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“But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro…” (Daniel 12:4). 

“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),  then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24:15-22).

OK, I know these apocalyptic words of the prophet Daniel and our soon returning King may have little to do with the crazy commercialization of Christmas (actually these passages are somewhat random selections). I’m not suggesting that retailers are openly in league with the Beast. Nor do I believe that the self-absorbed hoarders that we euphemistically called “shoppers” are all self-pronounced followers of the Antichrist, but I must say that something has gone terribly awry. Although maybe not quite Armageddon, our culture has drifted into bizzare holiday rituals that border on insanity. Black Friday is a perfect example.

So maybe “souped up” shoppers and chaotic malls aren’t clear harbingers of the Second Coming but I still think participants in Black Friday are, at least, masochists. Or maybe they are just demon possessed. At best, subjecting oneself to such carnage in the name of “getting the best deal” or “getting a limited-supply product” must be some type of mental disorder. Yet millions of ravenous consumers dive in to this mosh pit of a Christmas tradition every year. Is this what the holidays have come to? Are we willing to risk life and limb to snatch up gifts (right out of the hands of those weaker and less skilled combatants) we can’t afford to pay for, to give to people we don’t even like? God help us!!! 

What is the most dangerous place in America? Toys R Us on Black Friday! Or maybe it’s Christmas Eve. I can’t remember due to the concussion I suffered when a mob of angry, obsessed, and greedy women ran me over in the video game aisle a few years back. I vaguely remember the frightening vision just before the onslaught – droves of normally demure mothers and grandmothers who had morphed into shopping mutants. With eyes glazed over, hair spiked from the g-forces, and probably juiced up on steroids for peak performance, their ruthless pursuit was not to be encumbered. And I was the unwitting victim – all in the name of an XBox. 

And to think, this year Target started the violence at 4:00 AM. I guess if you want to get trampled while bargain hunting it is best if it’s still dark. Trust me, Friday I was sleeping peacefully while so many put there very lives at stake in order to “beat the crowd.” Or is it get beat by the crowd? Nonetheless, there is no end in sight, no hope for a ceasefire. As a matter of fact, this madness is happening earlier and earlier in the year. Now on-line retailers are moving Black Friday up to Thanksgiving Day.

Before you know it, the tinsel and trinkets that have already replaced the manger scene will adorn malls, shops, and yards all year around. Christmas commercials that whet our appetite for more and more, bigger and bigger, and newer and newer will be incessant. Black Friday will be every Friday. And throngs of visa-wielding, bag-totting, discount-hungry scavengers will rejoice as they make their demented dash to get mauled at the mall. Which, by the way, I think  would make a very ironic place for Jesus to  return.

Merry Christmas -:)!

For proof of the continued frenetic lunacy see:


Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100). 

“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” [Dietrich Bonhoeffer]

As ridiculous as it seems to me to set aside a day to be thankful when every day should be a day of Godward thanksgiving (see Colossians 4:2), I would still like to leverage this holiday to discuss the manifestations of a thankful heart, one filled with gratitude toward our Redeemer. Although He is worthy of our thankfulness and we should in all things seek to glorify Him (1 Peter 4:11), let us be reminded that He is not the most direct beneficiary of our thanksgiving: we are. A real attitude of gratitude transforms us. Let’s see this truth in Psalm 100.

First, thankful people are joyful people. Notice the delight in God that the very first verse presents us. Joyful and glad are the attributes of those who find their satisfaction in a good, loving, and faithful God, those who praise Him for both who He is and what He has done. The attitude of gratitude is not one of mundane, robotic, perfunctory, or obligatory duty. Those with a love-saturated and Spirit-compelled appreciation for their Father and all of who He is are those who find Him as their greatest treasure and pleasure. They have an aura of joy and gladness. They exude their divine satisfaction in God. 

Secondly, those thankful hearts who are most pleased in the presence of their Savior are serving people. A disposition of thanksgiving encourages us to love and live in service to our Lord. This is not because we have to; it is because we want to! When someone gives us the “perfect” gift, are we not motivated by a thankful heart to give back? And if we are truly grateful we do not do so reluctantly but happily. Knowing that God has given us the greatest and most perfect gift in Jesus is our impetus to serve Him with a singing and gleeful demeanor. I like to call this Thanks-living.

Thirdly, those with grateful hearts are praising people. Individually and collectively they let their voices ring out in adulation of their King. They make a joyful noise; they enter His courts with praise. As Paul said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). Plus, there is a definite connection between our sincere pleasure in someone and the way (and how often) we speak about them. I am eternally grateful for my earthly parents (I hope you are as well) and that tends to be reflected in my praise and constant mention of them. The same is true of our heavenly Father and our Savior. When immersed in the magnitude of their grace, mercy, and provision and moved with genuine thanksgiving, how can we keep our mouths shut? Our praise for our Lord should never be stifled or muted; it should always be vociferous and profuse!

Lastly, Godward gratitude goes hand-in-hand with knowing and feeling our security in Him. Verse 3 is a resonating declaration of one who knows and trusts His God. “It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” reeks with confidence that comes not from the flesh but from a God who is, above all, God!. Yet He can be known and experienced. He has made us for Himself and He has bought us with a precious price (Revelation 5:9). He is our great Shepherd (see John 10:11-16) who saves, protects, guides, and provides for us. Truly the heart pleased in Jesus echoes His greatness by professing Him as “the LORD [who is] is good; [whose] steadfast love endures forever, and [who is faithful] to all generations!”

Don’t misunderstand; thankfulness is not the only reason that we are joyful, serving, praising, and secure people. But they are all connected. This is why we rarely see someone with an authentic Godward gratitude not display these traits. John Henry Jowett said, “Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road.” 

Which begs the question: Do we experience and exemplify these fruits of thanksgiving? Do we savor God joyfully, serve Him gladly, praise Him sincerely, and rest securely  in Him? If not, we have somewhere lost our passion for and thanksgiving toward God. And, if not already there, are drifting toward a dangerous complacency. Alister McGrath has rightly said, “The cross is…a powerful challenge to the complacency of the Christian church. The cross continually raises questions for the church, which dares to call itself “Christian” after the one who was crucified and rose again, and yet seems to prefer for the ground of its identity and relevance elsewhere than the crucified Christ.”

So maybe we need to take a serious spiritual journey back to Calvary and rekindle the thanksgiving (and all that it creates in us) that is due our beautiful Savior! For we should “give thanks to [our] God always…because of the grace of God that was given [us] in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:4).

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). 

This verse is so pregnant with meaning there are many angles one could take in explaining its ideas. I, however, would like to reduce it to a simple discussion of the connection between “the word of Christ” and the essence of worship. Given that worship is not an event but a lifestyle (see Romans 12:1-3) we must individually and corporately understand its components. Interestingly, despite the “worship wars” that are raging in local churches today, there is no definitive New Testament description of the proper model or form of worship. Paul here, however, captures a much more important idea; the essence of worship. 

First, it is Christ-centered. When Paul instructs the church at Colossae to let the word of Christ fully dwell (which means “to feel at home”) in them he was talking about something dynamic and transforming. He’s referring to all Biblical revelation of the person, work, character, and mission of Christ and how it impacts all facets of our being, especially our heart and mind. Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). Notice that the word spirit has a small “s”. It is referring to our hearts being engaged in true worship along with our minds (“truth”). There is nothing clinical or sterile about letting the word of Christ consume us.

So, despite our shallow modern tendency to teach and admonish one another with comfortable messages on successful living (some have called this the church’s “poverty of Scripture”), Paul says the essence of worshipful teaching is being saturated in the truth of who Christ is. It is the exhortation of all wisdom regarding our Lord and Savior. Christ, the Alpha and Omega, is the beginning and ending focus of all God-honoring worship. True worship involves the continual renewal and cleansing of the mind so that we might think as Jesus thinks. Worship engages the mind and thus affects our attitudes and behaviors. Although it should engage our emotions, it is not built on pure emotionalism alone. We are to worship Him “in spirit and truth.” Therefore God’s Word concerning Christ is always the foundational principle that guides us in all of our endeavors, including worship. This is why C. H. Spurgeon once quipped, “For every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your business is, when you get to a text, to say ‘Now what is the road to Christ?…I have never yet found a text that had not a road to Christ in it.” 

Secondly, true worship teems with praise for Jesus. Paul is alluding to this when he says, “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” True worship is bathed in the sincere humility of a servant. It is not about show but about subservience to God and service to others. This type of paradigm is fueled by the gift of faith that He has given us to see Him in all of His glory and respond accordingly. True worship is derived from the ongoing perspective of God’s underserved mercy towards us. A sense of His greatness and goodness must be the prompter of a transformed existence of perpetual reverence towards Him. The writer of Hebrews said, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (12:28). Thankful hearts are evidence that we richly understand, embrace, and adore Jesus in all fullness!

Thirdly, Christ-saturated worship is not limited to a set time or place. What Paul describes here can happen alone or when you and your family fellowship because, “…where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). Why? Because worship is not an event but a perpetual act. It is part and parcel of who we are in Him. It is the daily transformation of a life, moment by moment, spent honoring Him with our hearts, heads, and hands of Christ-exalting service. Let’s not think that worship as just an experience or a church service (or even a Christian concert) but, instead, a lifestyle that projects the glory that He is so worthy of. It is a holy, servant-oriented, and love-saturated expression of His greatness and beauty. And, in an encouraging way, this kind of true worship is but a precursor to an eternity of adoring Him. Listen to John describe the scene of never-ending worship:

“Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Revelation 4:9-11).

Are we ready for this kind of worship? For those “in Christ”,  this is our destiny. And, if we  are not experiencing some expression of this type of Christ-honoring, Christ-centered adoration, today is the day to ask Him to give us a heart and life that reflects his infinite worth! Today is the day to start practicing what we will spend all eternity doing – worshiping the Word, Jesus (John 1:1).

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). 

How is one saved? This question is not only essential to our own eternal destiny but it is extremely relevant given the “church’s” tendency towards the use of worldly methods to facilitate the gospel message. Ephesians 2:8-9 spells it out clearly and confirms Paul’s sentiments that the Gospel, not us or our methods, is the power of God for salvation: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Therefore, we must be careful not attempt to replace or supplement the God-compelled process of regeneration. 

This begs the question: Have we begun to think that we can replace the power of the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit with devices, programs, entertaining music, comedy, technology, and crafty oratory? Paul’s admonition to the church at Thessalonica is well worth believing and heeding: “…because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…” (1 Thessalonians 1:5).  In other words, in the end, it is the wooing and convicting of the Holy Spirit, not human persuasion or manipulation, that does the converting work of God in the sinner’s heart. “No one”, Jesus said, “can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). 

For example, although I’m all for the use of technology as a tool to spread the Good News and multiply our usefulness (this post is confirmation of that), we can’t tweet, blog, text, MySpace, Facebook, or YouTube someone into the arms of a loving and redeeming Savior. That is the work of God by the Holy Spirit and through the activating and reviving power of His Word. Peter tells us that “[we are] born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). Again, a question lingers: Do we think we must “help the Spirit along” as if He needs our ingenuity? No, the power is in the pure Word of God administered by the Holy Spirit. They do not need our gimmicks or our manipulation. 

The concept that if we use enough methods or programs, garner enough professions of faith, and throw them against the proverbial wall then some will surely stick is both unscriptural but an affront to the meaning of grace and the Holy Spirit’s pivotal role in true conversion. Man-induced professions of faith (and the use of not-so-subtle coercion and worldly techniques to gain them) are not only meaningless but they point people away for the center of salvation; the Christ of the cross. Paul’s stance was clear: “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17). In other words, how dare we devalue the power of the Word, abdicate the function and unction of the Spirit, and presume the cross doesn’t have enough power on its own by trying to “take matters into our own hands.” 

By now you are waiting on me to make some overly simplistic statement on how we should approach effectual evangelism and soul-winning. So I won’t disappoint! Romans 10:14 says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Please don’t misunderstand. This verse is NOT saying that professional preachers (or the classic church service or “invitation time”) are the only vehicles that God uses for evangelism. Look at the next verse (v. 15):  “And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 

That’s us, folks!! The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) makes this clear. You know, “as you go make disciples.” It is the true followers of Christ (and all of them) who share the Good News – one-on-one with their neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family members – by telling others what the Word says about Jesus (and not, by the way, just sharing “our personal testimony”). Then we let the Holy Spirit do His convicting, drawing, and regenerating work. Through the power of the Word He will point them to Jesus as their only hope. They will see their sin and will flee to the Savior. And I believe this approach, coupled with fervent prayer for the lost, will produce genuine repentance and confession; the kind that transforms lives and makes sinners into children of God (see John 1:9-14). Why? Because we have done our part and then gotten out of the way for God to do His gracious full and final work! And in doing so He gets all the glory for doing what only He can do – save wretched sinners like you and me.

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).

It should not surprise us that after speaking of the harmonizing effects of love Paul now talks about peace; peace that is both internal and communal. Immediately we are reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Paul declares to us here that true peace comes from Christ; it is His peace. He tells the church at Philippi the same thing: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

Jesus extended spiritual peace by reconciling us to God through His gospel: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all [people] … making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). The Apostle Paul further explains: “God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ … was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them…” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Through this plan, Jesus “create[d] in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace” for souls once torn by sin (Ephesians 2:15). He paved the way so that humanity could catch a glimpse of His original plan: relationships, interactions, and lives should exist under the banner of harmony.

Paul implies in Colossians 3:15 that the basis for peace, both internally and externally, is a heart of thanksgiving for our calling in Christ, that He has made peace with God for us. This calling is His drawing and adopting us into His body, His salvation. In other words, Godward thankfulness is created in those that embrace and most fully understand the gravity and amazing nature of what Christ has done for and in us. Those made thankful by this glorious reality are those who experience “the peace of Christ [ruling] in [their] hearts.” And this peace then reverberates throughout the Body of Christ, His church. Clearly, unless one recognizes the reconciling work of Jesus they are not fully capable of experiencing and promoting His peace.

Followers of Christ—those who’ve received God’s gift of peace for their souls—must purvey peace in their families, communities, and among other believers as they serve as ambassadors of the Lord (see 2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Following the Prince of Peace should make us desire to live at peace. We can, in fact, demonstrate this attribute to a world filled with conflict! Kingdom living requires that we be healers and not hurters. As we try to keep the peace and mend relationships, we foreshadow the eternal peace of the eventual and ultimate culmination of our reign with Christ. Heaven’s atmosphere is one of ongoing and complete accord!

Peacemakers never intentionally seek conflict. They pursue peace unless it means contradicting God’s Word or will. The New Testament writers urge Christ-followers to question, Am I, as a disciple of this King of Peace, a nurturer of conciliation in my sphere of influence? Am I perceived by both believers and non-believers as peaceable? (see Hebrews 12:14). If the answer to either question is “no,” he or she may not live in full surrender to our peace-giving Lord. The internal peace from Him “passes all understanding.” That sense of inner harmony generally impacts relationships for the better.

In one of His most encouraging messages, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27). Peacemaking and experiencing the blessing of living in peace demand complete reliance on Him. He is our source. Again, it is His peace that must rule in our hearts and transform our relationships. So, through abiding in Him let us demonstrate Jesus and His kingdom by being surrendered ministers of His gifts. By reflecting the Prince of Peace and His kingdom of eternal peace, we can point a troubled world to the God of reconciliation and we can build up Christ’s body. Paul is speaking to all kingdom believers when he says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” (Colossians 3:15). As we do, we’ll shine as His family, the sons and daughters of God.

*****This is an excerpt from “Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him” (published in 2009).

Never is a good time for a funeral. With this in mind, on one snowy December night in East Tennessee, I found myself attending two. I didn’t look forward to either, but I forced myself to go. I’m so glad that I did because the events of that night created an inescapable and profound memory that changed me. The night played out like a parable: it taught a valuable lesson about life and, more importantly, death. 

As a pastor I had attended my share of funerals. Some were depressing, while others were celebratory. Some of the deceased were young and some were old. Some had professed Christ and some had not. Most of those for whom services were held died of natural causes, but occasional accidents and inexplicable suicides happened, too. Every victim of death left families and legacies behind. Those legacies played out at their final services. 

What I expected as I entered the funeral for a wealthy, prominent heart surgeon was the usual fare: a body, some grieving mourners, a simple sermon, and a quick exit by those made uncomfortable by death’s visit. But this night was unique: a sense of hopelessness and futility defined the evening. Dr. Gates was barely fifty but had achieved great earthly success and wealth. His services were held at an older funeral home. The room was dark and smelled musty. The mourners were primarily his older patients who seemed to know little about him personally. Only a handful of visitors gathered around the room and nearly all of the women wore expensive fur coats, including his ostentatiously dressed wife who was nearly twenty years his junior. The chapel was hauntingly quiet; the air was thick with morbidity. I felt that the atmosphere reeked with sadness and despondency: Jesus didn’t have any part in Dr. Gates’ life. Clearly there was no joy and very little evidence of faithful hope beyond this life. Also, I deeply sensed an overwhelming lack of real love. 

I left that dusty and dank funeral home and drove toward Jenny’s funeral. Jenny was 22 when she died. She had recently graduated college and had become engaged to one of my friends. Having little in the way of material possessions, she had one desire: to serve as a missionary. Jenny never achieved the dream. I felt as dreary as the inclement weather as I braved the icy roads and dodged inexperienced commuters to locate the church where her body lay. Surprisingly, it was easy to find; bright, welcoming lights shone on the pillars of the church’s entrance. The sound of singing streamed out of the building and into the night.

Even though I was running late I stopped the car, paused and prayed. I remember that the prayer was more for me than the deceased or their families. After Dr. Gates’ funeral I needed God’s strength to face the next funeral and the seeming tragedy of such a young life’s end. But as I approached the entrance I realized that the singing I heard was anything but sad. I entered the church to find hundreds of folks crowding each pew standing and praising God in unison. “Victory in Jesus” was their joyous hymn.

The eulogist at the service spoke of Jenny’s faith and ministerial dreams. He spoke of hope, love, glory, and Heaven. He extolled the infinite virtues of her majestic Lord. He confidently proclaimed that our friend was at home with Jesus and all was well. At Jenny’s funeral, joy was such an intense and prevailing theme that it made me jealous of her death. The words of psalmist rang in my ears and resonated in my soul, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). I saw firsthand why Paul felt confident to ask, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”… Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57).

As I drove home that night, the snow stopped and the clouds receded. My mind, however, wasn’t on the weather. My heart explored the lesson taught by two diametrically opposed exits from this earth. The scene at Dr. Gates’ funeral reminded me of Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus. He described those outside of Christ as being “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Jenny’s service, on the other hand, pointed to death not as a sad, pointless end; but as a bridge to glorious, eternal life with Jesus.  “[She] overcame … by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of [her] testimony” (Revelation 12:11a).

Suddenly things became crystal clear. While Dr. Gates’ life may have seemed a success based on his financial worth and community standing, Jenny was the real winner. Though she had little of material value, she had Jesus. The testimony of her death trumpeted His truth.

When life’s curtain draws closed, nothing else really matters. Those who have Christ are the only ones who have anything of eternal value. For when our days on this earth reach a conclusion what do we really have to cling to but Him?

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14). 

Paul continues his list of character traits that the new man should put on. The climatic quality is now addressed. It is the crowning jewel, the foundational grace of Christ-likeness. It is love. But the word “love” as it is used Biblically is much richer, deeper, and more profound than the way the world uses, overuses, and abuses the concept. We hear the term spoken of so loosely – we love ice cream, love movies, love sports or it is used as a synonym for lust – that it is easy to miss its true spiritual meaning and significance. God-like love is not even similar to those kinds of superficial “likes” and that is why the Greeks used at least four different words to describe idea.

The Greek word used here is agape and is used to describe God-like love that demonstrates sacrificial, gracious, unselfish goodwill and benevolence. This is why the Word can describe God as the embodiment of love (see 1 John 4:16). It is love as revealed in Jesus, seen as divine and selfless, and a model for humanity. It is not eros (erotic), which is sexual or romantic love, philia (philanthropy), which is a brotherly love toward someone we like, or even caritas (charity), which is a love for people in general. Agape is the deepest type of love; it is “true” love. And yet, despite popular opinion, this word does not always connote the idea of “unconditional” love (the excpetion being Gods’ love toward His chosen children).

In Colossians 3:14 we see this God-induced characteristic as “above all” in the sense of its supremacy among Christ-like virtues. Other passages bear this out:

  • “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). 
  • “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). 
  • Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in  this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:8-9). 
  • Martin Luther, I believe correctly, deduced that love was the root or seed that precedes all the other fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness” (Galatians 5:22). 

Again Paul, reminding us of Jesus’ own words, says, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14). Love of God and our fellow-man is the essence of all Christian virtue. When asked by a religious scholar what he must do to inherit eternal life Jesus said, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:26-28). 

And it is in this sense that this true love, “binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Another, and I believe preferred, way to render this phrase is, “that produces maturity (or completeness).” So it seems clear that love is the catalyst for the other virtues listed in Colossians 3:12-13. In other words, without God-like, Christ-imparted love none of these other virtues will become a complete reality in and through us. Certainly their fleshly mimics have no real value. The same thought is found is Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). 

Additionally, this binding function of love may speak to its corporate influence, its role in harmonizing and unifying disparate individuals that make up a local congregation and His universal church. Without love, and the fruit that blossoms from it, there is little hope of coherence and maturity within the localized and universal body of Christ. The church of my childhood used to often conclude our services with a musical benediction that captures this idea nicely. The lyrics are by John Fawcett:  

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above. 

So let us, above all,  love Him with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind, and our neighbor as our self. Let us look to Jesus, the perfect picture of love and draw from His limitless well-spring of selfless, God-exalting, and man-edifying agape. The kind of true, divine love that bears witness to a God of unimaginable grace who, “so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

“…bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13). 

Now that Paul has admonished his readers as the chosen children of God to exemplify compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience he deals with a more difficult subject, one that challenges us all. It is the issue of forgiving those who have wronged us. And that, if we are being real with ourselves, is no easy matter. It is all too common for professing Christians to harbor a bitter spirit towards those who have wounded them and are hard-hearted in denying them the grace and mercy that God has shown us. Paul says that when we put off the clothes of the old man and put on the shining garments of our new creation in Christ we are characterized by a forgiving heart. 

We must understand that from a human perspective forgiving others is extremely difficult. Some misconceptions of what forgiveness is fuel our reticence. To be clear, Biblical forgiving of those who have hurt us does not mean that the offense was not indeed wrong, it does not encourage being vulnerable to continued abuse, it doesn’t mean that we completely forget, nor that we cease to feel pain over the injustice. Just as importantly, forgiving others is not a one-time event but a process. We can’t, therefore, think a desire to sacrificially forgive is of human origin. Be reminded that our model and power for forgiving is Christ Himself and not some self-induced expression of our fleshly willpower.  It just doesn’t work that way. 

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you”, Paul reiterates in Ephesians 4:32. Here again is the  fundamental concept of acting on the basis of  “as He” has done. What does the model of God’s forgiveness in Christ look like? He absorbed all of our sins and offenses and made us liable for them no more, He showered us with mercy (He did not exact revenge for our transgressions), and He decided to extend goodness to us instead of punishment. Christ’s forgiveness was proactive (He took the initiative) and was intended to do more than just reconcile the broken relationship – He restores it! This is clearly a supernatural process and begs the question: Why do we need to understand His forgiveness and rely upon His forgiving power in and through us? Because this kind of graciousness is simply impossible apart from the leadership and energy of the Holy Spirit. We are incapable of Christ-like forgiveness without knowing and drawing from His limitless power of forgiveness and resources to transform us into forgivers of others. 

So for the true follower of Christ there is a direct link between our understanding of God’s forgiveness of us and our obedience in forgiving others. To say it plainly, if we are not compelled by a forgiving God to practice forgiveness to others it probably means that we haven’t really experienced God’s forgiveness or haven’t fully embraced it. Notice Paul’s clear statement here: Those who are forgiven must also be forgivers. This teaching is stronger than a suggestion; it unmistakably represents those who have been bathed in God’s gracious and merciful justification for their sins as those who will image-forth that reality by extending the same type of conciliatory love to those who have injured them.

Jesus made this same connection when He said, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15, NIV). Clearly, God expects the forgiven and aided to pass the blessings on to others. This does not mean that we must earn God’s forgiveness by being forgiving. Instead, when we reflect the forgiveness God first demonstrated to us through Christ, we gain a heightened sense of the benevolence He shows us. For example, the more I, as empowered by Him, forgive and show mercy, the more I grow aware of the gifts that God graciously showers on me. Graciousness to others simultaneously gains for us a greater knowledge and experience of God’s forgiveness in our own lives. 

Our forgiveness of others shows our trust in God’s always righteous justice, models Christ’s giving us eternal good in spite of our total depravity, and reflects a heart surrendered to our infinitely loving Lord. We do well to remember Paul’s admonishment to the church at Rome:

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-21).

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:1-6).

After viewing my newest Facebook profile picture an old (OK, not old, “mature”) friend of mine called my hair “preacher hair”. Another mature friend chimed in with, “You have a PHD, a Preacher Hair Doo.” It looks like I’ve been profiled based upon my profile picture. I feel violated. Worst than that, I feel stereotyped. After all, I would never call myself a preacher and am currently not one. I know my friends will catch my sense of humor here and realize that I’m just trying to make a point (at my own expense). And the point is that we all tend to stereotype others based upon a variety of factors.

A respected woman Bible teacher (and it’s not Joyce Meyer) once told a story about going to a large conference to speak. As she got on the elevator she was uncomfortably standing next to a man with very long hair and rough-looking clothes. She was tempted to move away from him as the door closed (as we are all prone to do when faced with that awkward moment of being only 1 of 2 people in that kind of space). She doubted that he was going to a “Christian” conference but was in hopes that he might. ‘He sure looked like he needed it’, she thought! But much to her humbling surprise she met the man again; as he was being introduced as the keynote speaker at that very conference. She was mortified at her baseless assumption that he was not a follower of Jesus. She later admitted that he had delivered one of the finest messages she had ever heard!

Does this resonate with us? Shouldn’t we all admit that we tend to draw conclusions without merit based upon our own stereotyping or profiling of others? Now really, based upon what we know about John the Baptist – this wild man who lived in the desert, wore only a camel’s hair coat accessorized with a leather belt (not exactly a Rodeo Drive outfit), and eating a simple diet of locusts (yuck) and honey (yum) – would we have been drawn to his simple yet pivotal message of the coming King and kingdom? Would we have had any real interest is accepting a message of repentance from this freakish loner (most of us don’t care much for the command of repentance no matter its source)?

Yet this oddball was the forerunner of Jesus the Messiah (see John 1:23-27). John was the one that introduced the ministry of Jesus by proclaiming that, “…the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:1) and, “Make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23). And, of all the folks that Jesus could have chosen, it was this man who baptized Christ in the river Jordan while apologizing that, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14). Later Jesus remarkably says of John that, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).

But, then again, it makes sense that God would have chosen such an unorthodox man for such an honor: Jesus was Himself wholly unique and primarily came for those outside of the mainstream of society (and particularly the mainstream religious culture). “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” He said in Luke 4:18, “because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” 

So let’s be careful that we don’t presume too much about folks based upon appearance or dress or social status or education. John the Baptist reminds us that God’s kingdom and power cross-sects such externals. God may well be working in and using those we negatively stereotype for something far greater than we can imagine. For even our Savior Himself was described by the prophet Isaiah as, “a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:2-3).

Which reminds me of some of the lyrics from Todd Agnew’s  insightful and convicting song “My Jesus”:

Who is this that you follow
This picture of the American dream
If Jesus was here would you walk right by on the other side or fall down and worship at His holy feet

Pretty blue eyes and curly brown hair and a clear complexion
Is how you see Him as He dies for Your sins
But the Word says He was battered and scarred
Or did you miss that part
Sometimes I doubt we’d recognize Him

Cause my Jesus bled and died
He spent His time with thieves and the least of these
He loved the poor and accosted the comfortable
So which one do you want to be?

Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church
The blood and dirt on His feet would stain the carpet
But He reaches for the hurting and despised the proud
I think He’d prefer Beale St. to the stained glass crowd
And I know that He can hear me if I cry out loud

I want to be like my Jesus!
I want to be like my Jesus!

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