Religion’s Empty Promise

“These have indeed the appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh”– Colossians 2:23 (ESV)

I bought a box of Band-Aids over the weekend. I’ll likely have to buy another box by next weekend, because I can all but assure you that these won’t last that long.

Why not?” you may ask. To which I would reply, “Because my children are absolutely obsessed with them.” I mean, the vigor and persistence with which they use these things is nothing short of amazing.

You see, in my kids’ five-, three-, and two-year-old minds, Band-Aids are the answer to everything that could ever be wrong with them. And I do mean everything.

Stubbed your toe? Put a Band-Aid on it.
Got a headache? Put a Band-Aid on it.
Feeling a little nauseous? There’s a Band-Aid for that, too.
Got your feelings hurt? Band-Aid, baby!

Needless to say, when you add up all these ailments and more between the five of us, the Band-Aids fly pretty fast. And while this innocent misunderstanding about a Band-Aid’s purpose and usefulness is pretty funny, I’m afraid many of us have bought into a similar- and much more damaging- misconception.

What am I talking about? The idea that what Paul terms “self-made religion” (see above, Colossians 2:23) is capable of healing what’s broken in the human heart, of making us right with God once again.

Consider the numerous ways in which we do this. At some point, we all come face to face with our own brokenness, our own utter sinfulness before God. Live long enough, and if you’re even a little bit honest with yourself, this will become self-evident. If it hasn’t yet, you’re either a) God (not likely!) or b) wildly out of touch with reality.

At this point of humbling recognition, we have a choice to make. How can we make whole what’s been broken? How can we healing in the wounds that our sin has caused, in us and in others? Most significantly, how can we be in a right and secure relationship with God?

Far too often, at times even knowing better than to do so, we choose the “Band-Aid approach” of “self-made religion.” We renew our commitment to attend church. We double down on Bible reading and prayer. Perhaps we even push beyond our comfort zone to give, serve, or sacrifice in some way that would seem to “pay God back” for what we did wrong. The promise of religion is that if we could just do enough, we’ll be able to rebalance the scales and move forward in peace.

The problem is, this is an utterly empty promise, the equivalent of slapping a Band-Aid on a broken leg (or even more accurately, on a broken heart). Sure, it’s something to look at (having “the appearance of wisdom”), and perhaps it makes us feel a little better for a moment. But in the end, it has left the root cause of our problem wholly unaddressed. It is, to pick up Paul’s phrasing, “of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

Hear me well- Your sin is not first and foremost a behavior issue, but a heart issue, and the longer you seek to apply behavioral solutions to a heart problem, the more frustrated and defeated you’ll become. Jesus is wholly disinterested in putting a religious Band-Aid on your sin problem. Instead, He desires to perform what one of my favorite artists calls “His sanctifying surgery,” transplanting our old, sinful heart with a brand new one characterized by His righteousness. He loves you far, far too much to allow you to settle for less than that level of radical transformation- and He knows that for all its external impressiveness, “self-made religion” can never offer that to you.

Now, consider yourself- Where and how have you been attempting to put a Band-Aid on your sin, instead of submitting your heart to Jesus? Make no mistake- When you do that, behavioral changes will result, but they will be far more firmly rooted, and thus lasting, than anything you can chase down for yourself. I implore you this week, as Paul does time and again in His letter to the Colossians, to “hold fast to the Head,” who is Jesus Christ, and none other. It is in Him alone that we find hope for healing, wholeness in the face of our brokenness.

This week, don’t settle for a Band-Aid. Give Jesus free reign to “rip your heart out” and replace it with His own.

Uptown “Spiritual” Funk


Sorry, had to reference the song.

Lent season is a big deal around these parts. What can I give up to be closer to God? But honestly, what you give up doesn’t change the funk you may be in UNLESS you put on more of Jesus.

Are you in a funk? Here is a list I reference when I am in a spiritual funk. I have had this list for some time that has helped me. You might want to…

-Pray out loud.
-Write your prayer out.
-Read your Bible out loud.
-Apologize to someone.
-Talk to someone you trust.
-Rest.
-Exercise.
-Start eating better.
-Drive around listening to a sermon.
-Turn up some worship music really loud. Shut the door. Sing along.
-Go back and do the thing you know you were supposed to do.
-Get organized.
-Repent.
-Encourage somebody who would never expect it.
-Get back in church. Serve somewhere.
-Quit complaining.
-Go on a date with your wife.
-Tell somebody thank you.
-Give some money away.
-Call on the name of Jesus.
-Remember how far He’s brought you.
-Realize that He’ll never ever leave you.

Put on Your Jesus Shoes

runningshoespic

“As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” Colossians 2:6

Shoes matter. I am a runner, or at least I try to be one. Last week on a long trail run I paid a painful price for running. Reason? I need new shoes. Shoes matter because you cannot run or walk in what you are not standing in.

Walking in Christ, as you received him, has far-reaching ramifications. Jesus Christ came to you by grace so walk with him in grace. You came to Jesus Christ through faith so walk with him by faith. Too many followers of Christ understand grace and faith the day they come to Christ, but fail to see that same foundation everyday after. As means “in the same way.” In the same you way you received Christ walk in him. Walk in grace by faith.

I love to run because it helps me feel alive. Christians are alive, the problem is that too few are choosing to live like it. When I run I feel free. My mind clears. My spirit refreshes. My body renews. Too often we, who are religious, take the experience of freedom and see it as the avenue for freedom. I must remember…I am not alive because I run. I run because I am alive.

Colossians 2 gets into deep and significant imagery to describe life in Christ. The “saints” in Colossae were being taken captive by philosophy and empty deceit. There are 3 key areas in which people are led astray from truth: Tradition, Elemental Spirits, and Things Not of Christ.

Tradition ¹ Truth. This is a clear tenet during the Protestant Reformation. Just because you have done something a certain way for a certain period of time does not make it true, good, or useful. Telling your children every Christmas to be mindful of the “naughty and nice” lists does not teach them any truth concerning Christ’s birth we celebrate. Honestly, the tradition teaches the opposite of gifts of grace. Healthy traditions remind us of the truth we are free, they do not attempt to cause freedom or feelings of freedom.

Circumcision and Baptism are discussed in this passage as imagery of life in Christ. The circumcision of Christ reminds that our sin has been cut off in and covered over by the flesh of Christ. The Old Covenant command was an intentional picture of the truth that would mark us in Christ. Baptism is not a tradition, it is truth. Baptism illustrates 3 truths. Death. Burial. Resurrection. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ are remembered in baptism. The death of self is confessed before baptism. Burial of the old life is seen when one goes under the water and the resurrection to new life is symbolized in the coming out of the water. This commanded confession of every believer is not a Baptist tradition. It is Biblical truth.

Elemental Spirits = Everyday Realities. Christians believe in the spiritual. God “is Spirit,” yet we functionally treat spiritual realities like myths. The basic spirits of the world are real. We believe they are. We must live like we know this and remember that “greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.” Victory is ours! My family and I experienced have experienced some very real moments of these spiritual realities. Once when I was involved in leading someone to Christ out of a cult. One of my children began having dreams that were very vivid and very to the point of the teaching of this cult, which my child had never heard. We prayed. I asked others to pray. We prayed through our house one day after three nights of these vivid dreams and never again have we experienced any influence. Why? Christ won…over 2,000 years ago. Live in it.

Not of Christ = Against Christ. Our culture does not like to see black and white. Our culture loves grey. (Or hates it these days…depends on your point of view.) The problem is that as often as we take things that are black and white in the Bible (like adultery for the purposes of entertainment) and make them grey; we also take things that are grey in Scripture (like entertainment and what it can and cannot be) and make them black and white. Too often, in religious and non-religious circles, people want to make rules in areas that are honestly disputable and ignore rules in areas that are more clearly right and wrong. Stop messing with grey and live true.

Jesus told his followers that if you are not with me then you are against me. I challenge followers of Christ to simply ask this question, “Is this of Jesus?” If the answer is no, then you probably need to not do it. Another good way to think about it would be, “If Jesus were with me, would I do this?” (BTW he is with you.) If not, don’t do it. I know Jesus is a friend of sinners and was not afraid to be in the midst of those committing sin. But we must remember that He lived with a focused and expressed mission to, “to seek and to save what was lost.” If you make a decision for the sole purpose of bringing truth, grace, and love into a situation, then you will begin to distinguish black and white out of grey. Some Christians will look down on your choices (get over their unhappiness and live free). However, if you are making that same decision for your own entertainment or happiness, then you may be using Jesus’ sacrificial lifestyle to justify your grey life choices.

So, just as we received him, we walk in him. Dear Christian, you are ALIVE…now go live. Live free from sin not free to sin. You are now free to live free from that which has others in bondage.

So put on your Jesus shoes. Walk in Jesus. And live free!

This blog post is a written and shorter version of Sunday’s sermon at Fellowship. If you would like more detail about what we believe about Baptism, tradition, and life in Christ please listen to the podcast at this link. http://www.fellowshipchurch.cc/media.php?pageID=6

How To Suffer Without Losing Your Soul

The Bible is full of strange statements- declarations that, when encountered in the context of the prevailing wisdom of this world, seem absolutely upside down. Most men and women of faith can give lip service to the reality that “God’s ways are not our ways,” but often, when we come face to face with just how wide that gap really is, we’re taken aback.

This week, as we continue our churchwide journey through Paul’s letter to the Colossians, we encounter one such statement, in 1:24- “For I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake…”

What?! Why on earth would Paul- or anyone else for that matter- “rejoice in suffering”? Why would anyone willingly subject themselves to hardship for the benefit of others, then be happy about the opportunity? Is this some kind of joke? As we step back and consider the overarching story of the Bible, the answer to these admittedly understandable questions comes into view…

To be a Christian is to suffer well for the sake of the Gospel.

Let’s be real- This is a statement that grates hard against the natural inclination of our hearts. But in examining the nature of the Gospel, we see that it’s also inescapable.

The story of the Gospel of Jesus is one of loving self-sacrifice. It is precisely because Jesus suffered well- indeed, perfectly- on our behalf that we can now be called by His name. And as those who now bear the name “Christian”- who have identified in position and practice with Jesus Christ- we are now called to the same passion and practice on behalf of others.

So then, how do we do this? How can we suffer and serve in such a way that our souls are strengthened, not stolen? I see three paths forward…

1- Consider God’s provision.
Martin Luther once said, “Christians cannot suffer with Christ before they have embraced the full benefits of Christ’s suffering for them.” It is critical to recognize that it is precisely because of Jesus’ selfless, sacrificial work on our behalf that we even have the opportunity to join with Him in “laying ourselves out” for others’ wellbeing.

There is nothing in this world more motivating than to know that the God of the universe put on flesh and bore the full weight of our sin’s penalty, that we might know life instead of death. Allow the Gospel itself to drive you forward into the hard places.

2- Consider God’s power.
Before you can suffer and serve as God has called you to suffer and serve, you must first recognize that you absolutely cannot suffer and serve as God has called you to- not on your own, at least. Paul, in discussing his own suffering on the Colossians’ behalf, makes this fascinating statement in 1:29- “(I struggle) with all His energy that He powerfully works within me.”

Did you catch that? It wasn’t in His own strength and ability that Paul persevered in the face of difficulty; it was through full reliance on God’s presence and power with him. If that was true for him, then it’s certainly true for you and me. Gritting our teeth won’t get this done; we must learn beg God for His “energy” and learn to live in it.

3- Consider God’s prize.
I’ve never run a marathon (or anything closely resembling one), and don’t plan to any time soon, but in talking with those who subject themselves to such punishment, there’s one message I hear over and over again- The thing that keeps them pressing forward in the face of incredible pain and difficulty is the goal of finishing the race.

As Christians in the midst of the “race” of faith, we press on similarly toward a goal- “the hope of glory,” as Paul termed it. For those who endure in Jesus, there’s a certain prize waiting- eternity with Him, a life unimaginably joyous forever. Knowing that that’s what awaits us at the end of what is often a hard road in this life can keep us moving in the face of significant sacrifice.

Following Jesus and serving others can be difficult sometimes; we ought not view it as a surprise or an intrusion into our lives. But at the same time, such struggle doesn’t have to deaden our souls. Indeed, if we approach it rightly, it can actually lead to something beautiful- a life that shouts the worth of Jesus, and impacts others in the best possible way.

The Audacity of Jesus

Imagine that you are God. I’m not sure that I’ve ever asked anyone to do this before, but bear with me. Imagine that you are God and that you are capable of creating something out of nothing. You’re not just an inventor who uses preexisting components in new and unique ways; no, you are a creator – you speak and things come into existence. You use this ability to create a habitat full of provision, conducive to community, and primed for pleasure. Into this perfect habitat you place the pinnacle of your creation – a newly formed being that, unlike the components of the habitat, shares a diminished level of your amazing abilities. This new being will be creative. He will love. He will not just remember and react, he will plan and dream. After all of this work is done, you take a look down and see the perfection of everything that you created. You give some basic instructions to the being of how to use or not use the habitat. You can’t help but enjoy every bit of activity that the new being does in his new habitat because everything he does demonstrates the greatness of your creation – and you truly love him.

But then something goes wrong. The being, aware of your creative work, becomes suspicious of your motives. Despite the fact that you have created this entire habitat for this being and have equipped him with so much more than the other created things, he wants more and believes that you’re holding out on the good stuff. So he, believing himself to be wise (although he should clearly know that only you are truly wise), decides to rebel against you by disobeying your instructions for him. Immediately, the pleasure you have in this creation is gone and all of his actions, all the time, are offense and rebellion against you.

So, what do you do? Remember, it was nothing for you to create all of this in the first place. The habitat was created with just some breath. The being was an easy creation too – just because it pleased you to create him. So now that he is no longer pleasing, wouldn’t it just be easiest to wipe the slate and start over. Just a few breathes is all that it will take. Plus, no real loss because your next created being might be pleasing for much longer. As all powerful creator, wouldn’t it just make sense to start over?

When God was faced with this situation, He didn’t just wipe the slate and start over. Instead, He did what seems to be the most ridiculous solution possible – He took on the form of one of the creatures. He lowered Himself into the habitat to demonstrate righteousness, pay the price for the rebellion, and reconcile the beings back to their Creator. He endured insult, attack, beatings, and even death. He was the only one qualified to do this work, so He did it. He could have started over with a new creation, but He didn’t. As the result, human beings have the unmerited privilege to get a second chance with God. And those who trust in Jesus – God who came to earth to do this work – also have daily hope that nothing in this world can separate them from the love of God. This world may hurt, but eternity is secure in Jesus. This truth is fragrance of life to those who believe and the stench of death to those who do not.

Saints, followers of Jesus Christ, may at times lose perspective and begin to think that the trials and challenges of living in this broken habitat are the most important things. But we must remember the audacity of Jesus and the sacrifice He made to retrain our thoughts and our hope onto eternal things. In this way, God again looks down with pleasure on His creation. And we look up in joyous thanks to the One to whom we owe our very existence and in whom we have life.

Jesus did the dishes

dishwasher

Have you ever ordered food at a restaurant, enjoyed your meal, and then said, “Oh, where is my wallet?” I have. Gratefully my wallet was in my car, but not before the obligatory joke, “I guess you’re going to have to do the dishes” was spoken. The problem is that even though I could probably do enough work to pay off a meal, that is not an option. It is not a form of payment accepted by restaurants.

In Colossians 1:15-23 Paul writes the “Christ Hymn.” This passage was a hymn about the nature of Christ that was either recited or sung in the early church. This method of teaching was critical in an era where the individual believers did not have copies of Scripture. These things were not true because they were repeated, but were repeated because they were true.

This passage should challenge each of us to ask ourselves, “What do I believe? Why do I believe that? What do I do today because of that belief?” We must understand the position of Christ to understand our position in Christ. The Bible teaches many great truths about the life of a Christ follower. We are the light of the world…the salt of the earth…children of God…more than conquerors. These are true because of who Christ is, therefore, they are true of who we are in Christ.

This passage in the usage of the word firstborn and the word preeminent teach the great truth that Jesus is Creator. He is before all things and all things were created by him and through him. Jesus is the Sustainer because all things hold together in him. Jesus is the Lord because everything is under him. He is the “head” of the Church. He is both in control of the church and he is the source of the Church. Jesus is God because the fullness of God rested in him. It was pleased to do so because it is appropriate to do so.

We learn through these great truths about Christ that today everything is from Him, by Him, under Him, for Him, and through Him. Everything in life is seen differently when it is seen in the light of who Christ is. We must know who Christ is to understand who we are in Christ, but we must also learn who we are without Christ to understand who we are in Christ.

I, without Christ, am alienated, hostile, and evil.
I, in Christ, am holy, blameless, and above reproach.
You might think these two statements go too far, but they go just far enough. You, in and of yourself, are evil. I know it is harsh, but it is true. Acts that are good do not smooth the edges of those that are selfish, wrong, and hateful in your life. You might also say, I am a follower of Christ and I know I am to blame for much and am very reproachable. Remember, you have a righteousness not your own. This is true of you, who are in Christ, because (and only because) it is true of Christ.

Verse 20 speaks to why this is true in Christ. “through him (Jesus) to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, made peace by the blood of the cross.” Jesus is the reconciler. The word reconciler is an interesting term. Reconcilers are typically third party people who simply ensure the books match up to the account. Jesus, however, is the bank the account is owed to, the reconciler of the account, and you are the one whose account “over drawn.” This term reconciler reminds us that he reconciles us to himself in himself…through the blood of the cross. In this great transaction of salvation remember that Jesus (when he took on flesh and became obedient to death on a cross) became the currency to make your wrong account right.

Let’s go back to the restaurant. Imagine Jesus is the restaurant owner. He is the waiter and the host. He serves. He cooks. He prepares all that is needed. But in the end you do not have your wallet. It’s actually worse, you have your wallet; the problem is that you do not have any money. You have no way to pay the bill.

Jesus, in being our reconciler, did not just step up and pay the bill. He became the payment for the bill. Instead of requiring you do the dishes for your bill. Jesus, himself took up the apron and the dishrag and became the very currency of your salvation. His blood is literally the work, the payment, and the price for your sin and unrighteousness.

He calls out to us, in spite of knowing the condition of our wallets, in spite of knowing our absolutely inability to pay, and calls out to us, “Open the door to me and let me come in. Dine with me and I with you.” I am the Bread of Life. Eat. And you will never hunger again.

Praise the Lord, he did the dishes!