Friday, September 30, 2016

God's Focus - Colossians - Part 12

I love chapter 2 of Colossians. I am humbled by reading it again and again.

"See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily," - Colossians 2:8-9 ESV

"Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations..." - Colossians 2:16-20 ESV

Grace is God's mind and Jesus is God's focus. These passages sum up the bad theology taking root in that assembly. Jesus sums up the good theology that God gave them at the establishing of that assembly.

In a way, the writer is counseling in the best possible manner. The fullness of deity and of humanity are in Christ. Everything else is a distraction. Everything else will turn into personal disqualification.

Oh, It sounds good at first. It sounds reasonable on some level but then the demands come. Biblical spirituality is so simple when Jesus is at the center and becomes so complicated when He isn't.

Paul dives deeply into 'positional truth' and brings up pearls from the bottom...

"In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses," - Colossians 2:11-13 ESV

Christianity isn't what we are doing outwardly. It is what Christ has done for us and is doing in us using the Gospel.

The writer is in a great struggle for them because one is so different from the other. Behavioral changes are reasonable but worthless in God's economy. Jesus must be the cause and produce the effect or it is all worthless. Other teachers are moving in like wolves and the writer is urging the flock to stay close to the shepherd. The writer is in prison and is forced to use words from far away.

This chapter makes us want to draw near to Jesus. Grace theology is so valuable and so rare. Jesus is unique and nothing can take His place. He never starts making demands or criticizing us. The gate is narrow and we drop things of our own accord because His love motivates us. We want to be with Him and do things with Him because of love.

This letter was written to me... and to you. Jesus is what is needed. Regulations aren't the answer. Jesus is the answer.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Memorizing A Passage - Colossians - Part 11

A few topics this morning. Mental strength, fasting and resisting temptation.

One of the things I want to take away from this study of Colossians is to memorize several key passages from the book... one verse per chapter is my goal. I picked this one from chapter 1.

"Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." - Colossians 1:12-14 ESV

I've decided that I'm going to start memorizing passages from the ESV also which is a big decision. We used the KJV in Bible school and in a way it means more work because I will have alternate versions in my head and will need to keep track of which is which but on the whole I think that the ESV is a more understandable translation.

This issue has made me think of the topic of mental toughness. We all need it. Even if we don't think we do now... we will wish we had it later in life.

"You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth. For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the LORD your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him," - Deuteronomy 11:18-22 ESV

"Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air." - 1 Corinthians 9:25-26 ESV

If there are times when we say, 'I am not going to eat on this day but instead I'm going to give the money I would have spent on eating to this cause and I will spend the day praying in my mind instead.' doesn't that do something in us? Haven't we imposed a certain kind of order on ourselves that will serve us in other situations? Then when temptations come (and they will) we are used to denying ourselves and can say 'No!' as a one word final answer. It won't be a drawn out internal discussion.

I see scripture memorization along those lines also. We don't do it to please God. God has been made glad by His Son. Our actions can not add to God's joy. We are hidden in Christ. But mental toughness can add to our life.

When I see Jesus in the Gospels I see someone very sharp. He was Spirit led but not haphazard. He wasn't some charismatic personality. He had substance, depth and endurance. Our association with Him make those things ours also if we will enter in.

So this morning I will repeat my passage again and again, word by word and try to say it without looking at the page. Breaking it down into parts and putting those pieces back together again. I am setting alerts on my phone that say things like...

'Hey genius... what is your chapter 1 passage?'

If I don't remember it all or get part of it wrong I won't condemn myself but I will 'exercise self-control' and look at the passage again and until I own it.

The Bible is a treasure and it can be ours.

God help us. Help us to be tough. Help us to be sharp. Make us gracious people who can say 'No.' and mean it because we have already said, 'Yes.' to you for areas of our life. Thank you Lord. We trust you. You are our praise.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Receiving Correction - Colossians - Part 10

In Colossians chapter 1 we see the writer prepare the basis of what is going to be covered in the rest of the book. That basis is extremely important for several reasons but the one that strikes me this morning is this.

We must know that we are loved before we can receive correction and direction.

The Colossians have gone in the wrong direction doctrinally in several key ways. They are worshipping angels, they have a wrong concept or holiness and depravity and Jesus' deity has become diminished in emphasis and overshadowed. Chapter 2 is going to start addressing these issues.

"I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving." - Colossians 2:4-7 ESV

This morning I read through chapter 1 several times and looked for divisions of ideas (1:1, 1:3, 1:9, 1:13, 1:21, 1:24-2:3)

The writer is not looking down on the reader. He is a peer but a peer with specific understanding of theology (the study of God) and anthropology (the study of man). He wants these people that he mostly doesn't know (but the Spirit knows intimately) to succeed and thrive.

In chapter 2 the writer acknowledges that there are other teachers and that these teachers are wrong about important issues. He is going to correct them by focusing on Jesus.

I want to be anchored in chapter 1 before I move to chapter 2. It would be tempting to stay in chapter 1 and never move on to correction but that is not profitable.

My theology isn't perfect. It is sound but not perfect. Like a musical instrument, I need to be re-tuned after heavy use and the way that happens is to focus on Jesus. He is always perfect.

Don't be surprised if people don't respond to you if you jump directly into correction. They need Jesus in chapter 1 before they can accept Jesus in chapter 2.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Looking At The First Chapter - Colossians - Part 9

"We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you," - Colossians 1:3 ESV

"For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face," - Colossians 2:1 ESV

My idea this morning was to go over chapter one phrase by phrase and really look at what is being said. I was going do a survey and take a step back, to look at progressions and even try and summarize points. But as I began to read the next chapter the shift in the first verse caught my eye. So I went back and looked for that.

Verses 3-23 Have a kind of we--you--He quality. We do this. You are like this. He (Jesus) is like this.

Verse 24 (starting at the end of 23) Paul shift into I--He

Then as I read chapter two over and over again I see a different emphasis: I--He--you

'We' pray for you but 'I' struggle for you.

'Great Struggle' is hēlikos (Strong's G2245) agōn (G73) in the Greek. Hēlikos means comrade or a peer of the same age and agōn is a contest. It refers to an athlete who plays for a specific city-state and competes in their sport or weight class representing their area.

Have you ever looked at the scriptures this way?

I find it easy (or tempting) at times to cherry pick scriptures that say what I want. We can concentrate the doctrine down and cut out verses or words but in a way it is like plucking a flower. The moment you do that flower begins to die.

There is a place for that. We need to know God's mind. To cook a recipe we need a pinch of this and a handful of that but sometimes it is good to stand a few feet back and just survey something. We see amazing nuanced things when we survey and look for patterns.

I want to sense the direction of the Bible. I want to notice which way the current is flowing. I want to hear God's voice. Pray. Read. Pray. Read. Question. Step back. Lean in. Microscope. Telescope. stethoscope. Worship. Read. Form a conviction. Make a decision.

The Bible reveals Jesus and I need to see Him. I love that the Bible is autobiographical and not just biographical. God reveals Himself through the scriptures and we can go as deep as we dare. He is waiting to meet us in His book. He has 10,000 things to tell us.

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Monday, September 26, 2016

Christ's Afflictions - Colossians - Part 8

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known..." - Colossians 1:24-25 ESV

This is a very intense passage.

The Greek word for 'sufferings' is pathēma (Strong's G3804) which is derived from pathos. To understand this term we must look briefly at Aristotle.

Aristotle said that there were 'three ingredients for persuasion' or 'appeals'. Ethos, pathos and logos were identified as those three. They are also referred to as the 'three artistic proofs'. Ethos stands for authority. It is when a speaker gives credentials so that the hearer will believe and the speaker is qualified to say something authoritative on a subject. Pathos is an emotional appeal and logos is a logical appeal. Paul was well versed in Greek thought but the scriptures were not wriiten by Paul. God used Paul to pen the scriptures.

We see here and intertwining of the Holy Spirit and Paul's living human spirit. Paul agonizes in his body. He is in prison. This is one of the four books he writes from prison. His body aches. He experiences loneliness. He has longings for light and freedom and comfort. During this time the Spirit is convincing Paul of Christ's sufferings on the cross. The phrase 'filling up what is lacking' is antanaplēroō (G466) is very close to the idea of persuasion. When you convince someone of something you are 'filling up what is lacking' in their understanding.

Paul is saying, 'I am glad I understand what Christ did on the cross. He is persuading me and so I in turn, want to persuade you.'

I don't think we appreciate the value of agony. Perhaps because we don't want to appreciate it. Our minds shy away and want to hide from pain.

I don't believe Paul was claiming to be adding anything to Christ's suffering. I think Paul was identifying with it and there was a deep persuasion happening in his heart that he wanted to pass on to the Colossians.

"...the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me." - Colossians 1:26-29 ESV

The cross was planned out from before time but now it is revealed and Paul's sees his time as a time of opportunity. Even though he is in prison he has been persuaded and the Spirit of God communicates through Paul the 'rich glory' of the mystery which is now being revealed.

Christ in us is the mystery. The invisible God being made visible through sometimes suffering humanity. God wants to woo the world and He has chosen to use us to do that.

You might feel trapped. You may have been deeply hurt. Jesus was all of those things and more. There is an energy working in the one who suffers and still believes. God is going to persuade people with the message when it comes from that kind of messenger.

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Friday, September 23, 2016

If We Do Not Shift Focus - Colossians - Part 7

'...If indeed you continue in the faith.' is a phrase in Colossians taken up by those who don't believe in eternal security.

"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, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister." - Colossians 1:21-23 ESV

There is this grand explanation of who Jesus Is and then comes these statements about our past and the word 'if' becomes a stumbling block to English speakers. Are we only reconciled if we continue in the faith? Do we have to be steadfast in order to have salvation? Is this blamelessness Paul is speaking of our responsibility to keep ourselves clean?

No. A thousand times 'no'. Jesus has reconciled us and that reconciliation continues. It is based on who He Is and what He has done. We must hearken further back in the chapter to understand this.

"And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy," - Colossians 1:9-11 ESV

This is all one chapter for a reason. Paul knows that these believers are in danger. The danger is that this great finished work salvation will become divorced from their thinking. The danger (among other dangers) is that these people will develop an identity outside of Christ as Christians and not remain people who just believe and receive.

Jesus has done something for us but our old lines of thinking can hinder our knowledge of that reality. Our steadfastness must be in rehearsing the truth and focusing on who Jesus Is and what He has done. It isn't performance. It is recognition and what is at stake is not our salvation it is experiencing our salvation in a real way.

Paul is talking about losing our house keys not losing our house. He doesn't want us to leave our bank card at home because then we won't be able to get to our money. Knowledge of the finished work is like having a cell phone to make the call we scheduled at a certain time. If we don't remain steadfast to bring our wallet, keys and cell phone then we will lapse back into old thinking and we were once 'once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds' (see verse 21)

'Don't we have some responsibility to do something?'

The only responsibility we have is to believe in Jesus. That is all we say to people who don't know God and that is all we say to people who do know God... only believe. If we believe and rehearse our belief God will change our desires and it will change the way we walk and what we want to be a part of.

"He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." - Colossians 1:13-14 ESV

'He has delivered us.' Thank You God. Precious blood bought our pardon. We rehearse 'The Faith' today. We look at you work and marvel at your Son. You sent a Savior to save us  and we are set apart because we have received the gift of what happened at the cross. God and man are reconciled. Keep us steadfast in that understanding. We worship You today. You are amazing. We turn our eyes upon Jesus and look into His face... and worship.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Glorious Secret - Colossians - Part 6

I love this next passage so much. It is a divine biography that pulls back the curtain of reality and gives us a look behind the scenes to see who Jesus is beyond His life as a carpenter's son.

This morning I am reading it and imagining that Paul is on stage giving an introduction to the keynote speaker at an important meeting. He is giving credentials and warming the audience so that they will pay attention.

'...and now please give a warm welcome to our host... the one who saved us and brought and calls us all by name... the Savior of the world...'

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 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, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister." - Colossians 1:15-23 ESV

And the crowd rises to its feet with thunderous applause...

Who Is like Him? Demons cower when He Is near. Storms are hushed by His quiet command. He was active in creation. He is the focus of redemption. He Is and always was... He Is the LORD.

I just want to park here this morning and worship. He Is worthy.

Still... In a way our meeting Him is still an underground meeting. He cross is everywhere hanging in Churches but His identity is not known and He Is hated. I love this next passage. It shows Jesus' strategy of presenting Himself in hostile places.

"After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. Now the Jews' Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, 'Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.' For not even his brothers believed in him. Jesus said to them, 'My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.' After saying this, he remained in Galilee. But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private. The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, 'Where is he?' And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, 'He is a good man,' others said, 'No, he is leading the people astray.' Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him. About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. The Jews therefore marveled, saying, 'How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?'" - John 7:1-15 ESV

For now, we worshippers worship Him underground. Even if we do it thousands at a time. Believing is still an underground movement. In this age and it will continue to be.

The world, the flesh and the devil hate Jesus.

Wherever we go today Jesus will be with us... just like He snuck into the feast He will invisibly enter the room as we enter. He will go into the places hostile to the Gospel. We will know Him but many in the room won't.

If He Is to be made visible it will be through us. Let's introduce Him like Paul does here in Colossians.

He snuck into the feast but then He openly spoke truth without holding back.I want to ponder that today. I want to hear the voice of the Father and know what to say and when to say it. I need to know when to hide myself and when to appear. Only the Father can show us as we walk by faith.

We trust You God. Give us boldness but also give us discretion. We need both in equal measure. We applaud You and marvel at your Son  as we worship You in The Spirit. Send us into the world. Help us. Guide us. We trust that You will.

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