Plot is everything. And characters. Knowing the story – the story of an argument, a relationship, a business, a movement – orients you. Knowing what story you find yourself in allows you to know the characters as they are, and to find the plot.
In my last post I introduced a series of blog posts I’m calling “Rooted”. Through these posts I’m hoping to shed some light on what it means that the church’s foundation is the person Jesus Christ. And I’m hoping to help us all get a better grip on how to start communities that truly are founded on Jesus, how to get our own roots deep into Jesus, and how to help disciples and churches realign themselves with the one foundation.
Paul is also very interested in setting (and re-setting) Christ as the singular foundation. In his letter to the saints at Colossae, he does just that. Last time I asked you to read Colossians through, and to give special attention to Colossians 1:1-23. And I asked you to ask 3 questions: 1) What do we see about Jesus here?, 2) What is Paul doing in saying what he says?, and 3) So what? Assuming you’ve done that (and assuming you’ve read the post before this one), let’s get down to exploring those questions.
What do we see about Jesus?
Paul lets it fly here. Christ is the beloved Son of God. He’s King of, well, everything. He is the singular Agent of God’s creative action, and he’s the Agent of God’s redemptive action. And he has secured for himself the unique position of preeminence over and in all things.
In short, this Christ is cosmic. And he’s fascinating.
What is Paul doing?
He’s fascinating because he is. But Paul is presenting him in all his fascinating glory because one thing he’s up to here, I think, is he’s trying to cultivate in his audience a fascination with the person of Jesus. Christ is fascinating, enthralling, captivating, beautiful, amazing, worthy of total obsession, good, strong and heroic. But he’s also, by some strange alchemy, easy to miss. It’s easy to base our practice of the Jesus Way on something other and less that the magnificent Christ.
Right out of the gates Paul blasts us with lots of awesome stuff about Jesus, because he’s attempting to capture our imagination with our hero. As we’ll learn later, everything that happens in our transformation is a function of us paying attention to Jesus – literally, looking at him. Paul knows that, so he leads by painting our imagination in bold colors with the beautiful and cosmic Jesus.
Another thing Paul’s doing is establishing the Story. There is one story. God creates, and God redeems what he created. In this Story we find Christ as the prime mover in both movements. But what I want to draw your attention to right now is the depth of this story. The story Paul is telling started a long time ago (creation), and it arcs through its most important moment in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and it will make its way toward a sure and certain future in which Christ has reconciled literally every last tangible and intangible thing to himself. This is a cosmic meta-drama. It’s THE story of everything. It started long before you were born, long before you believed, and it will continue long after your cameo is over.
What’s more, you’ve been caught up into the story of Christ’s thrilling heroics. You’ve been forgiven, redeemed, and translated into the Kingdom of the Son of God’s love. What’s more, God has been active in you since then. Paul makes sure to tell the Colossians that he’s heard about what Jesus has been doing in them – in particular how he has been teaching them how to love. And they’ve been catching on, from the looks of things.
But the story isn’t just deep, and it doesn’t just include them. It’s not narrow. It’s wide. The story’s breadth is as important as its depth. Paul lets the Colossians know, twice (v. 6, 23) that the gospel that has come to them is also spreading across the whole world, and the God at work in them is also simultaneously working everywhere. They are not alone, and they are not the center. The story is deeper and wider than they know, and knowing that is important.
We’ve seen that Paul presents Christ big, and he does that first.
Paul tells us that the story we’re in is long and deep, and Christ has brought us into a story that, while it includes us, is not about us. Our salvation is part of the two part drama that defines the whole of everything – God makes, and God rescues.
And Paul tells us that the story we’re in is wide and vast. God is not just at work in us. He’s at work all over the world.
Let’s think about why these things matter, and how to respond to them in ways that root us and ground us in Jesus.
What might happen if we intentionally cultivate an obsession with Jesus that PRECEDES ethic or dogma. What if, before telling people what they should believe or how they should behave, we helped them understand Whom they should trust, and how he behaves? What if we gave more time to talking about Jesus, and less time to talking about ourselves (how we are good OR how we are bad)? And what if we gave more time to thinking about Jesus? What might happen, do you think? Knowing that new competencies and new character are primarily acquired through imitation and not so much through explanation, what effect do you think consistently setting Jesus before our minds (and others’ minds) might have on our development as people?
Letting us know that there is something much larger going on than just what God is up to in us can be curative for two ailments I’ve personally witnessed in my assignments in the East and in the West: despair and parochialism.
Despair happens when things slow down. You stop seeing evident signs of new life or of God’s dynamic saving action in your immediate vicinity. And slowly, you start to buy the lie that if you’re not seeing it, it’s not happening. Or the other lie, that since you’re not seeing it here, it’s not happening period. You start to fear that nothing you do really matters and that nothing is going to change. I have seen this some in the Workers in Narnyy, and in the Narnyan spiritual leaders and saints. Knowing that God is active elsewhere can give you hope, and set you looking under the surface of things where God has never stopped working right where you are. God doesn’t seem to push on all fronts at once. Sometimes it is ours to hold the ground and wait expectantly for deliverance. Knowing that the Lord of Hosts afoot elsewhere can help us endure with patience and joy.
Parochialism is a big word for the kind of small-mindedness that leads us to believe that we are the center of God’s cosmic plans. His “next big move” will start in our city, and will ripple out across our country, and even “over there” (wherever over there is). The United States is just as much “over there” to God as Iran is, in case you hadn’t noticed. People seem to have this need to be in the center, on the ground floor, at the beginning. But that’s just silly. We can miss what God is doing right now because we’re constantly trying to be the next big thing. This leads to horrible sins like competition, territorialism, and that irritating need to mention the most recent book or the most recent strategy or model or whatever. God is active everywhere. If he includes your city in some major renovation, praise God! If he is speaking to your fellowship or house church or family, praise God! And don’t be surprised that you’re not the first person he’s spoken to about that. He’s talking everywhere.
He’s saving the world, you know. And you’re part of that now. Not the center, but undeniably part. You’re now an active citizen of the Kingdom of the Cosmic Christ, and he’s all kinds of good.
Some practical tips to help us root and ground in Christ:
- Develop a preference for the gospels in your reading and teaching. Iâ€™m not saying only read or only teach the gospels, but consider alternating. Matthew, a letter. Mark, Proverbs. You get it. Make the bread and butter of your Scripture exploration explicitly about Jesus.
- Get your hands on The Jesus Storybook Bible and read it to your kids. Or your friends’ kids. Or yourself. Seriously, I love hearing how God’ Never-ending Never-giving-up Always and Forever Love compels him to stick to his Secret Rescue plan, where by Jesus makes all the sad things come untrue. Best kids Bible / adult devotional I’ve laid hands on in a while.
- If you’re a reader, try Kenneth Bailey’s Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes and N.T. Wright’s Simply Jesus and How God Became King.
- Consider enrolling in a Story Formed Life seminar somewhere. At least google it and use the materials to guide your group study or your own devotional plan for a bit sometime. I’s worth the time to learn the Story, your place in the Story, how to Story, and how to be formed by that Story (instead of some other lame one).
Next time we’ll explore Christ the Mystery. Take some time and sit in Colossians 1:24-2:3, asking those 3 questions – What do we see about Christ, What is Paul doing, and So what?