Saturday, February 27, 2016

Follow the Light

Photo by Emilian Robert Vicol 2010

While reorganizing the kitchen pantry a few months ago I was surprised to find a plastic bag containing several vegetable seed packets dated 1998. I had totally forgotten they were there, but at least I learned that I really ought to clean out my cupboards more often!

Rather than toss the seeds, I thought it would be interesting to see if they had any life remaining in them, so I planted a few seeds of each variety in the wells of an egg carton.

Lo and behold, seven days later a determined seedling pushed through the soil, after 18 years of lying dormant in the dark! It was a bush bean, according to the notation I had made on the egg carton. The dried casing that had once covered the seed lay shriveled up beside the new sprout.

In the days and weeks to come the bean plant grew rapidly, shedding its first set of paired leaves and sporting new ones in clusters of three. Readers of this blog, knowing my penchant for patterns of three in nature and in Scripture as reflections of the Trinity, will understand my excitement at seeing these leaf triplets!

The bean stalk always inclined itself toward the overhead kitchen light, sometimes growing on an angle, so that I had to turn it in the opposite direction to help it grow straight. But no matter how often I turned it, it would keep reorienting toward the light.

About a week later, the bean sprout had company. A melon seedling timidly poked up through the soil, barely distinguishable from the white particles of perlite in the starter mix. But it was far less vigorous than the bean, and instead of following the light, it inclined itself toward the bean plant, apparently preferring its company to seeking out its own source of new life.

And, just as I had given up on any other seeds taking root, a very tiny, threadlike shoot appeared in the mint well. I practically needed a magnifier to spot it! Yes, these expired seeds (20 varieties) brought forth three live seedlings!

Despite more time, water, light and fertilizer, however, the mint only crept horizontally along the ground, stunted in its growth and never lifting itself to the light source or even to its neighbors.

Needless to say, it will be a long time, if at all, before we enjoy the fruits of this miniature “garden!” But at least observing these seeds grow brought to mind some Bible truths.

The first is to never give up hope! With God, all things are possible! (1 Peter 1:3; Matthew 19:26) To our human reason, planting seeds 18 years after their intended growing season is a ridiculous exercise in futility. But God’s timing is always perfect (Daniel 11:29; Galatians 4:2), and nothing is too hard for Him (Isaiah 59:1).

He promised and delivered a child to Abraham and Sarah when they were ancient and long past their fertile years (Genesis 18:14), blessing them with a son and all mankind with a great nation that would give rise to the Messiah (Genesis 26:4).

Much later, God the Father allowed His Son, Jesus Christ, God in human form, to raise Lazarus from the dead even when his body was already decomposing (John 11:39-44).

Best of all, He raised Jesus Christ Himself from the tomb (Matthew 28:6) to everlasting life in His glorified body, so that all who place their trust in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven will have forgiveness of sins and abundant and eternal life with Him! (John 10:10,28; 14:6; Acts 13:38; 26:18)

Our earthly body may crumble in the grave, left behind like a discarded seed covering, but our soul and spirit will one day unite with a heavenly body that will never age, get sick, feel pain or die (1 Corinthians 15:35-50).

God’s children may grow impatient waiting for Christ’s return (Titus 2:13) and the Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) – I know that I keep looking up!. But we need to remember that with Him, one day is as a thousand years (2 Peter 3:8), and to have faith that He is working behind the scenes, allowing all who would be saved to accept Him (2 Peter 3:9), and preparing mansions in Heaven (John 14:2) for each of us!

In each of our lives there may be long periods of dormancy. Before we are saved, the Holy Spirit works in our lives and in our hearts to plow that infertile soil until His Word of salvation takes root (Matthew 13:3-23).

In my case, decades elapsed between the first time I heard a clear presentation of the Gospel and the moment I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior. So never give up on praying for (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and witnessing to (Matthew 28:19) unsaved loved ones!

Once we become His children, there may be long periods when we are “on the shelf,” not engaged in meaningful service (1 Corinthians 9:27) or bearing fruit (Matthew 21:19), either through our own disobedience or because God is preparing us for a much greater work. We should pray for brothers and sisters in Christ going through these fallow times, for we can have faith that He has an amazing plan for each of us (Jeremiah 29:11).

How can we live so as to orient ourselves with that perfect plan? By following His light. No matter which way the world turns us about and tries to pull us away from God, Who is Light (1 John 1:5), we must constantly keep our gaze and mind fixed on Him. Just as the bush bean grows constantly in the direction of the light, we must walk in the Light, and then we will bear the fruit of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:8-14).

That will bring us the perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3) of knowing that we are in His will and that He is guiding our path (Psalm 119:105), giving us direction to grow in Him. He is the Light of the world (John 8:12; 12:46), and if we follow His light, we too are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), turning others from darkness to light (Romans 2:19; Acts 26:18).

The melon, growing sideways as it inclined toward its neighbors, reminded me of those who are attracted to personalities in the church, or even to false teachings (2 Timothy 4:3), and not to Christ Himself (1 Corinthians 1:12-15). As our late pastor used to say, man will always let you down, but Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

It makes me wonder how many unsaved people are still in the dark because they have concluded that Christians are hypocrites, and how many Christians have dropped out of service because they were hurt by a pastor or other church leaders?

And finally there is the mint, stunted in its growth because it only crept along the dirt. Men prefer the darkness because their deeds are evil (John 3:19), shirking from the Light Who will expose their flaws. If we keep our minds in the gutter by exposing our eyes, ears and senses to filth, we cannot experience the renewing of our minds and transformation (Romans 12:1-2) into the new creature Christ wants us to be in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17).

May we focus on what is good, lovely and pure (Philippians 4:8) by following His Light, so that we can be the light of the world and lead others to Him!  

© 2016 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Triplets of Confirmation: Mary, Mother of Jesus

Artist A.N. Mironov 2014: Jesus presented at temple

As we have seen in recent posts, God carefully orchestrated the details of Mary’s life, including her family tree, her betrothal to Joseph, and their places of residence, so that Jesus would fulfill the prophecies about the promised Messiah.

Mary’s genealogy (Luke 3:23-38) included ancestors who reflected God’s plan of salvation for all people. His mercy, grace, and love is illustrated in Adam’s rebellion (Genesis 3:6-19); Noah being spared from destruction with his family as the faithful remnant (Genesis 6-8); and Enoch, foreshadowing how those who walk with God will be raptured (Genesis 5:24). It included the patriarchs and rulers, namely Abraham, Isaac, and David, of Israel, God’s chosen nation.

Mary’s husband Joseph also was the descendant of David, confirming Jesus Christ’s claim to eternal rule on the throne of David (Luke 1:32). Joseph’s character of faithfulness, compassion, and loyalty enabled him to obey God’s commands as His servant, devoted husband to Mary, and Godly father figure to Jesus. Joseph’s home town of Nazareth, family city of Bethlehem, and temporary residence in Egypt all fulfilled specific Messianic prophecies concerning Jesus Christ.

After Jesus was born in a Bethlehem stable, the family spent time in three places when He was a young child. The first was a house in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:8-11), perhaps belonging to one of Joseph’s relatives who invited the new family to stay once taxation by Caesar Augustus was completed (Luke 2:1-5) and the overcrowded town began to clear out. The second was in Egypt, where they fled for safety, as Herod was bent on destroying male infants (Matthew 2:16). The third was in Nazareth, where they returned once the danger was passed (Matthew 2:21-23).

Through His angel speaking to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 2:8-11, 13,22), God commanded Joseph to take his family to Egypt, and then to return to Nazareth, with His perfect timing. In total, God spoke to Joseph in a dream three times, the first being when He told Joseph to marry his betrothed, for she was carrying the Son of God  (Matthew 1:20-21).  Each time that God spoke, Joseph obeyed and Mary followed without question, hesitation, or complaint.

As a result, not only was Jesus kept safe and alive, but Messianic prophecies were also fulfilled. It had been foretold that the Anointed One would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1-6), be called out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:17-18), and be named the Nazarene (Matthew 2:23; Isaiah 11:1).

Given Mary’s observance of the law (Luke 2:22-24) and apparent familiarity with Scripture (Luke 1:46-47), she may have realized with every move that these prophecies were coming to pass, strengthening her faith in what God had said about the remarkable destiny of her Son (Luke 1:26-38). 

During Jesus’ early childhood, there were three occasions in Israel (two in Bethlehem and one in Jerusalem), where Mary and Joseph received further confirmation that Jesus was the promised Messiah. The first of these was on the night of His birth, when shepherds came to worship Jesus and conveyed the Good News that they had heard from the angel (Luke 2:8-20).

The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what they said to Mary, Joseph and the Babe (v. 16), only that all wondered at their news, and that Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart (v. 18-19). Based on what the angel had said, the shepherds may have spoken of glory to God, peace on earth, and good will toward men (v. 14). They may have repeated that the birth of this Child in the city of David meant good news and great joy for all people, for He is the promised Savior, Christ, and Lord (v. 10-11).

Mary may not have yet realized that her Son’s gift of salvation mandated His death, burial and resurrection to pay for all of our sins, reconcile us to Holy God, and give eternal life to all who trusted in Him (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:15-19; Hebrews 9:26-28). But over the next weeks, months and years, the puzzle pieces started to fit together.

The second confirmation of Christ’s destiny occurred when Mary and Joseph traveled from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to present Jesus at the temple at 40 days of age, as the law of Moses commanded for the firstborn male (Luke 2:22-28). This confirmation came from Simeon, an old worshipper who was just, devout, and waiting for Israel’s salvation (v. 25).

The Holy Spirit was upon Simeon; He revealed to him that he would not die before seeing the Christ Who would deliver His people; and He guided Simeon into the temple on the day that Mary and Joseph brought Jesus there (v. 25-27).

Realizing that Jesus was the Christ Child, Simeon took Him in his arms, blessed God, and blessed Joseph and Mary (v. 34). He was now ready to die, now at peace, for God had kept His promise to him (v. 29). This precious Child he held was Salvation for Jews, Gentiles and all people (v. 30-32) who believed in Him.

But for Mary, despite this amazing revelation, it was not all good news. Simeon told her that Jesus was set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; for a sign which others would speak against; and that her own soul would suffer unimaginable grief as she watched the sword pierce her Son (v. 34-35).

Through Holy Spirit inspiration, Simeon spoke to Mary and not Joseph, which was appropriate as the Bible does not mention Joseph after the incident where Jesus, still a youth, remained in Jerusalem, causing His family quite a panic (v. 41-51), as we shall see next week!. Evidently Joseph, who was likely older than Mary, did not survive long enough to see Jesus embark on His earthly ministry, nor to see His crucifixion or resurrection.

Thankfully, God did not leave Mary alone to ponder Simeon’s troubling prophecy, for Anna was at hand to affirm the Good News that Jesus was the promised Savior (v. 36-38). Anna was a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser. She was elderly, and had been married for seven years but now had been widowed for 84 years.

Despite this burden, Anna showed her faithfulness to God by never leaving the temple, fasting and praying to God night and day. She came to comfort Mary “in that instant;” she thanked God; and she witnessed to all in Jerusalem that Jesus would one day redeem them.

Mary’s third confirmation regarding the destiny of her Son came in Bethlehem, when Jesus was a young child (Matthew 2:1-12). Wise men reading Scripture prophecy about the future King of the Jews knew that He would be born In Bethlehem; that He would be a Governor; and that He would rule Israel. They sought Him, rejoiced when they saw the star leading to Him, and followed the star straight to the house where Jesus, Mary and Joseph were living.

On arrival, they entered the house that the star had identified, saw Jesus, and fell down before Him. Then they worshipped Him, opened their treasures, and presented three gifts to Him; gold, frankincense and myrrh. They heard God warn them in a dream that they should not report back to King Herod, obeyed God, and returned home by traveling another way.

How Mary's heart must have overflowed with thanksgiving, amazement, and yet sorrow as she contemplated what would happen to her Son. Now His Divine destiny was confirmed not only by shepherds, and even by prophets, but also by the wisest men of their day, who had sacrificed their time, treasure and pride to honor Him.

Did Mary understand the significance of their gifts – gold fit for a King (Revelation 17:14;19:16), frankincense because He is our great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16), and myrrh, used to anoint a body for burial, because He was born to die? Whether she knew it then or only as she saw the events of His earthly ministry unfold, it is certain that she submitted to God’s perfect plan, obeyed His Word (Luke 1:38-39), and trusted in His Son (her Child) as her King, Lord and Savior (Luke 1:46-47).

Just as her ancestor Abraham trusted God (Genesis 12:1-12; Hebrews 11:8) to reveal His perfect plan in His perfect timing, one step at a time, so did Mary, and so must we. Only then can we experience the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), joy in the Lord (Psalm 21:1), and the fulfillment that comes from hearing Him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21)

Praise God that He gives us the reassurance, confirmation, and direction at every bend in the road, if we stop, look and listen to His messages!

© 2016 Laurie Collett
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