Comments from Colossians (1:6)

“This Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.” (Colossians 1:6, New Living Translation).

Nothing changes until grace grips us. Herein lies one of the conundrums of Christianity.

Grace (2)On the one hand, Christian orthodoxy proposes and defends a certain set of beliefs about humanity, God, Christ, Holy Spirit, Church, and eternity. For two thousand years we have clarified and called people to a particular way of viewing the world and the cosmos. We have often set out to convince people that God exists, Jesus died for our sins, and the Bible is the “handbook for living.” If we can get people to pray a prayer accepting Christ, and agree on these fundamentals, we’ve more or less done our job.

On the other hand, this collection of convictions and code of conduct, seems strangely powerless in the lives of so many people. They may develop a few new habits and commitments (attend church periodically and give occasionally), but they continue to struggle with self-worth, destructive habits, addictions, and brokenness. How does deep, personal, lasting change happen?

Writing to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul says that the Gospel (Good News) is changing lives everywhere, bearing fruit all over the world. I’m sure he’d say the same thing today. But then he gives a clue to what fuels this powerful Gospel; as people hear and understand the truth of God’s wonderful grace.

Grace is the power — the secret sauce — of the Gospel, and it comes in various shapes and sizes.

Common grace is the food on our tables, the clothes in our closets, etc. It comes to people, regardless of faith. God makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust.

Saving grace is the glorious work of Christ to redeem us, to make us the children and people of God, and give us hope for eternity.

Transforming grace is the deep, inner work of the Holy Spirit within us to make us more like Christ; to push out the darkness and flood our lives with Light.

To live and stand in this grace (Romans 5:2) is to become people marked by gratitude, hope, and change. Legalism cannot do this and creeds don’t do this. Grace does. It releases us from bondage. It renews relationships. It changes our perspective. It heals our wounds. It invites us into the purpose and plan of God.

Nothing changes until grace grips us, and when grace grips a life and a community, nothing can stop it. Lives change; the world changes.

Have you been gripped?

“May we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)

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Comments from Colossians (1:3-5)

“We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News.” (Colossians 1:3-5; New Living Translation)

Many of us share two common shortfalls: We struggle to trust Jesus deeply and we struggle to love each other lavishly. Want to have deeper faith and greater love? According to the Apostle Paul, it’s partly tied to “our confident hope of what God has reserved for us in heaven.

EternityThe Apostle Paul prayed for the Christians in Colosse and was thankful to God for them, though he had not met most of them. Their reputation preceded them. While Paul sits in prison (probably in Rome) writing to them, he can’t help but honor them for their renowned faith and love.

In 1994, Kim and I had just moved to Sydney, Australia where I was to start teaching in a Bible College. For years I had been the pastor of the churches we participated in. But now we’d be regular members of a church community.

We had only been in Sydney a few weeks when Kim made the shocking discovery that she had breast cancer. We knew almost nobody, and had visited the Epping Church of Christ just once, when we received the devastating news from the specialist. Over the next four months or more, we had people from that church drop off meals at our home nearly every night; often people we did not know.

We got to know them well, and love them deeply. But Kim and I joked that when we could finally “church shop” we got so smothered in love by this congregation that we had no chance to “shop around.” Apparently the Christians at Epping had taken a page from the playbook of the believers at Colosse two thousand years ago.

And Paul says that at Colosse this faith and love emerged from a confidence about eternity. They held fast to the promises of eternity that Christ had made. They had utter assurance that they would live forever in the Presence of Jesus and in a place He had prepared for them. They had no fear of death, nor felt compelled to cling tightly to the things of this present world. They were, in a word, free; free to trust and love like never before.

An eternal perspective has transforming power. We trust and love most deeply when we are certain about eternity. When our future is secure, we hold things more lightly and can love more extravagantly here and now. Right now, are your eyes above or below the horizon?

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Comments from Colossians (1:1-2)

“This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy.  We are writing to God’s holy people in the city of Colosse, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. May God our Father give you grace and peace.” (Colossians 1:1-2; New Living Translation)

Who are you, really?

Identity issues are front and center in our day, more than any time in living memory. Some people grapple deeply with their sexual identity (straight, gay, transgender, other). Others have more traditional struggles: Who am I? Does anyone care? Do I matter? What gives me value?

IdentityFor most of us, various elements shape our identity; male/female, husband/wife, father/mother, educated/uneducated, wealthy/poor, worker, homemaker, coach, teacher, volunteer, etc. Each “role” contributes to our identity, and represents another hat that we wear.

As the Apostle Paul opens his letter to the Christians at Colosse, his opening comments relate to identity; his and theirs.

On the one hand, Paul identifies himself as chosen by God to be an apostle (missionary). On the other hand, he identifies the Christians at Colosse as God’s holy people (saints) and faithful brothers and sisters because of Christ. Something quite dramatic had happened to him…and them.

Following Christ is not like taking out membership at the local gym or quilting guild. It makes a profound and fundamental change to everything. Elsewhere, Paul describes this change in dramatic terms: A new creation whereby old things have passed and entirely new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

We are no longer who we once were. Our redemption by Christ means that we have an entirely new vocation (calling) and identity. No longer do the usual categories apply in the same way. We are not primarily Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, citizen or refugee, slave or freeman (Colossians 3:11).

Our new identity transcends everything we have experienced before. It doesn’t eliminate everything else, but it relegates it all to a secondary position.

This may be one of the least understood and most poorly appropriated truths in contemporary Christianity. Our first and chief identity now rests as being the beloved people of God and therefore brothers and sisters to each other. Everything else springs from that starting point.

Some think of Christianity as a religious system. Others view it as nothing more than another government survey category. But Paul defines it in radical new ways. Christianity, first and foremost, re-defines our core identity. We are now the people and family of God. Until we embrace this identity deeply, the usual struggles will continue and we’ll treat each other indifferently.

Who are you, really? Christ alone gives us the clarity that changes everything.

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Comments from Colossians (Intro)

This past Saturday, my youngest son returned from a short-term missions trip to Mexico. As we debriefed on his remarkable experience, one comment in particular stood out. He recognized how important and valuable it is to be in the Word of God every day. It made a difference for him.

Many of my blog posts in the past have addressed various Christian themes and topics somewhat randomly. But I sense a shifting desire within myself, which I hope might resonate with you too.

Colossians.jpgIn recent years I have used my Lenten series to immerse myself in various parts of Scripture (Mark’s Gospel, the Psalms, Romans, and Jesus Questions). For the next little while, I’d like to meditate more deeply on Paul’s ancient letter to the believers in Colossae.

In our Bibles, Colossians comprises just 95 verses in total. My version prints it on just two-and-a-half pages. It’s very short, packed, and powerful.

So, with your kind indulgence, and Lord willing, I’d like to write a series of posts titled “Comments from Colossians,”  until we have passed through the entire letter.

Why Colossians?

It’s a church Paul may have visited, but quite possibly not. The church faced some unique challenges, particularly religious pluralism (and heresy). But Paul writes the letter as a circular letter, meaning he intended other congregations to circulate it and read it too (4:16). Colossians deals with more than just localized issues, yet central to the letter is this glorious theme: The supremacy and all-sufficiency of Christ. What a crucial message for our own day and lives.

So, I’m excited to jump into the letter to the Colossians as a way to open up issues for our own spiritual formation and growth.

Thanks ALWAYS, for sharing this journey of faith with me. I am honored and privileged to have your company, and look forward to what God may have in store for us through this part of His Word.

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He is Risen

HAPPY EASTER!

He is Risen! And the Questions are finished!

He is Not HereThe ultimate question has always related to eternity. What lies beyond death? For millennia, people have grappled with the fear of death, and the question of what lies beyond it.

Some of the ancient Jewish philosophers concluded that death transitions us to a place of ongoing existence, but they had no vision for it or clarity about it. They concluded every living thing (every person; every animal) shares a common place with neither reward nor punishment; just existence.

Some of the ancient Greek philosophers speculated about the immortality of the soul. They concluded that at death we finally shake off our corrupt flesh, and our souls get liberated. The dead finally, and thankfully, escape the material world.

But today, Easter Sunday, provides the ultimate answer to the ultimate question. The resurrection of Jesus cuts through the fog of uncertainty and the speculation of philosophy.

Death is not victorious. Eternity is not nebulous. Christ has conquered the grave and claimed His people for all time.

Death is not the final word, but a transitional one. The grave cannot confine us. The earth cannot restrain us. We will rise again. And all of us who have named Christ as Lord live with this certainty.

We will not float, drift, or merely exist. Rather, we enter eternity with bodily form, with consciousness, and with purpose. Paradise awaits the people of God. Heaven lies just moments from us. Joy inexpressible and fully of glory!

Jesus has answered the ultimate question of our existence. His resurrection assures our own.

Thanks for sharing this Lenten and Easter Journey with me. May this glorious Resurrection Day quicken your spirit, encourage your heart, and shore up your soul. We honor Christ, and look to Him again with gratitude and eternal hope.

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Lent – Day 40 – Jesus Questions

“Do you finally believe?” (John 16:31)

This is it. The final day of Lent. The Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. And what a terrific question for us to close our fasting experience together.

Last SupperIn John 16, we find Jesus at the last Supper. It’s the night before His crucifixion, and He has delivered an extensive sermon to the disciples. Then, as He finishes speaking, His disciples blurt out: “We get it. You really know what you’re talking about, and we believe that you came from God.”

Perhaps a little incredulously, Jesus asks:

“Do you finally believe?”

Three years of close contact. Three years of watching miracles, signs, and wonders. Three years of listening to incomparable preaching. Three years of compassion and Kingdom. Three years of rebuke and encouragement. And just now the disciples “finally believe”? I don’t know whether to be horrified or encouraged.

At the Last Supper, the disciples clearly had some level of pre-belief about Jesus, or they would not have been there. But a penny dropped. And suddenly something deeper resonated within them. Their former belief gave way to something much deeper, richer, and more fully orbed.

These past 40 days of Lent have surely touched us all differently. Some of us feel invigorated by spiritual renewal; others of us have seemingly had little spiritual shift at all. Some of us have witnessed remarkable things happening by the hand of God; others of us still wait. Some of us have experienced God’s Presence in deep and abiding ways; others of us not so much.

We started Lent by affirming that our fasting would create space (not obligation) for God. We wanted to open our hearts and lives to Him through prayer and fasting over a testing length of time, without demanding how He should show up or work.

“Do you finally believe?” Jesus asked, and still asks.

“Of course,” we call back. But let’s not be too hasty.

If we believe more now than 40 days ago, we will live and love differently. We cannot claim to believe Him more deeply but engage in the world less deeply. We cannot declare our utter belief in Him, while leaving a trail of wounded and broken lives in our wake.

When we “finally believe,” we’ll realize that there’s no turning back. When we “finally believe,” the baubles of the world lose their shine. The priorities of our culture take a back-seat. Our dreams get surrendered. Our resources get offered. Our time gets re-structured. Our relationships reach deeper. Our worries grow less. Our ambition gets abandoned.

And on this Easter weekend, this last day of Lent, no better question might be asked of us than: “Do you finally believe?”

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Lent – Day 39 – Jesus Questions

“Why ask me about what is good? Only God is good.” (Matthew 19:17)

Today we commemorate Good Friday.

Ultimately, of course, it’s a matter of perspective. What was “good” about the crucifixion? What was “good” about the hypocrisy of the trial and the barbarity of the cross, both of which Jesus endured in silence that awful day? What was “good” about the humiliation of being stripped naked, whipped, and spat upon in a public place?

Good FridayWe use the word “good” in some strange contexts. “That was a good show! I’m feeling good! Good on you!” But perhaps the phrase “Good Friday” beats them all.

In Matthew 19, a young religious leader comes to Jesus and asks “What good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” I suspect the question was a red herring. I imagine he hoped Jesus would just say, “Nothing more than what you’ve already done! You’re amazing!” But Jesus didn’t go there.

Instead, Jesus changed the focus. He switched the conversation from good works, to the Good One (God Himself). He challenged the youthful zealot to save that word — the word “good” — for God alone. After all, as the Apostle Paul would later write, “There is none (among us) that is good; not one” (Romans 3:12).

“Why ask me about what is good? Only God is good.”

This Jesus Question seems unexpectedly relevant today. Good Friday is not so much about good things or good people, but is that day when the Good One touched time and eternity with the most profound demonstration of love the world has ever seen. We don’t celebrate good happenings or good events. But we do pause and recognize that in the midst of the cruelty and horror of that day — that day when the heavens themselves went dark — the Good One, the only Good One, was active and present.

“Why ask me about what is good? Only God is good.”

Yes, only God is good. And He’s consistently good; constantly good. He works tirelessly to redeem humanity. He reaches out relentlessly to us. He wants our best. He is the harbinger of hope and the Father of forgiveness. He empowers the weak and blesses the undeserving. He acts with patience and touches us with grace.

Yes, only God is good. And He’s wholly good; perfectly good. He brings light to the darkness. His righteousness knows no end. His holiness has no imperfection. His promises are sure. His Word holds true. He has unfaltering integrity. He dwells in glory.

Yes, only God is good. And Good Friday declares that despite our depravity, hostility, and rebellion, the Good One still owns the day! We are not alone; all is not lost.

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