Wednesday, May 27, 2009

From Shepherds Hill . . .

Beyond Favor

Paul Burrell

Welcome again to the message of the week. If you have written me in the past week or so and I haven’t answered you please be patient. I answer every letter (eventually) but sometimes we get busy and I put them aside. I trust that you are continuing in God’s Word since you have joined us today. We have had some news of a tragedy that got me to thinking. I started asking the question, “why?”.

Of course, we are going to go to the Word today and see what God says. Please turn with me to 2nd Corinthians chapter twelve. This familiar passage is sometimes put aside until we begin to experience bad things happening in our lives. There is a false teaching going through the church that states that as long as someone is living in God’s will that they will not be touched by the enemy. It says they will be in complete health and have prosperous finances. Nothing can reach a child of God unless the Heavenly Father says so. As we look at Grace today I hope that we are all reminded that it is more than unmerited favor.

I say that because unmerited favor is the description most people have in their heads for the word “grace”. If you look up divine grace on an internet search you will get very similar results. In one example I saw it was even compared to the non-theist view of luck. I sat under many pastors teachings in which they explained it that way. One used the illustration of a grace period insurance companies give if you lapse on your premiums. Yes, these are good ways to show someone that grace is undeserved. But, it becomes confusing when we begin to interpret the way in which God will apply His Grace. Let us look at verse five.

Paul has just talked about a man who saw revelations and he is boasting about him. He then explains (v6) that he can not boast in himself because people might see him as more than he really is. Paul had a great understanding of making sure that Jesus received all the glory! Verse seven is the key verse today and I think it shows another side of Grace. Paul said that a thorn in his flesh was given so that he did not become, in his words, exalted above measure. Now, consider that for a moment and remember that we are looking at a deeper side of God’s Grace.

Paul goes on to say that he prayed three times to have the “messenger of Satan” removed from his life. Verse nine is the verse where we find that God explains that it is there because of His Grace. That goes against our normal thinking about unmerited favor. Just what favor is God doing Paul? There is a lot of speculation about what this thorn in Paul’s flesh was. Some say his eyesight was bad or that he had epilepsy. Consider Galatians 6:11 in which it sounds like Paul is saying he writes large letters. Other books from Paul are finalized with Paul explaining that this particular writing is his and that this is how he writes. It sounds as if someone else wrote the rest from his dictation and then he wrote the final lines to show the church how his handwriting looks as a validation against false letters. Still other people speculate that Paul’s thorn was not an ailment but a spiritual messenger that tormented Paul’s mind. Perhaps Satan reminded him of his past and how he killed innocent Christians.

Have you ever noticed that we sometimes miss the point in God’s Word? We will spend countless hours trying to find out something that we think is the point and all the while missing the real point. We can argue or debate until the Lord returns about what this thorn is and really get nowhere in learning about grace. Grace is the topic here! God had Paul to write this testimony for us so that we could get a better picture of how His Grace functions. It’s not there for a puzzle to keep you amused or as a mystery that you can solve.

God told Paul that His Grace was enough. This thorn was not removed from Paul’s flesh, whether it was an ailment or a spiritual messenger (or both). Let us finish out the passage and get the clear picture. God told Paul that His strength was made perfect in weakness. It sounds like backward logic to us. We always assume that if we are mighty in the world’s eyes then we will help God to be seen. On the contrary, we only glorify the flesh when we try to show what wonderful people we are. God doesn’t get any of the Glory that should all be His. Now, we are looking at Grace today and how that it is sometimes not seen as Grace.

We like to interpret the Bible to mean whatever is in our best interest, don’t we? When the preacher says for better or worse, richer or poorer we automatically say better and richer! We never consider that it might get worse and poorer, do we? In the same sense we look at salvation and God’s Grace and automatically read something into this. We immediately look at being a Child of God and think that we are untouchable by harm. When something comes that looks bad it throws our whole world off its axis.

Follow on with verse nine and see that Paul glories in his infirmities. He acknowledges that in crucifying the flesh God’s power shows. The next verse is even more amazing. Paul continues to show us that he takes pleasure in challenges in life as they give God an opportunity to work.

This past week one of our daughters was faced with a challenge. She sat in our bedroom one evening and explained a desperate situation that had hit her blind sided that day. It seems that when she was stretched to her limit and pushing to get a scheduled activity done with severe time constraints, she had a government agency show up for a random, mandatory check. As she talked about all of what might happen she came to a conclusion. She told us that she had peace about it because God knew what she needed and that He would not allow anything to happen that did not have an outcome of good for her. We almost jumped up and cheered! It is a great thing to know that your children walk in truth (3 John 1:4)!

She came to the conclusion that God’s Grace was sufficient for her. Look also at Romans 8:28 today. Paul says that everything works together for good to those of us who are the Called according to God’s purpose. Divine Grace is God’s unearned favor, yes. But remember that the enemy can frighten you into panic so that you forget that the outcome will be good for you if you hold on. If you have trouble come into your life yes, pray that God removes it. But if He doesn’t it is because He sees down the road and that in the end you will be better because of going through the fire.

A few weeks ago we looked at the three Hebrew men who refused to bow down to a king at the risk of their lives. Their said that God could save them and even if He didn’t they still would not bow. Let that be your heart today! God can deliver you but even if He doesn’t, serve Him. Jesus calmed the troubled sea when His disciples cried out. But, Paul prayed that the storm his ship was in would subside but it did not. In the end of Paul’s life God had allowed him to travel everywhere the Gospel needed to be heard to birth the Early Church. It was all part of God’s plan. I’m so glad that Paul saw it that way.

Are you willing to allow God to work? Can you stretch yourself and see that sometimes God’s Grace is not understandable? While it is favor, it goes beyond that. God’s Grace is there to keep you and I until He comes back. His grace is sufficient today.

Prayer-Father, I thank You today for Your amazing Grace! It is sometimes not seen in our lives, and yet is always there. When we did not deserve it, You gave it freely. Thank You for it and for helping us to understand that You have our best interest in mind.

In Jesus’ Name-Amen

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