Saturday, April 22, 2017

Absent from the Bride

In a dream I had recently, my husband, son and I are attending the wedding reception of my childhood friend, who in reality was unmarried and has recently gone home to be with the Lord. The reception is held in the meeting room of a hotel, which looks more suitable for a business convention than a celebration. 

There are no decorations, music, or special lighting, and no signs of the bride, groom or wedding party. At each seat, instead of wedding favors, are clear plastic bags containing a mismatched assortment of advertising trinkets – a key chain, shoe shine cloth, pen and matches each bearing the slogan of a different company. There is a printed program, also containing ads, with an announcement stating “If anyone wishes to toast the wedding couple, they may do so for $15, payable in advance.”

A woman I don’t recognize comes over to our table and acts like we are long-lost friends, claiming that we worked together when I was Director of Nursing at a VA hospital, which I never was, nor did I ever even work as a nurse or an administrator. She says she is looking forward to my husband and I performing a solo dance in honor of the wedding couple, which is news to us, and we look at each other in surprise.

Before I can answer her, another woman comes over, carrying a sheet of pictures with my photo on it and photos of four other people, saying “Oh, you’re obviously the best person to do a toast.” Apparently she thought flattery would work on me when it hadn’t on the other four on her list, and it didn’t seem that she knew anything about any of us, even our names. She had been given the sheet of photos to identify the most likely suspects who might pay to give a toast to the wedding couple.

On the one hand, I think it is wrong for the host to ask for money from those who want the opportunity to publicly honor the bride, and I am even having second thoughts about the whole affair, which seems far more commercial than festive. But on the other hand, I want to publicly praise and honor the bride and groom, who, oddly, are still nowhere in sight, and I am concerned that they will be hurt if I forego the toast.

So I agree to do the toast, advance payment and all, and excuse myself to freshen up before I am called to the podium. As I stand up, I realize in horror that my gown is a mess. It is bright pink taffeta, the color of bubble gum, and way too long, so that I’m afraid I’ll trip over it. Even worse, there is a large, dark stain across the bodice.

As I awaken in a panic I begin to consider the meaning of the dream, which I believe was warning me about the need for a right spirit within the church, or bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:23-32). One day, I hope and believe very soon, all those who are saved by trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6) will attend the most important wedding celebration of all time. 

At the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9), we will celebrate the eternal union of Christ the Bridegroom with His bride, namely the called-out assembly of born-again believers (John 3:3-8), or the church. This will occur in Heaven after the Rapture of the church, when Jesus calls us home and meets with us in the air, along with the Old Testament saints who were saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) before Jesus’ resurrection, and those New Testament saints who went home to be with Him before the Rapture. 

These two groups will be resurrected into glorified bodies and ascend to meet Jesus in the air. Immediately thereafter, those believers who are still living will be instantly transformed into glorified bodies and also rise to meet Jesus and the resurrected saints (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17).

When Jesus had His last Passover meal with His disciples on the eve of His crucifixion, He said that He would not drink the fruit of the vine again until He drank it with them in the kingdom of God (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25). I believe He was referring to that Marriage Supper of the Lamb, where Jesus Christ will be united with His bride the church, and all the Old Testament and Tribulation period saints will be in attendance.

In the meantime, He commanded His apostles to remember the promise of salvation through His shed blood and broken body each time they shared a meal or Communion together (Luke 22:19-20). Communion therefore remembers the past, completed sacrifice Jesus made to pay for all our sins; honors the present fellowship of the bride of Christ with Him and with one another; and anticipates the future Marriage Supper of the Lamb (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

Communion with fellow members of the bride of Christ should be filled with service to and love for one another, and remembrance, love and honor for Jesus Who paid our sin debt in full (Hebrews 10:10) so that we can eagerly look forward to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and blissful eternity to follow.

The apostle Paul warned the church at Corinth not to take part in communion lightly, and to reflect on our relationship with Christ and with one another to restore any wrong attitudes before we partake in this fellowship (1 Corinthians 11:16-22,27-34). I believe that the dream was warning me that if we’re not careful, individual churches can lose sight of the Church, the dearly beloved Bride of Christ for whom He died (Ephesians 5:25), and even of Christ Himself (Revelation 2:4).

My husband and I are blessed to be part of a loving, Bible-based, Christ-honoring church that prays for and ministers to our members, visitors, community, and global missions. The precious Name of Jesus is exalted at every service and His Word is preached, taught and sung. But there is a disturbing trend among many churches to forget their identity as part of the bride of Christ, and to incorporate worldly traditions and ideals in their services, meetings, and community interactions (1 Corinthians 11:16-22).

The strangest part of my dream was the absence of the bride and groom at their own wedding celebration. Christ, the Bridegroom, has promised that if two or more are gathered in His Name, He will be in their midst (Matthew 18:20). But if churches honor others instead of Him, His Spirit may no longer grace their meetings with His presence.

I was shocked and saddened recently to see a large, expensive advertisement for a church Easter celebration that not once mentioned the Name of Jesus, His Resurrection, or plan of salvation. Instead, it spoke of “celebrating the new you” and featured a large head shot and name of the musical guest artist. It boasted “no ticket needed,” for in fact this service seemed to be more about a concert honoring a singer, than a worship service praising our risen Savior.

In my dream, even the bride was absent. If churches are not careful, their meetings will become little more than social networks to catch up on the latest news, fashion and gossip, rather than to strengthen fellow believers in their faith and understanding of Scripture (Hebrews 10:25) and to bear their burdens (Galatians 6:2) and share their joys. In such meetings, the true Bride of Christ is missing, for the “church” members are relating to one another as they would to unsaved acquaintances, focusing on worldly things and not on Jesus.

Some churches today are so large that most of the members do not know one another, which may deprive the members of accountability and opportunity for Christian friendship. In my dream, even the hostess appeared to lack any genuine relationship with or even knowledge of the guests.  

Not surprisingly,  the atmosphere in my dream was impersonal, drab, lifeless, and lacking the joy (Psalm 21:1; 35:9) and hope (1 Peter 1:3) that should perfume the air (Hebrews 1:9) at any wedding celebration, and especially one honoring the union of Christ and His bride. As is common in the world, commercialism prevailed, with advertising gimmicks and even fees charged to honor the bride and groom.

Many “Christian” organizations charge dues or require “suggested” donations, and many churches not only regularly sell merchandise, beverages and food but have become meccas of multi-level marketing. I wonder, if Jesus were walking the earth today, if He would throw down the sales racks, cash registers and catalogs and chastise the churches for becoming a den of thieves instead of a house of prayer (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46).

Sadly, some church budgets seem to prioritize branding, giveaways and worldly entertainment to draw in large numbers, preferably the wealthy. Meanwhile, they neglect the poor and hurting in the community whom Jesus has called us to serve (James 1:27; 2:1-9); they overlook sound doctrinal teaching (2 Peter 2); and they omit the Name of Jesus (Acts 4:12) and His shed blood from their music, which is designed to soothe itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3) rather than to glorify Him (Psalm 95:1).

Those who attempt to serve at such world-oriented churches may find that they have to pay for the privilege, or that the churches are hiring paid musicians and denying their own members service or even giving opportunities. I heard of someone who joined a megachurch and reported excitedly, “They’re so rich that we don’t even have to tithe!”

How sad that “church” members would be led to miss out on the blessing God has promised (Malachi 3:8-12) to those who faithfully obey His Word, including the tithe! But much of today’s “church” has become like the church at Laodicea, rich in goods but poor in spirit, causing Jesus to be nauseated by their lukewarm attitude and wrongly placed self-sufficiency (Revelation 3:14-22).

In such a setting, the lost are unlikely to be saved, and even saved believers will not thrive spiritually. Every believer should be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, shining and spotless as a wedding garment (Isaiah 61:10). But many at such churches will be left behind when Christ returns for His bride, and they will be ashamed at their ill-fitting, inappropriate, sin-stained garment (Matthew 22:1-14).

May we not forget our first love! May our hearts burn with passion for Him and for one another, honoring Christ and His bride until He comes again! 
© 2017 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Triplets of Faith: Gospel of Grace

Photo by Peter van der Sluijs 2016

Christ is risen, conquering sin and death! His death on the cross paid in full the penalty for all our sins. Because He arose, proving He is Son of God and God Himself, all who trust Him can live forever!
But when Jesus came in the flesh, most of the Jews failed to recognize Who He was. He and His disciples preached the Gospel of the Kingdom, namely that Jesus is the Son of God and the promised Messiah. Jesus gradually revealed more and more to His disciples about His imminent betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection (Matthew 17:22-23; 20:18-19; 26:2,45; Luke 24:7),.

Yet the disciples were reluctant to believe it (Matthew 16:20-23; Mark 8:29-33), for they saw Him not as the Sacrifice for our sins, but as the Christ (Messiah) Who would deliver them from earthly oppression and the King Who would reign over them. Even after His condemnation by false witnesses, death by crucifixion, and burial, the disciples were slow to accept the significance of these events.

Had the disciples believed that He would rise again on the third day, as He had foretold, they would no doubt have been waiting by the tomb, instead of hiding at home for fear of the Jews (John 20:9-10,19). They would not have been mourning His death (Mark 16:10) but eagerly anticipating His reappearance.

When the women ran to tell the disciples of the empty tomb, the men still doubted their “idle tales” until Peter saw Jesus’ head cloth lying separately from the other grave clothes (John 20:6-8; Luke 24:10-12). Mary Magdalene told the disciples of her meeting with the risen Christ (Mark 16:9-10), as did those on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-35).

Yet the apostles still did not believe until they themselves had seen the risen Christ in His glorified body (Mark 16:11-14; John 20:19-20; Luke 24:36-47), Thomas doubted what the other apostles said and did not accept that Christ had risen until he himself could see and feel the wounds in His hands and side (John 20:24-29).

Even after Christ ascended into Heaven, the focus’ of the disciples preaching was the Gospel of the Kingdom, that He was the Messiah Whom they rejected. Peter's sermon in Acts 2 to the Jews (v. 22) speaks of Jesus' resurrection (v. 24,27,31,32) as proof of His divinity and of being the promised Messiah. He speaks of His crucifixion to make his audience feel personally convicted of killing their Messiah (v.23,36,37).

But when the Jews, convicted in their hearts of having rejected Jesus, asked what they should do, Peter didn't say "you are saved by grace through faith," as Paul would later say (Ephesians 2: 8-9). Instead, Peter promised the Holy Ghost to those who repented and were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (v. 38), which is the Gospel of the Kingdom first preached by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2,6,11).

Not until Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6) was the mystery of salvation for the Gentiles revealed – that Paul (Saul’s new name) would preach Jesus Christ to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews (v. 15; Acts 20:21; Romans 10:12). Paul's message was the Gospel of Grace, that all are saved who place their faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Son of God, the perfect sacrifice to reconcile sinful man to Holy God, as the only Way to Heaven (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 14:6).

Simply put, verbally declare that Jesus is Lord; believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved (Romans 10:9). This offer is open to anyone – “whosoever” -- will be saved (Romans 9:11-13). Salvation by grace is God’s freely given gift requiring only faith, not works, for there is nothing we can do to earn or merit it (Ephesians 2: 8-9).

The Gospel of Grace (Acts 20:24) is referred to by three different names; the Gospel of God (or of Christ, Who is equal with God; Romans 1:1; 2 Corinthians 10:14), the Gospel of Peace (Ephesians 6:15; Romans 10:15), and the Glorious Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 Timothy 1:11). The Gospel of God was foretold by the prophets, that God would become flesh as His Son Jesus Christ, and that He would show His power and holiness by rising from the dead  (Romans 1:1-6). This Gospel of God reflects God’s love (John 3:16), manifested as Jesus Christ Who is the saving power of God for all who believe in Him (Romans 1:16).

The Gospel of Grace is also the Gospel of Peace because it reconciles sinful man to Holy God, appeases His wrath at our sin and gives peace to believers in their eternal security. Having our feet shod with this Gospel is part of our armor of God (Ephesians 6:15), and our feet will be beautiful if they carry us to places where we preach this Good News (Romans 10:15).

Finally, the Gospel of Grace is the Glorious Gospel because Christ has the glory (Hebrews 2:7-9); He brings believers to glory (Hebrews 2:10); and we are awaiting His glorious appearing (Titus 2:13). How radiant and brilliant is that light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God! He commanded that light to shine out of the darkness of our sin, to shine in believers’ hearts, and to illuminate the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).

Paul himself is perhaps the best example of the power of the Glorious Gospel! Before he was saved, he was the worst of sinners, persecuting and killing Christians, thinking he was doing great religious works in God’s name because of his pride and self-righteousness (1 Timothy 1:11-17). As Saul, he was a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious (v. 13). But Jesus Christ Whom Paul persecuted appeared to him in a brilliant light, causing him to fall to the ground in temporary blindness before He revealed Paul’s unique mission.

God not only saved Saul but used him to spread the Gospel of Grace to the Gentile nations and to pen a large portion of the New Testament! Paul’s example proves that there is Good News for each of us, no matter how dismal our past or how wicked our sins were, thanks to God’s grace, love and mercy!   

© 2013 Laurie Collett
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