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Colossians 1:1&2 – Greetings

Paul begins this letter with his usual manner of greeting, stating up front who the letter is from and making mention of any companions who were with him at the time, in this case, Timothy. He introduces himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”. “Apostle” is the title Paul most frequently uses of himself in the openings of his letters. Some have suggested that Paul is attempting to defend his ministry to the Church at Colossae, a congregation which he had never personally visited. However, he also uses the title of “apostle” in both his letters to Timothy, someone who would have hardly had any reason to question Paul’s legitimacy. I’m inclined to believe that Paul is not seeking to establish his authority with the Colossians, as much as simply acknowledge where his authority does indeed come from, namely “the will of God” not man. And this is of no small significance. Paul is acting as God’s emissary. In this short letter God is imparting to us many wonderful truths about His nature, His character, and His work. Paul, here, is the vehicle being used to convey that message. This is not some old man’s reflections on what God is like but is rather God’s very own thoughts about Himself.

While the first verse tells us from whom the letter is sent, the second verse tells us to whom the letter is addressed; “the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae.” A quick word about “saints”, Paul is using it here to refer to all believers, not just a group of super spiritual elites. “Saints” and “faithful brothers” then are parallel terms. As for “in Christ at Colossae”, I have read several authors who pointed out a two-fold location of his audience. “In Christ” refers to their spiritual location, while “at Colossae” obviously refers to their physical location. One take away from that observation is this, our location in Christ shapes how we see, while our location in the world shapes what we see. Our theology, our understanding of who Christ is, the transformation of our hearts and minds that occurs as we submit to Him all affect how we understand the events we go through. These things answer questions about what is significant or valuable, what is right and holy, what is to be pursued or what is to be rejected. In Christ our minds are oriented to a certain standard and that standard is Christ. Our location in the world, on the other hand, affects what we see. Because of where I was born and where I live I will have certain experiences and will be made aware of people with particular needs. Had I lived in a different time and place, I would have been exposed to a very different set of people with their own unique set of needs. This is our sphere of influence and this is where we are each called to live out our faith, to stand steadfast during times of trial, to show compassion to those in need, to winsomely draw others to Christ, in short, this is where we are to be ambassadors of the most high God.

As I have mentioned before, these posts are based off of my notes from the Sunday morning bible study. One of my favorite aspects of our Sunday morning group is the discussion and interaction that we are able to have. I hope to also have that back and forth exchange of ideas here too. So, in that spirit, I would encourage anyone with questions or comments to share their thoughts in the comment thread. I would love to hear from you!

Colossians – Setting the Stage

Before we begin looking at the text of Colossians, I thought it would be good to start with a little background information. I feel that it is important to take the time to do this because there are many places in the book of Colossians (just as there are in the rest of the Bible) that can be easily misunderstood, misinterpreted or simply overlooked if we have a insufficient understanding of the situation the author and audience find themselves in at the time the letter was written.

The city of Colossae, which was located relatively close to Ephesus and only six miles from Laodicea, had been a very prominent and wealthy city in it’s heyday. However, at the time this letter was written, it had been in decline for a number of years. Paul is writing from prison, and while it is not known for certain, it is widely believed to be during the time of his imprisonment in Rome. That would place this letter at the very end of Paul’s life. After all his missionary journeys, after floggings and shipwrecks, years of studying the scriptures and debating them with both friendly and hostile audiences. In short, it is written at a point of full maturity and after years of seasoned reflection upon the truths he discusses.

The church in Colossae to which he was writing was not one that he planted. In fact, he had never even visited this congregation. It seems the church was predominately, if not entirely, made up of gentile believers rather than Jewish believers. It is also clear that Paul saw this church as healthy and mature. In this letter we don’t see Paul addressing the various carnal sins with which the church at Corinth struggled and he does not take the tone of concern with the Colossians that he took with the Galatians, wondering openly if some of them had abandoned the faith. While Paul does address some false teaching, he frequently commends the Colossians for and rejoices over their maturity and he spends most of the letter discussing more mature matters of the faith. Solid food, not just milk.

There are perhaps a few other things that I could mention here but I will be discussing them in more depth later on, as I get into the heart of the letter. I believe these are some of the major elements to keep in mind and to give us a solid footing while studying this book.

Blog 2.0

Well, I’ve been back in the States now for more than a year. I don’t know when, or even if, I will be able to go back to Jordan. That is in the Lord’s very capable hands and subject to His timing.

In the mean time I have been involved with a little church in Arlington, TX called Eden Road Community Church. For the last couple of months I’ve been leading a bible study there on Sunday mornings. We have been working through the book of Colossians. I have had a couple of requests for a copy of the notes that I have put together while studying the book, but, given the fact that my notes would seem to be mostly incoherent gibberish to anyone not privy to the other half of the conversation going on in my head, I would need to translate them into a form that would be accessible and intelligible for someone other than myself. As I was considering how I might do this, it occurred to me that I have a perfectly good blog just sitting there, falling apart from neglect, ready to be pulled up into my front yard, tires missing, bottom rusted out, possibly to be turn it into a flower bed some day.

Or, I could start posting those notes on this blog, there by making them available to anyone who might be interested. This would also give me a way of organizing my freshly decoded notes, and, maybe, breathe a little life into this old clunker of a blog.

So that’s my plan. I’ll try to make regular posts regarding our bible study and along the way I’ll probably throw in posts about things I find funny or interesting.

Then again, there’s still the flower bed option.

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Home Sweet Home

I’ve been home for less than a week now and it has been wonderful. I’ve been spending time with my family, playing with my baby niece, and catching up with old friends. I couldn’t have hoped for more.

Right now my plan is to be in the States for about six months before returning to Jordan. During this time I plan to continue posting things about Jordan on this blog. I have lots of pictures that I haven’t yet been able to post and have visited many places that I haven’t yet been able to talk about. I also plan to post about other random things here and there that happen to catch my attention. So that’s what you can expect from this blog for the next six months or so.

It’s good to be home.

Coming Home

Barring unforeseen delays, I should be back in the good old US of A in just a little over 24 hours. With all I have had going on up until about two days ago, I really hadn’t had much time to think about being back in the States or what I will do when I get there. But as I finished with my responsibilities at our English Center, my mind began to turn towards home. I thought I would put together a list of some of the things I would like to do, foods I would like to eat, or places I would like to go once I am back in the States.

  • Eat bacon.
  • Spend the day out in the woods. Jordan is a desert country, so that tends to limit the amount of forests here. There are forests in Jordan, but they are far from were I live and they just don’t hold a candle to the woods of Louisiana.
  • Eat at Johnny’s Pizza.
  • Sit on the dock behind my grandma’s house and let my feet dip down into the waters of Lake D’Arbonne. Again, that whole living-in-a-desert thing tends to make lakes pretty scarce.
  • Have a big bowl of Gumbo.
  • Eat bacon.
  • Go target shooting.
  • Watch it rain. A good thunder and lightening storm would be best.
  • Wash my clothes in a washing machine that doesn’t beat them to pieces. I’ve lost a couple of shirts to that soggy toothed monster and have had to patch all but one pare of my jeans.
  • Eat bacon
  • Clean off a plate full of catfish fillets.
  • Stop worrying about having correct change every time I need buy something. Here in Jordan only the major department stores are likely to have change anytime you need it. In the little mom and pop places (which is pretty much all the shops) it’s always hit and miss (and more often it’s miss). Having a 50 dollar bill is about like having no money at all because no one will take it.
  • Eat bacon.
  • Go to Wal-Mart. Not to buy anything. I just miss the place.
  • Strike up conversation with a random stranger IN ENGLISH. It’s fun learning Arabic and all, but knowing that you can communicate with anyone at any time will be refreshing.
  • Wear shorts in public.
  • Eat bacon.
  • Take a shower with real water pressure behind it. The force of gravity is the only thing that brings water into my apartment here.
  • Enjoy the quiet of the country side. All cities are noisy I guess. Amman is no different.
  • Eat bacon.
  • But most importantly of all, I intend to give a giant hug to everyone in my family and spend my days hanging out with them, holding my baby niece and making her laugh, playing with our dog Max, and connecting with old friends. And then…
  • Eat bacon.

Two Weddings and a Graduation

Ok, so there was only one wedding. But there was an engagement party, which is sort of like the foreshadowing of a wedding.  Besides, using “An engagement party, a wedding and a graduation” for a title just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

All these events (and others besides) account for the long silence in my posts. For the most part I’ve been extremely busy getting the semester rapped up at our English Center. It was a shorter semester than normal but because of that, it was much more intensive. I think everything went well though. The students all seemed to have a good time and the teachers really seemed to connect with them. The students and the teachers went out almost every night after class to do something. Maybe to get something to eat. Maybe to a coffee shop. Maybe just to walk the streets of Amman. It was a great time of fellowship and sharing.

And then, as we rapped things up, we had our graduation ceremony. It was great fun. Our teachers and students all dressed up. We watched a video full of memories of things that had happened this semester. We handed out the certificates of competition for each course and congratulated the students on their hard work. Finally, we had kanafi, which is a delicious sticky and sweet desert that is famous here in Amman.

The engagement party was for a couple from the local church that I attend here. The place where they held the event was far north of Amman, out into the countryside and in a grape vineyard. It was a beautiful location. All the guests gathered earlier in the evening and waited for the newly engaged couple to make their appearance. It was well after dark before they arrived but when they did they were greeted with applause and singing and fireworks. After the initial greetings, things calmed down somewhat and everyone took a seat. Then, one at a time, guest after guest stood to offer words of encouragement and blessings for the couple we where here to celebrate. After this, we were served a delicious dinner of chicken and rice. Finally, after everyone was finished eating, they cranked up the music and began to dance. The tradition here is to lift the bride-and-groom-to-be on chairs in the middle of the crowd (kind of like crowd surfing) and then many of the men start a circle dance around the outside of the crowd. All and all it was a lot of fun and I had a blast.

Also this week there was the wedding I mentioned earlier. Aside from it being in Arabic, it really wasn’t any different from most weddings that I have been to in the States. I’m friends with the bride and her side of the family and am very happy for her and her new husband. They are a wonderful couple. I pray the Lord richly blesses their marriage.

So, yeah, between these big events and a hundred other smaller ones, it’s been a busy week and it will only slow down a little before I am head back to the States in just a few days. I can’t wait to see everyone.

Some Objections, part 2

Objection #5: The penal substitution theory is supposed to be about satisfying justice, but how is it just to punish an innocent man and let the guilty walk free?

Scripture uses two analogies that I think are helpful to understand how justice is served in Christ’s death for us. One is that of the Church being the bride of Christ and the other is that of the Church being the body of Christ. If I were to take a wife who had thousands of dollars in debt, those debts would then also become my responsibility. It is because of our union in marriage that I am taking on the debts that she owned. This idea of union is also expressed in the analogy of the Church as Christ’s body. Many times Scripture speaks of us being united with Christ in His death, and because of this union, we have access to His righteousness and life. (Rom. 6:5-11) It is because of our union with Christ that He can be said to “become sin” or to “take on sin” because He has no sin of His own.

Objection #6: Jesus taught us to forgive and to love our enemies but under this theory God doesn’t forgive without first demanding punishment. Why am I asked to do something that God doesn’t do?

The issue here is one of just authority. God has authority to exact punishment. We don’t. What are we to make of Rom. 12:19 “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.” This verse shows that in exacting vengeance the standard is not the same for us and for God, why would we expect issues of punishment and forgiveness to be different?

Objection #7: Penal Substitution is boring and to some people even offensive. Christus Victor is a much more engaging and interesting story. Why don’t we just focus on the better story?

I like the Christus Victor model. There are many good points that it emphasizes. And you know what, everything that it teaches is also taught in the penal substitutionary model. The Substitutionary model teaches that the whole creation was affected by the curse and subjected to futility. It teaches that we are in bondage to sin and death and the ruling powers of darkness in this present age. It teaches that Christ, in His death, gloriously defeated and triumphed over every power that held us captive. But it teaches more.

The Christus Victor model doesn’t tell us how Jesus’ death was able to defeat death. It doesn’t tell us why it was necessary for His blood to be shed in order for the prisoners to be set free. If all you have to work from is the Christus Victor model it is unclear why Jesus even needed to become a man, why didn’t God defeat Satan and release the captive while never leaving His thrown in Heaven?

If the Bible were silent on these questions then we would have to be content with our best guess and admit that we cannot know with certainty the answers. But the Bible is not silent. We do know the answers to these questions because the word of God tells us.

“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Cor. 15:54-57

“God made [us] alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Col. 2:13-15

See how closely the language of triumph and victory is tied to the fulfilling of the law and the canceling of our debt. The reason we suffer death is because of sin and sin is transgression of the Law, so if the Law is fulfilled, satisfied, paid, and completed then sin can no longer exact it’s punishment of death. Death, lacking the power given it by sin, no longer has any hold on one who is united with Christ in His death. The penalty is paid and the prisoners go free. Hallelujah! Death is swallowed up in victory! If that is not a good story, I don’t know what is.

There are other objections that I could have addressed but these are the most common. One thing that struck me as I was doing research on this topic was that among those who rejected penal substitution, there was almost no one who said that this doctrine can not be supported by Scripture. Rather, their objection and rejection of the doctrine boiled down to some form of “I don’t like it”. It saddens me to see so many people overtly allowing their likes and dislikes to determine their beliefs rather than being a faithful student of the Scriptures and embracing all that it teaches. It is in plumbing the depths of Scripture and seeking to grasp all its truths, even those we might consider hard truths, that we find we will be transformed by what we learn. If we stay in the shallows of our own natural preferences, we will never discover the pearls that await us in the unfathomable depths of His richness. Those that allow their lives to be shaped by the hard edges of truth will find that they are being sculpted by the hands of the Master Potter into the very likeness of Christ.