Christmas is, or at least it should be, a season of joy. But what is the joy of Christmas? Where does it come from? Does it come from the decorations, or the gift giving, or the music, or the traditions, or family gatherings? No. As wonderful as all those things are, they are not truly a source of Christmas joy. The joy of Christmas comes from the good news of Jesus, the news that with the coming of Jesus God has fulfilled his promises to Israel, which are really promises to the whole world mediated through Israel. In Jesus, the Kingdom of God has drawn near, and all those things we love about Christmas are, in fact, the Kingdom of God – righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (more…)
(15) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, (16) because in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or lordships or powers or authorities. All things were created through him and for him. (17) And he is before all things, and all things cohere in him. (18) And he is the head of the body, the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that in everything he might be the first. (19) For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, (20) and through him to reconcile all things to himself, making peace through the blood of his cross – through him – whether things on earth or in the heavens.
IntroductionTwo weeks ago we looked at the first twelve verses of Colossians with this question in mind: what does it look like for a good church to become a great church? The Colossians are praised by Paul for their love and faith and for bearing fruit. In other words, they were doing well. In view of this, Paul’s prayer for the Colossians is that they would be full with the knowledge of the will of God, and this fullness would lead them to walk worthily of the Lord and with every effort to please God. In short, Paul says that his prayer for a good church is that they would be so single-mindedly obsessed with knowing and pleasing God that there would be room for nothing else. How healthy a church is is directly connected to how focused they are on knowing and pleasing God. Richard Foster, a well known Christian author from the Quaker tradition, says it like this: “The more clearly we understand the nature of God, the more clearly we understand how we are to live” (Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2005), p. 17.). (more…)
Part 8 of our Galatians lesson series ...
(19) For I, through the Law, died to the Law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ. (20) It is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the son of God who loved me and gave himself over for me. (21) I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for nothing.In a previous lesson, I suggested that “the things that I destroyed” from verse 18 refers to not to the works of the Law, as is virtually unanimously understood, but to the works of the flesh, i.e., to sin. In this post I want to quickly examine how this understanding of Galatians 2:17-18 affects our reading of the final three verses in the chapter. (more…)
(An augmented transcript from the Adult Sunday School class, 10/23/2016)
(1) Why do the nations make trouble and the countries plot in vain? (2) The kings of the earth take their stand, and potentates collude together against Yahweh and against his Messiah. (3) Let us tear off their bonds, and let us throw their ropes from ourselves. (4) He who sits enthroned in the heavens laughs, the Lord ridicules them. (5) Then he speaks to them in his anger, and in his wrath he terrifies them. (6) “I am the one who has anointed my king upon Zion, my holy mountain.” (7) I will recount the decree of Yahweh. He said to me, “You are my son. Today I have become your father. (8) Ask of me and I will give the nations as your inheritance, and as your possession the ends of the earth. (9) You will break them with a rod of iron, like the vessels of a potter you will shatter them.” (10) So now, you kings, be wise, and allow yourselves to be chastened, you rulers of the earth. (11) Serve Yahweh in fear, tremble in terror. (12) Pay pure homage, lest he become angry and you perish in your ways, for his anger is kindled quickly. Blessed are all who seek refuge in him.
An Idealized Portrait of Israel’s KingPsalm 2 proclaims that the LORD rules the heavens and the earth, and those who deny this or struggle against it do so in vain. The nations of the world would be wise to acknowledge the rulership of God’s chosen one. Those who do not do so are cruisin’ for a bruisin’. But what does it mean to struggle against God’s rulership? What does it mean to throw off his bonds and cords? What does it mean for the Messiah to receive the nations as his inheritance? Who is the Messiah in this psalm? These are questions we have to think about if this psalm is to have a contemporary relevance. And I think Psalm 2 does have profound relevance for us, perhaps more for us today even than for the psalm’s original audience, whoever and whenever that might have been. (more…)
(From the Adult Sunday School Class, 10/16/2016)
(1) Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy, my brother, (2) to the holy and faithful brethren in Christ that are in Colosse, grace to you and peace from God our father. (3) We always give thanks to God the father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray for you, (4) hearing of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints (5) because of the hope laid up for you in the heavens, about which you heard beforehand in the word of truth of the gospel (6) which has been present in you bearing fruit and increasing – just as it is in all the world – from the day you heard it and comprehended the grace of God in truth; (7) just as you learned from Epaphras our beloved fellow slave, who is a faithful minister of Christ for you all, (8) and the one telling us of your love in the Spirit. (9) Because of this also we, from the day we heard it, have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you might be full of the comprehension of his will in all spiritual wisdom and discernment, (10) so as to walk worthily of the Lord with every effort to be pleasing to him in every good work bearing fruit and increasing in the comprehension of God, (11) being empowered with all power according to the might of his glory for endurance and patience in every situation, with joy (12) giving thanks to the Father, the one equipping you for your part in the inheritance of the saints in the light.I feel that our congregation has Spiritual momentum. And I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling. Perhaps you all have sensed it as well. Over the last who-knows-how-long God has been shaping our little congregation in all sorts of imperceptible ways in a manner that only God can do. I know that God loves this congregation just as it is. We don’t have to be a big megachurch for God to adore us and to be pleased with us. Over the last several months, my prayers before service have been largely ones of invitation: Holy Spirit, come dwell among us and within us. Fill us and empower us. Heavenly Father, visit us today and enjoy yourself. Be pleased with our meager gift of worship. Let our praise be a refreshment to you. Let this house be a place of rest and joy for your heart. Really, I just want us to make him happy. And I believe that is exactly how God feels about us. I think he has been greatly pleased with our worship, by which I mean everything we do: singing praising, praying for one another, teaching and learning, and fellowshipping. I think this little congregation has a special place in God’s heart, and when he visits us on Sunday morning he gets a special joy from being among us. So I don’t think we have to do a thing to be pleasing to God or to be more acceptable to God. He is pleased, and he accepts us. (more…)
(From the Adult Sunday School class, 10/9/16)
Proverbs 10:26 - "As vinegar to the teeth and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to the one sending him."
The Ill Effects of LazinessHaving had the opportunity to hire people and manage them at Family Christian, as well as having been in other sorts of leadership positions over the years, I can say with authority that one of the most soul-destroyingly irritating things is the lazy underling. I give them a task, and they leave it unfinished for no good reason. And even what they do manage to accomplish is done so poorly that it has to be redone. And if I do not give them a list of tasks, I come back to find them just standing around rather than looking for something productive to do. Why am I paying you, again? I want to be not simply just but Christ-like: kind, full of grace, understanding of an employee’s age or workload or personal life. But these kinds of employees are like performance enhancing drugs for my fleshly desires for confrontation and eye-for-an-eye justice. What I want to do is jump up on my desk like Mr. Spacely and say, “Jetson! Yooooooou’re fired!” (more…)
Part 7 of our Galatians lesson series, or really an augmentation of that part of the series ...
(17) But if we who seek to be justified in Christ are ourselves also found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Absolutely not! (18) For those things that I destroyed, if I build them up again I prove myself to be a transgressor.In the last paragraph of Galatians 2, Paul again seems to be responding (at least in part) to the Judaizer’s attacks against him. Based on passages both in Romans as well as Galatians, it seems that the Judaizers had a two part attack against Paul and his gospel. First, they said, “Paul is not preaching to you the whole gospel, but only its easy and attractive first part. He is doing this because he wants to be highly esteemed among men.” Second they said, “Paul is telling you that all you have to do to be righteous is believe, meaning that you can continue to act however you want afterwards. In fact, Paul says that God is glorified by your sin.” But this is a willful misunderstanding and distortion of what Paul actually says. In this post, we are just going to focus on verses 17-18, because they are pivotal, extremely difficult to understand, and subjects of intense debate among scholars. (more…)
(From the Adult Sunday School class, 10/2/16)
Proverbs 10:25 - "When the storm wind has passed, a wicked man is no more; but a righteous man is an everlasting foundation."A recurring theme not only in Proverbs but throughout the Bible is the endurance of the righteous and transience of the wicked. Psalm 1, for example, likens the righteous to a tree planted by a flowing river which always bears fruit and never withers, whereas the wicked are chaff driven by the wind. The primary contrast is duration, but there is also a contrast of usefulness: the righteous man who is like a tree not only endures in a single spot and continues to live, but he produces good fruit – he has an enduring positive effect on those around him. The wicked man, however, is likened to the waste product of the grain harvest. Not only does it blow away in the wind and cease to have substance, but it is the part of the plant that really did not have any use, anyway. (more…)