Reading & Musing on a Sunday Morning

I was reading a passage of scripture this morning and decided to write my thoughts down, in case anyone is interested.

II Corinthians 12: 2-10

In this account, the Apostle Paul is telling the church members at Corinth about an experience he has had, and the effect this vision has had in his life. He doesn’t name himself, yet Bible scholars agree that he’s telling his own story here.

2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago…such an one caught up to the third heaven.
3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth)
4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

Some scholars have read the story of when Paul was stoned and left for dead, wondering if he really did have an out-of-body experience. The Apostle himself isn’t certain, and leaves it open as to whether he was really dead or if this was a vision he had. However, during this experience he saw such beauty and glory, and heard such words as could never be described to an audience here on earth.

5 Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.

So why doesn’t he tell the world about his experience? Why does he refer to it so discreetly, not mentioning that this happened to him? Why does he rather rejoice that he has these infirmities that drag him down? First, he doesn’t want people lifting him up:

6 For though I would desire to glory…now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

Most scholars agree that this “thorn in the flesh” was an infirmity that slowed him down, and probably a disfiguring one. We get the impression from different passages that Paul wasn’t such an attractive man.

8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

God has chosen to leave him weak so that the Spirit of the Lord can speak through him. People aren’t meant to look to Paul for the answers in life. The Lord Jesus doesn’t want people following Paul because he’s physically attractive or such a persuasive orator. So the Lord leaves him with this weakness, one which seems, from other scriptures as well, to be obvious to Paul’s audience.

Paul accepts this situation with grace:
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

It’s so human to want to be strong, to be talented, articulate, to have our listeners nod when we present our ideas. The thought of stepping up to speak, either to an individual or to a crowd, and having absolutely no speech planned out is frightening. The thought of stammering and groping for words is abhorrent to most of us. Likewise we’re inclined to shy away from a task if we’ve had no prior experience in that line. None of us want to sound, or look, dumb.

When we lived in Ontario our neighbour was a minister in another denomination. One day his wife explained to me how ministers were hired. A congregation in need will hear of a pastor who wants to move from the place he’s at, so a small delegation from the pastor-less church goes to hear him —or her, in this group— speak. If the pastor presents a good sermon, if they like the looks of him and feel he’d be a good fit for their own congregation, they offer to hire him. (Again, or her.) How tempting would it be to put a lot of effort into making a good physical impression.

Paul has adopted a different mind-set. In one place he says, “The ways of God are higher than ours.” Aware of his own weakness as a human being, he “takes a step back from himself” and rather goes forward in the Lord. The idea of winning followers of using eloquence to gain a good salary, these are laid aside. He doesn’t take pains to please the audience or “keep out of trouble.” He rather lets the words of Jesus flow through him and speak to the hearts of his audience.

This is more pleasing to God and the Gospel more effective, than if Paul could attract listeners and entertain them with his own oratory ability, or persuade them by his skillful reasoning. He leaves us this example, so none of us can feel we’ve nothing to offer. When we feel we have no talent, skills, physical attraction, or never “the right words,” we can comfort ourselves God’s words to Paul: “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

 

Upside Down Thoughts

UPSIDE-DOWN THOUGHTS
by Margaret Penner Toews
from her book, FLY HIGH MY KITE

I sit and ponder on some things
that once my Saviour said:
The greatest isn’t one who leads
but one who is gladly led.
The greatest thinks about himself
as being truly small.
The poor in spirit really are
the richest ones of all.

The weak are strong. The first are last.
who dies to self shall live.
Who keeps is poor, but rich are those
who give and give and give.

His mathematics aren’t like
the numbers that we use–
But, Oh! how rich His promise if
His reckoning I choose!
The way He tallies might seem queer
and even make us frown,
But it is never He, but we
who are thinking “upside-down”.

As well as being a great poet and writer of devotional books, Margaret was a dear friend of mine. So I’ll post this verse in honor of her, as my contribution to National Poetry Month today.

He Signed His Name

By Michael D. Blythe

He signed His name in granite
as the mountains tall were formed;
He signed His name in sunlight
and the cold earth slowly warmed.

He signed His name in water
as He filled the seven seas;
He signed His name in fertile soil
where He placed the mighty trees.

He signed His name in clay made flesh
as He created man;
He signed His name on the earth He made
according to His plan.

He signed His name in wrath
as He destroyed the world by flood,
but to save us from our wicked ways,
He signed His name in blood.

Since we’re coming up to the Easter season I’ll post this verse as today’s contribution to National Novel Month. Sadly, Mr Google can’t tell me anything about the writer.

Yet A Little While

This shall be my contribution to National Poetry Month today:

Yet A Little While
by Mary J MacColl

Beyond the clouds smiles the clear blue sky,
and the sun will shine when the storm blows by.

In the frost-bound earth through the winter lay
the flowers that in beauty bloom today,

and soon from the buds on the bare brown trees
will banners of green be unfurled to the breeze.

Cloud, flower, and leaf, ye are teachers three
of the many my Father hath given to me.

The lesson ye teach I can understand;
to me ’tis as rain to the thirsty land.

I know that the sunlight will gild my sky,
in the sweet, mysterious “by-and-by”

and from chilly realms of dark despair
will spring Hope’s blossoms fresh and fair.

Then my heart will thrill like a wind-kissed leaf,
though it fainteth now ‘neath a weight of grief.

Oh, Thou who dost clothe the lilies aye,
in light or in shade may I feel Thee nigh.

May my faith burn bright and my love be strong,
though the tempest rage and the night be long.

Help me to work while ’tis yet today—
ere the twilight falleth cold and gray;

help me with careful hand to sow
good seed from whose germs no tares may grow.

May the Lord of the harvest upon me smile,
when He cometh to reap in “a little while.”

From the book, BIDE A WEE by Mary J MacColl,
published in 1880 by Peter Paul & Brother of Buffalo, NY.

I found this book in a sale somewhere, still in fairly good shape, with gold-trimmed cover edges and letters! And on the first page there are impressive endorsements of Miss MacColl’s poetry from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry W Longfellow, Joaquin Miller, and John G Whittier.