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?

Losing the Battle in the Brain

Proverbs 22:13 – The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!”

I was having a discussion with my young son about math recently. He was trying to do his math, and I could see he really was struggling to keep going on it. He was working on multiplication problems, and he was just going downhill mentally and emotionally. He had gotten himself worked up to where he didn’t remember 3×7, which he had used over and over. This wasn’t a knowledge problem, it was a battle of the brain problem.

When I began to look at his work, overall he had done 90 percent of it right. But he was telling himself stories, like “I don’t like Math.” “This is too hard.” “I don’t want to do this.” “I need help.” “I can’t figure it out.” Yet he had done most of the work perfectly all by himself. But now he was at the brink of tears and unable to do a simply 3×7 because of the stories he was telling himself. He was shutting down.

So, I held him close to me and hugged him and told him that he wasn’t losing the battle in the math workbook, he was losing the battle in his mind. I had him look at all the right things he had done on that page, and I had him say positive things about himself when it came to those he did right. “I am smart. I can do math. Look at all I did right. I can figure this out.” By the way, brothers and sisters in Christ, do not disregard the power of meditating on the positive and telling yourselves hopeful things (Philippians 4:8). Paul says think about what is “true,” so God does not want us to tell lies to ourselves.

You see, with this son, if he is doing art or building Legos, there is nothing too hard for him. He is designing his own amazing and complex things out of Legos (good grief he is making his own Transformers out of Legos). His artwork for a young kid is just incredible. There is nothing too hard for him there. He certainly has a gift with art and designing things.

Maybe his “gift” will never be that he excels in Calculus or Nuclear Physics, and that is fine! We would not want to push him in a direction other than his natural talents and strengths. But what we do want for all of our kids is for them to learn to win the battle of the brain.

Don’t defeat yourself before you even begin something by telling yourself I can’t do this, or it’s just too hard, or I’m just not able to figure it out. Maybe it isn’t possible for you to do that task. That might be true. For example, the only way I’m ever going to dunk a basketball is if I use a step ladder or if the rim is adjusted to 7 feet! So there are limits to what we can do, no doubt. But that’s not what I’m talking about. My point here in this article is to discuss how we can defeat ourselves from the beginning just by how we think and what we say.

I know I’ve lost that battle repeatedly, and I can see in my kids when they begin to go down that road. Look at that above passage from Proverbs, a person can tell himself there is a lion in the streets when no such lion exists. There is no real lion! The man did not step out to work because he told himself a wrong story in his brain.

What stories are you telling yourself? Are you losing the battle of the brain because of what you are saying to yourself?

For Now We Live

For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord (1 Thessalonians 3:8).

When you read 1 Thessalonians 3, you can see the heart of Paul was anxious as he thought about the brethren in Thessalonica. He was really concerned about them and how they were doing spiritually, now that he was gone.

Two times in chapter 3 the phrase, “When we could bear it no longer” is used. They couldn’t take it anymore. Paul sent Timothy over to Thessalonica to see how they were doing and bring back a report.

You can read chapter 3 to see a noticeable change in tone. Once Timothy came back with good news, Paul’s whole demeanor changed.

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
(1 Thessalonians 3:6-10)

Paul was in the middle of being persecuted for preaching the gospel, but now he could endure the trials and afflictions? Why? Because he heard good news about how his brethren the Thessalonians were doing. It gave him some more gas in his tank. His statement says it all, “for now we live if you are standing fast in the Lord.”

Grown kids need to remember this. Your stand for faith will give life to your parents. College students, remember this. When you stand for Jesus, even when your parents are not there, you cause your parents to live! You put gas in their tank. It’s amazing what we can endure when we know that others we love dearly are living strong for Jesus.

What is Jealousy?

What is jealousy anyway?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines jealous as “Hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage.” It also adds that jealousy is “intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness,” and “disposed to suspect rivalry or unfaithfulness.”

There are a couple of things to note from that definition: Hostile toward a rival and hostile toward one believed to enjoy an advantage. How do you handle a rival? What if someone comes along and threatens your authority? How do you respond when others around you just seem way more talented, positive and popular? When others have things (not just possessions) that you do not have, how does that make you feel? Does it affect how you view others, how you treat them and how you talk about them?

Yesterday we looked at the fact that jealousy is behind a lot of strife in all kinds of relationships. How was jealousy part of the equation?

  • What did Paul and his companions have that the Jews in Galatia / Thessalonica didn’t? The people, both Jews and Gentiles, were flocking to hear Paul preach the gospel. Many were hanging on every word and begging to hear those same words again the next week (Acts 13,17).
  • What did Jesus have that the Jewish leaders didn’t? Again, it was that the people (from nobility to the harlots) ran to Jesus en masse to hear His teachings, be healed by Him, and to find forgiveness and grace. The Jewish leaders just couldn’t stand it that Jesus had that much popularity (Luke 15:1-2).
  • What did Abel have that Cain didn’t? Abel’s works were righteous, Cain’s works were evil. Cain saw Abel as a rival and a threat, not as a brother and an inspiration to draw closer to God (1 John 3:12).
  • What did Joseph have that his brothers did not have? Joseph was the favorite of their father, Jacob. He enjoyed advantages and privileges that the others did not (Genesis 37).

We’ll develop this more tomorrow, Lord willing, but for now think about this. If jealousy is at the root of a lot of relationship problems, shouldn’t you and I be open to the possibility that we might be jealous of others? We might not want to think of ourselves as jealous people, but God is saying that we are and it is the building block for fights. Let’s get at the root of this problem.

God Granted Paul 276 Men

I encourage you to read Acts 27 in which Luke describes in amazing and accurate firsthand detail the dangerous journey they took by sea. Not only is the firsthand knowledge of Luke’s account an incredible witness to the accuracy of the Bible, this is just a breathtaking and emotional journey as you read what those men went through on that ship in the Mediterranean Sea. So many faith and leadership lessons can be taught here.

What I want to focus on for just a moment this morning is how Paul’s relationship with God and his leadership brought all those people safely to shore.

Notice this: When Paul is speaking to the men on the ship, he tells them about what God told him.

and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’
(Acts 27:24)

God has “granted you all those who sail with you.” What is implied here? Doesn’t it sound like Paul had specifically made a request to God for all of these men on the ship? God seems to be saying, I am giving you what you requested. These men will all safely come to shore, even if they do so swimming or floating on broken pieces of the ship.

and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.
(Acts 27:44)

276 men were on that ship (Acts 27:37). 276 men made it safely to shore, even if it was scary and ugly. And they all can be thankful for Paul’s dedication, prayers, and concern. Paul showed who he was down to his core – he deeply loved and cared for everyone on that ship. And Paul showed them the loving and mighty God he serves. When those men swam ashore and stood on the ground, they could rest assured that God keeps His promises, and God answers the prayers of the faithful.

As we go into Memorial Day weekend, let us also remember that we have made it safely through a lot of storms in our country. God is to be praised and thanked for that first and foremost. But do not forget those who sacrificed of themselves and poured our their blood because they wanted all of us to make it safely to the shores of freedom. We stand in freedom because others laid down their lives.

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.

 

Learning to Hope

Romans 4:18-21
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. 

25 years is a long time to wait, especially when you are already old and God promises you and your wife you will have a baby. Paul said after this period of time, Abraham hoped against hope and trusted God that He will deliver on His promise.

If you have been through great loss and sadness, it is hard to hope for good again, but we can learn to hope again just like Abraham and Sarah did. It takes time. But we are reminded that we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we do not stay there (Psalm 23). Take time to look at the Psalms to see the goodness of God and His wonderful works for you (Psalm 103). Remind yourself of passages in the Bible that give hope (Romans 15:4), like the story of Abraham and Sarah. Cry out to God in your pain, and He will in time heal your broken heart (Psalm 147:3). Surround yourself with encouraging people who will lift you up in your pain. I had a friend, Benjamin, who gave me an assignment to take a mason jar and fill it with accomplishments, positive things, and what God has done for me. It was an encouraging and hope-building exercise to see all the great things God has done. The jar is full. Your jar is full too. You can hope again.

Proverbs 13:12 – Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. 

But As For You

In Paul’s letters to Timothy, the apostle warns and instructs the young evangelist about many things regarding the church, including those in the church who are behaving badly. As he teaches Timothy about those things, he repeatedly turned to Timothy, and said something like, “But as for you…”

Timothy, people around you who claim to be followers of Jesus are going to behave in ungodly ways, but as for you, this is how you are to speak, think and act. Below are just a few examples of how Paul turns the attention to encourage Timothy to watch his own behavior.

Timothy people are going to love money and it is going to destroy them. But you flee these things and follow righteousness and other godly qualities!

1 Timothy 6:10-11
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

Timothy, some will bring great trouble upon the church, and eventually their folly will be known to all. But you keep following my teaching and my conduct.

2 Timothy 3:9-10
But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men. You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness,

Timothy, you will be persecuted because you want to live for God in Christ. Others around you will go from bad to worse. But as for you…keep doing what you have learned.

2 Timothy 3:12-14
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it

Timothy, times are coming when it will be hard to find folks who want to listen to the truth. But as for you, be clear-minded and do your job, even if you have to suffer.

2 Timothy 4:3-5
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Let’s ask ourselves…how many times have we allowed the bad behavior of others to influence how we think, speak and behave? Be honest.

How often do we excuse our own poor behavior on how others are acting? It happens all the time, doesn’t it. We say things like, “Well, if they wouldn’t have done this, then I wouldn’t have said what I did.” As if God is going to give us a grace pass for behaving sinfully just because others are being sinful. Cussing out someone because they treated you badly is not how it works – at least that’s what Paul is telling Timothy.

If Paul were talking to us today, I believe he would be saying the same things to us. But as for you…this is how you behave. It doesn’t matter how others are talking…this is how you talk. If others are treating you in a sinful way…this is how you behave. When others go down the wide path of loose living…you have your own path to follow. If others are being a bad example, you be a good example.

But as for you…

Has the Church Building Become Our Basket

Has the church building become our basket under which we have hidden our lights? I heard this idea posed in a sermon years ago by Jason Hardin. It is a great question. Read this passage about what Jesus wants us to be today in the world.

Matthew 5:13-16 – “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

We are salt, but if the salt doesn’t fill out it’s purpose, it’s taste, then it becomes only good for throwing down on the road for people to walk on. We are light, but what happens when we cover that light with a basket? That light is not filling out its purpose. People can’t benefit from the salt and light if the salt doesn’t taste like salt and the light doesn’t shine because it is hidden under a basket.

Have our church buildings become that basket under which we shine our light? It is really easy to shine the light at the church building. But what about at home? What about at work? What about showing that light with our neighbors and friends? Do we cover that light the rest of the week?

If we are going to work during this pandemic, either remotely or physically, are we shining that light?

Now many are confined to homes. Most folks aren’t “going to church” now. It is a sad time, but it is also a time for reflection. It’s a time to look into the mirror. God doesn’t dwell in buildings made with hands (Acts 17:24), He dwells within the Christian. People call the area in the church building where we worship the “sanctuary.” God’s throne and God’s holy presence is the “sanctuary.” And our hearts are supposed to be that “sanctuary.” Our gatherings as Christians, no matter where they may happen, are that “sanctuary.” The holy temple of God is not at a church building, it is within the human hearts of those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus.

John 4:21 – Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.

It is a time to rethink that far too many have put way too much focus on a physical location. Jesus reminded the woman at the well of this fact, God’s people can worship God in any location. God’s people are to shine his light in every location. God’s people are to be that salt in every location. Let’s make sure that all of us are being that salt and light in every circumstance, not just at a church building.

Those Who Were Scattered

Acts 8:3-4
But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word

In the days of Acts 2-7, the church at Jerusalem was huge. They were growing by the thousands. But then persecution arose, led by Saul of Tarsus (whom we know as Paul). The church was scattered everywhere. They could not all meet together as they were used to. Things had changed. Significantly. Times were dark and scary. But what did the church do?

They went everywhere preaching the word!

We are at a time where we cannot meet as we did before. Things have changed, even if for a short time. Times for many are dark and scary. But what is the call for the church today? Reach out to help others. Reach out to encourage others. Reach out to teach others. These are life changing events for many. Here is an opportunity for us to share the good news with others.

Use those phones and tablets. Take advantage of the time you have right now to say words of encouragement to others who need it. Find someone you know around you who could use words of God to help them today, and share those good words with him or her.

2 Corinthians 5:20-21
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 6:1-2
Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Hebrews 3:13
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.