Paul’s Thorn in The Flesh Never Disclosed For Good Reason

“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.” (2 Corinthians 12:7)

You can’t help but wonder what this “thorn in the flesh” was, but we know from Scripture that it kept Paul humble. It also ensured that his prayer life remained active.

Theologians have offered a number of possibilities.

Many have argued that Paul was talking about a speech impediment. There is some historical evidence that Paul was not a good speaker. Maybe he did suffer from stammering speech.

Perhaps it was an eye infection. The Bible records that eye infections were fairly common in southern Galatia when Paul visited the area on his first missionary journey. In fact, Paul told us in Galatians 4:13 that he had been having some problems with his eyes. “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you…Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn…you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.” (Galatians 4:13-15)

Others have suggested that Paul had an eye problem alright. Maybe his problem was with a wandering eye, not an infected eye. The problem with that claim is there isn’t a shred of evidence that Paul struggled with the sin of lust.

I’m glad that Paul never felt led by the Spirit to tell us exactly what his “thorn in the flesh” was because his admission would enable us to rule out any spiritual lessons from all those other thorns in the flesh that nag us today. In other words, if Paul had told us that it was an eye infection, a speech impediment, lust, or whatever, then those of us who have other thorns in the flesh wouldn’t pay such close attention to what God was trying to teach us through Paul’s experience.

The truth is we can grow and learn spiritually from any thorn in the flesh. That’s part of what God is trying to get across. These thorns that plague us often produce patience and humility. These are virtues that none of us can get too much of.

Here’s the point: God refused to remove Paul’s weakness, but he never said that he wouldn’t demonstrate his power through Paul. What he said to Paul after he had repeatedly asked God for deliverance is one of my favorite verses: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

The fact that God’s power shows up in weak people should give us courage. It’s only when we recognize our limitations that we stop patting ourselves on the backs. That’s an important moment because we are finally beginning to understand who’s really in charge.

Our weaknesses not only help us to develop Christian character, they can also deepen our worship. When we begin to acknowledge our weaknesses, the door then opens for God to affirm his strength in our lives. It’s another opportunity to let his glory shine right through our problems.

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Mike - May 14, 2017 at 7:50 am

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Why Fake News Is Making Sense

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’.” (John 14:6)

Newspapers are not interested in the truth anymore, just the facts. This is why Donald Trump’s assertion that they make the news (fake news) is getting so much traction. He’s right – they often use the front page to editorialize. Just read any morning’s edition of the Washington Post or the New York Times.

We need to realize that newspapers everywhere do not always print stories on which we can rely to be true. They are always factual but they are not always true. My personal experience right here in Concord over 25 years ago taught me an important truth about newspaper stories.

I was angered by a story in The Concord Tribune (now merged with the Kannapolis newspaper, the Daily Independent, and renamed the Independent Tribune). The story featured a project on which I was working and one with which the newspaper disagreed. The story they printed about the project was not true, and I was so upset about it I personally visited the publisher to express my concern. He said something to me I’ll never forget, “We’re not interested in the truth, just the facts.”

Not interested in the truth? That taught me to treat stories we see in newspapers today with a critical eye. Maybe what we’re reading every morning is not true. And while the Independent-Tribune is a good newspaper that is prints what is factual, it does not always print what is true. I don’nt condemn them. I understand how difficult it is to determine what is true, and how easy it is to just stick with the facts.

Consider, for example, a newspaper editorial about homosexuality and evolution I read several years ago in a local newspaper that was reprinted from a newspaper editorial in Toronto, Canada newspaper. It was an editorial about evolution and in part read:

“Laura Schlessinger–a.k.a. Dr. Laura, based on her Ph. D. in physiology–has been taken to task by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council for characterizing homosexuality on her radio show as ‘deviant,’ ‘dysfunctional,’ ‘aberrant,’ ‘abnormal,’ and biologically ‘an error’…

What is most astounding about ‘Dr. Laura’s’ proposition is that she clearly missed taking a course in evolutionary biology. Biology is all about deviance. Species arise because variant traits are selected for by the environment.”

To the newspaper’s credit, no one on The Globe and Mail of Toronto’s editorial staff wrote that editorial. Nonetheless, I was sad to see an editorial staff choose an editorial that would appear in a newspaper read largely by Christians that contradicted what the Word of God has to say about creation. It may have been fact, but it was certainly not what many of their readers believed to be true. Yet their side was never taken into consideration.

Interestingly, most Americans don’t believe the evolution lie. A 2009 Gallup Poll conducted on the eve of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday revealed that only 39% of Americans say they believe in evolution. It certainly makes you wonder how a view held by only 39% of Americans has taken control of what’s taught in our public school system and read in our local newspaper, doesn’t it?

Ever wonder why we never see an editorial defending creationism in our newspapers? The truth is evolution is politically correct thinking and creationism is not. Why?

Dr. John Morris, a creationist, says one reason is evolution is one of several principles that help spurn other closely held thought systems that are at work in our society today and are deemed to be politically correct. He argues that since evolution cannot stand the “test of open scientific inquiry”, the “alternate view of creation must be censored.”

But Morris’ strongest argument probably points to the real reason why this newspaper and others fail to include such thinking on its editorial pages:

“In the name of ‘tolerance,’ the politically correct crowd vilifies any person or thought that is not ‘tolerant’, which does not value every view or action as equally valid. Since Christianity insists that absolute truth does exist, in faith and practice as well as science and history, it must not be tolerated. The message of creation, which under girds Christianity, further implies that there are absolute guidelines for life, and that some choices constitute sin, which must be punished. In the name of ‘tolerance,’ this view cannot be tolerated.”

We may not be as free and open-minded as we claim. Have you ever stopped to think that’s it that same kind of thinking that put Jesus to death?

In his book, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis urges against making young people read newspapers because “nearly all that a boy reads…will be known before he is twenty to be false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact.” Moreover Lewis adds, “Most of it will have lost all importance. Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn; and he will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism.”

I don’t know if I agree with Lewis or not. Perhaps we just need to read a good book along with the newspaper, like the Bible. That way we can get both the truth and the facts!

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Mike - May 7, 2017 at 5:12 pm

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Christians Should Choose To Live A Life Of Liberty

“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

Legalism, license and liberty – Do you know the difference? Sometimes the differences between the three may be subtle, but when compared and contrasted against each other, the differences are really quite striking.

The manner by which a Christian chooses to live out his faith shows which one of these words will most often be associated with his name. In some cases, all three will show up from time to time in our lives. But as we mature in our Christian faith, one of these nouns seems to show up more in our lives. It’s important, therefore, to recognize their differences and examine what the Bible has to say about them.

Legalism is a term that most of us understand. We see it all the time. Some Christians come to believe that keeping the rules has something to do with keeping their salvation. In other words, a Christian can, by his own efforts, do some work to maintain his salvation. It’s a belief in the incompleteness or unfinished work of the Cross. It cheapens Grace.

The Pharisees were the worst example of just how far legalism can go. They had so many rules that scribes had to follow them around just to keep up with them, to write them down. Jesus once said of them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)

The opposite of legalism is license. It’s at the other end of the continuum that one might use to describe how Christians apply their faith. What is license? Living a faith of license comes from a belief that there’s nothing a Christian can do to keep himself out of heaven. Licentious living means that we live without any restraint. It’s exactly how some Christians, for example, justify killing those who practice abortion.

Living with license also cheapens grace. How would a holy, loving God ever condone such a lifestyle of disobedience? The Apostle Paul said it this way: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:15)

Ideally, Christians should choose to live a life of liberty, a life where one is obedient to the Godly standards because of grace and not in spite of it. For example, I don’t attend church out of a sense of duty. I attend church because I love the Lord. I am grateful for what He has done in my life. I look forward to church, to celebrating His goodness and the salvation I enjoy.

The Apostle Paul planted a lot of churches as a missionary. He often talked about living a life filled with liberty. In fact, to a church he formed in present-day Turkey, he once wrote, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14)

2 Corinthians 13:5 says that we should examine ourselves to determine if we “in the faith.” In other words, what we do with our Christian lives should come from love, not from commandment, not from duty. This standard applies to any dimension of Christian living – tithing, attending church, working in a soup kitchen, praying for a friend – it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that if we do it out of love, we are living life as God intended it to be lived – a life of liberty.

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Mike - May 2, 2017 at 1:52 pm

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Don’t Despair: Life Wins With Jesus

“The Lord is faithful.” (2 Thessalonians 3:3)

Easter has come and gone, but the hope it brings with it has not. We need to cling to that truth as we watch our televisions and learn that a Facebook user murdered an elderly man live on his Facebook page; North Korea plans to “nuke” us when their missile technology allows its missiles to reach our country; and Syria thinks it’s okay to use Sarin gas to snuff the life out of children. What kind of world are we living in?

The unfortunate truth is the craziness we see going on in our world is not new. In fact, one of our favorite Easter songs today was written in similar times and under similar circumstances. In 1971, a young Indiana songwriter, Bill Gaither, was also discouraged, so discouraged about what he saw happening that it helped to throw him in a state of deep and hopeless depression.

Many of my older readers remember those times. Racial tension was tearing our country apart; the Vietnam Conflict was at its peak; and three American heroes, who wanted to see a different America, were all shot down in their prime. I can still remember seeing Dion on television in 1968 singing, Abraham, Martin and John, a song that eulogized the lives of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy, and praised them for the courage they showed.

Against that backdrop, this young, promising songwriter just couldn’t bear the thought of bringing another child in this world. In fact, his wife, Gloria, then pregnant with their third child, described how they both felt: “Bill and I would talk about the circumstances of this world, and about this new discouragement, and wind up saying, ‘If this world is like this now, what will it be like in fifteen or sixteen years for our baby? What will this child face?’ We were filled with fear and uncertainty.”

That uncertainty turned to endless hope one spring afternoon when Bill’s father provided him with a modern-day parable. The younger Gaither had just paved a parking lot next to his office and there in the middle of the newly paved lot stood a tiny blade of green grass. His father showed him that lonely blade of grass, suggesting that it had a direct connection with the hope we have in Christ. His wife later said, “It was confirming a truth that had been pushing its way to the surface of our souls: Life wins! Life wins!”

Bill Gaither’s father convinced him that hope is never lost for the Christian and he penned “Because He Lives“, a reminder to us all that hope is never lost for Christians.

Life is difficult and these are dark times in which we live. But we have a gift called salvation that provides light that will show us the way in spite of what may be going on in our world. Jesus himself said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

That light still shines my friends. We may live in dark times but we don’t walk in darkness. And Bill Gaither’s chorus to “Because He Lives” is as true in 2017 as it ever was in 1971:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow

Because He lives, all fear is gone;

Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living just because He lives.

Hold on to the promises of God and remember what the Apostle John told us: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17)

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Mike - April 23, 2017 at 8:15 am

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