This is really a follow-up post to Can You Have Church Without an Agenda? If you haven’t read that, I’d encourage you to read it first before continuing.
I can’t tell you how it happened or why it happened in the timing that it did. I can only tell you that it did happen. The events that have taken place over the last couple of weeks have been more than mere coincidence. I consider them to be divine encounters.
Maybe the Lord has opened my eyes to see more clearly the way He moves. Why now? This is a prayer I’ve been praying for years. What has changed and what has happened these last few weeks? As far as i can tell, nothing special. I haven’t changed jobs or received some kind of special revelation. Only, I’m beginning to see things differently. What I might have chalked up to happenstance encounters, I am beginning to see with new eyes.
Shortly after the men’s retreat I talked about in a previous post, I was tempted to “start something.” You might know that urge that I’m referring to. The need to start a Bible study, a home group or home church, or something else. Yet, I resisted. I did not feel that I was resisting Father, but my own flesh that felt the need to “help God out” and make something happen.
There were three words the Lord gave me for this year towards the end of last year. Release, relax, and rest. Little did I know what those meant at the time. But it’s those three words that have been the focus of my year when it comes to both my relationship with Father and learning to live by His rhythms.
- Connecting with a couple who we have been trying to get together with for over 2 years on Halloween night simply by popping in (and staying for 2 hours!) since we were already on their street for Trick or Treating.
- Getting to eat lunch with a friend on the same journey when he was at my work for a workshop and luncheon.
- Having the freedom to go to a baptism where my friend (who I baptized a few years ago) got to baptize his daughter – it just so happened to be one of the weekends I was free in October.
- Hearing from a couple of brothers who are dear friends and on this Jesus adventure together in the same week.
I am so encouraged by what Father is doing in my life right now. I know there are some who might read this and are struggling to understand or connect to how He’s working in your life, or feel that He is silent or withdrawn.
I went through a period of feeling like that, too. I’m not sure why it feels that way or why He seems to be quiet sometimes. Yet, I always believed that God was speaking. It wasn’t necessarily His fault that I had trouble listening. There are times I believe we look for the wrong things and assume God is speaking in certain ways when He wants us to tune in to a different frequency, so to speak.
I believe that God is always speaking and speaks to us every day. Whether or not we hear Him is a different matter. It’s worth learning to recognize His voice. In fact, His sheep know His voice and know how to follow.
This happens based on a relationship. There’s no principle to follow or “how-to program” to go by. It’s a daily recognition that He is speaking and learning to discern what is His voice, what is yours, and what is noise and distraction. The only way to do it is by a daily focus on Him and a continual quieting of both internal and external disruptions. As soon as we feel or sense that we are getting off track, it’s simply a matter of refocusing our attention on Him.
It can take a while. It’s not a striving to hear Him perfectly. It’s a step by step journey to discovering which voice is His, which one is mine, and the ones that are trying to lead me off the path and into the ditch. When you discover His voice, it’s not a raging cacophony, but a quiet whisper, a gentle nudge, or a sense or urge that says, “Come this way. Walk over here for a while.”
Learn to trust yourself and the nudges that you sense are from Father. You’ll make mistakes. It’s okay. I’ve made plenty. But when you learn His voice, and you know it’s Him and you obey and follow, it opens up a whole new world.
Throughout Scripture, there are a number of earthly “shadows” that point to realities that are heavenly in nature. Many of these substitutes were fulfilled in Christ when He was upon this earth. Others will be fulfilled upon His return and beyond. These are things such as the temple in the Old Testament, the order of high priests, the Mosaic Law, and the Tree of Life in the garden. The nice thing about these shadows was that they were tangible. You could touch and feel some – the fabric in the tabernacle, the animals for sacrifice. Some you could even smell: the incense burning, oil flowing over the temples and beards of the priests, the burning of the sacrifices.
For all the good that these shadows represented, there are also a number of pitfalls that can ensnare the believer. These dangers are outlined in Colossians 2:16-23, and we can also see how others relate to them (like the Pharisees).
- They can be seen.
The hard notion about the things of Christ is that we can rarely see them. We can often sense them or intuit them, but there is little to “grab hold of”. A shadow can be seen. You might even be able to touch and feel it. The danger is putting a higher priority on things that are seen, as opposed to what is unseen. Why is that a danger? Let’s look at some scripture that will help us:
18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4, NASB)
Why would we want to put more emphasis on things that are temporal? The shadows will pass away leaving the reality behind. As followers of Christ, we must focus on the reality and not the shadow.
- They can be held onto.
Since these things can be seen, they can be held. Remember, I’m not talking about a shadow which you cannot grasp. These shadows are representations (think models) of eternal realities that are not able to be held or touched. These representations (like the temple, high priests, etc.) are physical substitutes that point to a heavenly truth.Again, the danger of holding onto something is not being able to let go to see the greater truth and not being able to let go of what we think is the real thing. Look at what Jesus told the Pharisees,
8 “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! (Mark 7, NIV)
This isn’t the only time the Pharisees were chastised by Jesus for focusing on the wrong thing. They were more concerned about rules and regulations (i.e., religion) than they were about people and the things that God desires including justice, compassion, care for the widow and the poor, and loving one another.
- They can be idolized.
The biggest danger of these shadows is that they can be idolized. We can put them in the very place of God, holding them up and clinging to them as “the things” of God, all the while missing God Himself and God’s true commandments, much like the Pharisees did.They idolized their rules and regulations thinking they were doing God’s work, yet neglected the true compassion and mercy that God intended. Jesus demonstrated this by healing on the Sabbath (something forbidden by the religious leaders of his day); not following the rules of washing; eating with tax collectors and “sinners”; the list goes on and on.
Jesus’ non-traditional approach to people and faith made almost everyone turn their head and take notice. It should be the same with His followers. People should take notice of His disciples not because of what we’re doing, but because of what He’s doing in and through us. This is a subtle shift but a very important one.
We are to be people that cling to the substance that the shadow points to, especially when we can’t see it or touch it. Life is not found in the shadow but in the reality. Funny isn’t it? That the very thing that we can touch and feel won’t provide life, yet what is true and real is the very thing that, for now, we cannot see. Yet we must press in to life, to Him, to restore us, to give us hope, healing, and to renew all the things that He wants to redeem.
We are to be the messengers of the great reality that is found in Kingdom life and living – the reality that says that Jesus is not only our Savior, but our brother and our friend. He calls us to live a life that we cannot live on our own.
A life that reaches beyond the shadows.
A life called out of the shadows and into the Light.
2 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
What shadows have you been clinging to that God is calling you to let go of? How can you help move someone you know out of the shadows and into a greater reality with His Life and Light?
In recent days, the pope made a historic visit to the United States. One of his stops was Philadelphia, where a Catholic priest had built a replica of the Vatican out of Legos. If I took you to Philadelphia and showed you the Lego Vatican and said, “Look! It’s the Vatican.” You might reply by saying, “Well, it’s a model of the Vatican.”
“No, no, no! This is THE Vatican. See the courtyard and the columns? The dome, the piazza, and all the people? The nuns? And look – the Pope is here and he’s even waving to the people.” If I said that you would know that I was either delusional, lying, or maybe a bit of both.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been doing a deep-dive of Colossians. I’ve taken a slow and Spirit-led (and also very non-linear) approach to studying this book. It has long been one of my favorite parts of the New Testament, and I am finding a vast richness and untold treasures as I have dug in and allowed the Holy Spirit to reveal things to me.
One of the more significant passages in Colossians 2 has struck me recently:
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
With the things of God, there is shadow and there is substance. These themes run throughout Scripture:
- The temple was a shadow of the reality of heaven and eternal life (the presence of God in and around humanity).
- The Old Testament high priests were a shadow of our great high priest, Jesus Christ.
- The Sabbath is a shadow of our eternal rest found in the work that Jesus did on the cross.
There are many more, but I think you get the idea. Now, if this is unfamiliar to you, please bear with me and hopefully it will become more clear.
The Shadow Points to the Reality
The things of God which are a shadow point to the reality. The shadows themselves are not the true things; however, they are often mistaken for things which have true substance. This was the problem with the Pharisees. They took the things of God which were shadows and built a religion out of them. Their understanding was limited and much of what they saw was not the true reality.
Take healing on the Sabbath, for instance. It was forbidden by the Pharisees. Why? Because it was considered work, and God had told them that the Sabbath was a day of rest. There was to be no work. When Jesus came, he healed people on the Sabbath. Again, why? Because he understood the reality of the Sabbath (that it was a shadow of things to come). God is for His people and He is working to restore all things back to Himself (See Colossians 1:20). This is just one way that Jesus demonstrated that truth.
As impressive as the Lego Vatican is (it does have a waving pope, by the way), it is not the real thing – it’s merely a representation of a greater reality. That’s what the shadows are as they relate to the things of God. The shadows are a representation of a much grander reality, and we must come to know the reality, or we will be left (like the Pharisees) holding up the obscure things as those with substance.
The Substance Belongs to Christ
These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ (Colossians 2:17).
Because Christ dwells within us, we have a vast wealth of resources at our disposal. I have said before that although we have an inheritance of princes and princesses, we often live like spiritual paupers. That’s because we live by shadows and forget about the true substance. (The reality is that many Christians have been taught more about shadows than substance. It likely isn’t even your fault.)
The things which have substance are Christ’s alone. Colossians tells us that the great mystery of the ages is not just found in Christ, but it is Christ Himself. If that’s not enough, the mystery is also referred to as “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Can there be a greater mystery? How Christ could dwell in us? It is almost unthinkable. But that is the greatest reality. Christ dwelling in His believers.
One of the most challenge things for me in my spiritual journey has been to sift through the shadows to find the true substance. It is a journey that God is hammering into me at this very moment, and it is one of my favorite times in all my years of following Christ.
Leave the shadows behind and follow what’s real. You will not regret it.
What other things can you think of that are mere “shadows” of things to come? What are you holding on to that’s merely a shadow of the truth? (Feel free to share in the comments below.)
I hear this saying quite often. In fact, I just saw a comment on a friend’s Facebook post where someone commented:
I know God is in charge. Some days I get human and get impatient.
Understandable, isn’t it? To know God is in charge but also to become impatient wondering what He is up to.
That statement got me to thinking. What does it mean for God to be “in charge” and what is my view of God in that regard?
When I think of the phrase, God is in charge, a picture not unlike a boss comes to mind. If you’re like me, you’ve had good bosses (that you would work for again in a heartbeat), and horrible bosses (who you couldn’t get away from fast enough.)
It conjures images of a task-oriented, directive, Type-A personality who sits aloof from his workers, barking out orders and people scrambling to do his bidding from his corner office, away from the cube-farm subordinates. [Now you also might have a better image of what I think of human authority and my rebellious nature. :)]
God is not aloof and distant.
The true character of God’s in-charge-ness is the epitome of a shepherd who goes after the one lost sheep. leaving the ninety-nine. (Luke 15:1-7)
It is the story of the Creator of the Universe leaving his throne, descending into a world ravaged by sin and darkness, and ultimately showing us what it means to be human.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2: 5-11, ESV)
It’s the narrative of a Father who loved His children so desperately that He ultimately gave them the greatest gift of all. Restored life with Him.
And, it’s the account of a God who not only worked to set the universe and His redemptive plan in motion but continues to work in and through and with His people to this day.
Our God is not just “in charge” but He is in-volved in every single aspect of your life, of my life, and in the lives of those around us. Even when we can’t see it or know what He’s up to. He is working.
He gives us life through His son and lives that life through us by His Spirit who indwells us. (see Romans 8:11; Ephesians 3:16
For God, this is what it means to be in charge. Not far away on His throne on high, sending others to do his bidding, but actively working by His Spirit to move in your life, to grow you and shape you and mold you to His likeness, and to use you to bring others into the same kind of relationship with Him, all for His glory and His eternal purpose.
He is a God worth following to the ends of the earth.
When you hear the phrase, God is in charge (or say it), what does it mean to you? What image comes to mind? Share in the comments below!