Saturday, October 26, 2019

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
Reposted from the archives


Saturday, October 19, 2019

Prayer for a Stranger

Photo by Robert Broadie 2006
I awoke from a dream wondering about its significance, as it didn’t seem to immediately relate to anything happening in my life.  In the dream, my husband Richard and I, and many people I didn’t know, were wandering through the rooms of a large house that wasn’t really a house. One of the rooms had several tables set up to sell jewelry, and I was surprised and a little sad to see a pair of valuable earrings for sale that had been given to me long ago, and that I hadn’t even realized was missing.

A petite woman with distinctive but unfamiliar features asked me if I wanted to buy her cell phone. I politely declined, but she kept following me through the building and became more and more insistent that I take her phone, to the point that I became irritated and just wished she would leave me alone. I awoke perplexed and annoyed that this stranger had troubled my otherwise sound sleep.  

At breakfast, Richard reminded me that we had tickets for a vintage fashion show that evening. As we walked into the St. Petersburg Museum of History with many other guests, I had an eerie sense of déjà vu. There we were, strolling with the crowd through a large building with many rooms that resembled a house but was actually a museum. One of the rooms had several vendors’ wares on sale, including ornate and costly vintage earrings.  

To my shock, it wasn’t long before I spotted the unknown woman from my dream! Her face and build were unmistakeably the same. Apparently she was a volunteer for the museum, and she was wearing a 60’s style pillbox hat. Thankfully, she didn’t ask me to buy her cell phone! In fact, she didn’t speak to me at all, even though we ended up close enough to strike up a conversation while standing around waiting for the runway show to begin.  

Now I was really curious as to what the dream meant! All the similarities between the dream and the actual events could hardly be a coincidence. Surely God intended it to be a message, or a warning, or an instruction, but I still had no idea about what. When in doubt, wait upon the Lord (Isaiah 30:18; 40:31; Jeremiah 14:22; so I just stood where I was and didn’t attempt to speak to her, nor did she approach me.  

While praying silently that the Spirit would guide me according to His perfect will (John 16:13; Romans 8:27), I felt led to pray for her salvation. Many times while waiting in line at a store, or seated alone at a restaurant table while Richard is at the cashier’s paying the check, or in a theatre when the lights dim and before the show begins, I have prayed a general prayer for all those in the building who are lost.

The prayer is that all will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, the One Who died for all our sins to reconcile us to Holy God, so that by faith in His death, burial and resurrection all can have eternal life (1 Corinthians 15).  

Yet this was the first time I felt led to pray for salvation for a specific stranger. I won’t know until I reach Glory whether my prayer had any effect, or even if it was needed, but I feel at peace about obeying God in what I believe He asked me to do (Philippians 4:6-7).  

Reflecting later about the symbolism of the dream, I thought about the valuable earrings given to me, misplaced and forgotten, then offered for sale to another. This reminded me of the precious gift believers receive of being able to hear God’s voice (John 10:3,16,27) through the indwelling Holy Spirit. But if we quench or grieve the Spirit too many times (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19), we may no longer be attuned to His voice.  

At the moment of salvation, the Holy Spirit indwells each believer and will never leave (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5). At the same time, we receive at least one spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12). Yet like any other gift, if we don’t use it, we may lose it, and not even realize it’s gone until we recognize it in another. It’s not the gift itself that disappears, but rather the opportunities to use it to glorify Him. 

In the dream, the beautiful earrings I had received represented a wasted opportunity, as I had not worn them, and no one could appreciate their beauty if I kept them hidden in a box. Similarly no one will see His light shining through us if we hide it under a bushel basket instead of setting it on a candlestick for all to see (Matthew 5:14-16)

God opens doors for us to walk through in obedience (1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3; Revelation 3:8), but if we do not obey, that specific opportunity is lost, and we will suffer loss over it when we see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 3:15). 

The ears of Christians need not be adorned with earrings (1 Peter 3:3)  but should be consecrated to His special use, along with our heart and mind, as a channel of communication with Him (1 Chronicles 17:20; Proverbs 23:12; Isaiah 30:21; Matthew 11:15; 13:9, 43). May we always be swift to listen to the Holy Spirit and slow to speak (James 1:17-19) until He gives us the words to say (1 Corinthians 2:11-13). 

And why in the dream was this woman imploring me to take her cell phone? A means of communication is only effective in the hands of the right communicator. A state-of-the-art, bells and whistles I-Phone would be useless in my hands right now, as I would have no idea how to use it!  Even if I learned how to use it, what good would it do if I called someone in China who didn’t speak English, since I can’t speak Chinese? 

Similarly, many lost people pray, but to whom or what? They may call themselves Christians because they were christened or confirmed or attend a church, but unless they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:10), their prayers are to no avail. 

The only prayer of a lost person that God will answer is the prayer of desperation, of realizing that they are a sinner who can do nothing on their own merit to work their way to Heaven (Ephesians 2:8-9). When the lost person comes to the end of themselves, begs God to forgive their sins (Romans 3:23-25; Acts 13:38; 26:18; Ephesians 1:7) and invites Jesus to enter their heart as their personal Lord and Savior, God will always hear that prayer and answer yes with the gift of eternal life! (John 3:16; Romans 10:9-10). 

In addition to hearing God’s voice, another precious gift believers receive at salvation is the privilege of intercessory prayer (2 Corinthians 1:11). This unique form of communication is available only to God’s children (1 Corinthians 2:14). 

Because of our relationship with Him, we can boldly approach His throne in prayer (Hebrews 4:16), not only for ourselves, our family, and fellow believers (James 5:16), but especially for the lost (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28). We can and should pray for the salvation of those we don’t even know, because we can communicate with God through prayer, and they are unable to until they trust Christ as their Savior (1 Peter 3:12).

It is not just those who “lead people to the Lord” by hearing them pray the sinner’s prayer who will receive the soulwinner’s crown (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19). All those who play any part in a soul’s salvation – by sowing the seed of the Word (2 Corinthians 9:10), by witnessing, by supporting missions, or by praying for the lost – will share in that crown and be able to lay it at Jesus’ feet (Revelation 4:10). 

What a blessing it will be to hear Him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” (Matthew 25:21,23) for whatever we did to reach others for Him!

© 2012 Laurie Collett

Reposted from the archives

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Winning Favor through Character: Esther 2, verses 1-11

As we saw in Esther Chapter 1, keeping up appearances at all costs can have unintended and even disastrous consequences. How much better for those who don’t have to worry about what others think, because their integrity and excellent character bestowed by God’s grace naturally turn strangers and acquaintances into friends and allies! Such was the case with Esther, who was blessed by God not only with these virtues but also with being in the right place and at the right time to accomplish His perfect will (Esther 2).

King Ahasuerus, ruler of the Persian Empire, may have truly loved Queen Vashti and felt sorry that his own foolishness resulted in him having to banish her from the kingdom and from the marriage just to save face. But once this plan had been inexorably set into motion, a replacement had to be found. In contrast to conventional wisdom, shown for example by King Solomon (1 Kings 3:1), choosing a new queen would not be based on political alliances, diplomacy, or even the graces and experience that would suit a ruler’s wife, but solely on her physical beauty and appeal to the king. Thus began a kingdom-wide beauty pageant, with Ahasuerus the only judge (Esther 2:1-4).

But God can use even the self-gratifying motives of a pagan king to accomplish His perfect will. From before the beginning of time (Jeremiah 29:11; Ephesians 1:4) He had chosen Esther, an orphaned Jewess under Babylonian captivity, to win the heart of Ahasuerus, and with it influence that would ultimately save God’s chosen people from destruction.

Although God’s Name does not appear anywhere in the book of Esther, we can see His hand at work on every page. When the beautiful maiden Esther lost her parents, she was adopted by Mordecai, a relative who loved and raised her as his own daughter. Praise the Lord that He Himself provides for those who are orphaned or abandoned by their parents! (Psalm 27:10)

Being under Babylonian captivity must have given both Esther and Mordecai a strong heart for their people and a deep desire for their deliverance. God orchestrated their roles in His plan by placing Mordecai on the palace grounds, where he was well positioned to learn of what was going on there, and by moving Esther into the king’s house, under the custody of Hegai, keeper of the virgins who would be brought before the king (Esther 2:5-8; Jeremiah 24:5).

Although Esther was very beautiful, Hegai was likely a eunuch and therefore unaffected by her physical attractiveness. Nonetheless, her noble character, warmth and integrity must have won him over, for he was especially kind to her, giving her seven handmaids, expediting Esther’s required physical purification, and giving them the best rooms and position in the king’s house (Esther 2:9).

Through God’s grace, He had lifted up Esther from the Babylonian captivity into a position of influence in the king’s palace, just as He later would elevate a humble young girl, the virgin Mary, to the honored position of being the mother of Jesus Christ, the promised Savior of the world. Only He could be the perfect, sinless sacrifice to die on the cross in full payment for our sins, to be buried, and to rise again on the third day so that all who trust Him will have eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 3:16)..

God chose and exalted Mary despite her modest position in life because she was willing to obey Him and follow His perfect plan, considering herself to be the handmaiden, or servant, of the Lord (Luke 1:38; 46-53). This is in keeping with God’s ability to humble the mighty and wealthy while giving riches and power to the poor and helpless (1 Samuel 2:4-8), just as He did for Esther.

Once Esther found herself in favor in the palace, she could easily have turned her back on Mordecai. Instead, she obeyed him, and in so doing followed God’s law to honor your parents (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Proverbs 1:8-9; Matthew 15:4; 19:19; Ephesians 6:2). Mordecai had advised her not to reveal her Jewish heritage (Esther 2:10), which could be regarded as a slight to God’s chosen people. Rather, Mordecai in his God-given wisdom knew that this was not yet the right time to disclose her Hebrew identity, for God appoints the times and seasons for everything, for reasons unknown to man (Ecclesiastes 3:1-10).

Esther’s obedience to her adopted father, and by extension, to God Himself, and respect for their wisdom speak to her integrity and noble character (Proverbs 19:8). Her love for Mordecai was reciprocated, as he looked after her from afar, walking before the court of the women’s house every day to inquire about how Esther was doing and her future in the palace environment (Esther 2: 11).

As we contemplate the book of Esther, may we be reminded not to trust in worldly values of wealth, power or social standing, but to trust only in God (Psalm 56:4). With Him, all things are possible! (Matthew 19:26). If we follow His Word and His will, He will direct our paths to His chosen destination (Proverbs 3:1-6), and He will mold us into His own image (Philippians 3:10). Then, like our Lord Jesus Christ, we can grow in favor with God and with our fellow man (Luke 2:52).

© 2019 Laurie Collett