Archive for June, 2017

One sure fire way to be less obnoxious

June 30th, 2017 by Maureen

“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” Such teachings are about perishable things. These rules might seem god because rules like these promote will power, humility,  and asceticism but provide no value toward the goal of addressing self-indulgence. Col. 2:21-23

We identify some personal goal or some self-destructive tendency and decide to use one of the many programs or apps designed to help us with self-control. Follow a diet. Create a budget. Read the Bible in a year. Do the 12 steps. Walk the 10,000 steps. Practice daily for half-an hour. Disciplines can be beneficial to our lives; and there is nothing wrong with using tools that help us live healthier, more functional lives. Overemphasis on our disciplines makes us obnoxious, though. Relationships suffer when we base our esteem of ourselves and others on measuring up to a discipline. Legalism happens when we make doctrines out of a discipline that works for us as individuals and attempt to impose it on everyone else as the God-approved method for addressing a particular issue. This does not work. And…if you must be a vocal evangelist about something, let it be about the love, grace, and freedom of Christ not your current self-improvement program.

Lord, If we employ disciplines help us to do so appropriately.

Questions worth asking about all things

June 29th, 2017 by Maureen

and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself — having made peace through the blood of His cross — through Him, whether the things upon the earth, whether the things in the heavens. Col. 1:20

If Christ reconciles all things, then why is this such an agitated, confusing, disagreeable world? How are we supposed to go about reconciling the world to Christ? Such questions motivate humans to organize religious, political, or social reforms or target injustices or try really hard to do what Jesus would do. Such attempts might cause positive change in the world, and in ourselves, but our best efforts to reconcile things to Christ on our own generally result in forced conformity. More constructive questions to pursue: How do we embrace and reflect His reconciliation? How do we learn to notice and celebrate His reconciliation in all the things around us? How do we help wake up the world to His reconciliation? Pursuing such questions leads to greater peace, freedom, and awareness as we trust that Christ is the agent of reconciliation having made our peace already.

Lord, help me to live reconciliation.

Toxic control methods to recognize and run from

June 27th, 2017 by Maureen

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement* and the worship** of angels (or messengers), going on in detail about visions, unreasonably inflated based on human conceits, not securing to Christ, the head, who holds all other parts of the body together so that it grows with a growth that is from God. Col. 1:18-19

Nobody gets to disqualify someone Christ has redeemed.  Nobody gets to impose a set of rules, practices, restrictions and positions on someone Christ has set free. Nobody gets to use angels and visions as a means of control or validation. Nobody gets to feed their own ego by using their “spirituality” as social currency. These sorts of toxic control methods are often orchestrated by leaders focused on “growth” whether it be numerical or “spiritual.” Such growth comes by creating “us” and “them” categories so that members of a group can feel superior or special; or by institutionalizing growth so that members can feel like they are progressing by meeting goals and criteria. Trusting Christ to grow us and other people, and letting go of control and the pride that comes with control, leads to a much more organic and less self-directed growth experience. Christ-directed growth creates a greater sense of connection with those around us who are also part of what Christ is holding together and growing.

Lord, help me to let go of the human conceits and let You manage growth.

 

*tapeinophrosynē tr. humility, forms of personal asceticism, or self-abasement (literal “unto a lowed centeredness“)

**thrēskeia tr. worship (can represent range of meanings: “general religion, cultic practices, religious traditions, religious obligations, philosophical positions”) and often carries negative connotations in Greek writings outside the Bible.

 

Shadows and reality

June 26th, 2017 by Maureen

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath which was a shadow of what was to come, but the reality is found in Christ.  Col. 2:16-17

Some people use rituals, icons, and observation of holy days to enhance spiritual meaning, and experience God in the process. Some consider such things superficial and find no spiritual value in observing them, and experience God through individual processes (which, if honestly analyzed, might qualify as personal “rituals.”) Interpreting the ritual or tradition, or the rejecting of it, as the pathway to interaction with God will likely result in a shadowed experience; as will getting judgy and insisting that everyone else is “doing it wrong.” If the reality of spiritual experience with God is found in Christ, and if Christ is love and His message is grace, then the way we interact with God is enhanced by love and grace toward those around us.

Thank You God for wanting to be close to us and wanting us to experience closeness with you. Help us all come out of any shadows and into the reality found in Christ.

 

Life story spoiler: Christ Wins

June 19th, 2017 by Maureen

He forgave and cancelled the demands of the law, which was hostile to us, he has taken away the law by nailing it to the cross. He stripped the principalities of power, publicly showing them up for what they are though Christ’s triumph over them. Col. 2:14b-15

The hostility of the law leaves us feeling condemned, controlled, manipulated, indebted, guilty, and exhausted. At the cross Christ took away the power of law, along with all the other empty deceits referenced earlier in the chapter. Christ made very public and decisive statements about who He came to rescue and, by implication, who would suffer defeat because of that rescue. We are broken hearts now restored, captives now freed, impaired people now whole, impoverished souls made rich. By recognizing His triumph we can begin to live like it.

Lord, show me how to live my life with the awareness that You have defeated all the things that oppressed and suppressed me.

 

A good cosmic skin peel

June 18th, 2017 by Maureen

In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands by the stripping off of the body of flesh, symbolically buried in baptism, you are raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God who raised Him from the dead. Although you were dead…God made you alive with Christ. Col. 2:11-13a

Something new happens to us when we believe in Christ. He offers us life, freedom, and goodwill in all the areas in which we felt dead, trapped, and victimized. Whatever needs stripping away be it mask or chain or grave-clothes, Christ strips us down to our true and redeemed selves. Being made alive with Christ is experiential. It is awareness. It is meaning. It is truth.

Lord, thank you for this fresh aliveness.

If you are out god shopping…look no further

June 17th, 2017 by Maureen

See that no one robs you of what Christ offers you or takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit according to the tradition of men, according to the stoicheion* of the world and not according to Christ. For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells in bodily form, and you have fullness in Him who is the head of every principality and power. Col. 2:8-9

The Colossians apparently had a number of competing philosophies to choose from. Since pre-history humans have created explanations for natural phenomenon and developed mythologies to address fundamental questions like “Why am I here?” and “Why did that happen?” and “Are there forces that determine catastrophe or success, and can I influence them for my benefit?” Religions developed from these stories and the leaders who regulated religious thought could control human culture and command its wealth. Some early scientists and philosophers also attempted associate human fate with natural phenomena like elements, planets, or bodily humors (fluids). Christ came to free humans from reliance on all the principles (including the law) that humans thought governed their fate and instead present Himself as preeminent, sufficient, loving, gracious, abundant, and available God. Christ is not a deity who is separate from humanity, but instead dwells in humanity and causes humanity to dwell in Himself.

Lord, I am complete in You.

*Stoicheion can mean element, rudiment, or principle;  “any first thing from which others belonging to some series or composite take their whole”; spoken sounds of the alphabet; four elements (earth, water, air, fire); principles of religious thought; stellar spirits associated with heavenly bodies (angels or demons).

Christ does not need “brand managers”

June 16th, 2017 by Maureen

So just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, established in the faith according to teaching, abounding in thanksgiving. Col. 2:6-7

Over time we can become more enamored with the brand of “Christian” than with the Christ we once received so gratefully and personally. We can trade our sense of identity in Christ for affiliation with a doctrine or a cause. We can appoint ourselves His brand managers and focus on exclusivity or commercial appeal. We can attempt to institutionalize, organize, or regulate in order to franchise the faith. In our zealous drive to establish something great for Him, we can forget that He is the one who establishes. We can over-complicate His grace and love. We don’t always recognize that we are doing this. Sometimes we need to step away and remember how to live in Him again in the simplicity of love, grace, and gratitude.

Lord, help me to rediscover the simple and beautiful experience of breathing in and out in rhythm with Your breath.

The Tribe of Christ

June 15th, 2017 by Maureen

…for even if in the flesh I am absent, yet I am in the spirit with you, beholding and taking joy in the harmonious order* and solid foundation of your faith in Christ. Col. 2:5

Seth Godin describes a tribe as “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. Hallmarks of a well-functioning tribe is for members to feel that they belong, to feel appreciated and accepted, and to feel they are valuable to the idea that brought the group together.  “Taxis,” frequently translated “good order,” means harmonious arrangement in the way a military brigade functions as one unit. Though he had not yet visited Colossae when this letter was written, Paul identifies himself as one of the tribe: “I am with you in Spirit,” and compliments them on their harmony and unity as a group. Continuing the theme of the centrality of Christ from earlier in the letter, Paul applauds how inter-connected and united in Christ, their leader, this groups seems to be. He reminds them of the idea, the good news, once again Christ Himself, that gives the tribe its identity. How functional are the tribes that bind us to Christ and to one another?

Lord, thank you for the identity we have in Christ as individuals and in our tribes.

Love reasoning, reason lovingly

June 14th, 2017 by Maureen

I am telling you this so that no one can deceive you by false reasoning using persuasive arguments. Col. 2:4

Paul, in the previous verse just got through telling the Colossians that love is the starting point to apprehending the knowledge that leads to fulfillment. And that that in Christ all the wisdom and knowledge is hidden. Even knowing this people can be persuasive with out using good reasoning. There are two types of reasoning.
Deductive reasoning starts with a theory, gathers and observes data and then uses that data to reach a conclusion that can be considered proof of the theory.
Inductive reasoning begins with a premise, gathers and observes uses inferences to arrive at a theoretical conclusion.
Inductive reasoning is just about all we’ve got to go on in theological debate. There is very little Christians can prove conclusively. Realizing that goes a long way toward assessing arguments and offering opinions. So does understanding rhetorical fallacy.
The assumption that Christ is preeminent and that He is love is an interesting and challenging premise with which to start and argument. What kind of argument can even follow that?

Lord, let not only my words, but my tone and spirit reflect the preeminence and love of Christ.

To love is to know

June 13th, 2017 by Maureen

I want this for you so much I am in agony: that you be encouraged and comforted in your hearts and be knit together and united in love toward experiencing all the riches that comes with full assurance of understanding of the knowledge of God’s mystery of God the Father and of Christ, in whom is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Col. 2:1-2

What is it that Paul wants for the Colossians? to feel encouraged and comforted and to unite in love
What is the result of this? experiencing benefits that come with assurance of understanding
What is this understanding? knowledge of God’s mystery
Where is the knowledge found? in Christ (where all the wisdom and knowledge is found, btw)
What’s the mystery again? A few verses up Paul said that the mystery is “Christ in you the hope of glory.”

So in order to attain this knowledge Paul is basically telling the Colossians to love. Apparently this knowledge, this mystery of God, involves more than intellectual pursuit. Relationships and emotions are involved in knowing. The heart of the Father and of Christ are “God so loved the world…” (Jn. 3:16) The prayer of Christ to the Father is that “they [us] be one as we are one.(Jn. 17:22) Love doesn’t necessarily mean that we will agree about everything. It doesn’t mean scholarship is not important. But it looks like the deep and satisfying experience of being in Christ is not something we obtain through nailing down our theology and convincing others we are right. Christ in us means love in us.

Lord, lead me deeper into the mystery of love and help me to recognize and embrace its riches.

Powerful implications

June 12th, 2017 by Maureen

To this I labor, contending with adversaries* according to His power that works powerfully in me. Col. 1:29

The word “agōnizomai” means to contend in gymnastic games. It includes the idea of adversaries and a prize. The traditional translation of  “agōnizomai” is “striving.” Figuring out the subject of the struggle (to what does Paul labor?) and figuring out who the adversary is determines what Paul is saying about himself. It goes back to how we understand the previous verse. If maturity is indeed what Paul is contending with, and  the previous verse really is about human responsibility for their own perfection then the adversary is within. Whatever thoughts, behaviors, influences that are keeping Paul from maturing are what he is striving against*.  If communicating the gospel of Christ is the subject of the previous verse then what Paul is struggling to do is teach, and his adversaries are the people who put him in jail, his circumstantial struggles,  and the false messages and messengers he addresses in the next chapter. Either way you want to look at it, what Paul is saying about God remains the same: the power of Christ in us carries us through every struggle.

Lord, I can’t do any of this without Your power in me.

(*Even if internal strife isn’t what Paul is talking about in this specific verse, and I don’t think it is,  it would be dishonest not to acknowledge that internal conflict is real and sometimes debilitating.)

Implications of translation

June 11th, 2017 by Maureen

Christ is the one we proclaim, directing everyone’s thinking toward Him, and teaching everyone with all wisdom so that we present everyone as complete and perfect in Christ.  Col. 1:28

The entire previous chapter is about Christ’s preeminence and our inheritance in Him and through Him. Translation has a lot to do with what we conclude Paul wants to teach us about Christ. Traditionally this verse is translated to read that Paul is “warning everyone and teaching everyone so that he can present everyone as mature.” According to  Strong’s the word *noutheteō means “put in mind” then Strong’s says “(by implication) to caution or reprove.” Could this be a case of translators making assumptions about what the word must mean in context based on their theological presuppositions? “Warning” is a much more controlling word that could even carry implications of consequence and punishment that “put in mind” does not. If Paul is warning these people, it’s is not about maturity but about legalism, asceticism, and some other “isms” discussed in the next chapter.  The implications of translating “noutheteō” as “put in mind” and “teleios” as “complete or perfect” makes it  just as likely that Paul is trying to get everyone to stop striving toward some humanly defined version of perfect that continually reminds us that we are “not enough” and rest in and enjoy the perfect completeness that comes with recognizing that it is Christ is Who makes us “enough.”

Lord, I want to keep thinking and being in You.

 

Mystery solved, sort of

June 10th, 2017 by Maureen

God put me [Paul] here for your benefit, to make the* word** of God fully known, the* mystery that* was hidden for the* ages and the* generations but now revealed to his saints; to them God desired to make known among the* Gentiles the* glorious riches of this one and no other*** mystery which is Christ in you, the* hope, the* glory. Col. 1:26-27

Paul says he is there to explain a mystery that has been hidden for ages before the time he is speaking. Generations of Jews had not been able to unlock this mystery. Their definitive solution: “Moses on the mountain with the tablets” didn’t win their cosmic game of Clue. So, according to Paul, now God is revealing the mystery, aka “the word of God” not only to the people who might have been trying to figure it out but also to people who weren’t even playing the game, the Gentiles. So what is it? What is the mystery? What is the “word of God?” Christ in you with hope and glory. Christ is God’s divine utterance, the conclusion to which all His previous discourse and analogy speaks. And He dwells inside us. Christ is this intimate, specific presence within us and yet how this can be, what this means, and where it takes us opens up yet another exciting mystery.

Lord, open my heart and mind to the mysteries of You in me, the hope, and the glory of that.

 
*ho tr. “the” and “of” (means: “who, what, which, what, that”)
**logos tr. “word” (means “divine utterance,” “analogy,” “speaking to a conclusion,” “discourse”)
***ho ho houtos” appears before mystery (the “houtos” indicates something specific, “this one,” also refers to the subject of the sentence)

Happy to help, really happy

June 9th, 2017 by Maureen

I rejoice in my suffering “hyper hymies” tr. for your sake (means “for the betterment of you”)  With my flesh I am “antanaplēroō” tr. “completing” (means: filling up the gaps)  lacking in the “thlipsis” tr. afflictions (means: pressures) of Christ for the sake of His body, which is the church.  Col. 1:24

If Christ’s work of reconciliation is sufficient then this can’t mean there was any lack in Christ’s suffering that Paul must complete. Instead this is about being part of a community, the church.  Like parents who gladly make sacrifices for their children, Paul writes from jail that he is happy to suffer if it means the church as Colossus is made better. Just like now, the church and individuals associated experienced regular life pressures. There were also pressures from people who insisted that the church adopt not only Jewish law, but on a variety of ideas and practices prevalent in the culture. People disagreed within the church. Such pressures can weaken a group and exhaust individuals within it. Think of this pressure like a football line. Gaps weaken the line. Paul is expressing his willingness to fill the gaps left in the line by those who succumb to pressure. This is what people who love one another do. Without shaming, without judgment, out of love, we step in, happy – actually rejoicing – that we can help even when we know it’s going to be a pain to do so. This kind of attitude does not begin as an instinctive response but seems to have evolved into one for Paul.

Lord, I feel like such a lightweight.  Help me to experience this happiness when stepping in for others inconveniences me.

Considering “iffyness”

June 8th, 2017 by Maureen

You who were at one time alienated, hostile in mind, in “ponēros” tr. evil works (also means: full of labors, annoyances, hardships; causing pain or trouble; diseased or blind; hurtful, evil, wicked, bad) but now He has reconciled You in His body through death to present you holy, unblemished and blameless in His sight, eige tr. “if”(also means: inasmuch, assumed true for the sake of argument, or since) you remain in the pistis tr. faith (persuasion, conviction, belief, trust, guarantee,  faith received from God) being founded and settled and not moved away from the hope of the good news which you heard and was preached in all creation under heaven.  Col. 1:21-23

That “if” could open a can of theological worms. Is this an “if” that can change the power of Christ’s death and resurrection? Sometimes the labors, annoyances, and hardships we encounter in the world disorient us and we respond  in ways that are hurtful to ourselves and others. Messing up affects how we see ourselves, not how God sees us. Focusing on the “if” creates more fear and alienation. Assuming a hope filled perspective (i.e. pistis) is a gift and God gave it to us, then not using it consistently does not really change the fact that it is still there and it is still ours? Learning to use the gift means experiencing Christ’s renewing of our minds, thinking differently rather than reinforcing old mental pathways. It’s important to keep going back to the idea of reconciliation, God’s loving intents, and seeing ourselves as God sees us.

Lord, help me remember that I now and always live in the hope of the good news and that You lovingly, graciously, deliberately put me here.

Peace is the effect of reconciliation

June 7th, 2017 by Maureen

Because in Him it pleased all the “plērōma” tr. fullness (also means: all of God’s divine nature, harmony, the totality of the spiritual universe, to be filled up, that which patches or fills in) to dwell, and through Him to “apokatallassō” tr. reconcile (bring back a former state of harmony; the prefix “apo” means “away from”) all things to Himself whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through His blood shed on the cross. Col. 1:19-20

This verse is part of a whole passage in Colossians that reinforces the identify and primacy of Christ as the full representation of God’s own nature, addresses His mission – reconciliation – and its effect on humankind. Everything in God’s being is focused on reconciliation. This passage leaves no room for a “bad cop – good cop” interpretation in which kind, gentle Jesus begs the angry Father to spare us. At some point the human condition was in harmony with God and restoring that condition is the mission. An effect of reconciliation is peace. Peace is a condition in which fear and conflict does not exist. And yet, so much prayer, study, preaching, and day-to-day life seems to be focused on guilt, conflict and fear within and without. Perhaps a greater sense of peace and reconciliation is available through focusing on Christ, accepting that reconciliation moves us away from guilt, fear, and conflict and into experiencing the state of harmony with God.

Thank you, Father, Christ, and Spirit for reconciling me into your fullness. Lead me deeper into that experience.

The domino effect

June 6th, 2017 by Maureen

Christ is the head of the body, the church. He is the “archē” tr. beginning (also origin, leader, or the first person or thing in a series, the extremity, the principality or rule), the firstborn “ek” tr. “from” (expanded meaning is “out from among, from the inside out”) from the dead in order that he might “ginomai” tr. be (means: emerge, transition from one state to another, change of state from one to another) preeminent in all things. Col. 1:18

Imagine wandering through a giant maze of rotting wooden dominoes, each one being something that misinforms or misdirects. Because this is the world we know, we keep propping up the dominoes. As the first in the series, Christ’s victory over death topples the big one at the end. One by one the dead wood that built up over time in humankind’s pursuit (or avoidance) of relationship with God falls. The landscape changes; light streams in and one by one over time a series of wide-eyed humans emerge from the rubble. His preeminence in all things in our individual lives affects our own emergence out from among the dead wood that obscures our view, distracts our attention, and creates dead-end detours. How we experience our lives in Christ is a matter of what we choose to focus on, what we try to prop up, and what we make priority.

Lord, keep knocking down my dead dominoes, keep emerging as preeminent.

Christ first. Christ synistēmi.

June 5th, 2017 by Maureen

Christ came pro tr. before (means both in front of and earlier than) everything else and in Him everything else synistēmi tr. holds together (also means consists, brings together, unites parts into a whole, compares and contrasts as a teaching method). Col. 1:17

If Christ has preeminence and unifies everything else in Himself, then we have every reason to adopt an optimistic attitude. But we humans tend to prefer “compare and contrast” to “uniting parts into a whole.” We tend to focus on differences, to notice inconsistencies with our views, to try and fix those inconsistencies, to establish “us and them” contexts, and to adopt adversarial narratives. Using these perspectives to see the world and to see ourselves in it can create rather negative attitudes toward everything that is not perceived as “us.” Christ’s prayer to the Father in John 17 “make them one as we are one,” is not Jesus’ desperate plea or wishful thinking, but confident confirmation of His synistēmi and an expression of His desire that humans be awareness of it. This loving unity is the joyful context in which Christ reconciled the world to Himself (2 Cor 5:19). What would happen if we could approach all our interactions, with other humans, with nature, and with social, political, and economic structures fully aware that Christ is before everything in all senses of the word, and that we all exist together in His synistēmi?

Help me put my attitudes in the synistēmi context of Your loving whole.

Iconic Jesus

June 4th, 2017 by Maureen

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for in Him all things are created, in heaven and on earth, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things have been created through him or for him. Col. 15-16

An icon is a religious work of art sometimes with symbolic and even miraculous associations. In computing, an icon is a pictogram displayed on a computer screen in order to help navigate the computer system. So much about the Trinity as God is shrouded in mystery. We don’t understand how there can be one God yet three distinct Persons but we can wrap our heads around an in-the-flesh historic human life and a real-time demonstration of His love. Jesus became icon for humanity to navigate the spiritual world. Jesus is primary and pivotal in contemplating our very existence.

Lord, I exist through You and for You.