December 23, 2012

The Many Facets of Christmas

Much has been written about and myriad sermons have been preached about Christmas.  What is remarkable is how - like a beautifully cut diamond, sparkling brilliantly under the light, regardless of the viewing angle - every year a new truth about Christ(mas) can pierce one's heart and bring new knowledge, wonder, and joy.  Some of this has to do with how easily we humans forget.  I try to read through the same book each year (though this year I've not kept up) during Advent, and often I'm touched or challenged by the same things I've underlined in years past.  But there are always new things that jump out at me from the unmarked paragraphs.  So the fact that Christmas can "get us" every year, has not only to do with the inability of our brains to retain information, but also to do with the magnitude and awesomeness of Almighty God and what occurred the night Christ was born.  Were we to ponder the Christmas story alone for the rest of our days, we could never plumb the depths of the all to be found there.  But OH! - our hearts would be so full of joy!!

I wonder what aspects of the Christmas story are particularly pricking your heart this year?  Light and hope came into the world in the form of a baby; his arrival was announced to shepherds and ascertained by learned men.  In the unseen world, satan and his demons trembled as God began to fulfill the prophesies.  In the throne room of Herod, jealousy mounted and murder resulted.  As Andrew Peterson begins one of the songs on his Christmas album, It was not a silent night.

But it was a wonderful night that demands a response, just as it did way back then.

Let's wonder and awe at the work of God on that first Christmas.  Let's listen to what God is speaking to our hearts this Christmas and ask Him to drive it home as we enter the new year.  Let's worship with the angels, the shepherds, the wise men, Joseph, and Mary and say:

Glory to God in the highest!
Luke 2:14a

I wish you all a very merry Christmas and pray that Light will shine into the dark places of your lives and give you new hope this year, because

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

That is the Good-est GOOD NEWS ever told!

December 19, 2012

The Battle's Raging this Christmas. Can You Feel It?

The past week has been tough.  Reading a blog post by a very pure-intentioned woman about how she's reclaiming Christmas for Jesus left me questioning everything we do around here, from how we celebrate the holidays to how we're rearing our children, all in a very negative light.  Pride masquerading as insecurity.  Then the shootings in Connecticut lead to an, let's say, "interesting" newsfeed on Facebook that made me decide to deactivate my account because I couldn't handle it, on so many levels.  Then once off Facebook, I started to wonder if I have any friends.  When there's not constant "conversation" happening all day long in cyberspace, I'm not sure what to do with myself and I realize how much of my life I don't pay attention to, because my mind is being tossed all around by what is on the minds of so many others.

Just before Christmas my life was bubbling
 with joylessness, doubt, fear, anger, frustration, and grief.

I sent a help-please-pray-for-me! email to a friend that read like this:
Inside my head, I'm feeling kinda emotional about things, wondering how I'm supposed to be doing life: Christmas, engaging with the church, schooling, how to also have real relationships with people, where I and our family should be serving, etc.  I try too hard most of the time to have everything figured out.  That's not my job, I know; Lord, have mercy!  I so want to be free, to hear God's voice and follow with joy, rather than wandering around feeling burdened by feeling like I'm doing everything wrong ... as if there's only one exact right way to do everything: parenting, marriage, serving others, church, etc.  I don't know if any of that makes sense, but you could pray for freedom?  I really want the Lord to free me from all of these ties from the old-self that keep me in bondage: people pleasing, worship of reputation, fear of failure, and so on.  Perhaps the evil one is trying really hard to keep me from joy this Christmas.  I'm sure that's part of it, too.
Sidenote, asking a friend to pray for you is THE BEST!  But I digress...  (but no, seriously, ask someone to pray for you today; it is THE BEST!)

Shortly after sending that email, Colin woke up and the kids were still sleeping (a miracle!) and God used him to help me sort through my brain-jumble, encourage me, and put me right-side up again.  My dear husband has to do that for me more often than not.  God bless him.

Then, as I got ready for the day and did my shower-thinking, I thought, Man, I bet the evil one is far more than a small "part of it."  He's a real enemy who would love to see me focused on myself rather than Christ in this Advent and Christmas season.

If you are a Christian, you have an enemy.
He is real.  He hates God, so he hates you.
And he would love to RUIN your Christmas.

But there's Good News!!

Christmas is about that enemy being defeated by a power greater than itself: light overcoming darkness, life triumphing over death.  The cosmic struggle between good and evil began when Eve and Adam tasted the fruit, but when Jesus was born, oh, how the demons must have trembled!  All the prophesy was coming to fruition, and the enemy was not happy about it.

Christmas is no quaint story about a baby in a manger.  It is about war - the fight for the souls of men.  So let's look alive, especially over this next week!  Our enemy will pick at our weaknesses to take our eyes off of our Strength.  By Him and His grace and mercy to us, we will stand and worship our Lord each day, even as we see the day approaching.  So whatever you've got going on that's dragging you down, when you feel like you should be all "merry and bright", could very well be an enemy attack.  Don't wilt or wallow.  Fight back with the Word and Prayer, and watch God fight for you.



December 14, 2012

The Whole Bible at Christmas

I'm reading through one of those Bible plans this year that has me read daily from the Old and New Testaments.  I've only done this a couple of times, but always find it delightful when the readings connect with one another because God was, is, and will be forever the same.  Yesterday, in the Christmas season, the delightful-ness was magnified for me as I read from Amos (Yeah, like, who reads that book, right?  Um, it's really amazing!) and Revelation (Isn't that book only full of incomprehensible imagery?!)

The beauty comes from the thread that holds it all together: God's sovereignty over history, creation, His people.  The Christmas story, (The one about the baby Jesus being born in a stable?  Yep, that one.)  The Christmas story was not sudden lightbulb-over-His-head moment for God.  Nope.  It has its roots in  earliest human history, and its effects reach to the end of time.  Jesus' birth and ministry were prophesied hundreds of years ahead.  Then, afterward, God showed John what was to come.

What floors me over and over again is the drumbeat of mercy
that is the cadence of God's Word, from Genesis to Revelation.

From Amos 5:4-6

 This is what the Lord says to the house of Israel:
“Seek me and live;
     do not seek Bethel,
do not go to Gilgal,
    do not journey to Beersheba.
For Gilgal will surely go into exile,
    and Bethel will be reduced to nothing.”
Seek the Lord and live,
    or he will sweep through the house of Joseph like a fire;
it will devour,
    and Bethel will have no one to quench it.

Isreal, God's people, so deserved to be wiped out without any chance to turn around and be rescued.  but the first thing God says is Seek me and live.

Then in Revelation 5:9

And they sang a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased men for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation."

Jesus, the Lamb, is worthy to open the seals in heaven why?  Because he was slain and with his blood purchased men for God.

God has been in the business of saving people since Adam and Eve at the fruit.  He sent them out with curses, but He also clothed them.  The Lord wants people to seek Him and live.  He is always inviting us to freedom and righteousness through belief and trust in Him.  He sent Jesus to be born in a stable, so that He  ultimately could be slain and purchase men for God with His blood.  No more daily sacrifices, no more yearly day of atonement.  Bloody altars were replaced with the communion table ... a place where the people of God from every tribe, tongue, and nation can commune with Almighty God.

Does that make your jaw drop?

It should.  If it doesn't, start reading the Old Testament.  God's judgement on those who refuse to turn to Him is ugly.  God is slow to anger and not capricious, but He is just.  Judgement will come.  But the jaw-dropping wonder of Christmas is that the Holy One came down and walked among us so we could know Him and be fully, completely, and wholly redeemed, rescued from the cup of wrath we deserve to drink.

Because Jesus took the cup for us.

Seek me and live, says the Lord.
Christmas reminds us that He means it.

December 9, 2012

The True Story of the Painting of the Fireplace

If we ever buy a house, I really, (really, really, pretty please!) want a working fireplace.  They're impractical in the age of central heating, but I love a cozy winter night before the hearth.  My dad built many fires for us growing up, and now does so for the grandkids; there's just nothing quite like the crackle of the fire in the quiet of a winter's evening, surrounded by family or friends in a welcoming home.

Currently, we don't have one, so last year I decided the kids and I could paint one.  That's it, above, hanging on the back of a bookshelf.  It's a charming picture isn't it?  The tree waiting to be trimmed, the stockings "hung by the chimney with care", that cute little child posing in front of the scene.

But behind the Christmas-sweetness of the scene, lies the true story of the painting of the fireplace:  I was pissed off the day we made it.

Pardon the expression,
but angry doesn't do the emotion justice.
I.  was.  pissed.

I don't remember what set it off, but I was not in any kind of cheery holiday mood that day.  Like a boiling kettle, I was spouting scalding words of spite at my children and scorching complaints seeped out under my breath, as I mumbled out my misery.  The afternoon was the perfect time for making the fireplace, though, so we did.  We taped the paper together, drew outlines of stones, and we each took specific painting tasks.

Now, maybe it was my low expectations, because I'm not much of an artist, or that I didn't feel I deserved such grace, but I was so pleased with the result!  I was able to proudly post a picture or our work on Facebook.  (I would have posted one either way, it was a bonus that it was decent looking!)

When you see our paper fireplace, you might think, "What a fun idea!"

When I look at that fireplace,
I think about how well it represents what Christmas is all about.

Friends, do you know why Jesus came?  One of my favorite verses is Matthew 1:21.

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus,
because He will save His people from their sins.

Christmas is for sinners who deserve punishment for their sins.  That fireplace should be really hideous.  THAT is what I deserve.  Instead, God redeemed that afternoon and provided us with good memories of working together and a beautiful Christmas decoration for our home.

Likewise, God should leave us in our hideous estate.  Instead, He made a way for us to be redeemed.  He started planning at the fall and saw His people through to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus.  God makes ugly things beautiful.  God redeems those who seem beyond redemption.  Behold, these are good tidings of great joy!

You are not beyond redemption.  Sure, nothing you can do will enable you to save yourself.  But God knew that before you did, so HE provided the sacrifice for your sins.

Give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.


December 5, 2012

Christmas Traditions, Let's Share!

I imagine that in your house, especially if you have a little person or two (or more!), you have a few traditions around this time of the year: special outings, events, recipes, etc.  None of ours our original; they're either borrowed from our own childhoods or stolen from others and tweaked to make them our own.  Here are some things that happen around here:

The day of the first snow, we make time to cut paper snowflakes and drink hot chocolate.
Then we hang the flakes for winter decorations.

At some point, we head downtown to enjoy the festive decorations and lights.

Pittsburgh has a beautiful botanical garden called Phipps Conservatory.
We  make a visit every year (at least once!) for their winter flower show.

This is a 100% stolen idea:
having a basket of winter/Christmas books that is stored with the Christmas decorations
and only comes out when the decorations do!
And I've taken to buying the kids each a new book in December;
when they leave our home, they can take theirs with them.
(Here's a great list from my friend, Kristen, from whom I may have stolen this idea.  A-hem.)

Baking too many kinds of cookies, of course!
We decorate sugar cookies with friends and take small plates to neighbors.

I'd love to hear what some of your traditions are.  Every family has fun traditions that create a special culture in that home for that family; one family's traditions are not better than another's!  But they are valuable, giving our kids a sense of identity and belonging, not to mention fun!  What are some of your special things during this time of the year?  Please share some of your favorites in the comments!

December 1, 2012

DIY Christmas Paperchain Countdown

We love paper chains around here for visual representations of countdowns to events like vacation, the Pirates having a winning season (didn't happen this year, again ... sigh), and birthdays.  The four-year-old finds them quite helpful.  This year I thought it would be fun to make one for an advent countdown to Christmas.  This one starts on the bottom at the brown stem loop on December 2nd, the first day of Advent, 2012.  Then from left to right going across each row we'll remove one a day until we get to the "star" on the 25th!

I wanted to post the idea in case you were looking for a simple little craft to do with your kids this weekend.  Depending on ages they can help with cutting, stapling/taping, and/or writing on the numbers.  Below is a diagram of how this one turned out, after being hung one way that didn't quite work out as I'd hoped (pictured above right).

Did you do any decorating this weekend?
It seems a little early, so I'll whisper it: Merry Christmas!

November 30, 2012

Colossians {Day 30 or The End}

It is the last day of November, and thus, the last day in this series in Colossians.  Here are some final thoughts.  I do so wish I had one of those amazing brains that could read back through all I wrote the last 29 days, then give you a superb synthesis, tying it all together.  I do not have such a brain.  My husband does, but he's not the author of this blog, so what you get are the thoughts foremost in my mind at the moment!

I'm leaving Colossians with two big ideas rattling around in my head:

1. Christians need to read their Bibles and spend (lots of) time thinking about Jesus.

At the time this was written, there wasn't yet a cannon of Scripture for the early Christians.  Later, this letter became part of the cannon.  Paul spent the majority of the book focusing on Christ: His identity, His purpose, His role, His work, His glory.  He presented Gospel Truth to the Colossians and summarized what Christ had done for them three times before the end of chapter two (1:13-14, 1:21-22, 2:13-15).  If they didn't need to be reminded, I don't think Paul would have spent so much time writing about Jesus.  Focusing on Christ would protect them from being swayed by false teachings, keep their eyes set on things above, motivate them to put off the old self and put on the new, and enable them to pursue righteousness in their relationships and work.

As believers in the 21st Century, we need to be reminded of and refreshed by the Gospel just as the Colossians.  We need to immerse ourselves in God's Word.  Fuzzy feelings or speculations about God and our salvation in Christ will not sustain us.  We need Christ Himself, and we encounter Him through the Spirit and by His Word.  As the Word takes root in our hearts, the fruit of the Spirit will flourish there.  We sure need the Word of God - written and Christ Himself.

2. Theology and life are interconnected.

I remember reading in a commentary on John by R.C. Sproul that our doctrine is important, because it enhances our worship, making it more meaningful because we comprehend more about God and ourselves.  I don't often remember things from books, only that I liked or disliked them, but this concept really stuck with me and has influenced my desire to keep reading the Bible, to read commentaries, to ask questions, to wrestle with the tougher ideas in Scripture.

Paul certainly lays out in his letter to the Colossians just how interconnected theology and the Christian life are.  Our theology will influence how we live as Christians; the way we choose to live will influence our theology.  I heard someone say once that everyone's a theologian, the question is whether you're a good or a bad one.  Paul emphasizes throughout Colossians the necessity and importance of believing in the real Jesus and the true Gospel, not something that has been added to or altered to feel more comfortable or controllable for us.  There is a cycle: as our theology is on track, we'll begin to live "on track" with it.  When it's off track, the cycle is the same, but on a bad track.  Likewise, when we choose to live in a way that allows us to pursue good theology, we find it.  If we don't care or don't think it's important to pursue, our theology will head off in the wrong direction.  (It will.  The heart is deceitful above all things, Jeremiah 17:9.)

For example: I have found that when I study God's Word, hear it preached, read edifying books, and learn more about God, I'm left in greater awe of the Gospel and desire to live for Christ in a free and joyful way.  Good theology, Christian living for good reasons.  When I start to stray from the truth and believe lies the devil is whispering to me or start living like an orphan rather than an adopted daughter of the King of kings, I live and try to be a "good Christian" motivated entirely by fear and doubt.  Christian living for wrong reasons.  Do you find this to be true for you too?

Paul laid good theology out for the Colossians so they would not forget who they had been, who God is, and what they now were because of Christ.  It was of first importance to him and he knew it was what they needed to stay the course and continue in [their] faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel (1:23).

Praise God for the hope held out in the gospel!

*     *     *

If you have been reading this month, thanks for joining in on the journey.  Did you learn anything new?  Has God been using Colossians to challenge you?  A blogger always wonders about these things!  Feel free to leave a comment, I'm grateful to know you stopped by.

November 29, 2012

Colossians {Day 29}

We're gonna sprint to the finish today, folks, so there's time for a wrap-up post tomorrow, to round out this month in Colossians.

Colossinas 4:2-18
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

7 Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. 9 He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.
10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11 Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.
16 After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.
17 Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.”
18 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

Some observations about the end of this letter to the Colossians:

  1. It's very similar to the way Paul ends most of his letters: really rushed final instructions and greetings to and from specific individuals.
  2. The commentators both brought out that some of these folks Paul mentions are Jews and some are Gentiles.  He's intimately connected to believers from both backgrounds.
  3. Paul covets the prayers of the Colossians.  He asks them for prayer in the final instructions and also says Remember my chains in his good-bye.  The apostle needs fellow believers to pray for him!

This last chapter makes me think about two things: intimacy with fellow believers and prayer.  As I read the final greetings and the way Paul speaks of these men and women, it appears that he really loves and cares about them.  He knows their names, what they're up to, and commends them to the church in Colosse.  They're not just "staff" in his Gospel-sharing business; they're his brothers and sisters in Christ.  And even as he asks for prayer, you know that he prays earnestly for those from whom he seeks prayer as well.

Paul prayed and sought prayer because he believed it made a difference in his life and in the lives of others, enabling boldness and focus, opening doors for ministry opportunities, and offering hope.  You know, Jesus prayed too.  In prayer Jesus connected with the Father.  In prayer Paul did likewise.  In prayer, all of God's people have done the same for centuries.

I'm challenged by these final verses to pray for believers and churches in places I have lived, that their ministry there might be fruitful, that the Gospel would go forth, that the Lord would sustain them.  Further, I'm challenged to take relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ more seriously, to go deeper, because our bond is so much more than flesh and blood or common interests or even that we attend the same congregation.  We are united in Christ.

That's really amazing!  Paul never took it lightly, and neither should we.

*     *     *

G'night, brothers and sisters.  Tomorrow will be our final installment in the book of Colossians, then Advent is just around the corner!

November 28, 2012

Colossians {Day 28}

Today we come to a "juicy" passage that includes the words wives and submit.  How exciting!  Before we read the passage, though, I would like to remind us where these "Rules for Christian Households" is situated: in the Bible, in the book of Colossians (a letter to Christians), after chapters in praise of Christ and what He's done to save his people, who are all in equal need of His saving grace.  These family rules are for believers who are making verse 17 their goal:
Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

With further ado, we'll continue in chapter three and include the first verse of chapter four.
18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.
4 Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.
Wives, husbands, children, fathers, slaves, and masters.  Like they shout on the Electric Company, "HEY YOU GUYS!!!!!  God has something to say to you, not only about your salvation, but also about how to live in your earthly relationships."

To me it is a bit sad all of the fuss made about verse eighteen.  Getting to focused on the "injustice" of wives submitting to their husbands (without understanding what it means, just assuming it means being a doormat, going as far as letting your husband beat you, if that's your situation), takes away from the fact that what Christ has done for us can and should influence and change the way we interact in our families and households.  As the New Bible Commentary points out, nothing is outside Christ's rule and authority:

The paragraph contains many references to the Lord, indicating that the whole of life, both thought and conduct, is to be submitted to the Lord Jesus Christ.  No area of life stands outside his control; so there is no final distinction between the sacred and the secular.   A life ruled form above where Christ is reigning (3:1-4) is a life in marriage, parenthood, and everyday work.

Due to lack of both time and Biblical expertise, I'm going to leave this passage at that.  Please dig into it more, ask your pastor questions, and listen to what God might be saying to you, in your place in a family and/or work.

I don't know about you, but I would love to be so free and joyful in my relationship to Christ that in whatever I do I work at it with all my heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.  (v. 23)  Wouldn't you?

Let's start right now, with whatever we're going to do next, which for me is relieving a babysitter and preparing dinner.  Have a good evening!

November 27, 2012

Colossians {Day 27}

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Picking up from where we left off yesterday (the putting to death of the earthly nature), today we'll move into a section about what we're to put on.  Paul begins this section with another therefore.  What's he referring to?  Rewind to the first few verses of the chapter.  Remember?  Yep, you've been raised with Christ ... your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  You're new people, Colossians!  In fact, Paul says after the 'therefore' that they're God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved.  Since that is who they are, they've got new clothes to put on.

So, not only is the Christian to put off or put to death the old self, he is also to put on the new.  This is all so active isn't it?  Surely the Christian life is not for the faint of heart (which makes me wonder why God invited me into it, because I'm a "quit when the going gets tough" kind.)  At the same time, however, it's activity under a blanket of security.  What we do (or not) doesn't come into account for one saved by grace.  Our pursuit of holiness (putting of the old nature and putting on Christ) is a response to what's already been done in our lives.  The need to put off and put on is a daily practice for the Christian.  We're not fully sharing in Christ's glory yet, we live on this side of heaven.  Sin is always right there with us when we want to do good.

My true heart's desire is to be able to do this once - take of the old crap, put on the beautiful new garments of the fruit of the spirit - and be a model Christian for all to see.  But that desire is not about seeing God glorified; it's all about me.  Interacting daily with the Gospel, seeing our need to repent and believe the Good News, reminds us what an awesome Savior Jesus is and draws us toward a place of pursuing holiness to love, please, and obey Him.  NOT to get one's act together to be admired as a "great Christian person."

Getting back to the passage, Paul lays out a lot of new clothes for us to put on:
  • compassion
  • kindness
  • gentleness
  • humility
  • patience
  • love
  • forgiveness
  • peace
  • thankfulness
I dunno about you, but I need a serious dose of Jesus for those to be growing in increasing measure in my life.  After listing all those things, what does Paul say?  Verses 16:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

We gotta let the word dwell in us!  It is God's Word, taking root in our hearts and minds, that transforms us. Then we can teach, admonish, and encourage fellow believers.  There's no magic formula or spell to cast.  We start with Jesus (the Word) and we keep walking with Him.

Would you like to clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, and humility, wrapping it all up with love?  Me too.  I desire to be a changed person and to bless those around me.  How can that happen?  The B-I-B-L-E!  The Holy Spirit dwells in you, the very power that raised Christ from the dead.  Add to that a mind and heart being fed a regular diet of God's Word, and change is coming your way.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.  Clothe yourself with Christ!  He's not in the habit of abandoning people who earnestly seek Him.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  Colossians 3:17

November 26, 2012

Colossians {Day 26}

5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.  Colossians 3:5-11

In verse 5, Paul uses therefore in reference to verses 1-4 in which he laid out how their lives are now hidden with Christ in God and that they'll one day share in His glory.  Since that is who they are and the future secured for them, Paul says to them Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature ... rid yourself of such things as these ... do not lie to each other.

Paul could write us the same letter.  Christian, you are no longer defined by your past, your sin, your sins, none of that garbage.  You belong to Christ.  So put to death - put off, toss aside, kick to the curb - all of that sin.  F.F. Bruce pointed out that in that first list Paul moves from overt sins to the more "hide-able" (yes, I made up that word, could you tell?) sins, the sins in our hearts and minds: lust, evil desires, greed, idolatry.  We need to be actively setting these things aside, not just the sins we worry people will see if we do them, but even those no one will ever see.  Why?  BECAUSE (v. 10) we've put on a new self, being renewed in the image of its Creator.

Same reason applies to getting rid of the things Paul mentions in verses eight and nine, too.

I think in my past, I've read these verses and thought to myself, Alright, Heather, time to buckle down and start plucking all of the sin out of your life.  Then I would try and fail within, like, 30 seconds, leaving me only with despair.  In the context, however, with Paul having spent so long setting up for us Who Christ is, what He's done, how marvelous it is, how true is the Truth, I feel motivated by these verses in a refreshing, life-giving way.  I might express it this way:
Hey world, guess what?!  I don't belong to you anymore.  I've got a new Ruler, a new King in my life.  His name is Jesus.  Not only is He now my Lord, but He's my Savior too.  So, dark side, you have no business here.  Oh yes, the wrath of God is coming to get you, your day of justice is near.  But I will not be annihilated with you, because my life is hidden with Christ in God.  This also means I'm going to take my sin more seriously than I ever have.  I won't let it have its place anymore; when God shows me an aspect of my life that needs destroying, I'm going to get on board with His plan and work to wipe it out.  Why?  Because I've got a new self and I'm being renewed in the image of my Creator.  And that's just plain crazy, wild, amazing, beautiful good news.

Yeah, I think I'd say it something like that.

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One final closing thought about verse eleven, brought to light (again) by F.F. Bruce.  Christ breaks down all the barriers.  There's no superiority in the kingdom.  You'll meet many who are more mature than you or gifted or trained more in certain aspects of ministry, but when it comes to the cleansing blood of Jesus, we're all equal at the foot of the cross.  And in Him we find brother- and sisterhood with men and women who are very different from us, from opposite sides of the fence, so to speak, by culture's boundaries.  Not only is it amazing what Christ does in our hearts as individuals, it is equally as remarkable what He does within the body of believers.

See you tomorrow!

November 24, 2012

Colossians {Day 24}

Yesterday I sped through some thoughts on the first seventeen verses of Colossians chapter three.  Now we'll slow it down a bit and go through these verses in shorter sections.  We'll begin with verses one through four.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Set your hearts on things above.  That's where Christ is!  Christian, you died, and now your life is hidden with Christ in God, because now Christ is your life.  When He comes again, you're gonna join him in his glory.

I'm like a babbling idiot next to the eloquence of F.F. Bruce (and probably many other people, too!), so here are his summary thoughts about this passage (after which he goes into greater detail, verse by verse, which I will not be typing out for you).

The Colossians are reminded that they not only died with Christ; they were raised from the dead with him too - as indeed they have been already told (Col 2:12).  When Christ left the tomb, he was raised on high, and is now enthroned in glory, at God's right hand. What does this mean for those who by faith have been united with him in his death and resurrection?  They continue to live on earth in their mortal bodies, but they have embarked on a new way of life.  The motive power enabling them to follow this new way of life is imparted by him from the glory in which he now lives.  Since his people share his risen life, their interests are now centered in him; his interests, in fact, have become theirs.  They must therefore pursue those things which belong to the heavenly realm where he reigns; their mind, their attitude, their ambition, their whole outlook must be characterized by their living bond with the ascended Christ,  they now live with him and in him.  Their life is bound up with his; it is, in other words, laid up in safekeeping with him, securely hidden in God.  Because he lives his people live also: because he is their life, their life is as eternal as his.  The world cannot see their real life at present, just as it cannot see the exalted Christ.  A day is coming, however, when Christ will be revealed in glory, and those whose life is at present hidden with him will necessarily be revealed with him and share his glory.  (p 131-2)

Praise God, right?!  What a great prelude to Sunday worship.

*    *     *

I'll close with one more of Bruce's comments as a bridge into the next verses, which we will look into on Monday:

What God has done for his people in Christ
is the grand argument and incentive for Christian living.
(p 124)

Have a blessed Sunday.  One week till Advent begins!!

November 23, 2012

Colossians {Day 23}

Last I wrote on Colossians, we finished up with this verse:

Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Paul was warning the Colossians about getting shackled by ungodly rules and regulations imposed by men, which choke out the life of freedom found in the gospel.  On the outside, they seem wise and helpful, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence, ie. truly changing the heart.  Ironically, however, the next section in my Bible (which obviously was not part of the original letter, but is worth noting just the same) is headed "Rules for Holy Living."

Now wait just one minute.  Weren't we just talking about not getting caught up in all the rules and freely living our lives in Christ?!  Yes, yes we were.  So we've got to keep reading, don't we?  We must investigate this to find out what Paul's up to.  Is he going to show us the way to move toward restraining sensual indulgence?  Because as rated-R as that sounds, I'd be lying if I said I didn't need that.  I'm failing at self-control over here on a regular basis, in all areas of life.  Paul, what have you got for us?
Colossians 3:1-17
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Oh boy, that's a lot of text.  We'll spend a couple of days here.

Some initial thoughts:
  1. Set your hearts on things above, because of Christ.  The first thing Paul says to them, before giving them the proper "recipe" for holy living in Christ, is that they must set their hearts on things above, not earthly things.  Christ died and our lives are now in our God.  I get a picture in my head of my life being completely enveloped in God, surrounded, supported, protected, secure.  With one's heart set on remembering that - and that one day we'll share in Christ's glory (because He's coming back, God fulfills His promsies) - we're prepared to get into the following things: putting the old self to death and putting on the new self.  Do not rush to put the cart before the horse.  We need Christ's power to be changed and renew, to care about our sin and desire to mortify it, and to delight in living in a way that pleases the Lord.  Set your heart on things above.  THEN...
  2. Put to death what belongs to the old nature, because you're being renewed in the image of Christ.  Because of your new identity, Colossians, get rid of the old junk from your former life.  You used to do all that, but now you've got a new self.  Notice that Paul does not here say that this secures their salvation; it's simply a natural progression from remembering their identity in Christ.  Those lists are pretty serious, aren't they?  I'm humbled by how accurately they describe me on a daily basis.  But I am encouraged by Paul's words to take the putting off of my sin more seriously because it no longer owns or defines me.  Christ does.  And He gives us new dress...
  3. Clothe yourselves with Christ's character, because you're God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved.  Again, Paul reminds the Colossians who they are.  God's people!  Wowzers.  And God's people have a dress code.  We're called to put off the ugly old rags of sin and depravity, and to put on the beautiful robes of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and love.  As we strip ourselves of the old, Christ gives us something new to put on.  This is a process of transformation, we don't automatically look like Christ the day we become a Christian.  But God is working His character into us, so we can reflect Him, and here Paul encourages the Colossians (and us) to get in on the "being made holy" action, by more intentionally clothing ourselves with these things.  What I find so beautiful is that we're not only told, "Stop that bad stuff!"  We're also told, "Christ has given you new things to wear and pursue."

That's all for this evening. We'll check this passage out s'more tomorrow.

*     *     *

I hope you're getting to enjoy some good R&R and maybe some great shopping this weekend.  I'm got to take in a movie with the husband this afternoon.  You don't know this about him, but he's not a big fan of going to the movies.  When he mentioned he wanted to go see James Bond IN THE THEATER, I jumped all over it.  I love going to the movies!  And, for the record, Skyfall is amazing.

November 22, 2012

Colossians {Day 22, aka Thanksgiving)

So, holidays and thoughtful blog posts don't go together very well!  About to relax with the hubster after a fun family day.  I hope yours was a good one as well.  Below are the only photos I've go to share.  (My misuse of our normal camera has left us without a functioning camera and, well, I don't have an iPhone.)

Ready for Thanksgiving day breakfast!

Happy Day from our little turkey.

And the rest of them too!  :)
We feasted at my in-laws and this is what was left!


November 21, 2012

Colossians {Day 21}

Oh boy, there's not much of this day left now at 11:40pm!  The activities of the day before a holiday and devoting time to relationships can really make the hours fly by, can't they?

So for this evening, I'm going to pause and get a little introspective.  I have noticed of late an increased sensitivity to some of my signature sins: pride, jugementalism, complaining, impatience.  I don't think I'm really worse than before, the Spirit's simply been making me more aware.  You wanna know why I think that is?

If you do, keep reading.  If you don't care, go to bed, because it is late and you should totally be sleeping a not reading a blog at this hour!

Seriously though.  I think the Word is doing this to me.  Spending extra time examining the Scriptures, specifically Colossians, and seeing the grandeur of  Christ: His holiness, His power, His infinite-ness, His humility and obedience.  Focusing, as Paul wanted the Colossians to do, on Truth, on the Word, on the Cross, is shaking me.  It's good, but strange.

I've started to wonder about my priorities, too.  Why do I do what I do?  Why don't I share this beautiful, amazing, blessed Savior with more people?  How can our family make intentional moves to impact the world for Christ, one widow, orphan, or alien at a time?

I need to grow in repentance.  I hate admitting to God (or anyone, ask my husband) that I've been in the wrong.  But you know what?  This time in Colossians (and also currently in Ezekiel and Hebrews in my daily readings) is making me WANT to grow in repentance.

I need to choose God's priorities.  I'm addicted to my own comfort, peace, happiness, etc.  But you know what?  This time in Colossians (and the other books) is making me WANT to move in His direction.

I was thinking to myself today about posting a Facebook status update that read:

Heather Ashe is a woman strong character ... flaws.

That's the truth about me.

BUT, it's the truth about Christ that can change me.  Nothing but that truth.  The same goes for you, friend.

Is Colossians messing with you too?  I hope so, because it is GOOD when the Lord shakes us up by His Word.

Peace, friends.  Happy Thanksgiving!

November 20, 2012

Colossians {Day 20}

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. 19 He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
20 Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.  Colossians 2:16-23

Paul begins with a "Therefore" and when I was in InterVarsity learning Bible study skills, I learned that we have to ask, What is the 'therefore' there for?  Cute little rhyme, huh?  And useful!

So rewind to yesterday.  Paul's Therefore means this:  because Christ cancelled the written code and defeated the powers of darkness by His work on the cross, you needn't let two things happen

  1. letting someone judge you by your behaviors that don't line up with specific traditions, or
  2. letting someone unqualified to judge, disqualify you from the prize.

It also seems to me, from these two paragraphs that he's addressing issues that the Colossians might run into with two groups: religious and secular.  The religious group, referred to in the first paragraph, has historical regulations, observations of festivals, and so on that I believe must come from the Old Covenant, because of what Paul says about them being a shadow of "things" to some (Jesus).  The second group I surmise is not a religious group and rather rules belonging to the culture, based upon his saying that they are rules based on human commands and teachings.  I don't think Paul, with his reverence for God and His Word, would say that about the law given through Moses.  BUT  I don't know for sure, so after I read more about this for tomorrow, I'll let you know if it needs to be corrected.

Either way, this does highlight how we can become held captive by "things" on either side of the horse, so to speak: in bondage to religion or in bondage to the culture.  Only staying ON the horse, where our eyes and hearts and minds are properly fixed on Christ, can keep us properly in the saddle.  As Paul said to the Galatians (5:1):
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

CHRIST is the motivation to and the only One through which we can avoid being burdened by the judgments of others, empty religious rituals, and the principles of the world.  God holds things together and makes things grow through His Son, the Head (v. 19)  As Paul points out in the final verse of today's passage,
Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

On the outside, adhering to a bunch of rules can seem like the way to go, maintain your reputation, look good, etc.  But Paul calls a spade a spade; such things lead simply to self-worship, false humility, and only deal with how you treat your physical body.  None of them will change your heart, enabling you to restrain from sensual indulgence.

We need more than rules.  

We need Jesus.

And He's available.

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Here's hoping I'm not totally off-base with these thoughts about this passage!  I'll do some reading in the next day and fill in any gaps tomorrow.  Also, there are only 9 writing days left in this month.  If you have been reading along, thank you!  I know this may not be interesting to many, but pray that it's a blessing to some.  I am learning a lot about how much I need to be considering Christ in the day-to-day.  Have you picked up anything new or have any insights to share?  Drop me a comment!

November 19, 2012

Colossians {Day 19}

As I was reading back through the passage on Saturday, I noticed that Paul continued his don't-be-taken-captive thread in his Gospel presentation in verses 13-15.

13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.  Colossians 2:8-15

First, he reminds them, You were dead, BUT GOD made you alive with Christ.  Not only were their day-to-day sins keeping them in bondage and death, but their very sinful nature (an orientation opposed to God) needed to be addressed as well, for them to have life.  God did that for them in Christ.  How?

Verse 14, He forgave all their sins AND cancelled the written code by nailing it to the cross.  Not only does God forgive our sins past, present, and future, in Christ, but He also strikes out and breaks the power of the law that screams out, CONDEMNATION!!!  We need to be rescued not only from our sinful behavior, but from the judgement against us which Jews found in their inability to uphold the law and Gentiles found by not keeping up with what the consciouses told them was right.  Like it says in John 3:17-18, we're already in a state of condemnation, Jesus came to save His people from that.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

The written code, which stood against us and opposed us,  was cancelled
because Christ finished His work.

Paul then points out that just as the law was an insurmountable stumbling block, so were the spiritual rulers and authorities.  It says in verse 15 that God disarmed them, made a public spectacle of them, and triumphed over them by the cross.  The darkside, so to speak, was forced to raise the white flag when Jesus died on the tree.  There, at the cross, they thought they'd won.

If you've ever read The Lion, the Witch, and the Waredrobe, you surely remember the scene when Aslan lies dead on the table and evil beasts and beings are dancing around and delighting in the sacrifice.   What happened in the morning?  The table was broken and Aslan was alive!!  The "deeper magic from before the dawn of time" had triumphed over the evil!!!!  The powers and authorities were disarmed, made a public spectacle, and had been triumphed over.

The reign of the evil forces/powers/principalities is finished,
because Christ finished His work.

So Paul is saying, Look, dear brothers, don't be led astray by gazing too long at the law that tells you what you were.  And don't be led astray by thinking that the powers and authorities have any say in who you are and in your fate.  No sir.  Instead, keep looking at Christ, who by the cross, oh the glorious cross!!!, cancelled the written code and its condemnation of you and took care of the evil ones that wanted to have power over you.  Do not be afraid, take heart, Christ has overcome the world!

I love F.F. Bruce's final comments on this section.  He's exceedingly more eloquent than I, so I give his words to you.
The message proclaimed by Paul to the Colossians remains the one message of hope to men and women in frustration and despair.  Christ crucified and risen is Lord of all: all the forces of the universe are subject to him, not only the benign ones but the hostile ones as well.  They are all subject to the one through whom they were created; the hostile forces are also subject to the one by whom they were conquered.  Therefore, to be united to him is to be liberated from their thraldom, to enjoy perfect freedom, to overcome the powers of evil, through participation in his victory.  The redemption that is in Christ Jesus is a cosmic redemption; its healing virtue streams out of the farthest bounds of creation.  But it is a personal and particular redemption too: the conqueror who is enthroned at God's right hand, supreme above the universe and filling it with his presence, is at the same time enthroned as king in each believers heart.  p. 112-113

Praise God.

See you tomorrow!