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Exercising Faith: Living a New Life (2 Cor. 5:6-17)

When I was in 2nd grade, I was chasing my sister through the house. She, of course, had done something that completely justified it. Just as I was about to catch her, she ran out the back door, which had a large pane of glass in it, and it clicked shut just as I put my hands out to push it open. My hand went through the glass and cut my hands and left wrist pretty seriously. The tendons and nerves were severed in my wrist and I underwent surgery to try ad repair as much as they could.

My wrist was immobilized in a cast for 6 weeks. After that, my left hand had no feeling and no movement. None at all. Nonetheless I started physical therapy to see how much mobility I might regain. There were no promises as to whether I would regain any sensation in my hand or any movement. I remember being terrified when my little 7-year-old hand couldn’t even grasp a tennis ball.

Therapy went on for three years. Slowly, through continual exercises, I began to regain some movement. After a few months, I could hold a tennis ball, then a golf ball, then I began to play with Tinker Toys–working to grasp those small sticks and maneuver them. Two years later, with continuous therapy and exercises, I began guitar lessons in order to exercise the fingers on my left hand to form chords on the frets.

Ultimately I regained full mobility. The feeling will never come back completely, but I’ve regained most of it. Not a day goes by, 50 years later, that I don’t deliberately move the fingers of my left hand and marvel that it works.

The repair work done in surgery was a gift to me. The neurosurgeon, Dr. Gerald Bergera, was way ahead of his time and reestablished nerve connections that few other surgeons in the country could do in that day. I am grateful for the gift he gave me that made it possible to use my left hand all these years later.

I was given the gift of nerve and tendon repair through complicated surgery. But that gift wouldn’t have made any difference without the physical therapy that followed. As much as it hurt, as frustrating as it became, as slow a process as it was, those exercises allowed me to experience the gift.

Paul is telling the church in Corinth that their faith is a gift. God has given it to them freely in Christ through the power of the Spirit. It is theirs, it is done. They are forgiven, loved, and made new. That has happened and it is God’s gift to them. They are fully restored. Trust it, he writes. Walk by faith and not by sight, he urges them.

And we experience the gift by exercising it.

The exercise of the gift of faith is a life-long process. We don’t see immediate results. But that doesn’t mean the repair work hasn’t been done. It doesn’t mean the gift hasn’t been given. We are made new, and we need to move forward and live that new life. For we walk by faith, not by sight.

  • We exercise forgiveness, no matter how difficult it is, because it is the gift given to us. Christ urges us on, Paul writes in v. 14. We keep exercising it.
  • We exercise mercy, no matter how long it takes, because it is the gift given to us. We regard no one from merely a human point of view any more, Paul writes in v. 16. Through God’s gift, we begin to see them as Christ.
  • We exercise love, no matter how painful, because it is the gift given to us. So if anyone is in Christ, Paul writes in v. 17, there is a new creation. We flex our love, practice our love because we are made new.
  • We exercise our new life in Christ, because it is the gift given to us. Everything old has passed away, writes Paul in v. 17, see everything has become new. We continue to practice living as Christ, over and over, day after day, year after year, getting stronger and more flexible.
  • The gift of faith, a spiritual life, a new way of living has already been given to us. The surgery has happened; Christ died for all.

Now we continue in long-term spiritual therapy, exercising that gift of faith. Slowly, gradually, sometimes even painfully we live a new life, walking by faith, trusting a God of love and life who cannot always be seen.

Exercise your faith, walk by faith and not sight. Expand and grow and strengthen your faith.

My new spiritual therapy exercise is to pray every day for those on our prayer list. I will also pray for each of you, day by day, one name, one household at a time. We walk by faith, not by sight.

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Posted by on June 15, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Unseen Growth: Expanding our Spiritual Life (2 Cor. 4:13–5:1)

The apostle Paul is an amazing and complex character. Even though this congregation in Corinth is often really difficult to work with sometimes, his love for them is overflowing. They have had their share of disagreements and misunderstandings, but he keeps encouraging them in their discipleship.

Some members of the Corinthian congregation were hurt by a previous reprimand from Paul. One person, apparently, had caused a real division that had sidetracked them from Christ’s mission. Then Paul promised he was going to visit them and then changed his plans. Several people in the church weren’t very happy with him. There are still divisions and concerns.

In short, things aren’t looking ideal for the Corinthian congregation.

Which sets up this week’s portion of his letter to the church. He refers to their “inner nature” and their “outer nature.” The outer nature is physical, it’s visible, it’s what impresses other people. It can be superficial, and is definitely temporary. It includes their bodies, their finances, their jobs, their houses, their hairstyles, their health, and even the circumstances of their church.

And, says Paul, “It is all wasting away.” They are upset about so many circumstances regarding this outer nature that it is distracting them.

So Paul reminds them to “not lose heart” because no matter the circumstances, the inner nature is being renewed every day. The outer nature–these visible, temporary parts of our lives–don’t define us. The depth of our inner lives–our deepest identity in the image of God–is being renewed every day apart from what’s happening on the outside. Don’t lose heart, he writes. The real stuff, the eternal stuff, the parts of our selves we don’t necessarily see are what matters.

And these inner aspects of ourselves carry us through, because the inner nature is in the image of God. In spite of outer circumstances, God is working and renewing and restoring at a much deeper level. Don’t lose sight of that; don’t be distracted by the outer things.

Paul encourages us to keep proper perspective. Our outer circumstances are part of our lives, yes. They can be difficult and challenging, yes. But they don’t define us or our relationship with God or how God works in our lives.

To get caught up in those outer circumstances at the expense of our inner image of God is problematic at best. Spending all our time and energy on the outer nature leads to misdirection and division. That’s what the church in Corinth is dealing with. Putting all their efforts into their outer nature and neglecting what’s happening every day in their inner nature.

Perhaps us too. We can get so focused on fixing our lives, fixing what’s wrong, worrying about our finances, getting every piece of our outer nature into line that we can neglect to recognize the growth in our inner nature, our faith, our discipleship, our relationship with God.

How often do we plan and strategize growth in our spiritual lives? Shouldn’t we pay as much attention to expanding our generosity as in expanding our 401(k)s?

If I plan to devote 30 minutes a day to time on my physical health, shouldn’t I also plan to devote 30 minutes a day to time on my spiritual health?

If my relationships with friends are important to me, shouldn’t forgiveness and restoring relationships be important too?

What would you think about discovering ways we really reflect the image of God in which we’ve been created and deliberately expanding those aspects of our lives?

God is renewing our inner nature every day. God is continuing in forgiveness and mercy and generosity and grace within us every day. Paying attention to God’s new work in us, partnering with God in our daily renewal is our most human endeavor.

Circumstances, our outer nature, can be hard and painful. There is support and encouragement here in the congregation in those times. So we do not lose heart, Paul writes to us. Because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

Consider how God is renewing you today. Today. What renewing thing is God accomplishing in your right now? It is happening. Divine love is making you new at this very moment. Discover that work. Take delight in it. Join God in it. So, regardless of anything else, we do not lose heart.

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2015 in Sermon

 

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