Paul’s Growth in Suffering

Take a look at 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 to see what Paul learned during some horrific and trying times in his life. Paul admits that he and his traveling companions were “so utterly burdened beyond our strength.”

While we won’t focus in this article on the trials and pain, we will zoom in on what Paul learned through his trials. What growth did Paul experience through the pain?

  • He praised God and blessed Him as the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). The suffering was abundant but so was the comfort from God (2 Corinthians 1:5). Paul came through the suffering with a fresh focus on God and he praised and blessed God. Suffering can lead us to see how awesome and good our God is.
  • He was able to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Paul’s eyes were focused on others after his suffering. That’s one thing we learn from suffering, we learn how to see others with compassion and empathy.
  • He saw his sufferings were for others, and helped them grow (2 Corinthians 1:6). Sometimes our pain is for the benefit of others. When we come through the fires of trials and we are still walking with God, that gives courage to the others around us!
  • He grew in a bond of fellowship with his fellow brethren who also had partaken in the suffering (2 Corinthians 1:7). The Corinthians and Paul shared in the same sufferings, but they shared in the same fellowship, intimacy and comfort from God. They became a “band of brothers” like those who fight in war.
  • He knew his trials helped him rely on God who raises the dead and delivers us from dangers (2 Corinthians 1:9-10). Paul said he learned not to rely on himself for deliverance, but on God who alone can deliver. Even Paul had to learn not to trust himself but trust in God.
  • “On him we have set our hope that He will deliver us again” (2 Corinthians 1:10). Paul’s hope grew and became solidified through his suffering. He went from great despair (vs. 8) to unshaken hope (vs. 10).

How have you personally grown through your own trials? What new lessons have you learned through the pain?

Moving from Covetousness to Contentment

Philippians 4:11-13 – Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

The apostle Paul admitted in Romans 7 that the command, “You shall not covet” was one with which he really struggled. In fact, he said he was full of “all kinds of covetousness” (Romans 7:8). He clearly struggled being thankful for what he had, so we can safely assume that if he was coveting, that he was also jealousy and envious. It all goes together.

But later in Paul’s life, Paul had “learned” to be content in whatever situation he found himself. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart, he transformed from a covetous,  envious person to a contented person. Take note that he wrote Philippians from prison in Rome. He took a pretty hard route to get there, too. Just read Acts 21-28 to see what he endured. Yet, he had learned the secret of facing life’s ups and downs.

Look at Paul’s focus, just in the book of Philippians:

  • Paul chose to be thankful (Philippians 1:3-6; 4:6). Thankfulness is a choice and it is powerful to help us through anxieties, envy, etc.
  • Bad things happened to him, but he made a choice to see how those events actually turned out to further the gospel (Philippians 1:12-14).
  • Even when others were preaching with evil motives while he’s in jail, he pointed out that at least Jesus was preached (Philippians 1:15-18).
  • He was determined to think of the good work of Jesus in himself and others, even if bad things happened to him while good things happened to others (Philippians 1:6; 2:12-14).
  • Paul made a decision to set aside his own righteousness, and to be filled with God’s righteousness (Philippians 3:8-10).
  • His mindset was not on the past, but on moving forward (Philippians 3:12-14).
  • Paul chose positive, spiritually minded people for his company. Look at how he spoke of men like Timothy and Epaphroditus in chapter 2. Find contented Christians and make them your pattern to follow (Philippians 3:17-19).
  • He learned to view heaven as his home, and that eventually changed his perspective on how he saw things on this earth (Philippians 3:20-21).

If we find ourselves being jealous, envious and covetousness, we can take some time to prayerfully meditate upon Philippians. Paul was a man that transformed from covetousness to peaceful contentment. The Holy Spirit can do that same work through you.

Other articles on jealousy, envy and covetousness:

Monday – It was because of envy

Tuesday – What is jealousy?

Wednesday – Jealousy versus envy

Thursday – Signs you are jealous or envious

The Holy Spirit and Me

When I was younger I heard folks around me talking down the idea that Jesus is your personal Savior. Don’t know why they wanted to make such a big deal about it, except that maybe they joined that concept of Jesus being a personal savior to some false denominational doctrine. We have to be careful about going so far to fight a false doctrine that we make the Bible say what it doesn’t say. We end up just as guilty or more than the people we are trying to correct.

But the reality is, Jesus did personally save you if you are a Christian. You have a personal, intimate relationship with the Father. The Holy Spirit was promised to you personally as a guarantee of your salvation. Paul’s conversion story is spread throughout Acts and his letters. You can see what the Lord did for him personally.

What I want to share with you today from the Word is that the Holy Spirit does save everyone the same way, through the blood of Jesus Christ. But He works on you as an individual.

  • The Spirit gives you unique gifts according to His will (1 Corinthians 12:8-11; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:7-16; 1 Peter 4:10). The “grace” of God in this sense is varied, God gives His diverse gifts to a diversity of people. You have been uniquely blessed and gifted by God, believe it!
  • He places you distinctly and personally in the body just where He wants you (1 Corinthians 12). An example of this is the specific work in a specific location the Holy Spirit had for two people, Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2).
  • The Holy Spirit knows your prayer life and the groanings of your heart. You have your own circumstances, level of faith and maturity, and unique needs. He knows you cannot pray as you ought, so He uniquely and personally connects your heart with the Father’s (Romans 8:26-27).
  • Your growth in the Spirit is individual. The fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc., Galatians 5:22-23) is not cookie-cutter, carbon-copy growth. Jesus told us that some produce 30 fold, others produce 60 fold and others produce 100 fold (Matthew 13:23).
  • He has begun a good work in you (Philippians 1:6) and He is creating in you both the desire and the action (Philippians 2:13).
  • Think of the 4 gospel accounts. The product from beginning to end was the work of the Holy Spirit, but each gospel account reflects the personality, background, language, experiences, and research of the author.

More could be said, but I write this to encourage you to be thankful and stand in awe of how the Holy Spirit works uniquely in each of us to transform us into Jesus’ image and to make us fit for the Lord’s service.

The Person, the Word and the Holy Spirit

Take a minute to read 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10. The text is at the end of this post.

What I saw here is that when Paul preached, three things were effective in helping the hearts of the Thessalonians to turn from idols to serve God.

  • The Word (verse 5).
  • The Powerful working of the Holy Spirit (verse 5).
  • Paul and the other preachers’ examples (verse 5).

Also take notice that the Thessalonians became “imitators” of Paul and the other ministers (verse 6). Look at what happened.

  • They received the Word (verse 6) and they themselves sounded out the word (verse 8).
  • The Holy Spirit created His fruit within them…Joy (verse 6).
  • They in turn became examples to people everywhere (verse 7-10).

So remember, our example matters when it comes to preaching the word to others. Read 1 Thessalonians 2 to see the kind of example and character Paul demonstrated toward them. It also is very important to remember that the Holy Spirit is at work, too. As we are preaching the word, our example and the working of the Holy Spirit also has a tremendous impact on the conversion of souls!

1 Thessalonians 1:4-10 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

 

He grew in faith

Abraham’s great unwavering faith did not happen overnight. He grew in faith.

Romans 4:16-25
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring–not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”–in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.
No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”
But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone,but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

We are told by Paul in Romans 4 that Abraham did not “weaken in faith” or “waver” at the promise, yet when you read Genesis you see a lot of wavering. But what we must see is what Paul pointed out about Abraham’s faith here in Romans 4. It grew! He grew in faith! Abraham became fully convinced over time. Abram (“father”) turned into Abraham (“father of a multitude”). As Abraham grew in his faith and continued to give glory to God, he became fully convinced that God was able to do whatever He promised.

You will see below the times Abraham and Sarah wavered as they “grew in faith.”

Genesis 12 – Abraham lied to project himself. There was no need to lie. If God had promised Abraham and Sarah that they would conceive and bear a child, nobody would have the power to kill Abraham.

Genesis 15 – Abraham asked God, “Where is the son you promised me?” God promised Abraham again, and he believed. Genesis 15:6 is often quoted in the New Testament. But notice what happens in the next chapter of Genesis.

Genesis 16 – Abraham and Sarah came up with an alternate plan to bring the promised son into the world. Sarah convinced Abraham to go into her servant girl, Hagar, and have a son. Ishmael was born.

Genesis 17 – Abraham fell on his face and laughed at God’s promise of him and Sarah having a son. He also begged God that Ishmael might be considered the promised son.

Genesis 18 – Sarah also laughed at God’s promise.

Genesis 20 – Abraham lied again to protect himself. See Genesis 12. It was unnecessary to lie. God’s promise of a “multitude of nations” through Abraham showed that Abraham was not going to be killed at that point.

Now, consider what happened after Isaac was born. God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to Him. Look at where Abraham’s faith had come. He did not lie. He did not waver. He did not try to form an alternate plan. He did not fall on his face and laugh and ask for another way. Abraham just did what God said.

But what gave Abraham such strength to offer up Isaac? His strong faith. Look at what Hebrews says about what Abraham’s faith did for him.

Hebrews 11:17-19
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

By this point, Abraham had such trust in God’s promises that he concluded by faith that if Isaac was killed on that altar, then God would raise him from the dead. That’s incredible faith!

But remember that Abraham did not get to that faith overnight. He grew in faith. Just like you and me. Growth is a process.

I would encourage you to go back over those chapters and take note of all of the great moments of Abraham’s faith. We can list out our failings or moments of weakness in faith, but can we also look back at the times we stood strong in faith? Abraham left everything to go to a strange land (Gen. 12). He showed great humility and generosity to his nephew Lot (Gen. 13). Abraham fought for and rescued Lot (Genesis 14). He trusted in God’s promises (Gen. 15). He obeyed God and was circumcised at 99 years old (Gen. 17)! Abraham showed generosity toward strangers which turned out to be angels (Gen. 18). He prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18), and he also prayed for Lot (Genesis 19). As you think about Abraham, think about your own faith. You are growing. Don’t just focus on the failings, focus on the victories!

Yosemite – Benefits of Fire

Our family watched this PBS Nature Video this week, and it was about Yosemite National Park. There were some really cool things in this video, but here is something that struck us. They started talking about the Sequoia trees and how fire is necessary for their reproduction. For a century people were trying to “suppress” the forest fires, and the thing people were with good motives trying to stop was the actual thing that was necessary for promoting the reproduction of the sequoias. Fires have actually been a benefit to the health of the forest, even though it has been absolutely devastating to those who live nearby.

The forest fires clear away the debris on the forest floor, and the heat from the fire opens the cones and the seeds drop on the forest floor. Of course you can see that the fires have scarred and permanently damaged the Sequoias, but the forest thrives and is healthy because the fire has promoted the growth of new Sequoias.

I’ve stood inside these trees. They are massive. I’ve looked up from within the hollow inside of these gigantic trees that are blackened from fire and lightning damage. Yet, the the forest is stronger for it.

That’s what I want to leave you with today. We can try to “suppress” the trials and adversity and fires that come our way, but consider that those things are actually clearing away the debris and creating strength within us and growth in others around us.

1 Peter 1:7-9 – so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

 

Full Episode

 

Spiritual Diet and Exercise

 For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. (1 Timothy 4:8-9)

Simple lesson for today that I have learned and relearned in my life…good health (assuming no significant medical condition) is a balanced diet and consistent exercise.  When I am watching what I eat and setting aside time for exercise…I feel and look better.

The verses above tell us that it is important to exercise and there are a lot of other places in the bible that tell us we should take care of the body God has given us.  Paul often used metaphors from athletics, as he is here, to teach us about spiritual health.  We should exercise physically and there will be profit in it but what really matters is exercising spiritually and growing in godliness.  This is both profitable in this life but also in the next.  Spiritual health is supremely important and we can exercise towards it.

A steady diet of God’s word and consistent exercising of our prayer muscles will result in spiritual health just as a good balanced diet and exercise routine will benefit our physical health.  This, as Paul says, is a “faithful saying” and something we should accept and incorporate into our lives.

Here’s a faithful Blackmer saying…”abs start in the kitchen” and I often say it making the point to my teenage sons that just because you are physically active doesn’t mean you will look physically fit.  You need to watch what you eat and put into your body too.

Well, I am going to say today, “godliness starts in the Word” and meditating and praying God’s word will result in our being and looking spiritually fit.  That doesn’t profit just a little but is eternally profitable.

 

 

Disciples, Baptism, Teaching

Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (19) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The passage above is called by many the Great Commission. Jesus sent out His followers to the whole world to preach the good news to all people. For this morning, I wanted to make a few observations about this passage.

A disciple is a student. We are told to make disciples, but I believe that phrase “make disciples” means on our part we are to teach. We cannot “make” anyone learn. But if we are constantly teaching others, there will be those who listen and want to become students of Jesus. Our mission is just like that of Philip with the Ethiopian…preach the good news about Jesus (Acts 8:35).

We don’t teach all things Jesus commanded BEFORE someone is baptized and becomes a Christian. What does a person have to know in order to become a Christian? It’s pretty basic, isn’t it? They have to know Jesus and Him crucified. We don’t have to go into a long series of studies on learning everything about how a Christian is to behave or how the church is to worship. That all comes later. Are we trying to make sure a person has all the religious answers so they can pass the test and be approved to become a Christian? If so, we’ve got it all wrong.

We keep teaching. The work is not over when someone becomes a Christian. Too many times Christians have dropped the ball on this matter. We work so hard to help someone become a Christian, and once they obey the gospel, we move on to the next person who needs to become a Christian. It’s like the assumption is made that all the other stuff they need to know is going to be learned by osmosis. Would we take a newborn baby, set it in a crib and walk away for months? That would be negligent homicide. Jesus told us that the bulk of teaching happens AFTER the person becomes a Christian. We can’t stop teaching, instructing, encouraging, etc.

Along with that is to understand that a person who comes up from the waters of baptism is not going to understand a lot of things you and I have know for decades and maybe even take for granted. What are God’s guidelines for marriage? How do you live a godly life? What does it mean to love others in relationships? How do you worship God? Why do we need to be part of a local congregation?

Let’s remember to keep teaching. Keep in mind that we don’t have to shove all the word of God into people’s heads before they become Christians. But also, remember that we all need to be taught continuously after we become Christians. There will never be a time when we no longer need to be taught all that Jesus said.

Grow in the Grace

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18).

I heard a lesson last week that referred to this passage about growing in grace. The preacher talked about how we do not grow in condemnation and guilt, but we grow in grace. Grace is the fertile soil in which our souls will flourish and grow.

This is just as true for our kids, our spouses, our friends, etc. If we seek the growth of others, we have to remember that people grow in an environment of grace. Many of us, if not all of us, have experienced a relationship based upon guilt, shame and condemnation. Whether that came from a parent, from the pulpit or from people in authority at work or school, that kind of condemnation crippled us and stunted our growth.

If you are walking around afraid to mess up because of how those around you treat you when you fail, then you understand what condemnation and guilt will do for you. The apostle Paul understood the agony of seeking perfection in law-keeping and the guilt and condemnation it brought with it. He cried out, “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). That’s how a lot of us walk around, and sadly that’s how a lot of us treat others. Shame. Guilt. Condemnation. Follow the rules…perfectly. Don’t mess up.

Read the next verse, where Paul again cries out, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ my Lord!” (Romans 7:25). Also read what Paul wrote just a few verses later, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Does God expect you to grow in fear that if you mess up, He is going to zap you? No, He holds you in His embrace as you grow, as you stumble, as you fall and as you get back up. His assurances and promises are there with you that He will never leave you nor forsake you. Nothing can separate you from His love (Romans 8:38-39). He has begun a good work in you, and He will see it to completion (Philippians 1:6). That is not a shame and guilt-based relationship, that is love, mercy and grace-based relationship.

It would be helpful if we took out a “legal” pad, and write down as many verses as we can find in the Bible about Gods’ love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and longsuffering. Remind yourself that you are in a relationship of grace, security and mercy. You are safe in the arms of Jesus because of His blood. If we are safe in Jesus, then others around us will be treated the same way (Romans 15:7).

No one had the strength to subdue him

“He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.” Mark 5:3-5

No one could bind him…No one had the strength to subdue him. This man wasn’t fit to live among people. Only Jesus could heal what was wrong with this demon-possessed man. People of the village were trying to use their own strength to harness, control and stop this man, but it was the spirit inside that was giving the man this strength and destructive power.

The man didn’t need chains and shackles, they were useless. He needed Jesus. Look in Mark 5:1-20 to see how Jesus got inside of this man and changed him from the inside out. Once the man’s insides changed, then the outside reflected that spiritual transformation. This formerly demon-possessed man became a powerful evangelist for Jesus! But that didn’t happen until the demons within were cast out.

Again, it is Jesus that makes you and me fit to live among people. We may try to harness, manage or control the behavior and words of others, but it is Jesus that really has the power to release the “demon” within. Those “demons” can be things like guilt, past abuse, shame, addictions, etc. If we find ourselves breaking chains and shackles, going around in a rage, and cutting ourselves with stones, then the real problem is what is going on deep down inside of us. Until we truly get at peace with ourselves and with Jesus, then we will be like this man living in a cave howling at the moon.

In our relationships, we must focus more on root causes and not symptoms.