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unity

As a mom of three girls, it is a rare day when no sibling unrest occurs.  Despite the conflicts, usually they play without needing my assistance for some time.  They often figure out how to reconcile their differences alone.  Yesterday, however, was not one of those days.

Somewhere between dragging them to the phlebotomist with me and grabbing school supplies, two girls were fighting.  One was being selfish, the other self-righteous.  One was crying, one pouting.  It occurred to me after much repeated correction (this went on for some time)  that once the issue was over and the cosmic balance of our home had been restored, I had not made it a point to sit down with either of them and just talk about what had happened.  Between the busyness of the day and the struggle to call an effective cease-fire, by the time it was over I think we all just wanted to forget about it.

I feel like I forgot to be a parent.  Comfort and convenience have a way of producing selective memory.  Maybe we will revisit World War 3 today…

Anyway, Paul does not seem to have this problem with churches.  Paul never forgets to parent God’s church.  First, he instructs and corrects.  Correction is almost always followed up by exhortation.

In the closing of Colossians, Paul’s final address stresses the importance of inclusion and unity.  He mentions ten specific people, including himself, as well as an entire church body.  He urges the people in the Colossian church to “welcome” and accept them.  Consider his words.

“Tychius...is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.  I have sent him

Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you

Aristarchus my fellow prisoner…

Mark, the cousin of Barnabus…welcome him…

Jesus who is called Justus.  These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God and they have been a comfort to me…

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Jesus Christ…for I bear him witness...

Luke the beloved physician greets you as does Demas…

Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house

…I, Paul…remember my chains.”

Why does Paul name these people?  What is the point?

Doubtless, this is a father managing his children.  He is saying, “Hey guys, I’m not there but here comes your brothers and sisters.  Here’s how they’ve served me, you, and the Lord faithfully.  These people are part of God’s kingdom.  Welcome them.  Accept them.  Treat them as your own.  Consider their sacrifices for the gospel and include them as your own when they come to you.  It couldn’t be more clear what Paul is saying here.

Why would Paul close his letter this way?  What reason would he have to tell them these things and name these individuals?

Paul spent his efforts on this letter making sure the Colossians knew who not to listen to.  Perhaps he does not want them to get conveniently confused.

Tychius was a fellow minister.  Onesimus had been a poor slave who’d been converted from a particularly wicked lifestyle.  Mark had been at odds with Paul previously.  Epaphrus prayed fervently for these people.  Jesus, now called Justus had changed his very name out of respect for the Redeemer.  Luke was a doctor.  Nympha was a woman who held church in her home.  Archippus was of the of the ministers in Colosse with them.  Paul himself was a prisoner for the gospel and an overseer of the churches.

Surely the temptation was to exclude certain types of people from the church.  Little wonder why Paul does this end of letter name dropping.  These mentioned are very different types of people.  There is no doubt Paul mentions them by name so that the Colossians make no mistake.

These are your people, church.  These – the pastors as well as the paupers.  Those from the wrong side of the tracks just the same as the doctors.  The women as well as the men.  The ones who have had differences with me and you as well as the chum buddies who’ve been serving alongside you.

Welcome them.  They are all beloved.  They are all your brothers.  They are all faithful.  They are all of you.  Greet them.  Hear them.  Include them.  Welcome them.

Remember me.

~Love, Dad

“The meanest circumstance of life, and the greatest wickedness of former life, make no difference in the spiritual relation among sincere Christians: they partake of the same privileges, and are entitled to the same regards.”  ~Matthew Henry

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4uhLf1uTLY&list=RDm4uhLf1uTLY

frown

Pink glitter graces the cover of an ordinary notebook.

“Please, can I have this, Mommy?  I need this!  It’s so beautiful!”

After some freckle-faced persuasion I acquiesce and continue my search for groceries.

About thirty minutes later we are standing in the checkout line staring down every kind of candy known to man.  As I unload the cart and become distracted by my coupons, the temptation overwhelms freckles and she sneaks a bag of gummy bears onto the belt without asking.

Unpacking at home, I discover the forbidden treasure.

“Maylee.  Come here.”

“What are these?”

Silent freckles stare back.

“Gummy bears?”

“Did you put these in the groceries?”

“I wanted them.  Can I have one?”

“No.  You didn’t ask.  You can’t have any.”

I continue in the pantry and the refrigerator for some time.  Just as I’m finishing, freckles returns in front of me, places a paper fresh out of the glitter notebook face down in front of me, and runs away.

It reads this way:

“i love you evino i am bad sumtimes  I wandr if i code hlpp and get some jelo :(  I wod lick to slep :)

The rest of the page is full of a crying frowny face.

It is possible that she just wanted jello, but something tells me that she really felt guilty about the gummy bears.  Either way, I muse at her self-awareness and the accuracy with which she paints our human condition.

How many times have I taken what I want without asking God first – knowing full well that I was not allowed?  Presuming first that he would withhold good, and after, presuming upon his grace.

Contradictory much?  I mean, is he good or isn’t he?  If he was really one to withhold good, wouldn’t he withhold grace?  And if he was good for grace, wouldn’t he be good for our human needs?

Even in my guilt, like freckles, asking for more undeserved blessing and resolving to escape by running away as fast as I can and going to sleep just in case he has some unpleasant disciplinary answer in response to my wrongdoing.

Wrath and anger, however, was the last thought in my mind as I read the convict’s heartfelt note.

With a smile, I walked up to freckles’ bedroom where I found her rolled up into her blankie, sucking her six year-old thumb in self-pity.

“Are you sad?”

Freckles nods.

“Are you upset that you were dishonest?”

She nods again.

“I’m sorry, Mommy.  I just wanted them.”

“It’s ok.  Just ask next time.”

After some discussion on stealing and the like, she throws off her blanket and returns to toys and trampoline jumping.

I get it.  God loves me like I love freckles.  He is not one to withhold good like I am so inclined to think.  He is not waiting in anger to punish when I come humble admitting my failures.  There is no need to run away or hide under my shredded security blankets.  God sees me like I see her.  He looks upon his small, erring child with great love.  My part is, like her, to come in honesty and humility when I fail temptation’s tests.

Jello, anyone?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bA_cC51mhR0

bird

I’ve been thinking on Paul’s final imperatives to the Colossian church for several weeks now.  I probably need to think on them for at least several more weeks considering the leanness of my prayers and the largeness of my mouth on most days.  Why does it seem so easy to talk about everything and so hard to pray about everything? Oh, right, I’m a sinner.  I bet the Colossians had the same issue.

As Paul began in chapter 1 thanking God and praying for these particular people, he completes his instructions to them by asking them to do as much for him.  Paul leads by example teaching that we must never ask our leaders to do for us that which we are not also willing to do for them.

Not only are we called to pray diligently, thankfully, and continually, but we must make it a priority to pray especially for those who teach and lead us in the church.

Paul’s main concern in his prayer requests is that of the gospel message.  Paul is not so much concerned with himself and his own needs – which were doubtless very great – as he is that he would be given opportunities to share the truth and share it clearly and effectively.

For a man in prison for nothing more than being faithful to God, we should consider his requests, or perhaps, his lack thereof.

Paul could have asked people to pray for his release, his ease, his health or his freedom and been entirely justified.  But, no.  Paul asks only that Christians would pray for God to use him and give him open doors for the spread of the gospel.

What men pray for often proves what is foremost in their hearts.

Paul concludes his formal instructions with an exhortation to be wise towards those outside the church.  His commands are to use our time wisely and to take care to speak with grace on every occasion.  The former cannot be done apart from the latter.

The truth is that it does not matter how much time we spend defending the truth or how well-versed we are in apologetics if our communication of that truth is unkind or unnecessarily harsh.  With the world accusing before we ever open our mouths, we can rest assured that if our speech is not pristine, any attempt to share the truth will be in vain.  It makes no difference how unkind and unbecoming the world is when it speaks to us.  Those ones do not have Christ.  That type of communication is their way.  We, however, have a different Way.  The Way we follow teaches us to speak to all people in a spirit of grace and truth; love and truth; kindness and truth.  We can speak all the truth in the world, but if it is void of grace, love, and kindness, Paul rightly implies that we will not know how to answer anyone properly and will surely be wasting both our breath and our most precious commodity, time.

 Little wonder why he stresses the importance of wisdom.  Christians never look more foolish than when we misspeak truth in brash, condescending, self-righteous cloak.

Notice that Paul speaks on the importance of prayer first, and the importance of speech, second.  More often than not, we cannot rightly speak to others until we have first spoken to God on their behalf.

I speak to myself when I say, pray.  Pray constantly.  Pray for your pastor.  Pray for the spread of the gospel.  Then get out of the way of the harvest by always being wise, gracious, and kind with its truth in your speech.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbxjYFVlZcc

swim

My girls are not much into sports.  From the time they were three or four, I’ve introduced them to all kinds of activities hoping they’ll find their niche.  They’ve tried gymnastics, soccer, swimming, tap dancing, ballet, baton twirling, cheer leading, running, triathlons, and other things I can’t even think of right now.

Toward mid-season of each and every activity, my girls lose interest.  When they begin to tell me its not for them, I hold my head in my hands and ask where on earth they came from.  This girl – the one who grew up begging to play ball every waking minute wonders whose kids they even are.

I was a serious tom-boy.  I still am.  I love just about every sport and if you give me any amount of spare time, you will always find me looking for, or training for, a race of some sort – even if its only against myself.

Given my exasperation regarding the fact that my kids hate sports, we have an understanding.  1.  If they say they want to play and I pay, they stay until the season is over.  Then they can try something else.  2.  They have to do something physically active that involves other children.

Now, my kids, clearly, are not all-stars on the teams they’ve been a part of thus far.  They are not setting records and they aren’t training for the Olympics.  They are young, inexperienced, mostly uninterested children.  If they do well, I praise them.  If they do terribly, I encourage them.  Never, ever, no matter how desperately I would love for them to be competitive, invested athletes, do I scold them for not being “good” at sports.

I say this because I am often conflicted while observing other parenting, oh, we’ll call them “techniques.”  I am certainly no mom of the year candidate and I don’t mean to pass judgment on anyone, but let’s face it friends, a bully’s a bully.

When I overhear parents yelling at, belittling, scolding, and being hyper-critical of their children’s athletic performances – performances, might I add, that those parents have no skill or ability anywhere near comparable to what the child has just displayed in most cases –  I feel like an accomplice.  When I see the tears start to fall and that child full of defeat and exasperation, I feel responsible to step in.  My mind begins to race and I try to devise ways that I might encourage that child if an opportunity arises.  Isn’t that what a bully’s peer is called to do when we witness their temper tantrum inspired tyranny turn out at someone not nearly their own size?

But I do nothing.  I feel trapped, just like that child.  Who am I to tell anyone how to deal with their kid or live their life?  I have my own to deal with and I’m not in the running for any parenting awards here.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all make mistakes.  Parenting is difficult.  But let’s be aware that they are mistakes and apologize if we realize our children’s performance has become a matter of our own pride.  I know you don’t mean to do this.  I think you have their best interests in mind, just like I do.  You want them to be their very best.  I’m here to tell you that this, this mom and dad, is not the way to get them there.  Keep it up and they may just be discouraged enough to give right up and quit – or worse – live their entire lives feeling never good enough for anyone or anything.  So I’m asking you on their tender and tired of it behalf, stop it, please.  Children love life.  They make the best out of almost any situation.  Let them be themselves and have fun even if that means they don’t always win.

Don’t bully and shame your kids if they aren’t an athletic superstar.  If they are, congratulate them within reason lest they fall into pride, egotism, and superiority toward lesser able people.  Praise their efforts and encourage their weaknesses.  Otherwise, you may just have a preach-happy pregnant lady plop her bag chair down next to yours and give you a word of prayer and pontificating at practice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFLJSnPQqtY

groom

To Whom It May Concern:

In May of 1997, I got married.  Most of you know I was married to my husband in June of 2000, but, well, this was my first marriage.  I didn’t tell a lot of people at first because I felt a little shy about it and I wasn’t sure how people would take the news.  I was only 17, after all, and it wasn’t exactly a “normal” marriage.

Nevertheless, I was completely smitten.  He was a man I’d known all my life.  From the time I was a little girl, I’d stare at his picture and marvel at him in wonder.  I wondered how all the good things I’d heard of him could really be true.

Somehow, I believed that they were.

As I grew older we shared many conversations.  I studied him intensely and often looked to him for help and advice.  When I told others about him, sometimes they laughed at me.  They told me his advice was wrong.  They warned me not to get too close to him if I wanted to be happy.  It seemed that no one quite understood how I really felt about this man.

Many people I knew did respect him, though.  They told me he was good and that I should keep talking to him.  They said I should listen to him.  I felt very attracted to him, but I was often scared to do the things he asked of me.

Finally, the day came for us to marry.  I didn’t even know he was going to ask!  I was so surprised when he knelt down and asked me to be his own.  I stood alone as a room full of my teenage peers watched while  tears streamed down my astonished face.

I was whisked away by a friend’s mother and we sat and talked of him for a long while.  I told her how I’d accepted his proposal.  I told her all about why I’d said, “Yes.” I told her how much I loved him and how happy I was to be his bride.

My first love was Jesus Christ.  I have been part of his bride for more than 18 years.  I still love him most.

It seems, however, that our marriage is not recognized in many places anymore.  No one seems to respect our relationship.  I mean, I just want to be allowed to keep loving this one who chose me and whom I chose – for life, for death, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health.  But when I go out in public and speak of him, people get angry.  When I talk about what he forbids me to approve of and celebrate and how I, as his adoring bride must submit out of love, they curse me and call me names.  They say I’m hateful and intolerant.  They even threaten our house and all my brothers and sisters.  They say they will force us to approve of their sin in our own home – that is, the church.  Of course we will not, but it all is just so confusing to me.  I mean, aren’t these the same people who speak all out all the time about “tolerance,” “discrimination,” and being free to choose whomever it is you’d like to love?  But they hate me for the one I choose to love and obey.  Why?

Because my Lord does not agree with them.  His commands conflict with their choices.  Even though we do not agree with them either, we still love them.  We don’t call them names.  We pray for them.  It is because we love them that we tell them the truth.

These ones do not have to agree with me or my Lord, (although I wish they would!) but how can they justify their bigotry towards me in efforts to claim their own?  Who goes on a crusade against hate, intolerance, and discrimination by bringing hate, intolerance, and discrimination?  The double standards of this group are altogether overwhelming.

If they do not recognize my union, that is fine.  If they do not approve, that is fine, too.  But I will not approve of or recognize them at the expense of my own holy matrimony.  To do so would cause my divorce.  How can I divorce my love in exchange for mandated bondage by those who hate him?  I cannot.  I will not.  He never forces me into submission like this group intends for me.  He merely offers his sacrificial life and his true freedom to me.  I’d be a fool to exchange his truth to fit in with them and the lies the Enemy has deceived them with.

The world may not recognize our marriage now, but when its time for our immaculate reception, they will all bow in deference to my King.  My only prayer is that they would come to him before the day of salvation is over and that hour is passed.

I just thought you all should know about my forbidden love story so you could be praying for me and the rest of His bride.  I fear the days to come will prove difficult and many will seek to destroy our marriage.  Let us pray.

Yours Truly,

A little girl who loves Jesus

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQv4EAwMFoQ

work

Paul continues the Lord’s instructions for human relationships in teaching on how to be a good servant.  The application is for anyone who is a subordinate of another in the context of labor or service.  Any employment given to men by men stands to benefit in regards to these commands.

The Biblical prescription for employees, servants, and subordinates in the work place?

“…obey in everything those who are your earthly masters…”

“…work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…”

Paul teaches that all requests of earthly bosses and masters are to be taken seriously.  We are to serve men in a genuine and whole-hearted way, not in a for show, pretend, lazy behind their backs way.  The reason Christians are to work in this way is because of our fear and respect for the Lord.  That way, the attitude and advocacy of the boss makes no difference regarding our job performance.  We are not working to appease unruly bosses, we are working to please the Lord.  Even when we are treated unjustly and harshly, we remember that the Lord will give us our due.

Paul reminds us that God is impartial to men and that he favors no one based on status, position, race, or ethnicity.  God is completely just and will repay each of us for the work we have done as well as the way we have done it.

Paul also tells masters, aka, leaders, bosses, CEOs, etc., that God is watching.  He warns those in authority over others that they must treat their subordinates well lest they be judged by the true Master in heaven.

If you are a servant, employee, or subordinate of someone else, work hard and obey them as if they Lord were the one commanding you.  If you are a boss, leader, master, or person with any authority over others, be fair and just dealing with your subordinates as you would have the Lord deal with you.

If the instructions on work ethics found here in Colossians were taken seriously, the vast majority of the problems seen in the work place would be eliminated.

persecuted

Regarding persecution: If another Christian from our own congregation were being mistreated by the powers that be and we (a.) knew it (b.) did not want to know it and pretended it wasn’t happening (c.) assumed they brought it upon themselves and ignored it, would we also be guilty of persecuting them?

I’m thinking of when a bully picks on someone smaller than they are and all the strong boys stand around blind. Are fear, comfort, and complacency acceptable excuses when brothers and sisters are abused by the ungodly? Is it wisdom to “stay out of it?” if they aren’t from our group but we have insight into the abuse?

How does that affect our responsibility regarding the persecuted church abroad? How does it affect what we do or do not do for those within our sphere of direct influence? Does it matter? Will we be accountable if we do nothing or is it ok to let others fight their own battles for the faith and not really get involved? How would you feel if you were made a criminal by the ungodly and those from your own church followed suit out of cowardice and suspicion? How would you feel if you knew others from another country had the means to help you but chose not to?

My questions are: What is our responsibility when and if those we know personally are unjustly treated? What about those we do not know personally who belong to the faith? Is there judgement for those who fail to assist or is it simply a matter of personal conviction in each situation where God calls those whom he will to support those suffering for their faith?

I consulted Matthew Henry.  Because this issue is so closely related to giving – be it of our concern, our time, our money, our allegiance, or our consolation, I thought of the rich man and Lazarus.

“Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here,  and you are in anguish.  ~Luke 16:25

God loves a cheerful giver, though, right?  Give not reluctantly or under compulsion, rather, each one must give as he has decided in his heart.  So then, what is the damnable fault of this rich man?  Surely he “gave.”  But he did not give in such a way that it pleased God.  Surely he gave to his friends and family.  Surely he threw exquisite banquets and spared no expense for those he preferred.  But what was at the center of his giving?  It was not God.  It was all for pomp, pride, and selfishness.

“And he said, ‘No,’ father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” ~Luke 16:30

After death, the rich man knew that overlooking the needs, affliction, and poverty placed in front of us is a sin requiring repentance.  Overlooking the needs, affliction, and poverty placed in front of us is a sin requiring repentance.

Here is Henry’s insight.

“That plenty and pleasure are a very dangerous and to many a fatal temptation to luxury and sensuality, and forgetfulness of God and another world.  This man might have been happy if he had not had great possessions and enjoyments.  That the indulgence of the body, and the ease and pleasure of that, are the ruin of many a soul, and the interests of it.  It is true, eating good meat and wearing good clothes are lawful; but it is as true that they often become the food and fuel of pride and luxury, and so turn into sin to us.  That feasting ourselves and our friends, and, at the same time, forgetting the distresses of the poor and afflicted, are very provoking to God and damning to the soul.  The sin of this rich man was not so much his dress or his diet, but his providing only for himself.”

“We are not told that he abused him, or forbade him his gate, or did him any harm, but it is intimated that he slighted him; he had no concern for him, took no care about him.  Here was a real object of charity, and a very moving one, which spoke for itself; it was presented to him at his own gate.  The poor man had a good character and good conduct, and every thing that could recommend him.  A little thing would be great kindness to him, and yet he took no cognizance of his case, did not order him to be taken in and lodged in the barn, or some of the out-buildings, but let him lie there.  Note, it is not enough to oppress and trample upon the poor; we shall be found unfaithful stewards of our Lord’s goods, in the great day, if we do not succour and relieve them.  The reason given for the fearful doom is, I was hungry, and you gave me no meat.  I wonder how those rich people who have read the gospel of Christ and say that they believe it can be so unconcerned as they often are in the necessities and miseries of the poor and afflicted…Note, those will  have a great deal to answer for hereafter that feed their dogs, but neglect the poor.  And it is a great aggravation of the uncharitableness of many rich people that they bestow that upon their fancies and follies which would supply the necessity, and rejoice the heart of many a good Christian in distress.  Those offend God, nay, and they put a contempt upon human nature, that pamper their dogs and horses, and let eh families of their poor neighbors starve.”

“This rich man had entirely devoted himself to the pleasure of the world of sense, was wholly taken up with them, and took up with them for his portion, and therefore was wholly unfit for the pleasures of the world of spirits…he was hard-hearted to God’s poor, and therefore he is not only cut off from mercy, but he has judgment without mercy, and falls under a punishment of sense as well as a punishment of loss.”

“The tendency of the gospel is both to reconcile us to poverty and affliction and to arm us against temptations to worldliness and sensuality…Our Savior came to bring us acquainted with another world, and to show us the reference which this world has to that.  Those that are not able to help the poor with their purses should help them with their pains; those that cannot lend them a penny should lend them a hand.” ~Matthew Henry

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