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Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

disciples

Matthew 11 begins by informing us that what it is about to speak of takes place directly after he had finished instructing his disciples.  What was it that he did first for those few?  And what did it have to do with this next step of ministry? Let’s consider Matthew 10 first.

This is that which Christ promised to those closest to him just before he sent them out on their own, apart from his bodily presence for the very first time.

Firstly, he gave them what they most needed.  Jesus gave to his ministers something no one else but he had.  Jesus gave his disciples authority.  No, not authority of their own or authority apart from submission to him.  Authority over evil.  Before he even began to give the guidelines for their good conduct, Jesus gave his guys authority over evil.

Next, Jesus promised, warned, and instructed his men to do very specific things once they had been given the authority over evil.  With the exception of a very few details, these are the very things any and all disciples of Jesus Christ are called to do and accept.

And, by the way, there are no Christians who are not disciples.  No one follows Christ in a half-baked, shallow, read a verse once a week way who follows him legitimately, rightly, and truly.  There is no such thing as believers who are not disciples.  There are believers and unbelievers.  Believers are disciples who follow and accept the following instructions.  Unbelievers are those who don’t.  Period.

Instructions from Jesus:

Go to the Jews first.  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, exorcise demons. Give all things related to the gospel freely; without charge.  Take no money, no extra clothes, and plan to stay with locals you will meet when you get to wherever I send you.  If and when you or the gospel is rejected, leave.  Be wise.  Be ready for suffering.  Do not worry.  Trust the Holy Spirit.  My message will bring division between friends, family members, colleagues, and communities.  You will be hated.  Persevere.  You will be persecuted.  Leave when you are persecuted, leave, but keep going and keep preaching elsewhere.  You will be slandered, just like me.  Do not fear.  Say everything I tell you.  Expose sin.  Do not fear men, but God.  Remember, God is extremely concerned about caring for you.  Never, ever be embarrassed or ashamed to be mine; to belong to God.  If you are, I will be ashamed of you, too.  This mission will not be peace, but conflict.  The gospel will divide people – even close family members.   If someone is not willing to suffer, he CANNOT follow me.  If someone is not willing to submit and surrender all of his life to me, he will lose his life.  He who does surrender all of life to me will get to understand and live out the true meaning of life.  When people receive you, they are receiving me and the Father.  Those who receive you will be rewarded.  Anyone who does anything of service and love toward one of you – no matter how small – will never lose his reward.

How’s that for a sales pitch?  What if every preacher and teacher of the gospel gave this disclaimer to each and every disciple?  Here’s what you will face.  This is what you’re signing up for when you start coming to church and rightly loving Jesus.  If you are not willing, don’t come.  You’ll just be in dead weight standing in the way of the gospel.  If you are not willing, do not come.  If you are willing, do not worry or fear.  I will be with you.  You are mine.  Perhaps the church would achieve quality over quantity if this message started being propagated ubiquitously again.  I don’t know.

Directly after dropping these bombs on his disciples, Jesus goes on to teach in the nearby cities.  John heard he was in town – that is, John the Baptist; Jesus’s cousin by blood.  You know, the guy who did gymnastics in the womb when he was introduced to his cuz, who was also in the womb of his mama then, too.  John – the first person on earth to recognize the Messiah – and this – while they both were fetuses.  Yes, that John.

That John was now a grown man.  That John was now juxtaposed between jail jargon and Jesus gossip. John was in jail and he was hearing about Jesus.

John found a need to send his own followers to his friend.  He sent them to Jesus to ask if he was the true fruit of Our Father.

“Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” ~Matthew 11:3

Are you the one?  Are you the Savior?  Are you the Messiah; the master; the materialized man of my Maker?  Are you, Jesus?  Are you really him?  Are you him?  Are you my Savior?  Are you really?

Because I did what you said.  Remember?  I was the lone voice calling out unashamedly telling of your soon arrival on the scene.  I was content to live a life separated from comfort and camaraderie if it meant I could just be captivated by you and your coming.  I was intensely willing to walk always in the wilderness.  I was unapologetic, unrefined, and unconcerned with what anyone might wonder about what I was because I thought I knew just who you were.  So, now, I wonder.

I wonder.  I wonder whether I was wise.  I wonder whether I was in the right wilderness.  I wonder what it all meant because I want nothing less than worthiness.  I pioneered a life that plowed down a new path for the spiritually impoverished people of your promise.

But I wonder.  I wonder who you really are.  I wonder why I’m really here.  Because I did what your Spirit said.  I never cared what they thought.  But you were supposed to save.  And I have been silenced and locked tight like a slave.  I am about to be slain.

So are you going to save, Savior?  Or should I seek someone more sane?

So the brave spirits came and they stopped to see the Savior.  They, John’s disciples, were surely seeking some simple solutions.

“Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” Matthew 11:3

And with an answer as gentile and unoffending as a dove, Jesus just described his deeds.  He questioned those sent seekers asking, “What do you see?”

Just tell John about the justice.  The blind see.  The lame walk.  The lepers are cleansed.  The deaf hear.  The dead are raised.  The poor hear the good news.  Divine healing.  That is what I came to bring.  Healing for the soul, not merely the body.  I heal the body so you may know there is hope and healing for your hell-bent souls.  I am Jehovah-Rapha.  Blessed is he who is not offended by me.

But, wait!  Our bossman is in the big house, Jehovah-Jireh.  How is that blessed?  How is that blessed?  How is that blessed?!

Just tell John about the justice.  Tell him what I told my disciples, and you guys listen close, too.  Doubt has no place in the hearts of my people.  Doubt will derail and devastate you, dudes.  Doubt cannot deny my divine deeds.  Just tell John about the justice you just saw and do not doubt.  Persecution, suffering, and ostracism are all part of the package.  Tell him I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

 

 

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message

After Jeremiah tells God’s people all the specifics of their sin, he reminds them how they had mocked, dismissed, abused, and marked all the true prophets he had sent to warn and correct them as useless exaggerators.

 The people’s attitude was this: Surely God won’t care about our sin.  Surely the true prophets are telling lies.  We prefer false prophets…the ones who tell us everything we like to hear.  We won’t be punished.  We can do whatever we want.  God doesn’t mind.  He probably doesn’t even see.  Go away, truth-teller.  You’re nobody and we don’t need to listen to your drama.

The second portion of Jeremiah 5, from verses 14-31, gives us more of a look into God’s own heart over his people’s sin and their refusal to hear truth.  Verse 14 begins with “Therefore…”  It says this:

“Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts: Because you have spoken this word, behold, I am making my words in your mouth a fire, and this people wood, and the fire shall consume them.”   ~Jeremiah 5:14

Therefore, in other words, because of all those specific sins you are engaged in that I just rebuked you about, here’s what God is going to do.  God tells his prophet that his words, which are actually God’s words, will become a fire.  The people he speaks them to will be as wood and Jeremiah’s words will consume them.  Matthew Henry comments, “The word of God will certainly be too hard for those that contend with it.”  

Here, God was encouraging Jeremiah.  Often, those whom God calls to speak truth where lies prevail have God alone as their encouragement.  He is tender to those whom he calls to a ministry of difficult speech and subsequent rejection.  Jeremiah has doubtless already endured shame and reproach for speaking God’s true words. Therefore, God is very tender to place extra honor upon him and his words promising that they, nor his suffering on their account, will be in vain or unprofitable.  Jeremiah, your words, which are actually my words, those words are going to be a fire.  They are going to accomplish much and they are going to consume the enemies of my truth.  Trust me.

Consider the prophet.  Consider his position.  He only want to serve the Lord.  He has been given very specific words and a very specific task.  It is not an easy or pleasant job.  He has to tell everyone he knows the truth about their sin.  He has to warn them about what is to come if they don’t listen.  And they don’t listen.  They never listen.  They hate him for the truth he tells.  Still, God continues to instruct and encourage him in his duties. Keep talking, Jeremiah.  These are my words.  These are my people.  You just say what I tell you.

Show me a man called to prophetic ministry and I will show a man who grieves.  He grieved for his people who refuse to repent and be saved.  He grieved for their sin.  He grieved because he knew what was coming.  He grieved because with every painful effort of love he gave, they hated him even more.  It’s hard to love people who continually reject you.  But when you’re his servant, that’s the hand you are dealt.  You can’t stop loving them and you can’t make them listen to the truth.  This is the heart of God.  God grieves over all of those he loves, but who repeatedly reject and abandon him.  People like Jeremiah get to feel the sorrow of the Lord and know what it is to deeply love those who reject and abandon you for doing so faithfully.

Yes, when we serve the Lord faithfully, we get to suffer just like him.  We get to!  It’s a privilege.  We get to feel what he felt.  We get to grieve over what he grieves over.  We get to mourn with him, hurt with him, cry with him, and share our sorrow with him.  No one else gets to do that.  If that is not a privilege I don’t know what is.

How close do you have to be to someone for them to allow you to see their grief?  How intimate must your relationship be in order to share the deepest pain in your heart together?  There is no deeper connection than that.  When we grieve over Our Lord’s grief, we grieve together.  We know him in the closest way possible.  I can scarcely think of any greater honor.

Jeremiah goes on to tell the people what is coming if they don’t repent.  God is bringing a fierce enemy – a nation of tough, mighty warriors to destroy your harvest, your children, your flocks, your vines, and tear down your fortified cities.  Everything they loved and trusted in was going to be destroyed – save a few.  God said it would not be a complete annihilation, but a few would be spared.  Then he asks them some interesting questions.  Here’s what he says:

“Do you not fear me?  declares the Lord.  Do you not tremble before me?  I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail; though they, roar they cannot pass over it.” ~Jeremiah 5:22

Don’t you guys know who I am?  Do you not fear me?  Are you not afraid?  I created the ocean!  Even the waves, which, by the way, you guys all fear greatly and which have unmitigated force and power beyond your own, even they cannot overcome or rebel against me.  I own them!  I made them!  I have absolute, omnipotent power over the entire sea; the entire creation!  Yet, you, you who claim to worship me do not respect me and refuse to hear my true words of warning and coming judgment?  Aren’t you afraid?  I AM!

But, though they had eyes, they did not see.  Though they had ear, they did not hear.  This people had stubborn and rebellious hearts.  They love false prophets and lies.  they think not about the fear they ought to have of God.

“Shall I not punish them for these things?…” Jeremiah 5:29

He shall.  He did.  He will.  Remember that.

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Life is so long and so short at the very same time.  We close our eyes exhausted from chasing toddlers wondering if the day will ever end and when we open them we are looking back wondering how they could possibly look so much like adults.

Every single day is so very important.  Every day.  Our time here on earth is short.  We have but a few minutes before we are gone.  It seems it is only the good things that pass by so fast.

The seasons of discouragement and doubt seem to last and last.  If we are not careful, bad days can turn into bad years, and bad years can turn into joyless lives.

Every single day is so very important.  Every day.  Our time here on earth is long.  We have years upon years to make a difference and influence those around us for the good.  We cannot allow personal setbacks or problems distract us from our purpose and the greater good.  If we do, we will end up looking back on a life poorly spent and largely unaccomplished.

I have taken somewhat of a hiatus from writing my personal thoughts over the past couple months.  I have not felt particularly inspired.  Truth be told, I have felt unloved, discouraged, and even unnecessary.  I have experienced heartache, hardship, and hurt over the past year.  If I am being honest, it has been a hard year. Still, a good year. I have gotten to know my Father so much better. What could be better than that?

And, I have been healing.  I have been sitting at the feet of my Lord and allowing him to be all that I need.  Healing is not a process one can easily explain and share while undergoing it.  But by God’s grace, I can see light.  His provision is evidenced in so many blessings that I can’t help be be thankful.  I have finally come to the place where I can honestly say to the Lord, “Whatever your plan is, that is exactly what I want today.  Suffering?  Give me that.  Miscarriage?  You’re sovereign; I surrender.  Shunning?  OK.  It’s your world, Lord, and I am just your kid. It’s your plan.  It’s your will.  It’s your authority to which I bow and none else.  USE ME.  Whatever that means in my life, do that.  Just use me.  Somehow, someway, get glory from my meager little life.  That is all I want and it is all that truly matters to me anyway.

I open my hands.  I unfold them and I wait.

When I was a young Christian, I used to pray every single day that God would allow me to die a martyr for him.  What I have found over the past twenty years is that it is likely easier to die for Christ than it is to truly live for him.  We die once.  As each day begins, we must live over and over and over again.  So I changed my prayer:

Lord, whether I may or may not die a martyr, please allow me to live a martyr.  Allow me to live dying daily for you that you might use me.  Give me peace with your perfect, sovereign plan.  Let me not miss the opportunities you give.  I do not need to understand, I just want to be used.  Please use me in this long, short life.  Amen. 

Every single day is so important.  Don’t waste it.

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confess

“Is anyone among you suffering?”

Can any one of us answer this question with anything other than an absolutely overwhelming, “YES!?”  We all personally know many, many people who are suffering every single day.  In chapter 5, James tells us that their comfort is found in prayer.  He gives only one instruction for those suffering: pray.

“Is anyone cheerful?”

What do we do when we experience joy?  James tells us to sing praise to God.  I recently had a miraculous experience wherein joy was poured out upon me.  When we are happy, it is hard to contain.  Should we?  James says no.

“Is anyone sick?” 

There is a prescription for sickness, too.  Those who battle illness are instructed to call for the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.

Do we, the church, go directly to these commands when suffering, or cheerful, or sick?  Do we do these things?  Are these our first lines of defense and reaction?  Do we believe this?  Do we do them?

Because our churches are chock full of sufferers and sickness.  And last time I felt extraordinarily cheerful, I actually felt out of place and insensitive for just being so – even without saying so – among all the downcast hearts.

Why are these things rarely happening on any given Sunday in the church today?  We know we have suffering, cheer, and sickness.  There can be no doubt about that.  But where is prayer?  Where is non-rehearsed, naturally overflowing, honest praise?  Where is leader-led laying on of hands and anointing with oil prayer?

James goes on.  He gives us the means to this end.  Maybe the means are what is truly missing.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Aha.  Confession.  Confession – specifically in community – is the means to these ends.  Confession in community is the remedy for suffering.  Confessing that one is suffering is the first line of defense against that suffering.  When we hide our suffering from one another – whether it is not our fault, sin-related, or otherwise – we fail to ask for and receive prayer.  We often fail to pray because of doubt and discouragement.  We miss healing and wholeness because of the fear of man and pride.  Those who suffer are commanded to confess those things and to pray and be prayed for.  The same instructions pertain to those who are sick.

The cheerful have other confessions to make.  The cheerful are commanded to sing praise.  When God blesses us with good times, we are called to give him glory.  We are instructed to sing praise.  Our good is not just for our benefit.  Our good is meant to give to those around us.  We give him glory by confessing his goodness in community.

So why does the church struggle so with transparent community if that is exactly what we are commanded to do?  Community that laughs together, cries together, confesses together, and learns together?  To know and be known?  To share and to care?  To give and to receive?

I am sure there a too many reasons to count, but I have considered a few.

1. Misplaced Fear

Many in the church fear men over God.  We often fear what someone may think or say of us when and if we are honest about our sin, our doubts, our joy, or our disbelief.  There is a severe lack of willingness to be known within the church for this reason.  Still, failure to confess does not only make us superficial and fake, it proves us painfully dishonest.

2. Pride

Confessing our struggles, our sins, our sickness, and even our joy can become a matter of personal pride and preference.  There is an attitude going on in our world and our church today that says, “I am above others and I will never let them see my imperfections.  I will listen to theirs and judge them but I will never reveal mine.  I cannot look less than because I value my reputation more than God’s Word.  I want respected.”  This kind of prideful pretending is a lie straight from the pit of hell.  God is probably up there saying, “Please, get over yourself and listen to me.”

3. Ignorance

There are those who see everyone’s sin except their own.  They are completely ignorant of their own offenses and even when enlightened by well-meaning brothers and sisters, they refuse to acknowledge the truth that would set them free.  These are the religious – perhaps the most difficult group to preach the gospel to.

4. Love of sin

No one likes to suffer or remain sick but many love the sin that holds them in those bondages.  Everyone wants help as long as they do not have to change.  The church must not enable this kind of attitude by failing to call people to repentance and confession.  We cannot pretend there is no problem when it is clear that rebuke is in order.

These are just a few examples that I believe shed light upon why our churches are full of people who are suffering, sick, and fail to honestly confess to and pray with one another. Brian T. Anderson puts it this way in his book, Six Habits of Highly Effective Christians:

Many of the healing miracles Jesus performed involved physical healings.  But Jesus also healed broken hearts, broken relationships, broken dreams, and broken identities.  These are just some types of healing we can experience when we confess our sins to each others and pray for each other. 

Community is one place where is is fully safe for us to take off our masks and know the healing power of being known and loved.  Before Adam and Eve sinned, they were naked and not ashamed.  The idea behind this is there were no secrets.  They were fully known and loved.  Everything about them was revealed.

What happens in many churches is that people attend every week, but no one knows them, and they are dying inside.  Nobody knows their fears, their dreams, or their problems. That’s not Jesus’ plan for his community.  The only way to receive healing is to make the choice to begin living in community with other people.” 

Amen.  Amen, amen, amen, amen.  It does not get any truer than that.  If we want to be healed and set free, we must be honest.  We must confess to one another.  We must work to know Him and one another and be known by Him and by one another.

Satan loves pretense.  He loves to masquerade.  Stop acting like him, church.  You belong to Christ.

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persecuted

Regarding persecution: If another Christian from our own congregation were being mistreated by the powers that be and we (a.) knew it (b.) did not want to know it and pretended it wasn’t happening (c.) assumed they brought it upon themselves and ignored it, would we also be guilty of persecuting them?

I’m thinking of when a bully picks on someone smaller than they are and all the strong boys stand around blind. Are fear, comfort, and complacency acceptable excuses when brothers and sisters are abused by the ungodly? Is it wisdom to “stay out of it?” if they aren’t from our group but we have insight into the abuse?

How does that affect our responsibility regarding the persecuted church abroad? How does it affect what we do or do not do for those within our sphere of direct influence? Does it matter? Will we be accountable if we do nothing or is it ok to let others fight their own battles for the faith and not really get involved? How would you feel if you were made a criminal by the ungodly and those from your own church followed suit out of cowardice and suspicion? How would you feel if you knew others from another country had the means to help you but chose not to?

My questions are: What is our responsibility when and if those we know personally are unjustly treated? What about those we do not know personally who belong to the faith? Is there judgement for those who fail to assist or is it simply a matter of personal conviction in each situation where God calls those whom he will to support those suffering for their faith?

I consulted Matthew Henry.  Because this issue is so closely related to giving – be it of our concern, our time, our money, our allegiance, or our consolation, I thought of the rich man and Lazarus.

“Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here,  and you are in anguish.  ~Luke 16:25

God loves a cheerful giver, though, right?  Give not reluctantly or under compulsion, rather, each one must give as he has decided in his heart.  So then, what is the damnable fault of this rich man?  Surely he “gave.”  But he did not give in such a way that it pleased God.  Surely he gave to his friends and family.  Surely he threw exquisite banquets and spared no expense for those he preferred.  But what was at the center of his giving?  It was not God.  It was all for pomp, pride, and selfishness.

“And he said, ‘No,’ father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” ~Luke 16:30

After death, the rich man knew that overlooking the needs, affliction, and poverty placed in front of us is a sin requiring repentance.  Overlooking the needs, affliction, and poverty placed in front of us is a sin requiring repentance.

Here is Henry’s insight.

“That plenty and pleasure are a very dangerous and to many a fatal temptation to luxury and sensuality, and forgetfulness of God and another world.  This man might have been happy if he had not had great possessions and enjoyments.  That the indulgence of the body, and the ease and pleasure of that, are the ruin of many a soul, and the interests of it.  It is true, eating good meat and wearing good clothes are lawful; but it is as true that they often become the food and fuel of pride and luxury, and so turn into sin to us.  That feasting ourselves and our friends, and, at the same time, forgetting the distresses of the poor and afflicted, are very provoking to God and damning to the soul.  The sin of this rich man was not so much his dress or his diet, but his providing only for himself.”

“We are not told that he abused him, or forbade him his gate, or did him any harm, but it is intimated that he slighted him; he had no concern for him, took no care about him.  Here was a real object of charity, and a very moving one, which spoke for itself; it was presented to him at his own gate.  The poor man had a good character and good conduct, and every thing that could recommend him.  A little thing would be great kindness to him, and yet he took no cognizance of his case, did not order him to be taken in and lodged in the barn, or some of the out-buildings, but let him lie there.  Note, it is not enough to oppress and trample upon the poor; we shall be found unfaithful stewards of our Lord’s goods, in the great day, if we do not succour and relieve them.  The reason given for the fearful doom is, I was hungry, and you gave me no meat.  I wonder how those rich people who have read the gospel of Christ and say that they believe it can be so unconcerned as they often are in the necessities and miseries of the poor and afflicted…Note, those will  have a great deal to answer for hereafter that feed their dogs, but neglect the poor.  And it is a great aggravation of the uncharitableness of many rich people that they bestow that upon their fancies and follies which would supply the necessity, and rejoice the heart of many a good Christian in distress.  Those offend God, nay, and they put a contempt upon human nature, that pamper their dogs and horses, and let eh families of their poor neighbors starve.”

“This rich man had entirely devoted himself to the pleasure of the world of sense, was wholly taken up with them, and took up with them for his portion, and therefore was wholly unfit for the pleasures of the world of spirits…he was hard-hearted to God’s poor, and therefore he is not only cut off from mercy, but he has judgment without mercy, and falls under a punishment of sense as well as a punishment of loss.”

“The tendency of the gospel is both to reconcile us to poverty and affliction and to arm us against temptations to worldliness and sensuality…Our Savior came to bring us acquainted with another world, and to show us the reference which this world has to that.  Those that are not able to help the poor with their purses should help them with their pains; those that cannot lend them a penny should lend them a hand.” ~Matthew Henry

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SUFFERING

Paul opened his letter to the Colossians with encouragement about who they were and who Christ was.  Before he goes any further into the conflicts they were facing and the error they were embracing, Paul makes sure that they understand who he is, too.  Gospel ministers, do not miss this.  There is a direct correlation between effectiveness in correction and personal transparency.  Who wants to listen to someone they do not know anything about?  Crickets. Tell people who you are, what you’ve been through, where you fail, and how you’ve overcome.

In addition to his brief initial introduction, Paul now adds some important details.  He tells the Colossians, whom he had never met, just what kind of minister he was.  His speech coupled with his example indicated that he was a servant of God who was suffering, rejoicing, diligent, and concerned.

These were not matters of happenstance for Paul.  These were all things he chose to do because of his love for the church.  Choosing empowers.  The one who chooses to embrace suffering escapes self-induced victimization.  He chose to suffer.  He could have compromised.  He chose to rejoice.  He could have despaired.  He chose to work hard and spend himself fully.  He could have done just enough to get by.  He chose to concern himself deeply with others.  He could have considered himself and his own needs far more often than theirs.

But, no.  Paul, like Jesus, was exactly who he said he was.  Thank God for gospel ministers who are willing to do whatever it takes to love and serve the church like Jesus Christ.

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, ~Colossians 1:24

Paul suffered.  The purpose was the growth of the church.  Here, we learn that our personal suffering is not vain.  Better still, we learn that it is necessary for church growth.  Where Christians are persecuted, the body thrives.  Perhaps someone should let the megachurch industry in on this little gem.  It is our suffering, not our prosperity, that brings about authentic church growth.

How does it do so?

It does not “complete” Christ’s work by atoning for sin.  He did that.  It is done.  But, when we suffer, the people to whom we are called to preach will see his suffering in ours.  Our suffering displays his love fresh and in the flesh to the world – just as his did.  In other words, when we suffer they see his suffering in real time.  Live.  Get your popcorn and pull up a chair live.  Front row seats.  You wanna know what it looks like to lay down you life?  You wanna know what Jesus was willing to do for your sake?  Watch.  Watch me.  Watch me not compromise.  Watch me endure the scorn and shame of the gospel willingly.  Watch me rejoice while I do it.  Watch me work until I’m spent with no personal earthly benefit.  Watch me get mistreated, punished, and unjustly rewarded for it.  Watch me stumble.  Watch me fall.  Watch me not quit.  Watch me care more about you as I hurt.  Watch me cling to Christ when nothing makes any sense.  Watch me persevere.  Watch me die with peace.

That is how we “fill up” Christ’s afflictions.  They are not lacking in efficacy; they are lacking in real time in the flesh on earth present-ness.  Fortunately, we are here and now and we can display suffering like unto his for the sake of his church.

Paul rejoiced.  He knew the value and purpose of what he suffered.  He knew why he suffered.  He didn’t need to concern himself with understanding the details or get depressed wondering why people mistreated him so fiercely everywhere he went.  He relied on the truth and focused on the goal – the salvation of the world around him.

Paul attitude was full of Holy Spirit dispensed wisdom.  It made him both diligent and concerned for the church.  He used Christ’s energy because his was always completely spent.  Paul spared no personal expense.  Most of us never get to a place where we tap into Christ’s energy because we aren’t willing to use up all of our own for his sake.

But Paul did.  He loved God’s people like Jesus loved them.  He “struggled” greatly for the encouragement of men and women he’d never met.  Notice he wasn’t struggling so that they would not suffer.  He was struggling so that they might be encouraged and have unity when they suffered.  Ministers, take note.

What must that say about the value of encouragement in the church?  Paul tells us why encouragement and unity are so important.

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments ~Colossians 2:1-4

Here’s the progression: encouragement -> unity -> assurance -> truth

Assurance of what?  God’s truth.  Christ.  Wisdom.  Knowledge.  Paul knows that the best safeguard against being deceived by the lies of the Enemy is to know the truth; understand the truth.  His remedy?  Encourage those who need better understanding.

Christians, do not be surprised when you are called to suffer – and suffer greatly.  You have the unique opportunity to exemplify Christ in the flesh.  Choose to lay down your life for the building up of others.  Rejoicing in pain is a miraculous encouragement for those facing the same.  Follow an encouraging leader.  Be an encourager.  Stay unified with your brothers and sisters.  Study together.  Pray together.  Work together.  Serve together.

“God really means for the body of Christ, the church, to experience some of the suffering He experienced so that when we proclaim the Cross as the way to life, people will see the marks of the Cross in us and feels the love of the Cross from us.” ~John Piper, Desiring God

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Without objectives – defined goals one seeks to accomplish – we stagger; we stagnate; growth often stands still.  As the old adage goes, “He who aims at nothing hits it every time.”

That said, our culture promotes a lot of false ideas about what we ought to be striving for.  If we do not know what we want or where we’re going, they will be sure to tell us.  But what should we be striving towards?  What is worthy of spending our most precious commodity – time – on obtaining?

Paul informs us rightly in the opening chapter of Colossians.  He prays for the church.  He wants his brothers and sisters to obtain these things: to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, to have all spiritual wisdom, and to have all spiritual understanding.

These three things are tremendous blessings in a believer’s life.  He tells us that they lead to even better things such as walking worthy of the Lord, being pleasing to God, bearing fruit, doing good works, increasing in knowledge, being strengthened with the power of God’s might, having endurance and patience with joy, and giving thanks to the Father.

What Christian does not want to be found doing these things?  Isn’t this what we are all striving for?  Paul knows.  He appeals to their desire to be holy as a platform for what he is about to teach.

These are the things that every good church leader desires be true of his students.  From Paul’s prayer requests, we see great wisdom and love for the church.  As I consider his requests, I search for his example.  How exactly did Paul put flesh on the bones of these prayers?  How did he go about snatching the hearts of his beloved brothers and sisters in such a way that made it possible for what he was about to say to stick?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that wrong ideas and false beliefs die hard.  When one seeks to change them, a lot depends on how he enters the room.  Paul knew.  He grabbed the hearts of men he had not even met by his entrance.  He began his letter to a people he did not personally pastor and gained their trust by conveying imperatives initially.  He told them what we all must tell new disciples if we seek to be effective and desire that they stay long enough to listen to the truth God has given us to teach.

1. Who I am

2. Who you are

3. Who God is

Paul opens by telling his readers who he is.  He associates himself with one of his best students, Timothy, and offers respect to him.  It is a comfort for new students to know that a teacher is respectful of those he has already taught.  Paul gives public honor to Timothy and proves his own humility in so doing.

Paul reminds his students who God is.  He is Our Father.  He is the Father of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.  He reminds them of their future hope and glory in heaven.  Paul’s emphasis on who God is is reassuring.  He isn’t there to ramble on about rules like the heretics were already doing in Colosse.  He was there to talk about Our Father – the good One; the worthy One.  This is how he bids them come and listen.  It is a comfort to know we are serving a good God.  Paul is wise to remind his students who they serve and why it is in their best interest to do so.

Paul spends most of his opening statements on reminding the Colossians who they are.  Oh, how quickly we forget!  Paul knows.  He understands his disciples’ weakness.  Before he goes any further in deep discourse on who God is, he recognizes how essential this piece of the puzzle really is.  Therefore, he reminds and reassures.  He reminds and reassures.  He reminds and reassures.  Good leaders, take note.

As Paul opens giving thanks for them, he reassures these people by confirming his love for them.  He is thankful for them.  He is thankful for the opportunity to serve them.  They are not a trifle or a trouble to him.  He reassures them that he is honored and privileged to be their teacher.  This is essential for sufferers.

He reassures them also by reminding them of the future hope they have in heaven.  This is essential for sufferers.

Finally, he reassures them by reminding them of the gospel and their response to it.  He reminds them that they received it.  He reminds them that they are bearing fruit.  He reminds them that their teacher, Epaphras, is both faithful and proud of their spiritual growth.  This is essential for sufferers.

Who would not listen to a leader like this?  This is a father loving his children.  This is a father seeing his children deceived, suffering, struggling, and stumbling and saying I know you.  I love you.  I’m thankful I have you.  I have heard good of you.  I am proud of you and others are, too.  Now, I need to tell you some more about the God we love.  He is so good to us all…

That is how you open correction.  This is how the Holy Spirit uses men to open hearts to the truth.

Humility.  Respect.  Honor.  Reassurance.  Thanksgiving.  Love.

Go.

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