The Advantages of Weakness

MP900309634Weaknesses, in general, are considered negatives.  Consequently, it seems impossible to see or even imagine any good from being weak, or in a state of weakness.  However, Christians can view weakness as an advantage.  We will be victorious and benefit in spite of our weaknesses, if we depend on God’s strength to sustain us.

 Apostle Paul wrote much of his second letter to the church at Corinth in self-defense of his authority as an apostle sent by God.  False apostles and teachers were corrupting the minds of Christians there.  In the 12th chapter he continues to convince them further by telling them of his visions and revelations.  Keep in mind that during Paul’s day, visions and revelations were believed to be marks of special saintliness as well as authority.  It was a generally accepted belief that a man having visions was blessed of God; however, a man having pains was under God’s displeasure.  Of course, this was not the case with the apostle, Paul.

 In the text, we find that Paul had been given a thorn in the flesh.  In other words, he had a weakness.  There are two separate uncertainties about the phrase, “thorn in the flesh.”  Some scholars say thorn refers to a mental-spiritual affliction, while others say a physical pain or condition.  Many believe Paul used the term ‘flesh’ speaking of the natural (physical) body.  Yet, others believe he spoke of the nature of man.  Since there is no explanation, or specific details, we can be assured the attention should not be on the specifics of his condition, or what the “thorn in the flesh” was.  Instead, the attention is on the fact that he had a weakness. Therefore, we should focus on how God chose to respond by allowing Paul’s weakness to remain for a specific purpose.  

 The purpose for Paul’s ‘thorn’ (weakness) is clear— “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations…” (2 Cor. 12:7).  In essence, the weakness was for Paul’s benefit.  Nevertheless, he went to the Lord three times asking that it be removed.  This is no strange request.  As humans, it’s a natural desire to be perfect, strong, healthy, and self-sufficient with no weaknesses.  (Note: it’s a natural desire, but the sin of the first Adam made it naturally impossible). Continue reading

Gains and Losses

SOON TO BE RELEASED!

I’ve learned it’s so easy to focus more on our losses in the past that we lose sight of any spiritual gain in the future.I firmly believe that gains and losses are a necessary part of life.  I also believe that when professing and practicing Christians lose, God has a plan and way of restoring or replacing what we’ve lost with something better and more valuable.  Usually, it requires an attitude adjustment on our part before we can attempt to make sense out of what we’ve experienced in terms of loss. 

Additionally, if we don’t assess the gains as being more valuable than what we lost, from God’s perspective, we may never realize this truth; and we certainly won’t appreciate the goodness and sovereignty of God. Why? Because we’re too focused on our loss; we are crying hopelessly and looking backward rather than forward to the possibilities of having better and being greater in God.
Also, I am persuaded to believe the greater concern we have is with a carnal analysis of what we define as gains in comparison to what we consider loss.  Unfortunately, our analyses are calculated from a worldly system of operation and thought based on past personal experiences and present unpleasant circumstances.  If we itemize our losses and gains from a worldly system rather than a Kingdom view, we can be easily deceived into believing God is not trustworthy, and is out to destroy us. (That’s a lie from the father of lies!).   Consequently, we itemize our gains and losses from a faulty and unstable system rather than align with God’s way of operation.  No, it doesn’t mean our losses are unimportant nor have no value to God. However, it does means that God sees beyond the here and now.  Remember, God’s thoughts and ways are so much higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).  So often what is valuable to us, based on our limited knowledge and understanding, has no real value in the Kingdom, and is useless when it comes to fulfilling God’s purposes.

For example, Apostle Paul came to a point in his life when he made an analysis of his gains and losses. He itemized using the same value system as God.  Paraphrasing, he said in Philippians 3:7-11, what were his assets (gains) he wrote them off as a loss.  Why? Because what was most valuable to him was gaining Christ… having Christ…knowing Christ, the power of His resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings.  Sufferings! Are you serious? No one wants to suffer, right?  Obviously, Paul viewed all the suffering he endured for the sake of Christ as gain! That was Paul’s mindset.   What about you and me? What are we willing to lose so that we might gain for Christ’s sake?

Sadly, too many Christians fall apart and panic when they experience loss of materials items. No one should deny the truth that it hurts to lose stuff… even loved ones. I know the pain of separation!  It hurts to lose anything you consider as valuable; especially life. But what can be gained? A more constant and consistent prayer life, deeper trust and dependency on Christ to sustain,  increased faith that looks to God for provisions, better stewardship practices,  a greater witness to the faithfulness and peace of God during life’s storm, greater commitment to the work of ministry and helping others in need.  God gives you so much more in place of what you lost when you trust Him as your Source.  

Beloved reader, remember it’s so easy to focus more on our losses in the past that we lose sight of any spiritual gain in the future. Also, like Apostle Paul, we haven’t been perfected yet, but let’s press forward and grab hold of what God desires for us.  Let’s press in to get to that place where God is calling us to reach in Christ Jesus. Let’s not focus on our past losses, and what we’ve left behind so much that we miss what God wants to do  in our lives now, and what He has destined for your future. 

Moving forward on the path to promise,

Book! Soon to be released!

Keep running!

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnare us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.                         —Hebrews 12:1-2

 ____________________________________________

 

I’m certain several of you watched the 2012 Olympics and enjoyed seeing the athletes compete. Consider, in particularly, track and field.

Did you see any of the athletes stop running prior to the end of the race? Although they knew the possibility of coming in last, no one gave up. They kept running to the finish.  At least I didn’t see anyone give up. Did you?

 In order to make it to the Olympics they had to have a “made-up” mind…an absolute resolve that said I’m in the race to run, and I want to win. It’s a chance of a lifetime to win the gold! Therefore, they trained and exercised to be physically fit. They worked hard to achieve their goal. They believed in themselves; others believed in them and cheered them on.  They remained focused and motivated. They didn’t allow negative thoughts, doubt and unbelief to keep them from running. The spirit of defeat and hopelessness didn’t overwhelm them to the point of giving up. Of course, they knew from the start that everyone couldn’t win the gold, but they didn’t lose hope.

The above is an analogy with spiritual significance and truth. However,  I’m convinced that as Christians, we have an advantage in running our race. In the above passage, Apostle Paul encourages us not to give up by reminding us of all those before us who are now in the Faith Hall of Fame (chapter eleven). Their faith should motivate and inspire us. They are our invisible witnesses cheering us on. However, they did not have the advantage we have today—the Cross.  You probably never thought about Jesus’ death on the cross as being an advantage for us.   Relating to Jesus’ earthly race of endurance that ended in death on the cross, but resulted in victory for us through His resurrection is our greatest motivation to keep running in life’s Christian race. He is the Source of our faith, and the only One who completes it. He empowers us to stay in the race! Once we make up our minds to stay focused on Him, not get distracted by the naysayers and spectators on the sidelines, but instead stay in spiritual shape, we can keep running to the finish line. Still, it is our personal responsibility to do whatever it takes to stay in life’s marathon of faith—such as rid ourselves of everything that weighs us down, and the sin that trips us up and causes us to fall. If we fall, get back up and keep running! We must believe in Jesus Christ and remember all those in the Hall of Faith are cheering us on.

Best of all, in this race, we are all winners if we keep running. Stay spiritually fit through much prayer, praise, worship and the study of God’s Word.  Jesus is our role model. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Study Him. He stayed focus on His goal—He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside the Father’s throne.

Keep running! The Holy Spirit will remind you of the glorious future that awaits you when you finish the race, and receive your reward…a gold medal? No! better than that…eternal life!

 Here’s the truth: You are in a win-win race! Keep running!

Rejoice in suffering?

Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans: “…we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. —Romans 5:2-5

MPWM faithful reader, do you like pain?  Do you like suffering? I certainly don’t.  I reach for pain relief meds at the slightest sign of a headache.  How and why should we rejoice in our suffering? Suffering is uncomfortable and painful.

Do you think Paul was speaking only of himself, perhaps in third person? I think not. Based on my belief in the inspired authenticity of the Bible, I believe he’s talking to Christian believers today.   Reading Paul’s letters, it’s obvious that he had his share of suffering—painful experiences, troubles, trials and hardships. 

 

In 2 Corinthians 11:24-27, Paul listed all he endured: 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

(Can you believe the audacity to complain about having to wait in rush-hour traffic?)  Also, in his letter to the church at Philippi, which was written during imprisonment,  Paul expressed his desire to know Christ better by partnering with Him in his suffering. Enduring much suffering for the cause of Christ taught Paul to be content in all circumstances. He encouraged the Philippians to cultivate this same ability. (Philippians 3:10-11; 4:11).

The idea of Christians suffering today is frowned upon.  The message of suffering is no longer on our list of sermon topics or Bible Study teaching series in the local church. On the rare occasions that the subject of suffering comes up it is directed toward foreign countries plagued by enormous hardships, persecution, and suffering.  Yet, in America the reality of suffering, hardships and adversity among Christians is evident by the long prayer lines, many prayer requests. Since suffering is on the rise, perhaps now is the time to teach people how to rejoice and not lose hope during tough times.

The disadvantages and distresses of life are more prevalent in our time than during Apostle Paul and the early Christians lifetime. Why? It’s a different world—larger population, different culture, along with changing socioeconomic factors.  Without a doubt, life can be hard and painful…brutal in fact! The main point of emphasis Paul makes is that of our attitude during suffering. While going through the adversities of life, we must always have hope—an expectation that troubles won’t last always. Having this hope gives us a reason to rejoice…envision better. Secondly, we are able to rejoice when we “know” there is purpose for our pain. Knowing that God is intentional in allowing us to experience the unpleasantness and vicissitudes of life should motivate us. Our motivation is based on our knowledge of God.  Know this: whatever God allows is to empower us to be better, do better, live better, and have a better relationship with Him; living in harmony with His plan for our lives. Ultimately, suffering is a process that produces Christ’s character in us.

How should I rejoice in suffering? By continuing to give God praise, being thankful and worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ in spite of hardships, trials and tribulation.  Why should I rejoice? My hope (expectation) is solidified by my knowledge of what the outcome will be. (God always causes us to triumph in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14).   Although we have disappointments in life, hope and faith in God will not result in disappointment. He pours into us His love, which will sustain us through all life’s ups and down.