Monday, July 9
Read: Colossians 1:1-14
Consider: Sometimes I just love reading the opening words of Paul’s letters. They remind us that these were addressed to real people by a man who loved them and was pouring out his life for his sisters and brothers. When Paul wrote his letters, he had no idea that one day we would regard them as holy scripture. He was simply writing as a pastor, a friend, a teacher, a guide, and a fellow traveler.
To the Colossians he wrote, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you” (1:3, 9). We hear Paul’s heart in those words. They remind me of another letter. In his first letter to the Corinthian believers, he had to confront them about their manner of living. But having corrected them, in his second letter he assured them that “you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you.” And he humbly asked them, “Make room for us in your hearts” (2 Corinthians 7:2-3).
What does it mean to pray for our brothers and sisters? How should we pray? Well, of course, there is more than one way to pray. Different circumstances, diverse experiences, and the times in which we live will call us to pray in specific ways. But I think it is important to remember the simplicity of loving prayer (or, perhaps, the simplicity of prayerful love). To pray for one another is to keep one another in our hearts.
I have a list of children I pray for each day—grandchildren, extended family members, some children who have not yet arrived but are being formed in their mothers’ wombs, and some children I know who have particularly difficult lives. I don’t have the wisdom to know how to pray for each one of them. I don’t know the fears they carry, the disappointments they suffer, and the loses they’ve sustained. But, I do try to carry them in my heart.
That’s what our Father does for us. It’s what we get to do for one another.
Pray: Let’s pray a little differently today than we may be used to praying. As we pray for others, let’s not use words. Let’s not try to figure out exactly what they may need. Let’s simply hold them in our hearts. This powerful form of prayer will be translated by the Holy Spirit to touch the needs that we can’t discern or define. Hold them throughout the day, as your Father is holding you.
Tuesday, July 10
Read: Colossians 1:15-17
Consider: One of the first heresies that the church had to deal with was known as Gnosticism. Paul addressed it in other letters as well as this one, which was written to the Colossian believers. Gnosticism (the “g” is silent) comes from the Greek word gnosis which means “knowledge.” The Gnostics were trying to form Christianity into the image of the Greek philosophies of the day. They emphasized a “higher knowledge” that some could attain. They said that Jesus carried this higher way of thinking, but they reduced Jesus to a super man (somewhere between God and man). They believed in his teachings, but not his death and resurrection.
When we explain who Jesus is, we like to use to use the words of John as he described the Logos—the Word of God…
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3)
But John’s gospel had not yet been written when the Gnostics were trying to influence those young Colossian believers. All they knew about Jesus was what had been handed down to them orally, from teachers such as Epaphras. So, Paul wrote a letter to clarify for them who Jesus is.
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things…” (Colossians 1:15-17)
Isn’t it amazing what the Holy Spirit had taught Paul? Paul knew what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John would later put down in writing. God came to us in the flesh.
Our faith is not based on an idea, a philosophy or an ethic. These came later and are important parts of our lives. But our faith is based on an event. God came to us. God put on our flesh and our humanity. He was incarnated—en-fleshed—for the redemption of you and me, and all creation.
Pray: Thank the Lord that your faith is in a relationship with the living God. The Christ you serve—the One who dwells with you through his Spirit—is a gift beyond your imagination. Speak to him today and listen to him. Praise him for his presence in your life.
Wednesday, July 11
Read: Colossians 1:15-20
Consider: The opening words of John’s gospel (that we looked at yesterday) established the Christ as the eternal, pre-existent Creator of the cosmos. John then stated the point of writing his account — “The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us” (John 1:14). The eternal Christ came to us as Jesus of Nazareth.
We see the same affirmation from Paul in his teaching to the Colossians. After declaring Christ to be the Creator (1:16) he said…
“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him…” (1:19)
“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form…” (2:9)
John spoke of Christ’s “flesh” and Paul emphasized that he came in “bodily form.” This stands in stark contrast to the religions of our world and the Gnostics (see yesterday’s meditation) of the first century. People try to grasp ideas, philosophies, disciplines or ideologies to give their lives meaning. In the process, their gods become abstract or ritualistic. That’s because people are trying to know some thing without being known.
But we believe God made himself known—he revealed himself to us in the flesh. And in the flesh, he conquered death. Ours is not an abstract concept of the eternal soul. Almost all religions believe in the immortality of the soul. That’s not us. We believe in the resurrection of the dead.
That’s why something special happens when we take the bread and the wine of communion. You take those physical elements and ingest them—placing them in your body — “for whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). You proclaim the bodily death and resurrection of the Creator.
It was vital for Paul to address this issue with the young Christians at Colossae. Tomorrow we’ll see why. It’s all about the resurrection that God has planned for his creation.
Pray: “Thank you, Lord, that you are not an abstract concept that I must try to comprehend. Though you are beyond my understanding, I can embrace you because you embraced me. Help me to walk with you today in the reality of your life, which was, and is, and is to come. Thank you that your life has given me life.”
Thursday, July 12
Read: Colossians 1:19-23
Consider: Redemption is a big word. The older I get, the more amazed I am at the scope—the vastness—of redemption.
When I was young, I was taught that redemption was a very personal thing. I would be forgiven. I would be saved. I would be redeemed. I was taught that God came to earth in Christ so that I could have a personal relationship with him. Of course, I still believe that. Paul told the Colossians that in Christ “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:14).
But there is so much more. Paul didn’t stop at forgiveness for individuals. He went on to say…
“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (1:19-20)
God chose to redeem — “to reconcile to himself” — everything “on earth” and “in heaven.” In other words, God’s plan is to fully restore creation!
Many Christians have not been taught about this thing that God is doing. A large portion of American Christianity teaches an end-time scenario of destruction. People have been taught that the world will be destroyed, and we will be transported to another place. Redemption is seen as escape.
But scripture teaches something much better. It teaches that God will not destroy the earth, but that he will conquer evil. His creation will be made new. This reconciled creation in which evil has been destroyed will look like “a new heaven and a new earth” for Christ will sit on the throne and proclaim, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1, 5).
Paul instructs the Colossian believers about this reconciliation at the beginning of his letter because it puts everything else in perspective. We also need to embrace what God is up to in his world. If we don’t see it, we won’t know how to live as agents of his new kingdom.
Pray: “Lord, your ways are beyond my understanding. And yet, you have invited me to be part of your reconciliation of creation. Thank you for redeeming me. Because I have your forgiveness and a growing relationship with you, I have everything I need. I give myself fully to you. Make me an agent of what you are doing in our world as the kingdom of heaven advances.”
Friday, July 13
Read: Ephesians 2:1-5
Consider: We use a number of expressions to talk about our personal relationships with Jesus Christ. That’s because our New Testament does. Though our scriptures never use the term “personal relationship,” they do speak about our “walk” with Christ. Often this relationship is spoken of in terms of being “in” Christ and Christ living in us. The New Testament talks about a new birth or being “born from above.” It describes the amazing way that, day by day, we can be led by his Spirit.
For some, the most common term for this new birth is being “saved.” We get that image from the New Testament letter to the Ephesian believers — “it is by grace you have been saved” (2:5).
Saved from what? For many people, the first response is, “hell,” because we are told that our sinfulness made us “deserving of wrath” (2:3). But the real focus of today’s reading is that we are saved from spiritual death right now. We are saved from “gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts” (2:3). We are saved from the death had already taken place in our lives.
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (2:1, 4-5)
We already died. Yet, we were saved from death by being made “alive with Christ.” So, another word for being saved—another name for new birth—is resurrection.
Pray: “Lord, you saved me. You gave me new life. Every day is a new day because I am that prodigal child who ‘was dead and is alive again’—who ‘was lost and is found’ (Luke 15:24).”
Saturday, July 14
Read: Ephesians 2:4-10
Consider: This salvation we proclaim is “the gift of God,” for it is “not by works” that we are raised from the dead (2:8-9). Resurrection can only be accomplished by the “author of life” (Acts 3:15).
But many people have used this passage in a manner that puts it at odds with the truth. Some have been so afraid of “works righteousness”—that is, trying to earn our salvation by what we do—that they have neglected engaging in the hard, essential work of building for God’s new kingdom. That’s the kind of problem that arises from taking only a part of the gospel to heart. Many Christians have memorized Ephesians 2:8-9, but have not even read the next verse…
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (2:10)
We were “created in Christ Jesus”—raised from the grave of our sins—“to do good works.” And that is not only our calling; it is our destiny.
Look at the rich language of Ephesians 2:10. In the original language of the New Testament, the word translated “handiwork” is poiema, from which we get our word, “poem.” In other words, you are a work of art—God’s masterpiece. And this beautiful thing he created was not designed to simply wonder around this world with no direction, vision or purpose. There are things for you to do “which God prepared in advance.”
Now, lest you get overwhelmed by God’s expectations, let me admit that I changed the wording a little in that last paragraph. I talked about you. But I did that because you are part of we—part of one body. So, any effectiveness you or I have, comes from pursuing Christ’s purposes through the Body of Christ, for “we are God’s handiwork” and he has a purpose prepared for “us to do” (2:10).
Pray: “Lord, we are saved to serve. Thank you for raising us from the dead with Christ (2:6). And thank you for calling us together to be your hands and feet. I pray for the church of Jesus Christ. Help us to be the masterpiece you created—a masterpiece of love put to action.”