Made alive

Have you ever turned left when you should have turned right? All of us have gotten off track at one point or another. We’ve gone the opposite way we were supposed to, and the quicker we realize it, the sooner we can get headed in the right direction. When faced with the choice between two opposites (left or right, north or south, Ohio State or Michigan), it’s important that we choose the right one. (Go Bucks!)

We often think of death as the opposite of life, but that’s not the best picture of the truth. The relationship between death and life isn’t the same as the relationship between left and right, or in and out. Instead, it’s like the relationship between dark and light. Darkness is the absence of light, not the opposite of it. In the same way, death is the absence of life.

Made AliveIn Colossians 2:13, Paul says that we were made alive with Christ, even in the midst of our sins. That means that God has filled us up with the life of Christ, which is both abundant and eternal. There is no way for us to possess this life apart from Jesus. After all, Jesus himself said in John 14, “I am the life.”

Being dead in your sins doesn’t mean, of course, that you are biologically dead. It simply means that you are devoid of the abundant and eternal life that Jesus alone possesses and gives. It means that you are lacking, as we all do without Christ, the fullness of life that only the Author of Life can provide.

How can you become filled with this life? Through faith in Jesus Christ. You are made alive with Christ because he was made alive when God raised him from the dead. Placing your faith – your full trust, love, and obedience – in Christ means that you, too, will receive the benefit of his resurrection. But you don’t have to wait until you die to experience new life. You can have it today! Eternal life begins the moment you place your faith in Jesus. Choose life.

You Complete Me

I have to confess something: I never liked Jerry Maguire. Yes, there are some good lines. Cuba and Tom shouting “Show me the money!” at each other through the phone is a great scene. And Jerry Maguire has a noble purpose in making sports agency more relational. But the plot was hijacked by the romance which was, shall we say, overcooked. “You complete me.” Really?

Brought-to-Fullness-WebSadly, however, that may have been the truest line in the film. Not that any person can actually complete us, but that we believe: a) that we are at least half empty, b) that we can find our fullness in another human, and c) that romantic love is the only path to this fullness. “You complete me” is the teary-eyed plea of a narcissistic generation bent on finding love, not for the sake of the beloved, but for their own existential fulfillment.

While romantic love has its proper place, the only love that can fulfill us is the agape love of Christ. Paul says, in Colossians 2:10, “in Christ you have been brought to fullness.” This means that Jesus has done for us what no one else could do – make us truly and fully human. Our sinful inclinations, what Paul often calls “flesh,” are subhuman. They move us away from the purpose and glory for which we were originally created. But in Christ we are set back on track. Jesus puts us on the train to fullness.

In fact, it’s more accurate to say that, in Christ, we have already arrived. He has given us everything we need to complete the high calling of humanity. This means that the truest, fullest version of yourself is not the one who gives into sin and temptation or that looks for fulfillment in another person, but the one who lashes himself to Christ and follows hard after God. To be true to yourself is to be faithful to Jesus.

Easter has always been one of my favorite holidays, but the reasons I love it have changed over time. When I was young, I loved Easter because of the chocolate baskets I received from a close family friend. We would go to her house Easter evening and I would anxiously await the chocolate boon to befall me. Each year, my basket contained a pastel rainbow of colored chocolate, Reese’s peanut butter eggs, and a large chocolate bunny.

The first time I got the bunny my brain melted. It was huge! And chocolate! It would take me at least an hour to eat this whole thing! I was overwhelmed by this bunny with its colorful packaging and the rich, milk chocolate poured all the way through. But then I took my first bite. My teeth sank through this bunny much easier than I anticipated. I pulled it away in horror. This bunny is hollow! I’ve been cheated! It’s not fair! There wasn’t even caramel inside.

Chocolate BunnyIn Colossians 2:8, Paul warns believers against “hollow and deceptive philosophy.” Any teaching that does not depend on Christ, he says, is hollow. Like that giant chocolate bunny, it may look significant and life changing from the outside, but inside there’s just nothing to it. Any teaching, doctrine, or theology that removes Christ from the center is hollow, because nothing else can ever fill the void left by Jesus.

But how can we tell the difference? How can we know when we encounter a hollow and deceptive philosophy?

The best way to answer this question is with a diagnostic question: What is the litmus test of true belief according to this teaching? If the answer is anything other than “the person Jesus Christ,” then it is a hollow and deceptive philosophy. There are many false litmus tests:

  • Political ideology or affiliation
  • Biblical literalism
  • Patriotism
  • Human sexuality
  • Expressions of spiritual gifts

But none of these can be the center of our faith. These are all chocolate bunnies. They are hollow. They cannot possibly hope to replace Jesus as the center, because in him lives the fullness of the Deity. Christ is the center, and everything flows from him. Your responsibility is to draw life from your personal encounters with Jesus. Always be on your guard against what seeks to remove him from the core of your life and belief.

Energy of Christ

The old joke tells of a gentle, elderly man approaching his pastor after church one Sunday. “That was a fine sermon, pastor,” he offered, kindly. “Tell me, what do you do for work the rest of the week?”

Many pastors find this amusing because they’ve heard the accusation leveled in one way or another that they only have to work one day a week. This, of course, is a sometimes comical, other times tragic, misunderstanding of the work of ministry.

In fact, pastoral ministry can be exhausting. Whether you are a staff member of a large church, the part-time pastor of a small church, or somewhere in between, shepherding God’s people will tax your heart and soul. There is an emotional and spiritual pressure in ministry that can’t be found in any other profession. Burnout is inevitable. Pastors often find themselves in need of an alternative, renewable energy source to which they can have access.

Paul, the archetypal pastor, felt the same way your pastor feels. He was working hard to “present everyone fully mature in Christ,” and he discovered that he did not have enough energy within himself to accomplish the task. Rather than growing despondent, Paul turned to the infinite well of kingdom energy, his Lord Jesus Christ. He tells the church in Colossae that his goal is to make mature disciples out of them, and to that end “I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.”

For those called to minister to God’s people, Jesus has an infinite resource of energy available, without which the task would be impossible. But it’s not enough to simply ask God to do what we cannot. Paul didn’t passively sit by while Jesus did everything himself. No, Paul fought hard – he strenuously contended – with all the energy Christ was so powerfully, and graciously, working within him.

Pastor, are you fighting for the discipleship of your people as hard as God is working within you? Can you describe your ministry as a strenuous contention? Are you taking full advantage of the energy that Christ is working inside of you? Jesus is working hard, and he wants to work hard with you.

In 2010, the world watched anxiously as 33 Chilean miners were trapped over 2,000 feet below the surface of the earth. As you can imagine, the men faced overwhelming challenges living that far underground. But one of the most dangerous aspects of their plight was the complete lack of daylight. According to this Newsweek article, “the physical and psychological toll of the darkness” could have dramatic effects well after the miners are rescued. According to this BBC report, many of the miners are struggling to move on. Living in darkness wreaks havoc on both the mind and the body.

Darkness-and-Light-WebFor those of us who watched, the images of the dramatic rescue of the miners will stay with us forever. It is remarkable to see someone delivered out of darkness.

It’s no wonder that, in the Bible and many other religious texts, darkness is used as a metaphor for evil. In Colossians 1:13, Paul writes that God “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,” what he calls earlier the “kingdom of light.”

Just like the prolonged absence of sunlight, spiritual darkness takes a toll on our minds and bodies. Satan, the ruler of the dominion of darkness, seeks to enslave us through temptation and deception. Prolonged exposure to, and participation in, evil makes us less than human. The lies of the devil distort our minds and cause us to commit evil (sin) with our bodies.

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