Saturday, October 31, 2020

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); 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 24, 2020

No Time to Go Wobbly

During the Gulf War, UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher penned the famous phrase “No Time to Go Wobbly” regarding her conversation with President George Bush in August of 1990. She praised him for his resolve in passing a Security Council Resolution enabling the British to enforce the embargo against Iraqi shipping.

Physical warfare and resolving conflicts among nations require a firm position and holding ground against political enemies. Similarly, spiritual warfare requires that we stand fast, knowing what and Whom we believe (1 Corinthians 16:13; Galatians 5:1; Philippians 1:27; 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:15). This was a guiding principle that the apostle Paul stressed in his letters to Timothy and to Titus as he instructed them in how to lead churches.

Titus was Paul’s convert, or son in the faith, whom he left in charge of the churches in Crete (Titus 1:4-5).  Although originally a pagan Greek, Titus was saved by Paul’s preaching of the common faith, meaning the plan of salvation open to Jews as well as Gentiles who trusted in the death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) of Jesus Christ as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6).

Soon after his conversion, Titus accompanied Paul and Barnabas on missionary journeys (2 Corinthians 7:5-7, 13-14; 8:6, 16, 23; 12:18) and also to the Jerusalem council (Galatians 2:1-3). There Paul persuaded the church elders that salvation is by God’s grace through our faith alone, and not by any works such as circumcision or baptism (Ephesians 2:8-9). Thereafter, Titus was responsible for building and leading the churches Paul planted in Crete.

At that time, Crete was ruled by Nero, a cruel, deranged Roman emperor who persecuted the Christians and had them fight to the death for his amusement. It was an especially difficult time to be a Christian, as it is even today. We are blessed thus far in the United States to be able to worship freely, but Christian persecution is rampant and festering in many regions including the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Headlines (more so from Christian sources than from mainstream news) inform us of Coptic Christians and even children beheaded for refusing to recite the Islamic creed or to renounce Jesus Christ. We should not be surprised if persecution increases as the End Times draws near (1 Peter 4:12-16).

The letters of Paul to Titus and Timothy therefore have special relevance today, because the devil knows that his time is short and is doing what he can to destroy Christians, their families, and their churches (1 Corinthians 10:10). Now more than ever we must know what we believe and pass it on to our families and communities directly and through our churches.

No wonder Paul urged Titus and Timothy to hold firmly to the truth Paul had taught them, so that by preaching sound doctrine they could overcome the damage done by false teachers, encourage the faithful, and even convert the false teachers to the truth of God’s Word (1 Titus 1:9; 1 Timothy 1:15; 4:6; 2 Timothy 3:14).

Effective spiritual warfare requires putting on the whole armor of God, each piece applied with prayer (Ephesians 6:10-17). We must resist the devil (James 4:7) as he attempts to seduce us into compromising our position. Just as he deceived Adam and Eve into eating the forbidden fruit by twisting God’s Word (Genesis 3:1-6), he will try the same trick on us if we believe his lies (Revelation 12:9).

Satan attacks us through the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16) Sometimes he attacks believers in general through false teachers (2 Timothy 4:3-4; 2 Peter 2:1) or through worldly distractions, and sometimes he aims his fiery darts (Ephesians 6:16) directly at our own unique weaknesses and areas of vulnerability.

When Satan strikes, as he will in the life of anyone who is saved, we must stand fast to resist him. This involves being aware that he seeks to destroy us (1 Peter 5:8), not believing his lies, and remaining firm in our beliefs taught in the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16) and in our commitment to continue in God’s work and will for our lives.

Once we are saved and become productive for God, Satan does all he can to bring us down, undermine our testimony, and stop our work for God. Just as we laid down our sin burden at Calvary’s cross, we must hand over all our fears (1 John 4:18) and doubts (which are sins also) to Christ so that His love and His completed sacrifice can remove them (1 Peter 5:7-11).

1 Cor 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

Paul urges Christians to be as firmly planted in our faith as a statue, or a wrestler or warrior standing his ground against the enemy. May none of Satan’s weapons keep us from our purpose of serving God in all that we do (Colossians 3:23).

Even when no one seems to appreciate our efforts and the devil tries to discourage us, God notices our service and will reward us for it (1 Kings 7: 13-22), sometimes here on earth, and ultimately in Heaven when we hear Him say, Well done, thou good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21).

Hebrews 6: 10 For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.

Let us learn from Paul’s letters to Titus and Timothy the importance of sound doctrine in our hearts, minds and churches.  Like Paul, let’s keep the faith, finish the race, and fight the good fight (2 Timothy 4:7) until Christ comes again!

© 2017 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives


Saturday, October 17, 2020

What Does the Bible Say About Electing Leaders?

Photo by Martin Felbisoner 2013

This may seem like a strange question with a very short answer, because in Bible times, there were no nations governed by democratic choice. God Himself was the only authority over Adam and Eve; later He appointed Noah to repopulate the earth (Genesis 8:15-17) and Moses to lead His people (Exodus 3:10-22). The book of Judges describes how God designated various judges to govern His nations of Judah and Israel (Judges 2:16-23).

Rather than following the righteous example of these judges, the people rebelled against their authority and against God Himself, worshiping false gods (Judges 2:16-23), for “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). Throughout the book, we see the repetitive cycle of man rebelling, followed by God judging His people. Then the people obeyed for a time, and God blessed the nation.

When a nation and its people prosper, and there is relative peace, citizens tend to believe they deserve their good fortune based on their own merits and want no part of God, just as the self-righteous sinner thinks he deserves heaven because of his own good works (Isaiah 64:6), and turns away from God’s Son.

But no man can be saved without trusting Jesus Christ Who died and was buried as the perfect sacrifice to pay for all our sins (John 1:29), and Who rose again (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), proving that He is God and giving eternal life (John 3:16) to all who trust Him as Lord and Savior. Similarly, no nation can be blessed without seeking God’s will, obeying and honoring Him.

Samuel was not only a prophet, but also the last judge appointed by God. Thereafter, the people rebelled completely against God’s plan and demanded that they, like the other nations of the day, have a king. In effect, they were saying that they trusted an earthly king more than they trusted God, and that they rejected God’s reign over them. Through Samuel, God warned Israel of the dangers of having a king rather than judges, for a king would be tempted to use his power for his own self-interest and for that of his family, even if it meant oppressing God’s people (1 Samuel 8:4-22).

But the rebellious people did not listen, so God allowed them to have a series of kings. Thereafter, we again see the cycle of man rebelling, usually under the rule of a king who dishonored God, followed by God’s judgment. Then the people realized their need for God, at least for a while, encouraged to do so by the example of a king who honored and obeyed Him, and the nation prospered by His grace.

At times, God’s judgment on Israel was so severe that He allowed her to be brought into captivity, as in Egypt and Babylon. During New Testament times, Israel was occupied by Roman officials who ruled over cities and nations, ultimately answering to Caesar, a type of emperor. Bible history seems to indicate that God gives nations what they deserve – good rulers when the people obey him, and bad rulers when they rebel. No power can take the throne unless God ordains it (Romans 13:1), “for the kingdom is the Lord's: and he is the governor among the nations” (Psalm 22:28).

None of these rulers, even the good kings of Israel and Judah, were elected – they took power via inheriting, capturing, or overthrowing the throne. So based on Scripture, how is a Christian living in a democracy supposed to know how to vote?

First we can look at how God Himself distinguished good kings, like David and Solomon, from bad kings like Saul. David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22), and repented earnestly when he fell into sin (Psalm 51). Solomon’s chief desire was for wisdom to know and serve God (1 Kings 3:7-9), even though he was later led astray by alliances with pagan women (1 Kings 11:1-13).

Saul, on the other hand, was driven by greed, pride, and ruthless ambition (1 Samuel 8 - 31; 1 Chronicles 10).  God departed from Saul and deposed him because of his disobedience (1 Samuel 28: 15-19) allowing the nation to be defeated by the Philistines and Saul to die in disgrace (1 Samuel 31)

King Asa was a good king, for he “did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 14:2), including destroying places of pagan worship, and commanding Judah to seek God and follow His laws. God rewarded his faithfulness by blessing the nation with peace, which Asa used productively to build fenced cities (2 Chronicles 14:3-7). Asa cried out to God in prayer to defend Judah against the invading Ethiopians, and God honored that prayer (2 Chronicles 14:11-12)

If we as Christians wish to honor God in our civic duty, first we will humble ourselves before Him in earnest prayer for revival that we and our nation would turn from all wicked ways, knowing that He will hear and forgive us and heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14). And we must ask Him to give us wisdom as we vote, by choosing leaders who most closely align with His laws. No earthly leader obeys God perfectly, for all are men and women subject to the curse of sin (Romans 3:23).

With voting, as with any decision we face, Christians should seek God’s will, wisdom, and discernment. If we trust Him with all our heart, rather than our own understanding of personalities, political parties or economic issues, and if we acknowledge Him in all our ways, He will guide our paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Political issues about which Scripture illuminates God’s will include sanctity of life, support of Israel, and sanctity of marriage. God condemned infant sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21); He knew us from even before we were conceived (Psalm 139:16); He guided every step of our development in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-15); and His Spirit indwelled John the Baptist even before he was born, allowing him to recognize and rejoice over Jesus His Savior (Luke 1:41-44).

God has promised to bless the nation that blesses Israel and to curse the nation that curses her (Genesis 12:2-3). Scriptural views on God-ordained marriage as being between one man and one woman begin with the creation of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:21-24) and are reiterated by Jesus (Matthew 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12) and Paul (1 Corinthians 6: 15-20; Hebrews 13:4) in the New Testament.

If we are unsure of where candidates stand on these issues, we can check their voting record online and glean their views from their websites or other media. May we continue faithful in prayer for our nation’s spiritual health, and may we give thanks that no matter who wins the election, God is still on His throne!

© 2016 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives


Saturday, October 10, 2020

Don’t Miss the Bus!

Photo by Vin09 2016

I dreamed that I am attending medical school in a large city and must attend a clinical rotation in one of the suburbs. There is a bus that goes from the downtown campus to a bus terminal, where I have to catch a second bus to the suburban medical facility.

After I arrive at the bus terminal I think there is plenty of time before departure of the second bus, so I wander around and then sit down to chat with someone. Suddenly I hear an announcement that the second bus is leaving, but I’m nowhere near the gate.

I take off running in such a hurry that I leave my bag and shoes behind. I know I can’t go into the hospital barefoot, so I step into a pair of sandals that I see in a waiting area. I continue running to the gate, stumbling awkwardly because the sandals are too big.

I finally arrive at the gate and ask the woman at the counter if the bus is still there. She’s says it’s already left; there is no other way to get there; and the next bus returning to the downtown campus won’t be until this evening.

I realize that I won’t be able to fulfill my responsibility at the clinical rotation; that I have no choice but to wait and then return home; and that I haven’t eaten all day or even had any water. There is a café near the gate and self-serve food set up, but I have no money because I lost the bag that I left behind where I had stopped to chat. The woman feels sorry for me and gives me a cup with crushed mint in it, and also her loose change, which is a quarter and a nickel. But I can’t buy anything with these, so I just wait.

I awoke with a sense of regret at the missed opportunity to minister to the sick at the clinical rotation and felt that I had failed to keep a divine appointment. This feeling is sadly rather pervasive these days, as the pandemic has blocked many opportunities for in-person service, such as our dance ministry, my teaching a ladies’ Bible class, and being able to singin church.

But truth be told, each of us who has been saved through trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6) has missed many such opportunities, perhaps even daily. Not because of the pandemic or other outward circumstances, but rather because of our sin nature (Romans 7:5; 13-25) that leads us to quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19) and to ignore His still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12).

If we do this long enough or often enough, our conscience will become seared (1 Timothy 4:2) and our heart hardened (Isaiah 63:17; Mark 6:52; John 12:40) so that we are unfit for God’s service (1 Corinthians 9:27; 2 Timothy 2:20-21) until we repent and start the journey back to His perfect will. Thankfully, as soon as we take the first step, He comes running to greet us with open arms, like the loving Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:20).

How did I allow myself to miss the opportunity presented in the dream? First, by being lulled into a false sense of security. I thought I had more time than I actually did and felt no compunction about frittering it away in aimless wandering (Numbers 32:13; Psalm 119:10; Proverbs 27:8) and idle words (Matthew 12:36). I failed to redeem the time (Ephesians 5:16) at my disposal by not preparing for the ministry opportunity and making sure I was where I needed to be at the right time.

In fact, I got so comfortable that I had actually taken off my shoes and lost track of my bag, which contained not only what I needed to sustain me on the journey, but also the tools needed for medical ministry. We must beware of scenic overlooks, of becoming so at ease with the more relaxed pace of home isolation or other involuntary rest periods  that we shirk our responsibilities altogether, as did David when his idleness snowballed into lust, adultery, deception and murder (2 Samuel 11).

What if Jesus had not taken seriously the divine appointments His Father had prepared for Him? Had He not taken the long, arduous journey to Samaria to meet with the woman at the well, she would not have been saved, and neither would have most of her village come to know that Jesus is the Messiah through her testimony (John 4).

While we are waiting for God’s perfect timing to let us know when to resume our usual ministries, it must be a time of mental, physical, and spiritual preparation. We must put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-18), girding up our loins with the truth so we are ready to run the moment He commands it. We must have our feet shod with the Gospel of the preparation of peace, rather than lounging around barefoot. I was so ill prepared for the departure that I had to step into someone else’s poorly fitting shoes and could not run fast enough to catch the bus, let alone run the race God has set before us (1 Corinthians 9:24-26).

We must not be like the foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) who were unprepared for the Bridegroom’s imminent return, representing Christ’s return for His church at the Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:22-23; 51-54). They could not go to the wedding feast because they had let their lamps run out of oil, representing the Holy Spirit Who enters each believer at the moment of salvation (2 Corinthians 1:22). Losing my bag and having no money in the dream parallels this important lesson taught by Jesus. Even my borrowing someone else’s shoes was like the foolish virgins trying to get oil from the wise virgins, but to no avail.

Although I was physically hungry and thirsty in the dream, the woman I encountered did not provide for my physical needs, but instead gave me spiritual reminders to bring me closer to understanding my purpose in this journey. The cup of crushed mint reminds me of Jesus’ assurance that if we give even a cup of water in His Name, He will reward us for it as if we had given it to Him directly (Mark 9:41).

Yet the cup of crushed mint was not something I could eat or drink, but rather a reminder of His body, crushed for our sins (Isaiah 53:5), and the cleansing power of His sacrifice (1 John 1:7,9). Mint is a purifying herb similar to hyssop (Psalm 51:7; Hebrews 9:19), which was given to Jesus as He suffered on the cross (John 19:29).

The spare change the woman gave me was insufficient to purchase any food, yet the quarter and nickel brought to mind the thirty pieces of silver Judas received to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:15; 27:3). In the end he realized this blood money was of no use to him, as he was consumed by guilt, tried to return it, and ultimately hanged himself (Matthew 27:5).

It made me think that each time we miss a divine appointment, we are guilty of a similar betrayal, although perhaps to a lesser degree. Judas worked and lived with Jesus for three years, seeing His miracles and hearing His teachings first hand, yet failed to recognize Him as Lord and Savior.

Christ’s Holy Spirit lives within all those who are saved, and so often He gives us the opportunity to experience the fruit of His grace, mercy, love and provision by working through us. If we let it slip by, it is a momentary rejection of His perfect will for us, for which we will suffer loss of eternal rewards, but not loss of our salvation (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

While awaiting Jesus Christ’s imminent return in these End Times, may we make good use of each precious moment, redeeming the time (Colossians 4:5) by listening to and following His voice and doing His perfect will (John 10:27). May we not lose any opportunity to do His work and share His Word, so that when we see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12), He can say “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23)

© 2020 Laurie Collett