settling into what is unsettling

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 12:10

A major theme of mine is Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and the necessary embrace of weakness. It’s interesting in the passage (click link above) how Paul’s thorn, whatever it is, is not made known. I can easily imagine Paul elaborating with a paragraph, or a few lines on just what he went through. But somehow he didn’t, and I think we’re all the richer for it. And actually that thorn taught Paul something more: his need to embrace all weakness.

It’s not easy to settle into what is inherently unsettling. Maybe a new weakness or situation on top of another, or others. What we really don’t want, or want to deal with, or end up living with. Maybe something chronic, which could seem or even be potentially life threatening. We don’t want to go there.

Paul certainly didn’t want any part of what actually tormented him, and strange as it may seem, a messenger of Satan himself, to torment Paul. He pleaded in prayer with the Lord three times to take it away. Somehow the Lord was in it, what literally would seem to be an attack from the enemy, which instead of taking away, God actually using for Paul’s good and for the great blessing of others, including us today, through this passage, and through Paul’s life and ministry. Paul needed to be kept humble, because of the great revelations God had given him. And you might say, he needed to be kept weak, so that he would trust in God alone, and that others might trust in God as well, instead of being taken up with just how great Paul was. It wasn’t at all about Paul, but only about Christ. That’s hard for us to learn. Somehow God wants us to become something of the message we testify to. That the gospel, the good news in Jesus would be vital and personal to us everyday of our lives. And that our lives would conform to Jesus’s life, us becoming weak in him, so that his power might be evident even through us, yes through our weakness (2 Corinthians 13:4). Counterintuitive to us for sure, but what even we ourselves need in and through Jesus.

 

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boasting in one’s weaknesses

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

2 Corinthians 11:30

The Apostle Paul was up against it. Impostors had somehow infiltrated the church wowing the people and disparaging Paul. They were not calling people’s attention to Christ really, but ultimately to themselves, and their agendas. Unfortunately you can get a sniff of that here and there today. They were the super apostles, but of course, not really apostles of Christ at all.

So 2 Corinthians 10 right to the end of the letter, chapter 13 (of course, the chapters and verses not a part of the original letter) is Paul’s response to them, and plea to the Corinthians believers.

Paul was defending his apostleship, but it was a defense that would never appeal to the flesh. It was in the way of following Christ, and great suffering in doing so. Certainly the signs of an apostle were present, but somehow the super apostles were able to dazzle the Corinthian church. They spoke well, Paul didn’t. And their appeal included casting doubt on Paul. He was not one of them. And he wasn’t.

I recently read or heard of someone including sins in weaknesses Paul was boasting about. There possibly could be a small element of that, but I rather doubt it. Listen or read 2 Corinthians 10-13 (click link above). It was rather about his weaknesses he struggled with, including the thorn in the flesh, even a messenger of Satan which tormented him. After praying three times to the Lord, finally Christ’s word came to him, that Christ’s grace was sufficient for him, for Christ’s power was made perfect, or evident through Paul’s weaknesses. Paul’s conclusion:

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 12:9-10

This is an encouragement to me. I’m no stranger to weakness. Again, I’m not talking at all about weaknesses that are sin-oriented. Like some people might think their addiction to pornography or the like is a weakness that Christ somehow might use. Nonsense, and completely against what Paul was getting at here. If that person repents, and changes over time, then their life might be a testimony of Christ’s strength in helping them, so that they can help others through Christ and the gospel. Paul’s weaknesses came through his humanity in living in this present existence under the curse, death imminent, and especially because of his witness to Christ and the gospel in the face of strong opposition, in the end resulting in his death.

It’s no fun at all, weaknesses. But that’s where Christ’s strength is found. That helps a lot. I look forward to the Day, when all of it will be over. In and through Jesus.

Paul’s chronic condition: the thorn in the flesh

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

Yesterday I was thinking about the passage I really don’t like to go back to, but find that I should at times, this passage right here. The point I would like to make today for myself, and for anyone who might read this, is that Paul’s condition here was indeed chronic. It’s not like every moment he was tormented, not at all. But that he carried with him some condition which at any moment could be the source of experiencing that torment.

My own “thorn in the flesh” I think is at least largely anxiety. Which is the root of various manifestations. Your’s could be something else entirely different. Sometimes we can’t figure out why we struggle the way we do. Different factors are involved, surely complex. But the reality of our struggle cannot be ignored. We are all creatures of experience. Our life is lived there, of course. Not in thoughts, or things in our head, though they factor in for good or for ill.

Again, Paul’s condition was chronic. He couldn’t wish it away, ignore it, or even pray it away, as we see in the passage. It was present for a reason. The bottom line is that he had to learn to trust God in it, yes, in it. And that ended up being the source of great blessing to and through him for others. Notice too that Paul factored in with that thorn every weakness or problem in his life. Ironically the very problems that could have been his downfall ended up being his strength through God’s grace.

This is an encouragement to me. Instead of resisting it in the form of seeing it as practically choking the life out of me, which I think is at least half my problem, I want to increasingly learn to trust God in it, seeing it in fact as part of God’s grace to me. And not necessarily in the sense of passing through and out of it. Paul surely had that thorn his whole life long. The idea being that God sees us through with it to the very end, bringing good and blessing out of it for others, as well as for ourselves. 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.

old sins

My wife and I saw Paul, Apostle of Christ yesterday, and we found it good. I thought it was outstanding in portraying Paul, good acting, good plot, faithful to the biblical text.

An interpretation, as I understood it from the film was one I can’t remember hearing of, intriguing, and which played through to the end. I really don’t want to spoil it for those who have yet to see it. So I won’t go into certain details. But namely, that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was his memory of all the Christians in whose deaths he had not only willingly participated in, but directed. He would often it seems be tormented in dreams, seeing those in Christ whom he had killed with no peace and joy.

This got me to thinking on old sins. We know they’re forgiven. But we also know, and sometimes experience their consequences. There is no question that we can be haunted the rest of our days. Whether or not this interpretation of Paul’s thorn in the flesh is correct, there has to be some value in trying to grapple with this subject.

Yes, as far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions. But consequences remain on those who were hurt, as well as the one who sinned. The clearest biblical example of that of course is David’s sin against Uriah and Bathsheba, and all that followed surely the rest of his life. Uriah was cut off from this life in death, and others more or less followed David’s example. Surely, as I heard someone say recently, David was closer to God after this. Or at least we would hope so. Yet that can be a struggle. One can feel tormented, condemned. And God can seem far away. Yes, Satan can have a heyday wreaking havoc on someone’s soul.

In our day sins are too often seen as private affairs. The church should be involved insofar as that’s possible. All too often people escape to another church. It used to be you had one church, and that was it. But now we have twenty or more churches close enough for us to attend. God’s way for the best handling of sin is through the church, so that a frank, full, yet not unnecessarily detailed admission of sin can be made, guided by church leadership. And then a process of restoration can be undertaken.

Back to the film, of course Saul of Tarsus, later Paul the Apostle of Christ, did these things before his conversion to Christ. It does seem different than when someone sins grievously after conversion. Yet something one might take from the film, which I think is rooted in scripture, perhaps even in David’s story is that one goes on the best they can, in God’s grace and power to live and finish well. The sin makes that more of a challenge. But as difficult as this sounds, and is, there can be some good found to be taken out of it.

One can be more aware of dangers, so that they might possibly warn others. And in prayer for those who have been directly affected. And cast more than ever on God, since nothing can really undo the damage that has been done. Although God can redeem all that is lost. Through our one hope and Savior, indeed our life, as it was for Paul: Jesus.

muddling through life

muddle through

phrasal verb

If you muddle through, you manage to do something even though you do not have the proper equipment or do not really know how to do it.
We will muddle through and just play it day by day.
They may be able to muddle through the next five years like this.

I am more or less a fan of muddling through life. I’m sure this can be misunderstood, and actually is not an easy position to come to. By nature, there’s so much in life that’s trial and error. And some of us seem to be easily overcome emotionally, or whatever is the best way to describe it. So that life itself can seem overwhelming, a challenge, a heavy burden, even suffocating at times. I’ve been there, and still am there more often than I like.

It doesn’t matter how many times you go through such an experience, it’s so awful, that although you hopefully handle it much better, and guard yourself from letting things get to you, you’re going to hate it just as much, and want to be rid of it. And if you so much as catch a whiff of it, you would like to turn tail and run, have nothing to do with it. But then you’re caught up in it again.

I would like to say you can get rid of it by the right thought, prayer, or whatever. Maybe rarely that happens, but by and large it doesn’t and won’t. We do well to address the source of it, as best we can, hopefully having light from God to understand that, and then act on it. And not give up, but keep doing that.

But I’ve found, oddly enough, that the darkness and heaviness begins to dissipate, when I simply at last come to accept it. As a wise pastor from our past told us, we can’t simply snap ourselves out of fear (or a bad experience), and neither should we act on it. An important aside. But again, when I at last accept it, and determine to live with it by God’s grace, maybe something like Paul’s thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12 he asked the Lord to remove three times, but the Lord didn’t, then, usually sooner than later, the heaviness and darkness will recede, and the light of the Lord’s joy and peace will again be more or less present.

I also find, frankly, that ordinarily I have the sense of muddling through life, since in my own experience, I’ve had to face quite a few times when I feel inadequate and lost in and of myself. But I find that the Lord is present, as I seek to do his will regardless.

I am not much of a fan of the idea that everything should be great, that we should be on a high on some mountaintop experience, that if we were living the normal Christian life, we would bring heaven down to earth, and others would catch it from us. Actually that might indeed end up being the case from learning to live in the valley, in the depths. Finding there, that in our weakness and lostness the Lord is present, and that we are experiencing something of his strength. That he resides with the broken and poor in spirit. And even want to help others through us. All of this in and through Jesus.

remaining in the hard place

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

I keep returning to a theme which is recurrent with me. If there’s anything we humans don’t care for, it’s living a life that seems to fall short of its potential. We don’t like handicaps, today called challenges, and we will do what is necessary to find our way back to normalcy. That was true for Paul, who pleaded with the Lord three times to remove the thorn in the flesh which was tormenting him, even a messenger from Satan. It is interesting in Paul’s case that this thorn was “given” not by Satan, but seemingly through Satan by the Lord, to keep Paul from being conceited because of the greatness of the revelations he had received, far beyond that of others.

In my case it seems that there’s some relationship between mistakes of the past, and what troubles me in the present. What I’m thinking of is not great sin, but lack in wisdom, as well as the limitations inherent in living as a broken (or, fallen) human in a broken world. Because of the gaffes we might make, completely unknowingly, acting on the best we think we know, even if there are other motives which ought to slow us down, and even stop us in our tracks, we sometimes suffer.

In Paul’s case, again, the thorn was given to keep him humble. While I certainly never have had anything near the great revelations Paul had, I surely am more prone to pride than he was, so that even a little bit of “success” can easily go to my head. I know that all too sadly to be the case. Therefore I need to learn to live well in the hard place, in the place I would escape from in a day, in an hour, immediately, if I could. Instead I need to settle in, so that I can begin to perceive and see the benefit of the hard place. And beyond what I could possibly appreciate on my own, even learn to rejoice in such a hard place, and the limitations and debilitations present in them, since Christ’s strength is made known in ways which otherwise would be lost.

And so that is my assignment, so to speak right now. To learn to live better, even well, in the midst of consternation and difficulty. While at the same time praying to the Lord for his mercy, while we look forward to the day when such difficulty will be no more.