Paul’s beloved fellow servant

pauls-beloved-fellow-servant

…just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.(Colossians 1:7-8 ESV)

My initial response to this text is that I’d like to be counted as a beloved fellow servant by the Apostle Paul, it would feel rather nice to have such a statement recorded in a letter sent to the church I had founded.

But stop and consider what it might take to be counted as a ‘fellow servant’ with Paul:

  • Struggling on behalf of others in prayer (Colossians 4:12).
  • Unceasing prayer (Colossians 1:9,  2 Thessalonians 1:11).
  • Praying earnestly night and day (1 Thessalonians 3:10).
  • Giving thanks to God (Ephesians 1:16,  1 Thessalonians 3:9,  2 Thessalonians 2:13).
  • Working hard (Colossians 4:13).
  • Toiling night and day (1 Thessalonians 2:9).
  • Not a burden on those being served (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8).
  • Be a faithful minister (Colossians 4:7).
  • Rejoicing in sufferings (Colossians 1:24).
  • Be ready to suffer affliction (1 Thessalonians 3:4).
  • Willing to die for the sake of Christ (Romans 16:3,  Philippians 1:21,  Philippians 2:29-30).
  • Ready to share your very self with others (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
  • Be approved by God (1 Thessalonians 2:4).
  • Speaking to please God, not men (or women) (1 Thessalonians 2:4).
  • Not seeking glory from people (1 Thessalonians 2:6).
  • Gentle (1 Thessalonians 2:7).
  • Humble  (Philippians 2:3).
  • Holy, righteous and blameless in conduct (1 Thessalonians 2:10).
  • Considering the interests of others (Philippians 2:4,  Philippians 2:20-21).
  • A teacher, using spoken and written words (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

I am sure there are other attributes that can be found if a thorough systematic study were done, but the list above indicates what the Apostle Paul valued in his fellow bondservants. In effect a fellow servant with Paul is a bondservant of Jesus Christ and Jesus came not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:25-28).

Not that all those who ministered with Paul lived up to this standard, he often mentions his distress over those who considered themselves as super-apostles (2 Corinthians 11:5), seek their own interests (Philippians 2:21), preach law and hinder people from obedience to Christ (Galatians 5:7,  Galatians 5:12), deceive believers regarding the end times (2 Thessalonians 2:2-3,  2 Timothy 2:18), devote themselves to idle myths (1 Timothy 1:3-4) due to poor understanding (1 Timothy 1:6-7). There were also some who indulged in irreverent babble (2 Timothy 1:16-17)and teach error for shameful gain (Titus 1:10-11).

Considering these two lists; the attributes of a fellow bondservant of Christ; and the attitudes and behaviour of those who let Paul down, it is striking how easy it is to find examples of the second list in the christian world today yet how few stand out as examples of a bondservant of Christ. Obviously true servants of Jesus will be humble, consider the interests of others and not be a burden so are less likely to draw attention to themselves.

It would be pointless having a moan or rant about the lousy state of Christian leadership, it is human (sinful) nature for the self-seeking to rise into public leadership. However, those who have the most impact on individual baby Christians are often the humble, true bondservants of Christ and I can certainly grow in all the areas outlined in my list above.  I would like to be counted as a fellow bondservant, yet am far from that currently. The beloved Epaphras is an excellent reminder of what my goal in life should be.

Beautiful, sore feet

A message of joy, dancing and thanksgiving as Free Burma Rangers bring relief, medical care and the message of the Gospel to a village in Karen State.

How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!
(Romans 10:15 ESV)

Please take the time to read this beautiful report via the wife of a Team Leader with the Free Burma Rangers:

FBR REPORT: A MESSAGE FROM A RELIEF TEAM LEADER’S WIFE

Today God wasn’t just bringing broken feet to Saw Wah Der, but the feet of people from all over Burma: FBR teams from Lahu, Pa-Oh, Karenni, Naga, and Kachin areas all walked here together, proclaiming the good news that these people, the people of Saw Wah Der, are not forgotten, are not alone in their struggle for freedom, and bringing hope of a peace borne from love and their shared struggle for freedom. There were also messages of love from friends from around the world, friends who had been inspired to give this village what they had asked for last year, the funds to pay a teacher and start a school. (Please click on the link above to read the entire report.)

Having done plenty of walking through mountains myself in younger days, I know well the concerns over the state of one’s feet when considering such trips. But my own walking through mountains has been for ‘fun’ or at least because I enjoyed the peace and beauty of being there. Such reasons seem to me trivial and indulgent as I read this report, even though I do believe that God delights in our enjoyment of His creation.Now there was a teacher here, and a school building, with nine smiling, eager pupils, thanking us and those who helped.

What I love about the report from a war stricken village is the faith and hope that it radiates – faith in God to even get there despite injured feet, hope given to the villagers – that they are not alone in their plight and that God is caring for them.

As I consider my own feet, in nice shoes, what are they doing to bring faith and hope to others?

Grace

But [Jesus] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV)

Sometimes I end up being thankful for things that initially I was annoyed or grumbling about… Like missing the bus one Thursday evening because I answered the phone at work just as my shift ended and it was a call that took a while to handle. It was the last bus of the day and a fine evening so I walked home listening to music on my iPod. The very last song I listened to was my favourite Keith Green song, Grace By Which I Stand. This reminded me of my many weaknesses, fallings and failings in faith, the fact that at any time I am only a decision away from denying Christ or making a mockery of my confessions of faith.

This may sound despondent and morbid, but it is actually a good place to be. When I am weak, then I am strong. Knowing that it is only by grace that I stand in Christ makes me more secure, not less. If I stand in my own strength that strength fluctuates daily, hourly even. My strength will fade as I age, is weak in the face of temptation and is untested against what is yet to come in my life. Whereas God’s strength is unwavering, proven in His raising Christ from the dead, knows the end from the beginning and He holds all of it in His hand.

Lord, the feelings are not the same,
I guess I’m older, I guess I’ve changed.
And how I wish it had been explained, that as you’re growing you must remember,

That nothing lasts, except the grace of God, by which I stand,
In Jesus.
I know that I would surely fall away,
Except for grace, by which I’m saved.

Lord, I remember that special way,
I vowed to serve you, when it was brand new.
But like Peter, I can’t even watch and pray,
one hour with you,
And I bet, I could deny you too.

But nothing lasts, except the grace of God, by which I stand,
In Jesus.
I’m sure that my whole life would waste away,
Except for grace, by which I’m saved.
(Keith Green, 1980)

Gifts I have noticed this week (#215 – #224)
[as I adjust to working nights]:

215) A quiet house.
216) That our goal is perfection in Christ, not simply being better than others.
217) The pleasure of lying down and closing sleepy eyes.
218) A comfy bed.
219) The security of being able to sleep without fear.
220) A satisfied stomach.
221) Being wakeful enough to function.
222) The enjoyment of watching my little boy and dog playing with a ball together distracting me completely from what I was doing.
223) Appreciation for my hardworking neighbour as I hear him mowing his lawns.
224) Daughters missing home while on holiday at Grandma’s.
225) Another dawn in our beautiful city.
226) Tiredness reminding me of early days with new babies.

Interrupt your ‘to-do’ list

Having been away on holiday for a week the idea of returning to a schedule full of stuff to do does not appeal! (not that my own schedule is particularly busy compared to that of my lovely wife).

While we were away I read an amazing book by Ingrid Betancourt, Even Silence Has an End, which tells her story of being held as a hostage in the amazon jungle for six years. She comments several times about the torment of being forced to waste so much time out of her life and resolved to spend more time with her family if she ever escaped captivity. This seems to be a fairly common resolution when people are separated from those they love, but I recently encountered a strikingly different resolution from Billy Graham when asked what he would do differently if able to live his life over again:

I would study more, pray more, travel less, take less speaking engagements. If I had it to do over again, I’d spend more time in meditation and prayer and telling the Lord how much I love him and adore him and looking forward to the time we are going to spend together for eternity. -Billy Graham (Quoted on the Prayer Journal blog).

Then I read a cutting-to-the-heart post by Ann Voskamp on stopping to pray in which she finds the connection between work, time and idolatry:

“You okay, Mom?” Josh’s washing dishes, sleeves rolled up, elbow-deep in suds.

I whisper it out the window, ashamed … appalled… “The only thing that prevents me from praying more is me.

The sparrows line the hydro wires out by the mailbox.

It’s my own inflated sense of self-importance, the elevation of my work, of my agenda, that keeps me from prayer-communion.” I turn to face him.

“That’s called idol worship. I don’t pray enough because I’m practicing idol worship.

It is so easy to treat prayer as another thing I should do, like exercising or learning a foreign language, something I know would be worth the effort if I could find the time.

However, the most important principle of ‘time management’ that I have learned over the years is that the list of stuff ‘needing’ to be done will always expand beyond the time available to do it. Therefore it is a fallacy to think in terms of getting rid of that ‘to-do’ list and then having time for the important stuff in life such as praying. The list is never going to end! To find time to pray I have to interrupt the list with what is more important.

So please excuse me, I have important things to be doing!

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
(Romans 12:12 ESV)

Interrupt your ‘To-Do’ list

Having been away on holiday for a week the idea of returning to a schedule full of stuff to do does not appeal! (not that my own schedule is particularly busy compared to that of my lovely wife).

While we were away I read an amazing book by Ingrid Betancourt, Even Silence Has an End which tells her story of being held as a hostage in the amazon jungle for six years. She comments several times about the torment of being forced to waste so much time out of her life and resolved to spend more time with her family if she ever escaped captivity. This seems to be a fairly common resolution when people are separated from those they love, but I recently encountered a strikingly different resolution from Billy Graham when asked what he would do differently if able to live his life over again:

I would study more, pray more, travel less, take less speaking engagements. If I had it to do over again, I’d spend more time in meditation and prayer and telling the Lord how much I love him and adore him and looking forward to the time we are going to spend together for eternity.  -Billy Graham (Quoted on the Prayer Journal blog).

Then I read a cutting-to-the-heart post by Ann Voskamp on stopping to pray in which she finds the connection between work, time and idolatry:

“You okay, Mom?” Josh’s washing dishes, sleeves rolled up, elbow-deep in suds.

I whisper it out the window, ashamed… appalled… “The only thing that prevents me from praying more is me.”

The sparrows line the hydro wires out by the mailbox.

It’s my own inflated sense of self-importance, the elevation of my work, of my agenda, that keeps me from prayer-communion.” I turn to face him.

“That’s called idol worship. I don’t pray enough because I’m practicing idol worship.”

It is so easy to treat prayer as another thing I should do, like exercising or learning a foreign language, something I know would be worth the effort if I could find the time.

However, the most important principle of ‘time management’ that I have learned over the years is that the list of stuff ‘needing’ to be done will always expand beyond the time available to do it. Therefore it is a fallacy to think in terms of getting rid of that ‘To Do’ list and then having time for the important stuff in life such as praying. The list is never going to end! To find time to pray I have to interrupt the list with what is more important.

So please excuse me, I have important things to be doing!

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
(Romans 12:12 ESV)

Grace in Tablet Form

I am in the curious situation in which taking a pill makes it appear as though I am exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
(Galatians 5:22-24 ESV)

As a father, God calls me to avoid provoking my children because it will discourage them (Colossians 3:21) and not to sin in anger (Ephesians 4:26). I am also to avoid being anxious (Matthew 6:25). These things are hard. But I have found that my antidepressant medication makes them much less hard than they previously were.

We cannot know what is ‘normal’ parental grumpiness, or internal anger or anxiety – there are no reliable ways to measure such things. It may be that what I experience on a bad day is mild compared to most and that I am just weak and indulgent. I also do not think that it would be right to take a pill in order to be sanctified. And yet, in pondering this I find myself wondering, “is taking a prescribed antidepressant so different to praying and asking God for grace?” In praying I am asking God to do what I cannot do – change my heart. Taking these tablets also has the effect of changing my heart.

So I am in the curious situation in which taking a pill makes it appear as though I am exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24). A naturalistic worldview would argue that the drug is the real causative agent and the fruit of the Spirit is a psychological concept to explain a physiological phenomenon. It is difficult to distinguish where the physiological effect ends and the spiritual one begins. But I am convinced that the fruit of the Spirit is the result of God-wrought changes in the heart of a person by grace. It is not affective changes due to mood, emotions or physiology. Physiology may facilitate the fruit (i.e., the manifestation of grace) but is not the origin of it.

What cause do I have for such a conviction? Paul tells us that God has put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit (2 Corinthians 1:21-22) and His Spirit within us cries out to our Father (Galatians 4:5-6). This is the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11). So sanctification comes only by the Spirit, regardless of superficial means I may use to mask the overflow of my heart (Mark 7:21).

Is the medication opposed to God’s Spirit? No, I am using it to moderate something which is causing problems. The effects of medication may not reflect a true heart change wrought by God, but it reduces the negative effects of a disordered state, making life better for people around me.

In this is grace, showing me that a different state is possible. Making me aware that the depressed state is destructive, so I can begin along a path of submitting to the Spirit of God to put in order the chaos of my heart.

Having a break

Just a quick note to let you know that there will be few (if any) posts for the next 7 days because our family is off to Omarama for a holiday. We will be staying in a caravan and the laptop is staying at home, so even if internet access is available I don’t expect to avail myself of it. I will be taking the camera though, so perhaps I will be inspired by the scenery and include some pictures in a post next week.

Related to this topic:

Focus

Human mesenchymal cell

I have set myself to make 2011 a year of focusing on essentials. One of the most fundamental elements of our lives is how we spend our time. Don’t panic… I’m not going to start preaching about time management! I am more concerned about some of the junk I spend my time on. Junk such as Facebook and casual internet browsing. I can easily kiss goodbye to several hours in an evening on those two alone. It always feels important at the time, and often is interesting stuff I am reading, but that time spent keeping up with 20 blogs pushes more important things out – such as reading the Bible or praying for my own kids.

“One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”
John Piper

Therefore I have decided to put some self imposed limits on these things. I’m not going to tell you what my own time limits are, or what blogs I have dumped off my RSS feed, these are things specific to each individual and to the phase of life we are each in. I think the internet is a great tool, but there is no need for me to turn the tool into a time-wasting toy. I am choosing to be “intentionally uninformed” so as to leave time in my days to inform myself about God.

Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.

(Proverbs 12:11 ESV)

In the end it is about focus. If I want to see God I need to focus my attention upon Him and purposefully block out other distractions. This is similar to how a telescope or microscope works – they each have lenses which focus light, they also have a tube (or equivalent) which keeps extraneous light out. The only light you want in a microscope is that which is directed through the sample and lenses, the stray light in the room reduces the clarity of the image and reduces resolution. This is especially so with fluorescence microscopy, good fluorescence images require a darkened room, meticulous sample preparation, a sophisticated microscope and a lot of skill. Obtaining a few high quality, informative images can take weeks of preparation – work that requires skill, concentration and focus, even through all the boring steps of what is a long, and at times tedious, process. Yet these images have opened up new ways of seeing and understanding the very basis of life – well worth the effort in my opinion.

So too with seeing the glory of Christ, it takes time, discipline and sometimes a bit of tedium, but the vista is far better than any microscope image!

Grace in tablet form?

Assorted multicolored pills. Close up.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:22-24 ESV)

As a father, God calls me to avoid provoking my children because it will discourage them (Colossians 3:21) and not to sin in anger (Ephesians 4:26). I am also to avoid being anxious (Matthew 6:25). These things are hard. But I have found that my antidepressant medication makes them much less hard than they were.

We cannot know what is ‘normal’ parental grumpiness, or internal anger or anxiety – there are not reliable ways to measure such things. It may be that what I experience on a bad day is mild compared to most and that I am just weak and indulgent. I also do not think that it would be right to take a pill in to be sanctified. And yet, in pondering this I find myself wondering, “what is the difference from praying and asking God for grace?” In praying I am asking God to do what I cannot do – change my heart.

So I am in the curious situation in which taking a pill makes it appear as though I am exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24). A naturalistic worldview would argue that the drug is the real causative agent and the fruit of the Spirit is a psychological concept to explain a physiological phenomenon. It is difficult to distinguish where the physiological effect ends and the spiritual one begins. But I am convinced that the fruit of the Spirit is the result of God-wrought changes in the heart of a person by grace. It is not affective changes due to mood, emotions or physiology. Physiology may facilitate the fruit (i.e., the manifestation of grace) but is not the origin of it.

What cause do I have for such a conviction? Paul tells us that God has put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit (2 Corinthians 1:21-22) and His Spirit within us cries out to our Father (Galatians 4:5-6). This is the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11). So sanctification comes only by the Spirit, regardless of superficial means I may use to mask the overflow of my heart (Mark 7:21).

Is the medication opposed to God’s Spirit? No, I am using it to moderate something which is causing problems. The effects of medication may not reflect a true heart change wrought by God, it reduces the negative effects of a disordered state, making life better for people around me.

In this is grace, showing me that a different state is possible. Making me aware that the depressed state is destructive, so I can begin along a path of submitting to the Spirit of God to put in order the chaos of my heart.

God cares about the displaced

Reading the opening paragraphs of the book of Ruth I was struck by the fact that God cared about an insignificant family displaced from their land and home by famine. God knew their names, He was watching as they traveled to Moab, He paid attention to who the sons married, in fact he chose one of those Moabite women to be the great-grandmother of king David, and part of the family line of His Son, Jesus.

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
(Ruth 1:1-5 ESV)

Obviously there were other families displaced by the same famine whose travels are not recorded in the Bible – God had a specific purpose in recording the details of this family. However, there are plenty of indications that God does pay attention to the poor and the displaced, He knew exactly where to find a widow to take Elijah in:

“Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”
(1 Kings 17:9 ESV)

God also knew that without Elijah coming to her she would die (1 Kings 17:12), and He provided for her, her son and Elijah (1 Kings 17:13-14). Jesus himself confirms that God knew all the widows in both Israel and elsewhere (Luke 4:25-26).

As I considered Elimelech’s family fleeing the famine, I found myself praying for the Shan people, many of whom are forced to flee their homes, villages and fields to escape the Burmese army and, this year, also famine.

In previous years, the main livelihood problems for farmers have been the loss of income while doing forced labour, restrictions on traveling to fields, and extortion by various armed groups.  However, the past year has been even more difficult throughout southern Shan State because of the worst drought in decades which has caused water levels in Inle Lake and major rivers to fall dramatically.  With poor irrigation systems, the lack of rain for paddy fields will have a huge impact on the food security of rural villagers and rice prices for townspeople alike.

In this climate of instability, over 29,000 people are estimated to have been displaced from their homes during the past year.  Over 128,000 internally displaced persons are estimated to remain in southern Shan State, which represents a slight decrease compared to last year.  This is primarily because restrictions on movement in government controlled relocation sites have proved unsustainable and villagers have drifted away.
(Protracted Displacement And Chronic Poverty In Eastern Burma/Myanmar , pg 46. Thailand Burma Border Consortium
2010)

It is so easy to read numbers like ‘29,000 people displaced in the past year’ and ‘128,000 internally displaced persons in Southern Shan State’ and not properly register what this means. I have never been to Burma, it is impossible for me to understand the reality for all these displaced people. What I can imagine is that 128,000 is about the number of people living in Dunedin, my home city, and if all of us were forced to move out with only what we could carry on foot, this would be a major national crisis. It would make world news. Meanwhile the displaced Shan people just get on with attempting to survive under a brutal military regime while it seems nobody in the rest of the world cares.

But God cares. He knows each of those people by name, in their own language. As Gods children He delegates the task of caring to us also. I cannot do much, but I can pray. Even though I do not know the names of any of these people, God does and He can take my un-named prayers and apply them to the child or widow or father or young man or scared young woman who needs those prayers right at this moment.

See also: