The Apostle Paul’s surprising gift to preachers

I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. (I Corinthians 2:3)

For reasons I cannot explain, this line from the great apostle has lodged itself in my heart over the past few days. The more I reflect on it, the more I appreciate Paul’s admitting it.

In this and every other case where Paul mentions some kind of physical infirmity, we wish we had more information. Was he sick? Ailing? Still healing from previous beatings?

John MacArthur writes: Paul came to Corinth after being beaten and imprisoned in Philippi, run out of Thessalonica and Berea, and scoffed at in Athens, so he may have been physically weak. But in that weakness, he was most powerful. There were no theatrics or techniques to manipulate people’s response. His fear and shaking was because of the seriousness of his mission. (The MacArthur Study Bible)

I suppose we preachers are a lot like horses and mules and dogs: hit us often enough and we become “gun shy.” We want to stand and deliver with boldness and power, but we’re ready to duck.

Thank you, Paul, for telling us this. And if you will allow me, I will draw a few inferences from it that I find helpful to all of us who stand to proclaim God’s Word.

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The one trait great pastors and coaches have in common

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and shunned evil. –Job 1:1

Job, you have instructed many.  You have strengthened weak hands; your words have upheld him who was stumbling; and you have strengthened the feeble knees.  –Job 4:3-4

Authenticity: Job had it.

It’s my observation that in sports the best coaches and in church the most effective pastors are all authentic.

They are the real deal.

They don’t try to be someone else.  While they have surely picked up traits and lessons and insights from others, they do not do their imitation of other people.  They are themselves.

The word–I love finding the root meaning of words–comes from autos, meaning “self,” and hentes, Greek for worker, doer, author.  So, we might say “authentic” means “coming from the author” or “genuine.”

The Bible is authentic.  It comes from the Original Author (of all things!).

What started me thinking about this was a sports discussion on the radio one morning recently.  A former UCLA coach made the observation after the LSU-Alabama slugfest back in November, that both coaches, Nick Saban and Ed Orgeron, are authentic.  They are originals, copying no one, imitating no one, just being who they are.

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Why the righteous suffer

…and the prisoners were listening to them.  (Acts 16:25)

They’re always listening.

The world is constantly watching when God’s people go through disasters, experience heartaches, and deal with bankruptcies and setbacks.  How will the so-called “God people” handle these trials?  Will they grow angry and curse, lose their temper and drown their sorrows in the bottle? Or will they live up to this heavenly rhetoric they’ve been spouting?

The world wants to know whether our faith in Jesus Christ is just so much talk, just another religious alternative, or the real deal.

God is going to give us the opportunity  to convince them.

This might not be pleasant.  But it will be worthwhile.

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The team member who is your biggest headache

“…a thorn in the flesh was given to me …lest I be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7).

They’re standard equipment, these “thorns in the flesh.” Burrs under the saddle.  Pains in the, well, you know.  They come with the territory.

I’m reading Jack “Dusty” Kleiss’ memoirs of his service in the Second World War.  “Never Call Me a Hero: A legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers The Battle of Midway” is the lengthy title.  I recommend it highly.

As a student of the Second World War, I must have read a dozen or more of such books, memoirs of veterans of this greatest of all conflicts.  In spite of the title, Kleiss deserves the recognition and accolades of a hero as much as anyone ever has.  Again and again he risked his life flying planes of all kinds throughout the Pacific in the war against Japan.  He kept good records, his team did great research, giving us details on the days he served, the planes they flew and the men he served under alongside, which included Admirals Kimmel, Halsey, and Nimitz.

All is good, except for one guy who keeps popping up throughout the story.

Lt. Clarence Dickinson was his thorn in the flesh.

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If you would serve the Lord, expect obstacles.

“A great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (I Corinthians 16:9). 

“Is this vile world a friend to grace to help me on to God?”   (Isaac Watts, “Am I A Soldier of the Cross?”)

This is a quiz.  Name the enemies George Washington faced in the Revolutionary War.

If you answered, “The British,” you’d be only partly right.

Washington did fight the British, as the thirteen colonies asserted their independence from the Mother Nation.  But Generals Howe, Cornwallis, and Clinton and their armies were only the most visible of the forces Washington had to contend with.

He had to fight the weather.  Think of Valley Forge and even without knowing the full story, your mind immediately conjures up images of a harsh winter with all the snow, ice, sleet, and freezing temperatures that includes.

Washington had to deal with starvation and deprivation.  No one knows how many thousands of his soldiers perished from the cold and starvation at Valley Forge and how many deserted in order to save their lives.  Many surrendered to the British at Philadelphia in the vain hope that the conquerors would feed and clothe them.

Washington had to deal with a Congress that was either ignorant, misinformed, or outright hostile to his situation. He wrote letter after letter detailing the misery of his army and pleading for help.  Finally, a delegation came from the national capital, temporarily at York, PA, to see for themselves, after which congress began to act.

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You’re going through a transition: What to do.

The Lord is my Rock.  Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.  Shelter me under the Rock.  (found all through the Psalms)

You’ve just been released from one job (position, place of service, ministry, etc) and you are preparing for the next one.  What to do in the meantime?

You’ve lost your spouse of many years, whether by death or divorce or something else.  What do you do until the way opens up before you?

You’ve moved from the only home you ever knew to a new city/country, and you’re finding it difficult.  What now?

Keep your eye on the Rock.

Changes can be hard.  But they can be lifegiving and life-altering.

Life is about change.  Anyone who does not like change is going to have a lot of trouble in this life.  Any Christian who cannot handle change is going to have trouble following the Lord Jesus.

Here are our top ten suggestions to you on how to make the most of the transition time…

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The most difficult aspect of praying

“We do not know how to pray as we should” (Romans 8:26).

I know some things my  pet does not.

My dog thinks he wants to fight that pesky cat next door. By his barking and straining at the leash, Albie gives every indication that chasing that cat would be the high point of his day.  It wouldn’t.  It would be his greatest nightmare.

That little cat sits on the driveway, completely unmoving when my dog walks within 10 feet, barking and snarling and threatening.  The cat hardly blinks an eye.  Another day at the office.  Another house dog who thinks he wants a piece of me but has no idea the trouble he’s asking for.

I know what a fierce cat can do to a sweet little house-broken dog that has never been in a real fight in his life.  I know his instincts tell him to chase the cat–that this is what he was put here on Earth for–but I know better.

I hold the leash and lead this lovely little canine on to other things, and as far away from that fierce little feline as we can get.

And just so does our Lord lead His children.

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Why the Lord is so rough with some of His best people

“O you of little faith!  Why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).

The teacher is hardest on the best pupils.

The Master Teacher is hardest on the Star Pupil.

The coach is in the face of the player with the greatest potential, on his back, never letting up.

Check out these words from the Lord Jesus.  “Get behind me, Satan.  You are a stumbling block to me;  for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matthew 16:23).

He said those harsh, cutting words, not to the Pharisees, but to Simon Peter, His “star apostle.”

Simon Peter–the disciple with the most potential, the one Jesus renamed as “Rock.”  He called Peter a “satan” (adversary) soon after commending him for his confession that “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  When Peter said that, the Lord said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

Called him blessed one moment and turns right around and calls him a devil.

What’s going on here?

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Is God interested in making me happy?

“He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

“…And now I am happy all the day” (“At the Cross,” a gospel song in our hymnals).

It’s good to be happy.  I’m all in favor of it, and I think the Lord is also.

However.

God’s primary concern is not in making us happy.  He does not fret because someone is displeased with the job He is doing, someone else is .unhappy with the way a Scripture text is worded, and another is complaining about the weather today.

Pleasing us does not appear to be high on His agenda.  He seems not in the least concerned that some of us do not like His methods or the personnel He has sent in our direction as our teachers, pastors, comforters, companions.

I can just hear it now.  “Lord, are you aware that some of us are unhappy with you?  Doesn’t that concern you?”  He that sitteth in  the Heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision. (Psalm 2)

Scripture shows that God is far more interested in pleasing Himself and making Himself happy than in satisfying us.

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The power of a good life-altering crisis

“No chastening for the moment seems enjoyable, but painful. But afterwards, to those who have been trained by it,  it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).

In the middle of the pain, no one enjoys the experience. Only in looking back–at some distant day–do you see how God  used it.

Life is understood only in looking backward, the saying goes. But it must be lived going forward.

It doesn’t work that way for everyone, Hebrews 12:11 is implying. For some, the trials are fatal.  It just depends.  “To those who have been trained by it” surely means “the people who have learned to give their woes to the Lord for His purposes.”

We can wallow in our defeat, be chained in despair by our sorrows and troubles, or we can rise above them by putting our trust in the Savior and finding His purposes.

In her book Character, Gail Sheehan tells of the lengthy rehabilitation Bob Dole endured after his World War II injury. (German machine gunfire hit him in the upper back and right arm. Medics gave him the largest possible dose of morphine, then wrote “M” (for morphine) on his forehead with his own blood, so no one who found him would give him a second, fatal dose.)   Dole went through multiple surgeries and experienced recurring blood clots, life-threatening infections, and long periods of recuperation and therapy.

An interviewer once asked Senator Dole, “How did this delay your career plans?”

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