Lessons from The Apostle Paul: Paul Was the Real Deal

Lessons from The Apostle Paul: Paul Was the Real Deal
Rembrandt as Paul
Rembrandt self portrait portraying himself as the Apostle Paul 

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

“… Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV. 

The above passage from 2 Corinthians blows me away. Paul is writing to a church that had shunned his authority and instead turned to false teachers. Paul calls these teachers “super-apostles” and does so rather sarcastically. In chapter of eleven of 2 Corinthians he acknowledges that compared to these “super-apostles”, he isn’t a gifted speaker. He acknowledges that he humbled himself so that the Christians in Corinth could be elevated.

He then, rather reluctantly, tells them of a time he was “caught up into the third heaven” into the very presence of God and “heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell” (2 Corinthians 12:4). Paul could have grown conceited or arrogant because of this vision he received from God, but instead, he was humbled by a “thorn in the flesh” that God allowed him to suffer from. Why? Just to make sure Paul didn’t grow conceited.

Paul was humbled by a thorn in the flesh. He prayed and prayed for God to remove the thorn but God refused; choosing instead to teach Paul the lesson that “[His] grace is sufficient … and [His] power is made perfect in weakness.” I relate to the lesson Paul learned from this thorn because God is teaching me something similar. 

Not all of the Corinthians, however, appreciated Paul’s thorn. They saw Paul’s weakness and held it against him. They chose the  “super-apostles” who were just a little too perfect. Some members of the church preferred a “different gospel” (see chapter 11) preached by fake apostles because those apostles looked the part.

I wonder if the modern church does the same thing at times. We need to be wary of church leaders who are “too perfect.” If our teachers and preachers never struggle, it might be a red flag. Paul was the real deal. He had been called by Jesus Himself on the road to Damascus. He had been called into the very presence of God to witness things most people will never see on this side of eternity … but the church chose fake, super apostles because they spoke well and looked the part. I can only imagine they were good looking, wore fancy clothes, and had perfect hair.

The Corinthians had been duped.

Too often, we are quick to metaphorically crucify church leaders who make mistakes. We  expect them be perfect even when God doesn’t. Paul’s thorn in the flesh made it apparent that any success he had in ministry was solely because of God Almighty … and that’s exactly how God wanted it. God used a flawed man with a checkered past to accomplish mighty things in order for God Himself to receive all the credit.

Be wary who you follow. If they are too “perfect”, there will be no room for God to move. We don’t need “super apostles.” We need humble leaders who constantly point to God as the source of their strength.

In the church, humility, transparency, and honesty should always be preferred over false perfection and self promotion. Paul compared the false teachers in Corinth to Satan who “masquerades as an angel of light” ( 2 Corinthians 11:14). It is imperative that we don’t allow ourselves to be fooled.

If it looks to good to be true, it probably is.

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Mini Book Review of Iron Heart: The True Story of How I Came Back From the Dead by Brian Boyle

41rpGd0gB6L._AC_US218_Brian Boyle should of been dead. After a collision with a dump truck – you read that right, dump truck, he was left with multiple injuries and placed in a medically induced coma while a team of surgeons attempted to put his body back together.  He was in such bad shape that every internal organ was in the wrong place. If it wasn’t for his athleticism and good health before the accident, Boyle certainly would have died. A college level swimmer before the accident, he was left learning how to walk. His story of slowly coming out of coma and being aware of his surroundings, but not being able to communicate or even move gripped me and drew me in. I found myself rooting for him at every step of the way.

Boyle’s story is a success story that culminates in the Kona Ironman Championships. The remarkable part of his story, however, is the support he had along the way. From his parents to the team of doctors and therapists that managed to put him back together; it took a team to get him to Kona.

I love stories of people who beat the odds to accomplish greats feats and Boyle’s story certainly qualifies. He was remarkably close to death and eventually began to thrive. This book was a great read.

Mini Book Review of Chasing Kona by Rob Cummins

Chasing KonaThis book follows the author’s journey from non-athlete to athlete and eventually to the Ironman World Championships. I enjoyed following is story. The most remarkable aspect of this read for me was the amount of dedication and perseverance it took him to reach his goal. The workload and program he adhered to is incredible. Basically, his whole life revolved about endurance training. His story is a lesson in what separates success from failure. Most often its not natural talent, but rather a willingness to do what’s necessary.

I found this book for my kindle on Amazon … and it was free with my Amazon Prime membership.

Back on the Horse

runningIn 2016 I lost about 120 pounds and took up running. You can read about some of it here. In 2017, however, I suffered some setbacks in my running routine. My knee began to hurt chronically; which I suspect was due to over use. And then my calf began popping and hurting. My unprofessional, WebMD assisted, diagnosis was a partially torn tendon in my calf. Whatever it was, it hurt enough to sideline me and keep me from running for weeks. The end result was a weight gain. By the end of last year, I had regained about 65-70 pounds of the weight I lost. A trip to my doctor woke me up. I was warned to get back on the wagon or risk being put back on the diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol medicine I had worked my way off of.

That’s all I needed to hear.

calves
My Calf Armor 

In January, my wife and I rejoined Weight Watchers. I want to lose a little bit of weight before I considered running again. I’m down 17 pounds since I started tracking my food and watching my portions. Today, I restarted the Couch to 5K Program that I completed in 2016. It’s a little humbling to feel like I’m starting back over from square one, but I’m blessed my wake-up came before I gained all my weight back.

I want to lose this weight and honor God with my fitness. It’s gonna be hard, but I’m gonna do it.

And as I do it, I’ll occasionally write about it … because that’s what I do.

 

 

 

Mini Review of “Operation Ironman: One Man’s Four Month Journey from Hospital Bed to Ironman Triathlon” by George Mahood

operationThis book chronicles the author’s journey from hospital bed to Ironman. Having been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor intertwined with his spinal chord that left him with devastating back pain, George Mahood went through a tricky and dangerous procedure to have it removed. While still bedridden from the surgery, he made the decision to complete an Ironman triathlon in just four short months. With spotty training hampered by his recovery, Mahood set out to do just that. His experience is impressive. It should be pointed out, however, that Mahood wasn’t exactly starting from scratch. While humble about his athletic prowess, he had completed a marathon, long-distance bike rides, and swim training prior to his procedure.

With that said, I still enjoyed his journey and was greatly impressed by it. Heck, I’m impressed by anyone that has what it takes to complete an Ironman. Mahood has a humorous perspective and tells his story with ease. He is also British, which means he writes from a voice that sounded slightly quirky and endearing to me.

Reader’s should probably be forewarned that the author’s vernacular includes very occasional and, seemingly random, curse words included for humor. I found them more distracting than humorous; fortunately, they were rare.

Godly Sorrow

On occasion, I’ve written about my weight, type II diabetes, and running. If you wanna get caught up, check out this post. I’ve even written about how food and weight loss is a spiritual issue for me. To make a long story short, I was diagnosed with diabetes and decided to fight back. I lost around a 120 pounds and developed a fondness for running, or at least the slow shuffle I refer to as running. I’m ashamed to admit that my old-self has fought back somewhat. I suffered some nagging injuries and started a new desk job last year. Admittedly, these are poor excuses, but the end result was gaining back about 60 pounds. My last trip to the doctor led to an ultimatum; get control over this or go back on medication for your diabetes. So I am once again fighting back. I rejoined Weight Watchers in January and have lost 13 pounds or so since. Something about paying for my weight loss inspires me to stick with it.

But the point is, I’m fighting back. I even ran today. It sucked, but I did it. I could have chosen to give up and allow myself to be characterized by my many, many past failures. But I chose instead to do the best I could.

It occurred to me today that we often face the same choice in our spiritual walks. Too often Christians allow themselves to be characterized by their past sin and failures. We never experience the abundant life Christ offers us because we simply can’t let go of our past. Time and time again I hear the same cry, “I just can’t forgive myself!” 

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Sin is nothing to take lightly and sorrow is the natural reaction to it. Sin should break us and bring us to our knees. But at some point, we have to look up. The Apostle Paul wrote that Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10). There is a reason for the pain and sorrow that sin causes. It causes us to reach out for Christ. Paul also wrote that a worldly sorrow brings death. Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin are death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. When we neglect repentance, our sin is all pain and all sorrow with no gift. Godly sorrow lead to repentance, worldly sorrow leads to death; it’s our choice.

My sinful relationship with food has lead me to struggle with maintaining a healthy weight and to diabetes. Where has your sin led you?

More importantly, how will you respond? 

Book Review of DNA of a Christian by Daren Wride

DNAHaving never heard of the author, Daren Wride, I loaded this book onto my kindle because it was offered for free on Amazon and it had a catchy title. If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect too much. As the title suggests, Wride offers what he feels are the essential traits of a believing Christian, as follows:

 

  1. Lover of God
  2. Lover of People
  3. Holy
  4. Truth Based
  5. Evangelistic
  6. Persevering
  7. God-Dependent
  8. Focused on Eternity

Wride admits that this list is not exhaustive, however, he tried to create it in a way that includes all other possibilities. As might be expected, some traits were more challenging than others, however, as a whole this book serves as a great reminder that our faith should change the way we live our lives. I actually used this book as a teaching tool in our church covering a different trait each week. It served well for that purpose.