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?
When I was in college, I went through a very well-known discipleship program. I met with my discipler once a week and we went through these huge notebooks of information. We would check off lists and tasks. A friend of mine was my leader. There were a couple of issues I had with the program. One, I began to dread going every week. I hung out with my friend weekly, if not daily. I enjoyed spending time with him, except the discipleship time we spent together was BOR – ING! There was no life in it – just going through a notebook and to-do items. (Snoozer!)
- Did I read the passages and answer the fill-in-the-blank questions?
- Did I memorize the scripture for the week?
- Did I witness to at least one person? (The answer was usually NO – since I was at a Christian university, who wasn’t a Christian? 🙂 ).
There were 3 of these notebooks you had to get through in order to complete the program. These were not your ordinary 2-inch binders either. They were ginormous, 5- or 6-inch beasts that would put a large-print KJV Study Bible to shame.
My second issue was that it really didn’t seem to make a difference in my life or the life of my friend. We hung out together all the time, yet, his faith didn’t really seem to grow much during our time together. It just felt like something we did, checked off, and moved on. More life and relationship growth happened outside of that time – not during it.
I never finished the program. I didn’t even get through the second mega-manual. In some ways, I felt like a failure. Honestly, though, there was more life in a prayer time that another friend and I shared twice a week. I found his faith and trust in the Lord inspiring, and our time together wasn’t dry at all. I even experienced a major healing during this time. That was the kind of faith I wanted (and still want) to pursue. Not a checklist-based faith, but a living faith that learns to listen to and hear the Lord’s voice.
That’s why many so-called discipleship programs are flawed. They are based too much on what we do, and not enough on hearing from the Lord and following His lead. I’ve tried a number of programs and read about a few more. They may have had life at one point, but many seem ineffective in creating life-long followers of Jesus. The issue comes when we try and box up what the Lord wants to do through His Spirit and His people and put it into a system of checklists and principles. He’s a living God that wants a living relationship with His children.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)
It is not the system or structure we use (or even the person leading us) that causes us to grow in the Lord, but it is the Lord Himself. So why do we settle for a system created by a person to help us grow in the Lord? How about we connect with the source of growth first? And then share what Father is doing in our lives to help each other mature in the Lord?
What kind of discipleship would that look like? One that seeks to encounter a living God and to live where every day is a new challenge of faith and listening and learning both from Father and from each other?
What is your experience with discipleship? What have been the most encouraging times helping you grow in your faith? What funny stories do you have about attempts at discipleship?
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.
Last week, I told my son that I would take him skiing next month. He was really excited. My wife and daughter will be out of town on a mission trip during that time, and I thought it would be a great chance to do something fun together and have some “guy time.” Just yesterday, I asked if he was excited about going. He said, “Dad, I can’t wait. I wish it were February 17 all ready.” That definitely made my day!
From the moment I asked him, he has been looking forward to it. He knows that I will come through on my promise. Why? Because he knows me and knows that I wouldn’t go back on my word, unless it could not be helped. It also helps that I told him a firm date. Can you imagine if I had said, “Son, I’m going to take you skiing. I’m not going to tell you when, but one day, we will go.” How much harder would it be for him to trust me? He would probably keep asking me, “Dad, are we going this weekend? What about next weekend?”
When Abram was 75 years old, God made him a promise. Actually, it was more than a promise – the Bible calls it a covenant. It’s a binding agreement. Only God didn’t say when it would happen, only that it would happen.
And, like a good child, Abram asked God on more than one occasion, “When will you make good on your promise?” (My words, not Abram’s.) Abram even offered God some suggestions on how to make this thing work, since God was not timely (at least according to Abram.) Yet God persisted to tell him that the promise was coming.
That’s why I find the words in Genesis 17 so fascinating. God tells Abraham “for I HAVE MADE you a father of many nations.” (emphasis mine) At the time, Abram didn’t even have children. Sarai wasn’t even pregnant yet; however, God uses that phrase – “for I HAVE MADE”. In God’s mind, it’s as if He’s already done it.
That’s how it is with God. If He promises it, it will come about. It might not be in my timing. It may not be the way I think it should be done. But God will do it. He’s probably already putting things in motion to make it happen.
God tells this to Abram after Sarai had given him her maidservant to provide him with a son. Even Sarai thought she knew what was best. They were getting old, after all.
Yet God’s intent was different. He didn’t need help. He didn’t need suggestions. And says as such.
“See, Abram? I’ve made up my mind already. I’ll bless your other son, but that’s not how I will bless you. I’m going to bless you through your wife. I’ve already done it. You are the father of many nations.” Just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t make it any less true.
So what does that mean for you and me?
God has promised us eternal life in His son. This is more than simply going to heaven. Our eternal life begins now – part of that is knowing God and knowing Jesus Christ (see John 17:3).
Maybe you feel that God has promised you something specific – only you haven’t seen the promise fulfilled yet. Abram waited for over 24 years. (I hope you don’t have to wait that long.) 🙂
Even though the promise has not physically come to pass, in God’s mind it has already happened.
God’s word remains true…
…so we can rest.
…so we can trust.
…so we can stop worrying.
…so we can stop trying to do it on our own.
If you don’t know what God has promised, look in His word.
For I have made you…
..sons and daughters.
…heirs of a glorious inheritance.
…holy and righteous.
Many of God’s promises He has already accomplished through His son. Others will be fulfilled when Christ returns. Until then, we must learn to live in the promises of God that are for here and now. If you’re anything like my son, sometimes the hardest thing to do is wait. Especially on a promise.
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 had to make a quick trip to Austin for work last week, and since it was last-minute and within driving distance, I decided to skip the flight and hit the road. Within the first hour and a half, I saw the first of a number of things that would not only catch my attention but begin one of two patterns that would continue throughout my eight hour drive (and, yes, that is driving distance in Texas!)
I noticed a large manufacturing plant that had shut down a few years back. It was now just an empty shell of a place. A number of buildings, both small and large, once bustling with people and movement, now sitting silent and motionless.
“What a shame,” I thought to myself. A waste of resources, space, and material. Who knows what will become of that place? It’s especially a shame because of the hundreds of men and women who struggled to find jobs after it had abruptly closed its doors, a number of whom I have met.
One man, Martin (name changed), told me how he had worked there since his teenage years (he was now well into his 60’s), didn’t have any degree or certification and wasn’t sure what he would do or even how he would pay his bills. The local Workforce organization was offering assistance to a lot of these individuals, including paying for education programs, and Martin was supposed to begin one of those in Amarillo, but he never started.
Driving by, I wondered what had happened to him.
As I continued my long drive, I saw a number of houses and buildings that had been abandoned over the years. Gaping holes where windows and curtains used to fill. Overgrown grass and weeds jutted through loose boards and cracked brick.
One town had even re-purposed a building and put up a sign on it welcoming people to their town.
But how do you resurrect something that’s dead and gone? Lifeless? Worthless?
And that’s when it hit me. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
Because I want to share with you the other pattern that I began to notice.
I had been listening to a couple of podcasts as I was driving, and after turning them off, I just began to pray, “God, show me what you want me to see today.”
I started to notice butterflies. Lots of butterflies. I’ve driven a lot in my lifetime, and I have to say that I can’t remember a time when I’ve noticed more.
Most of them were flying right in front of my car (and no, no butterflies were harmed in the making of this post).
My daughter loves butterflies and so I thought of her and knew that she would love seeing all of them.
After a couple of hours, both the abandoned buildings and the number of butterflies stood out, so I knew God was trying to tell me something, but I just didn’t make the connection right away.
What could empty houses and abandoned buildings have to do with butterflies? You might already see the connection. I didn’t at first.
I thought about transformation, about metamorphosis. How a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, emerges from its cocoon and flies away. Only to leave what?
An empty shell!
That was the connection. The cocoon. What happens to it once the butterfly leaves?
It’s empty. Hollow. Lifeless.
What once held life is now motionless and silent. Abandoned.
That’s when God began making the connections.
When we put our faith and trust in Jesus, we become a new creation. We’re the butterfly. At least that’s how God sees us in Christ.
Yet, so often, we still see ourselves as the empty shell. Ugly. Worthless. Barren.
Only those are not God’s thoughts toward us.
9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2)
What we’re seeing when we look at the empty shell is what Scripture refers to as the Old Man.
What the devil tells us is that is who we still are. God sees so much more.
He sees a new creation because we ARE a new creation. The old is gone. It was crucified with Jesus.
So then why do I still struggle with…
Imagine a butterfly once emerging from the cocoon trying to re-enter it and live there. You would think the butterfly were a bit off.
That’s exactly what we do, though, in our Christian walk. We receive this new life in Christ only to try and live it out in the empty shell.
The other thing we do is to try and “earn” being a butterfly. It would be like this same butterfly going to sleep in the cocoon every night praying that he would become a butterfly the next day.
Of course, that illustration is ridiculous. If we could see that butterfly and talk to that butterfly (and they could understand us of course), we would tell that butterfly, “But you are a butterfly. You can’t change what you already are! There’s nothing you could do to make you any less of a butterfly or any more of a butterfly. Why are you praying to be a butterfly? You are a butterfly! Now get out of that cocoon and be a butterfly!”
Believer, are you beginning to see?
You are the new creation. You have been transformed. Morphed into a new creature.
So, start living as a butterfly. Believe that’s how God sees you because that is who you are.
Nothing you can do will make you more of a new creation, and nothing that you can do will make you less of a new creation.
Stop trying to live out of the cocoon.
Stop seeing yourself as the empty shell (that old self is dead and buried).
Stop praying to be a butterfly.
You are a butterfly.
You are not worthless and lifeless.
You have Life living inside of you.
Be the butterfly.
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!