Lincoln Forlong

Replacing the old life with the new

For some Christians, the battle between pre-salvation desires and their new preferences for living in Christ is relentless, but for others it’s not so dominant. For some, spiritual rebirth washed away the vicious battle against sin, while others continue with the struggle against weaknesses in temptation and fleshly passions. Paul, being the realist he was, speaks to this reality in his letter to the Colossian’ church, highlighting the believer’s responsibility and God’s provision.

The umbrella focus for every believer is to ​seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:1-2). This shift in daily focus alters our view of life from self to heavenly. Motives, attitudes, priorities, relationships, routines, activities, and much more, are seriously impacted by this overarching move in our mental direction. This shift is not only enabled by the Holy Spirit, but by realising that through  faith in Jesus Christ as Lord,  you have died (to self and sin), and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). Integral to this is a God-given realisation that when Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Col 3:4). This earthly  experience is not our permanent arena, but eternal life in glorious heaven with Christ is. And He’s coming one day to take us there.

Paul proceeds through Colossians 3:5-17, to catalogue some practical and strengthening Christian disciplines which equip, comfort, and refresh believers in the stresses and exhaustion of daily living. Essential to spiritual vitality is our need to put to death what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Likewise, you must put  away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. These sins may be acceptable and normalised in worldly society, but they are the sources of great suffering and anxiety for all you claim to belong to Christ. We Christians are responsible to remove these vices from our lives.

Similarly, we are to intentionally put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Through our surrendered daily intake of God’s Word, prayer, discipleship, and fellowship, we are enabled to become more holy and beloved, (with) compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, becoming more obvious in our lives.

Central to all this is a soft-hearted attitude that bows to the Lord Jesus, enabling us to let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. And it is when the peace of Jesus governs our outlook upon life that we can truly be thankful. As God’s Word masters our thinking and heart attitudes, so we experience change in the way we view others. Commonly, as we grow in Christ, our desires to be teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God increases. As church fellowship and worship become more valuable and more desirable, so other’s faults and irritations become less important to us.

Our growing relationship with the Lord is to permeate every part of life for His pleasure and glory. Paul concludes by reminding us that no matter what you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. This does not mean that we are blind to the difficulties of life, but it does mean we can see and experience Jesus Christ in all of life with thankful understanding.

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A changed man tells of Jesus’ mercy

Few Bible stories tell of such a dramatic change in direction as the man of Mark 5:1-20. Jesus, accompanied by his disciples, having sailed through the night, arrive in the Gentile countryside of the Gerasenes, on the eastern shore of the sea of Galilee. Having landed, they were immediately met by a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs (Luke 8:27). Mark 5:3-6 tells us that no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him.

This man was about to experience the very thing he had most likely given up all hope of; deliverance from the extremely destructive effects of demonic power in his life. 1 John 3:8 tells us that the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. And this man, who had taken on the name of Legion, was about to experience the absolute and uncontested power of Jesus Christ over demonic authorities.

Close to the landing place was a nearby town’s graveyard with a herd of 2000 pigs grazing on a sloping grass paddock. Now, pigs are not tranquil grazers. Pigs are scavengers who forage for food of any kind by digging holes. They’re noisy carnivore bullies who rustle and tussle with each other  without polite manners. Everything about this scene was out of sorts by our modern way of thinking. From the group of dishevelled Jewish sailors in a Gentile region, the loud and violent demon possessed man, to the loud and smelly pigs. The whole scene reeked of disorder. Then, in steps the Son of God, bringing order into chaos!

Jesus speaks with Legion, and the demons, knowing that Jesus was about to cast them out, request to be sent into the nearby heard of pigs, which Jesus did. To everyone’s surprise, the entire herd of pigs’ stampede into the sea of Galilee. Understandably, the herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country… (Mark 5:14), …they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men (Matthew 8:33). Unwittingly, these herdsmen became evangelists simply by spreading the news near and far of what Jesus had done. They didn’t get creative with a different method for each hearing, they simply retold the facts, especially of the deliverance of the man. Job well done men!

The result was they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid (Mark 5:14-15). Verse 17 says, they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. These people didn’t simply want Jesus to be silent, or to stop doing miracles, they wanted Jesus out of their lives. As Jesus was getting into the boat to depart, the delivered man asked to travel with Him. But Jesus instructed him to go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you (Mark 5:19).

As followers of Jesus, we testify about Jesus’ mercy and what He has done!   It’s that simple.

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A Friday like no other

For many Jerusalem citizens, it was just another Passover Friday, crowded streets, the hustle and bustle of the temple, possibly another public debacle between the Pharisees and Jesus, and more Roman crucifixions. But for the Jewish rulers, this Passover was the culmination of intense hatred, many failed traps for Jesus, much planning, and 30 pieces of silver invested in Judas.

Jesus, now in Roman custody and being dragged through their judicial system, stands waiting for a verdict. As for the Jewish conspirators, they had worked the early morning crowd into a frenzy at the sixth and final bogus trial. These Jewish rulers managed to apply sufficient leverage upon Pilate to secure the death penalty for innocent Jesus. Weak Pilot washes his hands as if that could relinquish his guilt, releases Barabbas, has Jesus flogged, then hands Him over to be crucified.

Hours later, following three hours of late morning darkness, and having accomplished all that His Father willed, crucified Jesus said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:30).

Now, two men step into the scene that had been in the peripheral up to this point. After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night (John 3), came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there (John 19:38-42).

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, up to this point, had been influenced by fear of Jesus’ enemies. Especially Nicodemus, as he was a high ranking Jew, a member of the Sanhedrin, and Israel’s lead teacher. He potentially had a great deal to lose if he was found to be a sympathiser of Jesus.

But now, having witnessed the barbaric actions of both the Jewish rulers and Roman governance against the Son of God, these two men’s faith fuels newfound courage. Having been confronted by the day’s extraordinary events, they conclude that Jesus was indeed “the Christ.” Their hearts must have been pounding from a strange mixture of fear, love, grief, and belief, to inspire their boldness to risk an audience with Pilate and being found out by their treacherous fellow Jews.

This was no simple task. Unaided, the two of them had to lift the heavy cross with Jesus’ butchered body still nailed to it, lay it on the ground, and extract the large metal nails from Jesus’ hands and feet. We can only imagine the difficulty of this labour of love, considering that possibly there would have been Roman soldiers posted on watch over the three crosses. If so, no doubt Joseph and Nicodemus would have been abused for their service to their Lord.

Compassionate courage compelled these two men to step outside of their comfort for Jesus. Instead of remaining in the background as earlier, they now step up to do the lonely job, to bury their Lord. Imagine their elation when two mornings later they learn that Jesus is alive! May these qualities be true of each of us.

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The Extraordinary Nature of Unity

Whenever I read Romans chapter 16, I can’t help but wonder what it must have been like for Tertius, who served as Paul’s secretary by writing as Paul dictated. These closing verses reveal a close nit group of men who worked well together with the apostle Paul. Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, Tertius, Gaius, Erastus, and Quartus, must have been a formidable team living and serving Christ within the larger church body in Corinth at the time (Romans 16:21-23).

As with all of us, circumstances, relationships, and places we call home, would change over time for these men. However, for this season in their lives, they had the privilege of working together with the apostle Paul for the cause of the gospel. In particular, I’m thinking of the human effort required to enable Paul to write this lengthy, and extremely detailed letter to the church in Rome. This was not merely a courteous letter between friends, but the most precise and thorough explanation of gospel doctrines found in the New Testament.

Obviously, due to the length of this letter to the Romans, it would have required multiple sittings. There would have been times of discussion and prayer, questions would have been directed at Paul from at least Tertius, if not other onlookers. From at least these eight men, there would have been the need for clarification, as Paul revealed the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith (Romans 16:25-26).

A part of me flickers with envy, as I consider the privilege that group had. Yet, today, serving Christ in unity is no less important, or less of a privilege. As we live in an age of individualism, it’s easy for a self-centred attitude to be counterproductive in the body of Christ. Plus, individualism can easily become weaponised to divide and permanently damage the ministry and testimony of Christ. Which Paul points out in Galatians 5:15, if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. Instead, through love serve one another (Gal 5:13), humbly considering others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:2-4). Which is the example Christ left us (Php 2:5-8).

Can you imagine what Romans would have read like, or if it would have even got written, if Paul and these eight men were engaged in a cold war with each other? Which is why Paul prayed for the believers in Rome with such pointed passion. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:5-7).

God’s glory is the primary reason for sacrificing pride for the purpose of maintaining sweet relationships in the body of Christ. All other legitimate benefits flowing from unity are secondary to His glory.

Likewise, the apostle Peter wrote of this powerful component in church life. Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (1 Peter 3:8). May we today, give thanks for the many blessings that flow from united brothers and sisters in Christ, and may we strive to be among them.

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Lessons from a withered hand

Matthew chapter 12 records a spicey little encounter between Jesus, a man with a withered hand, and the Pharisees (Matthew 12:9-14). This snappy little event unfolded inside a local synagogue, enabled by an innocent bystander who had a withered hand. Deceitfully ceasing the opportunity, the Pharisees tried yet again to trap Jesus in His words. Hoping to identify some inconsistency or contradiction with their laws, they ask Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (Mat 12:10). As the Pharisees considered healing to be “work,” they hoped to accuse Jesus of breaking their sabbath rules of rest.

Jesus, knowing the Pharisees intent, and realising the opportunity to teach onlookers, plus to do a life changing miracle for the withered handed man, goes along with it. Typical of Jesus when confronted by the Pharisees, he answers them with another question. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? (Matthew 12:11). Realising the many Sabbath rules created by the Pharisees which surpassed the Old Testament law, Jesus personalises the issue, aiming for their hearts.

They should have realised that Jesus wasn’t about to approve of people disobeying God’s law, nor was He going to give authority to religious, manmade rules. Jesus knew, as did the Pharisees, Deuteronomy 22:4 (NIV), If you see your fellow Israelite’s donkey or ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it. Help the owner get it to its feet. However, according to the Pharisees rules, this would be considered work, and not to be done on the sabbath. The Pharisees had elevated their rules to such a heightened authority, that rules came before the wellbeing of animals and people. There was no way that Jesus was going to approve of such a system.

Masterfully, Jesus answers His question for the antagonistic Pharisees. Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12). Everyone present would have understood Jesus correct application of God’s law while also recognising the foolishness of manmade religious rules that leave no room for compassion. People are of infinitely greater worth! Here, Jesus qualifies healing as “good,” and yes, it can be done on the sabbath. So, in front of everyone, Jesus instructs the man to “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other (Matthew 12:13).

Obvious to everyone, would have been that this was an effortless miracle performed by Jesus. No physical work of any kind was necessary, yet in that moment of time, Jesus did heal the withered hand. Once again, the self-righteous Pharisees were ensnared by their own trap. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him (Matthew 12:14). Rather than accept the lesson from Jesus with humility, these religious leaders dived deeper into their hypocrisy. Blinded by their evil motives and intensions, they were happy to devise wicked plans (Proverbs 6:18) in violation of God’s law by planning to kill Jesus.

While it’s easy to see the Pharisees faults, we like they, find it easy to confuse our priorities and values in our Christian walk. The Pharisees would have been better to pray the prayer of David in Psalm 19:13, Keep your servant also from wilful sins; may they not rule over me. May this be our prayer today. May love for Christ and others motivate us to never permit sin the authority it seeks.

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