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

    Daily Devotions - Entries from February 2012

    WedWednesdayFebFebruary29th2012 I'm alive!

    When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with 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. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col. 2:13-15, NIV)

    A runaway steam-train loaded with passengers, a lone cowboy pressing his horse faster and faster trying to catch up, a bridge that’s out, twisted rails sticking out into thin air, a gaping chasm beneath…

    Once upon a time we, too, were headed towards certain death. But the amazing news is that “God made [us] alive with Christ.”

    You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:6-8, NIV)

    The gift of life is powerful. More so than we imagine when read the words on a page. When I went bungee jumping the euphoria I felt when I realized I hadn’t hurtled head-first into the sidewalk was like nothing else I had ever experienced. I could not help but scream out loud, “I’M ALIVE! I’M ALIVE!” I walked around for hours and hours afterwards in complete awe of the fact that I was ALIVE!

    But those fleeting feelings from sky-diving or scuba diving or parasailing or triathlons or flying pass away and then it’s back to life as normal. From a medical point of view, once the sympathetic nervous system disengages, we come crashing back down to earth (so to speak). The problem is that all these activities, while fun and exhilarating, still leave us wondering, “So what?” “I’m alive, but to what end?”

    When we are made alive in Christ however, every question is answered and we find the meaning and purpose and significance we’ve been looking for. When we are made alive with Christ we enter an entirely new realm.  We can join with David in proclaiming:

    Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;

       my body also will rest secure,

    because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,

       nor will you let your faithful one see decay.

    You make known to me the path of life;

       you will fill me with joy in your presence,

       with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psa. 16:9-11, NIV)

    What an incredible blessing for us all! But now what are we going to do with that gift? Jesus has given us marching orders—“Go and make disciples.” How are we engaging in that task? 

    TueTuesdayFebFebruary28th2012 Rescued from death row Today we press on in our study of the book of Colossians and we come right back into an incredible couple of verses:

    When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with 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. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col. 2:13-15, NIV)

    The first sentence in this long thought captures an incredible series of truths about us and God. “When you were dead in your sins…God made you alive with Christ.” If you’ve been a Christian for a long time now, that news may generate little more than a yawn. “Blah, blah, blah. I was a hopeless sinner until God rescued me. I got it. Now can we move on to something more interesting? Tickle my ears with some clever new thought.”

     Maybe you are all more mature than I am, but I know there are times when I have personally felt that way. However, the reality Paul captures here goes deep. We were not just “in slavery” to sin, but on death row as a result. Moreover, we weren’t set free because some intrepid lawyer found a key piece of evidence the bumbling cops had overlooked. We were guilty as charged—some of us more obviously so than others, some of us more ready to admit it than others, but all of us guilty nonetheless.

     The crime wasn’t pardoned. The sentence wasn’t commuted. The only reason we escaped death was because somebody else died in our place. We live because He died.

    Without wishing to be too grim about it, your neighbors, some of your co-workers, perhaps even some of your family members are right now sitting on death row. Now, their life there may not seem all that bad right now, but the eventual outcome is guaranteed, unless someone intervenes. The Bible is crystal clear that one day everyone will be judged.

     So, what steps are you taking to ensure that they have every opportunity possible to seize hold of the free gift offered to them in Jesus Christ? What are some practical and tangible ways you can get involved in their lives this week?

     Leave us a comment below and let us know how you’re engaging the lost in your community.
    MonMondayFebFebruary27th2012 Pause Stop.


    Slow down. At the end of this paragraph, stop reading for a moment, close your eyes, and pray. It doesn’t matter what for and how long. Ask God to help you slow down. Ask God to help you praise Him. Ask God for help getting through the next ten minutes. Whatever it is, just stop reading and start praying…NOW.

    It’s Monday. Your brain may already be firing with a thousand things you need to accomplish today. Your to-do list may even be sitting right next to you as you read these devotionals. Everything about our world is fast-paced, and often even in church we’re not much better.

    We’ve been moving very quickly through a lot of material, and quite often that doesn’t leave enough time for things to sink in. So, we’re going to pause for one day here to look back. Yesterday Brian Mavis preached a powerful message based on the parable of the sheep and the goats, focusing in on the following verse:

    “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matt. 25:40, NIV)

    What did you think of his message? How did God challenge you personally through his sermon?

     Pastor Chris McElwee closed the service by giving all of us a number of different ways to get involved. What are you going to do?

    If you are reading these devotionals on the website, feel free to leave a comment below and start a discussion. We’d love to hear what you have to say!
    FriFridayFebFebruary24th2012 Whatever you did for one of the least of these...
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Local Impact 0 comments Add comment

    31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.   

    34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’   

    37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’   

    40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’   

    41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’   

    44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’   

    45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’   
    46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matt. 25:31-46, NIV)

    This Sunday is Local Impact Sunday and special guest speaker Brian Mavis will be preaching on this parable. According to Mavis, 2,740,000,000 people have not heard the name of Jesus and 9,000,000 people die every year from hunger related causes. These numbers are so impossibly huge it’s hard to even make sense of them. They dull the senses and keep us from getting involved. How can I possibly make a difference in such an ocean of suffering and pain? Start working on this parable today and pray for God to be opening your eyes to ways you can get involved.

    One simple way is to set aside Saturday May 5 and serve with us as part of CareFest 2012. What began in 2005 with 250 people has quadrupled in size and now 1,000 will be going out into DuPage serving our community and building bridges of compassion with our neighbors. Save the date now and plan to get involved!

    ThuThursdayFebFebruary23rd2012 Why should we care for the poor?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment
    The Book of Job is one of my favorite books in the Bible. Maybe it’s because I was an English major and this book reads like a play. Whatever the reason, it’s a fascinating treatise on suffering and the sovereignty of God. Buried towards the end however is a section that re-affirms again God’s concern for the poor and the needy. Job has been berated by his friends for having sinned against God, but Job defends himself, saying, among other things, 

     “If I have denied the desires of the poor   
    or let the eyes of the widow grow weary,
     if I have kept my bread to myself,   
    not sharing it with the fatherless—
     but from my youth I reared them as a father would,   
    and from my birth I guided the widow—
     if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing,   
    or the needy without garments,
     and their hearts did not bless me   
    for warming them with the fleece from my sheep,
     if I have raised my hand against the fatherless,   
    knowing that I had influence in court,
     then let my arm fall from the shoulder,   
    let it be broken off at the joint.
     For I dreaded destruction from God,   
    and for fear of his splendor I could not do such things. (Job 31:16-23, NIV)

     Job defends himself against the accusations of his “friends” by emphasizing his care for the poor. It is offensive to him to even consider that he might have mis-treated or abused the widows, or the fatherless or the homeless. Job goes so far as to say that he would fear destruction from God if he were to have done such an awful thing.

    Job is certainly a complicated book to read, but the message here resounds with everything else we have read about God in the rest of the Bible. It is part of God’s nature to care for His Creation, especially those who have been rendered powerless or helpless or hopeless in some way.

     It’s this kind of Biblical mandate to care for others that led us as a church to establish Puente del Pueblo, our ministry to people living in West Chicago. Three years into the program we now have an afterschool program that serves more than 50 students every day. 40 ESL tutors meet with their students each week. On Wednesday nights our Spanish-speaking congregation, Iglesia del Pueblo, offers a Bible study that has about 35 people on a regular basis, reading and learning about God. However, my personal favorite is the baseball camp, since every year I have the honor of teaching the kids there about the Bible.

     There’s a lot going on just a couple of miles down the street from our church and it is such a simple and easy way for us to be serving our community, providing not just physical and material needs but spiritual needs as well. We can always use more volunteer staff and I encourage you to come and be a part of this exciting ministry. Learn more on our website: http://www.wheatonbible.org/10713/ministry/ministry_id/257593/Puente-del-Pueblo
    WedWednesdayFebFebruary22nd2012 "And you are to love those who are foreigners"
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Local Impact 0 comments Add comment
    To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the LORD set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deut. 10:14-19)

    I am a foreigner in this country. Although I am now finally a fully naturalized citizen, I will always feel slightly out-of-place here in my adopted home. I absolutely love it here, but I can never lose sight of the fact that I was born and raised in London. It’s in my blood, regardless of the flag on my passport.

    So, having come from another country and gone through the immigration system myself, I have a vested interest in the debates that are raging in America today and in what the Bible says in regard to the ways in which we should treat “foreigners” or “sojourners.”

     We’re not going to solve all those questions in a brief devotional thought, (a good resource for that is the website, http://www.undocumented.tv), but this passage in Deuteronomy is a good place to start thinking them through.

     Here we find a reminder that we serve a Holy God whom we are told to love and worship with fear and obedience. The repeated thought is that we did not choose Him, He chose us. If we have any favor or standing in His eyes it is because of God, not because we are special or better than anyone else.

     In fact, it is part of God’s character, a core component of His very identity, to care for “the fatherless and the widow.” Our God doesn’t just tolerate or accommodate the foreigner, He “loves the foreigner.” His heart is filled with care and concern for foreigners.

     The question then becomes, what about us? How will we respond to the increasing numbers of foreigners, documented and undocumented, living right here in our community? What are we to make of the Hindu and Muslim places of worship sprouting up all around us? How can the Church take a stand against atrocities such as human trafficking? How can we reach these people with the gospel?

    I encourage you to join Local Impact Pastor Chris McElwee and hundreds of other people at the 2012 “Mission On Our Doorsteps” conference, March 16-17. This incredible event will be an opportunity to honestly wrestle with these issues and more as pastors and church leaders gather to discuss what the Bible says about “justice” for those living right here among us. http://www.missiononourdoorsteps.com/ You can watch a great summary video here: 
    TueTuesdayFebFebruary21st2012 Fighting hunger is easier than you think
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Local Impact 0 comments Add comment

     “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

    to loose the chains of injustice

       and untie the cords of the yoke,

    to set the oppressed free

       and break every yoke?

    Is it not to share your food with the hungry

       and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

    when you see the naked, to clothe them,

       and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

     (Isa. 58:6-7, NIV)

    Feeding the hungry is important, but doesn’t earn us our salvation. After all, atheists can feed the hungry and still be lost in sin. Providing the poor with shelter is a fantastic humanitarian goal, but doesn’t necessarily ingratiate us with God. After all, people of all different religions can be concerned with eradicating homelessness while still worshiping false gods and idols.

    In fact, just as fasting can become an empty religious ritual, so too can helping the poor. So, how then do we make sense of this passage?

    These verses do not say that the people should stop fasting and start feeding the poor instead. Isaiah is not trying to impose new rules on the people. What it does call for is a heart so transformed by God that it cannot help but express that love in acts of worship and service. As we draw closer and closer to God, more and more of His character should be expressed in our lives, both internally and externally.  

    One aspect of God’s character that comes up over and over again in Scripture is His concern for the poor and hungry. As our hearts are transformed that concern should slowly become our concern as well. But where do we begin?

    Two great places to serve right here in our community are Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) and the Northern Illinois Food Bank (NIFB).

    Every year millions of meals are put together by thousands of FMSC volunteers and shipped around the world to places that need it most.

    Watch this video to learn more:

    Packing meals at FMSC is a great activity do as a group from 2-90 people and any age kindergarten on up! Visit their website to sign up and pack some meals this month!


    Just a few miles west of us in St. Charles is the Northern Illinois Food Bank. They have several volunteer shifts per week with a variety of easy roles. This is a great activity for small groups, but there are age restrictions, so check their website to see if it is appropriate for your children. http://solvehungertoday.org/GetInvolved/Volunteer/VolunteerWestSuburban.aspx

    MonMondayFebFebruary20th2012 "Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner"
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment
    One of my wife’s cousins has a tattoo on his arm. It’s a Bible verse, but you’d only know that if you could read Hebrew, since that’s the way it has been inked onto his arm. (Hebrew looks cool I guess). In English the verse says,

    And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8, NIV)

    Having a tattoo written in Hebrew is perhaps a little pretentious, but the fact that he has such a visible reminder of the kind of God that we serve permanently sealed on his arm is perhaps not such a bad idea after all.

    After all, I have been part of the Christian Church long enough to know first-hand how easy it is to explain away the Biblical calls to help the poor and needy. I am personally guilty of reading through my Bible and rationalizing away verses that seem to speak so clearly about caring for the weak and oppressed.

    Jesus may have said, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys” (Luke 12:33). But then I do this weird mind-trick on myself where I explain away the command and turn it around to mean something completely the opposite, like, “I should get the 32” LCD from Costco instead of the 55” that I really want.”

     Acting with generosity and kindness to the weak, lonely, oppressed and hurting does not come naturally. (At least, for me it doesn’t). It’s something I have had to work at conscientiously. Something I have had to pray for God to help me understand and put into practice.  

    Yet, the results have been eye-opening. The more I read the Bible the more astounded I am by just how frequently God speaks about the need to care for those who cannot help themselves.

    “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” (Deut. 27:19, NIV)

    That’s strong language—uncomfortably strong language. But resist the urge to dismiss it out-of-hand or pretend that it somehow doesn’t apply to you. (“Ah yes, but that’s the Old Covenant, we’re under the New Covenant,” or, “That was just for Israel, not for me today,” or, “Those are all metaphors for other things.”) The command to love is reiterated by Jesus explicitly, described in Acts, and reaffirmed by Paul in his letters. There’s no getting around the Bible’s command to care for the oppressed.

    As we prepare for Local Impact Sunday, pray for God to open your heart to ways in which He might be calling you to get involved. Ask God to help you understand what He says in the Bible about caring for the poor. And pray for the Spirit to give you new understanding of what Jesus means when He tells us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:34-40). 
    FriFridayFebFebruary17th2012 Friday, February 17

    We end the week transitioning to a related, but separate line of thought in Paul’s letter. Having established the path in which they will walk, and having rooted themselves in Jesus, Paul exhorts the Colossians,

    See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Col. 2:8-12, NIV)

    When we walk in Christ, when we pursue the path of wisdom, when we choose the path that leads to life, we do not somehow exempt ourselves from challenges, temptations and struggles. We can root ourselves in Christ and build our lives on Him, but storms will still come and floodwaters will crash against our homes.

     And so, in this section of his letter Paul warns the Colossians not to let anyone take them captive. His concern is that they might be led off the path and into the thick weeds of “deceptive philosophy” based on “human tradition” instead of Christ. The exact form of this danger is not important, for the solution is what matters most. It is only “in Christ” that we can find the “fullness” we are looking for. He is the antidote to the lies of this world because He is the source of life.

     Not only that, but we already have this life and fullness in Jesus. Followers of Christ have already been in some sense “taken captive” by God. Possessed by His Spirit we have been given every tool we need to persevere to the end.

     If you have been “circumcised by Christ” then you are a new creature, no longer weighed down by the sins of your past, no longer under condemnation, no longer facing death, no longer under the powers of this world, but adopted as sons and daughters of God and given full access into the presence of God. The gospel has set us free and now we have the power to walk with boldness down the road that God has set for us. Let that knowledge drive us to our knees in prayerful adoration and vibrant worship this Sunday!
    ThuThursdayFebFebruary16th2012 Thursday, February 16
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Col. 2:6-7, NIV)

    Although we’ve spent the last three days looking at all the things we should be doing—walking in Jesus, rooting ourselves in Jesus, and being built up in Jesus, there’s a fourth component we cannot forget, and that’s Paul’s command to do all this “with thankfulness.” Indeed, Paul actually commands the Colossians to be “overflowing with thankfulness.” There’s a sense here in which he expects to see in their lives an ongoing, ever-present acknowledgement of God’s goodness and greatness, expressed in abundant joy.

     That’s a high bar to set. In contrast, we have an unfortunate tendency to push off all our thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of November. Of course, along the way we may give a nod to God for His daily provision, but when was the last time we can honestly say that we were “overflowing” with thankfulness? Think about your pre-schooler trying to fill a glass from a newly-opened gallon of milk. That’s an image of “overflowing,” and that’s the kind of continual thankfulness Paul calls us to express in our lives.  

    Now, on the one hand thankfulness is a natural response that can’t be faked or created out of our will. When God blesses us in a surprising or amazing way, thankfulness bubbles up inside us without even thinking about it. On the other hand, being thankful is a discipline that we can work on. In a world that for the most part denies the existence of God and over-emphasizes the power and significance of the individual, it takes practice to humble ourselves and keep a Biblical perspective on life. It takes practice to see God’s fingerprints all over our lives, in every moment of every day. It takes practice to say, and then believe, that God alone is the source of everything, that he alone is the One who holds all things together. It takes practice to re-orient our hearts to see that without God we are nothing and have nothing. When we get to that point, our lives will finally begin to overflow with gratefulness as we give thanks to our Heavenly Father for and in all things. 
    WedWednesdayFebFebruary15th2012 Wednesday, February 15
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Col. 2:6-7, ESV)

     Several years ago The Navigators developed an intensive discipleship program based around these verses in Colossians, which they called “2:7.” The premise is simple, that “having received Christ” new believers need a simple plan for what happens next.

     Not surprisingly, the first lessons in their program are based around being “rooted in him” (as we discussed yesterday). In more concrete terms that means training in Bible reading and prayer. Without these fundamental building blocks in place our ability to grow will be limited.

    But the second component Paul draws out here involves a slightly different metaphor, as he calls the Colossians to be “built up in [Jesus].” There is, of course, overlap here with the image of abiding in the vine, but with a slightly different sense. In fact, as we consider what it means to have both a solid foundation and be a solid building, the discipleship process moves from learning tools to putting them into practice. As Jesus explains at the end of the Sermon on the Mount,

    Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. (Matt. 7:24, ESV)  

    Building our house on solid ground is not simply about rooting ourselves in Christ, but also putting into practice the things that he teaches us. In fact, being doers of the Word will allow us to be “established in the faith.”

    As we look at our lives, what are some tangible ways in which we are doing what Jesus calls us to do? Having heard His words, how are we putting them into practice?
    TueTuesdayFebFebruary14th2012 Tuesday, February 14
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    The best tomatoes, I’ve been told, come from plants with the healthiest, strongest roots. Those roots must go down deep and spread out wide, able to withstand variances in temperature and moisture while providing a steady and consistent supply of nutrients to the fast growing stems and heavy fruit above. Paul capitalizes on this kind of imagery as he explains what it means for the Colossians to “walk” in Jesus Christ.

    Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Col. 2:6-7, ESV)

     There’s a lot packed into these two verses, which we’ll unpack over the next couple of days, but the first key to walking in Christ is being rooted in him. Thankfully for those of us who lives in urban or suburban areas, we don’t have to be farmers to get this concept. Without a strong root system, plants will fail to grow and eventually wither and die. It’s an image that opens the book of Psalms (Psalm 1) and is developed by the prophet Jeremiah:

    “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water,    that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes,    for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought,    for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jer. 17:7-8, ESV)

    Jesus even alludes to this when he speaks of the need for his disciples to remain in him, as branches on a vine (John 15). Starve our bodies of food and water and we’ll die. Starve ourselves of spiritual sustenance, and over time our faith will grow cold and die.

     How are you rooting yourself in Christ? What spiritual disciplines have you found most helpful? Where are you struggling? Perhaps one of the best ways to stay on track with basics such as Bible reading and prayer is to ask someone you trust to hold you accountable. Commit today to letting a brother or sister in Christ encourage you in your efforts to set down deep roots.
    MonMondayFebFebruary13th2012 Monday, February 13
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    The other night I read Psalm 15 as a prayer of blessing over my daughters. I began,

    “May you be blessed with the abiding presence of the LORD. May your walk be blameless and your work be righteous.”[1]

     Before I could get any further I was interrupted,

    “How can a walk be blameless?”

    We had a great discussion, leading into the very passage we’re discussing this week, which begins,

    Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him (Col. 2:6, ESV).

    Which is a re-statement of Paul’s prayer at the beginning of the letter:

    And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Col. 1:9-10, ESV)

     Drawing from imagery in the Psalms and Proverbs, there are two ways to “walk” through life. The first is the way of the foolish man, who rejects God and chooses his own way, living his life under his own authority. This way of life is routinely condemned in the Bible, since it is a path that leads to death.

     The second way of walking through life is the way of the wise man, who fears God and embraces wisdom (Prov. 9:10), who “walks not in the counsel of the wicked” (Psalm 1:1, ESV) but chooses instead to walk with the wise (Prov. 13:20), which is the path of life (Prov. 12:28).

     Most of us like to think we are on the right path, but do our attitudes and actions live up to that claim? How actively are we pursuing the way of life, and setting aside anything that might hinder our efforts? If our movement has slowed down or even stalled out, what behaviors and practices can we change this week to facilitate continued growth in Christ?

     [1] I highly recommend the excellent resource, “A Father’s Guide to Blessing His Children,” by David Michael, which is the source of this prayer. My daughters and I love it! http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/bless-me-too-my-father

    FriFridayFebFebruary10th2012 Friday, February 10

    I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. (Col. 2:4-5, NIV)

     Paul’s concern for the Colossians is that they should stand firm in their faith and not be deceived or led astray by others. It’s a concern that is echoed in many of his letters, and finds precedent in Jesus’ many warnings against false teachers. “Standing firm,” however, can be easier said than done.

     For inspiration in the battle we all face, we turn to the last book of the Bible, Revelation, which begins with a series of brief greetings, or letters, to seven churches in Asia. For the most part, these do not make for encouraging reading. Yet there are actually some bright spots that stand out which pertain to Paul’s words of encouragement to the Colossians. Summarizing these seven “letters” in Revelation we discover:

    Though not perfect, the church in Ephesus is nevertheless commended for their hard work and perseverance through many hardships. Though enduring great suffering, the church in Smyrna is encouraged to “be faithful, even to the point of death.”

     Though some have been led astray by false teaching, the church in Pergamum has remained true and not renounced their faith in Jesus.

     Though condemned for tolerating the evil influence of Jezebel, at the same time Jesus says of the church in Thyatira, “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first” (Rev. 2:19, NIV). Jesus then goes on to encourage those who have resisted sin, “to hold on to what you have until I come” (Rev. 2:25, NIV).

     Though the church in Sardis is rebuked for being “dead” spiritually, Jesus calls them to remember what they “received and heard; hold it fast, and repent” (Rev. 3:3, NIV). Indeed, eternal life is promised for “the one who is victorious” (Rev. 3:5, NIV).

     Though they “have little strength” the church in Philadelphia is commended for having kept Jesus’ word in the face of opposition. Jesus is glad that they have endured patiently, and encourages them to persevere.

    Though they are criticized for their lukewarm faith and warned of impending judgment as a result, the church in Laodicea is nevertheless given an opportunity to repent and turn back to Jesus.

    Paul commends the Colossians for their discipline and faith in Christ. But the truth is that neither the Colossians nor us are ever that perfect. Our lives are a long race with many hurdles and struggles along the way. We will face endless challenges, and probably fall prey to numerous sins as we wend our way towards glorification.

     As we look at these snapshots of the seven churches in Asia, we can’t help but catch glimpses of our own struggles and failures. Yet the amazing thing is that imbedded in every one is the promise of new life and forgiveness for those who repent and believe. This is the glorious and empowering promise of the gospel. That though we sin and fall short, we can be forgiven and be made new through the atoning death of Jesus Christ. A firm and steady faith can only be built on the recognition that we are hopeless sinners desperately in need of God’s gracious love. In Christ alone will we ever have the power to persevere to the end.
    ThuThursdayFebFebruary9th2012 Thursday, February 9

    My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col. 2:2-3, NIV)

    Have you ever gone into a library and just stood in awe at the vast number of books collected in one place? What an incredible treasure trove of knowledge! I love books, and even though my small collection pales in comparison to some, there are still times when I look at them all, lined up neatly on the shelves, and marvel at the amount of wisdom collected in one small space.

    Yet all that thinking and writing and editing and publishing still pales in comparison to what we have accessible to us in Jesus Christ. The temptation is always there to equate the size of our library with the extent of our wisdom. Yet, how much is enough? Four bookcases? Fourteen? Forty? The writer of Ecclesiastes rightly noted at the end of his book,

     Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. (Ecc. 12:12, NIV)

    Even a lifetime of reading would barely scratch the surface of the total number of books made by humans over the years. Yet, we continue to scratch at this pile, sifting through the sediment hoping to find some little flakes of gold we can horde up as treasure and build our life upon.

     I’m not against books or reading. I am a chief offender when it comes to buying and collecting books. However, God does want us to be crystal clear about where our real source of wisdom is.

     1 My son, if you accept my words   
     and store up my commands within you,
     2 turning your ear to wisdom   
    and applying your heart to understanding—
     3 indeed, if you call out for insight   
    and cry aloud for understanding,
     4 and if you look for it as for silver   
    and search for it as for hidden treasure,
     5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD   
    and find the knowledge of God.
     6 For the LORD gives wisdom;   
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
     7 He holds success in store for the upright,   
    he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
     8 for he guards the course of the just   
    and protects the way of his faithful ones.
    9 Then you will understand what is right and just   
     and fair—every good path.
     10 For wisdom will enter your heart,   
    and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
    (Prov. 2:1-10, NIV)

    The Bible is clear that God, not a library, is the source of all wisdom. We may search for it in much the same way as we would look for silver, or “hidden treasure” (Prov. 2:4), but, “from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6). [1]

    Even Job realized this. “But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell?” (Job 28:12, NIV). The answer, Job rightly says, is not to be found in the darkest recesses of the earth. Wisdom is not a treasure in the traditional sense of the word, buried with diamonds and gold underground, but something far greater that resides solely with God. “God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells” (Job. 28:23, NIV).

    So now we come full circle back to Paul and his letter to the Colossians. His deepest concern is for them to be absolutely clear that the ultimate treasure, the most precious and incredible jewel they could possibly own, is Jesus Christ.

     The same applies for us today. This is not about buying or not buying books, but about trusting or not trusting God. When we find ourselves putting more stock in an author’s opinion, or a seminar speaker’s latest book, or a radio personality’s articulate arguments, than in God and His Word, then we may find that we have started to cross the line into idolatry; worshipping the creation instead of the Creator.

    Jesus alone is the one “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” May God help us to keep that truth in focus today.

     [1] The connection between Col. 2 and Prov. 2 comes from Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, 170.
    WedWednesdayFebFebruary8th2012 Wednesday, February 8

    My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, (Col. 2:2, NIV)

     In recent years many have argued that the surest evidence of our continual struggle with sin is the seemingly exponential expansion of different denominations within the Protestant Church. Now, on the one hand, yes, we have to protect orthodox beliefs and stand absolutely firm in what we believe. As a result we will sometimes have to break with those who are drifting away in the opposite direction.

    On the other hand, if we’re honest, we are perhaps sometimes a little too quick to jump ship rather than slowing down and doing the hard work of wrestling through disagreements. Nobody handles these things well. Churches can, over time, become so fixed in their way of doing things that any calls for change are treated as threats that have to be quickly eradicated. At the same time, in our low-commitment, do-it-yourself culture the temptation to go off and do our own thing rather than submit to church authority can sometimes be hard to resist.

     Of course, those are our concerns today. “The Church” as a whole was still so new and young at the time Paul was writing that these exact issues had not really raised their heads just yet. Certainly there were problems, but Paul wasn’t working in a world with thousands of different denominations.

     That said, Paul was still keenly aware of our all-too-human tendency to fracture and split apart. There’s a war at work inside all of us between the burning need for community and the strong desire for independence. We want both, but the results are not always pretty.

    As if sensing this kind of sinful struggle within us all, Paul calls the Colossians to “unity in love.” This is not unity for unity’s sake. He’s not seeking unity because it is politically expedient to do so. Rather, Paul has a specific and clear goal in mind. The Colossians are to be unified,

     “so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col. 2:2-3, NIV)

     From Paul’s perspective, unity is a necessary precursor to the complete understanding of Christ. Without unity, Paul seems to be saying, it’s hard to fully grasp the richness of life in Christ. Without unity we fail to understand the incredible joy and limitless grace we have in Jesus.

    “Unity in love” is not some wishy-washy set of emotions we’re supposed to muster up under our own strength, but an outcome of the work of the Spirit in our lives. “Unity in love” develops as we mature in Christ. “Unity in love” starts to happen when we finally come to terms with the fact that Christ calls us to subsume our selfish needs and desires under the ultimate authority of the Kingdom of God. Unity is what happens when we realize that Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is not an impossibly idealistic wish, but God’s heart-felt desire for His Church.

     Unity does not come easily, will always require compromise, and often involves pain. Coming together in community with other sinners is going to be a life-long struggle of messy proportions. Yet for some reason this is part of God’s plan for His people this side of Heaven. How are you letting the Spirit guide and lead you into “unity in love”? In what ways might you grow in your understanding of the mystery of God if you submitted to Christ’s call for greater unity in His Church?
    TueTuesdayFebFebruary7th2012 Tuesday, February 7

    My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, (Col. 2:2, NIV)

    Paul stands out in the New Testament as a pillar of strength and a powerful, charismatic leader for the early church. However, for all his drive and passion, he was a shepherd at heart, and this comes through clearly in his letter to the Colossians. All the striving and contending and hard work he has been talking about is on their behalf. Paul endures suffering and trials in order that the people he serves might benefit as a result.

     In this particular verse Paul talks about encouraging them “in heart.” So close to Valentine’s Day our tendency might be to start thinking of romantic feelings of love and tenderness. However, Paul is not interested so much in their emotions as he is their steadfast assurance and complete devotion. He wants them to be encouraged down to the very core of who they are. The encouragement should be infused into every part of their lives.

     Which makes sense given that this encouragement is not really the ultimate goal at all. Paul is not striving and contending simply to make the Colossians feel better. He is working so hard because he wants them to “know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.” That is the ultimate encouragement that brings the deepest happiness and richest possible sense of peace.

    We, too, though perhaps not gifted and called in the same way as Paul, have smaller-scale ministries of care and guidance and shepherding for the people we are closest to. Perhaps that’s a child, a grand-child, a niece or a nephew. Maybe you have a sibling, parent or a cousin that lives nearby. For some of us, it’s a neighbor or two who we’re particularly close to. Whoever it is, what steps can you take towards encouraging them in their faith, pushing them ever closer to the ultimate source of all joy and hope, Jesus Christ?
    MonMondayFebFebruary6th2012 Monday, February 6

    As we noted in the devotionals last week, Paul’s ministry was an incredible mixture of both his own hard work and the energizing power of the Holy Spirit:

    He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (Col. 2:28-29, NIV)

     Our Bibles insert a chapter division at this point, but Paul himself seems to continue his thought into the next verse, where he notes:  

    I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. (Col. 2:1, NIV)

    On the one hand Paul is the one strenuously contending on behalf of the Colossians. On the other hand, he does so “with all the energy Christ so powerfully works” in him. But whether it is through Paul’s efforts or the Spirit’s empowerment, the bottom line remains the same—ministry is hard work. Paul’s passion for the people of Colosse, Laodicea and the entire Roman Empire is intense and he is fully committed to seeing their lives transformed for Christ.

    The tendency might be to dismiss this as Paul’s specific calling, with no direct application for us. However, when we look at the gospels we see that Jesus makes repeated references to giving up everything and following Him into a life of hard work and suffering for the glory of God. Those calls apply to any who would call themselves a disciple of Christ.

     God has placed each one of us in a unique and special environment for ministry. There are many people who will not hear the gospel unless and until we ourselves share it with them. That’s why God put us in their lives. Who are those people in your life? Who are the people you want to see “fully mature in Christ”? How hard are you “contending” for them? Start today, and pray for the Holy Spirit to empower your efforts!
    FriFridayFebFebruary3rd2012 Friday, February 3

    Yesterday’s devotional, read in isolation, might lead one to think that Christianity is about “doing more and trying harder.” In fact, some might argue that by claiming we need to exercise our faith with the same kind of discipline as professional athletes, we minimize the life-changing power of the free gift of grace.

    Certainly, in a twisted way the call to work harder sometimes appeals to our human tendency to want to earn our way into God’s good graces. The church in Galatia, it would seem from Paul’s letter, was struggling with this very problem, willingly placing themselves back under the burden of the law that Christ had just freed them from!

    So, as if sensing this problem, in the very next verse of his letter to the Colossians, Paul applies a much needed corrective to help balance the picture, saying,

    To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (Col. 1:29, NIV)

    Yes, Paul affirms, maturity in Christ is something he pursues with every fiber of his being. However, that very strength is itself a gift from God, something that is not his at all. On the one hand Paul is going to “strenuously contend” for this goal with every ounce of strength he has, but on the other hand the source of that power is really Christ, not Paul.

    It’s always a both-and situation. Paul is constantly calling his disciples to work as hard as they can. But this call is always set within the context of God’s work in us.

    Yesterday I mentioned that Paul had written a letter to the Galatians, rebuking them for drifting into a works-based system of righteousness, unnecessarily putting the yoke of the law back on their own necks. Paul holds nothing back, berating them,

    You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? (Gal. 3:1-3)

    The Spirit, Paul says, is the one who is at work in our lives to energize us. The Spirit is the one who is at work in our lives to transform us. The law and our own efforts are powerless to do or to change anything. This week, as you join with Paul in striving for maturity in Christ, don’t give up and don’t lose hope. Though Satan may send every possible temptation and trouble your way, remember that it is Christ at work in you who provides the power and strength to move forward in your faith.

    And finally, know that you are not alone, for we are in this together as brothers and sisters in Christ, and I personally join with Paul in saying,

    In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil. 1:6, NIV).

    ThuThursdayFebFebruary2nd2012 Thursday, February 2

    We have such ready access to Christian books and materials today it is almost embarrassing. Christian bookstores are overflowing with books on Christian living and theology and Bible study. Hop online and you can access hundreds of sermons from hundreds of pastors from all over the world. We have three Christian radio stations just in our area, and access to more via satellite. Yet, for all this teaching are we really growing up? Are we actually maturing in Christ or simply coasting on the coat-tails of famous pastors and brand-name churches?

    Whatever the situation today, Paul was crystal clear in his mission to the Colossians:

    He [Jesus Christ] is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. (Col. 1:28, NIV)

    For Paul, there was one goal, one main purpose for his teaching and preaching ministry—maturity in Christ. Maturity is far more than simply being better than the next guy. What Paul has in mind is a lifetime of obedient faith. It’s a long-term commitment to Christ reflected in a significant and sustained growth in Christ-likeness. Such a lifestyle is neither natural nor easy. It’s hard work, and many will give up along the way. It’s no accident that the incidence of moral and spiritual failure seems to increase as we get older. We get tired. The race seems so long. The goal so far away.

    This is why Paul is constantly urging his readers to press on, to keep fighting. In his letter to the Corinthians he says,

    Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Cor. 9:24-27, NIV)

    This is not the kind of message we’re used to hearing when it comes to Christian living. Yet, it’s something we tend to idolize in the world of athletic achievement. Take the Super Bowl for example. We’re fast approaching Super Bowl Sunday. Loyalties to one side, at this moment in time these are the top two teams in the country. They have endured phenomenally strict training in order to get to this moment and viewers will be assailed with every possible statistical detail about the athletic prowess of these modern day mighty men.

    Paul is not interested in critiquing these kind of athletic pursuits, but he is deeply concerned that his readers not lose sight of the appropriate goal. What these football (and basketball, and hockey, and soccer) players achieve on the field is amazing, and sometimes even inspiring, but ultimately “perishable.” They work for “a crown that will not last” while we will receive “a crown that will last forever,” namely eternal life in the presence of God.

    Therefore, as Paul says, we should direct all our energies towards the pursuit of God. The finishing line for us is maturity in Christ. It’s the life-long application of all the books, sermons, podcasts and Bible reading that we do. It’s the person who has given over their life completely to fulfilling the great commission call to make disciples. In the final accounting, our obedient pursuit of Christ is the only thing that will matter. That is a goal worth striving for.  What steps are you taking today to obediently pursue Christ?

    WedWednesdayFebFebruary1st2012 Wednesday, February 1

    To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

    How long has it been since you were saved? A year? Five? Twenty? How often do you reflect on the enormity of that moment? Do you ever pause to think through the incredible and astonishing implications of that single moment in time?

    In almost every single letter Paul wrote there’s a palpable sense of awe and wonder at the free gift he has personally been given in and through Jesus. There’s a sense in which Paul just can’t ever quite get over the fact that God loves him that much. For Paul, the idea that he has been restored into right relationship with God is not some dry dusty theological concept, but a dazzling daily reality. His black and white world has suddenly become filled with color.

    18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Eph. 1:18-23)

    And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:6-7)

    Christ is in us. He’s in you. He’s in me. The Messiah, the Savior, the Beginning and the End, our living hope is dwelling in us through the Holy Spirit. It’s simple enough that my little girl can understand it, but deep enough that I almost can’t quite comprehend it. The glorious riches of this truth are an endless source of joy and wonder and discovery and delight. They are a treasure-trove without any end.

    Christ in me, the hope of glory. May God forgive me for taking His presence too lightly and treating this wondrous truth too glibly.  Pray and ask God to give you that same sense of wonder and awe that Paul experienced.  

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