Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Week Thirty-Five - A Malicious Waste

Beside The Well

            To do this thought justice I am going to have to share with you a large portion of the devotion book I am currently reading:  Illustrations and Meditations or Flowers from a Puritan’s Garden by C.H. Spurgeon.
            He starts each devotion with an unaccredited quote.  I believe he is reading a book written by Thomas Manton.
            Manton, if I am correct, writes: “He would be a cruel man who should cast his provisions…into the street and deny them to the poor…such are we to God; we know not what to employ our thoughts upon, and yet we will not think of his name.  We will go musing upon vanity all the day long, and thus grinding chaff rather than we will take good corn into the mill.”
            Spurgeon comments:  “Must we invent pastimes to pass time away, and yet refuse ten minutes for meditation?  What, will you sooner kill time at cards, or with a novel, or in utter idleness, than do your greatest Benefactor the honour of thinking of him?  Is he so distasteful to you that you count it a bore, a burden, a bugbear even to hear his sacred name?   Come, do thyself this favor – to give the next hour to God and to thine own soul…yield to your heavenly Friend a portion of your weary time.  May be you will find out a way of never being weary again in this fashion – find out, in fact, the way to make time pass like a river which flows over golden sands, with a paradise on either bank.”
            These words set my imagination going and drove me directly to the dictionary.  What in the world is a bugbear?  Definition:  an object of obsessive dread.  Oh, my.  I stand guilty.  Sometimes I have to drag myself to my chair and make myself stop long enough to read God’s Word and spend time in prayer.  
            Then, I looked at the word weary.  I did some research to find the definition that was most likely the intent of these writers.  It does not mean to be tired, as we would use it today. The old definition meant something unattested, unclaimed or spare. Their weary time is what we would call our down time; the time when we look around for a way to entertain ourselves.  
            That meant I had to look a bit more at the definition of entertain.  It means to hold the attention of or to amuse.  It is something done between productive times.  Entertainment isn’t necessarily wrong; it is quite needed at times.  But the writers are challenging us to look at the use of our time.  Instead of employing our down time in frivolity, we are challenged to designate a portion of that time to fellowship with our Lord.
            I got to working with entertain and came up with “inner-tain” to hold attention on; to muse or meditate on.  Where entertainment is someone amusing us, inner-tainment is focusing our attention on Someone else.  It is choosing to meditate on something inwardly beneficial and productive instead of being outwardly frivolous with our weary time.
            Take a look again at the quotes and answer these questions for yourself.
            “…grinding chaff rather than…take good corn into the mill.” Am I allowing my mind to grind chaff?    
            Do I find fellowship with my Lord a bore, a burden or a bugbear? (cool new word)  Am I so self-focused that I cannot allow my Lord even an hour of my thoughts?  Is my only goal in down time to entertain myself?    Could my time be better spent inner-taining my Lord?
            And, finally, before I draw this to a close, imagine with me the picture drawn in Spurgeon’s last sentence.   “…to make time pass like a river which flows over golden sands, with a paradise on either bank.”   Now that’s inner-tainment!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Week Thirty-Four - Crowns

Beside the Well

            I am a visual learner.  I did not know that until my friend was trying to explain her plan to me.  I could hear her words, but I could not work with what she was telling me.  Since she was a teacher, she took a deep sigh, grabbed a pen and paper, and drew out the plan she was verbalizing.  Then, my eye could see what my ear was hearing!  It all dropped into place and I could work with her idea.
            That is how the Lord teaches me from His Word as well.  Words come to life before me and create images I can use for learning and meditation.  Last year Proverbs 12:4 sparked several images.   Here are some thoughts:
            The verse says, “ A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband; but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones” (Proverbs 12:4).  I got to thinking about how one would treat a crown. 
            If you had a crown, you would admire it, polish it, and take good care of it. It is a thing of beauty.  If the wife is a crown, then the husband should take good care of his possession. 
            I moved to thinking of Abigail’s example.  She made Nabal look good. He was evil—bad in actions, unkind, disagreeable, and self-focused. She is described as a woman of good understanding, prudent, discreet and wise with a beautiful countenance, or a beautiful appearance. He did not recognize her as his crown nor treat her as such. 
            The crown enhances the one wearing it.  The crown and the wearer aren’t in competition; they are to be completing each other.  It is a mutual uplifting as described in Ephesians 5:28-29 & 33.
            Then I thought, maybe instead of expecting my husband to do all of the polishing, I should look and see if I am doing my part as a crown.  The verse in Proverbs makes a stipulation: A virtuous woman, meaning strength, ability and efficiency, force.  This is the same word Bathsheba used in Proverbs 31 to describe an industrious, strong woman who was a blessing to her community and family.
            Now that put more images in my mind.  A crown is formed of strong material.  It stands poised and proud upon the head of the king.  It glistens with jewels and is noticeable.  It knows its place.
            As my husband’s crown, people see me.  They see whether I am strong enough to stand and if I am producing good jewels.  They see if I am a benefit to his life.  They also see if I have dropped down to choke him about the neck, or if I am tipped to the side, tarnished, and dented.  Crazy images, but they challenge me to take a deeper look at the way I treat my husband.  I don’t want to be a jester hat on his head or some sort of mangled mess.  I want to shine and to make him look good. 
            So, I need to adjust my crown and get back to where I belong—shining for the Lord’s glory where He has placed me with thankfulness and awareness.  I need to be that virtuous woman, not only for my husband, but also for my Lord.

            What do you think?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Week Thirty-Three - Fickle and Forgiven

Beside the Well

“Because they believed not God, and trusted not in his salvation.”  Psalm 78:22

            Psalm 78 is an indictment of Israel’s fickle and unstable faith.  Though God had made every effort to prove Himself, they refused to recognize Him as totally able to provide.  They didn’t believe Him.  They did not wholly trust him.  They forgot He was their Rock and Redeemer (v. 35).  Over and over they chose to thwart God's work among them by seeking help and solace in the nations surrounding them.  They tempted and provoked God by their unbelief and disobedience (v. 56, 58). 
            God, on the other hand, showed compassion and remembered they were but flesh (v. 38).  Verse 72 is one of my favorites, with His integrity and skill He continued to feed them and guide them.
            Standing where we are now, we can see God always worked on their behalf and wonder why they were so doubtful.  But put the shoe on the other foot, and we have to come to grips with the fact that we, like Israel, are often fickle and unbelieving.  We fail to remember what God has done for us in the past.  We look for every avenue of help around us, and forget the faithfulness of our God.  We wonder if He is really true to His Word; if He will actually keep His promises.  We frustrate the grace of God with our continual doubt.
            Understanding how God works can be quite a challenge and we might struggle for answers, but the truth stands.  God is always working for the good of His children according to His will and plan, even if they doubt.
            I found this prayer recorded in my journal from a time when I had read Psalm 78.  “Oh Lord, I don’t want to be like Israel, forgetting your goodness, doubting your power, or giving you half-hearted service.  My sin is before me and is breaking my spirit.  I have brought it to You and been forgiven, but fear reigns in my heart as I wonder how You can solve my problem.  I know nothing is too big for You.  Nothing is impossible if I will only choose to believe You and trust Your integrity and skill. 
            I do that again right now.  I believe You know all things.  You know where I am today and where I will be ten years from now.  You will not forsake me.  I want to trust You.  I must trust You.  I have no strength of my own.
            I pray You can take the mess I have made and turn it for Your glory.  As I look at all You have provided for me, how can I doubt or fail to trust Your love and care for me.  I am ashamed of my own weak faith.
            I look forward to the day when I can shout Your praise at the end of this trial.  Yet, I need not wait.  I can shout Your praise now because Your goodness is always evident around me.”     

            We serve a God of integrity and wisdom.  When we are weak, He is strong.  When we doubt, He remains faithful.  When we are confused, He knows the way.  When we fail, He forgives and restores.  Our God is never fickle.  We can trust Him fully.

Week Thirty-One - The Refining

Beside the Well
            The woman at the well was amazed as the Lord looked straight through her life exposing all she was.  Yet, his examination did not drive her away. Rather, it drew her to the water of life and motivated her to bring others also. 
            My time at the well has brought similar examinations as I am brought face to face with my failures, weaknesses and insecurities.  Graciously, the Lord has used those times to draw me closer to Himself.
            The Bible uses the refining of precious metal to illustrate the process of sanctification.  By fire, the precious metal is heated and the impurities are brought to the surface.  The refiner scraps away the dross until he can see his reflection without distortion.
            As I visualize the image of the refiner looking into the pot of heated silver, I fail to see myself as the valuable liquid.  I don’t see myself as that precious or valuable. I grimace as I feel the dross churning in my life: the dross of fear, unbridled thoughts and prejudices, insensitivity and intolerance, subtle disobedience and insincerity.  I am confronted with my humanity and my spiritual anemia.  I recoil and go back to my safe place as a distant observer.  But, I want to be that beautiful Christian.  I want my Saviour’s pleasure, His smile, and approval.
            How is it that I can oscillate between confidence and fear, assuredness and insecurity?  Am I double-minded?  I don’t think so.  Am I unstable?  That is hardly a definition that would be used of me.  Yet inside is a child, a fearful and needy child.  I need God’s hug.  I need to hear from His Word—the source of all my strength, comfort and confidence.  And, I need to focus my thoughts on truth instead of self-focused condemning evaluations.  I need the fire of purification.
            Mullygrubbing (a British term for being disgruntled and full of self pity) does not produce health in my life.  Better to recognize that in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.   
            The life that I now live is not lived in the flesh, but in the Spirit.  That old dead man may still cry out for attention, but he will be purged.  The new man will continue to take precedence because greater is He that is in me.  Praise God!
            If and when things need to change in my life, my loving Father will not hold back.  He will tell me straight up and I will hear Him clearly.  Then, I face the choice of obedience.

            So, as I peer into the seething cauldron, I need not fear.  My Saviour is looking at it with me.  He isn’t afraid of what He sees, for it is all seen through the shadow of the cross and the lens of His blood.  He is creating a pure image of Himself through my life.  I want to yield to the process.

Week Thirty - The Furnace of Affliction

Beside the Well
            No one likes hard times.  We usually fear them.  We don’t like the unknown or feeling out of control. We especially don’t like being vulnerable. 
            However, in Christ we don’t have to fear.  We can go through hard times with an upheld head.
            Commenting on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being thrown into the fiery furnace, Charles Spurgeon calls attention to the fact that God was also in the furnace as he wrote, “As sure as God puts His children in the furnace He will be in the furnace with them.” 
            His name is Immanuel – God with us.  We need to remember that in every trial our Immanuel is with us.  We are not alone. 
            As I faced radiotherapy last year I recorded in my journal, “I have so much for which to be thankful – it makes me feel irritated that I am even concerned about this upcoming treatment.  From all I read it is going to knock out my energy.  I am feeling so good that I hate to return to being weak.  But, if that is the path God has for me I will survive much better by relaxing into the path He has for me at this time.  Health will return more quickly if I don’t resist and allow emotional frustration to rob me of joy and hope.  The storm on the outside will reveal what is on the inside – and inside is a happy motivated person who is sure of God’s love and care, but one who is simply fearful of the unknown process that lies ahead.”
From there I went on in my journal to list truths that must reign in my heart as I face my fear of the unknown:
1)   God is already there. 
2)   Fear is a waste of energy.
3)   My times are in His hands. 
4)   He sees every day in its entirety. I can only do moment by moment.  So, I need to relax and do today leaving tomorrow to Him.
5)   Through all of this— He should have the glory.
            Surely those truths were deep in the heart of the Hebrew children as they faced the furnace.  Isaiah 48:10 says, “Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”  They must have known it was a trial of their faith.  They wanted to pass the test so they acted in courage instead of fear.
            The furnace of affliction need not be feared—God is with us through every affliction to accomplish a purpose.  We truly come out the better as we realise this truth and face our afflictions.
 “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.“  I Peter 5:10-11
            To him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.