A Strength Formula

February 26, 2014

“When I am weak then I am strong…” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

In these eight words the Apostle Paul gives us a strength formula.  When people are having a serious operation, instead of counting to 10 as the anesthesiologist administers the medicine that knocks them out, I suggest they say these eight words.  While most of us are ‘control freaks,’ after experiencing the full effects of anesthesia we give up all control.  But, as believers when we give up all control, we will find underneath the everlasting arms. (Deuteronomy 33:27)  This makes us stronger than we have ever been.

Paul, quoting Isaiah, writes the key to spiritual strength is that God gives strength to the weary and power to the weak. One translation reads that God’s strength looks good on weak people.  The key to spiritual strength is therefore not found in our strength but in our weakness. These eight words are therefore the formula for strength.  They will give you great spiritual strength in your time of absolute weakness.  Discover with the Apostle Paul that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness, not in trying to make ourselves strong.  We find our greatest strength in the Everlasting Arms that are there underneath us.

Prove what Isaiah and Paul teach us.  The everlasting arms are there and they give us more strength than we have ever known as healthy active people.  The next time you experience weakness on any level of life remember to pray these eight words: “When I am weak then I am strong.”

You will soon find yourself saying, “I’m not but He is; I can’t, but He can;” and then, “I didn’t but He did” when you let God perfect His strength in your weakness.

Editor’s Note:  After a health hiatus from blogging, Papa (Dick Woodward) is back. We so appreciate the prayers that have lifted him up during abject weakness the past 6 weeks, beginning with a severe 2 week bronchial infection, a week in the hospital where he was treated for heart failure, and a severe 10-day stomach virus that has left him completely pooped out. Although only 30% of Papa’s heart now functions & for many days he couldn’t even speak, his strength and continued presence with us is totally by God’s miraculous grace.  Thank you for your continued prayers.

The Blog Posting Elf  (Dick’s daughter, Virginia)


The Greatest Thing in the World

November 8, 2013

“There are three things that last — faith, hope, and love — and the greatest of these is love.”  (1 Corinthians 13:13)

What is the greatest thing in the world?  The Apostle Paul sifts his answer down to three things:  hope, faith and love.  Hope is the conviction that there can be good in life.  God plants hope in the hearts of human beings. People sometimes commit suicide because they lose that conviction.

On the positive side, hope gives birth to faith, and faith is one of the greatest things because faith brings us to God.  However, when Paul compares these two great concepts with love, without hesitation he concludes that love is the greatest thing in the world.  This is true because love is not something that brings us to something that brings us to God.  When we experience the special love Paul describes we are in the Presence of God.  There is a particular quality of love that is God and God is a particular quality of love.

To acquaint us with that specific quality of love, in the middle of this chapter he passes this quality of love through the “prism” of his Holy Spirit inspired intellect.  It comes out on the other side as a cluster of 15 virtues. All these virtues of love are others-centered, unselfish ways of expressing unconditional love. If you study these virtues you will find in them a cross section of the love that is God–and is the greatest thing in the world.

One reason Paul presents these three concepts as the greatest things is that they are the things that last.  Love is the greatest of the three because one day we will no longer need hope and faith when throughout all eternity we will love.

Therefore, pursue the greatest thing in the world – love.


Keys to Oneness

November 1, 2013

“… fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love… being of one accord of one mind.  In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out… for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2: 2-4)

As Paul writes to his favorite church he is burdened that they experience oneness.  He wants them to be “like minded…of one accord” and “of one mind.”  To that end he gives them two keys to oneness.

One key is humility, what Paul calls “lowliness of mind.”  He instructs and challenges the Philippians to esteem others better than themselves.  C. S. Lewis told us that pride is the mother of all sins.  As a pastor I learned that when there is a dispute among two disciples you will often find somebody’s pride at the bottom of it.  Humility is an antidote that resolves disputes and restores oneness.

The other critical key is love.  When Paul writes of “the same love,” I believe he means the love of Christ in us. At least one application of that love is when we “look out for the interests of others.”  We might call this love “other centeredness.” We must realize and remember that this love is the fruit and evidence of the Holy Spirit living in us.  It is not natural.  It is supernatural.  We can’t do it.  Only He can.

So, Paul’s keys for being like minded are humility and love.  By application you will find his keys bringing oneness to your marriage, family, church, ministry and any relationship.

Our greatest challenges are relationships.  I challenge you to insert these keys into your most challenging relationships and watch God bring oneness.


Spiritual Nutrition

October 24, 2013

“I fed you with milk and not with solid food…”   (1 Corinthians 3:2)

The Apostle Paul believed that when a person becomes a believer they are like a newborn baby who critically needs milk and formula to survive.  Babies need to be fed milk before they are ready for solid food.  Since a baby does not have a fully developed digestive tract we feed them milk.  Paul uses milk here as a metaphor for spiritual truth a teacher feeds to believers.  When we find spiritual truth without human help that is meat and solid food.

The bottom line is that new believers, like new born babies, critically need their milk and formula if they are going to progress to solid food that makes them grow into spiritual adults.

What is the nutritional formula for a new believer? A primary part is the Word of God.  Peter writes that as new believers, we should earnestly desire the Word of God the way newborn babies go after their mothers’ breast knowing that survival depends on what is received there.  Prayer is another vital part of that formula.  When we pray we talk to God, and when we open God’s word He talks to us.

We must add spiritual community and fellowship to this formula. We need the inspiration and encouragement we receive from other believers.  Witnessing and sharing our faith with secular people is another important part of our spiritual diet.  So are service and acts of love and charity.

Are you getting your spiritual nutrition?  Or are you suffering from spiritual malnutrition, barely surviving because you are not getting your formula and milk? Although we always need the truth we receive from teachers, we should also hunger for the solid food truth we receive directly from the Lord.


Godly Fitness

October 18, 2013

“Exercise yourself toward godliness.  For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for…the life that now is and of that which is to come.”  (1Timothy 4:7, 8)

As a young man Timothy was probably very interested in physical fitness.  If he lived in our culture he would be the type to join a gym and work out regularly.  Paul agreed with Timothy that physical fitness was profitable.  But, he declared that godly fitness was more profitable.  Paul reasoned that physical fitness improves the quality of our life here and now, but godly fitness improves the quality of our eternal life.

How real and practical is our faith in the life to come?  I am intrigued with this question: what is godly exercise?  The word “godly” means “like God.”  What is God- like?  We are told in the Word that God is a Spirit (John 4:24.)  To exercise ourselves toward godliness therefore means to submit to disciplines in the spiritual dimension that grow us spiritually.

We also read in the Scripture that God is love.  To exercise toward godliness means to commit ourselves to a study of the love that is God.  At the heart of the love chapter (1 Corinthians 13), Paul passes the love of God through the prism of his Holy Spirit inspired intellect and it comes out on the other side a cluster of 15 virtues.  Pursue intentionally what the 15 virtues are and what they will look like when you apply them in all your relationships.

God is light.  Exercise yourself in this dimension of God likeness by filling your mind and heart and life with the truth (light) you find in God’s Word.  Walking in that light will profit you in this life and in the life to come.

Do you have a routine for spiritual fitness?


The Defense of the Gospel

August 27, 2013

“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you…  That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”  (I Corinthians 15:1-4)

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians he defended the gospel.  He wrote that when he came to them he determined to know nothing among them but Christ and Him crucified.  He did not use enticing words of man’s wisdom because he did not want their faith to be rooted in the wisdom of man but in the power of God (1Corinthians 2).

When he brought his letter to a conclusion he reminded them of the gospel he had preached in a very clear summary.  It is simply two facts about Jesus Christ: He died, and He was raised from the dead for our sins.  That was what Paul preached, that was what they believed, that was what saved them, and that was the foundation upon which their faith was to stand.  Furthermore, if they believed anything else they were lost (Chapter 15).

We who are preachers often go beyond the gospel Paul proclaimed.  Perhaps we are trying to make it more interesting for ourselves.  We may be preaching to each other.  Whatever our reasons may be we need to return to the simple presentation of the gospel Paul preached in Corinth and all over the world.

I know of no one who did that in my generation like Billy Graham.  He wrote that early in his preaching when a meeting was not right, in prayer the Lord showed him that he was making it too complex.  He then returned to an uncomplicated gospel and never wavered from that clear gospel message.


A Spiritual Body

July 19, 2013

“It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”  (1 Corinthians 15:44)

Have you ever seen a dragonfly with its double wings moving like a helicopter from one flower to another?  This amazing creature actually begins its life under water.  For about two years it exists as a shellfish with a long narrow body like a knitting needle.

If you did a cross section on that shellfish you would find that it has two respiratory capacities.  With one it can absorb oxygen from passing water through its body like other shellfish; however, it has another respiratory system that will one day breathe air.

When the two years of its underwater life have ended it rises to the surface of the water, moves to where land begins, dries its magnificent wings in the sun and then begins the second dimension of its existence.

The Apostle Paul writes that we are also designed to live our life in two dimensions and God has provided a body for us to live in each place.  He has given us a body so we can live on earth and a body so we can live in heaven.  Paul labels our earthly body “a natural body” and our heavenly body “a spiritual body.”  He then identifies a third spiritual value:  A spiritual body is a greater value than a natural body. 

Since I have spent several decades trapped in a quadriplegic body I really resonate with Paul when he declares that a spiritual body is prepared for me.  How I look forward to that spiritual body that will not have the limitations of my present body.  With great joy I anticipate the spiritual body God has prepared and Christ has made possible for me.

Do you value your spiritual body?


Complementary and Supplementary Team Members

June 25, 2013

“For in fact the body is not one member but many.”   (1Corinthians 12:14)

The greatest Scripture in the New Testament about the way a church is to function is chapter 12 of First Corinthians.  After the Apostle Paul uses the words diversity and oneness several times, he brings these two opposite concepts together in his inspired metaphor that the Church is to function as a body.

He writes that it is not either/or but both/and; that diversity should be celebrated rather than resolved.  As the diverse members of the body of Christ come together to have a ministry there are let it happen people, make it happen people, don’t know what’s happening people, and don’t know anything is supposed to be happening people.

Let it happen people desperately need make it happen people.  And the other two kinds of people obviously need these first two kinds of people.  The truth is they all need each other to function as a team, a body and a Church. There are Mary and Martha kinds of people and they both need each other.  Often, Marthas do not appreciate Marys because they think they are unorganized. But Marys need Marthas and Marthas need to realize that if it were not for the Marys there would not be anything to organize.

Are you fitting in with those kinds of people who have what you do not have and sharing with them what you have that they do not have?

When we experience unity while celebrating diversity we do not have uniformity but a supernatural community that is in reality the body of our risen and living Lord Jesus Christ.


Contentment

April 8, 2013

“And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”   (1Timothy 6:8)

The Apostle Paul makes several observations about contentment as he writes to his son in the faith Timothy.  He tells this young pastor that some believe godliness should lead to gain.  We still have people in the church who believe that way.  Those who preach what is known as the prosperity theology proclaim that if you are godly you should also be healthy and wealthy.  Paul considers that a heresy and proclaims that godliness with contentment is great gain.

Paul also writes that some believe great gain will lead to great contentment.  He warns that those who will to be rich can fall into temptations and harmful lusts that can lead to their spiritual destruction.  He then observes that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Observe that he does not write that money itself is that root of evil.

It is not sinful or wrong to be wealthy.  Believers can experience the blessing of God on them in the form of great wealth because they are faithful stewards and God can trust them with money.  But Timothy is to flee a love of money and a will to be rich in pursuit of contentment and pursue the godliness that will bring contentment here and blessing hereafter.

What did it take to bring contentment to Paul? Paul drew the line at food and clothing.  He did not even include shelter.  (Perhaps that was because he spent so much time in prison.)

What does it take to bring you contentment?  Are your ambitions and expectations Biblical expectations and ambitions?

We could paraphrase what Paul wrote here and in what may be his prescription for contentment: “He who lives content with little possesses everything!”


The Gospel in Reverse

April 2, 2013

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  (Galatians 2:20)

This past weekend many heard the Good News that Jesus died and rose again for our sins that we might live forever in resurrection power with Him.  Have you ever heard of the Gospel in reverse?  The verse I quoted above sounds like a funeral dirge because it begins with Paul’s announcement that he is crucified with Christ.

But, actually in this verse Paul exclaims three times that he lives! He lives by faith in the Son of God.  He lives because Christ lives in him, and he lives because he is crucified with Christ.  To summarize and paraphrase, in this verse Paul is declaring the Good News that Christ died so he might live and now it’s his turn.  Paul must die so Christ might live His life through Paul.

When our holidays roll around we hear that it should be Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter every day of the year.  If you want to have a perpetual Easter, realize that what was true of the Apostle Paul can be true for you and me.

Jesus consistently challenged His followers to take up their cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9: 23).  In addition to the literal meaning this could have had in that culture, by application to take up your cross daily means to “crucify” all the personal hopes, ambitions and plans you had for your life asking Him to have His will for your life.

Christ died that you might live.  Now it’s your turn.