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Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

(a meditation on the book of Colossians, chapter 1:13-14)

The claims contained in this couple of verses are absolutely mind-boggling. If anyone thinks Christianity is just another of many “religious systems,” this passage puts a stake through the heart any such notion:

13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

– You mean, He hasn’t given us a new set of rules to follow? Not the point.

– Jesus isn’t all about high ideals and a great example to follow? He is, but that’s not His main mission. 

– The Christian faith is not just one of many equally valid ways to get to God? Not even remotely.

Here is what this passage teaches, and it’ll rock your world once you begin to see your spiritual reality clearly.

1. We are under the dominion of darkness. Moral, spiritual darkness. That’s right, you and I are not free agents. We are in captivity – blinded and helpless to serve God. It’s called sin – and if the Scriptures are clear about anything, from Genesis to Revelation, it’s the sinful condition of all mankind. Including you. And me. And them. Everyone.

2. God delivers people through Jesus, His beloved Son. Was God content to leave us in darkness? No – He sent His Son to be the Savior, so that any who are willing to escape the clutches of darkness can call out to Him for rescue. Yes – any=you.

3. Salvation involves a very real, supernatural transfer. When Christ lays hold of a sinner who seeks Him, there is an actual regime change. We may not see it with physical eyes, the way we might see someone fly from one country to another on an airliner and seek refugee status, but it is just as real. The kingdom of darkness has lost a subject. The kingdom of God has gained a reborn child. And this is a permanent status change. You’ve been made a citizen of a different realm.

4. Entry into this new kingdom meets our most profound spiritual need. God hates sin, and uncleanness cannot abide in His presence. So He brings about redemption through Jesus Christ – all of our sins are punished in Him (our substitute) on the cross; so that we might experience full and free forgiveness and cleansing. You see, the doorway into God’s kingdom requires a payment for all our sins, a price we can never conjure up ourselves. Redemption is a gift of grace, not a wage we earn.

When we embrace Jesus Christ in the gospel (“good news”), we come under His loving, beneficial rule. He is our Lord, and we would have it no other way, remembering the cruelty and folly of our life under the dominion of darkness.

Militant Islam, on the other hand, would impose the rule of Allah on all, setting up the dominion of a Caliphate on earth. It is the kingdom of an iron fist. You will be transferred by force into the bondage of Shariah law, or be killed for resisting. Bad news, for sure. Jesus, on the other hand, does not move us from one form of darkness to another. His kingdom moves us into the realm of light, and grace, and love. That’s why His message of deliverance is good news.

Finally – and this is implied all over this passage – there is no Christianity without direct, powerful, divine, supernatural, and personal intervention. There are many “shells” of Christian expression that have abandoned the power of the gospel, for a mere outward form of empty words and powerless rituals. Where you find the captives being set free from sin and darkness, there you are seeing the gospel in action.

— Prior posts in this series —

Colossians 1:1-2: Why Listen to this Paul Character?

Colossians 1:3-8: A Harvest of Gospel Fruit

Colossians 1:9-12: Praying for Progress

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(a meditation on the book of Colossians, chapter 1:9-12)

As Paul rejoices in the evidence of God’s work among the saints in Colossae, he goes beyond giving thanks. Past and present grace point to future growth: he beseeches God for progress – for increase, and the continual outworking of practical godliness.

This is gospel hunger; when we see Jesus at work, in us and in others, we want more. In fact, when it comes to ongoing sanctification, that’s one place where God is quite happy for us be greedy!

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, 10 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. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

We need (and seek) filling. While the initial work of salvation by faith is a marvelous work of transformation, it is only the beginning. Each day, we need more and more of God’s Spirit. He is an unlimited God, and our minds are darkened by sin; we can never gain enough wisdom and spiritual understanding. Today’s 30 watts of light is to draw us forward to tomorrow’s increase to 40.

We need (and seek) holiness. Walking worthy of the Lord means that our heart of faith is manifested outwardly by clean hands, bearing good fruit instead of returning to defiled, God-displeasing ways. A few external changes to please men won’t cut it here – this is a lifelong pursuit of conformity to Christ in order to please the God who loves us.

We need (and seek) power. Humbling ourselves to be saved by Christ makes us painfully aware of our weakness – our utter powerlessness to save ourselves. In fact, as we make progress in grace, we see even more of the depths of our weakness – and thus, we pant after the power of God to strengthen us. We know that we’ll never attain patience and holiness and fulness without a constant increase in God’s powerful work in us.

Paul understood that salvation was not merely the one-time embrace of a message. It is a death and resurrection, with constant infilling by the Savior who is determined to make us after His image – in this life, and in the life to come. Gospel salvation is progressive in its outworking.

Since we are to share in the inheritance of light with all the other saints in heaven, we gladly embrace the joyful hardship – the painful liberation – of making progress day by day along with our fellow saints on earth.

Colossians 1:1-2: Why Listen to this Paul Character?

Colossians 1:3-8: A Harvest of Gospel Fruit

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(a meditation on the book of Colossians, chapter 1:1,2)

Paul opens his letter to the church at Colossae with some pretty audacious words:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Now, if I write you a letter, I’m just going to say at the end of it:

   -Steve

or, if you’re part of my professional network:

   -Warm regards, Steve Woodruff

or, if we’re in a particularly close relationship:

   -Love, Steve

That’s it. Just me, expressing my thoughts and feelings. No claims of authority or (capital T) Truth.

Not so with Paul in his letters to the churches. He regularly opens with expressions that show that he is no ordinary fellow, penning a few random thoughts. He wants his readers in Colossae to be very conscious, from the opening words of this epistle, that he is not speaking merely from and for himself.

He is an apostle (meaning a “sent one”). He was uniquely chosen and commissioned, along with a handful of others, to bear a message of good news to all the nations. He is not a news reporter, not a blogger, not Billy Bob down the street. He has been set apart as a special herald of a message that did not originate from him.

He is sent by Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself commissioned His apostles to go out and carry His message. Paul is therefore not representing himself, spewing his own opinions of dubious or limited relevance. Paul very self-consciously presents himself to the churches – including us, in this day – as a messenger from Jesus.

He is a message-bearer by the will of God. Paul did not elect himself to this position – in fact, he was a fire-breathing Christian-hater until the risen Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus, and God converted him into a believer and disciple. God chose Paul. God commissioned Paul. God gave him gospel revelation to proclaim to others.

He speaks blessing from God. It was a high and holy position to speak the authoritative blessing of God upon his people, and Paul, without hesitation, pronounces God’s grace and peace to these believers in Christ. Paul stands in the role of a fatherly prophet to the disciples, serving his and their great High Priest by bringing comforting words from God’s heart.

You and me? We can speak God’s truth to one another, but we can never occupy this place of apostolic authority. We can take each other (and even our pets!) out on a rowboat, but we’re not Noah. You can write poetry, but that doesn’t make you David the Psalmist-King.

Here’s the point: it has always been fashionable to try to undermine Paul’s authority (and therefore the authority of the New Testament) by claiming that Paul is only speaking his mind – not proclaiming the mind of God. As we’ll see throughout this letter, Paul gives us no such option – he very deliberately portrays himself in a position of authoritative Truth-telling, because that is the position God put him in.

The prophets of old, of course, did the same – and, sure enough, they were also questioned and rejected by unbelieving skeptics. But that didn’t change the fact that God chose to speak – with authority – through frail human vessels.

What an amazing and frightening privilege this was – to stand as God’s herald and speak His word. I write hundreds of words a day in blogs and e-mails and text messages and updates – but never with a sense that I am an Apostle speaking the fresh revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Paying me much heed, therefore, is quite optional. Paying attention to the revelation of God through Paul is a matter of spiritual life or death. Apostle-words are not optional.

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Super Savior

Super SaviorIf you’re focused on Christian dogma, Christian rituals, Christian practices, or even Christian examples (good or bad), you’re missing the point.

All of those things are important, of course. But they are the spokes. Our focus – in our own hearts, in our church life, and in our dialogue with the world – needs to be on the hub.

Christ is a super savior.

No, He’s not wearing a cape and jumping over tall buildings. But just look at the language of Colossians 1:15-20, and note the incredible pile-up of superlatives used to describe Him:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 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. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 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. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

These are outrageously out-there claims. This person, Jesus Christ, is God in the flesh; and He is before all, above all, in all, ruling over all and reconciling all. The entire created order is His.

In other words, He is superior, and everything else (including you and me) is subordinate. Our fictional superheroes don’t hold a candle to His sun.

Let this sink in for a minute. That immense, beautiful, and complex universe that surrounds us? It is His. It did not just appear out of thin vacuum. He made it, He upholds it, He rules over it – we are not the pawns of chance and random forces, but we are fearfully and wonderfully made by the supreme and only God, who rules over every force, visible and invisible.

The Scripture proclaims Christ as the superlative, supreme reality. He is not one of many gods. He is God. Audacious, yes?

One of the deepest works of sin is this: we want to imagine that we are in charge; or, that nothing is in charge. Sin is all about denial of reality. We’ll believe just about anything, as long as it doesn’t involve a King to rule over us. That’s why unbelief is, ultimately, a moral choice. It is the personal rejection of your Creator/King. It is the ant telling the earth to get lost.

If you give anything your attention, let it be the super Savior. Everything else, by definition, is a lesser consideration.

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It’s one thing to hear, or see, something beautiful to the senses. And, it’s a qualitatively more wonderful experience to meet someone who is fascinating.

But the real beauty is in going deep. Time spent in contemplation, reflection, and communion. Making new connections of mind and soul that take a few scattered gold coins and turn them into a fortune.

That’s what meditation is for. It’s gaining insight. It’s self-aware application. It’s soul-digestion.

It is expansion.

Meditation is not the emptying of yourself. It is knowing your emptiness, pulling up to the pump, and re-filling.

Meditation

We humans have been given an extraordinary gift – the capacity to contemplate. We rob ourselves when we settle for digital distraction, which only serves to occupy the bare surface of the mind and heart before the next sensation comes along.

That’s junk food. Meditation is how we create a nutritious, 3-course meal.

A couple of days ago, I read this passage from the (always excellent) devotional volume by Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening:

Revolve in your mind that wondrous word, “faultless!” We are far off from it now; but as our Lord never stops short of perfection in his work of love, we shall reach it one day. The Saviour who will keep his people to the end, will also present them at last to himself, as “a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and without blemish.” All the jewels in the Saviour’s crown are of the first water and without a single flaw. All the maids of honour who attend the Lamb’s wife are pure virgins without spot or stain. But how will Jesus make us faultless? He will wash us from our sins in his own blood until we are white and fair as God’s purest angel; and we shall be clothed in his righteousness, that righteousness which makes the saint who wears it positively faultless; yea, perfect in the sight of God. We shall be unblameable and unreproveable even in his eyes. His law will not only have no charge against us, but it will be magnified in us. Moreover, the work of the Holy Spirit within us will be altogether complete. He will make us so perfectly holy, that we shall have no lingering tendency to sin. Judgment, memory, will-every power and passion shall be emancipated from the thraldom of evil. We shall be holy even as God is holy, and in his presence we shall dwell for ever. Saints will not be out of place in heaven, their beauty will be as great as that of the place prepared for them.

…and the thought struck me – how often do I ponder the work of salvation as positive – absolutely re-creating me – as opposed to just the removal of sin?

God, and His law, will be magnified in me?? Can that be??

Therefore, it isn’t my destiny to “barely make it” through this life of fallenness – no, God is infusing my life, and will infuse my life for all eternity, with Himself. And He won’t stop and cannot be stopped. This led to very liberating contemplation which I am even now enjoying as I re-read the words.

Yet how often have I read and heard such words with dull ears and a sleepy heart, so that the benefit never takes root?

A new perspective is often the key to unlocking deep levels of freedom and change. It’s not enough to just take in words, images, and other “content”. We need to gain clearer vision, continually. Daily. There’s no short-cut to practical acuity and wisdom – it comes through contemplation.

Scratching the surface of information or relationships may give us a form of breadth. But we don’t need more roots; we need deeper ones. We don’t need more snacks – we need to digest and assimilate. Meditation is the pathway to greater insights and life-giving understanding.

 

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Practicing Stewardship: Saving Money *

If you think life is predictable, you probably haven’t lived long enough yet. Anyone out there had a nice, ever-growing, smooth path of uninterrupted financial prosperity?

I didn’t think so.

There are twists and turns. There are seasons of plenty, and seasons of want. There are droughts, storms, downsizings – there are both predictable and unpredictable periods of financial income.

I’ve been through most of those. Though not the “swimming in wealth” part. Still waiting on that one… :>}

So, what are we to do? Do we save up? Or just leave it all up to God and pretend that we have no responsibility to plan?

That approach can be made to sound like faith, but in fact, it’s a cop-out form of bad stewardship.

We saw from Proverbs chapter 6:6-11 that the lowly ant gathers and stores up provisions for times of want. This is contrasted with being an imprudent and lazy sluggard, and thereby suffering want.

I don’t think I want the following engraved on my tombstone: “Outworked by ants, he starved through stupidity.”

Similarly, from Proverbs 10:4,5 – Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a son who acts wisely, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who acts shamefully.

It’s really not hard to figure out, by mere common observation, that there is a time of harvest, preceded by a time of preparation, and followed by a time of lack. And although most of us no longer live in an agrarian society, where such climate/weather patterns are regular, the principle is unchanged – we must be diligent to work and earn and save while we can, because it’s almost inevitable that there will be lean times.

Responsibly saving money is godly prudence, not lack of faith. God commends our careful and diligent saving, so that we can provide for ourselves, our families, and others in times of need. The fruit of the Spirit includes self-control, which extends to the way we handle money.

Nowhere in the Scriptures will you find God giving a command such as, “Spend without thought or self-discipline, and just trust me for the bad times!” That’s presumption, not faith.

The reality is, we’ll have financial dips in life, and so will others. The good steward has already made ready by setting funds aside.

Trust and work. Trust and earn. Trust and save.

—–

* This series is part of a 12-week study on the topic: Being Stewards of God <— (outline). We’re now in week 9, considering the role of prudently saving (though not hoarding) money. If you’d like to receive these posts in your inbox, just put your email address in the Email Subscription box on the blog’s right sidebar.

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What a Jesus-Follower is Like

That phrase in I John 2:5-6 has always been more than a bit intimidating: By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

Are you kidding me??? is a very common reaction. Jesus walked in the closest communion with His Father, experiencing temptation but never committing sin – His heart and mind were pure. And I’m supposed to walk like him? I’m a cesspool of foul desires, evil thoughts, and guilty actions.

But there it is. The expectation is that Christians will reflect Jesus. The Holy Spirit comes, not as some mystical theory, but as a living Presence, changing the heart of the believer and pouring, daily, the life of Jesus in our souls. Slowly, we are becoming like Him. In my case, there are extra o’s: sloooooowly.

Sometimes it feels like we’re actually becoming worse, but that is because as God gives light progressively into our minds and hearts, we simply see more of the reality of our fallenness. Yet, that same light is also purifying us, in the most consequential and sequential daily miracle the world will ever see. Sinners transformed.

I see 5 words that can sum up what I John teaches us about a growing-into-the-image-of-Christ disciple:

  1. Authentic – a formerly dishonest heart is becoming truthful, leaving behind hypocrisy and embracing – before God and men – spiritual reality.
  2. Believing – the one who despised Jesus Christ and took His name in vain now gladly acknowledges Him as the only Savior – his/her only Savior.
  3. Holy – once running in the ways of the world, and delighting in sinful pursuits, the follower of Jesus has now broken with worldly patterns, even while still loving those yet trapped in their sin.
  4. Loving – the hallmark of Jesus’ presence in the heart is love – a formerly self-centered soul now increasingly acts on the impulses of love vertically (God-ward) and horizontally (with other men).
  5. Obedient – God’s commands now take precedence over the expectations of others; and, even at great cost, over our own preferences and desires.

Every one of these things is a miracle. We don’t need to divide the sea or multiply loaves of bread to prove the existence of God. We just need to follow Jesus and give Him the reins in our lives.

No disciple of Christ walks perfectly in these things – none of us can come close to living in the perfect holiness of Jesus. It will be a source of utter futility to read the text as if it meant, “the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk perfectly in the same manner as He walked.” That interpretation is the fastest way into the pit of despair.

Nonetheless, the evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit is clear – when these five traits increasingly fill our lives, even starting in small measures, we are walking with Jesus. And, the converse is true – no matter what we say with our lips, if we are not practicing authentic, believing, holy, loving obedience, then (as John so bluntly phrases it) we are liars.

A Jesus-follower looks like Jesus. It’s gradual, slow, step-by-step, and discolored by the power of remaining sin in the heart of the believer. But now, the true disciple grieves over that sin and consistently turns away from it. The Jesus-follower brings his/her foulness to God and receives pardon and fresh power. The believer falls six times and gets up seven times, and keeps moving forward.

That, too, is a miracle of grace.

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