Saturday, January 25, 2020

Beware of Scenic Overlooks

Photo by Gary Halvorson Oregon State Archives 2006

In this dream I had to reach holy ground where I would collect priceless treasure. The path to the prize was a maze with the holy place in the center, and each leg of the maze was a narrow corridor hewn into an underground cave.

The design of the maze was deceptively simple – it was just three sides of a square. At each corner was a brightly lit torch, but the sides of the square were long enough so that the light became progressively dim as I left the corner and traveled toward the middle of each side. Then my path became increasingly illuminated as I approached the next corner. 

Also at each corner was a smaller, winding, rocky path leading along the diagonal of the square toward the center. After a long, arduous hike to the first corner, I approached the first of these byways. I cautiously ventured out along it and was thrilled by the view – I could see straight down to gleaming piles of gold and jewels heaped up in the center of the cave. At last I had the prize clearly in my sights, which gave me second wind for the rest of the journey.

I was so excited that I nearly lost my balance, which would have been disastrous as I would have tumbled down the rocks into the precipice and plunged to my death. Once I regained my footing and came to my senses, I stumbled back along the crooked path to the corner of the maze, only to find myself confused and dazed

Which way should I go? The design of the maze could not be easier – just follow the three sides of the square, and then I assumed there would be a path leading directly to the treasure. But the torch light now blinded me; I was unsure of how much time had passed during my detour down the rocky path; and even worse, I did not know which direction to proceed along the maze. 

I chose one path, only to discover a long time later that I had gone the wrong way, and was now back to where I had entered the maze. Tired and discouraged, I turned around and plodded again to the first corner, where at least now I was wise enough not to journey down to the scenic overlook. 

After that I used the torch lights at each corner as my guideposts, helping me to measure how many sides of the square I had traveled. I resisted the temptation to check out the view below by taking the winding paths to the center. But each time as I left the reassuring glow of the torch to start the next leg of the journey, my spirits fell as the light grew dim, and I wished I could once more have a glimpse of the prize.

Finally the torch from the last corner came into view, and I found that once again I faced a difficult choice. There was an easy, wide path leading down, which presumably would take me to the gold and jewels that had motivated me along the journey. And there was a steep, circular, stone staircase leading up, with no visible reward in sight. 

Suddenly I realized that the gold and jewels were merely a distraction keeping me from the true reward, which was the high, holy ground where I would meet my Saviour face to face! The worldly prize was visible and tantalizing, misdirecting me from my true destination. I could not see Him, but by keeping the eyes of my heart fixed on Him, I had the faith to follow Him as He led me in the right direction and to my promised reward

As I awoke, I remembered that once we are born again by placing our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). We Him (Colossians 2:6), and in His Spirit (Galatians 5:16,25) Who enters our heart at the moment of salvation (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13). 

The path to Him is narrow but straight (Matthew 7:13) and simple, not convoluted, for He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:5-6). There are three steps along the path to entering His holy ground: realize we are sinners (Romans 3:23), turn away from our sins (Matthew 9:13; 2 Corinthians 7:10), and trust Him as our Lord and Saviour (2 Corinthians 3:4; Acts 15:11; 16:31; Ephesians 1:12-13; Philippians 3:20). 

Yet even the disciples who walked with Jesus during His earthly ministry sometimes faltered in their faith (Luke 22:31,34; John 20:25), and our journey is in many ways more difficult because we have not directly seen, heard or touched Him. 

But we are more blessed because we believe and follow without seeing (John 20:29). When we feel lost in the darkness, we should not despair, give up, or turn back, because we have the light of His Word illuminating our path (Job 29:3; Psalm 18:28; 119:105). He is the Light of the world (John 8:12), and as His light shines through us, we are also the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). 

Of course, Satan takes advantage of our inability to see Jesus Christ directly by tempting us with highly visible, spiritually empty rewards that appeal to the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). But these are just scenic overlooks that can waste our time, create spiritual roadblocks, and even endanger us physically. 

Sometimes Satan even uses these scenic overlooks to take away physical life before someone can be saved or complete God’s plan for their life. He has plucked away the lives of teenagers who fell to their death as they tried to take a “selfie” by a dangerous waterfall or precipice. The pleasures of sin only last a short while (Hebrews 11:25) before they bring forth disastrous physical as well as spiritual consequences (Romans 6:23).   

It is natural when we have experienced a great victory, spiritual or otherwise, to want to bask in the glow of the mountaintop experience. When Peter saw Christ’s glory in His transfiguration, he wanted to prolong the moment by building tabernacles for Jesus, Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1-6). It is good to enjoy God’s blessings (Psalm 34:8), to thank and praise Him for what He has done through us (1 Chronicles 16:34; Psalm 30:4; 92:1), and to seek His direction for the future (Proverbs 3:6; 16:9). 

Doing that prevents intense rebound distress after great victory, like that experienced by Elijah, whom God used to defeat the prophets of Baal in a powerful display of His glory (1 Kings 18). But then Elijah succumbed to fear and depression, thinking that Jezebel would destroy him and that no one would be left to worship God (1 Kings 19:4-16). 

Rest in God after spiritual victory is good, but if we spend too much time with our head in the clouds, we may fail to complete the earthly mission God has planned for us.  Even faithful, productive believers such as David can be diverted from their true purpose by scenic overlooks. 

After his triumph in battle, David should have continued the good fight (2 Timothy 4:7) by leading his troops and setting a good example. Instead, he took time off, went home, got bored, wandered out on the roof on a hot summer night, and fell in lust with the beautiful view of Bathsheba bathing (2 Samuel 11:1-3). 

Lust led to adultery, deceit, murder (2 Samuel 11:4-17), and then the consequences of his sin – the death of his firstborn by Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12: 18), and family strife for many years to come. If David had the luxury of a do-over, he may well have decided to forego the scenic overlook and to get back to God’s business

May we keep or eyes fixed on the Prize – our true reward of eternity with Jesus Christ! May our journey shape us into His image, reflecting His perfect light, without wandering into worldly detours that can become deep ditches or even an early grave!

© 2015 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives
children's ministry blogs

Saturday, January 18, 2020

God's Best

Photo by Laurie Collett 2020
My husband and I were walking the beach on a beautiful morning, in the perfect setting for our prescribed 30-minute brisk daily walk. The sun-streaked, silver waves glimmered as they swirled along the shore in frothy, lacy curly-cues. Feathery clouds arched through the robin’s egg blue sky, where terns flew in a V-shaped formation and pelicans soared, periodically interrupting their flight to nose dive into the sea in search of breakfast.

“Only primo specimens,” Richard shouted over the drum roll of the surf. He must have seen me glancing furtively at the chipped, yet still colorful and intricate shells lining the beach, and the fragments of fossilized bone that were too small to be identified and given a home in his already vast collection. 

With a sigh, I knew he was right. Not only would such souvenirs add to the clutter at home, but they would weigh us down on our morning walk. On previous jaunts like this, poor Richard was laden down, beach bag stuffed and pockets bulging with what appeared to the casual observer to be just rocks! 

The main objective on this day was to get 30 minutes of moderately paced exercise, to strengthen our hearts, bodies and immune system. If we were to get bogged down stopping to examine, pick up, and rinse off a beach treasure, it would interrupt our continuous exercise and keep us from reaching our goal. 

Being too preoccupied with beachcombing could also distract us from taking time to appreciate God’s blessings of the balmy breeze, the crisp salt air, the warm sunshine, and each other to share the experience!

Later on, on our sunset stroll, there would be the luxury of pausing to admire each find and show it to each other, discussing whether a long, black object was a fossilized rib or femur to be kept, or just a rock to be discarded. But even then, if we collected merely average specimens, we would run out of room in our bag and pockets for finer gifts from the sea. 

As I wandered along the shore’s edge, often a shiny or dark, large object would catch my eye, and I would bend down to scoop out of the water before the waves could carry it away. But often, as I did that, finally clutching the prize in my hand, I would notice an even better specimen being drawn out to sea by the waves, now tantalizingly out of reach. 

Whether or not we fill our storage chests with better or worse specimens is of minimal importance in the vast scheme of things. But it reminded me that we can become weighted down (Hebrews 12:1), and even set off course, by the seemingly good things the world has to offer, while missing out on God’s best (James 4:4). 

As born-again Christians (John 3:3-8) saved by our faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), we know that He has a unique plan for each of our lives (Jeremiah 29:11). The safest and best place we could possibly be is to be in the center of that plan, for He loves us infinitely and wants what is best for us (Jeremiah 33:3). 

The extent of the rewards we are given at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-15), and the sorrow we experience over missed opportunities to serve Him, will in large part depend on how attuned we are to hear the Holy Spirit’s guidance and to make wise choices (Romans 8:14; Matthew 6:24). To run the race of faith with perseverance and dedication, we must not become weighted down with distractions, or worse yet, let temptation lead to sin that keeps us from finishing the course (1 Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 12:1). 

I remembered a story often repeated by Charles Stanley in his sermons, which I will attempt to paraphrase. As a young pastor struggling to make ends meet, he needed to replace his car. He prayed and searched for a good deal on a used economy car, and finally found one for sale that seemed to be a perfect fit for his budget. 

As he was about to sign the paper work, he heard the Holy Spirit asking him, “Son, do you want this, or do you want God’s best?” 

So he muttered an apology to the confused salesman, got up, and left the car dealership, reluctant to let the car go, yet trusting in God’s will and guidance. Three days later, he was stunned by a surprise visit from a member of his congregation. 

“Pastor, I know you need another vehicle, and one day over coffee a few weeks ago you shared with me all the features you would like in your dream car if money were no object,” the church member began..”So I took the liberty of purchasing your brand new dream car for you, and I am praying you will accept it as a gift from me and my family.” 

Needless to say, Pastor Stanley learned the lessons of listening for God’s still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12), and waiting on the Lord (Psalm 27:14), Who always desires to shower His children with the blessing of His very best gifts (Matthew 7:11). May we do the same until He comes again!

© 2020 Laurie Collett