I’ve recently taken up cycling and I enjoy it. I love being outside to begin with, and there’s something special for me when I’m on my bike with the wind at my back and the bright sun beaming down on my face. It’s refreshing. Of course it doesn’t always work out quite like that. There are often times when I’m dodging potholes, praying I don’t hit the squirrel that darted out in front of me and fighting incredibly strong gusts of wind. There was one time when the surface became uneven and I was certain of my doom. Thankfully, I’ve had enough training to know how to handle the bike. My foundation was strong and though I could have fallen, I was prepared for that change in the road. That highlights my goal in cycling: if the ground shifts, maintain a strong foundation.
This idea of maintaining a strong foundation is at the core of the first few chapters of Colossians. There’s a problem in Colossae. People are teaching false doctrine and these false teachings have infiltrated the church. After Paul praises Christ’s superiority and awesomeness, he issues warnings. He wants the church to be equipped in knowledge and remain steadfast in faith so that the Colossian Christians are not taken captive by “philosophy and empty deceit, according the human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). The false teachings they faced were likely many and varied, but from the examples given in verse 16, Paul is likely referring primarily to Jewish law and traditions.
Paul’s warning wasn’t just for the ancient church in Colossae. Timothy was given a similar warning: “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and traditions of what is vastly called knowledge, for by professing it some have swerved from the faith” (1 Tim 6:20). You and I have the same warning. The Pharisees loved to preach a works-based gospel and (all these centuries later) we are still likely to live as though we are still under the law. We also must fight against the world and the cultural narratives that whisper lies about who God is. If our foundation isn’t strong—we will surely falter.
So, how do we maintain a strong foundation in the midst of shifting situations and others swerving from the faith? Paul tells us in verse 6, “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.” We want to be rooted—deeply in Christ. We need roots like the wild fig trees in South Africa that reach 400 feet deep into the foundation of the earth. We want roots that are deep in truth—ultimately in the truth of the gospel and what it means to be alive to Christ. We need to be built-up in him—like a building with a core that reaches deep into the earth, we must be strong in the knowledge of Christ and what it means to be his in order to fight the good fight of faith.
We remember that we have been circumcised with Christ. The old flesh is gone and we are now a new creation. We are new and must live in this reality both intellectually and bodily—abiding in Christ. This is the reality—we are indeed new (2:11). We have been buried and raised as Christ was buried and raised. Sin’s reign and power has died, and we now have power to resist sin’s alluring call on our life. Christ died and defeated death—miraculously we share in this resurrection. We were spiritually dead and have been spiritually raised. We were dead in our sin—dead and without the power to resist. We are now alive with Christ (2: 12-13). Christ made a way for us to be with him and His father in glory. We are now forgiven. The debt was paid and the debt wasn’t paid in part. God doesn’t put our sin on layaway. Jesus paid it all. All the legal demands are gone—abolished, nailed to the cross (2:14). And we remember that we have an adversary. The accuser wants to whisper lies to you about who you are in Christ. He whispers lies about who God is.
But the cross disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (2:15).
Our firm foundation is not only in Christ; it is Christ Jesus. The ground may shake and we may stumble around from time to time but for those of us in Christ nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom 8: 35-39). Remember your testimony, remember when the Lord first brought you to Himself. Rehearse the gospel to yourself. When the ground shifts beneath know that you will not be overcome as you are established in the faith.
*A version of this first appeared in Tabletalk Magazine
The winter has been long and cold, but bustling with exciting, encouragement, and what I believe to be transformative activity. I wanted to get you an update on where I’ve been and hope that you’ll check out the links below. I’d also love prayer for two projects that I’m wrapping up.
There’s much that I could write about this conference, which marked the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, and the work of the ERLC and TGC to put it on. I hope to do that soon. I am also praying about how I might help our online community (here and beyond) engage with the content. But for now, please take a minute to watch and listen to the sessions. You can find all of them here: MLK50 Conference Media.
Questions Kids Ask Podcast
I was invited to be a guest on a new podcast, hosted by Mary C. Wiley, that focuses on questions that kids ask. I love thinking through this topic. Raising two very inquisitive children has kept me on my toes from the moment my firstborn could speak. I hope you enjoy these episodes:
Why Should I Care for People Not Like Me?
Should I Be Excited About Good Things In My Life?
I will be on one last time this Monday, April 11. Feel free to check out her site: http://www.marycwiley.com/podcast/goodthings.
Season 2: United? We Pray
Isaac Adams and I are at it again with a second season of the podcast United? We Pray. This season includes guests like John Perkins, Michael Emerson, Duke Kwon, and more.
Listen in at: Pray Pod
I am so excited to be finishing up two projects: a Bible study with Moody Publishers and a book that will be published by IVP. These projects are due within months of one another, which means that every ounce of writing time and attention must now be reserved for completing these projects. So I will be posting less original content here and reposting a few articles that have been on other websites or in magazines. For many of you, these articles may be completely new and I’m excited to post them here.
Focusing on these two projects also means I’m in need of prayer. Would you pray that the Lord would provide wisdom and energy to knock out this work that I love so much, to use it for his glory and the good of those who might read?
Thank you for reading and don’t forget to listen in and watch MLK 50. I can’t wait to read your thoughts.
(If you are reading this from your email, remember to click on over to the site to watch the video!)
It’s March! How did that happen?!
Today I’d like to invite you to watch this short video where I recap my article “Rethinking Busy,” explore one way we can learn to rejoice with those who rejoice as we engage on social media, and give a quick update on our book club.
Spring is around the corner! I pray the Lord brings new life and encouragement to you today and every day.
March update from Trillia Newbell on Vimeo.
When I lost my father in 1997, I thought my little world might crash around me. Even as I think about it now, my heart begins to pound and my eyes well up with tears. I was 19 years old at the time and I don’t know if there’s anything more precious to a little girl (or a young woman in my case) than her father.* It was a great loss. I wasn’t a Christian at the time of his death so I couldn’t have ever predicted how much the Lord would use my father’s death to reveal His great love for me.
When I became a Christian at 22, one of the first things I began to understand was that I was no longer fatherless. God is indeed the father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5). When God saves us we are not only justified, we are also adopted. We are brought into a new family. We are given the right to call the Holy One, Abba, Father (Gal. 4:6; Rom 8:15). And he looks at us as his children (Gal 3:26). It is remarkable to think through all of the implications of this sweet doctrine, the doctrine of adoption. For someone who no longer had an earthly father, it affected everything about how I related to and continue to relate to God.
There are three ways I’ve been profoundly impacted as I reflect on how we can relate to God as our Father:
Rightly Fearing Our Father
When my dad walked in the room, all eyes were on him. He had a gentleness that could be sensed and yet a command that couldn’t be ignored. When he spoke, I looked him in his eyes and listened. In many ways, I revered him. The honor I showed my dad falls woefully short in comparison to the reverence, honor, obedience, and worship that we should reserve for our Heavenly Father. He is to be feared and worshipped. And as our Holy Father, we must recognize that He alone is God.
Receiving His Grace
I remember when I had to share some grievous sin with my earthly father. Even as a non-Christian, it was quite difficult for me to confess. I remember it well. I went to him, and without hesitation he thanked me for sharing and he forgave me. I couldn’t believe his graciousness. As believers, it can be difficult to imagine that we are fully forgiven for all of our sin (Psalm 130:12; Isaiah 43: 25-26; Eph 1:7; 1 John 2:2). Jesus paid it all! And God tells us in His word that if we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us and purify us (1 John 1:9). Jesus has made a way for us to approach our Father who is holy. We can come freely as His children and receive mercy and grace in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).
Receiving His Discipline
When we think of discipline, we often go straight to pain or punishment. As a mother, I know that my desire to discipline my children stems from a heart that loves them and hopes to protect them, but my attempts also fall short. I can be angry and selfish – my sin can affect how I discipline. God’s discipline, however, is not like ours (Heb. 12:9-10). God does not want us to grow weary or fainthearted in our fight for faith (Heb. 12:3). We will be trained, tested, and strained but as we walk by faith and not by sight, we walk knowing that God is treating us like His children who He loves dearly (Heb. 12: 7-8). And His discipline yields sweet rewards (Heb. 12:11). We can rest assured that there is a great purpose in all he does and nothing can separate us from His love and His goodness. He acts for our good (Heb. 12:10).
This short piece only scratches the surface of the riches and blessings that come with being a child of God. Let’s join Paul in Ephesians in thanking and praising our Father who chose us to be His:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph 1:3-6).
*I realize that many of my readers may not share or relate to my experience. Memories and thoughts of your father may leave you hurt, confused, and angry. My hope and prayer for you is that you, too, would be encouraged by the reality of God as your Father. There’s no one like our God–not even the best of earthly fathers compare.
A version of this first appeared in Tabletalk Magazine.
My daughter loves to give gifts. Almost weekly she comes home with something to give to me. “I made this for you, Mommy,” she’ll say grinning and looking endearingly at me with her big brown eyes. Last year, she wrapped a Christmas gift for me and couldn’t wait for me to open it. In fact, she was so eager, she made me open it two weeks early! I was happy to oblige for the sheer joy of watching her light up. But as much as she enjoys giving gifts, I’d dare say that receiving a gift is pure exhilaration for her. She can’t believe we’d think of her. She won’t stop talking about the gift…at least for the day (she is a kid and kids tend to move on to the next thing). The point is, she receives gifts with open hands, humbly, with excitement and joy, with thanksgiving, and never once does she ask if she needs to repay you or earn what she’s been given. I wouldn’t go so far to say she doesn’t believe she deserves the gift, but she does know how to receive it.
As Jesus is teaching in Mark 10, the listeners began to bring children to him so that he might pray for them (10:13). His disciples, however, found this to be a nuisance and rebuked them. As Jesus witnessed the disciples’ behavior towards the children, He was indignant (10:14). He was righteously angry and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs to the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (10:15-16). How do children receive a gift? They receive it like my daughter. And that is what Jesus desires for us.
When I think about my own conversion, I think I was like my daughter in the way she receives various gifts from her mother and father. I was humbled, excited, thankful, and joyful. I couldn’t believe that I could have access to the Great I Am, that I’d be forgiven for all of the sin I have ever and would ever commit, and that Jesus would pay the price for it all. But then, as I’ve gotten older in the faith, I can sense some of the awe of this free gift and access to the kingdom waning. As I gain knowledge, I can sense a fight to remember the beautiful basics of my faith.
I imagine I’m not alone. Faith is a gift from God—we could never earn God’s favor and we could never sustain his favor through our good deeds. We need to heed Jesus’ words and ask him to make us like little children, receiving the free gift of faith with thanksgiving and exuberance. We don’t want to become so familiar with the gospel that we forget to be like children. Rather, let’s return each day remembering that God is our Father and he loves to pour out gifts to his children. All you and I must do is receive.
a version of this first appeared in Tabletalk Magazine