Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Week Thirty-Nine - Self-Imposed Weakness

Beside the Well
“Quit you like men, be strong.“1 Corinthians 16:13
            You might think that is a strange verse to introduce a few thoughts on weakness, but it is actually a great place to start.  Too often we languish and become miserable by our own choices.
            Weakness has a source.  If food is before us, and we do not eat, we will become weak.  If we fail to keep up necessary exercise, our body, nerves, and muscles suffer, and become weak.  If we overindulge or overwork, we weaken ourselves.  If we refuse to rest or only lay about, weakness is the result. Whether through carelessness or neglect, this sort of self-imposed weakness is sinful.
            In Hebrews 12:1 we are encouraged to lay aside every weight, and the sin that easily bests us so we can run the race with strength and faith. The weaknesses in the previous paragraph are common to us all and entirely human.  But there is another sort of weakness to which we fall prey—spiritual weakness.
God lays before us food for our soul, but we fail to feed upon it.  He calls us to temperance in all things, but we waver between overdoing and under-doing in so many areas.  God gives His children rest, but we never stop long enough to take a breath.  All of these result in spiritual weakness and still classify as sin.
            So today, let’s make a list of things that we need in order to be spiritually strong.  I am going to take for granted that you know you need to eat, rest, exercise, and take care of your physical health.  Obedience and self-control in those areas create a physical and mental strength necessary for a healthy life but take a look at this list for spiritual strength.
            1.  Right and sound principles.  For example, fear is a source of weakness; and the opposite, love, is a source of strength.  We need firm foundations.
            2.  Mental and emotional nutrition.  Feeding on God’s word develops strength of heart and the mental capacity for reasoning. All wisdom is hidden within those pages. Drawing them out creates strength and stamina.
            3.  Work. Doing what God bids builds strength. Inactivity always brings weakness. The stronger Christians are those who employ themselves in the ministry.  And, as Oswald Chambers says, “Prayer does not fit us for the greater works; prayer is the greater work.”  Prayer creates spiritual strength!
            4.  Self-control.  Keeping your body under subjection.  That takes care of physical maladies/sins as a source of weakness!  (Please don’t misinterpret.  I am not saying all physical ailments are sin.  But we are responsible to care for the body God has given and not impose weakness on it by poor choices or neglect.)
            5.  Rest. We need quiet times; seasons when the heart and mind are both still.  We rest that we may work.  Just carry the burden God gives you; bear that, and you will always find it enough. And when your part is done—rest your heart and soul in His embrace.
            6.  We need the light and sunshine of goodness around us.  We need it from others, and we need to be sharing it out ourselves. Spread a little bit of kindness and love around you.  Be good to others.  Smile. Be happy.  Enjoy life.
            7.  We need a good atmosphere.  This comes from choosing good friends, avoiding gossip and bitterness, exercising grace and forgiveness, and refusing to live under a cloud of despair.
            8.  Help. We are not alone on this earth.  We are not superhuman. We need help from those around us for encouragement, instruction, correction, and companionship. Others need those same things from us.
            9.  We need nerve.  Nerve is soundness.  The opposite would be anxiety.  Anxiety is bred by fear and worry, but God has much to say about dispelling them. “Casting all your care upon Him,” “Take no thought for tomorrow.” “Fear not.” And “say to them of timid heart, be strong.”
            10.  We need will to be strong.  If we have a will to be strong, we will cherish the right principles, take the nutrition available in God’s word, work to a healthy regimen, rest, look for and create sunshine and a good atmosphere.  We will seek help from God and others and stay away from things that unnerve our resolve.
            Take time to think through these things and personalise them.  God is there to help you, but you must do your part.  Lay aside the weights and excuses.  Get up off that couch and stand up strong, moving forward with strength in your whole spirit.
“That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.”  Ephesians 3:16

adapted from: Westminster Chapel Pulpit, Rev S Martin

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Week Thirty-Eight - Desperation

Beside the Well

I’m one of those people who try to do things right.  I don’t like to think I am failing or not keeping up with my responsibilities.  I put too much pressure on myself, but that’s the way things work for me!
It creates subconscious anxiety that can overwhelm me and occasionally cast me into a pit of despair and desperation.  I’m not a manic-depressive, but I am aware of my tendency to take on too much and expect more of myself than is humanly possible.
I came across a verse in Isaiah that cried out to me the other day.  “O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me”(Isaiah 38:14).  Isn’t that beautiful?  Not being oppressed, but that the Lord would undertake for me.  The word undertake means to put up a security or make a guarantee. (Strongs 6148) 
When I am overwhelmed, He promises to lift me up; to undergird my soul.  He steps in and strengthens my humanity to accomplish things I would otherwise never achieve.
And that humanity thing—we are stuck with it for now!  We are desperately human!
Dan DeWitt, in his book Life in the Wild, wrote, “Experience exposes our inner decay…you see, you probably know deep down that you can’t fix you…he (God) is the only one who can make you right.  But it’s not a quick one-time fix.  And to be brutally honest, it will kill you.  But the “you” that will die in the process is not the person you were meant to be. It's the rebel who resists God’s ways to your shame.  You will discover that, in the depth of the old you, something lovely will emerge. Not perfect, in any earthly sense, but something that’s in the process of being restored and one day will be fully returned to its original purpose.  At times it may feel as if the cure of worse than the disease.  But it will only feel this way temporarily…you’ve tried pretty hard to help yourself.  And it really hasn’t worked yet.  You have a sinking suspicion that it never will.”
Now that’s desperation.  But I love the truth that God is always working to re-create His image in our lives. He undertakes.  He promises that one day we will be in His likeness, and the death of His Son has secured our guarantee.
We live in a desperately fallen world, but we do not have to live in desperation. We can live with the security given by salvation, and the promise of God’s undertaking when we feel desperate. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Week Thirty-Seven - Who Can Walk with God?

Beside the Well

One of my favorite things to do is walk around my block while talking to God. With the sun shining and the breeze blowing against my face, I look up into His creation and know His presence. We talk through lots of stuff!
While reading Isaiah the other day, I came across a question that made me think again about my prayer walks, “Who can walk with God?” Isaiah answered this question in three ways: what we should do, what we should avoid, and what we can expect to receive.  
Isaiah 33:15-17, 34:16 “He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from evil. He shall dwell on high! His place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure.  Thine eyes shall see the King in his beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off…seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read: no one of these shall fail.”
What should we do?  Walk and talk righteously and uprightly.  We don’t use those words in everyday speech, so let’s give them an updated definition. Walk obediently (according to God’s word) and talk straight, fair, and honest.
Okay. That sounds easy enough.  So what should we avoid?  1) Perverse speech and actions (the opposite of walking righteously and uprightly) 2) Ill-gotten gains (gambling and get-rich-quick schemes) 3) Bribery (dishonest business dealings) 4) Hearing of murder and violence (this is all around us, on the news, on social media, in the video games we all play) 5) Looking at evil (pornography and explicit material in any form, be it in magazines, on the Internet, or through our phones, TV screens, and movies, and anything ungodly or satanic).
That got much harder, didn’t it?  It sounds easy to say walk and talk right, but when the definition starts to get more pointed, it makes for uncomfortable reading.  We might even take offense or begin to argue.  What’s wrong with a little game of bingo with friends?  So what if I don’t turn everything in on my taxes? Surely, God isn’t bothered about us watching TV; it is only pretending.   There can’t be that much harm in a bang-bang shoot’em up video game can there? 
I’ll leave you to ponder those thoughts between you and God.  Let’s move on to what we can expect to receive when we walk with God.  1) We will live on a higher plain (our life will be enriched).  2) We will have God’s protection.  3) We can be assured of continual sustenance.  4) and refreshing abundance. 5) We will see God in our life  (Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”).6) We will live with heaven in view (a life of hope and expectation).
Do you see the last admonition in the verses above?  READ!  Look into God’s word for yourself and find the counsel you need.  If you want to walk along with Him, you need to know what He expects!  
Can you walk with God?

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Week Thirty-Six - Down Into Egypt

Beside the Well

Proverbs 8:8, 9, 11, 35  “All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them.  They are all plain to him that understandeth and right to them that find knowledge…for wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it. …for whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord.”
Isaiah 30:21, 33:6 “Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, this is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left….And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the Lord is his treasure.”
How wonderful! Look at the beauty and surety of God’s word. Allof his words are righteous.  Allof his words are plain and right.  There is nothing froward or perverse in them.  What does that mean?  There are no tricks or crookedness in God’s word.  It is plain – honestly straight and proper.  It never hurts your ears or offends.  It is always true and gracious, even when it has something hard to say.
But then I read, Isaiah 30:1-3.  “Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin: that walk to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt.  Therefore shall the strength of Pharaoh be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion.”
How sad we so easily hear the voice of Egypt – the world – above the gentle wooings of God’s word.  Why? Because God’s word sounds so simple? So plain?  Because it leaves no room for self or pride?  Because the voice of the world sounds more appealing or claims to promise more advancement and acceptance? 
Don’t be fooled.  The voice of the tempter always knows how to appeal to your baser self; that self who wants to be first.  That one who wants all the adulations; to be best, most prominent or noticed.  Sadly, it ends in shame and confusion.  
We are wiser to hear God’s word.  The word that calls us to face our weaknesses, to repent of our sinful pride, and the word that holds true richness and nourishment for our inner hunger. 
Look back at those verses in Isaiah 30:21 & 33:6.  Do you see the promises?  God’s word will be a little voice in your ear helping to guide you through life.  It will bring stability, strength, and genuine treasure.
Why? Because all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it. …for whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord” (Proverbs 8:11, 35).  The world can never make that promise – never!  Only God can give these things.  
I don’t know about you, but when I look at the beauty, plainness, and assurance of God’s word, I rest in His promises.  I shut out the voice of the world, and know I am listening to and following a true path – one holding life and favour.  Why would I ever want to go “down into Egypt?”