Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Week Forty-Eight - Lest I Should Fall

Today I welcome a guest blogger, my friend, Dr. Owen.  

                There seems to be a lot of emphasis on achieving balance in our lives. We strive to balance work and home, career and family, church and hobbies. The list is endless. If we can only get the balance right, we are promised we can indeed have it all. But is that really what balance is? A way of trying to cram as many activities into our lives as possible?
                  The dictionary defines balance as “an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.”  Upright and steady. That’s what I want to be!       
                  In Isaiah, we read that Upright is one of God’s titles. “The way of the just is uprightness; thou, most upright, dost weigh the path of the just” Isaiah 26:7.  And, in Deuteronomy and Psalms upright is a description of Him. Deuteronomy 32:4 He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are judgment: A God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.”  Psalm 25:8 “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore will he teach sinners in the way.”                  To be a balanced Christian is to be upright because God Himself is upright. Of course, this doesn’t mean physical stance, but rather the state of being moral, honest, and honourable in the eyes of the Lord.
                  How can we remain upright in the eyes of the Lord in a world that seeks to knock us down?
                  I love neurology and the wonderful way in which God has expertly crafted us, so indulge me as I explain how our bodies keep us physically balanced. There are some things we can learn from God’s beautiful design that can help us in our quest for spiritual balance, too. 

Physical balance requires sensory input from three sources. 

                  The first is our vision. It is much harder to balance in the dark.  You know this as you navigate yourself to the bathroom in the middle of the night! Your depth perception and judgment are impaired, and it is harder to know where your feet are going. Vision also helps us subconsciously plan our next movement.

                  The second source is our vestibular labyrinth. This is a balance organ in the inner ear consisting of three semi-circular canals filled with fluid. These perpendicular canals detect rotational acceleration and provide directional information. Small hair cells called stereocilia protrude into the fluid within the canals. Rotational head movement causes the fluid in the canals to move, which leads to a displacement of these hairs, which in turn are connected to nerves that send signals to the brain. So, your brain knows whether you are upright or upside down, whether your head is turned to the right or left. Isn’t that marvellous engineering? 

                  The third input is from proprioceptive receptors. These are stretch receptors that are located in our skeletal muscles and tendons that feedback information about where our bodies are positioned in space. If you close your eyes and hold out your arm, you know exactly where it is even though you can’t see it. The proprioceptive receptors are feeding back the exact position to your brain.

                  So, that is how we all maintain physical balance. We will stay upright if we lose input from one of these three sources, but we can’t remain upright if we lose two or more. 

                  For example, Romberg’s Test is a test for proprioceptive (position and movement of the body) dysfunction. The physician has the patient stand with their feet together and eyes closed. If they have proprioceptive loss and you also remove their vision by asking them to close their eyes, then they’ll only have their inner ear working to maintain an input to their balance, and they’ll fall (the physician stands with an arm in front of and behind the patient ready to catch them!). 

                  But, what about our spiritual lives? How does this information about balance help us stay upright in the eyes of the Lord? What we can apply from God’s beautiful engineering is that input from all three sources is necessary to keep us from falling.

Our Eyes
Psalm 123:1 “Unto the lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens.”Psalm 141:8 “But mine eyes are unto thee, O God the Lord: in thee is my trust; leave not my soul destitute.”

                  Here in the Psalms, David talks of lifting his eyes towards the Lord. God calls us to focus on Him. Don’t be distracted by what others are doing or saying. Keep Him in your sight. Keep looking to Him. Seek Him out in forms of answered prayer and acknowledge Him in everything you do. If we take our eyes off God, then we will naturally fix them on something else. Don’t let the world be your focus.

Hebrews 12:2 “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”

“When our eyes are on Christ, they are not on the world. And, when our eyes are on the world, they are not on Christ.”(Kelly Balarie)

Our Ears

Proverbs 4:20  “My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.” 

                  What or to whom we listen has a big influence on our lives as Christians. First and foremost, we need to be listening to that still, small voice of God. Often, God has to beat me with a stick before I recognise His voice! If only I would just listen. In my most vulnerable moments of despair though, if I am truly still…I can hear Him. We need to choose carefully whose words we allow to influence us. Should we close our ears to the truth of God, we risk wobbling.

                  Of course, we now know that our ears not only allow us to hear but that the vestibular system in the ear keeps us level. This reminds me of the verse in 1 Peter5:8-9 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”

                  As Christians, we are to stay alert and level-headed (of sober mind), just like our vestibular systems keep our physical heads level. We are to be on guard for attack. This is especially true at our most vulnerable times—be those times of despair or, conversely, times of success. The devil waits (prowls) until we are weakened before he pounces. If you recognise that your prayer life or church attendance is affected by poor sleep, family troubles or poor health then be on guard. Recognise your vulnerabilities and ask a friend to pray for you.

Our Stance

1Corinthians 16:13 “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.”

                  Loss of proprioception can occur for a number of different reasons. The most common reason is damage to the nerves in the legs (peripheral neuropathy) due to diabetes or vitamin deficiencies. The patient has trouble steadying themselves and therefore assumes a more broad-based gait (legs are further apart) in order to try and increase their stability. They can struggle with depth perception and adjustments in their steps and may have to physically look at where their feet are going to walk straight.
Clearly, it is much easier to steady yourself and stand firm if the foundation beneath your feet is solid. This is true in our spiritual lives, too.

1 Corinthians 3:11  “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

“He is the foundation personally considered, as God-man and Mediator, on which the church, and every believer is built; he is the foundation of the covenant of grace, and of eternal salvation; of the faith and hope, peace, joy, and comfort of all the saints; and of the building of God, that house not made with hands, that city which has foundations, eternal glory in the other world” (John Gill)

                  In our Christian lives, we cannot successfully stand on any other foundation than Christ. We cannot substitute Him with ideas or theories, theological education or morality. Our actions and decisions are based on the foundation of our faith. Christ has no substitute. He is our rock, our cornerstone. Basing our lives on anything less than His authority and foundation leads us to shaky spiritual ground, and we can’t stand firm on uneven ground.

                  So, all three inputs are necessary to keep us upright in the eyes of the Lord. Fixing our eyes on Him, listening to His voice and the truth of His word, and standing firm on the foundation of Christ.

Psalm 119:133 “Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.”

Lord, help me to remain level-headed with my feet on solid ground, and my eyes fixed on You. But please catch me should I fall!

Dr. R. Owen

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Week Forty-Seven - Needing a Confidant

Beside the Well
            For far too many of us, deep friendships are rare. We have loads of acquaintances, colleagues, and family members, but a true friend is not always among them. Sometimes loneliness haunts our lives, and we resign ourselves to being alone; to not having anyone who understands or cares deeply enough to read our emotional signals.
            There have been times in my life when I’ve had to tell myself, “Pull up your bootstraps and get on with it!  No one is going to care or understand, so why let it get you down?” That may sound really harsh, but I’ve been there.  It is in those times when I wished I had a friend close enough to lean on.
            Now don’t go feeling sorry.  That isn’t my point.  My point is that no human reach that deepest need.  The ability to fully understand someone else is not one God gave us. When I get to those times, I remind myself that only God knows my heart.  Only He fully understands.
            As I was reading The Transforming Friendship by Rev. Leslie D Weatherhead, he said, “He (Jesus) came right into the midst of man’s toil.”  And He did.  When we look at the story of Jesus in the Gospels, we see him entering lives in amazing ways.  The blind beggar by the highway, the women with the issue of blood, the fishermen with no catch, and the maniac in the tombs are all in the midst of life when Jesus entered. 
            He wasn’t afraid of what they faced.  He wasn’t put off by their weaknesses.  He was the very presence of God with them, and with us, in every circumstance, comforting and encouraging in every effort and affront. He was ready to listen, willing to share and counsel.  He was brave enough to confront, without being condemning.  He was accepting of their failures and imperfection.  He fully understood their needs.
            And He is the same today.  He rejoices when I rejoice and weeps when I weep.  He is that friend that sticks closer than a brother—always with me!  A reality.  And isn’t that precious?  God with us—entering into our hearts of which He alone has the key.  “We must cease then, to think of our friendship with Jesus in the terms of mere acquaintanceships, for He comes to us below the levels plumbed by our most intimate friends.” (p 66)
            In his book, The Key Next Door, Rev. Weatherhead writes, “A true friend is one to whom you can tip out all of the contents of your heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”  Isn’t that a precious description?  Very few friendships reach this level, but with my heavenly Friend, it is always true.
            So when I feel no one understands, I am reminded of His plea, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
            My Friend wants me to turn to Him.  No need for a human confidant when the Lover of my soul stands ready!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Week Forty-Six - Friendship with Jesus

Beside the Well
            I love to read old Christian books.  Like I’ve said before, the depth of thought and the beauty of the language outstrip anything we read today. 
            My friend lent me a book called The Transforming Friendship by Rev. Leslie D. Weatherhead written in 1928.  I expected to be reading about becoming a better friend, but instead it is a book about the friendship of Christ and how his friendship transforms our lives. 
            In the fifth chapter, entitled, The Inexorable Nature of the Friendship, Reverend Weatherhead laments the fact that the disciples of the early church would not recognize most of what we call Christianity today. He says, “Christianity is not a friendly society, much less a friendly society floated on tea.  Its symbol is not a cushion, but a cross.”
            That symbol alone is enough to hold many back from following Christ. Rev Weatherhead places before the reader three reasons why we draw back.     Let’s look at them for a moment.
            1) We draw back because we are afraid of what others will think. “There is not one person reading these words who does not know in his soul that he would be a far better man if he did not care what people thought of him.” (p 76)  Jesus’ example was not one of caring what people thought.  He remained true to his path—even when others thought differently.  So, when we fear being alone or ostracized, we are best to remember our Friend walked this path ahead of us.
            2) We draw back because we are afraid of answered prayer.  What?  Afraid of answered prayer?  Oh, there is so much to say here!  Prayer is asking, right?  We ask for God’s will, strength, victory, etc.  And Jesus’ answer is, “Are you willing to drink of the same cup?”  Look at it this way.  We ask for results.  He asks if we are willing to follow the rules to gain the results? (To trust and obey.) We ask for God’s will.  He asks, “Are you prepared to follow?”  We ask for strength.  He asks, “ Are you ready for loneliness and sacrifice?”  We ask for purity, and then we “clasp the rags of our impurity yet tighter to us.”  We ask for victory, but love our “hateful little sins more than victory over them.” We ask to see his face, but “the vision would scorch our petty souls.”  If he answered our prayers, “He might make us more than we dare to be. And every time a man prays, ‘Give me…’ Jesus answers, ‘Are you willing…?”  This one question—am I ready for answered prayer?— immensely challenges me.
            3) We draw back because we expect to get something out of it—what profit is there?  I’m sure you are saying, “O, I don’t look for profit in my Christian service.” Really?  The disciples did.  They wanted to sit on the right hand in glory.  They gave up all to follow and then questioned if they had made a good investment.  What was Christ’s response?  “Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last first”Mark 10:29-31.  So there is profit, but that is not to be our motivational factor.  We are called to be ambassadors, soldiers, and servants: obedient unto death.  That is our calling.  And the profit, as I see it, is found in being faithful.
            With those three reasons, Rev. Weatherhead concluded with a quote from Garibaldi.  “It is the big demand that makes heroic spirits.  It is the untamed jungle that makes the pioneer.  It is the untraversed, perilous journey that makes the explorer.  It is the big task that makes the big soul.” (p 79)
            So, what are we expecting from our Christianity?  A cushy ride or to become soldiers of the cross?  “Christ’s challenge is that we should go into training so as to become fit—fit for the Kingdom of God.”
            Your Friend asks, “Are you able to drink of the cup that I shall drink?” (Matthew 20:22)  Are you willing, no matter the cost, to be my friend?

Weatherhead, Leslie D, The Transforming Friendship, Epworth Press, London, 1933.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Week Forty-Five - Cursing

Beside the Well
            Bad words brought the wrath of my parents. We were not allowed to curse in any form.  Even an exclamation like “O, my God” or  “Gosh,” was frowned upon.  I call these Christian swearing.
            Romans 12:14 explicitly says,  “curse not.”  Ecclesiastes 10:20 warns us that when we curse those in authority, we run the risk of them hearing because “a bird of the air shall carry the voice.” And James 3:10 warns us,  “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”
            But cursing in the Bible isn’t limited to the language.  It is intertwined with the attitude. 1 Peter 3:9 speaks of “not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing.”  It has to do with the desire to seek revenge.  We are not to be cursing anyone, anything, in any style.
            Hopefully, we do not go about openly cursing at people.  That is just rude.  But, there is a secret cursing of which we may be guilty.  The spirit of cursing may reign in our hearts and be expressed in spitefulness, faint praise, half-hearted commendations, insinuations, efforts to undermine, backbiting, and evil speaking.  These are the mannerisms of the coward, and by doing such, we are breaking God’s law on cursing.
            Contrariwise, we are to be blessing those around us.  Such is the characteristic of God.  Rev. Samuel Martin put forth a thought that gripped my heart when he wrote, “Imagine for a moment, God, the one living and true God—imagine Jehovah to be evil, and to be malevolent; just take away the glorious attribute of goodness.  Suppose Him to be unrighteous, untruthful, unfaithful, unkind, unmerciful.  Oh! What a terror must God be to us!  What an object of dread must every attribute be! Imagine malevolence connected with an omnipotent arm, and with an omniscient eye!”
            I could hardly bear the thought of God without the attribute of kindness and mercy.  Can you? Praise the Lord; he is a God of blessing.  And, he calls his children to be so as well.  Look again at Romans 12:14, “Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.”
            God the Father, does not bless as we bless—insufficiently, half-heartedly—but he blesses with all that is in Him.  So much so, that he gave his only Son.  He is a God of blessing, setting the example of mercy and forgiveness for us all. We might find it hard to bless those who are evil toward us, but Jesus’ example should suffice.  “He is kind to the unthankful and to the evil”  (Luke 6:35).
            Rev. Martin went on to say, “He is blessed, and His idea of blessedness must of course first be taken from Himself, and then it must be the idea of bringing the creature as near as possible to the possession of blessedness which characterizes the happy God.”  Oh, I love that!  The Happy God!  Blessed means happy!  How wonderful is that?
            But it requires a great measure of courage and character to bless a man who curses and persecutes you.  It would be easier to knock him down and trample on him, but the depth of God’s love means we must bless instead of curse.  And we must be sincere.  We are not to make a show of our kindness or a fuss.  To do that is to reveal we are self-serving and hypocritical.
            Please allow me to put in another quote from Rev. Martin as I cannot say it as he does.  “How quietly our heavenly Father blesses us!  How quietly the Saviour gave Himself up for us!  Men sometimes wonder that He said so little about dying for us, but this is all explained by the depth of His love.  His love was such that He could not speak much of it, or often.  If it had been some little rivulet, it would have made a great noise, and would have babbled, and bubbled, at every step; but because it was a lake unfathomably deep—so deep that no creature can ever fathom it—we see it sleeping quietly and but seldom lifting up its voice; just as you who have journeyed in the mountainous parts of your own country have seen the waters sleeping between the great and glorious mountains.  Bless each other; but do it sincerely and quietly.  Bless each other in the name of the Lord.  I say, do it in the name of the Lord.”
            Blessing brings us happiness.  Obedience brings us joy.  Oh, may our hearts and mouths be filled with blessing!  To do so, we must cherish the spirit of blessing and increase it by communion with the God of love, walking closely with our Saviour, and by the sweet, healing fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”  Matthew 5:44, 45