Only Christ: Struggling for Strangers

“I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.” (Colossians 2:1)

We’re parachuting into the middle of Paul’s letter to the Christians in a town called Colosse. He’d never been there. The church was started by someone else. But Paul cared deeply about these people.

only_350Why? Why is Paul struggling, sweating, risking his life to deliver his message to people he’s never seen, people whose stories he doesn’t know? Because that was his job, given by God. And because they needed it.

Why does the Marine go into combat for strangers back home? Why does the air traffic control guy work so hard to land those planes in the right order? Why does the nurse show such compassion for someone she’s never met?

They’ve decided their mission in life is to meet the needs of strangers by providing something needed, something essential. It was Paul’s job and our need to hear the message he’s going to deliver this week.

Think: Do you provide for the needs of strangers in any way? Why? Do any strangers provide for your needs?

Pray: Thank God for Paul’s effort to get the needed message to strangers in Christ. Thank God also for getting that message to you in this letter to the Colossians.

Do: Make a quick list of three needed things strangers have done for you that you couldn’t have likely done for yourself.

Only Christ: What We Need

“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3)

Why does Paul struggle for these people he has not met? What do they need so desperately? That’s what we’ll be discovering for the next several days – the urgent answer Paul felt compelled to risk his life to make known to them (and to us).

only_350The first two items on our needs list are courageous hearts and love-saturated unity with other believers. If our hearts are cowardly, if we are many things instead of one thing together in Christ, then we are missing out. We are missing what it means to belong to God, to be in Christ, to be fully Christian.

Paul knows we should be loaded, rich, wealthy, fully funded in our understanding of Jesus. If we don’t really know Jesus, we are broke. We are missing the point. We may be believing that he is a piece of our puzzle instead of the picture on the box. He is the final answer. He is the point.

All the facts and what to do with them are waiting to be found in Jesus.

Think: Would you say that your heart is courageous in Christ? Would you say you have experienced unity with other Christians? Would you say that you are hoping Jesus will solve your problems or that you are hoping to know more of Jesus?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be encouraged in heart and united in love. Ask him to help you to have the full riches of complete understanding to know Christ, the mystery of God. Thank him that by faith and through his grace you do know Christ.

Do: Read and think about Colossians 1:15-20 to know Jesus better.

Only Christ: Fine-Sounding Arguments

“I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.” (Colossians 2:4-5)

A great argument between two skilled debaters can be mesmerizing and disorienting. If it’s a subject you’re not sure about, you can find yourself agreeing with one debater one minute only to be won over to the other side a few moments later by the other guy. Sometimes, a skilled debater can make it harder to see the truth.

only_350Paul knew his readers needed to be convinced that all of life comes down to knowing and following Jesus. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Why? Because skilled debaters then and now work against Christians to persuade us that faith in Jesus isn’t enough or that following Jesus in obedience to God isn’t important. These “fine-sounding arguments” are persuasive to those who are not convinced.

Think: Are you convinced that all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom are found in Christ? Are you convinced that faith in him is enough to give you a right relationship with God and that following his path is the only life worth leading?

Pray: Ask God to help you not to be deceived by fine-sounding arguments that distort who Jesus is and/or how much you need him.

Do: Read and think about 2 Timothy 1:12.

Only Christ: Now What?

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him.” (Colossians 2:6)

The idea in this verse is both simple and profound. In delivering to his readers – and us – what we need to know about Jesus, Paul answers the question we often ask: I’m a Christian; now what?

only_350At least, it’s the question we should be asking. Instead, I think a lot of us unconsciously think, “I’m a Christian. Now let me get on with my life.” Paul will tell us today and tomorrow that God intends that “getting on with your life” be just as much about Jesus as becoming a Christian was in the first place.

My pastor puts it this way: The wedding isn’t the end of the relationship; it’s only the first day. Becoming a Christian is the start of living in Christ, not just the end of our search for God. If your life isn’t all about growing in Christ, it’s not all it could be.

Think: Why do you think so many Christians see Jesus as the gate to eternal life but not the path through this one?

Pray: Ask God to help you to live in Christ just as you received him.

Do: Challenge one of your spiritual leaders to define what it means to “live in Christ” in 25 words or less.

Only Christ: Dig In Deep Get Stronger

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

What does it mean to “live in Christ”? Even if you’ve been convinced by Paul’s urgent message this week that all of life should be consumed with Jesus, how do we do that?

only_350Send your roots deep into Christ. The tree doesn’t have a back-up plan to keep it upright; it expects to get all of its stability from the ground it’s planted in. God wants us to dump all of our back-up plans and trust him alone to give us everything we need.

Then grow. Work hard to get what Scripture teaches. Work hard to talk to God every day. Work hard to serve people he loves. Growth comes from sweat and sore muscles. Indulge in sports metaphors: Plan on the pain and learn to love the payoff of walking closely with God.

One result: The stronger you get, the more thanks you’ll feel – and then give. When we’ve got no backup plan to Jesus and we see him provide for us over and over – and over – we can’t shut up with the “thank you’s.”

Think: Do you have a back-up plan to Jesus in your life, something else you’re holding on to in case being a Christian doesn’t really cut it? What would it take to lose your hope in that option and grow your roots deeper into Jesus?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be rooted and built up in Jesus, strengthened in your faith, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Do: Plan some spiritual workouts that involve study, service and prayer.

Only Christ: Don’t Get Caught

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

Does it really matter what someone believes? Do we have to get so picky about the specifics? Isn’t it enough if someone just believes in the same God we do? Do we have to make a big deal about believing the right things about Jesus?

only_350Yes, it matters! Paul’s fantastic word picture describes false ideas as traps and those tricked into believing them as captives. That’s not inclusive language. Paul is clearly saying some beliefs are right and others are dangerously wrong. The wrong ones are those that don’t keep faith in Jesus at the dead center of a person’s worldview.

Paul refuses to say, “Who knows what the truth is? You believe your thing; I’ll believe my thing. We’ll both be okay, right?” Nope. He says, “I love you too much not to tell you I think you’ve been trapped by a nice-sounding lie. Unless you change your mind and put all of your hope in Jesus, you will stay in that prison of false belief. Get out now.”

Think: Do you ever feel pressured by your culture to not sound so convinced that Jesus is the only hope of being in heaven with the Father forever? How do you respond to that pressure? Is it more loving to pretend not to be certain or to tell the truth as you believe it?

Pray: Ask God to help you not to be taken captive by false philosophies that depend on human tradition and the basic principles of the world rather than on Christ.

Do: Make a quick list of two or three human philosophies that do not depend on Christ.

Only Christ: All the Way Full

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” (Colossians 2:9-10)

Do you feel full? Do you feel filled up? In focusing on our need to keep Jesus at the center of our lives this week, Paul wants urgently for us to understand we’re not missing anything. Spiritually speaking, we don’t have any empty spots. We don’t have any lost pieces that would finally make the puzzle of our lives makes sense.

only_350Jesus, Paul insists, was also filled up all the way. He was completely full of God. He was all of God all the way through – in a physical, flesh-and-blood human body. And if that’s not wild enough, when we became Christians through faith in Jesus we got filled up with him.

That doesn’t mean we have become little gods. It does mean that we have enough, all we need, to do what God wants us to.

Think: Are you sometimes tempted to think you’re missing something you need – gifts, age, money, experience, faith, education – to live for God right now, today? Do you understand that you’ll never have any more of Jesus than you do right now, that you have all you need to start serving him this moment?

Pray: Thank God that as a Christian you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.

Do: Read the rest of Colossians 2 to keep following Paul’s train of thought.