Saturday, September 30, 2023

Last Flower Still In Bloom


Image generated by Image Creator Dall-E

We are blessed to have many trees and shrubs in our undeveloped back yard and sliding doors in our family room leading out to a balcony, offering us a lovely view of nature and wildlife.

Years ago, when I was laid up on the couch for weeks, ill with pneumonia, seeing a sparrow or other feathered friend scrounge for insects on the balcony would bring a smile to my tired face. I looked forward to daily visits from a baby squirrel, who always seemed to know when it was mealtime, and would tilt his head quizzically as if asking to share in our modest repast.

To this very day, we enjoy the serenity of viewing nature here during our morning devotionals, where we are constantly reminded of the beauty and variety of God’s creation (Psalm 19:1).

This year, as fall approached, the burnt orange blooms of the butterfly bushes and blue phlox in our front yard were no longer there to attract the zebrawings, swallowtails and occasional hummingbirds often seen in summer.

A perennial favorite in our back yard, located near the balcony, is a bright red hibiscus. In the summer, the blooms are lavish, open, and feather-edged, with yellow stamens, but now in fall these are past their prime, closed and tubular.

I was therefore surprised one recent morning to see a flurry of activity around these flowers. A solitary chickadee chattered excitedly as he seemed to sip nectar, drawing the attention of his mate, and then several more.  A tiny brown hummingbird hovered near a separate bloom, then a female cardinal flew over to see what all the fuss was about.

After several minutes of what seemed to be a bountiful breakfast and social gathering, the birds dispersed.

Scripture tells us that God provides even for the sparrows (Luke 12:6-7), and here He abundantly provided for them with flowers that seemed way past their peak, even when their usual source of nectar was out of season. It reminded me that He will certainly supply our needs even more than those of the birds of the air, and that He can use us even when we are past our prime.

The Bible does not speak of retirement and is full of accounts of how God used aged people to accomplish his purposes. Among the great examples of faith (Hebrews 11), Abraham left his position of power in a pagan nation to set out for the Promised Land (Genesis 12:2-5) and then became the father of a great Godly nation through the birth of Isaac, when he and his wife Sarah were nearly a century old.

Elizabeth, aged and barren wife of the high priest Zachariah, gave birth to John the Baptist well past her childbearing years, just as God had promised (Luke 1). King David, a man after God’s heart who nonetheless fell prey to the egregious sins of lust, adultery, deceit and murder (2 Samuel 11-12), was still used by God shortly before his death, when he gave his son Solomon God’s instruction and priceless materials to build the temple (1 Kings 7:51).

Joshua, though “old and stricken in years,” knew that there was still much land for God’s people to possess, and God granted him his request to “possess that mountain” (Joshua 13:1; 14:11-12).

In all these instances, many might be tempted to ask, “Why did God wait so long?” His thoughts and ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9), so we cannot be certain of the answer until we see Him face to face. But one reason might be to grow and strengthen us, preparing us spiritually and in other ways for the mission He has chosen for us.

Our church is blessed with many senior saints who, not content to slip quietly into retirement from God’s work, have instead possessed the mountain He set before them, with all its challenges and rewards, despite their advanced age.

Although I was not saved until well into adulthood, and have now retired from my former occupation, I am blessed and thankful that God still allows me to write, teach, sing to lyrics I have written and dance to His glory, using these ministries to share His Word. This is only possible through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16), for His strength is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Praise God that once we are saved by trusting in the death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) of His Son Jesus as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), He will set before each of us a unique mission (Jeremiah 29:11). Our age and ability are irrelevant – what matters is only our faith and obedience to follow His Word. There are always younger, more beautiful, more capable people He could have used, but He chooses each of us!

May we be that last flower still in bloom, letting God use us to bless others as He sees fit!

Copyright Laurie Barclay 2023

Photo by Laurie Collett 2023

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Don’t Squander Your Inheritance!


Reading The Will: painting by David Wilkie
Have you ever inherited money, or even a house or a family heirloom, from a relative and wanted to make sure you used the gift in accordance with their wishes? Or perhaps you have written a will, entrusting whatever assets you have to your children and praying that they will use their inheritance wisely?

As believers, each of us has received an amazing inheritance from God Himself, because we are His children and joint heirs with Christ (Ephesians 1:5,11-14; Romans 8:16-17;29-30). That inheritance includes salvation, meaning that through God’s grace, we will have eternal life with Christ (John 3:16) rather than the eternal punishment our sins deserve. It also includes spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3-4), such as the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide, instruct, encourage, and intercede for us; 24/7 access to the throne room of God knowing that we can boldly approach Him with our prayer requests that are in accordance with His will (Hebrews 4:16); and the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

Another aspect of our inheritance is that even though we once rebelled against God and were His enemies, He now allows us to be His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), witnessing to others so that they too might be saved, encouraging and uplifting other believers, and generally working to further His Kingdom.

Sadly, many believers squander their inheritance, and are glad to receive their “get out of hell free” card but let the rest of it go to waste. They ignore the Holy Spirit and follow their sin nature instead; they neglect prayer, God’s Word, and worship with fellow believers; and they put worldly priorities ahead of obeying Christ.

Although we usually think of an inheritance as bringing us obvious benefits, sometimes we have to go beyond the surface of the gift to appreciate its true value. As believers, our inheritance also includes sharing in Christ’s sufferings during our earthly life – an inheritance that we might at first consideration prefer to decline. But it is only through our trials and tribulations that we are progressively made to be more and more like Christ (Romans 8:18; Phil. 3:10-14).

Romans 8:16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: 17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. 18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Our earthly suffering also strengthens our faith, brings us closer to God, and gives us patience, compassion and experience to help others going through similar trials (Romans 5: 1-5; 2 Corinthians 1:3). We can therefore rest assured that God uses even our suffering for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28).

So let’s not squander our heavenly inheritance – let’s use it to glorify Christ, to help bring others to Him, and to invest in His Kingdom so that we will have more treasures to enjoy throughout eternity!

Matthew 6:19-21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Laurie Collett

Copyright 2011 

Reposted from the archives

Saturday, September 16, 2023

After the Storm

Photo by Richard Collett 2023 

A few days after Hurricane Idalia hit Florida, we set out for our beach house with some trepidation. Although landfall had been considerably further north, and there were no immediate reports of damage, we really didn’t know what to expect from the storm surge. Neighbors had posted pictures of water breaching the sand dunes, passing under the beachfront homes, and crossing the street to the homes bordering the lagoon.

But thankfully, the homes are all raised on stilts; the winds had not been severe; and we found no structural damage to our home. As we had feared, the sand dunes that protect the beach from erosion had been leveled by the waves, and there were no signs of the brown rabbits and mourning doves that used to make their homes there. The sea turtle nests were washed away with the tide, and the pounding surf had dumped piles of sand underneath the homes.

From the photos, we had expected that the beach itself would have disappeared, covered in water that would prevent a stroll to admire the views and search for treasures. But to our astonishment, the beach was suddenly three or four times wider than it had been on our previous visit! Apparently the storm surge had dredged up sand from the ocean bottom and deposited it on the shore!

In fact, the excess sand had buried beach chairs, a grill, hose and trash can under our home. A rope placed across the path to the beach, once at waist level, was now by our ankles! When I thought of repeated attempts by the county to “renourish” the beach by dredging and depositing sand on the shore, at considerable taxpayer expense and resident inconvenience, I wondered if God were laughing (Psalm 2:4; 59:8), for He accomplished the same thing overnight, and much better at that!

Reassured by our findings, I began our stay with my favorite ritual of an early morning swim. The water that had been almost like a hot tub on our previous visit was now pleasantly refreshing, most likely from the cold rain that fell during the storm. But this day was sunny, the sky a brilliant blue with only a few wispy clouds.

As I began my aquatic exercise I noticed three such clouds overhead that transformed before my eyes. The cloud on the left became a rippled V-shape, like fanning flames, and the one on the right took on an elongated cumulus shape, glowing as it was backlit by the sun.

The cloud in the center was at a first a simple, empty cross, on which then appeared the body of Christ, crucified and slumping, a mournful expression in His eyes. But as I watched, the cloud changed and grew, so that His body was draped in a robe, His arms outstretched and head lifted as if He were ascending, and the cross was no longer visible.

I continued gazing in amazement, but within moments, the three clouds had dissipated into a few indistinguishable traces. To me, this had been a clear depiction of the Trinity (Luke 3:22; 1 John 5:7): the fanning flames representing the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4); the glowing cloud God the Father, Who appeared to Moses as a burning bush (Exodus 3:1-4) and to the Israelites as a pillar of fire over the tabernacle (Exodus 13:22; 40:38). The crucified, then ascended figure was Jesus Christ the Son, Who died to pay for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), that all who trust Him would have eternal life (John 3:16).

Physically and spiritually renewed, I joined my husband for a stroll on the beach. What a delight to see so many live coquinas, which had been absent on an earlier visit except for their cast-off shells, busily burrowing into the sand and resurfacing with each new wave! And this prolific bounty had attracted many shore birds: terns, plovers, sandpipers, and even a night heron. Evidently the cooler waters after the storm had again allowed the sea to teem with new life.

Beachcombing was plentiful also, with piles of multicolored scallop and cockle shells, iridescent pen shells, delicate white augurs, and sea potatoes, also known as heart urchins, each with star-shaped clefts once housing the sea urchin’s gills. The sea had churned up many fossils: shark’s teeth and chunks of sea turtle shell and mammal bone.

After a peaceful night’s sleep, soothed by the calming sound of the surf, I again returned to the pool to enjoy some quiet time with the Lord while swimming and admiring His creation. The sun was dazzling, transforming the water into a sparkling mosaic in shades of aqua and robin’s egg blue. The fronds of a palm tree shielding my view of the sun danced in the gentle breeze.

As if emanating from the sun, white clouds rippled, like furrows in the blue field of the sky. Suddenly a round white cloud to the right of this display became illuminated by a rainbow, which was not an arc as rainbows usually appear. The cloud became a glowing orb of rainbow hues – violet, indigo, red, orange, and gold, as if it were the aura surrounding the throne of Christ the King! (Revelation 4:3).

What made this even more astounding was that it had not rained for several days; there was no rain in the forecast; and the humidity was only about 50% -- much lower than normal at a Florida beach. It was clearly a rainbow, but like none I had ever seen before, spectacularly beautiful and occurring in highly improbable conditions! I was so thankful for and blessed by this reminder of God’s promise never again to destroy the earth by water (Genesis 9:13-17).

Sadly, many storms are still brewing as we approach the peak of what is forecast to be a busier than normal hurricane season. Our prayers are with all those affected by hurricanes or in their potential path. Yet, how reassuring to know that our Triune God is with us, no matter what storms we may face; that He speaks tenderly to us through His creation; and that we can depend on His presence and His promises! 

© 2023 Laurie Collett 


Saturday, September 9, 2023

A 9/11 Warning

To my readers: As we approach the anniversary of September 11, 2001, with its horrific attacks on the Twin Towers in Manhattan and on the Pentagon, our thoughts and prayers are with all whose lives were forever changed by this unimaginable event. I am reposting this from the archives in hopes that it may be a reminder to follow God's Word and seek His guidance at all times.

As I was walking toward our front door about two weeks ago, I noticed three long, thin, dried up oleander leaves lying on the walkway in a distinct formation. As regular readers of this blog know, I am intrigued by patterns of three, in Scripture and in nature, as reflections of the Trinity (Matthew 28:19). So these leaves caught my eye, especially since they were aligned to form the Roman numeral for “9” – one leaf vertically by itself, to the left of two leaves crossed in an “X” pattern, the three leaves clearly displaying “IX.”

Odd, I thought, and wondered if God might be sending me a message, although I had no idea what it could be, until I stepped inside the house and turned around to shut the door. At that point, I was viewing the leaves upside down from my original vantage point, so I now saw them as “XI,” or the Roman numeral for “11.”

9-11: the telephone number to call in case of emergency. Since September 11, 2001, these numbers have always evoked even more dire warnings of terrorism, death, and destruction. I also felt that the oleander leaves spelling out 9-11 may have had additional significance. The oleander is a beautiful evergreen tree with colorful, attractive blossoms, but all parts of the plant are highly poisonous. What seems attractive at first glance is often not what is best for us (Proverbs 23:31-32; 31:30; 1 John 2:16).

So I thought God was sending me a warning, but about what? I had a sense of restlessness in my spirit, and although I prayed about it, I had no clear answer. But God, Who is not the author of confusion but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33; Isaiah 26:3) kept getting my attention with various other references to warnings.

At a Bible study one night at our church, the Pastor’s message was about those who disobeyed God’s law and pursued their own will instead, at their own peril. Because they did not “observe to do” His commandments, He removed His blessings and allowed curses instead (Deuteronomy 5:32; 6:25; 27:8-26; 28).  

God’s Word serves to “admonish,” or warn us (1 Corinthians 10:1-14) by giving us examples of those who disobeyed God and succumbed to idolatry, meaning not just worshiping statues, but having anything stand between us and our relationship with God. The devil can trap us and destroy our testimony and ministry (1 Peter 5:8) even when we are saved and want to fulfill God’s perfect plan for our life (Jeremiah 29:11; 33:3). However, Satan’s power is limited by what God allows (Job 1:10), and once saved, we can never lose our salvation (John 10:28-29; Romans 8:39).

Later that week I heard a Charles Stanley sermon about listening for God’s voice so that we can hear Him and obey. Most often He speaks to us through our reading or hearing of His Word (Psalm 119:105), which can correct, instruct, and encourage us (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 4:2-4),

If we take time to be still (Psalm 46:10), He may speak to us in our quiet time (Jeremiah 29:12-14), or even through dreams (Daniel 2:19; 7:13; Matthew 2:12,22; etc.) or nature (Psalm 19:1). Sometimes God speaks to us through fellow Christians who warn us of behavior that displeases God (1 Corinthians 4:14; Colossians 1:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:14).

When Dr. Stanley said that sometimes God wants to give us a warning, that surely caught my attention! He related an incident in his own life when he was a seminary student and had planned to spend the summer working in his church’s missions’ office. One day he tripped, hitting his head, and he felt God was sending him a warning. He became restless in his desire to know what God had planned for his life, when one day in prayer He clearly felt God telling him not to work in the missions’ office that summer, but to vacation in a small town in the mountains instead.

At first he dismissed this idea, thinking it was just his own selfish desire to relax over the summer rather than providing needed service to his church. But he also clearly felt God asking him to trust and obey Him (1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 50:10). So he did, and the first week he was there, the church where he had visited asked him if he could fill in the following week by preaching for the pastor who was unexpectedly called out of town. After he had preached there several times, the church invited him to be their new pastor and was even willing to wait for him to complete his final year at seminary!

He ultimately accepted the position; the church grew; and his ministry expanded astronomically to the point that his sermons and messages are now broadcast on television, radio, and online around the world. None of this would have happened, and he would have fallen short of this amazing plan God had for his life (Ephesians 3:20; 1 Timothy 1:14), had he not listened to and followed God’s call to do something that made no earthly sense at the time (Isaiah 55:9).

God often works that way, with miraculous results when we obey! Servants poured water into pots at Christ’s command and watched it drawn forth as the best wine (John 2:7-10), and armies marched silently around Jericho and then saw the walls come tumbling down at the sound of the trumpet! (Joshua 6:1-11)

In my own quiet time, I had been asking for God’s guidance about financial issues, and how to balance these with time and resources to be spent in ministry and in fulfilling His perfect plan. Soon I sensed that the warning God had for me was in that vein, that our earthly life is but a vapor (James 4:14), and that it will soon be the time when we can no longer use it to serve Him (John 9:4).

He does not want us to waste our mental energy on worry (Philippians 4:6), for perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), and we can cast our cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7). Rather, He wants us to find joy in Him and in our salvation (Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 21:1; 35:9; 51:12). Every day is a gift from Him, and He wants us to rejoice in it (Psalm 118:24), for we are not promised tomorrow (James 4:14).

As we left our house one morning a few days later, we heard sirens, then spotted an ambulance at a neighbor’s house, followed by two police cars, and soon thereafter by a medical examiner’s car and hearse. This neighbor had worked very hard for many years to take an early retirement. He had purchased the vacant lot next to his property, built his dream house there to live in, and gave the house where he had been living to his son, so that he could watch his grandchildren grow up.

But he had lived there only a few short months when he unexpectedly died in his sleep, and he could no longer enjoy all that he had worked so hard to achieve.

So now I feel I understand the warning – our time here is short; we can’t take our earthly possessions with us; and only those rewards we have stored up in Heaven will have eternal value (Luke 12:15-34). Work is necessary to provide for our families (2 Thessalonians 3:10), but overemphasis on wealth, albeit admired by the world, is a distraction that can keep us from God’s best (Proverbs 23:4-5). 

Sadly, I don’t know whether or not our neighbor was saved, and now the opportunity is forever gone to witness to him. I’m ashamed that I never took the time to knock on his door and tell him that we are saved only by 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). But it’s not too late to give his widow a copy of God’s Word, a plan of salvation, and an invitation to visit our church.

May we always heed God’s warnings before it is too late, for the night is fast approaching when no man can work. The numbers 9-11 in my special warning may have had yet another meaning: if we commit our lives to God, He will give us more time to serve Him in joy, peace and love. 

Proverbs 9:11: For by me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased.

© 2016 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Lilies of the Field


Recently I had a dream that consisted only of a single image – a strikingly unique tropical plant. It grew as a tall, elegantly curved branch in vibrant tones of dark blue, majestic purple, and forest green, with sculpted leaf-like triangular structures springing from its surface. At its tip was a perfect lavender bloom, with a full array of lotus-like petals arranged in a Fibonacci spiral.

Over the next few days, I was reminded of the dream image by a photo of an exotic succulent on Facebook, and then by a fashion magazine spread in which a stunning model clad in a Grecian-style gown posed next to a similar plant, mirroring its graceful curve.

That night I had a second dream in which I was helping to prepare decorations for a wedding celebration.  There were many lily blooms to arrange, some in white streaked with fuschia and lavender; some cream-colored with pale gold spots, and some orange tiger lilies. I had to arrange them in a clear glass, tiered container, with a water reservoir on the bottom, but the stems were very short and difficult to keep in contact with the water. One of the blooms had already wilted, shriveled, and was turning brown.

As I thought about the symbolism of these dream images, I was reminded of our Lord Jesus Christ as the Righteous Branch (Jeremiah 23:5; 11:15), the Rod from the stem of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1), the true Vine (John 15:5). God the Son came to earth in human form as the perfect, sinless Sacrifice Who died on the cross to pay for all our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), that all who trust Him would have eternal life (John 3:16). He alone is the priceless Rose of Sharon and Lily of the valleys (Song of Solomon 2:1).

The colors of the dream plant were fitting for the Righteous Branch, the blue reflecting the azure skies of Heaven and Christ’s heavenly throne resembling sapphire (Ezekiel 1:26); the purple His royalty, and also (with blue and scarlet) seen in the temple curtain (Exodus 27:16). The green called to mind the emerald-like rainbow lighting His throne (Revelation 4:3), and evergreen trees that never lose their foliage, symbolizing His gifts of peace, provision, and everlasting life (Genesis 9:3; Psalm 23:2; 52:8).

The three-sided appendages could denote the Trinity – the perfect union of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit (1 John 5:7).

Crowning this magnificent creation was an exquisite lavender bloom, its color mystical and transcendent, and its petals in a spiral design based on the Golden Ratio and Fibonacci sequence in which each number is the sum of the preceding two numbers (1,1,2,3,5, etc.). Only the omniscient Designer could create such beauty using intricate laws of nature and mathematics, as He did in the aloe plant, the lotus blossom, the sunflower head, and the chambered nautilus.

Even the human body, His greatest creation, uses the Golden Ratio in determining ideal proportions, as Leonardo da Vinci portrayed in his Vitruvial Man drawing of the human body with limbs outstretched along a circle.

As suggested by the fashion image I saw a few days after the dream, in which the model’s form and stance resembled that of the plant, we are created in God’s image, also with a triune nature of body, soul and spirit (Hebrews 4:12). Our body communicates with the outside world, our soul with our innermost desires, and God designed our spirit to communicate with Him, once we are saved and trust Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

I believe the second dream of arranging flowers for a wedding celebration referenced believers’ status as God’s children, symbolized by the lilies. Despite our differences in physical appearance and skin color, we are all made in His image, reflecting His beauty. While we await His return, we are to gather together in love (Acts 2:42-47; Hebrews 10:25; Colossians 2:2), like flowers strung together in a lei; put on the holy and spotless garment of His righteousness (Isaiah 61:10); and prepare for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).

Just as He has brilliantly clothed the lilies of the field, He has promised to attire, feed, and nurture us (Matthew 6:28-33). Christ is the Living Water (John 4:10-14), the Source of all these physical, spiritual and eternal blessings. Once we trust in Him, we will never thirst again.

Yet to receive His abundant blessings, we must be connected to the refreshing spring of His grace, love and provision. In the dream, the short stems on the lily blooms represent the difficulty our flesh has in maintaining that connection, and the attempt we sometimes make to be nourished artificially, by a man-made reservoir that can satisfy our thirst no more than can a broken cistern (Jeremiah 2:13).

Unless we are immersed in the Living Water, we wither away spiritually, like the dried bloom that was fit only to be discarded.  We must keep hydrated by staying close to Him, for our flesh is weak and incapable of self-nourishment. But washing in the Water of His Word cleanses and sanctifies us (Ephesians 5:26).

Although the dreams were a confirmation of our abundant blessings, inner beauty through the Holy Spirit, and life-giving sustenance we experience as Christ-followers, I believe they were also a warning to stay connected to the renewing power of His Word and Spirit. May others be drawn to Jesus Christ and His beauty as they perceive us as blooms decorating the One True Vine!

© 2023 Laurie Collett