Saturday, July 25, 2020

Quilting the Pieces Together

Photo by Francis.arquesa 2014

I dreamed that my family and I are touring the French countryside, accompanied by a young blonde girl, wearing her hair in a braid, whom I didn’t recognize. In the dream, we have just visited an ancient chateau and are walking along the bank of the surrounding moat. I find a fossil that contains what look like four black teeth, and I cry out excitedly to my husband, who is an avid fossil collector. But he doesn’t share my enthusiasm, and dismisses my find, saying “Oh, that’s just old building material.”
We come to a tree which has been uprooted and is lying on its side, the dead roots pointing backward along our path and the black, bare branches pointing forward, like a giant sea fan stranded on the beach. However, most of the trunk seems to still be connected to the earth by vines overgrowing it.
The young girl asks me about the bed coverings we had seen in the castle, all pieced together. 
“You mean quilts?” I ask in surprise. “Haven’t you seen a quilt before? You and I need to have a long talk about quilting!” 
I explain how I had once started to make a quilt, but I hadn’t spoken to anyone who knew how to do it, so I had to learn by trial and error rather than benefiting from the experience of others. I had chosen to use hexagonal quilt blocks instead of squares, which made my task even more difficult. Undeterred, she says she wants to make a theme quilt, based on the subject of painted cities. 
We meet up with our son, who is acting as our tour guide, at the visitor center, and we ask him if we can go back along the bank to explore further. He says no; we have to move on to our next destination. 
As I awoke and contemplated the meaning of the dream, I realized that a fossil is a preserved record and memento of the distant past. To dwell in the past is a danger, if we attempt to treasure it in itself, rather than realizing that the lessons learned and experiences we had there are just building material for our present life. In the dream, my son warned me that we can’t revisit our past experiences, because it’s time to move on to our next destination. 
The fossil in the dream took the form of teeth, which in Scripture are often equated with violence, aggression or insatiable greed (Deuteronomy 32:24; Job 16:9; 41:14; Psalm 35:16; 37:12; 124:6; Proverbs 30:14; Isaiah 41:15; Lamentations 2:16; Daniel 7:5,7; Zechariah 9:7). The fossil teeth were black, suggesting that God can use even the darkest experiences such as these, whether we were victim or perpetrator, to shape us more into the character of Jesus (Philippians 3:10), working all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). 
There were four teeth in the fossil, and the first mention of the number four in the Bible references the fourth day of Creation, in which God made the sun, moon and stars not only as light sources, but to indicate and measure the passage of time and to give us the four seasons  (Genesis 1:14-19). These measurements really have personal meaning to us only to mark past events, for we are not promised tomorrow (James 4:14), and only God knows how many years or even minutes our future on earth holds (Luke 12:20). 
The uprooted dead tree we encountered also suggests the contrasts between the past, for the roots were pointing backward, and the future, with the bare branches pointing forward, indicating a general direction but no details, for our future is unknown except to God (Jeremiah 29:11). But the only part of this tree still connected to the earth and showing signs of life was the trunk, symbolizing the present in which we must live (Psalm 118:24; 2 Corinthians 6:2; Hebrews 3:13). As the saying goes, “Yesterday is history; tomorrow is a mystery; today is a gift, which is why we call it the present.” 
Jesus warned us not to worry about the future (Matthew 6:25-34), but instead to ask Him for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11; Luke 11:3), which He will provide just as He provided daily manna for the Israelites on their wilderness journey (Exodus 16:15-34). Although we are not to dwell in the past, or to let Satan rub our noses in our past mistakes, we should constantly remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness. 
If we remember that He is faithful and just to forgive our sins (1 John 1:9), Satan cannot use these as a weapon against us. The prophet Samuel took a special stone and named it Ebenezer to remind the people of the LORD’s great help against their enemies (1 Samuel 7:12). 
In the dream, we were walking along the bank of the moat, which was used in ancient times to separate, distance, and protect the castle and its inhabitants from invaders in the world. Similarly, Scripture warns us to keep ourselves separate from the world, by being decently different in our speech, lifestyle and dress, and to be holy as God is holy (Romans 12:1;1 John 2:15; 1 Peter 1:15-16). 
Although I didn’t recognize her in the dream, I realize now that the young blonde girl with the braid represents my former self, and that she resembled me as a teenager. Even as a child, I loved collecting and preserving memorabilia. The art of quilting seems to symbolize how our life is pieced together from memories and building blocks of experience, and the quilt I had started making in real life was made from cloth hexagons, which I embroidered to reference places I had visited and important life events. 
But I never actually finished the quilt, which is fitting, because my life still continues as a work in progress, praise God! He is piecing it together like a fine tapestry. At times I only see the rough seams, tangled threads, and knots on the reverse side of the quilt. But when I see Him in glory, He will show me the right side of the beautifully fashioned work of art He designed! 
As I had attempted to preserve my past memories through quilting, I had done it on my own, without first seeking Godly counsel. Learning from the life experiences of fellow Christians, with their wisdom and advice set in a Biblical context (Proverbs 27:17; Hebrews 10:25), is one of the great benefits of being part of the church, or body of Christ (Romans 7:4; 12:5). Of course I had not done that when I began the quilt, as I was still unsaved and full of prideful self-righteousness, listening neither to Christians nor to God Himself. 
It is interesting that I chose the hexagon as the pattern for my quilt blocks, as six is the number of man (Revelation 13:18). The more traditional four-sided, square quilt block reminds me of the term foursquare, which occurs in God’s directions for making holy items for His service, like the altar (Exodus 27:1; 37:25, etc.) and the breastplate (Exodus 39:9). It also describes the court in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 40:47) and the holy city of New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:16). 
Why did the girl, representing me before I was saved, want to make her quilt on the theme of painted cities? “Painted” in Scripture generally refers to worldly adornment for purposes of seduction or ungodly pride, as in the evil queen Jezebel painting her face (2 Kings 9:30), and the rebellious nation of Israel painting her face or eyes to please false gods that could not save nor even love her (Jeremiah 4:30; Ezekiel 23:40). 
The prophet Jeremiah warns the king of Judah that his city will be destroyed because of the wrongdoing of the people, but that in contrast, God will build a beautiful, spacious house of cedar painted in vermilion, a brilliant red pigment (Jeremiah 22:14), looking ahead to the shed blood of Christ that saves us from all our sins (Matthew 26:28; Romans 3:25; Hebrews 9:22). 
If we follow the world and its idols, our lives and cities will be in shambles. But if we are saved by our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), and if we trust Him to design and create the quilt of our lives, He will work in us a beautiful and miraculous masterpiece!

© 2017 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Fear Not in the Storms

In this time of pandemic, civil unrest, political division, conflict, severe weather, drought and famine affecting many parts of the globe, we may feel that we have have reason to be fearful. Yet the Bible commands us to "Fear not!" 365 times, one for each day of the year! I therefore thought this might be an appropriate time to repost this from the archives. 
A friend once posted on Facebook that FEAR has two meanings: Forget Everything And Run, or Face Everything And Rise. To these I added my own anagram, Faith Endures All Resistance!

When the storms of life come pounding on our front door, we may be tempted to sneak out the back way and flee, not realizing that we are putting ourselves in even worse danger. But Jesus Christ allows us to confront and stand fast in the storms (1 Corinthians 16:13; Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:7-8), sailing above the turmoil to heavenly places with Him (Ephesians 1:3; 2:6). He is our Rock and Tower in Whom we have refuge (2 Samuel 22:3; Psalm 18:20, for His strength is made perfect in our weakness; His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9); and His perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). 

This is true only if we have placed our faith in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), turned away from our sins (Acts 3:19; 26:20; 2 Timothy 2:25), and asked Him into our heart (Acts 8:37; Romans 10:9-10). Then we are saved by His grace through our faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), which allows us to do all things and endure all trials through Christ Who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5), but with Him, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). 

The Bible has many excellent examples of faith overcoming fear in the storm. By faith, Peter left his ship in the storm and walked on the water to meet Jesus, sinking only when his gaze left his Lord and focused instead on the billowing waves below. Yet even in Peter's failure to keep the faith, Jesus rescued him (Matthew 14:24-32), and He will do the same for us when our faith falters (Matthew 17:20; Mark 9:24). 

The disciples caught in the storm, with Jesus seemingly asleep at the helm, panicked as the sea was about to engulf them. They cried out to Jesus, not so much for salvation as to berate Him for not caring about them! Yet He rose above it all, calmly telling the winds to be still, bringing peace not only to the waves but to the hearts of His disciples who seemingly had lost faith (Mark 4:37-41). 

Praise God that He knows all our weaknesses, fears and doubts, yet loves, saves and protects us anyway! (Psalm 8:4; 139) He allows us to go through such storms, brought on by Satan who is the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), because they strengthen our faith in and reliance on Him. Time after time God proves Himself faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9; 10:13), yet our sin nature still questions, doubts, and fears. 

The apostle Paul was no stranger to storms, both figuratively and literally, having been nearly drowned, as well as shipwrecked three times (2 Corinthians 11:25). Paul, like the rest of us, struggled with the weaknesses of his flesh and sin nature (Romans 7:14-24) to the point that he knew he had to die daily (1 Corinthians 15:31) to these if God were to use him for His glory. 

Yet God faithfully worked all these disasters together for good (Romans 8:28)  to use Paul to spread the Gospel throughout Gentile nations (Romans 1:13-16). When Paul was arrested in Caesarea, he used his Roman citizenship to request an audience before Caesar himself in Rome, and Festus granted it (Acts 25). 

God can use even pagans to accomplish his purpose, and here He used Festus to book Paul’s passage to Rome, the center of the empire and a key mission field where Paul would have a great opportunity to witness (Acts 27-1-2). True, he would have to travel as a prisoner, and endure storms, shipwreck, and other dangers along the way, but God was the unseen Captain charting the voyage. 

Evidently through his good character, behavior, and Christian witness, Paul had sufficiently impressed Julius, his prison guard, that he could be trusted, so Julius let Paul visit his friends in Sidon when they landed there (Acts 27-3). What a welcome, yet unexpected, blessing from God, extended to Paul while he was a prisoner! 

Contrary winds as they left Sidon changed their course to Myra in Lycia. Yet had it not been for this detour, they may not have immediately found a ship going to Italy once they landed (Acts 27-4-6). God allowed the storm to direct their path to work things out with His perfect timing, reminding us that sometimes the storms of life do the same for us by keeping us out of even deeper trouble. 

Another storm led them to the pleasant harbor of Fair Havens. Despite Paul’s warning, they stayed there so long that another storm was brewing, and it would be dangerous sailing (Acts 27-7-9). We enjoy the peaceful times when all seems to be well, but sometimes these unchallenging circumstances allow us to get lazy and linger too long in leisure rather than pressing on with the journey God has set for us. 

King David fell into that trap when he took some time off after battle to relax at home instead of training with the troops. His idleness led to lust as he allowed himself to gaze at beautiful Bathsheba while she was bathing, then his lust resulted in adultery, deception and ultimately murder (2 Samuel 11:1-17). Far better to undergo the hard times God has planned for our own good than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (Hebrews 11:25) and suffer the consequences (Romans 6:23; 7:5; James 1:15). 

God Himself had told Paul that sailing so late from Fair Havens would damage the cargo and ship and even the risk the lives of the sailors and prisoners. But the guard of the prisoners did not believe Paul and instead believed the ship’s captain who said it was fine to sail, most likely ignoring motive of the captain who wanted to book passengers on his ship (Acts 27-10-11). 

How often do we make a similar mistake, listening to advice from our worldly friends instead of Godly counsel inspired by the Holy Spirit? God graciously speaks to us through such advice from fellow believers (Proverbs 27:17; Psalm 37:30), as well as through prayer and His Word (Psalm 119:105), and we ignore His guidance at our own peril. 

Following the world, like sin itself, can bring pleasure for a season before it turns deadly (Romans 12:2). As they embarked from Fair Havens, they had a gentle wind and good sailing at first, but a storm brewed and then raged so that they could not even steer the ship and had to go wherever the waves carried them (Acts 27-12-14). Sometimes God lets us go through storms that are so severe that we have to give up control and trust Him completely. 

They washed ashore on the island of Clauda where they tried to repair the ship, but there was quicksand on the island and they had to set sail again in a hurry to avoid getting stuck (Acts 27-16-17). When we fail to heed God’s counsel, it seems that dangers attack us from all sides and force hasty retreat (Proverbs 22:3,12). 

The next day the storm was so bad that the sailors had to toss out some of the cargo to make the ship lighter so it wouldn’t sink. On the third day the storm battered the ship so violently that they even had to start tearing down and throwing out some of the ship’s rigging (Acts 27-18-19). When God lets us go through storms, it makes us realize that we have to let go of some things we thought were important but are actually weighing us down, and focus only on Him (Matthew 6:19-21; Hebrews 12:1). Thank God that He is all we need! 

Not only was the storm terrible, but they had not even seen the sun or stars for many days because of the clouds. The sky gets darkest just before dawn in our spiritual life as well as in the natural universe, and everyone in the ship, except for Paul, had lost hope (Acts 27-20). But Jesus is the bright Morning Star (Revelation 22:16), and He had a plan. 

God used this storm to give Paul a chance to witness to the others on board. He had tried to warn them, because God had told him about the danger ahead, but they had not listened. Now they were so desperate that he definitely had their attention! As the saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes, and God may allow the unsaved to reach the brink of death before they take Him seriously (Psalm 40:2). 

An angel of God had told Paul that no one would die in the storm, and that God’s mission for Paul to witness to Caesar would be fulfilled. Paul told his fellow passengers of his faith and God’s faithfulness. It is not easy to witness, especially in a life-threatening situation with strangers and even enemies, but God gave Paul courage to do it, and He will do the same for us if we ask Him. 

God had allowed the sailors to lose their cargo and suffer damage to the ship, but all their lives would be saved (Acts 27-21-24). If they believed the good news about Jesus that Paul shared with them, they would live forever, so they lost worldly possessions but gained the most precious treasure of eternal salvation! (Matthew 13:46; Mark 8:35).

If we look back on our own lives, we will see many times when storms strengthened our faith and gave us unexpected opportunities to witness, just as they did for Paul. God used these storms to enlarge Paul’s mission field where he could spread the Gospel of grace, and He can do the same for us!

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

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Five Smooth Stones

The young shepherd boy David, youngest of Jesse’s eight sons, was faithful and courageous in his mission from God even when his elder brothers were fearful. Their fear seemed to be justified and shared by all the mighty warriors of Israel, for their enemies the Philistines were a nation of giants, led by the dreadful Goliath (1 Samuel 17).

But when God calls us for His purpose, He will see us through it (Philippians 2:13; Hebrews 13:21), for all things are possible with Him! His perfect love casts out all fear! (1 John 4:18) 

Goliath, who had been a man of war from his youth (1 Samuel 17:33), stood nearly 9 feet tall, and he was armed to the teeth, including a coat of brass armor that weighed about 78 pounds. He taunted the Israelites to choose an opponent for him, setting high stakes that the nation of whichever man would be defeated would become the servants of the victor’s nation. 

Saul, king of Israel, and all his generals were “dismayed and greatly afraid.” Jesse’s eldest sons followed Saul to the battle, while David was discounted, overlooked, and sent home to tend his father’s sheep. After a prolonged battle, army to army, Jesse sent David on an errand, to bring food to Israel’s troops. Little did Jesse realize that God’s plan was for David to bring spiritual as well as physical sustenance! 

There David overheard the repeated threat of Goliath, which again struck fear in the hearts of the Israelites, who fled the scene. But only David kept the proper perspective, recognizing that this pagan was no match for the armies of the living God (v. 26). Perhaps embarrassed, and definitely angered by David’s brashness that contrasted with his own fear, Eliab his eldest brother scolded him for leaving his sheep (v. 28). 

To which David replied, What have I now done? Is there not a cause? (v. 29). 

When the others heard this they finally sent David to Saul, who was reluctant to send the lad into battle. But David told Saul of how he had defended his flock against attack by a lion and a bear, killing them with his bare hands through supernatural strength given by God. He had faith that God would do the same, and more, through David against the enemy of His chosen people. 

When finally persuaded, Saul outfitted David with his own armor, but David had no experience with this cumbersome gear. Instead, he approached Goliath armed only with his shepherd’s staff, a sling, and five smooth stones. Goliath laughed contemptuously at this seemingly weak adversary, but David had the last laugh as he slung the first stone deep into Goliath’s forehead, striking him dead and bringing terror into the Philistines’ hearts. Then he used his sword to behead him. 

The success of David’s mission was assured, because he sought victory not for his own glory but for that of God, and he refused to cave in to fear, trusting not in his own power but in God’s faithfulness: 

v. 46 This day will the Lord deliver thee [Goliath] into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. 

47 And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord's, and he will give you into our hands. 

As my husband and I read this chapter during our daily devotional time, the Lord was speaking to my heart about the battle we face today during this coronavirus pandemic. Through no choice of our own, we are engaged in a battle against a deadly foe, mighty and dangerous even though unseen and invisible to the naked eye. 

Electron microscopy photos reveal the virus to be armed with long spikes each topped by a crown, which the virus uses to invade human cells. It looks much like a wrecking ball, and surely it has destroyed the health, peace, financial security, freedoms and lives of many. It has led many to be fearful, even those who are God’s children through their faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). 

Physical threats abound, and we are daily drawn into spiritual battles (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Many feel unproductive and even useless in their work for the Lord, which seems to be “on hold” while waiting upon Him (Psalm 27:14; 37:34; Proverbs 20:22) to end the pandemic and restore some semblance of normalcy. Yet we should remember that David spent many days tending sheep until God revealed His perfect plan and called him to battle, to be a champion of God’s cause. 

During this pandemic, we keep looking and praying for the invincible coat of armor – silver bullet drugs, preventive vaccines, accurate antibody testing – that would allow us to resume our normal way of life. Yet God has already equipped us with His full armor to protect us from the traps of the devil, and we must prayerfully put it on each day, particularly the shield of faith (Ephesians 6:10-18). 

We look forward to the day we can fully return to and feel safe while working, attending school, traveling, visiting friends and family, attending celebrations, and greeting our loved ones with hugs and kisses. In the meantime, we may feel “castaway” – placed on the shelf as the apostle Paul feared (1 Corinthians 9:27) – when we are unable to attend church, fellowship with believers, and minister in person in the various missions God has so graciously appointed to us (1 Corinthians 12:28). 

But He had a plan for David that did not involve impenetrable armor, nor even a powerful offensive weapon. David carried a sword but delivered the deadly blow with a sling and stone. He knew that there is a cause worth championing, which is whatever purpose God intends for us (Ephesians 2:10; Jeremiah 29:11). He knew that the battle is the Lord’s, and that defeat is impossible when He has called us to that battle. 

Five smooth stones. With God’s power and direction, that is all David needed, and in truth, the very first stone accomplished its purpose. What might these five smooth stones represent? As I contemplated this, I glanced down at my hand marking the Bible passage I was reading, and noticed my five fingernails, rounded and smooth like pebbles found at the seashore. 

We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) in God’s image (Genesis 1:26), down to the five nails on each finger and toe. Before David was even called to defend his nation, God empowered him to use these “five smooth stones” to defend his flock from a lion and bear, using only his bare hands. In these trying times, we may not be able to engage in many of our usual activities involving sophisticated tools or machinery, but most of us are blessed with four working limbs, each embellished and protected by “five smooth stones.” 

During our stay-at-home, we can still use these to turn the pages of our Bible, to clasp our hands together in prayer, to use the keyboard of our computer to spread God’s Word or encourage others. We can still use these to minister to our household by cooking, cleaning, showing love to our spouse or child with a gentle caress, or even teaching little ones at home or playing an instrument to lift others’ spirits, much as David did with his harp (1 Samuel 16:23). 

May we not be discouraged in these trying times, but instead trust in God to use us and whatever He has provided to us to glorify and honor Him (Proverbs 3:5-6). Praise God that His strength is made perfect in our weakness, that His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9), and that with Him, all things are possible! (Matthew 19:26

© 2020 Laurie Collett