Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Quest (1 Timothy 6:11-15)

“You are a man of God. Your quest is for justice, godliness, faithfulness, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith! Cling to the eternal life you were called to when you confessed the good confession before witnesses.  Before God—the life-giving Creator of all things—and Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, who made the good confession to Pontius Pilate, I urge you:  keep His commandment. Have a spotless, indisputable record until our Lord Jesus the Anointed appears to set this world straight. In His own perfect time, He will come…” (1 Timothy 6:11-15a)
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I’ll be honest: sometimes, when I read the Bible, I get tired. 

Why? Because I know what a good quest looks like. I am familiar with Lord of the Rings. I’ve seen Indiana Jones,The Princess Bride and Guardians of the Galaxy; I’ve read about King Arthur’s search for the Holy Grail and Ulysses' odyssey to get back home. I know about the pursuit of Superbowl rings and even that little bird in the kid’s stories who just wants to find his mother.

That's why I get tired. I know what a quest is.

When we find a cause we believe is worthy of their time, energy and emotion, we will give our life. Sometimes it’s subconscious – we just end up giving our time, energy and emotion to something we have by default decided is important.  It could be people, or relationships, or family, or a job, or food or entertainment.  It could be a conscious choice: the environment,  healthy living, injustice, poverty, a particular person.

When the cause is noble, just, and good, we applaud those who fight no matter the cost. We admire William Wilberforce and Mother Theresa – and our friends who fight to become better people so that they don’t implode and take others down with them. It might cost them time, money, and comfort, but we encourage them because the cost is nothing compared with the quest.

When the cause is lousy, we cringe at what great cost is being spent on such an unworthy goal.  Just watch an episode of the Bachelor or Jersey Shore or Honey Boo Boo and tell me if you don’t just want to weep for the lives that are being wasted.

The Bible says that, if we are not careful, our quest can destroy us.  Money. Fame. Comfort. Beauty. Toys. Sex. Power. We could gain the whole world and lose our soul. But there are good quests, too, like those aimed toward justice, godliness, faithfulness, love, perseverance, and gentleness.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Godliness With Contentment (1 Timothy 6:3-10)

I saw a cartoon this week where a guy turns to his friend and says, “Do you think Jesus died so we could lead a more comfortable life, Like being a disciple of Jesus is really about being nice and succeeding in life? Like God just wants us to be happy, wealthy, and healthy?”  It’s a good question. What’s the end game in Christianity? What’s the point? What kind of life should we expect as followers of Christ? What does God ultimately want for us? We find an insightful answer in Paul’s letter to Timothy.
Timothy, teach these instructions, and appeal to those under your ministry to live by them. If others are teaching otherwise and bringing unhealthy conversations to the community, if they are not sticking to the sound words in the teaching of our Lord Jesus the Anointed, if they are not teaching godly principles —  then they are swollen with conceit, filled with self-importance, and without any proper understanding.  
They probably have a gross infatuation with controversy and will endlessly debate meanings of words. That kind of talk leads to envy, discord, slander, and evil mistrust;  and these people constantly bicker because they are depraved in their minds and bereft of the truth. They think somehow that godliness is the way to get ahead financially.  
This is ironic because godliness, along with contentment, is great gain - it gives us great wealth but not in the ways some imagine. You see we came into this world with nothing, and nothing is going with us on the way out!  So as long as we are clothed and fed, we should be happy. 
But those who chase riches are constantly falling into temptation and snares. They are regularly caught by their own stupid and harmful desires, dragged down and pulled under into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money—and what it can buy—is the root of all sorts of evil. Some already have wandered away from the true faith because they craved what it had to offer; but when reaching for the prize, they found their hands and hearts pierced with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:3-10)
Our culture tells its own story about what the end game of life is. It’s apparently a lot of money, an exciting sex life, a desirable body, a huge reputation, great vacations. Only then do you have the good life. And there is something alluring about that, right? Who wouldn’t want those things? Anybody craving to be poor or unnoticed? Anybody planning to get married thinking, “I hope our sex life just falls apart”? Anybody hoping to vacation close to my house in Grawn instead of in France? 

It’s not those things that are bad. Of course we are drawn to them. Sex, money, health, freedom, and a good reputation are not bad things. It’s the degree to which we love them and desire them that can trip us up. Because of sin, our culture takes good things and distorts them or misuses them. It’s the trickiest kind of temptation. It’s not money, it’s the love of money. It’s not things, it’s the love of things. It’s not sex or health or comfort, it’s the love, the craving, the belief that those things are the point of life.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Don’t Neglect Your Gift (1 Timothy 4:12 – 4:16)

Don’t let anyone belittle you because you are young. Instead, show the faithful, young and old, an example of how to live: set the standard for how to talk, act, love, and be faithful and pure. Until I get there, make sure to devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching. Don’t neglect the gift that was given to you through the prophecy spoken when the company of the elders laid their hands on you. Cultivate all these practices; live by them so that all will see how you are advancing and growing. Take care of yourself, concentrate on your teaching, and stick with these things. If you do, then you will be effective in bringing salvation to yourself and all who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:12-4:16)
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There's a great scene at the beginning of The Equalizer where a young lady named Teri asks Robert (The Equalizer) what happens in The Old Man and the Sea. Robert tells her that the old man catches a fish. She asks, "Why didn't he just let the fish go?" Robert replies, "Old man's gotta be the old man. Fish has got to be the fish. Gotta be who you are in this world, no matter what." 

It's not fatalistic resignation. It's also not parroting some silly version of, "You are perfect just the way you are!" Robert was pointing out that we are all made for a purpose, with a role to play. We gotta’ find that purpose and live it. It's an acknowledgment that we are made for some things and not others. 

You see the importance of this principle in Scripture numerous times, but I am going to point out my favorite one: Gideon (Judges 6:11-14):

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pursuing True Godliness (1 Timothy 3:14 – 4:11)

I am writing all this to you, hoping I can come to you before too long; but in case I am delayed, you will know how one ought to behave as a member of God’s family—the assembly of the living God, the pillar and foundation that support the truth— and I think you will agree that the mystery of godliness is great: He was revealed in the flesh, proven right in the Spirit; 
He was seen by the heavenly messengers, preached to outsider nations.
He was believed in the world, taken up to the heavens in glory.

 But even so, the Spirit very clearly tells us that in the last times some will abandon the true faith because of their
devotion to spirits sent to deceive and sabotage, and mistakenly they will end up following the doctrine of demons.  They will be carried away through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences have been branded with a red-hot iron, saying, “Don’t marry. Don’t eat such-and-such foods.” But God created all these to be received with gratitude by people who hold fast to the faith and really comprehend the truth.


 For everything God made is good. That means nothing should be rejected as long as it’s received with a grateful heart, for by God’s word and prayer, it is made holy.  Place these truths before the brothers and sisters. If you do, you will be a good servant of Jesus the Anointed, raised and fed on words of true belief, trained in the good instruction you have so clearly followed.

 Reject worldly fables. Refuse old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself toward godliness.  Although training your body has certain payoffs, godliness benefits all things—holding promise for life here and now and promise for the life that is coming.  This statement is worthy of trust and our full acceptance.  This is what we work so hard for! This is why we are constantly struggling: because we have an assured hope fixed upon a living God who is the Savior of all humankind—especially all of us who believe."  (The Voice)

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Because the Apostle Paul cared about Timothy and wanted him and his church to succeed, Paul gave him some important advice about what it looks like - and doesn't look like - to pursue true godliness. To build on a strong foundation, followers of Christ need to do two things: 1) believe things that are true, and 2) do the hard work of living in that truth.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Chief of Sinners (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

"I thank our Lord Jesus the Anointed who empowers me, because He saw me as faithful and appointed me to this ministry. Despite the fact that at one time I was slandering the things of God, persecuting and attacking His people. He was still merciful to me because I acted in ignorance apart from faith. But He poured His grace over me, and I was flooded in an abundance of the grace and faith and love that can only be found in Jesus the Anointed. Here’s a statement worthy of trust: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and I am the worst of them all." (12-15) 

There were a number of hymns or of catechetical teaching in the early Church. This appears to be one: "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." But then Paul adds to it: “I am the worst of them all.” He talks about his new life in Christ in other places in his writings:  
  • ‘If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation; old things are passed away’ (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in this body I live by the faith of the Son of God’ (Galatians 2:20)
So Paul is new!  There is no doubt about it! But nothing can alter the fact that Paul was the man that did all these things and is capable of doing them again without the presence of God in his life. You’ve heard the phrase, “That’s gonna leave a mark?” Sin leaves a mark. I will bear the scar of my shoulder surgery. No matter how healthy I get, I am the man with a repaired shoulder. Paul bore the scars of his sin even as those scars revealed the kind of healing only God can give.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

What is the Goal of the Church? (1 Timothy 1:1-11)

"Paul, an emissary of Jesus the Anointed commissioned by order of God our Savior and Jesus the Anointed, our living and certain hope, to you, Timothy, my true son in the faith. May the grace, mercy, and peace that come only from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ mark your life. As I said that day I left for Macedonia, stay in Ephesus and instruct the unruly people in the church, once and for all, to stop teaching a different doctrine. Tell them to turn away from fables and endless genealogies. These activities just cause more arguments and confusion.  Instead, they should concern themselves with welcoming in and bringing about the Kingdom of God, which is all about faith. Our teaching about this journey is intended to bring us to a single goal—a place where self-giving love reigns from a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a genuine faith.  Yes, some have walked away from these traits and have fallen into a life of endless blabber and nonsense— they wish to become scholars of the law, but they don’t know what they are talking about, and they make these grand pronouncements but clearly don’t understand what they just said."  (1 Timothy 1:1-11, The Voice)
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Kids ask all the time, “What’s that for?” It's a natural question. We see designed things, and we figure they were
designed with a goal in mind. It’s cute when you are explaining tools, funny when you are walking through a store, and awkward when they start discovering themselves. Then they start to discover they can come up with all kinds of ways to use the new things they find. You tell them what a hammer is for, but they find out all kinds of things they can do with it. You tell them what the intended use of the family scissors is, but they soon realize it can also be used on the dog. You tell them the purpose of having good clothes and run-around clothes….

Part of growing up is understanding the purpose and design of things. We can get frustrated if we aren’t on the same page with other people about what a thing is meant to be. What is the purpose of the following:
  • Fishing – To catch fish? To relax? To talk?
  • Supper? - To eat? To connect?
  • Marriage - Happiness? Family? Love? Growth? Spiritual symbolism?
  • Church services? - For the saved or the unsaved? To learn? To connect? To feel?)
 Another part of growing up is learning the difference between what we CAN do with things and what we SHOULD do with things. We can harm ourselves and others if we ignore what we should do with a thing and instead settle for what we can do. For example, we should use our Lungs to breathe, be we can inhale harmful intoxicants if we want to. Sex should be an activity that both creates new life and unites us physically, emotionally, even spiritually with our spouse. We can use our sexual organs to do a lot of other things instead.

 Part of growing up is learning the purpose of a thing – What is that for? – and then committing to fulfill that purpose. Part of growing up in Christ is learning the purpose and design of the church -  Not what CAN it be, but what SHOULD it be?

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Story of Your Life (The Path of Life #7)


When we tell the story of their lives, we mention three different things: What’s been done for us, what’s been done to us, and what we decided to do. “What’s been done for us” is another way of talking about the things others have done that prepared us or helped us through life.
  • I was born and raised as a Weber, surrounded by godly family. I have one sibling by birth and one by adoption. My parents loved me.
  • I was born Mennonite. I learned the Bible and good theology; my pastors and Sunday School teachers and youth leaders taught me about God and for the most part showed me Christ.
  • I was born and raised in Alabama, moved to Oregon, then to Ohio where I naturally became a Buckeye. These were important experiences in molding my life.
  • My parents sent me to Christian schools all my life. I made godly friends; my teachers taught me taught me truth and modeled both justice and grace as they put up with a lot from me.
  • Doctors sowed up my cut-off toes (and both bad knees and a foot and soon a shoulder)
  • TC Christian and this church have put up with me while giving me time to mature as a teacher, a preacher, a pastor, a coach, and person.
  • My wife said “yes” and then has said “I forgive you” a lot of times.
  • My friends put up with my idiosyncracies and faults.
  • Jesus Christ gave his life so that I could live.
 So “What’s been done for us” is a list of things that have helped us to thrive. “What’s been done to us” is another way of saying things that happened that made life hard.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How To Ask Directions (The Path of Life #6)

When my family went to the Grand Rapids Zoo a couple weeks ago, the first thing we did was get a map. Why? We all use maps. We like to know where we are and where we should go and how to get there. There’s two ways we get them: people give them to us, and we choose them.
Because we wanted to know where to go to see the things we wanted to see. We wanted to be able to know where we were. We wanted to know how to handle our time so we could be done before the zoo closed.

Sometimes, other people hand us a map that we use it consciously or subconsciously. We think it shows us where we are in life and where we are supposed to go. 
  • Parents who say, “You will never be good enough” or act like they are ashamed of their children are handing them a map that says, “You are here in the City of Never Good Enough.”
  • Parents who say, “Do your best; it’s okay if it’s not perfect!” and treat them as of they are precious gifts from God are handing them a map that says, “You are here in a City where your Worth is not the same as Your Accomplishments.”
  • People who treat us like objects and misuse or abuse us are handing us a map that says, “You are here in the city of Worthless.”
  • People who love us with the love of Christ are handing us a map that says, “You are here in the City of Eternal Value.”
If we aren’t able to see the bad maps for what they are, we believe them. When we move in life we take the road that we think we deserve. “You are here” has always meant, “I am unworthy of love and respect,” so we keep taking the road that takes us to other familiar places. Everywhere we go we subconsciously do things that ensure we will end up in another town – another relationship, another situation – that confirms this.  

On the other hand, if we believe that “You are here” means “I am a beloved child of God with eternal value and worth,” then we move toward the places where we both experience and pass on these things. Even when we see optional paths and different destinations, we tend to follow the path and journey toward the place that makes those assumptions continue.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Divine GPS: Submission and Trust (The Path of Life #5)

I remember watching a television game show where the winning contestant was asked to choose one of three
prizes behind closed curtains. Generally there would be one of very little monetary value behind one, and then another of greater value, and lastly, one of very great value (an all expense paid trip, plus a set of expensive luggage, plus a pocket full of cash to spend on the trip). Seems that more often than not, the contestant would choose the lesser-valued items - and then, of course, everyone would GASP when the other curtains were opened and the other wonderful prizes were revealed!

The contestants can’t be blamed, of course, for their poor choices because there was no way to know what was behind each curtain! If the curtains had been wide open from the start of the game show, I suspect most contestants would have chosen more wisely. This morning we’ll look at three important premises about our choices, and hopefully, we’ll gain some insight into charting a better course for ourselves from here on.* Here’s the first premise:

Premise 1 - Choices are now – outcomes are later.

"Duh," you might say. Seems so obvious! The student who doesn’t study on Sunday night for a scheduled test on Monday morning isn’t surprised when he fails miserably. The ice fisherman who drives his Trail Blazer out onto the lake the morning after the first freeze isn’t surprised when his SUV becomes a submarine. These cause and effect situations aren’t a great surprise to any of us. and generally we survive these without destroying our lives. But a lot of these outcomes aren’t just later; they’re often much later! In the real world of living successfully, it’s these choice-patterns with the distant outcomes that tend to really matter in our lives.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Heart of the Matter (The Path of Life #4)

Have you ever justified something in a way that you know made no sense – but it was the best you had in the moment? We have this very human tendency  to use our mind to justify after the fact what our heart desired in the moment. We do things we feel like doing, then in hindsight we scramble to come up with reasons that at least seem good to us. We listen to our hearts, then tell our heads to justify our actions. “Follow your heart, listen to your heart” are mantras we hear in some form all the time.

 The problem is that it's a bad philosophy of life. And since God is for us, and He cares about us enough to give us some insight into how we work and how life works, it’s no surprise that the Bible has given us some insight into why simply “following your heart” is a bad idea.The prophet Jeremiah records God’s message to the Israelites at a time when they had walked far from God. After telling them that those who trust in the strength of people are like bushes in a wasteland where there’s no water and the ground is sowed with salt, he makes a sharp contrast:
Blessed is the one who trusts in Me alone;
 the Eternal will be his confidence. He is like a tree planted by water,
 sending out its roots beside the stream.
 It does not fear the heat or even drought.
 Its leaves stay green and its fruit is dependable, no matter what it faces. (Jeremiah 17:7-9)
 The person who trusts in God is grounded, fearless, and bears fruit, which is another way of saying that this kind of person is being everything he or she was made to be. Awesome! Jeremiah continues: 
 The heart is most devious and incurably sick. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:10)
Well. This seems like an abrupt change of thought. The context is that God is explaining how life in His path will bring life, but a life in rebellion to him will bring some serious trouble. The Septuagint says, "The heart is deep," a bottomless pit full of sin. Perhaps that is why Proverbs 28:26 warns us, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.” I am going to give us two principles to help us avoid the trouble lurking in our heart, and two principles to help us embrace the wisdom that comes from God.*

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Eyes on the Road (The Path of Life #3)

Last night Sheila and I watched August: Osago County. It’s a movie based on a play which was based loosely on some members of the scriptwriter's family. It’s about three generations of dysfunction passed along on the Oklahoma plains. Part of the power of the story is that it reminds us how much our families influence us, but you also see moment after moment when a decision is made about how to act or interact, and you can see how moment after moment built this huge wall between people. Our legacies impact us, but our decisions determine our destination.

At one point, the daughters take their drug-addicted mother to the doctor to talk about putting her in a program. On the way home, the mother gets them to stop the car in the middle of a field, and she begins to run. One of the daughters chases her, and when the both finally stop from exhaustion, the script says it’s beneath “an unforgiving sky,” and the daughter says, “There’s no place to run to get away.” I’m grateful that’s not true. As much as we are talking in this series about consequences, I’m grateful that, because of Christ, because of the Holy Spirit, because of the truth in the Bible, and the church, our history is not our destiny.

That movie gave a really honest look at life without Christ. In the end, there’s nowhere to run to get away. But with Christ, we are not trapped inside our family history or inside the cycles we create through our bad decisions. I need to say that before we get into the topic today: the importance of choosing the right path.*

The Great Disconnect (The Path of Life #2)

We have to be honest about how we got to where we are. We have to own the ways in which we chose to take certain steps, and those steps turned into a journey, and the journey brought us to our destination. Our direction determines our destination.* We often have a pretty good idea about how we want our destination to look, but we undermine the very goals we are trying to reach: 
  • She wants to marry a great Christian guy - but hangs out at night clubs and goes through man after man.
  • He want a great sex life once he’s married - but beds every girl he can.
  • She wants a great relationship with her husband - but prioritizes the kids.
  • She want a great relationship with his kids – but never enters into their world.
  • He want his kids to respect him - but openly flirts with other people or never treats the kids respectfully.
  • He want to develop closeness to God - but spends all her time on the internet or watching football
  • He want to grow old with his wife, kids and grandkids - but neglects his health and his relationship with everyone on that list
  • She wants her children to make God a priority - but skips church all the time and never actually take up a cross and experience the resurrection life in Christ
  • He wants to get a high-paying job - but never works hard or studies.
Then they end up at destinations they don’t want and get bewildered – “How did I get here?” In many ways, they pushed the dominoes. One by one. We have to be honest about how where we are got disconnected from where we want to be. We forget that God has put a principle in place in the world: we will harvest a destination that will match what we planted with our decisions. Our attention determines your decisions, and our decisions determine our destination.

Follow the Signs (The Path of Life#1)

Have you ever heard the phrase, “No matter where you go, there you are?” It’s a catchy way of saying that you get where you are going – which seems really obvious, right? It’s not, actually. How many times do we look at our life and find ourselves baffled about how we got to the place in which we find ourselves?
  • How did my health get so terrible?
  • Why don’t I have friends?
  • Why can’t I stop shopping, drinking, worrying, moving from one romance to the next?
  • Why can’t I seem to hold a job?
  • Why do I move from one bad relationship to the next?
  • Why don’t I feel close to God?
  • Why do I keep finding myself in the same kind of bad situation over and over again?
None of set out to reach a point where we ask this kind of question – none of us said, “I'd like to go there!”  So what happened? We are going to talk about Biblical principles for living*  that will help us take the things that are within our ability to change and in a practical sense begin to experience the kind of life God intends for us to live.** 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Proclaiming the Message: Ambassadors for Christ (Colossians 4:2-4:6)

“The Blue Angels are the friendly face of the U.S. Navy and Marines and put on aerial stunt shows before live audiences across the country most every week. The scandal has sullied their reputation and that of the military branches they represent, Navy investigators said.” (“Blue Angels dived into porn, homophobia and harassment, study says,” cnn.com)
We cringe at this story not just because of the impact of their actions on the people in the story, but because the Blue Angels were supposed to be the face of an organization that represented their country.

Their role - and their failure in it - reminds us of something important: we are the friendly face of the Kingdom of God. We are constantly representing Christ. Nobody has to officially send us or appoint us – followers of Christ are in that role 24/7. I was thinking of how this news story could read if it involved me and my walk with Christ.
“Anthony is one of the friendly faces of the Kingdom of God, and he “puts on” a display of what discipleship looks like every week.”
So far, so good. But there are at least two different ways that paragraph could ended:

Life Together: Submitted to Christ (Colossians 3:16-4:1)

“Submit” and “obey” are two words that don’t usually bring out the best emotions.

Perhaps we think of submission as something we endure from some overpowering bully, like a mixed martial artist who submits his opponent. Perhaps we think of a family, school, a church or a business where all that mattered was authority and obedience, and it was experienced in a way that was mean, cold, harsh, or demeaning. Perhaps we think of obedience or submission as being weak, or being told not to think for ourselves. Perhaps we think of being a victim, abused by those who want to dominate and control us rather than compel or love us.

So here’s a question: What does the Bible say about power and submission?

New Life: Risen With Christ (Colossians 3:1-3:14)

" So it comes down to this: since you have been raised with Christ, set your mind on heaven above, where He is seated at God’s right hand. Stay focused on what’s above, not on earthly things, because your old life is dead and gone. Your new life is now safely enmeshed with Christ, who is in God. On that day when the Christ—who is our very life—is revealed, you will be revealed with Him in glory!" (Colossians 3:1-4)
This is the solution to a life in which we are enslaved to sin (read Colossians 2 to see what that looks like). Awesome! But…how does that work? How do we “set our minds” and “stay focused”? Let’s keep reading (picking up in verse 5):
"So kill your earthly impulses: promiscuous sex, impure actions, unbridled lust, evil desires, and greed (which is idolatry). It’s because of these that God’s wrath is coming, so avoid them at all costs. These are the same things you once pursued, and together you walked in the path of evil. But now make sure you put off such things: anger, rage, spite, slander, and abusive language. And don’t go on lying to each other since you have traded the old self and the evil it did for a fresh new you, which is continually renewed in knowledge according to the image of the One who created you. 
In this re-creation there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian and conqueror, or slave and free because Christ is above all, and dwells in us all. 
Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind. But above all these, put on love! Love is the perfect tie to bind these together. Let the peace of God control your heart (the peace you were called to as one body), and be thankful. (Colossians 3:5-14)
In this passage, we see three important principles that should help us find the freedom of new life in Christ.

True Freedom: Secured By Christ (Colossians 2:16-2:23)

Plato told a story in which people are trapped in a cave, watching shadows on a cave wall and thinking it’s reality. Occasionally, some of them recognize the shadows for what they are and leave the cave, entering into the sunlight of truth and experiencing Reality for themselves. It might surprise you to know that the Apostle Paul told a very similar story.

The Colossian church had a problem with living in the shadows. Paul started out his letter to them by stressing the preeminence of Christ in everything, then noted how glad he was that the Colossians were rooted in and built on Christ, because He was the source of all that mattered. God had brought them to life.
“Be strong in the faith, just as you were taught, and always spill over with thankfulness. Make sure no one deceives you through some misleading philosophy and empty deception based on traditions fabricated by mere mortals. These are sourced in the elementary principles originating in this world and not in Christ. You see, all that is God, all His fullness, resides in His body.” (Colossians 2:7-9)
These elementary principles all come back to one thing: I can save myself. I am good enough. Paul goes on to say that God, through Christ has triumphed over every force (spiritual or physical) that would tell you that you can save yourself and publicly displayed their ineffectiveness and Christ’s effectiveness.
“It was God who brought us to life with Him, forgave all our sins, and eliminated the massive debt we incurred by the law that stood against us. He took it all away; He nailed it to the cross. He disarmed those who once ruled over us—those who had overpowered us. Like captives of war, He put them on display to the world to show His victory over them by means of the cross." (Colossians 2:10-12)
But here comes the problem. Some false teachers wanted them to go back to the world’s “elementary principles” that would keep them in a spiritual cave. So Paul tells them what this will look like:

Sunday, June 1, 2014

God’s Nature: Revealed in Christ (Colossians 1:15 – 1:23)

I am a big fan of Lebron James. But as I watched the playoffs this this last week, I thought, “Glory is hard taskmaster.” Lebron promised Miami a handful of championships, and now there is tremendous pressure on him to win. He gets high renown and honor if he performs up to expectations, but he can go from hero to zero over the course of just two games. He may look magnificent in the moment, but those moments fade, and then he has to look magnificent again by doing something amazing yet again.

But let’s be honest: We pursue glory (renown, recognition and applause) in our homes, our work place, our church, online, with our friends. We want to be renown for something. We might not say “Look at me!” but we think it and hope it.  And if being noticed become the most important thing – an idol, really - we will need to keep accomplishing things, and we will need to have people around us who notice.

God's Will: Fulfilled in Christ (Colossians 1:3-1:14)

“Paul, an emissary of Jesus the Anointed serving at God’s pleasure, along with our brother Timothy  to you, dear holy and faithful brothers and sisters in the family of the Anointed who live in Colossae. May grace and peace from God our Father [and the Lord Jesus, the Anointed One envelop you.  As always, we’ve been praying for you, thanking God, the Father of our Lord Jesus the Anointed,  ever since we heard of your faith in Jesus the Anointed and your love for His holy ones—  a faith and love that emerge from the hope you have heard about in the word of truth—the gospel—the very hope that awaits you in heaven.  
The same gospel that was brought to you is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has been growing among you since the day you heard and took in the truth of God’s grace from our beloved fellow servant Epaphras. (He is a faithful minister of the Anointed on our behalf.)  He was the one who told us how you demonstrate your love by the power of the Spirit. Since the day we got this good news about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We ask: 
‘Father, may they clearly know Your will and achieve the height and depth of spiritual wisdom and understanding.  May their lives be a credit to You, Lord; and what’s more, may they continue to delight You by doing every good work and growing in the true knowledge that comes from being close to You. 
Strengthen them with Your infinite power, according to Your glorious might, so that they will attain every single thing they need to hold on and endure hardship patiently and joyfully.  Thank You, Father, as You have made us eligible to receive our portion of the inheritance given to all those set apart by the Light.  You have rescued us from Dark and brought us safely into the kingdom of Your Son, whom You love and in whom we are redeemed and forgiven of our sins [through His blood].’” (Colossians.1-13, The Voice)
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Paul prayed that they would find God's perfect will. What does that look like? What is God’s will for us? For you? For some, the lack of clarity almost freezes them. What if they choose the wrong career? What if they marry the wrong person? On the other hand, some just don’t care. They grow skeptical about “hearing from God” (whatever that means) and just do what the feel like doing.  So is there a way to know what God’s will is for your life? Yes, in fact, there is. It’s right here in Paul’s greeting.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Place To Call Home (Insights From Philemon)

God has placed within us all a longing to belong. Sometimes we feel it in our families; sometimes we don’t. The same goes for school, work, social circles, and church. We long for that place that will always take care of us and never leave us.  A place where we don’t have to wear make-up, and we can wear sweats until supper time. In this sense, home is something bigger than “house” or “family” or “what I know.” Home is a place we want to go, and when we leave, we want to return.  

When Paul writes to Philemon about how Philemon was to welcome Onesimus back, he’s talking about building a home, a koinonos, a community of  people with common interests, feelings, work and heart (v.17)). It’s an active word, an event word, a group word. It is not passive, solo or selfish.  It’s about life together in Christ within a church community. And in order for that life to be a meaningful reflection of God's heart for the world,several key things must be in place.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Confronting Blind Spots (Insights From Philemon)

The Johari Window is a model by which to gauge how well we know ourselves, and how well others know us. Basically, it breaks down our exterior and interior life into 4 quadrants: Open (the Arena); Hidden (the Façade); Unknown (Here There Be Dragons); an the Blind Spot (Bull in the China Shop).

The Open Quadrant contains areas where who we are is seen and known clearly by ourselves and by others.  This is the ”Are you not entertained?” portion of life. We know who we are and others know who we are, because we show it. There are no secrets here. In the arena, there is nowhere to hide, and we are seen in all our glory or frailty. If our lives are such that we weren’t ashamed if we are an open book, that’s generally a good thing.

However, there is a danger:  We can put too much into the arena. Kids have no filter and it’s cute, but when if an adult would ask you to come into the bathroom and see what their poop looked like, you would think something had gone wrong somewhere. Maturity requires learning how to live the kind of life that can be lived openly and without shame while exercising judgment when it comes to sharing openly and without offense.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Runners and Rulers (Insights From Philemon)

Paul  wrote to Philemon, “So if you look upon me as your partner in this mission, then I ask you to open your heart to him as you would welcome me.” When Paul talks about partnership in a mission, he uses the word koinonos - one with common interests, feelings, work and heart (v.17)). There is a mutual partnership aspect. It’s an active word, an event word, a group word. It is not passive or solo.  It’s about life together in Christ within a church community.

Disunity is not an option for followers of Christ. Unfortunately, Philemon and Onesimus were undermining this project. Through them, we learn two important things: If you are a follower of Christ committed to doing life together, you shouldn’t run, and you shouldn’t rule.


Don't Run

Onesimus is a runner. He apparently stole from Philemon, took off, was captured, and ended up in prison. The Bible doesn’t say if he knew Paul before or if he just happened to meet him in jail, but there they are. While in captivity, Onesimus commits his life to following Christ. Paul says he’s now a “dear brother in the Lord” who lives up to his name (“useful”) and ministers to Paul.

If I were Onesimus, I would be thinking, “Awesome! I’ve got Paul on my side. Paul will set Philemon straight on the whole ‘servant’ thing, pacify him, and tell him to give me what I deserve now!” But Paul’s apparently thinking, “Awesome! Onesimus is a follower of Christ now. He’s in the family. Now he can fix the relationship he broke!”

It seems much easier to run away after we offend someone, especially if the consequences are daunting. It's hard to fault Onesimus on this point, especially considering the way in which runaway doulos were handled at that time. Philemon was apparently well respected for his kindness and generosity, but it's hard to envision a scenario in which Onesimus could have just returned without there being significant consequences (see my previous post for the life of a doulos).

But Paul knew what he was doing. If Onesimus was truly a follower of Christ, then he had committed to a particular way of doing life. We'll look at how Paul handles Philemon as well, but for now let's focus on Paul's challenge to Onesimus: Followers of Christ cannot run from conflict. Onesimus ran physically; we can run just as far in other ways as well.

Paul, Philemon, and Slavery (Insights from Philemon)

Paul, a prisoner of Jesus the Anointed One, with our brother Timothy, to you, beloved Philemon, our fellow worker… I make this request on behalf of my child, Onesimus, whom I brought to faith during my time in prison. Before, he was useless to you; but now he is useful to both you and me. Listen, I am sending my heart back to you as I send him to stand before you, although truly I wished to keep him at my side to take your place as my helper while I am bound for the good news. But I didn’t want to make this decision without asking for your permission. This way, any goodwill on your part wouldn’t be seen as forced, but as your true and free desire.

Maybe this is the reason why he was supposed to be away from you for this time: so that now you will have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but as more than a slave—as a dear brother. Yes, he is dear to me, but I suspect he will come to mean even more to you, both in the flesh as a servant and in the Lord as a brother. So if you look upon me as your partner in this mission, then I ask you to open your heart to him as you would welcome me. And if he has wronged you or owes you anything, charge it to me. Look, I’ll put it here in my own handwriting: I, Paul, promise to repay you everything. (Should I remind you that you owe me your life?) 

Indeed, brother, I want you to do me this favor out of obedience to our Lord. It will refresh my heart in Him. This letter comes, written with the confidence that you will not only do what I ask, but will also go beyond all I have asked…     - From the book of Philemon, The Voice
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Though Paul’s letter to Philemon is often used to accuse Paul of supporting (or at least being okay with) slavery, the criticism misses the deeper purpose of this letter. Paul presents a radical message that to Philemon would have undermined everything he had been taught about masters and slaves, and could only lead to a world without slavery.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Liturgy of Lament

 Reader: As the soldiers led Jesus away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned for him. Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.’”  (Mark 15:1-15; Luke 23:13-28)

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining...  Then Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.”  (Matthew 27:45-50; Luke 23:44-47)

Pastor: Jesus entered a world that was broken, suffering, and full of grief. He grieved the loss of his friends; he wept for his people. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.  He entered into a lonesome, weary world in desperate need of the light of hope and peace, the promise of God's everlasting presence and love.

Congregation:  Just as Jesus wept, we, too, weep for the death of loved ones, the loss of opportunities, the fading of hopes and dreams.

Pastor: God, you have given us reason to celebrate, but we often find the days cold and our hearts hard.  As we await our resurrection, it’s sometimes hard for us to lift up our hearts. You understand the grief of the world; meet us in our aching hearts we pray. Hold as we walk through darkness.

Congregation: Help us. Embrace us. Heal us.

Reader:  “He was despised and forsaken by men, this man of suffering, grief’s patient friend.
As if he was a person to avoid, we looked the other way; he was despised, forsaken, and we took no notice of him. Yet it was our suffering he carried, our pain and distress, our sickness-to-the-soul.
 We thought that God had rejected him, but he was hurt because of us; he suffered for us. Our wrongdoing wounded and crushed him. He endured the breaking that made us whole. His injuries became our healing. We all have wandered off, like shepherdless sheep, scattered by our aimless pursuits; The Eternal One laid on him, this silent sufferer, the sins of us all." (Isaiah 53:3-6)

Pastor: Jesus knows the feelings of abandonment, anger, and loneliness we sometimes feel. Jesus knows the depths of our broken hearts, and He alone has the power to bring beauty from the ashes in our lives. We long for the day when His work will be completed in us and in a world that groans as it awaits redemption.  

Congregation: Meanwhile, we weep with those who weep, and we mourn with those who mourn.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Church as a Place of Rest (Romans 15)

The book of Romans was meant to establish peace between the believing Jews and Gentiles in two ways: By highlighting the mercy of God to both (salvation, justification, sanctification and righteousness), and by showing them their mutual obligations of service. Before Romans 12, Paul wrote about the importance of holy living. 
Next, Paul shifted his focus to getting along in religious matters not essential to salvation (such as eating habits and the observation of holy days).
“None of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone... don’t put a stumbling block or obstacle in anyone’s way… Make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (building up; growth don’t cause your brother or sister to fall.” (Romans 14:5-20)
This call to service was not a passive call. No, this was a call to actively create a community characterized by people committed to peace as well as helping each other grow, build and encourage each other. What has to happen for a community like this to grow?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

God and Justification

Justification is what happens when we give a reason for something we did (“The sun was in
my eyes. My alarm didn't go off! I had questions about my homework assignment but it was late and I didn’t want to bug you or my classmates”). In a deeper sense, we justify because we want to remind ourselves and others that we are good. Justification is our way of proving that what we do is okay – so we must be okay too. 

In a more formal sense, justification is a legal term. Something that is justifiable is shown to be “just, right, or reasonable.” (Merriam-Webster). It’s that which absolves us of guilt. If the scales of justice were truly balance, our reasons/excuses would counterbalance the bad things we’ve done.

God, Free Will, and Sovereignty

I suspect that all of us, at some point in our life, have asked or heard one of the following questions:
  • Why did God let a person I love die?
  • Why didn’t God save my job (or health)? 
  • Why did God cause the hurricane in the Philippines? 
  • Why didn’t God heal my marriage? 
All of them are some version of, “Why did this happen on God’s watch? What does this say about God’s character and nature?” To answer this, we have to take a look at sovereignty. Sovereignty is simply “supreme power or authority.” A sovereign is a king. It’s not a word that resonates with us. After all, our nation fought to be rid of a king.  Thomas Jefferson wrote to Washington in 1788:

“ I was much an enemy to monarchies before I came to Europe. I am ten thousand times more so, since I have seen what they are. There is scarcely an evil known in these countries, which may not be traced to their king, as its source, nor a good, which is not derived from the small fibers of republicanism existing among them.”

This dislike of a ruling nobility and a longing for self-rule has probably built momentum since then.  We still see it in pop culture (think of the recent hit “Royals”), and we increasingly hear that “nobody can tell me what to do.” When I googled “sovereignty,” these were the top three news stories:
  • “Will U.S. Sovereignty Be Lost at Sea?”
  • “Ukraine Defends Its Sovereignty.”
  • “CIA Drone Violates Pakistan’s Sovereignty.”
They all have to do with self-rule.  Our history, culture and even our definition of words clash with the claim of the Bible: God is the sovereign, the King, the one who created and now rules over everything, including us. He sees all things that can be seen, knows all things that can be known, can do all things that can be done. Nothing in creation escapes is out from under his “supreme power and authority.” The question is, “What does that mean?”

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"Alive" (ReBuilt: A Modern Parable of the Justified)

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CHAPTER ONE: "THE RUINS"
CHAPTER TWO: "BRING OUT YOUR DEAD!"
CHAPTER THREE: "REBUILDING"
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It’s not all work. He fishes with you on still waters. You both shoot hoops at the YMCA and join friends at Buffalo Wild Wings for March Madness. Being around him restores your soul even while your callouses thicken.* You realize that you are absorbing his ideas, his language, his priorities, his way of living life abundantly.**

Others join you. Some bring their dead; some have been set free. Some still live in shacks; others are working with the ReBuilder on mansions. The Rebuilder welcomes them all. He didn’t come to condemn the dead to their bare cold shacks. He came to save them and rebuild their lives.*** You invite even more to hang out with you.****

And slowly but surely, your house is becoming a mansion.+ You find that you easily congratulate others whose houses are flourishing, and you compassionately help neighbors who are struggling. The blueprint makes more sense than it used to. You look forward to your alarm clock. The old landlord still comes around, but more than ever you see through his lies.++ He rarely makes it past the bottom step of the porch. Your Dead self stays on the sidewalk.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"ReBuilding" (ReBuilt: A Modern Parable of the Justified)

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CHAPTER TWO: "BRING OUT YOUR DEAD!"
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You have a hard time believing the changes. No more debt. No more creditors knocking at your door. Now the rain stays outdoors and the plumbing stays in the pipes. Your front door actually latches now. It’s…amazing.*

But the Man – you’ve started calling him the ReBuilder - has a bigger plan than you realized. He wasn’t going to just uncondemn the house and sweep up the garbage. He is planning to turn your shack into a mansion. When he first told you, you said, “Awesome! Go right ahead!” But the ReBuilder smiled and said, “Not without you. It’s our house. We work together. You need to give yourself to this project." **

You’ve got nothing to offer once again, but the ReBuilder is ready for that too. He gives you a blueprint and all the tools you need. He gives you a fund to draw from for building materials, expert advice and help, etc. Since he’s the architect, designer, builder and inspector, He will be available every day – leading, guiding, protecting, correcting.

But you have to set your alarm, get out of bed, put on the tools, pick up the lumber, swing a hammer, get splinters, and break and rebuild a few things. You are going to invest some sweat equity into this house.***

Sunday, March 9, 2014

"Bring Out Your Dead" (ReBuilt: A Modern Parable of the Justified)

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CHAPTER ONE: THE RUINS
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The next day a man, a stranger, walks onto the porch. “Bring out your dead!” he calls cheerily.*

You don’t watch Monty Python, so you don’t get the joke. “What makes you think there are dead here?”

“I can smell it on your breath; I hear it in your words;** I see it in your eyes. It clings to you like a monstrous burden. This house has killed you. Your landlord cracked the gas lines and installed the asbestos. Your landlord made sure there are no detectors for smoke or gas. Your landlord likes his tenants dead. But you were meant to be alive.*** And I can get rid of that body of death and make this house livable.”

“How can I trust you?”

“Why do you think you even know that you are dead? You thought you were tired and sick. I showed you what was real. I opened your eyes. You needed to know.**** You can trust me because I bring you truth that will set you free.”

 “Why me?”

“Why not you? I care about you. I seek and save people and situations that seem hopeless.+  Plus, I would like to move into this house,++ and where I am, there is no room for death and ruin,” the Man said with a twinkle in his eye.+++

“Where would I go?”

“Why would you want to go?”

You sit quietly for a long time. Your father always said you got what you deserved and never helped with your house or your health. Your landlord pretended to be your friend while guiding you down a road to death. Your friends had invited you to go with their dead selves to their dead parties on dead city streets.

"The Ruins" (Rebuilt: A Modern Parable of the Justified)

You live in a broken, run-down house in a squalid neighborhood. You’ve been here as long as you can remember. You know nothing else. For a while you were able to at least keep it looking nice on the outside, but it’s always been falling apart.

The landlord seemed like a great guy at first.*  He allowed you to skip rent. He let you host all the parties you wanted – he even helped fund more than one. Sure, your friends trashed the place, but you trashed theirs, so it all seemed fair in a messed up kind of way.

But you slowly realize that the landlord is a hard owner. You thought he was your friend. He isn’t. The landlord keeps promising that you will have a better house and a better life if you will just do one more thing: fix the roof, mend some pipes, hang new drywall, repaint, rebuild the foundation that keeps sinking further into the sandy soil. But all those things cost money that you don’t have, so you borrow money from the landlord. Nothing ever pans out. You end up spackling over holes in the wall and wrapping duct tape around leaking pipes, but you know your house is going down.**

It doesn’t help that you are really sick. You feel as run down as your house looks. Maybe it’s the asbestos in the walls, or the lead in the paint, or the leaky pipes in the stove. There’s something toxic about this house. It’s killing you. But as far as you know, this is all you have. This is the only place to live. You hate the person you have become in the house you’ve allowed to fall apart.

Your house is in ruin. Your life is in shambles. And to make things worse, you realize one day that somebody is following you. Literally. He’s one step behind you everywhere you go. When you are finally able to catch a glimpse in a mirror, you realize… it’s you.