Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Month: January 2010 (page 2 of 2)

History and Mystery

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)

Life basically comes down to two words: history and mystery.  What is past is history.  What awaits us is a mystery. 

Which is more of a challenge to you—the history of what your life has been or the mystery of what your life will be?  Which concerns you more, eats up more of your thoughts and emotional energy—your past or your future?  Which holds more sway when it comes to interpreting your experiences, making decisions and how you feel about yourself.

Figuring out the history part may seem the simpler of the two challenges.  Certainly gathering the data is easier when we’re looking at what has been rather than what will be.  All you have to do is think—contemplate what has transpired in your life.  Calculate where you’ve lived, who has played a significant part in your story, what experiences have shaped you, etc.  The facts of your personal history aren’t the challenge—it’s having eyes to see them accurately that is not so simple.  It is the interpretation of those people, circumstances, places and experiences that is difficult.

Two people looking at the same event often interpret it differently.  Be it a basketball game, a car accident or the relational challenges of a marriage—we all interpret our experiences through our own unique set of lenses.  Those lenses have been ground into shape by what we think and the way we think.  By the way, the way we think is not the same as what we think.  They are connected, but distinct.  What we think about has to do with the substance of our thoughts and the conclusions of our thinking.  The way we think relates to the process through which our thoughts run in order to come to the conclusions we do.  The question in each case becomes, Am I interpreting the people, events, circumstances and experiences of my life accurately?  Do I see and understand these as God does?

Mystery—as we are using the word—relates to what is yet to unfold in your life.  We are all interested in that, especially at this time of year as we set out into the shrouded fog of the new year.  Some respond to such mystery with elevated levels of anxiety, others with an increased sense of adventure.  Such mystery is debilitating for some and exhilarating for others.  Is the unknown about your next year menacing or motivating?

Why are some people able to look ahead and find new energy surging through them and others, looking at the same future, are paralyzed and drained?  Again it comes down to the what and the way of our thinking.  What we think and the way in which our thinking brought us to those conclusions is at the core of how we embrace the mystery of what life will be like tomorrow.  So whether you’re looking back at last year (and beyond) and trying to figure out what you should conclude about your personal history or whether you’re looking forward into the mists of a mysterious future, the issue is the same—the way and the what of your thinking determines the quality of your life.  Both are vital.  God calls us to have a “Christian mind” as well as “Christian thoughts.”

As Christians this should come as no great surprise.  The Bible repeatedly underscores the importance of our thinking.  Just look around and you’ll notice that “… many live as enemies of the cross of Christ … Their mind is on earthly things” (Phil. 3:18, 19).  Thus the Apostle’s exhortation: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:2-3).

As we launch into this new year, I want to ask you this simple question and leave you to answer it: What will you intentionally do this year to shape both what you think and the way you think so that you will be seeing both your history and your mystery the way God does?

The Christian life: one foot in front of the other

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

The Christian life is a “walk” (v.6) — a matter of putting one foot in front of the other moment by moment, decision by decision in the strength of God’s Spirit.  But just what does that “walk” look like?  The Apostle Paul tells us in v.7 as he sets forth four participles, all of which qualify the imperative to “walk in him [i.e., Jesus Christ]”. 

The first comes from the horticultural world — “rooted.”  The perfect tense of the verb indicates that this is past action which results in abiding state.  The passive voice points to God as the active agent (as also in the next two participles).  When a person comes to faith in Christ, God sends that person’s roots down deep into Christ Himself.  Like a mighty redwood whose roots go down and spread out to provide a channel for nourishment from the soil and stability from the winds of adversity, so Christ is the very “soil” from which the believer draws his life and in which he finds his security and strength.

The second comes from the architectural world — “built up.”  Here to we find a passive voice–God is the builder.  Now, however, we have present tense (as in the next two participles as well)–emphasizing the ongoing, habitual nature of the action.  We are built upon the foundation of Christ (1 Cor. 3:10-14).  We are ever and always being build up by God on this immovable foundation.  Having rooted us (downward), now God works to build us (upward).

The third comes from the legal world — “established.”  The word was used outside the Bible to describe that which was legally guaranteed.  There may be something of that notion here, but more likely is the derived sense of being “strenghened” or “established.”  That in which we are to be established is “in the faith.”  By “faith” it seems Paul has in mind here, not the subjective, personal trust of each believer, but the objective content of “the faith.”  It is “in” the sphere of the faith that God will strengthen and establish us.  Indeed, “… you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

The fourth rounds out the group — “abounding in thankfulness.”  Perhaps here the picture is that of a cup overflowing with excess.  The believer–regardless of his circumstances–should always brim over with expressions of gratitude to God.  The thankful heart is caught up with what it does possess, not what it does not have.  Falsehoods based upon empty promises find no hearing in the life of the truly grateful person.  There is no ground of appeal.  In fact, as we consider the false teaching threatening the Colossian church, we might say that worship–corporate and private–is both a safeguard and weapon against error. 

For fun, see Colossians 1:10-12 where Paul uses the same verb (“walk,” v.10) and then uses four participles to describe that walk, just as he does here.  Interestingly, the first and last use the same imagery as here: horticulture (“bearing fruit,” v.10b) and thanksgiving (v.12).

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