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New Creation Year: Ordering Trouble

New Creation Year  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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Moving beyond chaos, God begins to order creation. We can replicate these steps to create shelf space in our life that can be filled with good things.

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When I think about creating order...

Thinking about this causes me to want to crawl into a corner and hide. Bringing order is not something that people who love and know me would say I do well. I chuckle when people say, “you must really be organized to do what you do.” They mean well, I know that. As a bi-vocational Pastor who has a high-pressure job, I often find myself struggling to order my world.
In the end, it is a skill that I never learned how to adopt into my life and clearly I missed the line for this “gift” when gifts were being handed out.

Maybe you are familiar with this

You might be that person that has figured out how to exist and have your affairs in order. If you are that person, that I don’t dislike you. I need you in my world. You are an example of the friend that always had a plan for how they were going to play. I so desperately want to be like that, to be that person that just knows what I need to do, that remembers everything I should and am never late. God loves me in spite of my imperfection.
On the other hand, you might be just the opposite. Maybe you are somewhere in between.
Here is what I know. If you are on the super organized side, you should be aware that your rigidity can rub people the wrong way.
If you are on the no organization side, you should be aware that your cavalier ways can rub people the wrong way.
Here is something else you both share: When chaos comes, it really irritates you.
For the organized, it means you have no control in your schedule and your life.
For the disorganized, it means your fun has been interrupted.
And one thing that is true for all of us is...

Chaos cannot be ordered out

Not ordered as in, “I command chaos to be gone.”
Rather, ordered as in, “organize your life so there is no chaos.”
What I have learned is that chaos will continue to hunt me down, regardless of how well my life is ordered.
We know biblical authors realized this and wrote about it. Their message seems to conflict a bit with modern western Christianity though.
Modern western Christianity says, “God will make sure you have a happy life.”
Let’s see if that is what Paul, a New Testament author has to say about that.
2 Corinthians 4:8-9
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles (distressed, harassed, troubled), but we are not crushed (no escape).
We are perplexed (confused, lost, directionless), but not driven to despair (exaporeo, overburdened, worried, anxious).
9 We are hunted down (cause suffering), but never abandoned (left behind, forsaken) by God.
We get knocked down (badly hurt, thrown down, intentional), but we are not destroyed (utterly kill, destroy, waste, ruin).
Did you catch the language there? If you just read the negatives, how each sentence begins, it sounds quite a bit like chaos to me.
This is coming from all directions. People on earth, his enemies and supernatural powers and principalities. In all of that, Paul does not see himself trapped, worried, left behind or ruined.
The skeptic (or televangelist) might say, “I guess Paul just did not have it together. This man of God that had a supernatural Jesus moment on a road could not remove this from his life.” I think Paul would say, it is how you respond.
If we saw this in a friend, we might say, “God is trying to teach you a lesson.” I think that is shortsighted.
Paul has meditated on this and arrived at a conclusion.
Chaos cannot be ordered out, but...

Life can be ordered in

Again, not ordered as in, “I command life to appear” instead, you intentionally consider where you are and create an environment that can be filled with goodness.
Let’s see what Paul has to write about life in the context of suffering pressing troubles, perplexities, being hunted and being knocked down.
2 Corinthians 4:10-12
10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.
Let that just sink in for a moment. Through suffering…how many of you have experienced suffering in your life? Everyone does. Regardless of your faith or atheism. Remember last week we talked about taming chaos, and the way to tame chaos is through our response? You can grow chaos by responding with chaos, or you can tame it by responding in wisdom and goodness.
Let suffering be chaos for a moment and consider what Paul is saying:
Through: A sense of motion, that you are not remaining there
Suffering: A sense of trouble, perplexed, hunted and knocked down.
Going “through” suffering is how we share in the death Jesus experienced. Imagine that for a moment. You have heard it said that Jesus died so we don’t have to. While that is technically true, the meaning of it seems lost today. It is often preached as Jesus suffered so we don’t have to. That does not seem to line up with what Paul is writing.
If Jesus suffered so we don’t have to then why do people seem to get stuck “in suffering.” You should probably just make a note on that one and meditate. I might be stomping on a few toes here.
Life, real life in Christ, is seen in us when we learn to live in constant trouble because of our commitment to Jesus. If that life is seen in us, as Paul writes, “the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies”, then we are, in fact, imaging God.
This constant danger is real, so the life of Jesus that comes out of us is genuine. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.
This is like a line out of an Avengers movie! It is the paradox of the Kingdom of God. In these sentences, Paul has provided amazing insight into our purpose. What is the purpose of humans on earth? To image God. If Jesus’ life is coming out of us, then God is pouring out of us for all to see.
The paradox is that it is through suffering, not through being powerful, lording it over people, or as the Old Testament would say, “raising a high hand.” We image when we use our power for the poor. When we defend the weak. The very thing the Sons of God were charged with doing, but failed to do. (Psalm 82)

How, on Earth, do we establish order?

I think using the illustration of a bookshelf is a good way to think about this. It is not a perfect analogy, but creating order is similar to creating environments for information, thoughts, actions and things to live.
If we keep reading we can see how Paul approaches this paradox of being handed over to chaos, death, on a daily basis and yet is able to order himself so he can let the life of Christ show.
So, in spite of all that we have read, going through suffering, pressed by trouble, perplexed, hunted and knocked down, Paul continues to preach.
2 Corinthians 4:13-14
13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you.
By what means did Paul continue to preach, in spite of all that he was facing? Faith.
He references the psalmist here (Psalm 116:10). It is obvious that Paul has meditated on this psalm and has considered it relevant to his current situation. You should check it out.

Create an environment for Faith

He created a shelf where he put all the parts of his faith. In other words, it was a way in which he lived in his world. Ordering, or creating a shelf is making place that will support the items you place upon it.
Faith is a really important part of human beings. We all live by some form of faith, or belief. The most simple form is that you believe the sun will appear in the East, will move across the sky in a predictable pattern and disappear in the West. It has a predictable pattern and it fulfills its purpose of ruling time in our lives.
We are going to talk about what you put on the shelf next week. Things like studying scripture, meditation, community, etc. are how you fill your shelf.
The question is: have you developed a system for your Faith that activates when called?
2 Corinthians 4:15
15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.
This is a “why” shelf. There is a reason for all that Paul is doing. It is common to the reason you are on this planet at this time too. It goes to the very core mission as it is presented in scripture. To glorify God, Yahweh.
We are told our identity is as an image of God. We are told all creation testifies about Yahweh.
God is revealing Himself in all creation and His greatest desire is to reveal Himself, to manifest himself through you.

Create an environment for Glory to flourish

My oldest daughter was quick to strike a knife into my heart when I talked to her about this. How often we have trouble finding time to put this shelf into our life. She shared a quote from Laura Vanderkam which says:
“Instead of saying ‘I don’t have time’ try saying ‘it’s not a priority’ and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: ‘I’m not going to edit your resume, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.’ ‘I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.’ If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.” Laura Vanderkam
Being out of time is a perfectly legitimate answer, when it is true. For many, we have some fear we need to leave in the realm of chaos where God can crush it.
Here is a question: what is the real, actual downside of being an image that brings glory to God?
It may seem like I am spending quite a bit on the time factor here, but when you read that verse, “reaches more and more people...” implies a great deal of time involved in making that happen. I think that is why we shy away.
I am hearing you say, “We have to do this ALL THE TIME!”
No…just every day. That is why we never give up!
2 Corinthians 4:16
16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.
Did you catch our word, our next item to order? Day. I just felt several of you get really happy and the person next to you just got really uncomfortable.
Some of you live by lists that get boxes checked off. Others of you, reviewing a list of to-do’s is your form of waterboarding. I get it, trust me. Maybe that is because the things on my list are not things that can be done in a single day. And there is the key to this environment. You can find yourself in this loop that says, “it will be like this forever.” That is a crushing thought and feeling.

Bring order day-by-day

But can you live day-by-day? James the brother of Jesus put it this way, “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog-it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.”
James 4:13–17 NLT
Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil. Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.
I am not saying don’t have plans. James is speaking to a group that is selfish and greedy. Just don’t live as though you know what will happen tomorrow. We live in a system that is already ruled by days. Why fight that?
Some of you need to hear what I am about to say next. The last part of that verse reads, “renewed every day.”
If the renewal only comes each day, then why do you expect relief from God for tomorrow. Renewal comes tomorrow. Just like the manna came daily for the people with Moses, it comes on each new day. That rule applies to all days of the week, except one. The day before the Sabbath they were permitted to store enough for the Sabbath day. Do you remember what happened to manna they tried to store? It turned into maggots.
If you wonder why God does not “feel” present in your future, it could be for this very reason.
Paul is sympathetic to our condition, “though our bodies are dying.” Each day you are here you are being renewed.
Extracting from Genesis 1, we are designed to operate each day as its own, one week at a time.
And that is a good thing, because chaos seems to be at every turn, and we best be prepared for it!
2 Corinthians 4:17-18
17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
What would this guy Paul know about trouble? Well, people have tried to kill him by stoning, he is in jail all the time it seems, he has been rejected by his Jewish peers, he has been shipwrecked, put on trial, beaten, wounded and hated. He truly credits God for being alive.
The language is very specific. Troubles are small, won’t last long and produce a lasting glory.
Troubles are unseen glory in disguise

Create space for chaos

Troubles produce a glory, and that glory is greater than the trouble. And that glory lasts forever.
But don’t go creating chaos. That is not being a good image, that is an image of evil.
Be ready for it when it comes and see it for what it really is, glory in disguise.
This is where I live. People read that as if I simply stuff my troubles, worries and concerns into a compartment, never to be seen again.
However, I know that when trouble and chaos come my way that I am renewed each day to respond in faith. As I step through chaos and trouble, my faith produces an everlasting glory that reveals the Glory of God to the other humans and imagers.
Now, when we are ordered in this way, then we are prepared to handle whatever may come our way. This is the foundation of an approach that is opposite most of Christianity that says get rid of trouble. Yell at it, hate it, cast it away. And that is how we treat some people.
I like to imagine something better. A God that is able to take chaos and turn it into glory. That is a message that should resonate in every human heart.

What does this mean for our world?

When you begin to see how God has transformed chaos and trouble into glory, then you will start to see people differently.
And different in a good way. You will not see them as unredeemable, rather as a member of the human family that needs to be connected to their creator. And when they are connected, they become a vessel, a fragile clay jar as Paul said, in which great treasure resides.
It is this message that so radically transformed people, regardless of their status in this world. No one is too far to be rescued. We need to see ourselves as the means by which God is reaching the human heart. When we do, then we will begin to see love spread in our lives and the lives of others.
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