Friday, August 26, 2022

Water and Oil: Cleansing and Holy Fire


I was about to enjoy a crispy salad for lunch when I was reminded that oil always floats on water. As long as I kept shaking the bottle of salad dressing, oil droplets swirled through the vinaigrette, but as soon as I stopped, the oil rose to the top in a smooth layer. That got me thinking about Bible references to water and oil, and their complementary qualities as symbols of God’s mercy and grace.

In Scripture, cleansing water (1 John 5:6,8) and burning oil may each symbolize the Holy Spirit, Who has qualities of Living Water (Jeremiah 17:13; John 4; 7:38) as well as of holy fire (Isaiah 10:17). John the Baptist practiced baptism by water as the forerunner to Christ’s baptism by the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:36). John’s baptism by water was an act of repentance for sin, but Christ’s baptism with the Holy Ghost was compared to fire (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16).

Christ’s shed blood washed believers clean of all sins (Revelation 1:5). After Christ’s completed work on the cross and His resurrection, the Holy Spirit, like cloven tongues of fire, landed on the disciples at the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). The parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25) suggests that only those virgins with oil burning in their lamps – those who are indwelled by the Holy Spirit – will be admitted to the marriage supper, representing the Rapture to meet the Bridegroom in the air.

To be indwelled by the Holy Spirit, we must be born again, first by water (the physical birth) and then by the Spirit (John 3:5-8). This requires cleansing from our sins through our repentance and God’s forgiveness due to the substitutionary death of His Son (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). We must place our faith in Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (1 Cornthians 15:1-4) as our only Way to Heaven (John 14:6). As we realize, and continue to learn more and more about, Who He is, our hearts will burn within us (Luke 24:32), and we will be on fire for the Lord.

Water is sometimes called the universal solvent, because its cleansing action dissolves impurities and flushes them away. In contrast, oil tends to adhere to small particles, keeping them in contact with the skin or other surface. First we shower and then we apply perfumed body oil or beauty cream – it wouldn’t make much sense to reverse the order!

Similarly, we need the cleansing action of the Living Waters before the oil in our Spirit-filled lamps can burn brightly with a sweet fragrance. God dealt with Jerusalem and His chosen people in a similar sequence – first He cleansed them with water, and then He anointed them with oil (Ezekiel 16:9).

We see a moving example of cleansing and anointing in Luke 7 (38-48), in the sinful woman who wept at Jesus’s feet, washing them with her tears. No doubt her tears were shed in Godly sorrow, in repentance for her sins, as were the tears of David (Psalm 6:60;119:136) and Jeremiah (9:1,18; Lamentations 3:48). First her tears cleansed His feet from the dust and grime of the dirty roads, symbolizing the sins of the world, for Jesus Himself had no sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Then she wiped His feet with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with precious ointment. The oil in ointment allows it to preserve and convey perfume, spices and other costly substances. This woman stored her ointment in a costly alabaster box, which may have represented her dowry or all her worldly treasure. Yet she broke open the box and bestowed all the ointment lavishly on Jesus without considering the cost, because her heart was ignited by the Holy Spirit with passion to serve Him.

In a rainy parking lot, we may see oil drops floating on the wet pavement, causing a striking, rainbow-hued, swirling pattern known as a fractal. The light would not reflect in this jewel-toned design were the oil not aligned in a thin film, buoyed up by the water beneath. Similarly, the light and beauty of the Holy Spirit are not visible unless carried afloat by the Living Water indwelling each believer.

Cleansing, purification and anointing, as symbolized by water and oil, are essential to true worship. Oil and water in Scripture also reflect God’s provision, blessing, power, and judgment, as we shall see in subsequent posts.

May currents of living water flow forth from each of us, supporting the oil of the Spirit to reflect His brilliant light!

© 2013 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives


Saturday, August 20, 2022

From the Thistle to the Peak


Photo by Timothy A. Gonsalves 2016

I had a dream in which I found myself face down in the dust, in a strange terrain that was sandy but overgrown with tiny, delicate flowers in a variety of colors, as if Van Gogh had shaken out his brushes over the ground. It reminded me of the Burren, a rocky plateau formation near the coast in western Ireland, home to many unique floral species growing in tiny crevices in the stone.

As I struggled to lift my head from the ground, I saw a thistle directly before me, its purple dome held erect by a thorny green stem. I focused on it for a moment, but my eyes were then drawn upward to the spectacular view before me – a craggy, gray pointed mountain with sun glinting off the snow-capped peak. I climbed onto my knees then stood up straight, arms outstretched as I breathed in the invigorating Alpine air.

I awoke still joyful in the epiphany of all things becoming new (2 Corinthians 5:17), in the transformation from groveling in the dirt to being uplifted as if to the very summit. I believe the dream was a reminder to change my perspective from the horizontal to the vertical, from the trials to the triumph, from the earthly to the heavenly.

The dream began with me prone in the dust, an extreme position of abasement with which Satan, that old serpent, was cursed when he successfully tempted Eve to disobey God (Genesis 3:14). Because of Adam and Eve’s transgression, the curse of sin has fallen on all mankind, and defines our journey unless and until we escape it by being born again (John 3:3-8).

Once we trust 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 freed from the penalty of sin, which is eternal death (Romans 6:23), and from the power of sin to control our thoughts, words and actions, through our new nature yielded to the Holy Spirit. One day in Heaven we will be freed from even the presence of sin, as our glorified bodies will sin no more (1 Corinthians 15:39-50).  

Just as God created man from the dust and breathed life into his nostrils (Genesis 2:7), so can He resurrect us from the pit of sin and death to heavenly places with Him, even in this worldly existence (Ephesians 1:3). While we still walk – or crawl, if need be – upon this earth, He consoles us with unexpected glimpses of beauty, like wildflowers piercing through barren rock in a vibrant palette of color.

Traditionally, the thistle is said to symbolize trials, or toughness, pain and aggression accompanying difficult life experiences. An old Spanish proverb states, “He that has a good harvest must be content with some thistles.”

Thistles were part of the curse sin brought on Adam, for God told him that he would have to endure hard labor tilling the soil for food, and that his harvest would be choked by thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:18). When Job claimed his innocence before God, he vowed that thistles could overrun his wheat field if he were lying (Job 31:40). Jesus explained that we could know a man’s heart by the fruit of his actions and character, for grapes do not come from thorns, nor figs come from thistles (Matthew 7:16).

On this earth, we have to contend with thorns and thistles in the midst of wildflowers and wheat harvest. The apostle Paul spoke of his “thorn in the flesh,” or affliction as a messenger of Satan that God used to keep him from being prideful (2 Corinthians 12:7). Being saved does not spare us from trials, but it gives us the endurance to go through them by following our Savior’s loving guidance.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus uses the illustration of good seed becoming unfruitful because it is choked by thorns, representing wealth as an idol that can hinder us from hearing and following God’s Word (Matthew 13:3-23).

As I look at the photo I chose for this blog post, I am struck by how the thistle head resembles the crown of thorns Jesus wore for us as He hung on the cross (Mark 15:17), suffering for us the pain we deserved as the penalty for our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). The purple bloom is a fitting reminder of His royalty as King of Kings (Revelation 19:16) and divinity as Son of God (1 John 5:20), while the green stem calls to mind eternal life (Psalm 52:8; Jeremiah 17:8).

So the sacrifice of Lord Jesus Christ elevates all who trust in Him from the shame and death caused by sin to the hope (Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 1:3; Hebrews 6:19), victory and power of eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:57). In the dream, the brilliant white mountain peak represents the holiness and purity we receive not through any works or merit of our own (Ephesians 3:8-9), but only through the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Romans 4:22; James 2:23) that clothes us like a pristine wedding garment (Isaiah 61:10).

May we look up (Luke 21:28), keeping our focus on His perfection, beauty and holiness! May we experience His victory over our sin and death as He seats us in heavenly places with Him in this life and leads us to eternal life in the next! 

© 2022 Laurie Collett



Saturday, August 13, 2022

See What God Can Do!


Photo by Marwan Mohamad 2016

With so many friends undergoing extraordinary trials, I thought it would be fitting to repost this, which I wrote during a trial that changed our lives yet strengthened our faith and reassured us of God's faithfulness. May it be a blessing and encouragement to those who read it. Our trial is not over, but we are constantly reminded that Christ will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and that He is working all things together for our good and His ultimate glory (Romans 8:28).
Recently my husband and I had some unsettling news that struck us like a bolt of lightning and has been hanging over us like a heavy cloud ever since.

No one knows what tomorrow may bring, and we are not even promised tomorrow (James 4:14). But as born-again Christians (John 3:3-8) who have trusted in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way (John 14:6) to Heaven, we do know that with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26), and without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

It is tempting to try to take control, using our flesh to bring about a solution, rather than yielding to God’s perfect will, love, knowledge and power (Isaiah 26:4). Yet His grace is sufficient, and His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). We must leave our burdens at the foot of His cross, for those who wait on the Lord, and His perfect timing and resolution, will have renewed strength and rise up with wings as of eagles (Isaiah 40:31).

Looking back on trials we have gone through before, it is reassuring to see how God always is faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9; 10:13), always protects and provides for us (Matthew 6:25-34), and always gives us what we need, even if it is not always what we think we want (Matthew 6:8). Not only in our own lives, but in those of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in countless Bible examples, we can see His hand at work (Isaiah 41:10).

Sometimes all we need to have the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) is a little reminder, like a love note or unexpected blessing as a token of our Bridegroom’s constant, unfailing love (Jeremiah 33:11). So when we first learned of this trial, part of my silent prayer to our Father was that He would show me a rainbow as a symbol of His protection and provision (Genesis 9:13-16).

We live in Florida, and it is summer, when showers often pierce sunny skies, so this is not an unreasonable request. It is hardly of the order of magnitude of Gideon asking for his fleece to be bone dry in the midst of soggy ground (Judges 6:36-39), or of Elijah pouring buckets of rain on the altar and asking God to ignite it with fire from Heaven (1 Kings 18). And I know that I can be sure of God’s love without needing a sign (Matthew 16:4), for we already know of the life-changing sign of the empty tomb!

Still, I longed for this reassurance. A full month went by, with no rainbow, even though we had been outside often as we had started a daily brisk walking program. Finally, last week while walking the beach at sunset as storm clouds were brewing overhead, I happened to look up. There was the smallest, barest sliver of rainbow light peeking through the dark cloud cover!

I showed it to my husband and shared with him that I had prayed for this sign of God’s promises, and we thanked God together for showing it to us. But God always answers prayer exceeding abundantly (Ephesians 3:20) beyond what we could ever think or imagine!

The next morning, we both awoke an hour before we had planned to get out of bed. So we stumbled downstairs to get dressed for our daily brisk walk before it rained or got too hot. I was in the next room when I heard my husband yelling my name to come right away, followed by the blaring of the house alarm! In his excitement to open the sliding doors facing the beach, he had forgotten to shut it off!

So I ran out, still grumpy from restless sleep and lack of coffee, about to chide him for his carelessness, when I saw firsthand what had caused all the fuss – the most spectacular, stunning, amazing rainbow we had ever seen! (I am not one to string superlatives together, but this sight truly defied description!)
It was a perfect half circle, parallel to the horizon, and our porch was centered right in the middle of it! It was as if God said, “Have a seat, kids, and enjoy the show, because I’ve given you the best seat in the house!”

The arch of the rainbow was thick and unbroken by clouds, even though a few fleecy clouds dotted the gray-blue sky. A silvery rain sparkled in the sky to the left of our unit, but oddly there was no rain in front of us to blur the perfect view. The colors were vibrant jewel tones of ruby, sapphire, emerald and topaz, reflecting into the robin’s egg blue waves as the ends of the rainbow reflected on and disappeared into the water. The perfect arch was exactly centered on the horizon and extended over two thirds of its length. It was as if the gateway to Heaven had opened before us!

As we sat there agape, we thought about taking a picture, but we realized that even a wide-angle lens would be far too narrow to encompass the glorious sight visible only to our eyes. Instead we were content just to bask in God’s glory (Deuteronomy 5:24), the beauty of the Master Designer’s creation (Genesis 1-2), and His faithfulness to bless us! It was time just to be still, and to know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).

As we sat in silent worship, praise and thanksgiving, a man came out onto the beach, and almost instantaneously the brilliant rainbow began to fade, disappearing completely in just a few seconds. It was as if God orchestrated this magnificent display of His greatness solely for our benefit.

If God takes the time and care to answer the small requests of His children in such a lavish way, would He not be even more faithful to provide for our greatest needs? We still have no resolution of our trial, and no knowledge of what tomorrow may bring. Yet we know that no harm can touch us that He does not allow to accomplish His perfect plan for our life (Job 1:9-10), and we trust Him to work all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).    

Jeremiah 33:3 Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.

© 2019 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives