Several weeks ago I wrote that I was in a strange place spiritually and wasn't sure what to say. You probably forgot or else you thought I forgot. I did not forget and there isn't a day that goes by where my thoughts are turned back to what the Lord has been teaching me and showing me.
I heard a sermon preached by John Piper that he preached at a missionary conference a few months ago about a verse in Colossians. It is Colossians 1:24 and it says Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. Just in case you are unsure, these are the words of Paul, who I have heard referred to as the first missionary.
Piper addresses the text much more fully than I could and you can hear his sermon on it here, but it has been stuck in my head and I can't seem to get it out. You see, within about one week of hearing that sermon I had the opportunity to hear from 3 different missionaries. Missionaries who are willing to give up the comfort of home, the comfort of America, to go and share the good news of Jesus Christ.
First, I was privileged to get to invite into my home 3 Mongolian Christians (a single male, a couple and their 8 month old baby)who are training here locally to go to an extremely dangerous, dark place to share Jesus Christ with people they do not know. It is a place that I could not go and would not be allowed entry into. It is a place that no Christian literature is allowed in (including Bibles) and where little freedom exists. It is a place where these missionaries will literally risk their lives to go. So why would they go? They love Jesus and they want to tell others about Him. It is plain and simple and they are working diligently to move forward in this way. They have a bold faith that no one can doubt. You may think they are crazy but you never doubt their love for the Savior and the value they place on Him.
Next, our care group invited a sweet young couple to come and share about what they are going to do and where they are going to serve. They will be in Northern Africa working with Muslims there. They are going to live in a place that lacks all the comforts of home, you know the basics that we take for granted like running water, and an oven and stove top to cook with. They are planning to go and live among the people as the people live and share the love of Christ with them.
Lastly, our Perspectives class had David Sitton come and speak. Trace and I were privileged to pick him up at the airport and spend some time with him over dinner. He is the founder of To Every Tribe Ministries and, using his own words for many martyr missionaries, he is what I would call a "fool for Jesus". He speaks truth boldly and is challenging to listen to. He calls us as Christians to lay it all down and to be willing to go anywhere and do anything for the name of Jesus Christ. He says that to be a Christian you cannot be a coward, because he believes Christians should live in all boldness, power, and authority that we have been given in Christ Jesus. He speaks this way only because he has lived this way. He was a missionary in Papa New Guinea for 15+ years and he has been beaten and almost killed for the name of Christ. He has lived out the faith he calls us to.
I have been given a visual, a face, to go with the idea of filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions. Yes, Christ's death on the cross is the only thing that can make us right with God. It is through this sacrifice that we are saved, by grace alone. However, the filling up of His suffering allows others to see suffering on Christ's behalf, to get a picture of what He did for them. I have seen no one suffer, but the Lord has blessed me with the honor to see the face of those who have and who may suffer for the name of Christ. It does something to a person when they get the depth of that. It has done something to me to begin to dig deeper into this truth and to begin to see more clearly what it really is that Christ has done for me.
In all honesty, I get dull to the gospel. I hate to say that but it is true. It can become a story I have heard my whole life that has little weight or impact on me. There are times when it may not impact the way I live all that much. It can even seem untrue sometimes or hard to believe ( I mean God has done some pretty remarkable things like the virgin birth and the resurrection of Christ). I can doubt, I can question truth. Please hear me say I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe He was both man and God, and I believe He died for my sins and has risen from the dead. But sometimes my human tendency to understand it all in a clear logical way creeps in and I can experience doubt. Seeing the disciples die for their faith gave weight to what they spoke, the message they preached. It filled up what was lacking in Christ's afflictions for those people who saw them willing to die for this truth they proclaimed. The same is true today...when Christ followers are willing to suffer for the sake of Christ completes what is lacking for us.
It doesn't make sense that suffering would be the tool that the Creator of the Universe would use to conquer evil and redeem souls. It doesn't make sense that in God's Mercy He would allow His followers to suffer so harshly. I have to remind myself all the time that Christ died and He calls all of us to come and die to follow Him. If Jesus would suffer and die, why would His followers be spared the same suffering. Of course some of us are called to suffer and of course God would use it. His means of deliverance and salvation for all of us is a bloody cross. No, it doesn't make sense. The King of All coming as a baby, dieing on a cross. He didn't have to do this, but He chose to.
This Christmas God has drawn me near to Him, nearer to the reality of what the birth of His son means for us. You can't separate the baby in a manger from the body on the cross. He came to die. He has taught me a little more about what it means to suffer and my heart has been filled with awe and wonder. He has done this through the suffering of His servants. The willingness to look fear in the face and proclaim He is greater! May your holidays bring you Awe and Wonder at what He has done for us.
Maybe this has given you a tiny glimpse into what the Lord is doing in my life...He is calling me more and more to come, follow Him, and die to self and to fear.