Wednesday, August 23: Colossians 3- A new bucket list.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (1-2).

Right out of the shoot this morning I began considering what it means to set our hearts (1) and our minds (2) on things above, where Christ is, seated.

Many people mention their bucket list, those things they want to do before they die. If my mind and heart is set on things above, namely Christ, then that should affect what I place on my bucket list. Right? It seems to me that our bucket list should be more than places I want to visit or novel experiences I want to undertake. Our bucket lists should include things for and about Christ and His mission that I want to accomplish

Well, honestly I have never thought about this. I do not have a bucket list in the first place. Maybe I should have one, if it is something that keeps me moving forward… moving forward in Christ that is.

So if my head and heart are set on Christ, what might that lead me to do?… hmmm

Fund Gospel advances on every inhabited continent?

Serving Christ and His church until my dying breath?

I am not a bucket list kind of person.  Continuing this will take some time. Ideas do not flood my thoughts.

How would setting your heart and mind on Christ shape your bucket list?

Lord, sit with me and help me examine my aspirations and through that lens help me see areas of my life that I still need to surrender to You. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Tuesday, August 22: Colossians 2- Christ and Christ Alone.

The words played in my mind like a song, “We will worship Christ and Christ alone…” That’s what Paul is saying in Colossians 2. Not human traditions (an apparent reference to Judaism and any other ‘works based’ approaches to God).  Not elemental forces (which today comes in the garb of New Age spirituality and other power from this world kind of Eastern or Native American spirituality). NO, for Christ-followers, it is Christ and Christ alone.

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. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead (6-12).

Immediately the Lord began probing my life. Have I consciously or unconsciously adopted any add-ins to Christ and Christ alone?

Obvious ones like horoscopes, searching for the right Chi, filling my house with certain crystals, following the way of the Buddha, or checking in with a shaman, or tribal healer or…  or less obvious ways like seeking ‘portals’ where God is present or believing holy mountains or particular shrines are filled with God’s power.  These are ways elemental powers can creep into our lives.

Then there are human traditions, whether they be things like certain feasts, which must be followed or praying in certain directions and at mandated times or the veneration of other human beings. When these forms and practices become rules and laws then Christ has been moved off the center displaced by these human teachings and traditions. When this happens we have ventured into dangerous territory.

God brought me back to verse 8: See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

I am left to wrestle with this thought and see if I have fallen prey in any way to human traditions or elemental spiritual forces…

How about you?

Lord, it is so easy, especially unconsciously, to add in other things to Christ and Christ alone. Keep me safe. Keep me pure by keeping me close to You and Your world. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Monday, August 21: Colossians 1- Jesus did it all.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 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 (15-20).

What a description of Jesus. Oh, my, glorious staggering and supreme. Jesus, Creator of all things, holds all things together. Head of the church, firstborn from among the dead. Fully God and reconciler of all things through the cross. I scan back through this description and notice all uses of the word ‘all’ and one ‘everything’… It is clear Jesus is Supreme…

Following this description, Paul turns immediately to us. We are in trouble alienated from God, but Jesus who is Supreme over everything comes to our aid…

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant (21-23).

While Jesus is Supreme over us, He suffered and died for us. His physical death on the cross paid our reconciliation fee so that we can be holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. What more we could hope for or desire? Jesus has done it all.

We have but one task, to continue in our faith… to hold on and to stay true to Jesus. After all Jesus did for me, how could I not do that for Him?

Jesus, I put my stake in the ground… I stand with You. You are sovereign and I declare my full allegiance to You and You alone. Together with the Father and the Spirit, I will worship You, divine Trinity, as the one true God. Alleluia. Amen.

 

Saturday, August19: Philippians 4- The importance of getting along.

       How important is getting along in the church and being of one mind (which we learned from chapter 2 means being of one mind with Jesus)? It must be very important because Paul addresses two women, pleading for them to get along and for others to help them.

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life (2-3).

There is no doubt that these are women of faith. Their names are written in the book of life and they have contended at Paul’s side. In other words they are visible, faithful coworkers who are associated with Paul and his work.

Their association with Paul gives him some leverage and possibly even some responsibility to see if he can repair whatever the damage may be. This is precisely what Paul does.

First he calls on the two women to seek repair by following the principle he laid out in Chapter 2 … to be of one mind that is the mind of Christ.

Next he calls out to his ‘true companion’, whoever that might be, to help the women and for this person to seek the additional help of Clement and others if needed.

Paul is pulling out all the stops. Unity and these two women, repairing whatever damage lies between them, is that important!

Broken relationships, particularly those within the church, need attention…

Do you have any broken relationships that need repair?

Are you aware of any broken relationships in your fellowship? Now do you have an association, which might allow you to help effect repair? If you don’t have an association you can always pray for them. Unity is that important.

Lord, I pray for Your church. That we, the people of Your church, would seek to be of one mind –the mind of Christ. That we would repair damage and live as one people blessed by our God and beacons of light for You in our dark and hurting world. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Friday, August 18: Philippians 3- To know Christ.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead (7-11).

The context makes it clear that Paul is warning Philippians about falling back into the legalism of Judaism, and following the law as their source of salvation. Salvation is by faith not by law; attaining Christ, not living up to some human made law is the Gospel way. Paul’s deepest desire is to know Christ…

This strikes a chord in me… to know Christ. Knowing Christ personally and intimately is the foundation of faith. Paul says a similar thing in Romans 12:2, Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. The transforming of our minds –what we know and think about and how we see and process the world around us is what transforms us. So it is that Paul seeks to know Christ… an example for all of us.

Knowing Christ leads to living and doing for Christ! This is the faithful ‘order’.  To reverse these… to put the doing before knowing is a wide open door to legalism, which Paul warns against in Colossians and Galatians.

So back to me and my life… am I putting my heart and soul into knowing Jesus Christ?  Ingesting His Word and distinguishing His heartbeat, so that I can be listening for His voice and follow His lead?

Oh, Father, send Your Spirit that I might know Your Son, I pray through His name. Amen.

 

Thursday, August 17: Philippians 2- Of one mind.

       Sometimes when I read, I like to take out the extra modifiers and clauses that are part of the text so I can consider the heart of the sentence or paragraph. When I do this with the opening paragraph of today’s reading here is what I come up with.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, … then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. … In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus… (1-2, 5)

Paul is pleading with the church to be of one mind, in other words, to have the same mindset. But interestingly Paul is not instructing them to have his mindset. It is not that they must agree and think like Paul. Instead all the church including Paul should seek to have Christ’s mindset. Jesus is our Unifier and Jesus alone is our Lord. We should strive to be like Him.

And what was true for the Philippians remains true for me and all believers today.

Yes, we should be of one mind, but it is the mind of Christ, not the mind or anyone else. Following this plea Paul gives a vivid picture of the mindset of Jesus…

[Jesus] being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! (6-8).

Jesus willingly and sacrificially gave up everything so that we might be saved.

That is the mindset I am (we are) to have… to willingly and sacrificially give up anything and everything for others to know and grow in Christ.

Oh, God, I fall so short of this…. Forgive me. Restore me. Empower me to be like Jesus. Amen

 

Wednesday, August 16: Philippians 1- Pondering suffering for the Lord.

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have (27-30).

Paul seems to be saying to the Philippians that they are honored by Christ… and the honor is that they suffer for Him.

The concept of suffering for Jesus, as an honor, is so far from my thinking and experience, I am not even sure how to process this thought as I sit.

Yes, I spent 3 weeks in Nigeria this summer, but it was hardly suffering. Oh, there were lack of conveniences that I am used to –safe drinking water, A/C, healthy well balanced meals and other 1st world issues. When I got sick friends got me medicine within 24 hours and I was better in 48 hours, hardly suffering. And most of my summer has been a joy, eating produce from my wife’s vegetable garden, enjoying the beauty of our yard, having friends over to enjoy an evening swim in our pool, enjoying a 3-generation family trip in Europe. Honestly, I don’t know if I even understand ‘suffering for the Lord.’ In so many ways my life is so privileged.

As a pastor I can’t recall the last time I spoke on ‘suffering for Jesus.’ And that is probably because I haven’t.

I am struggling to know what to do with this idea of suffering for Jesus. I know we are not to go and look for suffering, as if it is a human work to earn God’s delight. The self-flagellation of ascetics in the past, I believe, is a distortion of the Gospel and a biblical understanding of suffering for Jesus.

My culture and country tolerates the Christian faith, so I am not hampered in any way from practicing my faith at home. Like I said, I am not sure I understand ‘suffering for the Lord.’

So here I sit this morning, wondering what to do with God’s Words on suffering… no answers; many questions.

Father, even as I struggle to understand this idea about suffering for Jesus, I know that Your presence is always a safe place. A place to be myself with all my failings… Your love, You say, covers a multitude of sins. I am so grateful for this. Lord, whisper those things I need to know about suffering. I will trust You and live for You, empowered by Your Spirit, as well as I can. If suffering comes my way, I pray for strength to honor You in the way I suffer. And if suffering is not in Your divine plan for my life, then I pray for strength to honor You in my life of blessing. Either way and every way I seek to honor You, my Lord and my God –Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit. Amen.