A New Foundation (Colossians 3:17-23)

There are times in my life when I know that God is doing a huge thing. I am in one of those seasons, and it is beautiful and challenging at the same time. I have done more “on my face” repenting of things in the last few months than I have maybe in the last 5-10 years.  And God has been rocking my world with new insights in scripture that have sometimes left me trembling.

John’s sermon this morning took us through Colossians 3:17-23. Verse 17 says “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the LORD Jesus…”. And verse 23 begins,Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the LORD…”  

In between those two verses Paul mentions people who had previously been invisible…wives, children, slaves…and gives husbands/fathers a new directive.  The fact that these people groups are mentioned is evidence that something new is going on, which goes back to “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:27-28)

Earlier last week, when I was getting prepared for a devotion, the Lord took me to Genesis 1:26-27 which is a very familiar passage. It says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they (the human race) may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  

I’ve known these verses a long, long time, but this time God showed me something new, something huge. God tells the human race what portion of His created world that He has given us to rule over–and it doesn’t include other humans. Not men ruling over women, not whites ruling over non-whites, not rich ruling over poor, no one ruling over no one. In God’s perfect design He rules us, we rule together over the rest.

John reiterated this in his sermon when he said in Christ all of life has a new center of reference, a new Lord, and a new understanding of reality.

A new Lord. Look back at verses 17 and 23 of Colossians 3. Both imply living a new way that affects all of our actions, all of our words, all of our effort because Jesus is our Lord. So what does Jesus being Lord really mean?

I read a book recently called “The Myth of Equality” by Ken Wytsma, and in the book he points out that the “sinner”s prayer” is not actually in the Bible and he says, “I know from experience that we can have a personal relationship with Christ. The danger, however, comes when asking Jesus “into your heart” is reduced to merely a transaction of spiritual goods and rights. This is especially dangerous in a consumeristic society that places more emphasis on individual rights than on responsibilities.” Wytsma also says, “As often as we hear about accepting Jesus into our heart, this is not the usual salvation language found in the Bible. Scripture most often uses the image of our being found in Christ.”

When I read that I had to sit back and ponder it for a moment. I went to a verse that is often used to bring people into relationship with Christ, Romans 10:9 “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  I stared at it asking God what He wanted me to see, and this is what He revealed. The focus of this verse is the Lordship of Jesus. I’ve heard the verse presented many times with the focus on the mouth and the heart, but what brings us into relationship with Christ is submitting to His Lordship. And do you know what is written three verses down? Romans 10:12 which says, “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him…”  Truly, each of us submitting to the Lordship of Christ is the only way true Christianity can work.

So the question for us is who is Lord? Jesus or self?  Do we put ourselves in a position of superiority over others based on skin color, financial position, job status, what neighborhood we live in, what country we’re from, who we voted for, which channel we get our news from, what school we go to, or any other thing?  John pointed out that a great test of this is paying attention to how we compare ourselves to others. Comparison is a great indicator that there may be some “lording it over others” going on.

This weekend ugly “superiority” violence spilled over on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. Blood was spilled, life was lost, and terror gripped many. Man’s way leads to destruction. Ruling over one another leads to destruction. Submitting to the authority and Lordship of Jesus leads to the beauty of diverse community, of a united body where each member is seen, loved, heard, and valued–where everyone’s gifts are able to flourish, and where the Kingdom of Heaven becomes evident and advances on planet earth.

So Paul’s wording in both Colossians 3:17 and 23 needs to be embedded deeply in our hearts—WHATEVER we do in word or in deed, do it ALL in the name of, and as if we are working for the LORD Jesus…

–Luanne

It is impossible to see the humanity in every “other”, to place equal value on all lives, to truly comprehend the need for equity and equality if Jesus is not the Lord of our lives. Paul got this. I mean, he really got this. I’ll dig into that piece in a minute…

I love that Luanne wrote about the Lordship of Jesus. In fact, what she wrote about completely redirected the focus of my thoughts and writing today.

I looked up the word “Lord” from the verse Luanne referenced, Romans 10:9. I looked it up because I wanted to know how the original word was defined in Scripture. I didn’t plan on sharing it with you, but it was so thought-provoking that I can’t not include it. (My apologies to readers who are not fellow word nerds…thank you for your patience!!)

“Lord” is translated from “kyrios”, a Greek word that means:

“the one to whom a person belongs and about whom he (the Lord) has power of deciding; Master, possessor, owner, one who has control”

The root word behind this word is “kyros”, which is simply translated “supremacy”. In light of the weekend’s horrific events, I hesitated to even include this word in reference to Jesus. But I think that it is important to our discussion to know that this word, “kyros” is only found one time in Scripture. That one time? It was used by none other than our Colossians author, Paul, in the first chapter of the book we are studying. Paul uses the word in Colossians 1:18 to establish the absolute authority, preeminence, “firstness” of Jesus. And it is from this word that we get our word “Lord”. Let’s look at that definition one more time:

“the one to whom a person belongs and about whom he (the Lord) has power of deciding; Master, possessor, owner, one who has control”

A few things come to mind as I ponder this definition… First, whether we acknowledge Jesus as Lord or not doesn’t change the fact that He. Is. Lord. Philippians 2:10-11 tells us that, “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord…” He is. And one day, ALL will acknowledge His Lordship. But, for now… we get to choose whether or not to acknowledge Him. Which is pretty mind-blowing. He has the power and the right as the firstborn of all creation, as the risen Savior, as the spotless Lamb and as God Himself to “Lord” over us. He doesn’t… yet. Unless we submit to His Lordship. Once we declare Jesus as Lord of our lives, we willingly assume the role of a servant in His Kingdom. We belong to Him, He owns us, and He has the power to make a decision about us. Here’s the beautiful thing about that…

He made His decision about us at the cross. 

When He chose to die for all-not just for some-He made His decision. As Lord of all, He decided that all of humanity was worthy of the chance to be reconciled to our Father in Heaven. He didn’t make allowance for one nation, one tribe, one ethnicity, one gender, one age group, one socioeconomic status. He showed no favoritism and no partiality. He bled for all. And He rose as the victorious King who made a way for all to enter in to the Kingdom He passionately ushered in.

He could demand our submission. He doesn’t.

Paul understood the power of Jesus-maybe more than anyone. He knew firsthand that there is only one way to be changed–by submitting to Jesus’s Lordship. Paul wanted us-all of humanity-to understand, to accept, to embrace the only power strong enough to not only save a soul, but change a heart, change a life.

Paul used to be Saul. Saul was righteous. A case could be made that he was the most righteous in his day. But Paul… Paul’s ministry wasn’t built on his own righteousness. His ministry was built on justice, on the upside-down Kingdom that Jesus modeled and ushered in.

Saul murdered and persecuted followers of Jesus. Lucky for him, the Lord Jesus had already made a decision about Saul when He spilled His blood for him and the rest of humanity.

Paul understood that declaring Jesus as Lord was an acknowledgement of the equality of all people.

Declaring Jesus as Lord, submitting to our roles as grateful servants on equal ground at His feet, is the beginning of heart change. Because when we declare Jesus as Lord, whatever or whoever we had given that title to previously has to go.  Matthew 6:24 makes it clear: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” There can only be one true Lord of our lives. And it’s not about what we say with our mouths-we can say that Jesus is our Lord. But if we are living lives marked by entitlement, superiority, judgment, comparison, division… we may need to take a closer look at who is sitting on the throne of our hearts.

If Jesus is truly our Lord, we will be changed, as Saul was. Once that switch happened-when Saul “asked for, prayed for” became Paul “humble or small one“, it was so much more than a name change. He saw himself differently. He saw people differently. He didn’t lord his credentials, his knowledge of the Scriptures, his genealogy. He understood that the blood of Jesus was spilled for him and for all of humanity as a means to reconcile all of us to God. He recognized, with overflowing gratitude, that there are only two levels within the Kingdom– The Father, Son and Holy Spirit occupy the top level, unified, as One. Below them? Everyone else. This concept is so important to Paul that I have yet to find a letter he penned that doesn’t exhort us to see and acknowledge the humanity, equality and interconnectedness of all people. It was that important to him, that vital to the furtherance of the Gospel of the Kingdom.

So I ask all of us–is it important to us?  Do we understand that there are no levels within the Kingdom, no jockeying for position, no superiority? Are we willing to not only alter our behavior but invite the Holy Spirit in to radically rewire our faulty belief systems? Is Jesus truly our Lord? Really, this is the only question that matters–everything else hinges on our answer. If He hasn’t been Lord of our lives, I pray that today will be the day we submit to His Lordship and allow Him to begin the transformation process within us.

–Laura

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Bow Your Knees

Psalm 96: 6-7  “Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care.”

As I ponder Sunday’s sermon, and I ponder what it means to kneel before God in adoration, in pursuit, in submission, and in confession, I am struck by the open and outward expression of each person or group of people that John highlighted on Sunday.

The wisemen bowed down and worshiped him. (Mt. 2:11) The humility of that action–grown men bowing to a toddler–it must have looked strange, but they knew that He was God-sent. They knew that He was special. They knew that He was worthy of reverence, of honor, and they used their physical bodies to demonstrate their heart attitude. Do I? Do we?

The rich young ruler chased after Jesus in pursuit of the answer to his questions. John pointed out that he knew how to walk in a religious way, but not in a relationship way. The young man knew enough to know that Jesus had the answers that he was seeking. And he, like the wise men, knew that Jesus was special, different, so he knelt before him in reverence.  Even though the young man chose not to sell his possessions and follow Jesus, he received the answers to his questions. (Luke 18:18-23) The answer wasn’t what he wanted, so he chose religion over relationship, and comfort over sacrifice. Do I? Do we? Do we continue to take our questions to Jesus? Have I transitioned from pursuing answers to pursuing Jesus no matter what the answer is? Have you?

Jesus is the perfect model of submission. His submission was not without wrestling; however in his wrestling, he moved toward God and not away from Him. I love that Jesus is completely honest and totally transparent. He expresses his desired outcome, and then surrenders it all to the will of the Father. To truly follow Christ means to live a life of submission. I think honest wrestling is often involved. The bottom line is, am I secure enough in His love to trust Him? And from that place of love and trust, am I going to choose His will over my own? It’s not always easy. I had a situation last weekend where God brought a need to my attention. I had the means to meet that need, but meeting that need meant giving away an item that I had some emotional attachment to. I knew that the right thing was to give, and I did give; however, I wrestled, and even cried over letting go of an inanimate object that no one in my house is using or will use. I heard Levi Lusko on K-Love later that same day talking about how being obedient to God often goes against our feelings. Learning to trust God and obey Him over what we feel is true submission. Sometimes that’s hard for me. Is it for you?

And then dear Peter, kneeling in confession. (Luke 5). Peter was doing his daily thing. His normal activity. Jesus showed up in the middle of a normal day and all of a sudden the normal day was a sacred, life-changing day. Peter let Jesus use his boat. Peter was willing to cast his fishing net again, despite not catching anything all night, and when the miraculous catch happened, Peter was able to see that Jesus was no ordinary man. Just like the wise men, he was compelled to fall to his knees. He recognized his own sinfulness in the presence of Jesus, and asked Jesus to leave him. He knew that he did not deserve to be in the presence of God. Yet here it is, the beauty of our God–He would not leave. Instead, he issued an invitation. Our sin is a reason to kneel before Jesus–not pull away.  Our honest confession draws us closer to Him. Jesus shows us that our worth is far greater than what the voice of shame whispers to us. He assures us that He’s not going to abandon us, and He issues an invitation that leads to life. Real life. Am I willing to kneel and confess? Are you?

The presence and person of God in our midst, in our lives, is an awe-inspiring miracle. May we not be afraid to outwardly express our thanks, our reverence, our worship. “Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord, our God, our Maker…”

–Luanne

“To truly follow Christ means to live a life of submission.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Luanne’s assertion above. Becoming a follower of Christ-beyond simply believing-is all about surrendering our will, this daily dying to self that Jesus spoke about and modeled so perfectly.

Luke 9:23 (NLT): Then he [Jesus] said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me”.

If we truly want to follow, we must choose the way of submission. But we don’t like the sound of that, do we? Somehow, we believe that submission implies weakness. Is that what comes to mind when you hear the word submit? One of the definitions of the word “submission” is: “the act of accepting the authority or control of someone else”. I think sometimes when we hear and use this word, it is with the idea that submission is something that is forced on us. But the definition above uses the words “the act of accepting”. This clearly shows us that submission is a choice. An action, even. We can absolutely choose not to accept the authority or control of someone else. But if that someone else happens to be God, we will find ourselves in a place that can be very dangerous for us. I think of the warning from scripture that John used in the conclusion of Sunday’s sermon:

“But be careful. Don’t let your heart be deceived so that you turn away from the Lord and serve and worship other gods.” Deuteronomy 11:16

See, we can choose not to submit, not to bend our hearts and our knees before God. But we will bow to something. We are built to worship. We will worship and bow and submit whether we’re aware of it or not. My kids’ Advent devotional said this last week:

“Now every heart beating in every person is made and wired to worship something. You might not be able to tell from the outside, but every one of us is bowing down to something. And if you don’t choose to bow to the one real God, you’ll bow down before a fake God–some Baal. See, Baal isn’t just the name of one fake god; it’s the name for anything we set our hearts on besides God. There’s the Baal of bigger toys and the Baal of more stuff and the Baal of me, me, me. It’s always our ugly Baals that keep us from the unstoppable, unfailing love of God.” (Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp)

“The Baal of me, me, me…”

I don’t always want to take up my cross and follow… because I don’t always want to deny myself. Self always gets in the way of living a surrendered life. Because a life lived on bended knee has to begin with bending the heart. And, “the heart is deceitful above all things…” (Jeremiah 17:9)

So how, then, do we turn away from the little “g” gods of self, of stuff, of all that distracts?

Let’s revisit John’s points about kneeling, but this time, let’s go backwards.

We know we are sinful, that our sinful hearts don’t want to bow to our God-so we kneel in confession, like Peter did when Jesus’ holiness magnified his own sinfulness. Once we kneel in confession and we find that the love and forgiveness of God meets us there, we will find the choice to kneel in submission much easier-because we’ve experienced the love of the One we are submitting to. And when we confess and submit and we begin to see just how great our God is, we will long to kneel in pursuit of Him, to ask the hard questions and seek to follow Him as He takes us deeper. And once we have experienced God in these ways, kneeling in adoration comes naturally. Because we’ve been wooed to our knees, not forced there.

To submit, to bow, to kneel-it is always a choice. But not a choice of if we will do things things, because we will. The question is, to what will we submit, bow down to, kneel before? I want my answer to always be Jesus, the One true King. But sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s family, lists, expectations, control. Often it’s plain and simply: me.

What about you? What do you find yourself bowing down to? What makes it so hard to choose to bow before God in your life? I hope we will all engage in the “honest wrestling” Luanne described earlier, and find ourselves as true followers of Jesus as a result.

–Laura

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