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!

Christ is Supreme

Queen Elizabeth hasn’t resided in Buckingham Palace since March of this year. In fact for much of this year she has been in isolation operating within a bubble for the protection of hers and Philips health. But the UK has managed okay without our Queen. It is meant to. Her title is honorary and traditional. We love her but we just get on with our lives. We vote for other people to rule our lives and then moan at them when they do.

That’s how some people view Jesus Christ. He is there but distant. They love Him but it is merely a title. The Apostle reacts against what he is hearing the Colossians are being threatened with and actually what I think is the greatest threat: the dethroning of Jesus Christ in our lives. The threat is not the denial of Jesus but the reduction of Jesus. Paul counters this in this beautiful poem/hymn:

And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. (Colossians 1 v 18)

Christ is supreme; pre-eminence; the first place; the highest place; above anything and everyone.

Is Christ supreme in all things in your life? Or has He been dethroned?

Do we proclaim the gospel or are we the gospel embodied?

I seem to spend most of my life dealing with power struggles.

When are we going to realise that we are not that important but that Christ is supreme?

The Church’s gospel is not only to be preached from the pulpit or Youtube or heard from the pew or zoom but it is to be within the lives, the vocabulary, the finances, the time and focus of every follower of Jesus.

Oh and what is that message? It is Jesus is Lord and it is Christ and Him crucified! Can the world see it? They won’t if the Church continues to be inward looking, struggling to be the lord of any situation, self-centred and without love.

Check the hatred, the pride and the division on social media. It doesn’t always come from outside the Church.

Jesus Christ’s supremacy MUST be seen in our lives if people are going to find Him as their Saviour.

The Church becomes sick and declines when our programmes, worship, buildings, efforts, discipleship, vision and goals are not revealing the supremacy of Christ.

The Church coming out of lockdown MUST be restored. The restoration is for the centrality of Christ in our lives. He is pre-eminent and He is supreme and the world MUST see this in us.

So what does this mean for our lives?

I was laughing with a friend the other day about how Christians sometimes use the strangest of ways to sign off a letter. We were in hysterics remembering some of the Christian-ese ending of letters from our HQ in the past such as, “Yours because His” we weren’t even really sure what some of these meant! As a Pastor I remember getting these letters from a certain person who would sign their letters “In His Grip.” It always used to make me laugh for some reason that only my immature mind understood. Major apologies if you sign off your letters/emails with either of these 2 ways. If nothing else you make people smile and that’s a good thing!

However, ‘In His grip’ is actually true when it comes to the outworking of Christ’s supremacy.

We have never lived a year quite like this year have we?!

Our world is struggling, the citizens of the world are troubled and we live in tension as everything that was normal is not anymore.

My future may be uncertain but Jesus Christ is supreme and He gives me security to know it will be okay.

My circumstance may look hopeless. The spiritual powers behind the many thrones of life may strike fear into our hearts but we combat that by knowing Christ has a throne and He is on it!

In this world of selfishness I don’t need to join in. It is a choice to live for yourself. To lay yourself down for your friend is the ultimate experience. Christ and Him crucified is the message I bear.

I may seem nothing, inadequate, alone, a small voice in a very loud world but I boast only Christ. I am not perfect but He is. I will try and become a better man not so that I can be praised but so that in seeing a better version of me the world will see Christ the Supreme Lord.

Yours with Christian snuggles

Paul

Christ holds us together

A few years ago I watched a sermon on a film from Louie Giglio regarding the Universe and the God who controls it all. He ended his preach with a crescendo as he asked the question how can we know that God will hold us together. He said, “That’s really what we want to know today, and I’ll tell you how you can know today that God will always hold you together, no matter what.” Using Colossians 1 v 17 he then went on to talk about laminin. I didn’t understand that word and I still don’t! I am sure some who are reading this can say so much more than I can but laminin is the glue that holds our bodies together. Giglio then showed a picture of the laminin in the shape of the cross. Wow! It was amazing and very moving. Now whether or not laminin is actually that shape and Giglio got a lot of criticism from so many who said it wasn’t, but the point is there is something that holds our lives together and it is certainly in the verse that the Apostle says, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1 v 17)

Christ hasn’t just created and then walked away. He continually sustains it and holds it all together.

We may wonder who really is in charge of the world. Is it Trump? Is it Putin? Is it Xi Jingpin? Is it Covid-19?

We must remind ourselves today that no matter who thinks they are in control and no matter what your circumstance says, Jesus is ultimately holding all things together.

Let me tell you something else I don’t understand: linear accelerators and the world of the atom and neutron! But I get excited when I hear of scientists finding things that they cannot name but discovering that there is some strange force holding life together. They cannot identify it but just as there is laminin in us there is a ‘glue’ to the whole world! There isn’t a word to call it, no one has named it.

But we have that name! We carry that name! JESUS! He shapes the destiny of everything.

You may wonder if God really cares for you or the world you live in. But on those days look again on Jesus Christ. Look on His sacrifice on the cross. Look how He came and walked this earth and got down into the dust and reached out to the lost, the last and the least. See how He cared. See what He said. See how He loved. He holds even the broken pieces.

No matter how broken our lives may become. Jesus is more powerful than whatever caused the hurt that you may be experiencing. You may think you will not survive this life that you are beyond fixing. Jesus created it all, sustains it all and can fix it all. He is holding you today.

He holds life and He holds death.

I may not be sure about many things but I am confident that my life and my death is in His hands. It doesn’t matter what I have or don’t have in this life. It doesn’t matter how long I live or whether I am cut off in the prime of my life. I am in His hands.

I may have many questions and few answers. I may be hard pressed, persecuted or in pain but I have a Person His name is Jesus.

I may journey on my own but I am not alone.

I may have desires unfulfilled but He is the greatest desire.

Spiritual powers may attack but they sit in His hand.

Nothing, absolutely nothing happens to me that He is not holding. He never drops me. He never lets go and He is never in a crisis.

It will all be okay because Christ holds us all together. He’s got you and He’s got me.

Christ made it all

Maybe I am getting old (!) but some of the old songs seem to be rising in me again. A song written in 1963 and based on the vision of Christ and the throne of heaven in Revelation 4 are these words:

Thou Art Worthy, Thou Art Worthy
Thou Art Worthy, Oh Lord
To Receive Glory, Glory And Honour
Glory And Honour And Power
For Thou Hast Created
Hast All Things Created
Thou Hast Created All Things
And For Thy Pleasures
They Are Created
Thou Art Worthy, Oh Lord

I love this song. And it speaks so well into our verse today:

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. Colossians 1 v 16

The apostle counters any thought that Jesus is an angel or a created being. He is making his case strongly and encouraging the Colossians to know Christ as God.

In Him all things were created.

God created all things through Him.

All things were created for Him.

All things!

Now the Apostle could have allowed himself to drift off into the vastness of the universe, the beauty of the created world, mountain tops, the wonders of the oceans, Christ created them all, they were created through Him and for Him.

But he doesn’t.

He speaks of four things: thrones, powers, rulers or authorities. When the Colossians read these 4 things they are thinking “surely not”. Paul says “Yes even those four, all things, not just the good and beautiful things but even the evil and wicked things have been created through him and for him.” In fact very soon in his letter he will write, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (2:15).

They were not created evil but they became so. These evil supernatural powers which Paul mentions to the Ephesians which Christians wrestle with are out to destroy all that Christ has created. Christ has defeated them and disarmed them by the work of the cross but they are still there trying to hurt as many as they can. However, they are controlled because they are created through him and for him. The cross overcame them and made them servants, they are still created through and for Christ.

So what is the Apostle saying?

  • Jesus Christ is not a created being. He is God.
  • Angels are not to be worshipped. Worship the One who created them.
  • Everything is about Jesus Christ.
  • The enemy does not have free reign to do whatever he wants to you.
  • Even your worst day, the worst attack from your enemy on your life serve Christ’s higher purposes and for His glory in your life.
  • We were not created for our own plans and pleasures but for His. Life is not Christ living in our story but US living in His story.
  • We don’t have rights to this life. We cannot demand that we live a long life on earth and become rich in every way. The majority of the world struggle in this life. Life was never meant to be fair. It is for Christ and He will bring us all home to a new heaven and new earth. This earth isn’t the ultimate. We are passing through.

For Thou Hast Created
Hast All Things Created
Thou Hast Created All Things
And For Thy Pleasures
They Are Created
Thou Art Worthy, Oh Lord

Christ is God

I am like so many missing travelling at the moment. I love airports. Over recent years the technology has developed massively. So that as you know there are booths for facial recognition for a quick journey (sometimes!). The problem for me is that I have 2 facial images. I wear glasses so that’s one image. But it’s not my passport image and the facial scanner will always shout back at me ‘this isn’t you back off’ or something like that. I look a bit similar but it is not 100%.

That was the problem of the Colossian Church. Visitors had come to them and though the Colossians were to be commended for their love and welcome they needed correcting over falling under the spell of a new teaching which made Jesus less than who He is.

The Apostle counters. Jesus is the exact representation of God. See what he writes in our next verse, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Colossians 1 v 15)

Paul commences a poem actually. One that he writes himself and we will explore it over the next few days.

I believe what this generation needs to know during and coming out of this pandemic more than ever is not what the building plans of the Church are; primarily not how the Church has become digital; not even how delighted the Church are at being back in ‘fellowship’.

The world need to know who God is.

They need to know what He has done.

They need to know who they are as a result of that.

They need to know how to live.

For that to happen they need to know who Jesus is.

They need to know the centrality and supremacy of Christ in 2020.

They need to know that when you look at Jesus you look at God.

The Apostle’s poem uses different Hebrew meanings for ‘head’. Paul will use Supreme, Head, Beginning and in this verse he uses Firstborn over all creation.

The JW’s are not right. This does not mean a created being. It is a term of headship.  The following verses that we will see over the next few days will demonstrate how he is as this verses says, ‘over all creation’ not ‘of creation’. This is a term of rank, pre-eminence and sovereignty over all that exists. It is used in the Old Testament where a son is referred to as the firstborn and yet the youngest of a family, as in the case of David.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.

Written by Walter Chalmers Smith, a pastor of the Free Church of Scotland, in the late 19th century.  It is based on 1 Timothy 1:17, where Paul writes: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

What the world needs today is to know the amazing truth that the invisible God has allowed himself to be seen and known in Jesus Christ.

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”

I worship you this day immortal and invisible God. I have discovered you in Your Son, Jesus Christ. I continue to know you more as I wonder on Him who is the firstborn over all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, powers, principalities, governments, Heads of state, Presidents, every title known by man and everything that has been created.

Supreme Christ.

Pre-eminent Christ.

Firstborn Christ.

No one is like You. No one is better than You. No one is over You.

The exact image of God because you are God.

You have made God known by becoming flesh and living here.

Because of You I can understand God. I don’t need to create my own image of God, I just look to you. I read about you. I meditate on You. Everything I need to know is found in You.

Amen.

Christ’s Disciples 7 –Walk in forgiveness

“Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realising you were the prisoner.” – Max Lucado

To a people who were being tempted to think that Jesus was not enough, the Apostle prays for them and reminds us all of what a disciple of Jesus Christ is.

Make Him proud (live well);

Expect He will succeed through you;

Grow to know Him;

Last the long haul;

Be thankful that He qualifies you to be a disciple;

There’s nothing I can’t be rescued from;

The final one is found in this verse, “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:14)

Forgiveness is the hallmark of being a Christian.

The Cross bought our freedom. Forgiveness of sins was paid for.

When we approach God to say, “Will you forgive me?” There is no consultation, no inquiry or attitude of “yes just this time.” His response is, “It’s done.”

The proof that we struggle to truly understand how God can forgive us of our sins is found in the fact we struggle to forgive ourselves and carry around shame and embarrassment so that we begin to hide from God. Further to that not only do we hide from God but we withdraw from others either because we feel unworthy for such company or we are offended by them because they have let us down in some way (yes even God). The principle is this: if you now forgiveness you will forgive.

Read that line at the top again by Max Lucado.

The Apostle will speak more of forgiving others later in the letter so we just think of it slightly today within the understanding of our forgiveness from God. It goes hand-in-hand. You cannot have forgiveness without living a life of forgiveness.

On November 26, 2008, a gang of terrorists stormed the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, India. After the carnage had left 200 people dead, a reporter interviewed a guest who had been at the hotel for dinner that night. The guest described how he and his friends were eating dinner when they heard gunshots. Someone grabbed him and pulled him under the table. The assassins came striding through the restaurant, shooting at will, until everyone (or so they thought) had been killed. Miraculously, this man survived. When the interviewer asked the guest how he lived when everyone else at his table had been killed, he replied, “I suppose because I was covered in someone else’s blood, and they took me for dead.” We need to be covered in blood. Not ours in some self-harming way and not that of others who have wronged us. But we need the evidence we have been to the Cross and understood what Jesus did for us there.

We need to be students of the blood of Jesus. We need to be bearers of forgiveness.