"Rip Van Winkle" is a short story by the American author who falls asleep in the Catskill Mountains and wakes up 20 years later, having missed the American Revolution. "Rip Van Winkle" is set in the years before and after the American Revolutionary War in a village at the foot of New York's Catskill Mountains where Rip Van Winkle, a Dutch-American villager, lives. One autumn day, Van Winkle wanders into the mountains with his dog Wolf to escape his wife's nagging. He hears his name called out and sees a man wearing antiquated Dutch clothing; he is carrying a keg up the mountain and requires help. Together, the men and Wolf proceed to a hollow in which Rip discovers the source of thunderous noises: a group of ornately dressed, silent, bearded men who are playing nine-pins.
Van Winkle does not ask who they are or how they know his name. Instead, he begins to drink some of their liquor and soon falls asleep. When he awakens on the mountain, he discovers shocking changes: his musket is rotting and rusty, his beard is a foot long, and his dog is nowhere to be found. He returns to his village, where he recognizes no one. He arrives just after an election, and people ask how he voted. Never having cast a ballot in his life, he proclaims himself a faithful subject of King George III, unaware that the American Revolution has taken place, and nearly gets himself into trouble with the townspeople until one elderly woman recognizes him as the long-lost Rip Van Winkle.
King George's portrait on the inn's sign has been replaced with one of George Washington. Van Winkle learns that most of his friends were killed fighting in the American Revolution. He is also disturbed to find another man called Rip Van Winkle; it is his son, now grown up. Van Winkle also discovers that his wife died some time ago but is not saddened by the news. He learns that the men whom he met in the mountains are rumored to be the ghosts of Henry Hudson's crew from his ship, the Halve Maen. He also realizes that he has been away from the village for at least 20 years. His grown daughter takes him in and he resumes his usual idleness. His strange tale is solemnly taken to heart by the Dutch settlers, particularly by the children who say that, whenever thunder is heard, the men in the mountains must be playing nine-pins.
CharactersRip Van Winkle - A henpecked husband who loathes "profitable labor"; and a meek, easygoing, ne'er-do-well resident of the village who wanders off to the mountains and meets strange men playing nine-pins.
NDEs (“Near Death Experiences”) have been reported by hundreds of individuals in recent years. Individuals report leaving their bodies (known as OBEs), traveling to heaven where they join friends and loved ones in the delightful gardens of Paradise, and then are called back to re-inhabit a very dead body the doctors have given up on. In order to tell their stories, the travelers are not currently dead or speaking from another realm, as seers and mediums sometimes claim as their main source of income.
Both the Old Testament and the New warn against revelation that does not come from God. Still many NDE reports are inspiring and fill the gaps in knowing Jesus personally and intimately. As usual, Wikipedia has a thorough summary
John Burke’s book “Imagining Heaven" should silence critics who insist no one goes to heaven, returns and lives to tell about it. He covers NDE's that are negative and frightening, and the gives reports from the Third World where the Bible is unknown. Burke is a pastor and a reputable reporter. Captain Dale Black's story on 100 Huntley Street.
Never mind, the Apostle Paul experienced a NDE two millennia ago.
Paul went to Paradise and lived to tell about it, probably after he was stoned and left for dead.
“It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities. For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me.
“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I have become a fool in boasting; you have compelled me. For I ought to have been commended by you; for in nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles, though I am nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds. For what is it in which you were inferior to other churches, except that I myself was not burdensome to you? Forgive me this wrong!” (2 Corinthians 12:1-13)
By way, Jesus' friend Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha, seems to have had a NDE, though we don't have a record of where he went and what he did while he was "dead".
Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”
When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”
The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?”
Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.”
Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.” However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.
Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.”
Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”
So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.
Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.” As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.”
Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, “Where have you laid him?”
They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”
Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”
And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?”
Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”
Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”
Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did.
Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” ((John 11:1-45)
“In an acceptable time I have heard you,
And in the day of salvation I have helped you.”
Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:1)
Not every NDE is positive. Persons set against God and resistant to love and forgiveness from Jesus Christ frequently have hellish NDEs--which naturally they don’t want to talk about. People embedded in a Hindu world view for example report their experiences in context and they are consistent with reports from our Westernized culture in America.
Many individuals who received Jesus into their lives earlier, but went on to live “lapsed Christian” lives, find a visit to lower heaven delightful beyond belief. They may not have had much to show for their lives so far, yet love overruled.
Quite a few survivors make radical changers in their live styles when they saw what they have been missing in compromised Christian living.
I started above recalling Washington Irving’s fictional story of Rip Van Winkle because my own NDE appears unique. I am in full recovery now but still missing at least 10 years of life where I have not yet experienced full recovery of memory. The memory that has been given back to me is clearer and sharper than before—lots of new information has been added. But I had a bit of culture shock when I saw how much the culture had gone downhill while I was "away." The main unrecovered years are my “Oxycontin years.” Anyone who wishes to know why I did not die as expected back in June 2017, will find my journaling news letters document my healing and restoration process.I have been writing about my renewed relationship with Jesus Christ with enthusiasm since my OBE was so convincing. I see and understand the relationship I thought I had had with God, was quite incomplete. I am immensely grateful for whatever time remaining God has given me down here. I am no longer afraid of dying, and looking forward to going home to heaven when my allocated time down here runs out. Every day Jesus heals more of my past by getting rid of spiritual baggage and trash.
I am an enthusiastic survivor! I don’t believe I am anyone special. I realize that what God wants from every one of his sons and daughters is long obedience in the same direction.
“God has no favorites but He does have many intimates” --Ray Stedman.
Lawrence Hoppis is a special friend of mine for more than twenty years. Because of my curiosity and desire to learn as much as I can about the mind, the body and experiences beyond the ordinary, he and I are recording a series of interviews on this major time warp in my life. In Part One, Lawrence and I recently talked about my recovery.
He was there --and I was somewhere else! (Lawrence Hoppis and Lambert on Recovery).
The "mind" is way bigger than the "brain," The mind dwells in the brain and apparently uses the physical brain as a dimensional interface. Behind the entire created universe is found the great mind and Person of God. The universe has been intelligently designed. The best we can do with our science is to imitate God in a minor way. The Limitation of Science are well known!
In actual fact, we need God far more than we admit! Fortunately He is available.
Beginning at an early age each child must be taught. Obeying parents, teachers, employers, the higher authorities is but one aspect of growing us up so we become productive members of society. During our formative years we depend on family and society to feed us. We are parasites in a sense. In our old age we again rely on “social welfare.”
Do any of us have any “redeeming value?” Acquisition of property, depositing pay checks from employers, dividend earnings, rents income, inheritance—don’t usually result from our labors to “make the world a better place than when we first arrived."
In the grand scheme of things we owe God big time and there is no way we can repay Him. We can't even break even!
Our learning from kindergarten to grad school is almost all linear. A legacy, a heritage, our history must to transmitted to us by qualified teachers. (We are supposed to learn moral and spiritual values from our parents and from Sunday School). Academic learning is almost all
“Precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
"Line upon line, line upon line,
Here a little, there a little,”
A second, less trustworthy form of knowledge and truth is experiential. “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
"Existential Christians" are an important class of Christians who test everything to be sure it is true. They may not rely on the Letter of the Word (the Bible) as fully as their more "orthodox" brothers and sisters do, but their integrity becomes clear over their lifetimes. Their obedience to Jesus day by day, step by step, indicates a will surrendered to the will of God. What God loves for in all of us is our response to His love, compassion and mercy. "Dead orthodoxy" is an awful place for Bible thumpers to end up.
Actually absolute truth is made known to us by revelation from our Creator. What we discover on our own from science, or from experience is only able to take us so far.
Back in 1963 I "dropped acid" (along with many others living in the San Francisco Bay Area in those days). I chose to participate in a legal, medically supervised research project at Stanford University. I wrote up my LSD experience and reflections after the fact so I would not forget what I learned. In comparing notes this past week with a close friend who also had had experience with psychedelics back then, we both said our experiences at the time were convincing and believable at the time. To some extent we may have been deceived but not 100%.
Most of us have seen the outworkings of mind-altering drugs in society. The counter to the real and illusory is covered in the Bible. One of the "works of the flesh" with broad overtones is all contained in Greek word pharamkeia, (usually translated "sorcery.") But if dreams, visions, hallucinations point to the unreal, the ephemeral, the transitory, then there must be an ultimate higher and greater reality than the counterfeit! Indeed this is why Jesus came to bring us--gateway to Paradise, everlasting life, dreams come true.
Another important realization is that we are mostly Software, not Hardware! This means that the tangible, material world is a mere compartment, or holding pen embedded in a cosmos of many dimensions. But if you know Jesus let your sanctified imagination roam.
We were created in the image and likeness of God. God is in the business of healing that broken image and making a new human race. There is a vast difference in knowing about Jesus and knowing Him intimately as a person. Here is where Jesus will ultimately separate the sheep form the goats.
Jesus loves everyone and wishes no one to remain lost! Your choice! Your call!
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!”
Says your God.
“Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her,
That her warfare is ended,
That her iniquity is pardoned;
For she has received from the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.”
The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough places smooth;
The glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
And all flesh shall see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
The voice said, “Cry out!”
And he said, “What shall I cry?”
“All flesh is grass,
And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.”
You who bring good tidings,
Get up into the high mountain;
You who bring good tidings,
Lift up your voice with strength,
Lift it up, be not afraid;
Say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord God shall come with a strong hand,
And His arm shall rule for Him;
Behold, His reward is with Him,
And His work before Him.
He will feed His flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs with His arm,
And carry them in His bosom,
And gently lead those who are with young.
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
Measured heaven with a span
And calculated the dust of the earth in a measure?
Weighed the mountains in scales
And the hills in a balance?
Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,
Or as His counselor has taught Him?
With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him,
And taught Him in the path of justice?
Who taught Him knowledge,
And showed Him the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket,
And are counted as the small dust on the scales;
Look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing.
And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn,
Nor its beasts sufficient for a burnt offering.
All nations before Him are as nothing,
And they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless.
To whom then will you liken God?
Or what likeness will you compare to Him?
The workman molds an image,
The goldsmith overspreads it with gold,
And the silversmith casts silver chains.
Whoever is too impoverished for such a contribution
Chooses a tree that will not rot;
He seeks for himself a skillful workman
To prepare a carved image that will not totter.
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He brings the princes to nothing;
He makes the judges of the earth useless.
Scarcely shall they be planted,
Scarcely shall they be sown,
Scarcely shall their stock take root in the earth,
When He will also blow on them,
And they will wither,
And the whirlwind will take them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you liken Me,
Or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high,
And see who has created these things,
Who brings out their host by number;
He calls them all by name,
By the greatness of His might
And the strength of His power;
Not one is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob,
And speak, O Israel:
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
And my just claim is passed over by my God”?
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.
At that time Jesus answered and said,
“I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.
Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.
All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father.
Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30)
Ray Stedman says,
"Now that is what was going on in Corinth. Paul is willing to stoop to this level of bragging about his background in order to show that even on their own grounds he is more credible than these false apostles. So he reluctantly continues boasting of matters which he regarded as of only secondary importance but which these Corinthians were viewing as a mark of success and credibility from their teachers. Paul goes on, in Verse 21b:
But whatever any one dares to boast of -- I am speaking as a fool --[Notice how he keeps interjecting this so we will not understand that this is something right.] I also dare to boast of that. (2 Corinthians 11:21b RSV)
Then he takes up in detail some of the things they were bragging about. First, there was the matter of their ancestry:
Are they Hebrews So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. (2 Corinthians 11:22 RSV)
It is incredible how much stock people put upon their pedigree. I have never been quite able to understand why some people seem to feel that they are better than others simply because their ancestors happened to come over on the Mayflower. (From what I have been told about mine, they met the Mayflower when it docked!) Even clubs have been formed, such as The Daughters of the American Revolution, as though it gave a mark of prestige to be descended from somebody who fought in the American Revolution. Yet that does not say a thing about the worth of the individual involved, does it?
This is the attitude that Paul is talking about. At once he recognizes the foolishness of this kind of thing, and yet he himself does it. He says, "If you think that those kinds of things are important, then you can't reject what I am saying to you because I can outshine them even in these categories. Are they Hebrews Do they claim to be related to the chosen nation and be able to speak the chosen language? Well, so can I. Are they Israelites? Are they descendants of Abraham? Well, so am I," he says. Yet it is clear that he does not think that this is of any real importance whatsoever.
I know Christians who brag about their spiritual pedigree, although they perhaps would not say anything about their natural pedigree. There is a tendency in Christian circles to boast about what schools you have graduated from, how many degrees you have after your name, whether you have been to the right places, and what churches you were members of. I find that people sometimes seek a kind of spiritual aristocracy because they have been members or attenders at Peninsula Bible Church. But that does not give you anything of value in itself. We ought to beware of this tendency to set stock in these advantages of nature which really tell you nothing about the individual. Paul goes on now to speak on the question of activity, Verse 23:
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one -- I am talking like a madman [That is what you are when you begin to boast about what you have done for Christ.] -- with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. (2 Corinthians 11:23 RSV)
Unfortunately, even in the Christian world today there are men who are traveling around getting a hearing because they have endured such great persecution for Christ. Paul says if that is what these false teachers are claiming he can outshine them even in this category. Then he begins to list them:
Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. (2 Corinthians 11:24 RSV)
That was a purely Jewish form of punishment. The Law of Moses prescribed that for certain offenses you could be publicly whipped with forty lashes. But it also prescribed, according to the Jewish rabbis, that if more than forty were inflicted the man who did the whipping had to receive forty lashes. So to prevent that they were careful not to go quite to forty; they made it thirty-nine, "forty less one. " That is why we have this expression here. Now incredible as it sounds (and we have no record of it other than this), Paul had endured that terrible beating five times. The Law also prescribed that if a man died under that, his death would not be blamed upon the man doing the whipping, so it is clear that this whipping was so severe it could take your life. Paul continues:
Three times I have been beaten with rods. (2 Corinthians 11:25a RSV)
That was Roman punishment. Paul was a Roman citizen and although the law of Rome decreed that no citizen should be beaten with rods, yet by this time on three different occasions he had been so beaten. (In the book of Acts there is another incident of that nature recorded which comes later than this.) So, because of angry mobs and weak judges, the law itself was disregarded at times and this form of punishment had already been carried out on the apostle three times by now.
...once I was stoned. (2 Corinthians 11:25b RSV)
We always have to interpret that today -- that was with rocks, not by drugs. This incident is recorded in the book of Acts. In the city of Lystra, where he met young Timothy on his first missionary journey, Paul was actually stoned by a mob and dragged out of the city and left for dead. But God restored him and brought him back to life and to a ministry again. Then he goes on:
Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea [There is an account in Acts of a shipwreck but that comes after this, so that four different times, at least, the apostle was shipwrecked]; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles. danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Corinthians 11:25c-27 RSV)
When I read this list I ask myself, "What have I ever endured for Christ's sake?" It makes me feel two things: First, grateful that God has never asked me to endure such things. He could have, he could have asked us all to, but he did not. And second, at the same time I wonder if my life has not been over-protected. I wonder if I would react as the apostle did if I were called to endure such a thing. You cannot read this without being impressed with what Paul endured for Christ's sake. Then there is the question of anxiety, in Verse 28:
And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? (2 Corinthians 11:28-29 RSV)
...Paul has proven to these Corinthians that he genuinely loved them. None of these false apostles would put up with this. As Jesus himself said, "When the wolf comes the hireling runs away but the true shepherd will lay down his life for his sheep," (John 10:11-13). Paul is simply bringing this out so that they might see where the truth lies and which is the voice they can trust in this conflict of voices that they are exposed to. Now, at this point, he turns to the things that a Christian can truly boast about. We are not to boast about what we have accomplished, or even how much we have had to bear for Christ's sake, but there are some things we can boast of. Verse 30:
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed for ever, knows that I do not lie. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped his hands. (2 Corinthians 11:30-33 RSV)
Paul reaches back twenty years into the past to this rather remarkable incident that occurred shortly after his conversion, and he says, "If I must boast, this is the kind of thing I am going to boast of." What is it? Well, as he puts it, "It's the things that show our weakness." That is what we ought to be boasting about, the times when we did not look good, the times when we fell on our faces and failed. Paul says that is what he boasts about. It is so incredible that anybody would boast about that that he takes a solemn oath that he is telling the truth. He says, "The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed for ever, knows that I do not lie. As I look back on my past life, one incident comes to mind more than anything else. It was a time when I was a complete failure at what I was trying to do. That is what I boast in, because that is when I began to learn the most important lesson of my life."
You know, if Paul were alive today, living like many Christians do today, he would have this list of things that he endured printed up and published everywhere, wouldn't he? You would be hearing, "Come and hear the man who was beaten five times for Christ and endured tremendous hardships and dangers. Come and hear this man who has been stoned for his faith, who has been in shipwrecks, night and day, etc." Paul dismisses all this with a wave of his hand and says, "The thing that I want to be known for is the time I was let down over the wall in a basket."
The account in Acts tells us about it (Acts 9:23-25). After his conversion he went into the wilderness or Arabia for a while. There he undoubtedly studied through the Scriptures to try and understand how he had missed seeing who Jesus was, because he had regarded him as an impostor and a phony. But as he searched he found Christ on every page. He must have seen him in Isaiah 53 and in Psalm 22, in the sacrifices of the Old Testament, in the arrangement of the tabernacle, everything pointed to Jesus. When he came back from that experience he had two burning convictions in his heart: First, that the Old Testament proved that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, because he went into the synagogues and began to demonstrate this to the Jews from their own Scriptures. The second thing that he was convinced of from that experience was that God had chosen him to be the apostle to Israel, to reach this nation of Jews for Christ. And he tried. He did his level best with his brilliant mind, with his great knowledge of Scripture, with all his Hebrew qualifications -- he lists them for us in Philippians 3 -- a Hebrew of the Hebrews circumcised on the eighth day, born of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee of the strictest sect of his religion, zealous according to the Law, blameless in his outer life.
He had it all, and so he started to reach the Jews for Christ. But things kept falling apart on him until it reached such a terrible state that one night the governor, at the instigation of the Jews in Damascus, tried to find him in order that they might seize him and put him to death. On hearing about it, his friends took him out to one of those houses built on the wall of Damascus, and through a window in the dark of the night they let him down in a basket. Paul says, "The night I became 'a basket case', that is the thing I boast about." Isn't that amazing? Looking back he says, "That was it. As I walked away from the city of Damascus, with all my plans and dreams of glory for Christ collapsed around my feet, that was the night I began to learn a great truth: My natural gifts are not what qualify me as a servant of Christ." Oh, would that I could teach this to all of Christendom today! We are being bombarded with the philosophy that natural abilities are what make you usable as a Christian -- a strong personality, an outgoing, optimistic outlook, gifts of leadership, handsome frame and body, musical ability, speaking ability -- all these are the things that God will use.
Paul says, "That's a bunch of baloney. I had to learn that did not help, that Christ working in me is the only thing that God approves of." Anybody who is a Christian has that, and if you learn to reckon on Jesus at work within, ready to work through you as you choose to do things, he will work alongside you and make them meaningful and valuable both in God's sight and ultimately man's. That is the great secret that Paul learned. That is why he says, "I look back on that incident on the Damascus wall and I have never forgotten it." He goes on in Philippians 3 to tell us all those things he once counted gain he now counts as nothing but a pile of barnyard manure in contrast to what he has learned Christ can become to him.
I do not know any truth that God wants us to learn that is greater than that. It is the hardest truth we can learn. I talked to a young man just yesterday, 21 years old, a good athlete with a strong body, a very attractive young man, a Christian who loves the Lord and who wants to serve him. But he was struggling between an opportunity that had been opened to him that would put him in a well-known, fashionable church that would give him a name immediately, that would give him plenty of money, would lead him into a ministry that would very likely have a lot of fame attached to it, or whether he was willing to become obscure and lose himself, trusting God to lead him, and trusting Christ to use him, even though he was never heard of publicly again. That is a struggle we all have to go through in one way or another. Do you remember how Jesus put it? "He that saves his life will lose it. He that loses his life for my sake will save it," (Matthew 10:39, 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, 17:33, John 12:25). That is where Paul was. That is what he said he would boast about, the things that show his weakness because, "when I am weak, then I am strong," (2 Corinthians 12:10b RSV). In the next chapter he goes on to demonstrate another illustration of that. We will take that next time we gather for study in this letter.
Paul stresses and underscores this one great truth that made all the difference in his life. If he had never learned that great lesson we would never have heard of him today. He would have been just another flashy figure out of the 1st century who shot up like a rocket on the horizon for a while and then disappeared. Nobody would have heard of him since. Instead he became the mighty apostle who has shaken the world for Christ in every generation for twenty centuries since then because he learned the secret that Jesus taught his own disciples, "without me you can do nothing," (John 15:5b). That is what we have to learn. May God help us to learn it.
Ray Stedman continues,
“As I come to these studies in Second Corinthians, I am impressed anew that our times are getting more and more "Corinthian"; we are approaching the very level of life that the Apostle Paul found in that city. These letters therefore speak very eloquently of our times.
In these closing chapters Paul is caught up in a game of one-upmanship. He does not want to be there, but that is where he is. I have now been at three pastors conferences on two different continents in the last few weeks, and I have noticed that, no matter where in the world you are, if you gather a group of pastors together they always start playing one-upmanship. One pastor will say to another, "How are things going with your church this year?" The other will say, "Well, we've had a pretty good year." (You can see that they are feeling each other out to see how far they can go.) One of them will say, "How many converts did you have?" (If they are Baptists they will say, "How many baptisms did you have?") The other will say, "Well, we've had two or three a month." The first man then changes the subject because that is more than he had. He will say, "Our choir did very well this year." The other one will say "Our missionary budget is better than ever before." You can sense how they are playing "Who can top this" games.
Now, this is what was happening here in Corinth. There were some false apostles who had come in who were boasting about their exploits, how faithful and how tremendously dedicated they were. They were hypnotizing these Corinthians into believing that they were true apostles of Christ, teaching them false things, etc. In order to get back the attention of the Corinthians, Paul has to compare notes with them, in a sense, and boast of his exploits, which he has been doing in these chapters.
But what remarkable boasts he makes, with not a word of what we might expect, not a word of what many preachers boast about today. He does not display an impressive list of scholastic degrees. He does not mention any of the famous converts he has worked with. He does not make any claims about the great crowds he has preached to or the remarkable miracles that accompanied his ministry. He does not say anything about being an internationally known apostle. All of these things were true, but Paul did not say one word about them, in sharp contrast with many who are preaching today. Rather, he begins to boast about an incredible list of hardships -- beatings, fastings, imprisonments, stoning, shipwrecks, dangers from every side. Then he includes the almost embarrassing story about the night he has to be let down over a wall in a basket in order to escape a plot to take his life. That does not sound like much to boast about because it represented a collapse of all his dreams and plans.
But when we come to Chapter 12, Paul describes an experience that finally sounds like something well worth boasting about. In this chapter we have his story of his being caught up into Paradise, and an accompanying story about a thorn in the flesh that was given to him. He introduces this with a suggestion that this vision of Paradise is only one of many he had. Verse 1, Chapter 12,
I must boast; there is nothing to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 12:1 RSV)
This, by the way, was the basis of his claim to be an apostle. Luke tells us that apostles were those who had seen the risen Lord after his resurrection. Paul, of course, was not one of the original twelve, but he had seen Christ on the Damascus road. Now he tells us here that there were many occasions when he had visions of the Lord. That does not mean a fantasy or something he saw in his mind. He actually saw the Lord; the Lord appeared to him and taught him. This is the basis of his claim to be an apostle. Paul said that Jesus himself had taught him what he had learned, the truths of the gospel that he preached. That, incidentally, is an important fact to bear in mind when people are challenging the apostle's authority in these days. We must remember that he himself said that it was the Lord who taught him these things. After many years of ministering around the world, Paul had a chance one day to compare notes with the original apostles, Peter, James, John and others, and he tells us in Galatians that they could add nothing to what he had learned from the Lord himself. So here is the basis of this great apostle's teaching: It came directly from the Lord in personal appearances. Now, in Verse 2 and following, Paul goes on to give us one of the most dramatic of these occasions:
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven -- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise -- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows -- and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. (2 Corinthians 12:2-4 RSV)
Perhaps the strangest thing about that account is that Paul puts it in the third person, as though it happened to someone else. I am not sure why that is, but later, in Verse 7, he makes very clear that it was to him this happened. Here, however, he sounds as though it were to somebody he had once known. He does not tell us very much; notice that there is not much detail about life beyond. (I have always wished I could interview him about this.) But several things are clear from what he says:
One is that it was obviously an experience where he went beyond this present life; he entered, he says, "the third heaven." (He also calls it "Paradise.") Now the "third heaven" was a reference to the Jewish belief about the structure of the universe. There were three heavens, they believed. The first was the atmosphere around the earth, the clouds, etc. Then beyond that they could see a second heaven where the stars, the sun and moon were. The third heaven was the invisible realm where God's throne was, therefore, it was called Paradise. It was the invisible dimension of life. All through the Scriptures, in the incidents where someone appeared out of heaven or went into heaven, they are referring to stepping into this invisible dimension of reality. It does not mean it is way out in space somewhere; it means that it is not visible to our present senses. It constitutes a kind of fourth dimension of life. It is there, into that realm, that the apostle was taken. If you trace back the dates, it was somewhere around the time when he came out to Tarsus, back to Antioch (some ten years after his conversion). A revival broke out in Antioch, and Barnabas had gone and brought Paul back to help him in this time.
A second thing the apostle tells us is that the body was rather unimportant in this event he is describing. If he was in the body he was not aware of it; and if he was out of the body, he did not miss it. This has always suggested to me that going to be with the Lord will not be as unique or as different an experience as we might think. Remember that, in Chapter 5, Paul calls it, "being at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8 RSV). I have just returned from being in Poland, and it was such a great feeling to get home because home is the place where you relax, you feel at ease, you are not under strain or pressure, you can kick off your shoes, stretch out and feel comfortable. That is what being with the Lord was like, Paul says. It was like being home. He was not sure from his feelings just how the body fit in, but it is clear that it was a great experience of relaxed enjoyment for him. This is perhaps one reason why he gives this account in the third person, because it was almost like it happened to someone else. He was not aware of whether his body was involved or not.
The third thing Paul tells us is that what he heard he could not tell us about. Now he must have heard some marvelous things, things which contributed greatly to his understanding of life and reality. These must have helped him in his fantastic grasp of what exists, and what God is doing. But he could not describe these things in earthly words. You notice that when you read the Old Testament prophets, and some of the New Testament prophets, that those who had visions of the Lord, visions of heaven, were never able to quite accurately describe what they saw. They had to put it in symbols -- Ezekiel's wheels within wheels and strange animals with four faces. Daniel's descriptions are somewhat similar; so are John's in Revelation. Not one could describe exactly what he saw because it is so far beyond what we presently know. This surely indicates that when we are with the Lord our knowledge will be vastly increased. We will know secrets we never dreamed existed, secrets that are so beyond us now they cannot be put into language. That is what Paul is saying here.
Well, you might expect that this, at least, is an experience he can boast about. You might expect him now to put down these false apostles and challenge them to come up with something greater than this. But remarkably, he does not do that. In fact, he goes on to say in Verse 5,
On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I wish to boast, I shall not be a fool, for I shall be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it so that no one may think more of me that he sees in me or hears from me. (2 Corinthians 12:5-6 RSV)
In those words, Paul is admitting that this was a very unusual experience; and, if he did boast about it, he would at least be telling the truth. This actually happened to me, he says. But he does not boast because he does not want people to look at him in any way that is not based upon what they could see for themselves. In other words, he does not desire status beyond that which is visible to people who are in touch with him personally. "What you see is what you get," is the apostle's motto. He is not making any claims about anything unusual in his ministry.
That is very remarkable, especially in these days when we have a rash of books appearing, all of which attempt to tell us of something unusual, fantastic experiences of people who supposedly died, went to heaven, and came back into the body. If you look at these books, they are all very descriptive of what the writers saw. (I know one thing about them -- not one of them would have waited 14 years before rushing into print.) They describe their experiences very specifically -- people approaching them wearing shining garments, beautiful landscapes, quiet countrysides, etc. These people immediately arrange lecture tours, television interviews, and welcome a celebrity status. You do not see anything like this with the Apostle Paul. In fact, he says, "I haven't spoken of this for 14 years, and I do so reluctantly now. I don't want to boast about it. In fact, what I want to boast about I haven't even gotten to yet. This vision of Paradise is the introduction to what I have to say. But this is what I boast about" -- and he goes on in Verse 7,
And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. (2 Corinthians 12:7 RSV)
"That," Paul says, "is my point of boasting -- boasting about my weaknesses. And out of that experience of tremendous revelation and glory which I had came the most annoying, irritating agony of my life" -- what he calls, "a thorn in the flesh." Everyone wants to know immediately what that was. Some felt that perhaps Paul had bad eyesight, because there is a passage in the letter to the Galatians where he commends his readers because they would have torn out their very eyes and given them to him. In that letter he also says, "You see with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand," (Galatians 6:11 RSV). (When I traveled with Dr. H. A. Ironside he was suffering from cataracts, and he used to write me with large letters. I often thought of those words of Paul as I read his letters.) I personally think it may well have been some eye problem that he had that repeatedly bothered him and maybe even made him rather repulsive at times. Some commentators feel he may have had a speech impediment because he mentions having difficulty uttering things as he wanted to. Some have even suggested that he was married once and had a nagging wife. That would indeed be a thorn in the flesh! I do not think there is much evidence for that, although there is some evidence that Paul was once married. Whatever it was, we know one thing -- it was in the flesh, i.e., it was probably something physical that was bothering him. According to Paul's word here, both Satan and the Lord were involved in giving this to him. He calls it, "the messenger of Satan," which came to harass him, to annoy him, to irritate him, to keep constantly digging at him like a thorn embedded in the flesh that he could not get hold of to pull it out. And yet, he says, it was given to him to humble him, to keep him from being too elated about the revelations he had.
Now notice that both the Lord and Satan are involved in this together, interestingly enough. Satan is the instrument the Lord uses. There is a similar scene at the beginning of the book of Job, when Satan has to appear before the Lord to get permission to afflict Job and to bring about the terrible session with boils which he had. Yet at the end of the book God appears alone and says to Job, basically, "I'm responsible, Job. Any questions?" So you always have this combination of these two forces. Satan's purpose was to destroy and harass Paul, to make life miserable for him, as is his purpose in the trials that we have. But God's purpose was to strengthen him, to humble him and to keep him usable in his hands. I have never seen a trial or so-called tragedy come to Christians that did not have both of these elements in it...
So this is the secret behind all our trials. Now whatever this thorn in the flesh was, Paul did not like it. He went to the Lord about it, he tells us in Verse 8.
Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:8-9a RSV)
Paul was a mighty man of prayer, so it was natural for him to ask time, the answer comes, and it is very clear. Whether it was in a vision or some inner conviction of his mind, I do not know, but the answer was clear: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness."
I want to ask you something: If that is a principle that is true of life, and God knows it to be true, that his strength is made perfect in our weakness, what do you think he is busy doing with us? Making us weak, isn't it? And what makes us feel weak? Well, it is being under attack, feeling inadequate to handle the pressures and the problems that we have. So if you feel that way it is not only the devil who makes you feel that way, it is God too. God makes us feel this to keep us from that which could render us useless in the work of spreading his Kingdom. Paul knew that the worst thing he could do was become arrogant and conceited about his revelation. It was evidently more important to God to keep him humble than it was to make him comfortable, so he allowed the thing to go on.
The most dangerous threat to any servant of Christ is spiritual pride. I want to confess to you that that is the thing I fear most in my own ministry. So many nice things are said to me, I get so many strokes, so many boosts to my ego, that I fear lest I begin to believe that some of these compliments represent remarkable abilities that I possess. If you want to pray for me, I hope you will be praying that I will never fall heir to that. I was at a conference here in California some time ago and I was speaking with the director of the conference about another man, a brother in the Lord, whom the director thought could send one of his organization's top speakers for a series of special meetings. This man drew himself up and said, "Well, I am the top speaker of our group. I'm Number 1." It was not surprising to me, after learning that, to see this man's ministry begin to crumble and fall apart; soon he was removed from his leadership position by his own organization. I have seen a lot of people fall because they grew arrogant and boastful about what God was doing through them. So Paul comes to this conclusion. Verses 9-10:
I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 RSV)
Paul decided upon two things as the result of this lesson. One is that he would never permit himself to brag about what he was doing. If he found himself wanting to boast, he would find some area of weakness and boast about it. He was going to do so deliberately in order that he might not succumb to the temptation to be proud. I want to point out something to you: He did not invite these Corinthians to try to work at keeping him humble. There are a lot of people today who feel it is their business in life to keep somebody else humble. They never encourage them or say something nice about them because they are afraid it will go to their heads. But no one is ever given that responsibility. In fact, you cannot help somebody that way; you cannot keep somebody humble by not encouraging him. It becomes the responsibility of each individual to face this problem in his own life. In other words, only he can keep himself humble. It depends on how he looks at what he does, who he sees behind it and what resources he sees involved, whether they come from God or from him. That is what will keep him humble.
Paul says, "I'm going to remind myself of who I really am and what I really can do by boasting only in my weaknesses, the times of apparent failures, the times when I don't do very well. That is what I want to boast about." Second, whenever trouble comes, he says, "I want to be content. I don't want to gripe or complain or feel sorry for myself. I want to recognize that this is the best setting for God to work in my life. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
This underscores the spiritual battle we are involved in. When is the devil being beaten? Well, not when we feel great and confident, when it looks like wonderful things are happening, when the ministry is going well. (And I speak to all of us, because we are all in the ministry. We all have an area of responsibility given to us by God.) No. The devil is being defeated when we are feeling attacked and under the gun, when we feel weak and helpless and do not know what to do, when we are not sure how to respond, when in our perplexities and sense of weakness we come before the Lord and plead with him for strength to go on one more day, and for grace to help us stand. That is when we are winning and when the Kingdom of God is being spread more abundantly that ever before. Some years ago I ran across a letter from a missionary out in New Guinea. He was writing home to some of his supporters, sharing with them some of the struggles he was going through. This is what he wrote.
Man, it's great to be in the thick of the fight and to draw the old devil's heaviest guns, to have him at you with depression and discouragement, slander and disease! He doesn't waste time on a lukewarm bunch; he hits good and hard when a fellow is hitting him. You can always measure the weight of your blow by the one you get back. When you're on your back with fever and at your last ounce of strength, when some of your converts backslide, when you learn that your most promising enquirers are fooling, when your mail gets held up and some don't bother to answer your letters, is that time to put on mourning? No sir, that's the time to pull out the stops and shout hallelujah! The old fellow's getting it in the neck and hitting back. Heaven is leaning over the battlements and watching. Will he stick it? And as they see Who is with us, as they see the unlimited reserves, the boundless resources, as they see the impossibility of failure, how disgusted and sad they must be when we run away. Glory to God! We're not going to run away!
That captures the spirit of what Paul is writing. "When I am weak, then I am strong." God knows that is true. That is why, when we get through one battle, there is another one waiting for us. We want to throw up our hands and say, "Lord, what are you doing to me? I thought life was a Sunday School picnic where I could drift through and have a great time eating my Wheaties and doing OK." But God puts us right under the gun. Trouble comes, difficulties hit us, three or four at a time on occasions. But they are not times for complaining; they are opportunities to fight and to win.
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“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that who is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:7-14)
July 4, 2019