Thursday, January 29, 2009

All of God: Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity - small group study #2

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Why Study the Trinity? Week of January 18, 2009

Ø One of the primary reasons we study the Trinity is because God chose to reveal Himself to us in this way. The fact that Jesus took so very much time to talk about the Trinity on the night He was betrayed is especially compelling. This was His last time to instruct His disciples and He told them about who He really was – God. God is one, and God is three. Take the time, as a group, to read chapters 14-16 in John’s Gospel. Read slowly enough to absorb the number of references to one of the three persons of the Godhead.

Ø It is vital that we know God. How can we know God? What Scripture supports your belief?

1. God reveals Himself through creation. Psalm 19:1-6; Acts 14:15-17; Romans 1:18-20
2. God reveals Himself in human nature, particularly through our conscience. Genesis 1:27; Acts 17:22-29 (esp. 28-29); Romans 2:12-16
3. God reveals Himself through His word. 1 Samuel 3:21; Psalm 19:7-11; 1 Corinthians 14:37; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 John 5:13 (Scripture gives us assurance – through belief – that we have eternal life)
4. God reveals Himself through Jesus. Hebrews 1:1-3; John 1:1-18 (v. 9 – He gives light, or understanding, to us; v 14 – Jesus dwelt, or, literally “pitched His tent” among us); it is also our privilege to know Jesus much better than we presently do – Philippians 3:10 – by spending time with Him through His word, in meditation, and in prayer.
5. God reveals Himself through the work of the Holy Spirit. We saw this over and over in John 14-16; 1 Corinthians 2:11-16.

Ø If God has specifically revealed Himself to us through His word, through His Son, and by His Spirit, why do we say that He is incomprehensible?

These notes come directly from the ESV Study Bible.

God is infinite and His creatures are finite. By definition, creatures depend on their Creator for their very existence and are limited in all aspects. Yet God is without limitations in every quality He possesses. This Creator/creature, infinite/finite gap will always exist.

The perfect unity of God’s attributes is far beyond the realm of human experience. God’s love, wrath, grace, justice, holiness, patience, and jealousy are continually functioning in a perfectly integrated yet infinitely complex way.

The effects of sin on the minds of fallen humans also greatly inhibit the ability to know God. The tendency of fallen creatures is to distort, pervert, and confuse truth and to use, or rather abuse, it for selfish ends rather than for God’s glory.

God has chosen not to reveal some things to us. Deut. 29:29. As all good fathers, God’s wisdom leads Him to refrain from answering all questions His children ask Him, and this contributes to His incomprehensibility. In heaven, God’s incomprehensibility will no doubt be lessened, but He will always be infinite, and we will always be finite (even though we will live eternally, we did have a beginning, and, all of our knowledge and understanding are totally dependent upon God).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

All of God: Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity - Sermon #1

If you did not read the last post about the series on the Trinity that our church is conducting this spring, both on Sunday mornings and in our small groups, please go back one post and read the introduction - and, look at the questions for the first small group session before you read this sermon. God bless!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Why Study the Trinity?

Did you recognize the words that David just sang? Maybe, if you have come here from a liturgical church – or, if you are a fan of Rich Mullins, Petra, or Third Day. He sang the words to The Apostles’ Creed. At the end of this message we will recite and then, sing, this creed. It is significant because at least a portion of it constitutes the earliest creed, or statement of belief, of the Christian Church. If you were listening carefully, you heard the earliest thoughts from the church about the Trinity – God in three persons.

What is the big deal about the Trinity, anyway? You might say, “I have grown up my whole life knowing that God is three in one. Explain it? Of course! You see, God is three, but He is one. You want more explanation? Well, you just gotta believe, that’s all!”

And, that’s about the best many of us can do! Hey, we have to acknowledge right up front that even though we know God in varying degrees, depending on where we are in the Christian life, nonetheless He is somewhat mysterious to all of us, and the doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery! I don’t know about you, but I tend to think of God as “one” or as “three.” He is much more, though – He is three-in-one. But just because God is mysterious and there is mystery surrounding the truth of the Trinity doesn’t mean that we cannot know anything about this most important doctrine!

I told you last week that there is a difference, in theological terms, between a secret and a mystery. A secret is something we absolutely cannot know if God doesn’t reveal it to us. Period. A mystery is something that was previously hidden from us but that God has now revealed to us. Even though we now have knowledge and awareness of a particular truth that was hidden before, there is more to the truth that God has shown us than we will ever be able to fully comprehend, and we will never be able to adequately explain this doctrine. A mystery, in theological terms, is not what we typically think of as a mystery today. When you hear the term mystery, you probably think of something that is unknown but is solvable if you can put all the pieces together – like a murder mystery. That is not a biblical mystery, though.

Perhaps a bit of Scripture will help. First, with regard to secrets. Deuteronomy 29:29: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Secrets are something we cannot know. But a mystery, in the NT, is something that was prev – well, you’ll see.

In Romans 16:25-27, the Apostle Paul gives an informative benediction by writing, “Now to Him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages, but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

You see it, don’t you? A mystery, in the NT, is something that we didn’t know about but now we do because God let us in on it. But, many of the truths in the New Testament that are called mysteries – such as, the gospel in Romans 16, the idea of Christ in you, in Colossians 1:27, and the mystery of faith in 1 Timothy 3:9 – while, indeed, are truths that are identified and explained to a significant degree, are still, nonetheless, beyond our human ability to fully understand and explain. For instance, try explaining Christ in you, the hope of glory.

You may feel like you are on a see-saw here, but I need to come right back and say that there is much about God that we can know. That we should know. That we will, after this series, know a lot better than we do now – at least that is the goal! BUT, as the see-saw teeters back, we must acknowledge that we will never fully comprehend God – which brings us back to the title of our series: All of God: Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity.

We will talk a lot more about how God is knowable, and yet incomprehensible, in the Home Fellowships this week. Throughout this two and a half month series, with a few breaks built in, we will be learning more and more about God while all the while realizing that there are some things that we can never know about Him in this life, and we cannot say with certainty how fully we will know Him in eternity.

I want to make one more introductory note before we read our text for this morning. When the name God is used in the title of the series, it is not referring to God the Father. It is referring to God the Father, God the Son, Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit. When the Old Testament speaks of God, it is not referring to God the Father, but, rather, to Father, Son, and Spirit. God has always been triune, or, three in one. Remember, it was a secret in the OT, but the mystery has been revealed in the NT. And, we are going to explore that mystery! Let’s get to our text this morning, Romans 11:33-36.
This text is about the mystery of God, who is always triune, remember, and our text reminds us that with all we know about God, His awesomeness is beyond our comprehension, though our awareness of God’s awesomeness expands as we contemplate the truth we are given about who He is! Stand with me, if you would, as we read Romans 11:33-36:

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and How inscrutable His ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid?”
36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

Why should we study the Trinity? There are several reasons, beginning with the plain and simple fact that:

1. God chose to reveal Himself this way to us

He chose to reveal Himself to us in this way because it is who He is – and, He did so for our benefit and comfort. His glory, absolutely! But, also for our benefit and comfort. Our knowledge increases as we learn about God’s true nature and our faith grows as we see the many ways God, in the persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, work together to secure our salvation, to shepherd us through this world, and to guard and guarantee our inheritance of eternal life.

When Jesus was at the very end of His time with the disciples on earth, the night before His arrest when you would think He would say only the most important things, Jesus repeatedly spoke about the Trinity. We will see just how much in our Home Fellowships this week.

The second reason we should study the Trinity is that:

2. It connects us with all our brothers and sisters since the church began at Pentecost

The study of God has dominated theological discussions ever since Jesus went back to heaven to be with the Father and the Holy Spirit came to us at Pentecost. Christianity is a historical religion – there is no way to divorce ourselves from the past. Whether we know it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not, our understanding of Scripture is greatly impacted by the theological work done by saints through all 20 centuries of the church’s existence. In fact, the study of the history of the church is, in many ways, the study of theological formulation. Today, we characterize God as “three in one,” and even though we cannot fully explain that, we do accept it. Not only has that not always been the case, it is not true among all people who claim to be Christians today. Interestingly enough, the heresies about Jesus today are essentially the same heresies that have been around for centuries, even though they may take a bit of a different form from one century to the next.

Next Sunday we will be talking about why it is important to get the doctrine of the Trinity right. We will take a look at some of the main controversies through the centuries and how we came to the conclusions about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit that we embrace today. I promise that it will not be simply a history lesson, and I will do my absolute best not to be boring! When we study the Trinity, we inevitably connect ourselves with all those who have gone before us – and, if they had not remained true to the triune God, we would not be here today.

Another reason we study the Trinity is that:

3. This doctrine distinguishes Christianity from all other religions and from “Christian” cults

We should understand this crucial difference because it has eternal implications. It is why that when someone asks, “Don’t we all worship the same God?” it would be appropriate for you to say, “Only if we all worship the triune God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.” While some other religions acknowledge Jesus as an important teacher, and in some cases, such as Islam, as a prophet, no other religion recognizes Jesus as God. In fact, this is true of cults, as well. If you are wondering whether or not a particular group is a cult, here are three distinguishing marks of a cult:

1) They deny the deity of Jesus. Even if they say they believe that Jesus was God, they are playing with words. When you press them, they do not believe that Jesus was God. More about that next week.
2) They deny salvation by grace. Always, there is some effort on a person’s part that is required for salvation.
3) They have another source of revelation – the book of Mormon, the writings of the current leader, whatever. There is always some source of revelation that is thought to be directly from God that comes from outside the Bible.

It is my desire to spend one Sunday in this series – or, at least a portion of a Sunday – talking about how to witness to someone who denies the deity of Jesus, such as someone involved with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I can promise you, if you are going to convince someone in a cult that his or her beliefs are faulty, you are going to have to understand the Trinity. A good bit of their training is based around how to shake your confidence in the Trinity. It is our defining doctrine and we need to study it so that we can understand all of God. A fourth reason to study the Trinity is:

4. A proper understanding of the interaction between Father, Son, and Spirit and an understanding of their roles in our lives will lead to significant spiritual growth

It is interesting that when I have said to people inside and outside of our church that we will be studying the Trinity, at least a couple of people have said, “That’s great – I always wanted to know more about the Holy Spirit.” Interesting. Maybe that desire is there because unless you are charismatic, you don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about the Holy Spirit as you do thinking about God the Father and Jesus. All three persons of the Trinity are intimately connected with one another and are intimately involved in the lives of Christ-followers. The more we know about the roles the different persons of the Godhead have in our lives, the more potential for spiritual growth.

Speaking of roles, I suppose the most frequently asked question so far about the Trinity involves prayer. To whom do we pray? I am going to let you in on a secret, and in so doing, it will reveal how complex this topic is – I don’t have that answer, yet. I used to think I had it, but I am not as sure as I was. If you pressed me for an answer, I would say that it is clear that we pray to God the Father. No one questions that. Do we pray to Jesus? Well, there is evidence that the Apostle Paul communed with the Savior, but we are not commanded to pray to Jesus. We will get deeper into that topic in two or three weeks. How about the Holy Spirit? If there is command or example to pray to the Spirit, I do not currently know where it is. I can tell you, though, when you understand the Spirit’s role in prayer, your confidence in prayer will take off like a rocket! We are going to get there – just be patient.

The last reason I will give to study the Trinity is that:

5. It will increase our awareness of God’s awesomeness!

God is knowable. God is incomprehensible. Let me say that again: God is knowable; God is incomprehensible. If those seem like mutually exclusive ideas, trust me, they are not. The harmony of these two truths will be thoroughly explored at Home Fellowships this week. Are you getting the hint, yet, about how important the small groups are to what we are learning this semester? See KJ or me if you are not connected with one yet. Hey, why don’t you plan to go to Home Fellowships for just this semester while we are studying the Trinity? If you do not find it that helpful to your spiritual life, you don’t have to come back in the fall. I am not being sarcastic when I say that – I mean it. Just come for this spring, if you want to, while this church-wide study is being conducted. One of the reasons it is so important to be in those groups is that there will be much more opportunity for exploring Scripture in small groups than Sunday morning allows, especially with a topic like ours today.

God is awesome beyond our comprehension. Our text told us that, but we already knew it. The more we learn about the Trinity, the more amazed we will become at just who God is! But, it is not just an ontological or theological understanding we will gain – we will find Him all the more real and all the more awesome in our lives. I hope you are excited about this study. Please let me encourage you to hang in there, even if the waters seem to be a little deep for you at times. I pledge, as do the Home Fellowship leaders, to keep this as attainable as possible. But, if your knowledge and understanding of the Trinity is not challenged, we fail on this last point. Our goal is to find, at the end of this study, that God is far more awesome and wonderful and terrifying and gracious and mysterious than we ever knew Him to be.

As I have already stated, next week we will spend a little time learning how we came to the belief about God that we have today. You may have heard about the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Constantinople, both occurring in the 4th century – or, maybe you haven’t heard about those councils! Perhaps you have heard of the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed. I can tell you that almost all of the major councils and creeds in church history were a reaction to bad theology and involved the understanding of the triune God.

David sang the Apostle’s Creed as the special this morning. In just a moment, we are going to stand and quote this creed, and then David is going to lead us as we sing it. How many of you know the Apostles’ Creed by heart?

The Apostle’s Creed is the earliest known creed of the church. Well, actually the old Roman Creed is the oldest creed – and, it was eventually expanded and became known as the Apostle’s Creed. The version of the Apostle’s Creed that is recited today was not in its final form until the beginning of the 10th century. The Roman Creed, on the other hand, was established no later than the end of the second century. The earliest form is very abbreviated. The oldest document we have states this, and this only:

“I believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord. And in the Holy Spirit, the holy Church, the resurrection of the flesh.”

Do you see anything significant in this creed? Just about the only thing it states is the truth of the three persons of the Godhead, though we could not derive the full doctrine of the Trinity from this brief creed. The same is true of the Apostle’s Creed, but it is significant, nonetheless, as a statement of belief of the early church. So, let’s affirm the Apostles’ Creed together. By the way, when this creed speaks of the “catholic” church, it means the universal church – it is not referring to the Roman Catholic Church, but rather to all true Christ-followers, those who have been saved by grace through repentance of sin and faith in Jesus’ death on the cross. So, having clarified that, let’s stand and quote this creed.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

All of God: Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity - small group study # 1

OK, I have decided to publish the series our church is conducting about the Trinity. Our church (Grace Community Church) has recently begun a series titled: All of God: Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity We are studying this topic both during the Sunday morning services and during our small group studies that meet throughout the week. I will include all of the studies here - both Sunday morning messages (though, again, the recorded version is better - go to: and the small group studies. For the small group studies, I will include some of the leader's notes to give you a better feel for what we are learning. This way, GCC family, if you miss the Home Fellowship, you can catch up here, though it will be a little behind the "real-time" schedule.

I have included the title of the series in the title of this post. In the future, I will simply put "The Trinity - Small Group Study #1" or, "The Trinity - Sermon # 2" in the title of the post. In case there are newcomers, I will include a short explanation in the first paragraph of the post (you can skip that part if you are a regular).

Most of the feedback I receive about this blog comes outside the comments posted at this site. I receive them in person, by phone, or via e-mail (which you may always choose if you want to communicate privately - see the January 14 post for information). If you want to interact about the Trinity, though, feel free to respond at this site and I will interact with the feedback in this forum.

Having said all of that, here are the first week's small group questions (for the week of January 11) with comments:

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Introduction, Week of January 11, 2009

Ø The Trinity. Three in one. Three persons, one substance (or, essence). Unexplainable, and yet, we try. Give your best shot at explaining this important Christian doctrine.

What do you know about the Trinity? It is quite a difficult doctrine, yet an absolutely essential doctrine of the Christian faith. Three persons, one essence – Hebrews 1:3 is a good place to go – Jesus was clearly separate from God the Father, yet according to this verse, He was the exact imprint of God’s nature – He had the exact same essence as God because He was God.

Ø Can you give some examples in Scripture that support the doctrine of the Trinity? Take time as a group to discuss some of the passages you find. (e.g., the baptism of Jesus – Matthew 3:13-17)

After you have thought about places in the NT that show us that God is three, yet one, consider these passages: Matthew 28:19 – the earliest formulation of the Trinity; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Acts 5:1-11 – in verse 3, Peter accused Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit, and in verse 4 Peter said that he had not lied to men, but to God; Mark 2:1-12 – you will get it; John 14:1-14

Ø The Old Testament is quite clear that there is one God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe and the God who interacts with His people through His word. Does the New Testament make the claim that God is one? If so, how can this be reconciled with a belief that God is seen as Father, Son, and Spirit?

OT: Deuteronomy 6:4 (through v 9, but especially v 4); 1 Kings 8:59-60; Isaiah 45:5-6
NT: John 17:3; 1 Timothy 2:5; Romans 3:29-30; James 2:19 – we reconcile it, for now, by acknowledging that Scripture teaches “one” and “three in one,” and we can only accept this as a mystery. Our understanding will increase as we proceed through this study.

Ø Most of us tend to think of God as “one” or as “three” rather than “three in one.” Why do you think we have this tendency? What we do to adjust/improve the way we think about and worship God?

It is extremely difficult to get our minds around, isn’t it? It is much easier to think of one or the other, but we are called to believe in the Trinity.

Ø What questions do you have about the Trinity that you would like to have answered during this series?

Friday, January 16, 2009

It's 2009 - Get Over Yourself!

Every year at Grace Community Church, I preach a New Year's sermon. Below, I am publishing the sermon I preached this past Sunday. It is based on the encouraging text of 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, where Paul writes of finding Christ's strength overcoming his own weaknesses. It is a good reminder that this year we need to allow Jesus to do the work in our lives, not the person we see in the mirror every morning! This text continues to significantly minister to me almost a week after I preached it! I do hope you will find it helpful (though, the recorded version on our church's website is better). Here goes:

It’s 2009:
Get Over Yourself!
2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Before we get to the message today, I want to make you aware that next Sunday we will begin a series on the Trinity. The title of the series will be, All of God: Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity. We will go into more detail at the Home Fellowships, starting this week. I hope you will anticipate learning much about what many call the most important doctrine in Scripture. OK, on to this morning’s message.

I have an announcement to make this morning, which may or may not come as a surprise to you. I’m in love. I can’t help. In spite of all my efforts, I am madly in love. It may not be what you think, though. I have been in love with this person for over 55 years. You see, I am in love with – me. In fact, since Psalm 51 indicates that I was conceived as a sinner, this love affair with self actually began before I was born.

Is it wrong to love yourself? Not according to Oprah or dozens of authors whose books fill the self-help sections in bookstores and even find their way into grocery stores. Indeed, God assumes that we love ourselves. Ephesians 5: “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself, for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.” And don’t forget that Jesus taught us to love our neighbors in the same manner that we love ourselves. The kind of love referred to in those passages is not the narcissistic, self-absorbed, self-focused behavior that is so common and encouraged today. It is true that if we fail to appreciate the person that God has made us to be, we will likely not have much to give to others. If we hate ourselves, our tendency is to be short with and even to despise others as well. Not liking moi usually translates into not liking thou. And when you think about it, a hatred of self is often the result of an unhealthy focus on self, anyway.

We should go ahead and love ourselves, then, so that we will love others, right? Not in the way we are encouraged to love ourselves today! When we love and pamper ourselves, 21st century style, there is little left for Jesus or for others. All the focus is on self. And, here we find ourselves at the beginning of 2009. Isn’t it time that we just get over ourselves? I think so.

Our text this morning is 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. Before we read the text, let me explain something in this passage that is important to our understanding of what the Apostle Paul was trying to accomplish with some of the language he was using. In Corinth, there were certain teachers who were attempting to slander Paul and render his teachings null and void. They didn’t feel that Paul was “spiritual” enough. They had received visions, and they spoke ecstatically with languages they did not know. In addition, they were wealthy, and surely their riches were a sign of God’s blessings. They considered Paul’s poverty and the persecution he encountered as signs of God’s disapproval.

Before we go any further, can I speak to those of you who are without a job? Some of you have been unemployed for quite some time. I would imagine it is very tempting to see yourself as being squarely in the crosshairs of God’s disapproval on your life. You feel like He is punishing you, or you feel like He doesn’t respond to your prayers, thus He just doesn’t care. I understand how easy it would be to feel that way in today’s world, but our text today will put that idea to rest, so if you are out of work, you may be the one more blessed than all the others in here. Sound absurd? See if it does by the time you leave church today.

Because Paul had been attacked and the very truth of the gospel was at stake, he had to defend himself. He felt like a fool offering his credentials – so much so, that he wrote quite hesitantly, speaking in the third person. By the end of our passage, though, Paul was boldly proclaiming his boast – in Jesus and in anything in his life that would drive him to Jesus. That which drove him to Jesus turned out to be hardships and weaknesses.

Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. Would you please stand for the reading of the Word?

1 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.
2 I know a man 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.
3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows –
4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.
5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.
6 Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.
9 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Did you sense Paul’s reticence to defend himself, even though it was absolutely necessary to do so? Fourteen years before he wrote this letter to the Corinthians, which would have been before his first missionary journey, God took Paul up into heaven. Paul asked, “Did my body go up to heaven, or was it an out of body experience? I don’t know – all I know is that I was shown and told some amazing things, some of which I can’t even repeat. That’s why I am an apostle and why you should listen to me. What I have to tell you will make the difference in your eternal destiny. I am not bragging; it’s just fact. But, I will tell you what I will brag about – my weaknesses!”

That doesn’t sound very much like our world today, does it? In fact, it would take a gigantic shift in our thinking to embrace Paul’s spirit that welcomes weakness because it allows Jesus to shine. Let’s look again at Paul’s heart coming through his pen. Verses 6 through the first part of verse 9:

6 Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.
9 But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”

Now, it is important to recognize that our call to humility is not because we realize we are nothing. For Paul, it was the exact opposite – he had been granted an extreme privilege – taken into heaven and given secrets that he couldn’t even divulge. God knew the persecutions that were in store for Paul and it is likely that his close communion with God kept his perspective in tact.

Because of the gifts that Paul had been given, God sent him a reminder of the limitations that come to every human, whether they are children of God or not. Paul was given a thorn in the flesh. Well, technically, Satan provided the pain, but Paul understood it to be in God’s plan for his life.

So, what was his thorn in the flesh? You may have a pretty strong opinion, and if you do, then you have a pretty strong opinion – and that’s all. One thing we know for sure it was not – his wife! Paul wasn’t married, so ladies, you are off the hook. I imagine some of you ladies would say to me, “Come spend a few hours at our house – you will see who the thorn is!” All kinds of physical and emotional ailments have been offered as possibilities. I doubt seriously that it was a struggle with sin. It is far more likely it was physical or emotional malady. Hey, when you think about it, it is probably a good thing that God leaves it unrecorded because it leaves room for fairly broad application. You and I both may have a thorn in the flesh, but they may have a very different look.

It is not that Paul initially welcomed his particular thorn. In the same way Jesus pleaded for God to accomplish our salvation apart from His sacrifice on the cross, Paul begged God, three times, to take the thorn away. God said no. But, He gave Paul an explanation, and in so doing, He provided an explanation for us as well: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”

I don’t think there are too many Christ-followers who would say that humility is a negative quality. We would, rather, profess a desire for humility. Can we ever attain humility? Tim Keller shares just how great of a challenge it is to find humility. In the December, 2008 issue of Christianity Today, he acknowledges that we observe pride and arrogance all around us, and then says, quote, “If we notice a humble turn of mind in ourselves, we immediately become smug - but that is pride in our humility. If we catch ourselves doing that we will be particularly impressed with how nuanced and subtle we have become.” End quote. Indeed. You know that struggle, don’t you?

It is never a bad thing to be in a place that requires humility on our part. A physical handicap, a medical condition, a job loss, a family issue – you fill in the blank. There are all kinds of circumstances that cause us to make a choice about our response to the curves that life – no, Satan – no, God throws our way. Will we rest in God’s will for our lives and be humble, or will we take the easy route and succumb to humiliation? There is a difference, you know. Humility brings a positive spirit, an acceptance of our place in God’s world, in God’s kingdom. Humiliation, on the other hand, is the opposite, almost – it is a negative spirit that can manifest itself in absolute despair, or angry defiance. We can find ourselves humiliated when things go badly and when our security is based in who we are rather than in who God is, or in who we are in Jesus.

Humility begins when we rest in Jesus’ words to Paul, and thus, to all of His followers: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Most of us want to shine in this world. We want others to be proud of us, to admire us. But – Jesus doesn’t want us to shine. He wants to shine through us! And, if we walk closely with Him, we will want the same thing. Which would you rather have – you shining or Jesus shining in you? Well, theoretically we would prefer for Jesus to shine through us – but, since we are not really sure what it looks like, let’s go with “me” shining.

No, let’s don’t! It’s 2009 – let’s get over ourselves and allow Jesus’ power to come through us in our weaknesses. And, Jesus’ power in our lives should be our motivation to accept the messengers of humility in our lives. It is not that we welcome hardship in a stoic kind of way so that we can feel good about our strong will and self-discipline. Paul said that he would gladly boast in his own weaknesses so that the power of Christ could rest upon him. Do not miss this point! It is the same language that was used in John 1:14, where we are told that Jesus came to this earth and dwelt among us – or, literally, pitched His tent among us. In the same way, the power of Jesus rests on – or, Jesus pitches His tent among – the weak.

Now, I don’t know about you, but that seems backwards to me. Most of us do not think of Jesus pitching His tent among the weak. We think that we will find Him among the strong and the successful. Not so, according to God, and who are you going to go with, God or society? God, or the contemporary church? We ought to go with God.

So, stop and let 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 wash over your soul. I will give you just a moment to read those verses and think about them.

Verse 10: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.” Calamities, for goodness sake! The man was content with calamities! But notice how carefully his words are chosen. He didn’t say that he sought out hardships. Paul was no fanatic that found some sort of psychological satisfaction in self-inflicted troubles. He simply said that he was content with troubles when they came. And, he has already given the reason he was content with circumstances that forced him to be humble – it was for the sake of Christ! And, in those circumstances, Paul found personal gain, also – “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

We tend to go to great lengths to hide our weaknesses, don’t we? Even though we are well acquainted with the teachings of Scripture, we can easily find ourselves thinking – even if it is subconsciously – that troubles in our lives indicate a character flaw, or worse, judgment on our lives from God. Well, we worry that others think that, and so we hide.

But, what if this passage were true? Of course we believe it is true, but we have not embraced it as fully as we should, have we? One of the reasons we fail to actually sell out totally to the truth of this passage is that we are so full of ourselves. It’s 2009. It’s time we get past that. It is time we rest in God’s will for our lives. That doesn’t mean we quit working to make our circumstances better, but we must, for the sake of Christ, humbly accept the thorn in the flesh, the weaknesses that God has built into our lives. When I am weak, then I am strong. But I have to get over myself to get there. Let’s pray.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My new address - and a few words about the blog

I was blessed to hear from many of my good friends this past Christmas - I received quite a few Christmas cards. Most all of them went, initially, to my old address in Buies Creek. I now live in Fuquay-Varina and wanted to share my new address - not that I am expecting any more Christmas cards! I now live at 1408 Old Bramble Lane, Fuquay-Varina, NC 27526. Also, my e-mail address is

It is not unusual to receive gentle reminders from some of you that there are still people reading this blog. In the next day or two, I am going to publish the sermon I preached this past Sunday - which, could be viewed as a substitute (cop-out) for writing, but I know that many of you do not come to Grace, nor do you listen to the sermons on our website (I almost never listen to sermons online - probably a bad thing), and when I think you might be interested in a particular message, I publish it. This past Sunday was somewhat of a New Year's sermon, about letting Christ be our strength in places of weakness (from 2 Corinthians 12).

Beginning this coming Sunday (Jan. 18th), I will be starting a series on the Trinity. There is a possibility that I will be writing, here, about this study and seeing if there is any interest in interacting about this most important doctrine in Scripture. Our Home Fellowships have already begun study on the topic and there seems to be significant interest.

Thank you for visiting here and for your prayers!