Prayer for Protection

Sovereign Lord:

I praise you for raising me up from the deeps that I had fallen

and have not let my detractors have their day.

You remembered me in my hour of affliction and healed my soul and body and mind.

I need not fear the grave or the hell that others have fallen into.

Praise the Lord, Christians, give thanks and bless his name.

His wrath passes quickly, but his love is forever; our weeping is a night’s misery, but

our weeping is a night’s misery, but our joy comes with the new day.

As for me, because of my many blessings, I will remain strong in the Lord.

You have strengthened my footsteps, but when clouds cover your face, I am distressed.

To you alone do I cry for mercy; if I die, will my bones praise you and tell of your faithfulness?

Hear my prayer; come to me quickly!

For in you mourning becomes dancing; black funeral suits are quickly removed and your joy clothes me daily.

I will sing to you and not stay silent; I will rejoice in your name forever! (Psalm 30)

In the power of your Holy Spirit cover me in my weakness.

Shelter me in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Fools for Christ

Life_in_Tension_web“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure” (1 Cor. 4:10-12 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Where is your identity?

The Apostle Paul talked about being a fool for Christ. Why? Paul lived the life of an itinerant evangelist, much like Jesus himself. He traveled from place to place preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As far as we know it, he was never married or had any children. Being highly educated, Paul gave up a priestly or academic life to pursue his calling as an evangelist to the Gentiles.

Can you image attending your 30th anniversary of receiving your doctorate [1] and telling your fellow graduates:

“I am talking like a madman– with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 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. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (2 Cor. 11:23-28)

Doubtlessly, Paul’s classmates were synagogue leaders, high priests, government officials, and college professors. Do you suppose that he hungered and thirsted for righteousness sake? Paul treated his hunger and thirst like his resume as an evangelist—he even refused a salary from the Corinthian church to maintain his integrity as an evangelist [2].

Yet, Paul’s life of service no doubt also put him in tension with God. Paul talked about his thorn in the flesh and struggling with God in prayer (2 Cor. 12:7-8). And he must have anguished over God’s answer to his prayer: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Who brags about weaknesses? Paul did (2 Cor. 12:9). Still, you can bet that Paul struggled and anguished over God’s object lesson!

If our identity is in Christ, then we are reminded of our identity through the sacraments which both focus on objects of hunger (bread) and thirst (water/wine). Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine (John 2:1-10). Another important miracle involved multiplying bread and fish (John 6:11). Yet, after Jesus’ longest recorded discourse with the Samaritan women about living water, Jesus refers to the word of God as food (John 4:32) [3].  Clearly, our identity is in Christ and not in the sacraments or in the physical objects of hunger and thirst. When tempted by Satan to turn a stone into bread, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” (Luke 4:4)

Out of our identity, we act.

The New Testament provides numerous examples of ministering out of our identity in Christ with food and water, including:

  • “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?” (Matt. 25:37)
  • “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Rom. 12:20)
  • “And he said to me, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (Rev. 21:6)

If the first sin of the bible was to lust after an apple (Gen 6), then it is only fitting that the mark of the disciple would be the sharing of food and drink (Matt 25:37)—modeling after the behavior of Christ himself (Rev 21:6).

 

[1] My 30th anniversary is December 13, 2015.

[2] “Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge?” (2 Cor. 11:7)  Also: “Do we not have the right to eat and drink?” (1 Cor. 9:4)

[3] “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isa. 40:28-31)

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Christian Paradox: Strength in Weakness

SWH_Carroll_Manor_10012012By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Riverside Presbyterian Church, Sterling, VA, Sunday, August 10, 2014

Welcome

Good morning!  Welcome to Riverside Presbyterian Church.

This morning Maryam is here with me so I will be preaching in English with translation.

Invocation

Let’s pray.

Oh dear Lord, thank you for bringing us together this morning.  Quiet our hearts so that we can hear your voice.  In the power of Your Holy Spirit, inspire the words spoken and illuminate the words heard.  In the precious name of Jesus. Amen.

Text:  2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Opening

On November 24, Maryam, my wife, and I celebrate our 30th anniversary.  During these 30 years, we raised three kids and confronted many challenges together, including serious medical issues, professional ups and downs, and many stressful events.  Still, we were not an obvious couple to get married.

In some sense, Maryam and I come from opposite ends of the world.  I am from Washington; Maryam comes from Iran.  I am Christian; she is Muslim.  I am an avid reader; she is a dedicated television watcher.  When I entered seminary, many people asked:  how can you become a pastor—your wife is a Muslim and does not support you.

At first, I thought that I attended seminary in spite of my wife; later, I came to realize that I attended seminary because of my wife.  You see, my family was my first real ministry.  My new book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality, is dedicated to Maryam and our children.

Sometimes God has to push us to discover who we really are in Him[1] (2X).

Lesson

In our passage today, the Apostol Paul addresses the church in Corinth which has a problem with spiritual pride.  We get a hint of this problem in the many references that Paul makes to boasting—about half (27/57) of the references to boasting in all of scripture arise in the two letters of Paul to the church in Corinth.  In only these ten verses of our passage today, he uses the term, boast, 4 times.

So, what is spiritual pride?  What is boasting? (2X) In our passage today, Paul uses the Greek word, καυχάομαι, which means:  to take pride in something, boast, glory, pride in oneself, brag (BDAG, 4171.1).  Spiritual pride consists of bragging about our relationship with God.

So what does Paul say?  Paul says:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.  And I know that this man was caught up into paradise– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows–and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter (vv 2-4).

But then he comments on this ecstatic experience and says:  there is nothing to be gained by it (v 1).  Nothing!  (2X)

In fact, he goes on to say:  on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses (v 5).  Further, he says:  So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited (v 7).

But Paul does not stop there.  Paul prayers to God 3 times to relieve him of this thorn in the flesh.  And God gives a surprising answer to Paul’s prayer:  My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (v 9).  In other words, God refuses to heal Paul of this thorn in the flesh, but instead offers Paul His presence—God’s grace. And Paul is content with this answer, saying:  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (v 10).  (2X)

Application

Has God given you a thorn in the flesh? (2X)

Most of us struggle with spiritual pride in one form or another.  Our pride tells us that we are special even when it is not true.  In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes:

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:25-29 ESV)

What brings us together as a church is not our strengths, but our weaknesses.  For not all of us are experts in the same things, but we are all in need of God’s forgiveness for our sins.  So in my own case, my weakness in understanding and speaking Spanish allows me to find room in my life for God. (2X)  Returning to the words of Paul:  For when I am weak, then I am strong (v 10).  Not in myself, but in Jesus Christ.

Closing Prayer

Please pray with me.

Almighty Father, thank you for your presence among us this morning.  Let us brag only of our own weakness so that your voice, not ours, will be the one heard.  Let us point to the light given us through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.  In all things, may Your name be praised.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Benediction

Receive the benediction:

Go into the world knowing that your weaknesses make room in your life for God and give thanks for that knowledge.  Know that God honors the space that we leave for Him in our lives.  And remember the words of the Apostol Paul:  when I am weak, then I am strong.

Go with God.  Amen.

 

[1] I have always identified with Francis Thompson’s poem: The Hound of Heaven (1893) which speaks of God’s relentless pursuit of his soul. Poem:  http://www.ewtn.com/library/HUMANITY/HNDHVN.HTM.  Reading by Richard Burton:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gToj6SLWz8Q.

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2 Corinthians: Lifting the Veil

The Crucifixion
The Crucifixion

…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 ESV)

How can one be strong in weakness?

At the core of the Apostle Paul’s Second Letter to the Church at Corinth is a paradox. Christ was crucified in weakness, but in his weakness displayed the power of God (13:4).  This same paradox was displayed in Paul’s private pain (12:7-9) and his very public humiliation as he writes:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (4:8-10)

This paradox manifests itself in that when we find ourselves at the end of our rope, we abandon our private idolatries and turn to the living God who is our only real hope.  Paul writes: to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over [our] hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. (3:15-17) Herein lies the paradox, that our own strength (for the Israelites, the law) veils the presence of God in our lives.

Second Corinthians is a very personal and complex letter. For example, Paul provides two separate lists (6:4-10 and 11:23-29) of own afflictions—who brags about being beaten and thrown in prison?  He is writing from Macedonia (9:2) around 56 AD just before his final journey to Jerusalem.  Theological topics addressed include:  the character of God, salvation, the Gospel, the church, the nature of apostleship, Christian ministry, the Christian life, suffering, stewardship, Satan, and eschatology (Harris 2005, 105, 114-125).

The importance of Second Corinthians in the life of the church is underscored by the attention given to even small portions of this letter.  For example, The Confession of 1967 [1] adopted by the Presbyterian Church (USA) emphasizes these verses:

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (5:18-20)

Paul’s emphasis is on reconciling the world to Christ; the Confession expands on this idea to speak about reconciling the church to divergent groups in society.

References

Garland, David E. 1999. 2 Corinthians: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. New American Commentary.  Nashville:  Holman Publishing.

Hafemann, Scott J.  2000. The NIV Application Commentary:  2 Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Harris, Murray J. 2005. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians:  A Commentary on the Greek Text.  NIGTC. Grand Rapids:  Eerdman.

[1] www.pcusa.org/resource/book-of-confessions

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1 Corinthians 2: Boast in the Lord

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)

The Problem of Boasting

We love to show off.  We boast about our strength, our intelligence, our courage, our beauty, our mojo, our spouses, our kids, our cool friends, our cars, our houses, our wealth, our power, our accomplishments—even our ability to speak foreign languages!  Is it any wonder that nations run over their neighbors doing the same thing?

So what does the Apostle Paul do?  Paul says to the Corinthians:  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthian 2:2 ESV).  Who could be weaker than a man publicly stripped, beaten, pierced, and hung out to dry in the hot sun?  In admitting our weaknesses—dealing with our issues—we make room for God and other people in our lives (Isaiah 29:13-14).  Why?  …In admitting our weaknesses, we vanquish pride.

The Prophet Jeremiah writes:  Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV)

Theological Implications

Theologian Richard Hays (36-39) [1] sees 6 implications of Paul’s teaching in our passage:

  1. Focus on the cross;
  2. Confront human boasting;
  3. Wisdom, in Paul’s context, is interpreted via the cross;
  4. Focusing on the cross creates a counter-cultural world;
  5. The social composition of the church should be a sign of God’s election of the foolish, the weak, the low, and the despised; and
  6. This passage directly applies Old Testament teachings (Isaiah 29:13-14, Jeremiah 9:23-24, and 1 Samuel 2:1-10) to the Corinthian (and our) church.

Do we worship with people that look just like us?  Do we focus on the music and pastoral performance?  Do we pat each other on the back constantly?  Do we search for the mysteries of the faith rather than the plain truth of Christ’s example?

Nature and Spirit

Paul makes an interesting comparison (vv 14-15) between the natural person (ψυχικὸς)[2] and the spiritual person (πνευματικῶς). The natural person rejects Christ’s teaching in the cross as foolishness; the spiritual person judges all things (v 15) against this standard.

How?  Because we have the mind of Christ (νοῦν Χριστοῦ; v 16).  Taking up our cross to follow Christ (Matthew 16:24) grants us the ability to remove the speck from our eyes (Matthew 7:1-5) and judge without hypocrisy.

Footnotes

[1] Hays, Richard B.  2011.  Interpretation:  A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching—First Corinthians (Orig pub 1997).  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.

[2] The word in the Greek is psycho!!!

Questions

  1. How was your week?Did anything special happen?
  2. What questions or thoughts do you have about 1 Corinthians 1?
  3. Why does Paul make such a big deal about his lack of speaking ability? Who does this remind you of?  (vv 1-2; Also:  Exodus 4:10-13)
  4. Who does our weakness make room for? (vv 3-5)
  5. What kind of wisdom is Paul referring to? (vv 4-7)
  6. What is the secret and hidden wisdom of God? (σοφίαν ἐν μυστηρίῳ τὴν ἀποκεκρυμμένην; v 7)
  7. How and to whom are these mysteries revealed? (vv 11-13)
  8. Who are the two people that Paul compares? (vv 14-15)
  9. What is the mind of God? What is it good for?  Who has it? (v 16)

1 Corinthians 2: Boast in the Lord

First Corinthians 1

First Corinthians 3

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