Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Do You Know The How And Have You ASKED?

Okay. I admit it.

I hate to admit it. But I do.

Those of you who know me personally, know that I'm rather conservative. I've even been called: old-fashioned, straight-laced, ... oh ... and out-of-touch.

I don't watch wild, racy television shows (as a general rule). I don't like movies where it's all about either foul language or sex and nudity.

So what am I admitting to? And why?


On occasion...

I have been known to catch an episode or two of ...

Desperate Housewives.

There. I said it. And let me tell you why I shared this with you today ...

On a recent episode, Lynnette, who has been through so much with cancer and the tornado and such, started out on a spiritual quest. It was sparked by seeing her neighbors going to church each week and she decided it was time to join them.

She chooses to go to Bree's church and afterwards drills the minister with a series of questions that embarrasses Bree.

Let me cut to why this particular episode merits a place in Little Lessons.

Lynnette chose to go to Bree’s church because she had seen Bree go through some tough times herself. At one point she says to Bree “I thought your faith helped you get through them.”

“It did!” Bree exclaimed brightly.
“How?” Lynnette answered quizzically.
“It just did.” Bree smiled wide-eyed… unknowingly.

Later, they chatted some more and Lynette shared with Bree about the struggles she had been going through and Bree asked “Why didn’t you tell me?!?!?!”

And Lynnette replied…
Get this…
To me this is huge…

“Why didn’t you ask?”

Wow. Ouch.

Two powerful lessons jump out at me from this most unlikely source.

One is: We need to be able to put into words “How” our faith and trust in our Loving Lord gets us through the hard times in life. If someone asked you today, why/how your faith in Christ got you through your last trial, would you have a ready answer … or would you say “It just did” and leave them hanging?

The second is: We need to see and reach out to the hurting around us. And guess what? They are all around us. We need to ASK and LISTEN to the response. I get so tired of people who, when they find out about a struggle that a sister or brother is going through, simply respond “Oh, I know what you are going through” or “Oh yeah, we’ve all been there” or "I understand." Don't get me wrong...sometimes we do know what they are going through because we walked a very similar road. But most times, our struggles are just enough different from theirs that we really don't know exactly what they are going through. We need to listen. Listen for clues to their real pain. And offer real hope, support and encouragement.

Will you take time today to ask a friend if everything is okay in their world? When you do, will you really listen to them? And when you’ve listened, will you set aside platitudes and really share their hurting and pain. Our Loving Lord suffered to the death while sharing in your pain. Can’t you suffer just a little with a hurting soul today?

I want to share the verse Christ put on my heart for this lesson. Please stick around to read it twice. Once from the NIV and once from the Message. The NIV is the more familiar and is just the two verses that fit this. The Message is an expanded passage and may even bring a smile to your face.

Well I’m off to confession to confess my poor TV habits … no wait! We don’t have confession in my church. Guess I’ll just have to sit here and have a personal chat with my Loving Lord about this…

1 Peter 3:15-16 (New International Version) But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

1 Peter 3:15-18 (The Message) If with heart and soul you're doing good, do you think you can be stopped? Even if you suffer for it, you're still better off. Don't give the opposition a second thought. Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you're living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick. They'll end up realizing that they're the ones who need a bath. It's better to suffer for doing good, if that's what God wants, than to be punished for doing bad. That's what
Christ did definitively: suffered because of others' sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. He went through it all—was put to death and then made alive—to bring us to God.

Monday, April 28, 2008

What is a Thorn in the Flesh?

I once heard a televangelist interview a Christian actress. The actress referred to her 'thorn in the flesh'. The televangelist replied "I got rid of mine! I just pulled it out." The actress referred back to scripture and stated that Paul asked three times for his to be removed but it wasn't. Was the televangelist saying that he was stronger than Paul?

Do we ALL have a thorn? What is a thorn?

I was sharing with a friend recently who has some very deep problems. The friend believes that their actions are okay because they are their thorn in the flesh.

What does the Bible say about thorns? When we think about them, do we do so in context?

Here is the passage from several different interpretations... 2 Corinthians 12:6-10 (Please don't skip over these. The subtle differences in wording are important.)

(New International Version)

6Even 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.
7To 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. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But 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. 10That 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.

(New Living Translation)
6 If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, 7 even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

(Contemporary English Version)

6Yet even if I did brag, I would not be foolish. I would simply be speaking the truth. But I will try not to say too much. That way, none of you will think more highly of me than you should because of what you have seen me do and say. 7Of course, I am now referring to the wonderful things I saw. One of Satan's angels was sent to make me suffer terribly, so that I would not feel too proud. 8Three times I begged the Lord to make this suffering go away. 9But he replied, "My kindness is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak." So if Christ keeps giving me his power, I will gladly brag about how weak I am. 10Yes, I am glad to be weak or insulted or mistreated or to have troubles and sufferings, if it is for Christ. Because when I am weak, I am strong.

So whether it is referred to as a 'thorn' or it is referred to as suffering brought on by one of Satan's angels, in context, it seems to me to be something that we may have, that allows Christ to reveal Himself to us. Something that in our weakness, shows His power. To me, it is not an excuse to 'do what feels good' because it is just 'my thorn'. Paul asked for it to be removed but, reading between the lines, it seems he had to face and accept this struggle throughout his lifetime.

It seems to me that Paul was at the top of his game. He was having wonderful things reveal to him. He could have become conceited or worse. This 'thing' that he had or this 'thing' that happened to him, reminded him that it wasn't all about him ... it was about Him, our Loving Lord!

When he asked to have it removed, our Loving Lord reminded Paul of His grace. Reminded him of His sufficiency. And how did Paul respond?

Was it like our post-modern friends? Did he say "Cool! If you are not going to take this from me, then I'm going to milk it for all it's worth! I'm going to do my own thing and no one is going to stop me. I can do what I want 'cause I'm covered with grace!!!" Did he?

No. He basically said "Okay. I can deal with this weakness because when I'm weak, Lord, you can show your mighty, awesome, life-changing power! I'll gladly suffer this temptation, struggle, pain if in doing so, Your power can be shown!"

Yes, that's Sharon's interpretation. So let me share with you what The Message interpretation says...

My grace is enough; it's all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

I believe "the gift" is the grace of Christ and the strength He provides. When we become weak in Him, we have the strength to say 'no' to temptation, struggles, and other 'thorns' in our life.

What does a 'thorn in the flesh' mean? How do you live with your thorns today? Have we become a 'do what feels good' society because 'it's just my thorn, ya know'? Is Christ's presence in your life showing the world that He is strong enough to help you through any temptation or is Satan winning the battle for your mind? Will you 'just let Christ take over'? Will you become weak to show His strength to your family, your friends, your community, your world?