We’re on vacation, so I’m not working. It’s great. As we slowly uncoil, I’m finding my energy returning. I’m starting to dream bigger again, starting to plot and scheme diabolically again [cue evil laughter], and I’m starting to want to create again. It’s good.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about is Colossians. I know I’m supposed to be studying Ephesians right now. Well, maybe not “supposed to be”, but I told you that I am. But we’re on a break 😉 I’m actually reading Joshua, intermittently skimming Ephesians for breadth and to get a feel of the warp and woof of it, and I’m letting something else – related closely to Ephesians, but not tied to it – take shape in my mind. It’s looking something like this.
A friend recently indirectly asked me, “What’s your teaching? What’s the thing that when you teach it, it seems really fruitful.” This is a question he asks people with some frequency, looking to activate them further and to help them aim their efforts at reproducing exponentially what Jesus has put into them. I, as is my custom, hijacked the question and began to ask myself, “When people give me room to speak in their fellowship or house group or mission agency or whatever, and when they tell me to talk about whatever I want, what do I most often go to? What is it that my instincts tell me is super-important?” Invariably, it’s Christ. I know that sounds very trite and cliche, but I mean it in a particular way, and I mean it in the way I think Paul meant it.
Paul told the Corinthian believers that foundation of the Church (which is itself the pillar and ground for the truth) is Christ. He, as a person, is the foundation of the Church, and no other foundation can be laid but him. And on that foundation, we are told to be very, very careful how we build. I am increasingly convinced that, in a handful of strategically and tactically critical ways, Western Christianity (and Christianity in lots of places, it turns out) wanders from that one foundation. This is what I’m most often drawn to speak to. Not the problem, so much, as ways to find our feet planted and rooted in Jesus again. I find myself always wanting to provide clarity and motivation to return to â€œthe simplicity that is in Christâ€.
Toward that end I’ve been working on a series of trainings, all focused on clarifying and correcting rootedness. So far, they look like this:
> The gospel is about Jesus. Not about you or me or sin, but about Jesus. You and I and sin make appearances, but it’s about him, and this is really important because only a gospel about Jesus can produce disciples that are about Jesus, and churches that are about Jesus.
> The mechanism of human transformation is direct experience of Jesus. We don’t change by trying to change, or by passively sitting by. We change by “beholding Him”. There are ways to do this and ways to miss this.
> Christ is the ground of our gathered life. Not theological affinity, not race, not political similarity, not denomination. Just Jesus.
> When we gather, the goal isn’t to sing songs (though we might), and it’s not to learn something new (though we could). We gather to encounter Christ. There are ways to gather Christocentrically, and there are lots of ways not to. Gathering without encountering the living Lord Jesus in our midst is, at best, a waste of time. At worst, and more commonly, it leaves us worse for having gathered.
> Discipleship, and disciple making, are about nurturing a present-tense relationship between the disciple and Jesus in which the disciple is learning and changing by experiencing Jesus directly in the context of obedience events. This is what it means, as Paul says in Ephesians, to â€œlearn Christâ€.
There’s more going on in my head about this, but my sense is that we can feel that we, as God’s family, are out of alignment. We can feel how it rarely “clicks”, and how often our best laid plans and most diligent efforts don’t amount to much. It seems to me that being off-center about things like the gospel, the Church, transformation, and disciple making can really screw us up. And have really screwed us up. Not for lack of trying, but simply for lack of clarity. I find myself burdened to engender clarity on those issues whenever I can. I want to lay the right foundation, and I want to reinforce and straighten foundations when needed and as I can.
That reinforcing of foundation is what Paul’s doing, I think, in his letter to Colossae. Here’s a fellowship he didn’t plant, and that he’s never visited, and has no plans to visit. What does an apostle who is pretty fixated on this foundations stuff do when he has the chance to say whatever he wants to a cluster of believers that he’s never met? In reading Colossians, we see he spends two chapters demonstrating how Christ is everything, how he’s the focus of the cosmos, and how he’s the source of everything they need. He transitions to practical ethics by drawing out a competing view of how transformation happens, and then he shoots it down and says, “Transformation doesn’t happen that way; it happens by sustained, affectionate attention to Christ, who is your whole life.” And the rest of his discussion of praxis is soaked with the word “Christ”. Check it out sometime. Colossians is our example of how an apostle reinforces a churches rootedness in Christ. Delightful, and brilliant.
Something you could do that would help me as I develop this further is this. If you have a question or a thought about how Jesus is the ground, the foundation of our practical Christianity, or if you are curious about one of the bullet points I offered above, please post to it here. A little dialogue here will help me a lot as I seek to be as useful in this way as I possibly can. I have lots I’d like to learn from you all, and especially with you all, and I’d love to hear from you on this. If there are lots of questions in one direction, I’ll write a separate post to it.
Peace to you each!