Saturday, April 28, 2018

This Moment, or All Eternity

Photo be Maxime Raynal 2015

We tend to think of reality as the sum of our physical existence, past experiences, and future plans. In humanistic and philosophical terms, this is reasonable, for we are to a large extent shaped by our past experiences. Educators speak of “nurture plus nature,” or how our environment and genetics interact to predict our behavior, health, achievement, success, and a variety of other outcomes. And, as the saying goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

And there is no denying that our future plans have a dramatic effect on our present actions. Our goals influence what studies, training, and work opportunities we are likely to pursue, and even what relationships we are likely to seek. Our anticipation of what lies in store, whether good or bad, greatly affects how we spend our time and resources in the present. 

Announcements of life-changing events in the near future have a profound impact on our priorities, whether we learn that we are about to have a grandchild or that we are likely to die in six months from a terminal illness.

But as born-again Christians (John 3:3-8) who have placed 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), there are truly only two realities in the time spectrum: this very moment, and all of eternity. And the same goes for all of us, saved or unsaved.

The past is not something we can change nor a place we can inhabit. We can get caught up in memories of good times or guilt-ridden over prior mistakes, but we can only change their impact in the present moment by adjusting our emotional response and asking God to release their hold on our life through His peace (Philippians 4:7; Isaiah 26:3). Once we are in Christ, we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), and His compassions are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).

If we are in Christian or other service, we cannot rest on our laurels and point to how we used to serve God in the past. In theatre, the adage is that you’re only as good as your last performance. Conversely, our faith in the shed blood of Christ has removed us from our sins (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10) as far as the East is removed from the West (Psalm 103:12). If He has forgotten our transgressions once we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Isaiah 61:10), why should we dwell in them? It is a lie of the devil (John 8:44) to confront us with past sins and convince us that we are therefore of no use to God and His kingdom.

The future should have no more hold on us than should the past. How many people stop enjoying the present, refusing to take vacations or to spend more time with their family now because they are working to secure their retirement and enjoy these experiences then? But sadly, they often find that an unexpected illness or loss of a loved one deprives them of fulfilling that dream.

In the Scripture example of the wealthy man who planned to build more barns to hoard his accumulated possessions, so that he could live comfortably for many years, Jesus called him a fool for not realizing that he would lose his life and his soul the very same night (Luke 12:16-20). James warns us that our life is but a vapor, vanishing like the exhaled breath before our face on a cold day, and that what happens tomorrow depends totally on the will of God (James 4:14-15) and not on our own plans (Proverbs 16:9).

In contrast, many worry about future threats at the expense of enjoying the present. The world is increasingly overflowing with chaos, confusion, persecution, natural disasters, wars, and rumors of wars, as Jesus warned us would happen as we draw closer to the End Times (Matthew 24:3-14). Perhaps we are living under a Damocles’sword of potentially bad news with our next doctor’s appointment, bank statement, or work memo.

But Jesus said that worry accomplishes nothing. In fact, it is actually a sin because it demonstrates our lack of trust that God is working all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Jesus told us not to fret over our physical needs such as food or clothing, for he will provide all these if we seek Him first (Luke 12:22-32; Matthew 6:25-33), and He knows what we need before we even ask Him (Matthew 6:8).

As our former pastor used to say, “Yesterday is history; tomorrow is a mystery; today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.” For each of us, the only reality along the continuum of time is the present moment. We can’t relive the past, and we are not promised tomorrow, or even our next breath (James 4:14-15). All could change in an instant, as it did for Job despite his exemplary obedience to God (Job 1).

But praise God, we do have this very moment to honor, glorify and commune with Him! In all that we do, let us do it heartily, as unto the Lord! (Colossians 3:23). Let us redeem the time, for the days are evil (Colossians 4:5; Ephesians 5:16). Let us give thanks in all things, for this is the will of Christ Jesus concerning us. Let us pray without ceasing by making our life a living prayer, being constantly attuned to God’s will (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24).

For those who have not yet trusted Jesus Christ, today is the day of salvation! Put it off no longer, for even moments from now may be too late! (2 Corinthians 6:2).

But in addition to the reality of this present moment, we must face the reality of all eternity. God’s Word and man’s soul are eternal (1 John 2:17). Those who trust Christ will spend eternity in Heaven with Jesus Christ and their loved ones in Him (John 3:16; Luke 18:30; 1 Corinthians 15:22-57); those who reject Christ face eternal damnation and torment in hell (Mark 3:29; 9:43-48). Time as we now know it will have no meaning, for time will be no more.

For God, eternity stretches back infinitely and reaches forward infinitely (Revelation 1:8), yet “back” and “forward” are not appropriate terms once we are removed from the timeline as we now know it. Time will stand still rather than marching on. Before time began, God designed each of us to be His unique workmanship, to fulfill His specific purpose (2 Timothy 1:9). He knew and knows all things, including who would accept and who would reject His freely given gift of salvation (Ephesians 1:3-7; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Romans 8:29-30).

And once Jesus returns for us at the Rapture, earthly time will cease for each of His children. We shall live forever with Him and each other in glorified bodies that will never age, sin, or experience sickness, sorrow or pain (1 Corinthians 15:22-57). In the meantime, may we live in the reality of this present moment – our only opportunity to fulfill His will for our life – and in the reality of all eternity.

God had a plan for each of us since eternity past. Knowing that we will spend eternity future with Him, may we use each moment to store up treasures in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-20) and to bring others with us!

© 2018 Laurie Collett


Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Lamb of God

I dreamed that we were living in a dystopic society nearing the apocalypse. The governing powers announced one morning that all those in Christian leadership would be rounded up and put to death that evening for “treasonous beliefs,” unless they renounced their faith in Jesus Christ. In a vain attempt to make these actions appear humane, the rulers decreed that all these Christians would be taken to a camp in the woods for a last meal and fellowship with one another.

Two pastors, my husband and I were to be taken together, and we made last-minute preparations. I put on red slacks, sandals, a brown shirt, purple jacket, and a white cap.

“I trust God even if I do die tonight,” said the older pastor. “God has blessed me with a good life; I’d probably die in a few years anyway from natural causes; and I know where I’m going.”

“God has a plan,” the other pastor said.

Their conversation was interrupted by a loud mechanical roar outside and pounding on the door. Armed guards burst inside and escorted us out to a cattle car being pulled by a tractor. We sat quietly with the other prisoners, not putting up any resistance.

Our heads and bones rattled as the tractor pulled us along a rocky, unpaved road up a steep mountain to an abandoned camping lodge in the middle of nowhere. A forest fire appeared to have leveled the trees, and only a few charred stumps poked forth from the scorched earth like stubble on a three-day-old beard. The guards locked the four of us in a dilapidated room containing only four bare cots, one weakly flickering lantern, and a built-in cupboard. The only window had been filled in with concrete.

My husband opened the cupboard, which was empty except for a few roaches that scurried out. “So much for them feeding us, not to mention letting all of us get together for our last prayer meeting,” he sighed.

“I have part of a leftover sandwich,” I said, digging the sorry remains out of my pocket and offering it to him. He gestured to the others and placed it on the ledge beneath the cemented window, beside a chipped old plastic toy bird that some child must have left there.

Suddenly the sandwich transformed into a bountiful, fragrant loaf of fresh baked bread; the bird sprang to life as a white dove; and the obstructed window became transparent crystal befitting a modern cathedral. A brilliant white light shone through the window as the panes opened and the dove flew upward and away. Before us stood the Lamb of God, perfect in His humanity, yet resembling a Lamb with hair as white as wool, indescribably beautiful, radiant, powerful, tender, and compassionate.

As I reached toward His face, I realized we were being transported upward into His light, and I was overwhelmed by utter peace and joy!

Upon awakening and thinking about the symbolism of the dream, I realized that Jesus warned that Christian persecution would increase in the End Times (Matthew 24:6-10), and that Peter reminded us not to be surprised if we are facing fiery trials for our faith (1 Peter 4:12-19). We can only be prepared for these trials if we put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-17), symbolized in the dream by my strange outfit.

Our loins are to be girded with the truth that we are bought (1 Corinthians 6:20) with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-20), red like the slacks. Our feet are to be shod with the Gospel of the preparation of peace, denoted by the sandals. The brown shirt may represent the breastplate of righteousness, as brown is the color of humility. We need to be humble and recognize that we have no righteousness on our own merit (Romans 3:10), but that we need instead to be clothed in the imputed righteousness of Christ (Isaiah 61:10).

Purple is a royal hue and therefore the color of faith in the King of Kings (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16). The purple jacket reminds me of the shield of faith, which we are to use above all to quench all the fiery darts of Satan. We are to protect our mind with the helmet of salvation, symbolized by the white cap. Only when we realize that He saved us by His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) can our sins be washed as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).

All the prisoners in the dream had refused to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ, even though the penalty was death, much like Daniel facing the lions' den (Daniel 6:10-23). The two pastors expressed their trust in God to either deliver them from the earthly danger or to remove them directly to His presence, much like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo as they were thrown into the fiery furnace for their faith (Daniel 3:14-28).

Although the tractor was pulling us up the mountain, that destination and view had nothing to be desired, for it was but a charred wasteland. The best that man can offer by his own efforts are nothing but filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) or dung (Philippians 3:8) compared with God’s abundant provision (Philippians 4:19). He alone can give us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, to His glory! (Isaiah 61:3).

Our seemingly hopeless situation in the barracks reversed completely to a glorious new beginning after we offered what little we had for the good of our companions. Jesus transformed a little boy’s lunch into a banquet for thousands (John 6:5-14), and He honored the widow’s pitiful offering above all the riches poured into the treasury (Mark 12:41-44). The size or the value of our gift means far less to Him than the degree of sacrifice with which we offer it. But no matter how much we give, we can’t outgive God! (Luke 6:38).

In the dream, He transformed the stale crumbs from my pocket to a magnificent loaf that could nourish all, representing Himself as the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 48, 51), and the forsaken toy into the Heavenly Dove of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; John 1:32).

God is light (1 John 1:5), and if we seek Him we can walk in His light (Ephesians 5:8-11; John 8:12) and ourselves be light in this dark and wicked world (Luke 1:79; Acts 26:18; 2 Corinthians 4:6). He will take us from darkness into His marvelous light (Matthew 4:16; 1 Peter 2:9) and elevate us to heavenly places with Him (Ephesians 1:3; 2:6).

Words escape me when I try to describe what I saw and felt in the dream state of encountering Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world! (John 1:29, 36). In His perfect love we have nothing to fear (1 John 4:18), for our sins are forgiven (Mark 2:10; Acts 13:38). He paid the price; and if we belong to Him, we do not need to fear anyone or anything else (Romans 8:31). The “light affliction” of this world, as the apostle Paul put it, will fade the instant we see Him in glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).

One day, I believe and pray one day soon, the Lamb of God will call all His children upward to meet with Him in the air, take part in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9), and forever serve Him (Revelation 22:3) and bathe in His light! (Revelation 21:23; 5:6; 7:17)). Until the Rapture occurs (1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17), may we stand fast in our faith (1 Corinthians 15:58), encourage one another, put on the whole armor of God, and share what we have with others in need, all to His glory!  

© 2018 Laurie Collett