Colossians Commentary (Chapter 3)

I love the book of Colossians. We are continuing our study on chapter three of this amazing book which sheds light on much of what Paul writes in his other letters to other churches. I find it interesting that he oftentimes repeats himself in his letters. Perhaps the reason is because they never listened the first or second time Paul said something. Perhaps they needed to hear it several times over in order to ingrain the commands of the Lord through Paul into their minds.

I remember going to a church a while back and I hear a message on a specific passage. When I went to a Bible study later that week, I heard the same passage taught. About two weeks later, the same passage was preached. When I got into the car with the other people I was with, I shared with them this insight. Their response was pretty clear: Maybe God is trying to tell you something. Maybe He has allowed you to hear this passage over and over again to get a point across to you. Maybe you need to listen more and ask God what it is He wants you to see in it. I believe that is good advice. Some of these things we will be looking at in the book of Colossians, we have heard over and over again. Perhaps we need to take the advice from my friend and ask God what we need to receive from this passage. Apparently God has no problem with us hearing it again. With that, let us dig into the Word of God and hear what Paul has to say to this new Church he had never met.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above and not on things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Col. 3: 1-4).

I guess sometimes, we set our minds on things that are ‘earthly’ in nature and not on things that are ‘heavenly’ eternal. I believe this goes back to our Romans 12 passage quite well. How do we set our minds on things that are ‘heaven bound?’ We must have our minds transformed by Christ. It is only through Christ that we have a hope to look to heaven in the first place. As I read the last part of these selected passages, my thoughts stop at, “When Christ who is your life…” I have to stop and read that over and over again. Do I believe that Christ is my life? Do I believe that without Him, I am a dead man? I often wonder if we as the body of Christ really consider Christ as our life. If I truly believe that Christ is my life, should I not be living differently than I am living? Should I not consider Him more valuable than I allow Him to be through me? I do not mean to beat a dead horse about this, but if we are not living in a manner in that Christ is our life, I believe that we are missing an incredible part of who Christ is and what Christ has done for us through His life, death, and resurrection. He is sitting at the right hand of God the Father, for you and I. In Him, we have life and death is defeated. We need to catch a vision and love for a God who cares enough for His creation to be its source of life. I just have to throw that out there. Take some time and think about that each night before you go to bed for a week. I am positive it will change you significantly.

Paul continues writing, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Col. 3: 5-6).

It is interesting that in the book of Galatians, Paul writes that they know what the acts of the flesh are. He names several of the same acts of the flesh both here and in Galatians. Paul changes his tune though and writes, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” I believe we do not put to death the things we are called to put to death in the manner Paul is writing about. Paul is really saying, in other words, “Murder the flesh, kill it, and destroy it.” That might seem like harsh language to use but Paul is making a point: If we do not put to death the work of the flesh in us, it will seek to destroy us (our testimony, our relationships, our ministry, and ultimately our love for God and others). We cannot sweep the works of the flesh under a carpet, hoping that no one will notice it. We must destroy it completely. This is ridiculously important, since we are no longer dead but alive in Christ.

By the way, what is the deal with ‘the wrath of God?’ I thought God is only love? God is love but God also hates the work of the flesh. This work destroys His creation and His people. If someone burned down something that you built with your own hands, would you be upset? Now consider God, the Creator of the Universe and all that is in it. He makes this beautiful thing (the world and people and all the other stuff) and sin creeps in and begins to destroy His work. How mad do you think He might get about that? I would consider it fair to say that it would piss Him off. I for one would not want to piss of Christ. So, destroying the work of the flesh is the lest I can do to the best of my ability in order to keep the wrath of God turned away from me. It is only by grace that it is possible though. Jesus paid the debt. Praise the Lord for that!

Instead of allowing the flesh to live, we must put on (an active, intentional, act) things of the Spirit. We already are wearing the flesh. It is apart of who we are as sinful people. We must make the effort; we must make a choice to put on the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit so that we can live through Christ. This is the call of those who are chosen of God.

Paul finishes this section of his letter by writing,

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Col. 3: 15-17)

There is really not much that needs to be said about these verses because it truly speaks for itself. I will just give two quick thoughts to consider and move on. (1) I do not believe we are thankful enough for all Christ has done for us. We take for granted the mercy, love and grace of God way too often. Our attitudes and hearts must emulate our thankfulness and gratitude to Christ for all He has done in us and through us because of who He is. (2) The word thankful is used here 3 times in different forms. I have to say that this is pretty important to Paul (please review point 1).

Paul finishes this part of his writing by giving some instructions on how a husband and a wife should act towards one another and how children and slaves should also act and work. We must continue to remember whatever we do, we are doing it to the Lord. When I am asked to cut the grass for my father, my response and attitude should be honoring and submissive to his request. This brings honor to him as my father but ultimately gives honor to God as my heavenly father who has called me to obey my parents. No half-hearted jobs either. We must give 100 percent, with joy and thankfulness in all that we do. This is honoring to the Lord and also to others. This is how we can love both God and others and fulfilling the Jesus Creed. Thanks for trekking along with me through this. We will pick up the last chapter of Colossians in the near future. Till then, God bless.

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I Want That! (a materialism template)

After writing about Romans 12, I have begun to think about the templates I possess in my own life. One template that I know I need to destroy is my love of material goods. Materialism is a template that moves like a cancer from the eyes to the heart. The result is an active, self-motivated act of getting more and more ‘stuff.’ It is the stuff in our lives that become idols of worship, never satisfied, always wanting more stuff. What really is the big deal though? Is it wrong to own stuff?

There is nothing wrong with owning stuff. My parents live in a nice home. They drive nice cars. We have nice things in our home that allow us to enjoy our life here on earth. We have money in our bank accounts and we have plenty of food. There is nothing wrong with that.

The problem lies in the over abundance of what we have and our inability to share our abundance of stuff with others. I guess I have just been thinking a lot about the story in the Bible where this new church was born in the book of Acts. They shared everything they had in common and no one was in need. It makes me sick to think that because of my inability to share my ‘stuff’ with others, there are people who are in need. So often, we turn a blind eye to our neighbor in need though, accumulating more stuff that we honestly do not need. When we have no more room to store the ‘stuff’ we have accumulated, we pay someone a ton of money each month to rent out a storage area to put more stuff or we build monstrous sheds or barns to hold our crap. The Bible is clear though – the stuff we gather up – the material stuff we store – will rust and rot away. It will lose its value within a short period of time. Meanwhile, as we continued to consume our stuff, our neighbors suffer and are left in need.

I remember being a young kid and getting a tugboat for Christmas one year. It was a decent size. With yellow, blue, and red all over the boat, I used to purposively make man-made lakes in my back yard, using a hose and making a damn to hold the water. I would drag the boat all over the lake and make the tugboat noise (I said I was young and no – I will not make the sound for you in public). The following Christmas, I got a new toy and the year after that, I got a new toy. As I got older, I was getting more ‘mature’ toys to play with. I remember looking at that tugboat and wondered what I ever saw in that piece of plastic. My newer toys were so much better than that tugboat. Eventually, I lost the boat and never thought about it until I started writing this post. To me, it had lost its value to me. I wanted the bigger and better stuff.

I keep going back to the Jesus Creed, asking myself the same question over and over again. How can I love others and yet not share with others what I have? If I truly love my neighbor as myself, why do I possess more and more stuff and my neighbor remains in need? Do I truly hold to the precepts of the Jesus Creed or am I living a lie behind closed doors? This is serious. When are we going to be who we are called to be in Christ? When will we put other people before ourselves and bless other people in their time of need? When will we decide to be content with what we have and be thankful for all God has given us? We have been given so much. Isn’t that worth sharing what we have with others? I believe it is.

So what can we do to destroy the template of materialism in our life? First, make a decision to bless others and share what we have been given with others so that no one is left in need. Go through your clothes and pull out stuff you haven’t worn within the past two years and give them to the poor. The next time you are considering a run to the mall to buy some new clothes, take that amount of money you would have spent on new clothes and give it to the poor. You have enough clothes – why not help out others who do not? Finally, know your community and your community’s needs. Find out creative ways in which you can support their efforts and give of your time to make things happen.

If we make a decision to destroy the template of materialism within us, we grow one step closer to being the kind of people Christ has called us to be. As the patterns of the world begin to fade away, our ability to be transformed increases. We are so blessed. Let us take some time to bless others.

Patterns are Made from Templates (Romans 12)

So, for the past two months, we have been studying the Romans 12 for about 10 minutes before the sermon as a community. I have never been to a church where the community works through a passage together to understand, at a greater level, how these words penned by the authors of the Bible, meant. This has been a dynamic experience for me. I am truly thankful to learn from others within my community of faith. This past Sunday, we discussed a small phrase: do not conform to the patterns of the world.

As I began to study the words slowly, my eyes kept returning to the word ‘patterns.’ Sitting there contemplating the word ‘patterns,’ I thought about how ‘patterns’ are made. A pattern is made with the use of a template. The template is like a stamp. It provides a picture of what each pattern will look like. It is the ‘master pattern.’ Thus, as I read the words ‘do not conform to the patterns of the world,’ I have to consider the source of the pattern the world gives us. I have to ask some serious questions that hopefully will dig deep into my soul and burn away the dross of my heart. Here are a few questions we should be asking ourselves:

What templates do I own that make the patterns of my life? What do these templates look like? Do these templates I own in my own life make patterns that reflect the world or that reflect my relationship with God?

We need to be honest about these patterns that are produced through the templates we possess. If we possess templates, which do not reflect our relationship with Christ, we need to destroy them. There should be no reason to hold on to templates that create patterns that the world. There are of no use to us. It is the templates in which the Bible calls for us to possess we need to seek. These templates create patterns that show forth our love for Christ.

I do not know the templates in which anyone else but myself possess. I do not know how they have affected the patterns in their lives. All I know: I need to continually work on understanding the templates I have picked up along the way. As I continually study the templates in my own life (destroying the templates that are of the world and gathering templates that are God honoring), the patterns that are created will show forth who I am in Christ. This is exactly the kind of person I want to be. God bless

Doing Church: Jason Ostrander

This Sunday, we had another guest preacher teach at The Well. From the very beginning, I could sense that this man was passionate, which made our experience worthwhile. (Just a side note: If you are going to teach the Word of God, at least show that you are passionate about what you are teaching. If you want to teach like Ben Stein, please find another occupation outside of teaching the Word. Please show that you are interested in what you are talking about and provide an atmosphere in which we can journey with you through the Word of God. This will keep those who usually fall asleep during a service wide-awake and even perhaps engaged in the Word of God. Thank you).

Anyway, the passage we discussed was 1 Thessalonians. Paul started this church and left it in the hands of able-body people to lead and grow the church through the Holy Spirit. Paul though would always keep up with how the churches he planted were doing as to provide encouragement and loving support for their continued growth. This letter, like most other letters Paul wrote to other churches starts off in the same manner. The thing I like about Paul, outside of his blunt and honest assessments of the body of Christ, is his desire to put the work of God above himself. He never allowed himself to be the focus of the letter. Only Christ deserved that role, and Paul was willing to acknowledge that role with humility and joy.

Paul says that he continually and always remembered this church in prayer. I wonder if we actually believe the Word of God to suggest that Paul really did (continually and always) remember the body of Christ he mentored and loved. Why is it such a struggle to love others enough to keep their faces in our minds throughout the day? Is it that hard to put others before ourselves in order to fulfill Paul’s desire for us to be ‘continually in prayer?’ In a word: Yes. We have so much before us. Even as I sit here typing on a MacBook laptop, I wonder if I have forgotten people in which I should be continually remembering and praying for. This is what Paul did though – and I guess we would do well to do likewise.

In verse 3, there are three things in which Paul thanks the Thessalonica church for doing. These three things were the bulk of Jason’s preaching. The three phrases are: Work of faith, Labor of love, and Steadfastness of hope. It is often that we look at the words ‘work, labor, and steadfastness’ and forget the full phrases in which Paul speaks of in his letter.

The work of faith is essential in every respect to the church. It is work. Faith is not just something that happens through osmosis. It is a direct and deliberate act, in which we are challenged, formed, shaped, and transformed into the image of Christ. It is not enough to sit and wait for God to ‘give us faith.’ Nothing grows outside of an environment, which is not cultivated or worked. If the growth of plants cannot grow without the continual and practical action of working the ground, how can we ever expect our faith to grow?

Love is expressed in the same manner. Love just does not happen either. It is laborious to love others (especially those who tick us off or have wronged us). In this, we are given Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where he writes, “Love is patient, love is kind, it is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it keeps no records of wrongdoings.” Do we actively seek to love others in this manner? I wonder if we are serious about loving others or if it is something in which we say to sound spiritual or religious. Whatever your reasoning is to love others, it was Paul’s expressed concern. He even writes at the end of a section of his letter to the Corinthians, the greatest of these things is love. Let us love as God has called us to love.

The steadfastness of hope is the final part of Paul’s encouragement. Without hope, we really have no reason to believe any of Paul’s letters. Hope gives us a purpose and a joy for the things we do. It is hope that gives us a reason to get up in the morning. Once again, without hope, we might as well crawl under a rock and die. The hope we have in Jesus is the greatest and supreme hope in which we live, move and breathe. Praise God for his hope!

I appreciated Jason’s teaching this Sunday. He has given me a lot to think about. I hope in some way, we can be challenged as the body of Christ to live in the same manner. God bless.

Summer Plans

I do not know what to do with myself now that my classes are over until September. So much time has been devoted to reading, studying, writing, and thinking over these past couple of months. Now that classes are over, I have been spending some time alone with God and filling up my time with other things in which I enjoy. Here is a basic low down on what my summer plans are, Lord willing:

I have a list of books in which I am looking forward to read. Some of these books include: Renegotiating The Church Contract (James Thwaites), How Doctors Think (Jerome Groopman, M.D.), The rest of Judaism – Practice and Belief (E. P. Sanders – I spent good money on this book for class. I should probably read the rest of it!), and The Cost of Discipleship (Dietrich Bonhoeffer – I have been putting this off for way too long). I love to read. I read a book (a basic, enjoyable, narrative story or novel) within a couple of days. Other longer, more thought provoking books I finish within a week or so. Reading takes precedence over most other forms of entertainment for myself. There is almost nothing better than reading a good book.

Outside of reading, this summer I am planning on going to ‘Camp of the Woods’ in NY for a week to hear Erwin Lutzer. There is a lake there at this conference Centre to sit… and read. I am looking forward to spending some time with my family and a few friends while Kayaking and getting some R and R.

Since I am taking Greek in the fall (more for review and for the ability to solidify my understanding of the language in translation and reading), I would like to spend at least one block a week (a good two hours or so) and review my Greek so that I am prepared for what might lay ahead of me for this class. Greek within itself is very challenging so a head start is not such a bad idea.

Finally, I want to understand where I am in respects to the story God has placed me. Through prayer, the study of God’s Word, encouragement from friends and family, and through serving at my faith community, I hope God will reveal what He has for me in the ‘not so distant future.’ Every once in a while, I pray that God would allow me affect others positively for the Gospel of Christ. I know I should probably pray for it more. It is my hope and prayer though that my life would continue to be a living example of who Christ has called me to be. By the end of the summer, perhaps there will be those who have not seen me only to see a difference in my life. That would be the most awesome answered prayer God could answer for me this summer. This is going to be a great summer

Colossians Commentary (Chapter 2)

“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2: 1-3).

I have spent the past thirty minutes looking at these three verses. I have probably read them at least seventeen times now and have come back to the same thought. When Paul first began his ministry to the Gentiles, I wonder if he thought the Gospel would spread so far and become so widely known as it became. It had reached as far as Colossae though. News of their continual growth and faithfulness to the Gospel perhaps was a second-generation conversion. Perhaps an individual who had been with Paul and was influenced by his work went back to his hometown. From that one person (or perhaps a couple of people), the Gospel was alive in a new area. What greater joy can anyone have than to realize that what you have planted has multiplied in other places of the world? Paul can only look back and encourage these new believers in the Lord through a personal letter expressing his sincere joy and love for the body of Christ.

Since Paul had never met these new believers, he wanted to encourage them to continue in their faith and to not allow other people to try and steal their new freedom in Christ. Paul wrote, “For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ” (Col. 2: 5). We cannot always be present. We are called to rejoice with the body of Christ though. Through our encouragement, we can continue to strive in our faith.

If our faith is not rooted in Christ alone, it is a false faith that is unable to support us in our times of trials. Paul knew what kind of challenges these new believers would go through. Challenges of ‘philosophy and empty deceit’ would present themselves as new and exciting ventures to these new believers and Paul wanted to make it clear that anything outside of Christ provide false hope. As I consider all of the philosophies and human traditions that have been presented to me as an alternative to my faith, I can truly understand what kind of draw they have. There is one thing for sure though: Christ has never let me down and His Word has remained faithful.

Paul then exhorts these new believers as a new creation in Christ. He uses two pictures in which represent their new life in Jesus; one being circumcision and the other being the sacrament of baptism. Paul writes, “In Him, you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11). Our distinctiveness as believers in Christ did not come from the act of circumcision but simply through Christ and His act of death and resurrection from the dead. It is that act of Christ that separates us from the world. It is totally amazing.

The other picture that is given is the sacrament of baptism and its importance to us as believers in Christ. Paul writes, “… having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead… God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 12, 13b-14). In the sacrament of baptism, we publicly announce our faith in Christ and symbolize what Christ has done inside of us through the act of baptism. The significance of being immersed in the water symbolizes our death of the flesh and when we are lifted out of the water, we are alive with Christ. The act itself is not mystifying or magical. We recognize rather that because of Christ’s death and resurrection from the dead, in which we symbolize through the act of baptism, that Christ alone has paid our debt. This is why the death of Christ on the cross is so significant. I cannot overstate that the act of baptism does not save anyone. Only a true relationship with Jesus Christ and the transforming power of His Spirit in us assures us we are His. Baptism once again is a symbolic statement that is done publicly as a witness of what Christ has done in us. That alone is the purpose of baptism.

In the last seven verses of this chapter, Paul climaxes all in which he has written to encourage these new believers to not return to the elementary spirits of the Law. As was the case within the Galatian church, the church in Colossae had to deal with the religious Jews. Unlike the issue of circumcision that faced the Galatian church, the church of Colossae had to deal with kosher laws and the observance of human traditions. It seems to me that perhaps the person (or people) who had been with Paul and was influenced by his ministry was apart of the disputes of the Galatian church. The only reason I suggest this is because the issue of circumcision is not the main thrust of Paul’s exhortation to this church. To me, this suggests that perhaps the religious Jews confronted the church of Colossae. Realizing that perhaps the individual or individuals who had started the ministry in this town were apart of the confrontations in Galatians, the religious Jews needed another way in order to push the Law upon them. This of course is only an assumption and is not scriptural.

To me, being it true or not, I have come to realize that if those who are religious are unable to push their ‘Law’ upon a group of people through one avenue (as with the church of Galatians concerning circumcision), they would have to try a different tactic (as with the church of Colossae concerning kosher laws and human tradition and observance). No matter what the tactic, we must remain strong in our freedom. Paul even writes, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2: 23). Being more religious does not make us better people and it does not prevent the flesh from doing what it wants to do. The only thing that prevents the flesh from acting out is combating the flesh with the Spirit of God that lives in us. We must continually make a decision each and everyday to live in accordance to the Spirit of God and not according to the works of the flesh. Through the Word of God and through our worship, we are able to suppress the flesh and allow the Spirit of God to be visible. This is ultimately what we long and desire for; this is what we grasp for as believers in Christ. That is our challenge and our goal. Only in Christ are we able to accomplish this goal. It is definitely a goal worth striving for. Let’s get busy.

Doing Church: (J.R. Briggs) Luke 19:1-10

This Sunday, we were blessed to have J.R. Briggs from Calvary Souderton, PA. We studied together Luke 19: 1-10. This is a familiar story in the Bible many of us perhaps have learned as young children. It is the story of Zacchaeus and his informal meeting of Jesus.

From what we know about Zacchaeus, he was a short man. For many of us (me in particular), being short is apart of life (I am only 5’6”). In the Greek though, the reference of ‘a short man’ carries with it, a connotation that Zacchaeus was perhaps a ‘little person’ (maybe as short as 4’1”). He was a tax collector (think about hanging out with a terrorist or a mob boss). And, he was wealthy (he was a cheat, who made a lot more money than the Roman Government probably knew about). People knew Zacchaeus, for all the wrong reasons. He was a man you hid from; a man you ran from. Definitely not someone you would invite to your home for fellowship.

So here enters the bully and the cheat, Zacchaeus. A short man among a crowd of people who are trying to see this Rabbi whose teaching is different from other Rabbis. For whatever reason, this Rabbi has caught the interest of a crowd of people. Zacchaeus’ interest is sparked by the crowd’s interest in this man. Drawn to the point of desperation, Zacchaeus attempts to see this man form Nazareth but due to his stature, is unable to get through to catch a glimpse of him. As he looks around, a sycamore tree stands to the left of him. Being so desperate, Zacchaeus climbs the tree. Now, high up in a tree, he sees Rabbi Jesus among the crowd. As his gaze continues, he sees Jesus walking towards him. Before Zacchaeus can move, Jesus stands before him and speaks to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”

The whole crowd watches in amazement as Jesus speaks to this man that the crowd hates. They even mutter and say, “He has gone into be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus is compelled by the testimony of Jesus, he announces before Jesus and the crowd, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” How does the presence of a Rabbi bring a man who has stolen from others change this man to someone who is giving back to others? Could it really be possible that this Rabbi was not your typical Rabbi? What did Jesus and Zacchaeus talk about when they were behind close doors? We are never told about the conversation in the house of Zacchaeus. Whatever the story, this man was changed by the conversation and presence of Jesus.

Let us go beyond the story and notice something I had not noticed before. Zacchaeus sought Jesus. The crowds did not notice Zacchaeus. They were focused on trying to see Jesus for themselves. It is ironic that Jesus was not gazing at the crowds however. He was looking at Zacchaeus. Have you ever taken the time to consider who is looking at whom in this story? When we look at this story from a ‘sight perspective,’ we should be asking ourselves, “What is Jesus looking at? Why does Jesus ignore the crowd?

Jesus was on a mission to say at Zacchaeus’ house. The crowds were worried more about themselves and what Jesus was looking at. There are times when we focus too much on ourselves rather than seeing what Jesus sees. We focus so much on getting what we want from Jesus, we miss what Jesus is trying to do – His mission. Let us never forget the mission of Jesus. Let us never forget to point our gaze on Jesus long enough to see what Jesus is looking at. When we see what Jesus sees, we cannot help but be moved to do something. You cannot stand still and do nothing. So let us do nothing and let us do something. Point your eyes towards Jesus and ask Christ what He sees. That is our challenge. That is our call. God bless