Tag Archives: Bible

Mirror image

It’s just dumb to build yourself an idol, prop it up on the mantel – carefully, so it won’t fall over – and then worship it.  Isaiah marvels that some people cut a tree to use for firewood, and then:

“From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me! You are my god!”” (Isaiah 44:17)

If you build it, it  cannot be your god.  And yet, people still make their own ‘gods’ and worship them – these days they tend to use computer chips instead of wood or stone.  It is inherently foolish to surrender to something you have made – or made up!

I say made up because something similar is going on when we attempt to redefine Jesus to fit our own ideas.  People say, “My Jesus would not have done that” as though they are in a better position, today, to know what Jesus was like than the eye witnesses who wrote the Gospels.  “The Jesus Seminar” was made up of self-described “scholars” who decided for themselves which things Jesus actually said, and which were falsely ascribed to Him, based on their own preconceived notions!  But anything you have made or have made up, cannot be your God.  He cannot guide you or save you.

Psalm 115 says:

“Those who make them [idols] will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” (Psalm 115:8)

One reason we become like our idols is because we have made them in our own image.  We resemble them because they have been made to resemble us, to agree with our own ideas.  Someone once said, if you pick and choose which parts of the Bible you agree with, discarding the rest, what you wind up is a mirror image of yourself.  A “god” who looks like you cannot guide you or save you.

Risking Faith

If Christ lives in us (See: Don’t Miss This!) and His life changes us to be in harmony with God, then what are we supposed to do?  What is our responsibility in this new life?  How can we make sure we don’t mess it up?

Like this:

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him,  rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” – (Colossians 2:6-7)

We received Christ Jesus as Lord by faith; we live our lives in Him in the same way: by faith.  If you test this out, you’ll see quickly how it works.  Jesus’ life in us moves us to do things that seem upside down to us.  Such as, “Love your enemies,” or, “Forgive completely as God has forgiven you.”  Daring to follow His lead in these ways truly takes faith, faith that His way is really better.  Next time you risk forgiveness, you do so by faith.

The more we use faith, the stronger it becomes.  As trees grow roots, they increase their ability to be nourished while also gaining strength to withstand heavy winds.  Same thing in following Jesus.  Our roots grow and we become “rooted and strong.”  We more easily are “nourished and strengthened” by His Spirit. Trees grow larger as they are rooted.   Likewise, we are “built up in Him.”

When you learn to ski, it takes faith to put your weight on the downhill ski.  It seems counterintuitive.  And yet, when you risk it, suddenly you  swoop through a turn, kicking up powder.  Then what?  You pump a fist in the air and shout, right?  Same thing when you test out faith  and power through a couple of turns with Jesus.  You see how it works and want to shout with amazement.  You “overflow with thankfulness!

Don’t stress about this, enjoy it.  It starts with faith and continues with faith.  Risk it.

Plus Nothing

The man was beat up badly for telling people about Jesus.  And then thrown in prison.  You might think he’d have taken a break and used the time to rest up.  But not Paul.  He said:

“I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.” (Colossians 2:1)

Struggling?  The word he used gives us our word for agonizing.  In jail?  Doing what?  Praying.  Not just “Now I lay me down…”  but agonizing over these folks in prayer – people he had never met!  Why?  What was so important that, even though he couldn’t be there personally, he worked hard in prayer for them?

Turns out, the problem was human ideas were creeping into their understanding.  People who loved to be in positions of authority and control over others were teaching them a bunch of nonsense.  Religious nonsense.  It sounded good.  But it was leading them farther and farther away from what they really needed to know.

“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3)

Think about the simple but reverent lifestyle and teaching of Jesus.  Compare that simplicity to what the various forms of Christianity have become!  What has changed?  Human ideas have been added, ones that seem good because they sound religious, but which dilute and pollute the essence of what it means to follow Jesus.  Think of the lavish architecture, the costumes, the ritual and the extravagance.  Think of all the rules and regulations that have been layered on the simple message of Jesus.  This distortion in the name of Jesus has been going on from the very earliest days of the church.  Paul couldn’t be there to rail against it, so he agonized in prayer for them.  And he wrote to them:

“I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” (Colossians 2:4)

God loves you.  Your sins have separated you from Him.  He wants to forgive you and reconcile you to Himself.  He has paid the penalty for your sin, on your behalf, by the crucifixion of His Son, Jesus.  Stop trying to fix yourself and trust Jesus instead.  Surrender to Him and He will come and live in your soul by His Spirit.  In Him you have “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  If you have His life in you, that’s all you need.  Plus nothing.

 

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Perfect

Are you perfect yet?  Me either.  And yet, that is the goal: not ‘pretty good’ but perfect.  Really?  Take it straight from Jesus:

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. “ (Matthew 5:48)

And Paul says, the reason he struggles to teach everyone about “Christ in you”  (See: Don’t Miss This!) is:

“… so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28b)

You’re thinking, “If following Jesus means I become perfect, then either I’ve failed or the whole thing is a hoax.”  Not to worry; Jesus’ brother, James, wasn’t perfect and he knew we all mess up:

“We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” (James 3:2)

And Paul knew he wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot.

” Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect,… (Philippians 3:12a)

But he knew that perfection was the ultimate goal:

“…but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3:12b)

So, what’s the deal?  If no one attains perfection, how can that be the goal?  Why does Paul work so hard to “present everyone perfect in Christ”?  It’s the last two words, “in Christ,” that make all the difference.  Perfection is something Jesus does, not something we attain by our own striving.  It comes for all believers in the future, at the end of the age and the renewal of all things .

But right here and now, it is important for us to know that the word, perfect, in Greek, also means, complete.  And that helps us understand.  When someone trusts Jesus, Jesus completes that person by installing the essential, missing piece, His eternal life and Spirit in their soul (See: Don’t Miss This).  Their connection with God is restored immediately and the process by which He will one day  perfect them begins.  All that has been prepaid by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

“But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God… because by one sacrifice he has made perfect [complete]  forever those who are being made holy [perfect].” (Hebrews 10:12&14 with my explanations)

So, are you perfect?  Not yet.  But, with Christ alive in you, you will be.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

 

James 3:2; Phil 3:12; 1 Co 13:10; Heb 10:14 & 12:2; Eph 4.13

Say What?

He knew English from textbooks when he got here as an exchange student, but his first exposure to how English was actually spoken was in my college fraternity house.  It was startling but not surprising, therefore, when he was invited to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner and asked for someone to pass him the @#$%*^ potatoes.  After a moment of shocked silence, the friend’s mother said, “Well, you heard him, pass the @#$%*^ potatoes!”

If you don’t know the slang expressions and idioms, you can easily get the wrong idea.  Why do we say, “What’s up?”  Here is some potential confusion from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

” Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24, NIV)

Huh?  Christ didn’t quite suffer enough?  Paul had to help Him out?  No. Jesus did everything necessary to completely and permanently pay for all the sins of anyone who is willing to accept His gift.  He has prepaid for you to receive complete forgiveness forever.  So why did Paul say there was something lacking in His suffering?  He used a common idiom to say, “I’m glad to do whatever is necessary to help the church, even if it means I will suffer for it like Jesus did.”

Jesus delegated the work of spreading His good news to His followers, who had discovered personally how wonderful it is.  He knew the assignment would come with suffering.  For whatever reason, people frequently get angry when you tell them about Jesus.  Go figure.  That’s why Jesus prayed for His followers, saying:

“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4 – His atoning sacrifice was complete.)

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” (John 17:14 – They would suffer)

“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18 – Nevertheless, the plan is for them to tell people about Jesus)

Paul understood these realities, and that followers of Jesus would be witnesses to Him.  His attitude was, “Whatever it takes, I’m glad to do it.”  But it wasn’t that Paul was a masochist.  It was how amazing the message was, and how cool it was to see people catch on.   There is something about Jesus that most people have missed, something mind-blowing!  Knowing that, whatever it takes, even suffering, was worth it.  But what is that nugget?  What part of the message made it so worthwhile?

Stay tuned; we’ll get to that next time.

 

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

When the If Isn’t Iffy

When you fly standby, they tell you, “If we can find you a seat, we will call your name.”  When they call your name, you ask, “Did I get on?”  And they tell you, “If we called your name, you have a seat on this flight.”  Those two “if’s” mean different things.  The first “if” is iffy.  The second one is not.  The first “if” means “maybe, maybe not.” The second “if” means “since.”   Like when someone says, “If the sun comes up tomorrow… ”  It means, “of course this is certain to happen.”

Why the grammar lesson?  Because maybe you get freaked out when you see the word, “if,” in the Bible.  We’ve been talking about how wonderful it is to be reconciled and be transformed from an enemy of God into someone who is considered by God to be absolutely innocent (See: No Halfway Measure).  But the next line says “if,” and it sounds like there’s a catch.  It says, these wonderful things are yours:

“…if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” (Colossians 1:23a)

Sounds like those you don’t get to keep the the wonderful things “if” you screw up and wander away from the faith.  But that’s not the right “if.” This “if” means “since you will certainly” continue in your faith.  This “if” isn’t “iffy.”

How do we know?  Well, the folks that read this in Greek could tell just by looking at it, because “if” is spelled differently if it’s iffy.  But without knowing Greek, we know because the next word is established.”  Established means permanently anchored on a strong foundation.  It’s not something you have to do for yourself everyday.  It is something that has been done for you, once, in the past and is your secure condition forever.

If you get accepted for standby and board, you don’t have to worry about doing anything else to make it to your destination.  (That is, assuming the plane makes it, for the purpose of this illustration…)  People on airliners don’t have to be careful so they won’t fall out.  “If” they are on, they are going to get there.  Same thing for the reconciled.  Once you trust Jesus and are reconciled, you are established, firm and will not be moved from your confidence in the promises of eternity.  You may wonder from time to time, when (if I can club the airliner illustration to death) you encounter some nasty turbulence in life.  But you will discover, in the process, that what Jesus has done for you, He did permanently in you.

That’s why they call it “Good News.”  Because the “if” isn’t “iffy.”

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Reconciled

When you are in the doghouse, there’s no use pretending.  A busted love relationship brings down everything else.  You may not be sure what went wrong (especially if you are a guy!), but there’s no denying that the tension needs fixing.  Papering over conflict with smiles and nice talk doesn’t work.  Caving in, going along to get along is worse.  Both attempts are temporary at best and lead to sullen, resentment.  But when someone initiates real repair by doing whatever is necessary to truly reconcile the broken relationship, the results can be exhilarating.

It was God Who took the initiative to repair our broken relationship with Him.  Paul described it like this:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him (Jesus – See: Seeing the Invisible),  and through him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. –  (Colossians 1:19-20 – with my comment)

Carefully note that it was God Who took the initiative.  And, He did not give in and say, “Let’s just pretend everything is OK now.”  He did everything necessary to truly repair the break.  The sobering, necessary cost was the blood payment for our sin.

Notice also that His act reconciled “all things” to Himself, not the other way around.  When you reconcile your bank statement, in almost every case it is your figures that must be adjusted to match the bank’s record; you change to reconcile to the bank.  God did not lower Himself to adjust to our sinfulness, but reached down through Jesus to lift us up to Himself.

The end result is peace.  Peace is not pretending to get along, it is the absolute, settled, restoration of the way things between us were always meant to be.  Peace wipes out all tension.  God, through Jesus, made this peace.  He took the initiative and He accomplished it.

You know, because you have been there, when your partner makes the first move to reconcile your relationship, it requires a certain humility to receive that act of love.  But if you are willing, you exchange brittle tension for peace and joy.

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ … God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation…We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20 – excerpts)

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

 

Seeing the Invisible

Try this: Unplug your computer monitor and then try to read your email by looking inside your computer.  Can’t be done, can it?  Even if you designed and built it, you couldn’t do it.  If you could somehow actually see all the little electronic particles zooming around in the chips and circuitry, it would still be impossible to understand what your computer was “trying to tell you.”  And yet we know the whole purpose of a computer is to communicate something to us. (Well, they also provide a handy excuse when your flight is delayed…)  That’s why they made monitors.  The monitor translates all the invisible electronic frenzy into light we can see and sound we can hear in language we can understand.

The same problem exists between us and Almighty God.  You can’t see God.  Even if you could see Him, you could never understand what you were seeing.  And yet, we know God wants to communicate with us.  He has done it through circumstances that show us He is there, has the power to orchestrate what happens, and that He cares enough to do so.  He has also communicated with us in written form, inspiring dozens of writers to put His principles and laws in language we humans can understand.  Both of those types of communication have limitations, however.

So God created a “monitor.”  He sent His Son, Jesus, to be the visible, audible and understandable translation of Who He is, a human being with Whom we could interact.  How do I know?

Jesus said so:

“Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9)

Paul affirmed this:

” He is the image of the invisible God, …” (Colossians 1:15a)

But He is more than a passive monitor.  When you see your monitor, you say you are seeing your computer.  Your monitor, in that sense is your computer.  Jesus, in an even greater sense is Almighty God, not simply a picture of Him.  He is God.  The rest of what Paul wrote in the previous quote says this:

” He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17)

Chew on that, the next time you hear someone say, “Jesus!”

Quotes:  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

An Old Tool

Old tools fascinate me.  Looking at the areas worn bare from use, I  try to imagine who used it, what he was making.  Sometimes I’m more curious to know what it was used for.  Tool magazines frequently post pictures, asking, does anyone know what this is?

Words are tools. As they are used less, they get left in the toolbox. In time, people may not understand how they were used. Like the word, redemption.  In biblical times, it was not uncommon for someone to sell himself into slavery, to cover a debt.  Someone else, usually a close family member, could pay the slave’s owner a fee to purchase his (or her) freedom. He purchased redemption.  The former slave was now free.

Imagine how that felt, waking, the next morning to suddenly remember that everything that happens next is now a choice, not a command.  More profound for someone born into slavery, who had never known freedom. Such a person might not have realized he had been in bondage, nor the full implications of now being free.

When Jesus taught about how He could redeem us, some asked Him:

…“We … have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
     Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.   So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.  –  (John 8:33 excerpt-36)

Perhaps the word, redemption, has suffered disuse because most of us, like Jesus’ listeners, don’t truly understand our condition of slavery.  But even those who were born into slavery can be redeemed, set free, and given a full and permanent place in God’s family.  If The Son sets us free, which He freely does for all who will trust Him, we have redemption, we are free indeed. 

Freed slaves eventually get it; they notice.  They rub their formerly bound wrists, look around in astonishment and gulp in fresh draughts of freedom.  Life is more than better, it begins!  Which is why Paul was so excited to say:

” …  For He (God, through Jesus) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
–  (Colossians 1:13-14)

Sometimes, when I learn how an old tool was used, I discover it works better than anything more recently made.  The word, redemption, is one of those.

Watch Out for the Lyrics

In the gathering dusk, the harmonies settled in, comfortable, tight and mysterious.  The guitar was soft, rich and deep, a confident, rock-steady downbeat.  A few hands clapped in light, syncopated rhythm. They sang:

“Keep your lantern trimmed and burning, 
Keep your lantern trimmed and burning”…

Moments like that are rare and precious, they sweep you up and pull you in. Maybe you love singing that old Gospel song and have memories like that. 

But watch out for what it says!  It’s a dangerous message.  There is no way a oil lamp or kerosene lantern can keep itself burning.  It must be cleaned and adjusted.  Most importantly, it must be filled.  The song tells “you” to keep yourself trimmed and burning.  It implies you can do it if you will just try hard enough and persevere.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world,” going on to illustrate His imagery with an oil lamp.  But He also said, 

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. –  (John 15:5)

We who follow Him are but branches through which His life grows, lanterns through which the oil of His Spirit is transformed into light.  Only by His power, life and light, are we able to keep burning.

Somehow, David understood that Who keeps the light lit.  3000 years ago, he wrote:

“You, LORD, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.” –  (Psalm 18:28)