Finished Yet

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This is the question I want to ask anyone involved with the construction of the highway Fellowship Church is on. Finished yet?

Finishing is often difficult.

When I was 12 years old my uncle gave me his old 10 speed bike. I really wanted it, or so I thought. The bike was rusted. It needed to be torn down, repainted, and rebuilt. I quickly disassembled it. I painted it, poorly. Then, I spent more hours than I care to remember attempting to reassemble it. I worked on it for a week or two. I got frustrated and put all the parts into a garbage bag and set it to the side. Two years later, I threw it all away.

Why? A free 10-speed bike sounded great. The price of free, however, was more than I was willing to pay. The task was, honestly, beyond my mechanical abilities and most certainly beyond my experience. I found myself unwilling to do the work necessary to accomplish such a difficult, for me, task.

Paul ends Colossians with some final words of instructions and by mentioning several people by name to encourage them or to encourage the church to trust their leadership. These instructions, if heeded wisely, will allow a follower of Christ to finish. There are some things we practice in life that help us finish. Too often followers of Christ throw the work of Christ away, like I did that bike, simply because they are tired of the unfinished reality of His work in their life.

We finish because Jesus finished. The completed work of Christ is how we continue. We live out faith in difficult and wonderful times. The ups and downs of life do not rob of us of the ability to continue because we trust upon the completed work of Christ.

Here are the finishing practices Paul shares with us in Colossians:

  1. Pray continually. Prayer sticks when we stick with it. Scripture tells us “the prayers of a righteous man availeth much.” These prayers win. We typically do not stick with prayer because of impatience and arrogance. We believe we know better than God or that we simply do not have time to wait for God to move.
  2. Watch thankfully. We are thankful for what is ahead after we are thankful for what is at hand. It is difficult to be thankful towards the Lord you are asking for provision from in the future when you are ungrateful for the provision he has given you in the present. Start with now.
  3. Walk wisely. People who walk wisely see time correctly. I am currently reading a book titled Margins. It is a good read. Here are a few quotes. “All humans have physical, relational, emotional, and financial limits that are relatively fixed.” We do not like this because we are not all created equal in all ways. I simply do not have the same physical limitations as Drew Brees. He simply wishes he could do what I am capable of. “It is God the Creator who made limits, and it is the same God who placed them within us for our protection. We exceed them at our own peril.” Knowing your limits does not mean doing nothing. Do what matters like it matters.
  4. Speak Honestly. Speak words seasoned with truth and love. This is not always easy. Some times the truth a person needs to hear is hard to give with love because it is love they do not deserve. Thank God, he “demonstrated his love for us while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
  5. Act wisely. Wise people see the importance of people more than they need to be important to people. Paul sends out his brightest and best. Most people will never do that. I have, as the pastor at Fellowship. It is HARD. It is very DIFFICULT to give away your brightest and best to continue beyond yourself the work of the Gospel because it makes the work of the Gospel where you are more difficult to do. Wise people work hard so others might fulfill their own potential in the Kingdom of God.
  6. Live graciously. God’s grace is everything. Paul mentions Mark in this passage. This is the young man he and Barnabus broke up over. He would not take this quitter on another mission trip. Now he is sending him to the church in Colossae to help build them. God’s grace is everything. It changed Mark from a quitter to a servant and Paul from a punisher into a reconciler.

Is God’s grace everything in your life? I encourage you to ask Jesus to finish his work in you and not just through or for you. Seek the Lord that he would cause you to be a matured believer who can live out such high standards because you have a Savior that already lived them out on your behalf.

Put on Your Jesus Shoes

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“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

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

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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!