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

Dealing With The Bible

Is the Bible truthful, reliable, and trustworthy?

That’s a loaded question, but one worth attempting to answer (I will not answer it in this post). Last night, Ruth and I hosted a group of teenagers in our apartment. I had them write questions down they had about the Christian faith. In some form or another, the number one question asked was the one above. God saw this coming. For some reason last year, I felt I needed to continue school and pursue an M.Div. I needed more education in the areas of systematic theology and apologetics. I am glad God led me down that path. The indirect liberal answers to tough questions about the Bible were not satisfactory. I had been well schooled in practical ministry, but undereducated theologically. God has been challenging me to better articulate how the Christian worldview stands up in the marketplace of ideas. In the church planting journey, I have been on, I am thankful for God’s providence.

Over the last year, I have done my own exploration of the topic question. I have pushed back hard. The extremes of Bible worship and Bible irrelevancy both have many unanswered questions.

Bible worship: unabashed allegiance to the Bible as inerrant without any critical thought or scrutiny.

Bible irrelevancy: dismissal of the Bible because of conflict with science, pragmatism, or various Christian interpretations.

Maybe you have heard the saying, “You can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Bible worship holds onto the baby, the bathtub, and the dirty water. Bible irrelevancy gets rid of both. It is blind adherence versus total subjectivity.

Within these bounds, we find many different perspectives all attempting to provide a viable solution to the “problems” we find in the Bible. Is the Bible even beneficial and necessary? Or, is it hurtful?

The popular speaker and blogger Rob Bell has written, “In the beginning, someone wrote something down.” Rather, than specifically engage Bell, here is a website which may allow you to listen to review for yourself other views.

I would like to exhort Christians and pastors to do some research. Be informed. Provide good and substantive answers that address the real concerns skeptics, seekers, and even teenagers in your church have about the faith. Be honest about what you know and do not know.

I would like to also exhort young people (including myself) to seek out good answers, rather than “like” the most popular view of the Bible. Just because the answers are not always easy to find does not mean good answers are not out there. Also, just because someone promotes the traditional or classic view does not mean it is irrelevant.

The Bible itself it honest about the concern of the Scriptures; questioning the legitimacy of the Bible is nothing new. Mark Clark in The Problem of God cites Luke 24 as an example:

In Luke 24, Jesus approaches a cluster of his own disciples shortly after his resurrection from the dead. They saw him brutally killed and don’t yet know he is alive again. They are feeling defeated, and in response to their mourning, Jesus delivers some unexpected words: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25). When Jesus speaks of “the prophets,” this was a Jewish way of speaking generally about the Bible.

In other words, the disciples of Jesus were the first skeptics of the Bible as it related to Christianity.

Christianity is unique. Christianity is rooted in history and is corroborated by science and philosophy, Christians have at their disposal ample evidence for its truthfulness. The Bible is the primary witness to the nature and character of the Christian God because it is God’s revelation of Himself. The Bible guides and shapes the Christian worldview.

Jesus showed these skeptical disciples evidence to prove they could trust the Bible (Luke 24:26–27). The disciples were faced with the evidence.

Skeptic, are you willing to do that if the Bible can be shown to be trustworthy and reliable by the standards of historical research? Are you willing to consider that the Bible might be true and allow it to change your life, as it has millions of people throughout history?

Pastor, are you willing to do research and provide substantive answers for your congregation? Are you willing to engage the underlying skeptical questions of your congregation?

Christian, are you willing to learn how to ask good questions and engage your neighbor with love?

We cannot bury our heads in the sand anymore and talk past each other. Let us converse well for the betterment of our world.

Gaining Clarity

Over the past several years God has been preparing me in differing ways to plant a church. One way has been a refining of my life’s mission–to make disciples.  Throughout the journey from being an ignorant high schooler to Kentucky Christian University to my first ministry to some training at Southeast Christian Church (taught by Dann Spader) and now to Midwestern Seminary, God has molded my perception of evangelism and discipleship. Through each step my working definitions have been refined. I submitted the following blog for class. What follows is a portion of my current understanding of disciple-making.

Our purpose for existence, directly and indirectly, affects our plan of action. A slight shift in purpose can greatly alter our actions and mission. An airplane flying across the country can completely alter its destination by shifting a few degrees from its original flight plan. Although the shift is slight, it has radical implications. In order to rightly define evangelism and discipleship, our purpose and mission must first be defined. At the 2004 Athens Games, Matt Emmons was on pace to win gold. All he had to do was hit the target. Matt fired at the wrong target and was awarded a score of 0.0 on his last shot of the final round. [1]

We will always miss the target we are not aiming at. The principle applies to our life and ministry; they are no different. Our ability to succeed and to measure success is directly tied to a clear and focused understanding of our purpose for existence. We must have great clarity of our purpose–to glorify God. Our purpose has a directional component known as our mission, which provides clarity on how we bring glory to God. Purpose and mission have a nuanced, but important, distinction. A grasp of the nuanced distinction of why God has created us will the first critical step to becoming all He intended for us to collectively be—a movement which cannot be stopped.

For the purpose of this blog, I will focus on mission because it directly affects the definitions of evangelism and discipleship. I will define our mission according to Matthew 28:18-20. Our mission is to make disciples who make disciples. Some may argue our mission is based on Mark 12:28-31 (Love God, Love People). However, I will maintain Mark 12:28-31 provides the motivation for our mission of disciple-making. Finally, some may even suppose passages such as John 20:21, or even Luke 19:10 provide the mission for a Christian. John 20:21 gives the model by which the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit followed. Jesus sends and releases disciples throughout His life and ministry. Several times throughout the Gospels, Jesus sends out his disciples, ultimately in preparation for the final sending upon His ascension. Luke 19:10 outlines the will of God through disciple-making. God’s chosen vehicle for helping believers make disciples is the local church (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 3:10-11). The church exists to help believers fulfill the Great Commission—not do it for them. Unfortunately, many followers of Jesus view the Great Commission as the pastor’s job or the church’s job—someone else’s responsibility. With this perspective, a church will never experience Great Commission health.

Second, the ability to measure our effectiveness is directly linked to how we understand what we want to produce. Again, an airplane flying without a clear destination can end up flying in circles without even realizing it. It can totally miss its destination or end up flying for hours without getting anywhere. The same picture can characterize our life. The measure corresponds with our definition. Jesus clearly knew what He wanted His followers to become—disciple-makers. Not for a moment did He waiver from that effort of reproducing His character and priorities into their lives so that they could multiply it in others.

Unfortunately, in the anti-supernatural movement of 1850, a man by the name of Charles Adam separated “making disciples” into two parts: evangelism and discipleship. The holistic command in Matthew 28:19-20 was split into two terms. Evangelism became the process of bringing people to Christ, or the communication of the gospel by saved people to lost people. [2]

Alvin Reid rightly defines evangelism according to the presumed split as “Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ by word and life in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that unbelievers become followers of Jesus Christ in His church and in the culture.”[3] Discipleship became the process of growing people up in Christ. Whole movements began to prioritize either evangelism or discipleship. Evangelism became the priority and responsibility of parachurch ministries (CRU, Billy Graham, etc.), and discipleship became the priority of the local church.

However, disciples cannot be made unless both evangelism and what became labeled as discipleship are happening. Evangelism and discipleship are the two wings of the disciple-making airplane. Both are equally important and essential to fulfilling the mission of the church. The degree to which we can clearly define what we are trying to produce is the degree to which we can fine-tune our strategy for making disciples. It is also the degree to which we can effectively evaluate whether or not we are accomplishing our objectives. [4]

Improper or a skewed definition of disciple-making will both produce a faulty product and cause ministry to repeat the same patterns with no progression. The Church and the Christian need to know and understand the ideal product and the process which produces the ideal product. By measuring the end product of both evangelism and discipleship, and thus the whole process a correct definition can be reached. The end product of the evangelism process is measured by conversions to Christ. The end product of the nurturing process is reproducing believers who reflect both the character (Gal. 5:22-23) and priorities of Christ. Charles H. Spurgeon describes these priorities as true prayer, obedience, dependence upon God. [5] In addition, a fully-trained disciple is a believer capable of reaching and caring for their peers over the long haul. [6]

Therefore, disciple-making is not the communication of information, but a reproduction of a life which embodies the character and priorities of Christ. We do not teach someone to merely know what we know. Rather, we teach them, to become what we are.

As we multiply believers who are living a disciple-making lifestyle, the Holy Spirit will send out more fully trained disciples to cross-cultural and geographical barrier—proclaiming Christ and establishing healthy Great Commission churches.

 


[1] http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/athens-2004-matt-emmons-fires-wrong-target

[2] Alvin Reid, Evangelism Handbook: Biblical, Spiritual, Intentional, Missional (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2009), Kindle Location 440.

[3] Ibid., Kindle Location 649.

[4] Thought significantly influenced by Dann Spader.

[5] Charles Spurgeon, The Soul Winner (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1995), 31-33.

[6] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014), 18.

To Plant a Church

I have realized something over the past few weeks. To skip the long intro, people have different views on church planting. God has been showing me that I had taken this for granted. Ruth and I have experienced wonderful insight into the world of church planting over the past several months. Specifically, what is an effective philosophy and methodology of church planting in our current North American context. We have been free to learn and see first hand what line of thinking is simply just moving sheep from one pen to another and which are actually reaching lost sheep. By the grace of God, we were able to grow. I mean sure, I was jobless, income less, at a loss for words as to what was potentially next, but what we have experienced and learned was nothing short of life changing.

We had experienced a culture that was increasingly on board with the movement and necessity of church planting, well so I thought. Being immersed in the church planting conversation I had almost forgotten there was apprehension to church planting.

Church planting has been defined in many ways, but for the sake of getting everyone on the same page, using Aubrey Malphurs’s definition, “church planting is and exhausting but exciting venture of faith, the planned process of starting and growing local churches based on Jesus’s promise to build his church and in obedience to his Great Commission.”When we seek first God’s Kingdom we will make disciples, impact the domains of society and Jesus will build His church.

Having this as my base definition and foundation, my first difficult conversation came when talking to a Presbyterian minister at Starbucks. The second conversation happened over dinner with a friend.  The last with a co-worker. Each conversation raised several objections based on their experience with church plants previously, and in regards to the real need of new churches. Sadly, I was not prepared for this. Thankfully, God is a gracious God and allows us to learn through these experiences. For those of you who may have some objections to church planting, especially if one starts in your city, realize that there are many ways to plant a church. Nevertheless, the need is great, look around you at the lostness of our cities and town, regardless of how many churches occupy streets within those city limits.

…starting new churches is vital to the future of the church in America. The point is simple. No church plants—no church. Like all organizations, churches have an organizational life cycle. They’re born or planted and experience early growth due to a natural emphasis on outreach. However, problems begin to arise along the way, and far too many churches shift from an outreach to an in-reach mentality as they attempt to solve their problems. This, in turn, slows growth. Should churches ignore or fail to correct the situation, their growth stymies and they plateau. If they continue in failing to correct the situation, they experience early decline that if ignored will turn into later decline and ultimately death. – Aubrey Malphrs, The Nuts and Bolts of Church Planting.

The result of each conversation has pushed me to better articulate the statement above when questioned about church planting. Essentially, it comes from some training that Ruth and I attended in Las Vegas. See, often times when people think church planting they think about location and a Sunday service. The picture they have is a lack of information and experience with healthy kingdom thinking.

There is a different picture in their head when a church plant is described. They wrestle with how you get money to build a building with no congregation. Or, it’s not really a church if it’s in a school. The other side of location is why there, or in some cases, why here? A church plant in their city brings frustration and anger. I remember when a church started in my home town when I was younger and the people I talked to couldn’t even fathom it and were confused. Mainly, because they were thinking about their church, not God’s Kingdom. Their responses were selfish. Their responses were focused on how a new church would negatively affect their fellowship and their Sunday morning attendance. However, most churches are okay with incarnational approaches to foreign missions, but fail to realize the same strategy can be useful within their own city, no matter how large or small.

Planting churches are the most effective way to reach non-Christians. And, it’s the most effective way to keep up with the growing population. Bruce McNichol explained the findings of his research in Interest magazine:

  • Churches under three years of age win an average of ten people to Christ per year for every hundred church members.
  • Churches three to fifteen years of age win an average of five people per year for every hundred church members.
  • Churches over fifteen years of age win an average of three people per year for every hundred church members. 2

According the to NAMB research using US Census data, in 1900, there were 28 churches for every 10,000 Americans. In 1950, there were 17 churches for every 10,000 Americans. In 2000, there were 12 churches for every 10,000 Americans. In 2004, the latest year available, there are 11 churches for every 10,000 Americans. 3

The other aspect of confusion is starting a church involves starting a service. My hope over the next few posts is to describe that church planting will eventually lead to some form of worship gathering but that it’s not necessary to start with and its not the end goal. A church has not arrived when they have many people, a building, and a Sunday services. Rather, disciples indwelt with the Holy Spirit  bring the Kingdom of God to the world forming the church.

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  1. Aubrey Malphurs, The Nuts and Bolts of Church Planting.
  2. Aubrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches for the Twenty-first Century.
  3. Lost in America: How You and Your Church Can Impact the World Next Door.