I often feel so inadequate. Unequipped for the struggles that come my way. And don’t jump to judge me…I have a sneaky suspicion you feel the same way. We often face tasks that overwhelm us, overtake us, and consume everything we do.
I have kids. Four of them, to be exact. Kids have a way of bringing out the worst in you. They know your triggers. Your weak spots. And always seem a step ahead in the game. Or maybe for you, its the traffic you sit in that brings out your ugly side. Your co-workers? Your spouse? The mother-in-law? Be honest for a moment…there’s some person or circumstance that has a way of breaking your stride.
There’s a reason we struggle…we are but jars of clay. Commonplace. Ordinary. Nothing special, so to say. If any of us needs to be pulled back down to earth, this verse helps put life in perspective. We all have weaknesses.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 2 Cor. 4:7
But I love how God doesn’t leave us there! We are insignificant on our own…but we have treasure living inside! Read 2 Cor. 4:8-18. I would even suggest that you read it out loud.
Because despite our weaknesses…
We are afflicted in every way…but not crushed;
Perplexed…but not driven to despair;
Persecuted…but not forsaken
Struck down…but not destroyed;
Death is at work in us…but we have eternal life.
Outer self is wasting away…but inner self is renewed day by day;
Afflicted in every way…but eternal glory is awaitin’
There are things that are seen…but we look toward the unseen.
For the things that are seen are temporary…but our HOPE is in eternity!
You may feel weak today, but you won’t be weak forever. You may be struggling now, but it will not be for eternity. Don’t lose heart, my friend. Hold on. When we are weak, God is strong. But there’s even more…when we walk through the miry pit, God can be glorified.
I know it is easy to lose sight of God when you walk through something really, really hard. You go into survival mode. As I recently traversed a painful journey…I had to keep reminding myself that God is bigger than this. The thing I kept clutching on to is that God will work this all out for good. He will be glorified in this mess, and if I surrender to Him, others around me will see Him too. I mean…in this weird sorta way…it is an encouragement to know that God will be glorified when we walk through hard stuff. Your suffering is not in vain.
Your pain has a purpose.
For others to see God working in you.
And so, my friend, are you willing to encourage someone else along? Please share how you have been encouraged during a difficult time.
A few months ago I traveled with some close friends to one of my favorite places…a small, quaint village smuggled in the middle of sugar cane fields located in rural Haiti. You can see the mountain range off in the distance, and an occasional ocean breeze from the nearby beach. Children laughing. People cooking. Cows mooing. Roosters crowing. This is the place many call home.
The day of arrival is always exhausting. Catching a flight at the crack of dawn. Sitting in airports. Waiting around on a plane. Once your feet finally land in dusty, smoggy Port au Prince, you have to board an old, rickety yellow school bus for another seemingly long drive. My friends arrived around dinner time, and I anxiously awaited their arrival since I had come a few days prior. We chatted at dinner and then they went off to bed. Only to hear of bad news in a short while.
My friends’ father had a stroke, and the outcome was bleak. We did our best to comfort their startled hearts. Arranged flights for their return to the states in the morn…and then gathered everyone to the rooftop to pray.
It is a night that I will never forget. Never. Ever. In a million years. The stars were shouting out loud for our attention. Blazing brighter than I had ever seen before. We put on worship music and we wept and we prayed. And we witnessed the glory of the Lord shining bright. It is amazing to experience God being there…even in your darkest hour.
Have you ever noticed that light shines brightest in the darkest places? It’s more vibrant and alive. This is true in us as well. God has made our dry bones come alive.
Today’s reading is 2 Corinthians 4:1-6. We must not lose heart. “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (v.6)”
Whatever you are going through today…don’t lose heart. God is able to make the light shine in the darkness. Make the dead rise up. Set the captive free.
God may not answer our prayers as we wish…but we hold on to HOPE because the light shining in our hearts has opened our eyes to see. We know that we know that we know…we will see God one day face to face and He will make all things right again.
Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Cor. 3:5-6
Have you ever considered your job title as “Minister”? Or, do you think only a full-time, seminary degreed pastor can bear this role? Paul says we as believers have been called to be ministers. That is who we are!
In Greek, the word minister, diakonos, means servant and applies to someone who is carrying out the will of God. One commentator defines the meaning as ‘to kick up dust’, implying there is a sense of urgency. No questions asked.
We often disregard the importance and honor of serving. Our competency as ministers doesn’t lie in our personal skill sets, family heritage, bank accounts, investment balances, political stances, race, social status, or age. Thank goodness…in God’s economy there is no delineation of people groups. We all are viewed the same. Black. White. Slave. Free. Rich. Poor. Male. Female. Equal. I cannot wait for that day!
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. Gal. 8:28-29
It is God who gives us the competency as ministers. Read 2 Cor. 3:7-18. The ministry of the O.T. was characterized by the letter of the law, leading to death, condemnation, and things that would kill us. The new covenant is characterized by the Holy Spirit and gives us life, righteousness, and the glory of God. One gives death, and the other gives life.
In our everyday lives, God has something for us to do. In practical ways, I can reflect on the things I am doing and ask the question, “Is this activity breathing life and encouragement? Or is it bringing shame and condemnation?” The Spirit of God gives life…and when I am obedient to Christ, I will do the same.
One thing I have noticed about Paul in this book is his view of the Corinthians. He always was pouring into them. He called them Saints. Holy. Loved. Family. Paul recognized that no one measured up on their own…we are all stuck in the same boat. It is Jesus who gave us the ministry of new life, and he has extended us the offer to do the same.
What does it mean to be a minister of life? How can you practically put this into practice?
Paul finds himself in a precarious situation. His intentions are being questioned by the very ones he holds dear. They are probing and asking for a resume, background check, and letter of recommendation. Read 2 Cor. 3:1-6.
Church, we shouldn’t be offended when our intentions are being interrogated. Instead, we should live a transparent life and live it well. People are craving authenticity…not sugar-coating. They want the real deal.
How to Lead like Paul:
- Stay Grounded: Are you pursuing and shepherding the hearts of others? Or are you after a shiny veneer? A healthy church has a Christ-centered, service-oriented focus. They want others to feel loved and accepted as soon as they walk through the door. They pursue deep, long-lasting relationships with a goal of heart-change, not merely behaviour modification. This is when church life gets hard…because it means loving people through the hard, messy stuff in life. Peeling away layers of the onion. Exposing what lies at the root. However, too many churches are more concerned with outer appearance. They are stuck in survival mode, rather than pursuing intimacy. Church attendance. Buildings and bulletins. Giving statistics. Be careful that numbers don’t become more important than names.
- Be Genuine: As a leader, do you confess the things you are struggling with? Or do you cast a judgemental eye? No one wants to hang out with Goody-2-Shoes all of the time. People need real, authentic relationships. They want to know you are real. They want to know they’re not alone in the battle against sin. And quite honestly, they want to know that you are on their side.
- Admit your Flaws: Church, sometimes others want to know your imperfections. It’s okay if everything doesn’t run smoothly and there’s a crack in your voice or the video downstream goes out. People are okay with it. Seriously, they are. They want to know you’re relatable. You’re vulnerable. You have emotions. Life isn’t always swell. A relatable church is like unearthing a pearl in a clamshell. It is a difficult find.
- Be Humble: Is your pastor willing to plunge the toilet, hold a baby, or greet you at the door? Humility is refreshing…breaking down barriers between church staff and churchgoers. There are so many people who have pushed church away because they’ve been hurt by the hypocrites inside. It’s a common temptation when you’ve been wronged. Let’s admit we’re all sinners needing a Savior. Flawed and messy. Broken inside.
When we pursue church rather than Jesus, we’ve got our priorities wrong.
- Point upward: Is the top priority pointing others to Jesus? Not programs. Not classes. Not bulletins, or the choir. J.E.S.U.S. He should be brought to the forefront in everything we do. When I was a child, I attended a church program where you were awarded for the number of verses you could recite. The “type A” personalities flourished as their red vest became littered with award badges. But unfortunately, the heart matters were ignored. Recognition became the primary goal.
Paul was different. Not merely a peddler of the Word of God. He served out of sincere, heartfelt affection. He was beat, flogged, mocked, bloodied, shipwrecked, and imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel and others. He described the people he loved as “written on his heart.” Souls. Heartbeats. Connection. New Covenant. Intimacy. Life. Living Beings. What would it look like if your church (including you and me) served others out of sincere and genuine hearts? I’ll tell you what it would look like…a lot more like Jesus.
Not merely church attendance.
Or perfect programming.
Or shiny veneers.
We should be a real, authentic, Jesus-reflecting, people group whose heart desire is to love God and love others well. Think about…to love someone so much that they are etched on your heart. Paul lived love. Will you?
Other resources: Christianity Today
As I glance down at my bathroom vanity this morning, various perfume bottles catch my eye. Appearing in all different shapes and sizes, each one individually uniquely designed. And although the bottles are quite captivating, the real treasure remains inside. The bottles were created to hold something, much like you and I.
Throughout Scripture, we as believers are often symbolized as clay jars, perfume bearers, or empty vessels. God Himself has poured His presence, the Holy Spirit, into our lives. We are His dwelling place. However, we often misunderstand God’s intention as we idly let the time tick by. We were not created to be a decoration, sitting as a display up on a shelf. His intent was to be poured out, spilling lavishly on those around.
Read 2 Cor. 2:12-17. In our text today, we see the softer side of Paul, who otherwise often seems invincible. Today, he is preoccupied with the whereabouts of his beloved Titus (obviously, ions before cell phones and tracking devices). This storyline from v. 13 gets dropped until chapter 2 Cor. 7:5-7, so we will circle-back around in the upcoming weeks. For now, let’s keep marching ahead.
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 2 Cor. 2:14
In the days of Paul, the Romans had grand parades to celebrate a militant victory. The general of the army would be perched high and lifted up on the first chariot. However, preceding him would be the spoils from the war.
Trials always precede triumph.
We often forget that our pain and suffering has a purpose. There is a victory awaiting us as we continue to allow the Lord to lead our way. Reflecting on the life of Paul, we see a man whose life was like a roller coaster. Twists and turns. Ups and downs. Often appearing to be travelling nowhere. But through it all, Paul continued to patiently endure with his eyes fixed on the final prize. He lived knowing heaven was awaitin’. He lived with certainty and spent his time well.
In the parade procession were incense bearers, spreading the fragrance of victory after the war. Y’all…we have a victory that is to be celebrated! It is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). The person who recognizes they are nothing without God will empty themselves of everything they once trusted. The things we once placed our identity on no longer matter. We will become destitute in spirit, trusting God to do a work on our inside.
And here is a great paradox…the more you let go of “you” to God, the more “you” you do become. You find yourself in laying your life down. You find your greatest treasure is living for Him!
When we start living for Jesus, our aroma spreads out. Life to some. Death to others. This is where it gets hard. Not everyone we encounter will like the way we smell. It is not up to us to decide.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Cor. 1:18 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 2 Cor. 2:15
What if we poured out Jesus from our lives, regardless of the response? What if we eeked out love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? What if we laid down our pride?
Ponder for a moment: How can we live differently? How can we pour the aroma of Jesus out to this world?
When I have been hurt by someone, I have a difficult time letting them know. I much rather avoid the elephant in the room and brush things under the rug. As an introvert and natural people-pleaser, I find it excruciating to “talk things through” when there is a disagreement, disruption, or discord.
However, here’s what I find intriguing about Paul: he doesn’t hide from uncomfortableness. He doesn’t run away or make excuses. Rather, he faces the hard stuff head-on and with the right mindset. It is out of love that he lingers long.
Read 2 Corinthians 2:1-11. If we really love someone, we want what is best for them. We want them to mature in holiness, not merely happiness. We desire for them to be gospel-centered, Christ-craving people. Gosh. I want this more than anything for the ones I love! And as a result, we cannot stand idly by when we see sin eating them alive. Before someone we love falls off the deep-end, it is our responsibility to speak up. Leave your emotions at the front door and address the issue at hand, always putting the other person before your own interests or wants. Let’s get practical…
How Do We Effectively Communicate When We’ve Been Wronged?
- State the Issue – Stick to “I” comments and specifically address the problem at hand.
- Identify Sensory Data – Use your senses to communicate the problem. For example, “When I saw….”, “I heard…”, etc.
- Tell your Thoughts – Explain how your sensory data led to your interpretation. For example, “When I saw _[sensory data]_, it made me think_______________. Explain to the other person how you have reached your conclusion. Allow them time to respond.
- Explain your Feelings – Be vulnerable and honest here. How did the sensory data you collect impact how you feel? We see Paul doing this in 1 Cor. 2:4 when he says, “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.”
- Share you Wants – Explain your desire for healing and reconciliation and why it is important to you. Reaffirm your desire for a restored relationship. Build the person up (rather than tearing down). We see Paul doing this…
- v. 8 – “I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.”
- v. 9 – “I wrote that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything.”
- v. 10 – “Indeed what I have forgiven…has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan.”
- Address Points of Action – How do you want to see the issue resolved? What steps can be taken to make amends? In the case of Paul, we don’t really know what offence occurred, but we do know that a specific person had attacked Paul personally, resulting in the entire church community being impacted. Ultimately, Paul is calling for a restoration of this outcast church member…and calling on the saints to forgive.
Man, this is a tall order. When we are wronged and in a place of deep hurt, it takes a supernatural work within us that only is accomplished by the Holy Spirit. But on the contrary, when we don’t forgive–bitterness, anger, malice, and envy take root. Let’s not allow the Enemy to win. Instead, let’s be people who are eager to forgive as Christ has forgiven us.
Is unforgiveness eating you up alive? Is there someone you need to forgive? Take the necessary steps to extend forgiveness.
This is one of my most treasured photos. It was taken the day we brought our son, Comerson, home from his orphanage in Haiti. Legally. Emotionally. Spiritually. Physically. He was now ours to nourish and raise. There was no looking back.
Last night, this little guy told me about a recent, reoccurring dream. In his dream, he is lost and all alone. He cannot find anyone around. Not me. Not Daddy. No one. He is dreadfully and fearfully in the abyss of silence.
It breaks me that he feels all alone.
Perplexed and saddened as I was, I wasn’t completely caught off guard. Karyn Purvis, the author of “Empowered to Connect“, talks about this familiar feeling shared amongst adopted children. My friend Esty puts it this way, “You know how you feel when you’ve lost your keys and wallet? That frantic feeling overrides everything you do. Your thoughts are consumed with finding your missing belongings. THAT feeling is stuck with our kids all of the time.”
I think we as believers often feel this way too when it comes to who we are in Christ. We forget. We get derailed. Sidetracked. Taken off guard. And when we begin to feel this way, we readily look to the things of this world to latch onto. In our text today (just one small phrase at the end of our reading from yesterday) in 2 Cor. 1:24,
“Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.”
We have to stand firm in our faith. We have to fight through our derailing emotions and take a stand for what we know as truth. God’s Word is TRUTH. Like a parent, Paul is reminding the Corinthians to dig in and KNOW GOD. Know His character and His attributes. His likes and dislikes. What brings Him joy and great sorrow. If you want to build a firm foundation, you have to KNOW GOD. Spend time with Him by reading His Word and talking to Him on a regular basis.
But don’t stop there…You must also KNOW WHO YOU ARE. What does God Word say about you? Pay close attention and then live like you believe it. You are a child of God (Gal. 3:26), a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), a bride declared holy (Is. 62:5), a co-heir with Christ (Rom 8:17), a friend (Jn 15:15)…and so much more! You’ve been saved, redeemed by the blood, sanctified, chosen, and declared holy!
We have to read God’s Word outside of us in order to get God’s Word inside of us.
I tucked my little man into bed last night and gave him a big, long, mama-sized hug to reassure him that I am always near. When he hollers, I do hear. I love him to the moon and back. And then I told him, when I fail…there is someone greater than I. His name is Jesus. And He never, ever will leave your side. His promises will come true.
I can count on one thing–my overzealous, furry, abundantly large and often soaking-wet black lab is always excited to see me when I walk through the door. She often greets me and my guests with not one, but a gazillion wet, slobbery kisses. Doesn’t care if her breath smells like rotten slimy scum from the bottom of a river–she is gonna greet you with one hell of a smoocheroo. That’s my dog. Always ready for company. Full of joy.
Today’s text is 2 Corinthians 1:12-24, and once again, Paul’s actions are alarming. Here’s what I’ve learned about his friends, the Corinthians…they weren’t always nice. They had significant issues. False beliefs. Pagan practices. Relational factions. Morality problems. And as a result, Paul penned the letter called 1 Corinthians and to say it bluntly, this letter didn’t sit so well. The Corinthians were left with a sort of rawness and edginess towards Paul. They were holding a bag of mixed emotions.
However, Paul doesn’t let this dissuade his attitude and love for these stubborn people. He continues to pursue them, waiting patiently for the perfect timing. Paul always has their best interest in mind. This world would be a better place if we continuously put others above ourselves. Paul was fighting for their joy (v.23).
Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. . 2 Cor. 1:15-19
As surely as God is faithful, Paul attempts to make amends. He delayed his initial trip in order to spare the Corinthians from further heartache. Sometimes we have to give the heart time to heal. Sometimes we have to allow people space to process.
How do we know when to keep pushing? How do we know if we should be still? In Kelly Minter‘s study (p. 25) on 2 Corinthians, she writes, “Here’s a litmus test I use: If defending myself is motivated by self-protection and characterized by pride, anger, fear, or self-righteousness, it’s most likely from my flesh. Whereas, if defending myself is motivated by love for the other and characterized by clarity, humility, kindness, and sincerity, it’s from the Spirit.”
Paul was motivated to work through the hard stuff because he wanted to see healing occur, which would be evidenced by joy. Ecstatic, exuberant joy (hopefully without wet, slobbery kisses). Paul was expecting God to do a heart work. Why? Because these were God’s people.
Established in Christ.
Filled with the Spirit.
And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. 2 Cor. 2:21-22
Obviously, joy is worth fighting for. In ourselves and in others. And we fight for it because God has been faithful over and over again. He has given us the Holy Spirit residing within us as a reminder that we are His.
What would it look like for us to be zealous for someone else’s joy? What if we were more concerned about others (like Paul) than ourselves?
I crave comfort. I like chicken and dumplings, biscuits and gravy, chocolate chip cookie dough, latte’s and smoothies, and my grandmother’s strawberry shortcake in the summertime. I like to feel like the energizer bunny with the ability to keep up with my rambunctious crew. I like to have harmonious relationships where everybody gets along and knows you by name. I like a good book on a not-too-hot kinda day, while sitting on the edge of the pool.
I like boat rides.
Yep, I like them all.
Oh, the sweetness of comfort…it just feels gooooood.
However, when I look at 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 (please read along), I quickly discover that my interpretation of the source of comfort differs from God’s point of view. Suffering precedes comfort. Affliction before blessing. It sounds like God got it all wrong.
“who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” 2 Cor. 4-5
I must constantly remind myself that suffering is part of the blessing. In the midst of my difficulties, I draw near to God. If I never walked through hard times, there are parts and pieces of God that I would never experience and come to know first-hand. It is through affliction that I come to know Him more. He knows suffering better than I do, and He is holding out His hand asking me to come along.
He is the God of all comfort
There is a great promise here: God is the God of ALL comfort. His comfort is available right now. He doesn’t hold time-constraints or limitations on it. His warranty doesn’t run out in 5 years. He tells us we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings so that we can share abundantly in comfort too.
If I am brutally honest…I am thankful for the hardships in my life. Although I don’t want to repeat them, I can say that through them God has drawn me closer nigh. Here’s an excerpt from my recent journal:
I feel like I am in a water raft going down a muddy, uncharted, turbulent river. The course before me seems impossible with all of its bumps and turns. My heart longs to jump overboard; however, I know that the riverbank is too steep and rocky. I could never escape alive. I find myself struggling to keep going and instead, put up a fight. I’m not ready to receive comfort. I want to linger here a little while. Stew a bit. Ponder the situation. Try to fix it on my own. Maybe I’ll start a petition, or loiter in the restroom. Hold a picket sign. Cry a bit. I really don’t want to move on.
But as I glance over my shoulder, I see that Jesus is my guide. He is charting my course and holding me steady, ensuring that I don’t completely drown. He tells me to keep my eyes steadfast ahead. He’s got me covered before and behind. And so, I will keep on paddling. Keep going. He is always faithful. He promises to do it again and again!
“He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” 2 Cor. 1:10
Keep your eyes on Him. He will deliver you….and when He does, you will be able to help someone else along.
Over the years, I have fallen in love with Scripture. I love pinning over the stories of old, meanwhile seeing a reflection in the mirror of my own. And today is no different as I pick up to read the book of 2 Corinthians.
Paul wrote this letter in A.D. 55 to the believers in the hustling and bustling city of Corinth, located in southern Greece. It bragged of two busy ports, providing an eclectic mix of both Roman and Greek cultures. It steeped rich in commerce and culinary experience, tourism and traffic congestion, entertainment and athletic events…to name a few. One could smell the fresh scent of sea salt everytime the breeze came blowing in. Herein lies the challenge of describing this vibrant, diverse, and sprawling city of old: the paradoxes are puzzling.
Rich and Poor.
Truth and Falsehood.
Free and Slave.
Self-righteous and Amoral.
Socialites. Gossip columns. Homeless shelters. Overcrowding. A city boasting with outward extravagance, yet inwardly cratering to the cries of this world. And within the walls of this city lived people who look just like you and me. Businessmen, lawyers, farmers, moms, uber drivers, doctors and paramedics. Techies, college students, babies, politicians, activists, librarians, teachers, and the kid next door. The city of Corinth was crowded with people who have stories and dreams and passions. They were busy living their life, and Paul admonishes the Christians to live differently.
Go against the tide. Stand out. Speak up. Be silent. Be still. Swim upstream. Now downstream. Be different. Why?
Because you are a people that God calls His own
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia:” 2 Cor. 1:1
Although the Christians in Corinth were struggling with sin and wracked with problems–Jesus had already resolved the issue. He saved them. Died for their sins. Then set them apart. You see, He didn’t focus on their past because He saw their potential. Jesus is urging us to be forward-looking.
God chooses to use us in dark-lit rooms to shine brightly. Wherever you are. Whatever your story. God can use you.