Saturday, April 25, 2015
A friend recently posted on Facebook that FEAR has two meanings: Forget Everything And Run, or Face Everything And Rise. To these I added my own anagram, Faith Endures All Resistance!
When the storms of life come pounding on our front door, we may be tempted to sneak out the back way and flee, not realizing that we are putting ourselves in even worse danger. But Jesus Christ allows us to confront and stand fast in the storms (1 Corinthians 16:13; Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:7-8), sailing above the turmoil to heavenly places with Him (Ephesians 1:3; 2:6). He is our Rock and Tower in Whom we have refuge (2 Samuel 22:3; Psalm 18:20, for His strength is made perfect in our weakness; His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9); and His perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).
This is true only if we have placed our faith in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), turned away from our sins (Acts 3:19; 26:20; 2 Timothy 2:25), and asked Him into our heart (Acts 8:37; Romans 10:9-10). Then we are saved by His grace through our faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), which allows us to do all things and endure all trials through Christ Who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5), but with Him, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
The Bible has many excellent examples of faith overcoming fear in the storm. By faith, Peter left his ship in the storm and walked on the water to meet Jesus, sinking only when his gaze left his Lord and focused instead on the billowing waves below. Yet even in Peter's failure to keep the faith, Jesus rescued him (Matthew 14:24-32), and He will do the same for us when our faith falters (Matthew 17:20; Mark 9:24).
The disciples caught in the storm, with Jesus seemingly asleep at the helm, panicked as the sea was about to engulf them. They cried out to Jesus, not so much for salvation as to berate Him for not caring about them! Yet He rose above it all, calmly telling the winds to be still, bringing peace not only to the waves but to the hearts of His disciples who seemingly had lost faith (Mark 4:37-41).
Praise God that He knows all our weaknesses, fears and doubts, yet loves, saves and protects us anyway! (Psalm 8:4; 139) He allows us to go through such storms, brought on by Satan who is the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), because they strengthen our faith in and reliance on Him. Time after time God proves Himself faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9; 10:13), yet our sin nature still questions, doubts, and fears.
The apostle Paul was no stranger to storms, both figuratively and literally, having been nearly drowned, as well as shipwrecked three times (2 Corinthians 11:25). Paul, like the rest of us, struggled with the weaknesses of his flesh and sin nature (Romans 7:14-24) to the point that he knew he had to die daily (1 Corinthians 15:31) to these if God were to use him for His glory.
Yet God faithfully worked all these disasters together for good (Romans 8:28) to use Paul to spread the Gospel throughout Gentile nations (Romans 1:13-16). When Paul was arrested in Caesarea, he used his Roman citizenship to request an audience before Caesar himself in Rome, and Festus granted it (Acts 25).
God can use even pagans to accomplish his purpose, and here He used Festus to book Paul’s passage to Rome, the center of the empire and a key mission field where Paul would have a great opportunity to witness (Acts 27-1-2). True, he would have to travel as a prisoner, and endure storms, shipwreck, and other dangers along the way, but God was the unseen Captain charting the voyage.
Evidently through his good character, behavior, and Christian witness, Paul had sufficiently impressed Julius, his prison guard, that he could be trusted, so Julius let Paul visit his friends in Sidon when they landed there (Acts 27-3). What a welcome, yet unexpected, blessing from God, extended to Paul while he was a prisoner!
Contrary winds as they left Sidon changed their course to Myra in Lycia. Yet had it not been for this detour, they may not have immediately found a ship going to Italy once they landed (Acts 27-4-6). God allowed the storm to direct their path to work things out with His perfect timing, reminding us that sometimes the storms of life do the same for us by keeping us out of even deeper trouble.
Another storm led them to the pleasant harbor of Fair Havens. Despite Paul’s warning, they stayed there so long that another storm was brewing, and it would be dangerous sailing (Acts 27-7-9). We enjoy the peaceful times when all seems to be well, but sometimes these unchallenging circumstances allow us to get lazy and linger too long in leisure rather than pressing on with the journey God has set for us.
King David fell into that trap when he took some time off after battle to relax at home instead of training with the troops. His idleness led to lust as he allowed himself to gaze at beautiful Bathsheba while she was bathing, then his lust resulted in adultery, deception and ultimately murder (2 Samuel 11:1-17). Far better to undergo the hard times God has planned for our own good than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (Hebrews 11:25) and suffer the consequences (Romans 6:23; 7:5; James 1:15).
God Himself had told Paul that sailing so late from Fair Havens would damage the cargo and ship and even the risk the lives of the sailors and prisoners. But the guard of the prisoners did not believe Paul and instead believed the ship’s captain who said it was fine to sail, most likely ignoring the.financial motive of the captain who wanted to book passengers on his ship (Acts 27-10-11).
How often do we make a similar mistake, listening to advice from our worldly friends instead of Godly counsel inspired by the Holy Spirit? God graciously speaks to us through such advice from fellow believers (Proverbs 27:17; Psalm 37:30), as well as through prayer and His Word (Psalm 119:105), and we ignore His guidance at our own peril.
Following the world, like sin itself, can bring pleasure for a season before it turns deadly (Romans 12:2). As they embarked from Fair Havens, they had a gentle wind and good sailing at first, but a storm brewed and then raged so that they could not even steer the ship and had to go wherever the waves carried them (Acts 27-12-14). Sometimes God lets us go through storms that are so severe that we have to give up control and trust Him completely.
They washed ashore on the island of Clauda where they tried to repair the ship, but there was quicksand on the island and they had to set sail again in a hurry to avoid getting stuck (Acts 27-16-17). When we fail to heed God’s counsel, it seems that dangers attack us from all sides and force hasty retreat (Proverbs 22:3,12).
The next day the storm was so bad that the sailors had to toss out some of the cargo to make the ship lighter so it wouldn’t sink. On the third day the storm battered the ship so violently that they even had to start tearing down and throwing out some of the ship’s rigging (Acts 27-18-19). When God lets us go through storms, it makes us realize that we have to let go of some things we thought were important but are actually weighing us down, and focus only on Him (Matthew 6:19-21; Hebrews 12:1). Thank God that He is all we need!
Not only was the storm terrible, but they had not even seen the sun or stars for many days because of the clouds. The sky gets darkest just before dawn in our spiritual life as well as in the natural universe, and everyone in the ship, except for Paul, had lost hope (Acts 27-20). But Jesus is the bright Morning Star (Revelation 22:16), and He had a plan.
God used this storm to give Paul a chance to witness to the others on board. He had tried to warn them, because God had told him about the danger ahead, but they had not listened. Now they were so desperate that he definitely had their attention! As the saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes, and God may allow the unsaved to reach the brink of death before they take Him seriously (Psalm 40:2).
An angel of God had told Paul that no one would die in the storm, and that God’s mission for Paul to witness to Caesar would be fulfilled. Paul told his fellow passengers of his faith and God’s faithfulness. It is not easy to witness, especially in a life-threatening situation with strangers and even enemies, but God gave Paul courage to do it, and He will do the same for us if we ask Him.
God had allowed the sailors to lose their cargo and suffer damage to the ship, but all their lives would be saved (Acts 27-21-24). If they believed the good news about Jesus that Paul shared with them, they would live forever, so they lost worldly possessions but gained the most precious treasure of eternal salvation! (Matthew 13:46; Mark 8:35)
If we look back on our own lives, we will see many times when storms strengthened our faith and gave us unexpected opportunities to witness, just as they did for Paul. God used these storms to enlarge Paul’s mission field where he could spread the Gospel of grace, as we shall see next week!
© 2015 Laurie Collett
Friday, April 17, 2015
As we saw last week, God’s Triune nature, reflected in triplets of Scripture, is echoed in the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-21; Luke 22:7-30). For Jesus, His apostles, and born-again believers, this sacrament remembers the past, celebrates the present, and expresses our sure hope for the future.
Thanks to Christ’s completed work on the cross, all of us who trust in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6) have eternal life with Him. We are saved by His grace through our faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). So taking part in communion, like being baptized or joining a church, can’t save us.
Why, then do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper? Because He commanded us to -- to remember His sacrifice, to fellowship with Him and one another, and to look forward to His Second Coming. Paul summarizes how Christ told us to do this (1 Corinthians 11 17-34): in a spirit of truth (v. 17-19), sharing (v. 20-22), and self-examination (v. 27-32). He warned the church to address division (v. 18), heresy (v. 19), and revelry (v. 21-22) before they could take part in this sacrament, so that they would not receive the judgments of weakness, sickness or even death (v. 29-32).
Paul heard directly from Jesus about the Lord’s Supper and its significance (v. 23-26), because he was not present at that meal; he told it to the church at Corinth; and thanks to his first letter to Corinth being preserved in the New Testament, he also shared it with all believers thereafter. Jesus took the elements, gave thanks to the Father, and distributed the elements to the disciples.
When observing communion, we should follow Christ’s command to the disciples to take the bread, eat it, and remember that it symbolizes His body, broken for us to pay all our sin debt (v. 23-24). Similarly, He told His followers to drink from the cup, to remember each time they drank that it symbolizes the new promise of His blood washing away our sins (Matthew 26:28; Romans 3:25), and to look forward to His second coming (v. 25-26).
Communion therefore involves remembering Christ’s past, completed sacrifice for us (John 19:30; Hebrews 7:21-28); celebrating our present salvation through that sacrifice (1 Corinthians 15:1-4); and anticipating that glorious moment when we will break bread with Him in Heaven (Revelation 19:9). The three essential elements of the communion sacrament are not only the bread and the fruit of the vine, but also a cup to contain, distribute, and share the grape juice.
The cup may symbolize the cup of Jesus’ suffering, which He drank to the dregs to redeem us; our body as the earthly vessel filled at the moment of salvation by His Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22); and the sharing by all members of the body of Christ (Romans 12:5) in His blood, shed for our sins to redeem and cleanse us.
Jesus commanded all of His disciples to drink from the communion chalice with Him, acknowledging that they would drink the cup of suffering for His sake, including the baptism of martyrdom for some, but that it was up to His Father to assign specific positions of responsibility in his Kingdom (Matthew 20:22-23; Mark 10:38-39). Similarly, all born-again believers will suffer for Christ’s sake (1 Peter 4:12-19); some will be martyred; and some will receive heavenly leadership positions based on earthly service (1 Corinthians 3:10-14).
The sacrament of communion looks back to Jesus’ perfect, completed sacrifice, His broken body, and His shed blood (1 Corinthians 11: 23-25). Communion also celebrates our ongoing, present relationship with Christ. Each time we partake of the bread and fruit of the vine, whether in a church service or at our own table, we have fellowship with Him, we affirm the new covenant, and we become more like Him by assimilating His Word (John 6: 51-58).
Jesus told His followers to eat His flesh and to drink His blood, not in a literal sense as the Catholics believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation, where the wafer literally becomes His body. If that were the case, everyone who took part in communion would be guilty of crucifying Christ all over again. Thank God that when Jesus said “It is finished,” (John 19:30) it truly was! His perfect, priceless, agonizing sacrifice paid the debt in full for all our sins (John 1:29), past, present and future.
Many of Christ’s followers could not accept this saying and abandoned Him because of it. Jesus of course was not speaking of cannibalism or any other literal interpretation, but of the need for His followers to desire Him more than our daily food (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4); to become assimilated with Him (Romans 12:5; Galatians 3:28) by ingesting His Word as our daily bread; and to be nourished completely by Him, physically, spiritually, and eternally (John 15:5).
As born-again believers participate in a communion service or even as we break bread at our table, we commemorate what Christ did for us and thank Him that we presently are a new creation in Him (2 Corinthians 5:1). But we also anticipate with glorious hope (1 Peter 1:3) His Second Coming, when we shall experience the Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:51-53; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17), the Judgment Seat of Christ (Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10), and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9), when He shall again drink the fruit of the vine with His followers (1 Corinthians 11: 26).
To partake Biblically in communion, our participation should involve not only the sacrament itself, but also the self-examination before and the worship following, which symbolizes our fellowship with Christ and His church as we hold hands in a circle, give thanks in prayer (Matthew 17:27), and praise Him in song (Matthew 17:30; Mark 14:26).
As we share in communion, may we remember how He saved us, thank Him for our abundant life with Him now (John 10:10), and look forward to eternal life with Him (John 3:16) in Heaven!
© 2015 Laurie Collett