Power Perfected in Weakness

…There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

 

I’m sleeping in a rose bush, man.

 

Sometimes, it seems like I’m just covered with thorns: pain, fatigue, relationships, loneliness, living conditions… there are so many things that I would like to change, but every time I try to pick a direction, it seems that I just spin my wheels. I’ve been beset by temptations, and failed more than a few times. I’ve seen opportunities to serve, and allowed doubt to make me hesitate, just long enough that the opportunities slipped away.

 

I’ve been praying. I’ve been reading Scripture. I’ve been trying to listen with my heart; the silence has been deafening. For some reason, the Lord seems to have turned His face away from me.

 

”My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

 

I have been clinging to that promise. Certainly, others have a better claim to hardships, than I do—I haven’t been shipwrecked, or scourged—but I do hope and pray for some relief.

 

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.

 

This sustains me. I know that not everything I go through is necessarily for my good, but it will serve to magnify His glory. Somehow. But whatever the reason for this season in my life, there is a reason.

 

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.

 

So I’ll get through it. I’ll pray for patience, for discernment, for courage; God never promised not to give us more than we can handle, but He did promise never to abandon us. I don’t know where He is right now, but I do know that He’s there– even if, for now, He has left me to struggle on my own.

 

Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

 

No matter what else, His promise of salvation is everlasting. No struggle that I face in this life can diminish my hope for the glory of the next. Praise God for our trials, for when we are weak—then we are strong. And to God be the glory forever.

 

Verses cited:

 

…There was given to me a thorn in the flesh…  II Corinthians 12:7-9a

And we know that for those…  Romans 8:28

I can do all things through Christ… Philippians 4:13

Therefore I am well content with weaknesses… II Corinthians 12:10

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Bad juju…

When did the church go crazy? I mean, seriously: what happened to teaching from the Bible, and just using God’s word to guide us in our walk with Christ?

 

I have spoken to several people in the last week, who have absolutely no idea how convoluted their theology is. In more than one case, these people were actually claiming the authority to teach the Word. Here are a couple of examples of the kind of statements I heard from these “Christians”:

 

  • –       In a discussion about art and censorship—whether it is appropriate to hang “artwork” with nudity or sexual themes in public buildings (specifically, libraries and city hall)—one person claimed—on “biblical authority”—that Jesus would have condemned censorship, because the Bible doesn’t teach that nudity is sinful, or that sex is something that should be kept private… or, in fact, that sex should even be between a husband and wife exclusively
  • –       A woman who claimed that Jesus changed the Law, and as a result homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle (I guess someone forgot to tell Paul and Peter)
  • –       A woman who claimed that everyone goes to heaven, regardless of their belief system, because the Bible says that God wants that “none shall perish, but that all shall be saved” (in which case, Jesus would have to feel pretty foolish about that whole “scourged and crucified” bit)
  • –       More than one person who claimed that the entire Christian religion is based on ancient pagan religions (based on the “factual” evidence provided by the History Channel)
  • –       A guy in a discussion forum who claimed that the traditional methods of reading the Bible are outdated and dangerous, because the Scripture doesn’t apply to modern issues; instead, we should take a “broader approach” in interpreting Scripture (or, in other words, we should read the entire Bible as a series of parables and morality plays, and if they don’t “fit” modern circumstances, God expects us to jettison them)

 

Disturbing. I have also—in my constant reading—come across denominations that condone—and in some cases, support—abortion, homosexuality (as opposed to homosexuals; these churches actually condone the lifestyle), sex outside the bonds of marriage, and other clearly non-Christian activities. All in the name of inclusiveness, it would seem.

 

Now, I get it, to a point, I really do. We want that everybody should be saved (the alternative is that we just want everybody to get through the doors of the church long enough to wag the offering plate under their noses, but I’m trying to think the best of people). But are we actually saving people, if we water down the Gospel of Christ and the commands of the Lord just to avoid offending someone’s sensibilities? I gotta say, “no.” Jesus wasn’t one to water down His message; I really don’t think we should be doing Him the disservice of watering it down for Him!

 

No, hard as it can be (and I know that it can be very difficult), the Good News is sometimes—usually—Bad News for people that want to embrace Christ in one arm, and the world in the other. Sometimes, we just want to avoid the “sticky bits;” we can’t do that! Now, when we’re evangelizing, the most important thing is that we present the Gospel: Jesus Christ was born; He lived a perfect and sinless life; He taught that the Kingdom of God could be reached only through faith in the Son; He was tortured, crucified, and died on the cross as propitiation for the sins of all people; and that He rose from the grave on the third day. That is the central message: Jesus died for us, you can have faith in Him, and here’s why.

 

Sometimes questions come up, though. And when those questions do arise, we need to be prepared to answer them with love and compassion, but we need also to answer them honestly and directly. Or, if you’re a complete coward, you can just tell people to read the Gospel of John, and then read 1 Corinthians. 1 Corinthians is a painful wake-up—I know from experience!

 

But to get back to my point: the people I mentioned above actually, wholeheartedly believed what they were saying. I have no doubt that a considerable part of that belief comes from the fact that there are elements of their old, “fleshly” life that are just really, really hard to give up. But somewhere along the line, these folks were just given bad instruction in the faith.

 

This raises a question that has bothered me for a long time, though; instead of trying so hard to get people into church once we have witnessed to them, would it be a better idea to give them some instruction on how to discover more on their own? I was half-joking about John and 1 Corinthians, but the truth is that those two books are probably clearer on the subject of salvation and right living than any other—at least from the point-of-view of a new believer. True, Corinthians might scare off a seeker; there are some pretty tough guidelines in there, and Paul is sometimes not the easiest guy to follow—but is it better for us to have faith in the Spirit to guide that person’s understanding, or to try to get that person into a church right away? Certainly, the ideal would be to do both, but how many times have you invited someone to church, only to have them say, “Um, I’m gonna think about it. No, really, I will! I just need time to figure out if that’s really my thing…”

 

I don’t know; it’s an open question, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. In the meantime, have a blessed (and safe!) weekend, and a very happy New Year. God bless all the brothers and sisters, and to Him be the Glory!

The Gospel and Harold Speed

”… New facts are but the addition of new instruments to the orchestra with which the artist creates his symphonies. They increase the range of possibilities open to him and enlarge the scope of his work. But they immensely increase the difficulties of composition, and… become so intricate and engrossing that they are apt to occupy the whole of his attention… The orchestration becomes the subject of the symphony, instead of its means of expression. The point is reached when the instruments of expression are too difficult to be controlled… and themselves begin to control the work.”

 

~Harold Speed, Oil Painting Techniques and Materials

So today’s article will be mostly targeted at folks that are fairly new to their faith. You should know that what I’m writing about, I write from intimate personal experience; struggling with finding a balance between what God expects me to do, and what I want to do for God, has been a serious and very real challenge for me since I came to Christ.

On the one hand, I want to do everything I can for the Lord. I went through a period in which I tried to do everything that I thought would please Him, with the result that I wasn’t getting anything done. It took me a little bit of time to realize that the Holy Spirit had endowed me with certain spiritual gifts for a reason; that reason was to focus on the specific tasks that God knows I am best suited for. For instance, public speaking is probably not my forte’.

On the other hand, I have these spiritual gifts, and I want to use them constantly. The trick is to find that balance. Jesus, in the parable of the soils, talks about believers who fall into this category. He tells of those who “fell upon the rocky places, where they did not have much soil,” and as a result they immediately sprang up, because they had no “depth of soil.” But when the sun rose, they were scorched, and having “no root, they withered away.” (Matt. 13:5, 6)

My son calls people like this, “try-hards.” What it amounts to is that we get so wrapped up in the ecstasy of the moment that we forget to root ourselves before we start trying to branch out. Getting back to the art metaphors, “Do far less with your brush, and much more with your head at first.”

When I first got saved, I remember becoming fascinated with apologetics (I still am). I thought, “Oh, awesome! I can argue and be a good Christian? This is wicked cool!” The only problem with this was that I was learning the arguments before I learned the reason for the arguments. As a result, there were a couple of occasions where I fear that my arguments did more harm, than good; not having a firm foundation in the spirit of the argument, I let the argument itself become the point of the discussion. I regret to say that the two people that I am thinking of in this example have probably become even more entrenched in their resistance to Christ, as a result.

God, in His perfect wisdom, used this as a lesson to me. He has also put people in my life who have an almost eerie tendency to say exactly the right thing at the exact moment that I need to hear it; in this case, the lesson was reinforced when one of these people suggested that sometimes we get so busy doing for God that we forget about God. Yikes.

So, I backed up, and started reading more Scripture. I got into the Word about spiritual gifts, and at just about exactly the moment that I start wondering, “Well, what the heck is my gift? And how do I find out?” Pastor Reggie gave a sermon on—yup—spiritual gifts. Double yikes. Twice in ten days. Like I said—eerie.

Here was the information that I needed! After a couple of false starts—the direction in general was the right one, but it was the wrong path, both times—I finally found a couple of things that I could do for the Lord without having to compromise the quality of my work for Him. One of them, obviously, is this blog; the best part of this for me, in a spiritual sense, is that where I might get lazy about reading Scripture the way I should, writing this forces me to stick my nose in the Word pretty much daily so that I can be sure that what I’m writing is true to Scripture. It works great—I get to work for the Lord, I get to do that work by doing something I enjoy, and it actually forces me to grow spiritually! Awesome!

Of course, I try to do everything with God foremost in my mind. It wouldn’t do if this blog were the only thing that I dedicated to Him, so no matter what I do now I try to do it in a way that I know would be pleasing to Him, and with the knowledge that if it weren’t for His blessing I wouldn’t be able to do anything at all. But by just listening to the Spirit, I was led to the right outlet for my gifts—and my weaknesses.

“Everyone stumbles upon some methods that suit his particular temperament.” Experienced painters say that it is more important to focus on the foundational basics of the craft, than to focus on style. The problem is that most beginning painters get wrapped around the axle trying to be unique in their own way, rather than learning how to paint and letting style come about as a natural extension of their growth as artists. As Christians, I think we can be guilty of the same mistake. We get a taste of how great it is to be saved, and we want to just run out and start “being saved,” rather than building on that first stone and letting the building take shape as God intended. The result is that we get tired, frustrated and lost—which is what the Devil would love for us to do. “It’s better to burn out, than fade away,” as the song goes (yes, I’m dating myself, hush, you) but as Christians, this isn’t what we want to do. We want to finish the race, and finish strong. Just listen for God’s instruction, and take your time. He knows how best to use us, so stay out of His way, let yourself be attentive to His voice, and realize that what He wants us to do will be to His glory, and to our benefit.

God bless us all, and I’ll talk to you again on Tuesday!