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Iglesia del Pueblo
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Love God, Grow Together, Reach the World

    Daily Devotions - Entries from March 2012

    FriFridayMarMarch30th2012 What was written, must be fulfilled
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    Starting today we take a slight break from our series in Colossians in order to prepare our hearts for Easter. Over the next two weeks we will consider some key passages in the life of Jesus and spend some time reflecting on God’s plan of salvation.

    Since this is such an important time of personal reflection, for this week leading up to Palm Sunday we are including selected Bible passages only, with no additional editorial comment. May God speak to you directly as you engage His Word this week.

    For Holy Week we have prepared a series of five special video reflections, featuring different members of our staff and pastoral team. Our hope is that the change in format for that week will allow you to connect with some familiar passages in new ways. Keep an eye out for the video devotionals, to be available starting Palm Sunday.


    A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

    “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”

    “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

    When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

    When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

    Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

    Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

    Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”

    “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

    Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

    The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

    (Luke 18:18-34, NIV)

    ThuThursdayMarMarch29th2012 Count the cost
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    Starting today we take a slight break from our series in Colossians in order to prepare our hearts for Easter. Over the next two weeks we will consider some key passages in the life of Jesus and spend some time reflecting on God’s plan of salvation.

    Since this is such an important time of personal reflection, for this week leading up to Palm Sunday we are including selected Bible passages only, with no additional editorial comment. May God speak to you directly as you engage His Word this week.

    For Holy Week we have prepared a series of five special video reflections, featuring different members of our staff and pastoral team. Our hope is that the change in format for that week will allow you to connect with some familiar passages in new ways. Keep an eye out for the video devotionals, to be available starting Palm Sunday.


    Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

    “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

    “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

    “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

    “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

    (Luke 14:25-35, NIV)

    WedWednesdayMarMarch28th2012 Who wants to be first?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    Starting today we take a slight break from our series in Colossians in order to prepare our hearts for Easter. Over the next two weeks we will consider some key passages in the life of Jesus and spend some time reflecting on God’s plan of salvation.

    Since this is such an important time of personal reflection, for this week leading up to Palm Sunday we are including selected Bible passages only, with no additional editorial comment. May God speak to you directly as you engage His Word this week.

    For Holy Week we have prepared a series of five special video reflections, featuring different members of our staff and pastoral team. Our hope is that the change in format for that week will allow you to connect with some familiar passages in new ways. Keep an eye out for the video devotionals, to be available starting Palm Sunday.


    They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”

    Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

    “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

    They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

    “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

    “We can,” they answered.

    Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

    When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

    (Mark 10:32-45, NIV)
    TueTuesdayMarMarch27th2012 Will we follow?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    Starting today we take a slight break from our series in Colossians in order to prepare our hearts for Easter. Over the next two weeks we will consider some key passages in the life of Jesus and spend some time reflecting on God’s plan of salvation.

    Since this is such an important time of personal reflection, for this week leading up to Palm Sunday we are including selected Bible passages only, with no additional editorial comment. May God speak to you directly as you engage His Word this week.

    For Holy Week we have prepared a series of five special video reflections, featuring different members of our staff and pastoral team. Our hope is that the change in format for that week will allow you to connect with some familiar passages in new ways. Keep an eye out for the video devotionals, to be available starting Palm Sunday.


    As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

    Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

    He said to another man, “Follow me.”

    But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

    Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

    Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

    Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

    (Luke 9:57-62, NIV)

    MonMondayMarMarch26th2012 "Whoever wants to be my disciple..."
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    Starting today we take a slight break from our series in Colossians in order to prepare our hearts for Easter. Over the next two weeks we will consider some key passages in the life of Jesus and spend some time reflecting on God’s plan of salvation.

    Since this is such an important time of personal reflection, for this week leading up to Palm Sunday we are including selected Bible passages only, with no additional editorial comment. May God speak to you directly as you engage His Word this week.

    For Holy Week we have prepared a series of five special video reflections, featuring different members of our staff and pastoral team. Our hope is that the change in format for that week will allow you to connect with some familiar passages in new ways. Keep an eye out for the video devotionals, to be available starting Palm Sunday.


    Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

    Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

    “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

    (Luke 9:21-27, NIV)

    FriFridayMarMarch23rd2012 Liar, liar

    Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. (Col. 3:9-10, NIV)

    Several years ago now there was a funny movie called Liar, Liar, which imagined what life would be like if someone was forced to tell the absolute truth all the time, no exceptions. The movie poked fun at the idea that we should tell the truth, highlighting the absurdity of expecting that anyone could possibly be absolutely honest absolutely all the time.

    While theologians may debate the finer points of lying and its possible necessity in some situations, Paul as usual cuts straight to the chase. Just don’t do it.

    Now, Paul is not interested in creating a system that governs every single situation in life. As long as we focus all our attention on the external manifestations of sin, we have no hope of ever being able to fix anything. When we do that, what tends to happen is that we begin to put our faith more in our own ability to resist sin than in the person who defeated it. We feel good when we go for long periods of time without lying (or cheating or stealing or anything else), but feel bad when we fail and fall flat on our faces.

    The reality is that it is Jesus alone who helps us in any given moment. As Paul reminds the Colossians, we’ve been made new! It’s His indwelling power that enables us to live differently. It’s His Spirit that gives us new hearts (from which everything else flows). More importantly, it’s His death and resurrection which give us hope when we fail and come up short.

    Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 6:19-23, NIV)

    ThuThursdayMarMarch22nd2012 I'd prefer a black eye

    (Image courtesy of Jonathan Groß)

    Tornados rip through towns unannounced, leaving behind a path of destruction. In a matter of moments they can tear apart entire communities, upending everything and leaving nothing but pain and suffering in their wake.

    Such fierce storms seemingly appear out of nowhere, and disappear as quickly as they came. However sunny the weather may be the next day, the lives of those impacted by such awful events will never be the same.

    Paul’s admonitions against anger and malice may seem to pale in comparison to sexual immorality. After all, in our culture adultery might get you thrown out of church, but anger is often left unchecked and unchallenged.

    Yet Paul is clear that just as sexual immorality will destroy our most intimate relationships, anger, rage, malice and slander have the power to destroy the fabric of our entire community as a whole.

    But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. (Col. 3:8-10, NIV)

    A twenty-second outburst of anger can permanently change relationships in ways that may never be healed. Long after a heated argument is over, wounds can continue to fester in ways that can seem confusion. The problem is that words cut far deeper than any knife. I will heal much faster from a black eye than I will from a biting put-down.

    When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:3-8, NIV)

    We will sin in this area. It is unavoidable. But praise be to God that we can be forgiven as we turn to Jesus in confession and repentance. Let us lean on the Spirit for help in resisting our base urges to let our anger out on those around us. Instead, may we seek to be “peacemakers who sow in peace,” in every conversation and every relationship that God has blessed us to be a part of.

    WedWednesdayMarMarch21st2012 Whack that mole!

    On Monday we noted that sin, and particularly sexual sin, is a little bit like the bad guy in movies, whom we tend to assume is dead and gone but always comes back one more time at the very end of the film. As such, we need to direct significant attention towards making sure we are truly putting to death “the sinful, earthly things lurking within.” As Paul says,

    Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. (Col. 3:5-7, NIV)

    However, unlike the movies, our battle with sin doesn’t neatly resolve after 90 minutes. We don’t get to solve all our problems, defeat all our enemies, and ride off into the sunset (not yet at least). In our lives, sin and temptation will be constant companions.

    In this respect, our battle against sin is more akin to playing whack-a-mole at the county fair. Lust pops up and we beat it down. Desire pops up and we beat it down. Greed pops up and we beat that down. But the game never stops. As hard as we may try, sin keeps rearing its ugly head.

    Under our own strength we can only go so far. We can strive and strive but pretty soon we will give up. It’s simply too much work.

    But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. (Rom. 8:10-13, NIV)

    Christ secured our freedom from sin on the cross, and he empowers us through the power of the Holy Spirit to live lives of holiness. John Owen once said,

    “There neither is, nor ever was, in the world, nor ever shall be, the least dram of holiness, but what, flowing from Jesus Christ, is communicated by the Spirit, according to the truth and promise of the gospel.”[1]

    So take some time in prayer today, asking for God’s help to deal with the sin and temptation in your life. As long as you continue to wage the battle under your own strength alone, you will exhausted and defeated. Turn instead to God and ask for His Spirit to be the one equipping and strengthening you to become more like Christ.

    [1] Quoted in Jonathan Dodson’s book, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, pp. 88-89

    TueTuesdayMarMarch20th2012 Cut it out

    For anyone who has lived in a part of the country where termites are a problem, you know that they are not something to take lightly. When the structural integrity of your entire house is as stake, there can be no hesitation, no waffling about how to proceed. Although sometimes, if the infestation is small, they can be dealt with the same way a pest control expert might spray for spiders, quite often more drastic measures are called for, including tenting and fumigating the entire house. In fact, in Northern California it’s not that uncommon to see a house in your neighborhood dressed up like a circus tent while the poisonous gases kill off all the bugs.

    In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said,

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matt. 5:27-30, NIV)

    Nobody has ever suggested that you should literally gouge out your eye or cut off your arm, but the point is that when it comes to sexual sin, drastic measures need to be taken to deal with the problem. You can’t ease your way out of sexual immorality. There’s no “phased draw-down” of involvement in pornography.

    This is perhaps why Paul makes the dramatic statement,

    So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. (Col. 3:5, NLT)

    Dealing with sexual sin, in whatever form, will always require radical changes. It may involve full, uncomfortable, disclosure to a lot of people. It may mean ditching your iPhone and all access to television and internet. If it involves a co-worker you may need to get a new job or even move to a new town.

    The discomfort and pain of addressing this sin may be severe, even embarrassing. However, this is Jesus’ point. Lopping off a limb is not something to be taken lightly, but it may be the only way to save your life.
    MonMondayMarMarch19th2012 Be killing sin, or it will be killing you

    Have you ever noticed how hard it is to defeat bad guys in movies? They have this amazing ability to cheat death (maybe that’s what makes them so evil). However convinced the hero may be that the enemy has been defeated, you can be sure that the bad guy will make one last attempt to ruin everything.

    We all know it’s coming. In fact, we expect it. It wouldn’t be a good movie without it. The hero is the only one who seems to be consistently oblivious to what’s about to happen.

    Sin is, of course, a lot like this. So Paul tells the Colossians:

    Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Col. 3:5, NIV)

    Don’t beat around the bush, don’t play games, don’t go half way. Kill it! Or it will kill you. And yet, like the hero in the movies, we have this awful tendency to toy with sin, seemingly oblivious to the danger we are putting ourselves in. This is especially true in the realm of sexual sin. Sexual immorality destroyed lives and tore apart churches in the time of Paul, and it continues to do so today.

    Although pornography gets all the press in our context, Paul also includes in this list the more subtle root sins of lust, evil desire and greed. Men and women alike can be tempted in these areas. Marriages can lose their luster over time, relationships can grow cold through lack of care and attention, and then suddenly, out of the blue, loneliness can morph into desire and blossom into lust.

    The lesson is simple. Don’t turn your back on sin. A partial victory is no victory at all. Make sure your enemy is 100%, without a doubt, absolutely and completely dead.

    Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Pet. 5:8-9, NIV)

    FriFridayMarMarch16th2012 Heaven-focused prayer
    Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:1-4, NIV)

    Over the coming weeks we will draw out in more detail the practical implications of living a heaven-centered life. However, we end this week by going back to a simple prayer that Jesus taught His disciples early on in His ministry.

    “‘Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name,
    your kingdom come,
    your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us today our daily bread.
    And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’ (Matt. 6:9-13, NIV)

    This brief but incredible prayer gives us a clear template for practically applying Paul’s admonition to set our hearts and minds on above.

    The prayer begins by calling us to orient ourselves around God in heaven. Although our tendency is to jump straight to all the burdens, needs and struggles we face, Jesus tells us to put those on ice for a moment while we get our spiritual priorities in the correct order.

    A good life, a holy life, a Christ-centered life begins with the reverent worship of God “in heaven.” He alone is holy and we are to worship and praise Him as such. This is Paul’s point (“set your hearts on things above,” “set your minds on things above”).

    Although I am constantly battling with a strong desire to do things my own way, on my own timing, Jesus says no, I am to pray for God’s Kingdom to come, not mine. I am to pray for His will to be done, not mine. It is this attitude of the heart which then allows us to lead into prayers for provision and protection.

    A heaven-focused heart longs for more of God. A heaven-focused heart desires earnestly for nothing less than to see God’s Kingdom grow and expand and over-run every corner of creation. A heaven-focused heart is one that neither elevates earthly needs to the place of priority, nor ignores them as somehow “less holy.” Rather, the model Jesus gave us involves setting our earthly needs in their correct place—secondary to the glory of God.

    Take some time today and practice praying through the Lord’s prayer, using it as a template to help direct your heart towards a heaven-focused worship of God.

    ThuThursdayMarMarch15th2012 The Incineration of Selfishness
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment
    Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:1-4, NIV)

    A heavenly focus means fixing our eyes on Jesus. But who is Jesus? What image comes to mind? Is it the friendly blue-eyed carpenter with the perfectly coiffed shoulder-length brown hair and warm inviting smile? How about this image instead:

     In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:    “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;    the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. (Isa. 6:1-4, NIV)

    Or perhaps this one:

    I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. (Rev. 1:12-16, NIV)

    Or this:

     I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:    KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Rev. 19:11-16, NIV)

    Isaiah fell to the ground proclaiming, “Woe is me!” John, too, fell to the ground “as though dead.” Indeed, when Jesus comes on His white horse, nothing can stand in His way. To set our hearts and minds on things above should probably instill in us at least  little bit of fear and trembling.

    To set my heart on God and His Son Jesus is to be blown away by His Holiness and majesty and power and sovereignty. It demands a radical re-orientation of my life, a complete re-ordering of my loves, my affections, my desires and my dreams. It means turning my world upside down and inside out in order to align my life with God’s holy plans for His Kingdom.

    It’s the end of me. It’s the incineration of selfishness. Am I ready for that? Are you?

    WedWednesdayMarMarch14th2012 Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith
    Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

    Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:1-4, NIV)

    Paul is not the only Biblical author to encourage such single-minded focus on the person and work of Jesus. The author of Hebrews says:
    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb. 12:1-3, NIV)

    The clichéd image of a “heavenly-minded” Christian is someone lost in a day-dream of angels floating around in puffy white clouds, or perhaps obsessed with visions of what they will do and wear and eat when they get to Heaven. However, as these two passages point out, the reality is not quite so rosy.

    When we set our hearts and minds on Jesus in Heaven, we are reminding ourselves of the cross. We remind ourselves of the pain and suffering He endured because of our, my, sin. We remind ourselves of the unbelievable price He paid to set us free from the penalty of death. We remind ourselves of the gospel.

    To be heavenly-minded is to see at one and the same time both God’s absolute holiness and His unending love. It means seeing our sin in all its ugliness but also our salvation in all its glory.

    We should fix our eyes on Jesus every single day we’re alive. It is His work alone that saves us and His work alone that grows us. As Paul says, our lives are “now hidden with Christ in God.”

    This way of thinking does not come naturally to us. Everything in our life directs our attention down to earthly things. A heaven-focused worldview is something we must pray earnestly and repeatedly for God to help us accomplish and maintain. Commit to building this into your prayer life every day for the rest of this year.

    TueTuesdayMarMarch13th2012 Set your minds on Jesus
    Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:1-4, NIV)

    Do you really know anyone who is “so heavenly minded they are no earthly good”? I know people who are stuffed full of theological knowledge and training but never put it into practice. I know people who go to church a lot but have rarely, if ever, applied anything to their daily lives. However, I’m not sure I know anyone who is genuinely heavenly-minded. Plenty of folks may be caught up in empty religious practices, but that shouldn’t be confused with setting our hearts on things above.

    Rather than trying to make sense of this verse in isolation, we should remember that this is the same Paul who just a few lines earlier penned one of the most stunning descriptions of the sovereignty of Christ ever written. Paul clearly believes we should set our hearts on things above, because

    The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col. 1:15-20, NIV)

    Setting our minds on Jesus does not mean selling everything and joining a monastery or convent. Certainly monks and nuns seem to spend a lot of time worshipping God, but Paul never advocates separating ourselves from the world, and is opposed to asceticism and religious practices that might lead us into false religious piety.

    We set our minds on Jesus when we remember who He really is.

    We set our minds on Jesus when we turn to Him as Lord over every single nook and cranny of our lives. We set our minds on Jesus when we remind ourselves on a daily basis that everything is held together by and through Him. We live and move and breathe because he gives us life, allows us to move and gives us air to breathe.

    Paul’s challenge to the Colossians, and by extension now to us as well, is to reorient life with Jesus at the center. That’s easier said than done, of course! So, what would that look like for you? What are some subtle ways that the things of this world have crept in and taken precedence over Jesus? Think through your relationships and possessions. How might you be putting more trust in them than in God?

    MonMondayMarMarch12th2012 Hearts fixed on things above
    Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:1-4, NIV)

    Most of us have probably heard the clichéd warning, “Don’t be so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good.” I think the idea is that we don’t want to fill our churches with pie-in-the-sky Christians sitting around waiting for glory while the rest of the world slips away into a Christ-less oblivion. We can all agree that’s a bad thing.

    However, I’m not sure that’s really the most pressing problem facing our churches today. In fact, a number of pastors and authors have noted recently that we’re actually so earthly focused that we are no heavenly good. The problem is not that people are too fixated on God, but that they’re not fixated enough. We’re far more interested in building our own little kingdoms than praying down God’s.

    I would go so far as to say that it is rare to find someone whose heart is truly fixed “on things above.” Most of us are far too focused on earthly things—our friends, our cars, our homes, our families, our jobs, our books, our televisions, our hobbies or our gadgets. I have this terrifying tendency towards creating a world that revolves around me, and that kind of self-centered orientation is a tough addiction to break.

    Paul comes at this problem from two related, but different angles. First, he says, we should “set our hearts on things above” because we’ve been joined together with Christ and “up there” is where Jesus is. If we’ve truly been converted, our hearts belong to Jesus and our worship should be focused around Him and Him alone.

    This is not to say we should detach ourselves from reality—Paul is a pragmatic and practical realist who is keenly aware of the daily ebb and flow of life in Christian community. Separation from the world is not his point at all. However, if our hope is to grow in Christ-likeness then we can only achieve that if we’re actually looking at Christ. We cannot become what we do not behold.

    Where is your heart?

    FriFridayMarMarch9th2012 Real change is gospel change
    Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 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. (Col. 2:20-23, NIV)

    We love to create rules and regulations. There's something that's just so comforting and reassuring about a good set of laws. In a chaotic world, rules imply that we have control. Rules help us to define who is in and who is out; what can and cannot happen. 

    If only it was that easy. Even the simplest of rules, like "No parking," is powerless to keep us from doing exactly what it tells us not to do. The speed limit on the highways in Illinois is 55, but move that slowly and you run the risk of being driven off the road. 

    Yet, when it comes to our spiritual lives we seem to think that everything is different. In the Church as a whole, we all to often talk and act as if rules and regulations will somehow suddenly become more effective at governing behavior and shaping hearts than every other place in our lives. 

    As we all know, that's simply not the case. Telling myself not to sin doesn't accomplish the task. Fines do not prevent me from sinning. Confession to a small group does not keep me from sinning. Being made to feel guilty or ashamed does not keep me from sinning. 

    I'm not saying that these, and a myriad of other Christian "laws" are pointless, but rather that they are only part of the picture. In and of themselves, they are powerless to save me or create meaningful change. My sinful heart is an expert at circumventing laws, rules and regulations--I will always find a loophole. 

    The gospel is the only path to lasting change, because the gospel reminds us of our true position before God. We are so desperately needy, and He alone has the power to change us from the inside out. It's the work of His redeeming Spirit which nurtures our broken hearts, drags sin into the light, nails it to the cross to die, and brings our lives back into relationship with Him. 

    Sin is not to be taken lightly and we must at times go to extreme measures to curb its corrupting influence in our lives. We need to hold each other accountable. We need clear boundaries and specific action plans to help modify dangerous and abusive patterns of behavior. However, let us never forget that in and of themselves, these tools cannot bring about lasting change in our hearts. That comes from God and God alone, and it His work through His Spirit which will alone bring peace and rest back into our troubled lives.
    ThuThursdayMarMarch8th2012 Where do you go for spiritual sustenance?
    They have 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. (Col. 2:19, NIV)

    My daughters have this very annoying habit of getting older every single year. I keep telling them to stop, but it’s no use. I’m their father and the head of my household, but they are going to grow and mature whether I’m involved in the process or not.

     Spiritual growth, however, does not happen in quite the same inevitable fashion. If we want to grow, we have to stay connected to the source—God. Just as a plant can’t survive without water so we cannot survive spiritually without God. Jesus was pretty clear about this with his disciples:

     Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:4-8, NIV)

     Paul’s concern with the church in Colosse was that some people had severed their connection with God and were trying to go it alone, forging ahead under their own spiritual leadership. It was probably subtle at first, barely distinguishable from the real thing, but over time it became clear that they were no longer drawing spiritual sustenance from God, but relying instead on their own “spirituality” and “pious self-denial.”

     I want to condemn such pathetic behavior as utter foolishness, except once again I have to be honest and recognize the sin that lurks at my own door. As a pastor the temptation to slowly rely more and more on my own spiritual abilities is extremely alluring. This is my job, after all. Yet, I have to remind myself daily that such a path will lead only to spiritual bankruptcy. Without the Spirit’s abiding presence in my life, I have nothing and I am nothing.

    Everyone’s experiences will be different, but any time I sense myself moving in this direction I find great help from reading the Old Testament prophets. Reading Jeremiah, for example, is usually an excellent antidote for any delusions of grandeur I might have.

    Abiding in Jesus is not something to take lightly. Branches that don’t remain in Jesus are picked up and burned. When we lose connection with “the head” (Jesus), we’re teetering on the edge of spiritual disaster. So, spend some time today in honest self-reflection. And if you’re even a little bit uncertain, turn to God in prayer and ask for His help in reconnecting with His Spirit. 
    WedWednesdayMarMarch7th2012 The path of pious self-denial is never pretty Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. (Col. 2:18, NIV)

    It’s incredibly tempting to want to offer some examples of false humility. However, to do so would run the risk of offending people and distracting us from the point of this passage. Besides, “false humility” covers an enormously wide range of potential activities. In the New Living Translation the Greek is translated “pious self-denial,” and in the English Standard Version it’s “asceticism.” The general idea is that some of the Colossians were going out of their way to prove how pious and humble they were.

    While these people considered themselves to be extremely spiritual, perhaps even more spiritual than the rest of the congregation, Paul cuts to the chase and labels all their bowing and scraping as “idle notions” coming from a mind that is actually quite “unspiritual.”

    We, of course, never struggle in this area, right? We never find ourselves comparing our spiritual lives to the person next to us. We never battle with pride when making an extra large donation. We never try to work into conversations how much we’ve been reading the Bible recently. Have you ever fasted and been able to keep it a complete secret? It’s hard! It’s like you’re keeping the biggest secret ever.

     I’ll admit it publicly—I know for a fact that I have felt pride in my heart for doing away with satellite television in our house. As a pastor it feels so good to be able to tell people that we don’t watch TV. Initially we cut the cord for a combination of practical, familial, spiritual and financial reasons, but there are times when this otherwise noble decision has drifted into the realm of “pious self-denial.” It’s so hard not to fall prey to the notion that asceticism somehow gains us extra points with God.

    The solution is remarkably simple—the gospel. The gospel reminds us that whatever grandiose opinions we may have about our spiritual health and vitality, we have nothing without Jesus. We could live in a cave eating nothing but stale bread all our lives and still be no closer to God than the richest most self-indulgent man in the world. The gap between a holy God and sinful man is way, way, way bigger than we like to imagine. No amount of clean living impresses God, and living a life of self-imposed poverty will never earn us salvation.

    The only way out of the temptation of empty religious practices is the cross. We gain access to God simply because God made access possible. Jesus’ death on that cross not only freed us from the penalty of sin but freed us from the burdens of religious “duty.” One of the most incredible aspects of Christianity is that God freely offers Himself to anyone, anywhere, at any time. 

    If you have found yourself struggling with a tendency towards asceticism, let it go. You’re not impressing God and you’re not impressing anyone else either. God loves you because He loves you. Humbling as it may be, you don’t bring anything to the table. Grace is an extravagant gift that overwhelms the recipient. Rest in that gift and revel in the love that the Father has shown towards each and every one of us. 
    TueTuesdayMarMarch6th2012 Fleeting shadows These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Col. 2:17, NIV)

    My daughters are young enough that shadow-tag is still a fun game to play. The goal, of course, is not to tag me, but to tag my shadow. This is yet another time when being tall puts me at a distinct disadvantage.

    Although I may be able to fool a cat or a dog into thinking that a shadow is something real, even a little child quickly learns that a shadow has no substance in and of itself. Although shadow-tag is a silly game we play for fun, what they really want to do is tackle me.

    Paul uses this shadow imagery to draw a distinction between what we would call the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The rituals and regulations handed to Moses and referred to broadly as “The Law” were in some respect simply shadows, pointers of what was to come. The amazing thing is that now we have access to the One who cast those shadows, Jesus, the Messiah, in whom “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell” (Col. 1:19, NIV).

    So, having access to the real deal, why would anyone want to chase after a shadow? Sadly, we have all been there. There are times when, for whatever reason, the shadows just seem more accessible, more tangible. Focusing on what we do or do not do or worrying about external religious practices become more important to us, and we lose sight of the person they are trying to direct our attention towards. What are the “shadows” that are still lurking in the corners of your spiritual life? What steps can and should you be taking to set them aside in order to pursue the reality of Jesus?
    MonMondayMarMarch5th2012 Don't judge me 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. (Col. 2:16, NIV)

    Cleanliness is next to godliness. No, really, it is. Look, it’s even in the Bible. Paul told Timothy that an elder “must manage his own family well” (1 Tim. 3:4, NIV). Clearly he’s talking about keeping your house clean and neat and tidy. So, if you’re not doing that, perhaps your spiritual life is a bit questionable as well.

    I hope you realize I’m joking here. I don’t know who came up with the idea that there is a connection between clean floors and clean hearts, but it’s completely false. Moreover, the sad fact is that we do things like this all the time. For example, I’m hesitant to give any more illustrations on the matter because by doing so I risk incurring the judgment of those who feel strongly that I am minimizing the importance of certain crucial aspects of Christian living.

    How you choose to live and act as a follower of Jesus is between you and God. Yes, there are certain cultural norms we have that make being a Christian here in the West Suburbs of Chicago different than being a Christian in Jos, Nigeria. However, Paul’s command to the Colossians applies in the same way in both places. We are not to be led astray by the piles and piles of extra rules and regulations other Christians may inadvertently (or purposefully) impose on us.

    The Biblical term for this is “guilt trip,” and had that phrase been available to Paul when he was writing this in Greek, he would no doubt have used it. When we let other Christians guilt-trip us into acting or behaving in a certain manner, we let go of Jesus and put greater stock in the words of other sinners than we do in the Living Word Himself.

    Don’t let the judgments of others un-tether your faith in Christ alone. In matters that have no bearing on your salvation and are not leading you into sin, there is far greater freedom than we’re often willing to admit. Choose this day to obey Christ and Christ alone, and set aside the complaints, criticisms and disapproving looks from others.
    FriFridayMarMarch2nd2012 The Truth About Satan

    In the introduction to his short book, The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis famously said,

    There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or magician with the same delight.

    Most Christians that I talk to fall into something akin to the first category. It’s not that we don’t believe in devils. Obviously we couldn’t deny their reality outright—Jesus seems to spend half his time casting out demons. However, we also realize that it’s not very palatable to talk about demons these days. It sounds so…supernatural. This isn’t Ghostbusters after all. We have a civilized and reasonable faith that we want our intelligent well-heeled co-workers to embrace. Talk of spiritual powers comes across a bit kooky and out-there.

    Yet, there’s really no getting around it. The Bible is clear that angels and demons are real. Satan is real. There are spiritual forces at work in this world that have real power and real influence, whether we like to think about it or not. In fact, the more we deny it or downplay it, the better as far as they are concerned, since it allows them to operate “under the radar,” so to speak.

    Paul, on the other hand, is very clear about two things. First, Satan poses a real threat to us. As he reminds the Ephesians:

    Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph. 4:10-12, NIV)

    Second, in the big scheme of things Jesus has overcome all this.

     

    And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col. 2:15, NIV)

    The cross is the ultimate rejection of every other false god and spiritual force in the world. The cross makes a mockery of every pathetic attempt Satan makes to fight back against God. The cross looks Satan square in the eyes and says, “Is that all you’ve got?”

    Stand firm against the devil today. Stand tall in complete confidence that you serve the living God who has conquered death and guaranteed victory for those who stand with Him. Persevere in the knowledge that though the battle still rages, the King is coming, and when He returns Satan will be lost forever.

    ThuThursdayMarMarch1st2012 Paid in full

    Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deut. 6:4-5, NIV)

    Sometimes when I go to the store and buy something that ends up being $1.01 or $1.11 the clerk will just let that penny slide. They won’t even make me grab it from the little “Take a penny, leave a penny” dish. I know, the amount is miniscule, but I have to admit, I get kind of a thrill when that happens!

    A typical mortgage, on the other hand, is a lot of money, usually running up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Imagine someone comes along and pays that debt in full. All of it. That would be pretty amazing. Astonishing, actually.

    Now imagine that you’re living in a house that is way beyond your means, something you never should have purchased. Imagine you’ve been purposely not paying the mortgage, choosing instead to squander your money on fine dining and luxury travel. As the bank threatens foreclosure, which they would have every legal right to do, someone steps in and offers to pay all your debts for you. That wouldn’t just be amazing, it would be miraculous, extravagant, almost outlandish.

    Here’s what Paul says to the Colossians. From the very beginning of Creation we were given one simple command—to love God and God alone. It’s all-or-nothing command. There’s no middle ground, and we chose the wrong option. We have failed in painfully ways that are painfully obvious and we’ve failed in ways we don’t even know. Yet, through Jesus Christ,

    He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. (Col. 2:13b-14, NIV)

    Sins? Forgiven.

    “Legal indebtedness”? Canceled. Taken away. Nailed to the cross.

    Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Rom. 8:1-2, NIV)

    We’re now in a place where we can finally begin to take those first faltering steps of faith and obedience to God. Where is He leading you? How are you using this new-found freedom? Who are you drawing into the same kind of life with you?

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