Saturday, October 28, 2017

Ministering Spirits

The world is caught up in Halloween celebrations, which can range from children playing dress-up and asking neighbors for candy; to adults finding an excuse to indulge in mysterious libations and provocative, satirical or even violent costumes and fantasies; to even more sinister acts paying homage to or worshipping Satan and the evil spirits he dominates.

The Bible warns us against consulting evil spirits, as King Saul did directly when he asked the witch of Endor to communicate with the departed soul of the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 28:7-21)), or indirectly through astrology, witchcraft, wizardry and soothsaying (2 Chronicles 33:6; Leviticus 19:31;20:6; 2 Kings 21:6; Acts 16:16-18). Today this would include such activities as consulting a horoscope, fortune teller, Ouija board, or Tarot deck, or attending a seance. Many Halloween festivities feature practitioners of these dark arts.

Scripture also warns of the power of evil spirits to inhabit the soul, spirit and body of those who leave themselves open to demonic possession, and shows the miraculous power of Jesus Christ to cast these out even when His disciples could not (Mark 5:2-19; Luke 4:41; 7:21; 8:2; Matthew 4:24; 8:16, 28-33; etc).

Thankfully, once we are saved by placing our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), we are immediately indwelled by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). We therefore cannot be demon possessed, for He Who is in us is greater than He Who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

At Halloween and year-round, born-again Christians (John 3:3-8) should not be preoccupied with evil spirits, but we should instead thank God for ministering spirits. God sends these to minister to those who will inherit salvation, implying that they protect those who will be saved one day as well as those who already are saved (Hebrews 1:14).

Angels in Scripture communicate divine messages, such as telling the Virgin Mary that God had chosen her to give birth to His Son (Luke 1:26-38); and Abraham that his wife Sarah would conceive in her old age and he would father a great nation (Genesis 18); and Zacharias that his barren, aged wife Elizabeth would give birth to John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25).

But in addition, God has sent angels to protect, guard and minister to His children going through trials and danger. At least at times, these angels may appear in human form. The author of Hebrews tells us to practice hospitality to strangers, for in so doing, we may be entertaining angels while unaware of their true identity (Hebrews 13:2).

God sent His angel to shut the mouths of the ravenous lions about to devour His faithful servant Daniel (Daniel 6:22), and to prevent Abraham from sacrificing Isaac as God had commanded (Genesis 22). He sent angels to comfort Jesus after He was tempted by the devil for forty days (Matthew 4:1-11), and again in the garden of Gethsemane as His emotional distress was so great on the eve of His passion that He sweated blood (Luke 22:42-44).

In my own life, I believe there were at least two instances when God sent invisible angels to protect my loved ones even before they or I were saved. When my husband Richard was renovating an old building where we would soon open our Rhapsody Ballroom, I drove there one evening with our two-year old son to see how it was coming along,

“Brendan drive!” our son exclaimed excitedly as we got in the car, trying to grab my keys. Once we arrived, I brought in my purse and keys and placed them out of Brendan’s reach on the very top shelf of a bookcase against the wall. Richard called me over to the other end of the ballroom-to-be, where he was working on the music center.

From there, we suddenly realized in horror that Brendan was climbing up the bookshelf to get the keys, about 70 feet away from the music center, and that the bookshelf was not yet fastened to the wall. Powerless to intervene in time, we watched the shelf teeter and fall to the ground with a sickening thud, with Brendan on the top shelf.

I felt his very short life flash before my eyes as we ran over, for from our vantage point it appeared that the shelf had struck him across the forehead and pinned him beneath, crushing his head. But when we reached him he was laughing and shouting “Shelf go boom!” Miraculously, my purse had slipped between the top shelf and the floor, suspending it about 1 inch from Brendan’s forehead! Surely an unseen angel had positioned my purse to protect Brendan’s head and even guided him gently to the floor!

Even though we were then unsaved and unaware of Bible teaching regarding angels, we knew enough to thank God for saving our child’s life, after we shed tears of relief and shared many group hugs!

Several years later, when we were still unsaved, Richard was renovating the separate room at the back of the ballroom, where he had exposed the ceilings to give us more height to practice overhead lifts. As he stood on the top step of a 15-foot ladder, the metal suddenly collapsed beneath him and he fell from that height onto a hard floor consisting of wood-grain flooring applied directly to cement.

Although he was severely shaken and sore, he did not hit his head, nor was a single bone broken, nor did he even suffer any sprains! We didn’t know it at the time, but this room was where our dance ministry would much later take shape, as we would choreograph to Christian music and themes under Holy Spirit guidance. I believe Satan was trying to thwart this future ministry by injuring Richard, but that God sent an unseen angel to cushion his fall. Otherwise, damage from such a fall might not only have ended our dance career, but even his life!

But sometimes God sends angels that appear in human form, ministering spirits to comfort, guide or rescue His children. Shortly after we were saved and baptized, I sang in a Christmas cantata at our church, and afterwards our family of three went for brunch at a small restaurant consisting of only several tables in a single room.

I began to chew a bite of roast beef when it suddenly slid down my windpipe and I could not speak or even breathe. I grabbed Richard’s hand and gestured my predicament. He began patting me assertively on the back, and then so forcefully that we later found indentations on my skin from the beaded jacket I was wearing. When that didn’t work, he slipped his finger into my throat to try to dislodge the meat, all to no avail.

“Oh, my God, she’s choking!” someone said. I began to realize that minutes had gone by and I still could not breathe, and that at any moment I could asphyxiate and be brain dead. Help me, Jesus! I prayed silently.

Suddenly a man I had not noticed before, of average height but muscular, with dark hair, wearing a black turtleneck and slacks, walked over to us, gently placed a hand on Richard’s arm to move him aside, and calmly said, “Excuse me.”

He reached toward me as if he were about to do a Heimlich maneuver, but the instant I felt his touch, I also felt the piece of meat slide down my esophagus, freeing my airway.

“I’m fine! I’m fine!” I cried loudly.

“Are you sure you’re OK?” Richard asked.

I hugged Richard and repeated, “Yes, I’m fine, praise God!” We immediately turned back to the man to thank him, but he was gone! We raced through the small restaurant looking for him at every table, but he was nowhere to be found inside or in the parking lot. We asked the diners if they had seen him, but no one could explain where he went or how he seemed to vanish into thin air!

As Halloween calls attention to evil spirits, let us praise God for ministering spirits, and may we be continually aware of and thankful for their presence!   

© 2017 Laurie Collett


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Without Form, and Void

Photo by Going Down 2014

When Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution became widely accepted after publication of his book in 1859, despite the lack of supporting evidence according to Darwin himself, it caused a panic in some Christian circles. Surely adhering to the Biblical, six-day account of God’s creation of everything from nothing would make the church look ridiculous in the world’s eyes, especially among scholars.

But trying to adapt God’s Word to changing times was then, and will always be, a grave error. Jesus Christ, Who died for the sins of the world (John 1:29) and rose again to prove His divinity (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), so that all who trust Him as Lord and Savior would have eternal life (John 3:16), is unchanging. He is the Word (John 1:1), and He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

The heaven and earth will one day pass away, but God’s Word will never pass away, for it is unchanging and everlasting (Matthew 24:35). No wonder Scripture warns of a terrible penalty for anyone who adds to, changes, or takes away from the words of this Book (Revelation 22:18-19), yet that is exactly what all the new translations and revisions have done.

After evolution had become the catchword of the day, Cyrus I. Scofield wrote notes in his 1909 study Bible that he perhaps thought would help reconcile Darwinian and Biblical accounts of how the world came to be. His thoughts, often referred to as the gap theory, interposed a long, event-filled period of time between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2:

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

The rest of Genesis 1 describes an overview of what God created, by the words of His mouth, on each of the six literal days of creation. Scofield proposed that God had at one time created the heaven and the earth (Genesis 1:1), but that something terrible happened between verses 1 and 2, presumably Lucifer falling from heaven (Isaiah 14:9-14) and destroying the earth as Satan, so that the perfect universe God had made was now shapeless, empty, and dark.

Would God allow Satan such complete power to annihilate His beloved creation? When He did destroy the earth by flood to judge mankind for his wickedness, it was by His own hand (Genesis 6:13), after preservation of a faithful remnant (Noah and his family) and representatives of His animal creation (Genesis 7:7-9). God Himself formed the earth and made it not in vain, but to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18).

This undefined, presumably long, time period Scofield implied between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2 could theoretically allow time for the processes of evolution to occur, thus not offending the Darwinian “scientists” while still tipping the hat to God overseeing the whole process.

But God is not the author of confusion, but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33). Why would He spell out in specific detail what happened on each of the days of creation, emphasizing that each of these was a literal, 24-hour day (each framed by an evening and morning, as is the Hebrew tradition), and then leave out so many vital details between the very first and second verse of the Bible? (Genesis 1:5,8,13,19,23,31)

Is it not more reasonable to assume that Genesis 1:1 is a summary statement, known in English composition as a topic sentence, giving us an overview of what the rest of the chapter will describe, namely how God created everything from nothing? And that Genesis 1:2 describes the very first step of the process, namely that God first created the space to which He would add all good things comprising His creation?

Critics of this theory say that God would have simply created a finished product, rather than going through an amorphous phase. But Genesis 2:7 gives us further insight into God’s creative process. He did not speak Adam, the first man, into being as a finished product. Instead, He formed Adam from the dust of the ground – an amorphous, empty, drab material, much like the earth when it was shapeless, empty and dark.

Just as the power of the Spirit moved across the waters to transform the earth (Genesis 1:2), God breathed the Spirit into Adam’s nostrils to make him a living soul (Genesis 2:7). God made man in His (plural) own triune image, reflecting the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in man’s soul, body, and spirit (Genesis 1:26-27).

So perhaps we can draw some inferences about God’s creative processes from those of artistic geniuses in the human realm. An artist such as Leonardo da Vinci begins with a blank canvas, then fills the space with line, shape and color to transform it into a glorious painting. A sculptor such as Michelangelo begins with a seemingly shapeless, rough, drab mass of marble, then frees from within it a polished, dramatic, evocative sculpture reflecting light and emotion.

The producer of a play begins with an empty, dark stage and populates it with sets, lighting, props and actors who tell a meaningful, gripping story where once there was nothing. A major difference between the creative process of these human artists and the ultimate creative genius of God Himself is that He alone supplied even the raw materials – the blank canvas or stage – which He filled with all things that are good (John 1:3).

We see many examples of this in nature, such as the caterpillar that completely dissolves within the chrysalis to an amorphous soup to emerge as a butterfly, an entirely new creature. In the spiritual realm, God can take the shapeless, drab fragments of clay that represent the life of a sinner, and add meaningful form, utility and light, representing a sinner saved by grace to become a new vessel suitable for His use (Isaiah 29:16; 64:8; Jeremiah 18:4; Romans 9:21).

Only God could transform the darkness, chaos and abject failure that seemed to permeate the death of Jesus on Calvary’s cross into eternal light, hope and victory over sin, hell and death as Christ rose again! (Matthew 27:45-53; 28:5-10).

Praise God that He alone can make something from nothing, and beauty from ashes! (Isaiah 61:3) Praise God that He does not stop there, but adds light, purpose, and design to accomplish His purpose through His creation and through each one of us who trusts Him! 

© 2017 Laurie Collett