Friday, March 02, 2007
Colossians 2:16-23 Follow Jesus Not Futility
This is the story about Mike the chicken. Mike, of course, was not your ordinary chicken. No, not ordinary at all. You see, Mike was a headless chicken. If you want to be really specific, Mike was actually a headless Wyandotte rooster.
I should point out that Mike wasn't always a headless bird. In fact, he was born 100% normal, complete with a head (most normal chickens have one of these) in Fruita, Colorado.
On September 10, 1945, Mike's short five-and-a-half month life was about to take a turn for the worse. On this day, Mike received a death sentence. His owners, Lloyd and Clara Olsen, decided that it was time to slaughter a group of birds, some to sell and to prepare others for themselves. Out to the hen house they went… As you can probably imagine, Mr. Olsen was the one whacking the heads off while Clara plucked and cleaned the birds. Bash! Down came the ax and off went Mike's head.
Mike's head was surely dead. Mike's body was not. Now I know what you are thinking - it is well known that chickens will run around frantically when their heads are chopped off. That's probably where that old expression comes from. And, everyone knows that a headless chicken just can't survive more than a few moments.
Apparently, Mike forgot to read the rulebook for playing the game of Life. His head may have been lying on the floor, but he had no problem standing up and strutting around as if nothing had actually happened. The next day, Mike was still flopping around, so Lloyd decided to feed him to see how long he could keep the bird alive. Day after day he continued to gain weight.
Mike could easily balance himself on the highest perches without falling. His crowing consisted of a gurgling sound made in his throat. Mike even attempted to preen his feathers with his nonexistent head (apparently he never noticed). It seems that Mike could do just about anything that any other chicken could do, if you exclude all of the functions of his head.
As I'm sure you can imagine, headless chickens are not an everyday event. In the tradition of that famous huckster Barnum, there was money to be made in this oddity. A promoter by the name of Hope Wade came along and convinced Lloyd that Mike would be a big draw in the sideshow circuit. Miracle Mike, as he soon came to be known, toured up and down the West Coast of the United States. Just six weeks after his beheading, Mike was featured in a Life magazine article and his fame grew. For just 25 cents, anyone could pay to get a look at Mike. At the height of his popularity, Mike was raking in a cool $4,500 per month, which was no small potatoes in those days. They probably would have thrown in his head as a bonus - it was stored in a canning jar and toured along with Mike. (Actually, a cat ate Mike’s head. Some other poor chicken’s head was pickled in the jar.)
And, if there was money to be made, there were also copycats. Other people in Mike's hometown began to chop the heads off of their own chickens in an attempt to get in on the scheme. One copycat headless rooster was named Lucky and he managed to live for eleven days before bashing himself into a stovepipe and dying (Lucky wasn't that lucky after all). Several other headless chickens lived for a couple of days.
So how was Mike able to survive? Scientists examined him and determined that Mr. Olsen had not done a very good job at chopping Mike's head off. Most of the head was actually removed, but one ear remained intact. The slice actually missed the jugular vein and a clot prevented him from bleeding to death. Apparently, most of a chicken's reflex actions are located in the brain stem, which was also largely untouched. Mike was also examined by the officers of several humane societies and was declared to have been free from suffering.
Through his open esophagus, Mike was fed a mixture of ground up grain and water with your typical eyedropper. Little bits of gravel were dropped down his throat to help his gizzard grind up the food.
One serious problem that Mike commonly experienced was that he would start to choke on his own mucus. The Olsens came up with the simple solution of using a syringe to suck the mucus out. But, one day tragedy struck. Mike was traveling back home to Fruita and was roosting with the Olsens in their Phoenix motel room. They heard Mike choking in the middle of the night and quickly realized that they had left the syringe at the sideshow the day before. Miracle Mike was no more.
The exact date of Mike’s belated departure from this world was never recorded. Years later, it was estimated, based on Lloyd’s information, that Miracle Mike died in March of 1947. Eighteen months living without a head could be considered a world’s record. Yet, Lloyd didn’t want to admit that he had accidentally killed the bird, so he claimed that he had sold the bird off. This little white lie is the reason that many of the stories printed about Mike claimed that he was still touring the country as late as 1949.
But wait, the story is not over! Mike actually has his own holiday! On May 17, 1999, Mike's hometown of Fruita held the first "Mike the Headless Chicken Day" in honor of one of its most famous citizens. Some of the events included the 5K Run Like a Headless Chicken Race, egg tosses, Pin the Head on the Chicken, the Chicken Cluck-Off, and the classic Chicken Dance. The food offerings included - you guessed it - chicken, chicken salad, and the like. Let's not forget the great game of Chicken Bingo in which the numbers were chosen by where chicken droppings fell on a numbered grid.
Which is really nothing - some Christians live headless for decades!
Colossians 2 is about holding onto Christ the Head.
We have already seen 2 ways of losing touch with Christ the Head.
In the Great Awakening two of the prominent leaders were Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. At that time they saw many strange and different things happening among their people. Edwards wrote extensively against the excesses he saw in those days. He and Whitefield for awhile disagreed on the issue of "new" revelation. Whitefield believed that God often spoke through visions, dreams and impulses. I quote the rest of the story as recorded by John MacArthur.
George Whitefield learned the hard way that subjective impulses can be tragically fallible. When Whitefield's wife was expecting her first child, he prophesied that she would have a son who would become a preacher of the Gospel. The child was indeed a boy, but he died at the age of four months. He was Whitefield's only child. Murray writes,
"Whitefield at once recognized his mistake saying: 'I misapplied several texts of Scripture. Upon these grounds, I made no scruple of declaring 'that I should have a son, and that his name was to be John.' When back in New England, in 1745, he could say feelingly of what had happened there, "Many good souls, both among clergy and laity, for a while, mistook fancy for faith, and imagination for revelation.' (MacArthur, RECKLESS FAITH p. 188)
What is happening in some churches today is that some "prophets" are encouraging people NOT to evaluate and weigh their teaching. These people are told instead to simply take these truths "by faith" (which is a synonym for without evaluation.) Anyone who questions is considered to be a skeptic and a non-believer. In other words, it is impossible to evaluate what these people are saying without being called a non-believer. They have removed any check on the subjective bias.
Paul tells us of a third way to lose perspective and lose our Col 2: 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on ascetic practices
Asceticism Breeds Spiritual Slavery
1) Three aspects of asceticism.
a) Self-imposed worship.
b) False humility.
c) Harsh treatment of body.
Monks wearing hair shirts, and spend months without eating or drinking. Floggings of yourself, like they do in the Philippines.
Opus Dei. Mortification is the voluntary infliction of pain or discomfort upon oneself. Mortification has a long history in many world religions including the Catholic Church, but the practice has become rare among most modern Christians. Members of Opus Dei cite Jesus's biblical command to "take up the cross", holding that the mortification helps to remind them of Jesus' suffering on the cross and has a variety of positive psychological and spiritual benefits. Supporters of the practice point out that mortification has had a long history within the Catholic Church, that various popes have endorsed the practice, and that mortification has been used by numerous saints throughout history, in recent times including Mother Theresa and Padre Pio. Critics have cited mortification as one of the reasons for their opposition to Opus Dei.Opus Dei Numeraries, Numerary Assistants, and Associates practice several forms of mortification. Many are small acts of discomfort or sacrifice such as taking a cold shower, sleeping without a pillow or sleeping on the floor, fasting, or remaining silent for certain hours during the day. Some forms are more extreme, for example, once a week, numeraries briefly flail themselves with a small rope whip called a "discipline". One form of mortification involves the use of a cilice, in this case a small metal chain with inwardly-pointing spikes that is worn around their upper thigh. The cilice's spikes cause pain and may leave small marks, but typically do not cause bleeding. Numeraries in Opus Dei generally wear a cilice for two hours each day.
Spiritual intimidation. There are the people who believe that there are certain rules and regulations that everyone must follow to be saved. Actually, there not rules or regulations required by the Lord (essentials for salvation) but rather they are preferences that people come to believe are essential for salvation.
"Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!. These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." (vv. 20-23)
We find a parallel to these observances today whenever people place a special value on religious performance. It has not been very long since the Catholic church relented on its restriction against eating meat on Fridays. That was an example of a diet restriction, designed to impart a religious value to life. Many Protestants give up pleasurable activities during Lent, the forty-day period preceding Easter, because they think that will improve their relationship with God. Others seek to do that by wearing special clothing. Some catholics wear an undergarment that is very prickly and uncomfortable to help them do penance for their sins. Others use a variety of instruments to harm themselves so that they will be better spiritually. These rules focus on personal denial. They were telling people not to handle, taste, touch in order to curb in their appetites. The thing is, this sounds really good on the surface. Certainly we are called to "deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him." We need some discipline in our lives. But these men were after something different. They were telling these people that these disciplines were necessary for fellowship with God. They urged a rigorous introspection.
According to the church father Athanasius, Anthony, the founder of Christian monasticism, never changed his vest or washed his feet. The Greek word for pillar is Stylite, so they called him Simon Stylite, he and his friends spent the last thirty-six years of his life atop a fifty-foot pillar in the wilderness of Syria. Simeon mistakenly thought the path to spirituality lay in exposing his body to the elements and withdrawing from the world. Simon is said to have touched his feet with his forehead more than 1244 times in succession.
He was so filthy his beard dripped with lice. His fame spread, and multitudes, including some high state officials, came to see him.
Even Martin Luther, before discovering the truth of justification by faith, nearly wrecked his health through this rigid introspection. Luther became a monk so he could be more isolated. He did all the acts of penance. He went without food. He denied himself every and any pleasure. He hoped that these acts would give Him a sense of God's presence. It was only when Luther understood that we are made right with God through Christ's work and not our own did he find life and peace.
Asceticism Breeds Spiritual Futility
Asceticism is found not only in Catholicism and some strange forms of Christianity, but also in what is now known as the New Age Movement. At the heart of it is this claim to seek the true Oneness of things. We are told that we are all part of the universe of created matter, and that we are united in Oneness with God. The claim is that this is the way to escape from being centered in oneself, and so move into the fullness of knowledge of the universe. This escape into then through severe treatment of the body through prolonged fasts, heavy meditation and pain.
Lest we should think this is all ok, remember the Lord Jesus gacew his sternest warnings to those in His day who lived such austere pain-filled lives.
In Matthew 23 Jesus said to legalists: “You hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces.” (vs. 13) “You make him [a convert] twice as much a son of hell as you are.” (vs. 15)
“You blind guides! You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (vs. 24) “You are like whitewashed tombs” (vs. 27) “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (vs. 33
Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if only personal discipline and self-denial will mold the perfect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather than what God is doing. In this curious process God is the benign old spectator in the bleachers who cheers when I show up for morning quiet time? Sooner or later we are confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy and insufficiency? We discover our inability to add even a single inch to our spiritual stature.”
Asceticism Breeds Spiritual Inability
Asceticism can't restrain sensual indulgence. 2:23 Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value against fleshly indulgence.
Why do people treat themselves so harshly? They think somehow by the inflction of pain to deal with their sins through stronger methods of self control. People have tried hard. But our fallen nature remains as strong as ever.
Paul is saying that as hard as you try to not be self centered, sin in our hearts focuses us back onto a self centred life. And not only so, when through austerity we try to be as unselfish as possible, we are only the more aware of our self centredness. We disover, in fact that we have just been deceiving ourselves.
Let me ask you, "What is your Christianity like?" Is it focused on yourself or on Christ?
Is it focused on sin and failure or grace and forgiveness?
Is it anchored in personal experiences or in the Word of God? Has it set you free or tied you up?
Does it make you cry, or rejoice? Grace is the opposite of legalism. And mysticism.
Grace is the opposite of asceticism.
Col 2:20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
A good friend Les Puryear has a wonderful devotional site where he has written:
I would like to share a quote which got my attention today from G E Ladd's book entitled, "The Gospel of the Kingdom."
"Here is the root of evil: blindness, darkness, unbelief. The Biblical philosophy of sin makes ethical and moral evil secondary to religious evil...All forms of wickedness ultimately grow out of the root of ungodliness. Sin is primarily religious and secondarily ethical. Man is God's creature and his primary responsibility is towards God. The root of sin is found in his refusal to acknowledge in grateful dependence the gifts and the goodness of God (Rom. 1:21), which are now imparted in Christ. Darkness is the assertion of independence rather than God-dependence.
The primary manifestation of satanic influence and of the evil of this age is religious; it is blindness with reference to the gospel of Jesus Christ. How often we fail to understand satanic devices. A man may be cultured, ethical and even religious person and yet be in demonic darkness. Satan's basic desire is to keep men from Christ. His primary concern is not to corrupt morals or to make atheists nor to produce enemies of religion. Indeed religion which rests upon the assumption of human adequacy and sufficiency is an enemy of the light. This is the character of the age of this world: darkness."
Listen to Paul's reason for avoiding this kind of extreme prescription.
First he says we have a new Perspective. Paul reminds us that we don't belong to the world anymore. We don't try to get to God the same way as the rest of the world does. We aren't trying to earn our place in heaven. We have received the gift God has given in His Son. We are children of Heaven. We live by grace, not by works. The false teachers may sound spiritual but we see through them . . . we know we cannot earn God's favor. We can only receive it.
Q: How does God feel about me today? What’s your answer? I’m not asking you how you feel about God; I’m asking you how you think God feels toward you right now. There is only one grace answer:
A: He is passionately in love with me. Did you come to church today because you were afraid if you didn’t, God wouldn’t love you quite as much? That’s legalism. The truth is, God would still love you every bit as much right now if you had chosen to stay home, or go to the beach! Sure, the Bible speaks about the importance of gathering to worship, but grace says God loves us even while we are yet sinners. I’m not going to say grace is “God’s unmerited favor.” Nor am I going to say that grace is “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” All those are true, but neither of those definitions fully conveys the meaning of grace. Grace is...JESUS. Grace is not a power or a force–it’s a Person. God loves you so much He sent His only Son into the world to suffer and die so He could enjoy a love relationship with you. The Bible says of Jesus, “The Word became flesh...full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) In Jesus was all the fullness of God’s grace, and when we allow Jesus to fill us then we are filled with God’s grace.
Second, We have a new Value System. Paul tells the Colossians that we shouldn't sweat the stuff the teachers were concerned about because "these are destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings." We understand that the things of this earth are temporary and the only thing that lasts is the eternal. We can deny ourselves all we want in this life but it will make no eternal difference. In fact, Paul says, "these things lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." Why? Because no matter how hard we work we can't will sin out of our lives . . . we need God's power working within us. Luther worked harder than most of us would ever work . . and all he found was frustration. That is, until he stopped working and starting trusting Christ's work on his behalf.
Finally, we have a new attitude. Rather than the constant introspection and always seeking to stamp out anything fun in our lives, we now rejoice in the Lord. We understand that he has "given us all things freely to enjoy" (1 Tim. 6:17). God has given us this life to teach us, to prepare us and to delight us.
A legalist starts feeling uncomfortable whenever you start talking about enjoying anything religious! But grace sets us free to enjoy a relationship rather than endure rules. The Westminster Catechism asks the question: What is the chief end of man? And the answer is simply: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever! Amen! Are you still enduring religion or are you enjoying a relationship with God? Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). In other words, grace-filled Christians do what he says because they love him, not because they want to impress him. During a conference on comparative religions at Oxford University, experts from around the world gathered to debate what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. As they discussed, they eliminated the idea of incarnation, because other religions claimed gods had become men. They eliminated resurrection, because again, other religions had accounts of people returning from the dead. The debate continued until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s all the rumpus about?” he asked. His colleagues explained they were trying to find a unique teaching in Christianity. Lewis said, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, with no strings attached, goes against the teaching of every other religion. The Buddhist has his eight-fold path; the Hindu earns nirvana, the Jews have the Torah; and the Muslim has his code of law—each of these are based on earning the approval of their deity. Only in the Christian faith dares to make God’s love unconditional and undeserved.”
Today will you stop trusting in your own ways to get you to heaven and will you trust the One who has already done for you all you need to get you to heaven?
He has died to pardon you completely.
He has died to forgive you completely.
He has completely paid your sin debt!
Col 2:13 And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses.
14 He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross.
15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him.
Let Him be that complete Saviour for you today.
Give up legalism and asceticism. Let Him be a complete Saviour for you.