Colossians 1:1; Brief Thoughts

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

Amidst a culture in which myriads of teachers are claiming to speak with Divine authority, Paul labors to explain that Jesus is the only Lord. Paul writes Colossians to a group of believers that are surrounded by teachers who would lead them into legalism by strictly imposing a variety of traditions upon the church. Paul’s answer to such legalistic nonsense is to write about the character and nature of Christ. So, Colossians stands as a book about Jesus in the hearts of those who believe. A book that tells the reader about Christ, and in doing so, about him or herself.

Religious people tend to gravitate towards rules and regulation. It is easier to engage a god who is managed by legislation than to live a life in intimate proximity to the God who does what He wants. So, the appeal of legalism is obvious. The appeal to confine God’s working to a prescribed set of traditional norms is obvious. The appeal of a God who submits to mankind’s methodologies and practices in order to approve of righteousness is obvious. The appeal is control. The god presented by legalism and some forms of traditionalism is a god that can be manipulated and follows our desired model of life. But that god, is not God.

Jesus is not controlled or manipulated by our desires and methodologies. He is much too big for that. This is why Paul spends the bulk of his letter to Colossians explaining the character and nature of Christ. The greater our understanding of Christ’s nature and character, the less we will rely on legalistic practices and traditions to attempt to control Him.

In verse 1-2 Paul begins his letter with the greeting common to his epistolary style. As usual, Paul identifies himself as “an apostle of Christ.” He is an apostle; one who has been sent. Paul’s authority and knowledge of Christ come from Christ. He has seen Christ and is now acting as a messenger on behalf of the Lord. Paul was not appointed by a committee, voted in by popular vote, or assigned this role by another apostle. Acts 9 and Galatians 1:11-2:10 describe Paul’s journey to apostleship. God appointed Paul. Indeed Paul was and is an apostle only “by the will of God.” The will of God is that which appointed and prepared Paul’s commission as an “apostle to the Gentiles,” (Rom. 11:13) and is that which maintains and sustains that current position.

It is a tremendous assurance to consider that one’s position in the work of the Kingdom of God is contingent on God’s will. A greater assurance cannot exist! God maintains the position of those whom He calls and places into position. Christians are placed in positions of service by the will of God. So it is with great confidence that Christians can rest content in their current position of service. It is also with great assurance that God is in control that Christians can submit to a lesser position or a time of wandering. The confidence of condition and the ability to be content rest solely in the understanding that God’s will both procures and secures our positions in His kingdom.

Consider that for a moment. Your value in the Kingdom of God is not contingent on your merit or ability, but on the will of God. It is not contingent on your striving, but on His power within you. Though you toil to minister the Gospel of Christ, you are empowered and strengthened by His power and His working within you. Your struggle is real and it is worked out in the context and protection of His will. You cannot break it.

Paul rarely writes these letters by himself. The letter to Colossians is no exception. Paul knows the value of community. When he writes to younger pastors, Titus and Timothy, he encourages them to appoint elders in the church to help in the ministry to the congregation. There is profound power in the community of the church. Paul knows the strength of a team. So it should be with the modern church.

 

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When Someone Claims Divine Authority

moses_with_tabletsThe conversation began with the typical spiritual overtones I’d come to expect from this particular friend: “I have a word from the Lord for you.” I was in my first years of college, and this was a common refrain among many of my friends. Over the years, I have heard people make statements like this many times. Occasionally, the “word” they offered was productive and clearly from God. However, more often than not, what followed the opening claim to divine inspiration fell into two categories.

Let us call the first category: “Vague allusion.”

This is when the word that follows the claim is vague and can be interpreted in a variety of ways. The “word” they deliver is guised as having highly specific undertones, but the specifics don’t match any particular interpretation. I can remember when a well-meaning brother told me he had a vision for me! I excitedly sat to hear the vision as I had respect for this particular brother. He told me that I was standing before a blue background… that was it. The whole “vision.” On another occasion I was told that the “word” the Lord had for me was “peace.” No explanation… no attempt to understand the circumstances surrounding the supposed prophecy. Just, “peace.” Ok. So extrapolation and interpretation fall squarely on my shoulders. In Scripture this is the opposite of prophecy. Think about the prophet Daniel. He received the interpretation of the dreams, and that is what made him a prophet. Unexplained vague allusions are not prophecy.

Now don’t get me wrong. These are well meaning brothers and sisters who genuinely feel as though they are acting in obedience to the Lord. The trouble is in claiming the divine authority in connection with vague, easily misinterpreted statements. God is not vague. When we read prophecies in Scripture, they are not vague. And though Jesus speaks in parables, he frequently expected them to be understood by His disciples and if they were not, He often labored to explain them. Though the prophecies in Scripture may be complex and we may have difficulty understanding them, they are not vague. In fact they are often extremely specific!

The second common category is “Passively addressing offense.”

weneedtotalkIt was late and I was tired. I had been working long hours and had exhausted my mental reserves studying for various exams. My friend contacted me and told me that he had a “word” for me. He had been laboring over this for weeks and simply could not hold onto it any longer. “Brother, when you said that two weeks ago, the Lord was angered.” I can remember being mortified! I was literally trembling at the idea that I had displeased my Lord, so I asked for clarification. What was wrong with what I had said, specifically!? Can you point me to Scripture so I can know what not to do again? This was important! I asked what Scriptures I had particularly violated so that I might have some sense of clarity. None was offered. So I apologized for any offense and spent the next months in nervous fits. That is, until I realized what had actually happened. I had offended a brother and he felt the need to claim some divine authority in order to address his offense.

I spent months dealing with this particular offense. I wrestled and labored to discover my failing before God. The most difficult thing for me to understand was why God had not spoken to me, but had determined that I needed someone else’s voice.

Now consider for a moment: I’m a brash personality and I am naturally insensitive to the feelings of others. Couple that with the position of teaching the Bible, and I am a model example of how to offend people without really trying. So, it is not uncommon for me to have to explain myself to others. I don’t intend to offend, but sometimes I do. The trouble with the above example was where my friend had placed the offense. It is one thing to offend a brother. You can explain yourself and apologize and deal with the issue, but when you have offended the Lord, that is a different issue altogether. Offending the Lord requires repentance and knowledge of your own sin. In contrast to the above confrontation, The Lord is quite clear about the specifics of our sin against Him. There is no ambiguity with The Lord when He deals with sin. Consider when Nathan confronts David in 2 Samuel 12. After drawing David’s attention to the heinousness of sin, Nathan speaks directly and clearly to David. Likewise, God speaks plainly and His word cuts to the heart.

To be fair, there are times when people offer a “word” and it is actually consistent with Scripture and is legitimate. Apply those times appropriately. However, for those other times here are three things to look for.

Look for Scripture.

I’ve become inoculated to the claim to divine authority that is not accompanied by Scripture. You see, the Bible is the Word of God and He speaks to us through it. He is quite clear. So, if someone comes to me with a “word from the Lord,” I will strive to listen for Scripture or Scriptural validation of their claim. In the absence of that, I have learned to thank them for their voice, apply what is useful and dismiss what is not. It is important to remember that people who deliver “a word” to you are well-meaning, if sometimes misguided. The Lord speaks through Scripture. Test everything by the word of God (1 Thess. 5:21).

Look for specifics and clarity.

God is not vague. He is extremely direct. He does not muddy understanding of His intentions but clarifies it. When God speaks, He always brings clarity to confusion. When Nathan confronted David in 2 Sam. 12, there is no confusion. When Moses delivers the Word of God in Exodus 32-34, God’s voice is clear. When Isaiah speaks to Hezekiah, there is no confusion in His prophecy (Isaiah 37-38). Take a look at all the notable times when God’s prophets confront various kings in the Old Testament. Every time God’s prophets bring a prophecy, they bring clarity into a situation that is confusing. The voice of the Lord is no different in the New Testament. Consider when Philip was told to approach the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), or when Ananias receives a vision about Saul and argues with God about it (Acts 9:10-19), or when God tells Paul no after he asks for the thorn to be removed (2 Cor. 12:7-10). So, if someone claims to speak from the Lord, then clarity should follow. Further, when God addresses sin, He deals with specifics. The address of sin is always clear and the guilt is always obvious. He gave an entire law to His people and frequently names the specific sins and the manner in which they are committing them. So, when someone claims a word from God, look for specifics.

Look for opportunity to be holy.

The prophecies that are given to the people of God always have one thing in common: an urging to righteousness. God calls His people to repent from sin and obey Him. More than that, He equips them through His word to do so. The call of God on His people has not changed. If you believe in Jesus, He calls you to live righteously. (1 Peter 1:15)

Finally, be gracious to those who claim to speak from the authority of God. They seldom know the danger they bring upon their souls if they are found to misrepresent God. Be loving, honest, and extremely careful.

Dealing with Anxiety

It happened again yesterday. It was the first time in a long while that I had again felt the wave of irrational panic sweep through my body. My hands began to shake, my pulse quickened, noises seemed deafening. The room began to spin, it was difficult to get a deep breath, and my arms began to feel week. I know this foe that occasionally appears to steal my calm though I cannot tell you why it comes. About 8 years ago I had my first real anxiety attack. I was in my office and everything in the room started to go sideways. My hands began to shake and I felt weak. I thought I just needed some hot tea (a minor obsession of mine, I drink four cups a day). I shuffled into the copy room and made myself some tea and quietly hurried back to my office where I tried to relax. After some time of prayer and considerable effort to simply relax, I finally forced myself to go into the youth building and pick things up. Eventually, I was able to calm my nerves.

After that first attack, I began to wrestle more often with anxiety. Sometimes it felt like a weekly issue. Now, to be clear, I don’t have a medical anxiety issue. I’m naturally a pretty easy-going and calm person. Though in Brazoria Texas, I’m told I am high-strung (so I guess that’s a matter of perspective). I like things to be in order and I live a relatively ordered and easy life. I do not claim that my struggles with anxiety are anywhere near the difficulty of some people who feel the walls close in and have to completely shut down the outside world. I do not have “crippling anxiety.” I do struggle with minor anxiety attacks. About 4 years ago they were frequent and I had not experienced an attack for about a year and a half… until yesterday. I shared what I did to address the issue in a tweet and was told that it was helpful. So… I thought I’d explain a bit more. Maybe you’ll find some help. Maybe you know this already. Maybe…

4 observations about anxiety.

  1. Usually, anxiety attacks have a trigger. Often anxiety attacks are a result of some sort of encounter, suppressed or remembered. People who struggle with anxiety typically have a looming pressure that they can feel coming closer. My anxiety has almost always been associated with meetings or people. Both meetings and people bother me. I feel nervous at the very thought of sitting down and having a “talk” with someone in a meeting in which I do not control the agenda. For me, I recognize this as a trigger. I’ve been around other people who have anxiety as a response to chaotic noise or crowded rooms. I even knew one person who had an anxiety attack whenever they saw a particular flower. Identifying these triggers can help. It is important not to avoid these triggers… It is best to address them.
  2. Anxiety is a real issue. This is not a pretend psychological gloss of fear or an excuse to avoid confrontation. It’s a real problem people struggle with. Further, when Paul says “be anxious for nothing, but in all things, by prayer and petition make your request known to God” (Phil 4:6) he is not talking about dealing with anxiety attacks. (For thoughts on that particular passage, click here.) That said, anxiety affects people differently. The common symptoms are shaking, shortness of breath, inability to focus, and a light-headed feeling. However, they are not limited to these.
  3. Honesty and transparency in community can help to alleviate anxiety. There are few things more powerful than living in authentic community. A community based on trust and openness is a powerful aid in dealing with anxiety. When transparency is held in high value, many triggers will be arrested and dispelled in the comfort of open community.
  4. You cannot simply “fix” anxiety. It is a complex problem. Most people who struggle with anxiety cannot tell you why they struggle with anxiety. They simply do. It is difficult to identify triggers much less the source of anxiety. I’m a pastor and I’d love to tell you that there is a verse that will solve every anxiety you will ever face. And while it is true that strengthening your faith and knowledge of God can help, anxiety is not simply answered with a verse. It takes more to war against this opponent.

Some things I do to address anxiety attacks.

  1. Silence is counter-intuitive in our culture. We desire to drown out noise with louder sounds. However, when anxiety strikes me, I need silence. Soft music doesn’t help, in fact, it often increases the strength of the attack. Years ago I invested in some noise canceling headphones. When I feel an attack coming, I grab my headphones first.
  2. A calming hot drink. Personally, I prefer hot tea. I put a small scoop of cinnamon in it. I was told that cinnamon in hot tea can help with unsteady nerves. I’m not a doctor, I have no medical evidence for this. But, I can attest that it does work.
  3. Focus on one task. When I struggle with an anxiety attack, I need to feel successful. I need to be reminded that I can complete something. Assurance that I’m useful. The task does not have to be a big one. It can be something as simple stacking papers or making lunch. I find it is helpful when the task takes some effort but is mostly rote.
  4. Practicing the presence of God. Christians have a great advantage over others who struggle with anxiety. A disciplined practice of faith and consistent routine will help to stabilize your life and offer strength when the attacks hit. Anxiety can be heightened by unfamiliar activity. Because I occasionally struggle to control my anxiety, it is helpful to maintain a consistent and disciplined routine.
  5. It’s hard to breathe when the room closes in. But you need to breathe. It helps to control heart rate and settle the racing mind. So take slow steady breaths and bring some control to your heart rate.
  6. Ask for help. I live in authentic community with people who know me well. When anxiety closes in, one phone call and I’ve got a community around me, praying, coming to help, and offering presence. This is probably the greatest asset to overcoming anxiety. If you don’t have a community, join one. If you’re in my area, Sovereign Grace Fellowship is a community that will offer you that kind of fellowship.