The Evidence is Within
2 Cor 4:5-12
† I.H.S. †
May the gifts of God’s mercy and peace become so integrated in your lives that everyone can see and praise God that Christ lives in you!
Can you keep going?
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see my first two churches. They are 115 miles from here, in a desert community called Yucca Valley. Saw a lot of friends at one of them, as we gathered to pay respects to a man I helped trained in ministry. He was diagnosed with cancer 2 weeks after he was installed as a pastor at his first church. Drove by the other, my very first church.
During the drive I back, I did a lot of thinking, about why I’ve been doing this twenty years as a pastor and years before that as a chaplain. I thought about my friend, who at 62 started seminary to become a pastor, and who died a week ago. I thought my own mentor that retired in that place whom I was able to see. And I thought about some of the challenges that fellow pastors and ministers are facing…
And I heard again these words of St Paul that were read this morning…
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.
I’ve seen that statement become true not just in pastors’ lives, but Christians who live all over the world. Some face physical threats, in places like the Sudan, or China. Some are harassed and mocked because of their faith. Some face challenges in the inner city, or in churches that struggle to survive, both financially and because of conflict. I know a younger lady, with a master’s degree in International Business, who set that aide to be a missionary among the refugees in Turkey, while her sister is working at an orphanage school in Nigeria. I know people who serve in churches as teachers or setting up everything every Saturday for Sunday service, who volunteer thousands of hours.
Not one of them does it for the accolades or the applause. Just like the Apostle Paul in that passage – we don’t talk about ourselves. Those who know and follow Jesus serve each other and the world for Jesus sake.
Because God has shown the light of His glorious light into our hearts.
That is why all this is here… To help people know that…
In verse 6-7, Paul explains why people would embrace suffering,
. 6 For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
The light that invades the darkness…A darkness that affects our hearts and oppresses our very lives.
The darkness has a name, it is called sin.
What is this thing we call sin? Basically, It is failing to love God and hear His voice as He shows us how to live. It is failing to love Him and all those around us, helping them. even those that count themselves, enemies and adversaries, because God loves them and would invite them into this incredible relationship with Him, that would make them our family.
Sin can seem as little as a tiny lie or breaking an oath or gossiping about someone. It can seem as big as murder or theft. In every case, it works to destroy relationships, it plunges us into darkness.
This is the darkness God’s love shatters.
The love that we see in Jesus, as He died to remove all that darkness, all of the burdens, healing the relationships that have been broken.
That is what the cross is all about… the payment for the sin, but in order that we can be in fellowship with God, so that we walk with Him, not only during this life but eternally.
That is the reason for the forgiveness of sin, for the forgiveness of those times where we put ourselves first and forget God and others. Yet despite the damage we’ve done, and may still do, God is willing to deal with it, He has dealt with it. By dying on the cross for us, and rising from that death, so that even death cannot separate us from Him
This is what it means for Him to shine His glorious love into our lives, by revealing to us the love that erases the punishment, in the life and eternity, that we would have earned.
It is that glory that you see, in the lives of people that are willing to give up everything, fame, fortune, salaries, comfort, their own pride, even the right to be angry at someone who has hurt them. This is the love you see, as someone gives up their comfort, or even their retirement, to serve others, This is the glory you see, the evidence that Jesus lives in us, even in us broken down older folk.
God loves us, and wants to cleanse all of us and make us His own people. His own children. It is then we know the peace of God, which goes beyond all comprehension, as He guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:8-10 (NLT)
2 But who will be able to stand up to that coming? Who can survive his appearance? He’ll be like white-hot fire from the smelter’s furnace. He’ll be like the strongest lye soap at the laundry. 3 He’ll take his place as a refiner of silver, as a cleanser of dirty clothes. He’ll scrub the Levite priests clean, refine them like gold and silver, until they’re fit for GOD, fit to present offerings of righteousness. Malachi 3:2-3 (MSG)
7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. 13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. 2 Corinthians 4:7-15 (NLT)
It usually sits up on my bookshelf at home – close at hand, but above the reach of little hands.
When I look at it, I cannot help remember what it was, think of its journey, admire what it has become, and the skill of the craftsman (Jim Adams of JDA Knives) that forged it.
You see, it may be an unusual hobby for a pastor, but I collect knives. (and a sword or two) And my JDA knives are quite special.
You see, that knife has had a lot of pressure over the years… it started out as a railroad spike, keeping a a railroad tie and the track joined together. An important job, but one with the pressure of the trains passing over it, the weather and heat and cold trying to dislodge it from what it was set in place to accomplish – keeping people and things heading toward their destination.
When it was time to be taken up, when it’s role was complete, it was tossed aside…useless perhaps…. or at least in minds other than Jim’s.
He took it, saw something, thought of a conversation and a need, and with heat, and pressure and force, took this old rusty knife and changed it into something.. beautiful, useful, practical (it’s wicked sharp). He has a craft that few do, and this knife is a masterpiece. He gave it to me one day… just walked in and wanted me to have it… I am still a little in shock. But very grateful.
The Eph. 2 passage above is one of my favorites, not just because of verses 8-9 – but because of 10. Many people focus on the first two… and quote them without completing the thought. But they just talk of the need for refining – for repurposing and the fact that God does it. But 10, ahh, that speaks of the finished product, a beautifully crafted instrument that our lives become..with all the sin and dross taken care of, with the rust and pitting rubbed out (like in the second passage). God’s masterpiece, His poiema ( we get poetiy from that) His Opus Dei – the work of God. He takes what is washed up, used, abused and turns it into something wonderful, something that He uses for a purpose.
We have a new purpose, a new mission, a new message to communicate. God uses every bit of us to do so,
The pressures we’ve dealt with, the storms we’ve endured, the sufferings we have wondered if we would survive…
And through all the heat, the pressure, God is at work forging someone who will be used for the greatest work..that of revealing Christ to others… of giving the hope that knowing God can bring, the awe that the Master Craftsman of life does care, does love, does know us, and will turn our lives into something beyond our ability to comprehend… He will make us a blessing to others…
So my question to all that are enduring heat – wondering why? even wondering if He is there…
Will you lean upon Him? depend upon Him? Let Him forrge you masterpeice….
And what is He forging you for????
- A Second Call to Biblical Teaching/Preaching… appeal to Christ and His word… (justifiedandsinner.com)
- Like Clay in the Potter’s Hands (markatstpauls.wordpress.com)
- The Refiner’s Fire (unveilinghope.com)
There is a time in life, where we feel overwhelmed, were the challenges we face pull at us with the power of a black hole, sucking us in, blinding us to everything…except the vacant brokenness.
It is at those times our faith seems non-existent, the strength and support of God which we rely on seems as distant from us as a galaxy. We become spiritually blind, and the more we try to fight, the stronger that which sucks the life out of us takes hold, and attempts to crush us.
I wish I was speaking from theory, or at least from the strength of one who is there to pull people out. I suppose I could, been there as a pastor, an amateur theologian, someone who enjoys the mystical aspects of worship, and meditation on God’s word. Yet there are days….the battle is too much…and I have to go back to the basics, almost needed to be re-converted, re-baptized, re-freed from that which ensnares me. As i believe we all do.
One of the things that helps is reading the writings of a few people, Henri Noowen is one, Frank Perretti’s early novels, the Church Fathers, Luther’s letters and table talks. And if you’ve read my blogs, you know I have developed a fondness for the devotional writings of Josemarie Escriva , a catholic priest who 10 years ago this day, was canonized a saint. Not all his stuff for sure, there is still the usual challenges of the difference between Roman Catholic doctrine and that of the Lutheran Church. Like Luther, it seems he fought despair, even as God used him to re-focus the church on the grace and strength that is found in Christ Jesus. He knew the costs of his ministry, embraced them and struggled through them. He likened himself to a donkey, (although I wonder if that is a kinder translation of the Spanish) and you can’t read “The Way” or my favorite “the Forge” without seeing the broken heart supported and healed in Christ.
Such a thought I came across today:
If the outlook in your interior life, in your soul, is darkened, allow yourself to be led along by the hand, as a blind man would do. In time the Lord will reward this humble surrendering of your own judgement by giving you clarity of mind. (1)
It is amazing simple, and amazingly true. In talking about Jesus as Lord, we often focus on our obedience, our following His guidance, direction. How often do we look at the obligations He places on Himself, as He offers to become our Lord? Do we see His committing to be present in our lives, to clean and heal us of the damage our sin causes? Do we see His protecting us in the black holes.
Do we see Him at the Forge, in the midst of the heat and pounding that seems to be life – strengthening us, forming us, transforming us? Transforming us, according to Paul in 2 Corinthians, into His image.
I have learned this again. It seems the secrets to escaping the black holes, the quicksand, the traumas of life is to let Him be my Lord, to relax in His grasp, to know He is God……..
As many have before us have… and may our lives serve those who follow, in the same way….
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1021-1023). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.