He gave us to fulfill His perfect plan for our life (2 Corinthians 5:10). How sad it would be to miss out on these opportunities and rewards because we gave up too soon, losing hope in our own ability (with good reason) yet failing to trust in His unfailing power!

No matter what struggles we face in this life, we can have victory in Christ Who has overcome all the evil in this world (John 16:33). If we have repented of our sins and asked Him into our heart as Lord and Savior, we have the glorious hope – meaning the sure and joyful expectation – of eternal life with Him in Heaven, and the hope of victory in all our earthly woes (Romans 15:13).

Where there is life, there is hope! (Ecclesiastes 9:4) Jesus wants us to enjoy abundant life in Him (John 10:10) here and now, in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13), to choose life over death as commanded in His Word (Deuteronomy 30:19; Proverbs 13:14). His promises preserve our life (Psalm 119:50).

Realizing that our body is His holy temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19), which we should present to Him daily as a holy, living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2), will help us make the right choices to honor our body as His dwelling place. Not only is this pleasing to Him, but healthful choices in how we nourish and rest our body and protect it from toxins and other harm will help to keep our vessel in optimal working order to serve Him. Time on this earth to serve Him is short (James 4:14; John 9:4), so may we utilize it to the greatest extent possible!

Praise God that He is always with us, faithful to hear and answer our prayers, to love, protect, guide and comfort us in our earthly journey until we meet Him face to face in glory!

© 2014 Laurie Collett
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