Today’s scripture could be summarized in one little phrase: “Just Show Up.” As Christians wanting to make a difference in the world for Christ, our job is to show up. That’s what I learned and saw from Phil on the ships. He never knows what is going to happen, who he might reach, or the person that needs encouragement. His job is to show up, expecting the spirit of God to work. A few weeks ago I showed up at a certain place; part way into the event a person took me aside and said that my presence brought a measure of peace and if I hadn’t been there something different would have happened. Just show up. Take on this attitude, this expectation, and wherever you go you will see the most amazing things.
The series is about restoring broken relationships. If you are in a hurting situation, a difficult relationship, one of the most freeing attitudes you can have is to just show up. As you confront the difficult situation whether you are in the middle of it or your friend, the most liberating approach is to just show up. Not an agenda, not an absolute inflexible plan, but led by the spirit of God to show up. Unless there are a lot of people out there that are lying to me to make me feel good, I am pretty sure there are many in this community that like to see me come around. I don’t always have answers, but I listen, and I try hard to respond to the situation appropriately. I am learning the art of showing up and letting God do the rest.
Years ago I was with a young couple that was having money problems when their pastor came. I did not feel he listened very well, because he had canned answers to solve their problems. He told them they needed to turn their small paycheck into cash and have a row of jars to store their money with each labeled rent, insurance, food, etc, and in that way if they would only follow his system they would have enough. This man forgot to listen. Just showing up means to let the spirit of God take control. When confronting a difficult relationship, if you go in with a narrow agenda of what has to happen, it is like walking a tight rope, one slip and the restoration is off. The wrong word is spoken and anger flairs. Paul, in this scripture, overflows with wonderful counsel describing who he is in Christ Jesus and how the Lord, through the Spirit, uses him.
2:12-13 is an introduction: Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-by to them and went on to Macedonia. Paul showed up, and responded, not finding what he expected. Paul could have said, I was disappointed, confused because things were not as I anticipated, Paul could have said he did not know what to do. Instead he responds: 14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ. Paul’s method is not to control, but to show up, to be lead by God, to respond as a follower of Christ to what he finds. He may not have found what he was expecting, but he has enough confidence to understand that when you follow Christ there is always victory.
I’ve changed as a pastor over the years. As a young man I read too many books about how to be a leader, how to grow a church, and I met all sorts of disappointments when the community did not cooperate the way the books said they were supposed to. I think I learned more from Phil Dufrene in one day aboard the cargo ships in Surrey than I did in reading 50 leadership books. “This may not have worked out as I expected” Paul says, “but the Lord is leading me and he’s in control.” Phil said, “I never know what’s going to happen, but I expect the Lord is preparing one person for my visit.”
When we begin to understand what God is doing with us as his servants, and when we begin to give our agenda over to him, the most amazing things take place. Lives are changed. We become front row witnesses to God’s amazing work on earth. Listen to Paul’s words: through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. As Christians, it is all about Christ. Our goal is to be a smell for Christ in this community, a witness for Christ, and we make a mistake if we try too hard, if we put too much pressure to fill up the pews, pack out the Sunday School, or multiply our small groups. We are simply called to be that fragrance. And as Paul is writing to the people of Corinth, friends who are now very disappointed with Paul and estranged from Paul, he is saying I am a follower of Christ and I am leaving this in his hands. And some people may not like what they smell when we show up: 2:15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?
I like what John Maxwell says, (not an exact quote but the idea): “If you are a Christian, and you trust in God, you don’t have any problems, they are God’s problems. “ It takes a lifetime to learn that and practice that, but it’s true. “God, you have a problem here.” Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). When you practice the art of just showing up, it is freeing because you can literally wonder to yourself how God is going to sort out any problems and bring meaning to this interaction.
Paul boldly proclaims in v. 17: in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God. What an incredible statement. Strip out any arrogance, in fact, adding what we have already read this statement is spoken in great humility, I have no power, no control Paul says, it is all God, it is all the Spirit. I just show up and let the Lord do the rest. And what Paul is implicitly saying to the church of Corinth: “I am going to come to you with the same attitude, I am just going to show up and let the Spirit do whatever the Spirit does. Any problems are God's problems” Suppose a person is facing divorce, any broken relationship. I cannot think of a better attitude than to show up, give the situation to the Lord, and let the spirit do whatever the spirit does. Desire reconciliation, yes, but humbly give yourself and the situation to the Lord.
As Christians, our calling is to just show up. If you want to fit into this churches style of ministry, don’t expect a whole lot of strategic meetings, a lot of detailed planning sessions. Our method is to go into the community, to show up, and trust that God has prepared the situation to accomplish his purposes. We need to do is to see ourselves as God’s servants, the aroma of Christ.
Now Paul takes it one more step with the church at Corinth as he confronts the broken relationship with his friends. Paul says I am not only going to show up and let the Spirit of God lead me, I am also not going to defend myself to explain the problem we are now having, you are the witness. What happens so often when there is tension in a relationship is a lot of finger-pointing, maybe even its true, a lot defensiveness. Paul says no, I am going to show up and I am going to shut up. Paul says its your story, your testimony, your witness. Here’s how he says it:
3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 4 Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. 5Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
If there is a testimony to be given it is to remember the good in the relationship. Paul reminds the people of Corinth of the Spirit of God that was among them, and he remembers the good, the positive. How nice it is to talk to an ex-husband about everything that was right with his ex-wife. It happens. How nice to talk to people about a former church about the things God did among the people. How refreshing to bless those with whom you are struggling, “you are a letter from Christ.”
Broken relationships are all too common. In 2nd Corinthians Paul models for us principles to bring about restoration and to find peace. The first message was an attitude of compassion for your “enemy.” Last week the whole idea came out that people are more important than plans, and today, we learn to not try and control everything but just show up and let the spirit of God guide the situation. Shut up to everything that went wrong, and show up to let the Spirit mold our heart and minds.