Colossians 3:2-4 Heaven on Earth, Colossians 3:11 One in Christ

21 03 2013

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“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,  for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” Colossians 3:2-4 (NRSV)

Today’s question:

On what is your mind usually focused- on the heavenly or the earthly?  How can you focus more on “what is above?”

Perhaps this is not quite the right question, at least not for me.  I would be perfectly happy to lock myself away- just “me-‘n-Jesus”- and meditate on the glory of heaven, and anticipate the day when I don’t have to deal with all the crud and misery that this life brings. It is a huge temptation for me to set my sights on the limitless and eternal joy awaiting me in heaven and to shut my mind and heart off to the injustice and suffering that’s going on in this world.  I can lock myself up in that figurative ivory tower very easily, until I look at the prayer that Jesus taught us: “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven,  hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:9-10 (NRSV)

Then I go on to the book of James (James was likely Jesus’ half-brother, and had much to say about living out one’s faith right here in this lifetime) and he has this to say:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters,  if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?  If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren?  Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?   You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God.  

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.” James 2:14-26 (NRSV)

I will say that it is good to find solitude and meditate on the things of God, but one must find a balance between contemplation, solitude and prayer and living the Christian life in this corrupted, complicated and discouraging world.  Faith necessarily leads to action (as Martin Luther said) just as light necessarily generates heat.  Good works are inevitable byproducts of faith.

Unlike a majority of people, I am at home with solitude, contemplation and study.  It is a bigger challenge for me to get out and be the answer to living out God’s Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven;” to keep one foot in the Kingdom that is to come, and the other in that we are called to help build here on earth.

Lord, help me live out Your Kingdom here on earth.

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“In that renewal, there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!” Colossians 3:11 (NRSV)

Today’s question:

What cultural differences are you allowing to separate you from others who are part of Christ’s body?

All human beings alive today are hypocrites, and I am definitely included in that classification.  The idea of people of all races and cultures and ideologies living together peacefully sounds so wonderful in theory, but the devil is literally in the details.

I grew up in a very rural, very white community.  Virtually everyone was some kind of Christian, be it Catholic or Protestant.  Most of the people I grew up around were just like my family- their families were of mostly northern European descent and had been in this country for generations.  I was in third grade (7 years old) before I actually encountered a real live person who was born in a foreign country- a girl from Korea who had been orphaned and then adopted by a local pastor and his wife.  She spoke absolutely no English.  On her first day in school, she would not drink the cafeteria milk (prepackaged, in a half-pint carton, from a local dairy) until someone else drank out of the carton first.  She told me later, as she eventually learned to speak English very well, that she wanted to be sure no one was trying to give her poison.

I remember feeling very sorry for this girl, at first, but my pity didn’t last very long.  I was very impressed with how quickly she learned English, (it was really important for her to learn, because no one within probably a hundred miles or more could speak Korean) and with how other people helped make her feel comfortable in her new home.  I was one of the kids who volunteered to help her learn English, using picture flash cards for names of common objects and helping her with correct pronunciation.  Within a year her English skills- both spoken and written- were almost as good as the rest of the kids’, and she no longer needed extra lessons and tutoring.

Growing up, I never had too much of an opinion of other people based on their race or customs, because almost everyone that I was exposed to growing up was white and of northern European descent just like me.  The few “different” people I met up with- we had a few black and a few Asian families in town- seemed to be just fine too.

I wasn’t prepared for the culture shock I got when I moved to Columbus in the mid-1990s.  I was now a part of a much more racially and culturally diverse community.  Not (almost) everyone was white. Not everyone was Christian.  Not everyone was straight!

I have to admit that sometimes when I see young black men milling about in a parking lot with their pants half way down their patoot, I hit the remote lock switch one more time just to make sure the car is locked.  Of course, not all young black men are thugs on drugs who are just waiting for the opportunity to pilfer through my car.  Most probably are not. Worse yet, when I do this I am acting out of racism, which goes against what the apostle Paul teaches.  Black or white shouldn’t make any difference, but in spite of myself, sometimes it does.

After the tragedy of 9-11 I admit I have been very wary of those of the Muslim faith.  When I see the women wearing the long dresses and veils, I know they are Muslim, and that more and more immigrants from other countries who are Muslim are making their way to central Ohio.  Being around Muslim people makes me uncomfortable, and I have a very real fear of those who subscribe to radical Islam, even though I am sure that it is not every Muslim’s aim to destroy this country and kill every Christian.  Even so, I admit, I am afraid.  I believe it is a justifiable fear, because there is much in the Quran and other Islamic teachings that advocates the persecution and murder of Christians.  I pray that Muslims will see beyond the deception of Islam and hear the Good News of Jesus, but I am still afraid of them.

I never encountered openly gay people until I moved to Columbus in 1994.  Since I come from a very conservative background, where homosexuality is regarded as an unspeakable sin, at first it was very difficult for me to be around people who are gay.  Then I remembered that God is my judge, and everyone else’s.  We are accountable to Him for who we love, what we do, and for what we accomplish with our lives.  Even though I struggle with how a Christian should regard the condition of homosexuality, the answer for me is to love God and love people- straight and gay.

I admit that I am still working on my attitudes toward people who aren’t like me.  It’s easier when they are also Christians, but what about loving the unlovable? What about loving people who have been taught that it’s OK to kill me?

I pray that the Holy Spirit will give me the right attitude and help me to see people the way God sees them.

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Colossians 3:6-7 Lead Me Not Into Temptation

15 03 2013

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“On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.  These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.” Colossians 3:6-7 (NRSV)

Today’s question:

What moral issues that tempted you once has Christ helped you overcome?  Have you thanked Him for these victories?

I do believe in a literal hell.  Some Christians, and even many Lutherans, do not, but I do.  Jesus talked about hell more than anyone else in the Bible, so as far as I’m concerned, there’s your sign– hell is real.  The good news is that hell doesn’t have to be the end of the story.

As a child the very real possibility of eternity in hell scared the holy bejeebers out of me.  As I was raised by a very staunchly Catholic mother, I knew a lot more about hell than my non-Catholic friends.  Catholicism does not teach the assurance of salvation.  A Catholic is considered to be presumptious if he or she claims to be saved- so you’re always wondering where you’re going to end up if you drop dead all the sudden.  The issue I have with not knowing if I’m saved or not is both Jesus and the apostle Paul teach that salvation is all due to the grace of God- not on what I do or don’t do but on what Jesus has done for me.  He took my place- and my punishment.  Because of the grace of God I become a part of His Kingdom forever- today as well as for the rest of eternity.

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The big problem with overemphasizing the reality of hell is that it minimizes the reality of the grace of God.  I learned much about penance and mortal and venial sins as a child, and much about the omnipresence and the wrath of God, but not a whole lot about grace.   Fear is a great short-term motivator, but it’s not so hot in the long term.   Worse yet, attempting to hold someone’s salvation contingent upon anything other the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross is false.  We can’t “earn ourselves saved,” no matter how many good works we do.

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“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.  We all fade like a leaf,and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Isaiah 64:6 (NRSV) 

Nothing we do is ever going to be good enough to earn ourselves saved.

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Busy doesn’t earn you brownie points in God’s economy.

Some would argue that, “Well since you’re saved anyway, why don’t you just do what you want?”

The problem with that is, a person who belongs to Christ is going to be transformed by Christ- one way or the other.  The easy way or the hard way.  Take it from me, cynical, stubborn and obstinate fool that I can be- the hard way is not fun.

The Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee (well known for his Thru the Bible five year verse by verse study that is still available on the radio and online every day) puts it like this: “You can take a trip to the pig pen, but you won’t be comfortable there.  A son belongs in the father’s house.”

I understand pig pen sojourns very well.

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The good news is that God loves His own too much to let them stay in the pig pen.

I picked up some not-so-nice habits during my sojourns.  I’m not going to come out and say anything ridiculous such as, “a Christian can’t smoke,” because what a person does is between his/her conscience and God, and there is no “Thou Shalt Not Smoke” among the Ten Commandments, but I was a hard core chain smoker for many years- two packs a day of 120 menthols, down to the filters.  Smoking was something that I put above just about everything.  I planned my day and activities around when I could have a smoke.  Smoking was also contributing to some of my preexisting health conditions as well as costing me money, turning my teeth yellow and stinking up my car and my clothes.  By the grace of God He set me free of smoking over 10 years ago.  I am so very thankful for that freedom, because cigarettes were a huge bondage and source of frustration for me.  When I think about it now it’s hard to imagine that at one time I couldn’t even go to bed without having a pack and a lighter within reach if I would wake up in the night.

The Lord has also brought me to freedom from lust and has brought me peace with living celibate.  That’s been a very difficult road, because I have had deep issues with lust and the trouble it can get one into in the past.  It’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with sex.  It is a sacred and beautiful thing between husband and wife, and it is a gift God meant for us to enjoy, in the proper context.  Unfortunately, my husband has ED, and no interest in doing anything to correct it, so relations are not possible for him.  So whether I like it or not, I have to live a celibate life. The only way I have any chance of doing that is in God’s strength.

If He calls me to something, He will provide the means for me to do it- or in this case, to NOT do it.  I am thankful for being set free of an overwhelming addiction to cigarettes, and for the ability to come to terms with the celibate life and to have peace and joy in the midst of it.

I’m not “there” yet, but by the grace of God, I’m on my way.