THE LORD IS WITH YOU

Bible stories

Genesis 39

2 The LORD was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. 5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. 6 So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.
Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!”
8 But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. 9 No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” 10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.
11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.
13 When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14 she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”
16 She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”
19 When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. 20 Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.
But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

 

 

 

We heard Jesus say today, “Take up your cross and follow me.” This is not an encouragement for Christians to build a heavy, wooden object and carry it all the time or find a nice pendant to hang on a chain around our necks.  This is also not Jesus’ way of telling you that you have to participate with him in the work of salvation.  It is not possible to help Jesus save you from hell.  There is nothing for us to do in the eternal life equation.  We are saved by God’s grace alone through faith in Jesus.  But that does not change what Jesus says to us today.  Following Jesus means you and I will have to carry something in life, and I think this Bible story helps us figure out what that is.

Joseph was a man who had already been through a lot.  The family he was born into was a little dysfunctional.  Joseph’s dad, Jacob, had 12 sons and one daughter…from the 4 different wives.  If you read through Genesis 30-38 you will see that this was not a good recipe for a family unit.  On top of that, Jacob was not always a good father.  He loved Joseph more than any of his children and everyone could see it, literally because Jacob made an ornate robe just for Joseph, almost as if to parade him around the house and the fields.  The brothers took notice and hated him for it.  The Bible says that they could not speak a kind word to him.

Things only got worse to the point where the brothers plotted ways to kill Joseph.  They didn’t go through with it, because they saw a caravan of merchants heading south. One of his brothers, Judah said,  “Why kill Joseph and cover it up?  Why not sell him, he is our brother after all, and make a little money on him?  We can still make it look like he is dead.”  So that’s what they did; they sold their brother and made everyone else believe he was dead.

That’s where we pick things up in Genesis 39.  Joseph is now a slave in Egypt, sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.  And then we read this little line, “The Lord was with Joseph…”  Doesn’t this detail seem out of place to you?  Most people tend to think that bad things happen when people turn toward evil.  There is some wiring in the human brain that see things as cause and effect, something bad happens because someone was doing something bad.  Even spiritually, we might think, “Well, Joseph had it coming because he was getting too full of himself, and God had to put him in his place.”  But that’s not the case here.  All of these things happen to Joseph while the Lord was with him, watching over him, protecting him, loving him.

It seemed to be taking a turn for the better.  Joseph was a slave, but he wasn’t brutalized.  He was put in charge of the house.  Joseph was responsible for everything Potiphar had.  But it all comes crashing down, again. Potiphar’s wife comes into the picture with an offer, “Come to bed with me.”  Joseph is an honorable man and refuses.  But the reason is not because he didn’t want to have sex with her – someone else, maybe, but just not her – or because she was another man’s wife or because he was afraid of what Potiphar would do.

No, listen to his reason.  “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”  Joseph sees this is a spiritual issue.  It is wrong because God says it is wrong.  God says certain things are sinful.  Plain and simple, we don’t get to decide what’s right and wrong.  Joseph does a good job of seeing this from a faith standpoint.   Believers listen to the Lord and follow him earnestly, faithfully, carefully.  Believers should not listen to the Lord and then grumble about following him.  Believers should not choose for themselves what to follow.  Believers should not get lazy about listening to the Lord when it seems old-fashioned or strict.  Believers should not grow careless and wander off.  That’s how believers end up falling away from Jesus.  It’s their own fault, not God’s.

Maybe the way Joseph reacts to this temptation will turn things around for him?  Maybe this is when the Lord will reward him?  But when he refuses, she doesn’t back down.  She continued to pressure him day after day.  Then, she actually got a hold of him, so Joseph had to leave his shirt behind and run out of there.  But that’s not the story that Potiphar gets.  No, he gets the version where Joseph is the immoral and abusive one.

Now, we could stop here to talk about sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace or at home, about the MeToo movement, about false allegations, about all this kind of stuff that comes up in our oversexualized society.  I don’t want to ignore this topic or lead anyone to think that this type of stuff is off limits. We have to talk about these kinds of things.  We have to listen to what God says. We have to be filled with love and compassion.  We have to be willing to listen and help whenever possible.

But for our purposes today, I want you just to consider Joseph’s reaction. He didn’t do anything wrong and is falsely accused, but when Potiphar gets a different story from his wife, what does Joseph do? It’s right there in verse…verse…verse… Actually, there is no reaction from Joseph recorded.  No press conference, no hiring of a lawyer, no plea for the other slaves, who all worked for Joseph, to speak up, nothing like that.  And I get it, he’s a slave, what can he do?  But still!  He just goes to prison.  For never complaining once about all these horrible circumstances, for being a good and honest slave, for being honorable in the face of temptation, for putting God first, Joseph’s suffering only gets worse.

And strangely enough what does verse 21 tell us?  “The Lord was with him…”  How come the all-powerful God didn’t step in?  If God is so loving and kind, why would Joseph have to endure all this?  When is enough, enough?  Aren’t those some of questions that a Bible story like this raises?  Aren’t those some of the questions you hear or ask from time to time?  I’ve been in the hospital, I’ve sat in my office, I’ve been at a cookout or a ballgame and talked to people who have these kinds of questions.

And the answer comes back to the cross Jesus is talking about.  A cross is not meant to be enjoyable.  It was a terrorizing instrument of death. The cross is pain.  The cross is persecution.  The cross is all the hardships you endure because you believe in Jesus.  Every Christian has a cross to carry.  It’s not an option.  Plain and simple, the cross has to be part of the life of Jesus’ followers.   This is not because God is unkind, but he knows there is something better for us than what this world has to offer.

The cross of suffering and persecution forces us to see that this world the way it really is. This is the place that is ravaged by sin.  This is the place where sin dooms people to eternal death in hell.  No fancy ornate robe like the one Jacob gave Joseph can cover my sin.  No job where I’m put in charge of everything can pay for my sins.  This is the place where suffering happens, not because God doesn’t care or doesn’t love you, but because sin is a destroyer.

Just think of what sin did to Jesus.  He suffered more than being sold into slavery.  He was sold for thirty pieces of silver into death.  He suffered more than imprisonment because of false accusations.  He was crucified.  That is the punishment for sin.  My sin and yours earn and deserve death.  But God stepped in for you.  Jesus paid the price so that we would not suffer what we deserve.  Jesus gave his life so that we could have life with him in heaven, where there is not suffering, no pain, no persecution.

Heaven is the home for God’s people, not this world. So, suffering the cross of persecution and hardship here forces us to keep our eyes where they need to be, on the one who saves us from suffering, on the spiritual and eternal blessings that are more profound, on the home that was purchased for us by the suffering and death of Jesus.  

If you aren’t willing to take up this cross, if you want everything in your life to be easy, if you want it my way or it’s the highway, if you want to avoid the questions, if you don’t want to deal with the pain, then how can you be a disciple of Jesus?  How can you bear the name of the one who died and rose to save you?  You are trying to save yourself from hardship and suffering, and only the Lord can do that.  You are trying to save yourself from what the Lord intends to be a spiritual and eternal benefit for you.  You are trying to save your life on earth, when the Lord wants you to be in heaven with him.  How could that possibly be what a child of God does? 

Do you know what the Lord accomplished through Joseph’s suffering?  He went to prison for more than two years, until the Pharaoh needed someone to interpret his dreams.  It just so happened there was a Hebrew slave in prison who had been given that gift from God.  God raised Joseph up from the suffering to be second in command of all Egypt.  God used Joseph to save the sons of Israel from a famine.  God used Joseph to be a beautiful example to his brothers of forgiveness and love.  God, then, went on to rescue Israel from Egypt and restore them in the Promised Land.  God kept his promise to deliver his people and save the world when he sent his own Son to take our suffering away for eternity.  That’s why this Bible story about Joseph keeps saying, “The Lord was with him…”  Despite the cross of suffering and hardships, Joseph was not alone.

When suffering is yours to endure, when persecution is the cross you must carry, the Lord is with you like he was with Joseph.  Followers of Jesus may lose things in this life, maybe it’s comfort, maybe friends or family, maybe a job, maybe health, or maybe even this life on earth is taken away, but Christ is with you.  And so your life is saved for eternity through his cross.  And that’s what matters.  That’s what we focus on.

I had the privilege keeping the focus on Jesus as I visited a couple of our members in the hospital this Friday.  I’ll conclude with the same words of God that I shared with them, words that give the encouragement we need as we carry our crosses.  From 2 Corinthians 4: 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Brothers and sisters, God bless you as you take up your cross and follow Jesus. Amen.

5 LESSONS ABOUT OUR MISSION

7.15.18 Pentecost 8B

 

Pentecost B

Mark 6:6b-13

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

 

 

Well, our Summer Growth series is almost done.  What have you learned?  What has made an impact on you?  What has helped you grow? It’s good to do a spiritual inventory every once in a while to honestly analyze what areas are strong and what areas need some help.  A key there is to be honest.  There might be some things that you need a little more work than others

For example, you might not struggle with the fact that worship is absolutely essential.  You might realize that what happens here is the same thing a hospital does for someone with cancer.  This is God, the master of body and soul, cutting out what is bad with his law and healing what is sick with the gospel.  This is necessary for the health of your spirit, and so you make church attendance a priority that nothing can top.  Good, that’s a strong spot for your faith.  It’s not something to be boastful about; it’s something to thank God for.

But maybe when it comes to worry and fear, you wither and wilt. You just can’t help pondering over the problems at work or deliberating the difficulties of some relationships.  You are afraid of the future for your kids, you are afraid of rejection, you are afraid of death, and the fears continue to pile up.  It’s like what Jesus said to his disciples when he calmed the storm, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”  Jesus was not questioning if they believed in him as the Messiah, the Son of God to save them from sin.  Jesus was telling them that some of their fears were clouding out God’s promise to protect them from danger.  So, that’s an area that needs some growth.  Repent for the lack of faith.  See Christ’s loving forgiveness.  And then study up on some of those powerful promises in Scripture, because that is what the Holy Spirit will use as miracle grow for your faith.

We all have areas where we need God’s Word to keep us strong and healthy and then we also have areas where we need God’s Word to strengthen our weaknesses and grow our faith.  I think today’s Gospel brings up an area where we can all use some growth.  It’s the great privilege and purpose that God has bestowed on his people.  It’s the reason why a congregation was started here back in the early summer of 1960 as an offshoot of Redeemer in Mandan. It’s the specific effort of all God’s people to reach others with this life-saving gospel message of forgiveness through Christ.  It’s our mission.  This area that needs some strengthening is called evangelism.

Today, Jesus gives us 5 lessons about our mission that can help us grow in this important work we do together.

Calling the Twelve to him, he… gave them authority over impure spirits.”

Lesson 1 – Jesus calls us and gives us his authority

It is a very little detail, but I think it’s a powerful one.  Notice how this mission work started for the disciples.  It wasn’t 12 friends who had this bright idea that they should go out preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus.  It wasn’t these highly educated religious scholars who wanted to impart their vast wisdom on people.  It wasn’t specifically trained men with titles like pastor, staff minister or teacher. This is a group of people who were called together by Jesus.

That’s all you need to do this mission work.  You need Jesus’ call.  The Son of God in the flesh calls them together for their first mission trip.  It isn’t a big one – they just went to neighboring towns and villages – but it is important work, work that needed special authority.

Jesus not only calls them but then gives them his authority.  That’s what it takes to fend of the devil and all his evil.  It doesn’t take all the best skills and personality traits.  It doesn’t take all the coolest programs and events.  Mission work needs Jesus’ authority over the devil.

You have both of these things.  Did you know that?  You have been called by the Son of God, the Word made flesh, to be his child, to be salt and light in this decaying dark world, to go and make disciples.  Every single Christian is called in this general way to be a part of Christ’s mission.  And you carry with you the authority that does not originate from the wisest philosophies this world has to offer.  It’s not from a diploma that hangs in your office from the best education money can buy.  It comes from the one who came not from this world but from heaven.  His mission was to rescue us from sin, death, and the devil.  It was God’s promise that he would crush the devil’s head and that is exactly what Jesus did.  That’s the kind of authority we have in our mission of spreading Jesus to those around us and the whole world.

While every Christian has this call from Christ to carry out his mission in their lives, there are some who have specific calls to specific places to serve Christ and his people.  Paul mentions these types of ministries in the second reading for today.  God’s people need leaders, overseers, or shepherds to help serve and organize their mission efforts.  Right now, there is a great need for them.  We have around 100 churches that don’t have a full-time pastor.  We have even more schools that have to try and piece a unit of teachers together to make sure we can teach the gospel to all the students in our WELS elementary schools and high schools.  Might it be a good time to focus on what is truly important in our nation?  Might it be a good time for you to talk about this with your children and grandchildren?  Might it be a good time to make the sacrifices now, so that God will continue to have instruments to preach and teach his gospel?

Even though we are not worthy of such a calling, Christ desires to use his people to carry out his mission.  Through the church, he calls some to specific places to carry out specific work as pastors and teachers.  Through his Word, he calls all of us and gives us his authority to carry the gospel around with us in our day to day lives.

“Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two…”

Lesson 2 – We don’t need to do it alone.

Jesus never said that you are an island when it comes to mission work.  In fact, so many times throughout Scripture the exact opposite is the case.  Elijah thought he was alone and God said there were seven thousand still on his side.  David felt alone when Saul was trying to kill him, but he still had Jonathan.  Paul went on missionary trips with Barnabas and Luke, and later Silas and Timothy.  Jesus himself gathered these 12 men to be with him.  He also reminds us, “Wherever two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.”

Sure, you can go by yourself to invite someone to church or our Bible Basics class.  We could emphasize a mission plan for each one to reach one, but I think Jesus is on to something.  There is strength in numbers.  There is encouragement when you are not alone.  This is not a reason to use the excuse that “someone else will do it” but it is a reminder that Jesus does not call you to a life and mission of solitude.  If you have a spouse or a sibling, you can be a missionary team that tries to seek opportunities to speak about what Jesus has done for you.  If you have a family or group of friends here at church, you can pray for each other, encourage each other, and hold each other accountable in the mission work we do together.  If you haven’t found anyone to partner up with yet, let me know and I will try to help you find a team.  That way, when you make some mistakes or neglect some opportunities, you can also repent and forgive each other.  This is the beauty of our mission.  Christ never leaves you alone, but he gives you family or friends, a church family, a synod, and the whole Christian Church on earth to keep you going.

“Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.  Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.  Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.”

Lesson 3 – God’s people generously support mission work.

We might think that it’s totally different now as a group of Christians tries to carry out the mission Jesus has given us, but it’s really not.  The disciples didn’t take anything except what they were wearing, their staff, and sandals.  God was going to take care of them through the generosity of his people.  Part of what we do to accomplish Christ’s mission is pool our resources together to do the same thing.  We share.  We give.  And we do it generously, willing to give money, food, housing, and whatever else it takes to support Christ’s mission work.  I and my family are extremely grateful for what you do to generously support and care for us.

But my little family is not the only one who benefits.  We generously support Christ’s mission so that we have this place where we gather and invite others to gather with us to hear the Word of the Lord.  We generously support Christ’s mission so that there will be pastors to preach in places like this and teachers to teach in our schools and that there will be pastors and teachers to go to places and people that we cannot across the world. We generously support Christ’s mission so that our church body can train those who want to preach and teach God’s Word at places like Luther Preparatory School, Martin Luther College, and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.

This generous support, whether it is your time, your abilities, or your money, is not costing you something. If you are looking at it that way, then look again. Your generous support of Christ’s mission is an investment in your eternity and the eternity of your children, spouse, family, friends, neighbors, and community.  It is seeking Christ first, and he says all the other stuff will be taken care of, as well.   That’s an investment with an eternal impact.

“And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

Lesson 4 – We are not responsible for the results. We simply respond the way Jesus tells us.

I don’t know about you, but I need this reminder a lot, because I can put all sorts of pressure on myself to say the right thing at the right time to the right person.  I can put all sorts of pressure on myself to preach better, teach better, reach out better.  I can put all sorts of pressure on myself that the results of my mission work are up to me.

It’s just not true.  Jesus flat out told the disciples that some might not welcome your invitations or your caring attempt to turn a conversation to spiritual and eternal matters.  Jesus doesn’t say you have to beat yourself up about that.  Jesus doesn’t say that you have to change your approach.  Jesus doesn’t say that you have to go back home with your tail between your legs.  If you are being diligent and faithful with the mission Christ has given you, then you have nothing to do but respond the way Jesus tells us.

Shaking the dust of their feet didn’t mean that disciples now had to hold a grudge against the people who rejected their message.  Shaking the dust of their feet didn’t mean the disciples had to openly drag their name through the mud.  It just meant that Jesus is serious about his Word.  If people don’t want it, then Jesus wants us to give a loving warning that those who don’t want or don’t care much about the gospel of Jesus are outside of his kingdom.  They don’t get to enjoy the eternity that Jesus has won.  They will spend eternity with all the impure spirits of the devil.  They will be the losers in hell forever.

You and I could never be responsible for someone believing or rejecting Jesus.  It is the power of Holy Spirit working through the gospel that calls people to repentance and faith.  It is the stubborn and unrelenting heart of evil that rejects the message of Jesus and his power to save.  It is not the one doing the mission work.

Although, we could certainly be responsible for someone never hearing the gospel of Jesus, never seeing his mission in action, never knowing his peace.  While we can never be responsible for the results of our mission work, we are always responsible for how we respond when Christ sends his people out with work to do.

That leads to the last lesson about our mission.

They went out and preached…

Lesson 5 – Get out there and try it.

There is no awkward dillydallying from the disciples.  There is not one excuse.  There isn’t a timidity that keeps them from doing this work.  There is nothing that stops them.  Why?  Do you ever wonder why?  Why do they just give us the impression that they were Christ’s robots when it comes to doing his mission work?  Every time he sends them out they just go.  Is it because they had the perfect pitch?  Is it because they had the respect and honor from everyone they met?  Is it because they had all the skills?  Not at all.  They had the call from Jesus and his authority.  They had others with whom to go. They had the support of God’s people.  They knew that they were not responsible for the results.  And so they went.

I hope you notice today that everything they had is exactly the same thing that you and I have.  You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  And so there’s only one thing left to do: Get out there and try it.

God grant it.  Amen.

WHEN I AM WEAK…

 

7.8.18 Pentecost 7BPentecost B

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. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 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.

 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”

This is a pretty familiar portion of the Declaration of Independence that our nation’s founding fathers signed on July 4th, 1776.  It’s still something that we value very much today.

First, we want to live.  And it’s not just life that we want.  We won’t settle for little huts, walking down to the river for water, wearing the same cloths every day, and eating the same food all the time.  We want life, a life of endless opportunities.  We want a life where our day to day necessities are what the rest of the world would call lavish luxuries.

Second, we want freedom.  We have so much freedom I’m not sure our brains could even process what it would be like to be in complete servitude, to be put under someone else unwillingly.  We have freedom to be able to pick our own jobs, our own houses, our own friends, our own religions and so much more.  We want all these freedoms because it makes us feel like we are in control.

Third, we want to be happy, or at least the ability to pursue what will make us happy.  And that happiness will be different for everyone.  But this country is all about making myself happy.  If something, like meat for example, makes me happy, then I should be able to get meat and eat it.  And if somehow you don’t like meat, then you should be able to go places where you don’t have to eat meat.  America provides what makes people happy.

These things make America what it is.  You can say what you want about politics or whatever else is potentially irritating to you, but America is pretty good at giving life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

What if I told you that all those delightful things that so many, many people in America call rights were no longer beneficial for you?  What if I said that a nice cushy life wasn’t in the cards, that you would not have freedom to make your own choices, and that you could no longer pursue so vigorously the things that make you happy?  What if I told you that you would live where none of those things would be easily accessible?  In fact, what if none of those things would be available at all?  What if the only thing you could expect were the things mentioned here in 2 Corinthians 12: weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, difficulties?

Would you boast about that kind of life?  Would you be happy?

I think not!  Because this is America.  This is where we want life, liberty, and the pursuit of my own personal happiness.  If anything gets in the way of that, it’s unacceptable.  That’s when we start looking for targets.  Because the reason I don’t have the life I want, the freedom from all the garbage, and the constant happiness that must be mine could not possibly be my doing.  It could not be something in me.  The weakness has to be outside.  If anything is wrong, it’s because of something or someone else.

Maybe it has to be the government.  It has to be those detached, delusional villains who don’t care about us.  They just want their power, to rest on their laurels.  They’ll do whatever it takes to keep their position.  They are taking the liberties and the happiness that we want.

Or maybe the weakness is coming from those around me.  Some friends never do anything for you except for accepting your invitations and goodwill.  Some family members are willing to take all your encouragement, all your motivation, all your compassion, and all of your assistance but are never willing to reciprocate back to you.  It’s almost like they are sucking the life and the pursuit of happiness right out of you.

Or maybe the weakness is caused by my enemies.  They are secretly or not so secretly trying to secure my downfall.  They want me to deal with stress.  They want me to put up with insults.  They love to cause hardships and difficulties.

Do you know what it’s called when you think the weakness is with everyone else, that you are the strong one, when everyone can reach the level to which you have risen?  Conceit.  It’s that exalted life that we love so much in America.  It’s putting all the weaknesses on someone else and taking all the strength and the praise for yourself.

The Apostle Paul was an amazing man.  He had personally seen Jesus risen from the dead.  That changed him into the missionary we know.  He had personally learned the gospel from Jesus himself.  He had personally carried that gospel message to people all over the Mediterranean world.  He had personally found the courage to make it through all sorts of challenges to continue God’s mission work.  If anyone could be praised as the prime example of a Christian, it was Paul.  If anyone could find the strength and resolve to be the best witness for Christ, it was Paul.  If anyone could brag about his stories and his life, it was Paul.

God didn’t want Paul to be conceited, so God himself allowed a messenger of Satan to afflict and torment Paul.  The weakness was not from someone or something else.  It was a thorn in the flesh, an illness, a disease, a disadvantage that Paul could not get rid of.  He had to deal with the fact that he had a weakness.

He tells us that on three separate occasions he pleaded with the Lord to remove this weakness.  That’s a great thing to do.  If there are problems and burdens that you are facing, take it to the Lord in prayer.  If Jesus himself felt it important and necessary to take breaks often and spend time in prayer with his Father, then it’s good for you, too.  It is a way to leave everything with the only one who can take away problems and give you the strength to face each situation with his peace and joy.

It’s just that the Lord might not give you the answer that you want him to.  He knows what is going to be good for your faith and for your eternity.  He knows that light and momentary hardships cannot compare to the eternal glory that far outweighs any pain we experience on earth.  He knows that sometimes you need to be weak.

This is what our gracious Father says to Paul about his weakness.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Sometimes we need to be weak so we can see that someone else is stronger.  Sometimes we need to have weaknesses so that we stop trying to pursue our own sinful kind of life, liberty, and happiness and simply enjoy the love and forgiveness of God.  In fact, it’s not just sometimes that we need that.  We need God’s grace and his power all the time.

See that’s where delight really happens.  It happens when I know someone else is looking out for me and that I don’t have to look out for myself.  It happens when I stop trying to pin the weaknesses on others and start relying on God’s strength.  It happens when I see all the weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties as blessings that keep me close to a God who loves me and gave himself up for me.  Only when I am brought down so low, can I look up and see someone so high and powerful.

And that’s what Jesus came to do.  He sank so low, so that he could bring you and me up so high, as high as the heavens are above the earth.  He was put into the weakest positions: born in a barn, tempted relentlessly, publicly discredited, arrested unfairly, accused untruthfully, killed innocently.  He faced the worst so that you and I could have the best.  When he was exalted, it shows us where we will be when we are with him forever.

These weakness that we have now are such a blessing, are such a delight for us for a couple reasons.  One, they will never be the kind of difficulties that we deserve.  We deserve death and hell, but God in his grace will not give any of that punishment to those who believe in Jesus.  Two, “when I am weak, then I am strong.”

People often pray when there is a disaster, a health scare, a financial crash, a family emergency.  They see the trouble and they look to God for help.  That’s a good thing.  It’s a good thing for our relationship with God.  It’s a good thing for our faith.  When life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not going too well, then God’s grace and power is needed.

So because he loves us so much, God allows the weaknesses to pop up in your life so that your eyes and prayers are directed where they need to be.  It’s not just a few days of the year that we need this reminder.  It is every day and all day.  We have total and complete dependence on Jesus every single second of the day.  If you need an ouchie, an illness or a disease to recognize that, then thank God he was there to give it to you and to get you through it.  If you need a rude neighbor, a needy friend, a brazen child to get you on your knees is prayer, then thank God he was there to give them to you and to get you through it.  If you need a completely chaotic political situation to see that no country can provide what God’s eternal home can, then thank God he was there to give it to you and to get you through it.

Peace is found in God’s grace and his power, and that’s why the Apostle Paul could say, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  If the power of Christ rests on you, your doing pretty good.  Because that power forgives sin, destroys death, protects against Satan, and opens the door to your heavenly home.

My brothers and sisters, be thankful for the country we have.  But even more, be thankful for the weaknesses you have.  Be thankful that you have God’s all-sufficient grace and his almighty power.  Be thankful that when you are weak, he is strong.  Amen.