Friday, December 27, 2013


Wednesday was Christmas, and I spent part of the day reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  I’ve seen different renditions of it (with the Muppet Christmas Carol being my favorite!) but never read the book.  It was well worth it! 

As you no doubt know, the ghost of Marley visits Scrooge, warning of the coming specters.  He is hauling a large chain, clanking and cumbersome.  When Scrooge asks about it, Marley tells him, “I wear the chain I forged in life, I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

I’ve also been reading through the book of Philippians each morning, using different translations.  I plan to read it each day until the end of the year. 

Perhaps because of the chains I’d read about the day before, yesterday morning what stood out to me was what Paul had to say about his chains:  Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel” (Phil 1:12).

Chains.  In one case, chains forged, link by link, by the wearer’s sins.  In the other, chains forged and fastened by the evil of others.

It makes me think about my own chains.  There are chains that I have forged.  Like Marley, there are choices I have made that I carry with me.  Unkind words and attitudes, disobedience, callousness, worrying more about my own pocketbook, my own comforts, than about sharing the Good News with others. 

There are also those chains that are not of my making.  Pain and sickness, a body aging.  Living in a broken and suffering world.  Others’ expectations, sins, even misguided good intentions.  All of these can hang on me, weighing me down. 

Regardless of the origin, I have a choice about how I carry my chains.  Am I like Marley, weeping and wailing, impotently clanking along in anguish and hopelessness? 

Yes, often this is me.  It’s not fair.  I just want them gone.  My prayers, my energy, my focus is on getting rid of them.  I cry out for relief. 

But, is there another way?

Paul’s letter, written in chains, likely reminded the Philippians of the chains he wore in their city, too.  Arrested for freeing a slave girl of the demon who possessed her, Paul and Silas were locked up in prison, and this after being severely beaten and flogged.  If anyone had cause for weeping and wailing, it was them! 

Instead, the two spent the night praying and singing hymns to God, with the other prisoners listening in (Acts 16:25).  When the earthquake came, no one stampeded out through fallen walls.  Why not?  Could it be the witness of these two worshiping men?  The story ends with the jailer and his entire family saved.  If not for chains, this family would never have known Jesus!    

With this history, Paul is writing to the church that grew in that city.  Once more, he is chained up.  Once more, he is seeing God work in mighty ways, not despite his chains, but because of them. 

When I contemplate my response to my chains, I hear my despair and begging for release.  Has my faithless whining held back the Gospel?  It is a serious and scary thing to have to ponder.      

In the end, Marley’s chain did help mankind as Scrooge became “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew…”

And, of course, because of Paul’s chains, “most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” (Philippians 1:14)

I thank God for chains that others have faithfully carried, allowing me to grow in Him.  And, I pray for the same courage for myself.  Oh, that I would sing and praise God in whatever chains He allows!  That with Paul I could rejoice whatever my circumstances, confident that in God’s hands, all that happens can advance His Gospel. 

That my chains can somehow be a part of making others ‘good’.  That I would have the honor and privilege of inspiring others to boldness!  That they would see past me, to the One who redeems chains, turning them from symbols of punishment into the way to freedom and life.    

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