Make It Work!

Sermon 1752 2 Corinthians 12.7-10 July 11, 2021

Finally every remodeling project comes to a close. You’ve gotten the plans, renovated almost everything, upgraded everything, increased the appeal of the neighborhood, saw your way through supply chain problems and bid farewell and forever to the electricians and drywallers, plumbers and painters. You even had a carpet cleaning place come in to get the remaining construction dust off the new carpet (Berber loop—it’s back in style) and they did a great job on the patterned tile flooring. The dishes are back, the refrigerator is filled, the new stove churned out its first homemade pizza—Canadian bacon and pineapple.

It isn’t buyer’s remorse exactly, but the realization does set in there are some things you sort of regret. That second floor patio out your master bedroom, for instance. You couldn’t remove the balcony, because it was tied in with the structural beams, but it was too narrow to do anything more than put out a chair sideways or hang your “Cold Beer” or Minnesota Vikings banner on it. Situated on the corner, you had a view to the west, but the sun, you could fry eggs on the railing. You replaced the sliding door (it always leaked air) with a snug, energy-efficient window. You can imagine the December day when you wake up and tell the wife, “Look! Mount Potosi got snow!”—and your feet aren’t cold. But now you have second thoughts.

There is not a thing in the life of a Christian that couldn’t be better. Rather than stewing about it, second-guessing ourselves or holding a grudge against God, the last chapter to this old house encourages us to

Work With It!

1. When a door is lost a window is gained (7-9a).

2. It is a great view (9b-10).

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me 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 (7-9a).’”

A lot of things in Paul’s life didn’t go his way. “Five times I received forty lashes minus one, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea and in danger from false brothers (2 Corinthians 11.24-26).” Imagine how today’s HR department would publicize the job description for the guy who would take over! But we never hear Paul praying for relief from the Lord. He remembered Jesus’ words, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5.11-12).” It came with the territory. The receptionist answers the phones. The phone calls are not an interruption—they are the job.

No, what threw Paul for a loop was his own physical malady, the “thorn in my flesh” he called it, “a messenger of Satan.” People have been speculating for centuries what it was. Malaria? Epilepsy? Glaucoma? No one knows. What we do know is that it limited Paul. He couldn’t accomplish all he wanted. He couldn’t go everywhere he wanted. He felt it was not part of the deal he signed up for. He prayed to God, three times to be rid of this affliction. After the third time he got an answer from God which made him stop asking for relief. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” After that, Paul realized it was something the Lord permitted to come into his life to keep him from becoming conceited with all the revelations and accomplishments he had.

I don’t think you or I could easily put ourselves in the Apostle Paul’s shoes. The lines of our lives have fallen in different places. But we all experience limitations. Many times those limitations are because of health. Easy to be cheerful and optimistic when you can run a mile in five minutes. It is a different matter when walking from the bed to the closet winds you. We all have physical limitations, even the young ones who are so eager to grow up now or be as smart or strong or fast or skate as well or hit a baseball as well as their hero.

How do we react to those limitations? God tells us to work with it. When a door is lost a window is gained.

The first thing we do is recognize physical, health limitations are the result of sin. God is not a maniac who designed a world riddled with arthritis. God did not plan for rehab centers lined with young people broken by car accidents. He did not fore-ordain hospitals and outpatient centers for chemotherapy. When Adam fell into sin he opened the door and let all the baggage of sin into our world. Death and disease, illness and disabilities. Being sick isn’t sinful. Having a bad ticker or a trick knee isn’t damnable. But it is a sign that we are mortal, we are sinful and that we are not living in the world God intended us to inhabit.

David pictured sin as a disease. “There is no health in my body. My bones have no soundness because of my sin. My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly (Psalm 38.3-5).” We are sick because we are sinful, just as surely as someone who lives by the railroad tracks will hear the engine’s whistle.

The sick need a doctor. We have the perfect one, Jesus Christ, who came not for the healthy, but for the sick, to call sinners to repentance. And, since we are looking at how the Bible pictures the effects of sin as sickness, how fitting it is that, when Jesus hung on the cross, he felt like he was “poured out like water.” His heart, “melted away within” him. His “strength was dried up like a potsherd (Psalm 22).” “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. By his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53.4, 5).”

When the door is lost a window is gained. The Lord told Paul God’s “power was made perfect in weakness.” The incredible accomplishments of the Apostle Paul did not scream out “look what a superhuman Paul is!” They screamed out, “Look at the power of God at work through human weakness.”

I do not know why any of the aliments that beset us have fallen on this or that person particularly, why one gets cancer, another has a heart murmur from birth, one has to get a hip replacement while the other is allergic to everything but the EpiPen they carry wherever they go. But I do know the Lord works through these limitations and accomplishes things in our lives that we never would have accomplished had we not suffered limitations. At the very least these limitations remind us that this life is not heaven. There is a better world awaiting us because of our Savior, Jesus.

Work with it. It is a great view.

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 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 (9-10).”

When Paul became reconciled to his limitations, his “thorn in my flesh,” which the Lord refused to remove, he could be joyful with the hand he had been dealt, even when it came to those other things, the persecutions and difficulties. When the false teachers tried to put forward the sacrifices they had made for their teachings as a sign they were right, Paul could show them they hadn’t seen anything yet. Look at all the times he had suffered for his proclamation of the truth. If false teachers (and they hounded Paul like fleas on a stray dog) put forth their wisdom or Jewish credentials as proof of their teaching, Paul could one-up them both in his adherence to the Jewish traditions of the fathers and a wisdom from God which made the wisdom of man look like foolishness. Instead of a synagogue with a few hundred people pestering him for legalistic answers to ordinary situations, Paul had the world for his Gospel pulpit and an audience of Jew and Gentile, people who knew the Bible and people who had only known superstition and magic. “I have fought the good fight,” he would say at the end. And he didn’t regret a single moment of it.

It is a great view. I am not saying Christians compromise, you know, the old, “You don’t always get what you want.” I know the world thinks that’s the way Christians are, but the world is mistaken. Maybe the best way to say it is Christians are content. We have learned the secret to contentment. We trust in the Lord. We appreciate what he has given us. We rejoice in the opportunities he sends our way and make the most of them. We strive to do our best because our God is the best. Even when hindsight says we could have done better, we marvel at what was accomplished—much more than if we had never given it a shot to begin with.

We appreciate life. That is only a strange thought if we listen to the sinful world and its groupie, the sinful human nature. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. When I consider the moon and the stars, the works of your hands, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you should consider him? He put us in charge of all flocks and herds, the beasts of the forest and plain, the fish and all that swim the seas. This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. He gave us a body that is a wonder of creation. How many mechanical, electrical and computer engineers have almost despaired of making a mechanical hand that can duplicate the features of the two you were born with? The human hand can grip a baseball and hurl it one hundred miles an hour and yet can carefully clip a baby’s delicate fingernails. Don’t get me started on laughable artificial intelligence. It seems to me it’s the other side which wants to escape this world for a while with booze and drugs. Why should I listen to moral guidance from a gang of rock stars who destroyed themselves before their 30th birthdays?

We make something out of life. Anybody can pass their genes on to the next generation. Even earthworms do that. Fame can outlive a person, but it quickly becomes revisionist history, twisted and turned to fit the next guy’s sales pitch. That’s how you get a statue of Lenin in a casino. That’s how a mountain man mascot from an upstart college rebelling against the stranglehold of Reno on higher education is confused with a Confederate soldier and cancelled. The priest in the Egyptian desert told Alexander the Great the gods of Egypt were once men, but he was stumped to say who those men originally were. Christians have something which outlives fame and is more praiseworthy than genes. We pass on our values unchanged and unchanging to the next generation and the generation after that. Tell them to your children that they may tell them to their children and to a generation yet unborn, the psalmist encourages. God’s Word is our great heritage. Note the way of life of those who have gone before you, the writer to the Hebrews encourages, and imitate them. The Christian values we pass on, not only to our children, but to as many who are willing to listen, that is what ennobles a nation. That is what builds up a people. Without it, that’s why nations fall.

Starting this September we are making a commitment to restart our in-person Sunday School. Won’t you make that commitment with us? We have a brand new curriculum, Enduring Faith, which stresses the very things I have been talking about. These are the stories that will endure, both in a child’s life and in the life of the generations to come. For those of you present today and for those of you watching online, please, make the adjustments, gather up your courage, put your trust in the Lord and bring your children to Sunday School this fall. This is what life is for. If you have the ability and heart to teach, let us know. We are always on the lookout for talented and faithful teachers. This is what God has put us into this world to do, to share the Good News of his salvation from generation to generation. As the Lord has promised to keep us in all our ways, we trust that he will keep us safe on a Sunday morning gathered around his Word in what we pray will be the waning days of the pandemic.

We have hope. The funny thing with windows like the one replacing that door going to a ridiculously too small to be used balcony, we enjoy the long range view. New housing tracts advertise mountain views, stunning views of the Strip. Not a one of them trumpets, up close views of your neighbor’s stucco.

We have an eternal hope that sees beyond the years. We have the hope of eternal life, won for us by Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, proclaimed to us by his powerful resurrection from the dead. It gives our lives purpose. It gives us perseverance. It allows us to never settle and never surrender in the face of today’s difficulties.

Work With It!

1. When a door is lost a window is gained (7-9a).

2. It is a great view (9b-10).

This old house can look like new. This old house can be better than before. This old house can drive the neighborhood values up. This old house can be perfect for us after all these years. This old house may be the only one we will ever need.Sermon 1752 2 Corinthians 12.7-10 July 11, 2021

Finally every remodeling project comes to a close. You’ve gotten the plans, renovated almost everything, upgraded everything, increased the appeal of the neighborhood, saw your way through supply chain problems and bid farewell and forever to the electricians and drywallers, plumbers and painters. You even had a carpet cleaning place come in to get the remaining construction dust off the new carpet (Berber loop—it’s back in style) and they did a great job on the patterned tile flooring. The dishes are back, the refrigerator is filled, the new stove churned out its first homemade pizza—Canadian bacon and pineapple.

It isn’t buyer’s remorse exactly, but the realization does set in there are some things you sort of regret. That second floor patio out your master bedroom, for instance. You couldn’t remove the balcony, because it was tied in with the structural beams, but it was too narrow to do anything more than put out a chair sideways or hang your “Cold Beer” or Minnesota Vikings banner on it. Situated on the corner, you had a view to the west, but the sun, you could fry eggs on the railing. You replaced the sliding door (it always leaked air) with a snug, energy-efficient window. You can imagine the December day when you wake up and tell the wife, “Look! Mount Potosi got snow!”—and your feet aren’t cold. But now you have second thoughts.

There is not a thing in the life of a Christian that couldn’t be better. Rather than stewing about it, second-guessing ourselves or holding a grudge against God, the last chapter to this old house encourages us to

Work With It!

1. When a door is lost a window is gained (7-9a).

2. It is a great view (9b-10).

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me 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 (7-9a).’”

A lot of things in Paul’s life didn’t go his way. “Five times I received forty lashes minus one, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea and in danger from false brothers (2 Corinthians 11.24-26).” Imagine how today’s HR department would publicize the job description for the guy who would take over! But we never hear Paul praying for relief from the Lord. He remembered Jesus’ words, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5.11-12).” It came with the territory. The receptionist answers the phones. The phone calls are not an interruption—they are the job.

No, what threw Paul for a loop was his own physical malady, the “thorn in my flesh” he called it, “a messenger of Satan.” People have been speculating for centuries what it was. Malaria? Epilepsy? Glaucoma? No one knows. What we do know is that it limited Paul. He couldn’t accomplish all he wanted. He couldn’t go everywhere he wanted. He felt it was not part of the deal he signed up for. He prayed to God, three times to be rid of this affliction. After the third time he got an answer from God which made him stop asking for relief. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” After that, Paul realized it was something the Lord permitted to come into his life to keep him from becoming conceited with all the revelations and accomplishments he had.

I don’t think you or I could easily put ourselves in the Apostle Paul’s shoes. The lines of our lives have fallen in different places. But we all experience limitations. Many times those limitations are because of health. Easy to be cheerful and optimistic when you can run a mile in five minutes. It is a different matter when walking from the bed to the closet winds you. We all have physical limitations, even the young ones who are so eager to grow up now or be as smart or strong or fast or skate as well or hit a baseball as well as their hero.

How do we react to those limitations? God tells us to work with it. When a door is lost a window is gained.

The first thing we do is recognize physical, health limitations are the result of sin. God is not a maniac who designed a world riddled with arthritis. God did not plan for rehab centers lined with young people broken by car accidents. He did not fore-ordain hospitals and outpatient centers for chemotherapy. When Adam fell into sin he opened the door and let all the baggage of sin into our world. Death and disease, illness and disabilities. Being sick isn’t sinful. Having a bad ticker or a trick knee isn’t damnable. But it is a sign that we are mortal, we are sinful and that we are not living in the world God intended us to inhabit.

David pictured sin as a disease. “There is no health in my body. My bones have no soundness because of my sin. My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly (Psalm 38.3-5).” We are sick because we are sinful, just as surely as someone who lives by the railroad tracks will hear the engine’s whistle.

The sick need a doctor. We have the perfect one, Jesus Christ, who came not for the healthy, but for the sick, to call sinners to repentance. And, since we are looking at how the Bible pictures the effects of sin as sickness, how fitting it is that, when Jesus hung on the cross, he felt like he was “poured out like water.” His heart, “melted away within” him. His “strength was dried up like a potsherd (Psalm 22).” “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. By his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53.4, 5).”

When the door is lost a window is gained. The Lord told Paul God’s “power was made perfect in weakness.” The incredible accomplishments of the Apostle Paul did not scream out “look what a superhuman Paul is!” They screamed out, “Look at the power of God at work through human weakness.”

I do not know why any of the aliments that beset us have fallen on this or that person particularly, why one gets cancer, another has a heart murmur from birth, one has to get a hip replacement while the other is allergic to everything but the EpiPen they carry wherever they go. But I do know the Lord works through these limitations and accomplishes things in our lives that we never would have accomplished had we not suffered limitations. At the very least these limitations remind us that this life is not heaven. There is a better world awaiting us because of our Savior, Jesus.

Work with it. It is a great view.

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 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 (9-10).”

When Paul became reconciled to his limitations, his “thorn in my flesh,” which the Lord refused to remove, he could be joyful with the hand he had been dealt, even when it came to those other things, the persecutions and difficulties. When the false teachers tried to put forward the sacrifices they had made for their teachings as a sign they were right, Paul could show them they hadn’t seen anything yet. Look at all the times he had suffered for his proclamation of the truth. If false teachers (and they hounded Paul like fleas on a stray dog) put forth their wisdom or Jewish credentials as proof of their teaching, Paul could one-up them both in his adherence to the Jewish traditions of the fathers and a wisdom from God which made the wisdom of man look like foolishness. Instead of a synagogue with a few hundred people pestering him for legalistic answers to ordinary situations, Paul had the world for his Gospel pulpit and an audience of Jew and Gentile, people who knew the Bible and people who had only known superstition and magic. “I have fought the good fight,” he would say at the end. And he didn’t regret a single moment of it.

It is a great view. I am not saying Christians compromise, you know, the old, “You don’t always get what you want.” I know the world thinks that’s the way Christians are, but the world is mistaken. Maybe the best way to say it is Christians are content. We have learned the secret to contentment. We trust in the Lord. We appreciate what he has given us. We rejoice in the opportunities he sends our way and make the most of them. We strive to do our best because our God is the best. Even when hindsight says we could have done better, we marvel at what was accomplished—much more than if we had never given it a shot to begin with.

We appreciate life. That is only a strange thought if we listen to the sinful world and its groupie, the sinful human nature. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. When I consider the moon and the stars, the works of your hands, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you should consider him? He put us in charge of all flocks and herds, the beasts of the forest and plain, the fish and all that swim the seas. This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. He gave us a body that is a wonder of creation. How many mechanical, electrical and computer engineers have almost despaired of making a mechanical hand that can duplicate the features of the two you were born with? The human hand can grip a baseball and hurl it one hundred miles an hour and yet can carefully clip a baby’s delicate fingernails. Don’t get me started on laughable artificial intelligence. It seems to me it’s the other side which wants to escape this world for a while with booze and drugs. Why should I listen to moral guidance from a gang of rock stars who destroyed themselves before their 30th birthdays?

We make something out of life. Anybody can pass their genes on to the next generation. Even earthworms do that. Fame can outlive a person, but it quickly becomes revisionist history, twisted and turned to fit the next guy’s sales pitch. That’s how you get a statue of Lenin in a casino. That’s how a mountain man mascot from an upstart college rebelling against the stranglehold of Reno on higher education is confused with a Confederate soldier and cancelled. The priest in the Egyptian desert told Alexander the Great the gods of Egypt were once men, but he was stumped to say who those men originally were. Christians have something which outlives fame and is more praiseworthy than genes. We pass on our values unchanged and unchanging to the next generation and the generation after that. Tell them to your children that they may tell them to their children and to a generation yet unborn, the psalmist encourages. God’s Word is our great heritage. Note the way of life of those who have gone before you, the writer to the Hebrews encourages, and imitate them. The Christian values we pass on, not only to our children, but to as many who are willing to listen, that is what ennobles a nation. That is what builds up a people. Without it, that’s why nations fall.

Starting this September we are making a commitment to restart our in-person Sunday School. Won’t you make that commitment with us? We have a brand new curriculum, Enduring Faith, which stresses the very things I have been talking about. These are the stories that will endure, both in a child’s life and in the life of the generations to come. For those of you present today and for those of you watching online, please, make the adjustments, gather up your courage, put your trust in the Lord and bring your children to Sunday School this fall. This is what life is for. If you have the ability and heart to teach, let us know. We are always on the lookout for talented and faithful teachers. This is what God has put us into this world to do, to share the Good News of his salvation from generation to generation. As the Lord has promised to keep us in all our ways, we trust that he will keep us safe on a Sunday morning gathered around his Word in what we pray will be the waning days of the pandemic.

We have hope. The funny thing with windows like the one replacing that door going to a ridiculously too small to be used balcony, we enjoy the long range view. New housing tracts advertise mountain views, stunning views of the Strip. Not a one of them trumpets, up close views of your neighbor’s stucco.

We have an eternal hope that sees beyond the years. We have the hope of eternal life, won for us by Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, proclaimed to us by his powerful resurrection from the dead. It gives our lives purpose. It gives us perseverance. It allows us to never settle and never surrender in the face of today’s difficulties.

Work With It!

1. When a door is lost a window is gained (7-9a).

2. It is a great view (9b-10).

This old house can look like new. This old house can be better than before. This old house can drive the neighborhood values up. This old house can be perfect for us after all these years. This old house may be the only one we will ever need.

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