Fill ‘er Up

“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. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.” Colossians 1:24-26

Right after I got married, I gave up computer software updates and PC troubleshooting for something a bit more… down to earth, you could say. I needed work in my new hometown, and since employers weren’t tracking me down and forcing jobs on me, I gravitated toward the only available option: construction. With a booming housing market at the time, finding enough to do wasn’t a problem.

But finding motivation was a problem. Going from a specialized, higher paying job in computers, where I mostly sat at my desk all day, to cleaning up cinder blocks, wrestling with insulation, and scrubbing windows—that was quite the humbling thing. Honestly, I’d never had to do any real manual labor in my life before that. (Yes, I was coddled.) The heat and pain and bloodied hands were all new to me.

The first few weeks, after a particularly arduous day of gophering around the jobsites, I’d come home and crash on the living room floor. My muscles weren’t used to the beating they took, and they made sure I knew about it.

Slowly, however, with all the wood slinging and nail pounding and putty slapping, things changed. The nights of carpet collapses became less frequent, and my hands didn’t split open nearly as often (unless you count the numerous times I stabbed myself with a chisel). In fact, I came to enjoy the process of seeing something come together, seeing a house take shape.

My spiritual growth has come in a similar fashion—just without the splinters. At first, the failures dragged me down and beat me up. The rejections when I tried to share my newfound faith stung. The transformation cut deep. But as I grew and as God worked in me, something changed. The pain still stings and the transformation still cuts (that never stops), yet I began to see the pain as an important part of the overall process. Christ is building something in me—and in His Church.

As humans, we all suffer. But as Christians, we fill up on suffering. Sounds bad, but the point is that instead of us letting the suffering go to waste, God uses it for the good of other believers (and our own). He takes the pain and makes it passion, passion that spills out as love for our brothers and sisters.

We each serve as a breathing example of the gospel played out in real life. Our pain and restoration make us a family like nothing else can.

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My Alien Brain

“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” Colossians 1:21-22

The first migraine hit me in middle school. While wrapping up some pre-algebra problems, a fuzzy, white spot kept covering up the numbers. I’d blink and rub my eyes and try to work around it, but the spot hovered there for most of the class. Being the well-reasoned adolescent that I was, I naturally assumed what seemed logical: I was about to die of a massive stroke.

I obviously didn’t die. But when the spot finally did go away, I wished it had stayed.

Stomach-curling, fist-clenching, world-bending pain plopped down into my cranium and threw some sort of headache party. After an hour or so, I couldn’t take it anymore. I told the skeptical school nurse that I thought I had a “migration headache,” which didn’t ease her skepticism. Still, she let me go home.

Just to complete the headache humiliation, I got sick right outside the school (so that all the classes on that side of the building could watch), fell asleep as soon as I got home, and woke up with a throbbing head. Migraines don’t like to go without a fight. They kick and scream into that good night.

My own head revolted against me for several years after that. If I didn’t get enough sleep or got hit with too much stress, the spot would make a comeback. I did learn to lessen the pain sometimes by closing my eyes as soon as the fuzz sprang into view, but that didn’t always work.

Truthfully, the migraines were the least of my problems. My un-reconciled brain, the one that had no understanding of Christ, had revolted from God. Instead of fuzzy spots as warning signs, there were evil deeds, as Paul calls them. I played on others’ emotions to get my way, used girlfriends as my personal trophy case, spent hours and hours on the kinds of websites that wouldn’t make it through a work Internet filter, and generally wasted my gifts. The pain that resulted from those “spots” wasn’t just inwardly focused—it left quite the burning trail in its wake.

My alien brain knew nothing else then. It wanted nothing better. It was pretty much dead.

That’s exactly the reason Christ’s reconciling, restoring death still astounds me. This gray matter, so unresponsive to anything spiritual, came to life with God’s preceding grace. He kept hitting me and kept hitting me until I finally gave up, followed His Son, and stopped being an alien.

Sifted

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32

Every so often, I’m overcome with the urge. I tromp my way into the kitchen, raid my wife’s Pinterest boards, and load up the most ridiculously awesome dessert I can find (as long as it has ingredients I can pronounce). Why? I have no idea, but cooking is an itch that has to be scratched every so often. And if I’m going to cook, then let it be dessert (or something grilled, but dessert works better year round).

Now, I’m not the most faithful of recipe followers. I never measure vanilla extract; I eschew mixer etiquette (like the speed really matters); and I don’t sift flour. In fact, I’m convinced that a sifter was invented by kitchen accessory companies as a way to squeeze more money out of wannabe chefs: “Sure, your flour is fluffy, but is it sifted fluffy?”

Okay, okay… a real chef, which I am not, will tell you the importance of sifting. They’ll go into a long spiel about why it makes the dish better. They’re right, I’m sure, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to go through with the process. I’d rather live my fantasy about why sifting flour isn’t important because it makes the dessert easier.

In fact, that’s exactly the same reaction I have with my life being sifted. I much prefer the easy, slapdash method of getting to where God wants me to be. My desire is that He take me from messed up to fixed in the rough areas of my life without having to go through the tough work of restoration. Throw in the fix, and I’m good to go.

But it doesn’t work that way, and there’s a good reason why: being sifted leaves a mark that instant fixes don’t. We need the scars to remind us.

Notice how Jesus explains this to Peter. First, He tells Peter that Satan has asked to sift the disciple. Asked… as in requesting permission from God to test Peter. Second, Satan gets permission. Jesus doesn’t say the request was denied. He says only that He prayed for Peter’s faith not to fail. In other words, Jesus holds the disciple together, but He doesn’t stop the testing. Finally, it’s only after the sifting and restoration that Peter can strengthen his brothers.

That’s the key here. Peter gets sifted (through his denial of Jesus), but because he’s sifted, he can restore his brothers. His faith gets a huge boost, and the post-sifting Peter becomes a rock-steady man of God (couldn’t resist the pun).

Sifting stinks, and we’d all prefer that God would just snap His mighty fingers and make us the man or woman He wants us to be. But if He did, we would miss the blessing that comes from being refined in the fire. Yes, I said “blessing,” a big, fat blessing—even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time.

Let Pain Do Its Full Work in You

I don’t often just read the Bible during study. There’s too much conversation going on for simple reading. I’m too busy praying to God and preaching to myself to just scan over the words. I’m not super-spiritual; reading Scripture’s just not a quiet endeavor. You read it, and the words dig their way down deep.

Thanks to Mark Driscoll, I no longer have to worry about that sounding weird. (Now it’s only weird when someone comes in and catches me.)

Recently, I’ve been actively conversing with Lamentations, a book I’ve often avoided. After all, it’s not exactly a pep rally to go. Any book where the narrator says God makes him eat dirt doesn’t exactly land on the must-read list. We’d rather focus on the “joy comes in the morning” part and be done.

But we really can love this book—pain, face slaps, being buried alive, and all. You see, pain does a work in us; disappointment transforms. We don’t have to like it—Jeremiah didn’t—but we do have to remember that we’re not supposed to see things with our own eyes. We’re supposed to get a new identity in Christ and start from there.

That’s why Jeremiah can weep one moment and praise God the next. He knows that pain has to work through to completion and refine us. It sucks, but it’s worth it.

Argue with Lamentations for a few days. Get to know the God who knows what haunts you. The best part is that He knows how to grace you out of your pit.