It’s Not About Us

unwavering

Lesson 1
2 Corinthians 1:1-11

I have claimed 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 as a sort of “life verse” for the last several years.

My favorite paraphrase is found in the Message:

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”

Now, isn’t that a nice, warm and fuzzy couple of verses? All about receiving comfort, and giving comfort, and I don’t know about you, but (as we say here in the South) I LOVE me some comfort.

So, when I began praying about what Bible study to do this fall, God said “Why don’t you go a little deeper into this ‘life verse’ of yours? As in the context, the writer, the setting,…” And I was like, “That is a GREAT idea. I love 2 Corinthians, and Paul is awesome, and there are 13 chapters I can fit neatly into a 10 week study. Let’s do this!”

And then the commentary I ordered arrived. I noticed the box was kind of heavy.  I tried to remember what else I had ordered on Amazon to get to the magic number for free shipping (I think I am the last Prime hold-out). I opened the box. Only the one book. It was bigger than my whole BIBLE.

I almost chickened out right then and there.

And then. THEN I discovered that Kelly Minter has a new study on 2 Corinthians coming out in November. I kind of love her. But I really didn’t think I wanted to tackle the same book of the Bible as her.  I realized as I processed this information that she probably wouldn’t mind, since we aren’t exactly in the same market.

Despite all that, I just kept coming back to what God said. So here we go! (and you can do Kelly’s study after this and I won’t mind a bit.)

Opening Lines (vs. 1-2)

2 Corinthians is a letter to a body of believers in Corinth in the region of Achaia during Paul’s third missionary journey.  He states right from the beginning who he is- “an apostle of Christ by the will of God”.  Paul is a guy who knows who he is.  He is also claiming his authority over this body of believers- an apostle by definition  is “one directly commissioned by the Lord for a unique and authoritative role in the early church.”  (George Guthrie) But even in claiming his rightful authority Paul remains completely God-centered.

Corinth was a thriving, wealthy city. We see in 1 Cor. 1:26 that the congregation was made up of both ends of the spectrum socioeconomically speaking, so it is pretty easy to understand why they experienced some internal friction.

“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth” 1 Corinthians 1:26

“Not many” implies that some were wise, some were influential, and some were of noble birth, right?

The church at Corinth struggled to live out their newfound faith in the context of community partly because they were just so different from each other. Does that sound familiar to you? Much of Paul’s extensive correspondence with this church is addressing their conflicts with each other. More about that later.

This letter would be read and circulated throughout the region to other groups of believers.  In this age of instant communication that is a little hard to wrap our minds around, isn’t it? No GroupMe, no mass email, no copy machines… No one ever got trapped in a group text for days, and days, and days… But I digress.

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  is Paul’s favorite opening line. He uses some form of this greeting in every single one of his letters. Always, always directing the attention back to God the Father and to Jesus.

The Reason for Comfort (vs. 3-7)

How many times does Paul use the word “comfort” in these 5 verses? 9 times! I would say that is a key word!

We also see the words “suffering” and “trouble” and “distress” quite a few times as well.

To sum it up, where there is abundant suffering there is also abundant comfort.

The Greek word for “comfort” here means “called to one’s side to help”. Our English word “comfort” comes from 2 Latin words meaning “with strength”.

I think we often confuse comfort with sympathy. They are not the same. Sympathy is nothing more than a feeling.

Sympathy: feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune

There isn’t anything wrong with sympathy except that it just isn’t going to accomplish anything.  Comfort ACTS. Comfort comes alongside and strengthens us at our weakest moments, equipping us to share it with others who need it.

Paul is saying “No matter what we are facing, God comes alongside us and gives us His strength. Not for our own sake, but so that we can then come alongside you when you need comfort and share what God has given to us.”

Depths of Despair (v. 8-9)

Things look hopeless. You can’t eat. You can’t sleep. The pressure is more than you can take. You don’t know how you are going to survive. The heartbreak, the loss, the illness, the anxiety, the depression, the abuse…

Paul knew that feeling. He wastes no time getting to the news of the intense persecution and suffering he has been experiencing, along with his companions.

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. (v. 8)

Most of us haven’t experienced exactly the kind of suffering Paul was experiencing… At least not for the same reasons.

Suffering exists in many forms, but for now I am going to lump them together into 4 categories:

  1. Suffering as a result of living in a fallen world. Illness (physical and mental), death of loved ones, things that just happen.
  2. Suffering as a result of our sin. CONSEQUENCES of wrong choices.
  3. Suffering as a result of the sins/choices of others– broken relationships, preventable accidents, abuse, etc.
  4. Suffering as a result of following Jesus.

What do these 4 types of suffering have in common? They all HURT.

I don’t know about you, but most of the suffering I have experienced has been a result of my own poor decisions and trying to run my own life MY way. Doesn’t usually work out too well.

One of the most precious truths about our loving Father is this: No matter what kind of suffering you are experiencing, even if it is YOUR OWN FAULT, He stands ready to offer His comfort the very instant you turn to Him. He will even walk with you through the consequences of your own sins against HIM. That doesn’t mean He will always remove the suffering, or the consequences- because they teach us to rely on Him- but He will come alongside us and offer His strength in exchange for our weakness as we walk through it.

Paul suffered for a much nobler cause- the cause of Christ.

Divine Deliverance (v. 10-11)

We all love a good rescue story, don’t we? These last couple of verses we are looking at today are just that.  When all hope is lost, the Rescuer steps in…

“And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing.” v. 10 MSG

I don’t know about you, but I have needed a lot of rescuing. And I am still here today, so there’s proof He keeps rescuing me.

 “On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us.” (NIV)

How does He do it? He comes alongside us and helps us in all our troubles(v. 4). He may not remove the trouble or the pain or the “thorn in our flesh” but He gives us His strength in exchange for our weakness so that we can bear it. He walks with us even through the consequences we bring on ourselves and shows us a better way. He uses the pain to soften our rough edges and make us more like Jesus.

Why does He do it? We certainly don’t deserve it. Here is the thing: Because it isn’t about us.  We aren’t rescued for our own sake but for His glory and for the sake of others. God had a purpose for Paul and He has a purpose for you. He rescues us again and again so that His glory is revealed in our lives and shared with others.

What role does prayer have in this process? (v. 11) The rescue operation happens “as you help us by your prayers”. Why bring anyone else in on this mission? God doesn’t need our help… Wouldn’t it be easier for Him to just do the thing?

Here is why: More prayers equal more thanksgiving by more people which equals more glory to the Rescuer. 

This book, like every other one in the Bible is about the Rescuer. It isn’t really about Paul, or the Corinthians, or us. It is about Him.  He is the reason we, like Paul, can be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Rom. 12:12)

 

 

 

 

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Get Out of the Boat

That is what He said. A season of restlessness, questioning, doubts, and insecurities had led me to some deep soul searching and prayers for wisdom. “Just tell me what to do next!” had become the frustrated cry of my heart. The problem was not that God wasn’t listening or answering. The problem was that I didn’t like the answer.

“Get out of the boat.”

What?

“Get out of the boat.”

I don’t even know what that means. What boat? I don’t even have a boat. Can You please be more specific?

(insert crickets chirping)

Peter knew a lot about boats. He was a fisherman, after all. So when Jesus asked him to step out of the boat and onto the water, He was asking Peter to leave the safety of what he knew and understood. He was asking Peter to take one step toward Himself. He would do the rest, but Peter had to take that first step out of the boat. It was a choice. It seems like an obvious choice to us, because we’ve read the book and we know how it ends. But what about when it’s you and me? When Jesus asks us to leave behind our safety nets, our bubble of safe people, our safe predictability and step out toward the unknown? I don’t know about you, but I find myself asking a lot of questions.

“Is this really safe?”

“Does this even make sense?”

“What will my friends think?”

“What happens after I get out of this boat?”

I find it so much easier to exercise faith on behalf of someone else than to actually put real feet to it in my own life. I am the biggest cheerleader of all when my friends are stepping out in faith. I am so confident in God’s plan for them. I am 100% sure He is going to be so faithful to them. So why then, when it’s me, do I suddenly question if He will be faithful? Why do I think for some reason He will stop being Himself if I dare to put my faith in His plan for my life? That doesn’t even make sense. But I don’t want to fail. I don’t want to sink. Fear pulls me back toward the safe haven of my little boat.

Obedience is always simple, but rarely is it easy. It usually costs us something that we hold dear. Surrender can be painful. And because we can’t see what’s up ahead we wonder if it is going to be worth it…

Then I take a look at the one who’s asking me to get out of the boat. The only Person who has never let me down. The only Man who has ever loved me perfectly and without condition. The only One who is only good… and then I look at my little boat and realize that without Him, it really isn’t worth much.

So, here I go. Sink or swim, I’m going to put one foot over the edge and then the other. Not because I am confident in my ability to do what He’s asking me to do. Quite the opposite. I am just going to do the one thing He has shown me for now, and wait on further instructions.

Is God asking you to “get out of the boat”? Do you struggle to let go of fear and walk in obedience? I would love to hear from you in the comments section, so we can pray for each other and cheer each other on!

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

See Matthew 14:22-33 for the rest of the story!

 

 

 

Best Friend

When I was little, I had a best friend. The kind where we knew how many days apart our birthdays were and celebrated all of them together. The kind that went to my same church, my same school, and whose family looked pretty much the same as mine. As we grew into preteens we would often dress alike, and sometimes argue like sisters over really dumb stuff (like boys) and then be best friends again 5 minutes later. Our relationship was based on a lot of sameness and holds most of my dearest childhood memories. We are still friends, but from across the country and mostly via Facebook, with very little sameness left to claim, other than the shared values learned as we navigated our early lives together.

Fast forward to adult-life. Friendships are hard. Hard to find, hard to build, and hard to hold on to. I’m the first to admit that I struggle to be a good friend in this season of life. There have been seasons where I was the friend who could run over and watch your kids, or bring you soup when you are sick, but that is not the season I am in today. Today consists of caring for my children and car lines and working in an office and more car lines and ballet and ball games and church and a husband and well, friendship just doesn’t always make the cut.

Don’t get me wrong, I have many “friends”. Like on Facebook- 942 last time I checked. And there are friends at the office and friends at the playground after school and friends at ballet and friends at church. But how are we supposed to form those deep, abiding friendships when we are spread so thin? I am still trying to figure that out.

Women are relational. We are wired for community. For connection. It is how God designed us and we long for those deeper more intimate friendships. But they rarely just “happen”. And cultivating them is much like a romance. If you come on too strong you drive people away. If you are too reserved they lose interest. If you share too much too soon they are scared of getting involved. If you never share anything personal the relationship never gets beyond a mere acquaintance. So, what on earth are we supposed to do? I started looking at my life and the absence of those deeper relationships with other women and asked myself a few questions.

Who has God placed in my path on a regular basis?

For me, this was my work friends and “playground mom” friends. I am a natural extrovert, so talking to others is easy for me. Listening, not so much. I had to start doing less talking and more listening. {One time at church a sweet friend and fellow talker handed me a business card  that said in very small type “stop talking“. I keep it in my Bible to remind me.} Over the months/years this group of playground moms has become my “tribe”. We have the most hilarious (and sometimes inappropriate) group messages and we also share the hard stuff. The stuff you don’t post on Facebook. We are each other’s cheerleaders. It is a beautiful thing. And we don’t even go to the same church. Gasp.

What friendships are worth investing in?

That might seem a little harsh. But the truth is, we only have so much time to give. And some relationships are worth sacrificing for and some simply are not. Evaluating which friendships are sharpening me and which ones are sucking the life out of me has been hard and sometimes painful, but necessary in creating margin for the life-giving ones.

What do I have to offer?

I am not the friend who remembers your birthday and bakes a cake. I am also not the friend who texts you right back. It might be a few hours. Or a few days. But I can be the friend who will make you coffee and sit at the kitchen table and listen to your heart without an agenda or judgement. I can do that. I can share burdens, keep confidences, and pray. I can do that. Learning what my strengths are as a friend helps me not feel so guilty about the things I can’t do.

I have come to the conclusion that a handful of true, deep, and healthy friendships can be even better than having that one “best friend” like we had when we were young. Friends who overlook shortcomings and dirty dishes and misbehaving children. Friends like mine.

 

 

There are few things in this world that I enjoy more than a weekend away with girlfriends. Add to that weekend a list of authors and speakers that I love and a praise team that is literally weeping openly as they worship and this girl is WRECKED.  In the best way. LifeWay Women has got it going on, y’all. If you have never attended the LifeWay Women’s Forum you need to sign up for 2016. Now.

As I sit, sifting through my notes from the weekend and praying about how to apply them, I see some pretty clear directives. I wanted to get them down on “paper” (not really, because actual writing, like with a pen, hurts my hand.) So, bear with me as I organize my thoughts publicly, because I am an extrovert and external processor and my husband has listened to all of this like a CHAMP but his ears are tired, I think.

God did not speak to me audibly. But the black and white words on the pages of my notebook are screaming at me pretty loudly tonight. Here is what they are saying:

  • DO THE THING I’VE ALREADY GIVEN YOU TO DO. In other words, stop looking toward the next thing. Be present and give this thing your all. “Stop letting things that don’t matter run your ministry.” (Lisa Harper)
  • WALK WORTHY OF YOUR CALLING. In humility and patience for the sake of unity. “Be faithful to what He’s called you to today. Everything you are learning is in preparation for tomorrow.” (Chris Adams)
  • STOP LOOKING FOR APPROVAL AND ACCEPTANCE from anyone other than Me. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” Proverbs 29:25
  • MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR DAYS. They are limited. “You have one chance to write the story of your life.” (Karen Kingsbury)
  • SEEK THE KINGDOM. “Don’t let ‘shadow missions’ distract you from your real mission.” (Pete Wilson- who, by the way, has the coolest hair of any pastor I’ve ever seen. Must be a Nashville thing.)
  • TRUST ME. I’VE GOT YOU. “Cease striving to prove that you are enough. You are not enough. He is enough.” (Jen Wilkin)

There is a profound simplicity to what God asks of us. But I have learned that “simple” rarely means easy. Default mode is easy, but rarely obedient. Obedience is simple, but rarely easy. Praying for the grace to rise to the challenge this week.