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Posts by Tim
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
(Colossians 1:15-23 ESV)
These five verses are relatively short, in their entirety the make up only a single paragraph of a much larger letter. However their brevity should not lead the reader to believe they have little to say. These five verses contain very deep, weighty truths that are absolutely fundamental to the Christian faith. To understand these verses one must understand the context they are in. The book of Colossians was originally a letter written by the apostle Paul to the Church in Colossae. Paul’s purpose in writing this letter was to encourage and instruct the church in their faith. Later in the letter Paul addresses a number of topics that deal with what a Christian’s life should look like. His common thread for all of this starts in Colossians 1:15-20. In this single paragraph he sets up the watershed out of which the rest of this book will flow. The theological importance is this: The Christian life means nothing without a proper understanding of who God is and what he has done, especially, through his Son Jesus Christ. Christ is the center of everything.
This passage starts by saying “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation”. The “he” is referring back to the previous paragraph where Paul mentions God the Son. At first the connection between God the Son and Jesus might not be apparent. However in verse 20 Paul says that he makes peace by “the blood of his cross”, this last sentence clears up any confusion: God the Son is Jesus Christ. And going back to verse 15 Jesus is the image of God. Jesus himself affirmed this point (“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” – John 14:9). The second half of this verse calls Jesus the “Firstborn of Creation”. This might seem contradictory to the first half because to a 21st Century American reader it sounds as if God the Son was born or created. The word firstborn has a different meaning from just the first person born. In the Colossian culture it meant one who had right to inheritance, was preeminent to those around him, in other words a person of power. This meaning is supported in verses 6 when Paul writes, “For by him all things were created”. The word all there means, just that: all, everything, the whole quantity or amount. The Apostle John opened his Gospel with a very similar passage by saying that “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” This again reaffirms that everything was made through Jesus. Paul goes a step further and says that not only did Jesus create everything, but that he also holds it together. In the Greek the word “hold” is written in the perfect tense. Linguistically this communicates an action that has already taken place but that its effects are still ongoing. Meaning that from the beginning of creation Jesus has been and still is holding creation together.
Paul moves on to explain that Jesus, in his preeminence, is the head of the church and the firstborn from the dead. In verse 19 he restates his divinity by saying that “all the fullness of God” was pleased to dwell in him. And then in verse 20 it all comes together. For four profound verses Paul has very quickly, but very carefully constructed a foundation of who God the Son (Jesus) is. And in verse 20 he brings home the point by saying that in his preeminence, in all his power, Jesus chose to reconcile a sinful creation to himself, by dying on a cross. This is the application for the reader. Christ is the center, he created everything, he holds it all together, and in relation to us, he reconciles us by dying for us. In the following paragraph Paul brings out that application by saying that because of his death we can be presented as holy and blameless. Because Christ has died we have hope for our faith (Col 1:23).
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster.
Joel 2:12-13 (ESV)
This month I am reading through the Minor Prophets, a part of the bible that I haven’t paid much attention to before.
Earlier this week I started the book of Joel. After working through some painfully grim prophesy in Hosea I was hoping for a change of pace. However after diving in at verse 1 it became clear pretty fast that Joel preached the same tough message as Hosea: You’ve wondered from God, you will be torn down. In Hosea God used a vivid illustration to get his point across. God told Hoesa “Go and marry a women who will be unfaithful, and when she cheats on you continue to take her back.” in my bible (ESV) its literally translated as “a wife of whoredom”. The picture is blunt, but amazing. Like the unfaithful wife Isreal contiunally turned from God, like Hosea God continually works to bring them back. God’s message to Israel was this: You have turned from me, and for that you will suffer consequences, but I am ready and even hoping that you will turn back to me before that happens.
In Joel God has the same thing to say: You’ve turned away and things are going to get bad. But then in Joel 2:12-13 God tells Israel “It’s not too late, turn back now.” Even though this prophesy was delivered to a nation thousands of years ago when I read it it hit me hard. I am a follower of Christ there are times when I follow hard after God. But there are also times when I wander. These words in Joel are a strong conviction, to turn and repent. It’s not enough for me to half-heartdley follow God. When there is sin in my life I need to rend my heart, as opposed to my clothing. This means that instead of just mourning over what I have done wrong I need to mourn and think about my sins so as to make a conciess effort to turn from them with God’s help.
All the while I can cling to God’s words that:
he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster.
Let me give you some background on myself.
I was raised my entire life in the Church. From the time I was a little child I grew up reading the bible. I was a part of the Bible Memorization “AWANA” program at church. I was involved in my Church’s youth group, where every week we would hear a message preached from the Bible. My pastor always prepared sermons from, you guessed it, the bible. I grew up my entire life reading, listening to, and hearing from the Bible. As for today? I attend a small Christian college. And guess what. I read, study, hear from and listen to the Bible every day.
But in the midst of this Bible exposure I still struggle with consistently getting into the word, reading it slowly and meditating on what it says. (more…)
Hello, my name is Timothy and I am a contributor at TheDispersion.
If you read this site with any regularity you might be confused about the statement up above. Because while I call myself a contributor I have only written 25 articles in this sites 3 year history. Jack and I started this site in 2009 with the simple goal in mind of using the Internet to write about the Gospel. For the entirety of the last three years Jack has taken 90% of the writing while I have focused more on the technical side of things. However due to changes taking place in both our situations it is my hope that I can start posting here with more regularity.
Look for my weekly posts starting next Wednesday.
Perhaps one of the most famous missionaries in the history of the Christian church is Saint Patrick. This is probably because he is the only missionary in America who is celebrated by a holiday. However the Patrick most Americans think of on March 17th every year is far different from the man who actually lived. One of the biggest misconceptions is about Patrick’s name; even though the holiday is called “Saint Patrick’s Day” Patrick was never canonized by the Roman Church and thus is not actually a saint. The second mistake that is often made is about Patrick’s heritage. While the holiday is celebrated with green clothes, leprechauns, and Irish beer the fact is that Patrick was not from Ireland, he was only a missionary there. While this can be a misconception about Patrick the fact that he is often thought of as Irish can speak to how well he was able to adapt to the Irish lifestyle and integrate himself into their culture.
Patrick was born in what is now England, a town called Bannavem Taburniae around the year 387. At the time Bannavem Taburniae was at the edge of the known world and was occupied by the Roman Empire. Born to a church deacon and the grandson of a priest Patrick described his childhood as rebellious and said he was “contemptible to many”. At the age of sixteen he was taken into captivity to serve as a slave in Ireland. As a slave Patrick was a shepherd. This meant he would spend many hours every day alone. During those times of silence Patrick’s thoughts would often turn to God. Patrick describes his conversion as that of “God opening my mind” after this he repented of his sins and would spend many of his waking hours in prayer. It was during those intense times of prayer that Patrick would say he felt the Spirit burning in him. After six years as a slave he felt called to flee his master and return to his home country. To escape Ireland Patrick was forced to join a crew of marauders. After several years of traveling with the marauders Patrick eventually made his way back to England and saw his family for the first time since his capture at the age of sixteen. Upon seeing him his parents pleaded with him to stay and never leave them again.
While Patrick had gone to great lengths to travel back to England it became immediately apparent to him that he was not going to stay. The very night that he returned to his parents he had a dream in which letters were sent to him from Ireland begging for his return so he could preach the gospel. At this time Ireland was a land of almost legendary paganism. Many clans were involved in depraved rituals, which made the Roman Church view them as beyond hope. Having lived there for at least six years Patrick would have most likely known firsthand about the religious situation and probably felt conflicted about a call to serve. Even though he received this call immediately after returning to England he waited many years before he would go. During his time in England several scholars believe that he received some sort of formal theological training, this would have been in addition to what he would have learned from his grandfather who was a priest. While he did receive an education Patrick made it clear that he did not have the same intense level of education that many priests had.
After at least twenty years of training and serving as a deacon in his church Patrick finally felt God pushing him to leave his life behind and go to Ireland as a missionary. During his time in England Patrick had come under scrutiny and was denounced by elders in his community because of a sin he had committed in his youth. While Patrick never revealed what the sin was he explained that he had confessed the sin to his friends and that it was something he had done in the ignorance of his youth when he didn’t trust in God. Eventually Patrick was able to silence most of his critics and continue on to a life of missionary service.
When Patrick arrived in Ireland he adopted a completely unique form of missions. During that time in history the Roman church was responsible for most of the missions work taking place. Their method would usually entail monks who would arrive in a foreign land and establish monasteries. From there monks could gain a foothold in the culture and preach the gospel. Patrick’s approach was entirely different as he normally operated as a wandering preacher. He would often travel to an unreached clan and seek an audience with the king, if the king was open to the gospel the rest of the clan would generally follow his lead. During his time with a clan Patrick would make it a habit of praying for their sick and trying to help meet some of their physical needs. As he did this he would gain credibility with the people he was with and have an opportunity to share the message of Jesus Christ. A famous example of his technique is his use of the three-leaf clover. For many years Ireland had viewed the clover as a special plant that was to be honored. Patrick recognized this and used the leaf’s unique shape to communicate how the Trinity of God worked. This use of local customs helped the Irish people relate to Patrick and understand what he was trying to communicate. If Patrick was ever able to convert a significant number of people in a clan he would then train local leaders so a church could be planted and a Christian community could continue after he left. Patrick recalls this practice in his autobiography in which he says that he never asked for any money or other compensation when he ordained new priests. This meant that Patrick, like the apostle Paul, did all he could to communicate that the gift of salvation is free.
Because Patrick’s style was so different from the Roman Catholic church there were many who saw the Celtic Christians as outside the church. The Celtic church had various different customs including what week Easter was celebrated. Their churches were often simple structures as opposed to the more elaborate structures built in the rest of Europe. Because of these differences there were many in the Catholic church who looked down upon the Celts and refused to help them.
Many times during his ministry in Ireland Patrick was faced with trials of different kinds. Because Ireland was such a barbaric place there were many clan kings who sought to harm because of the message he preached. Many times he was imprisoned, robbed, and threatened with death. Yet his passion and love for the Irish people was so strong that he stayed until the end of his life to be a missionary. This dedication paints a vivid picture of the holistic philosophy Patrick had towards his ministry. For Patrick reaching the barbarians wasn’t just something he planned on doing for a period of his life, but rather it was the purpose of his life from beginning to end.
Patrick’s impact on Ireland is certainly hard to fully understand. Because of its location and the fact that it is an island Ireland had remained almost entirely unreached with the Gospel before Patrick’s arrival. This meant that Ireland had a very unique culture compared to most of the countries closer to Rome, which at that time was the center of political, religious, and societal influence. Because he was so far away from Rome and was never officially commissioned as a missionary to Ireland Patrick often focused his teaching more on theology and biblical doctrine as opposed to tradition. This gave the Celtic churches an entirely different culture from Catholic churches in England and further east. Throughout the course of his life Patrick was able to baptize thousands of believers and plant hundreds of churches. The impact of these churches is quite easy to see even today. Celtic crosses are still used in many places today in Ireland and even countries such as Scotland and England. These crosses are much different from Roman Crucifixes and can trace their origins back to the churches planted by Patrick. Also in areas such as art and music Ireland was affected as they were exposed to the gospel. There are many different songs and poems written by Irish Christians who were influenced by Patrick’s teaching. Some of these songs may still be sung today including a well-known hymn “Be Thou My Vision”. Perhaps one of the greatest areas of influence Patrick had was the realm of intellectual pursuits. Before being exposed to the Gospel Ireland was a very dark place that fell behind the rest of the world in areas like education and intellectual progress. However after churches became more influential there was a greater drive for progress. Ireland would become known as “An Island of saints and scholars” Thomas Cahill in his book “How the Irish Saved Civilization” argues that because of this change in Irish culture there was an effort to preserve written works from Europe, including Greek and Roman classical works. The fall of the Roman empire was a chaotic time in which much knowledge would be lost, and Europe would be thrust into a dark age. However with the help of Irish libraries the western world was eventually able to rediscover it’s roots.
There are many lessons we can take from Patrick’s life and techniques. But perhaps the two most important are these: a passion for those we seek to serve and an emphasis on understanding the cultures we are trying to evangelize to. With a burning love for God and these two philosophies Patrick was able to change Ireland and shine the light of the Gospel into a dark land.
Immediately before Jesus ascended into heaven he told his followers that they would receive the Holy Spirit and that with the Spirit they would be witnesses of the gospel to the entire world. In the 2000 years since that commission countless theologians and scholars have wrestled with what it means to be a witness and what the emphasis should be when sharing the gospel. While each viewpoints has it’s own strengths and weakness what we must not do is try to decide who is right but rather what is right, and as Christians we have the great fortune of having the Bible which is God’s authoritative word given to us. An examination of the Bible can therefore give us an excellent starting point for conducting missions.
When looking at a the topic of missiology we must first establish a very essential fact. We must define what exactly our mission is. Christ told his followers to: “be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” But what exactly is it that we are to testify to? In Luke 24 Jesus answers this question by explaining to his disciples that all of the scriptures – what we would call the Old Testament – is about him. He then goes on to reveal to them what the entire Old Testament was ultimately pointing to, namely that: “the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” . With this simple proclamation we see what the heart of all missions work should be. To preach Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. (more…)
How was one man able, through his death, to atone for the world? It is because Jesus is not only a man, he is God we read in Colossians 1:19-20 “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” A fallacy we risk at this point would be diminishing the human side of Jesus in favor of his divine side. We must always remember that Jesus was fully human as Colossians reminds us “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”(Colossians 2:9) and experienced a whole range of human feelings and emotions including hunger, thirst, as seen at the crucifixation “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’” (John 19:28), sorrow and anger (Matt 21:12). But what role does Jesus have today? He is preparing a place for us (John 14:3), he is waiting to return and take all Christians to live with him in heaven, and he is continually mediating for us to the Father(1 Tim 2:5).
As the story of the bible unfolds God sets up a covenant with his nation, Israel, in this covenant also known as “The Law” God sets a precedent that sin must be atoned for by blood. In Leviticus 17:11 we read “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” The system God describes in his Law is one of animal sacrifices however these sacrifices in and of themselves are unable to atone for our sins. David said, “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required”. (Psalm 40:6). The animal sacrifices Israel made were given as a foreshadowing of the work Jesus would accomplish on the cross. Hebrews 13:12 tells us “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” The sacrificial system put in place in the Old Testament was to point forward in time to Jesus who, through one death on the cross was able to atone for the sins of the world.
In the beginning God created this world and everything in it, and he did it in perfection as we see in Genesis.
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Genesis 1:31
This is because God is perfect1 and all his works are perfect2. However it was not too last. Our original parents Adam and Eve, shortly after creation, willingly rebelled against God and caused sin to enter this world, their lives, and the lives of all their children3. What we must remember is that even though The Serpent (Who is the devil) tempted Eve, he did not force Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. – Gen 3:6
It was this act of disobedience towards God (What we call sin) that caused our separation from him. However an interesting twist appears in the story as God is delivering what is typically called “The Curse”4 he mentions that Eve will bear children and have offspring. Even at this dark hour in our world’s history God reassures Adam and Eve that life will go on, painful as it may be, and he gives the first promise of Jesus:
he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. – Gen 3:15.
God is so big, and we are so not. He is constantly good, we are constantly horrid. We are gross, He is perfect. We are cheating, thieving, whores; He is pure. We lie to get our way, and His word lasts forever. He raises the dead, we kill our friends to get what we want. The truth is that we are that bad, and He is that good. One could spend an eternity listing how much better God is than man. I suspect that if you’re asking this question you are comparing yourself to something. For instance, you could be comparing yourself to someone you know, you’ve heard of, or someone that you wanted to be. To be honest, everyone that you’re comparing yourself to is just as bad as you. From Jack the Ripper, to Mother Theresa, to Mao, to Ghandi, there is no better man. The only lasting difference between people is who their god is. If they call on the name of Jesus then they are saved. If they call on any other name then they will not be saved, and are going to hell. You see God’s love for you is that while you were still a worthless, ugly, sinner, He died for you (Romans 5:8). He pursued you, and He captured you. No one deserves God’s love, however that is the beauty of grace. See it’s not why God loves us, but the simple fact that He does is enough. There is nothing that we can do to earn His love, there is nothing that we can do to lose it. There is no one who can escape His love, and there is no one who can have more love than any other person. God loves all of us in a way that we do not deserve with the hope that such love will make us jump off of our couches and shout with happiness. Do not contemplate why God loves you, rather, dance like you’ve never danced because He does.