Monday, November 26, 2018

Losing our Religion: What about Paul's thorn in the flesh?

having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 2 Timothy 3:5 NKJV 

We've started a series of study concerning the benefits of letting go of the tradition of men. We are seeing more and more how stifling religious tradition is to intimacy with God, maturing in our walk with Him and how it turns people away from God. As we study more, we see God in all His goodness and love and turn loose of any traditional religious thinking.

 Today, it seems good to share on a subject that has held many believers in bondage. This account in Scripture has produced so many traditions that cause people to not trust God for wholeness in every area of life. I am speaking of Paul's thorn in the flesh. You can read the few verses of the account here.

The enemy loves to sow discord and confusion into the Church. This event in Paul's life has caused much confusion and brought about much debate among the saints. The Scriptures rightly divided offer no confusion, but traditional religious interpretations of God's Word will create uncertainty and misunderstanding.

The Three Main Traditions Concerning Paul's Thorn:

 There are three main traditional views of Paul's thorn. Let's address them in order.
1. God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble and to stop him from becoming prideful/Paul was getting too prideful and needed humbling.
 Look at many commentaries and you will see this taught. Some translations even put this in the text. Is this an accurate understanding of what it means to be exalted above measure? Is it also accurate to think, the enemy would be the agent used to ensure Paul would remain humble?

 In order for this to be the right assessment of why Paul was given this thorn, we need to see if satan would keep Paul from being prideful. In order to properly evaluate this, allow me to remind you of something.
He beholds every high thing; He is king over all the children of pride.” Job 41:34 NKJV. 
 God declared this about satan. He said the enemy is the king over all the children of pride. In fact, what was the original sin found in satan? Pride! 

  Now, let's use some wisdom and sound judgment. Why would God in His infinite wisdom assign satan the task of keeping Paul from becoming prideful? This leads to another obvious question. Why would the enemy want Paul to remain humble? Wouldn't the enemy do all he could to tempt Paul to become more and more prideful? 

 This view is twisted logic. It's based on the twisted and inconsistent concepts of the traditions of men. This teaching that God wanted Paul to remain humble so He brought satan in to ensure it clearly contradicts the whole of Scripture and the very nature and character of God and the enemy. 

2. Paul's thorn in the flesh was some sickness or disease. 
 This is one of the most widely held traditions concerning Paul's thorn. The idea is God sees Paul is puffed up so He makes him sick and disease-ridden to keep the pride away. 

 What's at root here is the twisted religious idea that God brings evil to better us. That He brings destruction to our life to straighten us out. That in order to get our full, undivided attention He brings to us destructive, tragic circumstances or He puts a crippling, tormenting disease upon us.

 Jesus was God in the flesh. When He walked the sandy shores of Galilee He was fully God. When did He ever bring a debilitating disease on Peter to correct his erring ways? When His inner circle of disciples wouldn't watch with Him for one hour, did He cause them to experience bankruptcy, or kill their loved ones in some terrible accident? Did He whip up some devastating storm that destroyed all they owned? Did He bring a pestilence upon them?  Really nothing like that to perfect them, to instruct them? Nope, nothing at all. 

 When Jesus was here on Earth, we have no record of Him bringing destruction, disease, death or famine on any persons or nations. Think. Jesus said a kingdom divided will not stand. If God our Father made people sick and Jesus turned around and healed them, they would be actively working against each other. The Kingdom would be divided and therefore not stand. 

 You may say but Paul said it was a thorn in the flesh. This must mean it was a sickness. Not true. This was merely a figure of speech. Much like today, have you never heard someone say this is a pain in the neck? Is it literally a pain in the neck? Of course not. Some even go so far as to say this or that is a pain in the rear. If Paul had used that expression, some "theologians" would suggest Paul experienced painful hemorrhoids all his life. 

 If we follow the Scripture you can see these types of expressions used. Here are just a few examples, here. Another place here. One more here. Proving again, this phrase is merely an idiom used to describe a situation facing Paul.
3. God told Paul, "No!"
 This is the saddest thing to hear taught. Imagine coming to God our Father for help only to be told no. Does this sound like God? Is this what a good Father would tell His children?

 The idea taught by tradition is Paul asks God for help, healing, and deliverance and God tells him no. God basically tells him to keep suffering it is best for you. They see where God says my Grace is sufficient, and come to the conclusion that God told Paul, the fact you're saved is all you need. Be content in your suffering. 

 This is not what God said to Paul. He never told Him no. He simply told Him Grace is sufficient. In other words, what you already have is sufficient to deal with this. 

Clearly Understanding Paul's Thorn

Going back to the text, look closely at what is going on. Don't isolate this account and try to use it to explain difficulties and challenging circumstances. The truth is we live in a fallen and fractured creation. Nothing will be perfectly just and right until Jesus returns and completely transforms this place.

 Paul speaks of visions and revelation he is given. What is this revelation? It is the revelation of the New Covenant. It is the revelation of the righteousness of the believer apart from performance and observance of the Law and Jewish ritual and practices. It is also the revelation that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile in Christ. 

 Paul says in order for him to no be exalted overmuch he was given a messenger of satan to buffet him. This word buffet is to attack, strike hard with a fist. Is God assigning satan to beat Paul up to keep him in humility? 

 No, for two reasons. One God commands us to humble ourselves. He didn't say I am going to use satan to humble you. Secondly, He says He will exalt us in due time. So being exalted doesn't always mean prideful arrogance. 
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 1 Peter 5:6 NKJV

This phrase about being exalted above measure is used only twice in Scripture. Here and in the Epistle to the Thessalonians.  One describes arrogantly exalting oneself describing the end time work of the enemy. This phrase here Paul is speaking of exalting over the measure of the enemy's influence.

 The enemy was fighting this New Covenant. He wanted to keep the Jews bound to Law. He wanted to put the Law on the Gentiles. Paul had this revelation of Grace and was sharing it setting so many free. The enemy, the messenger of satan, the word used for angel or messenger, was a religious spirit stirring up the religious to publicly resist Paul wherever he went.

 This is what the thorn was. It was the religious trying to prevent the people from experiencing the freedoms of Grace and the New Covenant. Everywhere Paul preached they would be stirred up. Paul did seek God for deliverance.

 God didn't tell Paul no, just suffer. What He said was my Grace is sufficient. This word sufficient means to be possessed of unfailing strength. It speaks of defense and the ability to ward off an attack. In this strength, it also connotes the idea of contentment. 

 Grace is the unearned undeserved favor of God. What God told Paul was Grace is more than enough. The more the enemy attacked the more Grace superabounded. This is why Paul began to rejoice when He was insufficient in himself. He knew then that his ability couldn't bring it to pass, but God and His strength and power were more than enough to get the job done. 

 Look at Paul's life. Yes, the enemy brought much persecution. Yet all in all Paul's message of Grace, the Gospel, righteousness and the New Covenant was boldly proclaimed everywhere and the message continues to this day.

 In summation, let go of twisted religion. God was there for Paul just like He will be for you. In fact, there is an end to this story. God did, in fact, deliver Paul. 
 11 persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me 2 Timothy 3:11 NKJV
 God is our good Father. We can lean on Him. Trust in Him. Rest in His favor for us. The enemy is defeated and Jesus is our triumphant King and He has made us more than conquerors, so rejoice! 
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Monday, November 19, 2018

Losing our Religion: Shame

having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 2 Timothy 3:5 NKJV 

We've begun a series of study exposing the lies of religious tradition. We are seeing the truth of the Gospel versus the lies of the spirit of religion. As we progress we will see more and more the benefit of losing the traditions of men and embracing God's over the top, too good to be true but true Good News Gospel of Grace.

 Today, I sense the leading to address this area of shame. What is shame? How do we define it in the context of exposing religious traditions? Shame is a painful sense of humiliation. It accompanies guilt and condemnation. 

Sometimes when we actually do something wrong afterward we are ashamed of our actions. Certainly, I understand no reasonable person wants to celebrate a poor choice or the act of hurting someone. Though that is true, shame is not God's method of bringing correction.  In the context of religious tradition though, shame plays a major role. 

 Under religion, shame comes to us whether we actually did something wrong or not. What I mean is this. Tradition has their rules and regulations and places a demand that you follow them. What they call preaching often is just the leader harping on the perceived notion of how little commitment the people have. How they are doing less and less and should be doing more and more.  How they come short in their giving and church attendance. How the falter in spiritual disciplines. If we aren't beaten up a little, we don't feel like we've actually heard good preaching.

 When someone messes up shame comes from the enemy. He wants them to take that mistake and allow it to define them. The enemy wants them to allow it to derail them from fulfilling God's plan for their life.

 Tradition backs up the enemy's claims. I have heard horror stories of people made to come to the front of the church and recount their sin. You may say, brother, didn't Paul the Apostle of Grace teach us that we are to rebuke before all those that sin?

 Glad you brought that passage up. In full context, Paul isn't speaking of shaming people. He is speaking of leadership. In essence, he is saying don't entertain disgruntled people's claims. However, if in fact, a leader has indeed taken advantage of people and hurt those he leads, the behavior should be corrected and let the people know the behavior is wrong. 

 God is offering guidelines to protect people. If a leader is scamming the people, taking their savings, or if they are physically taking advantage of them, he should be rebuked or corrected. Correction isn't about shaming someone. So this passage isn't talking about shaming the people every time they mess up.

 Under religion, shame creeps up to us subtly. Tradition will drop hints about how we are failing to measure up to their rules. They may mention things like watching the ball game instead of praying. They may speak of missing church meetings so you can visit family or participate in a prior engagement. They will challenge your "love for God." They will challenge your level of spiritual hunger or maturity. 

 Then the people will do some heavy introspection. It isn't Spirit-led. It is religion led. It leads people to see themselves as continually failing to measure up. I read somewhere a great example of this. A person goes to church and they forgot to silence their cell phone. It rings, and the leadership stop and shame the person for disturbing the meeting. Not realizing the person was going through a tough time already, so they go to the local bar. There they are greeted by a warm smile from the bartender. After they are seated they mistakenly spill their drink. The waitress, says that's ok we all make mistakes, let me get you another drink. Another Bar worker cleans up the spill, saying again its no big deal.   The person never went back to church, but always goes to the local bar.

 Look at your own life. In your own experiences with religion, how has shame played a part in your spiritual journey? Have you ever felt like an outcast? That your sin was too much for even God to handle? Did you feel you never measured up in the eyes of others? That they were always more spiritual than you, and therefore God favored them more? Did you ever feel like God would never answer your prayers because you are not as faithful and committed as others?

 Shame is the tool the enemy equips traditional religion with. Tradition can only show how you are always failing and how you need to continually improve. Grace says otherwise. The Finished Work reveals your infinite value to your Father in Heaven. Under Grace God says you're more than a conqueror. That Christ has made you accepted and approved. Not religious approved but Jesus approved! Even when you fail, Grace reminds you of who you are. You're the righteousness of God in Christ, free from condemnation and no one is able to lay a charge against you. 

 In summation be free from the religious tradition of men and embrace what Grace says about you. When they say you are failing to measure up, rest knowing Jesus already measures up and He says you're approved. When they say you're letting God down, remember you're not holding Him up, so you can never let Him down. Rest knowing Jesus is the complete shame remover. Embracing Grace brings us to a place of rest free from shame and condemnation. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Losing our Religion!

13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” Mark 7:13 NKJV

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. Colossians 2:8 KJV

having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 2 Timothy 3:5 NKJV 

 We've been in a study as of late concerning God's Grace and the wholeness it brings. As I was studying on the healing and wholeness Grace provided, the Spirit captured my heart. It was made clear to me even stronger that in order to be fully whole we must relinquish all the religion and traditions in our lives. 

 I am not just speaking of the traditions of men of the church you don't attend. I am speaking of all the traditions of men. I am talking about Southern Baptist tradition. Methodist tradition. I am talking about the Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian traditions of men. I am talking about the Pentecostal/Charismatic/Word of Faith traditions of men. 

 Look, I am not attacking these Christian denominations or churches. I am talking about the traditions of men that allow believers to come in and not see Jesus as the focus of it all. I am talking about coming into a gathering, whether you sit reverently, or lift your hands, or even dance a little dance but never have an encounter with the risen Christ and receive of His Grace and the gift of righteousness.

Lose the religion!

 It's time we lose the religion. Listen, we've all experienced the guilt, the shame, the condemnation and burdensome weight of religious tradition. Let's see Jesus' thoughts on religion.

And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. Mark 3:1-5 NKJV

 This clearly illustrates the religious tradition of men. They were more focused on men keeping the letter and not disturbing the traditions rather than seeing a broken man made whole again. It's the same today.

 We see broken men and women, marred by the pain of divorce. Be it as the result of betrayal or abuse, seeking to find a future peace and happiness only to hear the voice of tradition rise up proclaiming, no, solitude and singleness is your lot. If you remarry you're a sinful adulterer. 

Broken young men have come to the Church looking for restoration and to find salvation. Yet, they didn't look like everyone else and didn't wear a three-piece suit. They had piercings or tattoos or long hair. They were driven out of the church until they could "clean up their act."

 Godly women who had received God's gifting and Grace upon their life to proclaim liberty to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind and to tell of the great love and freedom in Christ are silenced. Tradition keeps them quiet saying women shouldn't speak in the Church. They then create the inconsistent tradition women can teach children and other ladies but other than that sit-down and shut up.

 There are those sick and broken. They are hurting. They have a disabling disease. There are those trapped in the bondage of cruel addiction. The tradition-bound leader proclaims Jesus can't help you. His healing power was only regulated to 2,000 years ago.  Hope you can find a good doctor and hopefully you have good insurance.

 What are Jesus' thoughts? Jesus hates tradition for it robs His people of all He purchased for us. Religious tradition grieves Him because He knows how it hardens the hearts of those who follow it.

 This passage also illustrates what matters to God. Your wholeness matters to God. Your restoration is important to Him. God values your completeness regardless of the traditions of men. Jesus moved passed the tradition and reached out and brought healing. 

 We likewise need to move pass tradition and bring Jesus and His wholeness to all. In the sense of deserving by our doing, we are all unworthy. We were all broken, lost, fallen ones. We rebelled against God. We've gone our own way in the past. There isn't one person who deserves, by their own merits, good works, accomplishments any of God's goodness and favor. That's why this is the Gospel of Grace. We, therefore, can't withhold this goodness and Good News from anyone.

  When we say lose the religion, we aren't speaking of denying the clear truth of God's Word. We are talking about relinquishing the traditions of men. A performance-based faith, the striving, and works syndrome. The loveless message of religion. The God is always angry and disappointed in the Church mindset. The "you need to be doing more to please God" concept. The powerless claim that Jesus can't heal or restore today. We're speaking of resisting the accusations, the guilt, the shame and condemnation traditional religion brings. It's time to embrace Grace.

 In summation, if you want to find fulfillment, and wholeness let go of religious tradition and embrace the Grace. God wants you to know how loved and accepted and redeemed you are. He wants you to encounter Him on an all the time basis. He is always with you and He is always cheering you on. Jesus believes in you. Tradition, like Law, will only point out your flaws, your missteps. His Grace points you to your identity in Him. It reveals your new nature, who you are in Him and how victorious you are in Him. Embrace Grace. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Grace: the Remedy for Accusation

11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” Acts 15:11 NKJV

 We've begun a new series looking at a fundamental aspect of God's Grace. Grace, the Good News Gospel of Jesus brings healing and restoration and wholeness to those who receive it. Grace in its goodness never leaves us the way it finds us. 

 So far we've seen how Grace is the antidote for traditional religion. We've seen how Grace brings wholeness to the hurts. We've seen how Grace is the remedy for fear

 Today, I sense the leading to begin addressing this issue of the wicked cycle of defeat and anguish the enemy brings to God's people. The cycle of accusation and condemnation and shame. What may seem conspicuously absent in this cycle is "temptation." What we will soon see is sometimes the enemy doesn't even need a temptation to find a reason to bring his accusations.

 If you've been a believer for more than a month or so, the temptation scheme of the enemy is all too familiar. The enemy tempts or allures you to transgress, to commit sin, to feed your fleshly appetites. In a moment of weakness, you follow through on that temptation. Then instantly, the enemy rushes in with a host of slander and accusation. This cycle may look something like this.

The enemy, that defeated devil, tempts you "why not indulge yourself?"
 You resist. "No."
 The enemy, "Come on just one more time. What can it hurt?" 
 After considerable tempting and alluring you give in. Instantly, the enemy comes to you. "Look at you! Look at what you've done! And you call yourself a Christian? God's so mad at you! God's so disappointed in you!"

 When we give in to temptations the enemy quickly brings his accusations. This is the common expression of accusation from the enemy. As we grow in the Lord what use to trip us up doesn't trip us up any longer, so the enemy seeks other ways to tempt us. 

 This arena of accusation is where we who just blew it are in fact guilty. So what is the remedy for this type accusation? His Grace is the remedy for all accusation. Even if we are guilty of what the accusation is. 

 Are you saying, even if what you are accused of is true, that Grace is for that too? That's what's so amazing about Grace. Grace doesn't see us in our mess and just leave us there. Yes, but didn't Peter instruct us not to suffer or be reviled for wrongdoing?

 Here is the Good News. Your sin is none of the devil's business. Even when you fail, God's Grace has already addressed that sin. His shed blood has already forgiven and paid for that sin. Your sin is between God and you and no one else. If your sin affected others, follow God's love and leading and see how He would bring restoration and wholeness to all those involved. 

 When temptation arises and we fall for it and sin, this cycle of accusation and condemnation and shame will begin. What we must know Grace is there to disrupt this cycle and bring us to a place of wholeness and victory. When accusation comes, Grace reminds us of our true identity. He shows us we are better than that sin. Grace reminds us He has so much better for us in Christ. Grace makes sin less and less appealing, enabling us to walk out who we already are in Him, the righteous and holy children of God. 

We must also realize this isn't the only avenue this cycle comes into our life. I addressed the temptation and accusation issue first because it is so common. However, the other arena the enemy loves to bring his accusations is the religious traditions of men. It comes through well-meaning teachers and other believers. It comes across to us in the doctrines of old. 

 Many would be surprised to know the accusation of the enemy often comes through the mouths of other believers. Let me pause momentarily. Sometimes the accusation of the enemy can come through the voice of the World system. They slander and accuse the Church of not being loving or kind when we uphold the righteous principles God established as the Truth. 

 In times like this, respond peacefully but truthfully, in love, knowing the World system is lost and in darkness and therefore ignorant of the truth. They can't see the light because they're blinded. No need to feel condemned or shamed because of their words. Jesus wasn't always popular and we won't be either so just enjoy your life free from the opinions of worldly men.

 With that understanding, let's focus on one of the biggest areas of accusation. The mouths of the religious and their traditions. Certainly, they mean well, but the traditions of men have brought so many into a place of guilt and condemnation. 

 I heard a message preached by a well-known minister. He was passionate about raising the standard of holiness. Being honest, as believers who would want to embrace a lifestyle of sin? Remind people of who they are and whose they are. Growth will develop unlike this type of preaching which only stirs up sin.

 The minister preached we ought to begin by living out the Ten Commandments. Clearly, we can see that the spirit of religion was masking itself as the motivator of holy living and truly veiling the minister's eyes. 
14 Not only Moses’ face was veiled, but his people’s minds and understanding were veiled and blinded too. Even now when the Scripture is read it seems as though Jewish hearts and minds are covered by a thick veil, because they cannot see and understand the real meaning of the Scriptures. For this veil of misunderstanding can be removed only by believing in Christ. 15 Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings their hearts are blind and they think that obeying the Ten Commandments is the way to be saved. 2 Corinthians 3:14-15 TLB

 By promoting Law as a means to attain a more holy living your leading people astray. Paul tells us the strength of sin is the Law. Without realizing it, the message didn't bring people into a closer walk with God, it actually made them draw back. 

 Accusations come by way of traditional teaching. Its subtle words say there is something wrong with you. That God finds displeasure with you and if you just heed these words God will love you more. Staying with the truth of the New Covenant and tuning out tradition causes these accusative words to have no power over you.

 Another way this accusation finds a foothold in our thinking is when we begin creating standards to live by that God has nothing to do with. It starts with placing demands upon ourselves that God never put there. Often, these demands come when we compare ourselves to the ideal Christian.

 In reality, this phantom Christian who spends hours in prayer, and devotion, has a perfect marriage, is a perfect spouse, perfect parent and is a highly praised employee just doesn't exist. This accusation veils itself as a motivation for growth but in reality, it's designed to tear us down and get us to quit. It speaks this to us repeatedly, "I could be doing so much more."

 Here is the truth, it's already done. It is finished. What more needs to be done? Is it your sacrifices and efforts that are needed or is it Jesus' once for all sacrifice? It seems to tradition that Jesus Finished Work means nothing. That all Grace is for is to be an ability gift to fulfill all the demands tradition and self-righteous comparison brings. Resist this lie. Grace reminds you of who you are in Him. You are complete in Him. Your fulfillment is in Him. Jesus' work is enough. Rest and be who He already made you.

No weapon formed against you shall prosper, And every tongue which rises against you in judgment You shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LordAnd their righteousness is from Me,” Says the Lord.  Isaiah 54:17 NKJV

 In summation, understand accusation comes to all of us. Be it through our own sins or by the voice of the religious, their traditional teachings, or by comparing ourselves to others. Victory comes when we listen to what God says about us. Truth removes all error. Hear Jesus' words to you and live and abide in them;

10 Until finally, Jesus was left alone with the woman still standing there in front of him. So he stood back up and said to her, “Dear woman, where are your accusers? Is there no one here to condemn you?” 11 Looking around, she replied, “I see no one, Lord.” Jesus said, “Then I certainly don’t condemn you either. Go, and from now on, be free from a life of sin.” John 8:10-12 TPT

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