The Believer's Strength, 24 June 2018

The Believer’s Strength: Grace for Every Trial
D6 Series—
Stewards of the Gospel
2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Series Overview:
Believers are to love God and love their neighbor, being good stewards of the gospel, the good news.

Big Idea: For the believer, there is grace for every trial.

A paradox is a puzzling statement which seems to be contradictory yet is actually true.

G.K. Chesterton wrote, “There is nothing that fails like success.”

George Orwell said, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

A Hollywood actress was quoted as saying, “Deep down, I’m pretty superficial.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “God hides things by putting them near us.”

News analyst Edward R. Murrow said, “Anyone who isn’t confused really doesn’t understand the situation.”

The first-century rabbi Hillel wrote, “My lowliness is my loftiness; my loftiness is my lowliness.”

The Bible is actually full of paradoxes.

Jesus said, “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

Warren Wiersbe lists some others:

The joyful fear of the LORD.
The more we give, the more we receive
When we choose to go down, God lifts us up
Our foolishness leads us to God’s wisdom
By standing still, we go forward
We must lose our life to save it
When light becomes darkness
We lead others by serving them
Knowing love that passed knowledge
We see the invisible
Losing what you never had
We are yoked to be free

Some shy away from paradox, preferring principles, promises, and precepts, yet paradoxes can be powerful tools in understand the Bible and God.

Wiersbe notes, “Paradoxes attract our attention, challenge our faith and provoke us into thinking deeper and asking wiser questions. They lead us into truths that, if we act upon them, will help us to grow out of spiritual childhood and into the blessings of spiritual maturity.”

Last Sunday we mentioned a few:

…known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:9-10)

No wonder some have called it the Upside-down Kingdom!

Our series Stewards of the Gospel is looking at Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, a city in Greece which was invaded by false teachers who were critical of Paul’s character and biblical message. Although Paul is not writing to First Alliance Church Toledo, this letter is certainly for us. First we looked at the Believer’s Quest of having an eternal perspective rather than being consumed with this moment and this world. Last week’s text was about the Believer’s Testimony, our call to be growing in holiness, distinction from the world. We are to think different…or more grammatically, think—and act—differently. This does not mean we are to go out of our way to act weird, not does it mean to isolate ourselves from unbelievers, but rather we are to live attract, compelling lives that cause people to ask the reason for the hope we have, our faith in Jesus Christ.

Today’s message is entitled The Believer’s Strength: Grace for Every Trial. Whether you are my best friend or someone I’ve never met, I know one thing about you…you are either in the midst of a trial, coming out of a trial, or about to experience a trial. I don’t mean to frighten you, but trials are a part of life in this world, in these bodies. Trials can make us bitter…or better. Paul and Timothy had some radical things to say about trials and today’s passage is packed with paradox, including this doozy:

When we are weak, we can be strong.

2 Corinthians is a rather lengthy letter. It originally contained no verse or chapter numbers, but today we have such markers to help us read and study together. In chapter 11, Paul boasts about his credentials as a Hebrew, a Jew, a servant of Christ. He boasts of his sufferings for Jesus. In defending himself against the false teachers who have invaded the church, he says

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11:30)

There’s a paradox for you! Chapter twelve begins

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. (2 Corinthians 12:1-4)

This is a fascinating text. He uses the third person to describe his experience with the unseen realm where God dwells…paradise. This vision occurred around AD 43 but there is no other known record of this vision.

Not long ago we did a series on heaven and hell, during which I said heaven is where God is and hell is where God is absent. Whether or not there are clouds and harps in heaven or flames in hell is not really important. In addition, it’s worth restating C.S. Lewis who said, “All that are in hell, choose it.” (
The Great Divorce). We can choose to be with God now and forever, or we can reject God and be absent with Him now and forever.

But what did Paul actually see in his vision? Genesis describes paradise in the Garden of Eden prior to sin. Revelation describes what it will be like someday. Judaism at the time of Paul conceptualized a third paradise, the hidden paradise of this in-between period, the place Jesus spoke of to the thief on the cross when he said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43).

We all have many unanswered questions about heaven, but suffice it to say from our text that Paul had a glimpse of paradise.

I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12:5)

He again says he will boast about his weaknesses. Who does that?!

Imagine social media if everyone posted photos of themselves when they get out of bed rather than their made-up, fancy selves. How often do people boast about their failures on Facebook or post videos of themselves—not others—striking out in baseball or falling off their bike? One of the problems with social media is we compare our average day with the highlight reels of others.

Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. (2 Corinthians 12:6-7a)

It’s difficult to catch every nuance of these statements since this was written in Greek to a church about two thousand years ago, but he seems to simultaneously stating his accomplishments while dismissing them…a paradox?

But in verse seven he reveals one of the most provocative statements in the entire Bible.

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. (2 Corinthians 12:7b)

That’ll get your attention! What was this thorn in the flesh? Nobody knows. Some theories include

- Psychological struggles such as grief or sorrow
- Intense temptations
- His opponents who were persecuting him
- A physical affliction like poor eyesight, migraines, or malaria
- Demonic harassment

Since he mentions a thorn his flesh, many think it may have been something physical. We don’t know. We do know he did not welcome it.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. (2 Corinthians 12:8)

I don’t know about you, but when I have a major trial, I pray more than three times! Then again, these three pleas paralleled Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking the Father for "Plan B" rather than crucifixion, yet honoring the Father's will.

Prayer is so much more than asking God for stuff like a cosmic Santa Clause. Instead, it is talking not merely to, but
with God. Any good dad loves to talk with his kids, and every good dad says yes, no, and later when asked for something. But they always hear and respond.

The same is true for our Heavenly Father. He is always listening, but sometimes says no or later. We don’t always know why, but God can be trusted. Always. In Paul’s case, God had something better in mind than removing his thorn.

But he said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Paul received greater grace from God in the midst of his weakness. No doubt his dependency upon God developed his character, enhanced his humility, and gave him empathy for others.

I know all three have been true in my life after nearly a decade of dealing with our daughter’s serious health issues. I prayed more than three times for her healing! I think I prayed three times every second! I desperately wanted to watch God do an instant miracle and get us out of the hospital, but He had other, better ideas.

I rarely know why God chooses to heal some and not others, to bring instant freedom from addictions to some while others struggle throughout their life. I just know God is God, He knows best, and we are to pray, believe, and trust.

When we embrace our limitations and depend upon God, He can do so much more in and through us than we can if we try to take matters into our own hands. One of my greatest fears in serving at First Alliance Church is getting in God’s way, striving to use my abilities rather than being fully dependent upon God. There’s a real tension because obviously there are things I need to do—work I need to accomplish—such as leading a discipleship Huddle or preaching a sermon, yet in order for God to truly speak through me, I need to have a posture of surrender and openness which makes space for the Holy Spirit in my life and the lives of those I encounter.

Some of my best sermons—or the sermons I thought would be the best—have had seemingly little impact on people, yet often when I’ve felt weak and labored through a message—desperate for God to move through and despite me—I’ve received the most positive feedback. My ongoing prayer is, “LORD, have Your way in me. Crush my agenda. Break my heart with the things that break Your heart. Speak in and through me, that I may decrease and You might increase.” To quote Jesus’ cousin John,

He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)

I like to be in control. I like to be strong. I like to have abilities and skills to accomplish things—so I can get the credit—I mean, so God can get the credit!!! Paul concludes,

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

There’s something amazing about trials. They put things into perspective. We truly are weak, but dust. Sure, we might feel good about cooking a gourmet meal, catching the touchdown pass, receiving a diploma, or fixing a leaky faucet, but at the end of the day we are but dust. Jesus said it plainly,

“…apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5b)

The original Greek word for nothing means…nothing!

So What?

God’s Kingdom is filled with paradox. When I am weak, then I am strong. Unshakable faith comes from having your faith shaken. Although it’s not usually my first thought, when faced with trials, I can delight—for Christ’s sake, knowing that my weaknesses force me to get out of the way and let God get the glory.

The stories of weak people used by God are endless. A paraplegic named Joni Eareckson Tada has become a bestselling author, speaker, and even painter. A shark took surfer Bethany Hamilton’s arm, but not her story which—like Joni’s—has been documented in both a book and movie. Our own Christian & Missionary Alliance President John Stumbo also spent months hospitalized and continued to have serious health issues, yet his story has inspired countless lives and he depends upon God’s daily bread, strength for each new day.

Where God guides, He provides…everything we need, including Himself.

Where are you weak? What trials are you experiencing today? God’s not absent. In fact, He draws near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18). His power is made perfect in weakness. His grace—unmerited favor—is sufficient. When we are weak and acknowledge our need for God, His presence and strength provide all we need.

Credits: some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • The Believer's Testimony, 17 June 2018

    The Believer’s Testimony: Growing in Holiness
    D6 Series—
    Stewards of the Gospel
    2 Corinthians 6:1-7:1

    Series Overview: Believers are to love God and love their neighbor, being good stewards of the gospel, the good news.

    Big Idea: The believer is to be ever growing in holiness.

    One of the most memorable ad campaigns of all time appeared in the 1990s by what is now the most valuable company in the world…Apple. There were just two words. Think Different. Television commercials featured a variety of cultural icons such as Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, and MLK who chose to march to the beat of a different drum, men and women unwilling to settle for the status quo. It’s easy to give in to peer pressure and follow the culture, but radicals and revolutionaries change the world.

    Followers of Jesus are called to live countercultural lives like the Messiah. You don’t get crucified for blending in! Make no mistake, Jesus is the greatest revolutionary in human history, and he invites us to join him in being in the world but not of the world, instead setting an example for others to follow as we re-present Christ on our planet.

    Our series
    Stewards of the Gospel is looking at Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, a city in Greece which was invaded by false teachers who were critical of Paul’s character and biblical message. Two thousand years ago, our world continues to feature false teachers who can’t live without $54 million jets, promise never-ending wealth and prosperity, and claim your trials are a lack of faith.

    Although Paul is not writing to First Alliance Church Toledo, this letter is certainly for us. Last Sunday we looked at the Believer’s Quest of having an eternal perspective rather than being consumed with this moment and this world. Today’s text is about the Believer’s Testimony, our call to be growing in holiness, distinction from the world. We are to think different…or more grammatically, think—and act—differently. This does not mean we are to go out of our way to act weird, not does it mean to isolate ourselves from unbelievers, but rather we are to live attract, compelling lives that cause people to ask the reason for the hope we have, our faith in Jesus Christ.

    As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,

    “In the time of my favor I heard you,
    and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

    I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)

    If you recall from last week, false teachers were attacking Paul and his message of grace. Paul and Timothy are pleading with the church in Corinth to shift their focus from a works-based salvation that can never be achieved to a grace-based salvation which comes through faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah who died and rose from the dead for both Jews and Gentiles. Some wanted these Christians to return to Judaistic legalism which would make God’s grace—and Jesus’ sacrifice—a complete waste.

    Perhaps the only thing more radical, reckless, incredible, and outrageous than the perfect Son of God dying for sinners like us would be if he died unnecessarily. If there was another way—and Jesus pleaded for Plan B when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane—he would’ve been crazy to not take it. But the truth is we’re all hopeless without Jesus.

    This past week at Sports & Arts Camp we were discussing fears. Our group of 23 broke into smaller groups and the three boys I was with all expressed fears related to death and dying. I asked what happens when they die and they all said they’d go to heaven, which made their fear of death a bit easier to handle (though I’m reminded of the famous line “everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die!”). I asked them why they were going to heaven and they said because they’re good. Then I offered them something of a riddle.

    I told the boys—and later my entire group—how I’m not good enough to go to heaven. They were very surprised but I explained any sin in our lives is enough to keep us from a holy God. Miss Sue uses the illustration of a brownie with dog poop inside. Nobody wants to take even a bite of a brownie if there’s even a little poop inside, and it’s the same way with God and our sin. Even a little bit spoils all of our so-called goodness. So I explained unless we’re perfect, we’re not good enough. Period.

    But then I said although I’m not good enough to go to heaven, I’m certain I’m going to heaven. They gave me a perplexed look and I said, “I’ll explain tomorrow!”

    I’m not good enough to go to heaven when I die.
    Paul and Timothy weren’t good enough.
    The Corinthian church wasn’t good enough.
    First Alliance Church isn’t good enough.

    But Jesus is!!! Jesus pays for our ticket, takes our punishment, reconciles us to the Father. By following Jesus, we receive abundant life and eternal life. We can’t earn it. We don’t deserve it. That’s grace.

    Paul is saying this is the day of salvation, the present Age of Grace. Aren’t you glad we live on this side of the cross and the empty tomb?

    We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:3-10)

    Again, Paul and Timothy are defending themselves and their ministry against their critics. It’s an impressive defense! Compare your spiritual resume to theirs! You thought you have endured persecution for your faith? We could do an entire series on this passage. What faith!

    We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also. (2 Corinthians 6:11-13)

    The context is definitely relevant here. Now we come to today’s scripture reading, a text aimed squarely at believers—true followers of Jesus.

    Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

    “I will live with them
    and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.”
    (2 Corinthians 6:14-16)

    Earlier (2 Cor. 6:2) Paul quoted Isaiah (49:8). Now he quotes Leviticus 26:11a and 12a with possible references to Exodus 25:8; 29:45a, 1 Kings 6:13, and Ezekiel 37:27a.

    But let’s back up. Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. Have you ever heard that? Perhaps the most frequent use involves two people who want to get married, one is a Christian and the other is not. Can you see any potential problems with such a marriage? Or what about two people starting a business together, one a follower of Jesus and the other not. Could conflict arise over values?

    But what’s the context? Paul is writing about the false teachers who have invaded the Christians in Corinth. Sure, we can apply this to all relationships, but he’s specifically calling out legalistic, religious people and saying, “Stay away!”

    He’s also saying the greatest relationship is that with our heavenly Father. We were not created for religion, but rather to do life with God…forever. Let me try my modern version of verse 16. This is God speaking:

    “I will live with First Alliance Church
    and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.”
    (2 Corinthians 6:16, New Kirk Translation!)

    What do you think? Paul continues…


    “Come out from them
    and be separate,
    says the Lord.
    Touch no unclean thing,
    and I will receive you.”


    “I will be a Father to you,
    and you will be my sons and daughters,
    says the Lord Almighty.”
    (2 Corinthians 6:17-18)

    What a perfect text for Father’s Day…and that’s truly a coincidence!

    Paul—and God—are saying we are holy—set apart—and we are to live holy lives. We talked about holiness several weeks ago (May 6, 2018) and how God is holy and we are to, likewise, be holy.

    Allow me to repeat Scot McKnight’s words from his new book,
    Open to the Spirit:
    Holiness is first and foremost devotion to God. We could translate the word holy as “devout” and we would be accurate. So we see that separation from the world is the impact or result, not the source, of holiness. Devotion to God doesn’t mean isolation or withdrawal, as one finds among some sects. Rather, holiness means that in this world one listens and dances to the music of the Holy Spirit instead of the music of the world. 
    Our devotion and allegiance must always be to Jesus Christ, but that does not mean we are to isolate ourselves from the world. Instead, like an international student who travels to another country to study and retains their diet and fashion and customs, we are to live radical lives in our community, lives marked by the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit…

    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23a)

    If you are filled with the Holy Spirit, dancing to the music of the Holy Spirit instead of the music of the world, it won’t be long until people notice. We all know this is what our world needs—not more violence, division, fear, injustice. We must let our lights shine, but only when we have a light to shine, and that light is not us and our good works, but Jesus Christ. It’s a human surrendered to the Holy Spirit.

    Our text concludes…

    Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (2 Corinthians 7:1)

    This is the believer’s testimony—holiness. It’s not necessarily a testimony of words, but of action, of life, of love. Imagine a world filled with people who are truly devoted to their heavenly Father. Imagine a church filled with people who are truly devoted to their heavenly Father! This is not my vision. This is God’s vision. This is God’s mission for every believer—every true believer—to love Him, to love others, and to make disciples.

    So What?

    Is yours a life worth following? It is if you’re following Jesus rather than the world.

    You don’t have to be a perfect example, but a living example. One thing I’ve discovered is even though we all mess up, we can demonstrate our faith by apologizing, for making restitution, for humbly acknowledging our mistakes and seeking forgiveness. Talk about radical!

    I want to add there may be people in your life you
    should avoid. If their negative influence on you is greater than your positive influence on them, holiness may mean placing boundaries on your relationship.

    Recently in our 9 AM small group someone mentioned how they get invited to parties but decline knowing such gatherings would not be healthy environments for them. Perhaps a solution is to throw a different kind of party and invite them…or bring Christian friends along for accountability and support.

    The point is holiness may involve separation, but not isolation. We are neither to withdraw out of the world nor become like the world, instead living as citizens of the Kingdom of God in our community.

    The secret to holiness is not trying harder. It’s simply to surrender to the Holy Spirit, to die to yourself and come alive in Christ. Confess your sins and invite the Holy Spirit to fill you with the fruit of the Spirit.

    Credits: some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • The Believer's Quest, 10 June 2018

    The Believer’s Quest: With Eternity in Mind
    D6 Series—
    Stewards of the Gospel
    2 Corinthians 4:1-18

    Series Overview:
    Believers are to love God and love their neighbor, being good stewards of the gospel, the good news.

    Big Idea: The believer is to live with eternity in mind.


    I love kids (I suppose that’s a good thing since we’re about to get bombarded by 130 of them this week for Sports & Arts Camp!). Heather and I have been blessed to have three kids…but they’re all grown and adulting now, though we are very excited about becoming grandparents in November thanks to Rachel and her husband, Mark!

    When our children were little, Heather used to ask, “Why do they have so much energy?” to which I would reply, “They steal it from us which is why we don’t have any!”

    Kids are great. They are innocent. They ask amazing questions. They view the world so differently than adults. They also see time differently. There are certainly exceptions, but it seems the younger the person, the more oblivious they are of the future. Sure, children might have countdowns to Christmas or their birthday, but many cannot see beyond today, this hour, or perhaps this minute. Maybe some of can relate. If you’re fully present and attentive at this moment, that can be a really good thing, especially for my ability to communicate with you!

    But if our focus is only on this moment, we may not be ready for lunch, work tomorrow, summer vacation, or preparations for school in the fall…to say nothing of eternity.

    I admit, it’s often hard for me to see beyond today. I read
    The Blade and feel hopeless…and that’s just the sports section! Actually, it has been exciting to see some of my favorite teams that have struggled throughout this decade are improving.

    But that’s my point. We can’t live today without thinking about tomorrow. I don’t mean worrying about tomorrow. I mean preparing for tomorrow. It
    is coming. Are you ready?

    This month we’re looking at a book written by Paul to the church in the city of Corinth in south-central Greece.

    Our series is called
    Stewards of the Gospel, what does it mean for believers to possess good news—Jesus is LORD—and share it, proclaim it, live it? Jesus entrusted his work to us, the church, empowered by the Holy Spirit. There is no plan B. Our lives matter, not only to God, but to our world.

    Paul wrote two letters to the church in Corinth—1 Corinthians and…2 Corinthians. Around AD 55, Paul wrote his second letter in the midst of false teachers who were challenging Paul’s authority and character. In the opening verses, Paul—and Timothy—provide encouragement in the midst of suffering.

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

    If you are discouraged, suffering, or struggling with your faith or because of your faith or in spite of your faith, you’re in good company, both with the church in Corinth and First Alliance Church. But honestly, most of us have never encountered the suffering Paul and Timothy had faced, including feeling the sentence of death (2 Cor. 1:9).

    Our text today is from chapter 4, but since it begins with a “therefore,” we must first address what the therefore is there for. He’s addressing the church, a group of believers, and as such, there is something of an assumption that his audience is filled with people who have devoted their lives to Yeshua the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Although the original letter had no chapters or verse numbers, we can turn to chapter 3, verse 17…

    Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate
    the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

    Believers are being transformed to become like Jesus through the power and work of the Holy Spirit. We have a
    quest, a mission, a purpose…to know God and make Him known, living with eternity in mind.

    Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. (2 Corinthians 4:1)

    Life is hard. Discouragement is all too common. Depression is real, and can even lead to the ultimate despair—suicide. Kate Spade’s death this past week was another reminder of the intensity of suffering…and if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, I urge you to get help. Talk with me. Call 800.275.TALK (the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). Attend Celebrate Recovery next Wednesday (our church calendar has been cleared this week due to Sports & Arts Camp).

    But Paul is saying we do not lose heart. We can’t just focus on this moment—the pain, the sorrow. God is in control. He is at work making all things new. It doesn’t look complete because God’s not done yet. Just wait. There is hope.

    How easy is it in this life to lose heart, to give up? Much research has suggested people often quit right before a breakthrough. One statistic—which may or may not be true but is worth pondering—is 97% of people who quite too soon are employed by the 3% who never give up.

    A few years ago, I read a report which suggested if couples in crisis would simply give their marriage two more years, they would likely overcome whatever is threatening their relationship and move on with a healthier marriage. At the time, a good friend told me his marriage was over and I explained the report and said, “Would you please just give it two years? I’ll do everything I can to help you both, but don’t quit too soon.” He said, “We have struggled for six months. How about eighteen months?” I said eighteen months would be fine. They both committed to working on their marriage for eighteen months. It wasn’t always fun. It wasn’t always easy. But today they are not only happily married having worked through some significant issues, they have a beautiful daughter, too!

    Whether it’s your marriage or your job or your prayers for an unbelieving friend or your work on a crossword puzzle, don’t give up! Don’t lose heart.

    Seriously, Paul and Timothy had life-threatening issues related to their ministry but they persevered. Ministry is hard. It can kill you. Literally! And we’re all called by God into ministry—to love God, love others, and make disciples. That’s not just a professional Christian thing. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been commissioned as a missionary…and ministry can be hard. It can be frustrating. It’s so tempting to throw in the towel, but don’t give up. Don’t lose heart. God sees your efforts. He knows your struggles. You are not forgotten.

    Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. (2 Corinthians 4:2-3)

    False teachers were twisting the truth, watering down the gospel, but not Paul. Paul’s message is clear—Jesus is LORD.

    Family, the gospel is Jesus. Jesus is LORD. Jesus loves us, died for us, reconciles us to our heavenly Father, offers us hope, offers us forgiveness, offers us abundant and eternal life, shows us what it means to be human, teaches us how to live…

    The late Keith Green sang, “How can they live without Jesus/How can they live without God’s love/How can they feel so at home down here/When there’s so much more up above.” Look, it’s hard to live this life
    with Jesus, but living without Christ? I can’t imagine! Jesus gave us a mission—a commission—to go and make disciples, to proclaim good news, to let the world know Jesus is alive! Tragically, millions of men, women and children have no knowledge of Jesus. They’ve never heard his name, much less been introduced to His love, the cross, the empty tomb, and his promised return. That’s why we support the Great Commission Fund—that all may have an opportunity to accept or reject Jesus Christ as not only Savior but also LORD.

    But what about those who have heard and who have rejected? Honestly, it boggles my mind! How can you say no to Jesus? How can you opt out of forgiveness? How can you decline an invitation to experience eternity with God? How can you walk away from someone who died for you? Paul explains it in one sentence.

    The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

    I love this image. Paul was talking about a veil. It’s as if satan covers the eyes of unbelievers so they can’t see Jesus. The reason people reject Jesus is because of satan getting in the way, covering their eyes, blinding their minds.

    A popular worship song in the 90’s said, “Open the eyes of my heart, LORD/Open the eyes of my heart/I want to see You/I want to see You.”

    Do you want to see God? Do you want to know God?

    Come near to God and he will come near to you. (James 4:8a)

    One of my constant prayers is for God to remove the veil, to open the eyes, to tear off the mask that blinds unbelievers and keeps them from seeing how wonderful the image of God, Jesus Christ.

    For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”
    made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:5-6)

    But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

    This is where the popular group Jars of Clay got their name. We are weak, broken vessels. The great thing about jars of clay is that the light shines through the cracks. The light of Jesus can shine through our brokenness.

    We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

    Paul will later write, “For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:10b). It’s all about Jesus.

    It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4:13-15)

    Now Paul’s looking to the future. He’s not forgetting the present, but he’s encouraging the church with God’s promises of heaven.

    Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

    In the midst of an extended out-of-state hospitalization, our daughter had a photo of a cruise ship she kept close. My parents had planned a vacation for us and our daughter's health was a potential obstacle. She was suffering with CRPS, the second most painful condition known to humankind. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome feels like pouring gasoline into your veins and lighting them on fire. The path to relief included physical therapy so intense it sometimes caused her to pass out. In the midst of the struggle, she drew inspiration—hope—from that photo. She did not fix her eyes on her present pain, but rather the future, the healing, the cruise.

    She did it, by the way, walk with crutches onto the cruise ship.

    So What?

    Where’s your focus? What dominates your thoughts? Your present condition? The state of our nation? Today’s headlines…or a secure future with our Creator?

    Yes, “some Christians are so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good,” but at the same time there’s so much negativity in our world it’s easy to be discouraged rather than preparing for eternity…and helping others prepare by generously sharing faith, hope, and love.

    It’s a joy, a privilege to be able to introduce people to Jesus. Good news needs to broadcast!

    In the faith hall of fame, the book of Hebrews says,

    These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40)

    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

    Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Let’s use it prepare ourselves and others for an incredible eternity with Jesus.

    Credits: some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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