Colossians 3:12-17 – Wear the Right Clothes

God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you. Love is more important than anything else. It is what ties everything completely together.

Each one of you is part of the body of Christ, and you were chosen to live together in peace. So let the peace that comes from Christ control your thoughts. And be grateful. Let the message about Christ completely fill your lives, while you use all your wisdom to teach and instruct each other. With thankful hearts, sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. Whatever you say or do should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks to God the Father because of him. (Contemporary English Version)

New life is fantastic!… Until it isn’t.

Like a new car eventually losing its new car smell, so it is quite easy for the Christian to experience the mountaintop of transformation, only to lug back down and walk through the boring old valley.

And it’s fun to have a new set of clothes… until they wear out, go out of style, or fall apart in the washing machine. the thing about those new clothes we were so excited about when we got them is that they are wearing out.

When I was eight-years-old (a long time ago!) I still remember my favorite pair of jeans. I wore them every day. My Mom had to order me to take them off so she could wash them. Finally, after having several patches sewn on them, having grown too much, and with the material so thin you could see through them in places, that old ratty pair of jeans actually just fell off my body in a heap, as if to say, “Enough is enough, boy!”

Our nice white spiritual clothes, given to us through Christ’s resurrection, are to be our favorites. We need to clothe ourselves in them every day.

Because of Christ’s redemptive events of crucifixion and resurrection, believers can experience new life, free from sin, death, and hell.  Oh, it isn’t that we never need to deal with evil; we very much do. The difference is that we now have a new awareness of our spirituality.  And with awareness comes choices. 

If we aren’t aware of our feelings, our spirit, and/or old nature, well, then, it’s as if we operate on auto-pilot – losing altitude in an immanent descent into tragedy. When we are aware of our inner selves, then we mindfully ascend through the clouds to join Christ.

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4:22-24, NIV

We can make choices about what to wear. With awareness, we look in the mirror and see that the grave clothes need to come off. The old raggedy garments of pride and hubris, greed and immorality, selfish lust, jealous envy, spiritual gluttony, unholy anger, and complacency get taken off and tossed in the garbage. 

We then go to God’s expansive walk-in closet and choose the bright raiment of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and grab the beautiful coat of love which covers it all with such dignity and honor.

It would be super weird to try and put the new clothes over the old raggedy grave clothes. That’s not only gross, but it’s also downright wrongheaded. Practical Christianity always involves two actions: taking-off and putting-on. 

“No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don’t put your wine in cracked bottles.”

Matthew 9:16-17, MSG

Human willpower and/or ingenuity tries to live a virtuous life while ignoring the vices. This will not do for the Christian. The endearing qualities we so desire to possess cannot be obtained without first dealing with the crud of sin which clings to us like so many stinky dirty clothes. To put this in theological terms: the cross and resurrection go together. Sin must be put to death before a victorious life is put on.

Once we have acknowledged sin, let Christ take it all off, and put on the new clothes. Then we’re ready to hit the town in style!  We walk out the door with a tremendous sense of peace, knowing God in Christ has cleaned us up.  We stroll into the world with lips whistling and a song in our hearts – singing with gratitude for what the risen Christ has accomplished on our behalf. 

After all, we just put on expensive clothes and it didn’t cost us a dime.  In fact, we’re so darned thankful that we don’t just talk to others, we sing our words to them – even though we can’t carry a tune.  It doesn’t matter.  Our coat of love compels us.

Almighty and everlasting God, you willed that our Savior should take upon him our clothing of death upon the cross so that all humanity would have the privilege of wearing humility, gratitude, and love. Mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of Christ’s life, and also be made aware of our participation in his glorious resurrection, in the power of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Colossians 1:15-23 – Worship That Is Fit for a King

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.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (New International Version)

Jesus is King. Neither you, nor I, are. 

A simple statement; yet, not easily engrafted into daily life. 

The original sin of Adam and Even was rebellion – to break the bonds of loving authority God provided for them. We (especially us Americans) have this nasty anti-authoritarian strain which runs rather deep in us. 

As a child, when my middle daughter was grappling with the implications of faith in Christ, she once blurted out an honest cry that we can likely resonate with: “I just don’t want another person in my life telling me what to do!” 

Indeed, Jesus is King; we are not.

The New Testament lesson for today is rich with the pre-eminence and lordship of Jesus Christ: 

  • All things were created through Jesus and for him. 
  • Everything in all creation is held together by Jesus. 
  • Christ is the head of the church. 
  • In Jesus Christ, complete divinity exists and reigns. 
  • Jesus made peace through the cross because he had the authority and the qualifications to do so. 
  • Broken relationships and proper lines of authority are now restored and redeemed in Christ.

We can also likely relate to, at times, indulging an illusion of being in control and independently dictating the course of our lives. Yet, mercifully, Jesus is the great Sovereign, and this is a good thing – because in Christ we find reconciliation and purity of life. 

“The supreme thing is worship. The attitude of worship is the attitude of a subject bent before the King… The fundamental thought is that of prostration, of bowing down.”

G. Campbell Morgan

Because Christ is King, we really ought to submit to him. In fact, we need to pay some attention to how our bodies are to submit to his lordship.

When the body moves to animating physical actions of submission, this helps the heart to follow. Whole person worship involves engaging the mind, spirit, emotions, and, yes, the body. To neglect the body in worship is to truncate the ability to connect with God in Christ.

A typical metaphor for the Church is the “Body of Christ.” We can live into that phrase through an embodied spirituality of submission. Our individual bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, important for expressing worship. (1 Corinthians 3:16)

God created us with literal physical bodies. And Jesus has a literal physical body. Bodies are important for whole person worship. This means the physical postures we take in worshiping King Jesus are significant. We need to pay attention to them.  

A healthy practice for Christians is to kneel in the presence of the Lord. I realize some Christian traditions do it as a part of their worship, and some do not. Some like it, some don’t. Yet, bowing, even prostrating oneself (if you are physically able!) can be a powerful symbol of the heart’s desire and disposition to submit to the lordship and authority of Jesus Christ. 

Crawling out of bed in the morning onto one’s knees and beginning the day aiming to live into the will of God, and ending the day in the same manner, are a practical means of remembering who Jesus is and who we are.

I believe all believers need to feel free in adopting a physical posture of worship which helps them connect with God in Christ. For some, that will be sitting in a comfortable position in contemplation. Others will want to stand, raise their hands, even dance in praise.

It also behooves us to let our bodies respond to whatever is happening with us spiritually. Exuberant praise needs the expression of hand clapping and toe tapping. Confession of sin needs a bit of bowing, kneeling, even prostrating. For prayer, hands open and palms facing up to receive blessing from God is a good bodily position of worship.

You get the idea. Just remember we need to strive for congruence in our worship, that is, what is happening with our outward bodily movements needs to match what is occurring inward with our spirits. And when the two are in sync, meaningful worship can happen – worship of submission fit for a king.

Sovereign God, in your mercy you have sent your Son, the Lord Jesus, who has brought reconciliation to a once broken relationship.  I bow before you in obedience, submission, and worship.  Let me live a cross-shaped life through enjoying the peace you have given me in Christ in both body and soul. Amen.

Colossians 4:2-18 – The Christian Life as Its Meant To Be Lived

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. (New International Version)

Every church has its problems. Much like individual believers, each faith community has its own character and personality – which makes their particular issues unique to them.

The Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the church in the ancient city of Colossae to address an issue which was weighing on his heart.

Broadly speaking, the problem of the church was legalism. That is, boiling down and condensing the Christian life into spiritual rules to live by. Although, on the surface, that may not sound so terrible, for Paul it was damaging to Christianity.

Whenever anyone or any group of people systematize Christianity into a list, it is a fool’s errand. Let’s face it: the worship of God, and thus the Christian life, is, for the most part, ethereal and mysterious. Throughout church history there have been legions of folks who have attempted to nail down Christianity into laws we can clearly see and hold people accountable to.

Whether it is making human contrived lists of sins to avoid and codifying them as something like the Terrible Ten or the Nasty Nine; or whether it is trying to humanly comprehend salvation in a tidy Five Spiritual Laws or Basic Principles for Life – all this predilection for list-making does nothing but discourage the Christian heart and divide one another about things that just don’t matter.

Paul wanted all his churches to be encouraged and united in the love of God in Christ through the enablement of the Holy Spirit. This requires prayer – lots of it! Because we must live by faith, trusting God for each step to take in the Christian life, rather than relying on the list to tell me what to do.

So, that’s why Paul ended his letter to the church on a note exhorting the people to never give up praying.

“Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of Containing God’s gift of himself.”

Mother Teresa (1910-1997)

Devoting ourselves to prayer means that we will need to quit devoting ourselves to something else – namely, the nice, neat, packaged formula of do’s and don’ts on the list. Paul didn’t just want the people to adopt a different list; he wanted all the lists tossed into hell!

Instead of always trying to control outcomes, Paul wanted perseverance in prayer without knowing what the result and outcome would be. His deep desire was that believers would rely on God and the mystery of Christ. He longed for the church to pray with all their doubts and uncertainties – not believing they always needed sure answers for everything.

The Christian life cannot be made into some geeky algorithm so that we can avoid suffering, know all the right things to say in a conversation, and always keep God happy. God is not some algebra equation to figure out. He is not a gumball machine to put a quarter in and get what you want. He is not Santa God. 

Christianity requires living in the tension of not knowing everything and yet having cogent answers for others who inquire about our faith.  It is a dynamic relationship in which we must continually interact in prayer to God as we largely improvise our lives, spontaneously applying what understanding we have for each situation we face.

“The whole reason why we pray is to be united into the vision and contemplation of God to whom we pray.”

Julian of Norwich (1342-c.1416)

Christians need an ongoing dialogue with the God who answers in his own good time, according to his own good will. We are to make good use of the time God has given through choosing our words with others wisely as we simultaneously carry on a silent prayer conversation with God. This is a Christianity that’s far above rules and laws and checklists. It is Christianity as it’s meant to be lived, depending on Jesus, and relaxed in the Spirit.

This takes practice, practice, practice. Failure is both inevitable and expected. And that’s okay. We’re not living by lists and human contrived rules. We’re living a new life in the power of Christ’s resurrection.

God of Mystery, the One who conceals and reveals, forgive me for my attempts at reducing faith to a few spiritual rules to keep. Help me to speak in ways which are gracious, loving, and redemptive. May the person and work of Jesus come tumbling out of my mouth while I inhale the breath of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

*Above paintings of prayer by African artist Angu Walters

Take the Stairs Out of the Basement Shame Lounge

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. (Colossians 3:1-4, NIV)

A century ago, the English novelist, G.K. Chesterton, observed that in the house of life, many people are content to live in the cellar. In fact, they assume the cellar is the only room in the house. Cellars and basements have certainly changed in the past one hundred years, yet Chesterton’s observation still holds true – that people often seem content to dwell in conditions far beneath what they could experience. 

Maybe the basements of today provide a way to extend Chesterton’s metaphor. Rather than take the stairs and dwell in the house itself, we create spaces in the basement, game rooms and family rooms, to avoid dwelling in the main part of the house. We might even make the basement a shame lounge, complete with old purple shag carpeting, dimly lighted with a lava lamp, and stocked with cheap $2 a bottle wine. Its where we go when we are down on ourselves.

It’s hard to be joyful in the basement, especially when it’s a shame lounge, because it is a place where people hate themselves because of their failures, are disappointed with God for what has been allowed to happen in their lives, and blame others for their sadness.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossian Church to lay a solid foundation of teaching on who Jesus Christ is and what he has done (chapters 1 & 2); and to give some solid encouragement and exhortation on what that theological foundation means for daily life (chapters 3 & 4). 

The Colossian believers were to avoid getting sidetracked by false teachers telling them they belong in the basement of life, in the shame lounge, and that the only way up the stairs and out of the cellar is through a crazy, circuitous route of constant rule-keeping.

The truth Paul wanted the Colossians to grasp is that Jesus has made the stairway clear through his cross and resurrection. Those who believe in these redemptive events are full participants in the death and life of Jesus. Christ rising from death is not merely a doctrine to believe; it is a powerful reality to be lived! Christian doctrine always has the upward trajectory of changed lives. Paul gave three reasons why we must live upstairs instead of hanging around the shame lounge….

1. We must take the stairway out of the shame lounge and live upstairs because Christ’s resurrection makes it possible.

Paul made up a word that takes five words for us to communicate in English (συνηγέρθητε – “you have been raised with”). It is meant to communicate the truth that we have a vital connection and union with Jesus (co-raised with Christ). Jesus has so closely identified with us that it is as if we are his body. 

The bond existing between Jesus and the believer is so intimate and so close that when Jesus was raised from death, we took part with him in that event. The incredible implication of this is that our life is to be the life of Christ. Our task, then, is to live up to who we are in Christ. 

Paul exhorts us toward that end by telling us to set our hearts on things above. Today, on Easter Sunday, is the day to get our hearts out of the shame lounge and live upstairs with Jesus, who is seated at the right hand of God. 

Empty Tomb by Anneli Anderson

Being seated at the right hand is a symbolic picture that the work of Jesus on the cross is finished. Therefore, the only work left to do is to believe, and to participate in the life of Christ. We do that by living upstairs with Jesus. Christ’s heart was set on giving us eternal salvation from sin and death, and he accomplished it. 

Now, Jesus Christ has his heart set on seeing us experience freedom from the habits of shame and addictive practices which keep us from living upstairs with him. Jesus wants our hearts. Christ does not want us getting headaches from smoking nasty cheap cigars in the shame lounge any longer because his resurrection has made it possible to be with him in the clear bright sunshine of grace. 

We are to set our minds on things above, not on earthly things. We must get our heads out of the cellar and get them upstairs with Jesus. If our heads are not in the main part of the house, shame thoughts will fill the void. The shame lounge becomes a prison because our thoughts do not rise above the bad circumstances we have experienced. You, however, have been raised with Christ. We can ascend the stairs of grace and enjoy life.

The believer in Jesus will follow him up the stairs and dwell with him in God’s house. The Christian will develop the life of the mind by being seeped in the living water of Jesus and not the cheap wine of shame. The follower of Jesus will take the stairs with a heart of prayer that talks to Jesus on a regular basis, instead of sitting in the shame lounge, mumbling speeches to oneself.

The person raised with Christ will take the stairs and serve the Lord with all their heart, mind, and strength because staying in the confining walls of the basement shame lounge prevents the believer from seeing the immense need of people in the neighborhood who are lost, sick, dying, hurting, hungry, depressed, and longing for someone to show them the stairway of grace out of the hopeless basement they are in.

So, take the stairs!

  • Take the stairs and leave the shame lounge behind with its anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language (Colossians 3:8).
  • Take the stairs as God’s chosen people who dwell in the upstairs grace by embracing the house rules of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love. (Colossians 3:12) 
  • Take the stairs to forgiving whatever grievances we have against one another because the Lord has forgiven us. (Colossians 3:13)
  • Take the stairs to love, which binds every good virtue together. (Colossians 3:14) 
  • Take the stairs into the large living room of peace, since as members of one body we were called to peace. (Colossians 3:15)
  • Take the stairs and let God’s house shape you as we enter the rooms of teaching and admonishing one another with all wisdom; singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts; and doing all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him for raising us up with him. (Colossians 3:16-17)

Take the stairs and live the resurrected life!

2. We must take the stairway out of the shame lounge and live upstairs because we possess new life in Christ.

We died, and our lives are now hidden with Christ in God. The shame lounge is now dead to us. We can ascend the stairs and live a new life. One of my friends in college was a party girl; she partied every chance she got. Then, she became a follower of Jesus. She received an invitation to a kegger and sent this response back: “I regret to inform you that I will be unable to attend your party because I have recently died.”

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, NIV)

Since the shame lounge is dead to us, take the stairs and then burn them behind you so that you not go back there again. The basement may feel safe and familiar, but as a believer in Jesus, you and I now belong to God. Our security is firmly with Jesus upstairs, not downstairs.  God has called and gathered us upstairs out of the shame lounge.

Don’t go back downstairs. If we don’t burn that old stairway we will eventually go back down into the basement. Then, someday, someone will find your lifeless corpse down there. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to the shame lounge: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

3. We must take the stairway out of the shame lounge and live upstairs because of the future glory that awaits us.

Christ is coming again. When Jesus returns, the believer will share in God’s glory forever.  Christ has not returned yet because he wants to live through us here on this earth for a while longer. Jesus desires to spread good news of grace and forgiveness through us. Jesus Christ wants others to have the chance to ascend the stairs and live a new life. He is patient, not wanting any to perish in the cellar, but for all to experience the resurrected life. The Apostle Paul himself struggled to put all his energy into living the resurrected life:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:10-14, NIV)     

Move to another level. Leave the shame lounge basement behind. The first step up the stairway of grace is always a step of surrender so that our heart, mind, soul, time, possessions, and energy are revitalized to new ways of living.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

He has given us new life and hope.

He has raised Jesus from the dead.

God has claimed us as his own.

He has brought us out of darkness.

He has made us light to the world.

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!