Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
If you’re remotely religious, you’re familiar with the word “gospel.” It has a wide semantic range, describing everything from a genre of music (and a few sub-genres) to the trustworthiness of a statement (“gospel truth”) to an all-encompassing description of religious doctrine.
The word literally means, “God’s good news to humans,” from εὐαγγέλιον. It is mostly about the life and times of Jesus and the spiritual rewards we have when we accept that hope and follow God’s plan of salvation. It is so common and familiar to many of us that we sometimes overlook its importance.
We often hear about “spiritual blessings,” but the definitions we are given of them are sometimes (if not often) frustratingly ambiguous. Colossians 1:3-12 gives us a beautiful description of those blessings. One of them is the gospel! Here’s why:
1. The Gospel is Hope
A phenomenon so common to my generation (it’s immortalized in more than a few memes) is the idea of existential crisis. We ask questions like, “What am I doing? Why am I here? What’s my purpose? Why am I working this dead-end job?” We don’t like to think of where we’ll be in 20 years because that’s downright depressing. Will it be more of the same? The crushing weight of a meaningless existence is at the forefront of so many minds.
The good news we have is described in Colossians 1:5 as, “…the hope reserved for you in heaven…” That’s purpose! What kind of hope? What are we looking for? We have been given the means to live a life with purpose. It won’t be easy, but it guarantees a perfect existence after we’re gone. This hope for heaven is central to the gospel.
2. The Gospel Makes Us Better People
Once the Colossian Christians changed their lives, were immersed, and changed their lifestyles, they had a great love for each other and all of the other Christians (1:4). We can be friendly to others (even complete strangers), but Christianity promotes unconditional love for others. The world tries to achieve this artificially, but Christianity accomplishes this through unity and self-sacrifice based on guidance from scripture.
If we are as dedicated as we should be, it also gives us endurance and patience when we deal with difficulty (1:11, 12). Those who follow God’s will and are dedicated to serving Him are guaranteed a perfect and meaningful existence after this life (Colossians 1:5, 12).
We are confronted with our own mortality more often than we’d like (especially today). This has a whole lot of people questioning their purpose and their destiny. Christianity offers the greatest gift ever given: purpose and destiny. God has told us how to have both of those things; we can live a meaningful life here, no matter how difficult, and we can have a perfect life there. If you are looking for meaning and purpose in this life, look no further than the gospel – it is how we can be pure here, living a purposeful life with perfect hope for the next.
A knock came on my door one day, I opened and it was Sin
Before that moment we hadn’t met, but still I let him in
He made me laugh, and seemed alright
so I let him stay a night
One evening he sat at my table and dined
In an empty house I sat alone
The tears welled up, I should have known
and now I’m skin and bone
Then again I heard a knock on my door
the previous left me dejected and poor
but only opened it so wide
on the other side
God created the animals on the sixth day (Gen. 1:24-25). From that time throughout the rest of the Bible, He mentions them for a variety of purposes. They feature prominently in various biblical accounts: the serpent in the garden (Gen. 3:1ff), the dove and the raven on the ark (Gen. 8:7-12), Israel’s quail (Ex. 16:13), Balaam’s donkey speaks (Num. 22:28), a great fish swallows Jonah (Jon. 1:17), the father’s fatted calf (Luke 15:23), Peter’s rooster (Mat. 26:75), and, of course, so many others. They are used in a figurative sense from cover to cover, too.
Whether for food (Gen. 9:3) or food for thought (Prov. 6:6), God provides the animal for us to consider. They depict the intimacy of marriage (Song 4:5; 7:3) and the ferocity of judgment (Hos. 13:7-9). They illustrate plenty (Ezek. 34:23) and desolation (Jer. 9:11). They picture joy (Isa. 35:6) and sorrow (Mic. 1:8).
There are great lessons to be learned upon the pages of inspiration (2 Tim. 3:16-17), messages that guide and influence our eternal destiny (John 12:48). There are facts to be instructed by, internalized, and interpreted. Yet, in addition, God has allowed the heavens to declare His handiwork (Psa. 19:1). Creation reveals a Creator who weaves lessons into the characteristics of His creatures. It is just one of the infinite marvels of our great God, endlessly complex and inexhaustibly incredible! How great is our creative God!
Wisteria is beautiful. Despite its beauty, though, wisteria can be an invasive vine if it is not carefully cultivated, becoming genteel kudzu. As I had to go to a doctor’s appointment in Gainesville, Georgia, yesterday, I noted how much wisteria grows around that city. For the most part, it was not managed well. Thus, you would see azalea bushes or maple trees with purple flowers choking them out. However, if you take the time to train the vine, you can make a stunning addition to your garden with wisteria. One popular way of taming wisteria is having it run along an arbor creating a tunneled walkway through the blooms.
We have other things around us that act a lot like wisteria. These are things having the potential to be something helpful or enjoyable, but which end up being deleterious to our spiritual health because we do not manage them well.
Becoming distracted by doing good is one such type of spiritual wisteria. When Jesus was with his dear friends in Bethany, Martha wearied herself seeking to be an excellent hostess. She asked Jesus to rebuke her sister, Mary, for not helping her prepare. Since Mary was listening to Jesus teach, He said she was doing what was necessary (Luke 10.39-42). It is a good thing to be hospitable. We note that the need to be hospitable is one of the qualifications for an elder (1 Timothy 3.2; Titus 1.8). However, one’s priority is the kingdom of God (Matthew 6.33). Thus, even in having a desire to do a good thing, one may be overwhelmed and end up missing out on opportunities for spiritual growth.
Social media is another type of spiritual wisteria. During this period of social distancing, I’ve noted how many more brothers in Christ are utilizing Facebook and YouTube to put out encouraging and convicting lessons from God’s Word. Congregations are streaming “virtual worship services” for homebound people to participate in. It excites me that we might be seeing the beginnings of the “Third Great Awakening” in the United States as people realize they have ways of expressing their faith which has nothing to do with a building. Even so, I note that with people using social media even more now (if such a thing is possible) it likewise gives rise to a lot of things that ultimately detract from spiritual growth. People are also posting depressing or rancorous things. You still see lewd jokes and double entendres. We need to ensure that our use of social media at this tend helps us to serve as salt and light in this world so God can be glorified (Matthew 5.13-16).
You may have noted other types of spiritual wisteria I have not included. We want to emphasize that this “wisteria” in and of itself is not a bad thing. It is, rather, that a failure to discipline ourselves allows for this good thing to lessen its value. You must put forward the effort to properly utilize and enjoy physical and spiritual wisteria. You must do the same thing when it comes to cultivating a beautiful, spiritual garden pleasing to God (cf. 1 Corinthians 9.24-27).
Have you ever been afraid of your imagination? At times that fear can be so convincing that you truly believe that the worst case scenario is somehow inevitable. Try and make that opening question relevant to your life. Think about a specific event or experience where you were afraid of something that never came to fruition. The grip of anxiety can be debilitating as you wait for your medical test results to come in. You agonize over the poor quality of life you might have if there is ever an unexpected economic collapse. Your hairline might rapidly recede as you stress over the outcome of the war our nation is still involved in, and do I even need to mention the new global pandemic? You’re robbed of sleep as you imagine the potential horrible outcomes that may never happen. These things may never happen because the Lord could come. They may never happen because whatever you’re afraid of— it’s simply worse in your own mind. It may never happen because God has proven Himself to be one who calms the storm instead of letting you perish.
I believe we would all benefit from recalling those occasions in our past where fear proved unnecessary and we worked ourselves up for nothing! If the fear in your life has a big appetite and it’s devouring all your time and peace, maybe it’s time to feed something else. Sitting Bull once said, “Inside of me there are two dogs. One is mean and evil and the other is good. They fight each other all the time. When asked which one wins I answer, ‘the one I feed the most.’” How vividly this illustrates a daily struggle for so many. Fear and faith will scrap with one another until we decide which one will win. Do you think our faith would emerge victorious every day if we could physically witness God’s power, but in a miraculous way? If my own eyes could witness Jesus bring the dead back from the grave, cast out a demon, or walk on stormy waters, then I would never worry again. Or would I? Seeing Jesus perform miracles never made anyone perfect. His disciples were far from perfect and they stood feet from the Savior while He did things only God could do.
On one occasion, which was hinted at earlier, Jesus calms the storm after being abruptly awakened by His terrified followers (Mark 4). There are some details about this account that will help us feed our faith when fear threatens to win the day.
First, our cries to God, even in the desperate times, are heard. The disciples exclaim, “Don’t you care that we’re about to die?” Following this fearful plea, Jesus will demonstrate a fraction of His awesome power. After all, what is calming a stormy sea to the One who spoke every drop of water into existence?
Second, excessive fear of anything in this world is a foolish mistake. God is bigger and greater than our worries.
Third, God is not asleep. It may seem like He is when we don’t feel optimistic about the future, but it’s when we recognize that He’s the only answer to our peace that He will calm our storm.
Have you been struggling with some feelings of hopelessness lately? Whenever we have a hard time seeing the end in sight or we face uncertainty or are exposed to fears and anxieties, it can undermine our determination to have hope. Yet, over a hundred times in Scripture, God points us to the hope His children have through Him and His promises. We have such a resource because of the rock-solid expectation He provides. Whatever may happen to us this week, this month, or this year, the Christian can look forward with confidence at the fulfillment of what God through Christ promises us. And Scripture says it so many ways:
–Hope does not disappoint (Romans 5:5)
–Hope helps us persevere with eagerness (Romans 8:24-25)
–Hope causes rejoicing (Romans 12:12)
–Hope fills you with all joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13)
–Hope is an abiding quality, alongside such elite qualities as faith and love (1 Corinthians 13:13)
–Hope enables deliverance (2 Corinthians 1:10)
–There is one, unconquerable hope (Ephesians 1:18; 4:4)
–Hope is tied to earnest expectation and boldness (2 Corinthians 3:12; Philippians 1:20)
–Hope is connected to steadfastness (Colossians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 1:3)
–Hope offsets grief (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
–Hope tunes our hearts to look for Jesus’ appearing (1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:13)
–Hope encourages the pursuit of our eternal life (Titus 1:2; 3:7)
–Hope anchors the soul (Hebrews 6:19)
–Hope helps us draw near to God (Hebrews 7:19)
–Hope is tied to endurance (Hebrews 10:23)
–Hope is instrumental to faith (Hebrews 11:1)
–Hope prepares for eternity (Colossians 1:5; 1 Peter 1:3,13)
–Hope helps give a defense (1 Peter 3:15)
–Hope purifies (1 John 3:3)
“How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Psalm 146:5).
“The hope of the righteous is gladness…” (Proverbs 10:28).
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:24).
“Christ Jesus…is our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1).
You will face nothing today or ever that is too destructive, terrifying, or powerful to offset this hope! That doesn’t mean be rash, reckless, or rebellious. It does mean be faith-filled, optimistic, and courageous! Are your faith and hope in God (1 Peter 1:21)?
–I have taught a Bible study in the hut of a woman in a jungle village of southeast Asia. She had no furniture and only a couple of cooking vessels and utensils. Her one-room house was thatched in a place that averages an inch or more of rain each week. Her lifestyle reflected that of nearly all of her neighbors.
–I have stayed in the house of a faithful, fruitful gospel preacher in west Africa. One night, the temperature in the house was 91 degrees overnight. The interior walls were made of styrofoam, thin enough to hear the rats scurrying around and scratching behind them. They were actually better off than most in their village.
–I have stayed not far from the Bay of Bengal in a crowded city across from a leper colony. Taking a bath/shower consisted of using a large cup from a single spigot in a “bathroom” where the water ran a light brown color. Within a hundred miles of there, at least 100,000 people were living under cardboard boxes and old tarps.
–I met a man at a church service in east Africa who made his living working in a gem mine. He and his wife had four children of their own. Their neighbors both died of AIDS, leaving their three children orphaned. This Christian and his wife adopted them. He made $2 per day and Sunday was his only day off. He supported a household of nine on less than $15 per week.
In every one of the examples above, I was only there for a couple of weeks and returned home to hot water, running water, reliable shelter and automobiles, and a thousand other amenities.
Many of the people in our world, before the current pandemic, struggled to survive through subsistence farming, poor nutrition, virtually non-existent healthcare, and little access to education. This sets up a cycle of poverty and disease that lowers life expectancy to middle-age at best. Sports, vacations, retirement plans, and insurance are, for many, a pipe dream if even a concept they have ever entertained. I once drove past a slum in a capitol city that was part of 2.5 million homeless people living in what was essentially a trash dump.
The current crisis is real and impactful. It has required adjustments, changes, and sacrifices. Yet, from a medical, monetary, and material standpoint, we still find ourselves at the top of over 200 nations in just about every earthly way things can be measured. This is a time for us to pause and humbly thank God for His abundant blessings, to ask forgiveness for complaining in the face of such generosity, and to seek His guidance in how we can use this time to focus on others’ needs and helping those who are truly unfortunate. Matthew 25:31-46 is a convicting text, where the Lord tells us He watches how we respond to the hungry, thirsty, naked, stranger, sick, and imprisoned among “the least” of the world. Perhaps what we are going through now is a door of opportunity, to sharpen our perspective on what is essential and what is extra. Let it begin with me!