A thorn in the flesh

Perfect people are imaginary.  They are a legend either in their own minds or the minds of those they have beguiled or both.  Nevertheless, their perfection is not real.  It’s a strange characteristic of our time that so many pursue and worship perfection when it takes very little thinking to conclude that such devotion to an imaginary notion is worthless.  Yet we want the perfect life, the perfect partner,  and the perfect body for us and all to see.  Life isn’t about perfection or bragging about it, so we all end up disappointed.sin-is-mans-last-attempt-to-perfection

The apostle Paul knew he had a problem with perfection; “I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. . . . 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.” (2 Corinthians 12:1,5-7)  Paul knew the danger of boasting; “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” (v. 8)

Perfection goes to our head and bloats the ego.  Pride is perfection’s self-appreciation. Selfishness and perfection go hand in hand.  Perfection is self-reliant and entitled to the best, the easiest and the most.  Perfection is the proud mindset of western society.  We are the best, have the most, want the most and deserve to have it all because we have so much.  Paul knew that such a mindset was an affront to God, even though he prayed for God to allow him to be perfect; “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it [the thorn] away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:8,9) God’s grace will not cover our perfection but will cover our weakness!

2-corinthians-12v9Jesus Himself would not claim to being perfectly good. When the rich young man addressed Him as such He replied; “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18) Jesus knew better than anyone, that to be human was to be weak and less than perfect. Something the entitled young man couldn’t see about himself and wouldn’t accept even from Jesus.

When we confess our failings and we embrace Jesus with all of our strength, a miracle happens. We become strong in Him; “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)

Our thorn nails us to His cross.

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At least the abuse was free?

There was a great garage that I used to bring my cars to when I was a young that always fixed your problems.  The two mechanics were brilliant and never failed to get your car running again.  The only thing was they heaped abuse and insults upon their customers for being so stupid in the choice of their vehicles.  They did so with gusto and rough sarcasm.  And we took it because we knew they could fix our cars. One day as I paid my bill I said; “Thankyou for fixing my car and to think all the abuse is free!”  They liked that!maxresdefault

The apostle Paul was dealing with a different type of ‘mechanic’ when he wrote; “For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise! For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face.” (2 Corinthians 11:19,20)The ‘fools’ Paul was talking about were false apostles who were skilled at nothing other than taking from those they claimed to serve. They were expert ‘mechanics’ at abuse and exploitation. And their ‘customers’ loved them and put up with their abuse.

Who is the bigger fool – the one who is incompetent and abusive or the one that puts up with it? Paul  tells us elsewhere that false teachers and fake preachers are very good at giving us what we want to hear; “For the time will come when men will not tolerate sound doctrine, but with itching ears they will gather around themselves teachers to suit their own desires. So they will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3,4) As a result we get what we deserve – the hidden abuse that comes with being flattered and wanting that more than having our real problems confronted.  We pay a steep price for that kind of abuse.

following-jesusFools are always exploited by bigger fools that have bigger egos and the best lies. They are such good liars they fool even themselves when they think they are above all accountability. God’s Word tells us what will happen to them; “Many will follow in their depravity, and because of them the way of the truth will be defamed. In their greed, these false teachers will exploit you with tales they have concocted. The longstanding verdict against them remains in force, and their destruction does not sleep.” (2 Peter 2:2,3)  But they don’t believe they’ll ever get caught or even that they are doing wrong.

Jesus warned us; “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:10-13)   Stick with His Word and don’t put up with bigger fools by being a fool that wants to be fooled.

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The serpent still talks

The good things of God are remarkably satisfying and simple to the point of elegance. They are always free and available to all.  They come from the Holy Spirit; “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22,23)  Each is a choice.  Each leads to more and each gift enriches those who receive it.the evil of your doings

There are those  who say  a good life is more ‘complicated’ than that.  They’re good liars. They are snakes that want to deceive and lead people away from God.  They’ll talk and sadly people listen.  The apostle Paul warned the Corinthian Church about them; “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!” (2 Corinthians 11:3,4)  This other gospel will make you look smarter in the world’s eyes.

The  ‘other’ Jesus behind the other gospel  usually ends up becoming a very demanding one because his fancy priests always insist on more; “Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you. And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, . . . ” (2 Corinthians 11:7-9)  The world has its own gospel with a fake religious Jesus. These priests of a fake Jesus shy away from confronting sin, agree with popular opinion even if it goes against God’s Word and love worldly power and privilege.

The fake gospel produces more of itself and never anything of God; “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:9-24)  In all the deceiving spirit when welcomed steals your joy to fatten itself.

Paul stood squarely against this fakery; “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) Don’t end up with them.

Listen to Jesus. “There is a judge for the one who rejects Me and does not receive My words: The word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (John 12:48)

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Measuring up

Some people struggle with low self-esteem.  They feel they will never measure up to what they should be and have given up trying to change.  Others, many others, love themselves just the way they are.  ‘There’s no need to change,’ they say to themselvelves;  ‘I measure up just fine that way I am!’self-esteem-i-love-myself

The apostle Paul cautioned the Corinthian church about getting too high of an opionion of themselves; “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.”(2 Corinthians 10:12) Self-worth for Paul wasn’t in what we are but what we bring; “For we are not overextending ourselves (as though our authority did not extend to you), for it was to you that we came with the gospel of Christ; . . . .” (v. 14)  Any ‘clay pot’ can carry this treasure even a cracked one (2 Corinthians 4:7)

i_love_jesus_classic_round_sticker-r63b77f06bd1b4897ad4fe3623d5dbbfa_v9waf_8byvr_324True self-esteem, the Bible teaches, comes from God; “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139;13,14) Jesus tells us that God knows each one of us intmately and we are precious to Him; “Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:7) God has even prepared our work for us; “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)  Our qualifications are simply the sum of His quality invested in us!  The world loves the bragging of a ‘self-made’ man.  God loves the person who shares their love of His son with others.

God’s love, and our acceptance of His love as the measure of our worth, trasnforms us.  We change our self-hate to love for God and love for others and love for ourselves.  Our self-esteem is based on being His ambassador to the world and carrying His message of love to people who need it just as much as we do.  We don’t need to brag about ourselves when we know Him.

“But ‘he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’ For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.” (2 Corinthians 10:17)

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The high places

we and the worldThe world we live in connects itself to us in an intimate and physical way.  We breathe it in and sustain ourselves on its air.  Our exhalations often become part of another’s inhalation.  We eat what the world produces and its produce becomes part of our flesh. Our mind conforms  itself to the image of the world our imaginings produce.   Our unclaimed mind is but the displacement of  the world around us by our consciousness.subdued reflection

The high places of the world are a subdued reflection of the spiritual reality that the world denies yet is governed by.  Overcoming in the world must be a spiritual victory or it is no battle at all.  The apostle Paul says; “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)  Overcoming is an act of His Spirit in our spirit.

lighted-path-441x400Mind and body follow where the spirit leads in a life of victory;  “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh; but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. The mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind of the flesh is hostile to God: It does not submit to God’s Law, nor can it do so . . . ” (Romans 8:5-7)  The greatest lie of the Devil is to tell us that there is no reality but that of our flesh and the mind of the flesh.  We have become deaf to our own spirit’s cry for victory.

This victory has a name. He is called Jesus; “God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)

Overcome in Him!

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Giving isn’t a rule.

Giving isn’t a rule, it’s a response.  Sadly some preachers and churches will enshrine giving 10% or tithing right into their membership rules or expectations. That’s not what the Bible says; “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)  There is no set figure for giving.bjauomgcaaa25ke

John Wesley didn’t preach tithing; “Render unto God not a tenth, not a third, not half, but all that is God’s (be it more or less) by employing all on yourself, your household, the household of faith and all mankind, in such a manner that you may give a good account of your stewardship when ye can be no longer stewards…”  Jesus said  the same thing when He nailed the Pharisees for neglecting their parents; “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” (Luke 11:42) Jesus preached jusitice and love for others as top priority.

There is a rule about giving – a Spiritual rule.  The apostle Paul explains; “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” (2 Corinthians 9:6) There is a congruency between giving and getting or blessing others and being blessed that is often overlooked because people would rather follow a rule than admit to the need to be blessed themselves.

manpraying-2-300God will bless us as we bless others in His name; “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 9:10)  We will be blessed and so will our church; “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. . . . Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.” (v. 11,13) This Spritual rule that governs giving and getting or blessing others and being blessed is about life and not  doctrine.

Many churches close not because of a lack of funds but because of a lack of giving to others.  Jesus said; “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (Matthew 13:12) I always thought that was harsh.  But in the perspective of blesssing others and being blessed –  it is true and righteous.

Jesus tells us plainly; “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)

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Giving – poor people ‘get’ it!

There have been many studies showing that poor people are more prone to help others and give charitably.  Why?  Because they live lives of greater ‘connectedness’ to others and so have a greater capacity to empathize with the plight of people ‘down on their luck’.  Jason Marsh explains; “the researchers found evidence that lower-class participants’ greater tendency to perform kind, helpful—or ‘pro-social’—behavior could be explained by their greater concern for egalitarian values and the well-being of other people, and their stronger feelings of compassion for others.”

The apostle Paul noted the same tendency in the churches of Macedonia; “that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality.” (2 Corinthians 8:2) Paul wasn’t advocating that people should give until they themselves became poor; “For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality.” (v. 13,14) Scripture exhorts us to equity and caring for others in need.

Paul explains that this is the pattern established by the example of Jesus’ life; “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)  For Paul, the Macedonian charity for others in need was a good comparative test of the Corinthian church’s love for the Gospel; “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.” (v. 8)   Paul was a practical man, always interested in good measures.

the least of theseJesus was very clear that our care for others, especially the poor, would be His standard for our final examination; “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ . . . , ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” (Matthew 25:37-40)  Jesus knows what it is like to be poor and in need.

Care for others in need and don’t judge them; this is mercy.

“Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

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