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.)

Creativity Unleashed

Creativity Unleashed

When I wrote this, I was on my way back from a conference in Vegas.  I know, I know. You can rag on me later.  While in Vegas, my boss and I went to see the Vegas show, Le Reve (it’s French for “the dream”).  From the set design, to the lighting, to the costumes and choreography, this show was an amazing spectacle of human creativity and ingenuity.

I marvelled at the set design and configurations that were created within a relatively small (and confined) space.  The theater is in the round so there is no back stage or side stages to store a lot of props and set changes.  All of the stage changes have to come up from the floor (which is also a big pool) or from the ceiling.  It was astounding to see what different designs appeared out of the watery set.

There is a link, I believe, to our Creator and our capacity to be creative.  For some, it is a natural gift (much like the creators of Le Reve or other Cirque du Soleil-type shows.)  For others, it exists, but needs to be nurtured and shaped and allowed to express itself. We need creative people in our communities to serve as ambassadors and heralds not only to redeem those areas of culture, but also to show us what is possible when we dream and dare to move beyond our current thoughts and trends.

Road to CreativityCreativity spans all kinds of industries, above and beyond art and media; although, we need artists in all fields and should encourage “Christian” artists to move beyond walls of the church and seek to be missional in their art and in their sphere of influence. How can an artist share the Gospel with other artists?  How can he or she create an organic community of believers who share the same passion?  How do artists and creatives share the Gospel of Jesus in their different medium and subcultures?

What about inventors, entrepreneurs and other business creative-types?  My father-in-law has a keen knack for business and being creative in financing certain business deals.  I am amazed at how he thinks when it comes to business. I have much to learn from someone like him in the area of business creativity.  There are opportunities for people like that to teach and train others and impact the business community as well as their local communities.  What if those people formed small groups or MasterMind groups to teach and train others all the while pursuing opportunities to share the Gospel and God’s love with them?  What if they had a heart for the community and training up the next generation about the in’s and out’s of business?

While we are not all called to be creative, part of our nature comes from the Creator, and so there is within all of us the capacity to create.  Whether that’s through business, the arts, education, or ministry, let us seek the author of creativity as we also seek to glorify Him in each of our areas of calling.

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.  (Isaiah 40:28)

 

Glenwood Prayer Update (new requests added)

For those of you following our Glenwood Outreach, Mike and I went to Glenwood the last 2  Sundays and had really good conversations with several of the residents. We got some good information as far as ways that we can help out, but we will need some help making connections. What follows are prayer requests and ways that we can continue to help the residents (and possibly ways for you to get involved). We are going to create a survey this week and contacting Becky, the apartment manager, to make sure she’s okay with us using it with residents.  Our whole goal of being involved with these people is to not assume what they need, but to really listen to them as far as their true needs.  We also will make sure we can use the clubhouse one night a week for a women’s Bible Study.

PRAYER REQUESTS

*New*

James – (apt. 515) – James wife has left him recently.  There are 6 kids in the picture (4 of them are theirs).  James definitely knows the Word.  He was quoting Scripture while we were talking with him.  He is open to being part of a men’s group and definitely needed some encouragement, but he seems to be doing okay.  We are praying for reconciliation with his wife and strength for him and his children.  We are also praying that Christ would guard his heart and mind and the hearts and minds of his children.  They are living with their mother, and it is not a good situation.

Erika (apt. 425) – Erika recently got her car totalled by a drunk driver.  She’s okay, although she did injure her ankle and is supposed to be on crutches.  The car is owned by  someone else, so she has to get a power of attorney to get the money to buy a new one.  We are praying that she is able to do this quickly, and that her ankle heals supernaturally quick.  She has also been struggling with anxiety, so we are praying Philippians 4:6-7 over her and that the peace of Christ would guard her heart and mind.

*Last Sunday*

Shontiel – (apt. 212 ) – she said that the biggest need right now for her and her friends are car problems and auto maintenance (her mechanic says she probably needs another car, and that it will cost more to fix than what it’s worth. We need to pray for a new car for her! – She also told us that Kristen is having car issues as well, which we’ve known about but need to help her get fixed (I don’t remember what’s wrong) – She thinks a Single mom’s ministry would be helpful for encouraging and connecting the women in Glenwood apts. and a mentor program for young boys – to connect them with consistent adult male relationships.

Rachel (apt. 717) – the AC on her car is out and needs $700 or so to get it fixed. She’s still working part time but has also applied for a FT job – let’s pray that she gets it! – She also said a mid-week Bible study would be helpful – she doesn’t know any other single moms in the apt. community. She attends Cowboy Church.

Abuk -(apt. 313) – please pray for encouragement for her. She is experiencing a lot of doubt. (Praise) – She found a tutor at AC that is going to help her prepare for her next (and final) time she can take the test to get into the LVN program. She also mentioned that gas was a big expense.

Paco – (apt. ?) – Mike and I met Paco as we were leaving. He works as a security guard and was about to leave when we saw him by the pool. From our brief conversation, he seemed to be a believer, but also let us know about a young man, James, in Building 5 that needed some encouragement. His wife has left him (James) recently and Paco said James was struggling. Mike and I plan to go back sometime this week and try to visit with him.

Manny and Veronica -(apt. 625)- I briefly talked to Manny, Veronica, and Fredarius. They were leaving to go to a family cookout. I had been praying this week that I would run into him, so go God! I asked if it would be alright if I stopped by sometime and visited with him and he said yes. So, let’s pray that God will arrange that encounter!

– Please pray with us that we will not enable these residents but empower them. We do not necessarily just want to give them everything for free, but we want them to contribute some so that they feel empowered as a person as well as helped.

Biggest Needs at Glenwood

– Automotive help for several single moms (If anyone has any connections, please let me know)

– Bible study for moms and a woman to step up and lead it.

– Gas cards (maybe offer them at a discount to residents – Glenwood groupon idea)

– Mentor program for youth

Upcoming Events

Last week of June – Mission Amarillo Group to Glenwood & Glenwood Community Block Party

Weekly visits with residents

If you would like to contribute to our cause or learn more about our ministry teams, please contact Will at ratlif.will@gmail.com.

When is a church a church?

This is a re-post of a blog article that I wrote  a couple of years ago.  It’s amazing how pertinent this subject and these questions still are for those of us in ministry and seeking a foundational change in the way that we define and “do” church.

A friend of mine sent me this blog post on church planting yesterday. It’s by far one of the most exciting and challenging articles I’ve read in recent months. It challenges a lot of my perceptions and assumptions about church planting, church leadership, and my definition of “church”.  God has really been stretching and growing me personally in so many ways and with so many of my assumptions where “church” and spiritual life and leadership are concerned. It’s also been helpful that I’ve been teaching a New Testament Survey class to several high schoolers at a local high school. It helps to contextualize the areas where God has been challenging me while I’m teaching others what the Bible says about those very things.

Click here for the post.

Questions to think about as and after you read this article:

1.) How would you define church? What are its core characteristics?

2.) How would you have answered this young couple’s questions? (i.e., Would you have discouraged them from continuing because they were not “trained” or “experienced” enough?  Would you have set a “leader” or “pastor” over them because you felt like they needed additional leadership or traning?)

3.) When is a group of people a church? How often should they meet?  What should happen as part of their gathering?

For further reading, see 1 Corinthians 12-14; Acts 2:42-46.  Also see Neil Cole’s book, Organic Church.

 

The Stupidest Thing I Ever Said (but I really meant it)…

Have you ever had one of those moments?  The one where you knew immediately that what you said had been totally misunderstood? (And maybe for good reason.)  When my wife and I lived in Arizona, I had one of those moments.  It was well intentioned and to my credit I really did mean it, but the way I said it was totally not the way I meant it to come out of my mouth.  (And to my wife’s credit, there was good reason for the misunderstanding).

So, there we were in bed one night, and my wife asked, “Why do you love me?”  (At this point the alarm bells go off in my head…WARNING!…ANSWER CAREFULLY!…THINK!)  Here’s what I said (again, not what I meant this to sound like) – “Because I have to.”  Yes, I know.  (Insert title again here.)

Okay, so now you’re wondering (I hope) about what I meant.  And it totally has to do with what I said.  Here’s what I meant, and if you understand what I’m saying and can explain it to my wife, please call.  I’m not sure she’s over it yet. 🙂

When I married my wife, I meant what I said, and I said what I meant.  I chose to love her 100%.  (Not sure why I digressed into Dr. Seuss speak just then).  I made a covenant with my wife, and I chose to love her unconditionally no matter what.  So, now it doesn’t matter whether I want to love my wife or not.  On that day, I made a choice, and I will do everything I can to live by that choice.  So, in essence, I don’t have a choice anymore NOT to love my wife.  I have to.  Because I made a covenant with my wife to do just that.

Agape is the Greek word for God’s love for us – unconditional love.  Love is part of God’s character.  It’s so much a part of God’s character that he can’t NOT love us.  It’s impossible.  In essence, He has to love us.  God made a choice from the beginning of creation to love what He made (and he called us VERY good).  He made a choice to love us no matter what, and because He made that choice, He demonstrated the ultimate act of love in His son, Jesus Christ.  Even while we were still in the midst of our sin. (Romans 5:8)

While I am in no way comparing myself to God, the concept is the same.  When we choose to love someone the way that God loved us, we are choosing to love beyond emotion, desire, and frustration and choosing a love that isn’t based on emotion but based on a choice, agape love.

So the next time your spouse asks you, “Why do you love me?”   Tell them, “Because I have to.”  And let me know how it works out for you.  (I’ll even let you sleep on my couch for a night or two.  Just don’t tell my wife.)