Colossians 1:3-8

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
(Colossians 1:3-8 NIV)

The Apostle Paul begins his letter like many others – with genuine thankfulness for the ones to whom he is writing.  Notice that Paul uses the word “we” in both verses 3 and 4.  In verse 1, Paul identified himself as the author and included Timothy as his fellow minister of the Gospel and his traveling companion.

Verse 4 provides further evidence that Paul had not been to Colossae.  Paul says, “we have heard…” – if he or Timothy had been to Colossae, he would have said something like “I have seen…” or “I observed…”.

So who had told Paul about the church in Colossae?  From verse 7, we know that Epaphras was a direct source of this news.  Epaphras was the pastor of the Colossian church.  While the Scriptures do not say, scholars believe that Epaphras came to Christ during Paul’s extended two-year stay in Asia Minor (Acts 19:10).  Epaphras is mentioned at both the beginning of this letter as well as the end.

Another source of Paul’s commendation of the Colossian church was likely Philemon, whom Paul also knew. When Paul wrote to Philemon (Philemon 1), he called Philemon his “dear friend and fellow worker” of the Gospel, and also acknowledged the church that met in Philemon’s home.  Paul also acknowledged that Epaphras and Philemon knew each other, as Epaphras was with Paul and passed along his greetings to Philemon (Philemon1:23).

Paul was not only thankful for the Colossian church, but he prayed for them as well (verse 3).  Thinking about that for a moment – how often do we pray for the ones that we are thankful for?  We often pray for the ones that have not yet come to Christ, and for those who are going through trials or circumstances.  Let us remember to pray for those whom we love and are thankful for, just as Paul did for the Colossians.

Paul commended the Colossians for their love for all God’s people, and for the hope they have in Christ.  Paul goes on to remind the Colossians that they had heard the true message of the Gospel.  This will be important later in Paul’s letter, as he addresses the false beliefs that were creeping into the Colossian church.

Paul goes on to remind the Colossians that this Gospel truth works and bears fruit not only in Colossae but all around the world (verse 6).  Paul reminds them that God’s truth is universal and not subjected to locale or circumstance or time period.

Paul also commends Epaphras for his faithful ministry of the Gospel, reinforcing Epaphras’ role as pastor and standard-bearer of the truth to the Colossian church.  Paul provides this reinforcement of Epaphras (as we shall see later on) to prevent his voice being drowned out in the noise and confusion of false beliefs being shared in the Colossian church.

May we be focused on the truth of the Gospel, and tune our ears to hear the words of our Shepherd only, ignoring the noise of the world around us.

Blessings
~kevin

Colossians 1:1-2

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
(Colossians 1:1-2 NIV)

Today we begin our study of Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae.

Colossae was one of three cities in the region known as Asia Minor, located in modern-day Turkey.  The three cities (known in their day as the Tri-Cities) were Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis.

Colossae was known for both its wool trade as well as its chalky cliffs.  Pigments were extracted from the mineral-rich chalk and used to make dyes for the woolen fabric.

There is plenty of historical evidence that Colossae existed as a city and part of the Tri-City area.  However, historians cite an earthquake around AD 60 that wiped out all three cities.  Laodicea and Hierapolis were rebuilt; Colossae was not.  The ruins of Colossae have not been unearthed.

Paul is writing to the church at Colossae, although he had never been there.  Paul, on his third missionary journey, spent two years in Asia Minor (Acts 19:10).  It was likely there in his temporary base at Ephesus, that Paul met Epaphras, a man from Colossae.  Epaphras is the one credited with starting the church at Colossae.

There is also one other person from Colossae that you may be aware of – Philemon (whom Paul wrote to ask a favor to accept his runaway slave back as a brother in Christ).

Paul introduces himself as an apostle, listing his credentials for addressing the Colossian church, as he had not been there.  Acts 18:23 tells us that Paul had been in the area on a previous journey, and certainly would have stopped is there was a church or group of believers there.  Paul also introduces Timothy, not as a co-author of the letter, but simply his traveling companion at the time.

Paul gives the Colossians a warm greeting, and offers the Lord’s grace and peace as he writes to them.

May we remember, as Paul reminded the Colossian church, that the Father’s grace and peace is available to us as well.

Blessings,
~kevin

Recap of Habakkuk

Yesterday we wrapped up the book of Habakkuk.  There is so much to observe and learn from this short but powerful book.

We have spent 17 brief moments together looking at Habakkuk’s distress about his land and God’s people, and God’s reply back to him.  And it feels like we have just scratched the surface of what there is to learn about the Lord, and our human condition.

What Habakkuk saw in his day, we see in our day as well.  Habakkuk saw the injustice, the lawlessness, the paralyzed indifference of those who are sworn to uphold the good and the right.  Habakkuk saw this for Judah.  We see it in every corner of the world today.

Like Habakkuk, we often complain bitterly to the Lord… “Why don’t you do something?”

When we complain, we must ask ourselves why we are complaining.  Is it because:

  • We cannot control the lives or actions of others?
  • Minor injustices have become major, and we can no longer ignore them?
  • Our own comfort or convenience has been interrupted or upset?

Too often, our complaints are rooted in our own selfishness.  I say this reflectively, not judging you, but looking at my own life in the mirror.

When I lay aside my selfishness, and allow God’s love to compel me, the reason for my complaints change.  Now I have the same love for others that God does, the same heart for people that He exhibited on the cross, the same desire to point others toward Christ.

And that mind shift, that change in perspective, changes everything.

There is so much to walking with the Lord, captured in both the Old and New Testaments.  But yet, the Lord refines everything down to this one little sentence fragment:

“… But the righteous will live by his faith.”
(Habakkuk 2:4b NASB)

When we keep first things first and focus on the Lord, all the other issues of life work themselves out.  Either the matter is resolved, or we discover that the matter is no longer of first importance in our lives, and must take a back seat to our pursuit of knowing God and walking with Him by faith.

Habakkuk had no promise of life getting any better in his days; in fact, the Lord said it was about to get much worse.  Habakkuk did not run and hide, nor did he complain.

Remember Habakkuk’s summary of what he expected, and how he responded:

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
18 Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
(Habakkuk 3:17-18 NASB)

May we see the Lord as our strength, just as Habakkuk did, able to navigate like the deer in the rocky, unstable, hard places of life.  May we rely on His power to have steady feet as we walk in obedience to the Lord, hearing His voice and following Him in faith.

Blessings,
~kevin

Habakkuk 3:16-19

16 I heard and my inward parts trembled,
At the sound my lips quivered.
Decay enters my bones,
And in my place I tremble.
Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress,
For the people to arise who will invade us.
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
18 Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
19 The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.

For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.
(Habakkuk 3:16-19 NASB)

Today, Habakkuk reflects on what he has seen and heard from the Lord.  Yesterday, Habakkuk addressed the Lord directly, worshipping God for all He had done in the past, was doing in the present, and will do in the future.

Today, Habakkuk returns to first person narrative.  In your mind’s eye, imagine being Habakkuk.  The Lord has just shown you what He is about to do in your lifetime, in your country, with your fellow citizens.  And it takes your breath away.  But in God’s wrath, you see His mercy, salvation, and upholding His everlasting covenants He made with you and every other Israelite.  You have addressed God one-on-one, and He has answered you, not once, but twice.

Habakkuk shares his response to all this news of God’s plans.  Notice the physical reaction that happens:  his stomach churns, he is unable to speak, his legs give way as he can no longer stand.  All he can do is sit and wait on the Lord.

Obviously, Habakkuk wrote the first sentence of verse 16 at a later time, as he was unable to write when he felt the full gravity and implications of God’s plans.

The second sentence of verse 16 shows Habakkuk snapping back to the present: broken in spirit, humbled, and waiting on the Lord, and for His day of judgment upon the land and inhabitants of Judah.

Verses 17 and 18 go together, as Habakkuk reflects on the future condition of his beloved homeland, and his response to those circumstances.  As Habakkuk reveals his thoughts real time, we see him deciding right then and there to honor and worship the Lord regardless of what happens.  Even utter desolation of the land and its people could not sway Habakkuk to take his eyes and focus off the Lord.

Habakkuk finishes his thoughts by acknowledging that his strength comes from the Lord.  Habakkuk is powerless to change the course of future events and knows that the Lord is his only power and protection and hope.  By God’s strength, Habakkuk will not only be able to stand again, but to walk as sure-footed as the deer on the barren rocky mountain crags and peaks.

May we, like Habakkuk, see and realize:

  • God’s greatness and our smallness
  • God’s strength and our weakness
  • God’s security and our unprotected vulnerability
  • God’s provision and our poverty
  • God’s completeness and our brokenness
  • God’s majesty and our humility
  • God’s righteousness and our sin
  • God’s love that covers us just as we are, where we are.

Blessings,
~kevin

Habakkuk 3:8-15

Did the Lord rage against the rivers,
Or was Your anger against the rivers,
Or was Your wrath against the sea,
That You rode on Your horses,
On Your chariots of salvation?
Your bow was made bare,
The rods of chastisement were sworn. Selah.
You cleaved the earth with rivers.
10 The mountains saw You and quaked;
The downpour of waters swept by.
The deep uttered forth its voice,
It lifted high its hands.
11 Sun and moon stood in their places;
They went away at the light of Your arrows,
At the radiance of Your gleaming spear.
12 In indignation You marched through the earth;
In anger You trampled the nations.
13 You went forth for the salvation of Your people,
For the salvation of Your anointed.
You struck the head of the house of the evil
To lay him open from thigh to neck. Selah.
14 You pierced with his own spears
The head of his throngs.
They stormed in to scatter us;
Their exultation was like those
Who devour the oppressed in secret.
15 You trampled on the sea with Your horses,
On the surge of many waters.
(Habakkuk 3:8-15 NASB)

In today’s passage, Habakkuk continues to worship the Lord.

Notice the shift in today’s section.  Habakkuk goes from speaking about God to speaking directly to God.  This is really a huge step of faith for Habakkuk.  He has heard the power and majesty of God, and knowing the coming judgment of God in his lifetime, Habakkuk worships God and addresses God as one person would talk to another person.

Habakkuk starts out with a rhetorical question, asking God why He is riding out in war. Is God angry at nature? Is God taking out His vengeance and wrath on the rivers and the seas?  The answer is obviously “no”.  Remember in verse 2, Habakkuk clearly knew that God was going to display His wrath at all the injustice and wrongdoing, both to the people of Judah as well as the Babylonians.

In verse 8, Habakkuk is remembering how God used nature (crossing the Red Sea from Egypt, corring the Jordan river into the Promised land) to provide salvation to His people and defeat the enemy.

In verse 9, Habakkuk pictures God as a mighty warrior.  Habakkuk says that God’s arrows and rods (fighting sticks) are commissioned.  Our modern-day equivalent would be the western good guy – bad guy movies where the good guy says to the bad guy, “I have a bullet with your name on it.”

Habakkuk goes on to describe God’s wrath as a violent thunderstorm that produces flash floods, and literally “splits the earth”, turning a beautiful stream into a raging torrent, washing out everything in its path.

In verse 10, Habakkuk describes the reaction of God’s creation to His coming wrath.  The mountains writhed in pain, like a woman giving birth, and the seas groaned deeply and lifted their waves in distress.

In verse 11, Habakkuk remembers when God made the sun stand still as He fought for His people (Joshua 10:12-14).

Verse 12 shows God’s judgment and wrath poured out.  While this verse is written like it already happened, some say this verse refers to the Flood of Noah’s time.  Most scholars, however, attribute this to the end times yet to come, when God will do battle with all the forces of evil, as described in Revelation.

Verse 13 shows God protecting His people according to His covenants, and vanquishing the enemy.

Verse 14 describes God as taking the enemy’s weapons out of their hands and using those same weapons to defeat them.  This verse shows the boldness and power of God, killing the leaders of the enemy right in front of the troops, while everyone stood by, powerless to do anything.

Verse 15 shows the enormity and power of God, where the oceans are like big puddles to God – He rides His horses through them and there is a big splash, but it does not stop God from rescuing and protecting His own.

May you take time to worship the Lord today, praising Him for His power, righteousness, justice, and salvation, singing His praises along with Habakkuk.

Blessings,
~kevin

Habakkuk 3:3-7

God comes from Teman,
And the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah.
His splendor covers the heavens,
And the earth is full of His praise.
His radiance is like the sunlight;
He has rays flashing from His hand,
And there is the hiding of His power.
Before Him goes pestilence,
And plague comes after Him.
He stood and surveyed the earth;
He looked and startled the nations.
Yes, the perpetual mountains were shattered,
The ancient hills collapsed.
His ways are everlasting.
I saw the tents of Cushan under distress,
The tent curtains of the land of Midian were trembling.
(Habakkuk 3:3-7 NASB)

As we examine today’s passage, we see Habakkuk entering into deep praise and worship of the Lord.

Normally, I use the NIV translation to quote the Scripture passage we are studying for the day.  Today, I switched to the NASB because I felt it more accurately portrayed the passage’s truths.

As we look at this passage, it’s important to figure out the timeframe that Habakkuk was writing about.  Was he writing about the past, his present, or the future?

A few scholars think that Habakkuk’s words were time-bound to the past.  Most scholars, however, disagree with that viewpoint and see this section remembering the past, as well as pointing to the future.

First, let’s look at Habakkuk’s references to the past.  This first phrase (v. 3) is very similar to the beginning of Moses’ blessing he gave to the Israelites before his death:

“The Lord came from Sinai,
And dawned on them from Seir;
He shone forth from Mount Paran,
And He came from the midst of ten thousand holy ones;
At His right hand there was flashing lightning for them.
(Deuteronomy 33:2 NASB)

Habakkuk, like Moses, was remembering the Lord’s hand leading His people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, surrounding them with His protection, provision, and love.  These landmarks (Sinai, Seir, Mount Paran, and Teman, Mount Paran) were descriptions of the general direction the Israelites followed out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

How does Habakkuk’s passage relate to the future?  Many scholars believe this is a parallel passage to Isaiah 63:1-6, where the prophet Isaiah describes the path that the Lord will take in His second coming.

Notice that Habakkuk stops after the first two lines of his worship song and interjects the word “Selah”.  This word is used three times in Habakkuk’s worship song (v. 3, v. 9, v. 13).  The only other place this word is used is in the Psalms.  Psalmists use this term 71 times in the various Psalms.  “Selah” is a musical term, asking the worshiper to pause and ponder what was just said.  In this case, Habakkuk invites us to consider the majesty, glory, and righteousness of God – what He has done in the past as He led the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, and how God promises to come back one day for His own, in all power, glory, and righteousness.

The rest of today’s passage reminds us that God is God, and He is sovereign over the universe.  Even the rocks and mountains, inanimate objects with no breath or soul or mind, cower in His presence (verse 6).

Habakkuk says that God’s presence is felt even among the ungodly that do not recognize Him or fear Him (v. 7).

Take some time and reflect on God’s power and righteousness reflected in Habakkuk’s thoughts today.  Be comforted as David was, as he reflected on God’s love and power and righteousness:

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the defense of my life;
Whom shall I dread?

(Psalm 27:1 NASB)

Blessings,
~kevin

Habakkuk 3:1-2

Habakkuk’s Prayer

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth.

Lord, I have heard of your fame;
    I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
    in our time make them known;
    in wrath remember mercy.
(Habakkuk 3:1-2 NIV)

Today we begin Chapter 3 of Habakkuk’s dialogue with God.  Chapter 2 consisted of Habakkuk asking his second question of the Lord, and the Lord’s response.

As we ended chapter 2 yesterday, we saw the Lord’s pronouncement – that He is in His holy temple, and for all the earth to be silent before Him.

After some period of time, what was Habakkuk’s response?  More complaining?  More questions?  More demands of justice?

No.  Habakkuk’s mind went to only one thing – worship.

Habakkuk introduces chapter 3 as a prayer.  The meaning of the term “shigionoth” is not precisely known, but is generally accepted to be a musical term, indicating that the following text is like an ode or lyric set to music, similar to the Psalms.  If we jump to the bottom of chapter 3 (verse 19), we see Habakkuk making it clear that this prayer is to be sung and played with musical instruments.

So what kind of music was this to be?  A dirge or other sad music, like a funeral procession, since Judah was about to be overrun by the Babylonians?  A condemning “I told you so” song, since the people of Judah were under God’s wrath?  A frivolous “don’t worry, be happy” song, denying the problems at hand?

No – none of the above.  When I think of Habakkuk’s prayer, the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” comes to mind.  This hymn is a quiet confidence and faith in God’s goodness and love, despite terrible circumstances.

Horatio Spafford, the man who wrote the lyrics to “It is Well”, was a prominent lawyer on Chicago during the 1800’s.  His business investments in various buildings and properties were mostly consumed during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  His wife and four daughters went ahead of him to Europe for a summer vacation, and their four daughters were drowned in a collision at sea; his wife alone survived.  His son (born after the accident) died of scarlet fever.  The church they attended, rather than supporting them in their grief, saw their tragedies as divine punishment.  But yet, Horatio and his wife kept their eyes focused on the Lord.

Habakkuk, despite all he knows will happen, has a single-minded focus on the Lord.  Habakkuk calls on the Lord to bring revival to the land of Judah.  Habakkuk calls on God to draw His people back to Himself.

His prayer request?  “In wrath remember mercy.”

May Habakkuk’s prayer also be ours -in our time, for our nation.

Blessings,
~kevin