Substance – Colossians 2:8-10

The following post is the manuscript from the talk by Kyle Davies delivered Sunday, March 8, 2020, at Generations Church.

We are going to start off by having a little fun today. We are going to begin with a little exercise. I am going to throw nines dots up on the screen. I want you to draw nine dots on your teaching time notes. Maybe you’ve seen this before, your goal is to draw a line through all nine dots without picking up your pencil and in less than 4 total straight lines.Nine dot

As you begin, I want to recap our series Substance to this point. If you are new you can always go back and listen to last weeks on the podcast. Kaleb gave us a good start – get connected to Jesus. “Paul apparently being convinced that true gratitude for God’s grace is an important offensive measure against the false teaching.

Paul develops a powerful positive theological argument against false teaching by rehearsing the completeness of the spiritual victory we share in Christ.

Christ is substantive. Specifically in Colossians 2:17, the substance is the Messiah. This is important because Paul, who writes most of the back section of your Bible, is writing to a group of people who are being pressured to believe and live out that Christ is not enough.

Paul knows what they have been initially taught because he led Epaphras to follow Jesus and Epaphras started this new church community.

What has happened is teachers have come in after the fact and attempted to influence this church in another direction.

Here’s their basic message: We have some additional practices that will add to your life and help you be fulfilled.

Let me elaborate on that a moment: We know following Jesus is hard. It’s difficult. And you might not always feel like you are fulfilled when you are following Jesus. The reason you might feel this way is because some others, us specifically, have these incredible experiences that move us closer to God. You don’t have to feel insecure about missing out on these experiences. We can help you experience these same incredible moments. So, just let us give you some practices and you’ll be able to have these great experiences and minimize any suffering. We will make sure that you measure up, that you are satisfied, and that when others ask you about following Jesus you can point to these experiences through the practices that we will give you.

These false teachers are attempting to give these Colossians believers additional practices or additional rules that are not dependent on Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and return. This is an attempt to coerce the Colossians believers into believing that true spiritual fulfillment is not found in Christ alone.

Now, you may be wondering “why” well our Scriptures don’t give us the clear “why.” Let’s revisit our activity for a moment.

Did anyone get frustrated and look up the answer? In our culture and our time, we have a propensity for wanting to get things right.

When we open our Bible and begin to walk with Jesus sometimes there is clarity about what right is. Sometimes there is a mystery that makes it hard to apply the principled way of Jesus to different situations throughout our week. No two situations are exactly identical. To avoid true dependency on Jesus, we opt for some rules. Even if it’s simply to rebel against them. We like to know the boundaries of play.

Many times we say in safe comfortable predictable patterns because it’s easier to play by a set of rules that we make up and that we establish rather than take a step dependence upon God each and every day. Even if this set of rules says that we cannot know for sure.

It’s easier to live by a set of rules we make up because we can establish the mark for success, eliminate failure, and know the standard. Change is difficult. It’s messy and often unclear.

Let’s go ahead and look at the solution to the nine dots. What you see here is that you actually have to think outside the box to accomplish the task. My guess is your brain made some assumptions about the process.

Paul’s words here in Colossians 2 begin to address these additional rules that we put in place in our own lives because of our propensity for achievement, approval, control, or satisfaction.

While the desire may be different for each of us

Paul addresses these additional rules. These rules can be both assumed or articulated.

These rules…….Take you captive. They hold you prisoner. The philosophy is the product of mere speculation and does not put adherents in touch with divine truth. Ambrosiaster commenting on Paul in the 300s: “Paul calls this tradition of philosophy fallacious and inept, because it is not worked out according to the power of God but according to the weaknesses of the human mind, which restricts the power of God to the limits of its own knowledge so that no one will ever know that is is possible to do anything other than what the carnal reason suggests.”

Common to both Jews and pagans was the basic idea of cause and effect and in a sense it rules nature and the minds of men. We live under the idea that we get what we deserve; when we are good, we deserve to receive good; when we are bad, we deserve to receive bad. Paul warned the Colossians to not subject themselves to this grace-eliminating kind of thinking, and to consider themselves dead to it.

….Tell lies. They are deceitful. They give you a false sense of success. They misrepresent what it means to follow Jesus for yourself and for others. They seem to be arguing that certain practices must be added in order to achieve true spiritual fulfillment. One cannot add to Jesus without, in effect, subtracting  from his exclusive place in creation and in salvation history. The phrase “based elements of the world” conjures up the idea of spiritual attunement to air, earth, fire, and water. They may have felt they needed to appease these spirits or Gods in these natural sources.

Paul is not actually attempting to deny their reality, however, their preoccupation with rules about material things, was like the pagans, and were thus in need of pleasing. Thus, putting them in the place of Christ. The false teachers are proclaiming and demanding a doctrine and demanding practices that do not depend on Christ.

….Give you less authority We have authority in Christ: Christians need not fear these powers, therefore, because they are firmly under the control of their own head, the one in whom all the fullness of deity had come to reside. The Colossians believers will have no interest in listening to the false teachers once the realize that they are already filled. Paul says that this is a fact to be enjoyed, not a status to be achieved.

Sandwiched in the middle of these reasons, Paul writes a statement that proves why these are true.

Read verse 9. “FULLNESS” Jesus claimed to be God, received worship as God, and was crucified because of his claims to be God. We will touch on this more next week. God has taken up residence in and therefore revealed himself in a body. Meaning, there was never a time in Jesus’ earthly existence where he ceased to be God.

Picture this: You go to the Pacific Ocean with a  friend—two finite dots alongside a seemingly infinite expanse. As you stand there, you take a pint jar and allow the ocean to rush into it, in an instant the jar would be filled with the fullness of the Pacific. But you could never put the fullness of the Pacific Ocean into the jar. Thinking of Christ, we realize that because he is infinite, he can hold all the fullness of Deity. And whenever one of us finite creatures dips the tiny vessel of our life into him, we instantly become full of his fullness.

From the perspective of our humanity, the capacity of our containers is of great importance. Our souls are elastic, so to speak, and there are no limits to possible capacity. We can always open to hold more and more of his fullness. The walls can always stretch further; the roof can always rise higher; the floor can always hold more. The more we receive of his fullness, the more we can receive.

Paul is not advocating the view, so common in his day, that true spirituality was to be found by abandoning or by strictly subduing the body. Rather, god has chosen precisely a body in which to take residence and through that body, sacrificed on the cross and raised from the dead to win ultimate victory  over the powers of darkness.

When we fail to understand Jesus, we succeed in limiting ourselves.

So what: We underestimate what God wants to do through us. When we don’t know how to cope with that reality we begin to draw lines, boundaries, and form rules.

We underestimate what God wants to do through us.

  • —By limiting ourselves to our own rules
  • —By misunderstanding the person of Jesus
  • —By playing by manmade rules

The substance of life is Christ. This is why at GenChurch we have a value Spirit over Self. Daily depending of Christ is very different than depending on the rules you establish.

For example, Damien Lillard on playing outside the Three Point Line because of size. He can’t drive inside. He can’t play defense. It’s limiting.

This is what we do to ourselves when we depend on other rules of life. Fulfillment isn’t found in a formula. Christ’s fullness in you provides fulfillment.

Now what: How do I begin to depend more on Jesus?

  • Identify your influences (TikTok, Facebook, Fav news channel)
    • You will hear a certain perspective and rhetoric about their way of thinking. The greatest challenge here is distinguishing between what sounds right and is actually Christ-like.
    • I mentioned GaryVee – His line “don’t you just want to be happy” is easy to pick on.
    • Because in the pursuit of your happiness you may actually treat others poorly. You may make unethical decisions and sacrifice morality for the sake of personal satisfaction.
  • Connect w/ Jesus because he brings freedom and we will get it wrong

Wait…There’s More

Generations Church is a community of everyday people committed to expanding God’s family because of Jesus for generations to come.

We (our teaching team) has been teaching through Colossians 1 as Generations Church began weekly services.

Let me give you the “previously on…”

We live in a world with faulty maps. These maps don’t just guide us they shape us. God sent Jesus into the world. Jesus is a map that shows us what God is like and what humanity looks like in proper relation to God. In this midst of this world, we are called to embody the mystery of Jesus made known. We must begin following the map and then inviting others to journey with us. Both our destination and the map is Jesus. Paul is sent into the world to share this message with people (Gentiles) who are included in God’s family because of Jesus.

We have been using Colossians as help to communicate some essentials to a new church. Paul has not met these Christians in Colossae. A coworker Epaphras started the church. He is concerned about the false teaching influencing other Christians in the region.

One theologian puts it, “The epistle is a vaccination against heresy, not an antibiotic for those already afflicted.” So, the false teaching has not taken hold but Pauls’ words are used as preparation against the heresy.

For I want you to know how greatly I am struggling for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person. I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of complete understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery—Christ. In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with arguments that sound reasonable. For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ. – Colossians 2:1-5

You may be wondering why I just listed Colossians 2 as the teaching text when the series is from chapter one. 

If you look at your Bible, how do they divide it up. Prior to us adding chapters and verses to help in dissecting and understanding and translation, the contents were a single letter. The contents are still a single letter but appear less so due to these additions.

You may recognize Laodicea. For those of you who don’t no fear, Laodicea is mentioned in the very last book of the Bible for being lukewarm (see Revelation 3). They have drifted into apathy about their faith.

While we don’t know exactly what has happened to the Colossians community. It’s important to see that between Paul’s letter and John’s letter something happened within the region. 

Paul has commended the Colossians for their faithfulness and impact on the world. It’s worth noting what an inability to discern false truths and apply the wisdom of Jesus produces—a muddy version of Christianity. Paul has told these Christians that the mystery has been made known—thus clear to them—but their inability to keep growing and applying and discerning has resulted in paralysis.

Paul has used himself as an example of what struggling and suffering looks like He has followed Jesus. We do not know what happened with the other believers. However, as Paul leads into direct countering of false teachers, we see a description of what Paul is ultimately working for in their midst. Paul almost goes, “Wait…there’s more…” I’ve told you how the access the knowledge of God and even given you some application. We see Paul go from observation to the specific application. Identify the solution. It’s like going from the observation “dude your broke”…to “let me help you budget and figure out where you are spending unnecessary money.”

Here we get a pastoral capstone of Paul’s goal from his opening words that the mystery of how God would rescue and renew his creation is made known in the person and work of Jesus:

  1. Encouragement of the Church
    1. This is more than “atta boy” this is a sense of putting strength, or courage, into them.
    2. It’s reiterated in a different way in verse 5 with the word “strength”
    3. Paul uses the word heart-basically at the core of the person. Just as suffering has afflicted his body and worn it down, Paul knows that the inner resolve must be able to cope and have resilience when the social pressures and likely physical ones come when they apply the way of Jesus to every aspect of their lives.
  1. Being United In Love
    1. “This describes a person’s rugged commitment to another person in three ways: in presence, in advocacy, and in the mutual direction of development toward Christlikeness.”
      1. Presence
      2. Advocacy
      3. Development toward Christlikeness
    2. Let me reiterate the point in an inverse way – what Paul is describing is not simply tolerating someone else but a commitment to one another. as a team.
    3. When you know someone’s story and they know your story, and there are differences, but you choose to connect relationally and appreciate the difference rather than stay on opposite sides of the room.
    4. To be knit together in love does not mean they will all be committed to becoming loving people so much as committed to one another.
  1. Having the Full Riches of Complete Understanding
    1. Paul’s aim is knowledge, and what he wants for them is to be complete, full, or certain in their understanding of this knowledge, and this kind of completeness is the riches for which he is laboring.”
    2. Paul here puts a pastoral capstone on this idea of “known”
    3. “Riches” can refer to the gospel response in generosity to others.
      1. This is why for the next several weeks we will look at one of our values give over get.
      2. & to the mystery of God’s redemption expanding to the Gentiles. So, the focus for Paul, as is the case in his mystery of uniting Jews to Gentiles and Gentiles to Jews, is a fellowship that exhibits a supernaturally based union through the Spirit. 
      3. Love and knowledge for Paul manifest themselves within the church. It’s not merely a “rah! rah!” they show up in practice when people interact with each other.
        1. Reduces the distance that sin, emotional vandalism, creates.
      4. Teams have gone through training camp, practice, refinement.
      5. The church isn’t always known for that. We will fall back into old patterns if we do not have some different community habits.
      6. End to gossip.
      7. Using your gifts (Jenene)
  1. Having the knowledge of the mystery of God
    1. That the hidden plan of God to expand his family to all people has been made manifest in Jesus (see Isaiah 33:5-6).
    2. The mystery of God, the one formerly hidden by now disclosed, is Christ the final treasure, and in that treasure is both wisdom and knowledge. If the mystery was hidden in the deep recesses of God’s plan, the wisdom and knowledge expressing the truth of that mystery are in Christ himself.
    3. Paul contests any view that revelation about God’s truth and the gospel can be found in any other location than Christ.

As we look at these last two verses, we sense a switch in Paul. Everything he has said to this point is made abundantly clear—he doesn’t want these believers to be deceived—it’s not even foolish arguments—these are arguments that sound reasonable.

On the other side of our Give Over Get series, we will see how Paul counters these “reasonable” arguments. Here’s what may surprise you, and at the same time may not be all that shocking…these “reasonable” arguments are still put into effect today. They show up in the books you read, in the news you watch, in the social media you follow, in the cultural sayings regurgitated in everyday conversation.

Here’s what happens..like I briefly mentioned earlier. The gospel accomplishments in our culture aren’t always dashed away by false teaching, they are slowly eroded by teaching that that sounds right but has no connection to the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.

Paul is rejoicing because of what he has seen in the Colossians thus far.

If I may assume the first-person stance in this pastoral moment by Paul.

Just like Paul, I can’t physically be with you always. Here’s the beauty. You don’t need me to be physically present with you always.

I am able to hear the vision and values in your conversation.

While we have seen great growth and promise thus far, we still have blind spots. We still have areas of our life untouched by Jesus. We have areas of our church that don’t function as well as they should.

If we do not re-engage with what the vision for the church, then we may just drift into luke-warmness like the Laodiceans.

Here’s is how we will combat that…call or message someone in our church this week. If you need a name or a number, Jon and I will help you. It may lead to you grabbing a meal with each other.

You take the initiative. Don’t wait to see who reaches out to you.

”The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Knowing the Direction We Face

We have been building to this moment in our sermon series “Known.” Colossians 1:26-29 shaped the scope of the series. Where in a world of faulty maps we see what Paul says about the map that can be known and followed—in Jesus.

In the first sermon of the series, I began explaining about Captain George De Long’s expedition to the North Pole. Captain George De Long set a course for the North Pole and crashed because he hoped that there would be a warm North Polar Sea. Instead, he ran into the rocks of reality. The North Pole is surrounded by ice. Trevin’s Wax’s book, This is Our Time, uses Captain De Long’s journey to set-up the longer illustration that we live in a world full of faulty maps. I carry on the same illustration to communicate the truths in Colossians 1.


Every day we are surrounded by people who are in search of the meaning of life, community, purpose and the map they are using cannot adequately guide them. 

Right out of this section Paul has used himself as an example and he continues to describe his role within the world. The reason Paul uses the example of himself as he makes this point to the Colossians is to how God uses us to expand God’s family.

Here’s an example of what I mean…I was in Starbucks…I’m sitting there and right beside me a two people are talking about religion. As they discuss religion the second person describes the religious relics within his house while railing against Christianity and religion. While the first person it attempting to follow Jesus, they have no rebuttal for the second. Having been in the first person’s shoes, the easiest question to ask, “Have you ever tried getting to know Jesus?”

The second person has left Jesus on the walls. When you leave Jesus on the walls you can make-up whatever Jesus you want to follow. When we leave Jesus on the walls and uninvited to our life we will be unable to identify the faulty maps that attempt to guide us off course. It’s a Jesus that you make look more like what you want rather than Jesus providing the map that leads you to the very thing you are searching for—himself.

God has been working plan to rescue and redeem through history chronicled in the stories in the Old Testament. The question remains: How would God fulfill his promise of rescue and renewal?

Paul describes this “how” as the profound “mystery.” The mystery is made known in Jesus. The mystery was something previously unknown, but is revealed by God in Christ in the power of the Spirit—and open to all.

Christ enables the Gentiles to be part of God’s family through faith. This mystery used to describe the newness of the age that creates Paul’s mission: what was once given to Abraham as intended to be a blessing to the nations is finally fully underway in Paul’s mission to the Gentiles (non-Jews). The presence of God no longer needs to be mediated in a temple. Paul is willing to suffer so that all people know of their access to God through Jesus. Not only that, but that they begin to apply the way of Jesus in every area of their life.

The presence of Christ among the Colossians, then, is ground for their hope of life in the age to come. Having explained that the term “mystery” is the plan of God to expand the people of God to include everyone. Re-read Colossians 1:15-20.

Here’s the difficulty: Even though it has been disclosed, it remains partially grasped.

My kids were watching Scooby-doo the other day. It’s so funny because time and time again the group of Fred, Vilma, Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby know that behind every monster is an explanation. It’s just that they have to go on a journey to figure out who it is.

The journey begins with God’s people. They are identified with their representative, Christ, and how that new identity gives hope for the future. Christ dwells in the new people of God, the church (corporates), through the Spirit, he truly also indwells the believer (individual).

As individuals, we have to apply the good news of Jesus to our life. However, we do not do this alone. We follow Jesus as the church.

In the Gospels, Jesus called the would-be disciples to follow him. But the actual relationship between Christ and his follows is greater, deeper, and higher than that: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). The church is spiritually united to Jesus Christ.

No other religion speaks of the relationship between its leader and followers that way. But this is the spiritual union between Christ and the church. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us.  The indwelling presence of the Life-Giver King resides within each us and has made us one in Christ.

It is still a mystery to others. God “wanted to make known to the Gentiles” and he chooses us to make it known.

Paul’s work was empowered by God’s mighty strength. This is true for everyone: Part of the deception of the false teachers is that the way of salvation to be so involved that it could only be understood by a select few.

When you have a relationship with Jesus and relationships with people who are pointing you over and over again to the character and priorities of Jesus—you don’t need me in that coffee shop with you.

You will be able to discern the longing and the lies and live according to the map that leads to peace and purpose.

James K.A. Smith sums it up this way: “To be human is to be for something. To be human is to be directed toward something, oriented toward something. To be human is to be on the move, purposing something, after something…We are not just static containers for ideas; we are dynamic creatures direct toward some end.”

When we follow Jesus together as the church we will be able to identify the gravitational pull of false hope. Together we will be able to present what it looks like to be directed toward Jesus especially when we reflect a community of people that come from all walks of life.

Trevin Wax presents sums up his illustration and main point this way:

The first people to reach the North Pole were Frederick Cook and two Inuit men. On April 21, 1908. Unlike George De Long, they didn’t try to sail there. They were well aware that there was no “Open Polar Sea.” Instead, after an arduous journey across the ice, they arrived on foot, stocked with the provisions they needed to achieve their goal.

When you compare De Long’s expedition to Cook’s, you find that all of these men exhibited similar character traits. They were brave and courageous, ready to persevere through the worse circumstances. Why, then, did Cook make it to the North Pole while De Long did not? It wasn’t because Cook was braver then De Long but because Cook had a better understanding of the terrain he world encounter. Therefore, Cook had the provisions he needed for the long trek across the ice. De Long did not. No matter how strong these men were, one crew made plans that took into account what was really there while the other made plans based on what they hoped to find.

There is an important lesson for us here. You can be courageous yet still be wrong about the world. You can be brave yet perish. You can be a strong and determined person on a path to destruction. Sincerity, as a good quality as that may be, cannot ultimately save you.

So what does faithfulness look like in a world where everyone has a different map—a different idea about what life is all about and the best route to take toward your destination? A world in which people seem to think sincerity is all that matters? That is doesn’t matter what map you have a long as you think you’re right? Even more, how can we be faithful when so many Christians have faulty maps too?

Here, we join with Paul in being prepared for the journey. Recognizing it is Christ in us. It’s not us knowing or us proclaiming. It is resisting and re-applying the message that we are included in God’s family because of Jesus. We didn’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it. 

Living as if we know that behind every monster is a man.

We repeat some version of the rhetoric that the point of life is to “enjoy God forever and glorify him.” But our actions often reveal that another map has captured our imaginations. We give the right answer but sail the wrong way. Even worse, sometimes we hoist the Christian sail over a boat that’s being directed by mythical map. We use Christianity in order to go where we want to go.

What is our North Pole? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

You want to show the world a different map? Then focus not on being true to yourself but on loving and being true to God and neighbor. See your life as a journey in which you were rescued from your fallenness, not affirmed in it. See your life as a journey in which you recognize the great mystery of Christ in you—embracing a vision of who God is making you to be—the hope of glory.

Making Christ Known Through Suffering

Sunday I preached one of the most difficult sermons to date at Generations Church. Not only did my teaching text have a difficult verse, but it also had a difficult meaning an application. I have written out a portion of my sermon that covers suffering for the sake of others.

The letter of Colossians is written to a church by the apostle Paul. He wants this church to know that they have been following the real Jesus. The feeling that they are missing out on a fuller spiritual experience has been evoked by false teachers through a cheap trick.

Paul can’t counter these false teachers in person because Paul is in prison. For those who may not know the backstory for Colossians, Paul didn’t plant the church. But, Paul introduced Jesus to a guy named Epaphras who then started this church. This church is filled with people from different backgrounds and ethnicities.

So far in this letter to the Colossians: he has praised this church for their impact on the world. He has reminded them that they aren’t missing something. It’s not Jesus+. After this long build-up, Paul as he often does gives them an example of sorts. This example comes from his life.

Paul is a guy who had power. He had comfort. He was in control. He had the approval of others. He gives that up when he encounters Jesus. Here’s how he describes what he is doing to the followers of Jesus…

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for his body, that is, the church. 25 I have become its servant, according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.

– Colossians 1:24-26

This first verse is difficult. Is something missing in Christ’s sacrifice for us? The short answer is no. Nothing is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

Paul’s point is that he is suffering for the sake of others so that Christ is made known and mature believers are grown.

Paul’s claim is steeped in the backstory of God’s chosen people. Israel’s experiences of affliction throughout its history—particularly Egyptian slavery, the Babylonian exile, and subsequent oppression under the Syrians and Romans—is understood as part and parcel of God’s redemptive purposes. The age of suffering was limited, and the age to come would dawn soon and God would judge the measures used.

Paul is not attaching atoning value whatever to his own sufferings for the church. The term ‘afflictions of Christ’ speaks, rather, of those ministerial sufferings which Paul bears because he represents Jesus Christ.

Christ’s sufferings climaxed in the cross are all-sufficient. Peace, reconciliation, and right standing with God are its results. At the same time, Paul is also convinced that this gospel must be proclaimed, received in faith, and implemented in everyday life in order for God’s redemptive purposes to be achieved.

The type of suffering that Paul is speaking to is the result of the verbal proclamation of Jesus as King that’s a direct assault on one’s culture. This is not the general consequences of living in a fractured world.

The reason the Colossian people are suffering and the reason for their prior success in impacting others are their following Jesus. However, there were these teachers who advocated they missed part of the gospel because of their suffering. Let’s get rid of it through intense self-discipline and seeking individual spiritual experiences. They could be described as ascetics or mystics. Here’s where they differ from the core of the gospel.

Ascetics focus on their holiness, on their spiritual growth, and on their perfection. These mystics focus on spirituality removed from community. Paul followed in the footsteps of Jesus and was an others-centered person. Paul found holiness, spiritual growth, and maturity when he pursued these things for others.

Here’s the temptation as you focus on resolutions or goals….If your goals and resolutions are purely for yourself and have no benefit to others, then you’ve missed the “for” aspect of faith. Read those verses again. Suffering “for” the body. I was given a commission “for” you.

A self-focused lifestyle is a Jesus+ lifestyle. A Jesus+ lifestyle doesn’t work when suffering comes because whatever you have added to Jesus will tell you it’s not worth it.

The cost of suffering begs the question: What type of motivation does one have to willingly put themselves out there in the awkward and uncertain?

Paul’s goal is to make God’s message fully known. In part, the message holds a “mystery that’s been hidden for ages and generations.” Paul is referring to the process by which God was going to rescue and redeem his creation. The mystery was “when” and “how.”  The mystery was not the “what.” In Jesus, what was once pixelated is now in 4K.

Paul is now working to advance this message and bring clarity to the mystery by participating in God’s mission. Here’s an example of how these principles are applied because as American Christians we don’t always understand suffering. The following was taken from two separate articles.

“Over 100 members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China, were arrested beginning Sunday, December 9, 2018. Among those taken away were Pastor Wang Yi, senior pastor of Early Rain, and his wife, Jiang Rong.

On December 26, 2019, Wang Yi was secretly tried at the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court. On December 30, the court announced that Wang Yi was sentenced to 9 years of criminal detention and fined 50,000 RMB. This is the longest sentence given to a house church pastor in a decade.” You can read Wang Yi’s full statement on Civil Disobedience here. I have quoted the portation I read below.

On the basis of the teachings of the Bible and the mission of the gospel, I respect the authorities God has established in China. For God deposes kings and raises up kings. This is why I submit to the historical and institutional arrangements of God in China.

As a pastor of a Christian church, I have my own understanding and views, based on the Bible, about what righteous order and good government is. At the same time, I am filled with anger and disgust at the persecution of the church by this Communist regime, at the wickedness of their depriving people of the freedoms of religion and of conscience. But changing social and political institutions is not the mission I have been called to, and it is not the goal for which God has given his people the gospel.

For all hideous realities, unrighteous politics, and arbitrary laws manifest the cross of Jesus Christ, the only means by which every Chinese person must be saved. They also manifest the fact that true hope and a perfect society will never be found in the transformation of any earthly institution or culture but only in our sins being freely forgiven by Christ and in the hope of eternal life.

As a pastor, my firm belief in the gospel, my teaching, and my rebuking of all evil proceeds from Christ’s command in the gospel and from the unfathomable love of that glorious King. Every man’s life is extremely short, and God fervently commands the church to lead and call any man to repentance who is willing to repent. Christ is eager and willing to forgive all who turn from their sins. This is the goal of all the efforts of the church in China—to testify to the world about our Christ, to testify to the Middle Kingdom about the Kingdom of Heaven, to testify to earthly, momentary lives about heavenly, eternal life. This is also the pastoral calling that I have received.

For this reason, I accept and respect the fact that this Communist regime has been allowed by God to rule temporarily. As the Lord’s servant John Calvin said, wicked rulers are the judgment of God on a wicked people, the goal being to urge God’s people to repent and turn again toward Him. For this reason, I am joyfully willing to submit myself to their enforcement of the law as though submitting to the discipline and training of the Lord.

At the same time, I believe that this Communist regime’s persecution against the church is a greatly wicked, unlawful action. As a pastor of a Christian church, I must denounce this wickedness openly and severely. The calling that I have received requires me to use non-violent methods to disobey those human laws that disobey the Bible and God. My Savior Christ also requires me to joyfully bear all costs for disobeying wicked laws.

But this does not mean that my personal disobedience and the disobedience of the church is in any sense “fighting for rights” or political activism in the form of civil disobedience, because I do not have the intention of changing any institutions or laws of China. As a pastor, the only thing I care about is the disruption of man’s sinful nature by this faithful disobedience and the testimony it bears for the cross of Christ.

As a pastor, my disobedience is one part of the gospel commission. Christ’s great commission requires of us great disobedience. The goal of disobedience is not to change the world but to testify about another world.

…The Bible teaches us that, in all matters relating to the gospel and human conscience, we must obey God and not men. For this reason, spiritual disobedience and bodily suffering are both ways we testify to another eternal world and to another glorious King.

This is why I am not interested in changing any political or legal institutions in China. I’m not even interested in the question of when the Communist regime’s policies persecuting the church will change. Regardless of which regime I live under now or in the future, as long as the secular government continues to persecute the church, violating human consciences that belong to God alone, I will continue my faithful disobedience. For the entire commission God has given me is to let more Chinese people know through my actions that the hope of humanity and society is only in the redemption of Christ, in the supernatural, gracious sovereignty of God.

If God decides to use the persecution of this Communist regime against the church to help more Chinese people to despair of their futures, to lead them through a wilderness of spiritual disillusionment and through this to make them know Jesus, if through this he continues disciplining and building up his church, then I am joyfully willing to submit to God’s plans, for his plans are always benevolent and good.

Precisely because none of my words and actions are directed toward seeking and hoping for societal and political transformation, I have no fear of any social or political power. For the Bible teaches us that God establishes governmental authorities in order to terrorize evildoers, not to terrorize doers of good. If believers in Jesus do no wrong then they should not be afraid of dark powers. Even though I am often weak, I firmly believe this is the promise of the gospel. It is what I’ve devoted all of my energy to. It is the good news that I am spreading throughout Chinese society.

I believe we need to take a sober look at our lives. We can learn from our brothers and sisters in places like China and the Middle East.

Our priorities as followers of Jesus must be to not live in a space that we can meticulously control or pursue comfort but to live and work for a coming kingdom.

In our country, the type of religious devotion present by both Wang Yi and the Apostle Paul seems so foreign.

Christianity is the only religion in the world the proposes an argument to endure suffering for the sake of others. We serve a suffering Savior. We have a hope of vindication on the other side of suffering. May we live our lives in such a way that it communicates everything we do is “because of Jesus.”

Breaking The Seal

It has been almost two years to the day since my last post. I have written a ton. Sermons. Email updates. Devotionals. Generations plans and material. I have written down stories. I have even written about the emotions and spiritual pressures in the lead up to starting a new faith community. While I was in the midst of it all, I found it difficult to share the words in writing. Like I said, I wrote a ton, but it did not seem adequate. At times what I would write seemed almost too good to be true, especially the numerous answers to prayers. Other times, I was scared to share because I did not want my words to be perceived the wrong way.

I was always conflicted in my soul as I secretly evaluated my journey of church planting. I would often compare it to others’ journeys. What was their training? What is their background? How old are/were they when they planted? What success are they having by the metrics of multiplication and disciple-making? The comparison was never out of spite or pride. I have been told enough times the comparison trap in life and ministry will eat you up and spit you out. I evaluated and compared the stories because I wanted to figure out exactly what God was doing. I wanted a better understanding of God expressed in these other stories so that I could better understand mine. What was He up to in the midst of all these different locations and planters’ lives?

My whole life I had been conditioned to get it “right.” I have always been good at gaming the test in order to get the answers “right.” Even when I tutor kids on Thursdays I find myself explaining the logic of test makers and how to reduce your options down to two without even knowing any of the material. What I have become increasingly aware of is my desperation to know the “right” answer once again. This time…it comes in the form of church planting. I want to get it right. However, for the first time in my life, there is no “right” answer on a graded test or argument to present to persuade. Because even if I got something wrong, as in the past, I could attempt to talk my way into a differing score. This experience is another thing entirely.

My subconscious would not let me escape the nag of getting it “right.” The desire of knowing exactly what God was up to came out in the first sermon series at Generations. KNOWN. The mystery that had been hidden for ages and generations was made known in Jesus, which is Christ in you (the Colossians and those of us that are believers) the hope of glory. Thy mystery of the “right” answer is only found the centrality of Jesus in my own life.

God has not given me some glorious picture of the future for Generations Church. Some perfectly “right” location that I can take it to and then be graded in order to be given an A. I am not sure why He would give me some insight into the other stories when they are viewed through social media or even passing conversations. During my yearly reflection, I have realized that some of my joy in seeing God work through others began to drift into a critical spirit about my own journey. Was I getting it “right” and can I prove it?

On this side of the “launch” of Generations Church, What God has reaffirmed in my soul again and again…what is known is Jesus. Give people Jesus. Point others to Jesus both in word and deed. Follow Jesus. The mystery made known is not how to get planting a church “right,” instead it’s Christ in us (those who believe) the hope of glory. I am the recipient of this good news of Christ’s presence in our lives being the hope and knowledge that we need.

To do the above well…I must pay attention to Him, pay attention to those in proximity to me, and give voice to what I see. I may never know what God is exactly up to across the country even though I like to analyze it. My journey in church planting does not belong to me at all. I am participating in a project that’s already underway. God is at work in Vancouver, WA.

He is at work in the lives of everyday people committed to expanding His family together because of Jesus for generations to come.