Thursday, May 19, 2016

Partners in Crime

By Allen White

My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.  Colossians 4:10-14

Paul lists quite a cast of characters here in his closing to this letter to the Colossian church. Paul’s ministry was always a team effort. While Paul is the most mentioned in the spread of the Gospel to Asia and Europe, he had many partners along the way. Paul couldn’t do it alone.

Aristarchus met Paul in Ephesus. As a result, Aristarchus and Gaius were arrested (Acts 19:28-30). He became Paul’s traveling companion from Troas to Jerusalem and then Jerusalem to Rome. He shared Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. Aristarchus was truly a ministry partner to the end.

Mark, also known as John Mark, was not always on the best of terms with Paul. In fact, in Acts 15:36-40, we see that Paul chose not to travel with Mark because Mark had abandoned them on a previous journey. In this letter, however, it appears that Paul and Mark had reconciled, and that Mark was back on the team.

Jesus called Justus, his Greek name, looked after Paul during his first imprisonment. We really don’t know much else about him.

Epaphras was actually the founder of the Colossian church. He had traveled to Rome to give Paul a report of the work in Colossae. But, during the visit, Epaphras was arrested and found himself imprisoned with Paul.

So, imagine this: a founding pastor goes on a trip and then doesn’t ever return. We find out later that he’s in prison. The church would be in distress. The pastor would be in distress. This was the situation that Epaphrus found himself in.

The Colossian church had to depend on mature believers to guide it along. Epaphrus’ constant role was to wrestle in prayer for them. Yet, look at how the Colossian church prospered. Paul began his letter by saying, “We always thank God…when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints” (Colossians 1:3-4). Christ, indeed, does build His Church (Matthew 16:18).

Dr. Luke is the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. He joined Paul on his second missionary journey and accompanied Paul on the third journey as well.

Demas was in prison with Paul, but Demas’ story does not have a happy ending. According to 2 Timothy 4:10, “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.” There is no record that Paul and Demas were ever reconciled.

It’s amazing to see all that Paul accomplished despite the fact that He was imprisoned. Some of us can barely function when we’re having a bad day, let alone finding ourselves behind bars. Yet, there is much hope in a passage like this.

Outcomes depend on God. It’s not all up to us. That certainly takes off a lot of pressure. Now, God expects us to be diligent and to work hard, but God is the one who produces the result (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Through a very difficult period of Paul’s life, God provided faithful co-workers and friends to stand by him. They encouraged Paul. They helped to continue the work. They prayed.

God’s work will continue. If our attitude is right and our hearts are open, God will continue to use us despite our situation.

What do you feel like solely depends on you? What do you think would be greatly handicapped if you weren’t involved? How much do you find yourself depending on God? How much do you depend on yourself? Who do you need to accomplish what is in front of you?

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

God Doesn’t Just Erase Our Problems

By Allen White 

Tychicus is only mentioned about five times in Scripture. He was one of Paul’s companions on the final missionary journey before Paul’s arrest and imprisonment (Acts 20:1-4). Tychicus was given an important mission. He was to deliver the letter to the church, and then deliver a second letter to Philemon along with a runaway slave, Onesimus.

The evil of slavery is hard to reconcile. Maybe it shouldn’t be. Onesimus had fled Colossae and ended up in Rome. Somehow he had met Paul and became a Christian (Philemon 1:10-12).

Now, what we understand from Scripture is that in God’s economy, all believers are equal: Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free (Galatians 3:28). Even though Onesimus was now a believer, and even though he was very useful to Paul (Philemon 1:13-14), Onesimus was under obligation to Philemon.

For those who think that becoming a Christian causes all of your problems to go away, they just need to take one look at Onesimus to see that there are no exemptions. His eternity was secure. His temporal situation was still the same.

Paul’s hope was that Philemon would regard Onesimus differently. Now, they were brothers in Christ. (Philemon 1:15-21). The other side is that Onesimus would prove to be more useful to Philemon than he was previously (Philemon 1:11).

Now that we have a little background, let’s read this passage again:

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.  Colossians 4:7-9

The outstanding feature of both men is that they were faithful. They were faithful to the cause of Christ. They were faithful to Paul.

Faithfulness reflects God’s character (1 Corinthians 1:9). In fact, it may only be possible through God’s work in our lives.

Who would call you faithful? Why might someone doubt your faithfulness? Our faithful God can do this work in our lives as we depend on His faithfulness to us.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Before You Add that Jesus Fish…

By Allen White

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:5-6

Most servers in restaurants hate working on Sundays. It’s not so much that work interferes with their Sabbath. It’s the customers. You know them. You might be one. Yes, church people.

Church people are pretty obvious. Many are way overdressed to be relaxing on Sunday. This may be where Brookwood Church and similar churches have the advantage, since we don’t have a dress code. But, the after church dining time and the fried chicken orders still give us away.

The most obvious trait of church people is that they are poor tippers. Some are even heavy on the gospel tract, heavy on the complaints, and light on the tip. Ouch! (And, yet they wonder why they have to wait so long for a table…)

Over the years, I have had a number of friends who worked in restaurants. They hated it every Sunday. They would call in sick. They would feign death. They would get arrested on Saturday night, just to avoid encountering church people on Sunday. Okay, maybe they didn’t go that far, but you get the idea.

If we identify ourselves with Christ, then we need to show people what the Christ life is all about. If you are sporting a Jesus fish or a Brookwood tree on the back of your car, how’s your driving? Are you a courteous driver? (Please note: Letting 50 cars turn in front of you while you have traffic backed up for a mile is not courteous to the cars behind you. I’m just sayin’.) And, if you put the ICHTHUS on your business card, how would Jesus do business?

When Paul speaks of outsiders in this verse, he is talking about a hostile environment. Christians were very much the minority in the First Century A.D. The Romans had not embraced Christ at this point. Their interactions with outsiders weren’t just a matter of having a good testimony. Potentially, it was a matter of life and death. Did they act wisely? Did they give a good answer for their faith?

When I was much younger, I was afraid of having spiritual conversations with “outsiders.” I had no problem answering spiritual questions from believers. There was sort of a safety net. They were already “in,” if my answer wasn’t on par, then there was no fear of their eternal peril. But, non-believers were another matter.

If a non-believer asked me something, then I felt like I needed to fully answer their question, present the Romans Road, and close the deal before they could run away. But, what if I didn’t have a good answer? What if some doubt remained after our conversation? What if they passed into eternity and I hadn’t thoroughly prepared them? Panic.

Nowadays, I see things much differently. I understand that no one comes to Jesus unless the Father draws them (John 6:44). In that process, I am one tool in God’s toolbox. I am one link in the chain of conversations and events that will bring them into a relationship with Christ. Outcomes are up to God. They are certainly not up to me. I’m not that powerful (nor do I want to be).

But, even with the pressure off, we have a responsibility to outsiders. How can God use you to show His love to servers who wait on you? Do you offer to pray for your co-workers and neighbors? Do you lend a helping hand when you have the opportunity?

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Monday, May 16, 2016

My Brush with the Law

By Allen White

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Colossians 4:2-4

Paul amazes me. In this passage, he is asking for prayer for an open door. Then, he mentions that he’s actually imprisoned. My first thought is that the open door would be the prison door. But, Paul is more concerned with proclaiming the message clearly. Of course, his crime was proclaiming the message, so maybe he should have sought prayers for obscurity. I don’t know that I would have fared so well.

My picture appeared in the Greenville News a couple of years ago. Three other pedestrians and I were using a newly decommissioned crosswalk downtown. Technically, we were jaywalking. There was no big sign reading “Don’t cross here any more.” They just packed up the crosswalk signs, allowed the strips on the road to fade, and put up a couple of cones. There is a fine line between decommissioning and lack of maintenance. How were we to know? The photographer didn’t take my name, so I suppose that I am currently on the lam. Next time, I will cross at the corner now that I know it’s not a crosswalk. Whew! Glad to get that confession out there.

What I do freely in proclaiming the message of Christ, Paul did hard time for and with a good attitude. Paul’s secret was simply this: devote yourself to prayer. To devote, according to, is to apply oneself entirely to a particular activity. Paul instructed the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). How do you do that?

There are several ways. Some people will set alarms on their computer or phone calendars throughout the day to remind them to stop and pray. Others will establish short prayer times throughout the day. Some, rather than stop to think about something, will stop to pray about something. Rather than thinking, “That person irritates me. I just can’t seem to get my work done when she’s around,” pray this “Lord, I am having a hard time with this person. Help me to deal with them and get my work done.” Ask and you will receive (John 16:24).

My prayer is that Jeanne Brooks, the author of the Greenville News article, doesn’t read these devotionals. She could turn me in. What is the fine for jaywalking in ignorance? Besides I'm from Kansas. I wasn't jaywalking. I was Jayhawking!
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Sunday, May 15, 2016

God’s Employee Handbook

By Allen White

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.
Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.  Colossians 3:22-4:1

Slavery was a large part of the economy in the Roman Empire. People became slaves for a variety of reasons: as an obligation of debt, as a punishment for a crime, or as a prisoner of war. Considering that Paul addresses major categories of the Colossian church in chapter three: wives, husbands, children, fathers, slaves and masters, the assumption would be that a large part of this church was slaves. Paul has more to say to slaves than to anyone else here.

Slavery seems like such a distant thing to us. We are separated by generations and cultures from its affects, yet according to the Harvard Gazette Online, there are 12 million slaves in the world today, including in the United States. ( To make this a little more personal, the Bible tells us that if we are in debt, then we are slaves to the lender (Proverbs 22:7).

Yet, slavery does not touch most of us in any personal way. Let’s turn this discussion from slaves and masters to employees and employers. This verse would sound like this:

“Employees obey your boss in everything. Do it, not just when they are supervising you to score some points, but sincerely and reverently for the Big Boss, God Himself. Whatever you do, entering data, sweeping floors, building cars, fixing computers, engineering tires, serving food, marketing products, selling shoes, writing devotionals, making music, editing video, caring for children, whatever you do, work at it with all your heart.

Put your whole self into it. Sing every song like it’s your favorite. Manufacture or service a product like it’s your own. Prepare and serve food to your honored guests. Care for children who will be mechanics, politicians, nurses, attorneys, police officers, teachers, doctors, business people, sales reps, engineers and computer technicians. Most importantly, give it all you’ve got because the Lord is your number one customer, patient or client. People don’t always deserve our best. But, God always deserves our best effort.

If you do wrong, you will pay for the wrong. It doesn’t matter who you are, no one will get away with treating others poorly, stealing, taking shortcuts, or being lazy.

If you’re the boss, treat your employees fairly, because you still have to answer to the Big Boss, God Himself. Appreciate your employees for their successes. Encourage them to develop their gifts and skills. Don’t micromanage them to the point of discouragement. As the leader, raise the morale. You will have happy, effective employees who produce stellar work.

How’s your attitude at work these days? Whether you work in an office, a factory, your car, a school or at home, you are working for the Big Boss.

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

No One Likes Consequences

By Allen White

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Colossians 3:20-21

Raising children is hard work. It can be a lot of fun. It can be a lot of heartache. Newborns are great, until they learn to tell you “No.” Then, the hard work begins.

To treat our children fairly, we need to let them know up front what the consequence of their action will be. If the child knows that he will lose a privilege if he chooses to disobey, then it’s not mean old dad taking something away for no reason. The consequence is the product of the child’s choice.

We live in a world that would prefer to deny the consequences. People want to do whatever they want and then complain when they face a negative consequence. They needed a parent when their parent decided to be their child’s friend instead. Maybe the parent was treated harshly as a child, so he is lenient with his children. She doesn’t want to be like her mother, so she becomes her daughter’s best friend. The problem is that children need boundaries and consequences. Without them, children don’t feel safe or loved.

Years ago, I heard a speaker say, “Your children may hate you at times for disciplining them, but that will keep them from growing up to hate the world.” No discipline seems pleasant at the time (Hebrews 12:11), but parents owe it to their children.

Discipline crosses a line when it’s abusive, inconsistent or heavy handed. If you would like to learn biblical parenting, check out Intentional Parenting by Doug & Cathy Fields.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Degrees of Difficulty in Marriage

By Allen White

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Colossians 3:18-19

No marriage is easy. In fact, I don’t even think you can choose between easy and difficult. It’s all levels of difficulty. Like a ski resort, the difficulty ranges from the bunny slope (the honeymoon) to double diamond (contains cliffs, 50 degree or greater slopes, rocks and other hazards or in other words, marriage after the honeymoon). It’s not impossible. It’s just difficult. But remember, the more difficult the slope, the more exhilarating the experience.

The difficulty in marriage began with the curse after the Fall. “Then he said to the woman, ‘I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you’” (Genesis 3:16, NLT). The implication is that before the Fall, Eve did not desire to control Adam, but from that point on, she would. (This translation differs from other translations, but appears to more accurately capture the original intent. For more

Now, what this verse doesn’t say is: “Husbands, do whatever you want and wives put up with it.” Paul charges husbands with loving their lives. To the Ephesians, he ups the ante by adding “as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Loving your wife is not like loving yourself. Loving your wife is an adventure. It’s a mystery. Sometimes it keeps you guessing. What gets in the way is a man’s desire to accomplish loving his wife. It can’t just be checked off of the list.

Wives, your husband needs respect, not because he deserves it, but because he needs it. Men really don’t want to have anything to do with people who disrespect them. Disrespect from his wife puts a man in a real dilemma.

Many husbands have said, “I would love my wife more if she would respect me.” Many wives have said, “I would respect my husband, if he would truly love me.” Many children have said, “If I can’t have what I want, then I won’t give you what you want.” It’s time to put away childish things.

Many people with far more wisdom and success have written many things about marriage. The bottom line is this: how does your relationship with your husband or wife measure up to this verse? Wives, how well are you submitting to your husband and following his lead? Husbands, how well are you loving your wife and not treating her harshly? The test: ask your spouse how you’re doing. The solution: pray and ask God to help you love your spouse the way he or she needs to be loved.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Husbands Are Not the Guy from The Notebook

By Allen White

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  Colossians 3:12-17

In yesterday’s devotional, we disrobed. Today, we get a look at our new wardrobe: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love. Why? Husbands are not the guy from The Notebook. Wives are not porn stars. It’s much easier to fantasize than to live in reality. But, you can’t have a relationship with a picture or words on a page. Your twitter friends only need 140 characters or less. Your real world friends need more than that.

People offend us. They sin against us. They can be selfish and thoughtless. They can be downright mean. Bless our hearts, so can we.

Since the old self operated in the world of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Matthew 5:38-39), it’s a good thing we have put on the new self. Or else, there would be a lot of blind, toothless folks walking around.

The antidote for relational dysfunction is what Christ promises to us in the new self. We have put off the old self that wants to get even. We put off the old self that wants to hold a grudge. We put off the old self that wants them to hurt as much as they hurt us.

By putting on the new self, we choose to do some unnatural things. We try to understand others rather than just driving our point home. We offer others the same compassion that we offer ourselves. “They just hurt me. Well, I mess up. I hurt people.”  We offer a gentle answer and turn away wrath (Proverbs 15:1).

The big question is “How?” The answer is not with our own strength. We’re just not good enough or strong enough to accomplish all of that. But, remember, the power that raised Christ from the dead lives within all believers (Romans 8:9-11). As we learn to depend on Christ’s power, He will do this work in us. We must be willing to allow Him to work and hold back from our typical reactions. Just to pause and ask Christ to help can bring about needed change.

From the list in this verse: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love, which do you need the most right now? Don’t say all of the above. Choose one and ask God to begin to do that work in you. It won’t be immediate, but over time you and those around you will notice a difference. Don’t be surprised if you end up in a situation that provokes the exact opposite of the quality you desire. You’re going to school. Learn the lessons well. Try to skip the remedial course.

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Monday, May 9, 2016

Porn, Facebook and Nicolas Sparks, Oh My…

By Allen White

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since 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. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.  Colossians 3:5-11

“Greed is good” according to Gordon Gecko, the quintessential inside trader in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. In the end, GG discovers that greed fueled by illegal activity leads to a good amount of prison time. In the process, greed, as intoxicating as it is, leaves the characters with a hangover of emptiness. Why?

When you take possessions, pleasure or prestige and make them the dominate theme in your life, you come up short. Material possessions, sex and significance are not wrong in and of themselves. In fact, they are very good things that God Himself created.

But, there’s a point when possessions, pleasure or prestige cross a line and become the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16, KJV). When we take a good thing and make it a “god thing,” it becomes a bad thing.

If we depend on material things to satisfy us, we find ourselves only wanting to acquire more. If we depend on porn, romance novels or Facebook chats for intimacy, we find ourselves right back in the cycle and coming up empty every time. If our significance depends on recognition from others, we will always find ourselves trying to seek validation from others still. Why?

Materialism, pornography, Nicolas Sparks novels and accolades can’t fulfill our need for God and our need for others. These things leave us empty and ashamed. We’re no better than the junkie smoking crack or the wino asking for spare change. If that puts an ugly face on what you enjoy, then you’re seeing it correctly.

Paul says that these things are part of the old self. Our relationship with the old self is to kill it. We are to take it off like an old, ragged shirt headed for the trash. But, God doesn’t leave us naked. He gives us a new self to wear in its place.

That seems easy enough, so why doesn’t it work that easily? It seems easier to grab the apple from the tree than to depend on God to meet our needs.
Adam and Eve’s fall is really no different than ours. God would have given them the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He just didn’t want them to have to bear that burden yet. But plucking the apple from the tree was easy, it was accessible, it was within their control. It was as easy as picking the credit card from our wallet or surfing to a porn site.

If the centerpiece of our lives is to please ourselves or even to please others (we call this codependency), then our focus is on apple picking.
Apple picking reveals a lack of trust in God. God has promised to provide for all of our needs (Philippians 4:19). God has pledge not to withhold any good thing from His children (Psalm 84:11). If I trust God, then I can depend on Him to meet my needs and direct my steps.

Let me caution you. This devotional has mentioned every category of sin known to man. If you struggle with something that was mentioned today, don’t be surprised if you are more tempted than ever today. Stop right now and pray for God to take these desires from you and ask God to meet your need. Then, phone a friend and ask them to pray for you.

What God has in store for you is worth the wait.

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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Boogie Oogie Oogie, You Read It Right

By Allen White

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Colossians 3:1-4

Have you ever had your heart set on something? In 1978 my heart was set on having my own portable 8-track player. So much so that as Christmas approached, I couldn’t resist the temptation of my presents any longer. I found the box that was about the size of a portable 8-track player, and I unwrapped it. Sure enough, it was a portable 8-track player.

I felt guilty like I had broken one of the Ten Commandments: Thou Shalt Not Openeth Thy Presents Prior to the Appearance of Saint Nick. I also felt exhilarated. I was no longer limited to the turntable in my bedroom. Now I could “Boogie Oogie Oogie” (A Taste of Honey) wherever I could find an electrical outlet. Although, dancing was a sin...

We can set our hearts and our minds on silly things. Not long after 1978, I abandoned my beloved portable 8-track player for a cassette player. My 8-track player ended up in my dad’s workshop no longer playing Boston and Kansas, it became sanctified with the Blackwood Brothers.

The point Paul is making here is that we can actually set our hearts on something. We can set our minds. Just like we can set our alarm clock or set an appointment, we can change the focus of our hearts and minds from our sinful nature to things that are above.

Our default is our sinful nature. We have to intentionally set our minds on the things of God. Just like we have to reset our alarm clocks after a power outage, daily we have refocus our thoughts and desires to the things of God. If our minds are blinking 12:00, it’s not a good thing.

How do you intentionally change the channel in your mind from sinful things to godly things? It’s not a matter of your own effort, but it is a matter of your will. How often do you willfully focus on what God wants for your life, your family, your work and your play? God wants you to live a satisfying life for Him. The temptation is to take shortcuts to the temporary satisfaction that our sinful nature draws us to. Only God can bring complete fulfillment to our lives.

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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Why “Just Say No” Doesn’t Work

By Allen White

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
Colossians 2:20-23

Nancy Reagan taught us to “just say no” to drugs. I never had to say “no.” I was never asked. I never missed out on the experience. I never lost my brain cells. It just never came up. Does that mean that I’m better than anyone else? No, other than walking on clouds and enjoying a diet of angel food cake, I’m exactly like you.

Every single one of us has a sinful nature. We didn’t cause it. We didn’t want it. We just came with it. Many people spend their lives indulging their sinful natures. When asked why, they respond, “Well, this is just how I’m made.” Others spend their lives denying their sinful nature. The work of holiness to them is simply to avoid sin. If they deny their sinful nature, then they can feel secure about their relationship with God. Both have the same problem. One just tends to enjoy their problem more.

Whether your issue is false fulfillment or false humility, it comes down to the same issue: sensual indulgence. Whether your life is out of control or you are in control, there is no controlling your sinful nature. In fact, the illusion that you are controlling your sinful nature brings about false humility and pride, which is one of the seven deadly sins last I checked (Proverbs 6:16-24).

The solution for sin is surrender. Not giving into sin, but fully surrendering ourselves to our Savior. Only He has conquered sin.

When do you find yourself becoming proud about your humility? What about your life makes you feel like you’re better than other people? Pride is a house of cards. It’s also a heavy burden. How can you surrender your pride to Christ?

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Everything that Happens is Not Your Fault

By Allen White

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.  Colossians 2:16-19

Hong Kong is an amazing city. I lived there in the summer of 1984 working with a mission team. I marveled at the architecture and the pace of such a modern, world-class city. I also marveled at little fires I would see burning in the gutters of major thoroughfares each evening. The Chinese would bring food, decorations and various other things as a peace offering to evil spirits. This would insure their peace and prosperity. If they practiced these rituals to appease the spirits, they could live their lives in peace.

What a contrast. Here among these modern buildings were little piles of burnt trash from last night’s sacrifices. High rises often had vacant fourteenth floors, much like our thirteenth floor superstitions. Fourteen was too close to the Chinese word for death. No one wanted an office on the fourteenth floor. Our office was on the fourteenth floor.  God is greater than the number fourteen.

The design of most of the buildings in Hong Kong relies on Fung Shui. Doors and windows had to be placed in the correct order and at the correct angles to ward off evil spirits and to allow good energy to flow. Seriously, how could such a modern city be subject to so much hocus pocus?

But, before we judge the Hong Kong Chinese, let’s consider the hocus pocus in our own lives. If good things happen to us, then we must be living right. If bad things happen to us, it must be because we skipped church last Sunday, didn’t offer thanks for our food, spent our tithe on ourselves, or missed reading one of Allen’s devotionals. (If you’re curious, it was the last one.)

Let me debunk this bunk. You can do all of the right things and bad things will still happen. You can do all of the wrong things and actually have good things happen. Some things are subject to cause and effect. If we don’t get enough sleep, we’ll be tired and grouchy in the morning. If we eat too much and don’t exercise, we will get fat. But, we don’t create the cause of every effect in our lives.

All good things are not necessarily a blessing. All bad things are not necessarily a curse. Everything that happens is not necessarily our fault.

How do we get these funny, oddball, superstitious ideas in our heads? Well, according to this verse, we are running around like chickens with our heads cut off. “He has lost connection with the Head.” It’s our connection to Christ, the Head of the Body (Ephesians 4:15-16), that gives us direction and assurance. Honoring superstitions or even rituals and holidays in the Bible don’t bring us “good luck” or blessings. Remaining connected to God Himself is all we need to assure that we are in the right place with God.

How’s your connection with God? What are you saying to Him these days? What is He saying to you?

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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Rules Are Safe. Freedom is Risky.

 By Allen White

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.   Colossians 2:13-15

I saw Toy Story 3 again with my sons yesterday. I am a little embarrassed that I would get a little misty eyed at an animated feature. For kids, it’s all about the action. For parents, it’s a “Cats in the Cradle” sort of thing. Sniff.

The previews before the movie were interesting. It’s nothing new, but there seem to be more than the usual number of movies with ordinary people receiving extraordinary powers. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice starring Nicholas Cage tells of an ordinary college student who is selected to learn the skills of plasma balls and other tricks to ward off the evil forces of the world. The Last Airbender again shows how people can harness the power of the elements of the universe. Part of me understands the appeal. I certainly could have used a few plasma balls in junior high.

I teach my sons that Jesus has the greatest power in the universe. More than an avatar or airbender, more than a sorcerer, more than evil Dr. Porkchop.

Paul shows Jesus’ power in this passage. From our vantage point, we might assume that the powerful forces are the “powers and authorities,” they are certainly more powerful than we are. Jesus has defeated them. We have no reason to fear. But, this isn’t the greatest demonstration of Jesus’ power.

Paul talks about the power of the law. If we believe that by our own effort we can please God, then legalism is probably a more powerful force than the “powers and authorities.” But legalism is a heavy burden that most either give up on or just carefully disguise their vices. No one can live up to God’s standard. But, Jesus is greater than the power of legalism.

The greatest demonstration of Jesus’ power is this: “He forgave us all our sins” (Colossians 2:13). Unconditionally. With no strings attached. We are forgiven. Not only does He not hold our sins against us (2 Corinthians 5:19), He remembers them no more (Psalm 103:12).

But, here’s the interesting thing: what was nailed to the cross? Well, certainly Jesus was nailed to the cross and with Him our sins. But, Paul says that the written code, the regulations, the law, the rules were nailed to the cross. And, from my understanding, nothing ever came off of the cross alive.

The rules are dead. They no longer have power over us. That’s great news. We’re free.

But, to some a life without rules is a life without certainty. Have you ever worked for someone and you were never sure of what was expected of you? Things would be much easier if it was all written down, if it was all spelled out. Then, you would know what you were responsible for.

Rules are safe. Freedom is risky. The only way to be assured that we are in the right place with God is to remain in constant contact with Him. But, it’s only when we fully surrender ourselves to God that we find we are truly free.

What rules are you tempted to keep? Why? How might the freedom of God’s grace threaten you? How does it exhilarate you?

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Ugh, Circumcision Again?

By Allen White

In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.  Colossians 2:11-12

Circumcision is a sensitive issue all of the way around. God gave the covenant of circumcision to Abraham in Genesis 17. It was highly personal. It was highly painful. Yet something so personal, painful and private became the assurance of belonging to God. …until Jesus changed the game.

The work that Jesus does involves altering our nature rather than just a part of our anatomy. It wasn’t enough to look like you belonged to God. Jesus made things even more personal. The new requirement was to act like you belonged to God.

At this point, you might be thinking, “Great. Now what is that going to cost me?” It really doesn’t cost us. Christ took care of the cost. It’s Jesus’ work, not ours, that guarantees our assurance.
The symbol for Christ’s work is baptism. Note that baptism is a symbol, not the work itself. Just like a wedding ring is a symbol of marriage, baptism is a symbol of salvation. If you lost your wedding ring, it doesn’t mean that you lost your marriage.

The symbol is that when a believer goes down into the water, they are buried in Christ. Their old self, their sinful nature is dead to them. Then, when they are raised up, it symbolizes how spiritually they are raised from the dead “through [their] faith in the power of God.” it’s pretty amazing to think that the power that raised Christ from the dead is coursing through the believer’s veins.

Our security with God is not held in a membership card, a baptismal certificate, regular church attendance or the forsaking of all fun. Our security is in Christ. Belonging to Christ is all we need to please God and to enjoy the life we were meant to live.

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Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Christian’s Goal is Not to Live Like Jesus

By Allen White

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. Colossians 2:9-10

We attended church with my parents a couple of weeks ago in Topeka, Kansas. Our family has been a part of this church since 1969. I stayed after to catch up with a few people that I’ve known forever and a few that I had just met. As I was walking out to the car, a man that I never met stopped me and asked, “Are you Rudy White’s son?” I told him that I was. He said, “I could tell by the way you walk. You walk just like your dad.”

I walk just like my dad? My dad is 75-years-old. I walk like a 75-year-old man? I’ve got to get into shape.

I asked my dad about our obviously peculiar gait. He said that he had never noticed. I guess you really don’t notice how you walk. It’s a little difficult to walk and watch yourself walking at the same time. I suppose as long as my dad and I can avoid walking with canes, we’re doing okay.
Jesus didn’t just resemble His Father. All of the fullness of God was and is in Jesus. If you want to know what God is like, you don’t need to go any further than Jesus. Read the Gospels and see what God thinks about us, about the lost, about the poor, and about the self-righteous. In Jesus we see what God does about broken people and broken lives. We see how God empowers His followers to serve others. We see how much God loves us in Jesus’ death on the cross.

Once the relationship between people and God was marred by sin, we just didn’t get it from that point forward. God gave kings and judges who were met with mixed reviews. He sent other nations to conquer His people, but they didn’t always get the message. God sent prophets that His people persecuted. Then, God sent His Son.

What we didn’t understand from reading God’s instructions or listening to God’s Word, we could see in the person of Jesus. He was the Word made flesh (John 1:14). If we want to know what a human being, full of God, looks like. We can look at Jesus.

If we want to be a human being filled with God, then we need to depend on Jesus. Paul writes, “you have been given fullness in Christ” (Colossians 2:10). To be the child of God that you long to be, you only need to depend on Jesus. You can’t attain this for yourself. No amount of human effort will get you there. The goal is not to live like Jesus. The goal is to allow Jesus to live His life through us. There’s a difference.

How much are you trying to live like Jesus? How much is Jesus living through you? Ask Him to help you experience the fullness of God.

Eugene Peterson paraphrases this passage: 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 realize 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. Colossians 2:9-10 (Msg)

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