Ouch! There's That Thorn-In-The-Flesh Thing Again!

You've probably heard of it...Paul's thorn in the flesh. There has been much debate over what this "thorn in the flesh" was the Apostle Paul struggled with. Here is the Scripture from which it comes. "Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me - to keep me from exalting myself!" (2 Corinthians 12:7)

Paul made it clear WHY he experienced this thorn in the flesh. To keep him from exalting himself (being prideful), concerning the incredible revelations he had had. He was caught up to Paradise some fourteen years earlier. He said it twice: "...to keep me from exalting myself"...in the above verse. So it is clear why he received this thorn in the flesh.

I'm pretty sure this thorn in the flesh was not a sickness, crippling disease, or some physical disorder. He clearly states this thorn in the flesh is a "...messenger of Satan..." Yes, a messenger of Satan. So let me ask you, what do messengers do? They deliver messages.

Paul implored the Lord three times that this messenger of Satan (a.k.a. a thorn in the flesh) might leave him. And I believe three times God's response was, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

If you think about it, this message from Satan had a two-fold purpose. First, to keep Paul humble. And second, to promote God's infinite grace. Is God awesome or what! A messenger from Satan is nothing more than a pawn in the hand of our mighty God!

What would a messenger of Satan, given to Paul, say to Paul? I will venture to say it had to do with his past. Paul was a very bad dude before he met Jesus. "But Saul (later called Paul) began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison." (Acts 8:3) He continuously made threats of prison and even murder, to those who were disciples of Jesus. He was on his way to Damascus with permission to apprehend and drag back to prison, men and women who professed Christ, when he met Jesus himself!

Paul makes this statement some time after his conversion..."I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (1 Corinthians 15:9) This is not simply Paul's humility speaking. It's obvious he struggled with the fact he persecuted the very church he now loved and served.

We know Satan is a liar. But he is also the accuser. Even in your life and my life, the enemy accuses us of our past failures and mistakes; much of what is true! We all have done things we regret; things we are ashamed of. The enemy is always accusing. But listen to Paul's next statement: "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain..." (1 Corinthians 15:10) This is the power of God's grace! Even though Paul couldn't deny such accusations, God made him who and what he was. Paul's right-standing with God was not based on what he had done, but on who God is! No matter what we've done, or how we've failed, God's grace is sufficient!

When Paul implored the Lord to remove this thorn in the flesh, God replied, "It doesn't matter if you violently ravaged my church and drug folks from their homes to prison, My grace makes you innocent in my eyes! And that's more than enough for you!" (Steve's slight paraphrase.)
 
The message from Satan was humbling, because Paul was ashamed of what he had done in the past. But the same message was the ground for God's infinite grace to be applied in his life! The grace of God was sufficient not for Paul to hang on and bear the shame of his past. Instead, it was sufficient to make Paul completely innocent before God, no matter what he had done. God's grace was more than enough to make Paul a powerful vessel through which this grace flowed.
 
Why did Paul implore the Lord to remove this thorn in the flesh only 3 times? Why not more? Because the third time he got it! He understood it! He understood now - that in spite of his past, in spite of his short-comings, and in spite of his human weaknesses, that by God's grace he was what he was.
 
When the enemy comes to you with a message about your past, be humbled by the fact that it may have happened. But be encouraged by the fact that the grace of God He has made you innocent in His eyes. Through His grace you are what you are. And what you are is awesome, because He is awesome!

Where Is God? Better Question: Where Are You?

It's a pretty messed up world out there nowadays. You don't have to look long and far to see that! This election year is a microcosm of the state of our nation, and world. It would be very easy for one to decide things are hopeless. But actually things are not hopeless.

The same God who created light and darkness, along with the entire universe, is still the same God. He hasn't changed. He never promised the world would get better and better. What He did promise however, is that He would never leave us or forsake us. Even for the non-believer, Jesus stands ready with open arms to receive to Himself, whoever will call upon His name.

From Hebrews 13, "...for He Himself has said, 'I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,' so that we confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid, what shall man do to me?" Just before Jesus returned to the Father He said, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28: 20) This means that through the presence and power of His Spirit, Jesus is just as present among us as He has always been!

So if Jesus is still here, where is He? A better question is, if Jesus is still here, where are you? Are you drawing closer to Him as things seem to get worse? Are you seeking earnestly the One the Bible refers to as the Anchor of your soul? The Apostle James said, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you..." There is no reason that any born-again believer should tossed here and there by the winds of adversity!

It's only when we draw near to Him, that we understand He will never leave us nor forsake us. And only from that understanding can we say with boldness and confidence, "The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid, what shall man do to me?" In these present times, without drawing closer to Jesus, we become the most consumed with what man can (and might) do to us!

Be encouraged friend. Jesus is alive, present, and accounted for. He is in the hearts of those who have received Him. He is on the lives of those baptized in His Spirit, with power and might. Be encouraged! The greatest days for His church are just ahead! Don't be paralyzed by fear and intimidation. Instead, draw near to Him, and walk in His boldness and confidence. Believe in what He has said! Take refuge in His presence, and in the mighty fortress of His word!

In Matthew 16:18 Jesus supernaturally revealed to Peter the incredible foundation of His church; and how He would build upon it! He referred to this revelation as a "rock". He said, "...upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." More than 2000 years later, His church still flourishes! It may seem dark, but Hell's gates haven't prevailed. They won't!

Yes, darkness is growing. But God's grace and power increases even more. The darker the night, the brighter the light! Your light shines brightest when you pursue Jesus in the midst of the darkness. Don't lose hope. Instead take refuge in the God of hope and peace. Don't delay. Draw close to Him now!

Are You An Actor, Or A Reactor?

Some folks tend to react to things in life. You know, they live in a closed world, and things go well until someone or something invades their realm just a bit. This provokes a reaction to the situation. And then others tend to "act" on principles that remove the impulse to "react" to people and things.
 
Let me ask you something. When you meet a stranger on the side-walk, or walking through the mall (or anywhere), do you wait on them to smile and greet you? If you're a waiter, you probably never give strangers a greeting, or a smile; unless they greet you first. Then you react to their greeting. I decided years ago, I was going to speak first. Not only to strangers, but to church members and co-workers as well. 99.99999% of the time I get a reaction. And of that percentage, 99.99999% is positive! I simply love that.
 
I know from working with people that most folks just don't love their jobs. So, especially early on in the day, most people are not in the best of moods. Knowing this, I make it a point to offer smiles and greetings, especially to those folks who seem to need them. I never get negative reactions. Sometimes they are less than energetic, but that's Ok because I accomplish my part to act, not always react.
 
I've had several opportunities to react to irate customers over the years. But listen to this. I have already decided what my response will be. Did you catch that? It's not a reaction, it is a response. I have determined that since I have to respond to an unhappy customer, I will respond in a predetermined, positive manner. Not because I always feel so positive, but because I know what a calm, positive response will do. This is what the Book says, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh answer stirs up anger." (Proverbs 15:1) I have seen this truth displayed among we humans over and over through the years. A harsh word, provokes a harsh reaction. But after receiving a harsh, critical word from someone, what if we are prepared to "respond" with a gentle answer? I've seen many volatile situations diffused by a soft, gentle answer. Again, it's not always easy, but it works. And, in order to respond gently, you must determine beforehand that you will do so!
 
Truthfully, it is more difficult to be an actor, instead of a reactor. With our human nature comes the desire to defend ourselves when harsh words are launched our way. But those who live by God's Spirit, and His Word, are learning what the Golden Rule really means; and how incredibly powerful it is when applied in our lives. "In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you..." (Matthew 7:12) Think about it. How do you want people to treat you? Well, treat them the same way! Jesus makes it possible as He lives in us and we allow Him to work in us.
 
Please remember this very simple statement. An actor is one who acts first, or has predetermined how they will respond to any harsh words. He or she acts or responds with principles from God's Word that remove the impulse to react. When we act, there is no need to react. And when we are prepared to respond positively, our response replace any negative reaction. Blessings!