Tag Archives: Christ

Colossae: Introducing Christ

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Introducing Colossae.

Introducing Christ.

It seems appropriate to begin our study by starting with the background – to look at context, culture, and what was happening in the world.

We learned from Titus that right doctrine rightly applied produces right living. As we make our way through Colossians, we will encounter echoes of this same truth, but from a different angle. Knowledge of God is important. No it’s vital. Your view of God, your understanding of who God is, ultimately is the only thing that matters. Because what you know of Him shapes what you believe and then how you feel and finally how you act.

Fortunately God does not leave us in the dark concerning who He is! He, the eternal Creator, makes Himself known to us, the limited, finite created ones. He reveals Himself to us through His creation, but most presently and intimately through HIS SON.

Ahh, here’s where our letter speaks most loudly! Colossians is said to have a profoundly high view of Christ. Perhaps this is exactly the kind of letter we need to read today. Let us settle in and get reacquainted with Christ, the supreme and sufficient Savior!

Colossians 1:1-2 says,

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Please meet my new friends, the Colossians. Even though Paul is the first character mentioned, then Timothy, I’m actually going to discuss the Colossians first.

Colossae

You may be wondering what is so special about Colossae. To tell you the truth, nothing. It was said to be the least important church of the New Testament. In fact Lightfoot writes, “without doubt Colossae was the least important church to which any epistle of St. Paul is addressed.” (Word Comm p. 2) But don’t you just love that Paul wrote to them anyway? The church is still the Church no matter how small. Let us begin with a geography lesson!

Colossae was a city in Phrygia, a Roman province of Asia (modern day Turkey). It is located about 100 miles east of Ephesus. Here are two maps to show you where it is:

Here is another view of Colossae:

Bird’s Eye View of Colossae

It was a thriving city in the 5th century B.C. (think Esther and the Persian King Xerxes) but had declined by the time Paul was on the scene because the major trade roads that once carved through Colossae began to bypass the town for the neighboring cities like Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Trade Route

Trade Route that ran between Laodicea and Hierapolis

Another view of the trade route by Hierapolis

It is believed that Colossae was initially made wealthy due to the textile industry, and the city was known for its wool and black and red dyes which came from the nearby chalk deposits (Strabo in Word; MacArthur).

The tri-cities were nestled in the Lycus River Valley, named after the Lycus River which ran through the towns. J.B. Lightfoot writes about the Lycus River and the impressive formations that formed as a result of the river:

Ancient monuments are buried; fertile land is overlaid; river beds choked up and streams diverted; fantastic grottoes and cascades and archways of stone are formed, by this strange, capricious power, at once destructive and creative, working silently throughout the ages. Fatal to vegetation, these encrustations spread like a stony shroud over the ground. Gleaming like glaciers on the hillside, they attract the eye of the traveller at a distance of twenty miles, and form a singularly striking feature in scenery of more than common beauty and impressiveness. (in Barclay NDSB)

Unfortunately we know only a tiny amount about the ancient city of Colossae due to the fact that it has never been excavated. Here are some images of the land as it stands currently.

Colossae view from the mound

Mount Cadmos

Colossian theater

Colossian theater (notice the “seats”)

Sometime after 61 A.D., a massive earthquake destroyed the tri-city area (according to Eusebius it was 64 A.D. and Tacitus claims it was 61 A.D.).

  • Eusebius is said to have chronicled an earthquake destroying Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis (Chron. Olymp. 210.4) in the 10th year of Nero [AD 64]. Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible: “That this city [Colossae] perished by an earthquake, a short time after the date of this epistle, we have the testimony of Eusebius…”
  • Tacitus records the quake in the 7th year of Nero (Nero was Emperor of Rome from AD 54-68, putting the earthquake around AD 61—Annals 14.27. Tacitus recorded that Laodicea was also destroyed in the quake, but was later rebuilt apparently without Roman assistance. Note that Jesus wrote to Laodicea, but Colossae was not mentioned among the letters of Revelation. By this time (AD 96), Colossae in large part no longer existed.  (http://religiouslyincorrect.com/Articles/TriCityAreaEarthquake.shtml)

An interesting fact concerning Colosse is that the Lycus River brought cold water to the city. Here is a view of the Lycus River:

A well-documented fact of Colossian history was that the Lycus river, beginning at Colossae, disappeared underground for about 1/2 mile. In the area where the underground course was believed to run is now a ~30′ deep canyon. It is believed this canyon was formed by collapsing of earth caused by the AD 60 earthquake [102]. This may help explain the existence of cold springs in the area; for if the Lycus flowed several hundred yards beneath the surface, it would have emerged cold. And although the 60 AD earthquake may have rendered the underground Lycus course extinct, it’s clear that underground water activity was not uncommon.

What is most interesting about this Colossian fact can only be realized if you see a map of the area and understand a little bit about the neighboring towns of Hierapolis and Laodicea.

The rivers naturally ran toward the sea which was off to the west. This means that the Lycus River at Colossae ran to Laodicea. Hierapolis, their neighbor to the north, remains famous even today for it’s hot springs.

Hierapolis hot spring

These hot springs would run south to Laodicea where they would mix with the cold water from the Lycus River. This helps explain Jesus’ “neither cold nor hot” remarks about Laodicea, which was sandwiched approximately between its two sister cities (Rev 3:16). Interestingly, the cold water of Colossae was extremely beneficial as a refreshing drink or to help soothe a fever. Likewise the hot water of Hierapolis was used to help relieve sore muscle aches as it had healing properties at such high temperatures. This is why Jesus wanted Laodicea to be either hot (therapeutic benefits) or cold (refreshing benefits) but not lukewarm.

Audience

The majority of the people at Colossae were most likely Gentiles. However Josephus describes a movement from Babylon of about 2,000 Jewish families into the area of Colossae during the days of Antiochus the Great (223-187 B.C. – 1st century B.C.; Ant. XII 6.4).

The letter was most likely written to Gentile Christians rather than Jewish believers, and this is evidenced in four ways:

  1. How the author addresses the Jewish legalism that plagued the church (1:12, 21, 24, 27; 2:11-13; 3:5-7);
  2. The scarce allusions to the OT;
  3. A list of Gentile-specific vices; and
  4. A near lack of references to the issue of reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles in the congregation (noting 3:11, 4:11).

The congregation was said to be full of new believers (but honestly, most churches were new if you think about it!), and we might assume that they either were experiencing some uncertainty in their faith due to outside pressures OR were needing more instruction in the truth of the gospel in order to buffer the outside pressure. In other words, they either needed correction or encouragement (or perhaps both). We must not be quick to assume that they had gone astray though because Paul’s tone does not seem to be harsh (as in Galatians for example).

Rome

I mentioned that Colossae was in the region known as Phrygia, a Roman province. Here is a map showing the entirety of the Roman Empire.

With the exception of the orange and yellow, this is how widespread the empire was during Paul’s time. It stretched from England to India. And just to give you an idea of Rome’s dominance, they ruled over this area (give or take a few regions) for 1500 years! To give you an idea of how incredible this is, our country is a little over 240 years old.

The reason Rome is important to our study is that we can know some defining characteristics of the culture in Colossae and the surrounding regions. We will be talking about the Persians sometime in the near future, and like the Persians, the Romans had a lust for power. They had conquest ingrained in their bones. However, unlike the Persians, they did not rule with an iron fist per se. They allowed more freedom under the law, and this resulted in a fairly long lasting sense of peace throughout the empire.

The Romans had a definite philosophy on what made a country great. Naturally they would espouse their views as the “best” way of living. They essentially believed the Roman way was “the way.” Interestingly, there were several factors that made the spread of the gospel much easier during the Roman rule.

  1. Political unity produced economic and political stability as well as encouraging trade between cities and regions.
  2. Military and trade routes meant easy access to large numbers of people.
  3. Greek was the universal language and made communication easier between regions.
  4. The mixing of cultures allowed for easier cross-cultural evangelism.

However, as great as Rome was, there was also a blending of religions. It was very easy to hold 1) syncretistic beliefs during this time because the Romans had so many gods (just like the Greeks) and did not hold to a monotheistic framework. What was one more god going to hurt? I’ll just add Jesus to my repertoire. They were polytheistic and inclusive.

Just imagine what the culture was like for the Colossians. Grab a little of that faith, a little of this one, sprinkle some of that one, and viola, I think I’ve figured out the best concoction to be fully spiritual.

In addition to this, 2) Rome was seen as the great light that had come to be the great salvation. “A lot of people had put their hope in Rome’s ability to take care of them.” (Matt Chandler)

Author and Date

The letter specifically says, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus…and Timothy our brother…” It would make sense then that the author is Paul, right? Scholars note that just because the letter begins with Paul’s name does not necessarily indicate true authorship. There is evidence that people in the first century wrote letters using Paul’s name to lend credence to their words. I personally think that Paul wrote the letter, HOWEVER some scholars have questioned the Pauline authorship of Colossians. Yet a greater amount of evidence points to Paul as the author.

Let me give you some reasons for both arguments:

Those who question a Pauline authorship believe that the writer’s vocabulary/style and theology are different from that of Paul’s. Let’s talk about style first (from Berkhof):

  1. The style is said to be different from that of the apostle. They believe that some of the word choices are not typical of Paul and that the construction of the letter carries a certain heaviness that feels different from a genuine Pauline letter.
    1. To answer this objection, it is not uncommon for a person’s vocabulary to change over time, especially when dealing with the specific circumstances at Colossae. In addition his choice of “new” words (not used in other letters) is not proof that he did not write the letter. He also uses different words in the letter to the Romans, but no one questions the authenticity of that letter! The difference in his vocabulary is more likely due to his subject matter.
  2. It is believed that the Christology (theology) of this letter is un-Pauline and conflicts with the representation of Paul in his other writings.
    1. To address this objection: There is no reason to believe that Paul could not have more fully developed his view of Christ (Christology). Nothing in his Christology actually conflicts with other Pauline passages on this matter (Rom 8:19-22; 1 Cor 8:6; 2 Cor 4:4; Phil 2:5-11).

Interestingly, “there is no historical evidence that the Pauline authorship of Colossians was ever suspect in the early church” (bible.org). Louis Berkhof also explains that there is “no good reasons to doubt the Pauline authorship of this Epistle. {Marcion and the school of Valentinus recognized it as genuine. And the great witnesses of the end of the second century, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Tertulilian repeatedly quote it by name}.” He then lists several early church fathers who attest to Paul’s authorship of Colossians. (http://thirdmill.org/magazine/article.asp/link/http:%5E%5Ethirdmill.org%5Earticles%5Elou_berkhof%5Elou_berkhof.INT_%20026.pdf/at/Introduction%20to%20the%20New%20Testament)

Douglas Moo notes “there are simply too many specific personal claims woven throughout the letter” for this to have been written by anyone other than Paul. (Pillar)

In other words, when the beginning sentence claims it was written by “Paul, an apostle…” the people believed it was from Paul!

The other twist in this plot is that Timothy is also mentioned as if he were a co-author. Douglas Moo writes,

Timothy, enlisted among Paul’s co-workers at the beginning of the second missionary journey (Acts 16:1–3), became the most important of Paul’s ministry associates. Brother, therefore, is probably intended to suggest Timothy’s close association with Paul in ministry. What role does Timothy play in the composition of this letter? Schweizer and Dunn, among others, suggest that Timothy may have been the actual writer of the letter, with Paul perhaps reading and “signing off” on what Timothy had written. But this may give Timothy more credit than he deserves…. To be sure, Timothy’s inclusion in the prescripts of these other letters can readily be explained in terms of his involvement with those churches. (Pillar NTC)

I agree that we don’t need to make too much of this extra author because we honestly can’t know if he wrote any of the letter. He is mentioned in the greeting in three other letters – Philippians, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians. It’s possible that he was present with Paul and showed the same concern for this little church. I just love that it shows that cycle of missions at work – he’s like Paul’s apprentice.

This letter was written from prison so unfortunately the dating of this letter is also uncertain. To spare you all the details, Paul was either in Ephesus (100 miles away) or Rome (1,200 miles away). An Ephesian imprisonment would mean an earlier date around 52-55 A.D. and a Roman imprisonment would be later around 60-62 A.D. (Moo, Pillar)

There are equally good reasons for both dates. I would say that we can put the date of the letter before 60 A.D. for certain because of that earthquake (remember, it happened sometime after 61 A.D.). “Paul did not refer to this catastrophic event; thus, scholars believe Paul had either not yet heard the news, or that his letters to Colossians and Philemon predated the quake.” (TriCityAreaEarthquake)

And also because if it were much later, then Paul couldn’t have written it (because he was said to be in Rome after 60 A.D. and according to tradition, died in Rome). This line of thinking leans toward an Ephesian imprisonment but does not entirely rule out the Roman imprisonment.

There are four Prison Epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Most people group Colossians with Philemon because the greetings in each letter are sent from practically the same people (Phile 23; Col 1:7; 4:12-19). In fact the two letters have eight of the nine names in common. Philemon 12 tells us that Tychicus (who is mentioned in Col 4:7) had Onesimus as his companion on the journey to the Lycus Valley.

Interestingly, though Paul is the author of this letter, there is no evidence that he was ever in Colossae. Paul passed through the region of Phrygia twice, once at the start of his second journey and again at the beginning of his third journey (Acts 16:6, 18:23). However he did not even come close to the city of Colossae the first time, and if he did the second time, he certainly did not found the church there (since he says in Col 2:1 that they had never seen his face before).

It is most likely that his preaching in Ephesus (between 52-55 AD) allowed for others, namely Epaphras, to take the message to the city of Colossae (1:7; 4:12; Acts 19). Many believe that Epaphras was converted at Ephesus under Paul’s teaching and then was trained and prepared to go plant a church in his hometown of Colossae. (https://bible.org/seriespage/background-colossians)

Reason for Letter

As in every letter, it is best to look at the overall picture before plunging into the details. This is why I believe in reading the letter in its entirety when you first begin a bible study of any New Testament letter. One of the first questions I like to ask is: why was this letter written?

It seems that every letter Paul wrote was meant to correct some sort of error and also to offer encouragement for the believers to press on in their circumstances. The letter to the Colossians is no different. Paul addresses a threat of false teaching which sought to “undermine the person and work of Christ and the sufficiency of the salvation believers have in Him.” (bible.org bkgd)

You see how he speaks to the false teaching by expounding on sound teaching (theology) in Col 1 and 2, giving them the resources they would need to fend off these opponents.

He then offers his encouragement to the believers who might have been unsure of their salvation and their Savior. Paul also congratulates them at the beginning of chapter two for their “good order and the firmness of [their] faith.” (2:5)

The letter to the Colossians is best known for its major emphasis on Christology, or the summing up of all things in Christ. Many have questioned whether this high view even jives with the other books of the NT. Can they possibly be wondering if Paul declares too high of view of Christ? I just don’t see how this is a problem!

Perhaps this illustration about me and my sister will help me make my point more clear.

I have a sister who is over three years younger than me. She is taller, has darker, curlier hair, and darker skin. She has the most amazing dark eyes with the darkest eye lashes which everyone always envies about her! She is beautiful and funny and talented. One of my favorite things that everyone asks is, are you two twins? Ha! Yes, I’ll take that compliment. We look similar though I’ve just explained to you how different we are.

My mother, sister, and me

But as different as we are in appearance, we are worlds apart in our interests and preferences. She is a musician, I couldn’t tell you the difference between G and A. She went through a “goth” period with the dark, colorful hair and nails, I have never even dyed my hair (highlights yes..). She loves horror flicks and Halloween, I get scared watching Jurassic Park (The raptor scene!!! it’s terrifying people!).

If someone were to write a letter to her about how to handle a troubling situation, it would sound very different from how a letter to me might sound. The message will ultimately be the same, but you’ll find very distinct emphases because not only are we different people but what would be troubling to her might be different from what would trouble me. Yet at the end of the day, my sister and I aren’t so different. I still need Jesus just like she needs Jesus.

Louis Berkhof writes “the Christology of this letter is in perfect harmony with that of previous Epistles, but there is a difference of emphasis.” Paul emphasizes the significant impact Christ makes not only on the Church but on the whole Cosmos or creation. “All things were created by Him and find the purpose of their existence in Him.” Word Commentary notes that the specific conditions at Colossae necessitated the need for this high view. I would go further to say that WE ALL need this high view of Christ.

Many have said that the letter to the Colossians is the twin letter of Ephesians. Berkhof notes that of the 155 verses in Ephesians, 78 find parallels in Colossians. As you read in the intro, Ephesians focuses on ecclesiology (study of the church) whereas Colossians focuses on Christology.

So now you may ask, what exactly was the Colossian heresy? What was the threat of false teaching? Who was it that was threatening this congregation?

All great questions! This issue is the topic of MUCH debate beginning in the 19th century (interestingly, there was no debate about it before this time). The writers of the Word Commentary note 44 different suggestions among 19th-20th century NT scholars. Just to relieve your angst, I will not be going over all 44 views. Just 20. Aww! I’m teasing…

My personal preference when dealing with unclear passages or issues in a passage is to take a look at how Scripture, and to be more specific, how Paul handles the truth in the letter in order to combat any external pressures. It also just so happens that knowing a little about the culture and history can inform our view as well. I will not go into great detail concerning the WHO because we will deal with the opponents as the passage progresses.

So how does Paul handle these opponents? Well he warns the Colossians to be on their guard (2:8) because these opponents would try to ensnare them “by philosophy and empty deceit” (2:8). But he also mentions “human traditions” that are set up against Christ (2:8). Finally there seems to be a Jewish edge to these opponents which you will find in 2:16-19.

In other words, the Colossians were dealing with a combination of philosophy and Jewish tradition. Arnold argues, “The Colossian ‘philosophy’ … represents a combination of Phrygian folk belief, local folk Judaism, and Christianity. The local folk belief has some distinctive Phrygian qualities, but it also has much in common with what we could also describe as magic or ritual power.”65 (Moo, Pillar)

{Remember the tolerance or inclusive nature of the Romans.}

This means that the opponents were not wolves disguised in sheep’s clothing, lurking in and among the church members, but rather were most likely outsiders pressing in on the Colossian church. To be clear, they were still wolves, but not those who had infiltrated the church as we saw in Titus.

In his letter, Paul also uses slogans or catch words of the opponents but turns them on their heads by using different definitions to more accurately reflect the truth. For example he uses the phrase “all the fullness” (2:9), which was likely a catchword used by the opponents (based on studies of word usage in the NT and early Greek writings). Moo notes, “Paul’s use of this ‘fullness’ suggests that the false teachers were claiming to offer a “fullness” of spiritual experience that could not be found through Christ alone.52” (Pillar) So as to highjack and therefore baptize the slogan, Paul applies this title to Jesus and not to whatever “fullness” the opponents were focusing on.

A major criticism Paul makes about the opponents was that they were puffed up with pride (v. 18 “their unspiritual minds puff them up with idle notions”). Apparently they were bragging about their ability to find ultimate spiritual “fulfillment” by means of their own spiritual program of visions and asceticism as well as observance of several Jewish traditions. (Moo, Pillar) Moo writes, “Paul … implies that the main deficiency … the false teachers found in Christ was his inability to provide ultimate spiritual ‘fulfillment.’” (Pillar)

This spiritual program they followed caused them to separate themselves from finding the true source of spiritual power which is Christ alone.

The essence of false teaching was that it was “not according to Christ” (2:8), or to use another phrase from Paul, they were trying to set up anything against Christ. {Christ + _______}

Thus the reason for our title, Christ – sufficient and supreme. Paul teaches the Colossians that they can find all they need in Him. Though the opponents would not teach according to Christ, he would continue to teach “according to Christ.” (I’m keeping this short and precise because you will get into this more as we dive into the particulars.)

Key Themes

Finally to give you some themes or key words to watch for:

  • Wisdom/knowledge/mystery (Christ is where it is found and He makes it available to all His people, not to an elite only)
  • Slavery v. Freedom (Christ has overthrown the powers; victory in Jesus!)
  • Old self v. new self (The Greek word for “old” does not refer to something old in years but to something that is worn out and useless. The old self died with Christ, and the life we now enjoy is a new, divinely given life that is the life of Christ Himself (Gal 2:20). (MacArthur))
  • Already, not-yet (we already have salvation but heaven is not yet) (Paul’s [often discusses] what God has “already” done in Christ [which] is balanced and kept in tension with what has “not yet” happened. Yet Colossians replaces the temporal scheme of “already” and “not yet” with the spatial scheme of “below” and “above” (3:1–4) and teaches a “realized” eschatology. We are already resurrected in Christ. We are already free in Christ. Douglas Moo Pillar Comm)

Final thoughts – Introducing Christ, the only one you need

As we ponder the bigger picture of this letter, I’d like us to consider God’s heart for His people. What kind of God hand picks the most zealous Jewish man to lead His missionary movement? A movement that will largely reach the Gentiles? Think about who Paul was before Christ interrupted his religious tirade against the followers of Christ. He called himself the Hebrew of Hebrews in Phil 3:4-6:

though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

If there was anyone who would be considered godly (to have spiritual fullness), it was Paul. One thing that I’ve read over and over again is that the Jews did not proselytize. They did not go out and make disciples of other nations. But Christ chose Saul, later to be known as Paul, to lead His church, becoming the apostle to the Gentiles!

And think about how incredibly suited or qualified he was to be able to preach to the Jews. He knew the Law backwards and front (Napoleon Dynamite reference! BAM!). He was able, from his vast training in the Hebrew culture and Scripture, to explain to the Gentiles (and Jews) how Jesus was the fulfillment of all the Scriptures.

He was also able to see that, as great as the Law was, it could not do what Christ did. (Rom 8:3 “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.”) How perfect then was it for God to choose Paul who would be able to refute any opponents to the gospel of Christ!

Think about how difficult it must have been for the Colossian believers to come to faith in Christ only to be told that they needed something else, in fact that they needed to become Jewish and/or mystical in their practices. That they needed some extra knowledge that only this philosophy would give them. Or worse, that they couldn’t possibly be God’s chosen people because they were not Jews. How could God choose Gentiles? (said with utter disdain/contempt)

Surely these opponents would have shaken them enough to cause them to question their salvation and their Savior. Are we really qualified to share in the “inheritance of the saints in light” (1:12)? Do we really have forgiveness of our sins (1:14; 2:13-14)? Are we really “holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (1:22)? Could these philosophies and human traditions really help us to attain to the Godward life? (1:22-23, 2:8) Can we really have “full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery” (2:2)? How can we, being dead in our sins, be made alive (2:13)?

More importantly, how did the opponents cause them to doubt Christ? Was He really God (1:15, 19; 2:9)? Is He really as important as we’ve been told (1:15-20)? Could Christ really cancel the record of debt against me (2:14)? Or would the law do this (2:8, 17, 23)? Was Christ’s death also for me, a Gentile (2:11-15; 3:11)? Is Christ really supreme? Is He really sufficient?

There is truly nothing new under the sun. Paul and the Colossians had to deal with opponents to the gospel, and we are no different today. What philosophies do we buy into which claim to have the answer to all our spiritual woes? What tried and true traditions are we told to follow in order to be truly godly?

So you’ve tried praying, and you aren’t getting the answers you hoped for… have you tried ______? You don’t like the direction your marriage is heading in…have you tried ______? You are unsure how to handle those unruly children…have you tried ______?

Is Christ not enough?

Scared about the future of the nation? Worried about your job? Anxious about family relationships? Struggling with sin?

Is Christ not enough?

Let Paul paint you a picture of your Savior. The Messiah. The Head of the Church. The risen One! The One who is our Peace. Our Hope of Glory. Our Victory over sin and death! The King on His throne. Christ, who is our Life.

Christ, not enough?!

No, Christ sufficient and supreme!

The only One you need.

Titus: Physical vs. Spiritual

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Titus 3:3-8 – For (F)we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.But when (G)the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, (H)not because of works done by us in righteousness, but (I)according to his own mercy, by (J)the washing of regeneration and (K)renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he (L)poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,so that (M)being justified by his grace we might become (N)heirs (O)according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is (P)trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful (Q)to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

Paul offers a nice contrast again, following on the heels of the last section of Scripture. In the last lesson, we learned that he wanted the believers to be submissive to authorities and to be ready for good works, displaying their faith in the crooked Cretan world. In this passage he reminds them that they (including himself) too were once depraved and enslaved to their passions. Perhaps this was his way of encouraging them so that they could see their new identity and not despair or be discouraged about their former life or habits. 2 Cor 5:17 tells us that we are a new creation. We were slaves to sin, now we belong to Christ. In Eph 2:1-3 Paul also writes about the believer’s former life. We used to be “children of wrath,” and we were dead in our sins. We lived out the passions of our flesh and carried out the desires of our body. It’s just not a pretty sight, folks. But there’s always good news right around the corner.

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared…” There’s that appeared word again (epiphaneo). God’s goodness and love broke through as the light of dawn. And when our Savior appeared, He saved us. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

To be certain that no one forgets what their role in salvation is, Paul writes that God saved us not because of works that we do, but He saved us in His mercy. This echoes his teaching in Eph 2:8-9 – it is by grace we have been saved through faith (not of ourselves). As if this weren’t great news already, God also uses the Holy Spirit to regenerate and renew us. Regeneration is basically new birth (after all, we were dead in sins and we needed to be made alive again). This Spirit has been poured out on us richly through Christ. I don’t know about you, but the image of the Spirit being poured out sounds abundant, and then he adds the word richly, which just accentuates the lavish abundance even further! The good news just got even better.

As we keep reading, it might feel like we’ve just won the lottery (actually it’s even better than that). First Paul speaks of being justified by His grace. To be justified meant to be pardoned or cleared from guilt; to absolve or acquit from guilt and merited punishment, and to accept as righteous on account of the merits of the Savior or by the application of Christ’s atonement to the offender (Webster’s 1828). What it boils down to is that we get something we didn’t deserve. We get Christ’s righteousness in exchange for our dead, sinful lives. It’s extravagant grace. And it makes no sense.

So God declares us righteous and then raises us as His heirs. Again, this makes no sense! We become children of the King. This is the hope we have, that He has promised us an inheritance of eternal life (See also 1 John 2:25, Heb 6:17-18, 1 Cor 1:22, Eph 4:30, Eph 1:11-14).

He closes with the call to good works again. He presents quite the case for why we should be devoted to good works. It only makes sense given the gravity of all Christ has done for us! They will know we belong to Him by our fruit (good works). The works are simply the evidence of our faith. It reveals our devotion to Him. And these things are excellent (because they bring glory to God) and profitable (because they bring others to God). May we be careful to devote ourselves to good works.

Titus: Who is Grace?

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Titus 2:11-3:2 –  11 For (T)the grace of God (U)has appeared, bringing salvation (V)for all people,12 training us to renounce ungodliness and (W)worldly passions, and (X)to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in (Y)the present age, 13 (Z)waiting for our blessed (AA)hope, the (AB)appearing of the glory of our great (AC)God and Savior Jesus Christ,14 (AD)who gave himself for us to (AE)redeem us from all lawlessness and (AF)to purify for himself (AG)a people for his own possession who are (AH)zealous for good works. 15 Declare these things; exhort and (AI)rebuke with all authority. (AJ)Let no one disregard you. Remind them (A)to be submissive to rulers and authorities, (B)to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, (C)to speak evil of no one, (D)to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and (E)to show perfect courtesy toward all people.

Grace Came

 I love the beginning of verse 11 – “for the grace of God has appeared….” Paul says this right after telling the bondservants to “adorn the doctrine of God.” You can follow his train of thought as he masterfully explains that we should live our lives in such a way that reflects our Savior for it was by God’s grace that we are saved! “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4). The grace of God has appeared, and that grace is Christ. When the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son.

Isn’t it just beautiful? I learned that the word appeared is the Greek word epiphaneo meaning clearly known, fully visible. It is a picture of the rising sun as it bursts forth at dawn. Christ is the Light that shines in the darkness! The word grace in the Greek is charis and means the unmerited, merciful, kindness and favor of God. This grace that came was self-motivated (had no other motive but itself), ever-acting (never ending action), stooping (from the Hebrew word for grace, chen, meaning to bend or stoop in kindness to another as a superior to an inferior), and pardoning (brings forgiveness).

Grace is Here

Grace came, and it is here to train us. It trains us to put away/deny and to put on/pursue. We are to put away/deny 1) ungodliness (anything contrary to the knowledge, fear, and love of God. and 2) worldly passions (fleshly desires and lusts). We are to put on/pursue 1) self-controlled lives (our inward, bridled strength), 2) upright lives (outward display of our inward character), and 3) godly lives (upward focus).

Grace is Coming Back

As we live out our self-controlled, upright, godly lives, we await a blessed hope! We have the assurance that Christ will return for us. It is an expectant, trusting wait. He came first for the cross in humility, and at His second coming He will come for the crown as the honored King!

The Work of Grace

By God’s grace, He sent His Son who gave Himself for us to redeem us and purify us. This is the work of grace – redemption and sanctification. He redeemed us and purified us for His own possession. We have been set apart for the King. We are reserved for God. We are His possession. We belong to God.

Reminders

Paul finishes this section with some reminders for Titus. He instructs him to teach about submission to authority, and in this case, to rulers. To avoid fights, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy to all people. It’s as if he wants the believers to stand out as different from those around them. After all, they are the redeemed who have been set apart for the service of the King. And this King will be coming again! So in the meantime, let them reflect their Savior.

Titus: Adorning the Doctrine of God

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Titus 2:2, 6, 9-10 – Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, (B)sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Likewise, urge (J)the younger men to be self-controlled. (P)Bondservants[b] are to be submissive to their own masters (Q)in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, (R)but showing all good faith, (S)so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

I was actually relieved that I didn’t have to teach this lesson due to the fact that I didn’t feel at all qualified to speak on this subject. In all reality, I didn’t feel qualified to teach any of this. But true to His nature, the Spirit speaks and reveals, teaching me as I teach others. Here’s what I learned about adorning the doctrine of God.

Older Men

I have decided long ago that I would never label who was an “older” man or “older” woman. From what I gather, men over 60 were considered “older men” on the island of Crete. I’m not sure how they determined this, but at least I didn’t come up with this number!

Paul exhorts the older men with six commands –

  • be sober-minded (calm, even, level-headed, reserved, temperate in the use of alcohol, free of selfish excess, mental alertness, vigilance)
  • be dignified (proper, reverent, respectful and respectable, honorable, above reproach, worthy of respect, noble, faithful)
  • be self-controlled (able to curb desire/impulses, disciplined, composed, sober-minded, prudent, sensible; emphasis on the application of the mind)
  • be sound in faith (steadfast in truth/Word, free from error, unwavering trust in God, pertaining to your relationship with God, under the influence of the Spirit, guided by truth)
  • be sound in love (firm love/affection, gentle, pertaining to love for God and others)
  • be sound in steadfastness (perseverance, endurance, hold firm in trials, dedicated/faithful, connected with trials/persecutions)

Sometimes it’s just as helpful to think about what these qualities do NOT look like –

  • sober-minded is NOT anxious/worried, high-stress, easily subverted by adversity, turbulent, lacking self-control, in bondage to sin
  • dignified is NOT unrefined, undignified/unbecoming, an embarrassment socially or in character
  • self-controlled is NOT out of control in mind/body, never able to say “no”, living only for pleasure, a “train wreck”
  • sound in faith is NOT unsure, doubting, questioning truth, walking in error, “tossed about”
  • sound in love is NOT harsh, unloving, hateful
  • sound in steadfastness is NOT giving up easily, buckling under affliction or pressure

I’m always curious about why Paul chooses certain qualities over others when giving a command to certain people. In this case, he chose these qualities just for older men. Why? As far as I can tell, these men are the role models in the society and must be an example of good character. Perhaps he lists these qualities to challenge the men who have trouble in these areas (being tempted to lose control or to be harsh rather than loving). Maybe their culture was one that had those kinds of temptations more so than other places. We cannot know for certain, but what we can know is that he wanted them to exhibit these qualities.

Younger Men

As for the younger men, Paul only gives Titus one command for them: urge them to be self-controlled. There it is again! Self-control. The image I was taught about the discipline of self-control is that of a race horse. The race horse has great strength, but it is bridled strength. It has the ability in its strength to run fast, but it remains submissive to its Master. Self-control, then, is not to be thought of weak but rather as bridled strength.

The believers at Crete were to look and act differently than their culture. I cannot help but think of the contrast between what the male believers should act like and what the false teachers acted like. Paul calls out the false teachers over and over again for their inability to curb their sinful appetites (problem of self-control). The people of Crete in general had a problem with self-control (liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons). Paul reminded them they all needed the Spirit’s work in their lives.

Bondservants

Most translations use the word bondservant in this passage, but this word is not one we use or have a concept of today. Other translations use the word slave. We definitely have a strong, negative connotation for that word in our culture. So what do we make of this section and this word in Scripture? It was helpful for me to see that Paul (Romans 1:1), James (James 1:1), Jude (Jude 1), Timothy (Phil 1:1), Peter (2 Pet 1:1), and John (Rev 1:1) all referred to themselves as a bondservant or slave of Christ. Other sources talk of the bondservant as being one who makes the choice to willingly submit to and stay with their master. Still others believe that the term slave is more appropriate, because it carries the idea of one who is not his own, one who belongs to someone else.

There are mixed views on slavery during the Roman times because slaves were treated differently depending on the master. Some masters were good and treated their slaves well, but just as there were horrendous slave masters in our country, many masters in Rome were harsh and unjust. Some sources said that roughly half of the people in the Roman Empire were slaves. Paul makes no commentary on the issue of slavery – whether it is right or wrong. Rather, he addresses the attitude and actions of those who found themselves in the situation of slavery (he expounds on this in 1 Cor 7:20-24 and 1 Pet 2:18). He also speaks to the slave master, Philemon, to be gracious to his runaway slave, Onesimus, when he returns to him. The issue was how these slaves would represent Christ who had made them slaves to God, freeing them from their enslavement to sin. It was about submission and obedience – both in action and in attitude. 

Paul writes that he wants the slaves to adorn the doctrine of God by being submissive and not being argumentative and so on. The word adorn is the Greek word kosmeo, where we get our word cosmetics. It meant to arrange jewels to best display their beauty. It was to make something attractive or to give credit to the object in view. The fact that Paul even mentions slaves in this letter showed everyone they had value and that their lives mattered. What is more, the way they lived their lives mattered greatly. They were to be “well-pleasing”, they should not argue or steal, they should submit. Above all, they should do these things even when their master was out of sight because as believers they had a Master who saw everything they did. Their good behavior was an adornment to display the beauty of the doctrines of God. Perhaps their good behavior would attract others to Christ.

Bridging Contexts

Whether you are an older man, younger man, or slave, your behavior should reflect the Master. This is true for the women as well. Right living matters. It matters for every person! Am I making Christ look attractive by the way I live? Would others be drawn to Christ by how I live? Does my life give credit or glory to my Master? 

Gomer: A Heart Unfaithful (Part 1)

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Gomer. With a name like that, there’s bound to be a story. Her name meant “complete” or “completion”. How tragically ironic for a woman who found her sole purpose in the giving of her body. She was a woman broken to pieces, far from being complete.

Imagine her surprise when the man of God, Hosea, took her by the hand to enter into his life as his wife. Her very private life suddenly became very public. In fact God told Hosea that He would use their marriage to cry out against His own people, the unfaithful wife, Israel.

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.

But did she love Hosea? Did she even love God?

She was prone to wander. Just like Israel, she would be unfaithful to her husband. Where did she go wrong? Where did Israel go wrong?

Prone to Wander

The northern kingdom, Israel, was in dire straits. God had sent Elijah and Elisha and then Amos after them to prophecy against His people. He was calling them to remember their covenant with Him and to say, if you don’t remember your promise, those curses I swore about will come to pass. I promised.

Hosea then comes on the scene as a prophet around 750 B.C. This is only 180 years after the nation split into two kingdoms. 180 years after Solomon.

If you take a look at the Kings, you’ll find that EVERY king in the northern kingdom was a BAD king.

Gomer kings-prophets timeline

You could say that Hosea had his work cut out for him.

To summarize the Israelite (northern kingdom) kings is rather easy. They were evil!

Jeroboam I – he set up his own worship centers to keep the north from going south to Jerusalem. He made calves to be the likeness of God and set up new priests to serve at the centers. (1 Kings 12) OMG.

Nadab – did evil in God’s sight

Baasha – killed the previous king to be king; caused the people to sin just like Jeroboam

Elah – evil

Zimri – killed the previous king to be king; burned himself in the king’s house to escape Omri

Omri – appointed king by the people at the same time as Zimri; went up against Zimri; did more evil than all before him

Ahab – even more evil than all the others; erected altars to Baal and Asherah; also sacrificed two of his own sons! (1 Kings 16)

Ahaziah – did evil, worshiped the baal

Joram – evil, killed by the next king

Jehu – kills Ahab’s evil son, Joram, also killed Jezebel (evil wife of Ahab) and 70 of Ahab’s family members; killed all the prophets of Baal, burned the pillars and house of Baal; YET he sinned by worshipping the golden calves at Bethel and Dan (which Jeroboam had set up) (2 Kings 10)

Jehoahaz – did evil (13)

Jehoash – did evil

Jeroboam II – though he did great things for Israel (restoring borders), he did evil in God’s sight (14)

All the rest of the kings reigned anywhere from one month to 10 years. Needless to say, their time as a nation was coming to a fast close. The kings were dropping like flies and they were about to be invaded by Assyria. (722 B.C.)

It is under these conditions that God calls Hosea in Hosea 1:1, but it was an unlikely, even appalling kind of call. Hosea 1:2 :

Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.

If I were Hosea, my answer might sound something like: Um, yes Sir. But do I have to?

But Hosea is obedient and in Hosea 1:3 it says,

So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

None of the other prophets ever had this kind of assignment. Wasn’t the man of God supposed to be, well, godly? Wasn’t it considered a major sin to sleep with a prostitute?

God wanted to make a statement to His people. I’d say His message came loud and clear.

Gomer’s first son is said to be by Hosea. His name? Jezreel. It meant “God scatters”. Hosea 1:4-5 says:

…Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.

Where is this Valley of Jezreel?

Gomer Valley jezreel

Here is a map, showing that it is just south of Galilee, actually in the region of Samaria.

Here is an aerial view of the land:

Gomer aeriel view jezreel-valley

Perhaps you have read what happened in the Valley of Jezreel. The evil King Ahab killed a righteous man in cold blood to be able to have that man’s land (which happened to be in the Jezreel Valley). But did you know that God judged Ahab several kings later when he appointed Jehu as king of Israel? Jehu murders MANY people, all of them connected to Ahab’s house. He sounds like a fairly terrible king. HOWEVER, God had appointed him to carry out the task of killing all of Ahab’s house.

The problem for Jehu was that, even though he had gotten rid of the evil Ahab and his family, he didn’t get rid of all the Baals. This judgment comes on him with the birth of Hosea’s son, Jezreel.

God would “break the bow” of Israel, indicating a military defeat in the region of Samaria. This prophecy comes true exactly as God said: Assyria would invade through the north, entering into Samaria and taking the city and the people of Israel. It came in two waves. First we read in 2 Kings 15:29,

In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and he carried the people captive to Assyria.

Then in 2 Kings 17:6

In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

The next verse (17:7, 12) says,

7And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God,…12 and they served idols.

Hosea receives this prophecy around 750 B.C. and the captivity happens in 722, less than 30 years later.

Right in the midst of all of this lies Gomer. A heart prone to wander.

Prone to Leave the One She Loves

Hosea 1:6 says,

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all.”

Gomer conceives again but this time it does say not she bore him a daughter. This daughter’s name is Lo-Ruhamah. No mercy. Or Not loved.

Ouch. That girl must have had a complex!

We find out later in Hosea 2:4-5 that this daughter and the next son are both illegitimate children. They don’t belong to Hosea! He writes,

Upon her children also I will have no mercy,
because they are children of whoredom.
For their mother has played the whore;
    she who conceived them has acted shamefully.
For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers,
who give me my bread and my water,
my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’

Her mother was out playing the harlot, making love to any man who came by, but she, the daughter, receives no love. Her mother went out after her lovers, acting shamefully, but Lo-Ruhamah would be the one shamed.

A footnote (ESV study bible) for verse 5 says, “The Canaanite people believed that they owed all the products of the soil to the Baals…. All fertilization was a result of the power of the Baals. Having intercourse with sacred prostitutes was thought to contribute to the agricultural prosperity of the land. The harlot’s pay came from the harvest (v. 12).”

Gomer believes her lovers have paid her with the grains, oils, and drinks from the harvest. Israel believed their fruitful crops came from these gods. They played the harlot, going after these idols.

Hosea continues in 2:8,

And she did not know
that it was I who gave her
the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and who lavished on her silver and gold,
which they used for Baal.

Does your heart break for Hosea? For God? She did not know it was I who gave these gifts to her. I gave her the silver and gold. But what does she do? Uses it for the idols.

Idols! You saw what happened with the kings of Israel. Idolatry. They were believing and worshipping a lie. These were counterfeit gods. Israel was whoring around with other “gods” or lovers.

The Old Testament speaks to the folly of idolatry. It is folly because they worshipped something that was not God, something they created with their own hands and which ultimately cannot do any good for them.

Isaiah 44:9-20 addresses the folly of idolatry. In v. 20 Isaiah writes,

He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”

As for Israel, how could they even stand if God removes His love from them? If He chooses not to extend His mercy to them any longer?

Perhaps they had taken the words of the Psalmist for granted:

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared. (Ps. 130:3-4)

Their time had run out. He would no longer forgive them. Their sins would now be counted against them. They will not be able to stand up under this judgement. Assyria was coming.

Hosea writes in 1:7

But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.

So even though God would not have mercy on Israel, God indicates that He will save Judah (southern kingdom) because they at least were still following in His ways. In 2 Kings 19:32-36 Isaiah the prophet, speaking to Hezekiah, king over Judah says,

32 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: “He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 33 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. 34 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” 35 And that night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 36 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh.

God didn’t use bow, sword, war, horse or horsemen. He used His great might and struck down Judah’s enemies.

Now back to Israel (the northern kingdom), the text continues in Hosea 1:8-9

When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

Gomer conceives a third time, possibly by another man, and this time it’s another son. The Lord tells Hosea to call him Lo-ammi. Was this son NOT Hosea’s? Not God’s people?

Can you reach into Hosea’s heart and take a peek at the agony he must have experienced because of this calling on his life? The man of God with the wayward wife. She was prone to leave the one who loved her.

This can be seen as a reversal of the Mosaic covenant. The I Am is no longer their I Am. God tells His people, you are not My people; I am not your God. He rejects the people He had chosen. I. Am. Not. Yours.

It’s like He’s telling them, you have acted in a way that reveals to Me that you care nothing for Me. You have shown Me that you want nothing to do with Me. If that’s how you want it, you’ve got it.

But then, God says in Hosea 1:10-11 and 2:1

10Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” 11 And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel. 2:1 Say to your brothers, “You are my people,” and to your sisters, “You have received mercy.”

I love the redemption story we see unfolding in Hosea’s story. This is what Jamy Fisher calls the Godly Yet (Chains Falling). God always gives hope even in the midst of His judgment! He tells them though I’ve called you, Lo-ammi, you will be called Ammi. I’ve called you Lo-ruhamah, you will be called Ruhamah. He redeems their names. Those children received new identities.

You’ve determined in your heart to reject your calling as My people but I call you My people, I call you Loved. You belong to me, the Living God.

What name do you most often live under? Do you live under a lie? Not loved? Not chosen? Not belonging to God? What has God called you? Loved. Chosen. Holy. Belonging to Him.

He then prophecies that even though they will be exiled, both Judah and Israel will be gathered together and become one nation again. He even tells them that Jezreel will no longer be a place of judgement but one of great joy.

Four other prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah) also prophesy about God bringing both Judah and Israel back to their land. In fact Ezekiel 34:23 says

And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.

Are you tired of hearing those hoof beats yet? I hope not. This is a very clear prophecy about Christ, the descendant of David, the Good Shepherd.

Perhaps Hosea bends down to speak to his wayward wife, I know you’re prone to wander, to leave me, but look what God says to His people. They have left Him, but still He pursues her because they belong to Him, just like you belong to me. Stay…Gomer…

It Can Change Your Brain

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Brain bible prayer

I happened to be perusing Facebook one day and noticed that someone had posted a link to an article regarding how certain television shows can change a person’s thinking on certain social issues. The writer, an Indian man, supplied some of the psychological research that has gone into this theory and spoke of his own experience growing up watching Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in Mumbai, India. One of the working theories is that people will be less prejudiced against people who are different from them (in any way) when they are given the chance to interact with those people. Black and white. Gay and straight. Alien and earthling. Then they can all sit around the campfire and sing Kumbaya together.

It made me think of a comedian’s sketch I watched on Last Comic Standing as he joked about how he had no problems doing extreme sports with his white friends. It was his white friends who had trouble kickin’ it with him (to watch the sketch go here and slide to minute 4:45, ending around 5:56).

But I digress.

As I read the article, my first thought was, “oh I’ve watched that show and it was funny!” But I also remember that I stopped watching it because it walked over a few lines that I had drawn in the sand. I’m fairly particular about what I put into my mind, especially when it comes to television shows. [For instance, my husband and I used to watch Criminal Minds, but it got entirely too creepy and made me think a serial killer was going to kidnap me and cut me into tiny pieces. No peace of mind I tell ya. I didn’t need those nightmares!]

Another show we stopped watching early on was House. We liked how the writers showed the tension between opposing beliefs and made you seriously think about these moral issues in a different way than you usually do. However, it too crossed some defining lines of what we believe and on these issues we won’t compromise. Now I must pause and say that my beliefs don’t result in me hating the characters on Criminal Minds or on House. Nor do I look down on anyone who chooses to watch those shows (maybe they are braver than I am and don’t think serial killers are lurking around every corner). No, rather, it was just a choice of what I will not spend my time on. I won’t fill my mind with the opposing beliefs or the images that place fear in my heart. No harm done.  End of discussion.

To be blatantly honest, this article gave me pause. I don’t want TV shows to change my brain. Don’t get me wrong, this article and the research behind it is so fascinating to me. As a student of the psychology department at Oklahoma Baptist University, I remember reading about studies like this and even doing research related to issues of the same nature. I think that having empathy and sympathy for another person is a good thing. The problem I find with this is simply that I believe there is something better out there that can and has been changing my brain.

It’s called the Bible.

Within its pages you will find the Author who is utterly holy and completely full of love and compassion. You will see how Jesus loved the unlovely. How He met the needs of the outcast and sinner. How He reached out to the unclean and the hurting, and He restored them to life. He spoke out against the hypocrite and challenged the spiritual. He taught His closest followers like a father teaching his children. He gave dignity to women and championed their cause. What is more, He took twisted men and women, people full of evil and deceit, and He changed them from the inside out. THIS is what it looks like to have someone change your mind.

It is a bit of a mystery how God’s Word, being alive and active, could change a person, starting with the thoughts and intentions of the heart. When it is my habit to be harsh to my kids in their moment of disobedience, He changes me to be gentle yet firm. Truthful but loving. To look at a person with different beliefs from my own, resulting in different actions from my own, and to love that person with the love of God. It starts with His Word. That’s where TRUE change begins.

Many people will say that reading the Bible produces a bunch of bigoted religious nuts. However His true followers will find themselves anything but religious or bigoted. Because it is Him at work inside of those people, producing strong character and compassionate hearts that speak His truth in love.

It is not enough to have my mind changed by a television show, to produce friendly feelings toward a person of different color or religious background or sexual orientation. That is surface level. His Word sinks in deep and clears out the areas in my heart that might harbor hate or judgment. His Word produces a love that cannot be manufactured or faked.

Finally, in this article, the writer points out one research project showed that people who encountered or observed a less-liked person of a minority group (his example was Omarosa) were more likely to be prejudiced against that minority group. His point was that television doesn’t reinforce a positive view of a minority group unless the minority person portrayed in the show has a favorable personality. MY POINT is that how you live matters greatly!

If you are a believer, you represent Christ. Far too many people don’t take this seriously enough. This is why they laugh at us (see Ann Voskamp’s article on that here). Or rather they mock us. They label us all hypocrites. Religious nuts. Yet I know of thousands who are quietly living out their genuine faith each day, making an impact in people’s lives for the kingdom of God. I personally know many individuals who have chosen not to settle for surface level spirituality and work out their faith in fear and trembling, searching the Scriptures to find the picture of Jesus as they figure out ways to imitate the One they call Savior. No religiosity. Just relationship.

I don’t need a TV show to change my mind. I need Jesus. He informs my beliefs, my views on life. And where my beliefs aren’t in line with His, He changes them so that I more closely resemble my Savior.

A Great Light

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Why is it that darkness can seem so dark sometimes? I’m not talking about night darkness. I mean a darkness in the soul. The darkness of evil. The darkness that you can feel and yet can’t seem to escape. It’s the kind of darkness that makes you feel like it will never pass. That you’ll be stuck in the dark forever.

The darkness is so thick, that you can’t see past it. You just can’t see period.

The thing I love about God is that He is completely unaffected by the dark.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you. Psalm 139:11-12

What is more, He is unaffected by your darkness. And at any moment in time, He can shine into your darkness, removing the feeling that it will last forever, and He brings hope. A deep, abiding hope.

Have you ever wondered why in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul writes,

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

???

These three things are spiritual gifts. Just like someone receives the gift of teaching, so can you receive the gift of faith or hope. This is why I can pray for someone walking in soul darkness to experience God’s deep, abiding hope and know that it will happen. He’s given me the gift of faith which helps me to trust that He will bring hope where it is most needed.

Let me explain it this way. Have you ever been in a situation in which everything seemed completely hopeless or impossible to change for the better? And then suddenly or over time, your feeling changed to one of hope, despite the evidence of your “hopeless” circumstances? Your situation did not change. Your heart did. It was a gift from your Father who knows your needs and desires. He reaches down and helps you come out of your darkness.

This is easier said than done, I realize that. I too have walked in darkness at different points in my life and will likely encounter more. Thank God we don’t go through the hard times at the same exact moment. Some of us are in a pleasant season and can bring hope to those who are in a troublesome season. He gives us words to encourage one another. He gives us His truth to brighten up the dark places. Maybe He gives some of us faith and hope so that we can spread it to others who don’t feel an ounce of faith or hope.

Remember this with all your heart if you remember nothing else. He is the God who fights for His children and will not leave any of them alone in their darkness.

This may look like a sweet smile from your 3 year old. Or a call from a friend. Or a letter full of His truth. Or a memory of His faithfulness. Or any number of jewels that direct your heart to Him and away from the clutching darkness. Be on the look-out. He is there, and He is not silent.

Isaiah 9-2

Isaiah 9:2

john 1-4-5

In Him was life and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4-5

Theology Thursday: On God’s Wrath and Love

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Today’s lesson brought to you by the letter W. Wrath. Sounds like just the topic for Sesame Street…or not.

My last post was about Christ transferring His righteousness to us through the work He did on the cross. I thought it only appropriate to dig into the issue of God’s wrath against sin. Exciting, I know.

Truly, it is a perplexing subject because we want to think of God as the loving Father, not capable of what seems like the antithesis of love. Wrath. Is it really the opposite of Love? I’d like to propose that it isn’t. Here’s why…

…the supreme object of that love is himself. And because he loves himself supremely he cannot suffer what belongs to the integrity of his character and glory to be compromised or curtailed. That is the reason for the propitiation. God appeases his own holy wrath in the cross of Christ in order that the purpose of his love to lost men may be accomplished in accordance with and to the vindication of all the perfections that constitute his glory. ‘Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood to show his righteousness…that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus’ (Rom 3:25-26). [This comes from John Murray Redemption Accomplished and Applied]

Murray’s point is that propitiation (the “covering” of sin with the effect of “cleansing and forgiveness” before the Lord) does not “detract from the love and mercy of God.” He’s combating the complaint that many people make against God, namely that to offer Christ up as the propitiation for our sins is too wrathful and does not display His love or mercy. Murray says that is completely opposite of God’s reason for sending Christ. It was out of love for Himself (to defend His holiness against sin and be just in dealing with sin) from which the sacrifice of Jesus stems. He has wrath against sin because of His utter holiness, and if He did not deal justly with it, He would not be the God we know. “The wrath of God is the inevitable reaction of the divine holiness against sin.”

In summing it all up, yes, of course He sent Christ because He loves us, but it also remains to be said that He loved us so much that He remained true to His holiness by dealing justly with sin. Think about it, what kind of God would He be if He did not handle sin sinlessly? I know I wouldn’t want to serve a God who is flippant with sin because then what does that say about His character (among other things that we won’t even go into right now)?

Did you ever think that God’s wrath could have everything to do with His love for us? What a crazy concept.

Just some food for thought. Enjoy 🙂

Just Try Harder

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I’ll never forget the message I received loud and clear one day as I was driving home from work some 5 years ago. I was listening to a Chip Ingram message from his Living on the Edge broadcast about the pressure we put on ourselves to just try harder and do better. See, I’m one of those people who is very critical of myself (and unfortunately of others…I’m working on that…), and I get into this mentality that when I mess up I should just try harder. I should beat myself up over not being perfect. I should feel really ashamed and wallow in it for a while. Ridiculous? Absolutely.

What does that even mean? To try harder? To be a “better Christian”? What does trying harder even look like? More self effort? More tears from failure and frustration? Or does it look like the Pharisee? More pride in self effort?

I’m thinking I want to stay clear of all of that. And you should too, frankly.

In his message, Chip mentioned that he was working with one of his sons on lifting weights. This event came after he and his wife were helping him through some life difficulties, including the son feeling like he was failing in some serious ways.  The son was having difficulty with lifting the weights (because he had just started and wasn’t very strong yet), and Chip kept yelling to him to “try harder!” “try harder!” The son would strain with all of his might, but the results were the same. He just couldn’t try hard enough.

Chip, being the wise father he is, had a great moment with his son at this point because he was able to lovingly direct his son that trying harder is not the answer. And trying harder in your Christian walk isn’t the answer for any of us either.

Let’s get one thing straight. There are definitely passages in Scripture that direct us to work out our faith with fear and trembling, to be good stewards of what God has given us, to run the race with perseverance. There’s nothing in my Bible that says we should just coast through this life being lazy bums because we don’t want to confront sin in our lives. Faith without works is dead, says James, the brother of Jesus. But there is a balance and a small twist to all of this.

 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Acts 1:8

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Let this soak in. Let it pour over you like a refreshing stream of life. Read through the lines and see the grace in this. It is Christ’s power in you that allows you to do any good thing, to overcome any stronghold of sin, to run this race of life to His glory. It has absolutely nothing to do with you trying harder to better at this whole Christian thing. It is getting to the end of yourself, realizing you can’t do it, and watching God pick up and do beyond all you could ask or imagine. It’s when you can’t explain how it happened because there would be no reason for it to happen by your own power. It’s abiding in Him.

I am the vinenowatermark

When Christ spoke to the people about who He was, at one point He makes a statement about being the Vine. And we are the branches. We can’t ever be the Vine. And these branches can’t ever produce any grapes apart from being attached to the Vine.

Think of it, a piece of a grape branch lays on the path right next to the vine. It has no fruit on it, but it has a lot of PASSION to bear fruit. It DESIRES to be fruitful. It really wants to have a beautiful cluster of grapes growing on it, but try as it may, it just can’t seem to make grapes. Oh, it tries very hard. But the fact remains that it’s not connected to the vine.

You and I must realize that we have to ABIDE in the Vine, drawing from the POWER of Christ and the Holy Spirit, in order to conquer that habitual sin, to do any good thing, and to truly run the race set before us. Stop trying harder and go before Him with completely honesty that you can’t do it, and then ask Him for His power to be made perfect in your weakness. For when you are weak, then you are strong.

Will you or I get it right immediately? Probably not. Most likely not. Abiding in the Vine is not a one time event though. Chip Ingram went on to tell of the long hours he spent with his son in weight training. Eventually, his son could lift those weights that were impossible for him in the beginning. But it took time, and it wasn’t about him trying harder so much as it was trusting in the process of strengthening those muscles little by little (and being disciplined to stick to it). So, be weak and proud of it.

Take care to give Him the glory by boasting in your weakness.

Then watch Him go to work and amaze you.

vine abide

I am that important

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If you read my last post, you’re absolutely confused. 🙂 “Didn’t she just write about how we are just not that important?” Why yes, I did. But that was in the context of thinking too highly of myself. Desiring to be important and in the limelight. I want to address our worth in this post. God says we have worth, and it’s because of this that we are that important.

Haven’t you been there? Wondering if you even matter to anyone? Being entirely too critical of yourself when you fail in any form (small or great)? Thinking that you never measure up? This is the pendulum swinging the other way. And I hate to tell you, but it’s not opposite of pride (in other words, it’s not humility). It’s a difficult topic because it opens up the raw emotions of depression, anxiety, fear, shame…all the fun ones.

When you find yourself in this place, you can know you’re not alone. And you need to know that none of it is true of you.

You do matter. You aren’t a failure when you can’t do “x” or when you yell at your kids or when you make that mistake at work. You are enough in God’s eyes which means you don’t need to keep trying to measure up. You already do, and the fantastic part is that it’s because of Christ’s work (not something you did or have to do).

First, let’s tackle the issue about worth then we’ll get to the truth about Christ’s all sufficient work on the cross (making you sufficient before God). Remember in a previous post (https://ashleydfarmer.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/god-is-good-so-what-part-3/) I wrote about the dignity of human life – our self worth is found in the God who created us in His image. This means that every person matters to Him because He places His image in each one of us. No one, not even you, can say that what He has made is bad, because He already declared it as good. You can check out Isaiah 45:9-10 or  Is. 29:16 for a reference. God also says many times that He creates each individual with a purpose (Eph. 1:11, Phil. 2:13, 2 Tim. 1:9).

Now for the fun part. 🙂 To break down the theology, we have nothing in ourselves that can make us pure before God, and we can’t reconcile ourselves to Him by any effort on our part. We’ve all sinned, and so we need a Savior who hasn’t. God requires complete holiness and the life of the one who commits the sin must be surrendered through blood (because the life is in the blood – you’ll find that reference in Leviticus 17:11).

This is where Jesus comes in.

He’s my hero. 🙂

Because He is God, that means He’s perfect, and because He is Man, that means He can die on our behalf. Voila! It’s brilliant! Jesus Christ satisfies the demands of the Father so that when we come to Him, He sees the perfection of His Son in us. It’s called substitutionary atonement and involves the imputation of righteousness (fancy words for a Baptist girl, eh?). Those fancy words just mean that we are considered righteous because of His righteousness. He imputes it to us (see Phil. 3:9, my favorite 2 Cor. 5:21, Is. 53:11, 1 Pet. 2:24, Rom. 8:1-4, and let me tell you the list goes on…). For further reading on this whole topic, I’d recommend Hebrews 4 and beyond. 😉

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time. 2 Timothy 1:9

Did you catch it? You don’t measure up to God’s standard so He made a way that you could. The next time you feel incompetent or begin to be overly critical of yourself, remember what God says about you. You are that important to Him.