Posts Tagged ‘Colossians’

Salt is a seasoning that makes things taste better through its chemical interactions with the food. And yet, in this age of health anxiety, we have started to withhold salt from our diet even though exercise could be just as effective. Have we removed salt from conversations too?

Colossians 4:6
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

When was the last time I sat around with some people and just talked? I mean talked about ideas and possibilities, spirituality or sorrow, hope or despair. When has the conversation started heading one way and my comments moved it another, giving it a new flavor, a new point of view . . . with grace.

Now, I don’t mean those times when proselytizing starts or the 4 Spiritual Laws pamphlets come out of the handbag or a litany of “Praise the Lords” drop in after every remark like a Greek chorus or HipHop melody.

I’m interested in knowing if the truth of me, Spirit-filled and intertwined with the Christ within, has acted as a true flavoring, bringing out the best in others while giving grace and acceptance to any hardened hearts around me.

So much is out there that teaches us how to control a conversation, close the deal, get to “yes,” influence, convince or convert people, win friends, or filibuster until people can’t stand it anymore.

When my daughter, new to this country at 15, went to high school with little or no English, she bemoaned how hard it was to make friends. We chalked it up to ESL (English as a Second Language) and assumed things would get better as her language skills improved. And to some degree that was true and yet, it never became easy for her. Truthfully, I am amazed teenagers have any friends at all considering that most of their conversations tend to be about themselves and rarely about the other, unless they are drilling down into the behavior, looks, attitude or boyfriend of a mutual “other” (i.e. gossiping).

I shared with her a handy book I found called How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends by Don Gabor. I encouraged her to try the author’s technique but she found it unmanageable. And why? Because the essence of his technique was to ask lots of questions about the other person and listen to the answers. It’s letting go of feeling it necessary to reciprocate data for data, fact for fact, personal story for personal story. This is the grace part of conversation.

Perhaps it’s time for me to reread this book myself. Or maybe, like here, scripture has been saying it all along: Grace and salt, kindness and joy, love and humor, forgiveness and knowledge, patience and wisdom.

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Intriguing instruction to be watchful and thankful in prayer. I mean, these aren’t two words one would normally put together for something as benign-seeming as prayer. And yet, it’s not the first time Paul speaks of danger in the prayer closet or the necessity for alertness.

Colossians 4:2
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

But is there danger in my prayers? Not hardly. At least, not at first blush. I rarely consider myself to be in deep spiritual battle. Or am I?

Is it possible that mere steadfastness, faithfulness, and consistency can make waves in the spiritual realm? Is it possible that I am part of the “transformational” by holding up my friends and family in the Light of the Christ? Is it possible that my quiet moments of deep connection to the Spirit have resounding impact? And if that is so, is it possible that there is push back that manifests in ways I do not realize?

Perhaps this is what it means to be watchful in prayer: becoming aware of the imprint of God. Watch for movement in the spirit realm. Allow the spiritual senses to become alive in prayer: not just seeing with the inner eye, but also hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling.

One of my all-time favorite devotionals is You Set My Spirit Free: A 40-Day Journey in the Company of John of the Cross, arranged and paraphrased by David Hazard [1994]: “He creates in you the desire to find Him [the Spirit] and run after Him–to follow wherever He leads you, and to press peacefully against His heart wherever He is . . . Press, and keep pressing into His heart, until you have pressed the image of His invisible nature into the substance of your soul.”

Be watchful. When this happens, there could be fireworks.

We are told in various places throughout the New Testament to give thanks, from Romans 14:6 to I Thessalonians 5:18 to Revelation 11:17. Give thanks.

I have always thought of this as something I must do willfully and consciously, but today I imagine what it would be like to be overcome with a spirit of thanksgiving. To give thanks out of a heart overflowing with an appreciation for the presence of God.

So then, the essence is to “be watchful” in order to experience the fullness of the Spirit which automatically leads to thankfulness. That’s good.

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What causes bitterness? Here are some words that bubbled up this morning: disappointment, betrayal, endless battles, anger, unforgiveness, false hope, lies, abandonment, and grace withheld. Unfortunately, I know these words too well, as victim and as perpetrator.

Colossians 3:21
Fathers [and mothers] do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

I am known for big: big ideas, big mouth, big mistakes, big emotions. When I express myself, it’s with a passion. When I grieve and cry, it floods the room. When I slip and fall, I carry lots of stuff (and people) with me. It’s part of who I started out to be and who I have become.

As a child, that bigness came out of wanting to be seen. My aging father was kind to me, and yet, as a caregiver to a toddler, he rendered me invisible and I lived long hours alone in a playpen. He drank heavily during the day and it took a lot to get his attention.

As a young adult, I found some respite in the theater. Everything in that world was bigger and deeper than everyday life; I could safely feel and express lots of different feelings in an array of contrived and controlled moments. I could be seen without harm.

On the mother side, I was expected to perform as well, but perfectly: excellent grades (like my brother), success in all ventures, and work that was respected and secure. When my brother went on with life (college, work, etc.), I continued to feel bound to my mother who was doing her best to provide for us on her own. I wanted escape and felt guilty for it. Resentment grew steadily.

It takes a lot of personal strength to fight the onslaught of bitterness. This is an unexpected benefit from a relationship with the Holy Spirit, where individual courage is married to the supernatural, where holy forgiveness can wash away the bloody colors of bitter ordeals. But it’s a process.

One would think that living through some of this as a child I would be better prepared to give grace to my own children. But old habits die hard and I see now where I put many of the same pressures on them that were put on me. Not in all cases, of course. I gave love and attention and safety. I gave hope and forgiveness. But I also poured on expectations. I have seen the seeds germinate as my children come into their own. They don’t want to disappoint and yet, they feel it all the same. Sustained disappointment leads to bitterness. This I know. Is there still time?

And so I pray, today, to consciously release them and myself from these chains: to live loved.

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Now here’s a word we don’t use much any more: forbearance. I understand why, it has so many possible meanings, from patience to easy-goingness, to restraint and endurance. It’s actually a type of grace. Forbearance is usually undeserved.

Colossians 3:12-13a, 14
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 . . . And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

And so, with these definitions in mind, I consider how the power of love can bind this unique grace to the other virtues, how love must be luxuriously forbearing. In fact, all of these virtues only become so when grace or forbearance is present.

According to Luke, Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that.” [Luke 6:32-33]

Forbearance is a key to virtue. How many paradoxes will I discover for myself before I can actually embrace them? When will I really swim upstream like the salmon? What will finally drive me to act the opposite to every habitual behavior and response in me? When will I forbear instead of rail against those personal injustices, those unlovely remarks, or those exploitations?

To live out true paradox, like forbearance and love, requires the deepest inner strength and self-awareness. Otherwise, the day to day slips into victim-thinking or doormat behavior. Forbearance must be conscious, mindful, intentional, and eventually, after a lot of practice (in the Presence) and interplay with the Holy Spirit, it might become a norm.

Now there’s a great big hairy audacious goal.

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New self is a transaction of the heart and soul. For me, it happened when I accepted and engaged the Christ and invited the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit within. Unfortunately, old self is like a familiar and in some places threadbare winter coat or sweater I am unwilling to permanently discard.

Colossians 3:9-10
Do not lie to one another, for you have stripped off the old (unregenerate) self with its evil practices, And have clothed yourselves with the new [spiritual self], which is [ever in the process of being] renewed and remolded into [fuller and more perfect knowledge upon] knowledge after the image (the likeness) of Him Who created it.

It’s easy to tell that I’m still wearing the old because of the fruit or behaviors.

Last night, I had such an explosion of emotion with my daughter. The F bomb rolled off the tongue like I had never stopped using it. Anger turned to rage and every frustration and resentment bubbled up and over. It was acid.

Oh yes, the old self took back its place and the light of all that is new and self was quenched. No light shone through. It was quite dark inside.

In the light of today, I can see the damage done and how quickly the old coat slipped back into place. God forgive me.

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It’s hard to break the rules when we’ve been told all of our lives that the rules are immutable. Imagine being raised a Judean back in the day, and then told by Jesus and his followers that all things can be eaten, all people can be touched, nothing is intrinsically forbidden. It’s outrageous!

Colossians 2:20-22
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.

But what about the 21st century believer? Have I been lulled into habitual narrowness? Have I taken passages from scripture and turned them into rigid human laws and interpretations?

If Judeans had a hard time giving up the dietary laws they followed over 3,000 years, isn’t it possible we’ve gotten equally inflexible about food, music, movies, dancing, beat, clothing, language, sexual preference, and so on? After all, they were “told” in the laws of Moses that many these things were forbidden. And yet, with the death and resurrection of Christ, suddenly, everything was allowed.

Someone once told me that Jesus never healed any two people the same way because human nature tends to codify behavior into a rule or law or procedure. Jesus was in the rule-breaking business. The last thing he needed was to set up a system.

The reason that “externals” are not so very important (even today) is that the work is within. What Christ did, as God incarnate, was to establish a new point in time.

People tend to forget, when Jesus sat down and “ate” with sinners, these were parties (Roman-type orgies, probably). There was “unclean” food all over the place and people were lounging around and engaging in all kinds of unseemly behaviors. There were dancing girls and slaves. There were gay and straight guests. It was a sensuous culture, the way of the wealthy. That’s one of the reasons the priests were indignant about Jesus. That’s why they couldn’t buy into the stories–Jesus, the Messiah? Uou’ve got to be kidding, he’s totally unclean. Impossible!

Why could he do all of these and it not matter? Because he was reaching for the heart, the sacred other, the soul, the part of all humans that can be transformed, instantly (or slowly), but often, an evolution that cannot be readily discerned by the outer shell.

Now I can go ahead and never do a bad thing or lust after all kinds of things that I shouldn’t, and yet, despite all that outer goodness, my heart could still be another shrunken head, tied to a string of trophies on the belt of a great enemy.

This past weekend, I walked a prayer labyrinth; it is “used as an instrument to facilitate meditation, prayer, and personal reflection.” For each person, the journey is unique even though the path is identical. For me, the word that dominated my walk was “balance.”

Let me start there.

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Forgiveness cancels and disarms. Cancellations are not easy; they imply change. They bring to mind a huge stop sign. Something that was planned and moving forward, is no more. All gone. Disarmament is not much different: whatever weapons we carry, we lay down . . . willingly and by agreement.

Colossians 2:13b – 15a
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. . . having disarmed the powers and authorities . . .

If I forgive you, I lay down my weapons and I cancel the plans I had toward you. If you forgive me, the same thing happens: I lay down my dagger and I remove the pay-backs. Everything stops. The old way is done. The previous mistakes, hurts, anger, frustrations, or attacks are no longer an option.

That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Another word is reprieve. It’s like standing before a firing squad or sitting in the electric chair, and someone comes in and says it’s over, no strings attached. Freedom.

You would think the reprieved criminal would be appreciative and transformed. Not always. Sometimes, he/she is cut loose and soon repeats the same actions, the same mistakes, the same crimes.

Are we much different? Am I? I have been reprieved as well. My Spirit has been awakened and I am in relationship with the Holy Christ Spirit. I am forgiven for my mistakes and I have been set free from layers and layers of synthetic and man-made theories, laws, rules, and interpretations.

These layers are a cage and although the work has been done (for everyone), I still have to step out of that cage to experience the freedom. I have to trust that no one will slam the cage door shut. I have to trust that the cancellation and disarmament are real. I have to believe. I have to operate in a new way. Caged life is different from meadow life.

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