Zekey
Zekey would be seven today. It’s hard for me to imagine what a healthy Zekey would look like as a seven year old. The last time he was healthy he was two and a half. How do you project that young stage onto a seven year old? Kids change so much in those years. The essence of him would be the same, of course. He would be tall. His eyes would still light up a room. He would be mischievous and curious. But would he love the Buckeyes? The Tigers? Legos? Would he be interested in the same things as his older brother Cyrus, or would he be forging his own path? It’s fun to imagine what your child will grow up to be like; it’s dreadful to know that you’ll never see those days.

What am I missing out on? This question is what stings the most these days, nearly two and a half years after Zekey met Jesus. I watch my other kids grow up, follow Jesus, go to school, make friends, have concerts, develop interests. This is all supposed to be the glory of parenthood, but each of these experiences are tinged with sorrow. A part of me is always turned toward Zekey, gazing into the emptiness left by his death. I am haunted by the boy he should have become.

I worry that this is unfair to the three kids who are still with us. Am I cheating them out of the fullness of my attention? Does my sorrow diminish their joy? Is it wrong to wish that Zekey was with us at every concert, game, race, or party? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not despondent. I don’t wallow in despair. On the contrary, I love my life. I love my family, my church, and my vocation. God has brought me out of the shadow of death and into green pastures and along quiet streams. But there is a voice I will never hear again in this life, a face I will never see except in pictures.

This is the tension of learning contentment: experiencing both the goodness of God and the heartbreak of loss. It’s impossible for loss to be the goodness of God, but as I have come to discover, you can find God’s goodness in the depths of your heartache. You must hold this truth in both hands in order to find contentment, which is what it means to truly love your life. Life is hard. God is good. You can find him in your pain and suffering.

Even after losing my son, I can love my life because I know that God has conquered death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This gives me hope that I can’t find anywhere else. Because of the Jesus’ resurrection, one day all who believe in him will also rise from the dead. Until that day, our souls are kept with Christ in heaven. This is what Zekey is currently experiencing – comfort and wholeness with Jesus. On that great and glorious day when God gathers all of his people together – those who have died, and those who are still alive – I will see my son again, and together we will enjoy the power of the resurrection and the glory of the new creation. This isn’t wishful thinking. This is the reality of the coming triumph of God.

I want everyone to have this hope. I wish everyone could know the power of Christ’s resurrection. I hope everyone gets to meet Zekey someday. But that’s only possible through Jesus, and nothing else. The only way to experience a resurrection is to follow the one who has already risen. The only way to have hope for eternity is to surrender yourself to the one who has conquered death.

This is what I’m thinking about on Zekey’s seventh birthday. I’m sad. A part of me is empty. But a much larger part of me is full and hopeful. And if that fullness, contentment, and hope can spread to someone else…well, I can’t think of a better way to honor my little boy’s life.

virtue

What makes a nation great? This is the core question we are faced with every presidential election. The party out of power claims that we are not great, and only they know how to make us great. The party in power claims that we are mostly great, and only they know how to make us even greater. After enough of these cycles, we may begin to believe that neither party has a full and rich understanding of greatness, much less a clear path to achieve greatness.

The greatest misunderstanding we Americans make about greatness is its object. True greatness is not a measure of accomplishment, but of virtue. A people may achieve many things, but absent justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude, faith, hope, and love, those achievements are hollow. It is virtue that enables achievement, giving a people the inner communal strength to persevere through tremendous difficulty and opposition. But where virtue is forsaken, the end is near.

In his book, The City of God, Augustine refutes the belief that mass conversion to Christianity led to the destruction of Rome. In the aftermath of the sack of the Eternal City, the critics of Christianity laid the blame at the feet of the Church and its extermination of the worship of the Roman gods. Augustine moves at a leisurely pace as he confronts, and demolishes, these assertions.

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Paul’s Friends – 4:7-18


7 Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. 9 He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11 Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

16 After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

17 Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”

18 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

Paul was not alone in ministry. Though different people accompanied him at different times, he always seemed to have a group of men by his side. Paul’s friends were faithful ministers of the Gospel who supported him in every way.

Tychicus is the first person mentioned, most likely because he was the carrier of this letter. It would have been his responsibility to read the letter aloud to the congregation, explaining anything that needed clarification or further comment. He is also mentioned in Ephesians. In fact, he is the only one mentioned there, which stands in stark contrast with the ending to Colossians. Paul’s language regarding Tychicus is similar in Ephesians and Colossians, indicating the possibility that he wrote both letters at the same time, entrusting both to Tychicus. Tychicus is also mentioned in Acts 20, Titus, and 2 Timothy.

Tychicus had a travelling companion, the famous Onesimus. Paul refers to him as “one of you,” indicating that he was the same Onesimus who belonged to Philemon. Could he have been a runaway slave? Possibly. Regardless of his previous situation, he is now a “faithful and dear brother.” Onesimus is a Christian, and a reliable witness to all that is going on with Paul’s ministry.

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Concluding Exhortations – 4:2-6


2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Paul’s concluding exhortations center around two themes: prayer and witness. These exhortations are personal, not general, and Paul includes an appeal that they would pray for him as he witnesses wherever he goes. This section provides a fine complement to the sweeping gospel-vision he proclaimed in 1:6: “The gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world.” And how does it bear fruit? Through the proclamation of Spirit-empowered people like Paul, Timothy, and Epaphras.

His first command is to be devoted to prayer. One of the core values of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, the denomination of which I am a part, is “prayer is the primary work of God’s people.” Prayer is the first course of action for the believer, and nothing of kingdom value is accomplished without it. Our devotion to prayer must be greater than our commitment to plan and strategize, for it is only through prayer that the plans of God’s people succeed. When our first impulse in any situation is to pray, then worry and anxiety will be unable to take root in our hearts.


Prayer requires follow through.
Within prayer, believers are to be both watchful and thankful. The object of our watchfulness is uncertain. Perhaps we are watching for the Lord’s return. Perhaps we are watching out for the works of the evil one. Could it be that we are to be watching for answers to our prayers? Whatever Paul had in mind, all three of these forms of watchfulness are beneficial for the Christian. But his point is well made: prayer requires follow through. Prayer does not exist in isolation from the rest of our lives. Rather, when we pray, we must watch for God’s activity, and be thankful when we see him move.
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Submission is a loaded word. It carries a ton of cultural baggage because it has been used to keep women in a place of subservience to their husbands in particular, and to men in general. It’s a biblical concept that has been distorted and abused, but because it is biblical, it is meant to be life-giving and freeing. But how can we talk about in a way that honors God’s command, rather than supporting our particular cultural or political perspective?

I’ve already written about this important topic, and even spoke about it at Hope Church. But here’s the short version. When God commands wives to submit to their husbands, he does so within the context of Genesis 1 and 2, not Genesis 3. In Christ, God is making all things new. That means that he is recreating the world so that it aligns with the original creation, before sin came in and messed everything up. So when God issues commands in Scripture, he does not do so to support the curses of Genesis 3 or to uphold the fallen state of the world. Rather, his commands in the New Testament are always issued with his new creation in mind.

So when it comes to the issue of submission in a marriage, our model cannot be Genesis 3:16, where God says to Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” This is part of the curse, the same curse which Jesus died to reverse. Instead, our model must be Genesis 1:27 and 2:23. In the first passage, God declares that he has made humanity, both male and female, in his image. And in the second, Adam sees Eve for the first time and rejoices, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”

In this context, submission assumes the equality of the sexes. God, in Christ, does not elevate women to a status slightly below men. Instead, he invites wives to participate in the humility of Christ, just as he invites husbands to participate in the self-giving love of Christ. This, of course, does not mean that men need not be humble and women need not be loving. It simply means that each partner has a role to play in the lived demonstration of the character and work of Jesus.

After all, as Paul says in Ephesians 5, our marriages are living metaphors of the eschatological marriage of Christ and the Church. Christian marriage is a sign that the Church is the Bride of Christ and that Jesus will return someday to betroth us to himself forever. It is not simply a promise to one another, but to the world – the promise that history ends with a wedding, not a funeral. This is the picture of marriage into which submission so appropriately fits.

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