Giving Particular and Specific Thanks

Have you ever wondered why many of us will be gathering with family and friends this week to celebrate thanksgiving? Of course we may say ‘We’re gathering together because it’s Thanksgiving.’ Or maybe you’d say ‘We’re gathering together because it’s what we always do.’ Let’s think a little deeper about this. When we gather for Thanksgiving, why are we gathering? Do we give thanks? Do we express our gratitude? More so, what are we thankful for? Or, who are we thankful to? To family? To friends? To God? Does this thankfulness only show up in our lives in November? Does this thankfulness lead to living differently throughout the rest of the year?

Colossians 3:15-17 has a few things to teach us about thanksgiving.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

Thankfulness is mentioned three times in this passage. In v15 we’re to be thankful along with others who have been called into the peace filled body of Christ. In v16 we’re to pursue the Word of Christ together in that body through teaching, admonishing, and singing…with thankfulness abounding in our hearts to God for who He is and what He’s done. In v17 we’re to do all we do in the name of Christ while we give thanks to the Father through Him.

Thankfulness together. Thankfulness in worship. Thankfulness in all we do.

This coming Thursday and Friday I think the majority of Americans will gather together to eat and watch football without giving a second thought towards a true giving of thanks. Let’s change this. Rather than gathering with family and friends to celebrate thanksgiving in general, how about we think about who we give thanks to as well as what we’re thankful for? How about we give particular and specific thanks? What do I mean?

God is Holy, Holy, Holy, thank Him for this.

God created all things for His glory, thank Him for this.

God, when He didn’t have to and at the right time, sent His Son into the world to redeem a people for His own possession, thank Him for this.

God has saved us into a new family, the Church, thank Him for this.

God gives His Church rich communion with Himself as we gather together to worship and live life together, thank Him for this.

God gives His Church rich communion with one another as we gather together to worship and live life together, thank Him for this.

God, in His common grace, gives us families, tasty foods, exciting sports, and even naps to enjoy, thank Him for this.

God is now continuing the work He’s begun in us, thank Him for this.

God will one day finish this great work in us, thank Him for this.

Notice the common refrain in this list? God…God…God…God…God…God. God is the One we’re to be thankful to and thankful for. And we’re to be thankful not only this week but throughout the whole year as we do life in His world. Gratefulness is not an optional side dish in the Christian life, it is to be the ordinary and consistent bent of the heart. Romans 1:21 makes the case that ingratitude or ungratefulness is the gateway to the most heinous of sins. Let us be warned: if we will not be thankful, horrible things are to come.

Don Moen sang it well, “And now let the weak say, ‘I am strong’ Let the poor say, “I am rich, because of what the Lord has done for us.” Give thanks with a grateful heart,
Give thanks to the Holy One, Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son.”

May you give thanks this week, and every week for the rest of your life.

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Sing What We Mean, Mean What We Sing!

Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

There’s an old saying that goes ‘many people will lie in the first 30 minutes of Sunday morning worship more than they will all week.’ This has always been an interesting quote to me especially when thinking about weekly congregational worship. This week, in particular, my worship director and I were talking about a worship class he is currently taking. I was helping him with an assignment where he was organizing the different worship songs that we’ve done of the past few weeks into certain categories based on who the recipient of the song was. Was it being sung to God or is it an encouragement to the congregation? This discussion led my mind to go back to that old saying and wonder how much do we really believe the songs that we sing.

Do we ever think about it on Sunday mornings? While in that moment we may be caught up with an emotion or excitement, are we really engaging with the words that we are singing?

I want this brief blog post to be an encouragement to all of us as we go into worship this weekend. I hope that we will be encouraged to think through the words that we are singing. I want us to really focus in on the depth of these truths and how they affect our souls. We truly must think of the songs we sing as an outpouring of our hearts towards God and an encouragement one another. I hope the words of Colossians 3:16 become a reality to us all. So specifically we will look at two types of songs that seem to be the most often sung but overlooked in their meanings.  These are songs of lament and songs of dedication. In one, we sing of our trust in God in the midst the pain and sorrow and in the other we sing of our dedication to God in all things.

The Song of Lament

For many of us songs of lament probably aren’t all that common in our congregations, even though their meaning and use is probably one of the most real parts of the Christian life. The Psalms are filled with hearts broken and beaten by the world, but whose ultimate faith is in the Lord alone. In our congregations we may not sing them very often but when (not ‘if’) we do we should take a moment and reflect on what they mean. When we sing the words of Blessed be your name and echo the bridge “you give and take away, blessed be your name” do we truly think through what that song is saying? Do we really look at our situations and see all that we may have gained and all that we may have lost and truly be able to cry out “Blessed be your name?” When we are stuck in the wilderness of life do we truly cry out “Blessed be your name?” Songs of lament can be one the greatest salves to hurting heart. They give voice to the destitute, but as we struggle do we truly believe these words. Do we truly yearn for these words to reflect our hearts towards God?

So for those of us who are in pain may we sing these songs with a heart that reflects a trust in God. And to those of us who are not in the midst of trials and struggles, let us sing these songs with two things in mind: First, the times we have been brought through the fire. When we sing these songs let us reflect on what God has done for us. Let us not sit by passively or sing absent-mindedly, but let us sing reflecting on how God has brought us through. Second, let us remember our brothers and sister who are sitting around us in our service who are struggling. Let our singing be an encouragement to them of how God is worthy in the midst of our struggles, but also let these songs be a reminder that we all suffer and walk through the deserts.

Songs of Dedication

Songs that cry out for dedication and sing of our allegiance to God are some of the most often taken for granted songs in Christian worship. With one voice we can echo the words “Jesus I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow thee, destitute, despised forsaken, and thou from hence my all shalt be,” and yet it is not less than a day and back we are to the same pattern following our own desires and ambitions, with little or no thought for the will and direction of God. Another example from the same beautiful hymn “Go then earthly fame and treasure, come disaster scorn and pain, in thy service pain is pleasure, with thy favor loss is gain.” These simple lines echo the call of Christ to follow Him in the gospel, and connect us to the mission of His disciples for all generations; To give up everything of this world and be solely devoted to him. In these songs we declare with one voice yes and amen, we will follow Him without a second guess, yet again we quickly turn back.

Worship through song is formative in many ways, for worship gives voice to who we know we should be, and when we take it seriously we begin to think thoughtfully about whether or not we truly believe the words that we say. It is easy to nod our head at the words of the sermon, but it’s a whole other thing to put those words into action in our daily lives. However, in worship through song we sing those truths one to another and back to God. So the songs we sing on Sunday should never simply be another song in the list of songs that you’ve learned, that flow as easily from, our lips as the newest pop song. The songs we sing should be an outflowing of the truth of God in Scripture and in our lives.

The songs we sing should build us up with joy for the greatness of who our God is. We should be able to sing in reflection for all that he has done. We should sing with joy to exclaim his greatness to our brothers and sisters. And we should sing the truth of Scripture to those who do not know that they may hear and believe the word of God presented through song.

May our worship through song never be a lie.

May we think deeply of the things of God and sing in response to the greatness of our God. May we not simply check out on a Sunday morning and go through the motions of singing words that we’ve heard time and time again. But may we engage our mind and our heart to understand what God is saying in his word and through the worship of his people.

So when we join with our brothers and sisters this Sunday and sing with one voice may we engage with the words that we’re singing. Let the words truly be a reflection of our hearts, let the words that we sing become formative for our lives as they reflect the truth of Scripture and the truth of our Savior.

A Caution to All NFL Fans…

NFL

This past Thursday, and really this weekend, was the official beginning of the NFL season for 2015-2016.  Was it just me or did it seem to take a lot longer this year to actually get here?  Any who, I have a caution for all of you NFL fans as the season is now underway.

In Colossians 4:5-6 we read, “Walk is wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

In the original Greek the phrase ‘making the best use of ‘ is only one word and it could be translated as it is here ‘making the best use of’ or ‘to redeem’ or ‘to secure for oneself.’  The meaning is clear: we walk wisely in the eyes of unbelievers when we redeem our time, making the best use of it that we possibly can.  What does it mean to redeem the time?

-To redeem our time is to not waste our time.

-To redeem our time means to seize every chance we’re given to share the gospel with a bold tactfulness.

-To redeem the time means to use all of our time to God’s glory.

-To redeem our time is to fill our lives and our interactions with unbelievers with things of the Kingdom, the gospel, the Scripture rather than things that are trivial.

This means we’re not free to use the time we have to do anything we desire.  We must ask ourselves before doing anything or committing to something, will this activity help me redeem my time, or will this activity make me waste my time?

What does this have to do with the NFL season beginning?  Well, now that it’s football season my household is going to be rooting for the Atlanta Falcons a lot during these next few months.  But, I am convicted by something in Colossians 4:5-6 in regards to my Falcons cheering.  If my neighbors, friends, and family know me just as the guy who cheers for the Falcons and knows nothing of my faith in and love for Christ (the most important thing about me) I’ve done a poor job of redeeming my time with them.  If that’s all they know about me I’ve wasted my time with them, filling our interaction with trivial things, and haven’t made the best use of that time that I could’ve.

The hard lesson for us here is that how we spend our time tells a lot about what we really love.  The harder lesson here is that how we spend our time shows the unbelieving world what we really love.  From watching our lives and hearing our speech, does the unbelieving world around me know only of my devotion for the Falcons, or do they know of my greater and more infinite devotion for Christ and His Kingdom?

Bottom line: the NFL is good…but Jesus is better.

Remember that is the season is now underway.

The Supremacy of Christ in Redemption, part 2

We now have come to the high point in the Regal Christ Hymn.  In Colossians 1:20 we read, “and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.”

From this we learn Jesus is both the Agent of reconciliation and the One true Peacemaker. Humanities fall into sin brought with it the perversion of the entire created order. The world we now do life in is fallen, and life in a fallen world is hard. Deep down everyone knows something is wrong here. We may not be able to explain it but we know we were made for more than what we currently experience. The Christian has the only true remedy for the fall. Enter Jesus, the One through whom all things were made, the One for whom all things exist, the One who sustains all of creation by the word of His power, the holy and eternal Son of God reconciles and provides peace with God through His righteous life and by the blood of His atoning death. This good news demands a response from every man and woman on the planet. If we don’t revere and bow the knee to Christ here embracing His grace in the gospel, we will bow before the awe-filled Lord of glory on the great and terrible day of judgment.

What are we to do with this glorious Regal hymn of Colossians 1:15-20? Recall the position of the Colossians. New believers who were slowly growing into a low view of Christ. Paul corrects this by giving them the high view of Christ they ought to embrace. We too, find ourselves in a similar time as the Colossian Christians were, and we too must return to a proper view of Christ, which is a high view of Christ. We must do 2 things with this:

  • This high view of Christ must be applied to us personally, and impact all we do as individuals.
  • This high view of Christ must be applied to us corporately, and impact all we do as the local church.

When we as individuals and when we as a congregation embrace a high view of Christ we’ll gain a high view of what Christ loves – what does Christ love? His Church. When a love for His Church grows in us we’ll gain a high view of the Word of God, which builds His Church. When we gain a high view of the Church and the Word of God we’ll gain a high view of Church membership, and when we gain a high view of church membership we’ll grow in our commitment to love one another – which in turn will be a testimony to the world around us, that we follow the supreme and regal Christ together.

John MacArthur once gave an illustration that is helpful here.  In 1966 a world famous Hindu mystic named Rao became convinced he could walk on water. He was so confident of his own spiritual power he announced he would perform the feat before a live audience. Tickets were sold at $100 a piece, and around 600 of India’s elite turned out to behold the miracle. So there they were. Rao and the curious onlookers gathered in a large Bombay garden next to a deep pool. Rao walked out in flowing white robes, stepping up confidently to the edge of the pool, everyone got quiet as the holy man closed his eyes to pray. He opened his eyes, looked toward heaven, boldly stepped forward, and with an awkward splash he disappeared beneath the water. Red-faced, angry, he climbed out of the pool, and indignantly shouted at the crowd, “One of you is an unbeliever!”

Many people throughout history, many people today, and before the Lord returns many more people still will claim to have some special kind of spiritual power that sets them apart from all the rest. But every single one of these phonies eventually makes themselves a clear contrast to the One who really did walk on water. Jesus Christ always has, does this very moment, and always will hold all power.

Jesus is unique. There is no one like Him, and there is no God but Him. He’s no phony. He’s the real thing.

The Supremacy of Christ in Redemption, part 1

Whereas the supremacy of Christ in creation reveals His transcendence, the supremacy of Christ in redemption reveals His immanence. Whereas the supremacy of Christ in creation reveals who He is, the supremacy of Christ in redemption reveals what He has done. Our list continues…

Jesus is the Head of the Church

In Colossians 1:18 we read, “He is the head of the body, the Church…” Yes Jesus is the great and glorious God we just made mention of who created all things and holds all things together, but whereas you might think such a God is aloof from the cares and concerns of ordinary people, Jesus’ great and glorious work is wonderfully personal. You see the great aim of His work was to glorify His Father by bleeding and dying on the cross for a specific people, the Church – this Church is His body no on earth, of which He is now the head. And just as we have seen in the previous verses that creation will always be upheld by the providential care of Christ and never fall into chaos, so too, we see now in this verse that the Church will always be upheld by the providential care of Christ and never fall into chaos or disorder. Why is the Church so secure? Be sure of this, the Church is not secure because of the wisdom and grace of any pastor or leader you’ll ever meet, not ever! The guaranteed successful future of the Church universal is secure and sure because of Jesus. He is infinitely strong in His wisdom and grace to build and keep His Church throughout the ages, regardless how strong the tide is against us. Jesus promised as much when he said in Matthew 16:18, “…I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Jesus is the Beginning

In Colossians 1:18 we read, “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.” You may think this one item in Paul’s long list concerning Jesus is unnecessary because from the surface of things it seems to be a repetition of what he already said in 1:15, that Jesus is the firstborn. Wrong. Paul does use the same “firstborn” word to describe Jesus again but he means something different by it here in 1:18. In 1:15 Paul was referring to Jesus being the “firstborn of all creation” in relation to His inheritance from the Father. In 1:18 Paul is referring to Jesus being the “firstborn” in relation to His resurrection, because of the words “…the firstborn from the dead.” Meaning that, Jesus’ resurrection marks a change, a new beginning. As the first One to rise from the dead, never to die again, Jesus wins a victory that is then given to all who are united to Him by faith. So the resurrection of Christ anticipates and guarantee’s the future resurrection of all His brothers and sisters. In this manner Jesus is the beginning, because all believers throughout all time who are united to Him by faith will (Romans 6) rise from death just as He did.

But this verse has more to it doesn’t it? Paul goes onto show that there is a connection between Jesus’ resurrection and Jesus’ having preeminence (supremacy, first place). See it at the end of the verse? The reason Jesus has preeminence or supremacy over all things is that He was the firstborn from the dead. Here’s what Paul is doing here. Clearly we’ve already seen in this passage that the eternal Son of God had glory before the world was made with His Father. But by virtue of His resurrection Jesus gained a newer, higher, loftier standing; winning for Himself a greater name and greater glory than He had before, because by rising from death, Jesus demonstrated He was the Lord of the universe. The same universe, which He created, which He sustains, and now has redeemed through conquering death. Romans 1:4 says Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead.”

Jesus is the Fullness

In Colossians 1:19 we read “For in Him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…” Jesus is here said to contain within Himself the very fullness of God. Many people simply believe that Jesus was divine in the sense that He reflected God’s glory, or mirrored God’s glory to a certain degree, but this verse corrects our natural low view of Christ. Jesus didn’t merely reflect the glory of God, rather all that God is dwells in Jesus. The language Paul uses here is similar to the Old Testament language used to describe how God would fill the temple with His glory before the Israelites. That this same language is being applied to Jesus here means Jesus is therefore the fulfillment of the temple. We’re not waiting for a physical temple to be rebuilt one day over in Jerusalem, Jesus is our temple, and because Jesus is the temple and our faith unites to Him making us part of this temple as well – the new gospel temple is growing and will eventually fill the whole earth. This truth is why later in Colossians, in 2:9 Paul says, “…for in Him the whole fullness of the deity dwells bodily.” And it’s why Paul says in Romans 9:5, “…Christ…is God over all…” This is nothing less than a declaration of the deity of Jesus Christ, that though He appeared as a Man, and really was 100% human like we are, He was also 100% God. Jesus wasn’t a 50/50 mixture of divine/human, He was fully God and fully man at the same time.

The Supremacy of Christ in Creation, part 2

Jesus is Eternal

In Colossians 1:17 we read, “And He is before all things…” What was implicit in 1:16 is now made explicit in 1:17, namely, that Jesus could create everything because He existed before creation, therefore we can know for certain that there never was a time when Jesus was not. Jesus said this and angered many Pharisees in John 8:56-58 when He said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that He would see My day. He saw it and was glad…Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” If there had been any uncertainty about Jesus’ identity there is none after John 8, because in these verses Jesus is claiming to be the “I am” has always existed and who met Moses at the burning bush. This is a statement of transcendence that Jesus has always existed, is now, and always will be. Jesus is eternal. John 1:1 echoes the same truth, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Who was the Word? John 1:14 tells us “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Who was the Word who became flesh? The transcendent Christ, who has always been.

Jesus is Sustainer

In the end of 1:17 we read, “…and in Him all things hold together.” Not only is Jesus the transcendent eternal God who created all things, but Jesus holds all creation together by His sustaining sovereign power. Again Hebrews 1:3 is instructive when it says, “Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power…” By His providential care over all of His creatures Jesus governs and guides, reigns and rules, loves and leads all things for the great good of His people and the great glory of His name.

The Supremacy of Christ in Creation, part 1

Jesus is the Image

In Colossians 1:15 we read, “He is the image of the invisible God…” That Jesus is called the image of God means that the person of Jesus Christ makes the invisible God visible. 1 Tim. 1:17 says, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever, amen.” John 4:24 clearly says “God is Spirit” and one of the things about a Spirit is that they don’t have physical bodies. Yet Hebrews 1:1-3 says this, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed Heir of all things, through whom He also created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature…” So you see what’s happened? Long ago, in the times of the Old Testament Saints, God spoke to His people through His prophets. Now, in these last days, God speaks to us…how? Through His Son, who is Himself the exact imprint or representation of His nature. Thus, through the incarnation of the Son of God, God revealed Himself to His people by wrapping Himself in skin. The invisible God of glory was now for the first time, visible. Because of this, “We must be careful not to look for God anywhere else, for apart from Christ, whatever offers itself to us in the name of God will turn out to be an idol.” (John Calvin) You want to know who God is? What He’s like? Look no further than Jesus, for He is the image of God.

Jesus is Firstborn

In Colossians 1:15 we also read, “Jesus is…the firstborn of all creation.” Care is needed here, and we should avoid speaking in physical terms, as if this means Jesus had a physical origin or was somehow created by God the Father. This view, that Jesus is a created being, still shows up in almost every cult even though it was condemned often as heresy in the early Church. Jesus was never created, He has always been, He is the eternal Son of God. The phrase “firstborn of all creation” is used metaphorically to mean Jesus was given the rights and privileges of a firstborn son. We see this in Deut. 21:17 and Exodus 4:22 which make it clear the firstborn son is the principal heir of the family. And so Jesus, by means of His incarnation, became the privileged One, the principal heir of God the Father, the firstborn Son. In this manner Psalm 89:27 says of Jesus, “And I will make Him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” Romans 8:29 also, “For those whom God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that His Son might be the firstborn among many brothers.” That He is the firstborn of all creation means Jesus will receive the entire creation as His inheritance from His Father and will rule over it for all eternity.

Jesus is the Creator

In Colossians 1:16 we read “For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him.” Jesus didn’t come into being when He was born of the virgin Mary. His birth wasn’t His beginning. Rather His birth was His entrance onto the stage that He Himself created in Genesis 1. This verse teaches us that Jesus was the agent of creation through whom God made all things. And Jesus is not only the agent through whom God created all things, Jesus is the goal of creation as well – for all things were through Him AND for Him. Everything that is, was made by Jesus and for Jesus. For His glory, for His renown, for His majesty, for His fame…whether kings or empires or presidents or governments, animals or families or jobs or individual talents, children or technology or cars or homes – everything under the sun and everything above the sun was made the Son of God, for the Son of God. 1 Cor. 8:6 has a similar meaning, “…for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things are and for whom we exist, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” Romans 11:33-36 also, “O’ the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor? Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever, amen.” The most important thing about each of us is that our lives aren’t about us! We were made for the glory of Jesus Christ, for we were made through Him and for Him.

The Regal Christ Hymn of Colossians

In Colossians 1:15-20, Paul is soaring in praise to the glory, greatness, and grandeur of Jesus Christ. It is a wondrous text in the Bible:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And 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, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

Many Church historians believe this passage was one of the earliest Christian hymns ever written.  And you can see why when you read it can’t you?  It reads beautifully, and is very similar to the language found in the Majestic and Kingly Psalms of Psalm 2-8.

In these verses we not only get a clearer understanding of who Jesus Christ is, we get a window into what He has done, or what God has done through Him.  That this passage is present in Paul’s letter to the Colossians lets us know one of the things wrong in this young Colossian Church was it’s insufficient and improper view of Christ.  So naturally Paul gives correction by detailing the sufficient or the proper view of Christ, one which they should not only believe, but teach as well.

Paul specifically focuses on two things as he unfolds this Regal Christ hymn describing the majesty of the Son of God: first in 1:15-17 he points to the supremacy of Christ in creation, and then in 1:18-20 he points to the supremacy of Christ in redemption.  In these two things Paul gives us a list that is unlike any other, for in this list there are 10 key realities about who Jesus Christ is.  Do you want to know who Jesus is?  Read it to find out, dig deep to discover who Jesus is.  Throughout the next week we’ll look through this glorious passage.