Confession #1: I don’t like popcorn. It took me a while to come to this realization, as for most of my life, when it was offered as snack, I’d grab a handful and mindlessly stuff my face. But over time, I’ve trained myself, “Jessica, don’t eat that. Remember, you don’t actually LIKE popcorn.” But if I were completely honest, the primary reason I don’t like popcorn is that I HATE the way it smells. Even when it’s cooked perfectly, I’m not a fan. But when overcooked, even so slightly, it is the worst smell imaginable. Above all smells, and I do mean all, I hate the smell of burnt popcorn.
I propose that burnt popcorn is the worst smell ever to exist in all of existence. The thought of it now makes me cringe and kinda angry. The way it permeates the atmosphere and assaults my nose, frustrates me to my core. But the most aggravating part is that since I don’t eat popcorn, suffering the smell is never a fault of my own. *cough* family, roommates, coworkers *cough* Confession #2: Since I haven’t been getting out as much as I used to, I may have grown a bit lax in my daily showering and dressing habits. But so what if I stay in my pjs a day or five longer than normal? I’m not going out. I’m not seeing people. I can smell a little, right? This brings me to Confession #3: For a large portion of my life I haven’t had a proper view of 2 Corinthians. I’ve kind of filed it away as a lesser epistle. But in my subpar defense, the title literally says it’s second, you know silver, first loser, the sequel, so not as good as the first. But it has been the primary tool the Lord is using to get my attention, lead me to repentance, and challenge me as a follower of Jesus during this current season. In 2 Corinthians, Paul addresses fellow Jesus followers who are facing a difficult season and issues, which rocked their daily lives.…I’m sure you can’t relate but stick with me. His letter evaluates and challenges their response. Toward the end of the second chapter, he reminds, “…[God] uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God…” 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 NLT With these confessions, and Paul’s words in mind, I find myself asking, “What aroma am I putting out into the world, even as I shelter in place? What smell is permeating the atmosphere as it rises up to God?” I’ve declared myself a believer, a follower of Jesus. So according to God’s word, I’m to be a ‘sweet perfume’. My life is “a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.” It is what God “uses to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere…” Wait, everywhere? I recently took a leave of absence from social media. I didn’t have an online social presence as current events began to impact our daily lives. By the time I ventured back, social distancing was in full swing. I wasn’t slowly ushered into the hot-mess of opinions, amateur science experts, conspiracy theorist, end-times arguments, left and right political backbiting, and all the like that I found with the swipe of my finger. The onslaught was jarring and the smell…well, I know I said burnt popcorn was the worst, but maybe I was wrong. Like I said, the Lord has been using 2 Corinthians to shake me up, reminding me of His heart and who I am. Paul continues in chapter five, “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself… he gave USthis wonderful message of reconciliation…WEare Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through US. WEspeak for Christ when WEplead, ‘Come back to God!’” 2 Corinthians 5:19-20 NLT (emphasis added) Fellow believers, WE speak for Christ. WE are Christ’s ambassadors. It is through US, you and me, that God is pleading to a world that doesn’t know Him to come back to Him. How easy it has been to forget this. Our presence in this world may look different right now, but let’s not fool ourselves, we are still very much present. Nowhere is this truer than online. For many of us, social distancing has increased our presence in the eyes and ears of others – our aroma is permeating the atmosphere like never before. Right now, above all, I must remember THE mission. THE top story, that which takes precedence over everything else, even a global pandemic, IS the Gospel. It is the Good News of Jesus Christ. Everything – everything I do right now is God making His appeal THROUGH ME. Every comment, every post, every like, every rant, everything is speaking for Christ. So what am I putting out there? Is it truly a wonderful message of reconciliation? Is it a sweet perfume? A Christ-like fragrance? Look, I don’t want to place myself in a seat of judgement. I don’t want to climb on a soapbox and point fingers. And I definitely don’t want to contribute to the “you should – you should not” debates. But I do want to remind myself and my fellow brothers and sisters, WE ARE THE FRAGRANCE OF CHRIST. If WE don’t like the smell of our world today, what aroma are WE putting out there? In an effort to have a mindless snack… are we burning the popcorn? Are we permeating the atmosphere for everyone else to suffer the smell? And in doing so, are we becoming greater ambassadors of our own opinions than of our Christ.
Is our message pleading, “Come back to God!” or “Come agree with me!”?
I choose to believe that during this time, we’re all trying to find honest truth and do what is right. I choose to believe this is true of our government leaders, both blue and red. I choose to believe it is true of businesses, billionaires, health organizations, and even media outlets. And I choose to believe that even if I am wrong in this belief, my God has taken into account the fallen state of humanity and will not forsake me. And because of my conscious choice to believe and trust God, I repent. I repent of contributing to a miserable and assaulting aroma in the world. Genuinely. Wholeheartedly. I repent of the pithy comments, sarcastic memes, soap-box rants, and mic-drop share re-posts intended to feed my prideful ego with a thumbs-up like. I repent. And out of my love for Christ and His Gospel, I hereby confess my commitment, or re-commitment to the wonderful message of reconciliation and to do everything in my power to be a sweet perfume, a Christ-like fragrance, an ambassador that allows God to make His appeal through me. Yes, this is my act of repentance and confession of commitment to stop burning the popcorn.
“So, I am being let go because of downsizing?” Those were my internal thoughts as I tried to process what I had just heard. Fear began to grip me as I started to realize the implications of what I was hearing. My wife is 8 months pregnant with our first born. We had just started getting somewhere financially and now this. I immediately began to think of the injustice of it all. After all, there was this guy that was close to the boss that didn’t like me, and I know he spread lies about me. I am stuck with the reality of losing my job. Now I must go home and tell my wife that I lost my job. I am in trouble.
People have said “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Songs have been written about it as well. Also, people have said that “tough times make you stronger.” Both statements are incorrect. You do not have to be around long to have seen people that have gone through trouble and it does not make them stronger. The trouble they faced crushed them. Whether they fell prey to the trap of drugs or drinking or any other unhealthy coping methods, the trouble did not make them stronger it took them out. So, it is not the trouble that makes you stronger it’s the way you handle trouble that can make you stronger. How we handle the trouble we face is the most important thing to determine how we will come out the other side. There are many ways to handle trouble.
There are some very destructive ways to deal with trouble. The first is that we put our head in the ground and pretend nothing is wrong. Many times, these troubles are situations of addiction or bad behavior that are causing relational trouble, health trouble or financial trouble. If we pretend that it’s not there, we do not have to deal with it. The result is that the problem continues to grow, and the consequences of those problems grow with it. I have seen too many people wait too long to identify or admit problems in their life only for the consequence to be overwhelming. Another thing people do is similar but different. Some people just ignore it. They know there is a problem but choose to ignore it. It’s like a drain problem in your sink. Some people think if you just ignore it Maybe the sink will just clear on its own. Many people take the approach that “It’s not that bad.” or if I ignore it will go away. Doing nothing seems like the easiest approach but it can have terrible consequences. We take the “Maybe an opportunity will just present itself.” approach. This rarely happens and the results can be devastating. The last thing people do is to blame someone else. This is what I faced in my situation with my job. I had every reason to blame someone and I felt that I was justified in blaming. Plus, my boss knew my wife was pregnant surely if he had a heart, he wouldn’t have let me go. This can sometimes be the most destructive and long term detrimental to us. When we allow bitterness and unforgiveness it does many things to our health not to mention our future. Dealing with trouble this way certainly does not make you stronger.
The main problems with these ways of dealing with trouble is the inaction it causes. Inaction during trouble usually causes more trouble. When I was fired from my job my mortgage company did not care that I had been wronged or mistreated. My wife felt bad for me but she wanted to know where my next paycheck was coming from. You see, I couldn’t wait for my feelings to catch up or my “want to” to be strong enough. I needed action right then. I couldn’t wait. I couldn’t just complain and post something terrible on social media. My situation demanded that I act.
So what are the actions that we need to take. The answers are as many as the troubles we face. But there are some common things we should do. First thing we need to do is to invite our loving God into the situation. Jesus said we would have trouble in this world, so this trouble did not take Him by surprise. Invite His wisdom, forgiveness, comfort and yes, His help in this situation. This is the first step because this will help you gain proper perspective about the troubling situation. Next is to seek council. Maybe it is dealing with your child or marriage. Find someone older in experience that you respect. Remember older does not always mean wiser. We all know that to be true, don’t we? Find people that have been where you are and are on the other side of the trouble you are in now. Gain wisdom and utilize the wisdom you gain from those conversations. We have couples in our church that have been happily married for 50+ years. 50+ married and happy? Listen to people like that.
Lastly, stay humble and patient. We hate both of those words. They are, however, critical. Humility, God may want to teach us a thing or two. Maybe there is a blind spot in our character that He wants to heal and make right. Maybe He wants to take us to a new direction in our lives. He loves us enough to correct us, as parents we know this to be true. God corrects us because He loves us. Maybe God wants to teach us some things. What was my lesson from my ordeal? Patience and stay teachable.
I will finish my story up quickly. I was out of work for a month. I was applying but no one was hiring. I did some odd jobs here and there but nothing permanent. Finally, I got a job. It was a 1hr and 30 min commute. I had to travel down 400 to 285 and across to Highway 78. If you know Atlanta, you just gasped. This was a terrible commute. Humility caused me to take that job. I got the job, worked two days and my wife gave birth to our first-born daughter. I did what I had to for my family. Humble enough to know that God had a plan and I could trust Him. The next part of the story is my favorite. After a year and a half, my old boss called me and let me know he had fired the wrong person. He offered me more money to come back to work for him. It was also 15 minutes from my house. I accepted. It turned out better than it was before. What did God teach me? Don’t hold on to bitterness and that God is perfect in His plan. This scripture became more than just a cool saying. It became real.
And we know that God causes everything to work togetherfor the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
Romans 8:28 NLT
My trouble made me stronger. Why? Because trouble makes you stronger? No, because of the way I handled the trouble that was in front of me. The trouble with trouble is that it is not a guarantee of becoming stronger. It is an opportunity to become stronger. Invite God into your trouble, face it head on and watch what happens. By the way, now the rest of that scripture I quoted at the beginning.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”