Meaning In Suffering

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12.10
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself in a bunch of conversations in which the unspoken assumption was that the main goal of life is to maximize happiness. — David Brooks

Reflection: Meaning In Suffering
By Steven Dilla

The scripture’s affirmation of suffering as part of life, and even as a spiritual practice, can be alarming at first. “Consider it pure joy when you face trials,” James challenges. Paul, as usual, takes it farther; “it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” This profound acknowledgment of the reality of suffering, and ultimate purpose in it, stands in contrast to what we hear most often.

In an interview on suffering, Timothy Keller explains,

In secular culture the meaning of life is to be free to choose what makes you happy in this life. Suffering destroys that meaning. And so, in the secular view, suffering can have no meaning at all. It can’t be a chapter in your life story — it is just the interruption or even the end of your life story.

While it is possible to suffer without purpose, something David Brooks acknowledges in his exploration of What Suffering Does, the gospel draws us to the way Christ renews even our deepest pains. Keller continues:

On the one hand, God is absolutely sovereign over suffering. It’s never out of his control. It’s always part of his plan. On the other hand, God has come into the world himself and actually suffered with us.

No other religion says that God is both a sovereign and a suffering God. This is the theological foundation for why Christians can be so realistic and yet so hopeful about suffering at the same time.

Because there is meaning in suffering we can refocus our attention toward the outcome. Brooks concludes,

Notice this phenomenon. When people remember the past, they don’t only talk about happiness. It is often the ordeals that seem most significant. People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.

This is, of course, the joy Paul found in his many sufferings. His heart for the first Christians was that they would experience it, too, “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Cry of the Church
O God, come to my assistance! O Lord, make haste to help me!

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 18 (Listen – 6:16)
2 Corinthians 11 (Listen – 4:46)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Samuel 19 (Listen – 5:00) 2 Corinthians 12 (Listen – 3:54)
2 Samuel 20 (Listen – 4:51) 2 Corinthians 13 (Listen – 2:19)

Destroyed Arguments; Thriving Lives

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 10.5
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

Reflection: Destroyed Arguments; Thriving Lives
By Steven Dilla

Christian culture wars receive a tragic amount of airtime. Most Americans know the name “Westboro Baptist” though its parishioners represent an extreme fringe minority who congregate in a rural town few can locate on a map.

We don’t often get the privilege of knowing the hundreds-of-thousands of other Christians who — in response to Christ’s love — serve their neighbors, sacrifice personal comfort to invest in the lives of the marginalized, and give themselves in friendship and service to their coworkers.

This disproportionate emphasis on the loudest voices can disorient our initial perspective on the verse above. It is not a rally cry for a culture war, but a stern warning to followers of Christ that our flesh will be mislead by the messages of our culture.

Pastor Leonardo de Chirico provides insight by examining the Greek word Logismoi — translated “arguments” above.

Logismoi are sinful systems of thought, evil ways of life, and religious but anti-Christian gospels that promise meaning, hope, and protection. Logismoi are worldviews that shape [a] city… They are overarching sinful narratives on which people rely. — Leonardo de Chirico

Logismoi are everywhere, but Paul’s principle concern was tearing them down inside the Christian community. The apostle pressed the Corinthians to think deeply about their faith. A modern inspection might look like this: yes, I profess to follow Christ, but where do I functionally find my happiness, comfort, hope, security, and joy?

Idols like to inhabit peoples’ lives, their imaginations, their shared memory, and their collective hopes,” De Chirico warns. In Paul’s words, “we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” This reality creates profound humility toward other sinners. But the message of the gospel brings us hope; in the same breath Paul says, “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Christians are free both from trying to leverage faith to win a culture war and from trying to shout above the noise the rabble-rousers create. Instead we get to spend our lives humbly responding to the work of Christ in us, giving ourselves to those around us, and growing in grace as we allow the Spirit to correct, heal, and lead us to a thriving life. Protest signs are filled with the words of men, but cities are transformed by the sacrificial work of God in and through his church.

The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My eyes are upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me… — Psalm 101:6

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 17 (Listen – 5:00)
2 Corinthians 10 (Listen – 2:45)

Generosity that Outlives Tragedy

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 9:11
You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

Reflection: Generosity that Outlives Tragedy
By Jon Polk

Response to tragedy often brings out the best in humanity. The Apostle Paul spent many years raising funds from believers during his travels in order to assist Christians in Antioch who had suffered through a decade of famine and persecution. Writing specifically to the church in Corinth, Paul praised the believers for their faithfulness and generosity.

In our own time, popular Houston Texans’ player J.J. Watt spearheaded a fundraising campaign to assist those affected by the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. More than 200,000 contributors raised over $37 million in a matter of weeks.

But what happens when time inevitably passes and the images of destruction and devastation no longer dominate our screens? What is the limit of our generosity?

Many people are eager to donate towards an immediate one-time need, but are resistant to living an on-going lifestyle of generosity. Even Christians can be hesitant to let go of hard-earned cash. David Garland notes,

Most people subconsciously employ a kind of mental air defense system to deflect any appeals for money that their radar screen picks up as approaching their way.

Church-goers may cringe at the annual sermon on tithing or the church’s month-long budget campaign. Often, in an attempt to convince members to give, appeal is made to Paul’s note in 2 Corinthians 9 that those who sow generously will also reap generously.

So the more I give, the more I will get? Well, yes and no.

Take a closer look at what Paul describes as the return-on-investment that Christians receive when they give generously. You will reap a harvest of righteousness. By sowing generously, you will reap generosity.

The implication appears to be that the blessings received as a result of generous giving may be material, but are more likely spiritual. And if God does, in fact, supply the generous giver with an increase in material blessings, they are intended to be a resource for continued generosity.

The more you get, the more you give.

So cultivate a pattern of generous giving and living. If you’ve donated towards Hurricane Harvey or Irma relief efforts, the apostle Paul would commend you for your faithfulness and generosity. He would also then encourage you to find ways to continue to be generous. Become regular with your tithe, contribute towards a ministry organization, or support a missionary. Give generously so that others might experience the work of the Holy Spirit through you.

*We are thankful to have Jon as a new board member and a contributing author. Follow him on Twitter: @jonpolkministry. John

The Greeting
I will offer you a freewill sacrifice and praise your Name, O Lord, for it is good. — Psalm 54:6

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 16 (Listen – 4:03)
2 Corinthians 9 (Listen – 2:26)

Prayer for the Church from Indonesia :: Worldwide Prayer

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:2-4
In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.

Today we reflect on an Indonesian prayer, written in the late 1990s, that would be appropriate for Christians to pray on behalf of persecuted Indonesian Christians today. Since that time, persecution of Christians has worsened in Indonesia and all across the world. We join our voices in this nearly 20 year old prayer that seems more relevant today than when it was written. — John

Prayer for the Church from Indonesia :: Worldwide Prayer

Our God,
You who dwell in the highest
and who has called us
in your Son, Jesus Christ, to be the Church…

We thank you today, for the rich heritage we claim,
a heritage born of courage, piety, and sacrifice.

We claim today fellowship in mission,
as we share of our wealth for the work of your Church around the world.
In healing the sick and feeding the hungry,
in redeeming through your Word that the blind may see,
and in so doing, freeing captives in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

We confess, our God, that in the comfort of your blessings and abundance
and in the safety of the blessing of peace in our land,
we too easily forget others of our body, your Church,
who pray today for your daily bread to feed their hungry children,
who pray for signs of peace in their land,
who pray for freedom to pursue a life worth the living.

So make us mindful, we pray,
that others of your Church today
eat the bread in secret, for fear of persecution,
and drink the cup in whispers, for fear of death.
For them, our sisters and brothers, we pray
that your spirit will watch over them with a mighty arm,
that your joy may be complete in them,
and that their hope in you may be realized in power and grace.

These things we pray in the mighty name of the One who makes us one,
Jesus Christ, Our Savior.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

The Small Verse
Keep me, Lord, as the apple of your eye and carry me under the shadow of your wings.

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 15 (Listen – 6:06)
2 Corinthians 8 (Listen – 3:25)

Bringing Back the Banished

Scripture: 2 Samuel 14:14
Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.

Reflection: Bringing Back the Banished
By John Tillman

Joab is not remembered in the scriptures as a merciful man. If anything, he is David’s button man—eliminating David’s enemies while maintaining plausible deniability. Joab is a ruthless tactician, delivering to David cities to conquer and the corpses of his enemies. Joab uses any means necessary behind the scenes and allows David’s hands, to everyone’s eyes but God’s, to remain clean.

So it is somewhat surprising that the merciful, theatrical errand of reconciliation detailed in 2 Samuel fourteen is orchestrated by Joab to bring back David’s banished son, Absalom. It is unusual that the ruthless black-ops commander who assassinated Abner against David’s wishes would pursue this mission. It is a mission whose outcome is doomed.

Before long, it is clear that Absalom has not come home for reconciliation, but rebellion. Eventually it is Joab who, against David’s specific orders, murders Absalom, the hapless rebel, as he hangs in a tree, defenseless.

It is helpful for us to contrast David’s grudging approval for Absalom to return and Paul’s joyful and full acceptance of those involved in a conflict within the Corinthian church.

David allows Absalom’s return to the city, but not to community. He says of Absalom, “He must not see my face.” Yet Paul, speaks tenderly of relationships not only fully restored, but strengthened. “And his [Titus’s] affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling. I am glad I can have complete confidence in you.”

We are banished, sinful sons and daughters. But God, our king, was not theatrically cajoled into bringing us back. It was always his plan. Our king didn’t grant us partial forgiveness, keeping us from coming to his palace or being in his presence. He left his throne, his palace, and his privilege behind to come to us. By rights we should die rebels, as Absalom did. But our king died in our place, hung on the tree we were doomed for. Our king does not merely return the banished, but redeems them.

The message of the Gospel is not that we are grudgingly allowed back home but denied the privileges of family. Christ is not our parole officer, but our brother. Through him we become fully restored sons and daughters of his kingdom.

The Morning Psalm
…The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel… — Psalm 147:2

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 14 (Listen – 5:57)
2 Corinthians 7 (Listen – 2:58)

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