The Strengths of Weakness

2 Corinthians 11.30
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
Paul frequently asked his fellow believers to pray for him. Sometimes he would simply say, “Brothers, pray for us.” Other times he would passionately plead,“Strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.” And we know why he so desperately needed their prayers.
2 Corinthians 11.24-27
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
Paul was brilliant and intense. He was a great man, a spiritual warrior, and a chosen instrument of God. Yet he needed others to pray for him. Why?
First, he knew that he could never accomplish his work apart from the grace of God: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
Second, he knew that moral growth and ministry fruitfulness came only by prayer. As he told the Philippians, “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment”(moral growth), and wrote to the Thessalonians, “Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored” (fruitfulness).
Lord, we long for grace, moral growth and fruitfulness in our lives. Thus, we know that we must meet with you in prayer. We must boast in our weaknesses apart from you, knowing that we cannot accomplish the most lasting achievements on this earth apart from your might, power, glory and love.
Let us not be lazy in praying for one another – that your grace would abound in our lives, that our love may grow in knowledge and depth of insight, and that your word may speed ahead and be honored in our lives – even as we endure hardship for our obedience like Paul did. Amen.
Today’s Reading
2 Samuel 18 (Listen – 6:16)
2 Corinthians 11 (Listen – 4:46)

How Shall We Live?

1 Corinthians 7:31
(From now on let) those who deal with the world live as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. 

Each of us has only one life. This is it. Our time is valuable and our face-to-face meeting with the Lord is imminent and real. As Paul writes, “The appointed time has grown very short … For the present form of this world is passing away.”

How shall we live?

Mourn as Though We are Not Mourning
We mourn. We are sad over great losses – e.g., family, friends, health, dreams. Yet we mourn as though we are not mourning because we know that we cannot lose our ultimate treasure – Christ’s love. Thus, our losses don’t destroy us. We say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Our losses are modest. We lose now, but win in eternity.

We rejoice. We take joy in the thousands of good gifts from God. Beautiful weather. Great food and friends. Art and music. Yet we know that these things cannot satisfy our souls. Only Christ can. Even our present fellowship with him is a mere foretaste: “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” Thus, our joys are modest. They give us tastes of what is to come.

We buy things. We don’t withdraw from commerce. Yet business doesn’t possess us. We don’t love money. Our cars, homes, e-readers, iPhones – we hold them loosely. If they are taken, we sense that they were never really ours because Christ is more valuable than anything money can buy. We’re not here on earth to own things; we’re here to lay up treasures in heaven.

Deal With The World as Though We Have No Dealings With It
We engage with the world. We don’t avoid it or approach it with spiritual dichotomies. Yet we don’t ascribe final greatness to it. We know that there are unseen things that are vastly more precious than the world. We work with all our hearts, but our full passions belong to the heavenly kingdom.

Lord, our lives are short and precious. Let us, therefore, live in death’s inevitability so that we mourn and rejoice and buy and engage as though we are not mourning or rejoicing or buying or engaging. Grow us deep in you as our ultimate treasure. Amen.


Today’s Readings

1 Samuel 26 (Listen – 4:30)
1 Corinthians 7 (Listen – 6:09)

Thwarted Plans :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (originally published April 22, 2015)

“‘The glory of grace’ is something I somehow manage to overlook in daily life. How amazing that God would give his only Son for me? That the pain of my sin would fall on his shoulders? And yet, He loves me. He loves me.” — Anna

Psalm 33:10-11
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Stephen Colbert mocked the terrorists, saying their intentions were thwarted by the very people they tried to hurt: “But here is where these cowards really don’t get. They attacked the Boston Marathon. An event celebrating people who run twenty-six miles on their day off … And when those bombs went off, there were runners who, after finishing a marathon, kept running for another two miles to the hospital to donate blood. So here’s what I know. These maniacs may have tried to make life bad for the people of Boston, but all they can ever do is show just how good those people are.”

In Psalm 33, the Psalmist sings, “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” Thousands of years ago, “lawless men” sought to silence the King of Glory, but God frustrated their plans. 

As Peter said, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

In Spectacular Sins, John Piper writes, “In the death of Christ, the powers of darkness did their best to destroy the glory of the Son of God. This is the apex of evil. But instead they found themselves quoting the script of ancient prophecy and acting the part assigned by God. Precisely in putting Christ to death, they put his glory on display—the very glory that they aimed to destroy. The apex of evil achieved the apex of the glory of Christ. The glory of grace.”

Lord, although much about the bombings in Boston remains a mystery to us, we know one thing—when we see terrorists try to spread fear and hatred and, instead, spread love and compassion, we see your glory. No plan of yours can be thwarted—not even when evil appears to have won. Give us a vision for spectacular sins that achieve the apex of Christ’s glory. Amen.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 17 (Listen – 8:59)
Romans 15 (Listen – 4:32)

Finding Patience to Wait :: Readers’ Choice

Bethany Jenkins (originally published April 23, 2014)

Readers’ Choice

“The prayer at the end sums it up beautifully: Prayer: Lord, longsuffering is not passive, but aggressive. It takes power of soul.'” — Sam

Titus 2 11-14
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Waiting: We are all in the waiting room — for a test result, for a baby, for a wedding day, for a job offer. Here, in Titus 2, we read that we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” How do we wait, though, without growing cynical, idolatrous, and despairing?

Eros: Perhaps the old word for patience — long-suffering — better describes how we experience waiting. In Love Within Limits, Lewis Smedes contrasts patience born of natural love (eros) with patience born of divine love (agape). He writes, “Erotic love has no power for longsuffering. Eros is desire … It can be frustrated when we do not get exactly and enduringly what we long for. It can be betrayed when people renege on a promise to fulfill our need. It can be burned out when what filled us for a season suddenly leaves us empty. Born from suffering, eros is destined for suffering. That erotic love does not have power to suffer long is its built-in tragedy. It must suffer, but it has no strength for longsuffering. Eros cannot wait.”

Agape: Agape, however, “has the power to be creatively weak. Because it is not driven by ardent need, it has power to wait. It gives power to accept life, to find goodness in living while we are victims of situations we despise. This is the only way to explain two attitudes we observe in Jesus toward his own horrible suffering. In Gethsemane, we hear him plead with God to be spared the cross that lay ahead … The next day, as he bears his cross to Calvary, he tells the weeping women who follow him: ‘Don’t cry for me.’ Here we see his power to affirm himself as the loving Lord and free Savior who chose to suffer, to be a victim of suffering. He was not a helpless victim of tragedy; he was a powerful person who chose to be weak. He had the strength to become a victim even while he affirmed his own life as free in obedience to love.”

Prayer: Lord, long-suffering is not passive, but aggressive. It takes power of soul. Our only hope in waiting, therefore, is the power of your divine love that moves us toward one another and toward you. May we seek your face and find your love that we may be longsuffering. Amen.

Daily Reading
Judges 20 (Listen – 7:13)
Acts 24 (Listen – 4:11)

The Heart of the Gospel

Acts 15.11
Peter said, “We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” 

When it comes to the topic of religion, our culture frequently vacillates between two extremes. On one extreme, we are relativists. As comedian George Carlin once said, “Religion is like a pair of shoes… Find one that fits for you, but don’t make me wear your shoes.”

On the other extreme, we are legalists. As the men from Judea insisted, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses [i.e., obey the letter of the law], you cannot be saved.”

Where does the gospel fit on this spectrum?

Here, in Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council had to decide whether the new Gentile converts needed to be circumcised in order to receive the full blessings of Christ. Paul and Barnabas didn’t think they did. They argued that God had already given the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles apart from circumcision. Why, they asked, should man place a requirement on them when God had not?

The Council agreed. But when they wrote to the new converts, they added some requirements — “that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.” How were these not legalistic add-ons?

Peter and Paul tried to contextualize the gospel as much as possible. Elsewhere Paul writes, “I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

On the one hand, they avoided legalism — here, the requirement of circumcision. On the other hand, there is a point that our contextualization becomes permissive and leads to relativism. Here, the prohibitions they added were activities traditionally associated with idol worship. They were about the heart of the gospel, not mere marks of behavioral obedience.

Lord, the love of Christ compels us because he died for us that we may no longer live for ourselves, but for him who died and was raised again. Yet we confess that we often tend toward relativism or legalism. We give you thanks, however, for giving us the ministry of reconciliation. Give us hearts full of courage and love. Make us “Greeks to the Greeks,” contextualizing the word in the world. Amen.

Today’s Readings
Judges 11 (Listen – 5:53)
Acts 15 (Listen – 5:49)