Life Remixed

Life Remixed

Colossians 3:5-17

James C. Denison

Tonight on the Discovery Channel a documentary will air claiming that the burial boxes of Jesus and his family have been discovered. James Cameron, director of Titanic and The Terminator, is one of the makers of the film. He’s dealing with ossuaries, burial boxes found in Jerusalem 27 years ago. He claims that the inscriptions on the sides show that Jesus was buried here along with his wife, Mary Magdalene, and their son Judah. His mother Mary and brother Joseph are supposed to have been buried here as well.

Archaeologists have been quick to attack this ridiculous claim, one of them the expert who first found the ossuaries. He points out that Cameron has absolutely no proof for his allegations and that other scholars dismissed this thesis years ago. But it all makes for good marketing during the Lenten season.

If Cameron is right, Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Then he isn’t the Son of God, and Christianity is false. If he is right, the first Christians, eyewitnesses to the risen Christ 20 centuries ago, are wrong. There is no explanation for the non-biblical records which document that the first Christians believed that Jesus rose from the grave. More than a million people died for a claim they knew to be a lie. There is no explanation for the miraculous birth and growth of the church.

There’s an even easier way to know that Cameron is wrong and that Jesus is alive today. When the “God is dead” controversy started in the 1960’s, someone asked Billy Graham what he thought. “God isn’t dead,” he replied with a smile–“I just talked with him this morning.”

God still speaks, in prayer and in Scripture. If we will put his revelation into practice in our lives, we’ll learn that the Bible really is true. Its claims really do work. Our lives really are blessed when we lead them as God directs. Let’s learn how to be holy in every relationship of our lives, and what happens when we are.

Refuse sexual sin

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” This is a present tense imperative, intended for us all. The tense is active–something we must do. God cannot do this for us and yet honor our free will.

We must put these sins “to death,” not just out of the way to be considered later. Something must die–these sins, or us. Either we kill the cancer, or it kills us.

Now we come to the vice list, five words which all relate to sexual sin.

The first is “sexual immorality,” porneia in the Greek. Any kind of sexual activity outside marriage and outside God’s will. Premarital sex, extramarital sex, prostitution, pornography–all such acts are included here.

Next is “impurity”–the word relates to immoral thoughts and the decision to act on them.

Next is “lust,” “passions” in the Greek. The word relates to emotions, feelings.

Next comes “evil desires,” immoral desires and longings.

Last is “greed, which is idolatry.” In this context, wanting something sexual which we should not have. Wanting a person or a picture, an act or a relationship.

Immoral acts come from immoral thoughts, which comes from immoral emotions, which come from immoral desires, which comes from immoral temptations. We are tempted–we want this–we feel it–we think about it–we choose it. Such sins lead to the “wrath” and judgment of God (v. 6). Before we decided to follow Jesus, we “used to walk in these ways” (v. 7). But now we must follow them no more. We must “put them to death” today.

You can do this, or God would not tell you to.

People sometimes ask more of us than they should. The voice instructor who insisted that I take his class in college wasted his time and mine. The tragic episode reminds me of the farmer who paid for singing lessons for his pig–it just cost him money and made the pig mad. People often ask more than we can do.

But God does not. The inventor knows his invention. Nowhere does Scripture command us to save our souls, because we cannot. It does not tell us to earn our salvation, because that’s impossible. Whatever it does tell us to do, we can do. So, you and I can do this. We can “put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature.”

God will empower us, if we will choose to do this. He will tax the last grain of sand and star in the sky to help us. But the first step is ours. Where are you being tempted by sexual sin today?

Refuse spoken sin

The other category about which Paul warns us is just as deadly, though far less public: “now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other” (vs. 8-9a). From sexual sins to spoken sins.

The list grows in ascending order:

Stage one is “anger,” bitterness we will not release.

Stage two is “rage”–a “burning anger which flares up and burns with intensity,” to define the Greek term. From bitterness to anger–the simmering pot boils over.

Stage three is “malice,” the decision and intention to hurt the other person.

Stage four involves “slander” and “filthy language,” when we speak words which put our malice into effect. We belittle and attack with our words.

Finally comes stage five, where we “lie to each other” (v. 9a). From unkind words we progress to out-and-out falsehoods in our desire to hurt the other. “To each other” shows that the problem existed in the Christian community, not just the larger society.

All of this is so unnecessary, since we have already put off this “old self” when we asked Christ into our lives (v. 9b). We have put on the “new self,” which he is renewing in his image every day (v. 10). He does this for us all, no matter our background or story: Greek or Jew, Hebrew or Gentile; barbarian (uneducated), Scythian (savage), slave or free–“Christ is all, and is in all” (v. 11). We are all the family of God. I am your brother–you are my brothers and sisters.


Relationship Rules

Relationship Rules

Colossians 3:18-4.1

James C. Denison

A friend recently sent me some statements about marriage which he thought I should use only at Men’s Bible Study on Thursday morning. But since I’m not as smart as he is, here goes:

Patrick Murray: “I’ve had bad luck with both my wives. The first one left me, and the second one didn’t.”

Sacha Guitry: “When a man steals your wife, there is no better revenge than to let him keep her.”

Henny Youngman: “Some people ask us the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.”

Rodney Dangerfield: “My wife and I were happy for 20 years. Then we met.”

Fortunately, God’s wisdom on marriage and relationships is far more redemptive than ours. We’ll close our conversations in Colossians today with the most practical discussion possible, as we study God’s relationship rules. They apply to us all–husbands, wives, children, parents, employers, employees, Americans. We don’t break these rules–we break ourselves on them. Let’s learn how to keep them, and why we should.

Marriage rules

“Wives, submit to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord” (v. 18).

“Submit” translates “hupotasso,” the voluntary submission of one to another. Do this, not because you are inferior to your husband, for you are not. Do this because encouraging respect is what your husband most needs from you today.

The Lord designed him in such a way that your affirmation and support is his greatest need. Before he needs the respect of his peers or society or anyone else, he needs it first from you. Encouraging respect is your greatest gift. That’s simply how God made men.

“Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (v. 19).

In a culture which made women the property of their husbands or fathers, Christianity was radically different in its affirmation of women. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see the risen Christ, and the first person commissioned to tell the world about his resurrection. Lydia was the first convert in Europe. Philip had four daughters who were preachers (Acts 21:9). Phoebe was a “servant” or “deaconess” of the church (Romans 16:1). Junia was “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7).

So it is that husbands are not to be “harsh” with their wives. The word means to find fault, to criticize and complain. Such treatment makes our wives a means to our end, an object for our use.

The Jewish theologian Martin Buber distinguished between “I-You” and “I-It” relationships. In “I-It” relationships the other is a possession, something I use for my purposes. In “I-You” relationships the other is my equal, as valuable and significant as I am. We are to have “I-It” relationships with things and “I-You” relationships with people. Unfortunately, we often reverse the two. I know men who love their car and use their wives. As the song put it, “Loving things and using people only leads to misery; using things and loving people–that’s the way it ought to be.”

And so we are to “love” our wives.

Here Paul uses agape, the word for unconditional commitment. Not eros, the word for erotic or sexual love; not phileo, the word for friendship or partnership love. Before our wives are our sexual partners or our business partners in raising our children and running the house, they are first our unconditional commitment. They must come before all others.

God made wives in such a way that this is their greatest need. Before they need our sexual love or our friendship as partners in raising children and running the house, they need to know that they come first. Before all others. Before all ambitions or plans or priorities. Husbands, unconditional commitment is your greatest gift to your wives. That’s simply how God made women.

In my wedding introductions I always quote the statement: “Long ago, the Lord God gave the first woman to be the bride of the first man. The Bible tells us that Eve was taken from the side of Adam. Not from his head, to be a ruler over him. Not from his foot, to be trodden upon by him. From his side, to be equal with him. From under his arm, to be protected by him. From near his heart, to be loved by him.”

Encouraging respect and unconditional commitment are the gifts God made us to need, and to share. How are you doing at giving your gift this morning?

Parenting rules

From marriage to family: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (v. 20). “Obey” can be literally translated, “listen under.” Listen to them, then do what they say. “In everything,” in every dimension of life. Why? Because parents are superior to children, of greater value? Just the opposite, in fact.

In a world which saw children as the possessions of their fathers, to be kept or discarded as they wished, the word of God is subversive and revolutionary in its view of children.

Children are his gift, created by his grace: “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him” (Psalm 127:3).

They typify all that is best in life: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16).

They are to obey their parents because this is best for them. Such obedience “pleases the Lord” because it blesses the children he has made: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’–which is the first commandment with a promise–‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth'” (Ephesians 6:1-3).

Every child on earth has probably encountered some circumstance where disobeying parents would have led to pain or even death. They would have run into the path of a car, or eaten something poisonous, or played with something deadly, except that they obeyed their parents.


Too Busy Not to Pray

Too Busy Not to Pray

Mark 1:35-39

James C. Denison

Last Wednesday I was working on today’s message, searching for an introduction. As I leafed through some files, my eye was drawn to a plaque one of my sons gave me a few years ago:

I got up early one morning and rushed right into the day.

I had so much to accomplish that I didn’t have time to pray.

Problems just tumbled about me, and heavier came each task.

“Why doesn’t God help me?” I wondered. He answered: “You didn’t ask.”

I wanted to see joy and beauty, but the day toiled on gray and bleak.

I wondered why God didn’t show me. He said, “But you didn’t seek.”

I tried to come into God’s presence; I used all my keys at the lock.

God gently and lovingly chided, “My child, you didn’t knock.”

I woke up early this morning, and paused before entering the day.

I had so much to accomplish that I had to take time to pray.

Have you been there? Problems tumbling about you, heavier each task? The day toiling on gray and bleak because you didn’t seek? I’ve been there as well. There’s only one solution to the restlessness and fatigue of our souls. In these days of economic uncertainty, controversy in Washington, frustration and pain in Iraq, stress on our families and hearts, there’s only one thing to do.

As we watch Jesus prepare for Easter, we’ll learn today how to face our own Caiaphas and Calvary, Judas and Pilate, our own problems and fears and pain. We’ll learn how to find the peace and power of God, where we need them most today.

When Jesus prayed

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went to a solitary place, where he prayed” (v. 35). Jesus has just spent an exhausting day. He started the day by preaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. He exorcised a demon in the worship service. He healed Peter’s mother-in-law. He spent the evening healing all the sick of this large town.

If I were to preach this morning, and cast a demon out of someone right here in church; then go to a member’s house for lunch and heal his mother-in-law; then spend the evening until late counseling with people from all over North Dallas who have come to me with their problems, I would feel tomorrow like Jesus feels here.

Now it’s the day after the Sabbath–Monday morning to us. Jesus gets up before dawn, around three or four in the morning. He leaves Peter’s house in Capernaum and walks out of town. He goes to a “solitary place,” literally a “wilderness place” in the Greek. Some place where no one else would see him, off the road, out in the country.

If I were to get up tomorrow morning around 3 or 4, get in my car and drive out of the city, pull off the road, and hike out into a field alone, I would do what Jesus did here.

And he “prayed.” The Greek “imperfect” tense indicates that he continued to pray, all morning long. Not for just a few minutes, but from 3 or 4 until daybreak, two or three hours of solitude with God.

What did he pray? Mark’s Jewish readers already knew. We Gentiles, 20 centuries after the fact, don’t know much about first-century Jewish spirituality. But when we learn how Jesus grew up in the faith, what he was taught to pray and how, we see how crucial the practice of God’s presence was to his soul. And should be to ours.

We’ll spend the bulk of our time this morning simply listening to what Jesus said to his Father, watching the Son of God commune with the God of the universe.

What Jesus prayed

From the time he was five years old, Jesus was taught to begin each day with the central affirmation of the Jewish faith: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). He began this Monday morning in that way.

Then, like all observant Jews, he continued to recite the paragraph: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:5-9). He prayed all of that to God on this morning.

Next, he recited Deuteronomy 11:1-21 from memory. He followed then with a recital of the Ten Commandments.

He concluded his regular morning prayers with the Shemoneh ‘Esreh, the “Eighteen Benedictions,” spoken to God while facing Jerusalem. They are part of the Jewish prayer book, recited by every practicing Jew every morning, afternoon, and evening, and during synagogue services on the Sabbath as well. Jesus had them memorized. I don’t, but want you to hear them as if he was praying them on this early Monday morning.

First, he prayed to the God of history: “Blessed are you, Oh Lord our God and God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, the great, mighty and revered God, the Most High God who bestows lovingkindnesses, the creator of all things, who remembers the good deeds of the patriarchs and in love will bring a redeemer to their children’s children for his name’s sake. Oh king, helper, savior and shield. Blessed are you, Oh Lord, the shield of Abraham.”

Next, he prayed to the God of nature: “You, Oh Lord, are mighty forever, you revive the dead, you have the power to save. You sustain the living with lovingkindness, you revive the dead with great mercy, you support the falling, heal the sick, set free the bound and keep faith with those who sleep in the dust. Who is like you, Oh doer of mighty acts? Who resembles you, a king who puts to death and restores to life, and causes salvation to flourish? And you are certain to revive the dead. Blessed are you, Oh Lord, who revives the dead.”