Here are some pictures from our 5th Sunday Day of Service. Every 5th Sunday of the year which happens 4 times a year, we gather together and serve. The last 2 5th Sunday Day of Service gatherings have been helping Binding Love Scarves, which is a ministry/business in which scarves are made from recycled clothing, sold and half the proceeds go to 2 recovery houses in Thailand that work with victims of human and sexual trafficking as well as at risk individuals. Check out their website at Binding Love Scarves
Today we wrap up our 4 week series entitled Circle Maker. Talking about praying circles around our biggest dream and greatest fears.
Just to sum up quickly. The first week we talked about the legend of the Circle Maker named Honi and how he climbed into a circle that he drew, and prayed until it rained. We also talked about Jericho and how we all face our Jerichos. Those huge things God may be calling us to face and pray for. And to see that if they come to fruition that it was because of him and not our strength or wisdom or “battle plan.”
Two weeks ago we talked about Dreaming Big. We talked about risk, dreaming big dreams, and how the Kingdom of God is about risk and praying that God would come through in a big way. We talked about how in God’s Math 0 + 0 is actually not zero but 105 million. 105 million quail. We also talked about how we all see God come through in his provisions and how easy it is to forget and complain.
Last week we talked about Praying Hard and talked about the perseverance needed to pray through and continue to pray. And that a huge part of success is persistence. Not that if we just keep asking God he will give us what we want. God is more concerned with the process of what we are becoming, instead of the answer, that we focus on.
This week we are going to be talking about Thinking long and not giving up.
First let me tell you about a story of thinking long and envisioning the future.
On the Swedish Island of Visingso, there is a mysterious forest of oak trees; mysterious because oak trees aren’t indigenous to the island and its origin was unknown for more than a century. Then in 1980, the Swedish Navy received a letter from the Forestry Department reporting that their requested ship lumber was ready. The Navy didn’t even know it had ordered any lumber. After a little historical research, it was discovered that in 1829 the Swedish parliament, recognizing that it takes oak trees one hundred and fifty years to mature and anticipating a shortage of lumber at the turn of the 21st century, ordered that twenty thousand oak trees be planted on Visingso and protected for the Navy.
That is thinking long.
For the record, the lone objector was the Bishop of Strangnas. He didn’t doubt that there would still be wars to fight at the end of the twentieth century. He was the only one who anticipated that ships might be built of other materials by then.
If we are to be a circle maker we need to think long, not just in dreaming, visioning, and taking risks, but especially in prayer. If those dreams that God has birthed within your heart, the vision that if it comes to fruition, that it can only be from God, the big hairy audacious goals that you have, it means that you need to pray long and pray hard and also think and dream in the long term.
There is a brief story in the Old Testament in which we see someone who prayed, was persistent, and didn’t give up on his prayers. This person was Daniel and the his prayer story is found in Daniel 10:12-13.
Daniel 10:12-13 says, Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.”
Let’s unpack these two verses a little bit to see what it might say to us about being circle makers and thinking long.
The first thing that we need to look at is the first 4 words in the first verse, Do not be afraid. Now if we look at the verses 5-6 we see who is saying these words to Daniel, “I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.” Now commentators and theologians are divided on who this man is. Some commentators believe this to be a theophany, which is Jesus showing up in the Old Testament. These commentators compare this description of the man with the description of Jesus in Revelation 1:12-16. Other theologians and commentators look to this man as an angel, possibly what we might call a high ranking angel. But whatever the case may be, whenever a heavenly being appears to humans, the first response to humanity is usually don’t be afraid. Probably it is also the first thing we need to hear when God puts some vision, dream, or hairy audacious goal in our hearts. Do not be afraid. Take the risk. Or as Robin Williams said in that great movie Dead Poets Society, Carpe Diem boys. Seize the day. Don’t be afraid and drop to your knees and begin to go to God in prayer regularly, often, and however long it takes. Often our greatest fears are wrapped up in our biggest dreams. And we need to hear God’s word to us, Don’t be afraid. We need to internalize his words to us. Don’t be afraid. And we need to take the fear that comes from seeking out our biggest dreams, and use that as motivation to drive us to our knees in prayer. Not just once, not just for a week, but often, regularly, and persistently.
We see that Daniel understood that God would come through in some way. He just needed to be faithful, and seek God’s face. After all, God heard him from the day that he began to pray and lift his requests to God. God responded to Daniel’s prayer the very moment he made his request known. Daniel had been in great and serious prayer for 3 weeks. He didn’t give up but continued praying. An angel was dispatched because of Daniel’s prayers. This is another of many reminders in the book of Daniel that prayer truly matters. It isn’t merely a therapeutic exercise for the one who prayers. Prayer changes things and it changes us as well.
We see that the angel or Jesus contended with the Prince of Persia, for 21 days. The exact amount of time that Daniel was in serious prayer and mourning as spelled out in Daniel 10:2, “At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks.” The correlation between Daniel’s time of self-denial and prayer and the duration of the battle between the angel and the prince of the Kingdom of Persia establishes a link between Daniel’s prayer and the angelic victory. Since the angelic victory came on the 21st day we can surmise that if Daniel quit praying on the 20th day, the answer may not have come. What if he had stopped praying? What if he thought God wasn’t coming through? What if he gave up? I truly believe that some of our biggest breakthroughs happen right after some of our great setbacks and disappointments. We just need the strength to get through them. It is like this cartoon. If the man would just have continued to dig for a little bit more, the diamonds would have come spilling out. But he gave up right before his big break through. I believe it is no different than with us and with our prayer life. We need to persevere in our prayers, especially if we are thinking in the long term and in the big Kingdom picture. I believe the bigger the dream, the more audacious the goal, the harder and longer you need to pray. It might be 21 days, a year, or it might take your entire life.
But just like the Israelites who circled Jericho or Elijah who got down on his knees and prayed for rain, or Honi the Circle Maker who drew a circle in the sand and wouldn’t leave until it began to rain, you need to think long and pray long. because if you stop praying before the break through you might forfeit the miracle. The question that I wonder about is why the 21 day delay for God to come through on Daniel’s prayer? Why did God allow such a conflict? He certainly could have blasted away in a moment any demonic opposition. God’s plan probably was to use the time of delay to develop Daniel as a man of persistent prayer. This persistence in prayer that Daniel had, and what we talked about last week in relation to the Parable of the Persistent Widow, is not necessarily because of God’s reluctance and that his reluctance needs to be overcome. It is more about us. It is more about our necessarily in training. We talked about it last week that we are all to often looking for the answer, the end result, while I truly believe God is more interested in the process, the refining, the training, and what we are becoming.
Daniel’s success makes us reflect on our failures. How much angelic assistance or insight has never been realized, or greatly delayed because of our lack of persistence in prayer?
Drawing prayer circles is a lot like climbing a mountain. The dream or promise or miracle may seem impossible, but if you keep circling, anything is possible. With each prayer, there is a small change in elevation. With each prayer, you are one step closer to the answer. And the harder the climb, the sweeter the summit. The same is true with prayer. The more you have to circle something in prayer, the more satisfying it is spiritually. And, often, the more glory God gets.
Too often we approach prayer in an ASAP fashion. We want God to answer our prayers as soon as possible. We need a paradigm shift. We need to be willing to pray for as long as it takes. Pray that it will take long enough and be hard enough for God to receive all of the glory. Don’t look for the path of least resistance. Look for the path of greatest glory. And that requires high-degree-of-difficulty prayers and lots of circling.
Very rarely does our first prayer request hit the bulls-eye of God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will. Most prayer requests have to be refined. Even “the prayer that saved a generation” didn’t hit the bulls-eye the first time. Honi refined his request twice: “Not for such rain have I prayed.” He wasn’t satisfied with a sprinkle or torrential downpour. It took three attempts to spell out exactly what he wanted: “the rain of Your favor, blessing, and graciousness.” Honi drew a circle in the sand. Then he drew a circle within a circle within a circle.
What promises or miracles or dreams are you willing to pray for as long as it takes? After all, some dreams should be so big that they take a lifetime to fulfill.
Let’s unpack this question together but then let’s begin to apply the message right away and spend some time in prayer together. Let’s not just talk about prayer, let’s actually pray together.
1. What big dreams or greatest fears are you circling in prayer? What promises or miracles or dreams are you willing to pray for as long as it takes?
2. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
3. Gather together with 3-5 other people, share what you are circling in prayer, and spend time in prayer together.
So today we continue our series entitled Circle Maker: Praying Circles around your biggest dream and greatest fear. Two weeks ago when we started this series we looked at the legend of the Circle Maker, named Honi, who drew a circle in the sand, stepped into it, dropped to his knees and began to pray for rain and wouldn’t leave the circle until it rained. We also talked about the “battle” of Jericho and how it was probably the craziest “battle” plan there ever was. We dialogued around the question of “what is your Jericho”? What are those things that are so big, that you have been praying for, that if they come to fruition, it can only be because God was in it.
Last week we talked about the importance of risk, dreaming big, and the Kingdom of God. We talked more about the legend of Honi, the story of St. Brendan the Navigator who, with a group of Monks, put his knee in the sand, got in a boat and set sail. Praying and trust God to guide his boat through the wind and the waves and wherever they landed they established monasteries and planted churches. We also talked about the people of Israel and Moses who both complained, forgot about God’s blessing, and put limits on what they thought God could or couldn’t do. They couldn’t figure out how 0+0 could equal 105 million quail. We shared stories of what risk God might be calling each of us to as well as our community.
Today, in our third week of our series, we’ll be talking about praying hard. So let me ask you a question, have you ever prayed day and night, night and day for something to come to fruition? Something that you believed that God birthed in your heart? What is/was it and has it come to fruition or are you currently still praying through it, and hoping/praying that it will come to fruition?
Jesus told a story about the importance of praying hard and not giving up. This parable is called The Parable of the Persistent Widow and it gives us a great picture of what our prayer life should be like.
Luke 18:1-8 tells us this parable, “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
So right from the start of this parable we see what Jesus’ motive in telling this story is. To show the disciples that they should always pray and never give up. To show those of us, who call ourselves followers of Jesus, that we need to pray through, and not lose heart. This doesn’t mean that if you just pray more and more, you’ll get what you want. That if you just nag God long enough, he’ll throw his hands up and relent and give you what you want. Or like how my kids sometimes keep asking the same question, because they think that if they just keep asking, that I’ll relent (and sometimes I do) and give them what they want. This parable is asking us the question, how serious about this thing you are praying for are you. Often we stop praying because we lose heart. We become discouraged and then slack off in prayer. You see it is easy to lose heart in prayer because prayer is hard work that we often approach too lightly.
Now let’s look deeper into the parable and what it might say to each of us about our prayer life, our tendency not to pray through, and what it might say to us about praying hard and praying long.
So Jesus starts off the parable talking about a judge from a certain town who neither feared God nor cared what people thought about him. No doubt Jesus clearly intends the judge to stand for God, but this judge is about unlike God as possible. And so if God is the judge in this parable, then the disciples and the followers of Jesus, who pray and don’t give up and lose heart, are the widow in the story.
Now the widow is what we call persistent. She doesn’t give up and keeps coming to the judge for justice. We don’t know who the adversary is or what wrongs she faced. That is not important to the point of the parable. The point of the parable is then to say that if even a rotten judge like that can be persuaded to do the right thing by someone who “pesters” him day and night until it happens, then of course God, who is justice in person, and who cares passionately about people, will vindicate them, will see that justice is done.
The widow kept coming after the judge. She had a holy desperation. A Holy boldness that drove her so that she kept coming and kept coming. She didn’t relent. She didn’t give up. She keep crying out to the judge until she got vindication from her adversary, which is what she want. In fact the judge says, in the NIV, that because “she keeps bothering me” that she’ll get justice. The term that is used there is a metaphor taken from boxing. The idea of wearing down your opponent. To soft them up so to speak for the final blow. The knock out blow. So we could say that praying hard is like going 12 rounds with God. A heavyweight prayer bout with God Almighty can be excruciating and exhausting, but that is how the greatest prayer victories are won. Praying hard is more than words. It’s blood, sweat, and tears. Praying hard is two-dimensional: praying like it depends on God and working like it depends on you. It’s praying until God answers, no matter how long it takes. It’s doing whatever it takes to show God you’re serious. This parable gives us a great picture of what praying hard looks like. Knocking until your knuckles are raw. Crying out until you have no voice. Pleading until the tears run dry.
Have you ever prayed that hard for something? Have you ever worn out the knees in your pants or have carpet burns on your knees because you prayed hard for something to come to fruition? To be completely honest I have never been there. Yes I have prayed. Yes I have prayed for things to come to fruition. But I don’t know if I have ever been like the persistent widow in this parable. Coming to the judge over and over with my petition. I have never worn out the knees in my pants because I was kneeling in prayer often. I haven’t gotten carpet burns on my knees from praying. And so I need to take a page out of the persistent widow’s book and begin to pray hard. What about you? What is one thing you could do to increase your persistence in prayer? That is one of the questions that we are going to unpack together in just a little bit.
Now there are some differences that need to be spelled out in relation to the judge and to prayer. One of the differences between the judge and God is that the judge only gave in because he was tired of the widow and her non-stop persistence. He just wanted her off his back and out of his face. And so he gave her what she wanted so she would stop bothering him. God however loves to answer our prayers and he even helps when we pray. God is on your side when you pray. And we are never seen as tiresome to God. He loves it when we come to him in prayer and he desires a relationship with us. And one of the best ways to develop that relationship with him is to spend time communicating with him through prayer.
It takes faith to keep coming to God in prayer. In fact, someone once said success is a derivative of persistence. And studies have shown that if you want to master something (violin, cello, basketball, composers, writers, etc..) that the magic number seems to be 10,000. 10,000 hours to become an expert. And why should prayer be any different. It is a habit to be cultivated. It is a discipline to be developed. It is a skill to be practiced. And while I don’t want to reduce praying hard to time logged, if you want to achieve mastery it might take ten thousand hours. This I know for sure: the bigger the dream, the harder you will have to pray. And so this parable is calling each of us to pray hard. To begin to see prayer not as a last resort but as a first and best resource. And to not only do it alone but do it in community.
So let’s talk about praying hard. Let’s talk about one thing that you can do to increase your persistence in prayer. Let’s talk about what it might look like to be known as a community of persistent prayers. Let’s unpack what this parable might mean for us as we continue to move forward as individuals and as a community.
1. What thoughts, questions, comments, insights, application, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2.Would you consider yourself a persistent person? What is one thing you could do to increase your persistence in prayer?
3. What might it look like to be known as a community of people who are persistent in their prayers? What is one thing we could do to increase our community’s persistence in prayer?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Today we tackle the second part of our four part series entitled The Circle Maker. Last week we were introduced to the legend of the Circle Maker and we talked about the story of the battle of Jericho and God’s unusual battle plan and how sometimes God calls us to follow him even when it makes no sense and also that God may be calling us to pray and wrestle with our Jerichos. Things so big that if they come to fruition that it is only because of Gods intervention.
Today we are looking at dreaming big, risk and prayer together. We will revisit Honi the Circle Maker for a little bit, share about another person who took risks and trusted in God’s direction, and look at another person in Scripture that prayed and trusted that God would provide in a huge way for the people of Israel.
Last week we talked about Honi drawing a circle, kneeling in the circle and praying until rain came, and then stayed in it until the rain became not just a trickle, not just a downpour, but a soaking rain that soaked into the earth as well as soaking into the people’s faith. Honi stated that he wouldn’t leave the circle until it rained. He had no escape clause. He had no expiration date. He drew a circle and not a line or a semi circle with a way out. He was willing to look foolish and I believe faith is the willingness to look foolish to a watching world. Honi drew a huge circle. In fact, the bigger the circle you draw, the bigger the prayers, the more foolish you feel. But if you aren’t willing to step out of the boat, you won’t walk on water.
If you aren’t willing to put your feet out of the boat, and take a risk you may never see a miracle. Someone who literally stepped out into the water of the unknown, prayed a huge prayer, and trust God was a man named Brendan. Or we may know him as St. Brendan. St Brendan of Clonfert – who is more well know as St Brendan the Navigator set sail with a group of Monks from the Dingle peninsula in a Currach. or Coracle… they drifted free at the mercy of the wind and the whim of the waves – in the will of God. They are said to have visited the northern Isles of Scotland, The Faeroe islands, Iceland and eventually Newfoundland.Picture yourself in the place of Brendan… staring across the ocean toward the horizon.. the edge of your known world… the unknown… maybe there are distant lands across the sea… maybe there is nothing… only God knows!
See yourself standing at the wooden jetty, in front of you a feeble looking boat, made of unseasoned wood and leather, smeared all over in animal grease to seal it from the waves… in the bottom of the craft there lies a roll of leather, there to patch the unavoidable leaks and tears. The boat continuously slams into the jetty bruising the leather as the swell of the great western ocean throws it around… who knows, maybe the waves themselves are returning from those far off shores.
Shores which at this time are simply a glimpse of the possible, a dream of what might be out there beyond the horizon.
Deep inside you hear a call – “SET SAIL”, a secret voice heard only in your heart “SET SAIL INTO THE UNKNOWN”…a stirring on the edge of the wind “SET SAIL INTO THE UNKNOWN, STEP OFF THE EDGE OF YOUR WORLD”… an echo of stones dragged along the beach by the tide “SET SAIL INTO THE UNKNOWN, STEP OFF THE EDGE OF YOUR WORLD, COME WITH ME INTO MINE”
The greatest stories in history, the ones that we remember and we celebrate are always stories with risk involved in them. If you want to be a Circle Maker like Honi or like St. Brendan, you have to be a risk taker. And when you are a risk taker, you definitely need to get on your knees, cry out to God, and pray that he’ll come through. And you realize that if he doesn’t come through, you are screwed.
Another circle maker that took risks, prayed, and saw God come through in miraculous ways was Moses. Moses learned that if you don’t take a risk, you won’t get to see God come through in amazing and miraculous ways. So let’s unpack together one of those times where God did something so big that even Moses couldn’t quite believe it. An event that only God could deliver on and could only get the glory for. We’ll be looking at Numbers 11 together.
Let’s look first at Numbers 11:4-9. Numbers 11:4-9 says, The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”
The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.”
So after 400 years of slavery, God delivers the Israelites out of the hand of Egypt, but it is much harder getting Egypt out of the Israelites, if you know what I mean. You see it in their comments about all the “wonderful things” they got in Egypt, like eating fish with “no cost” (except the cost of slavery and being under the thumb of Pharaoh.) It seems like they have selective amnesia, remembering the food but forgetting everything else. And so they began to complain, and their focus of their complaint is the miraculous provision of manna. How quickly they go from being amazed and thankful at his provisions of food in the desert, to complaining about the same provision from the hand of God. They are tired of the same old same old and wanted meat. No vegetarians apparently in that bunch.
They lost sight of the miracle of what was happening every day. That God was literally providing for them by bringing Manna each and every day. Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Circle Makers are people who would fall into the camp that see everything as a miracle. Live in wonder of how God shows up and shows off in and through them. In and through the dreams, visions, plans, and risks of people who seek to live the Kingdom of God out in the world.
Now I don’t know about you but when my kids complain about dinner, I get pretty frustrated, especially when either myself or Kim have spent time making the dinner. And they look at it and go eh.. or yuck…or refuse to eat it. I’m not saying my dinners are anything miraculous, maybe its miraculous that they are any good. But they do show God’s provision for my family. But God, in the midst of complaining, does get angry but his anger leads to miraculous provisions. But even though Moses continued to see God’s hand in providing the Manna everyday he can’t understand how God is going to continue to provide. Moses complains as well.
In Numbers 11:11-15 he says, “He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”
And so not only does the people of Israel complain, Moses complains about the people of Israel and their complaining. And in the midst of his complaining, Moses forgets the miraculous provisions of manna and can only see what isn’t and can’t see what might be. He limits himself and he limits God’s power when he says, “Where can I get meat for all these people?” He loses out on the fact that God loves when people trust him and dream big.
And despite Moses and the people of Israel’s complaining, God promises a big meal of meat. Not meat for one day or even two but for a whole entire month. A month of meat in the middle of the desert and in the middle of nowhere. God promises the meat in verses 18-20 “Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’”
But instead of believing that God can do it. Instead of remembering all the amazing ways and stories of how God delivered them, sustained them, and provided for them since their time in Egypt, Moses just can’t see how this monthly long meat fest adds up. He lost the power of dreaming big, taking a risk, and trusting in God’s provisions. His loss in dreaming big is spelled out in verses 21-22, “But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” Have you ever been there? Have you ever forgotten the provisions of God and refused to dream big dreams and take risks that God called you to take? We have all been there. We have all thought, “but God this doesn’t add up. God, how in the world will you provide for me, my family, etc.. if we take this step?” But thank God that he doesn’t follow our mathematical rules and sometimes make 0 + 0 =105 million. 105 million quail. That is dreaming big.
God delivers on his promise and we see what happens in verses 31-32, “Now a wind went out from the Lord and drove quail in from the sea. It scattered them up to two cubits deep all around the camp, as far as a day’s walk in any direction. All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers.” Nothing is impossible for God. I mean he brought meat to the desert where they was no Outback steakhouse for miles around. And not just meat of one day but for a whole entire month.
In fact, God puts Moses in his place and also us, when he says to Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short?” This is the question for you and I when he calls us to circle something in our lives and to dream big and to take a risk for his kingdom. When God gives a vision, He makes provision. We just need the courage to step out in faith when God is calling us to get out of the boat. Honi stepped out in faith and the land saw rain. Brendan got in the boat and wherever he landed he established monasteries (places of learning) and new churches. If we don’t have courage and step out in faith we’ll forfeit the miracle. We have to believe that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He can send a west wind that brings 105 million quail into the camp. But we need to do our part and our part is taking a step of faith in pursuing the dream God has put in our hearts.
So what step of faith do you need to take? What decision do you need to make? On what promise do you need to put down a stake?
Those are some of the questions that we’ll be unpacking together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, applications, etc.. come to mind when you read the Scripture and/or hear the message?
2. What is a risk you have taken that lead to a miracle? What is a risk you wish you would have taken? Is their a risk you are being called to take?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
So today we begin a 4 week series, running about 2/3 through the Christian season of Lent (which by the way starts this Wednesday with Ash Wednesday…and is when you can start your 40 Day Draw the Circle Prayer book experience…if you ordered one. I do have around 3 extra if you want one). This 4 week series is entitled The Circle Maker and we’ll be looking at questions like this: Do you ever sense that there’s far more to prayer to and to God’s vision for your life, than what you are experiencing? What if you could pray circles around your biggest dream and great fear? So we’ll be spending 4 weeks talking and praying and circling our lives, our families, our friends, our community in prayer. We’ll spend time next week, before the gathering from 10-10:20 at our prayer gathering, and would love to see you there. We will also be meeting at the end of the month at 9 AM to do some prayer circling or prayer walking around the city. (I’ll say more about that as we get closer to the day)
So for the next 4 weeks we will be exploring the idea of being a Circle Maker. And so to truly understand what it means to be a circle maker we need to learn about the first Circle Maker, and the legend of Honi the Circle Maker.
It was the first century BC and a devastating drought threatened to destroy a generation, the generation before Jesus. The last of the Jewish prophets had died off nearly four centuries before. Miracles were such a distant memory that they seemed like a false memory. And God was nowhere to be heard. But there was one man, an eccentric sage who lived outside the walls of Jerusalem, who dared to pray anyway. His name was Honi. And even if the people could no longer hear God, he believed that God could still hear them.
When rain is plentiful, it’s an afterthought. During a drought, it’s the only thought. And Honi was their only hope. Famous for his ability to pray for rain, it was on this day—the day—that Honi would earn his moniker.
With a six-foot staff in his hand, Honi began to turn like a math compass. His circular movement was rhythmical and methodical. Ninety degrees. One hundred and eighty degrees. Two hundred and seventy degrees. Three hundred and sixty degrees. He never looked up as the crowd looked on. After what seemed like hours, but had only been seconds, Honi stood inside the circle he had drawn. Then he dropped to his knees and raised his hands to heaven. With the authority of the prophet Elijah who called down fire from heaven, Honi called down rain.
“Lord of the Universe, I swear before your great name that I will not move from this circle until you have shown mercy upon your children.”
The words sent a shudder down the spine of all who were within earshot that day. It wasn’t just the volume of his voice. It was the authority of his tone. Not a hint of doubt. This prayer didn’t originate in the vocal chords. Like water from an artesian well, the words flowed from the depth of his soul. His prayer was resolute yet humble; confident yet meek; expectant yet unassuming.
Then it happened.
As his prayer ascended to the heavens, raindrops descended to the earth. An audible gasp swept across the thousands of congregants who had encircled Honi. Every head turned heavenward as the first raindrops parachuted from the sky, but Honi’s head remained bowed. The people rejoiced over each drop, but Honi wasn’t satisfied with a sprinkle. Still kneeling within the circle, Honi lifted his voice over the sounds of celebration.
“Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain that will fill cisterns, pits, and caverns.”
The sprinkle turned into such a torrential downpour that eyewitnesses said no raindrop was smaller than an egg in size. It rained so heavily and so steadily that the people fled to the Temple Mount to escape the flash floods. Honi stayed and prayed inside his protracted circle. Once more he refined his bold request.
“Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain of Thy favor, blessing, and graciousness.”
Then, like a well-proportioned sun shower on a hot and humid August afternoon, it began to rain calmly, peacefully. Each raindrop was a tangible token of God’s grace. And they didn’t just soak the skin; they soaked the spirit with faith. It would be forever remembered as the day. The day thunderclaps applauded the Almighty. The day puddle jumping became an act of praise. The day the legend of the circle maker was born. It had been difficult to believe the day before the day. The day after the day, it was impossible not to believe.
Honi was celebrated like a hometown hero by the people whose lives he had saved. But some within the Sanhedrin called the Circle Maker into question. A faction believed that drawing a circle and demanding rain dishonored God. Maybe it was those same members of the Sanhedrin who would criticize Jesus for healing a man’s withered arm on the Sabbath a generation later. They threatened Honi with excommunication, but because the miracle could not be repudiated, Honi was ultimately honored for his act of prayerful bravado.
The prayer that saved a generation was deemed one of the most significant prayers in the history of Israel. The circle he drew in the sand became a sacred symbol. And the legend of Honi the circle maker stands forever as a testament to the power of a single prayer to change the course of history.
And so God calls his people to sometimes do what might seem strange to others in order to live out his Kingdom in this world. Like drawing a circle, kneeling in it, and praying until it rains. Or the strange call that God gave to Joshua in Joshua 6:1-16 which is the text we’ll be unpacking a bit this morning.
“Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.” So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant of the Lord and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it.” And he ordered the army, “Advance! March around the city, with an armed guard going ahead of the ark of the Lord.” When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the Lord went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the Lord’s covenant followed them. The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding. But Joshua had commanded the army, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!” So he had the ark of the Lord carried around the city, circling it once. Then the army returned to camp and spent the night there. Joshua got up early the next morning and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets went forward, marching before the ark of the Lord and blowing the trumpets. The armed men went ahead of them and the rear guard followed the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets kept sounding. So on the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days. On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!”
Now there are a few things that I want to unpack in this text that speaks to God, the power of prayer, and the upside down ways of the Kingdom.
First we need to look at the city of Jericho. Now cities are not like the cities in our day and age. All cities were walled cities for protection of it’s people. Jericho was around a 12 acre city, with 50 foot high upper walls and 6 foot thick lower walls. An impenetrable fortress of a city. For all intensive purposes Jericho seemed to have the upper hand. A higher position, a defensible city, and the safety of the walls. From a human perspective, this would be a hard, if not impossible battle. Yet from God’s perspective, the battle was already over, because he said to Joshua, “I Have” in the past tense. it was already a done deal, the Israelites just needed to trust and live into it. This is a question that we are going to dialogue around in a little bit but what is your Jericho? What is the thing that God is calling you to be about that seems above and beyond you? What huge, God-inspired thing are you praying for and if it comes to fruition that only God can get the honor and the glory? Nothing honors God more than a big dream that is way beyond our ability to accomplish.
Now I have some issues with the book of Joshua and Judges and the conquest stories and what we do with them. But putting that aside, the thing we see here is that to call this story the battle of Jericho isn’t truly honest, because in all reality, it wasn’t much of a battle and the Israelites didn’t even fight. They just marched, prayed and worshipped and God did the rest. God could have done it without the Israelites, but he wanted them to be part of the work. But that work seemed to the Israelites (and to us) about the stupidest battle plan anyone could come up with. It made not sense according to military intelligence and it required total dependence on God. It required great faith from Joshua as he had to explain and the lead the nation in this plan. It required great faith from elders and the nations, because they had to follow Joshua in the plan. So their victory was not linked to military prowess. Victory comes from God and not their own fighting.
I mean what kind of “battle plan” is “march around the city 1 time each day for 6 days, then on the seventh day march around the city 7 times and then shout.”? To have the helplessness of Israel to march 6 days of silent marching. To have a good look at the walls that seemed to be impenetrable. They could have been attacked from the highpoint on the wall. And they knew that this “battle” was bigger than they were. But as they marched they knew God was with them. They actually did something that they had never done before, bring the priests and the ark into battle. Both the priest and the ark symbolize God’s presence in the midst of the battle. So that is another question that we need to unpack together, where have you seen God in the midst of the “battle” of life?
And so the Israelites needed to have courage and it took endurance to persist in the march for a week before seeing the walls come tumbling down. It takes courage and endurance for us to pray a huge prayer, to continue praying until it comes to fruition (if it is the Lord’s will for it to come to fruition) and to trust God to come through in his power and not ours.
After seven days of circling Jericho, God delivered on a four-hundred-year-old promise. He proved, once again, that His promises don’t have expiration dates. And Jericho stands, and falls, as a testament to this simple truth: if you keep circling the promise, God will ultimately deliver on it.
This miracle is a microcosm.
It not only reveals the way God performed this particular miracle, it also establishes a pattern for us to follow. It challenges us to confidently circle the promises God has given to us. And it begs the question: what is your Jericho?
What promise are you praying around? What miracle are you marching around? What dream does your life revolve around?
Drawing prayer circles starts with identifying your Jericho. You’ve got to define the promises God wants you to stake claim to, the miracles God wants you to believe for, and the dreams God wants you to pursue. Then you need to keep circling until God gives you what He wants and what He wills. That’s the goal.
So let’s unpack together these questions about where God has come through when we have done something that seemed strange and what our Jericho is.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, applications, etc.. do you have regarding the message and/or Scripture?
2. Share a story where God asked you to do something that seemed to make sense to you (or to others). What happened? How did God show up? How did he get the glory?
3. What is your Jericho? What huge God-inspired thing are you praying for? What might God be calling you to circle in prayer that seems like the huge walls of the city of Jericho? How can Veritas help?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Yesterday was our final week of our Colossians Remixed series. We were looking at Colossians 4:2-6 together and I felt that we should let the text speak for itself and decided not to do a traditional message and then follow it up with discussion. Instead we decided to walk through the Scripture using something that is called Communal Lectio Divina.
This is what our time looked like together yesterday:
Lectio Divina Shared in Community
(A) Listening for the Gentle Touch of Christ the Word
(The Literal Sense)
1. One person reads aloud (twice) the passage of scripture, as others are attentive to some segment that is especially meaningful to them.
2. Silence for 1-2 minutes. Each hears and silently repeats a word or phrase that attracts.
3. Sharing aloud: [A word or phrase that has attracted each person]. A simple statement of one or a few words. No elaboration.
(B) How Christ the Word speaks to ME
(The Allegorical Sense)
4. Second reading of same passage by another person.
5. Silence for 2-3 minutes. Reflect on “Where does the content of this reading touch my life today?”
6. Sharing aloud: Briefly: “I hear, I see…”
(C) What Christ the Word Invites me to DO
(The Moral Sense)
7. Third reading by still another person.
8. Silence for 2-3 minutes. Reflect on “I believe that God wants me to . . . . . . today/this week.”
9. Sharing aloud: at somewhat greater length the results of each one’s reflection. [Be especially aware of what is shared by the person to your right.]
10. After full sharing, pray for the person to your right.
Note: Anyone may “pass” at any time. If instead of sharing with the group you prefer to pray silently , simply state this aloud and conclude your silent prayer with Amen.
So today we come to the end of the third chapter of the New Testament book of Colossians. And next week we wrap up our 8 week series entitled Colossians Remixed.
And our text that we are looking at today is one that honestly I kinda wanted to skip over and move past. The text raises a bunch of questions. Not only for me, but I believe probably all of us. And in fact this text probably raises questions in our world. Questions like, “Does the Bible actually condone slavery?” “Why doesn’t Paul tell slave holders to get rid of their slaves, and set them free?” “Is the Bible sexist?” “Does the Bible condone a male dominated society in which women should submit”? As I looked at this text, I could see where these questions stem from. I myself have some questions about this text, and honestly not sure I have a lot of answers to those questions. But as I have read and studied this week, I have come to some ideas and thoughts about this text and how it applies to our world today and how it applies to us who want to be missional disciples of Jesus living out Kingdom lives in the world.
But before I open up the text for this morning, I need to reiterate the 2 purposes of the book of Colossians. The main thrust, if you will, of why Paul is writing to the church at Colossae. Because, as I have said, each and every week, these 2 main points are foundational to understanding everything that is written in the letter. Without an understanding of these two things, and not just a mental understanding, but an understanding that comes from applying the 2 main points to your life, than what comes out in the letter (especially in this text) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
The first purpose that Paul is writing to the church at Colossae is to share with them that Lordship of Jesus in every realm. King Jesus and his Kingdom rules and reigns and as a follower of King Jesus, we are called to live under his rule and his reign. When we live under his rule and his reign then all interactions we have are influenced by his reign in and through us. King Jesus is Lord over all other lords. King Jesus is Lord over Caesar, who was, as I mentioned before, called lord, savior, deliverer, liberator, and son of god. King Jesus is lord and king over all the other things that we seek to put in his place. In other words, he is supreme and preeminent. Knowing this will definitely come in to play in our Scripture text for today as the word Lord shows up at least 6 times in only 9 verses. So this text won’t make any sense without the understanding of the lordship of Jesus over all of life, and over all the relationships that we have.
Secondly, the other purpose of the letter is to unpack the true nature of the gospel. This purpose was because of the heresy called the Colossian heresy that was infiltrating the Colossian church. Paul, especially in chapters 1 and 2 lays out the true nature of the gospel (he doesn’t lay it out in its totality because the gospel is bigger and more expansive than mere words can contain). And then in chapters 3 and the beginning of chapter 4 begins to unpack what the gospel of Jesus, the Kingdom of God, and the Lordship of Jesus looks like lived out in relationships and in our own lives.
So with that background in mind, and the questions that i asked at the beginning (that I truly believe are questions that the world is asking and if we are honest, that we ask ourselves), let’s look at Colossians 3:18-4:1.
Colossians 3:18-4:1 says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism. Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.”
So do these verses condone sexism? Do they actually favor a male dominated hierarchy where women are subservient and are doormats to men? Does Paul condone slavery? A simple reading of this text might seem to support these assertions. A look at some of the views that have popped up, especially around verse 18, seem to support those assertions. (men treating women as subservient, and women letting themselves be treated that way). But let’s take a deeper look into these verses to see if there isn’t more to these verses and how they are more counter cultural and subversive and radical than what we see on our first reading.
First, we need to remember to read these verses in the context of the Lordship of Jesus. Jesus is Lord over all relationships, including wives, husbands, children, slaves, masters (employer, employee), etc.. Secondly the other week we talked about the idea of things that we think we’ll liberate us actually can lead to bondage. So we talked about the idea that some people think that absolute freedom with no rules and regulations will really set us free, but we just end up in bondage to to things. Or we get bound to a set of rules and regulations and a to do list that we think leads to freedom, but these things also lead to bondage. True liberation and deliverance is from Jesus and while the gospel isn’t primarily about a list of do’s and don’ts, there are some Kingdom rules that God is calling us to live under. Paul is offering these Kingdom rules for those who live in and under the rule and reign of God. These Kingdom rules, will actually lead to a more freeing life, than all the other things that promise true freedom.
So let’s look at verse 18 which says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” This translation has submit. And the images of downtrodden women, the victim of her husbands every whim, unable to be herself, to think her own thoughts, to make a grown up contribution to the relationship comes to mind. But that is not what Paul means when he says submit. You need to understand why this is radical. In Paul’s day husbands and masters could rule supreme and unquestioned. Women were property. Paul’s code of Kingdom rules for household living are remarkable for several reasons. Paul’s own fellow-workers included women and married couples, where it appears the women were “people in their own right”. he doesn’t just tell wives, children and slave how to behave (as Pagan moralists of his day would) Their duties are balanced by the corresponding duties of household, parents, and masters. Verse 18 actually brings women, in that day, freedom from being seen as property.
When you put verse 19 in with verse 18, “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.”, we see that both parties have responsibilities. Men aren’t just free to treat a women however he thinks she should be treated. Men have a great responsibility of loving their wives, as Christ loves his church. Meaning giving up your life for her. Paul has not retracted his statement in Galatians 3:28 about the equality of men and women before the Lord and under the head, which is Jesus. Neither party is to be arrogant or domineering. The wife must forgo the temptation to rule her husband’s life and the husband must ensure that his love for his wife, like Christ’s love for his people, always puts her interest first. It is when husbands and wives first submit to Jesus, that this reciprocal relationship can function. It is when husbands and wives understand these kingdom rules and live by the that they are truly fee; free to mature and develop, within the creative context of mutual love and respect.
Another relationship that falls under the headship of Christ is the role of the parent (in this text Father) and child. Paul puts it this way, “
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” Paul is no doubt referring to one of the ten commandments (“Honor your father and mother so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”) in this text. Again this text, when seen in context is radical. The Gospel is breaking new ground. Children were supposed to be not seen and not heard and they were also seen as property. Here Paul is saying that first, that children are a part of the church in their own right and that he is giving them responsibilities as well. Paul is saying children need discipline, but the parents aren’t off the hook. Parents need discipline as well. The parents role is to live out the gospel in front of their children. That is to assure their children that they are loved and accepted and valued for who they are, not for who they ought to be, should have been or might become. And obviously this all happens when both children and parents live under the Lordship and Headship of Jesus Christ.
So then Paul moves from husbands, wives, and parents to the role and relationship between Slave and Master. So the question becomes, why doesn’t Paul outright confront the institution of slavery and condemn it? And call for masters to get rid of their slaves? Also why does he include slaves in this text? The reason for including slaves is that Onesimus is the one delivering the letter. And again this statement that Paul is making is radical for it’s time. Paul never condones slavery nor sanctions revolts against masters. He calls for both slave and masters, under the headship and Lordship of Jesus to show christian principles in their relationship and thus to attempt to change the institution from the inside out. To blow it up from the inside. For masters to actually show their slaves love and respect is so upside down from what the culture told the Masters. The slaves could be killed, beaten, abused, and taken advantage of. Also slaves were unable to legally receive or pass on an inheritance and yet here slaves are equal recipients with their masters of this inheritance of eternal life. Masters and slaves are equal in the view of the Kingdom of God. And when masters view their slaves as equal in the Kingdom of God, you begin to realize that owning another person goes against the ethic of the Kingdom. And then the institution comes crashing down from the inside, and done from a heart of people committed to the King and his kingdom.
I want to end with this statement by Paul that should speak to us where we all are, in relation to our work, our schooling, or wherever we find ourselves. Paul makes this statement, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward” As a means of being about the Kingdom of God and living a gospel centered life, we need to work, we need to study, we need to engage with all of our hearts and not just for the approval of our boss’s, or the good grade on the paper, etc… But do these things because we have a higher calling, a higher master and we seek to live under the rule, and reign of the King, and under his Lordship.
So let’s talk about what this text might be saying to us in all of our relationships, whether we are married, single, an employer, an employee, a student, etc…. What might be God saying to us in our relationships that we currently have? Where do we need to submit to the headship and lordship of Jesus in our relationships and our lives? And how might this text speak to us about living a missional, Kingdom life? Let’s unpack this stuff together.
1. What insights, questions, comments, applications, struggles, push back, etc…. do you have regarding the text and/or the message?
2. Where do you need to submit to the headship and lordship of Jesus? In a relationship? In another area of your life? What does it look like for you and I to submit to the headship and Lordship of Jesus in all things?
3. How might this text from Colossians speak to us as individuals and as a community about living a missional Kingdom life? What are the missional implications of living this text out in the world?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Over the last few weeks during our Colossians Remixed series we have been talking a great deal about 2 things. First, we have been talking a great deal about the supremacy and preeminence of Jesus over all other lords, including Caesar (who was called lord, savior, son of god, redeemer and liberator). And even today Jesus is Lord over all the other Caesar’s and lords that we run into. Over all the other things that we tend to put above Jesus. Jesus is Lord and the Caesar’s in this world are not and are at best a cheap knock-off. We talked about the fact last week that these lords, if you will, won’t lead to true freedom and liberation but to captivity and bondage.
Secondly, if the other lords can only promise and never deliver true freedom and liberation, only Jesus and the gospel of the Kingdom of God can promise and deliver. Jesus the gospel of the Kingdom delivers true freedom and true liberation. We have spent almost each and every week also talking about the true nature of the gospel and what it encompasses. And how the gospel of Jesus and the Kingdom of God applied to the situation in which this young church in Colossae in the midst of the Roman Empire found itself. It found itself challenged by the images of Caesar that touted that Caesar was lord, savior, redeemer, and King. It found itself challenged by jewish religious leaders who were encouraging what we called last week Jesus +. Jesus + circumcision. Jesus + special knowledge. Jesus + following these rules and regulations (what you can’t eat, what you can’t touch, what you can’t handle). Jesus +.
So with those 2 important, overarching themes found within the New Testament book of Colossians laid out, we now turn to Colossians 3:1-17 and Paul begins to put flesh and blood on the bones. Starting to work out on the ground what it looks like to give supremacy and preeminence to Jesus and to live out the gospel of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Let’s keep these 2 themes in mind as we read the Scripture, and unpack it together.
Colossians 3:1-17 says, “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. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
One of the things Paul longs for for the Colossian believers (and also all who would come after them) is that they (and us) would realize what is already true- in Christ. Because the Messiah and his people are so closely bounded up with one another, what is true of Jesus is also true of them (and us). So what is true of Jesus? That he died and rose again. What is then true of the followers of Jesus in Colossae? That they have died with the Messiah, that they don’t belong to the old world any more, and the regulations (found in Colossians 2) aren’t relevant anymore. And that they were raised with the Messiah, so that they possess a true life in God’s new world, also known as the ‘upper’ or ‘heavenly realm’ And if those things are true of the followers of Jesus in Colossae, than they are also true of you today if you are a follower of Jesus.
And when we have died with Christ, and risen with him to new life, we are called to, as Paul puts it, “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.” Now does this mean only think about “heaven” and going there when you die. Or as the old adage states, “being so heavenly minded that they aren’t any earthly good.” Paul isn’t talking about the idea of thinking and setting our minds on “heaven” but on thinking and setting your mind on the things of the Kingdom of God and not on the things of the Kingdom of this world. In fact God through Paul is calling us to learn to think about things that are above, not the things that belong to this present world of change and decay. In fact, learning to think, rather than merely going with the flow of the world on the one hand or blindly obeying what looks like stringent regulations on the other, is part of the key to living out the gospel of the Kingdom of God here and now.
All too often in our world today the view of Christians are that they are unintelligent, weary of education (ever hear someone warn you of education because it might lead you away from the faith?), and seemingly calling people to leave their brain at the door. One book that I have on my shelf deals with this struggle. It is the book “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” by Mark Noll, and his contention is that the scandal is that there is no evangelical mind, especially in places of higher eduction. And that is a shame. Being a Christian means learning to think harder, not leaving your brain behind in the quest for new experiences. Thinking straight and knowing the truth are part of what it means to be a truly human being, the sort of human being the gospel is meant to create.
Once Paul shares the fact that what is true of Jesus is true of the Colossian believers, along with you and I, he turns to the implications that we, like Jesus have died to the old and risen with the new. What are the implications of Jesus being preeminent and supreme and the gospel of new life and liberation? For the next few verses Paul uses the metaphor of clothing to get at what followers of Jesus are to do and to be, not just individually (as if that is even truly possible) but also corporately. Paul sees clearly that if the Colossian church is to move ahead, and not fall into the Colossian Heresy, it needs to know very clearly what’s involved in putting off the old clothing and putting on new ones. As an aside, the early church used the metaphor of taking off old clothes and putting on new ones in baptism. The new believer would come to the baptism wearing old clothes, they would discard the old clothes, be baptized, and then would be given a new set of white clothes symbolizing the new life in Christ. So the question is now what are the old clothes of the old nature and what are the new clothes of the new life in Jesus?
Let’s look at verses 5-9 to see what we as individuals and as a community are supposed to take off and then verses 12-17 to see what we are supposed to put on as far as the new clothes in Christ. Verses 5-9 says this, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
The old clothes of this world, and this Kingdom are things like sexual immorality, lust, greed, anger, rage, slander, lies, and language. You could break it down into two areas of life, sex and speech. Paul is seemingly getting at the fact that these old clothes are on the same level. Paul is just as concerned with sins of the tongue as he is with sins related to sexuality. In fact, it would be good for today’s church to get that balance right, instead of focusing so much on sexual sins. These areas of sexuality and speech are two central areas of human life, both involving some amazing and great potential for good and some great potential for evil. These sins of sexuality and speech don’t just affect the individual, they affect the community as well. The result for a community that would embrace and live life in the old clothes of the Kingdom of this world would be a community that would tear itself apart.
When a community of Jesus’ followers takes off the old clothes of the flesh and self and puts on the new clothes of new life in Jesus, than we begin to see a community of love, grace, truth, the Kingdom of God and the gospel enfleshed in this world. What do these new clothes look like? First look at verse 11, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” A Christian community that is living life in the new clothes of the Kingdom of God means that all the old divisions that our culture and the world system sets up are torn down and ripped up. Social, cultural, geographic, ethnic, political, etc.. divisions that are so prominent within the world should have no place within a Kingdom community of Jesus’ followers. People who live in the old clothes should look at a Kingdom community and go, “what in the world are they hanging out together for? They should never be getting along. But here they are loving each other, serving each other, being community together.” This is when we know that the Kingdom of God comes down and touches our earth, when people that would formerly not getting along, can love each other and be community together.
But verse 11 isn’t possible unless the new clothes of verses 12-17 are put into place in the individual follower of Jesus’ life as well as the Kingdom community. And these verses are important because we need to realize that life in the Kingdom of God is not just the negative- do not, but also the positive, here is what you are supposed to do. That it isn’t just about taking off the old clothes and standing around naked. It is about taking off the old clothes and then putting the new ones one. These Kingdom clothes should define what life is like and what our Kingdom communities should look like and function. The new Kingdom clothes are described in verses 12-17 and we’ll end with the listing of new clothes, the Kingdom clothes.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
So let’s unpack together some thoughts about applying this Scripture to our lives as individuals and as a community. Let’s talk about the old clothes that we need to talk off. Let’s talk about the new clothes and how to live as a community in our new clothes. And let’s talk about what God is saying to us as individuals and as a community.
1. What are some thoughts, questions, clarifications, insights, applications, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or message?
2. What old clothes do you need to take off? What new clothes/Kingdom clothes do you need to put on?
3. What old clothes do we as a community need to take off? What new clothes/Kingdom clothes do we as a community need to put on?
Today we wrap up chapter 2 of the New Testament book of Colossians in our series entitled Colossians Remixed. We are half way through the book with 2 more chapters to go (and about 3 more weeks to do it in) until we start Lent with our new series entitled Circle Maker: Praying circles around your biggest dreams and greatest fears.
So let’s jump in Colossians 2:16-23 and unpack this text, what Paul was getting at while writing it, and how it impacts the way we live our lives today two thousand years later. And remember that much of what we have been talking about over the last 4 weeks about the 2 fold purpose of the book (the supremacy and preeminence of Jesus and the true nature of the gospel) will again play itself out in Colossians 2:16-23.
Colossians 2:16-23 says, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”
So Paul, in this text, is seeking to combat the Colossian heresy that cropped up in the Colossian church, and I believe that even today the Colossian heresy is alive and well in the modern church, just in different forms. Paul is getting at the difference of freedom in Christ and legalism of religion. Jesus frees us, in every sense of the word, especially from the legalism of following man-made rules and regulations that actually get in the way of following Jesus. So let’s walk through these verses some more and see how Paul is calling us to freedom in Christ, the preeminence of Jesus and the true nature of the gospel.
The first thing we see in verse 16 is Paul going straight out what people were telling the Colossian church that they had to add to the Gospel in order to truly be “saved”. To truly follow Jesus. It could best be described as Jesus +. Jesus + circumcision. Jesus+ not eating or drinking the wrong thing. Jesus + this religious observance. Not too different than today. What are those things that we add to Jesus and the gospel? Maybe it is Jesus + voting Republican. Jesus + not drinking alcohol. Jesus + this certain theological view. Jesus + this certain ritual that we need to do in addition to trusting in Jesus. Jesus + only listening to this certain kind of music and only dressing a certain way. Paul is trying to tell the Colossian church and also by definition, us sitting here 2,000 years later that is actually Jesus + nothing. That we need Jesus and only Jesus. Paul is saying that don’t let people entice you into particular styles of piety and devotion other than single-minded devotion to Jesus. Nothing can be added to Jesus and the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Religious observance will not liberate you like the gospel. Following rules and regulations of what you can’t eat or drink will not liberate you. In fact, just the opposite it will bind you and put you in chains, just chains of a religious nature. All you need is Christ the King. If you ever come under pressure from any Christian or any church to “add” to your Christian experience, walk away. It is not the gospel if it needs to be added to. A religion that focuses purely on the details of things that you are allowed or not allowed to touch or eat- obviously referring to the Jewish food regulations, is dealing with perishables and if you want to do business with God, you have to get beyond that. The things that Paul mentions in verse 16 are typical of the way Jews- no least out in the Gentile world, tried to order their life of worship: festivals, new moons and sabbaths.
Paul then in verse 17 says that the things that people are judging the believers at Colossae on (whether they follow the rules and regulations, whether they observe the religious festivals, the new moon celebration or the Sabbath Day) are what he calls shadows. They are not the reality. Just like your shadow points to you not the other way around. You are the reality, your shadow just points to you as the reality. Jesus is the reality and all these things are shadows. Don’t cling to the shadows when the reality is here now. Reminds me of Chapter 1 about the image (Eikon) of the invisible God. Why follow the “image” known as Caesar when the true Lord, redeemer, true savior, and true King is here now in the person of Jesus? Why buy the knock-off, so to speak, when you can have the real thing?
Paul then attacks the teachers of the Colossian heresy because they were seeking to disqualify anyone who didn’t follow their belief system and their way of religious observance. Because Paul is saying, that when it is all said and done, that this belief system is not actually about God but about the person who was teaching the belief system. That these people were arrogant, puffed up, and were putting on false humility in order to be seen as most important. And if they were most important, that they had the secret knowledge (that we talked about before), than if you didn’t follow their rules, their regulations, and their way of doing religion, than you were disqualified from the race. They were playing umpire, and judge of who was in and who was out. And anytime you have someone playing judge and deciding who is really a follower of Jesus and who really isn’t there is a disconnect with Jesus, who could be the only right one to judge, but didn’t.
And Paul plays that out in verse 19. He says that those who disqualify others are themselves disconnected from the head. The head being Jesus and no doubt Paul is referring back to Chapter 1 verse 18 when he says, “He is the head of the body, the church.” And so in other words, the people who were leading the Colossian heresy were just a body without a head. Those who were propagating the teaching that Paul is opposing were Christians who had become misguided, or who never really understood their faith in the first place, or maybe they hadn’t even grasped Christ and his preeminence (and his supremacy over all things) in the first place. The central error, the major issue that Paul had with the Colossian heresy was their defective view of Christ in which he was believed to be less than God. And when you disconnect from the head, when the church doesn’t view Jesus as preeminent and supreme and doesn’t understand the gospel, the church ceases to be the body of Christ, the church ceases to grow, and it eventually dies.
And so Paul is calling the Colossian church back to the head, back to Jesus and away from all those things that attached themselves to the church and to following Jesus. He calls them to remember, in verse 20, that when they came to know Jesus that they, “died with Christ to the basic principles of this world.” Why are you submitting to the old rules and regulations and rituals when you have taken on the new life in Jesus? Why, now that you believe the gospel of Jesus, are you continuing to submit and follow the things that, while they promised life and liberation, actually promise death and bondage, Paul is asking them (and also us). Those rules and regulations (do not handle, do not taste. do not touch) are all pointing to what the belief system that was cropping into the Colossian church was teaching. Paul in mentioning these things, is focusing attention on the appeal to pagans of Judaism’s high moral codes and heavy demands, a kind of religious fundamentalism. You see, often when people are sick and tired of the murky, immoral world, they are glad to embrace a way of life which offers clear, bright, clear lines. And these rules, regulations, and rituals were what the Jewish people defined themselves by. And how they were different than the pagan neighbors.
The good news of this text is the reality that Jesus is the one who leads to freedom from bondage, liberation, and a new life. All the other beliefs, rituals, “gods”, and rules/regulations lead to bondage, and a return to the old life. And Paul is calling the Colossian church, and all followers of Jesus who have come after them that it is all about King Jesus. The Colossian Christians and all who have come after can breathe a sigh of relief that we are complete in Christ and don’t need anything else. We just need Jesus. We need to make him preeminent and supreme. We just need the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Again it is Jesus + nothing.
And so let’s unpack the Scripture and it’s implications in our world today. Let ’s talk about the idea of Jesus + and what we tend to add to Jesus and his gospel. Let’s talk about the rules, rituals, and regulations that define us and our faith. Let’s talk about how we have let external things define our relationship with the world. And let’s bring it all back to the supremacy of Jesus and his gospel.
1. What insights, questions, comments, ideas, applications, etc.. do you have in regards to the Scripture text and/or the message?
2. In your experience what things have you seen that has been added to Jesus? Jesus + what? What things have you added to Jesus and his gospel?
3. What rules, regulations, rituals do people let define their faith? How do these things get in the way of our relationship with Jesus? With other followers of Jesus? And with people who aren’t followers of Jesus?
What to do with Hot Button Issues and the Bible (or why I’m going to the Ecclesia National Gathering)
From February 25-27 I will be attending the Ecclesia National Gathering at the National 4-H Center near Washington DC. Ecclesia is a relational network of churches, leaders and movements that seek to equip, partner and multiply missional churches and movements. Veritas is currently discerning whether or not to affiliate with the Ecclesia Network (which doesn’t mean that we would be leaving the Church of the Brethren). This is my 3rd National Gathering and I am very excited to be a part of this year’s gathering due to the theme of the conference which is “Bringing the Word to Life.”
I was asked to write a blog piece about why I am attending the Ecclesia National Gathering. (If you want to learn more about the Ecclesia National Gathering go to: Ecclesia National Gathering and you can register for the National Gathering on their registration page)
So as I thought about the various reasons that I am taking time of our my schedule to go to this event, I realized that it comes down to 3 varying reasons.
1. Hot Button Issues and the Bible: We all struggle with parts of the Bible and understanding what they say and how to apply them to our postmodern, postChristian world in which we are now living. These are those Hot Button issues that sometimes I would rather either ignore or write off. Issues like understanding the God of the Old Testament and all the stories where it would seem that God justifies genocide. How do I as an Anabaptist committed to the Shalom of the world and following the Prince of Peace understand those war texts in the Old Testament? Do I say (like an ancient theologian..who was condemned as a heretic) that there are 2 Gods, the OT God and the NT God? No. So how do I understand those texts? That has been an area that I have struggled with a great deal and am super excited that William Webb will be doing a Focused Session entitled: Reading the War Texts- Redemptively.
Another Hot Button issue that seems like it never goes away is Homosexuality. What do you do with that Hot Button issue. It seems like the two most vocal positions are that Homosexuality is okay and not a sin, or Homosexuality is an abomination and the worst sin of all times. Neither I believe is helpful, in my opinion. How do you read the texts that speak about Homosexuality faithfully and redemptively? So I’m excited that William Webb (who by the way authors a great book entitled “Slaves, Women and Homosexuals:Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis) will be doing another Focused Session entitled: Reading the Homosexual Texts- Redemptively.
2. Kingdom of God Over the last few years my view on what the gospel is has radically changed and shifted and I am always seeking to understand the gospel more faithfully. And to understand the gospel more faithfully I believe one needs to understand what the Kingdom of God truly is. After all, the Kingdom of God is probably the most talked about and referenced topic in all of the New Testament. But we have so often gotten confused about the Kingdom of God. Either we have put the Kingdom as a future event out there for another time, or we have taken the opposite and put it for right now. I believe it is a now and not yet reality. One of the persons that has had a profound effect on my understanding of the Kingdom of God and the gospel of the Kingdom is Scot McKnight. Scot will be one of the featured speakers for the Ecclesia National Gathering and I’m excited to hear him speaking on issues like:SCRIPTURE’S GRAND NARRATIVE – KINGDOM, MISSION, & WORLD, THE (OTHER) KINGDOM OF JESUS: HOW JESUS REDEFINES KINGDOM IN SCRIPTURE and OUR CHURCHES IN GOD’S STORY: HOW THE KINGDOM “EXPANDS”. My only problem is that I know that some of Scot’s Focused sessions will be at the same time as William’s Focused sessions so which ones do I choose?
3. Relationship and Community This is probably one of the strongest reasons for me to be attending the National Gathering. Over the 3 years that I have been exploring Ecclesia, going to two National Gatherings, and attending the Missio Alliance Conference last year, and going to regional Ecclesia Gatherings, I have developed relationships with people who are amazing people of faith and passion. People who are committed to the Kingdom of God and the mission of God in this world. These are people who understand missional church planting (what we are seeking to do at Veritas) and have been there before. When I talk with them, ask them questions, and seek wisdom, I don’t have to explain, defend, bring them up to speed (so to speak). They have been there before and can give me great advice based on their experience, not just reading. So I’m looking for some great relationship and community time with some great friends over dinner, and the after hours gatherings that always takes place.
So those are the 3 reasons that I will be attending this year’s Ecclesia National Gathering from February 25-27 and hoping that it will help me Bring the Word to Life. Hope to see you there.