Shadow, Substance, and the Lego Vatican in Philadelphia

Shadow, Substance, and the Lego Vatican in Philadelphia

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.)

When God Seems Silent

When God Seems Silent

Recently, my wife and I (and the teams that we do ministry with) prayed with a young lady regarding her sister (we’ll call them Ruth and Sarah).  Ruth’s sister, Sarah, was about to make a life-altering decision (one that would have lasting physical and emotional consequences).  Ruth called us not knowing what to do or how to convince Sarah to not go through with this.  We prayed with Ruth.  We asked if we could talk to Sarah, but she didn’t think that it would be a good idea.  So we called on our teams to begin to pray.  And we all prayed – for 2 days.

– We prayed for God to speak to Sarah about her decision.  We prayed that Ruth would have influence in her sister’s life to talk her out of it.

– We prayed that Sarah and Ruth would be filled with the Holy Spirit and that Sarah would make the right decision.

– We prayed for the Lord’s will regarding this situation (knowing that God would not agree with her decision.)

– We prayed Scripture over this situation and that God would intervene for His glory.

– We prayed blessings over Sarah, Ruth, and all those who would be involved.

– We even prayed for a bus to break down so that these yound ladies couldn’t make it to their destination.

Image credit: designpics / 123RF Stock Photo

Sarah went ahead with her decision.  My wife and I were heart broken.  As was Ruth, the sister.  She (Ruth) also struggled with her faith and with forgiveness (mostly God’s forgiveness towards her for orginally supporting her sister’s decision.)  Why would God not answer this prayer for His glory right then and there?  Wouldn’t God be glorified by intervening and preventing this decision to be made?  (At least that’s what I thought and how I prayed.)  We were sure we were praying in God’s will.

Each person must decide to respond to or reject the Spirit’s working in their life. 

As much as we would like to choose good (and God) for some people, not everyone will respond favorably to the promptings of the Spirit.  Our job as Christians is not to be their Savior, but to point them to the only one who can save.  We also must remember what Jesus said, ““Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16, NIV)

We Don’t know the ultimate outcome of the situation

God is still God, even though the outcome of this particular situation was not how we had been praying.  As we were grieving, the words of one of Delirious’s songs came to mind

40 million babies lost to God’s great orphanage,
It’s a modern day genocide and a modern day disgrace
If this is a human right then why aren’t we free?
The only freedom we have is in a man nailed to a tree.100 million faces, staring at the sky,
Wondering if this HIV will ever pass us by.
The devil stole the rain and hope trickles down the plug,
But still my Chinese take away could pay for someone’s drugs.
Our God reigns, Our God reigns,
Forever your kingdom reigns.
[ Lyrics from: ]

God still reigns even when God seems silent.  Who know what will happen with this young lady in the future.  Meanwhile, our job is to continue to support both young ladies and show them the love and mercy of Jesus.

God still deserves our praise

Just because God seems silent or does not answer us in the way we expect, He is still worthy of all of our praise.  It doesn’t mean we can’t grieve for someone.  It doesn’t mean that we will understand everything that God does.  God asks us to obey Him always, not understand Him in everything.  There will be things we face that we can never understand.  Our response to God is a trusting worship, one that is anchored in hope.

– Hope that God will ultimately use this situation for His glory.

– Thankfulness that one heart did turn towards God.

– Praise that God forgives, and that if this young lady decides to choose forgiveness, He will be waiting with open arms.

When God seems silent, choose hope.  Choose to believe.  Choose to worship Him.  After all, He first chose us:

For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you… (1 Thessalonians 1:4)