Saturday, July 22, 2017

Light in the Storm

Photo by Alvesgaspar2009

As my husband and I sat overlooking the beach while reading our morning devotionals, we could sense the storm brewing. The breeze was strengthening, allowing a pair of ospreys to soar effortlessly through the darkening sky. Waves lapping the shore began to chop and churn, and the usually pale blue, glassy sea became rough and darkened with deep purple blots like ink stains under the gathering clouds.

I spotted an unusual cloud formation that resembled a rocky cliff with a sharp drop-off, abutting what looked like an immense boulder. In the cleft between the boulder and the cliff was a human figure, huddled in a fetal position. Standing on the cliff was an angel with outstretched arms, as if protecting the person below.

As we watched the clouds change shape in the shifting winds, we witnessed an amazing transformation. The human figure looked up at the angel and straightened up, while still trapped between the cliff and the boulder. Although the angel began to recede into the distance, the sun’s rays, previously hidden, began to illuminate the human figure so that it shone brightly in the otherwise dark sky.

How often do we feel as if we’re trapped between a rock and a hard place? Like the psalmist David, who hid in caves as he fled for his life, we may feel like we’ve fallen into a pit (Psalm 40:2), a deep crevice flanked by impenetrable rock, and an impossibly long way up to safety. We can’t pull ourselves from it or climb out in our own strength, and we are reminded that God is our only hope (Psalm 38:15; 42:5,11; 71:5).

David wrote that the evils surrounding him and the consequences of his own sins were so great that he could not even look up, and his heart failed him. But God alone could save him through His tender mercies, loving kindness and truth, which continually preserved and delivered him (Psalm 40:11-17).

Praise God that He is our refuge in the storm, and that in our moments of deepest despair, He is with us, for He will never leave us nor forsake us! (Hebrews 13:5). He has not promised to remove us from our trials, for they accomplish His purpose for us in ways we cannot begin to understand, as they did with Job (Job 1:21).

God did not answer the apostle Paul’s repeated prayers to remove his thorn in the flesh, for His grace is sufficient in our trials and His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). His ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9), and we can have faith in His infinite love, power and wisdom to always work all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

While still trapped in the rocks, the human figure in the clouds looked up, straightened up, and shone brightly. When in trouble, we should look up to the heavens, for God is the source of our help (Psalm 121:1). We must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus! He alone enables us to stand fast (1 Corinthians 16:13; Galatians 5:1; Philippians 1:27) and straight in the storm, and to shine brightly with His reflected light to be a beacon and encouragement to others (John 1:9; 8:12; Philippians 2:15).

Recently our Pastor has been preaching from Scripture verses that comfort us in times of trouble. There are no coincidences or accidents with God.

At the very time we were at the beach watching this majestic demonstration of His handiwork (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:20), His Word spoke to us through the devotionals we were reading. One of these referenced Iguazu Falls, a stunning chain of 275 waterfalls in South America, bordered by a wall on which is inscribed the words “God is always greater than all our troubles,” under Psalm 93:4: The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea.

The brightness of the human figure enfolded in the rocks also reminded me that in times of trouble, God hides (Psalm 32:7) and protects us within Himself, in His pavilion and in the secret of His tabernacle, and that He will set us upon a rock (Psalm 27:5). That Rock is the sure foundation (Luke 6:48; Matthew 16:18) of His Son Jesus Christ, Who saves and gives eternal life (John 3:16) to all who trust in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6).

May we trust in Christ alone, and in His mercy, for He is our Rock, salvation, defense, glory, strength and refuge! (Psalm 62:5-8; 59:16-17; 94:22)

His protection and guidance from our enemies, threats and dangers (Psalm 32:8) enables us through faith to lift our head above these trials, to seek His face, offer sacrifices of joy and sing praises to Him (Psalm 27:6-8). Praise God that He is our refuge, strength, and very present help in trouble, so that we have no reason to fear even if the earth crumbles, the mountains explode and are carried into the roaring sea (Psalm 46:1-3).

Even in our darkest storms, may His light shine through us so that we can be a beacon of hope to a lost and dying world!

© 2017 Laurie Collett

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Are You Spiritually Fit?

Photo by David McSpadden 2014

As we have been studying, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to his convert Titus, whom he left in charge of the churches in Crete, to instruct him on the principles of church leadership and on how to select suitable pastors. But as we further explore the book of Titus, we discover that qualifications for church leaders apply in a broader sense to older men in the church, and that these admirable character traits and behaviors should also apply to our older sisters in Christ (Titus 2:2-4).

In the world today, there is great emphasis on physical fitness, particularly among developed and wealthier nations. This is ironic, for richer countries tend to overindulge in food and drink and have higher degrees of automation in manufacture, agriculture, and transportation, resulting in a more sedentary lifestyle.

Residents of wealthy nations therefore tend to be less physically fit, even though the ideal epitomized by many celebrities and models is not only facial beauty, but also sleek, svelte and strong physique. Billions of dollars flow into health clubs, gym memberships, personal trainers, weight loss programs, dietary supplements and monitoring devices that track our every heart beat and calorie ingested or burned.

But Scripture warns us that although exercise and physical fitness can be good, we should be far more concerned about our spiritual fitness (1 Timothy 4:7-8). Those whom men thought of as natural leaders because of their physical attributes, like King Saul (1 Samuel 9:2; 10:23-24; 18:12), Samson (Judges 16), and Absalom (2 Samuel 14:25; 15-17), had spiritual weaknesses leading not only to their own downfall, but to the detriment of those for whom they should have been Godly examples.

Therefore, it is crucial that church leaders be spiritually fit. Similarly, all members of the body of Christ, or those who are born again (John 3:3-8) by their faith in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), should follow His example of spiritual soundness in faith (Hebrews 11), doctrine (1 Corinthians 2:16), and lifestyle (Ephesians 4:1).

At the head of Paul’s list of qualifications for a pastor is that he be “blameless” (Titus 1: 6).  In the natural, that is impossible, for every pastor, bishop and pope are still human and must contend with their sin nature (Romans 7:14-25). To serve God and lead their flock, they must die daily to the desires of their flesh (1 Corinthians 15:31) and yield to the guidance of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 8:4; Galatians 5:16).

Every born-again believer who does this can also be regarded as blameless, not because of their own merit, but because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ credited to their spiritual account (Romans 3:22). However, we must be sensitive to avoid even the appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22), rather than using our Christian liberty (Romans 8:21) to become a stumbling block to others (1 Corinthians 8:9), or to give them an excuse to criticize us (1 Corinthians 10:29).

Part of being blameless, or having a good reputation (Ecclesiastes 10:1) based on sound character, integrity, and especially faith, is being faithful, which is why Paul writes that the pastor should be the husband of one wife (Titus 1: 6). We cannot peer into the hearts of others (Luke 16:15) to see if they are faithful to God, but we will ultimately find out if they are unfaithful to their spouse (Luke 8:17). Marital infidelity has brought down many a church leader and demoralized and scattered his flock.

So clearly a church leader should not be a bigamist or an adulterer (Malachi 3:5; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Hebrews 13:4), and neither should any of us. But controversy arises over whether a previous marriage disqualifies a potential candidate for pastor, as in the case of a widower (even though he is allowed to remarry; 1 Corinthians 7:39), or one who was divorced before being saved.

At first glance it may seem inconsistent that Saul of Tarsus murdered Christians before he was saved (Acts 7:58) and then became the apostle Paul (Galatians 1:1) after he trusted Christ, whereas a man who was divorced before being saved and then remarried would be unfit to become a pastor.

But in the case of a pastor, who is the undershepherd of his flock, it may be wise to hold him to the highest possible standard so that he is above reproach (1 Timothy 3). Conversely, Paul’s requirement of the pastor being the husband of one wife (Titus 1: 6) disqualifies even himself, for he was unmarried. Ordinances of the Roman Catholic Church or other churches that prohibit priests from marrying are therefore unscriptural.

Interestingly, Paul also wrote that in terms of Christian service and godliness, celibacy was preferred over marriage for those who could remain single, for then they could devote their full attention to serving and pleasing God without being encumbered by the needs of their family (1 Corinthians 7:1-9; 32-40). Yet for those who might fall prey to sexual sins, Paul said it is better to marry than to be consumed by lustful temptation.

Although Paul was chosen by God to write fifteen books of the Bible, to evangelize the Gentiles (Romans 11:25), and to plant churches on his missionary journeys (Acts), he never served as a pastor, indicating that he himself followed the Holy-Spirit inspired rules he set forth to Titus.

We can surmise many reasons why it would be better for a pastor to be married with children, including having the experience, wisdom and compassion needed to counsel church members going through marital or parenting problems (2 Corinthians 1:4-6). In addition, he and his family could be Godly examples and role models to the congregation, and his wife could be a spiritual mother to women in the church (Titus 2).

For that reason, Paul writes that the pastor should have “faithful children not accused of riot or unruly” (Titus 1: 6). If a pastor cannot lead his own children to love and serve the Lord, their family, and their church, it is unlikely that he will lead his flock to do the same. For example, the priest Eli had sons who loved the devil, causing corruption, confusion and disobedience in the temple (1 Samuel 2:12-17) until God raised up the prophet Samuel to restore love for His Word (1 Samuel 3).

Although this is specifically a qualification for pastors, all born-again parents aspire to have children who are faithful to God and His Word (Ephesians 6:1-4). We should therefore pray fervently and regularly for our children, immerse them in God’s Word at home (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and in a Bible-preaching church (Hebrews 10:25), and be Godly examples to them rather than asking them to “do as I say, not as I do.”

But if our children seem to turn away from God, we should not lose heart. Even God, Who is the perfect Father, faced rebellion from Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). Yet Scripture teaches that if we raise our children to obey God, then when they are old they will follow His ways. Even Adam and Eve, who brought the curse of sin on the world, were restored to fellowship with God, for they believed His promise and taught their children to obey Him (Genesis 4:1-3; 25-26).

As we continue to study the qualifications of a pastor, may we ask God for wisdom to see how we should similarly live out the Gospel in our own lives, families and churches! May we be spiritually fit, training under Holy Spirit direction to win the prize of the high calling of God in the race that is set before us! (1 Corinthians 9:24-25; Philippians 3:12-14).

© 2017 Laurie Collett