September 30, 2016

Suffering because of His Story

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. (Colossians 1:24–26)

The New Testament says that Paul sometimes says things “hard to be understood” and this is one of them. One commentary says there are at least nine different interpretations of what he means by filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

As I read them, I picked one, discovering that the author of that commentary also focused on the same understanding. Here is a simple interpretation . . .

Jesus’ work is finished. He told His disciples that they would suffer the same things as He suffered, but in our case, we are not doing what Jesus did — as in dying to redeem lost souls. We suffer because many people do not like hearing the gospel. Paul was suffering because he preached the gospel, and because many thought the good news was not good news if they had to admit themselves as sinners.

However, not every Christian suffers as Paul did. Most of us hide in our safe places rather than risk the suffering that happens to those who are determined to make the Word of God fully known. Instead of revealing the mystery that has been made known to us, we are afraid of the hits we will take because of it.

Chambers uses the metaphor of wine-making to explain what God must do to squeeze the best out of us. He uses this passage to describe the necessity of being crushed before we are willing to fully serve God. However, I don’t think that is the suffering Paul is talking about. He had been crushed and was serving as a minister of the gospel. Instead, he suffered in order that the body of Christ, which is the church, might experience the benefits of more fully knowing the Word of God.

In my studies, I’m becoming more aware of the big picture of God’s plan. His story is remarkable. It begins with creation, then sin, then redemption, and will culminate in the return of Jesus Christ. Our part is to tell the story, to make known what God is doing in history. However, humanity has come up with theories and conclusions that run contrary to God’s story — it does not appeal to them or they are blinded by sin to its truth.

In that darkness, God’s light is uncomfortable to say the least. Many will try to shut it out or at least silence those who tell the story. For Paul, this meant suffering. All God’s messengers will suffer. It is part of the story. We suffer something like Jesus did, but it not fully like it. He suffered for our sin, but Christians suffer for the sake of the story.

Yet Paul also says “for your sake” and to “fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for his body.” I understand that to mean that not all Christians were on the same trajectory as Paul. The ‘what is lacking’ likely points to the failure of some to ‘get with the program.’ However, he was glad to suffer for their sake and in their place. What he did would make up for what they had failed to do. In this way, his suffering was like that of Jesus because Jesus also suffered to make up for what we could not do — be holy people.

Paul suffered out of a great love for the people of God. He was willing to experience all sorts of painful things if the Body of Christ could be made more fully aware of the riches of the glory of God and the marvelous good news of His story.

How can I make this practical? Obviously to have that same mind and love for God’s people, a love for God and for other Christians that goes beyond Sunday morning hugs. To follow Paul, I must be willing to take with joy any negative reactions from others in order to make the story and the glory of Jesus Christ more clearly known.

September 29, 2016

My calling

The main speaker at a writers’ conference said that unless you were a person who could ‘not write’ then you could not call yourself a writer. I perceived that he had encountered many wannabes with a story to tell, but who did not have that compelling desire to write anything else.

For me, it was a deciding moment. I am compelled to record these devotions in writing (It was God’s idea that they be in a blog), but I am not compelled to write much else. Of my list of interests and things to do, writing moved closer to the bottom after hearing that speaker.

The Apostle Paul likely didn’t have a list like mine. He had “this one thing I do” attitude and his God-given compulsion drove him forward . . .

“For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16)

Chambers says that the call of God is supernatural and may come with a sudden thunder-clap or with a gradual dawning, but in whatever way it comes, it is something that cannot be put into words.

From that, I gather that in his experience, this ‘call’ is something that you know you must do. Why or how that is known is not as important as realizing it and following through with this necessity that has been laid upon your heart, doing what God says without any “competitor” for your attention and strength.

Perhaps it is my attention deficit tendencies that prevent this kind of focus. If there is a call of God on my life, it is the call to let all things do their work to change me so that I am more like Jesus. Romans 8:28-29 was given to me right after I became a Christian . . .

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28–29)

Good or not so good, God continually brings me back to this focus . . . Be like Jesus. Yield to Him. This is God’s purpose for me.

As for Paul, he said he focuses on his call to preach, but he also said,

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13–14)

His goal was to be conformed to the plan of God. For him then, preaching was the result of being ‘conformed to the image’ of God’s Son. This is one way to be like Jesus. However, both of us have in common the desire to press on toward the prize, the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

For me, that means obedience in a day-by-day, moment-by-moment manner. I may not know what I’m to do tomorrow, but I usually know what to do next.

However, I have struggled with this idea of a calling, thinking that I may have missed it. Amazing that God ended those struggles at another writers’ conference. A different speaker said something that also changed my life. Her words confirmed what I understood as my calling: “God does not call His people to be this or that; He calls us to love and obey Him. Today you might be writing; tomorrow you might be doing something else.”

This morning, I am writing at the moment, but I know what God is calling me to do next; I’m to go outside in the crisp fall air and take a long walk with my prayer list, doing what He most often calls me to do: be an intercessor who diligently prays for others.

September 28, 2016

Nothing between?

Every now and then the Sunday sermon has a test question that goes something like this: “What is in your life that stands between you and a whole-hearted commitment to following Jesus Christ?”

When I hear those words calling for self-examination, I think that this cannot be a hypothetical question asked and answered in the lab of Sunday morning church. It is a question that comes up as life happens, as God asks me to do something and instead of doing it, I conjure up an excuse.

For some, the barrier is giving up what they want to keep, like the rich young man who wanted to “earn” eternal life — which is impossible. However, Jesus asked him that question in those terms . . . 

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! (Mark 10:21–24)

This young fellow wanted perfection, yet perfection is not obtainable for us sinners until we have redemption. Redemption is slave talk. The slave is owned, having no right to himself, no right to own or have anything. All that he is and all that he ‘owns’ belongs to his master. The young man didn’t want to go there.

As Chambers says, Jesus does not ask anyone to come to Him with holiness. That is impossible; we all sin and fall short. Instead, Jesus is looking for people who are willing to yield themselves totally and utterly to Him in a relationship in which there is no other relationship.

Chambers refers to Jesus ‘looking’ at this man. He describes this look as one that breaks a person’s heart if they are ‘soft’ in response, or turns them away if their response is ‘hard’ and ‘insistent on their own way.’

I’m not sure about the look, but it is clear that this man lacked one thing: he was not willing to abandon all and yield himself totally to a new master. He wanted to follow Jesus AND keep his precious goods. “Sell all that you have and give to the poor” was beyond his willingness. When Jesus looked at him, he knew his answer and walked away.

The first time Jesus looked at me, I was broken and helpless, willing to begin a new life. Nothing I had was more important than starting over — and who better to hold my hand than the Lord God of the universe. Yet often He comes again to me with that look. His eyes are full of love, but the question is often there: “What is in your life that stands between you and Me?”

And like the rich young man, I have to examine my heart to see if I’ve fallen away from my first love and put another thing or relationship on a pedestal, or allowed my heart to harden wanting my own way instead of His, or allowed fear to stand between me and full obedience.

Again, this is no hypothetical question; it comes with every event of every day of my life.

September 27, 2016

Yielded hearts

Who is the more ready to move on, the person who says “I will go” but is preparing to stay, or the person who is staying, but preparing to go?

As I consider my experiences with moving from place to place, what is in my heart is what counts. It is easy to announce plans, but getting excited about moving is difficult and the actual task of moving is even more difficult. What makes the difference is having your heart in it.

 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57–62)

Many years ago we attended a church that sent teams to share the gospel to those who visited our Sunday service for the first time. I was on one of those teams. One night, the door of the home we visited was opened by a girl of about fifteen. She invited us in and we shared the good news with her. She was quick to say she wanted to become a Christian. However, the two other team members who were far more experienced than I began to talk her out of it. She was just as quick to change her mind.

I was dumbfounded. They later told me that they sensed she was a compliant teen, eager to please adults. If she had really wanted to give her life to Christ, no one or nothing would be able to change her mind. They wanted to make sure her heart was in it.

Jesus knows the heart. Because Christians have the mind of Christ, we sometimes know the heart also, In what Jesus said, and as in the situation I witnessed, my first reaction was dismay. How could my team mates let that girl go? How could Jesus let these prospects walk away?

Jesus is not interested in recruiting those eager to go but preparing to stay. He wants His disciples to hold loosely to our plans, our schedule. This does not mean I cannot make plans, but it does mean that my ears are tuned to hear Him should He want me to do something else.

The above verses show that I’m not to offer myself to Jesus because it looks like a good idea. Being a disciple can include homelessness, abandoning normal loyalties, and putting comfort and the familiar behind me. It can mean leaving without saying goodbye. Jesus wants His people to know and consider what they are getting into.

“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28)

Most of us come into the kingdom seeing the marvel of freedom from sin and guilt and the glory of knowing Jesus Christ. After a time, there is the realization that serving the Lord God also means letting go of everything else. The Bible says that at that point, many turned back. I don’t ever want to be one of them.

September 26, 2016


A certain city in Germany has a castle often frequented by tourists. When we were there, we noticed that one of its four turrets was broken and crumbled. We asked about it and were told that when the castle was restored, they left that turret as it was — “to remind us of what the French did to us” in a war that happened a few hundred years ago.

Passing a grudge down through generations seems a waste of energy. Besides that, carrying grudges is harmful to health. There are other options. The Mayo clinic website says this: “When someone you care about hurts you, you can hold on to anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge — or embrace forgiveness and move forward.”

Their website goes on to say holding a grudge brings anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience. If I do it, I can become so wrapped up in past wrongs suffered that I can't enjoy the present day. Grudges cause depression and/or anxiety. They can make me feel as if my life lacks meaning or purpose, and certainly puts me at odds with my faith. Grudges are not popular with others, so I can lose friends if I carry them.

Jesus says: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23–24)

Jesus is not referring to my mulling over what someone did to me, but those times when His Spirit reminds me that I did harm to someone else. I’m to do something about it. Even if I was the injured person, He does not want me to retaliate or just forget about it. He wants reconciliation that includes forgiveness. It is about having nothing between me and another person, about restoring open and full fellowship.

This tells me a great deal about the will of God and about His nature. He wants that kind of relationship with me, one in which I do not let anything interfere with our fellowship either.

I’m to keep short accounts with God and short accounts with others. The biggest difference between the two is that God will never sin against me. However, I sin against Him, and when I do, He notes it and pokes me with conviction. He does this so I will come to Him and be reconciled through confession and repentance. This is to be my way of life, as Chambers says, as natural a breathing.

Being at peace with others in God’s family is a priority. This attitude of mind is also important in my relationship with those outside the faith. If I offend them, I’m to admit it and seek forgiveness. However, if they offend me, some may not care or even notice, yet the desire for reconciliation and forgiveness ought to be my attitude, not anger and holding a grudge against them.

Some people say, “Don’t get mad; get even” but this is not what God says. If I withhold forgiveness and stay angry, it will not only raise a barricade to relationships, but harm me personally. God does not want that either. He wants all issues settled so I can freely offer my life to Him.