The last two Sundays (Feb. 7 and 14, 2010) I have been talking on Sunday mornings about the transformation of character that God is catalyzing in all believers. Paul describes it in Colossians 3 as a putting off of spiritual attitudes, habits and character traits that went with our pre-Christian self (vv. 5-9), and a putting on of new spiritual qualities and behaviors that fit with our new commitment to Christ (vv. 10-14). The key section is “you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Col. 3:9, 10). It is intriguing to note the combination of active and passive verbs to describe what is happening in our lives. I am reminded how Paul in another place combines in two adjacent verses, “work out your salvation…for it is God who works in you… (Philippians 2:12,13). Apparently, this transformation is something God is doing, but also something we need to be active in as well. So what is our part? How do we enthusiastically cooperate with what God is doing in our lives? The answer is very important to our Christian walk.
As I studied for these two messages, I discovered that Colossians 3:15-17 contains a brief summary of five disciplines that are essential to what God is doing in our lives. If we are faithfully practicing these five, they will greatly enhance and enable the Holy Spirit’s work in us. They tell use some of our part in the process. I will just outline them briefly as they are familiar but not necessarily in this context.
- Peace. We are to let the peace of Christ rule in us. This begins with our own peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and then expands into our peace of mind in distressing circumstances and into reconciliation for our troubled relationships too. Jesus gave us the gift of his peace (John 14:27). Certainly when the peace of Christ is coming in, it will be nearly impossible to harbor malice or bitterness. And we will find it impossible to have Christ’s peace when involved in sexual sin, for example.
- Thankfulness. Three times, once in each verse, Paul commends thankfulness. It is not possible to be deeply grateful and sinfully angry at the same time, is it? Yet when we are grateful to a loved one, for example, we are much more willing to “bear with” some small but normally irritating action.
- The Word of Christ. There seem to be two aspects of this discipline. The first is how we are to allow God’s Word to work inside us—“dwell in you richly.” When I think about this, I think about meditating on phrases like this one, about studying passages, about applying lessons from what I read and study to my own life. What does “dwell in you richly” mean to you? The second half of this discipline refers more to the corporate learning and application of God’s Word. Paul continues “as you teach and admonish one another.”
- Active worship. It is not just the activity of singing in church or going through the rituals of a service, it is what happens in our hearts. But while we are engaged, truly engaged in worship, we are intentionally opening our lives, our affections, our minds, to the Holy Spirit. We are putting ourselves in a place where God can work.
- Living life in Christ. “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus (v. 17). Think of your life as a new incarnation of Jesus, not in a proud false-Messiah way, but in a humble understanding that if people around you are to see Jesus it will be because they see his Spirit shining out of you. This is the discipline of submitting each daily action to the test of holiness, to the discernment of God’s will, to the understanding that you are acting on his behalf.
If we were wondering how in the world we would ever be able to put away the old self and put on the new, I think Paul has given us five secrets to help us. Regular practice of these simple disciplines will certainly help us grow into who God wants us to be. These five, I think, are the how-to section of the chapter.
This past Wednesday, as I walked through an area mall, I noticed many people with ashes on their foreheads in commemoration of Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. While we usually associate the use of ashes on that day with Catholics, there are Protestants from more formal traditions that also have the pastor put a spot or a cross of ash on their foreheads at an Ash Wednesday service. My daughter attended at Christian Reformed church for several years that practiced it.
I was talking to someone via email the other day about the possible Scriptural background for the custom. I remembered that ashes were utilized symbolically in more than one way in the Old Testament. The use we most commonly think about was as a symbol of repentance as exemplified in Daniel 9:3 and Job 42:6. They were also used to show grief as in the loss of a loved one; examples are Isaiah 61:3 and Jeremiah 6:26. These two were probably the most common. But in addition, there was a third use that is very important as a possible background and aid for understanding the use of ashes on Ash Wednesday. It is not completely unrelated to the other two but has a unique emphasis. Ashes were applied to the body in the OT during times of severe fasting and prayer as a sign of abject humility. We can see this in Esther 4:1, 3 and in Isaiah 58:5. However, in the latter passage, while the text illustrates the practice, the prophet is warning the people because they did not practice the ritual with genuine hearts, which is always a danger.
Whether we symbolize it with ashes or not, part of the attitude of each of us as Christians on Ash Wednesday and indeed for all of Lent is humility before God. As believers, we do not need to mourn past sins that have been forgiven, which God has washed away and forgotten, but we do need to remember that we are not sinless (1 John 1:8) and we need at this season especially to pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23,24 KJV). That is a key to spiritual humility.
On Ash Wednesday
Ashes are everywhere, to mock the pride
That raged and leaped and perished in its flame,
Yet vanity within us has not died;
The cautery has left us much the same.
Before our bones are ashes, and our wills
Have forfeited all power to repent,
God, bend our stubborn spirits and our skills
To uttermost obedience this Lent.
Poem by Elinor Lennen
(Lenten-Easter Sourcebook, 1961 Charles Wallis, ed. P. 27)
JoAnne mentioned to me after services on Sunday that as I led the congregation in repeating a memory verse at the close of my message, I left out the introductory words of the verse. When she reminded me what they were, I was sorry she had not spoken out to jog my memory on the spot, for their message adds even more certainty to the point that I was underlining. We were talking about the changes in our character that Paul describes in Col 3:5-14 as a putting off of old clothes and a putting on of new spiritual character. I concluded by reminding us all that God has promised to continue this process. E. Stanley Jones described it, “You cannot get rid of desire…You can only redeem desires… The only way to get rid of one desire is to replace it by a higher desire.” Our desires themselves are being changed to be more in line with Christ’s likeness because of our love for Jesus. The “higher desire is the love of Christ” (Conversion p. 77). As we continue in his love, “He who began a good work in you (us) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6 NIV). JoAnne reminded me that Paul starts that verse with the words, “Being confident of this…” This phrase proclaims loudly how positive we can be in our expectations for God’s transforming work in our lives. I find that immensely encouraging!
Sometimes people at church wonder why I’m not available on Monday nights. The short answer is that on Monday nights I play third trombone in Liverpool Community Band. It is very relaxing to be involved in a totally different kind of activity where I am not in charge of anything. It helps me keep up my ability to play trombone and to read music. I originally joined the band a year or so after Keely went off to college. It practices about three weeks and then plays a concert at a nursing home. Once in a while we get to play a public concert at Johnson Park if the weather allows. We play marches, Broadway collections, movie collections, and big band stuff. My favorite composer is Karl King as he wrote for trombone. Tonight we played his piece, Trombone King. Fun, fun—especially when our director, Cathy Stickler, repeated it at a faster tempo. In the fall, I enjoy playing the German music for our Oktoberfest concert—I frequently have the oomph-pah parts. I took lessons in grade school and high school. I really didn’t like playing much until I was about a junior in high school. By then I could play easy grade six stuff and I really began to enjoy playing. I took lessons at Eastman for all four years while I was at University of Rochester as an undergraduate. Then later, when JoAnne and I were at Houghton, I played bass trombone in the Houghton wind ensemble. I have not said much at band about being a pastor, but it is known and over the years, I have had the privilege of praying with several band members in the hospital or on the phone. I find it very enriching to have this added dimension to my life. Usually while I have been at band JoAnne has used the night to lead a ladies study, enjoy a movie with a friend, or go to art classes.
I have decided to make some additions to my blog. On the pages side, I have recently added a devotional section and a book review section. For both of these areas, I will occasionally also publish articles by other teachers in our local church that I think are helpful and well written with author’s name noted.
I am also starting to use the links section more, adding links that I think readers might find helpful or links that might help readers understand me. In addition, I am experimenting with categories, adding a category called “Who Am I” to double label occasional journal articles that I think might be of continuing value to together make a picture of who I am. I’m also planning to add one called “Joy Notes.” It will be for short uplifting devotional thoughts, usually with a quote in them. Probably many joy Notes will also be in the Journal. These will distinguished from the devotional pages which will be usually be longer writings, and sometimes authored by others.
These pages will be short inspiring devotionals. Some I will find and am able to publish. Some I will write. And some I will approve that have been written by other people I know. I will always endeavor to credit the source properly and put my name if I have written it myself. Sometimes I will include a comment of my own too.
Well, since February has arrived, I suppose I will have to finally agree to take down the train display. It has been a lot of fun again this year and it is always such a long time until next Thanksgiving when it can go up again.
I am lifting up my youngest brother, Phil Jones, in prayer today in our prayer services and well as tomorrow and
Friday. He is on a short term missions trip to Guatemala. He has been there multiple times, being involved in building a church there. This time the organization he has worked with, called Impacto, has asked him to come on a planning trip to help plan for the expansion of the organization’s ministry.
I love winter mornings like this–sunshine, crisp,frozen,still, but not too cold–great day for ice fishing or bird watching or taking a long winter walk at Green Lakes. I guess it is just one of those little things to savor in life that brings us joy.
I read a good thought this morning in the devotional book for men that I am using in daily devotions. The book is Walking with Christ Every Day. It was a quote from E. Stanley Jones, who was a missionary in India. “God is a never-ending source of support and courage for those of us who call on him. When we are weary, He gives strength. When we see no hope, God reminds us of his promises. When we grieve, God wipes away our tears. God will hold your hand and walk with you every day of your life if you let Him. So even if your circumstances are difficult, trust the Father. His love is eternal and His goodness endures forever.”
“Faith is not merely you holding on to God–it is God holding on to you.”
What an encouraging word!
Written on 16 January 2010 concerning events the evening previous
I’m down on my knees giving directions and keeping things on track – literally. Two gradeschool boys are at the controls of the three O-27 gauge trains around our Christmas tree. (Yes, I know it is a little late for Christmas trees, but when you have trains, you prolong the season.) Wrecks happen regularly. The lower level tracks aren’t tied down and shift just enough so the engine catches the corner of the station platform. I’m crawling around putting things back together. The boys are very helpful and catching on fast. They seem to be having a lot of fun too. They even pitched in on the hard work of wiping down an oily track and digging detached cars out of the back tunnel. Another time around and an old Lionel track comes apart. One time the engine caught some white gauze ‘snow,’ dragged it through the tunnel, and brought the tunnel portal crashing down on the train. I try to discourage intentional wrecks but…. Sharing model trains with kids is so much fun. A three year old sister who has been watching hesitantly tonight decides she has watched long enough and grabs the throttle. She figured out how it ran pretty quickly. One young man was pretty creative with his consists and decided to try running the inner train in the other direction. I liked the way it looked.