Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7 (ESV)
When you start thinking about what you should do to grow in your faith, the disciplines or practices you need, what do you think of? Christians and non-Christians would probably easily come up with similar lists if asked. They might look like this:
Go to church.
Read your Bible.
Serve, or give back in some way.
Nothing out of the ordinary here, just simple important practices to grow closer to God. Yet, as I recently read Colossians 2, God used it as an opportunity to add one more important practice to my list.
It’s something I always knew was scattered throughout the Bible and was a good thing, but it was something I always treated like extra credit. I’m thinking I might not be alone in this.
Yet, in these two verses, I was really surprised to see the difference between what was God’s role, and what was mine. The Colossians were commanded to have a continual lifestyle of faith, to “walk in Him.” After that phrase comes four participles in the original language, three being passive (something is being done to us, for us or in us), and one is active (we are the ones to do it). Let’s take a look:
So what is the active participle thing that we are called to do?
To be “abounding in thanksgiving.”
In light of the fact that God has rooted us in a faith that can’t be lost or thwarted, and is continually at work helping us become more free from our old ways and transformed into the new people we will be forever in heaven, we are called to be overflowing with thanksgiving.
Many commentators have noted how a lack of thanksgiving is one of the first signs of drifting from God. I’ve noticed this to be true in my own life. An ignorance of blessing or a critical spirit unfortunately comes so easily to me. Thanksgiving or gratitude does not. That’s why I need to make it a practice and a discipline.
And here’s the deal, we can all do this because our thanksgiving shouldn’t be tied to our circumstances. Colossians instead connects thanksgiving to what God has done. So with the holiday season now upon us, there will be great opportunities where we’ll be nudged to reflect and express thanks. Try to find outlets to express your thanks to God. This may be prayer or worship, or it may be finding a small way to do to someone else what God has done for you.
Whatever it looks like, work at making it a practice finding ways to respond to God’s love with thanksgiving.
If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. Luke 9:23–24
Fear is a catalyst that drives people to make certain decisions. At times, these decisions may just be spontaneous reactions (e.g. fear of missing out can lead to trying out everything in life or committing to all gatherings). Other times, decisions may be coated by reasons that sound logical yet lack an honest justification or a well-rounded analysis of the facts (e.g. career insecurity may lead to working to exhaustion; relationship insecurity may lead to dating the wrong person or crossing boundaries).
In the movie, After Earth, Cypher Raige (played by Will Smith) illustrates what fear is when he taught his son survival lessons:
The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not exist at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice. – After Earth
Like Cypher described, fear oftentimes dwells in our thoughts only. However, many times we put up a smoke screen to justify our actions as simply responding to real dangers instead of admitting we are choosing to feed the fear monster that lives in our inner imagination.
After getting to know Christ, it becomes clear that there is a greater danger each day. This danger is turning to ourselves, acting on our perception of fear and trying to save ourselves through these actions. The danger was very real in the Garden of Eden and is still very real in our modern lives. The danger in thinking our decisions are better than going after Him. I believe everyone can strive hard for anything, and may even succeed through diligence and perseverance. But the greater danger remains:
I’m not afraid of failure; I’m afraid of succeeding at things in life that don’t matter. – William Carey
Not everyone is called to go to India like William Carey but everyone is called to take up his cross daily and follow Jesus. ‘For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?’ Luke 9:25. Nothing is more devastating than realising the things we tried so hard to succeed at on our own terms, may not actually matter on the day we stand before Jesus.
My prayer is that we as a church can challenge and encourage each other as we give our fears to the most gracious Father. When there is any anxiety about “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”, I pray we can take up our crosses together and live out our “633 motto” in seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
Let us respond to fear by:
I have always loved this time of year. In the last month, my family has enjoyed carving pumpkins, watching Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin, digging out school sweaters and jackets from storage, and dressing up in princess and superhero costumes. On Halloween night we even went out and collected some candy while trick-or-treating.
But Halloween this year was actually more special to me than it was to my kiddos, and not because I enjoy costumes, scary movies or pumpkins. It is because of what happened exactly 500 years ago this Halloween in a small town tucked away in the forests of Germany. On October 31, 1517 in Wittenberg, Germany, a young, well-educated and promising Catholic Monk, posted his “95 Theses,” or criticisms of what he saw in the organised church.
This monk was Martin Luther. Luther was a member of and a strong supporter of the Catholic Church. He did not post his critique like so many bloggers post things today – to stir up emotions and create havoc. No, Luther posted his “theses” to begin a discussion on how the church could improve and be healthier. He was not protesting the church but attempting to reform the church. This is something that we should all desire to do as we continue to serve in the Body of Christ!
Martin Luther’s writing began to spread like wildfire thanks to the recent invention of the Gutenberg press, which allowed for rapid printing of books and pamphlets when everything prior had to be transcribed by hand. It was because of the printing press that people now had direct access to God’s Word. Now anyone could read the Bible and grow in their faith. And historians tell us: People did not begin reading their Bibles because of the Reformation, the Reformation took place because people began reading their Bibles.
Martin Luther began this history-shifting movement. Yet as a monk, Luther was terribly troubled by his own unrighteousness before God – he believed (rightly) that there was nothing a sinful human could do to become presentable to a holy God. So Luther committed his life to learning how he could become holy. It was reported that some days he would literally spend hours (as many as six!) in giving his confessions to the priest. Yet he never felt healed – how could he ever pay God back for his sin?
And then… through reading Scripture, Luther was awakened by the gospel.
Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Luther was changed by the realisation that he was indeed beyond hope of fixing himself. He could not make himself righteous before the holy God. But Jesus could, and Jesus did.
Martin Luther realised how wonderful the grace of God is through Jesus Christ, and he began spreading that message. What Luther began has radically moved history, and has brought life and health back into the Church. May we continue to study the Bible to discover God’s beautiful truths anew. May we continue to grow and be strengthened by the beauty and the power of the gospel. We are thankful to Martin Luther for pointing us toward Jesus, and we are indebted to Jesus forever for His wonderful sacrifice to save all those who trust in Him.
This year, I was overjoyed to celebrate on Halloween, not because of candy and costumes, but because of the amazing grace of my Saviour Jesus. That grace which transcends the walls of the universe.
Soli Deo Gloria.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19
Most of us are creatures of habit and we are resistant to change. It is easy to tread the well-worn path and do what we’ve always done. Patterns, habits, and routines feel familiar and safe, and comfort us. Even if the outcome is not that great, we tend to like it because at least we know what to expect.
Sometimes even if we are promised something better, it is hard to let go of the familiar. The prospect of something better can be hard to imagine. But what if God wants to do “a new thing” in you? That’s why dreaming with God is so important. He implants ideas and visions into our hearts so we can start to visualise it in our spirit. Only God can make something out of nothing; after all, He called the whole world into existence. “By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.” (Hebrews 11:3) It’s who He is, it is in His nature to create.
I recently helped to run a Disordered Eating Support Group at Island ECC. It was a vision that God had placed on my heart since 2013, and the last four years had been a time of preparation. My own past experience was the catalyst but God also put a desire in me to walk alongside others.
My healing journey was a long step-by-step process. I had often wished that God would just do it in an instant and I believed He could do it. But I knew there was a reason it had to be this way: I had to do the hard work of addressing my pain, give up old patterns of control and comfort, deal with confronting the feelings that I was too afraid to feel, and learn a new way of seeking solace in God instead of resorting to old patterns for relief.
God meted out to me the steps toward wholeness and freedom, and the process gave me time to walk faithfully, learn deeply, process thoroughly, and heal completely. I was blessed to have the right people around me who could counsel me in the journey, and my sense of obligation to them made me press on when I wanted to give up. I am so glad that I did not and I wish to encourage others to pursue God for the abundant life that cost us Jesus’ death on the Cross.
Let us embrace the process of change by:
As a church, we want to reach out to the world with the good news of Jesus but many of us don’t know where to begin. Prof. Alister McGrath has had a great deal of experience in presenting and defending the faith publicly and has also written extensively on this topic. It’s our delight to have him come speak at Island ECC!