A Thorny Situation

February 29, 2016

To keep me from becoming conceited … there was given me a thorn in my flesh. – 2 Corinthians 12:7

The apostle Paul had a serious problem. The problem was that something was wrong in his body, and he suffered because of it. We have no idea what this physical problem was. Maybe he had to grapple with crippling pain. Maybe his eyesight had gone bad. Maybe he had severe arthritis. Maybe he had terrible digestive trouble. Maybe he had seizures. Maybe it was his heart. Maybe it was his lungs. Maybe what vexed him was something completely different. All we know is that this physical problem was serious and that the burden on him was profound. Paul simply described it as “a thorn in my flesh”.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Paul prayed about this physical problem. Paul asked the Lord to remove his thorn in the flesh. And, in love, the Lord answered Paul’s prayer.

His answer was “No.”

In his perfect wisdom, the Lord knew that this debilitating physical problem was necessary for Paul and his ministry. It gave Paul perspective. It reminded Paul that, on his own, he was frail and weak. As a result, he never forgot that his real strength was in the Lord and in his gospel. With that thought in mind Paul later concluded, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

What is the thorn in your life? Perhaps it is chronic illness. Perhaps it is chronic pain. Perhaps it is a lifelong struggle with depression. Perhaps it is a deep emotional scar from an old wound. Perhaps it is a thorn only you and your Lord understand.

If, for the time being, the Lord has chosen to leave that thorn in you, just remember – he does this in love. It may be to give you perspective. It may be to nurture your compassion for others. It may be to keep your eyes fixed on the One who has washed your sins away at the cross and who lives to fulfill his every promise to you. Whatever the reason, never forget that there is love in that thorn – God’s love for you in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord, when you choose to let a painful thorn remain, remind me that even that thorn overflows with your love. Amen.


Third Sunday in Lent

February 28, 2016

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Third Wednesday in Lent

February 24, 2016

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From Alien to Citizenship

February 22, 2016

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. – Colossains 1:21-22

Illegal alien. Perhaps those two words leave a bad taste in your mouth because you find it demeaning to talk that way about another human being. Maybe, though, you feel those words form an appropriately descriptive phrase for a person who has improperly entered or lingered in a country not their own. There are heated debates about what a country’s immigration policy should be and how it should be enforced. Starting or continuing that discussion is not the reason for calling our attention to those words.

Today let’s focus on a truth that we can all agree upon: There is a big difference between aliens and citizens. Citizens have rights and privileges that are not granted to aliens. Aliens are surrounded by a language and customs that are foreign to them, things that are altogether familiar to citizens. Aliens do not look like or sound like citizens. They often feel out of place, unwanted, and vulnerable. If they are from a nation that is openly hostile to their new home, they may feel hated and may fear for their safety.

The life of aliens can be difficult. But a far more grave situation is the one in which all people find themselves by nature: we are aliens and enemies of God “because of…evil behavior.” We sometimes reserve such terminology for the worst of the worst in our society. But the Bible clearly says that all sin, every breaking of God’s commands, is evil in his sight. Lying and lusting, hating and hurting, gossiping and grudge-holding, abuse and abdication of responsibility, drunkenness and dirty looks are all sin. Sin alienates us from God and his kingdom. Enemies of God rightly fear for their eternal safety.

But now listen carefully to what the apostle Paul says: “You were alienated from God…now [God] has reconciled you.” God stepped in to change our status with him. When we wanted and knew only hostility and war with God, he answered with a peace-making treaty. When we were the enemies of God, he acted towards us as a friend. When we were far from knowing and trusting God, he brought us near and gave us the full rights of citizenship. He did it by sending his only Son as Savior. Christ went to his own death with our sins on his soul to reconcile us to God, to make peace between the holy God and sinful people. Jesus rose again to secure our standing as first-class citizens. Through faith in him we stand without any blemishes that would mark us as unworthy of that status. In Christ we appear with the holiness that gives us a rightful place beside God. We need not fear any angry accusation from the King of heaven because Christ took every accusation warranted by our sin and removed it from his sight forever. What a change! What a gift from a gracious God! Rejoice, citizens of the kingdom of God, and live joyfully in the freedom and fullness of citizenship.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for making me a citizen in the kingdom of God because of the work of Jesus. Help me live confidently and joyfully as a citizen of your kingdom even as I live out my life on this earth. Amen.

Second Sunday in Lent

February 21, 2016

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Second Wednesday in Lent

February 17, 2016

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A Heart of Stone on Valentines Day?

February 15, 2016

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. – Ezekiel 36:26

A heart of stone is heavy baggage to carry around. I often feel the weight of a hard heart when I am impatient with my fellow believers. When someone offends me or treats me badly my natural inclination is to turn away from them in order to protect myself. But God has given us a new heart, a heart of flesh. What does this mean? In reality a heart of stone and a heart of flesh weigh exactly the same. They carry the same life experiences and the same trials. The difference between a heart of stone and a heart of flesh is the way that they react. Hearts of stone do not easily forgive and find fault in the actions of others. They are quickly angered and often hold grudges. Hearts of flesh provide forgiveness, even when it is difficult. They extend grace freely, remembering Christ’s great love for all creation.

This seems like a stark contrast, and it is! Because of our sinful nature we will be tempted daily to harden our hearts. That is why it is important to turn to Jesus, the one who has promised us a new spirit and a heart of flesh! When we ask for these things in prayer we can be confident that he will hear us and will help us to cultivate his love in our lives.

Prayer: Dear Lord, how easy it is to carry around the heavy baggage of a heart of stone! When I feel my heart begin to harden help me to remember your love for me. Please soften my heart and allow forgiveness, love, and grace to fill it. I pray in your name. Amen.