Archive for the ‘2 Corinthians’ Category

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“CRAFTING FORGIVENESS” – July 4

July 4, 2013

“For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.”  2 Corinthians 2:6-8

Motivation can be as difficult to discover as any buried treasure.  It lays buried deep within, tainting all of the actions flowing through it.  This filtering effect of motivation can sour all the right activity or it can sweeten the most misguided.

Therefore, an action’s quality is dependent upon the actor’s inspiration.

The treasure of our inspiration should be a hunt that never ends.  It should be a quest that commences every time I am moved into action or inaction.  This becomes even more important when reconciliation becomes necessary.

I wish it were possible for us not to hurt each other.  I wish that we all could live in a big, happy community: without speaking insensitive words, without differences driving a wedge, without the dashing of expectation.  I have yet to find that community.  Ponce de Leon’s search will probably be fulfilled before I discover the community without the need of forgiveness.

The perfect community will never exist as long as it is populated with imperfect people.  We, followers of Christ, still struggle under the oppression of our sinful flesh.  The ugly manifestations of our sin are the obvious imperfections within our Christian communities.

I look forward to the time when interpersonal forgiveness will be a theory.  I long for the forgiveness of a wronged person to be relegated to the rudimentary toolbox of a dark age.  However, that day of glorification has not yet come.  So, the need for the craftsmanship of forgiveness still has a role to play within our communities.

English: Photographer: Randy C. Bunney A sharp...

English: Photographer: Randy C. Bunney A sharp wood chisel in combination with a wood drill bit is used to form this mortise for a half-lap joint in a timber frame. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, this craft does not seem to have enough skillful practitioners.  Forgiveness is not easy.  I have been disappointed many times when forgiveness has not resulted in the reconciliation that I had hoped.  It makes me wonder if our fumbling of forgiveness results in part from a contamination of motivation.

Why do you want someone to ask for forgiveness?

Why are you asking for forgiveness?

Why are you seeking the one you have wronged?

The variation of answers to those questions reveal our motivations.

We might be seeking justice.
We might just want things to get back to normal.
We might want vindication.
We might want it known that we were wronged.

The emotions and motivations of the hurting can be difficult to untangle.  However, I think that we often make it harder than it needs to be.  True forgiveness flows from those whose actions are filtered by a motivation of love.  The reason forgiveness fumbles from unskilled hands is often due to motivations for something other than the love of that other person.

I should seek the forgiveness of the person I have wronged because I love them. 

Forgiveness sought from love wants to heal the past wounds that have been inflicted.  Also, forgiveness removes the future stumbling blocks of resentment, bitterness, and disunity that can come from unresolved conflicts.  Therefore, the love of our neighbor’s soul, past, present and future, should be why we earnestly seek out those who we have wronged.  We do it because we love them.

When I have been wronged, I should seek reconciliation with that person because I love them. 

My love for them should not be contingent upon their action.  However, that does not mean my hurt is not real and it does not mean I should sweep it under the carpet.  Holding my brother or sister accountable to their action can be one of the most loving things I do for them.  Usually, actions that are hurting other people are a result of sin.  That person needs to be made aware of their sin and the consequences of those actions.  The love of the hurt should be for those who have hurt them to repent and to have a right relationship with God.  Forgiveness is more about the restoring of the transgressor’s relationship with God than with the one they wronged.  By God’s grace, usually when the transgressor gets right with God, the Spirit will motivate them in love to get right with the one they wronged.  That should be the loving hope of the wronged.

Genuine forgiveness will always craft reconciliation when all parties are motivated by an abounding love for one another.

We are all stuck in a world where relationships will get funky.  Therefore, we must become skillful masters of the craft of forgiveness.  It is an essential skill of a follower of Christ.  May we always set our heart on love before we pick up the tool of forgiveness because inspiration that comes from love will be manifested in quality actions that glorify God.

That should be our hope.

PRAYER: Lord, forgive me for so often losing sight of love when confronted with a conflict.  Forgive me for caring more about myself than those I am at odds with.  Help me to love others as You love them.  Give me a love for others that is beyond me.  Make me a peacemaker and a master craftsman of reconciliation.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“ASPIRING TO BE FRAGILE” – July 2

July 2, 2013

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”  2 Corinthians 4:7

Flimsy, frail, fragile, feeble are all adjectives that should be avoided on a professional resume.  These are not personal traits that are typically exalted and espoused.  I don’t know of a motivational speaker who bears the mantle of encouraging the strong to throw aside their strength and embrace the joy of feebleness.  The New York Times best sellers list does not have authors advocating success through the power of weakness.  Our world works very hard to deny our weaknesses.  Numerous are the methods and programs that strive to identify our strengths and diminish our limitations.

There is a message being embraced by:

the child longing to be an adult;
the student learning from the master;
the athlete training;
the aged remembering their youth;

This message shuns the idea of being a flimsy, frail, fragile, and feeble clay jar. However, that is exactly what we are.  Our true identity emerges when:

illness steals our strength;
success slips our grasp;
intellect denies our aspirations;
age bars our activities.

When our true identity weighs down upon us, we are then able to see that we really are nothing in comparison to the surpassing power of God.  When we are powerless, the knowledge that God is everything has clarity.  When we are desperate, the love of God comes easily for those who are in Christ.

However, what about when we are strong?  What about when the accolades are accumulating?  What about when all you touch turns to gold?  What about when you are at the pinnacle?

I wonder if the strong and prosperous are not in the most danger when they are at their highest.

English: pots made of clay.

English: pots made of clay. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They are in danger because it can be so easy to forget who they really are.  Success can cause us to believe in a false identity.  We can begin to believe that we are something in ourselves.  At the moment that I believe that I am something other than clay, then God is not everything.  Confidence in my abilities has an insidious way of blinding me to my real identity.  I know that there are many things that I am good at.  The danger arises when I begin to believe that all the strengths that I possess originate from personal qualities.  We step into a morass when we claim success as the result of all our hard work.

This denial of our true identity strikes directly at what we love.  Loving God with everything that we are flows easily out of an understanding that He is everything and we are but clay jars.  However, a love of self is the natural parasite of a self-confident attitude.  The self-confident have lost sight of God’s surpassing power the moment they swallow the myth of their own fame, no matter how small that fame might be.

A man shapes pottery as it turns on a wheel. (...

A man shapes pottery as it turns on a wheel. (Cappadocia, Turkey) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In that instant, we lose everything by believing the lie that we can do anything within ourselves.

Fortunately, we get everything and can do anything the instant that we attribute all that we are to the rightful Originator.  There is nothing that is impossible for the one who knows who they really are. The clay jar has surpassing power within it when it embraces what it really is; flimsy, frail, fragile, and feeble.

Therefore, let us aspire to be what we really are… fragile.

PRAYER: Lord, you know that I fail in holding the right attitude in my heart.  You know how my heart loves to be made much of.  You know how I am so inclined to take credit for your work.  Father, remind me of how I am.  Thank you for all that You have given me.  Thank you for all that things that You have made me good at.  Thank you for the strengths that come from You through me.  Help me to keep the right attitude.  Help me to glorify You through all that you have given me.  Give me a heart that only wants You.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“LOVING MY WEAKNESS” – MAY 1

May 1, 2013

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:9

VastI spent the other day traveling by road through beautiful and extraordinary country.  My family and I trekked through the rolling expanses of the high desert.  The hills are green and colorful with a mind-boggling variety of grasses and wildflowers.  A buffet of colors feeding the appetite of color-starved eyes, an enjoyment that must be relished as they will soon be turned into a uniform brown under the heat of June.  We bisected large fields of fertile soil that had been reclaimed to productivity by the miracle of water.  Fields prepared and planted in hopes of future harvest.

We crossed geologic ranges that had been cut deep to allow us to pass at a grade that eases our fears and hurried my passing. These fascinating cuts dissect the bones of mountains; bones that had been twisted, uplifted, pressed, and layered.  I desired to spend more time marveling their mysteries than a fleeting glance at 60 mph could provide.  The triumph of each range yielded a new treasure to behold; wide valleys surprisingly tucked under the protective guardianship of imposing peaks.  The descent into the valleys presented splendid foothills arrayed with vineyards and orchards; fruit trees white blossoms and vines full of fresh new green leaves.

As we traveled further to the Northwest, the trees changed from a preponderance of aspens, maples, and elms into realm of the fir and pines.  We sped through mountains covered with the splendor of eminence timber still covered with a dusting of white snow.  We skirted the edge of high mountain lakes.  We shared the gorges of rushing rivers beginning to surge with the first fruits of the coming spring run-off.

Our road followed the rivers along a meandering route to our destination.  The closer our travels came to ending, the more my senses recoiled under the transition from natural magnificence into the construct of man.  Our route took us from wide open blues skies with billowing clouds begging for interpretation into stop-and-go traffic and high-rise structures of steel and glass.

The majority of our day was consumed in the awe of great and diverse expanses.

I always feel small in the presence of the grand.  I feel stretched thin against a limitless horizon.  I am weak and powerless against the crushing weight of the massive.  The greater the magnificence the more minuscule I am.  My weak and fleeting existence cannot be denied when confronted by the greatness of this beautiful world that we have been given.  I cannot constrain my soul from worshipping my Lord when my weakness is so profoundly demonstrated to my mind.

Traffic jam

Traffic jam (Photo credit: buzrael)

I was startled by how quickly this worshipful attitude evaporated upon entering the constrained environment of the populated.  By necessity, my eyes were drawn away from vast expanses and onto the bumper of the car in front of me.  I was snapped from a thinness imposed by the limitlessness of God and into the bloated claustrophobia of men’s creations.  I found it so easy to be consumed by thoughts of our tasks ahead and harder to be lost in worship.

I often wonder why God made the world the way He did.  Why did He make mountains with rugged peaks?  Why did He make oceans with horizons that do not end?  Why did He make weather of such immense power?

Maybe, it is in part to make us feel small.

I can easily deceive myself of fleeting importance when I am not contrasted against divine permanence.  Maybe, God made the world the way that He did in order to remind us that we are weak.  We so often seek to avoid our weakness.  We try to hide our powerlessness.  We work to convince our minds that we are not dust.  However, we are fading flowers.  We are here today and gone tomorrow.  We must be reminded of this reality.  We will rarely come to this conclusion on our own.  We must be forced to look upon our weakness.

Our weakness is a gift of surpassing worth that should be embraced.  It is a gift that reminds us that we will always be under His mighty hand.  Our weakness is the correct assessment of our condition.   It is when we acknowledge that we are weak that we will be made strong through the power of our Creator.

It is in our weakness when we are most readily led into worship.  It is the embracing of our powerlessness that opens our hearts to honor our Creator God.  It is in the weakness of the children of God, on their fallen knees, that the power of the King is poured out and overflows His people.

Fly

Fly (Photo credit: ~FreeBirD®~)

Let your eyes return to the horizon; let your soul be spread thin against its expanse.  Embrace your miniscule condition.  You are small and weak; praise God!  You have not been abandoned to indifferent forces.  You have God.  He loves and cares for you; the powerless and the weak.  He is mighty and great!  He made this world to proclaim His Holy Name.

Let our heart rise in praise of his mighty name!

PRAYER: Lord, show me my weakness.  Remind me of the swiftness of my days.  Grant me a deep understanding of just how powerless I am in the seeming chaos of this indifferent world.  Father, grant in me a need for you that is beyond the reasoning of my eyes.  Help me to embrace the fullness and fruitfulness of my weakness.  Remind me of my reliance upon you.  May my heart rise above the business of my daily life to become lost in the limitlessness of you, to your praise and glory.   I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“JUST KEEP SWIMMING” – Mar. 14

March 14, 2013

“And we all, with unveiled grace, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  2 Corinthians 3:18

Follow the little black line.  Turn; follow the little black line; Turn, follow the little black line…what lap is this?  It’s 23; going on 24.  No, wait; I don’t think I finished 23. So, it might be 22, going on 23.  Why can’t I count?  Here is the turn again.  Fine, I will go back to 23.  Follow the little black line.  I need to keep my elbows higher and reach longer. Follow the little black line.  I need to remember to make that telephone call when I get back to the office; I forgot to send that email…how should I write that…formal or informal?  Turn; follow the little black line.  Gulp…fat-guy wave… oh man, I really need to cough.  Follow the little black line.  Where is that turn…what lap am I on?

Swimming

Swimming (Photo credit: AirmanMagazine)

That is my lunch time ritual. Several coworkers and I provoke one another to make the trek to the local public swimming pool for a lunchtime filled with the churning of chlorinated water.  In one of my less lucid moments, I set a swimming goal.  I thought it would be motivating to pick a goal to focus on, rather than the mind-numbing passing of the little black lane indicator at the bottom of the pool.  The challenge that I set for myself is to swim 1,750 yards (almost a mile) in 30 minutes or less.

I take a shot at my goal every week.  Yesterday, I made another attempt.  It felt like I was swimming at my practiced pace.  I felt good.  I felt (reasonably) fast.  I pulled hard on the last couple laps.  I reached long for the wall, stopped the time on my watch, pulled my goggles off…33 minutes, 34 seconds.  Ugh!

I still have to find over three minutes to cut off of my time.  That is about 200 yards worth of swimming time.  “This might be too hard of a goal,”  “I don’t know if I can keep a pace that fast, for that long,”  were my thoughts as I crouched, resting in the shallow end of the pool, as my co-worker swam to my end of the pool.

He asked me my time and I lamented my concerns about finding over three minutes.  We talked about technique.  He had noticed that my left elbow was coming in low and my arm was striking the water rather than cutting into it.  He thought I might be short stroking a little.  I mentioned that he might be pushing down rather than back on his right arm because his shoulders were bobbing out of the water on his breath stroke.  He swam a lap while concentrating on technique.  I was amazed at the difference.  He was much smoother.  It looked like he was using much less energy and was going much faster.  It is amazing the results that can come from a little correction in technique.

I returned to pondering the dilemma of my goal.  There are 35 laps in my 1,750 yard swim; 70 lengths of the pool.  If I can pick-up two seconds per length, then I will cut 140 seconds.  That is 2 minutes, 20 seconds right there.  Two seconds per pool length seems within the realm of the possible.  There are 69 turns in my swim. I might be able to pick-up another minute if I can cut about a second off of each turn.  I have yet to figure out the flip-turn so I just grab the side and turn.  Two seconds per length; a second per turn, that seems doable.

I went back and looked at my times from last August.  I have already cut 1-1/2 minutes off of my 500 yard time.  I don’t have a mile time to compare to because I wasn’t doing them.

Hey, this might actually be possible!

Every follower of Christ has a spiritual goal that has been set for them – Christ-likeness. I know that many folks get frustrated with where they are in relation to this goal.

They are churning away but don’t seem to be going anywhere. 

They continue to struggle with the same sins. 

They’re aggravated with roller-coaster inconsistency in the basic spiritual disciplines. 

They compare their own life to Christ and cannot help but feel discouraged.

They begin to wonder if the faith described in the Bible is even possible or if it is from a by-gone age.

It is good to periodically be reminded that we all are being transformed from “one degree of glory to another.”  Those spiritual giants who you respect have not obtained it and never fully will until they are with our Father in heaven.  They are working on their own next degree through the power of the Spirit.  They may have just passed a few more degrees than you have. The work of the Spirit in our lives is typically a transformation of incremental degrees.  Occasionally, we might be blessed with a quantum transformation but that is more of the exception than the rule.

All of God’s children are being progressively restored back into the image of their Father that man was originally created in.  The key word is progressively.  It is like my swimming.  I am not going to jump in the pool and swim a mile in 30 minutes.  It is going to take a lot of progressive training to bring my times down.  It is already happening.  I look back and I am faster than I was 6 months ago.  In the same way, we should expect to see a continual, progressive spiritual growth into Christ-likeness throughout our lives.  We should be able to look back at our lives 6 years ago and see more fruit of the Spirit in our lives now.  That is the evidence of the degrees of our transformation.  We are to expect a continual moral and spiritual transformation as we walk the narrow path of keeping our minds on the things of the Spirit.  As we change by degrees, the things that we desire will change while we are moving from one degree of glory to the next.

I look at our example of Christ in comparison to my life and it seems undoable.  How is it possible to pick-up that many degrees of glory in whatever span of life the Lord has planned for me; just ponder on the magnitude of that transformation for any of us.

However, there is nothing that is too hard for God and we know that our sanctification is the will of God.  Therefore, we can know that it is possible and we can trust the Holy Spirit to do His work in our lives.  We just need to focus on doing our part and make every effort to supplement our faith.

For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5)

This is how I do it – I just keep swimming.

I strive to follow the little black line that is the narrow path of my Lord;

I see a turn coming; steady, prepare, make the turn and get back on the line;

Follow the little black line;

Focus on what I am doing;

Fight sin:

Follow the little black line;

Fight the distractions;

Follow the little black line;

I see a turn coming; steady, prepare, make the turn and get back on the line;

Follow the little black line;

Periodically check my practices and make corrections;

Follow the little black line;

Swimming pool with lane ropes in place

I realize that this advice is sort of simple and a little silly. 

However, the Christian walk is not as complicated as some make it out to be.  The Christian walk is about walking.  It is about doing what you already know you need to be doing.  If you just keep swimming on the line of this life of faith, you will be amazed at how  far the Spirit will take you without you even realizing it.

When you take a big gulp of nastiness, spit it out and keep swimming.

When you lose count of what is important, drop-back and keep swimming.

When you get fatigued, keep on the straight line because a turn will be coming.

Above all keep swimming because we sink when we stop.

So, keep swimming and following that little black line that the Lord has given you.  It will take you straight into His arms and His glory.

PRAYER: Lord, I know that it is You who keeps me afloat.  I know that it is You who enables me to even see the path that you have laid out in front of me.  Thank you for sending your Spirit to teach me and to guide me.  Father, enable me to consistently follow you.  Help me to stay on track and seek you with all of my heart.  Lift my eyes to see You and help me to set my mind on the things of  You.  Thank You for being so good to me and continuing to bring me along even when I am less than helpful.  Amen

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