Colossians 1:20; Brief Thoughts

19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. [1]

A great war ended in one death. Indeed, the war that should have resulted in the extinction of all humanity. So great was the rebellion of man that the wrath of God against all injustice should have been exercised against the creatures who rejected His majesty. The depth of brokenness in man has set man against God. So small a creature, incapable of even the most simple of tasks. Mankind cannot even raise itself to do one thing that is truly good. Man is so completely depraved that we will shake our fists in the face of the God who created us while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge that He exists. Yet, God considers these insignificant creatures worthy of salvation.

Jesus, the Christ, is God made flesh. He came to earth from heaven and lived a perfectly righteous life. Then He surrendered His life to the hands of the creatures that He made and submitted to death. In His death, He took upon Himself the wickedness of all who believe in Him. Jesus willingly carried a cross and offered Himself up as the recipient of God’s justice on our behalf. You have only to trust in Him for salvation.

Through Jesus, God brought peace to the souls of mankind. Further, God ended the war that was waged so long ago and restored Sabbath rest in Jesus. Life is in the blood. In Jesus’ death, we find life. His blood was poured out that you may live. Trust His atoning work and be saved.

Take note of a few details. First, Jesus is the agent of reconciliation. In the same way that Jesus is the agent of creation. He is also the sole means of re-creation. That is to say, He is the ONE by which salvation is accomplished. There is no other way to be at peace with God. Jesus is the only one. Second, His atoning work is so great that it reconciles “all things.” Consider that for a moment. All things are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. God has determined that He will bring peace to all creation through Jesus’ atonement. ALL CREATION. He brings reconciliation to “all things, whether on earth or in heaven.” Creation was broken and separated from the love and mercy of God. That changes in Jesus. Now Sabbath rest is restored in Jesus… for all creation. Third, this reconciliation only comes through Jesus’ blood offered in sacrifice on our behalf. A death was required and God met the requirement for you. Whereas it was appropriate to slaughter mankind in order to sustain wrath and justice, God saw fit to sacrifice Jesus in your place.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Col 1:15–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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Colossians 1:19; Brief Thoughts

19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. Perhaps one of the most difficult truths to grasp is the character and nature of Jesus. Jesus was most certainly a man. He was hungry, He was tired, He was thirsty, He got mad at a fig tree, and He was angered by false worship (Mark 11:12, John 4:6, John 19:28, Mark 11:12-25, and John 2:13-25). He felt the weight of humanity and temptation as any man (Hebrews 4:15). Indeed, He felt the weight of humanity on a deeper level than any other man. He is God in human flesh. He made Himself nothing, taking the form of a man upon Himself (Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus is fully man in which deity dwells.

It is not only that deity dwells within Him, but the fullness of deity. Jesus is God. In John 1, He is called “the Word.” As the Word, Jesus was present at creation and was the power by which God created all things. God spoke life into being. According to John’s gospel, Jesus is the Word by which God created. Further, when questioned by the Pharisees about His authority and ability to forgive sins, Jesus responds, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). In this simple, albeit grammatically confusing, statement, Jesus identifies Himself as one with the LORD of the Old Testament. It is widely believed that Jesus was invoking the divine name – Yahweh or Jehovah (c.f. Exodus 3). This is the name by which the Lord God almighty identifies Himself. He is separate from other gods because within Him is all life and the power of existence itself. Jesus claims the same power and nature as God the creator of all things. He is the fullness of God wrapped in the flesh of man.

Jesus needs no validation from mankind. Indeed, His pleas to us to repent and believe do not stem from a dependency on us for validation of His character. If a man does not repent, Jesus remains the fullness of God. If a man rejects the truth that Jesus is the Christ, Son of the living God, Jesus remains God. The truth of God is not dependent on the actions of man. Jesus is God incarnate.

Consider the beauty of this truth for a moment. God put on human skin and took upon Himself a frail human nature. He faced every temptation while confining Himself to human weakness. He came down from heaven to join us in the muck and mire of this earth. God has come down to earth to walk with us again in the garden of this earth.

Not only does God walk with us, He does so at His pleasure. All “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” in Jesus. Complete divinity was delighted to make its home in the man Jesus Christ. Jesus delighted God. The magnificent paradox of the Trinity is that God the Father can be one with the Son, remaining completely unique, and the Son can delight the Father without being separate. Wow! The delight of divinity is clothed in the weakness of human form.

 

Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress”

There are few hymns and songs so venerated and transcendent as Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is our God. In the midst of trial and struggle against threats rejection, economic distress and even of death from the Rhenish Palatinate, Luther penned the words for this powerful hymn to reinforce the mission of the Protestant church. Faced with a choice, the priests who had followed Luther could either turn away from him and reject all that Luther had stood for or they could themselves be condemned by the Holy Roman Church and undergo the same rejection Luther suffered, potentially even leading to death.

When I have been slandered, this hymn has reminded me of God’s faithfulness and graciousness to me. I am reminded, when the world stands in opposition to the Gospel, He is our refuge and strength. No power of hell can overcome Him and no ill can defeat Him! Luther was concerned for the heart of his fellow priests and he encouraged their labor and efforts with music. Not a sermon, not a stirring pamphlet… music. Music engages us in a way that other mediums cannot. For me, it is in moments of toil and distress that I seek the Sabbath of

song, the solace of melody, and the poetry of truth! Luther saw the faint heart of fellow priests and sought strength in songs of God! Psalm 46 freshly on his heart and mind, the German theologian and pastor sat down and reminded all faithful Christians of these deep truths.

A mighty Fortress is our God,

A Bulwark never failing;

Our Helper He amid the flood

Of mortal ills prevailing:

For still our ancient foe

Doth seek to work us woe;

His craft and power are great,

And, armed with cruel hate,

On earth is not his equal.

 

Did we in our own strength confide,

Our striving would be losing;

Were not the right Man on our side,

The Man of God’s own choosing:

Dost ask who that may be?

Christ Jesus, it is He;

Lord Sabaoth His Name,

From age to age the same,

And He must win the battle.

 

And though this world, with devils filled,

Should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed

His truth to triumph through us:

The Prince of Darkness grim,

We tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure,

For lo! his doom is sure,

One little word shall fell him.

 

That word above all earthly powers,

No thanks to them, abideth;

The Spirit and the gifts are ours

Through Him who with us sideth:

Let goods and kindred go,

This mortal life also;

The body they may kill:

God’s truth abideth still,

His Kingdom is forever.

In these four stanzas, Luther brings assurance that no enemy can stand against the Lord of Hosts! He is victorious and it is in Him and Him alone that Christians take refuge. Though all be torn asunder, Jesus remains, our mighty fortress.

In recent years, Shane and Shane has produced a version of Psalm 46 that is tremendously edifying as well. Go have a listen: Psalm 46.

 

5 Things I do to Start my Day.

I am not a morning person. I used to be, but then I had kids. I was once able to burn the candle at both ends and subsist on 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night. Now… not so much. But, I need to get going in the mornings. I’m a pastor, so I’m supposed to levitate off my bed at 4 am, pray for two hours, write a devotion, miraculously read the entire Bible, and have heard the voice of the Lord before 5 am. Right? No… I’m a real person. Don’t put that super-spiritual nonsense on your pastors. They are real people.

Often in the mornings, my mind is fuzzy and I drag to get out of bed. I get breakfast ready for my kids (I have four, 8-years old and under). I make my breakfast. I answer constant questions. You know, I get moving. It is difficult to get my mind going productively with four tiny people demanding your attention while simultaneously attempting to focus your energy towards thinking deeply about God, the meaning of life, and everything. There are some things I do that help me get my brain moving in the morning. Some of them may surprise you.

  1. One of the first things I do in the morning is take a deep breath. When I wake up in the morning, my brain immediately starts running. It fires off lists of the day. Not organized lists that can be written down. These lists are terrors of confusion! It’s like watching some sort of bizarre squirrel that is frantically searching for the food he buried three years prior. These thought squirrels race through my brain intermittently arguing with each other over priority and importance. “fix the fan, toilet,…” is interrupted by, “pray for X, and her, and…” is interrupted by, “cook the eggs, pour the cereal,…” is interrupted by, “call this, write that blog, finish that edit….” Then one squirrel will punch another one and chaos ensue. So… I’ve learned to breathe in the mornings. I will walk into the hallway, look at the wall or the floor, and take a deep breath. As I inhale I let the squirrels run. Then when I exhale I consciously force the lists to stop.

If you have never done this, it takes some practice to get to the point where it works. Follow the Augustinian method. Breathe in and say “Jesus Christ.” Breathe out and say, “Son of God.” Breathe in and say, “Have mercy on me.” Breathe out and say, “Your servant.” In this way, you’ll find your mind clears and the squirrels stop messing around. This breathing has become my opening prayer time to God. But, in breathing, I’m not talking, I’m listening. Begin your day listening, make the squirrels stop.

  1. Read my Bible. Ok… so this is a no-brainer for a pastor. But, this particular reading is not as spiritual as you think. This reading is often done on my phone for a minute or less. I pull up my Bible app, read a few verses, and then get busy getting the kids up and going while I have number 3 playing in the background. I read these verses quickly. The skies do not part and angels don’t sing. I rarely remember what I read though I’m always affected by it. This moment is just that… a moment to hear the Word and remind myself that God is speaking. Devotion time for me happens later on in the morning. Study time for me happens later on. Writing and engaging with the text happens later. This moment is simple. This moment is a pause. It exists to tune my heart and mind to listen. So… read a couple verses to get your mind going on the right track in the morning. Clouds need not part and you don’t have to walk away like some ancient sage. Just read a few verses and enjoy Him.

 

  1. Watch or listen to something funny. In the mornings I listen to some sort of satire or humor… nothing too long, just enough to get a chuckle or two. It helps to loosen me up and not take myself too seriously. Listening to satire in the morning reminds me that the world is still moving and I don’t need to worry about every little thing. I think God likes to laugh. If He didn’t, children wouldn’t be children. Laughter is good, so I try to laugh at the beginning of the day, it makes the difficult parts more palatable.

 

  1. Drink caffeine. I drink between 2 and 4 cups of hot tea in a day and at least one cup of coffee every morning. I took up coffee after the birth of my third child. Again… there is no deep philosophical reason to drink caffeine in the morning. I have four children who all want chocolate milk, and cinnamon toast crunch, and a banana, and a movie, and a book for daddy to read to them, and a toy that only daddy can reach, and a, and a, and a, etc…. So I drink some coffee to get going, no deep thoughts here: it’s just something that helps to get me moving.

 

  1. I listen to something intellectually challenging or educational. To get my mind thinking about deep things, I’ll listen to some sort of lecture while I finish breakfast, get dressed, and the like. Today it was a lecture on the effect of procrastination on the mind of original thinkers. Yesterday it was a lecture on the life of C.S. Lewis. These are short (20-30 minutes) and I listen to them while I am getting ready. If they are not done by the time I sit at my desk, I do not finish them. By listening to something like this, my mind is ready to run in a straight path. I can focus, my lists are now lined up (often literally written on a notepad on my desk), and I am ready to tackle the day’s work.

What do you do to get going? (leave it in comments)

What do you do to get going?

Colossians 1:18b; Brief Thoughts

18 … He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

In verses 15 through 17 Paul established Jesus as the priority of all creation, the purpose for life, and the creator and sustainer of that life. Prior to Jesus’ life on earth, crucifixion, and resurrection, Jesus’ primary claim to headship over His church was in His priority. The second claim Paul makes to Jesus’ priority is revealed in verses 18-19: His resurrection.

Jesus has been resurrected from the dead, never to suffer death again. He is resurrected into an eternal, physical state and has overcome death.

He is the beginning. The beginning of life, real life. The life that does not end. Full, abundant life (John 10:10)! This is an important truth for the Christian to grapple with. Life begins with Jesus. Anything lived without Him is death. All of mankind is born into a state of death, unable to commune with the creator and sustainer of all life. Romans 1-3 explains that all are sinful and are born into sin. Further, Ephesians 2:1-3 explains that all are dead in their sins. Man is in need of resurrection from the dead. Man needs a beginning. Jesus is that beginning. He is the start to life. Life begins with Him.

He establishes Himself as the beginning because He is resurrected from the dead. He is the first to be resurrected from the dead permanently. Others have been resurrected, but only to suffer death a second time. Jesus, on the other hand, was the only one who was resurrected, never to die again. In Jesus, death is defeated and life begins.

Life begins in Jesus. Life does not begin at birth. Life begins at new-birth. As Jesus discussed with Nicodemus in John 3, life begins when we are born from above! Before faith in Christ, we remain dead in our sins. After faith in Christ, we come to life. So it is with those who trust in Christ. We are resurrected to a new life. This is why a Christian who does not walk a holy life is so tragic. It is as if a child has been born and then decided to never see, hear, or grow. Christianity is the beginning of life for people. It is a birth! It is an explosion into life that necessitates growth and sensory development. When a person trusts in Jesus for salvation, that person is granted life.

Jesus is not only the beginning, He is also the first to be resurrected permanently. He is the first among many (c.f. Romans 8:29)! Just as Jesus was resurrected from the dead, never to die again, so shall those who trust in Him (Romans 6:1-5). Indeed, victory over death is a certainty for believers. It is assured that Christians who die, will be resurrected to new life in the last day. That new life will be a physical resurrection for those who trust in Christ (c.f. 1 Corinthians 15).

Paul offers Jesus’ resurrection as the second proof that He is worthy of all worship and praise. His resurrection secures life for those who trust in Him. Thus, He is preeminent over all things!

Colossians 1:18a; Brief Thoughts

18 And he is the head of the body, the church.

The Church is the collection of people who have united around the common faith that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. That is to say, Christianity is based on the truth that Jesus is the one who died for the sins of the world and who rules over all things. Here in the center of his hymn of praise to Jesus, having already asserted Jesus’ primacy in priority and time, Paul proclaims Jesus’ headship over the church.

Jesus is the head of the church. He is the first in priority over all creation, as such, He is the first in priority over the Church. He is before all creation and by Him, all things are created, likewise, the Church has existed because He called it into existence. He is the sustainer of all things and He is the purpose for all things, in the same way, the Church is sustained and derives its purpose from Him. Christ is the chief authority over the Church. It is His Church, He created it, He leads it, He is in charge.

In modern churches, the question of authority is often met with convoluted answers. When the question is asked, “Who is in charge at your church?” the answer usually asserts some sort of pastor, committee, deacon body, or leadership board. Seldom is the answer, “Jesus” or “God’s word.”  Yet, the truth remains – Jesus is the head of the Church. The direction of the Church is not determined by leadership or ecclesiastical polity. The direction of the church is established by Jesus Christ and His word. In general, churches have lost the fundamental understanding of authority. Many modern churches do not know how to answer the question of authority. Paul reminds his readers that Christ is the head of the church. The head of the Church is not a pastor or a deacon body or even an elder board. The head of the Church is Christ.  Though much of the Western Church has forgotten this simple truth, it remains true, nonetheless. Local churches must reeducate the congregations to understand this truth.

Re-education starts with a biblical ecclesiastical structure. In order to re-orient our churches, leadership must model submission to Christ through the word of God. Local churches must determine their leadership structure and function from the Scripture. (If you’re searching 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are good places to start.) Instructions to the congregation must be unambiguously directed from Scripture. Further, any engagement or discipleship of a believer within the community must be rooted in Scripture. Leaders must submit to Christ, recognizing that they have no authority apart from Him.

The local church and church leaders must also establish the Scripture as the central authority within their congregation. If Christ is the head of the Church, then His word must be placed at the forefront. Every congregation member must understand that they have equal spiritual authority to every other member, including the leaders. While there may be a pragmatic and structural leadership that is in place for the purpose of effective church ministry, the one supreme and primary authority is His word. The elders, deacons, pastors, committees, and directors have no more spiritual authority than any other member. They may have greater responsibility, but they share equal submission to the Word of the Lord.

Finally, the church must prize surrender. People, in general, do not value surrender. We often place a high premium on self-reliance, yet Christ models surrender. Surrender to Christ’s precepts and to the authority of Scripture must be seen as a high value. Surrender to Him as the head must be praised and acknowledged. In exalting surrender, the church will diminish pride and self-righteousness. In doing so, the church will lead the congregation to a fuller understanding of Christ’s headship.

Leaders, model Philippians 2 for your flock. Christ is the head… act like it.

Colossians 1:17: Brief thoughts

17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Before the light burst forth into the void, before the waters that covered the earth laid their torrent upon the land, before the land rose to peaks and habitable pastures, and before the earth existed, Jesus, the Christ, existed. He was there before time. He was there before the fall of man that so grievously broke the communion of creation with Creator. He was present before the first leaf blossomed and directed the unfolding of all creation. His tender hand saw fit to mold the earth in the beauty of His love. Every blade of grass, every creeping animal, and every aspect of creation came into existence by His voice.

Jesus is before all things. He existed before time could measure existence. Further, He created all things and “In Him all things hold together” (v.17). In the beginning, God created an earth that was filled with beauty and was perfect. Mankind’s sin fractured and damaged that creation to the point of continuous slow decay. As a result, death entered the world and now death rules. However, Jesus’ grace upon creation has not ceased. So great was the sin of man that all of creation could have been justifiably obliterated. Yet, God saw fit to redeem His creation and in love worked to sustain that creation. In spite of man’s willful rejection of God, God acts in grace, even before Christ came to the cross. Jesus holds all things together, maintaining His creation. It is because of grace that the world does not spin out of control.

In saying that Jesus “holds all things together,” Paul is recognizing a kind of common grace to all mankind. God, in His infinite grace, allows wicked men to persist in living. He patiently waits for those who will repent and believe. His restraining hand holds back the effects of sin. In Romans 1:18-32, Paul repeats that God “gave [men] over” to their sin. In this simple phrase, Paul explains that God is restraining evil to the extent of restraining the consequences on the heart of men. So it is that common grace exists. This common grace is the grace to breathe air and live. This common grace is found in the ability to exist. It is called grace, because no one actually deserves life. The result of sin is death. The patience of God is common grace that does not demand immediate remittance of that debt. Man has rejected God. Still, Jesus holds all things together: this is grace.

Not only is Jesus sustaining life, He also makes sense of all things. In one sense He holds all things together, literally sustaining life. In another sense He holds all things together in that life has purpose and reason in Him. Jesus holds all things together because He is the purpose of creation. Creation exists to glorify God. In Jesus man is given the ability to glorify God. Thus, Jesus holds, within Himself, purpose. It is in knowing Him that trials and joys make sense. Without Him, nothing makes sense and all is meaningless. The life of a man is a vapor (James 4:14). In Jesus, life is eternal and has significance beyond the grave. Without Him, life is a meaningless mist that is here for a moment and is quickly dispelled by the winds of death. A man can either, delight in Jesus and live a meaningful life that extends beyond the momentary vapor of this temporal existence, or he can deny the truth of Christ and waste the vapor.

The glorious God of all creation has come to make Himself known to you. He is before all things. He has seen your every failing and rejection of Him. He has patiently waited for you to know Him. He holds you together. Further, He calls you to purpose. He has granted you some semblance of reason to your life. Praise God!