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.”

 

Failures

Wise words from Edgar A Guest

‘Tis better to have tried in vain
sincerely striving for a goal,
than to have lived upon the plain
an idle and a timid soul.

‘Tis better to have fought and spent
your courage, missing all applause,
than to have lived in smug content
and never ventured for a cause.

For he who tries and fails may be
the founder of a better day;
though never his the victory,
from him shall others learn the way.

From his book A Heap O’ Livin

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.

A Rusty Nail

In honour of Good Friday, this poem by Robert W Service will be my contribution today to National Poetry Month:

A Rusty Nail

I ran a nail into my hand,
The wound was hard to heal;
So bitter was the pain to stand
I thought how it would feel,
To have spikes thrust through hands and feet,
Impaled by hammer beat.

Then hoisted on a cross of oak
Against the sullen sky,
With all about the jeering folk
Who joyed to see me die;
Die hardly in insensate heat,
With bleeding hands and feet.

Yet was it not that day of Fate,
Of cruelty insane,
Climaxing centuries of hate
That woke our souls to pain?
And are we not the living seed
Of those who did the deed!

Of course, with thankful heart I know
We are not fiends as then;
And in a thousand years or so
We may be gentle men.
But it has cost a poisoned hand,
And pain beyond a cry,
To make me strangely understand
A Cross against the sky.

Robert William Service

The Crowded Street

Today’s contribution to National Poetry Month is a long verse by William Cullen Bryant, an American poet who lived from 1794-1878. I often have the same sort of thoughts as I watch humanity flow past me on the crowded street or in a mall.

The Crowded Street

by William Cullen Bryant

Let me move slowly through the street,
filled with an ever-shifting train,
amid the sound of steps that beat
the murmuring walks like autumn rain.

How fast the flitting figures come!
The mild, the fierce, the stony face —
some bright with thoughtless smiles, and some
where secret tears have left their trace.

They pass — to toil, to strife, to rest;
to halls in which the feast is spread;
to chambers where the funeral guest
in silence sits beside the dead.

And some to happy homes repair,
where children, pressing cheek to cheek,
with mute caresses shall declare
the tenderness they cannot speak.

And some, who walk in calmness here,
shall shudder as they reach the door
where one who made their dwelling dear,
its flower, its light, is seen no more.

Youth with pale cheek and slender frame,
and dreams of greatness in thine eye,
goest thou to build an early name
or early in the task to die?

Keen son of trade, with eager brow!
Who is now fluttering in thy snare?
Thy golden fortunes, tower they now,
or melt the glittering spires in air?

Who of this crowd tonight shall tread
the dance till daylight gleam again?
Who, sorrow o’er the untimely dead?
Who, writhe in throes of mortal pain?

Some famine-struck, shall think how long
the cold dark hours, how slow the light;
and some, who flaunt amid the throng,
shall hid in dens of shame tonight.

Each, where his tasks or pleasures call,
they pass, and heed each other not.
There is who heeds, who holds them all
in His large love and boundless thought.

These struggling tides of life, that seem
in wayward, aimless course to tend
are eddies of the mighty stream
that rolls to its appointed end.

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.