This is a big day, for Cheri and me.
Today is my release from medical confinement at the City of Hope, freed to shift from an in-patient status to out-patient, allowing my continuing treatment to occur while commuting from home.
For over 100 days, I’ve been in isolation; my freedom was sacrificed to receive the life-saving services that will likely result in recovering a future measured in years rather than weeks.
I’ve found new ways to identify with Paul as he experienced multiple incarcerations over the course of his mission ministry. About 40% of the years spent devoted to his calling were behind bars. Knowing how he dealt with that has helped me through these days that ambushed me in early January.
Writing from jail, Paul wrote to the church in Philippi – a church launched during his first missionary journey – whose origin story included his miraculous rescue from the city jail. Writing from a cell, his correspondence was not a “Why, me?” lament, but – rather – an encouragement to his friends to be full of joy and purpose. Listen in on his perspective: “Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance…” Paul knew that God was going to use every apparently random hardship that surprised the faithful missionary as a means to enhance his missional impact. God wastes no hardship, and the history of the Kingdom’s heroes include their scars among their medals.
Paul had no sense that Heaven owed him a get-out-of-jail-free pass; instead, he needed to wait to discover in real-time the emergence of explanations for his hardships: “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death…”
How much anxiety and energy do people expend in fear for their lives? When the forces of culture oppose the confrontational message of the Gospel, should the believer find a place to hide, or a way to amp-up their message? “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body…” Paul knew that fear of men is a potent weapon used by the Evil One, but powerless in the presence of the person energized by the Holy Spirit who is alive in them.
So, under difficult circumstances, what is the best option? “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.” (All quotes are from Philippians 1:18-26.) Paul’s best outcome was to finish his life mission and be with Jesus. The next best option? Stick around and create more fruit – promising gains in his own eternal portfolio – until God declared, “Game over.” How sure was he of this? “Convinced of this, I know…”
Change this letter around a bit; instead of the Philippians, put your name on the envelope as recipient. Rather than seeing Paul’s name in the concluding signature line, pencil my name in there. His commitment to the people he had served in his Calling is the inspiration for my commitment to you. Rather than asking God “Why?” when processing hardship, he models the better perspective that knows – with conviction – that a worthwhile explanation will be exposed in the future. His approach has been my choice as well during these last 100 days, and the 100 days of continuing care before me.
You and I have choices regarding the way we’ll do life. Will we succumb to hardship, or rise above the undesirable to accomplish the eternal? Best choice, for sure. That’s the report from Room 6213, in the East Wing of the 8th Floor at the City of Hope…