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Category Archives: Colossians

Keeping heredity at bay

As I was exercising one morning last week, I was struck with the fact that the older I get, the harder I have to work to keep my heredity at bay. In that sense, my parents did not do me any favors by passing on their genetic makeup to me.

My father had high blood pressure all his life. When I was in my 20’s, our family physician told me never to get heavy if the condition was hereditary. Now that I am in my 60’s, I have to pay more attention to what I eat and how much I exercise. On top of that, my dad had glaucoma and my mother had cataracts. I have to get my eyes checked on an annual basis to keep track of those potential conditions.

At to that my recovery from a broken leg/hip two years ago. I continue to do my therapy exercises trying to regain more strength and mobility. I feel like Frodo Baggins at the end of The Lord of the Rings where he tells Samwise Gamgee that some injuries never heal completely. Despite all my efforts and exercises, I wonder if my leg will ever be 100% again.

If I go to this much trouble and effort for my physical health, how much more attention should I pay to my spiritual health? In the same way that I have to exercise and have annual physical checkups, I need to exercise spiritually as well. Colossians 3:5-17 instructs me to allow my old sinful habits and practices to die. In their place, I need to cultivate healthy spiritual character qualities. I need to stop my old bad habits and cultivate some new healthier habits of the heart.

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. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 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. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Whether spiritual or physical, I need to work hard to ensure good, healthy habits.

 

Can you divorce faith from obedience?

In reading Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh, I learned that one of Bonhoeffer’s convictions was that faith should not be divorced from obedience. During a previous membership class, one of the participants was concerned that the salvation prayer we had in our membership manual did not include an acknowledgement that Christ should be Lord of our lives and not just our Savior. At a recent church meeting, several people stated publicly that if we stopped preaching the gospel, “I’m leaving!”

From Bonhoeffer to the present day, we affirm the importance of preaching the gospel, obeying the Scriptures, and making Christ the Lord of our lives. Do we truly believe this, or are we only paying lip service?

If we truly believe the gospel … if Christ is Lord of our lives … why do we …

  • Worry so much?
  • Give so little? (Only 5% of Christians tithe—give 10% of their income to God.)
  • Act so angry?
  • Treat non-Christians as if they were the enemy?
  • Engage in pornography?
  • Allow materialism to capture our hearts?
  • Wrestle with addictions to alcohol and/or drugs?
  • Let family activities become more important than church?
  • Serve so grudgingly?
  • Sit on the sidelines and act like spectators at church?
  • Hold on to grudges?
  • Act disrespectfully to those in authority?
  • Make worship more about my preferences than about honoring God?
  • Pray so little?
  • Watch TV more than we read the Scriptures?
  • Struggle to make time for worship?
  • Treat our faith as private and not share our hope with those who need it?
  • Maintain a negative view of life?
  • Entertain faithless thoughts?
  • Make so little difference in the world?
  • Act so much like the world they cannot see the difference?
  • Allow idols to take God’s rightful place in our lives?
  • Resist change so mightily?
  • Refuse accountability?
  • Have such a small view of God?
  • Seem so discouraged?
  • Act so complacent about those who are lost without Christ?
  • Pursue the easiest course rather the most challenging?
  • Choose small, manageable tasks rather than trust Christ for great things?
  • Settle for “good enough” rather than pray for something that requires God’s intervention and power?
  • Choose to live independently of Christ’s Lordship?
  • Take pride in our “independence”?
  • Selectively choose what commands of Scripture to obey and what promises to believe?
  • Stray so easily?
  • Choose status quo instead of transformation?
  • Believe the lies of the enemy so readily?
  • Shy away from wholehearted devotion and commitment to Christ?
  • Act as if God is powerless to change people, or us, for that matter?
  • Allow ourselves to be so easily distracted from following Jesus?
  • Believe the worst about someone so easily and pass judgment and criticize so quickly?
  • Compartmentalize our lives and hide our secret sins?
  • Want to control our lives rather than surrender to Christ?
  • Pursue comfort instead of sacrifice?
  • Chase after significance rather than find our identity “in Christ”?
  • Give up so quickly during trials?
  • Settle for a mediocre existence instead of embracing everything God has for us?

If we truly believe the gospel … if Christ is Lord of our lives … why do our lives not match our beliefs? Why do we divorce faith from obedience? (Too many unanswered questions for so early in the morning.)

We need to preach the gospel to ourselves and believe what we believe.

Colossians 3:1–4 (ESV)    1 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, 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.

 

People you can count on

Raise your hand if you enjoy reading the “Acknowledgements” in the back of a book. How many of you stay through the credits at the end of a movie? I didn’t think so.

Unless you are related to the author and want to see if he/she mentions your name, there is no reason to read the acknowledgements. Unless you are watching a movie from Marvel Studios, there is no reason to stay in your seat once the movie credits start rolling.

It’s this approach to life that keeps us from reading the last 12 verse of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. This section reads like a verbal group photo at the end of the letter. The credit start rolling, Paul’s thanks the “little people” who made his ministry possible, and we check out.

Author and business leader Max DePree said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

collective 2 - crosshatchThroughout his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul defined the reality of who Jesus Christ is—fully God and fully man. Consequently, Christ followers are complete in him. As he closes the letter in 4:7-18, Paul says thank you to his ministry team. He speaks of the messengers (7-9), the encouragers (10-11, 14a), the prayer warrior (12-13), and the defector (14b).

The messengers (7-9) were Tychichus and Onesimus. Paul describes both as “dear brother” and “faithful.” Tychicus was servant hearted and skilled at giving encouragement. Onesimus is the poster child for a transformed life. He went from a useless runaway slave to a brother in Christ who was useful for ministry. Paul tasked them with delivering his letter to the church in Colossae. Their lives illustrate the truth that momentary things done for Christ will last for eternity.

The encouragers (10-11, 14a) were made up of four Jews and one Gentile. Aristarchus stuck with Paul through thick and thin. He risked his life during the riot at Ephesus (Acts 19). He traveled with Paul to Rome which meant he was shipwrecked with Paul. Now, he was a fellow prisoner.

John Mark is the poster child for second chances. The cousin of Barnabas, he bailed out on Paul during his first missionary journey. He recovered and was now considered to be useful for ministry.

Outside of his name and nationality, we know nothing of Jesus Justus. But God knows and his membership in Paul’s ministry team is recorded.

Dr. Luke was a Gentile, the forerunner of the modern medical missionary. He was a valued companion of Paul and stuck with him to the very end.

Epaphras was the prayer warrior of Paul’s team (12-13). He worked hard, praying fervently and specifically that the believers in Colossae would grow to spiritual maturity.

The saddest entry is where Paul speaks of Demas. He is mentioned three times in Scripture. In Philemon 24, he is a “fellow laborer” of Paul. In Colossians 4:14, he sends greetings along with the rest of Paul’s team. But in 2 Timothy 4:10, Paul says that Demas “loved the world” and deserted Paul. Demas started well, but finished poorly.

These verses give us several important principles about ministry:

  • Ministry is best done in teams. Get involved and serve alongside others.
  • Surround yourself with faithful people you can count on.
  • God uses ordinary people to accomplish his work. Make yourself and your gifts available to God.
  • There is greatness in the smallest things done for Christ.
  • Don’t be surprised when people fail. If Jesus had Judas and Paul had Demas, don’t think you will be exempt.
  • When the last chapter is written, may you be found faithful.

Pioneer 10 space probeOn March 2, 1972, NASA launched the exploratory space probe Pioneer 10.  According to Leon Jaroff in Time, the satellite’s primary mission was to reach Jupiter, photograph the planet and its moons, and beam data to earth about Jupiter’s magnetic field, radiation belts, and atmosphere.  Scientists regarded this as a bold plan, for at that time no earth satellite had ever gone beyond Mars, and they feared the asteroid belt would destroy the satellite before it could reach its target.

But Pioneer 10 accomplished its mission and much, much more.  Swinging past the giant planet in November 1973, Jupiter’s immense gravity hurled Pioneer 10 at a higher rate of speed toward the edge of the solar system.  At one billion miles from the sun, Pioneer 10 passed Saturn.  At some two billion miles, it hurtled past Uranus; Neptune at nearly three billion miles; Pluto at almost four billion miles.  By 1997, twenty-five years after its launch, Pioneer 10 was more than six billion miles from the sun.

And despite that immense distance, Pioneer 10 continued to beam back radio signals to scientists on Earth.  “Perhaps most remarkable,” writes Jaroff, “those signals emanate from an 8-watt transmitter, which radiates about as much power as a bedroom night light, and takes more than nine hours to reach Earth.”

“The Little Satellite That Could” was not qualified to do what it did.  Engineers designed Pioneer 10 with a useful life of just three years.  But it kept going and going.  Pioneer’s last, very weak signal was received on January 23, 2003, some 31 years after it launch.  By simple longevity, its tiny 8-watt transmitter radio accomplished more than anyone thought possible.

The same thing happens when we offer ourselves to serve the Lord.  God can work even through someone with 8-watt abilities.  God cannot work, however, through someone who quits.

Let us serve faithfully, and be people whom God can count on.

This is a synopsis of a message preached on May 5, 2013 at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA. It is the final message in a series on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Keep your eye on the world

A few years ago, Carol and I went to Phoenix, AZ, for spring training. We discovered a great deal of activity is going on all around us. On one field, the major league infielders and outfielders are going through their drills. On another field, the major league pitchers are running through their infield drills, covering first base or throwing to second or third base. Nearby, the game day pitchers are warming up with the catchers. Next to that area are the indoor batting cages. And that doesn’t even include the other fields where the minor league players are practicing.

The spring training complex is fan friendly and allows the general public to get up close and watch everything that takes place. People identify their favorite players and “ooh” and “ah” about their size and skill.

Dads are playing catch with their sons right next to where major league players are practicing. Children are sitting on their parents’ shoulders trying to catch a glimpse of the action.

In the midst of all this activity, one little boy was intently staring at the patch of ground in front of him. He exclaimed, “Hey, Dad. Take a picture of this dirt!”

There are times in life when we are just like that little boy. We are so obsessed with our own little worlds, so focused on our own little problems, and so consumed with our own little concerns that the rest of the world fades into the background.

In Colossians 4:2-6, Paul reminds us that we need to look up and maintain an outwardVision pic - poster edge focus. Rather than looking down at our own dirt, we need to keep our eye on the world. We need to be alert and look for ways to connect with nonbelievers. Rather than being oblivious to the activity around us, we need to recognize what is going on. Rather than sitting by passively, we need to take advantage of the opportunities we have to share the gospel with those who desperately need to hear it.

In this passage, Paul gives two instructions, both of which convey his deep concern to evangelize the lost. The community that God has called out of the world for salvation by the gospel is called in turn to preach that gospel; evangelism is the church’s vocation. The work of evangelism includes prayer (4:2–4) as well as proclamation (4:5–6). Paul exhorts us to pray for the church’s mission (4:2–4) and to be wise toward outsiders (4:5-6).

As Paul instructs in the passage, we need to watch and pray. We need to pray diligently (2a), intelligently (2b), thankfully (2c), and purposefully (3-4). We need to live with intentionality. Because the world is watching, we need to live wisely (5). Because the world is listening, we need to speak gracefully (6). We need to stop focusing on our own dirt and take advantage of the opportunities we already have to share the message of salvation with others.

In the passage, Paul gives six guidelines for sharing the gospel.

  1. Pray earnestly.
  2. Cultivate a sense of urgency.
  3. Act wisely.
  4. Be gracious.
  5. Be salty.
  6. Be prepared.

Rather than merely focusing on the dirt in front of you, keep your eye on the world. Watch and pray for opportunities to share the message. Live with intentionality. Because the world is watching, live wisely. Because the world is listening, speak gracefully. Let us pray that God would add to our number daily those who are being saved.

This is a brief synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church on April 28, 2013. It is part of a series of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Turn Work into Worship

Turn Work into WorshipMost people spend a small portion of their week actually working. The rest of the time is spent wishing—wishing it was lunch time, wishing it was Friday, wishing the weekend was longer, and/or wishing they didn’t have to work at all.

What happens when an employee only cares about his/her paycheck or wastes time on the job versus one who does his/her best to deliver the company’s product or service on time? What difference does it make if an employee undermines his/her coworkers to get ahead versus one who affirms and encourages coworkers?

What happens when an employer underpays his/her employees and takes advantage of them versus one who treats his/her subordinates with respect and trust? What happens when an employer violates contracts, agreements, or standards as opposed to one who honors commitments and enforces standards?

What difference does it make how an employee or an employer approaches his/her job? As a follower of Jesus Christ, what kind of an employee should we be? What kind of an employer should we be?

Working-Together-SmallIn Colossians 3:22-4:1, the apostle Paul explains that by keeping our focus on Christ, we can turn ordinary tasks into acts of worship. If we remember that we are ultimately serving Jesus Christ rather than our immediate supervisor, any jobsite can become a worship center.

There were as many as 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire of Paul’s day, or about 1/2 of the population. Slaves were classified as things and were the property of the owner. Since work was below the dignity of the slave-owning Roman free man, practically everything was done by slaves, even doctoring and teaching.

While we don’t live in the Roman Empire of the First Century and while most of us are not slaves or slave owners, this passage is still relevant to our lives today. We can apply the principles found in this passage to our place of work and our role as an employee or an employer.

Paul describes the task of the employee in verse 22. Employees are to do what they are told. They are to obey their boss. When we read a statement like this, we immediately want to jump to the possible exceptions. If our employer wants us to do something immoral, we should not break the law of the Lord. If they ask us to do something illegal, we should not break the law of the land. Beyond that, Scripture tells us to obey in everything.

As Christ followers, we should be the best employees possible. Whether the boss is present or absent; whether we punch a clock or come and go; whether the security cameras record our movements or not; we should be the best workers possible. We don’t work hard only when the boss is present. We perform a full day’s work for a full day’s pay, whether or not anyone sees us do it.

i-give-my-heart-to-youIf we serve with a sincere heart, we can turn a mundane task into an act of worship. It helps when we remember that ultimately, we are serving Jesus Christ (23). Regardless of whether our boss is as evil as Mr. Burns or as dimwitted as Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss, Christ followers ultimately work for Jesus Christ.

Because we work for Jesus, we will receive more than a paycheck. There is an eternal reward waiting for those who serve Christ and work hard (24). The flipside is that there are consequences waiting for those who don’t serve well (25). We should not think that God will take the side of the poor or the rich, the employer or the employee. He will hold both accountable for their actions and will not show partiality.

Paul also places a responsibility on the employer. While every business owner doesn’t necessarily need to strive to make the Fortune “100 Best Companies to work for” list, they should treat their employees with justice and fairness (4:1a). Employers need to keep in mind that they too serve Christ (4:1b).

A retired man became interested in the construction of an addition to a shopping mall. Observing the activity regularly, he was especially impressed by the conscientious operator of a large piece of equipment. The day finally came when he had the chance to tell the man how much he’d enjoyed watching his scrupulous work. Looking astonished, the operator replied, “You’re not the supervisor?”

Whether employee or employer, whether our job is public or private, whether we work for a non-profit or for-profit, Christ followers serve Jesus Christ. By keeping that one principle in mind, we can turn work into worship.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 14, 2013. It is part of series on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Bringing Up Mom & Dad

roller coasterDepending on your perspective, raising children can be a white knuckle ride on an emotional roller coaster or a thrilling ride with incredible joy. Like the space shuttle lifting off the launch pad, the ideal is that we help our children break free of our orbit and successfully reach the destination of adulthood. That becomes increasingly difficult today with child-centered homes, identity crises, self-esteem issues, helicopter parents, and delayed adolescence.

As parents, we want our children to achieve independence. We want them to be physically and emotionally healthy, to stand on their own, to contribute to society in a meaningful way, and to not move back home with mom & dad. As important as these issues are, perhaps the more pressing issue is, F102231~Teamwork-PostersHow can we pass the baton of faith successfully to the next generation? That is the challenge given to parents in Colossians 3:20-21.

In this passage, the apostle Paul barely scratches the surface of what the Bible says about the roles and responsibilities of children and parents. Below is an overview of what the Scriptures say on that subject.

The primary role of children is that of learner. Children are to listen to instruction (Proverbs 1:8), learn from their parents’ experience (Proverbs 5:1), and acquire godly values (Proverbs 1-9).

The primary responsibility of children is to obey and honor their parents. In the growing years, they are to obey their parents (Colossians 3:20; Ephesians 6:1). In their mature years, children are to respect and honor their parents (Leviticus 19:3, 32), help provide for their needs (Matthew 15:3-6; 1 Timothy 5:3-4, 8, 16) and to live wisely (Proverbs 23:24-25).

The primary role of the parents is that of teacher (Ephesians 6:4; Proverbs 1-9; Deuteronomy 6:4-9). To fulfill this role, parents need to know what they want to teach, what values they want to pass on to their children. They need to be intentional in their teaching, and to use teachable moments.

The primary responsibility of the parents is to nurture their children. They are to create an atmosphere of love and acceptance where their kids can grow and flourish. In 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, 11-12, the apostle Paul compares his style of ministering to people to how a mother and a father parent their children. A mother is gentle, caring, and loving. She shares her life with her children because they are dear to her. A father encourages, exhorts, comforts, and urges his children on to great things.

John Newton once said, “I know that my father loved me—but he did not seem to wish me to see it.” That should not be true of our families.

Love the sinner hate the sinAs parents, we need to practice discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11) in a positive manner (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). We must avoid frustrating our children by setting the bar too high or too low. Rather than merely punish our kids for misbehavior, we want to train them for future correct behavior.

Whether we are a parent or a child, we must accept the role that God has given us. We must take responsibility for our own spiritual growth as well as the growth of our family. We must also look for opportunities to demonstrate honor to our parents, regardless of our age.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 7, 2013. It is part of a series on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Please click on the click to download a copy of the sermon notes.Baby Blues - good trade

 

What’s a husband to do?

It should be no surprise that men are confused today about what their role is. TV portrays men as idiots and women as strong. Movies and magazines tell us the measure of success is how much money you make, how fast your car is, how many women you’ve taken to bed, or how high you’ve climbed on the career ladder. Christian books and speakers tell us to be radical and wild at heart. Churches promote Bible studies for women and children, but leave men to fend for themselves.

What’s a man to do? What is the role and responsibility of a man in marriage?

Scripture explains that the role of the husband is to be the head of his wife (Ephesians 5:23, 25-27; 1 Corinthians 11:3, 8-9; Colossians 3:19). Headship communicates the ideas of one who is superior in rank, responsible for those under his headship, and the one who has been delegated the authority to decide and to act. By God’s design, the husband is the head of the wife and lovingly exercises his delegated authority.

1 Corinthians 11:8-9 gives two reasons why the husband is the head of the wife. Verse 8 explains that God created the man first. Verse 9 explains that the woman was created for the man. You have both the priority of creation and the purpose of creation. Headship is not dependent upon the capability, conduct, or character of the husband; rather, the husband is the head by God’s design from creation.

As the head, the husband is to be the active leader who lovingly manages and provides. Manage means “to stand before” and care for the family (1 Timothy 3:2, 4-5). The husband is to superintend and care for his family. Part of his care may be to protect his family much like a Secret Service agent is willing to take a bullet for the President. In addition, the husband is to “plan before” and provide for his family (1 Timothy 5:8).

Rather than “lording it over” or “exercising authority” over his wife, a husband is to lead “with consideration” and “respect.” “Lording it over” abuses personal power while “exercising authority” abuses personal position. Instead, we are to be considerate and understanding of our wives. We are to grant them honor and respect.

Biblical headship is countercultural. Today, we are told to pursue our own interests and be all we can be. We are entitled to our rights and privileges. However, Scripture tells us that the husband is to devote himself to his wife above children, friends, recreation, ministry, or work (Ephesians 5:25-29). Far too often, our wives grow spiritually in spite of us rather than because of us. In contrast, we are to mentor our wives to become blameless, holy, and glorious.

While the role of the husband is to be the head, the responsibility of the husband is to love his wife (Ephesians 5:25, 28-29, 33; Colossians 3:19). As head of the wife, the husband chooses to love his wife unconditionally and sacrificially as Christ loved the church. Nowhere is a husband to become harsh and bitter towards his wife. There is no excuse for any kind of physical, verbal, or emotional abuse.

Rejoice regularly that God called you to be the Head of your wifeand as you lead, “do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” (Colossians 3:23). Overcome any feelings of inadequacy, fear, and anxiety about your role through Biblical solutions. Enlist several respected married men to meet with you regularly for support and accountability. Take responsibility for your spiritual life and the spiritual lives of your wife and family. Demonstrate your love so that your wife feels loved.

If you choose to practice these principles, don’t be surprised if your wife doesn’t recognize you.

A man at work decided to show his wife how much he loved her, and before going home, showered, shaved, put on some choice cologne, bought her a bouquet of flowers. He went to the front door and knocked. His wife answered the door and exclaimed, “Oh no! This has been a terrible day! First I had to take Billy to the emergency room and get stitches in his leg, then your mother called and said she’s coming for 2 weeks, then the washing machine broke, and now this! You come home drunk!”

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 17, 2013. It is part of a series on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.