2020 certainly is not what we expected.
Many of us were still celebrating Kansas City’s Superbowl victory when a global pandemic arrived and hit like a speeding locomotive! After George Floyd’s senseless death, protesting, rioting, and destruction erupted along with political and racial tensions few of us have experienced before. Many died, scores lost jobs and almost everyone wonders what is true and what is next. Divorce has skyrocketed, murder and child abuse have soared and counselors and mental health professionals cannot keep up! Even July 4th seemed different this year celebrating America’s history, heritage, and hope. What is freedom, really? Where do we find real meaning, purpose, and peace in difficult and troubling times?
Paul had Problems and Pain
In some of the most relevant biblical writing for today, the apostle Paul details important facts about his own journey and the key to genuine freedom and peace in a troubled and hate-filled world. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul lists challenges he endured:
- Five times receiving 39 lashes
- Three times beaten with rods
- Stoned once
- Shipwrecked three times
- Adrift on the seas
- Danger from rivers, robbers, Jews, and Gentiles
- Danger in the city, wilderness, sea and
- False friends
- Hunger, thirst, cold and exposure
- Constant anxiety for the churches
Paul knows the human tendency to brag about successes, achievements, and accomplishments. It is easy to think we’ve “got this” but what have we really got? Paul, on the other hand, says he must boast and brag in his weaknesses and failures! Following Jesus is often the opposite of what we expect!
Then Paul describes this “inside-out” world of following Jesus,
We are never told what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” is and perhaps that is intentional so we will focus on God’s answer! Paul prays three times for God to free him from this struggle, and God could certainly do that but that is not how God responds. God’s answer to Paul is, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” It is so counterintuitive and screams loudly against everything we want to control! God’s answer is really, “I’ve got this! Trust me!” God says to Paul, “Less of you is actually better because that means more of me!” Paul concludes he can actually look forward to coming problems, challenges, and hardships knowing, “When I am weak, then I am strong!”
This is much easier to say than do of course. My default setting is to try harder, work longer, push harder, and live in shame, worry, and fear. Paul is not saying don’t try, don’t work and don’t put in time and energy. Paul is saying acknowledgment of God and dependence on Him should be our first step and not our last resort! Paul is saying when we believe we are at our worst and out of options God will be at His best in our lives! Because of Jesus, surrender is the path to victory, servanthood is the key to leadership and the least, last and lost find favor with God. True freedom and lasting peace are found in Jesus alone.
In the ancient Roman world, there was a crown called the “Corona Muralis” which means “the crown of the wall.” This crown went to the first soldier able to make it over the wall of an enemy fortress during a siege—bravery, strength, perseverance, and courage. In most cases, the very first soldier over the wall was killed, so the soldier claiming this crown had to be the first one over the wall alive in order to return to Rome for the prize—rare and coveted indeed! In contrast, Paul has no interest in claiming the “Corona Muralis.” Instead, he claims the crown of thorns of Jesus the Messiah who died abandoned, abused, and in disgrace outside the city walls—mocked beaten and scorned! Paul gladly wears this crown as he boasts in his weaknesses and sufferings, knowing this is the true path of the servant and the way of the cross. Paul has found a different sort of strength, the kind that is really worth having, and to possess this strength you have to be weak! That is what the gospel of the crucified Christ is truly about!
Before you hit the Starbucks (again) tomorrow and before you rewrite your “to do” list and update your calendar, pray a simple and honest prayer to God acknowledging He is God, you are not and ask for His help to grow in your faith and trust in Him. May His strength be seen in our weakness.
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