Coping With Thorns

Neal Pollard

Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10). He is the author of audacity, and he showed it first in Eden. He is at work today through temptation and suffering to try and dismantle our faith. He is a presence in our personal lives (1 Pet. 5:8). If there’s hurt, he’s happy. If there’s sin, he’s satisfied. He can’t force anyone to sin (Js. 1:13-15). He can’t make us fall away (John 10:28-29). But, he’s at work. Paul writes about something that has long mystified the Bible student, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. In that passage, we have:

  • The reality of the thorn (7)
  • The reproach of the thorn (7)
  • The reason for the thorn (7)
  • The result of the thorn (7)
  • The response to the thorn (8-10).

Paul reveals Satan’s involvement in that thorn. This troubles me. I have never asked for a thorn in the flesh and I have no reason to think Paul asked for his, but he got one anyway. What do you do when you have a thorn in the flesh? Consider at least three things Paul teaches us in this powerful passage.

No one is immune from thorns. Who’s talking in this text? The great apostle Paul, a man God gave revelations, who’s preaching across the world, converting so many, and achieving name recognition for the best of reasons. If you ever thought anybody would be sheltered for doing right, it would be him. But Paul says there was given to him a thorn in the flesh. That makes me uncomfortable. I need spiritual lessons about God and myself, as Paul and even Job, who Satan was allowed to buffet, did. If a great Old Testament patriarch and great New Testament preacher had thorns to deal with, I know I am not immune.

Sometimes, God lets the thorn stay. We may have to accept that our given affliction may never come to an end as long as we’re on this earth. A recurring or chronic illness, constant adversary, or irreversible limitation may not be removed. I wish I knew why God told Paul “no” and why he sometimes tells us “no” when we ask for our thorns to be removed. But, even if we keep the thorn, God’s grace is sufficient and He can use that very thing to accomplish good through us for the Kingdom. God uses thorns to supply us with humility and grace. If our thorn comes and stays rather than comes and goes, God will use it for our good and to accomplish good if we will properly view it.

Thorns are growth opportunities. If we remain faithful to God through our thorns, we will spiritually grow. Satan is rebuffed and defeated, as he was with Paul and Job. But, for every Paul and Job, how many have let affliction and adversity destroy their faith? We know God’s power eclipses Satan’s. But don’t underestimate this enemy (2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7). One of Paul’s final points in the letter is about God’s great power (13:4). Paul was weakened by affliction, but he could endure because of faith. God is more powerful than Satan and Paul’s thorn is but one proof of it. Lyte wrote,

As woods, when shaken by the breeze, take deeper, firmer root,
As winter’s frosts but make the trees abound in summer fruit;
So every Heaven-sent pang and throe that Christian firmness tries,
But nerves us for our work below, and forms us for the skies.

Is it a trial or a blessing in disguise? Doesn’t it depend on how we view it and what we do with it? Satan wants to use afflictions to destroy us, but God is greater. He can transform our tragedies into triumphs. Trust Him through the thorns. The roses will appear!

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The Religion Of Resolutions

Neal Pollard

Have you ever wondered about the origin of New Year’s resolutions? I have. If they are to be trusted, the folks at the History Channel denote the Babylonians, nearly 4,000 years ago, as the founder of such culture-wide determinations. It was as part of a 12-day religious festival known as Akitu. Later, at the prompting of none other than Julius Caesar, the Romans, again as a nod to a god—Janus, the two-faced god who looked backward and forward—observed the advent of a new year with the intent of improving areas of their lives in need of such. Sarah Pruitt, author of the piece, claims that Christians, since early times, have approached the new year to rededicate themselves to Christ. Pruitt seems to be indicting so many today who observe this holiday in a purely secular fashion, and wonders if such humanistic emphasis is why so many resolutions fail (source).

It is noteworthy that the history of making resolutions is so closely tied to religious devotion. Perhaps this is because we, as human beings, recognize our innate inadequacy. Paul, feeling it necessary to defend himself against unnamed critics of his work, wrote, “Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant…” (2 Cor. 3:4-6a). Paul, so accomplished as a Christian, preacher, leader, mentor, missionary, and more, was always striving to do more for Jesus. He was not trying to earn God’s love and approval. Whether looking back at his successes or failures, Paul, in his love for his Lord, wanted to serve Him more effectively. He told Philippi that he pressed on (Phil. 3:12), “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3:13). He advised the conscientious Christian to follow his example (Phil. 3:15-16).

Christianity is not a religion of annual intention. It is the religious of daily determination (Luke 9:23). January 1 is an ideal time to reflect, review, and resolve, but is far from the only time.  In a significant sense, each new day for us involves a resolve within ourselves to deny self and dedicate to the Savior. As I have done every year of my adult life, I will again set out objectives and goals, physically, financially, and familial. Yet, the most important will involve my faith. As always, these will need review, not just in January, but throughout the year. In my prayers today, I prayed for every Christian who resolves to conquer a sin problem, reach a lost soul, be more active in their local congregation, and any other noble aim for the Master. If you make some such specific resolution and would honor me with the privilege of partnering with you in prayer about it, please email me (mrnealpollard@gmail.com) and let me know. Then, let me know how it goes and especially tell me about your success. May God bless each of us with the resolve to be more faithful in our relationship with Him.

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WHY WE KEEP FAITHFULLY SERVING AND LEADING

Neal Pollard

It took the Expert House Movers of Sharpstown, Maryland, 17 years and 23 days to complete the move of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse 2900 feet away from the eroding Atlantic Ocean beach on the North Carolina Outer Banks location where it had been standing. They started in 1982 and finished in 1999. Little things may get done quickly, but big things take time.  Someone once said, “Most people tend to overestimate what they can do in a week and underestimate what they can do in a lifetime.” Paul was in a position to look back over his life and see, if his humility allowed it, a lifetime just since his conversion to Christ that was marked by much fruitful labor.  Luke chronicles some of that work from Acts 11-28. Paul reflects back on some of it in 2 Corinthians 11. But in what is firmly believed to be his last inspired writing, 2 Timothy, he has a brightly lit torch in his condemned hand. He is ready to hand it off to the young preacher, Timothy.

I imagine most of you are blessed to lay claim to someone, either still living or now dead, who was a Paul to you. Having a mentor or mentors to help us grow and develop, spiritually, is priceless. When Paul tells Timothy what he does in 2 Timothy 4:1-8, a passage we typically use to encourage preachers, he is urging a precise attitude and precise teaching. The reasons why he wanted that for Timothy are reasons that should motivate us to live faithfully and to encourage our own Timothys to persevere until the current pressures. Here are three reasons why Paul encouraged Timothy to be faithful:

  • BECAUSE PROBLEMS ARE COMING (3-4). It was a fourfold problem (you’ll notice it by reading these two verses). Paul told Timothy to handle it with great patience and teaching. You cannot always anticipate what the problem is going to be, but as long as you come in contact with people there will be problems. You cannot hope to be an influence on them if you do not cultivate the attitude of patience. When problems arise, be patient and stick to the doctrine of Christ.
  • BECAUSE YOU ARE DIFFERENT (5). No matter how you are treated (or mistreated), you cannot stoop to the level of unethical, immoral, or unscrupulous people. These false teachers Paul references were willing to discard truth, and many wanted that kind of teacher. We will encounter people who don’t play by the Lord’s rules, but we must be different. We must be sober in all things, endure hardships, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill our ministry. We are to have a better character, and we have a better message. We aim higher because we are the people of God.
  • BECAUSE JUDGMENT IS COMING (6-8). Paul looks ahead to the very end of all things. Because he was faithful, he anticipated the crown of righteousness. Why do you want to serve the Lord? Is it for prominence, popularity, or influence? To successfully endure, do what you do in view of the Judgment. God won’t forget your faithfulness (see Heb. 6:10)!

Your faith will be tested. You may be resisted, rejected, ignored, disbelieved, and debated. The question is, “How are you going to handle it?” Will it make you better or better. It will try your patience, but will you be found guilty or not guilty? If you will be patient and faithful to God’s Word, you will be an example to more than you’ll ever know. Keep your eyes open for your own Timothys to train and members to mentor. The more we have who listen to and follow the advice of this passage, the greater the influence of Christ will be in this dark, sinful world.

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I Don’t Want To Know!

Neal Pollard

Too often, it’s a great disappointment to learn about the personal lives of politicians, athletes, musicians, actors and actresses, and other professional entertainers. Their public persona and abilities may attract, inspire, and move us, but the aforementioned details are all too sordid. What might look wholesome on closer examination has a very seedy side.  Perhaps this says as much about any of us who place them on a pedestal, but that doesn’t lessen the chagrin.

Hypocrisy is something that can occur among “normal” people like Christians, too. Sadly, we can appear to be one thing around those of “like, precious faith” but have a different side that we show away from them. This is a spiritual malady that can afflict anyone, preachers, elders, deacons, and their families included. It can have such a devastating effect. To think that our poor example could cause a new, a weak, or any other Christian to stumble and fall should fill us with dread.  The precious influence we build by our talents and positions must never be squandered by defects of character or even bowing to pressures in specific circumstances.

Peter preached the first and second recorded gospel sermons. He was an apostle and one of Jesus’ closest friends on earth. Yet, Paul recalls an occasion where Peter succumbed to his flesh and sinned in a way that hurt his influence. In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul says,

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face,
because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain
men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they
came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the
party of the circumcision.  The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy,
with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the
gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live
like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel
the Gentiles to live like Jews?

Peter was driven by fear and favoritism. His action was devastating, dragging even “the son of encouragement” to follow his discouraging behavior. Thankfully, Paul loved Peter (and the Lord) enough to challenge the hypocrisy.

Friends, none of us will ever be perfect. We’re continually susceptible to sinful words and deeds. But let us guard against secret, double, or insincere lives knowing that such can totally destroy the faith of those who look to us to show them what Christlikeness looks like. In other words, let us be what we tell others that we are and that they should be. Consistency and integrity are some of the Lord’s most potent tools in our lives to bring others to Him.  Take care of His tools!

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Confident And Unafraid

Neal Pollard

Some are afraid of death because they’re uncertain of where they are going, but others are afraid of death because they are certain of where they are going! Paul was confident even in the face of death (2 Tim. 4:6-8). He could see his end coming but he embraced it. While it is possible to have a false hope and confidence about eternity (cf. Mat. 7:21-23), the faithful New Testament Christian should be confident and unafraid of death. By looking at the last words we have from Paul, we can learn from him how to face death. How could he be so confident even in the face of death?

He was going to face Jesus as judge (1). Our relationship with Christ makes the difference. If I don’t know Jesus and haven’t made Him Lord, I don’t want to face Him in the judgment. But if I’m in Christ, there are several reasons why I long to face Him there.

  • He understands us (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:15). Even before Christ came to earth, God was “mindful that we are but dust” (Psa. 103:14). When I stand before Christ, He will know what it was like to be me. He will have experienced temptation and be sympathetic and merciful.
  • He will be fair (2 Tim. 4:8—He’s the righteous judge). This means in accordance with what God requires. That means He won’t be more lenient than He’s promised, so I can’t expect to disobey His will in this life and hear Him say, “Claim your eternal inheritance in My Father’s house.” If I never obey the gospel, when I face Christ at the judgment He’ll be fair. If I obey the gospel but become unfaithful, when I face Him at the judgment He’ll be fair. But if I’ve tried to walk in His light, though I sometimes fell short, He’s going to be fair (1 Jn. 1:7-9). He knows I’ll be struggling with sin up until the day I die, but if He sees me struggling, He’s going to be fair. More than that, He’ll be merciful and faithful to atone for my sins!
  • He’s told us by what we’ll be judged (2 Tim. 4:2). It’s why we must faithfully present it in spirit and in truth “with great patience and instruction.” Jesus said His word will judge us in the last day (John 12:48).

I can face death confidently because it won’t be just any man judging me. Like you, I’ve had some people judge my actions and motives pretty harshly and unfairly. They may have thought they knew my heart or every fact, and they were ready and seemingly eager to pronounce me guilty. That’s not going to happen with Jesus! He’ll be consummately fair!

He spent his life doing good (5). This verse is the measuring stick of every gospel preacher, who asks, “Was my mind, endurance, work, and ministry as God wanted it to be?” No preacher wants to go through life and have these answers to be no. But in a broader sense, that’s a question every Christian needs to ask. Paul could look at his life with spiritual confidence (7). Three times, Paul, in essence, says, “I have” lived a faithful Christian life. You’ll remember that the first part of Paul’s life was spent not doing good, but from his conversion to his death he did good. Think about his missionary journeys in Acts. Think about all he went through for Christ that we read about in 2 Corinthians 11. What about the trials he mentions in Philippians 1? You may have a past you are ashamed of. Even as a Christian, you may have some regrets and things you wish you could change. But, if you’ve tried to walk in the light of Christ, you can face death and the judgment with blessed assurance.

He knew that he had a crown waiting (8). When we stop to think about death, it contains many variables that tend to make us anxious if not fearful. But Paul could look to death with the idea of its reward. The crown Paul speaks of is described in many ways in the New Testament:

  • It’s perfect (2 Tim. 4:8).
  • It’s permanent (1 Cor. 9:25).
  • It’s payment (Jas. 1:12).
  • It’s preeminent (1 Pet. 5:4).
  • It’s personal (Rev. 3:11).

But there’s not just one crown or a few crowns available. There’s one for “all who have loved his appearing.” If you sincerely desire it, you can receive it.

He knew that God would be with him (16-18). At the time he wrote, Paul knew betrayal and abandonment. Good friends had left him (10). At times, he had no one to stand with him. But he knew that One was always there (17). He was even confident of the future. Being delivered didn’t mean escaping physical death, but it meant rescue in the eternal sense.

You and I can live with the same blessed assurance of Paul. We’ll never go through anything alone (cf. Mat. 28:20). We may be pilgrims and strangers on earth (1 Pet. 2:11), but we aren’t one this journey by ourselves. The Lord will preserve and deliver us, as He did Paul.

I want to remain on this earth to enjoy family, friends, and brethren. I want to be as useful as I can be for as long as I can. But, like Paul, I can look forward to dying (cf. Phil. 1:21-24). We can be confident, even in the face of death!

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Baptized Boys And Bible Class

Neal Pollard

1 Timothy 2:11-14 clearly states, “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” Herein, God through Paul limits the role of woman in the work and corporate function of the church. Therefore, she is not to have authority over the man–in whatever circumstance that applies (be it Bible class, worship, matters of organization, i.e., deacons, elders, preachers, etc., or in the home). The loud voices of feminism notwithstanding, God has clearly spoken. This matter is not cultural. It is a principle that goes all the way back to Eden.

However, an unfortunate conclusion drawn by some based on this text (and others, like 1 Corinthians 11:3 or 14:34, for example) is that a Christian woman cannot teach a baptized boy in a Bible class. There are several reasons why this conclusion is flawed.

First, it misses who is in included in 1 Timothy 2:12. The Greek word translated “man” is the verse specially means “man, husband, sir.” All males are not under consideration. The Greek has words for child, including “infant” or “half-grown child” (Mat. 2:21), “child,” “son” or “daughter” (Mat. 10:21), and “young man” (Mat. 17:18). None of those words is used in 1 Timothy 2:12. The Holy Spirit chose the specific word meaning “adult man.”  Boys eleven or twelve are not men!

Next, none practice this conviction in the home. If we believed 1 Timothy 2:12 taught that baptized boys were men, then we should also teach that their mothers can no longer instruct, admonish, or “be over” them as parents. If that adolescent son invites another baptized boy to spend the night, can this Christian mother “have authority” over the visiting boy? If this woman can teach her son the Bible at home, why can she not teach him in a Bible classroom at the building? In this case, what makes it wrong in the classroom would make it wrong at home. If not, why not?

Then, a baptized boy is nowhere else considered a man. He is not considered such to the military, the corporate world, at home, at school, to the DMV, or anywhere else. His status has changed in that, if he is truly accountable, he has gone from lost to saved. However, the water no more makes a boy a man than it makes a woman a man.

It is not sinful to personally hold the conviction that a Christian woman should not teach a baptized boy. It is not wrong for the elders, in their judgment, to have men teaching Bible classes where there are any baptized boys. Yet, we had better be careful not to bind an opinion as truth. When boys reach their teenage years and undergo the process of changing into men, it is wise to place Christian men over them in the classroom. At some point, he matures to the point of manhood and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 would forbid a woman to teach him. Yet, having a woman teach a baptized, prepubescent boy in a Bible class is not “questionable” or “unsafe.” He is still a boy in the classroom, just as he is anywhere outside of it.

Even When You’re Alone, You’re Not

Neal Pollard

If I have a favorite chapter of the Bible, it would have to be 2 Timothy 4.  Yes, I love the first eight verses, but that alone is not what cinches this chapter as dearest to me.  It’s Paul’s personal remarks starting in verse nine.  There’s his longing to see his spiritual son, Timothy.  Twice he implores Timothy to come see him (9, 21).  He’s in prison, persecuted for preaching the Prince of Peace. He longs for Christian companionship.  Then, he shares his dejection over the abandonment of certain fellow-workers (10). He wants to see cohorts with whom he has done spiritual battle (11). He has personal needs and wants (13). He warns Timothy of a spiritual troublemaker (14-15).  Then, he shares personal feelings of isolation and loneliness, a time when he needed a Christian brother by his side but had none (16).  Bold, risk-taking Paul, who would stand up to any opposition, the epitome of true manliness, was now in undoubtedly dire, dank conditions, the smell of squalor in the air.  Whatever he saw, heard, and felt as he wrote, Paul scratched out these words: “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them.  But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (16-18).  These words aren’t the end of the letter, but they are the end of the matter!

This faithful Christian was deserted by men, but he felt God’s presence and power:

  • The Lord stood with him.
  • The Lord strengthened him.
  • The Lord spoke through him.
  • The Lord saved him.
  • The Lord was steering him.

You and I cannot fathom the price Paul paid for proclaiming Jesus. But even if we were ever to face privation, punishment and pain for our faith, what was true for this apostle will be true of us.  He promised to be with us always (Mat. 28:20) and never forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Even if you ever feel physically alone, you will have the spiritual assistance Paul speaks of in 2 Timothy 4.  Through it all, you can say with Paul, “To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen!”

On The Other Side Of Security

Neal Pollard

Gary Hampton tells the story of his first missionary trip, which he made in the 1980s—shortly after the “Jonestown Tragedy” and during a time of great national instability.  He recalls soldiers lining both sides of the runway, armed to the teeth, and having his bags checked thoroughly by those whose friendliness was not exactly established.  He says that there was nothing like being able to greet the local brethren on the other side of security, singing gospel songs with them en route to the town where they campaigned together.  I have felt similar relief in coming into places that were strange, unfamiliar, and potentially menacing in different parts of the world.

Do you wonder what it was like for the apostle Paul, who had just survived a horrific shipwreck only to be bitten by a deadly snake on the island where he was stranded.  Now, he had been on an Alexandrian ship once again bound for Rome, stopping at various cities along the way.  At one of them, Puteoli, Paul, Luke, and the rest of his fellow travelers “found brethren, and were invited to stay with them seven days. And so we went toward Rome. And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came from as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage” (Acts 28:14-15).  Notice how the local Christians, however far from Paul’s hometown, made Paul feel—thankful and encouraged.

There is something special and unique about the church, by God’s divine design.  Even brothers and sisters you meet in other countries, who speak different languages, and whose background and culture are different from your own, can have that effect on you.  Worshipping with God’s people in different parts of the country so often has the same effect. I’ve heard stories (so have you) from families and individuals who remarked about how unfriendly the local church they visited was.  I’ve had a few experiences where I didn’t feel the warmth I thought was proper, but that’s not nearly the norm.  However, I don’t wait for the brethren to come to me.  I’m anxious to see them!  They are my family, even if we’ve never met.

As you count your blessings today, won’t you thank God for the transcendent blessing that is the spiritual family!  The church was God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:9-11).  How wonderful that it bolsters us in the brief period of time we exist between birth and eternity!

WHEN MY FLAME FLICKERS

Neal Pollard

A fire requires just a few basic things to keep going—starter, combustible material, oxygen, and maintenance.  It can take a while to get a fire started, but it needs ventilation to get going and stay going.  After it’s caught, the fire must be cared for and tended.  Otherwise, the fire dies.

Paul says something interesting to Timothy as he writes a last letter to his spiritual son.  In it, he urges the young preacher to “kindle afresh the gift of God” (2 Tim. 1:6).  The word “kindle,” found only here, means “to cause to begin or blaze again” (BDAG, n. pag.). Josephus uses this word to speak of Herod the Great who, after killing his beautiful wife in a jealous rage, eventually “his affections were kindled again; and indeed the flame of his desires for her was so ardent” addressed her affectionately as if she were still alive (War of the Jews, 1.444; See also Josephus, Ant. 8, 234 and 1 Clement 27:3).  Paul is most concerned that Timothy was in danger of losing his spiritual passion, and he writes him to reignite the flame.  Perhaps the fire had already gone out.  What’s interesting is what Paul does to try to help rekindle Timothy’s fire.

  • SUPPLICATING (1:3).  Paul tells Timothy he prayed for him day and night.  Not only was he praying, he tells Timothy he’s praying for him.
  • SUPPORTING (1:4).  It had to help Timothy to know how much Paul longed to see him.  Timothy may have felt alone at Ephesus, without faithful fellowship and Christian companionship. Knowing of Paul’s desire for a joyous reunion, especially Paul’s recall of Timothy’s previous emotional engagement (“your tears”), may have been fire-starter!
  • STIRRING UP (1:6-14).  The mentor challenges the minister to raise the bar.  He says, “Don’t be ashamed” (8; Onesimus wasn’t, 18, and Paul wasn’t, 12).  He says, “Retain the standard of sound words” (13). Then he says, “Guard the treasure” (14; cf. 1 Tim. 6:20).

Paul did everything he could from within prison walls to support a struggling saint whose spirit was soggy and smoldering.

Do you know any Christians whose fire is going out or maybe has already been extinguished?  Have you wondered what you might do for them?  Follow Paul’s pattern.  Pray for them, then gently let them know you are.  Try to spend time with them, if they’ll let you.  Then, as a spiritual, self-examining one (Gal. 6:1), appeal to their courage, the trustworthiness of divine truth, and the impact that word will have in keeping them on course in fulfilling their true purpose in life.

If I ever find myself struggling and wavering, I will want a Paul to do for me what I read about in 2 Timothy 1.  However hardened sin might make my heart, I hope I will still realize—if only deep inside—that my most important objective is to be ready for heaven when I die.  I would hope I could still be reached by a caring Christian who wouldn’t let my fire go out permanently!

What’s My Excuse?

Neal Pollard

Mark Speckman is an interesting story. He was a High School star linebacker, played Junior College then at a four-year NAIA college at the same position, and then coached college football for 20 years (he followed Dan Hawkins at Willamette in 1998).  He can write, type, use a cell phone, drive, play racquetball, and play trombone (USA Today, 10/4/05).  What’s so unusual about that?  Speckman was born without hands!  He has never let that stand in his way, but has used the handicap to inspire and motivate others.

Each of us will enjoy advantages and suffer some disadvantages throughout life, regardless of our age, income, citizenship, looks, and background.  While some seem to have greater challenges than others, the greatest determining factor seems to be attitude, focus, and determination.  Do I use my “handicaps” as an excuse? Am I full of self-pity? Do my problems cause me to give up and check out?

We will not know on this side of time what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was, but we know it tormented him (2 Cor. 12:7), drove him to his knees three times in prayer about it (12:8), and was a weakness for him (12:10).  He writes this after detailing the many trials he faced for doing what was right, preaching the gospel (2 Cor. 11:23-33).  Yet, he never fell back on any of this as an excuse for failing to reach, teach, serve, and help others.  Apparently, as he hurt within and worked through his own limitations, he kept his focus on doing the Lord’s work through his Christian service.

The question is not whether you suffer and struggle or even if you have a thorn to contend with.  In your own way, you probably will and on an ongoing basis.  Will it be a crutch or a catapult?  Will it hold you down or launch you higher?  That depends on you.  What will you do about it?