There are times when writing a sermon that questions pop up in my mind that I feel the urgency to answer. Many times those questions are for me, personally. But there are times when the questions I’m wrestling with are ones that the church needs answered as well. Such was the case in Sunday’s sermon on Colossians 2:16-23. The question that has been lingering in my mind through the course of our study in Colossians has been: why are we susceptible to false teaching? And even more close to home: what are my weak spots or target areas where I’m vulnerable to a “Jesus +” syndrome? After I listened to Chris Guastaferro’s sermon from the previous Sunday, I was pretty convinced that we, as a church, needed to consider these weak spots. That’s what led me doing something I very rarely do when preaching through a text…I stepped out of the text for a few minutes to ponder this question.
Another issue with the sermon on Sunday was the amount of information that I cut out of the sermon to get my manuscript to an appropriate length. This sermon could’ve been 2 sermons, but in the spirit of trying to get through these 4 books during this calendar year, I needed to press things together. Now I will say this, my manuscript length was my normal length. And when I read through my sermon multiple times, I actually thought this sermon would be on the shorter side. But something happened when I started preaching it and interacting with the congregation…things began to come to my mind culturally, as well as some spiritual insights that I had not planned on, and I sensed that those things needed to be said. For better or for worse, it was a longer sermon than normal. Even with that, I want to use these musings to talk about things I actually left out.
First, a moment of clarity:
- During one section of the sermon, as I was talking about our modern-day “fig leaves” of saying we’re busy, I used that as a moment to tell our congregation about a unique saying from one of our pastors, Bill Heard. When Bill is really busy, he’ll sometimes say, “like a cat on a hot tin roof”, which in my mind, is a perfect description of a busy life. What I didn’t think about when I used this quote from Bill, was that some might think that I was throwing Bill “under the bus”. Believe me, when I tell you, that’s the last thing on my mind! I just saw this as a unique moment to share some of the hilarious and pinpoint clarity that our pastors like Bill Heard and Mike Keller bring to the table. If you took it as disrespectful or thought I was “throwing shade” on Bill, please know that was the farthest thing from my mind.
- One thing I won’t apologize for is my comment about chapter 4 of the Mandalorian. If you’re uninterested or have no idea what I’m talking about, skip to the next section. But for those of you who are, I won’t apologize for saying that I thought it stunk. It had corny dialogue, the fighting scenes were not up to Star Wars standards, and the acting was clunky. So there…for those of you who loved it, let me remind you that I saw Episodes 4-6 (the originals) in the theater, as a kid…I’m an old-school Star Wars guy and yes, I’m the “get off my lawn” guy about Mandalorian: chapter 4.
More on weak spots:
As I stated above, this question has really intrigued me since we started Colossians. Richard Lucas’ commentary on Colossians 2:16-23 actually addressed the four weak spots that I used on Sunday: pride, false zeal, disappointment with life, and exaggerated spirituality. But let me add a few things to this list and stir your thoughts a little more on it.
- On exaggerated spirituality…this is not about being spiritual. It’s not about “being so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good” because I think that’s impossible. This is about going outside of Scripture or even beyond Scripture. Let me give you an example: most of you know that I grew up on the Bible Belt of Dallas, Texas. In growing up there and attending a conservative Baptist church, this type of thing was on display regularly. One way was in the area of modesty. Scripture makes it clear that we are to dress in a way that everything is appropriately covered and nothing is overly revealing. But “commands” or “rules” were laid down that wearing “jams” (which were like board shorts, with a floral pattern on them) or even wearing “parachute pants” (I’m laughing out loud, right now, because this totally gives away my age and generation. But these were pants made out of parachute like material with a bunch of zippers), were not modest or not to be worn by Christian teens. This is one example…the command is modesty, not unbecoming, nor culturally unaware, nor awkward…I think you see the point. The exaggerated spiritualist is always “fencing in the law” and the fences get more distanced from the actual law and they actually become “man-made traditions”. And the reason why this type of thinking makes us an easy prey for false teaching, is because much of false teaching has to do with more discipline and more rules, which the exaggerated spiritualist is thrilled to do.
- This past Saturday night revealed to me another weak spot. As I was reading my manuscript to Jill (as I often do), I told her that I wasn’t real happy with it. She asked me why and my reply revealed something. I told her, “well, I don’t think it’s original enough”. She just laughed and said what she normally says: “is it biblical? does it point us to Jesus? is it faithful to God? If the answer to those questions is ‘yes’, then don’t worry about it being original.” When she said that I told her that originality is a weak spot for false teaching. The reason this is true is if a new teacher comes along with “original” thoughts, it easily captivates us, because we think it reveals their intelligence. Further, originality is like a drug our culture runs off of right now. “Original” pics, posts, and quotes are the way that people seem to get followers on every social media platform. But something being “original” doesn’t always mean it is true or smart. Further, Solomon told us clearly that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9).
- I read from 2 Corinthians 11:3 on Sunday, but let me re-post it here: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” This is from the English Standard Version. That phrase “sincere and pure devotion” can be translated, “simple, pure devotion” or as the NASB put it, “simplicity and purity of devotion”. A weak spot for us in false teaching is actually complexity. There is a joyful, simplicity of following Jesus, that is remarkably profound (sounds complex, doesn’t it??). But here’s what I mean: the simplicity of trusting Jesus for His saving grace, His empowering presence, His sustaining provision, and His promise of a hopeful future is really what the Christian life is all about. It’s about daily…trusting, loving, and clinging to Christ. And the promise of God is this: doing that, year after year, will bring growth and will make an impact in our world (no matter how big the ‘world’ is that God has called us to impact). But we like complexity. We say, “life is complex”, or “life is full of nuance”, and the simple, pure devotion of following Jesus doesn’t seem like it’s enough. We want Jesus, plus complexity. So, we go in search of something other than trusting Jesus, daily, or something more than what Jesus has called us to deal with our complex problems. Now, when Paul wrote 2 Corinthians 11:3, he wasn’t saying that life is simplistic or that life is void of nuance. What he’s saying is that the simplicity of being devoted to Christ will give us answers to life’s complexity and nuance. We don’t have to add complexity or nuance to have a greater spiritual life or greater experience than what sincere, pure devotion to Jesus, brings us.
Jesus being good enough:
That point is a good lead in to my last point in our musings for this week. And I want to think about, how Jesus being good enough for us, affects us everyday of our lives?
- In Colossians 2:20-22, Paul wrote this: “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?” We talked about dying with Jesus to the elemental spirits of the world. But what we didn’t discuss was that parenthetical phrase “referring to things that all perish as they are used”. When Paul puts that in there here’s his point: when we eat food, it’s gone. When we drink certain things, they’re gone. As a Christian, food laws (and drink laws for that matter), are no longer valid because Jesus has changed our perspective from temporal things (like food and drink) to eternal things (like love, souls of humans, and eternal life). This is why Paul would write in Romans 14:17: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” So, one way that Jesus affects us, daily, is in matters of conscience choices and in matters of the material world. Because we died with Christ to the most basic way the world operates, we don’t use material things like they do: to get ahead, show off, or to promote our self-glory. We use material goods for God’s glory, with grateful enjoyment for God’s care for us.
- Jesus being “good enough” for us frees us from seeing our work, our provision, our gifts, our positions, or our influence, as saying much about ‘us’ and more about God. This world operates by the assumption that the better job you have, the more provision you have, the better position you have, the more influence you have…then the better you must be. The problem with that assumption is that it doesn’t consider the reality of the sinfulness of our hearts and it’s a false barometer of our standing with God. For instance: at one time, King Ahab (one of the most wicked kings in Israel’s history), was King. His position did not reveal anything about his “goodness”. But…if Jesus is good enough for us, we’re freed from this syndrome of judging ourselves or others on the basis of these external markers. Rather, like material goods, we see our work, provision, gifts, positions, or influence, as gifts from God and He gives to some more and others less. And we use all of those things for His glory and the good of others, no matter where He places us.
- Jesus being good enough for us frees us from seeing trial or triumph as saying anything about us, but rather as moments to reveal to the world that Jesus is enough for us. Take moment and watch this short 2-minute clip of Nick Foles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=steu76YJX2Q. In this clip, Nick talks about being injured and how, as a follower of Jesus, he thought. This is fantastic and really helpful.
- The final thing I want to say about Jesus being “good enough” for us is its impact in our lives when realize we’ve blown it. Some will say to us, if we believe that Jesus is good enough for us, we won’t want to strive to be like Him and we won’t feel like we need to change, when we blow it. The truth, is exactly the opposite. When we understand the wonder of Jesus’ obedience on our behalf and His innocent death for our guilty lives, it completely changes the way we see ourselves and our sin. We’re actually grieved by our sin, greatly. And we’re motivated and transformed by His Spirit to be more and more like Him. He places in us a love for Him that wants to honor Him. We don’t want His reputation to be tainted by the way we live. So, when we blow it…we run to Him, agree with Him about our sin, submit to His rule in our lives, ask Him for power to change, and go about obeying Him. We don’t fret or wallow in our sin; we don’t beat ourselves up; and we don’t sit in self-pity. We run to Christ, because we know that He alone did it perfectly and our sin, reveals that we don’t. Only Jesus has the words of eternal life and only Jesus has made us right with God. And, only Jesus is faithful to us…even when we aren’t. Rather than promoting presumption on God’s grace, it stirs devotion, love, gratitude, and obedience.
From the cheap seats:
- I told my sons that this past weekend might’ve been the worst sports weekend of our year: Cowboys stunk on Thanksgiving; Manchester City continued their uninspired play at Newcastle; Oregon State lost to the duckies; and Texas A&M got crushed by LSU. The only thing that saved my sports weekend was the Dolphins beating the Eagles. I loved that part.
- It’s looking like an Ohio State vs. LSU championship.
- If you haven’t seen clips from Lamar Jackson playing football, you should watch some. Pure joy. To think that he is playing football against some of the greatest athletes in the world and he makes them look like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DItJndOeTlY.
- The latest I heard was that turf will start being installed at Legion Field this week.
Have a great week, enjoying the grace of God found in Jesus!