LentBlog 2015, Day 37: The Heart of the Matter

Colossians 2:16-23

16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking,19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? 22 All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.


Short and to-the-point tonight, I think. I’m pretty tired and I’m fresh out of anything that resembles eloquence at this point.

It seems as though these regulations Paul is going after here are ways of sort-of imposing righteousness from the outside-in. It’s like if someone could be forced to comply with certain kinds of behaviors– observing the rules Paul mentions– they could somehow become Godly. Such things have the appearance of self-imposed piety, but in reality they aren’t of any value to check self-indulgence. Instead, the general motion of discipleship seems here to be living-out instead of imposing. One’s heart and mind are changed, and then one lives out, towards the Head. It seems from this passage Paul says we can be doing all sorts of holy-looking stuff, but not really be transformed. The transformation comes by grace through faith. Then faith becomes faith-in-action, lived out, instead of imposed from the outside.

At least that’s what crosses my mind reading this passage.

Blessings,

Mark

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LentBlog 2015, Day 36: The Fullness of God Dwells Bodily.

Colossians 2:6-15, NRSV

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives[b] in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe,[c] and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision,[d] by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God[e] made you[f] alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses,14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed[g] the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.


Our old “friend” Gnosticism is back, except it’s most decidedly not our friend. See, there was this idea that God is totally spirit. That flesh, and matter, and earthly stuff is evil. That the way to really get to God was to overcome all this lowly, earthly, fleshly stuff and get “in the spirit” or something, because that’s where God is, and that’s where God calls us.  On the surface, it doesn’t sound so bad, right? I mean, doesn’t God want us to get beyond this fallen earth with all its troubles? Isn’t heaven a place where our spirits can finally be free of these earthly bodies and become truly one with God?  Isn’t God going to destroy the earth anyway? Aren’t we to worship “in the Spirit,” meaning we’ve got to get our eyes off this stuff and lift them up? Isn’t “up” where God is?

The problem with all that kind of thinking is that in Christ, God most decidedly does not remain “up.” He does not remain totally “spirit.” In Christ, “the fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Bodily. Like, bodily. God isn’t “up.” God, in Christ, is with us. God became one of us. And he did it so he can redeem, transform and reconcile all this earthly “stuff.” This is the heart of the incarnation and atonement in Jesus. Christ was fully God and fully human.

Remember that the next time some ignorant worship leader prompts you to set aside your context, your struggles, and the week you’ve had, and get “in the spirit,” so you can “truly” worship God.

Blessings,

Mark

Lentblog 2015, Day 34: Christ in Us.

Colossians 1:24-29, NRSV

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.29 For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.


Kind of a back-to-basics message in this passage for me tonight. Paul waxes eloquent a little about his commission to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles… to share the big mystery that has been revealed after being hidden for so long. What’s profound to me is his statement in v.27  of what the mystery actually is: The Mystery is Christ in us. Paul talks a lot about people being “in Christ.” But here he speaks of Christ being “in” us.

The other main thing in that verse is this, methinks: The hope of glory is Christ, not us. Christ in us is the hope of glory. It’s not a human-made thing. It’s not us pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps, trying to better ourselves. The best stuff really does come from outside ourselves. If it is human-made, or somehow it becomes a thinly-veiled form of humanism or something, then it’s not the Gospel. The power of the Gospel comes from Jesus. Paul admits as much in v.29 when he says his stuggle is powered by the energy inspired by Christ.

That’s a good reminder of the fact this whole thing really does rest on his strength and not ours.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 33: Unless A Seed Dies…

John 12:23-25

23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.


I’m taking a break from Colossians tonight to reflect on part of the Lectionary Gospel reading for today. It made an impression on me last night in our Muncie Restoration Community worship gathering. Unless a grain of wheat dies and gets buried, all it will ever be is one grain of wheat. It takes a bunch of individual grains to really make anything.

But if it dies, and is buried… it will germinate and bear much fruit. When you think about it, when that seed germinates and starts growing, the growth breaks the original seed apart and it eventually becomes unrecognizable. The seed ends up being destroyed, in a way. But oh, the growth and multiplication that happens through the death of that one seed! Wheat-growing-in-field

See, I think in the church and in our lives, we like our little grain of wheat. It’s precious to us. It’s a miracle. Get enough of them together and you can really do something. So protect it. Shield it. Put it in a display case and admire it for the wonderful creation it is. See my wonderful piece of wheat?

It never seems to dawn on us that perhaps that grain of wheat could be an offering of trust to the Lord. If we would… if we would give it to the Lord to crucify it with him, I wonder what might happen. It might be multiplied a hundred times over. I think it’s time we let the seed… whatever it is… die. Let it fall to the ground so it can have a shot at fulfilling its intended purpose. Let it go. It’s not really yours or mine to begin with.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 32 …Provided That You Continue…

Colossians 1:21-23

21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled[j] in his fleshly body[k] through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— 23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.


I gotta say, I think the whole “once-saved, always-saved” theology of certain parts of Christianity is pretty goofy. Passages like this seem to go directly against the idea. Christ will present us blameless and irreproachable, provided  that we continue established and secure in the faith, without shifting from the hope we have heard.

Short and sweet tonight– this “provided” business becomes important, then, if you reverse the logic. If we don’t continue established and secure in the faith, if we shift from the hope we’ve been given, then perhaps Christi will not present us blameless…

Then of course, the hope we’ve been given is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. The hope we have, the faith we exercise, is in Jesus.

I find myself hungry for more. To be more established and firm in the faith.

And I feel God’s answering that prayer.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 31: The incarnational, reconciling, upside-down, way of Jesus.

Colossians 1:18-20 NRSV:

18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.


So much in these three verses. The profound incarnational statement of verse 19. The idea that in Christ all things, whether on earth or in heaven, are reconciled. (This of course means that Jesus’ goal isn’t just to save our disembodied souls or something… salvation is cosmic… everything gets to be redeemed. Take that, Gnosticism.)

Then the upside-down way God makes peace… not through power, superior strength, or show of force, but through the cross.

Worth thinking about, y’all.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 29: Paul’s Prayer… for Us.

Colossians 1:9-14, NRSV

For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s[d] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled[e] you[f] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.


So, tonight this passage is hitting me in a way it and passages like it never have before. I feel no desire to do word studies or try to read the Greek here.

Just this:

As I read this just now, I tried to imagine Paul (or maybe one of our mentors, or one of our brothers and sisters in the church) saying them to me. And I find I need to hear every single word of this passage. It’s a blessing, really. Paul is praying some pretty profound things for the church in Colossae. Tonight, I feel like someone is praying them for Stefanie and I. And I gotta tell you, we need it.

And all of a sudden, the God who stands behind and previous to the scriptures speaks through them. And the Word (Jesus) is pretty much what I think I needed to hear tonight.

Thanks be to God.

Blessings,

Mark