Saturday, June 30, 2012
(Cross as a bridge to God)
Thoughts: I once went to Cuba to visit and encourage the Presbyterian churches there. I got to speak to the head of a voodoo church there ("African religion" they called it). He spoke of the difference between the African animalistic religion and Christianity and was convinced that he had chosen the best of both worlds. He was convinced that we are too low to approach the Almighty God, so we must use intermediate spirits- angels (or demi-gods)- to link up to Him. Some of this still exists in those who think that they must pray to the saints in order to get to God. But this is a false humility.
It is true that we are dead in our sins- but God makes us alive to Him (regeneration). Through Jesus, our only needed mediary, we can approach God in prayer-in His name and for His sake. The cross bridges the gap between us and God.
Several times in scripture good angels refuse to be worshiped (Rev. 19:10; 22:9). Only Satan- the evil angel asked Jesus to worship Him (Mt. 4:9)- and Jesus answered by saying to worship God alone (Mt. 4:10). Hebrews 1 tells us that Jesus is greater than the angels- who are ministering spirits sent to serve believers (1:14). There are about 300 references to angels in the Bible. It is clear that part of the angelic duty is to bring glory and worship and praise to God (so they sang Gloria in excelsis Deo at Christ's birth). Interestingly in our secular culture there has been a huge rise in attention to angels (someone said one in every ten songs has a mention of an angel), and Time and Newsweek have had articles about them in the last few years. But good angels are not mediate spiritual beings- but only different spiritual beings that serve God by serving us.
Prayer: Thank you Lord for allowing me to approach you with confidence because of Jesus.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
(Human body- ligament system)
Thoughts: Religion often focuses on external and measurable observation: steps to take, paths to trod, things to do, eat, days to observe. Christian faith focuses on the Head- Christ- and our relationship with Him.
The Colossians believers were being discouraged and judged by Jewish practitioners and gnostic heretics who wanted to simply focus on everything else but Christ. They turned their attention to ascetic practices- dietary laws and special holidays- and then superstitiously to the worship of spiritual beings besides Christ. Today too- in our especially secular church and secular world- there are those who would have us focus on life- by focusing on diets, on holidays (secular of course). Even some good Christians think that if they only avoid drug and alcohol abuse and come to church on major holidays (Easter, Christmas, Mother's Day, maybe July 4th?), then they have satisfied the requirements of being a good believer.
This is NOT, as some have tried to make it, a license to say what we eat and drink do not matter- and we may therefore abuse our bodies freely. This is NOT a warrant for breaking one of the Ten Commandments about taking a Sabbath. In our crazy, super-rushed world, we need a day of rest and focus. It is about saying that we are not condemned to hell for not observing these secondary things all the time. The externals are not unimportant, but they are not the main thing. We do not go to heaven by observing any external law. Our relationship to the Head pulls us into heaven.
Prayer: Help me, O Lord, to focus on you. May my relationship with you be pure and true.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
There are those who think any spiritual being who is stronger than us should be worshiped. Scripture says there are evil powers that seek to destroy and ruin us and should never be worshiped.
The written code that is cancelled is not the Law, but the curse of the Law for those who believe. The law of God does not die- for truth does not die. But Christ paid the penalty so that the curse is no longer valid or active. In doing this, ascetic practices and liturgical observations become secondary and superfluous.
Jesus has freed us from evil and from the curse of the Law. The Law is now a blessing to us to guide us, not a terror to us. Thanks be to God who frees us.
Thoughts: Today there will be a funeral for an elder at my church, Jack Barwick Jr. He was a faithful man- married to the same woman 68 years, loved his God, his church, his family, his country. He was 87 but still sent out emails to thousands with an inspiring quote or thought for the day that were too good to ignore/spam. At 87 he was still doing the Lord's work, though he was slowing down. I think he lived these verses.
Today we will also have lots of folks going to out GOoDWorks Blitz. This verse reminds us that when we are doing the Lord's work, it is not JUST for what we get here- it is ultimately for God who does not ignore what we do on this earth.
These verses reminds us that what we do and how we do it matters, and is tied to eternity. It is similar to the verse that says, "Let us not grow weary in well-doing for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Gal. 6:9,10). Or, "Be steadfast, unmoveable, always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." (1 Cor. 15:58). What we do on this life fades unless it is tied to the Lord of eternity.
Prayer: Lord, establish the work of my hands. My my handi-work glorify you this day.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Thoughts: Here circumcision (Old Testament) is linked with baptism (New Testament). They both are initiation rites at the beginning of the Christian life. They both are symbols of being cleansed (reproach rolled away, sin washed away- "putting off the sinful nature"). They both are symbols of faith and being in the community of faith. Baptism, however, was administered to both Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female.
Both are not symbols of just a state of being but are reminders that we are called by God with a purpose to do something with our lives. The prophets would often say "circumcise your hearts." Many over the years say, "Remember your baptism!" They are calls to live purposefully not selfishly or immorally. Christians have seen baptism as a symbol of their mission to serve- they are baptized to go out into the world and baptize- and to teach and serve as disciples (Mt. 28:18-20).
So proud of all those who went out yesterday to work on the Goodworks Blitz- helping with housing and improving the infrastructure of Goodworks so that others may be helped.
Prayer: Help me to remember my baptism and serve you today.
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Thoughts: We take the astounding mystery of the incarnation as if it were an old, dry piece of doctrine. In contrast to the hollow and empty philosophy of the world, there is completeness, fullness and life through Christ who fills all of life with His presence- as much as oxygen fills every living cell. Colossians 1:19 reminds us that God was pleased to have all of his fullness dwell in Christ. It is not as if a little bit of God dwells in Christ- but Christ is fully God as well as fully human.
Paul is also telling the Colossians that they are not weak, powerless humans, but they have been given the power of God- the God who is the chief power and authority in life. The power of God was evident in Christ, and it is at work in those who believe. Too often Christians act as if they have no power, no strength, and are frustrated by evil and persecutors. But the power of Christ is not to be laughed at, and makes the powers of the world seem empty, shallow, and hollow. The world will one day give out of gas, energy, and strength. God never does, and even now empowers us with a full tank of Himself.
Prayer: Help me, O Lord, to live a full life, making use of the blessings and grace you give me.
Thoughts: A great friend, church member and elder drowned yesterday- his name was Jack Barwick. Jack sent an email thought every day to thousands of people (many times more than one).
His last email was called "An End of an Era" and it forwarded an email about the selling off of Roy Rogers' museum property. Roy had said whenever the museum quit being profitable to sell it off. The museum sold his things many times triple for what they were estimated.
Roy and Dale were people of great faith and a strong witness. So was Jack. One of the paragraphs said, "You and I were born at the right time. We were able to grow up with these great people even if we never met them. In their own way they taught us patriotism and honor, we learned that lying and cheating were bad, and sex wasn't as important as love. We learned how to suffer through disappointment and failure and work through it. Our lives were drug-free."
A new documentary is coming out on the 100th birthday year (2012) of Dale and Roy called "Life Beyond the Happy Trails." Dale wrote an autobiography called, "Trials, Tears, and Triumphs" in which they highlighted their very great highs and lows. But through it all they kept their love for God and for each other.
Roger's sign off of his show was the song, "Happy Trails to You...Until we meet again." Happy trails Jack. It IS the end of an era. But my prayer is out of the stump a shoot will spring forth.
Prayer: Lord, through out my life, keep my faith and my love for you and others strong.
"Happy Trails to You" : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcYsO890YJY
Saturday, June 23, 2012
Thoughts: Two years ago we thought we had a wonderful, gigantic shady oak tree outside our church office. A storm came along and a huge limb- the size of a good sized tree- fell on our electrical line into the office pulling away the whole electrical box- and came close to causing a fire. We cleaned up the limbs, and put back the box. Then last year in another storm, another huge limb- the size of a good sized tree- fell on our electrical line again- almost in the same place- doing the same damage. Each time it cost us $1,500. It cost $800 to remove the tree, and guess what? It was hollow on the inside from rot and maybe carpenter ants. The tree had the appearance of doing good- providing shade and beauty- but in reality- it was a danger that should have been handled earlier if we knew it was hollow.
Paul says to beware of hollow and deceptive philosophy which depend on human tradition and even get their power from worldly spirituality. It appears that the Colossians' deceptive philosophy involved a cafeteria of diverse thoughts. They allowed for sexual immorality (2:23)- but they also had an ascetic tendency (do not handle, do not touch2:21) with an emphasis on liturgy and calendars (2:16). Their temptation was to follow a kind of Proto-gnosticism that reveled in secret knowledge as a way to salvation, and the worship of secondary spiritual beings (2:18). Paul recognized that such thinking is incompatible with true faith and erodes the soul.
In our day many in the church act as if sexual immorality is not immoral anymore. One Barna survey in 2010 noted that as many young people in the church were immoral as the people outside the church. It is suddenly as if we "know" better now- so that what was once called anathema is not a blessing. But in reality- this is just an old temptation rearing its head again in a new way. At the same time that the church has become more immoral it has also become more liturgical- as if the liturgy gives meaning to faith when the practice of obedience does not. The experts of knowledge have persuaded many that they know better than the ancient and proven words of scripture, and that we should only interpret the scripture through their skeptical and unbelieving scholarship.
The Colossians didn't have much scriptural knowledge, so such temptations perhaps were more excusable. We have the Bible on cd, dvd, podcast, internet, with multiple versions and languages- on our phone, our computer, our tablet, our TV. Yet many ignore it because they cannot understand some of it, and so they must trust the experts- the scholars who often analyze scripture from a very skeptical viewpoint. Those in the pews are dependent on the seminaries who are not accountable to the church- except when their endowments run low and churches start sending their students to other schools. There should be a balance between academic freedom and faith. We do not need the seminary witch hunts of the 1920s. But today, the seminaries' faith is far removed from the simple faith found in the churches. I would contend that too often the faith that is taught to our preachers is hollow, lacking power, lacking trust, full of skepticism, doubt, and empty air. There are many hollow and deceptive philosophies outside the church too- the skepticism of Hume, the nihilism of Nietzsche, post-modernism's tolerance of immorality and its demeaning of truth. But the hollow and deceptive philosophy Paul speaks of is a hollowness that creeps into the church now and again. Today, the large tree of the Church in the West is a shell of what it once was. It has allowed the termites of skepticism, carpenter ants of immorality, and dry rot of "we've always done it that way" to hollow what was once hallowed. However, one day a small shoot will spring forth from the large stump and the Church will be alive once more.
Prayer: Lord, keep me from being deceived by worldly-wisdom. Instead, help me to seek and find wisdom from you and from your Word.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
As we grow, as we continue to live in Christ, we are building up the kingdom of God. We are not called to coast or be staid in our faith. We are not merely stones- we are living stones- who continue to be nourished through Him and get our strength from Him. When we are stone-dead in our faith, we do not please Him. When we give into shallow thinking (think "Shallow Hal"), or shallow philosophy that refuses to see the whole spiritual dimension of life- we freeze our faith.
Part of being a living-stone is to offer ourselves as sacrifices (1 Pt. 2:5) which pleases Him. In Glasgow Scotland there is a statue to Dr. David Livingstone who gave up his homeland and his comforts to go to Africa- exploring and spreading the good news of Christ. He was one of the first Europeans to travel across the continent and he renamed Victoria Falls after Queen Victoria. He did much to abolish the slave trade. Livingstone's motto was, "I am prepared to go anywhere as long as it be forward." Today there are as many Christians in Africa as in North America because of Livingstone and those like him. Livingstone lived up to his name.
Thoughts: There are three great images of the Christian life that are especially apt for today. Those who believe in Christ- who have received Him are to continue to live in Him. The word in the NIV "continue to live" literally is "continue to walk" (peripeteite in Greek). Paul is saying that we have begun this journey- and we need to continue to walk on it. Pilgrim's Progress comes to mind- we do not stop to wallow in self-indulgent pleasures, but we stay focused on our destination.
The second image is that we are rooted (errizomenoi in Greek) in Him- like a tree whose roots sink down into the ground for nourishment. It is a similar image to John 15 when Jesus speaks of "abiding" in Him. We are to sink our roots deep into Christ both for stability when the winds of trouble blow and for nourishment to keep growing- turning into the person God has designed us to be. We are to remember our roots and not try to separate ourselves from them, rather continuing to let our roots sink deep into Him.
The third image is being "built up" in Him. Some think this refers to a building- that we are to build on the foundation of Christ (Thayer, Barclay). I believe it refers to the same image- of a tree. Our roots sink down into Him, we are to continue to live in Him, and we are to grow- to be built up as a tree grows and becomes an abiding place- providing shade and comfort. This being "built up"- shows strength and overflows into the fruitfulness of a thankful and healthy life.
Paul was encouraging the Colossians to continue to remain in Christ and not be drawn aside by the worldliness of immorality or the deceptiveness of skeptical wise-men/philosophers. This is a word for us today in which so many are tempted to fall into immorality or the nothingness and meaninglessness of unbelief. We are, with all our might, to focus on what strengthens us and helps us to bear fruit. We are to sink our roots deep into Him- by prayer, scripture, worship, fellowship, communion, serving others in His name, witnessing for Him out of thankfulness anything that would help us remain in Him.
Prayer: Help me sink my soul deep into your love, O Christ. Give me grace to be rooted and growing in you. Help my life to overflow with thankfulness to you.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
(Graduation from Union Theological Seminary VA)
Thoughts: The Colossians were influenced by Greek philosophy and a kind of proto-Gnosticism (a belief in salvation by secret knowledge). It is always hard if not impossible for the Christian faith to separate itself from the philosophy and cultural thinking around it. In our day, we face an interesting mixture of Enlightenment skepticism (that leads to the dreary skepticism of Hume and meaningless nihilism of Nietzsche) and the postmodern idea of "it doesn't really matter" what you believe. Fine-sounding arguments can be made against the faith. After all, in this life we see through a mirror dimly. If it were perfectly clear, then faith in God would not be faith. Faith makes sense, and makes sense of life. Yet at some point as Kierkegaard said, we must take a leap of faith. Faith always involves an element of risk and mystery. Too many philosophers act as if they know all the elements of the equation, when knowledge always is limited. In reality, every philosophy also has to live with an element of mystery and belief in its own system.
Paul was saying that we should use human wisdom in our teaching to help people to grow into maturity. But all true wisdom and the treasures of all knowledge are ultimately found in Christ the Creator of all- and the giver of our minds.
I used to believe we could argue someone into the kingdom of Christ. But very few are drawn to Christ by argument. There reaches a point where we have to see that we are not the judge of God, but we need to submit to His love. Arguments about the existence of God, the purpose/design of life, the miracles or lists of answered prayers all fall short to those who do not want to believe. But when the thirst for ultimate reality- the thirst for God and His love and mercy in Christ overwhelm the thirst for knowledge- then faith is found. In the end we must not only humble our souls before Christ- the giver of our souls. We also must humble our minds before Christ- the giver of our minds. All wisdom and knowledge- are found in the one who give "peace of mind."
Prayer: Help me, Lord, to submit my thinking to you. Give me grace to use my mind to the best of its ability to honor and glorify you.
Monday, June 18, 2012
Years ago I went to the "House of Mirrors" at the State Fair. At first I thought it was boring, but then when I got in the middle, it was hard to find my way out. There seemed to be 20 doors and 40 images of myself. It is important to get the true image. I also saw in that same house of mirrors some mirrors that made me look overly fat, and other mirrors that made me look taller and skinnier than I really was. It is important to get the right image of Christ- for this image of Christ points out to God the Father. Jesus was the One who taught us to see God as Father, and as a God who loves us, cares for us when we are sick, and welcomes us back to Himself when we are prodigals. The Bible gives us a good, clean, untarnished, undistorted image of Christ. The Bible is the glass that reflects that image- but Christ is the two dimensional-incarnated image of the multi-dimensional, multi-faceted Father.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Thoughts: Paul and Timothy thank God for their faith. Faith and love are not human creations in a vacuum. God the Father is a frequent image of the first person of the trinity in Colossians.
What were the two things to be commended here? Their faith was commended. But not just any kind of faith. Their faith had an object- Jesus Christ. They relied not simply on positive thinking, but on Christ Jesus who proves He is trustworthy of our faith. In a skeptical world- faith is not only a tool of encouragement and strength-- but it is also a key that unlocks the door into the presence of God the Father. Faith in Christ calls us beyond our intellect and our pride to something- rather someone more. The temptation the Colossians faced was a protognosticism that emphasized philosophy and asceticism as a means to get to God. Faith in Christ makes the philosophical niceties of human wisdom look small. The Revelation of God is much more powerful, certain, and moving than the intellectual skepticism that doubts everything and believes nothing.
The love for the saints ("all God's people" NIV) is also to be commended. Jesus says that the world will know we are His disciples by His love (Jn. 13:33,34). So Colossae was a friendly church- that looked after each other. Faith and love are two wonderful gifts that fight skepticism and selfish apathy. In our day we also need faith to fight the joyless and meaningless secular skepticism and we need love to fight the drug-loving, comfort seeking funk of our society.
Prayer: Lord thank you that you give me faith and love that I might glorify you.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
2 Corinthians, Philippians and Philemon all mention Timothy as well as Paul as the senders of the epistle. But what is unique to this introduction are the words "to the holy and faithful saints." The readers were viewed as being set apart- to be holy. The introduction has a family theme: "brothers, and God our father." This family is found in the geographical city of Colossae, and in the person of Jesus Christ.
Paul was not alone but had Timothy. He was reminding the Colossians that they were inter-dependent on each other and even more truly on God. We too are dependent on God, our Father.
Prayer: Help me, O Lord, to know that I am in you and with many other brothers and sisters.
In Iona we visited the ancient monastery of St. Columba who boldly brought Christianity to Scotland and could be credited with renewing a faltering Christianity on the continent of Europe in the late 500s.
Friday, June 1, 2012
Can we learn from a sinner? Is it possible to learn from a Benjamin Franklin who was known to have multiple affairs and questionable beliefs? Is it possible to learn from a Richard Nixon or even a Ghengis Kahn? The answer would be absolutely yes. If we waited to learn from perfect people we'd never learn. So is it possible to learn from a Knox who even y his own statements exaggerated the case against women, and destroyed (or refused to stop the destruction of) statues and valuable art?
If we can only learn from someone we agree with 100% we'll never learn. Part of loving our enemies is learning from them.
Prayer: Lord teach me from sinners and saints for all truth comes from you.