Sunday, February 08, 2009

Monday of Septuagesima Sunday - Mark 6:7-13

Note: This will be the last blog I post on this site. Daily Bread is moving to it's new site at:

In this passage Jesus the Great Master sends out His disciples, in particular the 12, to go and be His presence in the world. Jesus knows that in His human form He is limited in space: He can only be in one place at a time. He also knows that His time is limited, for He knows the terrible mission He is on. Therefore, in keeping with the Kingdom parables He tells, He insures that His Kingdom will begin to grow and spread.

Because Jesus is God we may assume that He could just wave His hand and the work of spreading His Kingdom would happen automatically. But because He is also man, He has chosen to extend His Kingdom through His disciples and not apart from them. This is part of the meaning of the Incarnation: that Jesus Christ is redeeming mankind not apart from but through those He has come to redeem. Because the Church is the Body of Christ here on earth and because He has commissioned us to do the things He did while here on earth, we have a sacred ministry to spread His Kingdom.

There are 3 basic tasks that Jesus gives to the apostles. First, they are to proclaim the Kingdom of God - that it is here because King Jesus is here. Second, they are to proclaim the need for repentance because the King has come in judgment and in mercy: mercy for the penitent, but judgment for the impenitent. Third, the disciples are to heal the sick, including the spiritually sick.

Whenever we read such passages we are often distracted from the Master’s call on our lives by the specific details of the 1st century Israel setting. It would be easy to get caught up in trying to determine why the disciples were not to take anything for the journey except a staff and sandals. We could delve into the cultural implications of having the dust shaken off in testimony against someone. And sometimes these details are very helpful in understanding exactly what’s going on.

Other times, they have the effect of short-circuiting our ability to hear what Jesus Christ is telling us in America in the 21st century. “But I’m not an itinerant preacher! I don’t have a tunic or money belt or bag, and my last pair of Birkenstock’s wore out and I haven’t had a chance to replace them yet!”

The details of the first century situation are sometimes remote and sometimes not directly applicable. But we shouldn’t allow them to obscure the abiding spiritual principles of the Kingdom which are meant for us.

Are we supposed to go out, taking nothing but a staff and sandals? No.

But are we supposed to go out? Absolutely!

Are we supposed to go out 2 by 2 and risk being mistaken for Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Not necessarily, and yet there may be wisdom in it.

Are we supposed to have the ability to cast out demons
and heal the sick?

Most of us won’t.

Then what are we supposed to do?

Because we have confirmation from other passages of Scripture, we do know that we have been commanded to go to all the nations and make disciples. We know that we have an obligation to be ready in season and out of season to proclaim Jesus Christ. We are commanded to be prophets and proclaim Jesus Christ and His kingdom and the need for repentance. And we are to offer to heal the souls and minds and bodies of those around us using whatever technology and abilities God has given us.

Sometimes we use the cloak of the 1st century strangeness to absolve us of our obligation to obey our Master. In reading such passages, therefore, it is important to avoid 2 errors. First, don’t allow confusion over 1st century cultural details to cloud God’s abiding commandments to you. In other words, if you can’t figure out how staffs, bags, bread, copper, money belts, and sandals are relevant to you, it doesn’t absolve you from the task of being a prophet and evangelist.

Second, don’t attempt to slavishly follow every detail of the 1st century situation as if it is eternally normative. Just as you are not required to go about wearing a tunic and sandals and carrying a staff and money belt, you are unlikely to ever cast out a demon in your life. You are not required to give up your job and go out in pairs to knock on houses and act as itinerant evangelists. But you do have an obligation to tell others about Jesus Christ, to tell them that they need to repent, and to offer what help in their lives you can.

Having a better understanding of such passages, what are we waiting for? We have no excuse to not go out today and proclaim Jesus Christ and His Kingdom!

Prayer: Thank You, Father, that through Your Son, Jesus Christ, You have called me to Yourself and have sent me out to act as a minister of Your Kingdom in this world. Give me all that I need to tell others about Your Son and His Kingdom and about the need for repentance from sins, and to bring Your saving and healing grace to all You have sent me to. Amen.

Point for Meditation:

Do you believe that God has called you, specifically, to be His prophet and evangelist? What are some ways, in your cultural situation, that God is calling you to act more faithfully as a prophet and evangelist?

Resolution: I resolve to consider one way that God is calling me to proclaim His Son and His kingdom in my life. If God is leading me to act on this call today, I resolve to stand ready and obey when I hear His commandment to go.

© 2009 Fr. Charles Erlandson

Friday, February 06, 2009

Saturday of Epiphany 4 - Colossians 3:18-4:18

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17.)

“And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23.)

Here is the ultimate goal for every Christian and the end of true Christian discipleship: to do everything for the Lord Jesus Christ.

All of the other commandments, all of the things God has commanded us not to do and all of the things He has commanded us that we should do, are all summed up in this: do everything for the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, since love is the summary of the Law, Paul’s commandments here are just another way of saying “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.”

Let’s be clear about this: the goal is the complete annihilation of the Old Man and the complete putting on of the New Man. No matter how difficult and unlikely this may seem, let’s at least be clear about the goal.

I find that in whatever we set our hearts and minds to, it’s important to have a goal to shoot for. When I was younger just about my only concrete goal was to break the world’s record in the mile. I discovered in second grade that I was fast, especially at long distances, compared to my peers. So I began to dream of breaking the world’s record in the mile. My dad had been a runner in college, and my hero growing up was Jim Ryun. Starting in 2nd grade, I kept an annual record of my time in the mile and charted my progress. 8:00 in second grade, 7:43 in 4th grade, 7:21 in 5th grade, 6:41 in 7th grade.

Beginning in 7th grade, I ran cross-country every year, and beginning in 9th grade I began running track as well. In the summer before 10th grade I got myself up early every day to bike 2 miles to cross-country practice and run. Every day of every practice, I ran hard. Whenever we ran quarter or half miles to build up speed, I always tried to run with the fastest group, and I gave it my all, while those who were my speed at the meets always took it easier. In 11th grade I ran 250+ miles in a month. I’d run for an hour or more after school, and then come back home and run 2-4 miles in the evening as well. One day in practice, after following the team captain, Mike Clidas, and getting lost, I ran somewhere between 16 and 20 miles with only one stop halfway through for a little water.

I did all these things because of my one big goal. After realizing that I wasn’t getting that much faster and that “Hey, I’m killing myself running all these miles!” I gave up running after my junior year of high school.

In retrospect, two things amaze me. First, that I ever had that much energy in my life! Second, to what great lengths I went in order to achieve a goal that didn’t even survive through high school and has been dead for 31 years now.

It’s funny, but from 2nd grade through 11th grade, and even for several years beyond, I thought of myself as a runner. That’s who I was. Even as recently as a few years ago I still had occasional dreams that I had the energy again to run effortlessly. Running was my identity. I hung out with other runners. I spent my time running. My goal was to be the best runner I could be, and so I gladly gave up a lot of other things that in retrospect I probably should have gotten involved in.

All of that is just a much lesser version of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Our identity is that we are Jesus Christ. We are Christians, and our life is hidden in Christ. For us, to live is Christ. This is who we are and who we’re supposed to be. If we don’t at least acknowledge this as our goal, then we will never do a very good job of reaching for it.

But how many Christians that you know have as their highest goal to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ and to do everything in life for Him? This is supposed to be the goal of every Christian, but how many of us can say that it is? Let’s be clear: no matter how imperfectly we do this, our goal should be to do all things for Jesus Christ.

The only way I know to do this is to dedicate myself to the lifelong process of discipleship within the life of a local church. It won’t happen all at once, but it won’t happen at all if you don’t dedicate yourself intentionally to seeking Jesus Christ and doing all things for Him. It won’t happen, either, if you try to do it all by yourself.

As I reflect upon my spiritual growth and my growth in trying to do all things for Jesus Christ, it occurs to me that I’ve had a lot of help along the way. Every time I’ve perceptibly moved forward in giving more of my life to Christ, it’s happened in the context of a group of dedicated Christians.

The process of wanting to do all things for Jesus Christ began, for me, in the context of a Christian home with dedicated Christian parents who took me to church every Sunday and had family devotions at home and gave me a Christian worldview. Things moved forward around the time of my baptism in ninth grade when my dad suggested I start reading the Bible every day, and that’s been my goal ever since. I learned to study the Bible, and not just read it in a meandering way, in my senior year of high school when my Sunday school teacher asked me to join him for a study of Philippians. Studying the Bible in slow motion, verse by verse and section by section, was a revelation to me.

In college, I was supported by being a part of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, and after college I became part of a church that taught me to apply Christ and a Christian worldview to all areas of my life, including my intellect. The fact that this was done in the context of a vibrant church where many people were zealous for the Lord and to learn how to apply their faith to their culture – and had fun doing it – was truly a formative time in my life.

I have had many other godly examples and mentors. After all this, I think this Christianity thing is finally catching on.

Unfortunately, many Christians simply stop growing. Many are only partially formed as Christians to begin with, and then at some point they stop growing all together. I don’t know why we think that Sunday school is good for kids but that continued Christian education isn’t necessary for adults. I’m amazed at how many invitations to Sunday school classes, Bible studies, small groups, worship services, etc. Christian adults routinely spurn. Through such means, and others, God is offering us an opportunity to learn together to how to do all things to Jesus Christ.

But maybe that’s just it. Maybe some of don’t really want to do all things for Jesus Christ. Maybe if we come into contact with other Christians who are zealous to teach and to learn we know that we’ll be confronted with our “issues.” That’s exactly right. But remember that it is God who is confronting you, so that you can be His true disciple, learning to do all things for Him.
How often we use as an excuse for not entering more deeply into discipleship the very fact that we don’t really want to be disciples!

Let’s be clear one last time: Jesus Christ Himself – not Fr. Charles or your pastor or your parents or friends – is calling you to do all things for Him. You can resist His call on your life, but at least be clear about who and what it is that you are rejecting.

Your motivation for life, your goal in life, should be to do all things for Jesus Christ: to have Him in all of your thoughts; to make all of the moral decisions in life based on Him; to think about the world and your life from His perspective; to think His thought after Him; to act as He would act; and to offer up your entire life to Him as a whole burnt offering. Whatever your job in life, whatever your circumstance, however difficult the things in life may be: do all things as to the Lord.

However imperfectly you may be doing this in life, begin by acknowledging the call of your Master on your life: “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23.)

Prayer: Father, I ask for Your grace in my life to give me a desire to do all things for my Lord Jesus Christ. Renew me in His image, and teach me to love You with all my heart and all my soul and all my mind, that I may prove a faithful disciple of my Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Point for Meditation:

1. What means of discipleship is God offering you that you should be accepting?
2. Reflect on your life. What means has God used to make you a disciple of Jesus Christ? Give thanks to God for each one of these people or things.
3. Remember a time in your life when you had a big goal that you dedicated yourself to. Compare this dedication to your dedication to doing all things for Jesus Christ. Use this as a motivation to seek Him more zealously.

Resolution: I resolve to honestly examine my life today. How much have I desired to do all things for Jesus Christ?

© 2009 Fr. Charles Erlandson

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Friday of Epiphany 4 - Colossians 3:12-17

St. Paul’s sustained teaching through chapters 2 and 3 has been that because we are buried and raised with Christ in baptism, we are to keep our mind on things in heaven by taking off the Old Man and putting on the New Man which is Jesus Christ. The work that God began in baptism, and often before baptism, is a work that we must participate in by daily taking off the Old Man and putting on the New Man. In verses 8-10 of chapter 3 Paul tells us some ways to take off the Old Man, and in verses 12-17 he tells us some ways to put on the New Man.

This putting on the New Man is nothing less than putting on Jesus Christ Himself by faithfully receiving His grace. By doing these things, therefore, we will be able to keep our mind on things in heaven because by doing them we will in fact by participating the life of Jesus Christ.

It’s a good thing to keep in our hearts at all times Paul’s list of ways to put on Jesus Christ. It should be our practice to regularly meditate on such lists. Here is Paul’s list:

1. compassion and kindness
2. lowliness and meekness
3. longsuffering and forbearing one another
4. forgiving one another
5. love
6. peace
7. giving thanks
8. letting the Word of Christ dwell among you richly
9. teaching and admonishing one another
10. singing with grace in your heart to the Lord

Here is a full course agape feast for the soul. Since the last of these sometimes don’t get as much attention as the first, I’ll spend some time with them.

At the heart of the last 4 of these ways of putting on Jesus Christ is the Word of God. Our faithful response to the Word of God is, in large part, how these other means of putting on Christ will take place in our lives. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.”

This is to be our starting point: the Word of God. The Word of God is to dwell among us richly. Writing a letter to an entire church, as St. Paul is doing, and remembering his teaching on teaching and church authority from his pastoral letters, we must always remember that our hearing and obeying the Word of God is a corporate task. Hearing and obeying the Word of God happens in the life of the Church. It is not primarily an individual responsibility but a corporate one.

We were called in one body to peace (verse 15), not just as individuals. It might help us to remember as well that in the 1st century, only the local Church as a whole would have had the Bible. Where, then, would the Colossians go to hear the Word of God, to teach and be taught, and to sing spirituals songs that edify? In the Church, of course!

For Christians to put on Jesus Christ, we must faithfully hear the Word of God as an entire Church, not just as random individuals going our own way. Paul assumes that this hearing of the Word is a corporate task because only if we have heard and shared the Word together will be able to teach and admonish one another. If I’m reading the Bible in the privacy of my own home, shunning all other teachers, and then I come to the Church and begin telling people what God has told me, my reception my rightfully be a little icy.

But what if we read the Scriptures together, as both the Jews and the early Christians did? What if we read them together so deeply and wisely that God equipped us by His Spirit to teach and admonish one another? Sadly, I don’t think that happens at many churches. In a lot of churches, even churches that cherish the Word of God, it goes in one ear of Christians and out the other. We don’t really expect that someone would dare to share its wisdom with us.

In other churches, the teaching is all self-directed. I read the Bible myself, determine its meaning myself, and apply it to myself. Such an individualistic way of reading the Bible is not new. It began after the time of the Enlightenment and really even after that, in the nineteenth century when Bibles and literacy were much more widespread.

What if a church really did make every effort to let the Word dwell among them richly? I can’t help but think that there is a parallel between the Word (meaning the Bible) dwelling among us here in Colossians and the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us of (John 1:14.) If we want to put on Jesus Christ, then let His Word dwell richly among you.

If we do this, then Jesus Himself, the Great Teacher and Master, will teach us. By letting the Word of God dwell richly among us, God will give His Son to us and equip us to teach and be taught, to admonish and be admonished. God is not usually in the business of speaking directly to men: instead, He comes most commonly through His Word and through His messengers. And when we hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of God together, amazing things begin to happen. Because we learn to hear God’s voice, He teaches us. And when He teaches us, we learn to teach others. And when we teach and admonish others, the work of disciplehip, which is the work of putting on Jesus Christ (a.k.a. “putting on the New Man), is done.

Something else amazing happens. We begin to speak to each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Some commentators believe Paul is referring to the liturgical practices of the early church, and that’s what makes the most sense in this passage, especially given the corporate nature of the Psalms.

But it strikes me that perhaps our lives are to be characterized by an ever-present joy and spontaneous overflowing of thanksgiving that singing is never far from our hearts of lips. Even if such singing doesn’t take the outward form of song, it should be audible in our lives in a thousand other ways. The tender mercy we manifest, the bearing with one another, and the humility we live out should all be done with thanksgiving and singing in our hearts because whenever we do these things in the name of Christ, we are putting Him, the New Man, on.

Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, and it will enrich your lives and the lives of the saints. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Prayer: Father, make Your Word dwell in us richly in all wisdom that we may be equipped to teach and admonish one another, sing with grace in our hearts, and do all things in the name of Jesus Christ with thanksgiving. Amen.

Resolution and Point for Meditation: Slowly meditate on each of these ways of putting on Jesus Christ and what each means. Then slowly meditate on how God is calling you to put each into effect in your life. This could be done in one long meditation or would make a great way to have a sustained meditation throughout the day.

© 2009 Fr. Charles Erlandson

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Thursday of Epiphany 4 - Colossians 2:20-3:11

Sometimes you think you know someone. And then you stumble upon their CD collection or, in my case, my record collection. Though I’ve been branching out a lot in recent years, if you looked at my record collection you might come away with the idea that it revolves around two poles: Baroque classical music of the 17th century and psychedelic music from the 1960s.

The most valuable record in my record collection is an album by the psychedelic band The 13th Floor Elevators titled Easter Everywhere. And “Easter Everywhere” is a good summary of what St. Paul teaches in Colossians 3:1-4 when he writes that since you were raised with Christ you should seek those things which are above, where Christ is sitting on the right hand of God. Because you have died, and your life is hidden in Christ, Christians should remember that Easter is indeed everywhere for them.

Easter is not just an idea, not just a media event, not just a holiday from work and school. It’s a holy day, a holy season, and a holy reality made holy only by the presence of Jesus Christ.
No Jesus Christ: no Easter.

But where Jesus Christ is, there is the kingdom of heaven, and there we find Easter.

And the work of Jesus Christ is so vast, so cosmic in scope and power, that the consequences of His death and resurrection have transformed the universe forever. And therere, Easter is everywhere because the power of Jesus Christ is everywhere.

Easter in Jerusalem. Easter in Hot Springs. Easter in the Andromeda galaxy.

Easter 2000 years ago. Easter today. Easter up in heaven.

Easter at Christmas. Easter during Epiphany. Easter even during Lent.

Easter Everywhere!

Some people are concerned most about the past, some the present, and some the future. If we have too much of a focus on any of these aspects of time, however, we risk an unhealthy distortion. Too much of the past, and you run the risk of nostalgia and not really living anymore. Too much of the present and you become a giant, blind appetite with no direction. Too much of the future and the present stands still and atrophies.

As humans, we need all 3 to see God and live in His kingdom, and time is perhaps a reflection of the Trinity in which the past, the present, and the future all together make up a trinity of one entity called Time. God, and therefore Easter, is in each of these 3: past, present, and future.

As Christians we all know that Jesus Christ truly died on the Cross on Good Friday, in the past. We know that Christ’s resurrection is a historical fact. We also look forward to Easter in the future, to the complete fulfillment of Easter which is our resurrection and eternal life in heaven. We look forward to the future joys of heaven and our glorification (verse 4), and the final triumph over sin and death – in the future.

But what about the present?

A strange thing about the present: did you know that you’ve already died? You see, you were buried with Christ in baptism (2:12). Baptism is both a funeral and a birth: your old man dies, but at the same time, the New Man is born. You have died with Christ to your self, to your old man, to the ways of the world.

You died! and your new life is hidden in Jesus Christ (3:3.) Already. Right now!

The astounding doctrine taught by St. Paul in Colossians 3 is that Jesus Christ is risen, and you are risen with Him. For the Christian, Easter is always here, because Jesus C is always risen – and you are risen with Him – right now.

Your eternal life has already begun because you have already died and have eternal life in Jesus Christ. St. Paul reminds you that if you are a Christian who has given your life to Jesus Christ, you are already risen with Jesus Christ. Not will be one day – you are risen with Him.

The life of the Christian should be indelibly, indisputably marked by this central fact – a fact that St. Paul talks about more than any other: that Jesus Christ is risen, and you are risen with Him. We should see God reminding us of this truth in every nook and cranny of our existence. It should be reflected in the way we think, speak, and act – that Jesus Christ is risen, and we are risen with Him.

Now I know that you may not feel like Easter. It’s just turned to February, and it’s still cold. I’m not feeling too well today. The fact that Easter is here doesn’t pay my bills; it doesn’t stop my kids from arguing; it doesn’t do your laundry; and it doesn’t take away your arthritis, or weak knees, or heart problems, or chronic fatigue (though one day it will!)

But I also know that when we remember what God has done, for example on Easter Day, we find ways to celebrate and actually feel like it’s Easter and that Christ has risen.

What a shame that Easter is just a day! What a shame that after Easter Day we have to go back to “real” life, as if nothing has happened. After all, that’s what the disciples did: they went back to fishing, as if nothing had happened.

How many of you are content to live the rest of your week without Jesus Christ and His Resurrection? How many of you are content to wait a whole year to worship God at Easter again?
And yet that’s what some of us do!

But what sense does it make to say I was baptized into Christ – and I will live in heaven for all of eternity with Him - but then refuse to live with and for Him here and now? What if I told you some ways that you could remember and live in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ Easter each and every day?

God has left you daily, seasonal, and annual reminders and means of participating in the Resurrection of your Lord. For the Christian, Easter is to be everywhere. And it is. But sometimes in the cloudy winter days of life we can’t see or feel it.

Here is a week of ways to remember Easter – the fact that you are risen with Jesus Christ and should live with Him in joy.

First is the Easter of prayer. Every day – every moment - we can ascend to heaven with Jesus Christ because we have access to boldly come to the throne of grace.

Second is the Easter of the Bible. Every day we can be reminded of not only the fact of our resurrection with Jesus but also how we must live as a result of it.

Third is the Easter of Holy Communion. As often as your church celebrates the Lord’s Supper, you celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord and participate in His Resurrection through His Body and His Blood.

Fourth is the Easter of the Seasons. As we proceed throughout the annual cycle, the seasons themselves teach us about the Resurrection. First comes the Summer of paradise, and then the Fall of man. Fall produces the death of Winter, but in the Spring Easter and the Resurrection come again. Then comes the Summer of heaven. The Church Year also teaches us about the life of Christ, centered on the Resurrection.

Fifth is the Easter of the Plants, closely related to the Easter of the Seasons. Every year we are reminded of death by the disappearance of the plants and the color green. And every year God resurrects them to beautiful, colorful life.

Sixth is the Easter of the Sun. It is a happy coincidence in the English language that “sun” and “Son” are homonyms. The daily resurrection of the life-giving sun should remind us of the eternal Resurrection of the Life-giving Sun.

Seventh is the daily Easter of Awaking. Every night we ritually die, when we fall asleep. In the Bible to “fall asleep” is even a euphemism for dying. But every morning we are ritually resurrected. What a wonderful opportunity every day to remember our Resurrection and give thanks!

Easter began 2000 years ago at the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, but it will continue forever in heaven, when we are all resurrected in our bodies.

And Easter is here today, because the risen Jesus Christ is here today.

Easter, for Christians, is therefore Everywhere.

Prayer: O God, who for our redemption gave Your only-begotten Son to the death of the Cross and by His glorious Resurrection has delivered us from the power of our enemy; grant us so to die daily from sin that we may live forever more with Him in the joy of the Resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Resolution and Point for Meditation: I resolve to make use of one of the 7 ways of remembering Easter and to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ today.

© 2009 Fr. Charles Erlandson

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Wednesday of Epiphany 4 - Colossians 2:6-19

I don’t think we really understand the magnitude of this New Life that we have in Jesus Christ. Growing up, sometimes it’s easy to hear about how to be a Christian and to even continue going to church and praying and reading our Bibles, and yet still the spiritual truth of our life in Christ is remote and weak.

But some of the things St. Paul says here in Colossians 2 help me to understand how dramatic and powerful my life in Christ really is – even when I don’t acknowledge it to be.

We have received Jesus Christ through baptism and faith. Just as the Israelites were required to be circumcised in order to be brought into covenant with God and were also required to have faith (the life of Abraham demonstrates both), so we are brought into a New Life with Jesus Christ in baptism and through faith. How these 2 work together would require more of a theological treatise than I have time to offer.

But Paul does say a few things we should notice. First, we are buried with Jesus Christ in our baptism (verse 12.) As we are buried with Him in baptism, God puts off the body of sins of the flesh, a cleansing that is represented by the waters of baptism. But sometimes we forget that in baptism we are also raised with Jesus Christ through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead (verse 12.)

Paul’s point is that once we were dead but now we have been resurrected to the New Life in Jesus Christ. Having been baptized, and having faith, you are complete in Him, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead (verse 9.)

But even having said this, it would be too easy to go on with the rest of my day today as if nothing extraordinary had happened.

But something extraordinary has happened!

Take a closer look at what Baptism into Christ makes us heirs of and what union with Christ through faith actually gives us.

When Jesus died on the Cross (and we died with Him), Jesus took away the condemnation and judgment we faced under the Law. We are all sinners and guilty of breaking God’s holy Law and spitting in His holy Face. For this, we should die.

But on the Cross, Jesus erased or tore up the handwriting of requirements, or the accusation of the Law, against us. No, He did more than this – Jesus took this certificate of death and nailed it to the Cross, putting it to death instead of us. Pontius Pilate had the Roman soldiers nail a sign to the Cross saying that Jesus was the King of the Jews. But Jesus nailed the condemnation of the Law, sin, and death, to the Cross. Maybe that’s why Jesus the carpenter spent all those years learning His trade from His father Joseph: so He could know how to nail the condemnation of the Law to the Cross!

Jesus did more than this at the Cross, though. At the Cross, Jesus disarmed the Evil Empire, the armies of Satan. Sometimes, in our hurry to find the evil that still lives on earth, we forget that Jesus defeated Satan once and for all at the Cross. Jesus disarmed the principalities and powers (verse 15), that is, He stripped Satan and His minions of their weapons and power, and whooped them.

At the moment of the Cross, Satan thought that in the cosmic wrestling match between him and God that he had pinned and defeated Christ. So he had the Romans strip Jesus Christ and humiliate Him, before they put Him to death. But in the most dramatic reversal in history, Jesus Christ actually stripped Satan and His forces, disarming them to some degree at the present so that He might finally destroy Him in due time.

Just as Satan humiliated Christ and had Him carry His own cross in a mock procession of shame, in reality Jesus Christ humiliated Satan and his armies at the Cross. He “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (verse 15.) The image is of a Roman triumphal procession, with the victorious general leading the humiliated and defeated enemy behind him for all to see.

While we may not always see this “public spectacle,” I’m sure the angelic citizens of both Heaven and Hell didn’t miss it. This seems to be why Paul has the principalities and powers in mind in particular (verses 10, 15, and perhaps 8 and 20.)

We hear so much about how Satan is alive and well and living on planet Earth. The reality is that Satan is a serpent who has had his skull crushed and is thrashing around in pain for a few millennia until he finally realizes he’s been defeated.

Do you remember the prophecy of Genesis 3:15? “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel?” At the Cross, Jesus Christ definitively bashed Satan’s skull in. How do I know? Not only because of this prophecy and many other Scriptures, but because both Calvary and Golgotha mean “The Place of the Skull.” How fitting that Satan’s head was crushed by Jesus Christ on the Cross at the Place of the Skull.

This – this nailing to the Cross of the sentence of death upon us, this disarming of the demonic forces, this crushing of Satan’s skull, and this triumphal procession – this is what you have been made a part of by participation in Christ through baptism and faith.

Paul urgently urges the Colossians not to let anyone “cheat” them through philosophy, empty conceit (verse 8), legalism (verse 20ff), etc. I don’t think the NKJV translation here as “cheat” captures the idea well enough. Paul is saying “don’t be taken captive” or, the interpretation I like best: “don’t be kidnapped” by false teaching.

I urgently urge you, too, to not be kidnapped by false teachings, of which there are many in the church today. I can’t help but think of the many Christians who are being deceived by such false teachings as The DaVinci Code, The Gospel of Thomas (and movies that glorify such heretical teachings, such as Stigmata), the “Lost” Teachings of Jesus, the “Lost” Books of the Bible, teachings about angels, that Satan has not been defeated and is ruling over earth, and on and on and on.

In baptism and through faith, you have died to the false teaching of the world. Therefore, do not live by these false teachings and the worldviews of the world. But as you have therefore received Jesus Christ the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving” (verse 6.)

Prayer: Praise be to You, O Christ, because You have nailed the penalty for sin to the Cross, taken away my sins, disarmed the principalities and powers, and made a public spectacle of them. Help me to live in union with You through faith by which You have given Yourself to me, so that I may walk in Him and His holy ways. Amen.

Points for Meditation:
1. Meditate on your deliverance from sin and death. Find time to give thanks to God today.
2. Imagine Christ as a conquering hero over Satan and His army. Sing a song of victory to Him.

Resolution: I resolve to meditate on Christ’s triumph over Satan at the Cross, as well as His victory over sin and its penalty, death.

© 2009 Fr. Charles Erlandson

Monday, February 02, 2009

Tuesday of Epiphany 4 - Colossians 1:18-2:5

When I was a kid, I was bewitched by valuable coins, eagerly collecting any I could find in loose change and spending some of my very limited supply of money on collecting them. Through a mail order company I had received 4 coins as part of a “Giant Grab Bag” of coins. One of them was ½ dollar gold piece, which my friend’s Redbook coin guide said was worth $100. When I got up the nerve to take it to a coin dealer one day, he told me it was worthless. Stunned by disbelief, I nervously waited another 10 minutes and asked him, “How much did you say this was worth?”

Again, I got the answer: “Nothing.”

It turns out it was just a worthless replica. My treasure was really trash.

Like me, men have often sought their treasure in gold. One day in 1848 at John Sutter’s sawmill, his contractor and builder, James W. Marshall came to him, seeking a secret meeting. At the meeting, he took a rag from out of his pocket and flashed something quickly to Sutter. After testing and finding that the secret in the handkerchief was indeed gold, Sutter told his workers to keep it quiet for 6 weeks so he could properly secure the necessary property on which the gold had been found.

Unfortunately for Sutter, the secret got out, his workers abandoned his mill for gold, and the rest is history. Sutter himself wrote: “What a great misfortune was this sudden gold discovery for me! It has just broken up and ruined my hard, restless, and industrious labors, connected with many dangers of life, as I had many narrow escapes before I became properly established. From my mill buildings I reaped no benefit whatever, the mill stones even have been stolen and sold.”

He died a poor man in Pennsylvania. And Marshall, the man who first discovered the gold? After attempting to milk his fame in various ways over the year, he died a bitter and not particularly rich man.

So much for earthly treasure.

But here in the book of Colossians, St. Paul wants the Colossians and Laodiceans (and I’m sure he’d want you included, too) to attain “to all the riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (verse 2.)

The truth is that true treasure is found in Jesus Christ, who is the source of true riches and in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The riches contained in Jesus Christ are beyond compare, but even as Christians we often undervalue them.

There was a Monty Python’s sketch in which a Hungarian goes into a tobacconist’s shop, asking, “I weeel not buy theeese record – eeet eeez scratched.” The tobacconist finally figures out that what he really he wants is some cigarettes. Next, the Hungarian says, “My hovercraft is full of eels.” After the Hungarian acts out striking a match, the tobacconist discovers what he really wants is matches. It turns out that someone had purposely written a Hungarian-English dictionary with maliciously erroneous information.

We’ve been sold a similar price guide, in which some of the information is incorrect. It reads something like this:

Item                                 Value
gold                                      $850/oz
weekend of leisure           40 hours of work
newer, fancier car            debt
bigger, better house         more debt
infatuation                          broken relationships, adultery, divorce
God                                       1 hour a week and a few dollars in the plate

But Jesus Christ is God Himself, and in Him are hidden all the heavenly treasures. In Him is heaven itself. In Him is the infinite wealth of God’s inheritance that the Father offers to mere men. This wealth, this treasure is unimaginable, and yet it is easily missed in this world. I find that discovering the treasure of Christ is like the Kingdom parables that liken the Kingdom of Heaven to some slow process of growth. To me, the Kingdom of Heaven is like an invisible goldmine that is first manifested, to the one who has chosen to work in it, by a few small flakes in a creek. The worker through diligence and patience discovers a few more flakes and begins to seek to be closer to the source. Eventually, he discovers that the gold is more abundant in the earth itself, and he begins the serious work of digging. Occasionally, he finds a nugget of great value that encourages him in his hard labors. Over time, he establishes a gold mine and works diligently and regularly so that he can continue to find greater and greater treasure.

This is what it has been like for me to read the Bible for about 40 years now. As a child, I was only dimly aware of its value, but after a steady life of seeking God in His Word, I continue to find deeper and deeper treasure in it.

The Bible is, in fact, a goldmine in which the immeasurable treasure of Jesus Christ may be found. Even in this one small passage of Colossians, there are treasures galore, waiting to be discovered and re-discovered.

Here are just a few for you to meditate on and appreciate:

1:18 Jesus Christ is the head of the church
1:20-22 Jesus Christ has brought peace to the world through the Cross,
through which He will also make you blameless and holy
1:24 Like Christ and Paul, we are to rejoice in our sufferings
1:25-29 We are stewards of God’s mysteries and riches
2:1-2 All the riches of the world and treasure of wisdom is
hidden in Jesus Christ

Each one of these nuggets of the wisdom of Christ is so valuable that it would be worth devoting an entire day to seeking and enjoying Jesus Christ through it. It reminds me of the hymn, “O Word of God Incarnate”:

O Word of God incarnate, O Wisdom from on high,
O Truth unchanged, unchanging, O Light of our dark sky:
We praise You for the radiance that from the hallowed page,
A Lantern to our footsteps, shines on from age to age.

The Church from You, our Savior, received the Gift divine,
And still that Light is lifted over all the earth to shine.
It is the sacred Vessel where gems of truth are stored;
It is the heaven drawn Picture of Christ, the living Word.

Some men seek their treasure in the things of the earth, but our treasure is in Jesus Christ. If you want to be truly wealthy and wise, then seek Him.

The discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill by a single man, James W. Marshall, created a Gold Rush that helped create modern-day California and still reverberates as an icon in our culture.

But the discovery of Jesus Christ by a single person ought to set off a God Rush in America. But it hasn’t.

The sad truth may be that we are simply not as excited about God as we are about gold. If this is true in your life, it’s time to burn your old price guide and trade it in for God’s price guide: the Bible.

Your rush, as a Christian, should be to attain “to all the riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Prayer: Praise be to You, Father, because You have made all Your fullness to dwell in Your Son; Praise be to You, Son, because You have made peace with the Father and reconciled all things through Your death and resurrection; Praise be to You, Holy Spirit, because through You I am able to discover and enjoy the heavenly treasure that is Jesus Christ. Amen.

Points for Meditation:

1. Share the news of your discovery of the treasure of Jesus Christ with someone today.
2. Meditate on how you may have a false price guide in your life. Choose one item whose value you will reappraise in relation to the true treasure of Christ.

Resolution: I resolve to seek the treasure of Jesus Christ today by meditating on one verse or passage from the Bible throughout the day.

© 2009 Fr. Charles Erlandson