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.
  • No reserve. No retreat. No regrets. 31 December 2015

    No reserve. No retreat. No regrets.
    New Year's Eve

    Big Idea: Live your life with no reserve, no retreat, and no regrets.


    Happy New Year’s Eve! In a few hours 2015 will be history. How was it? In a few moments you’ll have a chance to answer that question. While much attention is placed upon the new year (they don’t call it new year’s eve for nothing!), this is a wonderful hour in which to reflect, to look back, to celebrate the goodness of the LORD.

    For some of you, 2015 was a difficult year. For others, a great year. For most, a mix.

    The past 365 days have been filled with births and deaths, wins and losses, successes and failures. There’s nothing you can do with the past besides reflect and learn.

    The psalmist wrote

    Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

    I have a number of pastor friends who prefer doing funerals over weddings. I’m not among them, but I do appreciate their perspective. Funerals are one of the few times people pause to reflect upon life.

    Today is another such time. It has been said we overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a year. What did you do in 2015? How is your life different than it was 365 days ago?

    I must confess my life hardly resembles it from a year ago, though I can hardly take any credit for it. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be living in Toledo, Ohio…and loving it!

    What did you do in 2015? How is your life different than 365 days ago? How is the world different than it was 365 days ago because of you?

    That might be a grandiose question, but if you’re like me you want to change the world. You want to make a difference. Let there be peace on earth…and let it begin with me.

    This week I was praying with some dear senior saints that gather here each Tuesday morning. After hearing some very kind words from them, I said as the face of First Alliance I get far more recognition than I deserve. A football player can only score a touchdown if others do the unsung work of blocking. In the same way, they do vital work on their knees, praying for you, me, our church, and our city. Their work is done in secret, but it is changing the world.

    You can change the world with your prayers. You can change the world with your encouragement, your smile, your time, your simple gift, your story, …your love.

    As you reflect on 2015, what do you see?

    One of the most powerful series of sermons I ever heard was at a Campus Crusade for Christ Christmas Conference in college. It must’ve been five years ago! OK, it was nearly 30 years ago…and I remember it like yesterday. There were three talks:

    No reserve
    No retreat
    No regrets

    I determined at that conference I wanted to live my life with no reserve, no holding back. Passion. The word itself stems from Jesus’ wholehearted act on the cross, giving everything. 110%.

    I determined at that conference I wanted to live my life with no retreat, no turning back. The armor of God described in Ephesians 6 contains a belt, breastplate, boots, shield, helmet, and sword…but nothing to cover the back. There’s no running away, no backing down, no retreat.

    I determined at that conference I wanted to live my life with no regrets. I’ve made countless mistakes, but a mistake is only a mistake if you don’t learn from it. I’ve tried to learn from my mistakes…and the mistakes of others.

    No reserve
    No retreat
    No regrets

    Did you give your absolute best in 2015? If so, fantastic! Do it again in 2016. If not, no worries. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Tomorrow will be a new year, a new beginning, yet there are no guarantees. Tomorrow itself is not a guarantee for all of us. We all have an expiration date, and none of us knows what it is. William’s was only 25 years.

    This week I read about an acquaintance of mine who was riding his bicycle to a Christmas Eve service near Ann Arbor. On the way, he was hit by a car and died. It’s still surreal to think he’s no longer with us.

    It is critical that we pause, we reflect, we consider how life is sacred, precious, and fragile. Every day is a gift from God.

    Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

    My prayer for myself and all of us is that on December 31, 2016 we’ll gather again and say, “To God be the glory for the great things He has done in and through our lives.” But it requires action on our part. We were not created as puppets He manipulates. We make choices every day that affect our lives and the lives of others.

    I’m not going to challenge you tonight to make any New Year’s resolutions.

    Well, except for reading the Bible with us. If you haven’t heard about the One Story reading plan there are copies at the Information Center and links in our weekly
    FAC Focus e-newsletter.

    There was a famous religious leader named Saul. He was so passionate he was at least an accomplice in the martyrdom of many early Christians. His conversion to Christianity was miraculous, to say the least. After his name was changed to Paul, he wrote much of the New Testament of the Bible. Reflecting upon his sordid past, he wrote,

    Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

    I encourage you to press on in 2016. Follow Jesus with your heart, soul, mind and strength. Love your neighbors. Live with intentionality.

    No reserve
    No retreat
    No regrets

    Happy New Year!