Gifting

II Corinthians 8:1 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.

Paul’s words about gifts brought this “gifting” process to mind: * Choosing, * Presenting, * Receiving.  

* Choosing: God chose a part of himself, Jesus Christ, to be his gift to us and for our celebration.  

* Presenting: God chose to present himself to us in a surprise package for an unusual reason.   A baby is a far more intimate gift than the might be expected from the supreme ruler of the universe.  God chose intimacy not intimidation and possibilities not preconceived ideas as his preparation for us to receive.  

* Receiving: God chose and presented his gift. Now all that’s left is opening that surprise package filled with growth, change, nurture, grace and His own will for us to give ourselves back to him. The gift has been successfully delivered.  Open it and follow the example of the church at Macedonia to keep the gift going. “They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.”

Advent Journey

II Corinthians 7:13b In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you. 14 I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well. 15 And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling. 16 I am glad I can have complete confidence in you.

Paul’s phrase about Titus, “… His spirit has been refreshed” has become this part of my Advent journey.  Long ago the Sovereign God first chose to create new life from dust and a rib…and here’s the key to remember: God was there with those new people, when their spirits were refreshed he shared that intimacy in his own Spirit.  When that relationship was ruined he could justly have chosen to end the poison of sin right then and there, but for the second time he chose life for them.   

They would live with the consequences of that poison – their own brokenness and separation from God, but they were not abandoned.  The people he loved had been caught in an unnatural separation but God would continue to offer to refresh their spirits through the instruction and opportunity of the law and prophets until…“The Advent.”  

Jesus Christ, Son of God was born!  For a third, and final, time “The Advent” is God’s choice for new life. This time his choice is an eternal one for us; a relationship that will save, restore and refresh our spirit with his Spirit for the rest of time.  Paul’s words describe the refreshed spirit of Titus but they read like God’s own words of encouragement for our choice this Advent journey.  “And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling.”

A New Message

I Corinthians 7:8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

Paul’s reference to sorrow caused by his letter has been my Advent preparation trigger.  I read his words as if they were God’s words.  Sorrow began in that place of creation where those first two people lost their perfect status as companions of God.  Life would go on…and on…and on…and that lack of perfection would continue to be a source of sorrow, so God wrote a letter to his people on tablets of stone.  That “letter” clearly showed the solution to worldly sorrow but their damaged mindset was still the problem.  They “thought” the answer to their loss of perfection, and the sorrow it caused, was to be more committed to trying harder.  

Fast forward from God’s letter to that “first season” we now call Advent.  God was going to show his creation a new message: Jesus Christ, Son of God born as the antidote to the poison of man’s damaged mindset.  Jesus Christ, Son of God born as the image of restored perfection and new life.  Jesus Christ, Son of God born to overcome the futility of worldly sorrow and reveal the power of Godly sorrow.   “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret…” Jesus Christ, Son of God, born to be our Christmas Joy.

Christmas Joy

II Corinthians 7: 5 For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, 2018.  I have often used a list of Advent readings and explored this season through the eyes of those Scriptures other people chose.  This year I’ve made the choice to look for Christmas preparation with my own eyes as I continue exercising my mind in II Corinthians and see where my heart takes me.  Today it begins with Paul’s words “we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within.  But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us…”  That reality has made the Bible an enduring treasure that still comforts us in our response to the realities of life and provides transformation along with information.  Experience has shown me every part of the Bible supports the choice God made on our behalf long ago: the birth of Jesus.  Faith in God’s choice changes our choices.  

Advent reminds us transformation came in a “small” package to provide a lifetime of therapeutic doses of comfort [grace] that will fill the gaps left by wrong choices and ultimately overcome the accumulation of fatigue, stress, conflict or fear, so our “joy” will be “greater than ever.”  That’s my choice for this Advent season. 

I hope it will be yours too.  Read whatever Scripture you pick with your eyes, your mind, your heart AND your experience.  Let’s take God at his Word that Christ is his choice made on our behalf for our transformation and choose to find our Christmas joy in His choice

The Relief of Grace

Promises from Chapter 6: “I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people.” …I will welcome you and be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters,” says the Lord Almighty.” [NIV]

II Corinthians 7:1 Having such great promises as these, dear friends, let us turn away from everything wrong, whether of body or spirit, and purify ourselves, living in the wholesome fear of God, giving ourselves to him alone. [TLB]

There was a day when we understood those promises of God, turned away from our sin and believed his words: “I will welcome you and be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters.”  That first “turning away” brought us the life-changing relief of grace.  It was a spectacular beginning but that’s exactly what it was…the first day of the rest of our life.  

The relief of grace is God’s gift of courage to look at the challenges of the rest of our life and be willing to confess we still need courage  to “turn away from everything wrong, whether of body or spirit, and purify ourselves… giving ourselves to him alone.”

Unyoked

II Corinthians 6: 14 Do not be [KJV adds unequally here] yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 17 Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.  Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” 18 And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 

We know from our most reliable examples, Jesus and Paul, these verses mean something more than turning your back on unbelievers.  These two men were real evangelists.   That makes this Scripture passage thought provoking.  The word comparisons are easy.  We know righteousness and wickedness have nothing in common, nor do light and darkness or Christ and idols.  “Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.”  What is this separation that protects righteousness, fellowship and harmony so it’s clearly the antidote to wickedness, darkness and idols?   What is the concern about being “yoked” together?  

The idea of a yoke sounds helpful.  My definition of a yoke is a device that enables two separate animals to pull together to purposely lighten the weight of a load and accomplish a specific task.   If you look at my definition as a believer coming along side an unbeliever to “yoke” up with them to deal with a load of sin and accomplish the specific task of salvation it might seem to be a reasonable definition of evangelism.  But…

What if Paul’s warning is for us to recognize the reality that being “yoked” is only a forced restraint of the fundamental incompatibility of purpose and task for the unbeliever.  The Lord’s reality is that righteousness, fellowship and harmony come from the unyoked evangelist who has the courage and  the strength to lead that unbeliever “As God has said: Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate.”

Weapons of Righteousness

II Corinthians 6:3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;  6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;   8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.  

I read through these verses and was struck by how many word comparisons Paul uses just after he writes about weapons so I made a list – but in columns: a left-hand one and a right-hand one.  Apparently comparisons are catching and maybe that’s exactly what Paul had in mind.  It certainly has made me think.  

The left column is clearly filled with recognizable defensive weapons of righteousness.  What if all those words in that right-hand column might also be weapons of rightousness?  The Holy Spirit revealed our desire for those commendable words in the left-hand column to be a reality our lives at the same time our eyes recognized the words of the right-hand column were a part of that same reality.  Doesn’t that make those dismal words pretty effective weapons of righteousness too?
Glory                                 Dishonor
Good Report.                   Bad Report
Genuine.                           Imposters
Known.                              Unknown
We Live On                       Dying
Not Yet Killed.                  Beaten
Rejoicing.                           Sorrowful
Rich.                                    Poor
Everything                         Nothing
One column wasn’t enough to bring us into the faith of Jesus Christ on that day we came to our senses and returned to His victory and I’m guessing a majority of us would admit our lives still need both columns today.  We couldn’t have understood glory if we hadn’t recognized dishonor or desired a good report if we hadn’t been aware of our bad report “then”.  You can continue on down the list for yourself and just make the change to present tense: we can’t understand glory if we don’t recognize our dishonor, or desire a good report if we can’t confess a bad report.

The words in both those columns have turned out to be very effective weapons ”of endurance, in purity, understanding, patience and kindness “then” and “the power of God [to arm us now] with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and the left…”