The Jesus You Can’t Get Away From

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him”…Colossians 3:17 (ESV)

Growing up, did you ever have that guy or that girl in your life- that person that, no matter how hard you seemed to try, you just couldn’t seem to get away from? Everywhere you went, and in everything you did, no matter if they were invited or uninvited, they just kept showing up, relentlessly pushing their way into your business.

(Note- If you didn’t have person in your life, perhaps you need to consider that you were this person for someone else. Just something to chew on.)

In my current season of life, my four- and two-year-old sons are these people for me. There is literally nothing- and nowhere- that is safe or sacred from their (welcome or unwelcome) intrusion.

Going to the garage? They’re coming with me.
Going to get the mail? They’re coming with me.
Going to take out the trash? They’re coming with me.
Going to the bathroom? Even there, they’re attempting, with all their powers of preschool persuasion, to come with me.

This week, as I considered the verse that heads this post, along with the instructions that follow it in Colossians 3:17-4:1, I was struck by just how much Jesus has in common with my young sons. No matter where I go in this life, and no matter what I’m doing, as one of His people, He absolutely insists on coming with me. Hard as I might try otherwise, there is simply no getting away from Him. As my Lord and my “life” (see Colossians 3:4), He wants something to do with everything.

Full disclosure here- That is at once one of the most comforting things about Jesus, and one of the most annoying. Of course I appreciate the whole “I will never leave you or forsake you bit,” but the fleshly nature in me sometimes just wants Jesus to steer clear of “my business.” Surely I’m not the only Christian who sometimes feels this way, huh?

Recently, though, as I worked through this tension in my mind, I was reminded of a critical- but easy to forget- truth. As a Christian, there is no longer such a thing as “my business”; every bit of “my business” is now unquestionably, undeniably Jesus’ business. As God’s adopted child and treasured possession, Jesus’ authority in every area and aspect of my life is now absolute, and everything I say and do in every one of those areas reflects on Him and His Gospel.

This fact is made clear in Paul’s instructions to the Christians in Colossae in 3:17-4:1 as He drills down on the relationships between husbands and wives, children and parents, and bondservants and masters. And although each of the commands here are horizontal (i.e. worked out in human relationships), Paul makes clear over and over again that every single one of them reflect a vertical responsibility, and have vertical impact.

Here’s what I mean- The foundation for Paul’s words regarding relationships are rooted, without exception, in the character of God and in the nature of the Gospel message. Every single one. That means that the way husbands love, wives submit, children obey, parents lead, servants serve, and masters master says something to the watching world about who God is and how He relates to His people. God didn’t make this stuff; it arises directly from His character.

God has designed everything in His created world with the potential to reveal His greatness and goodness, that people might know and follow Him as they were designed to do. And God knows, in all His wisdom, that one of the most powerful ways His glory gets magnified is when His people do relationships drastically differently than the world around us.

I’m thoroughly convinced that the people in your life care far less about what you believe than they do about how what you believe is impacting the way you live. They don’t just want to hear about Jesus; they want to see Him- in you. And God has graciously provided us with a way to show them that. When you lean into obedience to these admittedly unnatural and countercultural ways of living and relating, that will cause the world to take notice, and thus provide us with a platform from which to share who our God is and how He desires to relate to them.

All that to say- Jesus is a guy that you just can’t get away from. Not at home. Not at work. Nowhere. He’s coming with you, and enabling and empowering you to shout to the world His glorious Gospel. Does the way that you’re living and relating in these relationships reflect that purpose?

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.

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 Day My Life Changed Forever

My baby girl turned five years old yesterday.

As crazy as that sentence is to write (where is the time going?!), it doesn’t even begin to compare with the gravity of January 25, 2010 at 3:58pm when I met Tristin Laine face to face for the very first time.  In a single moment (that was immediately preceded, as my wife would point it, by many, many, many moments that led to it), my life was radically altered forever.

With the arrival of that little girl, I came into a brand new position which I had never held before- that of fatherWhoa…talk about a weighty realizationLiterally entrusted by God with the life of another, I now held in my arms a gift and a responsibility like nothing I had ever known before.  At that moment, there was no looking back, no turning away; life as I had known it was over, and a new reality was ever before me.  Such is the power of a positional change.

Fast forward five years (plus one day now, if we’re being technical), and guess what?  My position as a father hasn’t changed- in fact, it has actually expanded threefold with the subsequent additions of our two boys, Jude and Asa.  But in five years, my practice of fatherhood has been transformed dramatically.

I’ve learned, grown, and matured in more ways than I can count, and though I certainly don’t get this thing right anywhere close to all the time, I’ve come a long way since those anxious first days in January 2010.  I still remember crying tears of both fear and joy as we drove home from the hospital with our little gift from God, and while my kids still occasionally bring me to tears (for multiple reasons!), I am learning a thing or two along the way.

In this way, fatherhood is both a completed work- after all, I became one in a moment- and at the same a continuing work in which I develop just a little bit more with every passing day.  To put it more succinctly, it is both a position I hold and a practice I practice- and will be until the day I pass from this life into the next.

This is a powerful picture of what it means to follow Jesus- to be, as we’re discovering as we walk through Paul’s letter to the Colossians as a church, a ChristianTo bear the name Christian is to both stand in a secure position “in Christ” and practice the outworking of that position on an everyday basis.  The positional reality is made possible through Christ’s completed work of living perfectly, dying sacrificially, and rising victoriously, while the practical reality is experienced through Christ’s continuing work of transforming us daily to look more and more like Him.

This dual truths standing side by side in Scripture are undeniably powerful and immensely encouraging.  This is true for two primary reasons- one, that our position in Christ is eternally secure in a completed historical reality, and two, that Christ really can and will bring about practical transformation as we walk with Him daily in that position.  This is the “Good News” of the Gospel- that we have no need to earn our position before God, and that our practice is not in vain!

As a father, January 25, 2010 was the day my life changed forever, and at the same time the day my life started changing.  Becoming a father wasn’t an end, but a beginning, but the process of change that has happened since that day- and will continue on indefinitely- wasn’t possible apart from that initial change in position.

So it is as a Christian.  To bear that name, we all must begin somewhere- and that “somewhere” is in trusting Jesus alone as our Savior and Lord, which results in a dramatic, and necessary, change of position.  But recognize at the same time that change isn’t the end of the conversation; it’s just the beginning of a lifelong process that will culminate one day when you meet your Father in heaven face to face, and are finally perfected forever.

So then, how Christian are you?  It is a question of both position and practice.  Let’s allow God’s Word to us in Colossians instruct and inspire us to answer it well.