2 Corinthians 5:21 says that Jesus stands in the gap for us. Our sin causes a huge rift between us & God, but Jesus bridges the chasm.
My vocabulary has expanded since we moved to Utah, including yummy terms like “fry sauce,” which is a delicious blend of ketchup & mayo and found in every restaurant. My new word bank also includes less kind terms like “plyg,” which is slang for polygamist. It’s a subculture that is publicly looked down upon but seldom talked about until something horrible makes the news.
Plygs aren’t hard to spot. I suppose there are some who are permitted to dress like you may have seen on so-called reality TV, but the women I’ve seen dress like actresses in an Old West movie, complete with the ankle-length pioneer dress and a poufy bun or long, braided hair. The women always shop together; I have never seen a man with them. The boys tend to wear normal clothes, but the girls look like mini-me duplicates of the women.
Remember last year when a local Waco lawyer wore an orange prison jumpsuit during Lent, to draw attention to the struggles that former inmates face in finding jobs, etc.? That guy popped into my mind the other day when I was at the store and spotted another pioneer-looking woman. My heart broke for her, and I was torn because I felt helpless to reach out to her. What I wanted to do was hug her and tell her that she’s not alone; the One True God loves her so very much; and there are people who could help her. That seemed like a rash and totally inappropriate thing to do in a store that might get me arrested, so instead I just prayed for her.
As I moped around the store wondering what has become of our society, I couldn’t shake the images of the lawyer in his jumpsuit and the women I’d seen time and time again around town. Then, I began to think: Wow, what if my life was on such public display? What if everyone could read my sins as easily as they could check out my outfit? I’m not a fashionista on a good day, but how distasteful would *that* sin or *that* sin appear?
Like it or not, we all have a reckoning coming our way. Ecclesiastes 11:9 and Matthew 12:36, for starters, tell us that we will give an account to God for every slip of the tongue and every action we took during our lifetimes. Don’t fall for the lie that if you can keep it under wraps, then no one knows your sin. Some of us might be able to cover up many of our sins and lifestyle choices and perhaps even fool those around us, but one day sooner or later, they will be exposed before a holy and righteous God. Thanks be to Jesus who sees all of our faults yet still loves us so much that he came to earth on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21). Let that wonderful truth soak into your heart this Christmas season.
What does it mean to you, personally, when you read 2 Corinthians 5:17 about being given a new identity in Christ?
I dressed up as J.J. Watt (defensive end for the Houston Texans) for some costume fun at work on Friday. The boys were exchanging costume ideas for themselves, and one of them joked about padding his sleeves to look like muscles. Then, one of them piped in and said, “Mom’s arms are so buff, she doesn’t need to pad her sleeves. She’s so strong, she could lift a truck!” My first instinct – and I’m glad I bit my tongue – was to correct him and say that although I am pretty strong, my arms are pudgy, not muscular like J.J.’s. In that moment, though, it dawned on me that he saw me through a completely different lens from how I see myself: he really believed that I was so strong I could pick up a vehicle, if need be.
My son doesn’t see the tired, overweight, falling-apart body that I walk around in every day. He sees a strong and powerful woman. Wow, if I could just channel some of that confidence to myself! I’ve struggled with my appearance for a very long time. Even back in the day when I swam competitively and performed with the Colorguard, I was limber and muscular but never curvy or skinny like the popular girls, so I assumed I was too fat. Three babies, a couple of decades, and a bum knee later, and I only wish that I was as “fat” as I thought I was back then!
Psalm 45:11 is a verse that I have held onto for many years; it talks about how God sees beauty in us, and we are to honor him above all else. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own view of ourselves and forget that we have a loving heavenly Father who sees us through his own unique lens of grace. Do you ever dwell on your inabilities or rehash sins that have long since been forgiven? God has so much for us to see, if we’d redirect our attention to him and let him show us.
Remember that God has equipped us with so much more than what can be seen externally. In 2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT), we learn that God has given us a spirit of “power, love, and self-discipline,” as opposed to timidity or fear. It doesn’t matter how the world sees you – or even how you see yourself. Through Christ, we have a brand-new identity (2 Corinthians 5:17). And if that isn’t enough convincing, Philippians 1:6 says that God will not leave the good work that he began in you unfinished! You are enough, and you are loved eternally.
Don’t overlook opportunities to share the love of Christ with others. Today is the day of salvation! (2 Cor. 6:2)
I have shared in previous posts that my testimony has a lot to do with overcoming fear – namely, the fear of death. I have attended more funerals than I can count, and my experience with death began at an early age. Even though I no longer fear death, I still don’t enjoy having it thrown in my face, which is why I don’t really care for crime scene shows, the zombie craze, Stephen King books, or realistically violent movies.
Psalm 23, one of King David’s poems, is often read at funerals with the intention of comforting people, but to be honest, I always found it a bit creepy: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …” (v. 4, NJKV). It conjures up images in my mind of something sinister lurking behind a bush, waiting to jump out and snatch me. Shadows are menacing. After all, how many horror movies are set in broad daylight?
It took me many years to come to the realization that the “shadow of death” can be a comforting shade, not a threatening omen, to the believer in Christ. Think about it … how do we gauge parking spaces in the summer heat? The best spaces aren’t judged by distance from the front door, but by proximity to shade! Shade is simply a shadow, and we love it, in that context. Or, consider the story of Jonah, chapter 4 – God allowed a plant to spring up suddenly to provide much-needed shade for Jonah, and he was grateful (v. 6).
The “shadow of death” does not have to frighten us. As followers of Christ, we can find comfort in our mortality because to be apart from the body is to be in his presence for all eternity (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). When life tries to beat us up, we can “take refuge in the shadow of [God’s] wings,” as David wrote in Psalm 36:7.
Do you ever wonder what Lazarus’ life was like after Jesus raised him from the dead (John 11)? When I first read Don Piper’s book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, I was struck by the way he described the intense longing for heaven that he experienced after he was brought back to life an hour and a half after paramedics declared him dead at the scene of an automobile accident. How could anyone not want to return? Of course he was happy to be reunited with his family, and he learned to reevaluate God’s call on his second chance at life, but there was still a piece of him that wanted to go back.
Lazarus had been dead for days (verse 39) when Jesus ordered the tomb opened. I can only imagine the amazingly awesome heavenly things that he witnessed in that timeframe! Then, to be yanked back into his creaky old body – to eat, drink, work, live – only to die again at some point in the future … I wonder what he felt.
Lazarus was brought back to life by Christ himself, and then he had to watch his dear friend die on the cross. Can you imagine the roller coaster of feelings that Lazarus went through during Jesus’ death and leading up to his resurrection? Just, wow.
Something truly remarkable happened when Jesus died. (Actually, several somethings amazing happened, and I encourage you to read the whole scenario in Matthew 27.) At the moment Christ died, there was an earthquake, the temple curtain tore in half, and … people rose from the dead. Seriously, check it out in Matthew 27:51-53.
When we talk about being “buried with Christ” in our decision to follow him, it’s symbolic of our desire to give up our old, sinful lives and begin a new, different life with him. 2 Corinthians 5:17 describes it as becoming “a new creation.” This week, let’s pray through 1 Peter 1:3-9 and think about how astounding – how wonderful! – is his great love for us.
(Originally posted March 11, 2012)
2 Corinthians 6 reminds us that our invitation is waiting. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day your life can be brand-new!
I heard a pastor give an illustration about coffee, which resonated with me – perhaps because we’re expecting highs in the low- to mid-40s for the next week, plus up to 2 ft of snow this weekend. A cup of hot coffee sounds fabulous to me, under those conditions!
The pastor talked about how we are the coffee beans, life is the hot water, and the resulting brew is our testimony to the world. We’re supposed to be smooth and refreshing, but unfortunately, many of us turn out rather bitter.
As I mulled over that illustration, a few more thoughts came to my mind. First of all, you don’t make coffee with whole beans. The beans have to be ground up first; they have to be broken. Psalm 51:17 (NLT) talks about offering our brokenness to the Lord. It reads, “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” Like the coffee bean, we need to be willing to become broken, so that we can be useful. David writes in Psalm 141:2 that our prayer is like incense to the Lord. Think of how delightful a newly opened package of coffee smells; in the same way, our lives can be an aromatic offering to God.
Another step in making coffee (and often in the Christian life) is pressure. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NIV), “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” The hot water soaking in and pressing through the ground coffee beans is what gives flavor to the brew.
Lastly, there isn’t a lot that can be done to fix a bad pot of coffee. You can add sugar and cream, even flavors, to try to mask the bitterness, but it’s difficult to balance, and it never tastes quite right. May our lives not become a bitter brew! Instead, may we be a pleasing reminder to the world of God’s goodness.
Commit this verse to memory: “Thank God for his gift that is too wonderful for words!” (2 Corinthians 9:13, CEV)