Confident in Christ Simon McLeay
Sometimes when rotten things happen to us, they give us empathy that can be a blessing to others. Gods vision for the Church – is for the church to be our mother. Not to be perfect but to be a place that we are nurtured and grown. And God delights when he sees his people caring for each other. If my little girl hurts herself, I want to run up and give her a big hug. But you know when I see my boys look after my girl, or her look after them. O that warms my heart. And you know that’s what God feels like when he sees us love each other. When he sees us comfort each other. It warms Gods heart!
This message is about consolation, how God desires to comfort us when we go through hard times. So that we can be confident in Christ. Confident in Christ’s love, confident in passing on Christ’s compassion and confident in Christ’s direction.
I want to talk today about two things that can knock our confidence. But two things that can actually also give us confidence. Suffering and a change of plans.
We’ve starting an 8 week series in 2 Corinthians this week. 4 weeks then a break – then another 4 weeks. This is Paul’s second letter to the little church in the town of Corinth. It’s also addressed to the Christians in that region. Corinth is a church of 2 halves. There’s a bunch of new pagan believers – they probably have all got tats and they have been used to going to the brothels – and they love wild spirituality. On the other side there’s a bunch of straight laced Jewish converts who live upright and uptight lives and can’t believe what’s going on the church. And God’s put them together.
Paul starts by talking about God as the father of compassion. What a beautiful picture of God! Father of compassion, who gives all comfort. I know with every family in this church, if I scratch below the surface there is some pain there. There is some joy and some pain. A mother who’s died or a child struggling at school. A career advancement missed, or a redundancy; a power bill or a rent notice that’s just unbelievable. Most of us have a relationship somewhere that hurts. And God is the father of compassion, a shoulder to lean on. A rock to steady us.
The first thing that can knock our confidence in Christ – is suffering. And Paul talks about that. Paul suffered for his faith. Verse 8 we are told that paul and his friend suffered so that they despaired even of life. In our hearts we felt the sentence of death. Was he flogged, was he sick, was he depressed so that he was suicidal? I think yes to all of those. Paul was a real Christian bloke who did it tough. He knew what it was like to be beyond his endurance. And yet what does he say – this happened so that we would not rely on ourselves but on God, God who raises the dead. My friends it is a powerful God we have come here today to encounter. He delivered us. On him we have set our hope. He helps us by our prayers. God delivers. He gives us hope. We help each other by our prayers. In chapter 6 v 5 we see what Paul endured beatings, imprisonment, heard work, sleepless nights, and hunger. Sufferings which we all experience, the devil wants to use to put us off our faith, Paul says that there are 2 great benefits of suffering.
1. When we have suffered we can share comfort with others. We can pray. We can love. We can empathise. Suffering can harden us or it can soften us. Listen to this beautiful thing that paul says, “God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others who are in troubles, with his comfort”. God isn’t telling you to pour out the last measure of your devotion. But to let him fill your cup so that it overflows to others. To love with his love. I really appreciate your prayers. When my mother died I became the last surviving member of the second family. I’ve got brothers and sisters, but for 10 years it was just mum, dad and me. I’m the only one who remembers that any more. But your prayers and your cards, and your flowers – they comforted me with the comfort of Christ. I’ve got a friend whose child is unwell at the moment, and I am praying for her the richness of God’s compassion. Patricia's mum has been unwell and I feel God’s love flowing through me to Tissy. I love this vision of a cup overflowing. God’s provision for us to pass on. God doesn’t want to drain us, or burn us out. My background is scots Presbyterian. Scots have been known as being miserly with money. But actually Presbyterians are the most generous people I know. So suffering can harden our hearts or soften our hearts, and soften like nothing else. You might have experienced that, when something horrible has happened to you in the past – a death – an experience of abuse – someone being unfaithful. These are bad things, but God can use the raw material of our lives, can comfort us, so that we can comfort others.
2. Suffering can build something else in us. It can build hope. Paul sketches this out in a very counter cultural way in his book called Romans. You have to read this passage thinking ‘with Christ in our hearts’. Suffering can, produce perseverance, and that can produces character and that leads to hope. Not hope as a thin thread of possibility. But hope as faithfulness remembered.
Do you know people who have never suffered. Who have lived charmed lives and then they run up against hardship and they lose it. It’s like people who have never been sick, and who get the flu for the first time at 60 and die. They don’t know how to cope, they don’t have the reserves. When you have suffered, and you have persevered, you’ve swallowed it when things go against you, and you have got up again and again. Suffering builds courage, in fact suffering is the only thing that builds courage. Suffering builds resilience in you.
Hope is the second bizarre outcome of suffering mixed with faith. Paul makes it clear that Christians life is not a charmed life. If we chose to follow Christ, we will share in his sufferings as well as sharing in his comfort and finally sharing in his glory. Suffering can knock our confidence or it can build hope. And ultimately hope is God’s eternal reward.
Let us be confident in Christ. Confident in Christ love, confident in passing on Christ compassion and confident in Christ’s direction.
The second accusation that Paul has to confront is that he had a change of plans. He was going to visit the Corinthians twice, but then he had a sharp disagreement with some of them and felt led to change his plans and just make one visit. I think God wants us to be confident to change plans, if needed. Paul is accused by some people in Corinth of being two minded, of being unreliable. You can imagine just the sort of thing they might say. ‘O that Paul, he says one thing and he does another.’ Running down his motive when he was actually making the change for the best of motives. Do you ever do that? Scared to change your plan because of, “What will people think?”
When Karen and I first got married, I had arranged to take a year off my ministry training and travel the world. Then a month before we got married I experienced burnt out. And this wonderful woman stuck with me, married me and loved me despite my weakness. And I had to change plans. It was so embarrassing. I had everything on hold, wasn’t enrolled at university – We’d told everyone what we were going to do! It felt so huge to turn back. And do you know what? When we made the decision to turn back. God is so Good. Every door opened, within a week! I had my course back, we had travel sorted, we had a place to live, then even renewed my bursary. It was extra-ordinary.
So let’s look at planning – James – Jesus’ brother says make your plans but always add –if the lord wills. James 4.15 Paul had his plan. But he wasn’t afraid to change it.
Put your confidence in the planner, not the plan. It’s not about the best strategic plan, it’s about the planner. Who’s the planner in your life? If it’s not Christ, then you’re in trouble
I love Phillipians 4.7 the peace of God – the shalom of God, the wellbeing of God, is better than all planning. Trust in God, not your plan.
So this last week we came to an ending with the Light house church at Welcome Bay. We have been overseeing them for 6 years, as a satellite congregation – we agreed to that model, ‘for the foreseeable future’. But it feels like they have outgrown our oversight, so Jon and I went and had a nice meeting with them where we handed them over to Presbytery for oversight. We thanked God for the good times, we acknowledged the tension of growing pains and we tried to keep the door open in a different sort of relationship. It’s OK to change plans. We’ll still be involved, but we won’t be responsible any more.
That got me thinking about when we leave a church. We all leave churches from time to time. Often when we move town, but sometimes for other reasons too. And I don’t mean taking a little while to find a church that fits – that’s normal. I just want to suggest a way to leave well. When you are leaving if possible do it face to face with the pastor or a senior leader, 1 start by saying what was good – what you appreciated. 2. Give a reason for leaving – don’t go into great detail, just gently and honestly. 3. Leave the door open by blessing as you leave. I know it can feel false, but saying thank you and I wish you the best means that next time you come to a funeral it won’t be difficult.
Those ideas might apply to other leavings as well. A change of plan doesn’t need to rob us of our confidence in Christ if we do it well.
Let me finish with this. God who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.