Reconciliation

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. 

Colossians 1:19-23a (NIV)

Reconciliation is defined as “the restoration of friendly relations.” After the Civil War in the United States, the northern and southern states had to reconcile. Friendly relations were required if the nation was going to heal and move forward as a productive country on the world’s stage. Reconciliation can also be necessary among family members. When individuals become estranged from one another, there is a need to reconcile with one another for the family to become whole once again. Unreconciled relationships create a gap among people. It is as if there is a hole in the spirit of the person who has not been reconciled.

In his comments to the Colossian believers, Paul speaks of reconciliation with God. The reason for the need to reconcile is because our thoughts and behaviors stand often in opposition to the love of God. God is love so anything which cannot abide within that love is unable to exist in God’s realm. God chose to create a way for us to be reconciled with God. Jesus Christ is the means for reconciliation to occur. God decided to fully live among humanity in Jesus. At the right time Jesus became the reconciler by physically dying on the cross. He stood in for us, bearing our sinful thoughts and behaviors on his body. By doing this, he made us holy, free and innocent in the sight of God. Our thoughts and behaviors are now compatible with the pure love of God.

Now having been made compatible with God and fully reconciled in relationship, Paul says we are to continue in believing Jesus has made this so. He tells us to be unmoved from the hope found in this good news. Where we once were alienated from God, we now live in full relationship. This is the truth of the gospel and this truth gives us hope.

Fan the Flame

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

2 Timothy 1:6-10 (NIV)

There are people who thrive being in front of groups to speak or perform. Others are extremely uncomfortable being in front of groups. One factor which can influence the comfort level of the individual is the type and size of the group. Another factor of influence can be the purpose or subject matter. The individual’s personality type may increase or decrease the comfort. A person’s sense of skill or confidence in knowledge impacts how he/she responds to being in front. All of these factors combined in varying degrees influence an individual’s willingness to be in front of others.

In what we read today, Paul is writing a letter to one of his disciples, Timothy. He is sharing words intended to build up Timothy in his efforts to share the gospel. A reminder to fan the flame which God has placed in Timothy begins this section of the letter. The flame is a gift of the Spirit which gives power, love and self-discipline. Through the gift, shame in sharing the story of the gospel is dispelled. The story of being saved and led to a holy life through God’s purpose and grace as revealed by Jesus Christ is what Paul tells Timothy to share.

Like Timothy, we can benefit from a similar pep talk at various times. We can become timid or lose our energy in sharing our gospel story. During these times, Paul’s words reminding us of the importance in fanning the flame in us and the power, love and self-discipline which we receive from the Spirit may assist us in sharing before others. Participating in the corporate worship of the Lord can fan the flame. Reading Scripture and being in fellowship with other believers can fan the flame. Time in prayer and consultation with the Lord can remind us of the gifts of the Spirit which we possess. Together this can assist us when we might become uncomfortable or ashamed to share our gospel story with others.

No Shame

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17 (NIV)

There are numerous aspects of life which can cause people to feel ashamed. Mistakes which we make can bring a sense of shame into our lives. The actions of a relative or friend can bring shame to us. Our perceptions of ourselves can lead us to feel ashamed. In specific situations this shame may be warranted. Often the shame is more embarrassment than actualized shame. No matter the cause or legitimacy of our being ashamed, the feeling is real. We may choose to avoid people and/or situations due to our sense of shame.

In today’s reading, we hear Paul make the statement that he is not ashamed of the gospel, or good news. Others have stated that the good news of Jesus’s death on a cross and resurrection was foolish and nonsense. Those who indicated they believed in the salvation found in these events were often labeled as ignorant, idiots, and even blasphemers. So Paul indicating he was not ashamed and saw the message of the good news as a sign of God’s power is a bold statement. Paul sees the gospel as a revelation of God’s righteousness being displayed and imparted upon those who believe in it.

Are you ashamed of the gospel? After all, there is sketchy logic to support the claims of the good news. Individuals today still reject this news and take a dim view of those who believe in it. Do you attempt to excuse away your belief in Jesus’s death and resurrection when others question you or do you make a bold statement as Paul does here? Some say that religion or faith should not be discussed in public settings, maybe not even in private ones. How often is this used to avoid having to declare belief in God and God’s saving actions? Like Paul, we need to stand and boldly proclaim our belief in the gospel without any sense of shame.

Travel Light

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Mark 6:6b-13 (NIV)

There are a variety of ways people pack when going on a trip. If it is a business trip a person must pack business attire with a few casual outfits included. Packing for a vacation requires a much different type of clothing. Destination also impacts the choice of apparel as well. The amount of items packed varies among individuals. Mode of transportation will influence the number and weight of luggage chosen. Duration of stay is a variable in packing decisions. I usually monitor the weather forecast in the community to which I am traveling so I know the type of clothing to pack. I always take extra clothes in case I get something on what I plan to wear or if there is a delay with my return.

Jesus gives packing instructions to the Twelve disciples who he is sending to other villages. In Mark’s account, Jesus is traveling from village to village. He calls the Twelve and gives them authority to teach and heal. The Twelve are told to skip packing altogether. They are not to even take along a spare shirt. Jesus wants them to rely on the hospitality of a stranger. The disciples are vulnerable and dependent which would humble them. This would project a non-threatening image to the people. Such an image encourages open dialogue. Jesus tells the Twelve that if they encounter resistance, they are to leave that village behind and forget about it. Mark records that the disciples experienced much success.

A lesson can be learned from this story regarding how we are to approach others with the Gospel. We are to be humble and vulnerable in our approach. Vulnerability encourages openness since there is no sense of threat. Another important point is leaving baggage behind. We may be tempted to bring along all the trappings of our religious backgrounds. These can be overwhelming to those who we are approaching and can deter them from listening to us. The other message Jesus communicates here is not taking rejection personally but instead we are to move on and no longer be concerned about the one who rejects us. The Lord will choose what the next step is for them.

The Lord sends you, remember this lesson as you prepare to go.

Armor of God

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:10-17 (NIV)

Football players experience powerful hits to their bodies during a game. These hits come from other players, from their attempts to prevent opponents from advancing, and from hitting the ground in the course of play. Because of all of this hitting, protective gear has been developed to reduce injury to the player’s body. Advancements in the development of this gear have reduced injury and lasting damage but there still is a need for more improvements in this area. Helmets, shoulder pads, leg pads and specialized pads all play an important role in protecting the player.

Paul talks about the importance of protection in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus. He speaks to them about putting on the armor of God. Often when we hear about armor, we think in terms of battle and offensive attack. Paul is not intending an offensive here but rather a defensive stance. He describes God’s armor as the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes/sandals of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. It is important to note that all of these items find their origins with God. None of the armor pieces are forged by human effort but are gifts from God. They are designed to protect the wearer from a spiritual attack, not an attack by humans. The enemy is a spiritual force, humans are not the enemy.

Like a football player, we cannot expect to wage a battle without proper protection. The belt of truth holds us together. When truth surrounds us, we have stability. Christ has given to us the righteousness which we use as our breastplate. This righteousness protects our heart from being attacked. The footwear which provides a firm foundation for us is found in the good news of Scripture. Our faith in the Lord allows us to fend off the attacks aimed at us. The knowledge that we are saved from a sinful nature defends our minds and thoughts from becoming negative. Through the Spirit, we are able to slice through our bindings and the confusion of the world.

Every day put on the armor given to you by the God who loves you beyond comparison. When you do, your defense against all which is evil will be strengthened in ways only possible with our Lord.

Facing These Times

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a]

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:7-19 (NIV)

Life can be difficult at various times. There are times when a person can wonder if the effort is worth it. Many who are engaged in work which benefits others can easily become discouraged. Challenges can seem to abound and meaningful results can seem impossible to obtain. Health care workers, teachers, pastors, non-profit workers, emergency responders and other service workers can relate many stories of times when they have felt like throwing up their arms and walking away.

In Peter’s letter, he writes about the end and about the experiences of those working to live out the Gospel through their lives. First, Peter tells the followers that they should use prayer to prepare themselves for the coming end. The early Christians lived in great anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth. There was an urgency in their understanding of the timing. Since they were certain this fulfillment would occur in their lifetime, they were anxious about being prepared. Peter instructs there to use prayer to assist them in being prepared.

Peter then turns to the suffering which they have been experiencing while doing the work of the Gospel. The believers had been engaging in acts of compassion as a demonstration of the love encompassed in the Gospel. They had also been sharing the story of the Gospel and what it is about with others. While engaging in these actions, they experienced ridicule, condemnation, and even physical harm. Peter informs them that this suffering aligns them with the sufferings of Christ. Their suffering witnesses to their bearing of the name of Christ.

Peter’s words spoke to the early Christians who felt like foreigners in this world but they also speak to us today as well. We currently live in very turbulent times once again. Uncertainty quickly overcomes us due to events and conditions throughout the world. We, like those who Peter wrote to, can feel unprepared and anxious. Peter’s advice can benefit us, pray. Prayer can calm our souls and bring us comfort. Prayer can open to us ways to prepare for what is ahead, even if we have no idea what that is or when it might happen.

The other perspective which Peter presents, the concept of enduring suffering for bearing Christ’s name, provides guidance to us. Whenever we serve others or share our experience with the Gospel, we open ourselves to frustration, alienation, ridicule and judgment. Remembering that Christ understands suffering for God since he suffered for this reason, we can find strength to continue the work. Our purpose becomes higher than earthly benefits. By demonstrating the love found in the Gospel through our words, work, and actions, we can witness to others and build them up in life.