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

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LentBlog 2015, Day 28: To Comprehend the Grace of God

Colossians 1:3-8

In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant.[b] He is a faithful minister of Christ on your[c] behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.


It’s going to be short tonight– I’ve finished up my last session of the theology course I’ve been teaching, and I’m dead tired. What hits me about this thanksgiving section in Colossians is the phrase in verse 7: the gospel has been bearing fruit among them from the day they heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.

Short and sweet: I wonder if one of the big reasons the church is tending not to bear much fruit these days (though defining “fruit” NOT primarily along numerical lines is a good thing) is that we really aren’t truly comprehending what grace means. I wonder if we had a more mature idea of grace if we’d bear a lot more fruit…

Food for thought…

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 27: Peace, again…

Colossians 1:1-2, NRSV:

 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters[a] in Christ in Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.


I ran out of Ephesians, so I’m starting Colossians tonight to continue through Lent. I figure I started in an epistle, why not stay with one?

As with my post about the first few verses of Ephesians, “grace and peace” jump out at me again with this passage. Only this time, specifically “peace” is working on me. The Teknia online Greek dictionary defines εἰρήνη as “peace, harmony, tranquility; safety, welfare, health; often with an emphasis on lack of strife or reconciliation in a relation, as when one has peace with God. Often used as a verbal and written greeting.”

Lack of strife.

Reconciliation in a relation.

We were once at war, but now we are at peace. With God… with each other… In Christ.

I think it’s way too easy to say we are at peace with God when we are at the same time in unresolved, open conflict with brothers and sisters in the church. I think it’s too easy to say, “sure, I have peace with God” when the life together of “God’s people” is anything but. Not saying that the church is never going to have conflicts or disagreements… it’s not going to be 100% sitting around the campfire singing Kum-Ba-Ya. But it seems like we could be reconciled with one another on a profoundly deep level and still have disagreements. It’s just that the peace among us runs deeper. Or at least it can, if Paul’s blessing applies to us.

Things to think about…

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 26: Paul’s Concluding Request

Ephesians 6:18-23, NRSV:

 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,[d] 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

21 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus will tell you everything. He is a dear brother and a faithful minister in the Lord. 22 I am sending him to you for this very purpose, to let you know how we are, and to encourage your hearts.

23 Peace be to the whole community,[e] and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ


Ya gotta love passages like this in Paul. He’s in prison, chained for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus as the Messiah. His Jewish countrymen for the most part want his head on a plate. And as he concludes his letter to the church at Ephesus, he asks for their prayers. NOT so he can get our of jail. NOT that his circumstance will change. NOT so that he can get out there and start more churches or something. He asks them to pray that he would be able to preach with clarity and boldness about the Lord Jesus, which is the reason he’s in chains in the first place.

It’s almost as if he’s got other priorities than his level of comfort or something.

More I’m thinking about in relation to this, but I shant publish it publicly. 🙂

Blessings,

Mark

Lentblog 2015. Day 25:

Ephesians 6:10-17, NRSV:

 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our[b]struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these,[c] take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.


Again, so much has been written about this passage… it’s so prevalent among spiritual “warriors” out there… I think tonight I’ll keep it simple. Just some of my first thoughts as I read through it.

v.10- our strength is in the Lord, and comes from God’s power. Seems to me this is a good thing to remember, lest spirituality become some sort of “me” power trip, which I’m convinced it’s not, faith healers, prosperity gospel folks, and name-it-claim-it nonsense to the contrary.

v.11– if we are in God… through Christ… we will stand against anything the devil throws at us. It’s not a fair fight, even. God is that much more powerful.

v.12– see yesterdays post. 🙂

v.13–  again here the armor is God’s, not mine. These are gifts of grace, not human design. And the whole goal seems to stand, not militantly conquer.

v.14–  truth keeps your pants on… holds everything up and keeps it together. Again, Jesus is truth… truth isn’t some set of things to learn and agree with. Righteousness covers the vital organs, and forms the front of the uniform, like where the insignia might be. Righteousness in Paul is by grace through faith…

v.15 ::screeching tires sound:: wait… I thought we were at war here… I thought these are weapons of a new Christian empire or something… No… It says wear on your feet whatever makes you ready to proclaim the Gospel of PEACE.

v. 16:– Shield of faith protects… extinguishes attack, keeps one alive in the midst of the barrage. By faith.

v. 17:– Salvation protects your head. Again we are protected by something we can’t take credit for. It’s a gift.  Then finally, the sword of the spirit… it isn’t lost on me that out of all the pieces of armor mentioned here, only one is actually a offensive weapon. Everything else is defensive. And by “word of God” here Paul tends to mean more than just like the Bible or something… Much as I hate to disappoint all the folks doing “sword drills” tomorrow in church. Scripturally, cool stuff happens when God speaks… and He speaks through the Spirit.

Blessings,

Mark

Lentblog Day 24: Choose your battles.

Ephesians 6:10-12 NRSV:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our[b]struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.


Confession time:  I cannot stand the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers.” This is really too bad, because it gives a decent hymntune a bad rap, but I refuse to sing it. The lyrics glorify some sort of Christian Crusade straight out of the bad old days. I tend to agree with General Patton: “War is Hell.” So, as a Christian, I think it’s a bad idea to view ourselves as in some sort of war with the world, with culture, with folks who don’t believe, with ISIS, or really anyone else. 

This is where Ephesians 6 comes in. Paul reminds us that our struggle is NOT against people. Read it again: our struggle is not against people. It’s NOT. It’s not against the world that does not yet believe. It’s not against culture. It’s not against the Republicans or the Democrats.  We’ve got to understand we’re not at war with anybody, really, and as long as the church keeps trying to find, name, prosecute and persecute “enemies” who are flesh-and-blood people, we will fail in the mission of Jesus, which is to redeem all things. Understand this, church… we fail in being like Jesus when we participate in demonizing other people. 

I’ll admit, this is a tough one for me, but in regards to a totally different people group. Folks outside the church don’t aren’t threatening to me any more. I do not see non-believers, hard-core atheists, or folks who a disillusioned with church as my enemies. (I believe in prevenient grace.)  See, for me, my enemies tend to be “church” folks: folks who claim Christianity, but for various reasons don’t live really at all like Jesus. I have a serious problem with the clergyperson or layperson who preaches or says the right Sunday School answer in a church gathering, but then lives as if none of it is true. I’d rather have a conversation with an honest atheist than with a church person who is just playing games.  So perhaps I too am in danger of failing in the mission of Jesus, because it’s easy for me to think my battle is with those people.

So. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to discover a different way. A more Christlike way. A way that remembers who the real enemies are and who they aren’t. I’m not saying we just need to spiritualize every single thing and blame every bad thing that happens on the Devil or something, excusing peoples’ terrible choices and full-blown sin as OK or something. That position is theologically bankrupt. But. We could better understand this passage from Ephesians, I think, and that might lead us through this present darkness. Inside the church and out.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 23: With Singleness of Heart

Ephesians 6:1-9, NRSV:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord,[a] for this is right.“Honor your father and mother”—this is the first commandment with a promise: “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”

And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women,knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.

And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.


Methinks this passage is a lot more than just one more of Paul’s “do this, not this” lists for which he is known. And the key is in v.5. He calls on slaves to obey their earthy masters as they obey Jesus. And how do they obey Jesus? “With singleness of heart.”

Because one who follows Jesus with a single-minded heart will be the same person and act the same way whether they are being watched or not. There’s an integrity… a wholeness in the midst of brokenness… that happens when God helps us to love and obey him with a singleness of heart.

And that integrity is not dependent on whether one is slave or free, whether they like their job or not, or whether life is turning out the way they had hoped. It is possible, in Christ, to obey the Lord with a singleness of heart, regardless of circumstance.

May it be so in me. And in you.

Blessings,

Mark