yes, be strong, but always in love

Keep alert; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14; NRSVue

If we could just get the Sermon on the Mount into our bones from our heart by the Spirit, I’m especially thinking of the Beatitudes along with the teaching about loving our enemies, working through differences with friends, etc., etc., etc., (Matthew 5-7), our Lord’s teaching along with example, we would be better off and those around us. Yes, we’re to be strong, but always in love.

Love is to mark everything about us, all we do. Sometimes that’s not so hard. But other times it is, because we are hurt or are struggling for one reason or another. But in answer to our prayer, God can and will help us. We need to see past the weaknesses, even sins of others, to see someone God loves and to see that they too like us are vulnerable and need God’s help.

The whole package here, as Paul put it in the quote above is so important for us. Love must mark all we do. We will slip from that at times, but then we have to get up, confess our sin, and get back in, doing all in humble love. Out of all the love God continues to pour out on us by the Spirit. In and through Jesus.

when life is more than hard

Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death; they were sawn in two; they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains and in caves and holes in the ground.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—

“My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when you are punished by him,
for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves
and chastises every child whom he accepts.”

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children, for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

Hebrews 11:35-38; 12:1-13; NRSVue

I really want to read the copy I have of Charles Dickens, Hard Times, because I identify with plenty of what I’m picking up of what he said in it and elsewhere about the times in which he lived. For some of us it’s more than rough. There are some days that are among the very worst, for many of us many days like that. You might be going through something that seems far beneath and removed from what any creature should have to undergo and you may really want to throw in the towel. I know, I’ve been there, and probably not just a few times.

What kind of mindset and attitude, and from that what kind of life does God want us to live as a result of going through such? I think the word above from Hebrews can be quite helpful to us. We need to look at all of it as part of following our Lord, not only his example but following him as well in this life. Along with seeing it somehow as part of God’s loving discipline in our lives, somehow needed so that we can meet the glorious challenge of following Jesus in this life.

We can hit that breaking point and go under. But God wants to give us a new sense, a new vision, and with that a new wherewithal so that we carry on regardless and in spite of, because of the joy set before us in simply following Christ even in the way of the cross. All of this as always in and through Jesus.

needed strength from God

[God] gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:29-31

Isaiah 40 is the Romans 8 of the Old Testament. It is a great chapter of encouragement for God’s people. Like Romans 8, Isaiah 40 ends on a momentous, uplifting note, speaking about the hard places of life where we live. We need to take into our heart and bones all these great passages are telling us.

The point at the end of Isaiah 40 is that God will give us the needed spiritual and physical strength to keep on keeping on, regardless of what we’ve went through and what we’re facing. 

Oftentimes our weariness is a combination of being tired in spirit and in body. I can overcome a lot of physical tiredness if I feel strong, good, or okay in spirit. But when I’m down in spirit, then physical strength seems hard to come by.

We’re told to hope in or wait for God. That as we do so, God will renew our strength. It’s a strength of resolve to keep on going in the midst of difficulty, whether discouragement, doubt, even despair. As we wait on the Lord, the Lord will give us the resolve and ability we need.

Physical rest and asking for prayer from a good friend or one who is mentoring/directing us are important. While we also look at the great encouragement Scripture passages like this give to us, right where we live no less. In and through Jesus.

daily strength promised

and your strength will equal your days.

Deuteronomy 33:25b

In Moses’s blessing of the tribe Asher, he tells them that God will give them needed strength for each day. This is not just to individuals, but to that tribe, the people. Certainly meaning each individual, as well as them all. This was part of Moses’s blessing to them. But for them to remain in that blessing, they would have to remain in God’s blessing, and not fall under a curse by departing from that.

All of God’s promises according to Paul are available to us in Christ. This is like a promise, and can surely be claimed as part of what is ours in Christ. God will give us the strength we need for each day. We need to remain in the blessing of God, today being those who remain followers of Christ, of course in and through Christ. We can’t follow without the gift who is Jesus himself, and the eternal life that’s in him.

This is a great encouragement to me. I am thankful for the help God gives me, but not only me, but others with me and I with them. We’re all in this together. God will help us as we look to him, seek to remain faithful through faith in Jesus. And go on. Doing what is set before us day after day. In and through Jesus.

getting needed strength

Why would you ever complain, O Jacob,
or, whine, Israel, saying,
God has lost track of me.
He doesn’t care what happens to me”?
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening?
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
they walk and don’t lag behind.

Isaiah 40:27-31; MSG

There are times, as they say, which try men’s souls. Well, we’re living in such times now in which there are really no clear answers to the problems society faces, the divisions sharper and stronger than ever in my lifetime. And then for many of us, we have an ongoing issue with anxieties of this life, some of the concerns unavoidable, part of living in a broken world.

Isaiah’s word was to a people, God’s people, who thought that their God had forgotten them. They faced problems, just like they always had (study Israel’s history beginning with Abraham), some of it because of their own failure to trust God, because of their own sin. God’s promise of strength here comes within the context of a people whose strength was gone probably because they were gripped with fear due to their circumstances, what they were up against, real or imagined. And strength was gone.

What are God’s people to do, caught in this fix? Simple: Wait on God. That carries with it the idea of hope and trust. We believe God has forgiven us in Christ as we look to Christ for our salvation. But not only that, we look to God in and through Christ for everything else we need, including peace of heart and mind given the understandable concerns we have.

Our call here is to wait. Not something we’re necessarily good at doing in this day and age when almost anything we want or need we can have in a day, unless we’re short on resources. But for all, for everyone in Christ, all we need to do is wait, wait on God. God can give us the intestinal fortitude we need so that no matter what concerns we have, what we face, we somehow will have fresh, needed strength to carry on in whatever way is needed. We can be assured of that. Waiting in prayer, looking to God, simply waiting. In and through Jesus.

strength from God against opposition

It’s interesting how again and again in Psalm 119, the psalmist appeals to God for strength to stand in the face of opposition. You find it sprinkled throughout that long chapter. And it’s not enough just to note that. One really needs to go through the entire chapter to get the feel of it. It’s real life with all its struggles and our responses to them. It is quite experientially oriented, as well as the emphasis on God’s word and law.

We expect to see that in many of the psalms, but may not expect it in this psalm. But it’s there, meant to help and strengthen us in the midst of opposition. Spiritual opposition of course, but also when others oppose us. We hopefully learn where we might be off. The psalmist was certainly not infallible themselves. We can see attitudes in the psalms, and in this psalm which are likely wrong even in that day, and definitely off track for us today as Jesus followers. So we need to be open to needed correction that may come from those who oppose us.

But we also can expect God to strengthen and help us as we seek to humbly take a stand for Christ, for the gospel, for mercy, justice, righteousness and truth. In and through Jesus.

to be meek

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5

According to Bill Mounce, the Greek word, πραΰς, translated “meek” means:

Gloss:
gentle, meek, the positive moral quality of dealing with people in a kind manner, with humility and consideration
Definition:
also spelled πρᾶος, meek, gentle, kind, forgiving, Mt. 5:5; mild, benevolent, humane, Mt. 11:29; 21:5; 1 Pet. 3:4*

Meekness may be weakness in the world’s eyes, but not in God’s eyes. It is being human in the way God intended, with love for God and for one’s neighbor. That must always have priority over everything else. Of course it’s not setting aside truth as if truth doesn’t matter. But truth will no longer be truth if it’s not marked by love. And meekness involves a gentle humility, or a humble gentleness. Something all too often lacking in present day discourse, especially national discourse here in the United States.

Those who are meek are said to be blessed because they will inherit the earth. The way of the world is that might makes right. Power of every kind, militaristic, economic, etc., are the means to world power. But the way of Jesus and God’s kingdom come in him is completely different. It is certainly the way of death and resurrection. But it’s also the way of gentle persuasion. “Love wins” has some unhelpful baggage. But there’s wisdom in it. And it is at the heartbeat of what meekness is. And ironically this kind of meekness will end up contributing to the filling of all the needed places in the end, though in a completely constructive way, always marked by love.

To be meek involves being quiet, not insisting on the last word nor in having one’s own way, or the final say, even when we think we’re right. It means to step aside and give others space they need, while certainly humbly occupying our own space and sphere of responsibility, and doing the best we can there.

Meekness is in the way of Jesus, to be like Jesus. Something we’re meant to do together, and when among people. From what we’re becoming by the Spirit. In and through Jesus.

a reviving hope

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

It is easy in this world given all the sin, our own included, simply to lose hope. We fail along the way, or have failed. Others let us down. The circumstances of life weigh heavily on us. We lose hope.

Something like that had happened to Israel of old. They were guilty to be sure. They had not listened to God, had not been faithful to God. And yet God was moving in judgment and salvation to call his people back to himself. That in itself is a note of hope.

Israel might have felt they were past the point of no return. Not true with God. There is not only hope in this life, but we find that hope in God. We may think we’re undeserving, and that’s certainly the case, or that we may have crossed a line outside of God’s mercy and grace. That all there’s left for us is judgment. But God has something different to tell us.

We’re to hope in God and not give into despair based on our own limited understanding. When we put our hope in God, certainly waiting is part of that, but it’s more like God meets us then and there at least to strengthen us to carry on, as we await God’s good work. What we can count on here and now. In and through Jesus.

 

no strength left?

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:30-31

This passage was a game changer for me recently. I was more than tired, bone weary. But then I thought of this passage, or I would say, the Lord mercifully brought it to mind. And that made all the difference.

The idea of hoping in God is about attitude, not merely some psychological ploy. Faith in God in terms of expectation. It’s like right then and there God gave me renewed strength to carry on and do what I needed to do.

This isn’t just about physical strength, but it’s all the strength necessary for us to carry on, including spiritual strength. The strength needed to do God’s will.

Of course this isn’t just a one time thing, you do it once and you’re good to go forever. No. We have to keep looking to God time and time again for needed strength.

We must beware of thinking this will make us super human. We need our rest. But just the same, the promise is for us whenever we feel depleted and in need, which for me is every day. In and through Jesus.

 

for those who often don’t feel all that well

ד Daleth

I am laid low in the dust;
preserve my life according to your word.
I gave an account of my ways and you answered me;
teach me your decrees.
Cause me to understand the way of your precepts,
that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.
My soul is weary with sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
Keep me from deceitful ways;
be gracious to me and teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I have set my heart on your laws.
I hold fast to your statutes, LORD;
do not let me be put to shame.
I run in the path of your commands,
for you have broadened my understanding.

Psalm 119:25-32

There’s not much room in Christian evangelical circles for people like me. A person who often feels “laid low in the dust.” And when people ask me how I am, it’s usually “pretty good.” Some people would call that down in the mouth, not rejoicing and living in the joy of the Lord as I should. That somehow my mind and faith isn’t right.

We come to God just as we are, and we don’t try to hide. We confess our sins, and pray God will keep us from deceitful ways, like justifying what we ought not to. We don’t let our inward struggle dictate what we do, of course only through God’s help.

I’m glad there are the psalms for people like me, which express the way I feel. “My soul is weary with sorrow…” But also with God’s help in the strength and provision given to us in answer to prayer, the prayer to live in God’s will with God’s answer forthcoming. For people like me, for everyone. In and through Jesus.