Sunday, May 24, 2009

"For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Dear Friends and Family,

Life is filled with paradoxes - seemingly self-contradictory statements with an underlying truth - including literary, mathematical, philosophical and even certain folk riddles. Some are rather technical, others inane. While the Apostle Paul was not employing a literary technique when he penned these words - "For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10) - he was making a profound statement about a spiritual truth that he had experienced first hand. To this day, countless followers of Jesus Christ can also affirm the same in their own lives.

As I write today, it has been 10 days since my first chemotherapy treatment. While I have not experienced many side-effects, I do feel weak, tired and my body has ached at times like I have the flu. I take all these symptoms as signs the medicines are working. Although I am thankful that I am not experiencing greater side-effects, I must confess that I wish I had my pre-treatment level of energy. Like most, I don't want to be weak; I want to be strong, substantial, self-sufficient.

Weakness has an interesting effect, however, as it causes us to look to other sources of strength. I think this is Paul's point in his second letter to the church at Corinth. Paul (like me) had some physical malady - he called it a "thorn in the flesh".  He prayed to the Lord Jesus three times for him to take it away. This was Jesus' answer to him:

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness". (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I am learning, as Paul learned, to call on a power far greater than my own meager strength, even at its peak. Unfortunately, when I am strong, my tendency is to rely on my own strength far too often, even though I know it pales in comparison to what Christ has availed to us by his Spirit. His power is perfected in weakness, in part then, because we are willing to lay aside our own self-sufficiency and call on his other-worldly power.

This is not easy for me, but I find myself in a place where I have no choice, which is in fact a severe mercy - severe in my diseased circumstances, merciful because I am moved to call upon the One who has the power to heal, transform and even raise the dead.

Others likely have much deeper, fire-forged insights into this spiritual truth of Christ's power being perfected in weakness. Please share them on the blog. I and others will be encouraged and benefit from your experiences.

I'll close with what many believe to be the greatest, most important paradox in human history - a cruel form of Roman torture and death (the crucifix) represents hope, redemption and new life. This paradox can only be true because Jesus took his own prescribed course for God's power being perfected in weakness. In laying down his life willingly (John 10:11), he conquered death. In becoming sin on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21), he payed the penalty for sin, satisfying God's holy wrath. In being swallowed by the powers of darkness, he defeated them and sealed their doom (Revelation 12:9-11). We know these truths are not the stuff of fairy tales, because the tomb was empty (Luke 24:6, 1 Corinthians 15).

I am glad that paradox exists.

In Christ alone,


  1. Newt,Susan and family,
    happy Memorial Day! Thanks for these thoughts Newt. It reminds me of the old Sunday school acrostic - Forsaking All I Trust Him (Faith). Tim Kirk, pastor at Christ Community Carmel, touched on this theme of "weakness" and paradoxes this morning, looking at Psalm 139. He quoted John H. Gerstner (the wonderful puritan theologian): "All you need is need. All you need is nothing; and most people don't have it."

    Way too often my pride gets in the way of my need. I've not had the refining fire of a deadly physical disease; just a deadly spiritual disease that took me nearly 30 years to fully recognize. I was introduced to the Lord when I was 12 by my 19 year old brother, when he was home from Purdue for the summer. He'd accepted Christ and he had me write out the Roman Road. I don't believe I came to a saving faith that summer, but the seed was planted. Sixteen years later, I was in trouble in Arizona, having struck out into investment real estate at the very time we had the last financial collapse - (1987) brought on by the 1987 Tax Reform Act, which reduced property values by 20% overnight and hundreds of Savings & Loans went into failure.

    I was fifty or sixty thousand dollars in debt, with no way out. I had been an ardent supporter of "self-help" theology and of "positive mental attitude." But when I searched it for something deeper that would lead me out of my despair, I found it dry and withering. Finally, with creditors calling and ugly sin getting the best of me, I wandered into the back of a Presbyterian church in Tempe, Arizona, all by myself. I had with me the only bible I owned, a 16 year old bible given to me by my brother. I don't remember anything the pastor said that Sunday, I simply opened up the book and began reading the hand-writing of a 12 year old. The text of the Roman Road I'd written so long before jumped off the page: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. . . For the wages of sin are death." and on and on, until I read these words: "For God shows His love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Tears hit the pages as I was shaken to my core. I knew I could not do it anymore, that I could not "will" myself out of the trouble I was in and the deadly direction my actions were taking. I had nothing. I asked God to take over and the spirit flooded in and I was ushered into His saving grace.

    All along, through all my efforts to succeed, to fill the hole that was in me with stuff -- to prove to everyone that I was "good", I would offer to God all this good effort and my general niceness and "positive attitude" ("Stan's a good guy")-- in an effort to justify myself. And all that time all I'd really needed was nothing; but I did not offer that to the Lord until it was all I had to give. And then, He gave me everything.

    The paradox i now see: I am closer to a saint now, than I am a sinner (not by my works, but through His justification); but now that I know Christ, I see what a sinner I am. Praise be to the Living God!

    You and your family remain in our prayers.

  2. Newt, we continue to pray for you daily. You are foremost in our thoughts and know that God has the Perfect Plan for you. You are loved by God and your family and many friends.

    Love, Aunt Mimi and Uncle Bub

  3. I may have sent the below web site/blog of Rachel Barkey but I thought you would be blessed to view her testimony of God's matchless Grace in the midst of her storm. You may have seen it but it is definitely one of the most powerfull testimonies of God's power being made perfect in weakness. Much like yours!

    Newt, in your last blog you spoke of "power being made perfect in weakness and the paradoxes of true. It speaks to me of my falleness and my desperate need for my Redeemer "everyday". I have often thought, why God did not completely eradicate my sinful nature after he Redeemed me. I guess I willl not know the ultimate answer until eternity but maybe part of the answer lies in those verses. Also Paul speaks to me..."But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always be given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you".

    My flesh girates to another principle; I want honor, approval and a need to be important. In other words, I want to be God and I want others worship. I have broken the first command and after that all the others "fall". I am in desperate need. At the core, this is my problem. How deeply sin has affected me, but thank God that my Redeemer has and "is" changing me, and in fact, He is "using my brokeness" to bring Glory to His Name.

  4. Newt,
    I pray that this post will lift you up in someway. I heard that you were ill a couple of weeks ago, but I had no idea what was going on or how to pray. Yet, every time I knelt to pray, I was compelled to lift you up in prayer. Then today, I Aaron if he knew anything and he pointed me to your blog. For the past hour I have poured over your blog and comments from people like Stan. I have been very encouraged by your faith, and filled with the joy that Christ offers while in the midst of a trial. I want to say that I know first hand what you are going through and the strength of Christ that is carrying you, Susan and your family through this trial. It is like that “Footprints in the Sand” poem by Mary Stevenson, which I always looked at it as a bit cliché until I experienced the last verse personally…

    “The LORD replied, "My son, My precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

    My trial came just be fore Christmas and I am happy to share the details through the blog I created…

    Suffice it to say, we are all dead in our sin…you, me, and everyone that reads this message. The only hope we have in this world is salvation through Christ. I am reminded of Romans 6:9-11…

    “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

    I want to thank you for sharing your faith with all of us and giving God the glory for your life and persevering through this trial with faith. I sing praises to the Lord for not putting you through the trial of pancreatic cancer. My heart still aches from the loss of our friend Mike, and I lost my dear friend and neighbor Larry at 3 o’clock today to that disease.

    As I was reading your blog I was pleased to see that you were leaning on the Lord for your strength, not just because it is the right way to live our lives, but that I know that it pleases God. I think about the trial and how it refines us like the refiners fire in Malachi 3. Then I was thinking that we are called to be like Christ, we are to submit to the will of the Father. For if Christ resisted the trial of the crucifixion, we would all still be lost. Similarly, if we fight and resist God for the trials we endure in this life, then he cannot refine us…or even worse, he may have to increase the heat of his refining fire. By submitting to His good and perfect will, we can know that we are conforming to His purpose and not that of this world. (Romans 12:1-2)

    I will close by letting you know that you and your family will be in my daily prayers. My wife and I will petition the Lord for you. I found songs of worship to be a source of strength through my trial, so I may make a copy of a CD I put together and drop it off for you. Let me know if you want to get together sometime to pray. I am available for you.

    Your Brother in Christ,

  5. Dear Newt and Susan,

    We are thinking and praying for you as you enter into this process of chemo. We have experienced some larger than life challenges spiritually (mainly challenges within our family situations) over the past two years and have felt weak also. It has enabled us to look to Christ even more than ever to be our strength. It has not been fun but has been amazing to see God hold us up. We celebrated our 13th anniversary at the restaurant of the Heritage here in Christchurch the other day. We thought of you all as we walked into the restaurant. If we remember correctly, you stayed there during your visit to Christchurch. We'll try to keep checking to see how you are all doing and how we can continue to pray for you. In Christ, Heather and Justin O'Malley