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Archive for March, 2012

Finding Strength in our Weakness

I am weak but you are strong! “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10)

My fellow pilgrims in Christ Jesus,

One of the great challenges of faith we face in living in this fallen world is that of maintaining our faith in the midst of the trials that come into our lives as we attempt to walk along the narrow path of discipleship.  What we don’t often realize is that it is exactly these trials that are there to strengthen our faith. God is not the source of these trials but are permitted by Him because by his grace He uses them to bring us to perfection – to bring us to the level of spiritual awareness we need to open ourselves to Him and His strength working in and through us, thus enabling us to bring forth  His Kingdom in  our lives.

We also fail to realize that in bringing us to perfection does NOT mean He is making us any more worthy or spiritually capable than what we already are …  merely simple sinners saved by grace!

No, brethren, just as Moses did not think He was capable of what the Lord was calling Him to do, so also we are most certainly not capable of His calling for us in this world.  He does not upgrade our humanity in order that we might better serve Him, rather, He chooses to use us just as we are, with all of our weaknesses, so that we may not be tempted with spiritual pride into thinking that we have something to do with what He, in His mercy and Grace, accomplishes through us. In fact you might say he chooses us exactly because we have been freed of any illusions of greatness and so extremely aware of our weaknesses, that we have no doubt that without HIM we can do nothing!  That is the point of perfection He is seeking from all who would be His disciples.

The Apostle Paul, who was overwhelmed with the special revelations given Him, was acutely aware of His own weaknesses and yet experienced the temptation to take pride in what the Lord was doing through him. Regarding His experiences, he relates his struggle against these prideful feelings as follows:

“…. on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me,  even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me,  but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for [My] power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong (2Cor, 12:5-10)

It must be noted that Paul (aka, Saul) did not come to this understanding immediately upon his conversion experience. No, indeed, his first reaction to the graces given him upon His encounter with Christ was to basically just reorient his religious zeal from being a promoter of Judaism to being a promoter of his new-found faith in Christ. In principle, that would not seem bad in itself, what was wrong was that he had not relinquished his own self-centered zeal but instead merely re-directed it. Everything he was doing was being done out of his own self-enhancing religiosity and NOT from a surrender to the Spirit of Jesus that was in him.

In order for the Lord to use Him, He had to empty Saul (aka, Paul) of his “self” and cause him to yield himself totally to the Holy Spirit. The Lord accomplished this by letting Saul start a riot in Damascus that resulted in threats to his life so that the small Jewish-Christian community there had to help him escape by taking him out of the city (cf., Acts 9:1-31). After this event the Lord led Him into the Arabian desert for spiritual retreat of three years (Gal 1:15-18). It was during this period that he was given revelations and wisdom to understand the true nature of the Gospel and the Spirit of Self-denying Love that would motivate him the rest of His life.

Yes, brothers and sisters, like Paul/Saul, we must also be emptied of our self -willed religious piety so that the Love of the Lord may truly manifest itself in us for the Glory of His Name and NOT for our exaltation! Just as John the Baptist said, “He must Increase,[therefore] I must decrease” (brackets are my own)  (cf, Jn. 3:30).

To be filled, We  must be first emptied out ...

To be filled, We must be first emptied out ...

Before the Lord can fill our clay vessels with His Spirit of Love, and His power and strength we must be emptied of our self-centered, prideful, approach to life. We must rid ourselves of our fallen human attitude that focuses al our thinking, emotions, and activities on our “self” and NOT on pleasing Our Creator and Loving Father who created us to be an expression of His Love in this world – in the image of His Son, Our Lord and Savior Jesus, the Anointed of the Father.

Discipleship Entails Carrying Our Cross Daily

Discipleship Entails Carrying Our Cross Daily

In conforming us to the image of His Son, He gives us His Word and His Spirit to transform us from our self-centeredness to the God-centeredness He desires of us.  It is exactly this transition that is the “cross” Jesus told His disciples that they are to bear daily if they are to be His followers. Because thus transition involves a “dying-to-self” process that goes against the instincts of our fallen human nature, it is, for most of us, a painful and gut-wrenching change, that, of necessity, involves internal pain and suffering. Adding to this already excruciating pain, the world system and its demonic leader, does everything in its power to keep us from bringing this transition to fulfillment in our lives by continually placing worldly temptations in our path to derail us from becoming an earthly expression of the Christ that is in us!

You may think of this disoriented “self” or “ego” we have in us as an unemployed actor coursing through life looking for a stage in which to exalt itself and its lustful desires. The world system provides these stages or platforms that accommodate themselves to bring to life the desires of our flesh. It may even be those activities we consider legal and moral, such as business, science, academics, art, theater, politics, and sports. In each of these arenas the world provides a stage for our un-reformed “self” to create a part for itself, to promote the self, and to assert its self-sufficiency independent of the Living God!

And, even though you may not expect it, the major stage provided may be that of “religion”. This is the stage where the Scribes and the Pharisees played their parts “par excellence”. This is the stage where the wolves put on the “sheep’s clothing”, the clothing of religion, to exalt their unredeemed carnality.

In our Christian tradition, it is the period we call, “Lent”, where we are annually provided the opportunity of “emptying” our clay vessels of all traces of the “Old man” in us and to assist us in putting on our “New Man” in Christ Jesus.

And, just how you might ask, do we put on this “New Man”? In response, we, refer to Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians…

“For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:21-24)

Seek the Spirtual Renewal of Our Minds

Seek the Spiritual Renewal of Our Minds

This “renewing of our minds is not just theological rhetoric, it involves a total transformation in our way of thinking and living, which, if not fully and sincerely put in place in our lives, will grieve the Holy Spirit, who is moving in us to conform us to Christ (cf., Eph.4:30-31,; and Eph.5:1-21)

This makeover of our lives cannot take place without our full cooperation – yes we are called to make a choice to walk in the Spirit, so that through the Spirit we may put to death the works of the flesh (cf., gal. 5:1-26), so that we, like Paul may also state  that … “ it is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me [and through me]” (Gal. 2:20).

Only in this way can the strength of the Lord be manifest in our lives so that we may comply with Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians:

“ Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints” (Eph. 6:10-18).

In keeping with our desire that you be strengthened in your weaknesses by the power of the Living God, I conclude with the Apostle Peter’s prayer to the Christians dispersed throughout the the Roman Empire:

 “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen”.

(1 Peter 5:6-11)

Your Fellow Pilgrim and Brother in Christ Jesus ….. Bartimaeus

(© B.R.Timeo and Bartimaeus’ Quiet Place, [2008-2012])

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