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Archive for November, 2014

(a meditation on the book of Colossians, chapter 1:1,2)

Paul opens his letter to the church at Colossae with some pretty audacious words:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Now, if I write you a letter, I’m just going to say at the end of it:

   -Steve

or, if you’re part of my professional network:

   -Warm regards, Steve Woodruff

or, if we’re in a particularly close relationship:

   -Love, Steve

That’s it. Just me, expressing my thoughts and feelings. No claims of authority or (capital T) Truth.

Not so with Paul in his letters to the churches. He regularly opens with expressions that show that he is no ordinary fellow, penning a few random thoughts. He wants his readers in Colossae to be very conscious, from the opening words of this epistle, that he is not speaking merely from and for himself.

He is an apostle (meaning a “sent one”). He was uniquely chosen and commissioned, along with a handful of others, to bear a message of good news to all the nations. He is not a news reporter, not a blogger, not Billy Bob down the street. He has been set apart as a special herald of a message that did not originate from him.

He is sent by Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself commissioned His apostles to go out and carry His message. Paul is therefore not representing himself, spewing his own opinions of dubious or limited relevance. Paul very self-consciously presents himself to the churches – including us, in this day – as a messenger from Jesus.

He is a message-bearer by the will of God. Paul did not elect himself to this position – in fact, he was a fire-breathing Christian-hater until the risen Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus, and God converted him into a believer and disciple. God chose Paul. God commissioned Paul. God gave him gospel revelation to proclaim to others.

He speaks blessing from God. It was a high and holy position to speak the authoritative blessing of God upon his people, and Paul, without hesitation, pronounces God’s grace and peace to these believers in Christ. Paul stands in the role of a fatherly prophet to the disciples, serving his and their great High Priest by bringing comforting words from God’s heart.

You and me? We can speak God’s truth to one another, but we can never occupy this place of apostolic authority. We can take each other (and even our pets!) out on a rowboat, but we’re not Noah. You can write poetry, but that doesn’t make you David the Psalmist-King.

Here’s the point: it has always been fashionable to try to undermine Paul’s authority (and therefore the authority of the New Testament) by claiming that Paul is only speaking his mind – not proclaiming the mind of God. As we’ll see throughout this letter, Paul gives us no such option – he very deliberately portrays himself in a position of authoritative Truth-telling, because that is the position God put him in.

The prophets of old, of course, did the same – and, sure enough, they were also questioned and rejected by unbelieving skeptics. But that didn’t change the fact that God chose to speak – with authority – through frail human vessels.

What an amazing and frightening privilege this was – to stand as God’s herald and speak His word. I write hundreds of words a day in blogs and e-mails and text messages and updates – but never with a sense that I am an Apostle speaking the fresh revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Paying me much heed, therefore, is quite optional. Paying attention to the revelation of God through Paul is a matter of spiritual life or death. Apostle-words are not optional.

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Super Savior

Super SaviorIf you’re focused on Christian dogma, Christian rituals, Christian practices, or even Christian examples (good or bad), you’re missing the point.

All of those things are important, of course. But they are the spokes. Our focus – in our own hearts, in our church life, and in our dialogue with the world – needs to be on the hub.

Christ is a super savior.

No, He’s not wearing a cape and jumping over tall buildings. But just look at the language of Colossians 1:15-20, and note the incredible pile-up of superlatives used to describe Him:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

These are outrageously out-there claims. This person, Jesus Christ, is God in the flesh; and He is before all, above all, in all, ruling over all and reconciling all. The entire created order is His.

In other words, He is superior, and everything else (including you and me) is subordinate. Our fictional superheroes don’t hold a candle to His sun.

Let this sink in for a minute. That immense, beautiful, and complex universe that surrounds us? It is His. It did not just appear out of thin vacuum. He made it, He upholds it, He rules over it – we are not the pawns of chance and random forces, but we are fearfully and wonderfully made by the supreme and only God, who rules over every force, visible and invisible.

The Scripture proclaims Christ as the superlative, supreme reality. He is not one of many gods. He is God. Audacious, yes?

One of the deepest works of sin is this: we want to imagine that we are in charge; or, that nothing is in charge. Sin is all about denial of reality. We’ll believe just about anything, as long as it doesn’t involve a King to rule over us. That’s why unbelief is, ultimately, a moral choice. It is the personal rejection of your Creator/King. It is the ant telling the earth to get lost.

If you give anything your attention, let it be the super Savior. Everything else, by definition, is a lesser consideration.

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The essence of the Christian faith can be found in this amazing sentence:

“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

Genuine Christianity includes belief in Christ, joined to a personal and ongoing experience of Christ’s deliverance of us. It’s not an abstract set of dogmas. It’s an unfolding story of escape.

Escape Gospel

I wrote about the in whom we have aspect in this prior post. But let’s back up and look at what this passage tells us about rescue.

1. First of all, note that deliverance/rescue/salvation is not a mere bullet point in a list of orthodox dogmas. “We believe in a; and in b; and in c; oh, and by the way, we believe in rescue; and in this; and that; and the other…” While the Christian faith, like any and every other belief system and worldview (including atheism), includes a series of beliefs, the biblical gospel involves far more that a mental framework. It is founded on an individual and corporate experience of escape – a rescuing from moral and spiritual darkness – performed by the hand of God Himself through Jesus Christ. This is an audacious claim. We don’t adhere to dead truths from a mythical God; we believe in a living and active God who does miracles in people. Darkness-defeating deliverances. Today.

2. Also, the Scripture is very plain about the reality of darkness. It is moral. It is spiritual. It is universal. And it is powerful – such that every single human being is in its grip, and we cannot escape without rescue from a much more powerful God of light and love. The first step in God’s rescuing work is making us realize how hopelessly we are enchained in darkness. We’re not good. We’re not neutral. We’re not filled with enlightened intelligence. And, enslaved in our chains of moral folly, we cannot free ourselves. The gospel is for the hopeless leper; to the self-sufficient soul still in the grip of darkness, it simply sounds like foolishness.

3. We’re not independent operators, as much as we’d like to imagine ourselves to be. We belong to a kingdom, and this is a binary (zero or one) reality. The kingdom of darkness. The kingdom of Jesus. No middle ground, no other choices. Until and unless we are delivered by Jesus, we remain enslaved in darkness. This, by the way, is why people so violently oppose the gospel. It undercuts our arrogance and imagined self-determination right to the taproot. The gospel is astonishingly inclusive – any and all are welcome – but also terrifyingly exclusive. One way to God. Only Jesus can deliver the darkness-shrouded soul. We need a specific cure, not a random medicine chest, for our deadly disease.

4. In the midst of all these hard and uncomfortable truths, love is the answer. Not some wispy ’60’s view of hippie mush-love, but the all-powerful love of the Father for His Son, and His love for us expressed through His Son’s sacrifice for sins. We need redemption and forgiveness first and foremost; and that is exactly what God extends to those in darkness. Cleansing where once was only impurity. Restoration where there was hostility. Healing in the midst of brokenness. Sight where once spiritual blindness ruled. Love is not smooth words afraid to offend. Love breaks chains and makes rescues.

5. The conclusion we draw from this – and it is reinforced over and over throughout the Scriptures – is that mere human moral effort is inadequate. Just adopting orthodox beliefs is insufficient. Taking on Jesus’ name with the lips while retaining a heart in love with the practice of sin is a lie. Real, living Christianity is seen where thankful, delivered, spiritually-awakened people worship the God who loves them, and love other imperfect people within the body of Christ and outside of it.

Do you want to witness the reality of God’s work on earth? Don’t crave signs and wonders in the sky. Look for the people of the great escape. That is the hand of God – and He invites you to come to Him for deliverance. Weak, wounded, broken, scarred, blind, enslaved, addicted, impure, dying – Jesus, the great physician, calls the sick to Himself for healing.

 

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