Sunday, April 21, 2013

God of the Pressed (2 Corinthians 7:5-11)

For even when we arrived in Macedonia we had a wretched time and were troubled all around—wrangling outside and anxiety within. God, who cheers the depressed, gave us the comfort of the arrival of Titus.” (2 Corinthians 7:5-11)
The Greek word for troubled means "to press," like grapes after a harvest. That's how Paul felt. People had been trying to kill him, the churches he started were floundering, and life in general was really beating him down.  
So what does Paul say we do when we are troubled outside and inside? Look to God, who cheers the depressed. How does God to this?  In this case, through the arrival of TitusOf course, God comforts us directly through His Holy Spirit. Jesus himself said,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
But we can't overlook the fact that sometimes the comfort He brings finds its power through the presence of others.
After the Boston bombing marathon, a number of moving pictures showed the survivors being helped and comforted by others. The same is true after every large scale event - hurricanes, tsunamis, shootings, fertilizer plant explosions.  

We don't have to go any farther than our own neighborhood. When we hear that a friend or family member died, we reflexively ask, "Who is with them right now?"  Whenever there is a tragedy, we know that the presence of others is important. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

In It, Not Of It (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)

I grew up in a church community that took John 17:14 seriously. (“The world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world”). We retreated from the world. They hated us anyway (Jesus said it, right?).  Heaven was our home, not this place. It was just a bad rental. The best we could do was quietly try to fly under the radar, live in a church bubble, and pray the world passed by our community without leaving any traces it had been there.

Yet Jesus went on to say: “I do not ask that you [God] take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)

The prayer of Jesus was not that we get removed from our context, but that we will be kept safe from spiritual destruction in the midst of a fallen world.  The world may not have left much of a trace on the  community in which I was raised – but we didn’t leave much of a trace either.

As Christians, we are to be in the world, but not of it.  We are citizens of heaven, but we are also residents of earth. 2,000 years ago, Jesus showed God’s plan on how to change the world by moving into a neighborhood that needed cleaning up – a very Jewish Bethlehem, under the authority of a very pagan Rome.  Jesus didn’t show his people how to circle the wagons; he showed them how to go into all the world and preach the Gospel.

Here we are, 2,000 years later, and the world still needs saving.  Jesus is not here, but the Spirit of God is within those of us who have committed our lives to Christ.  The world needs a city crowded with followers of Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, who move in, build houses, settle in, and change the neighborhood. That can be hard.  The line between “in” and “not of” can be difficult to discern.