Much to the chagrin of the pastor, Secret Service agents, relatives and fellow church members who encouraged him not to, former President Jimmy Carter showed up to teach an adult Bible class of over 400 people at the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, after falling and fracturing his pelvis only two weeks previous. The pastor gave the reason for Carters insistence as: “He is pouring out that you might see Christ while he is suffering.”
In a similar fashion and for similar reasons, I taught a class at a spiritual community lead by our former pastor, Chuck Smith Jr., yesterday, after failing to show up a week earlier when I was supposed to. Jimmy Carter was teaching from the book of Job. Plenty of suffering going on there. I chose to teach from the passage in 2 Corinthians 2:12-14 where Paul is explaining why he failed to take advantage of an open opportunity to preach in the city of Troas because he was full of concern about his traveling companion, Titus, who was supposed to meet him there and didn’t. I, too, had been distracted by my anxiety over a pending house payment, and had forgotten about my speaking date. Both passages lend themselves to a discussion of the frailty of human existence and how God chooses to use us anyway, because then He can illustrate clearly that the power comes from God and not from us. That’s what Jimmy’s pastor meant when he said, “that you might see Christ while [Carter] is suffering.”
It continues to be all about contrast. I joked with my group about how I wanted to write a “But” book about all the important “But”s in scripture, and Chuck suggested I should change it to “However” because of certain butts that he preferred to not be reminded about. How often this is missed, that the contrast between our frail humanity and God’s power through Christ in us is the whole point. Our culture focuses so much on the exterior and presenting the best possible physical impression of ourselves that it’s hard to think about glorying in our weaknesses, our sufferings — our human imperfections — and yet that is what the new covenant does. The point is in getting God attention, not us.
Like I did with my group when, after finding out that most of them had been there the week before when I failed to show up as planned, I asked them a few questions. I asked if the previous week had been a bust because I wasn’t there. Had they gone home with nothing? That was met with a resounding “No!” So the Holy Spirit showed up even though I didn’t? “Yes!” was the enthusiastic answer, and then I asked the final question, “How did He do?”