May 2, 2021 – “Embrace Your Limitations”
Grace and peace to you!
We welcome our online worshippers, as well as those here in the sanctuary at West Tulsa UMC.
Apostle Paul has been called the greatest evangelist the church has ever known.
Sure, there have been modern evangelists who have spoken to stadiums full of people, or over radio and TV.
But, I’d venture to say that without Paul, the Christian faith would have never got off the ground…He seemed to be tireless in his pursuit to spread the Gospel throughout the known world.
Whether or not he was tireless, Paul overcame many, many obstacles that threatened his safety.
And…there was one other thing that affected Paul’s efforts. He called it his, “thorn in the flesh.” And he prayed over and over that God would take it away.
What was it? We don’t know. The Word says that God would not remove this affliction because it made Paul constantly aware of how he must depend on God’s strength, rather than his own.
I think that many of us can relate to Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.”
That’s why I’m going to speak about it during the message. I hope and pray that there’s something in my message that God has prepared just for you.
We are here to worship God!
Let’s turn this service, and our hearts over to God in prayer before we sing our first song, “Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah” M-127.
It seems to me that there are several things that we need to know about ourselves, and that is especially true when it comes to facing life’s troubles.
It’s important to know who we are, as well as whose we are.
It’s also very important to know what we stand for, as well as who stands with us.
In Ephesians 4:6, Apostle Paul tells us:
“There is one God and Father of all, who is over all,
and through all…and in all.”
The problem is, if a person is facing difficulty in their life, and they read that Scripture, they could ask,
“If God is all that…why do bad things happen to good people? Why does anything bad happen in the world if God is in control?”
The answer is that bad things happen to all people because all people are fallen sinners, who live in a fallen world.
So, when we are facing hard times, it’s important to remember that the Lord DOES care. In the same way that God suffered when His own Son was crucified, He suffers right alongside of us.
As Christians, we believe that we live in a God-created, God-controlled, God-sustained, God-Filled world, AND that all of His presence is guided by His self-sacrificial love.
If you want a Biblical example of someone who could ask, “Why me Lord,” besides Job…Apostle Paul is your man. Very few people have paid such a high price as he did.
Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth for a second time because a wave of distrust in him had swept through the body of believers there.
There were religious leaders in Corinth who said he wasn’t sincere. Others questioned his authority as an Apostle.
So, Paul was put in the position of having to defend his authority by documenting the overwhelming evidence of his sincerity in serving God.
He replied that like the people who were critical of him at Corinth…he was also a Hebrew and an Israelite in the line of Abraham…but unlike them…most of all he was a servant of Christ.
Then he listed the physical price of discipleship that he had paid. Five times he had received 39 lashes from the Jews. Do you know the significance of 39 lashes?
The Jewish Authorities considered 40 lashes to be all a person could endure before dying. So to punish a person severely without killing them, they stopped one lash short of 40.
Three times the Romans had beaten him with a rod.
Paul had been shipwrecked three times…even clinging to the wreckage for a night and a day on one occasion….and he had been stoned and left for dead.
All of that was on top of the dangers of his travels including the crossing of swollen rivers, bandits, hunger, thirst…and lack of sleep.
Through all of that…Paul’s biggest concern was for all of the churches that he had helped to establish.
I’d say the Apostle Paul proved his point…Wouldn’t you?
Before I go any further…I’d like to take a little survey.
If you’re watching online, please feel free to respond in the “chat” area. Ready?
1) How many of you are Christians today because of hearing a great sermon?
2) How many here today are Christians because of hearing the gospel on a radio or TV show?
3) How many of you are Christians today because some ordinary person cared about you…loved you…and would not let go of you until you knew the importance of asking Christ in your life?
The importance of personal evangelism is obvious. Isn’t it?
By “evangelism,” I don’t mean going door-to-door, or preaching on a street corner.
The most productive way of spreading the Good News is to share our love for Christ with another person. Unfortunately, many of us feel that we lack the Bible knowledge, the time, energy, money, and courage to carry out Jesus’ command to “make disciples of all nations.”
The thing is, our lack, shortages and limitations…Whatever you want to call it, is our opportunity to plug into God’s abundance.
Sometimes we wake up to face a new day…and instead of tackling it head-on, we get stymied by what we consider to be our less then adequate resources.
The problem with that attitude is that self-sufficiency is a myth that is perpetuated in our culture by self-pride and temporary success. Everything we accomplish on our own can disappear from sight in the blink of an eye…
However, anything that we accomplish through the Lord is eternal…It will always accomplish something good. So, when we feel constrained by our limitations, we should consider it a blessing.
Our limitations serve to rely totally and wholeheartedly on the Lord.
I have to think that it’s important that we recognize our limitations, or what we perceive to be our limitations…in order to really grab ahold of the abundance that God offers.
As we study today’s scripture from 2nd Corinthians 12:7-10, we’re going to learn the importance of:
1) Recognizing our limitations.
2) Accepting our limitations.
3) Embracing our limitations.
4) Allowing God to work through our limitations.
The steps are:
Recognize. Accept. Embrace. Allow.
As I read the scripture from the Message Bible, listen to the way those four steps worked in Apostle Paul’s life:
v.7 “Because of the extravagance of the revelations that were given to me, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations.”
“Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty!”
v.8 “At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
“My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.”
v.10 “Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer…these limitations that cut me down to size…abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks…I just let Christ take over!”
“And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”
Do you see how Paul went through the steps? He recognized, accepted and embraced his weaknesses and limitations.
It was at that point that he was able to, “Let Christ take over!”
There are all kinds of theories about what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was. Most Bible commentators assume it was a physical ailment.
The list of potential “thorns” includes migraines, bad eye sight, malaria, epilepsy, gallstones, gout, rheumatism, an intestinal disorder…even a speech impediment.
Other suggestions to his problem are that it refers to: personality issues, spiritual temptations…even carnal temptations.
The first thing to recognize is that God allowed Paul’s painful burden, so that Paul would remain humble. That relates to Ephesians 4:2, in which Paul advised believers to:
“Be completely humble and gentle;
be patient bearing with one another in love.”
This thing called humility is all about totally submitting ourselves to God. It is what puts us completely at His disposal.
Humility makes us more dependent on God’s power than our own…and that is when God can work through us.
The second thing to recognize…and I think this is really beautiful…is that by not having a definitive description of Paul’s affliction…every one of us can relate to his story.
So I’d like to ask…What is your thorn?
Is it an inflated self-ego? Is it the opposite…a lack of self-esteem? Is it a shortage of patience?
Is your thorn the residue left over from the emotional pain that someone else has caused you?
Is it physical? Do you feel like you don’t look good enough, or feel good enough for God to work through you?
There are as many answers to that question…as there are people in the body of Christ.
To repeat last week’s message: No one else has a story like yours. You are a unique creation of God. No one else has the combination of gifts, talents…and life experiences that each one of us possesses.
There are individuals in the world waiting to hear your story. That’s why I asked the questions in my survey concerning how you came to Christ Jesus.
Personal evangelism is the #1 method of spreading the story of God’s grace.
But as Paul witnessed in the Message Bible translation:
“Satan’s angel will do his best to keep you down.”
(2nd Corinthians 12:7 MSG)
That’s why we have to learn to embrace our limitations…and allow God’s grace to carry us.
What trials have you faced that caused you to have a story others need to hear?
Could it be that God has given you a platform of suffering from which you can be a witness of His power and grace to those who are watching?
You know…If we always feel good, and look good…if our kids always behave…and our boss is always pleased with us…if our home is always clean and orderly…we never have an argument with a loved one…our bank account is always in good shape…our car always starts…
…And through all of that, we are always patient, and kind, and thoughtful and happy…and loving,
Others around us just shrug their shoulders and think, “I could be that way too when everything goes right.”
However, if we’re having a bad day…the phone is ringing off the hook…the kids are screaming…our computer crashes…the drive-thru attendant can’t get our food order right…our boss is unhappy with our performance…and our incoming bills are more than our incoming money.
And through it all, we are still patient and kind…thoughtful, happy…and loving…the world sits up and takes notice.
The world knows that kind of behavior isn’t normal…It’s supernatural…and the glory of Jesus is revealed in us!
The bottom line is…giving God total control of our lives…is how we glorify Him.
Unfortunately, that’s an abstract theory to many of the people around us. They don’t understand why, or how to do it…but they recognize it when they see it…and that’s when our personal witness comes into play.
Paul pleaded and pleaded with God, just like we all do, to remove this painful messenger of Satan. That’s part of what I mean when I say that we can associate with Paul.
God’s reply was:
“My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.”
(2nd Corinthians 12:9 MSG)
God didn’t remove Paul’s pain…But that doesn’t mean that God didn’t answer Paul’s prayer!…
The answer was simply different from what the Apostle had asked for.
God answered…as God so often answers prayer. And I’m sure we can all relate to that. (I mean,) I can’t tell you how many times I pleaded the Lord to change this, or that…and He turned the conversation around, saying, “Let’s talk about you, Bill.”
Once Paul heard the Lord tell him, “My grace is sufficient…”…Paul embraced his weaknesses, his limitations. He wrote:
“I delight in my weaknesses, in insults, in hardships,
in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak,
then I am strong.”
(2nd Corinthians 12:10 NIV)
Strong for what purpose? The answer: Strong for sharing the gospel with as many people as he possibly could.
As we go through those steps of recognizing our weaknesses or limitations…accepting those limitations…and finally, embracing our limitations…we put ourselves at God’s disposal.
Recognize. Accept. Embrace. Allow.
By being more dependent on His power than our own…we are allowing God to work through us. And that is our God-designed purpose in life.
Paul found that relying on God’s grace as the source of his strength…he was one with God…We have that same grace and power available to us.
God doesn’t spare us hardships. He enables us to overcome them…And to come through them…stronger on the other side.
In the 1996 Los Angeles Olympic Games, an American runner, Derek Redmond, was entered in the 400-meter race, which is a one lap around the track sprint.
He had practiced for this race for years with his father as his trainer and coach.
And of course the Olympics are the “Super Bowl” of track competition.
During his race, Redmond was well out in front of the pack and only 50 meters from the finish…when his Achilles tendon snapped. This tendon is stretched tight like a rubber band, and connects the calf muscle to the heel. When it breaks, there is intense pain…and you have very little control over that foot.
Derek stopped running…but he didn’t drop out of the race.
In a struggling limp he pulled himself forward…dragging his wounded leg behind him…in a determined effort to finish the race that he had trained so hard for.
The crowd stood and cheered the injured runner on…But the pain was so intense that it was doubtful he could make it.
Suddenly, a middle-aged man jumped over the guardrail onto the track, caught up with Derek…put his arms around his waist…and helped him all the way to the finish line.
It was his father!
When the race was over, Derek Redmond told the press,
“He was the only one who could have helped me…
because he was the only one who knew what I’d been through.”
The Good News today, is that the God of heaven comes down alongside each of us…to carry us the rest of the way.
He is the only One who can…because He is the only One who understands what we’ve been through…and what lies ahead.
“In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given 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.’
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.”