no excuses. go on.

Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:10; NRSVue

I’m not sure why anyone would like any weakness in and of itself. If you’re looking strictly at the problem and what accompanies that, whatever it might be, you would simply want it to be solved, to become a thing of the past. There is nothing in the list from Paul here that we would naturally say, “Yes, I want that.”

But Paul did learn something profound in the midst of whatever his thorn in the flesh was. He was content because he knew that the power of Christ was present in his weakness. And yet it’s weakness, which is paradoxical. We naturally want to feel okay, even strong, and certainly not weak. It’s another case of paradox within the Christian faith.

By faith we need to quit making excuses, even excusing ourselves, and move on. God will help us, and the Lord’s strength will become evident yes in our weakness, if we by faith go on. In and through Jesus.

“be instant in season, out of season”- KJV

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound teaching, but, having their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, be sober in everything, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

2 Timothy 4:1-5; NRSVue

I love the King James Version‘s rendering in this passage, “be instant in season, out of season.” The idea as we read above is to keep doing what we’re called to do no matter what. Whether it’s convenient for us or not, or for that matter even convenient to others. Of course, we want to be helpful to others, but the only help they’re going to get which matters is help from God. It can be through us, but definitely from God. Just as all help we ever receive ourselves is from God, though often through others.

We need to be ready, prepared, above all in our spirit, in our heart, through prayer, through trying to walk day by day, every moment, through every time whether good or bad, whatever the case may be, we need to always be ready to do whatever it is that God has called us to do. The gospel is at the heart of that, but the specific calling, though we might divide it in general categories such as speaking and serving and for many of us, some combination of both, will be as different for each of us as each of us is different ourselves.

The point though is to be ready. And the test of that will come when we’re especially feeling not ready, maybe under siege, under spiritual attack. We must not give in then, because that actually can end up being the time of greatest blessing. God can pour out God’s Spirit in answer to prayer, and never forget that the Lord’s power is made perfect in our weakness. It’s never about us, but only about what God has given us to do, and the love of God made known in the good news of Christ.

In and through Jesus.

continuing on in weakness

This is the third time I am coming to you. “Any charge must be sustained by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” I warned those who sinned previously and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not be lenient— since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you but is powerful in you. For he was crucified in weakness but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

2 Corinthians 13:1-4; NRSVue

Paul ran up against some of the expectations out there today. Charismatic, flashy, powerful preaching in a way that somehow is appealing. Let’s add to that a kind of personality that just draws people in and with always the right word. I doubt myself that Paul had much of any of that. It seems like instead that he was characterized by weakness. There’s the thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment him which we find in the previous chapter. He was a person who not only was looked on by others as weak, but who lived out a felt weakness. And learned to do so, even delighting in that, since Christ’s power became evident in that.

But did that make it easy for Paul? Or was he not tempted to wish such would be removed. Yes, I think at least early on such was probably the case, that he indeed still would have wished the weakness to be removed. But later on, I’m guessing that he had learned to live that way as simply part of his identity, who he was in and with Christ. That he was sharing our Lord’s weakness in a cruciform way, and thus sharing in the resurrection power and life accompanying that.

For me, I really would rather not feel weak and even oppressed at times. But that’s where I live so much of the time. That doesn’t come without trial, and too often feeling on edge, so that I can be edgy myself. But because of that I am much more in prayer than what I would be otherwise, at least in prayers of weakness. I don’t think people have to feel this to be people of prayer. But I also think in some measure that this is meant to be the experience of all who follow Christ, who take the way of the cross. And that helps me to go on, believing that God is with us in a peculiar, saving way for ourselves and others in that weakness. In and through Jesus.

that same “thorn in the flesh”

It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10; NRSVue

I am in an off and on, seemingly perpetual battle to overcome anxiety over this or that or something else. Usually house related over this or that concern, which sometimes for me can seem overwhelming. I would like to get rid of anxiety once and for all. I think decades back I naively wanted to simply make a commitment with necessary follow through to not be anxious, never worry again. If we seek to apply passages like Philippians 4:6-7 which tells us not be anxious about anything, but what to do so that in the end the peace of God which surpasses all understanding would guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, that’s all well and good. But we have to apply those scriptures and keep doing that, realizing that we’re never going to do it perfectly, and that it’s a matter of being in a process of spiritual growth.

Your besetting sin, or propensity toward what’s unhelpful (Hebrews 12:1-2) might be something different. Let’s add to that felt weakness, which actually might not be categorized as besetting sin. It is important that we seek to address all such in the best way we know how. And that might well include some professional counseling in the mix. But seeking to apply scripture prayerfully throughout.

But now to the main topic. The thing is that our experience in this life is going to be pretty bumpy with ups and downs, sometimes down and outs. We just can’t control how we feel, at least not directly. Indirectly we can have some influence on our experience by doing what Paul did in the passage above. He certainly prayed to the Lord to take his thorn in the flesh away, three times, likely extended times. What was that thorn? We don’t know. That’s part of the genius of this passage. It might have been some human enemy since thorns are said to be that in the Hebrew Bible. Or maybe Paul’s eye malady. Whatever it was, Paul’s description and application open the door for its application to us, regardless of what our own “thorn in the flesh,” even a tormenting “messenger of Satan” might be.

We seek to do all that is right in total dependence on God, waiting on God. But if the answer we want doesn’t come, we continue on regardless with the promise that God’s grace is sufficient. That power probably meaning the Lord’s power (as in some Greek manuscripts) is made perfect in weakness. So we press on, looking forward to the day and time when this is removed, but realizing that it can all be somehow for our good and the good of others. God will help us, even if it’s not the help we would choose ourselves. And in that we’ll find something far greater than the help we wanted. Yes, even in the midst of the weakness. God’s strength and presence. In and through Jesus.

staying on the cross where the resurrection power of Christ resides

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:19b-20

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Galatians 5:24

For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him,[a] but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

2 Corinthians 13:4

In Timothy G. Gombis’s most helpful book, Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry we are given a paradigmatic shifting truth which can make all the needed difference in our lives if we just hold on to it, and let it do its work in us. Well, I just finished the book this past weekend, and did read it over like a month or more, so that the truth there could hopefully begin to sink in some.

The idea and truth is that resurrection power is at the cross. This is not just for our salvation, but for all of life. As Tim says in the book, and has said in his podcast, something like, we need to take our rightful place on the cross in Christ, and stay on it, and suffer the indignity that comes with it, and as we do so, the resurrection power and life of Christ will be present.

I have found this so helpful. Just thinking of myself nailed on a cross, not coming down when tempted to do so, of course the thought much more convenient than the actual harsh physical reality of such. But just the same, spiritually we’re to take up our crosses and follow, think of ourselves as crucified with Christ and live as though nothing else matters except the resurrection power, life and love of God in Christ.

In and through Jesus.

accepting what’s unacceptable

…but [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Life is full of problems and possible dangers due to our human limitations as well as bad decisions. There’s no end to that. I love this passage, definitely one of my go to passages, because it opens the door to accepting what in and of itself is not acceptable. And that only because of God’s grace. 

Notice that it’s for Christ’s sake that we’re to accept weakness, not for our sake. We live for Christ, and find our joy in that. And we find Christ’s power resting on us as we do. Something hopefully that I can more and more accept and settle into. In and through Jesus.

 

God’s grace is enough

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

2 Corinthians 12:9: MSG

I believe we’re not on this journey alone. Not only is God with us in Christ by the Spirit, but we in Christ are in this together, or we’re meant to be. Oftentimes though it seems like we’re more or less all alone. Paul experienced both. He had rich fellowship with the churches and that encouraged him in his own faith as he tells us in his letter, Romans. But he also felt abandoned at times, all alone.

We really need each other in the church, in all our weakness, because we have plenty of it. When we can share our struggles and burdens, then others can come alongside of us and pray. And we can offer our weak hopefully heartfelt prayers by the Spirit for others.

I keep coming back to this. God’s grace is enough for us even in all our weakness. God is present for us. It is actually hard to live a life in weakness. Just ask Paul. Or read the passage above (click the link). It wasn’t easy for Paul, but he found God’s grace and strength in ways he would not have without the weakness. To the point that Paul learned even to delight in weaknesses. That way Christ’s power could rest on him.

A problem within the church nowadays is the idea that we should look like we have it all together. And that feeds the lie that this should be so in our lives. But in this present life we’re often going to feel weakness. We need to be present for each other. And we need to accept our weakness, believing that Christ will be with us in a special way in it. I believe not only true for us as individual believers, but for churches as well. In and through Jesus.

what difference is there in Christianity???

I’ve been wondering lately about the Christian presence in the world. It’s in the headlines quite often lately, evangelical Christian leaders speaking out on politics. There’s much astir. You start to wonder if being a Christian involves a big emphasis on a particular brand of politics. And what you see and hear from political leaders seems to be the same air these Christians breathe.

I’ve also been wondering lately just where the Jesus community really is? You can go to any number of places and hear a good sermon, message, conversation, whatever they call it. And with worship music skillfully done. But is what’s being formed there Christian? What difference does it make? Is there any distinction between that and what we might find elsewhere in the world. Sometimes I’ve honestly wondered.

When Christians seem to indicate that everything is at stake like in the upcoming election, then I’m not seeing any difference. Christians seem to be just another power player. But if I can see people humbly trying to follow Christ, his words and example, if I see something of that, that’s when my despair begins to lift, and a little hope sets in.

The church is not supposed to be a power player in the world. It should be sensitive to issues especially when the lives and good of people are at stake. To speak up humbly yet firmly and resolutely on issues like racism along with other issues is certainly more than fine, but necessary. And there is rightfully what’s called “the politics of Jesus” (see Matthew 5-7, etc.).

There’s only one difference in Christianity, one and really no more. And if other things become prominent, then that’s a sign that difference might be all but lost. That one difference is Christ. Not just Christ and Christ alone as in saving us. But Christ present with us in all of our humility and brokenness. Christ present to us for each other in the church, and for the blessing of the world in doing good works of love. Jesus. Read the gospel accounts along with the rest of the New Testament, and this will become clear.

Christ is the difference. Period. Nothing more, nothing less. Along with the distinctions that will follow. There might be plenty of rubbish to clear out of the way.

misplaced expectations

I think that often we place expectations too high on ourselves and others, which actually are misplaced. We expect what we think is important, needed for the time and occasion, when actually it’s really neither realistic, or actually not needed at all.

I can’t help but think of the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. It’s chalk full of misplaced expectations on the part of the Corinthian church, as they looked down on Paul and we’re dazzled by the super apostles who were promoting themselves. And Paul had to get past his own misplaced expectations as well concerning his thorn in the flesh. Not to mention his/their weakness and even despairing of life itself, indeed “perplexed, but not in despair.”

The fact that we don’t measure up to our preconceived notions can cause us to retreat and become idle when we should press on in humility and hope. Yes, we certainly don’t have it all together. That’s a gimme. But we press on regardless, not confident at all in ourselves, but finding our help, all we need in God. That is where our expectation is never misplaced. We can and indeed need to look to God for his help. And that’s what can help us to continue on when left to ourselves we would give in and give up.

Our problem or problems may be different than what Paul and his apostolic band encountered and experienced. They can run the gamut from either poor, wrong choices of the past, or not the best of wisdom even in the present. But that doesn’t mean we fold our tents and quit. We go on in prayer in dependence on God in our own weakness and in that even in the weakness of Christ himself, that we might find Christ’s power by the Spirit through his resurrection life. And we keep on doing that hopefully to the end. And find in that God’s moving and work in unexpected ways certainly beyond us. In and through Jesus.

the thorn in the flesh: my reluctant go-to passage

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

One of my favorite parts of the recent Paul, Apostle of Christ film was their treatment of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and showing how it tormented him all of his life as a Christ-follower. And how that was addressed immediately after he was beheaded. Love is the only way I can describe my reaction to that. What they chose as his thorn in the flesh was a possibility I had never heard of before, and was rather compelling, at least for the film. But the main point is beside the point of what it actually may have been. The fact of the matter is that everyone who seeks to follow Christ will be living in opposition to the world, the flesh, and the devil, and we will experience opposition in terms of what is expressed in scripture from the devil, the demonic. And like Paul, these are actually allowed into our lives to keep us from becoming proud, which for reasons far less than Paul’s we are all too prone to become. To keep us humble, and dependent on Christ, and I would add, interdependent on each other.

I am faced with this myself, maybe not as much as in the past, yet it seems to come crashing in on me just as hard, usually in one form in my life. I think there is genius so to speak behind the concealing of what specifically Paul’s thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment him, was. We simply can’t say for sure. There has been more than one reasonable answer. That means whatever it is that torments us as we seek to follow Christ, we can chalk up as something of the same, in fact our thorn in the flesh. Flesh could mean physical weakness, but in scripture it’s most basic meaning is one’s life. It may involve some physical debilitation or weakness, but doesn’t have to, and I would go so far to think, most often doesn’t. What it doesn’t mean is out and out sin. We deal with everything, and especially our sin through Christ’s death for us, confessing it, and receiving God’s forgiveness and cleansing as part of our ongoing walk in Jesus.

Who likes to be tormented? In the film as I recall Paul seems to be frequently tormented in his thoughts, and clearly in his dreams. And yes torment is a good word to capture this experience. I don’t so much dread it, myself, as simply hate going through it. Going through it is a good way to describe what it’s like for me. For Paul it may have been more chronic, ongoing, something present with him all the time. I tend to think so. My weakness which gives rise to this activity in my life is certainly as close to me as the next thought, which could hit me at any time when all was well, or okay before.

It’s the experience part which frankly I hate. Life is hard enough in itself, without having to feel miserable, yes tormented inside. But it seems in part what at least some of us who are believers in Christ will be up against in this life.

The necessity of hanging in there by faith, and knowing that Christ’s strength is made perfect in our weakness is key here. We realize that God is at work in this malady, even when the source of it is from the evil one, the demonic. The world and the flesh in the sense of unredeemed humanity and creation included.

To come back to this passage, and yes, the entire book of 2 Corinthians, but especially this passage is always helpful for me. To remember that the Lord in love is at work in our lives in a way that helps us live as he did, in weakness, even the weakness of the cross (see the end of 2 Corinthians). Not where we want to go, except that there we find the Lord’s power at work in our own lives, and through us into the lives of others.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to say to some degree along with Paul that I have learned to embrace my weaknesses at least much more since in them I find Christ’s grace and power, and learn to be strengthened in that awareness and reality. In and through Jesus.