Tuesday, June 27, 2017


2 Corinathians 12:10b
    For when I am weak, then I am strong.

                I have a confession to make. When I am weak I feel weak. A little over a week ago, I had some trees cut down. Because I am a “do it yourself’ kind of a guy, and because I like to save money, I told the tree guy that I would clean up the brush and cut up the logs. All he had to do was bring the trees down safely. That was beyond my DIY abilities.

                After my tree guy was finished, I went to work. I began clearing away the brush and piling it in a convenient place to be run through my chipper later. (Why buy mulch when you can make it.) In order to clear away the brush and clean up the yard, I also had to stack the logs, which ranged in length from 4-8 feet. I worked at my task for several hours. The next day my back let me know that I had over done it, big time. Graciously, a friend came over and cut up a majority of the logs for me the next day. I limped through the week with a painful back.

                The pile of cut logs remained where they were for a week. On Monday, two young men came over to help me move the pile up to the house. I borrowed our neighbor’s trailer to pull behind my lawn mower and we got started. In just under two hours we had moved all the logs that we could move and had cleared up the rest of the brush. By Monday night, my back was protesting with renewed vigor. The constant pain in my back continues to drain my energy.  I am beginning a new week again weak.

                The Apostle Paul had a physical malady with which he had to struggle. No one knows for sure what it was. Personally, I believe it had something to do with his eyesight. Paul took his situation to the Lord and asked to be healed. Instead of taking this malady away, God invited Paul to trust Him to make up the difference. Paul records his experience in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. Let’s take a closer look at that experience.

                 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me 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 12:7-10)

                Paul saw his “thorn in the flesh” as a corrective in his life. Paul was in danger of becoming spiritually arrogant because of all of the amazing things God had allowed him to experience. So God put a governor on Paul’s ego to slow him down. (NOTE: companies used to put governors on trucks and busses to keep drivers from exceeded prescribed speed limits.)

                There are many reasons why God might allow us to face some physical challenge as a corrective in our lives. When we are young, we do not think about physical limits. Physical limits are something to be overcome. As we mature, we have to come to grips with the reality that physical limits are real and they are there as a safeguard against doing serious damage to ourselves. Pain is God’s warning sign that something is wrong, that we need to pay attention, and that we need to take corrective action.

                Instead of pulling Paul’s thorn, God left it in place to teach Paul to depend upon Him. Left unchecked, Paul’s ego could have become a huge barrier to the Gospel. The spotlight could have been focused on Paul and how great he was, instead of on God and how great He is. So God gave Paul His grace to endure the malady that he would have to live with. The more Paul accepted his weakness, the more the power and strength of God would come through.

                It is a part of our fallen human nature that when all is going well we forget about our need for God. We start to depend upon and glory in our own strength. We fall into the trap of spiritual invincibility. We accept the lie that we can do anything we put our mind to. All we have to do is to work harder and we will gain our desired results. It is at those times that God pulls the rug out from under our feet. He allows us to fall flat to remind us just how dependent we are on Him.

                Paul celebrated the strength of God, which was demonstrated through his weakness. Paul was not some kind of a masochist. He did not find pleasure in his weakness. Instead Paul was celebrating that his weakness allowed God’s strength to shine through him. He saw his weakness as an opportunity for God’s glory to shine.

                I awoke on Sunday morning with a stiff, painful back. My energy levels were pretty low. But when it came time to step up onto the platform and preach, God’s strength took over. He gave me the energy that I needed, at the time I needed it, to do what I needed to do for His glory. I would love to report that I went home free of pain. I did not. I spent a good part of the evening with an ice-pack on my lower back. But I praise God that He allowed me the grace to proclaim His glory.

                Let me go back to my opening statement. When I am weak I feel weak. But I can also say, with confidence, that in my weakness I have experienced the power and grace of God. My current experience has forced me to do something I am often reluctant to do; ask for help. But by asking for help, I have experienced God’s blessings. I am definitely not as bold as Paul, but I can affirm what he said. When I have been at my weakest is when I have experienced the strength of God the most.

2 Corinthians 4:7
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Quest to be Valued

                Everyone wants to be valued in some way. There is a deep longing within each of us to be appreciated and to feel validated. Everyone wants to know that their life counts for something. No one wants to be a cipher, a zero, a non-entity.

                There are times when our sense of being valued is high. At those times we feel confident, competent, and courageous. There are other times when our sense of being valued is low. At those times we feel uncertain, hesitant, and incompetent. I have experienced both. Most of the time we live somewhere in the middle with the nagging question in the back of our mind; am I good enough?

                Over the years, I have talked with many people who have struggled with a sense of their value. They have often expressed to me the same sentiment; “I am not good enough.”  This tends to be a self-defeating attitude. The person is really giving up before they ever try. They have already determined that they are of no value. That only fuels a downward spiral of self-pity. We need to be honest about where those feelings come from. They do not come from God. They come from the Evil One. Satan, the Great Accuser, loves to whisper destructive untruths in our ears. “You are not good enough. You will never make it. You don’t have what it takes. Why try? You are going to fail anyway.”

                The Bible gives us a very different message. The Bible tells us that we are of great value to God, because we have been created in His image. Our worth is not dependent upon what we can do or how well we can perform. Our worth is based on our relationship with God in Christ. God loves us so much that He sent Jesus into this sinful, fallen world to rescue and redeem us. When Satan whispers those corrosive words in our ear, “you are not good enough”, we need to remind ourselves of God’s truth.

                We are loved with an inexhaustible love. One of the ways that we feel valued is by receiving the love of others. We experience that love through the relationships that we have. Those may come in the form of family or friends. For some people, that sense of being loved can come from a pet. We usually take this experience for granted until it disappears. A family member dies. A friend moves away. A pet dies. What is left behind is an emotional hole.
                The one thing that can fill that whole is to embrace the love of God. When we put our faith in Christ, we can experience God’s overflowing love. It is when we embrace the love that God has given to us that we can then love others well. The more we actively receive God’s love, the more we can share that love freely with those around us.
                I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:16-19
                 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 1 John 3:1
                 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:10-11

                We do not have to prove ourselves to God. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are always trying to prove our worth. That is why some of us work long hours, take on extra responsibility, and over fill our lives with activities. Unconsciously we are trying to say to the world, I am valuable.
                For way too long I tried to prove my worth to God. To put a label on it, I bought into works righteousness. I felt like I had to do certain things for God to accept me. Therefore, I had my unwritten list of do’s and don’ts; my spiritual checklist by which I could show God that I was worthy of His love and acceptance. The problem was that I never felt like I was doing enough or was good enough.
                The good news is that we do not have to prove ourselves to God. I don’t mean that God doesn’t care about how we live our lives. He does. What I mean is that we live good lives as a response to the acceptance that we have already received in Christ. God knows all about us; good, bad and ugly. Through our faith in Christ, God has applied Christ’s righteousness to our account. Because we have been justified through Christ, we are free to live wholeheartedly for Christ, without fear.
                 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2

                 We are capable of doing whatever God calls us to do. Even when we feel loved and accepted by God, a sense of inadequacy can still remain. We know all of our weaknesses and failures. They loom large in our eyes. Satan wants us to believe that these disqualify us from service. He says something like this. “ Face it. You don’t have what it takes. Why try? You know you are just going to fail anyway. You are not smart enough, skilled enough, good enough to be a success.”
                God has an answer to Satan’s accusations. “I know all about your inadequacies. But I will give you what you need to not only overcome them, but to succeed.” One of the most basic truths we need to hold onto is, when God calls us into service, He equips us for service. Every leader in the Bible, from Moses to the Apostle Paul, felt inadequate to the task set before them. Yet God used all of them in amazing ways. God is never hindered by our lack of skill. Bit His is hindered by our lack of will.
                Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God.  Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.  He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:4-6
                 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13

                All of us want to be valued. We all struggle with this desire from time to time. When we are feeling less than worthy, we need to remember that our worth is secure. It comes primarily from our relationship with God and only secondarily through our abilities and our human relationships. To buy into the idea that “I am not good enough” is an affront to God’s love and grace.

Ephesians 2:10
For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017


                I have been reading two books recently that have challenged me. One is The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee and the other is The Day the Revolution Began by N.T. Wright. The two authors have very different styles. The Normal Christian Life is transcriptions of sermons. The style reflects an oral presentation. The Day the Revolution Began deals with the meaning of the crucifixion of Christ. It is very scholarly. Both books are intended to help followers of Christ to understand their faith better and more completely. For different reasons I have struggled with both.

                When I entered college, I had a very simple faith. Some would have said that I had a simplistic faith. It was fairly black and white. Everything fit into neat categories. While I was in college, God worked at maturing my faith so that it was less black and white and more dynamic and vital. Then I went to seminary.

                Seminary was a new experience. For the first time in my life I was looking seriously at “Theology” with a big “T”. Early in my first year at seminary, the President of the school warned us about a danger we would face. He said the danger was that we would become theologians and lose our faith. I didn’t fully grasp what he was telling us, but I think I do now. We can dig deeply into the many facets of theological study and lose our way in our personal, intimate relationship with Christ. Our faith can become more and more academic and less and less real world.

                One of the hard realities of life is that once you become informed about something you cannot go back to your uninformed state. To put it a different way, once we have lost our pure innocence we can never regain it. Once I had been exposed to all of the wonders, challenges, controversies, and implications of theology, I could never go back a simple faith.

                As I have been reading the above mentioned books, I have been struggling with a longing to go back to a simpler faith. Some may find wrestling with theology exhilarating. I often find it exhausting. As I read the New Testament, I see people taking Jesus at His word, at face value, and following Him, without all of the complications we have added to the mix. They definitely do not have a deep understanding of theology, as we know it, yet they had a deep faith in Jesus.

                There is an incident recorded in the Gospels where people were bringing little children to Jesus to have Him bless them. His disciples saw this as an intrusion and shooed the children away. Jesus would have none of it. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:14-16

                What I want you to see is verse 15, I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. How do little children accept things? By faith! They don’t have all of the background knowledge. They may not be able to explain everything. Instead they trust those who they look up to. By faith they accept the word of those authorities as right and true.

                It is not wrong for us to delve deeply into the pathways of theology. There is spiritual gold to be mined there. But we need to recognize that there is danger there as well; the danger of dissecting our faith into its component parts and sacrificing the whole. On the other hand, there is no place for mindless, sentimental faith that has little bearing in truth and reality. The Bible is clear that we need to examine our faith and be sure that it is genuine. Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you--unless, of course, you fail the test?  And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. (2 Corinthians 13:5-6) Somewhere between a purely academic faith and a childish faith lays simple, genuine faith.

                Our walk with Christ is a journey with many stages. I made a childlike commitment to Jesus Christ when I was five. I made a determined commitment to follow Christ when I was thirteen. I fully embraced my faith as my own when I was in college. In many ways, my faith was refined in seminary, and is still being refined today.  When did my faith journey really begin? It began that day that I looked up to my Sunday School teacher with innocent eyes and said, yes I want to ask Jesus into my heart. Did I fully understand what I was doing? No. Did Jesus fully understand what I was doing? By all means!

                I will never stop studying; challenging myself to gain a deeper fuller understanding of my faith. But I will always rest in the simple faith of taking God at His word.

John 3:16
    "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.



Tuesday, June 6, 2017

When You are Not at Your Best

                Have you ever had one of those days when nothing seems to go right? I had one of those days yesterday. I had not slept well during the night. I woke up with a splitting, sinus headache, which made me drag through the morning. I finally figured out how to program my new phone to operate my Nest thermostat and then the phone stopped working. I spent my entire evening sitting in an over air-conditioned room attending a 55+ drivers’ refresher course. I had registered on line, but when I checked in, the instructor did not have my information or my certificate. By the time I arrived back at home, I was feeling miserable.

                We all have bad days from time to time. It is a part of life. Most of those bad days are over fairly quickly. But, I believe God allows us to have those bad days to act as a mirror into our soul. Bad days have a way of revealing things that we have become very good at hiding most of the time. My Aunt Mil, who lived with us, when something unpleasant happened, would say, praise the Lord anyway. It used to really irritate me. It felt artificial and even flippant. When bad things happen, my first response is not to praise the Lord. Instead, I get grumpy, complain, and withdraw.

                The Apostle Paul knew what it was to have a bad day. In fact, if we read Acts carefully, he had more than his share of bad days. Yet, Paul was able to maintain a genuine, positive attitude in the face of some enormous struggles. There are two passages of scripture that allow us to see Paul’s attitude in the face of some really bad days.

                The first relates to a chronic physical illness from which Paul suffered. There has been much debate regarding what this illness may have been. From some subtle clues in other places, I believe it was some kind problem with Paul’s eye sight. Paul did the right thing and took this situation to the Lord, but he did not get the answer that he was looking for.

                 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me 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 12:7-10

                Paul was not happy about his thorn in the flesh. He repeatedly took it to the Lord and asked to be relieved of his discomfort, but God refused. Instead, God gave him the grace to face the challenge. Paul discovered that he could face any difficulty in the strength of the Lord.

                The second passage is even more intriguing to me. Paul was able to put the things he faced in life into an eternal perspective. That perspective allowed him to rise above his circumstances.

                But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
                 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:7-10,16-18

                Paul refers to his light and momentary troubles. I chuckle every time I read that line. Paul sure had a different definition of light and momentary than I have . In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul describes his light and momentary troubles.

                Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
2 Corinthians 11:24-28

                Paul was able to tap into a source of strength that often alludes me. It is not that it is not there. It is that I become blind to it, as I focus my eyes on my “light and momentary” troubles. I can say that, through my years of ministry, that source of strength has been there to see me through. There have been Saturday nights when I felt life death warmed over, yet God gave me the strength to step into the pulpit on Sunday morning with energy and enthusiasm. Yet there are too many days, like yesterday, when I just drag myself through hoping for a better tomorrow.

                Paul was able to face the most difficult challenges by keeping his eyes on eternity. On days when nothing seems to go right, it is important that we examine our attitude. God has not abandoned us. The troubles we are facing will pass. God will give us the strength to keep moving forward.

Philippians 4:4-7
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


Thursday, June 1, 2017


                I had finished packing the car to begin our trip home after a week of vacation. I walked down the steep drive to the shining lake for one last look. As I stood there, in the cool morning air, looking out over the placid lake, I felt a longing to just stay. Reluctantly, I turned and trudged back up the hill to the waiting car.

                We all experience longings from time to time. Longings for something that we can’t quite put our finger on. C.S. Lewis attached these longings to our pursuit of joy, which seems always to be just out of our reach. We get a taste of it, but as soon as we recognize it and try to hold onto it, it is gone. Lewis tells us that our longings are not fulfilled because what we truly long for is not to be found in this world. What we truly long for is heaven, God’s presence.

                While I was on vacation, I finished reading Awe by Paul David Tripp. Tripp writes that we have been created to experience awe and that our awe is intended to point us to God. Everything in creation has been designed to stir up awe within in. This awe is intended to point us to God. Unfortunately, we too often stop short of the goal. We become awed by the things of this world and forget God. The result is that we are never satisfied. All that the things of this world can do is stir up our awe, but they cannot satisfy it. We continually chase experience after experience only to discover that they fall short and leave us unsatisfied.

                Both Lewis and Tripp reveal to us that the only way that we can satisfy our longings is to find their fulfillment in God, through Christ Jesus. It is only as we look beyond the tangible object of our awe or longing to the one who stands behind it can we truly find contentment, satisfaction, and fulfillment. King David understood this when he penned the opening lines of Psalm 19.

Psalm 19:1-4a
For the director of music. A psalm of David.
    The heavens declare the glory of God;
        the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
    Day after day they pour forth speech;
        night after night they display knowledge.
    There is no speech or language
        where their voice is not heard.
    Their voice goes out into all the earth,
        their words to the ends of the world.

                We can bury our longings under the weight of our daily routine and responsibilities. We can try to deny our longings or try to satisfy them with temporary substitutes. But our longings will not go away. They are deep seated in our very soul. As Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:11. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

                The last day of vacation is always hard. I long for more, but I know that it is time to return to the norm of life; to go back to that which I have been called to do. Still, the longings for something more linger.

Psalm 46:10
    "Be still, and know that I am God;
        I will be exalted among the nations,

        I will be exalted in the earth."