Imprisoned

given on Sunday, February 6, 2011

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Have you felt imprisoned this week?  The sense of urgency on Monday was evident in the classrooms, in the stores, and even on the roads.  As the precipitation began falling, the forecasts kept insisting that the blizzard was imminent.  The reactions ranged from sheer excitement to complete fear.  Then the snow began, right on cue from the weather forecasts.  Blizzard 2011 locked everybody up in the homes.

The blizzard’s effect is easy to see when one looks out the windows and the doors, but some effects cannot be seen.  Many are still sitting inside the house, looking at the snow piled up on the windows and the doors.  They see no way to get out; safety is inside the house.  For these the storm made them prisoners.

Consider this:  Life without Christ is like being in prison.

In Philippians 1:21 (the Message), Paul’s attitude about living a Christ-filled life sounds energizing:

On the contrary, everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die. They didn’t shut me up; they gave me a pulpit! Alive, I’m Christ’s messenger; dead, I’m his bounty. Life versus even more life! I can’t lose.

The background information on Philippians provides one of the earliest examples of how joyful one’s life can be simply because faith in God releases one from the shackles—or in today’s lingo, the handcuffs—of the world.  The letter to Philippi is believed to be written in 61 AD and Paul was imprisoned in Rome around 60-63 AD according to the website Biblestudy.org.  (Accessed on February 4, 2011 at http://www.biblestudy.org/question/when-and-how-many-years-was-apostle-paul-imprisoned.html.)

This week we have all been imprisoned by a weather event that will be recorded in history as the geographically largest weather event on record—according to Al Roker while reporting from Chicago during the blizzard.  Here we are in the 21st century able to literally watch the water vapors, the jet streams, and the earth via satellite in real time.  Our jail this week was white, cold, brilliant, and dangerous.

First, we could not even get out of our homes, in some cases.  The snow literally drifted up against our doors and windows.  The weight of the snow made it difficult to push open the doors, and if you did, you still were trapped at home.  The snow and the wind made the process of getting out extremely difficult if not impossible for many.

The weather may have imprisoned us this week, but it was the civil authorities and the Pharisees that imprisoned Paul and the earliest Christian disciples.  They tossed them into the jails.  Guards were placed at the doors.  They refused to let Paul continue his travels personally spreading God’s word.  Yet people, even the guards, listened.

In Paul’s letter to the congregation at Philippi, he told the new Christians what his imprisonment was like:

2-14I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here, and everyone else, too, found out that I’m in jail because of this Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they’ve learned all about him. Not only that, but most of the followers of Jesus here have become far more sure of themselves in the faith than ever, speaking out fearlessly about God, about the Messiah.

The Philippians may have been thinking the worst about Paul’s circumstances; but despite being confined in a prison, Paul found happiness, even joy.  There are times when students tell me that it sure does not take much to make me happy.  I believe that the secret is my faith.  On the toughest days at school, I can be happy.  On the days when finances knock the wind out me, I can be happy.  On these snow days, I find blessings despite being locked up in the house.

As I read the Philippians study notes in the Life Application Study Bible, I found this note:

The secret of his joy is grounded in his relationship with Christ.  People today desperately want to be happy but are tossed and turned by daily success, failures, and inconveniences.

Paul was happy despite the circumstances.  His letter to the Philippians is designed to assure them that he is fine, that they still have work to do.  He asked them to continue spreading the good news of Christ.

The outline, or blueprint according to the Life Application Study Bible, for this letter is simple.  He writes in a very traditional manner beginning with his salutation:  We greet you with the grace and peace that comes from God our Father and our Master, Jesus Christ.  Even the tone of those opening words show Paul’s outlook is positive, even happy, rather than discouraged and unhappy.  The outline breaks the body of the letter into four separate chapters:  one for joy in suffering, one for joy in serving, one for joy in believing and one for joy in giving.

This week while we were imprisoned by the blizzard, I suspect that many of us spent the time grumbling, complaining, and wondering when we would ever get out.  The forecast continues to make us consider whether or not we are free, but if we put ourselves into Paul’s snow boots, we would not let the blizzard imprison us.  We would continue to find joy in Christ despite our suffering.

And joy is what I did find during the blizzard.  I went to bed Monday night anticipating what the snow would be like when I woke up.  Tuesday, I woke up moments before the first flakes began to fall—I decided to go get a few supplies, partly for the fun of being out in it.  All day Tuesday, I watched, took pictures, and stayed inside—warm and safe.  What else was there to do so why not enjoy it?

The Blizzard of 2011 may be over, but there is still suffering.  People are still confined to their houses.  Tragedy has hit families locally and nationally.  Suffering can be physical and emotional as the snow traps us and keeps us inside.  But there is the sunshine.  It streams across the white sparkles of the snowdrifts and glimmers there.  The sunshine warms my hands as I type.  The sunshine draws the people out, even if it is with snow shovels in hand.

Despite all the negatives in people’s lives, regardless of where they live, doesn’t the sunshine change one’s perspective?  The same can be said for the Son’s light shining in our own lives.  With our faith in Christ Jesus, we see the light.  There is no dark side to our life despite whatever trial or tribulation may occur.

If having God in your life can turn suffering into happiness, then what did you do to grow or to share your faith this week?  Each week as I read my small daily devotional or dive into the lectionary or open up the Bible to prepare, I am captured by what a difference faith makes in lives.  The snow may have imprisoned me and caused suffering, but my faith allows me to see life differently.  It frees me.

Paul’s philosophy about living for Christ is spelled out in the first chapter, verses 22-24:

As long as I’m alive in this body, there is good work for me to do. If I had to choose right now, I hardly know which I’d choose. Hard choice! The desire to break camp here and be with Christ is powerful. Some days I can think of nothing better. But most days, because of what you are going through, I am sure that it’s better for me to stick it out here. So I plan to be around awhile, companion to you as your growth and joy in this life of trusting God continues.

That philosophy should be the same for all Christians.  Despite all the suffering we experience in our earthly life, we know there is a kingdom waiting for us when we depart.

Right now, though, we have a job to do.  We are to share the good news of Christ with others so they, too, may know true joy in God.  This week, what did you do to grow or to share your faith?  Not an easy question to answer is it?  Even if the blizzard has trapped us inside our homes, there are plenty of things we can do to grow in our faith and/or to share the news with others.

Establish a routine of daily devotion.  Read and study the Bible.  Learn more about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, even the church and its history and its work.  Share.  For many of us when we think about sharing about God we become frightened.  The word ‘evangelism’ conjures up nightmares in our mind, but think about the times you talk to your friends, the mail and the cards that you receive and send, and now there is the internet.  Today, more than ever, sharing God is easy.  Just do it.

Even if the snowdrifts no longer imprison us, this week stop and think about what you are doing to grow and/or to share your faith.  Be resourceful, like those who used trashcans to shovel the snow, but be persistent in your own faith journey.  Faith fills you with joy despite the suffering around you.  Share the joy.

Dear Joyful Father,

Life has certainly challenged us this week, but we are filled with joy.  We choose to see the sunshine rather than the clouds.  We choose to feel the sun’s warmth rather than the snow’s cold.  We know that in suffering there is the hope of eternal life free from earthly pain.

Your Son made it possible through his suffering for us to have forgiveness.  Your Son showed us that despite all the trials and tribulations, loving one another is the answer.  Your Son taught those around him how to carry the news forward, so help us to do the same.  Help us to carry on Paul’s work of spreading the good news even if we are trapped inside our homes.

Thank you for making our lives happy and our spirits filled with joy.  Thank you for family and friends that lighten the sufferings and share in our joy.  Let us grow in faith during the weeks and years ahead.  Let us find the freedom to share the good news of You, Your Son, and the Holy Spirit.            –Amen

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