Christ and surviving as a Disciple

Have you ever returned to a Church that several years ago you used to be a member of?

Do you know the feeling of looking around and not recognising anyone? You want to know where the familiar faces are. Did they die? Have they left and joined another Church? Did they leave Christ?

The Apostle has complimented the Colossians on their firm faith and now, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2: 6-7) He knows they are being tempted away from the truth of Christ that they received to some other satisfaction that is being offered to them by false teachers.

This pandemic is a purifying season. When we fully return to our buildings we will look around and wonder where such a person may be? They left during Covid-19 and they are not coming back. Decisions are being made in this season. Seasoned disciples are walking away from their pulpits and from the pews. Church may well look very different in 2021.

So is there anything we can do? Paul says there is.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him…”

Paul is saying focus your lives right now on Christ Jesus as Lord. He is Christ, the Messiah, the Chosen One of God. He is Jesus our salvation for that is His name and there is no other name. He is Lord, supreme and therefore has total authority over our lives in all we do. If Christians did this daily then even if they changed churches they would not change their Christ for some other lifestyle choice.

The Apostle then says, “rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

We are to be rooted. We are the planting of the Lord for Him. We can withstand the storms of life. We are dependent on Christ not because we are immature but because we are mature disciples. Discipleship doesn’t lead us to being able to stand on our own in this life. It leads to more dependence on Jesus. We never grow out of a discipleship class.

We are to be built up. We are part of a building programme for Him. Not one of those buildings that doesn’t get built and stands by the side of the road with no development at all. It can be seen. I was lost and now am found etc.

We are to be strengthened in the faith. We are not flaky disciples pushed from one idea to the next. We are confident in the promises of God.

We are to be overflowing with thanks. We are to be looking to Him with praise. This is our responsibility not Christ’s. We choose to be a grateful person. May Christ’s disciples survive the storms of life. May they not leave Him or His Church. 

Christ and the routine of Discipleship.

We are about to see why Paul has been struggling in prayer as he is suffering for the Church, preparing his messages to pass on for Tychicus and Onesimus to deliver. “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.” (Colossians 2: 4-5)

“Fine-sounding arguments” have the appeal to cause people to believe and follow them but for the Apostle they will lead to false teaching.

In contrast Paul encourages them because of their discipline and their firm faith.

Firmness of faith would perhaps suggest a lack of pizzazz and flavour. The x factor, the WOW moment and the exciting experience of Church stand in contrast to order, discipline, habit and obedience.

But maybe the Colossians had something that the Church needs today?

Lives based around Scripture.

Daily prayers.

Living out our lives which reveal Christ is dwelling in us.

Being obedient to the doctrines of the faith.

Reliable and resilient so that the Church may grow.

Not self-centred and not given to self-promotion.

Not swayed by persecution or pandemics.

Firmness of faith.

A disciple has a routine of the above. It is why discipleship is the number 1 need for the Church today. It is not to get the Church back into their buildings but it is to get the Church rooted and mature in Christ.

Christ’s connectivity with His Church

In the late 90’s Christian TV programmes started broadcasting and made available in the UK. I remember one member of my church who was hooked on these programmes so much so that it was all he watched on television. His attendance at church was sporadic, he didn’t need it because he was being ‘fed’ by the Christian channels. I am not being critical of the Christian programmes as I am fully aware of those who have for many years been housebound who have relied so much on them. They are a blessing to so many.

But I do remember preaching and saying that Christian TV can only help you in a certain way. It cannot replace the fellowship of the Church, of being together with others with the benefits of such.

I say all this because the one task the Church has had to face during this pandemic is connectivity. It will continue to be so even as next year (we pray!) we come out of the pandemic and the Church continues its digital presence.

But why is connectivity so important? Is it because we get lonely? Is it because there is nothing quite like gathered worship? Is it because we have empty buildings? Those things and more are genuine reasons.

Look what the Apostle says, “I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2 v 1-3)

Paul is working hard but he is in prison so he is not going anywhere. It must be that he is struggling in prayer for the Colossians and the Laodiceans. He must be struggling with processing his thoughts and preparing Tychicus and Onesimus (4:7-9) as they get ready to represent him.

But he is keen for them to connect together. Why?

If you want guidance for your life.

If you want to gain understanding of a situation.

If you want to know Christ who knows everything there is to know about anything!

Then be united in love with other believers. Be knitted together is what it means. Don’t be absent from Church. Be in it. Be known and know. Don’t go it alone. The digital presence in your life of a Christian programme from your Church is not the same as being present yourself. Whether this be a gathered service or a small group of believers journeying together or both. Of course, the point Paul is making is not just to turn up and be with others but far more than that. You can be the most faithful member and be the most complaining negative member the Church has ever had, perhaps you should be a digital member! But Paul says if you want to know Christ then be united in love.

The Church needs to continue to find its connectivity with one another in love in order to find and truly know Christ.

Christ is the goal

How would you sum up what you do in life?

If you were speaking to someone you had never met and they said what do you do, what would you say? I guess you would talk about what you do the most. Let’s see what the Apostle says (from the Message translation), “We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That’s what I’m working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me.” (Colossians 1 v 28-29) This is the focus of Paul’s life.

Paul was not lazy nor was he worried about offending the Church by admonishing it (NIV). He didn’t concern himself with entertaining them. He did worked tirelessly to do his best to make them like Christ. A friend posted on social media yesterday saying how he can preach the gospel with no preparation and yet because he wants to do his best he had already worked 20 hours on a message he was giving soon. The point being he was still giving his best for the gospel.

Next time your Pastor preaches do please give your attention to that message. They have probably worked tirelessly to bring out the truths of the Scripture and to present them in such a way that can be clearly understood and applied. Sometimes the Pastor has to be brave. They know their people and what they are going through can be often a huge variety of circumstances. Do they try and tip-toe through that obstacle course in order not to make any reference that would suggest they are speaking into at least one person’s situation? If they do then you will have such a watered down message it will be worth nothing. How many get offended because ‘Pastor was talking to me!’? Pastor was actually very brave to apply Scripture in such a way that it spoke to the heart of their church so that the members become more like Christ. That’s what happened!

If we are going to grow and mature in Christ then it is going to hurt. Hebrews 4 v 12 says that the Word of God is sharper than a double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. That sounds painful doesn’t it?!

Recently I have been having lots of conversations with Pastors regarding blind-spots. The AA says, “Failure to adequately check your blind spots while driving increases the risk of road accidents.” But what of the blind-spots in our own lives?

I have found people who have friends all their lives but who never ask them to show them where their blind-spot is. Isn’t that crazy? They would rather risk accidents, mistakes and hurt than ask their friend to tell them the truth because they would not want to hear they are not perfect, even though they are not.

If you have found a church or friends who take the responsibility for the growth and maturity of every believer seriously enough to be honest enough, then you have found gold.

Christ’s Message

The Apostle throughout his letters speaks of Christ’s message as a mystery. The word has a different meaning to what we perhaps understand. It is something that was previously hidden or not fully revealed in the Old Testament.

“I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1 v 25-27)

What is that mystery?

It is about prejudice and racism being ejected and inclusivity and diversity being embraced in the Church Christ is building.

For Paul’s day it was clearly seen in the Jews and the Gentiles.

What does Paul say of the mystery?

  1. No one knew that all along God intended to dwell with all people not just the Jews.
  2. The Gentiles would never have the same benefits as the Jew.
  3. The Gentiles could never win the Jews to God; it was always the other way round.
  4. God’s presence could only truly be experienced in its fullness by the Jewish High Priest.
  5. The inheritance from God was a double portion for the Jew; they will always be the better people in the future, even if there is room for the Gentile.
  6. The Glory of God can be seen in all people as Christ dwells in their lives.

Now who said these things? A leading Jew, the Apostle.

This was not a Gentile with a placard demanding to be heard.

This was a Jew doing all he could to bring about change, to disturb the status quo, risking offence in order to speak the message of Christ, the mystery, that was hidden but isn’t anymore.

Today, social media, Christian websites, books and magazines and in every possible media along with conversations in coffee shops and wherever possible people will be speaking their views on their world from their perspective. Division through ethnicity, culture and religion, deep generational racism, condescending economic differences revealing who is truly blessed will be suggested.

We need more than every the men and women of God to step out of their comfort zones and to speak well of those people who are different to them. To say and to demonstrate through words and decisions how God has a plan for all mankind and that is to dwell in each one of them through the presence of Christ and for Him to be seen in all people.

There will be a price to pay.

Who is God calling you to share this message with?

Christ’s Deacon

Over the last few days I have been sitting with 2 Church leadership teams discussing the role of Elders and Deacons within the Church denomination I am part of. The conversation can usually be summed up as, “The Elders are the shepherds of the church and the deacons are the workers.” In fact I think and honour 2 female deacons of a church in the North East who work so hard for the Church, they are the only members of the leadership team and though they have their own jobs and families serve tirelessly for the Church.

There I said it. That word. Serve.

Who also used the word? The Apostle!

What a title! Apostle – sent one. Look how important Paul is to the church. But where is he? In prison. Maybe his critics were saying he cannot be a blessed man of God in that circumstance. Unlike them perhaps in their comfortable and luxurious lifestyles.

Yet what does the Apostle call himself? A servant of the Church. A deacon which is what the word means. Throughout his letters Paul calls himself a servant of the Gentiles; a servant of the gospel; a servant of Christ Jesus; a servant of the Jews; we get the picture Apostle.

Last Sunday at the Church I spoke at they presented a retiring Elder (who had also been a Pastor all his life nearly) with a gift. I was moved simply by the fact that this man had given the majority of his life to the Church.

I then also saw after the service a group of volunteers on their knees disinfecting the chairs that people had sat on. Servants.

I recently had to tell a leadership team that their Pastor was not their servant so that they could master him and tell him what he can and cannot do. But that he was a servant of the Church by the calling of God on his life. Along with all the volunteer workers of the church the Pastor also serves on behalf of Christ.

Look around your church from the pulpit to the pew and be thankful for Christ’s deacons wherever they serve.

Christ’s Shared Sufferings

The apostle is in prison, in chains, but he is still contending for the spread of the gospel and the building of the Church and yet he doesn’t hide the fact that he is suffering.

“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1 v 24)

Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian minister of the gospel would often ask people, “If suffering were offered to you as a gift, would you accept it?” During his long imprisonment in a Communist prison he was beaten and tortured including mutilation, burning and being locked in a large frozen icebox. Up until he died in 2001 his body bore the scars of physical torture.

The Apostle accepted the suffering in fact he rejoiced in it. It was meaningful to him. This was not something that he would denounce but embrace. Yet what he said in verse 24 is something that is quite shocking and not easy to understand.

Is Christ’s suffering not enough?

Why did Paul say it was lacking?

Firstly, this does not take away the sufficiency of Christ for redemption. In fact there is only one redeemer and to suggest anything else is an anathema.

In a recent conflict situation I looked around the room and wondered where the cross was, I couldn’t see it.

There is a suffering for the sake of Christ’s body, His church. That is what Paul is speaking about. It is not lacking in terms of it is not powerful enough but the Church and indeed the world need to see the cross. They need to see the embodiment of the cross in daily life. That is what Paul has been called to and what he understands.

Do people see the cross in your life?

Sickness? Disappointment? Bereavement? Pandemic restrictions? Persecution? Every situation and more can be turned into presenting the powerful suffering of the cross. Your life in these circumstances can become a piece of theatre that demonstrates Christ and the cross of redemption. In doing so the Church continue to rise.

Christ’s Gospel

Since the first lie in the garden the enemy of our soul has been continually working at destabilising our identity as children of God.

Every bereavement he has exploited; every accusation he has magnified; every mistake he has echoed; he has continually worked at reminding you of what you don’t have and who you are not; you have fallen short and do not make the grade; you are not good enough for God and for this world; you need to work harder and be better; you need to follow this and that; you need another baptism; you need to wander, search until you find because what you think you have is not enough.

This is the work of the father of lies. The Colossians were listening to him. I also have heard this voice throughout my whole entire life. As you read this you also can remember the voice that has tried to destabilise you, blind you and bring you down.

It is as if the Apostle grabs the microphone and cranks up the sound system and blasts out something that the world needs to know not just the Colossians:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1: 20-23)

You now stand

In just over an hour I will set my satnav to get to the church where I will be preaching this morning. After that service I will set it again to travel to another church this evening. I will drive around 500 miles today. What is absolutely crucial is that on my iphone I have my location entered. If it doesn’t know where I am then I am not going to get where I need to be.

The Apostle reminds them where they used to be.

You were outside; worshippers of idols; ignorant to the purposes of God; every part of your life was a distorted image of Christ; you were out of alignment in your minds and behaviour.

BUT NOW.

That’s not your location now. That’s not where you stand. So you need to know this. When people come and say you are not what you should be remind yourself where you now stand. When the voices of doubt say you need to perform and prove yourself in order to be accepted by God then it is a complete lie. Do not listen to that lie. It is a falsehood. Ignore it.

Without going into the detail of how it happened Paul states that the death changed everything. The death painted a new landscape. The death relocated you.

The death is of course Jesus Christ!

Keep going

I will keep driving today. I have to. I won’t get there if I don’t!

Paul says continue, remain steadfast, firm, grounded, established in the faith.

Daily remaining in the truths of Jesus Christ that you came into the faith and based your life on.

You are complete in Him; you are alive in Him; you are free and not afraid; you are a child of God and belong to Him; you are without blame within His love; you have peace with God and the peace of God in your mind; you have the Spirit of God hovering over your life and dwelling in you; you have the Spirits wisdom and understanding for every situation you face; you have the powerful strengthening enabling to be and do whatever needs to happen; you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you; you are chosen by God for this moment; you have everything you need for this life because you have Him; you are a temple of the Holy Spirit; cleansed, forgiven and set aside for a holy life; you are saved by the grace of God.

Do you understand this? Are you reminding yourself daily of these truths? Keep going!

Don’t move

Strangely the Apostle then says ‘Don’t move’. He is speaking of not moving from the hope of this gospel, Christ’s gospel. The Message has this, “constantly tuned into the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted.” Can you imagine this! It blows my mind. So let us join the Apostle and crank up the sound system and stay tuned to a love that is loud booming through the airwaves to us. That we might know who we are and where we are going. Let the gospel sound not just to us but to the whole world. There is no other gospel. Just this one. This is for the whole world. It is Christ’s gospel.

Christ the Reconciler

How many of our disagreements, misunderstandings, feelings of bitterness, and lack of forgiveness in the body of Christ would disappear if we truly understood that to carry the gospel is be the first to reconcile whether you are the sinner or the sinned against one?

The Apostle uses this beautiful hymn/poem to counter the false teaching in Colossae that devalued Jesus Christ. Paul extols Him and tells the Colossians Jesus Christ is God. That is what we have been looking at these last 5 days and finally in bringing the hymn to a close the Apostle writes, “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1 v 20)

The gospel in this broken world of ours is reconciliation with God, ourselves, other people and creation. Gospel-workers are agents of reconciliation. You cannot hold on to your grudge in one hand and the gospel in the other.

Today I will sit with an Eldership team and interview a Pastoral candidate. One of the questions that will be asked will be on how that Pastor handles conflict? It is such an important question and it is sad that it is necessary to ask it.

It is ironic to me that I live in a world where every day I see first-hand or am told of some sort of conflict within the Church of Jesus Christ and yet at the same time thousands of miles away that same Church of Jesus Christ is suffering in conflict from evil oppressive regimes because they hold to the gospel. One part creates conflict and the other suffers under it.

Our message of reconciliation is weakened and watered down if we fail to be the embodiment of that. This is the challenge to discipleship. The world needs to see reconciliation portrayed but it is struggling to see it because reconciliation is seen at the cross and the Church needs to do more of making that a priority daily visit. This is a costly life. We will find some people hard to like never mind love.

The church should be the inspirational hope to the community because it practices the gospel of reconciliation. We can start today.

Christ is Enough!

Iron Man, the Wasp, the Hulk, Thor and Ant-Man, Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye may not be known to some of you. But they have been labelled “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” and form the Avengers team of superheroes fighting evil since the 1960s. The team have a famous battle call of “Avengers Assemble!” as they fight super-humans, deities, aliens and many other dark powers.

What a wonderful leadership team!

This fantasy team join forces to become one powerful energy of strength. Not one of them can conquer alone, the team is needed.

Why am I mentioning The Avengers? I’m introducing you to Gnosticism (Gnostic is the Greek word for knowledge) which was a name given to a loosely organised religious and philosophical movement in the 1st and 2nd centuries B.C believing in a collection of religious ideas. It is still here in the 21st century in the school of thought that says the Divine is spread across a number of different deities: Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha etc all expressions of God.

The Apostle is countering Gnosticism in his usual remarkable way in this verse:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Colossians 1 v 19)

Paul takes a word and redeems it. A word that his readers would instantly understand who he was referring to. ‘Fullness’ is ‘pleroma’. The gnostic false teachers were using this word constantly to speak of the sum total of all the divine power and attributes found in all the entities when brought together into one unit then represents a totality of divine nature, the pleroma. The Apostle, with one clever sentence, rubbishes this anti-Christ religious system by saying the whole of divine power, God, lives in Jesus. The pleroma of God, all the attributes of God are in Jesus. Is Jesus a prophet? A good man? To even ask those questions demean the one who is God in flesh and the pleroma of Him.

Paul is saying Jesus was and is totally God. It is not that he looks a bit like God. He is God to the fullest of what He can be seen as. He isn’t an assistant God, a watered-down version of God. He is God 100%.

Paul also uses the word ‘dwell’ which is actually the word used for a permanent dwelling. Throughout every generation and for all time, Jesus remains God.

He is and will be everything that God could possibly be.

Christ is my reward; And all of my devotion; Now there’s nothing in this world; That could ever satisfy

Through every trial; My soul will sing; No turning back; I’ve been set free

Christ is enough for me; Christ is enough for me; Everything I need is in You; Everything I need

Christ my all in all; The joy of my salvation; And this hope will never fail; Heaven is our home

Through every storm; My soul will sing; Jesus is here; To God be the glory

I have decided to follow Jesus; No turning back; No turning back

The cross before me; The world behind me; No turning back; No turning back

(Myrnin/Morgan, Hillsong)

Do you feel life is unfair? Do you believe you are entitled to something more? Do you look at what others have and want it?

Remember Job? He lost his children, his livelihood, everything, even the respect from his wife.

What have you lost? If you lost everything will you still love Jesus? Is He enough?

If you never get married, if you never get that job, that house, those friends, that popularity, will you still love Jesus?

If He never answered another prayer of yours the way you want Him to, will you still love Him?

Is Jesus Christ still a good God? Or do you need to go somewhere else?

Paul tells us today that Christ is Enough!