Let Me See Your Greatness

At that time, I begged GOD, “GOD, my Master, you let me in on the beginnings, you let me see your greatness, you let me see your might — what god in Heaven or Earth can do anything like what you’ve done! Please let me in also on the endings, let me cross the river and see the good land over the Jordan, the lush hills, the Lebanon mountains.”

But GOD was still angry with me because of you. He  wouldn’t listen. He said, “Enough of that. Not another word from you on this. Climb to the top of Mount Pisgah and look around: west, north, south, east. Take in the land with your own eyes. Take a good look because you’re not going to cross this Jordan.

“Then command Joshua: give him courage. Give him strength. Single-handed he will lead this people across the river. Single-handed he will cause them to inherit the land at which you only look. ”

That’s why we stayed in this valley, near Beth Peor.

Deuteronomy 3:23-29

As I read these verses this morning it struck me that I’m afraid to seek after God’s greatness. I don’t want to see all that He can do — then, what, what would He ever do with me?

I have gotten comfortable with the present realities of God’s plan for me, but now I don’t want to move on. I think that I say He can take me to what is next, it will mean a final good-bye to all the benefits to following Him that I’ve gotten used to. And what about all the test and troubles that await me, God’s perfect tools to transform my heart by faith to love Him more? I don’t know if I can handle that.

I don’t know if it’s okay with Him that I be awed at first by fear, but He certainly has my attention. There is nothing else so great that I should turn my eyes from straining to see His next move. This is where I ought to be.

God, You are good to set me at attention like You have. I cannot find peace by looking inward; You are making ever so clear to me how little I have to rely on inside myself. I don’t want to hold onto the emptiness, but embrace the fullness only You can fill me with.

But even there, if you seek GOD, your God, you’ll be able to find him if you’re serious, looking for him with your whole heart and soul. When troubles come and all these awful things happen to you, in future days you will come back to GOD, your God, and listen obediently to what he says. GOD, your God, is above all a compassionate God. In the end he will not abandon you, he won’t bring you to ruin, he won’t forget the covenant with your ancestors which he swore to them.

Ask questions. Find out what has been going on all these years before you were born. From the day God created man and woman on this Earth, and from the horizon in the east to the horizon in the west — as far back as you can imagine and as far away as you can imagine — has as great a thing as this ever happened? Has anyone ever heard of such a thing? Has a people ever heard, as you did, a god speaking out of the fire and lived to tell the story?

Or has a god ever tried to select for himself a nation from within a nation using trials, miracles, and war, putting his strong hand in, reaching his strong arm out, a spectacle awesome and staggering, the way GOD, your God, did it for you in Egypt while you stood right there and watched?

You were shown all this so that you would know that GOD is, well, God. He’s the only God there is. He’s it. He made it possible for you to hear his voice out of heaven to discipline you. Down on Earth, he showed you the big fire and again you heard his words, this time out of the fire. He loved your ancestors and chose to work with their children. He personally and powerfully brought you out of Egypt in order to displace bigger and stronger and older nations with you, bringing you out and turning their land over to you as an inheritance. And now it’s happening. This very day.

Know this well then. Take it to heart right now: GOD is in Heaven above; GOD is on Earth below. He’s the only God there is. Obediently live by his rules and commands which I’m giving you today so that you’ll live well and your children after you — oh, you’ll live a long time in the land GOD, your God, is giving you.

Deuteronomy 4:29-40

I’ve Always Longed to Live in a Place Like This

What a beautiful home, God-of-the-Angel-Armies! I’ve always longed to live in a place like this, always dreamed of a room in your house, where I could sing for joy to God-alive. Birds find nooks and crannies in your house, sparrows and swallows make nests there. They lay their eggs and raise their young, singing their songs in the place where we worship. God-of-the-Angel-Armies! King! God! How blessed they are to live and sing there! And how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel; they wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks, discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain! God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and at the last turn — Zion! God in full view! God-of-the-Angel-Armies, listen: O God of Jacob, open your ears — I’m praying! Look at our shields, glistening in the sun, our faces shining with your gracious anointing. One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship, beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches. I’d rather scrub floors in the house of my God than be honored as a guest in the palace of sin. All sunshine and sovereign is God, generous in gifts and glory. He doesn’t scrimp with his traveling companions. It’s smooth sailing all the way with God-of-the-Angel-Armies.

Psalm 84

Now, that last sentence sounds a little misleading…what about all the trials and tribulations that come with being a follower of Christ? What about all the testing He does of one’s own heart, that so regularly make one feel so ill-at-ease that all must be wrong with men (humans in general) and life.

I wonder sometimes, when I read chapters like these in my Bible, why these high-fluting thoughts don’t match my situation, or more consistently describe the beat of my heart. Why doesn’t the Bible agree with me? Why doesn’t God insist that His thoughts agree with my subjective recommendations, warming up to me, rather than remaining seemingly cold judgments. Where’s the sympathy in that?

Some of what I’m saying may sound particularly negative and Bible-bashing, but that is not my intention. Instead, I am trying to be real. The truth about me is not pretty and should not be exalted. Yet, isn’t that the truth that we are to embrace, that our boast was never meant to be in ourselves, but in Christ who showed to what extent a Savior must go to save even one of us?

Basically, all of us, whether insiders or outsiders, start out in identical conditions, which is to say that we all start out as sinners. Scripture leaves no doubt about it:

There’s nobody living right, not even one, nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God. They’ve all taken the wrong turn; they’ve wandered down blind alleys. No one’s living right; I can’t find a single one. Their throats are gaping graves, their tongues slick as mudslides. Every word they speak is tinged with poison. They open their mouths and pollute the air. They race for the honor of sinner-of-the-year, litter the land with heart-break and ruin, don’t know the first thing about living with others. They never give God the time of day.

This makes it clear, doesn’t it, that whatever God says in these Scriptures is not about others, but to us to whom these Scriptures were addressed in the first place! And it’s clear enough, isn’t it, that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat as everybody else? Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the Prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry list as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public — to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now — this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his righteousness.

So where does that leave our proud Jewish insider claims and counter-claims? Canceled. Yes, canceled. What we’ve learned is this: God does not respond to what we do; we respond to what God does. We’ve finally figured it out. Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to run the parade.

And where does that leave our proud Jewish claim of having a corner on God? Also canceled. God is the God of outsider non-Jews as well as insider Jews. How could it be otherwise since there is only one God? God sets right all who welcome his action and enter into it, both those who follow our religious system and those who have never heard of our religion.

But by shifting our focus from what we do to what God does, don’t we cancel out all our careful keeping of the rules and ways God commanded? Not at all. What happens, in fact, is that by putting that entire way of life in its place, we confirm it.

Romans 3:9-31

Thought I Was Ready for Anything, Until…

Peter said, “Master, I’m ready for anything with you. I’ll go to jail for you. I’d die for you!”

Jesus said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Peter, but before the rooster crows you will have three times denied that you know me.”

Then Jesus said, “When I sent you out and told you to travel light, to take only the bare necessities, did you get along all right?”

“Certainly,” they said, “we got along just fine.”

He said, “This is different. Get ready for trouble. Look to what you’ll need, there are difficult times ahead. Pawn your coat and get a sword. What was written in Scripture, “he was lumped in with the criminals,” gets its final meaning in me. Everything written about me is now coming to a conclusion.”

Luke 22:33-37

I feel more than a little like Peter right now. I have been to some amazing places with Jesus. I have experienced how sweet it is just to be with Him, no matter what is swirling around in the world beyond the perimeter of His presence. I have been debased, as Paul said, and yet realized what it is to be found by One who loves me to death (literally!) and back. I have gotten close to Him, so close that I’ve wondered how I could ever be hair-brained enough to run from Him…

And then it hits me again — my relentless obsession with my sin-stained endeavor to love just myself – no one else, no one less. I know, it stinks. I wish to death that I wasn’t like this; and since that’s what it takes, I guess that’s a good thing. My loving Father is just getting me ready for more mortification of my flesh — the kind with no mask, no controls. It all has to go. I hat this. I would sorely like to believe that I am good on my own; that Jesus and I are going places, but there is nowhere that Jesus and I can go, not unless we are to be one: I in him and he in me. There really is no place for me in the gospel so big that Christ was not meant to ruin that place with His own righteousness; righteousness so freely given that God might diminish the weakness of my spiritual endeavors in the fullness of Christ. And there I find freedom. Hope. Salvation…that truly all I want is more of Him.

Jesus said these things. Then, raising his eyes in prayer, he said: “Father, it’s time. Display the bright splendor of your Son so the Son in turn may show your bright splendor. You put him in charge of everything human so he might give real and eternal life to all in his charge. And this is the real and eternal life: That they may know you, the one and only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent. I glorified you on earth by completing down to the last detail what you assigned me to do. And now, Father, glorify me with your very splendor, the very splendor I had in your presence before there was a world.

“I spelled out your character in detail to the men and women you gave me. They were yours in the first place, then you gave them to me, and they have now done what you said. They know now, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that everything you gave me is firsthand from you, for the Message you gave me, I gave them; and they took it and were convinced that I came from you. They believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I’m not praying for the God-rejecting world, but for those you gave me, for they are yours by right. Everything mine is yours, and yours mine, and my life is on display in them. For I’m no longer going to be visible in the world; they’ll continue in the world while I return to you. Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life that you conferred as a gift through me, so they can be one heart and mind, as we are one heart and mind. As long as I was with them, I guarded them in the pursuit of the life you gave through me; I even posted a night watch. And not one of them got away, except for that rebel bent on destruction (the exception that proved the rule of Scripture).

“Now I’m returning to you. I’m saying these things in the world’s hearing so my people can experience my joy completed in them. I gave them your word; the godless world hated them because of it, because they didn’t join the world’s ways, just as I did not join the world’s ways. I’m not asking that you take them out of the world but that you guard them from the Evil one. They are no more defined by the world than I am defined by the world. Make them holy — consecrated with the truth; your word is consecrating truth. In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world. I’m consecrating myself for their sakes that they’ll be truth-consecrated for their mission.

“I’m praying not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me because of them and their witness about me. The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind — just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. The same glory you gave me, I gave them so they’ll be as unified and together as we are — I in them and you in me. Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that you’ve sent me and loved them in the same way you’ve loved me.

“Father, I want those you gave me to be with me, right where I am, so they can see my glory, the splendor you gave me, having loved me long before their ever was a world. Righteous Father, the world has never known you, but I have known you, and these disciples know that you have sent me on this mission. I have made your very being known to them — who you are and what you do — and continue to make it known, so that your love for me might be in them exactly as I am in them.”

John 17

What I Have Good Reason to Fear

Earlier, while Jeremiah was still in custody in the courtyard of the royal guards, God’s message came to him: “Go and speak with Ebed-meleck, the Ethiopian. Tell him, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, the God of Israel says, Listen carefully: I will do exactly what I said I would do to this city — bad news, not good news. When it happens, you will be there to see it. But I’ll deliver you on that doomsday. You won’t be handed over to those men whom you have good reason to fear. Yes, I’ll most certainly save you. You won’t be killed. You’ll walk out of there safe and sound because you trusted me.'” God’s Decree.

Jeremiah 39:17-19

It’s amazing to me how hard this is for me to believe. God of the universe, who commands an army of angels too numerous for me to mentally comprehend, promises to be my protector and provider. He tells me I have nothing to fear; that my life will never fall apart in such a way that His love will be disproved.

Yet, who do I believe? Me and all my fears and doubts and theories of who God really is. I don’t know anything, and yet I would never dream of absolutely trusting God with no reservation. I have too many good reasons to avoid this. Like, for instance, all the unknowns that I believe I must be in control of. I want nothing from God unless it can come with an insurance policy that I can customize to the point that it represents more of me than Him.

I don’t like insecurity and I think that I will do anything to avoid it. While God is relegated to the sidelines of my heart — my only true hope of security. Am I mad?!

It truly makes more sense, when I really think about it, to fear leaving my happiness to my own devises than to offer it freely to God. Who is a greater ally for any one of us than Christ?

How is this for an applicable response:

You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened, for it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. His sacrifice on the cross was certainly set before you clearly enough.Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!

Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you? Don’t these things happen among you just as they happened with Abraham? He believed God, and that act of belief was turned into a life that was right with God.

Is it not obvious to you that persons who put their trust in Christ (not persons who put their trust in the law!) are like Abraham: children of faith? It was all laid out beforehand in Scripture that God would set things right with non-Jews by faith. Scripture anticipated this in the promise to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed in you.”

So those now who live by faith are blessed along with Abraham, who lived by faith—this is no new doctrine! And that means that anyone who tries to live by his own effort, independent of God, is doomed to failure. Scripture backs this up: “Utterly cursed is every person who fails to carry out every detail written in the Book of the law.”

The obvious impossibility of carrying out such a moral program should make it plain that no one can sustain a relationship with God that way. The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you. Habakkuk had it right: “The person who believes God, is set right by God—and that’s the real life.” Rule-keeping does not naturally evolve into living by faith, but only perpetuates itself in more and more rule-keeping, a fact observed in Scripture: “The one who does these things [rule-keeping] continues to live by them.”

Christ redeemed us from that self-defeating, cursed life by absorbing it completely into himself. Do you remember the Scripture that says, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”? That is what happened when Jesus was nailed to the cross: He became a curse, and at the same time dissolved the curse. And now, because of that, the air is cleared and we can see that Abraham’s blessing is present and available for non-Jews, too. We are all able to receive God’s life, his Spirit, in and with us by believing—just the way Abraham received it.

Friends, let me give you an example from everyday affairs of the free life I am talking about. Once a person’s will has been ratified, no one else can annul it or add to it. Now, the promises were made to Abraham and to his descendant. You will observe that Scripture, in the careful language of a legal document, does not say “to descendants,” referring to everybody in general, but “to your descendant” (the noun, note, is singular), referring to Christ. This is the way I interpret this: A will, earlier ratified by God, is not annulled by an addendum attached 430 years later, thereby negotiating the promise of the will. No, this addendum, with all its instructions and regulations, has nothing to do with the promised inheritance in the will.

What is the point, then, of the law, the attached addendum? It was a thoughtful addition to the original covenant promises made to Abraham. The purpose of the law was to keep a sinful people in the way of salvation until Christ (the descendant) came, inheriting the promises and distributing them to us. Obviously this law was not a firsthand encounter with God. It was arranged by angelic messengers through a middleman, Moses. But if there is a middle man, as there was at Sinai, then the people are not dealing directly with God, are they? But the original promise is the direct blessing of God, received by faith.

If such is the case, is the law, then, an anti-promise, a negation of God’s will for us? Not at all. Its purpose was to make obvious to everyone that we are, in ourselves, out of right relationship with God, and therefore to show us the futility of devising some religious system for getting by our own efforts what we can only get by waiting in faith for God to complete his promise. For if any kind of rule-keeping had power to create life in us, we would certainly have gotten it by this time.

Until the time when we were mature enough to respond freely in faith to the living God, we were carefully surrounded and protected by the Mosaic law. The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for.

But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe — Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.

Galatians 3:1-27

So What Can I Expect from God?

I made a solemn pact with myself never to undress a girl with my eyes. So what can I expect from God? What do I deserve from God Almighty above? Isn’t calamity reserved for the wicked? Isn’t disaster supposed to strike those who do wrong? Isn’t God looking, observing how I live? Doesn’t he mark every step I take?

Have I walked hand in hand with falsehood, or hung out in the company of deceit? Weigh me on a set of honest scales so God has proof of my integrity. If I’ve strayed off the straight and narrow, wanted things I had no right to, messed around with sin, Go ahead, then — give my portion to someone who deserves it.

If I’ve let myself be seduced by a woman and conspired to go to bed with her, fine, my wife has every right to go ahead and sleep with anyone she wants to. For disgusting behavior like that, I’d deserve the worst punishment you could hand out. Adultery is a fire that burns the house down; I wouldn’t expect anything I count dear to survive it.

Have I ever been unfair to my employees when they brought a complaint to me? What, then, will I do when God confronts me? When God examines my books, what can I say? Does the same God who made me, make them? Aren’t we all made of the same stuff, equals before God?

Have I ignored the needs of the poor, turned my back on the indigent? Taken care of my own needs and fed my own face, while they languished? Wasn’t my home always open to them, weren’t they always welcome at my table?

Have I ever left a poor family shivering in the cold when they had no warm clothes? Didn’t the poor bless me when they saw me coming, knowing I’d brought coats from my closet?

If I’ve ever used my strength and influence to take advantage of the unfortunate, go ahead break both my arms, cut off all my fingers! The fear of God has kept me from these things — how else could I ever face him?

Did I set my heart on making great money, or worship at the bank? Did I boast about my wealth, show off because I was well-off? Was I ever so awed by the sun’s brilliance, and moved by the moon’s beauty, that I let myself be seduced by them and worshiped them on the sly? If so, I would be deserving the worst of punishments, for I would be betraying God himself.

Did I ever crow over my enemies ruin, or gloat over my rival’s bad luck? No, I never said a word of detraction, never cursed them, even under my breath.

Didn’t those who worked for me say, ‘He fed us well. There were always second-helpings’? And no stranger ever had to spend a night in the street; my doors were always open to travelers. Did I hide my sin the way Adam did, or conceal my guilt behind closed doors because I was afraid what people would say, fearing the gossip of the neighbors so much that I turned myself into a recluse? You know good and well that I didn’t.

Oh, if only someone would give me a hearing! I’ve signed my name to my defense, let the Almighty One answer! I want to see my indictment in writing. Anyone’s welcome to read my defense; I’ll write it on a poster and carry it around town. I’m prepared to account for every move I’ve ever made — to anyone and everyone, prince or pauper.

If the very ground that I farm accuses me, if even the furrows fill with tears from my abuse, if I’ve ever raped the earth for my own profit or dispossessed its rightful owners, then curse it with thistles instead of wheat, curse it with weeds instead of barley.

The words of Job to his three friends were finished.

Job 31

When I read this I cringe…for the Word of God to so blatantly address sin, sin so common to every man and woman, is to challenge my ideas of what holiness really looks like — what God must be.

In my experience as a self-righteous Christian, it has always been my belief that someone with the goal of being holy must avoid all that is evil, even the very appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22, KJV). While I believe this is true, I have marked my attainment of this height of “spirituality” with self-exaltation, rather than glory to God for the reaches of His holiness that are still so beyond even my best ideas of perfection.

And in my attempts to exalt myself in this way, I have coupled God in with this judgment. I set Him up as a god that is as restricted as I am: God must not touch evil, speak of evil or “fail” to deliver me from evil. Yet, when I consider the cross, and all that it was meant to accomplish, I must stop.

God is at once a holy Deity who must be against evil in all of its visages, and a merciful Savior who yearns for the treasured sinners of His own creation. We who are evil are not beyond His touch or concern. He did not come to earth to avoid the evil that contaminates our world and us, but rather to reveal the truth that bridges the gap between who we are and who we can be in Him.

So what can I expect from God? Not what I readily expect: Hope, Patience, Kindness, Gentleness, Self-Control. (Yes, God knows more about those qualities that emanate from the Holy Spirit than we ever could!) Unless we by-pass the cross, we cannot miss Christ’s embodiment of the very salvation and transformation of mankind. All that was or ever will be missing in our lives (or hearts) is Him; He came to us that we might know the depth of abundance we were created for: Him!

We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels — everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and  holds it all together,right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.

He was supreme in the beginning, and — leading the resurrection parade — is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there. Towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all of the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe — people and things, animals and atoms — get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from that cross.

You yourselves are a case study of what God does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message, just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this Message.

I want you to know that I’m glad its me sitting here in this jail and not you. There’s a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world — the kind of suffering Christ takes on. I welcome the chance to take my share in the church’s part of that suffering. When I became a servant in this church, I experienced this suffering as a sheer gift, God’s way of helping me serve you, laying out the whole truth.

This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now its out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That’s what I’m working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so graciously gives me.

I want you to realize that I continue to work as hard as I know how for you, and also for the Christians over at Laodicea. Not many of you have met me face to face, but that doesn’t make any difference. Know that I’m on your side, right alongside you. You’re not in this alone.

I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God. Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery. All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and no where else. And we’ve been shown the mystery! I’m telling you this because I don’t want anyone leading you off on some wild goose-chase, after other so-called mysteries, or “the Secret.”

I’m a long way off, true, and you may never lay eyes on me, but believe me, I’m on your side, right beside you. I am delighted to hear of the careful and orderly ways you conduct your affairs, and impressed with the solid substance of your faith in Christ.

My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.

Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that’s not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to experience the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything.

Entering into this fullness is not something that you figure out or achieve. It’s not a matter of being circumcised or keeping a long list of laws. No, you’re already in — insiders — not through some sort of secretive initiation rite but rather through what Christ has already gone through for you, destroying the power of sin. If it’s an initiation ritual you’re after, you’ve already been through it by submitting to baptism. Going under the water was a burial of your old life; coming up out of it was a resurrection, God raising you from the dead as he did Christ. When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive — right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets.

So don’t put up with anyone pressuring in details of diet, worship services, or holy days. All those things were mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ.

Don’t tolerate people who try to run your life, ordering you to bow and scrape, insisting that you join their obsession with angels and that you seek out visions. They’re a lot of hot air, that’s all they are. They’re completely out of touch with the source of life, Christ, who puts us together in one piece whose very blood and breath flow through us. He is the head and we are the body. We can grow up healthy in God only as he nourishes us.

So, then, if with Christ you have put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the impression of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important.

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes on the ground, absorbed on the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what’s going on around Christ — that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life — even though invisible to spectators — is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too — the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.

And that means killing everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It’s because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn’t long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it’s all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.

Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone i included in Christ.

So, chosen by God for this new way of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ — the Message — have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives — words, actions, whatever — be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

Wives, understand and submit to your husbands in ways that honor the Master.

Husbands, go all out in love for your wives. Don’t take advantage of them.

Children, do what your parents tell you. This delights the Master no end.

Parents, don’t come down too hard on your children or you’ll crush their spirits.

Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do you best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Christ doesn’t cover up bad work.

And masters, treat your servants considerately. Be fair with them. Don’t forget for a minute that you, too, serve a Master — God in heaven.

Pray diligently. Stay alert with your eyes wide open in gratitude. Don’t forget to pray for us, that God will open doors for telling the mystery of Christ, even while I’m locked up in this jail. Pray that every time I open my mouth I’ll be able to make Christ as plain as day to them.

Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don’t miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech, the goal is to bring out he best in the others in conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.

Colossians 1-4:1-6