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Ben Fleming: Jesus at the Center, Colossians 2:8-23

June 3, 2024

Audio Recording

In keeping Jesus at the center of our lives and community we’ll find that true fulfillment comes from Him, not external achievements or philosophies.

Westside Church Podcast
Westside Church Podcast
Ben Fleming: Jesus at the Center, Colossians 2:8-23
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Sermon Transcript:

You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

We're in the middle of a series of talks called life love, Jesus life and community love for our neighbors and Jesus at the center. And this is the words that are written on a lot of the walls around here in the banners that you see around, because it's the short version of our mission statement. We are about life, love and Jesus. And we talk about this once or twice a year to draw our hearts back into the simplicity of this mission and to reduce, define again what the mission is. Because it can be easy to be distracted by all kinds of different things, or we can latch onto this one little philosophy or maybe even this political movement or this cultural issue, and it can be easy to say, okay, well, this is our mission is to win this or to understand this or to go here. And really it's broken down. Even simpler than that. The last part of our mission statement is Jesus at the center. Jesus at the center of every single thing. Then how does that define what we do, how we speak and who we are that really, truly matters? And so we're gonna talk about today. Break it down. If you have your bibles, we're gonna be in Colossians chapter two for most of the day and then spill over into Colossians chapter three. But I wanna start with this. Colossians chapter two, verse one says this. I want you to know how much I've agonized for you and for the church at Laodicea and for many other believers who have never met me personally. I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God's mysterious plan, which is Christ himself.

In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I'm telling you this so that no one will deceive you with well crafted arguments. For though I am far away from you, my heart is with you. And I rejoice that you're living as you should and that your faith in Christ is strong. We at Westside have a strong desire to live as we should and that our faith in Christ is strong. And we're gonna outline that today. Jesus at the center. Let's pray. Father God, we thank you that you're with us. We don't take lightly this opportunity and honor that we have to come together to listen to your word, to worship together. I pray that it would be unifying and life giving and that today we would be re reminded of the simple message and mission that you have for us, and that's to keep you at the center, lord, we wanna become more like you. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

While I was on sabbatical, I did things that are probably very predictable to any of you that know me. I worked on my yard quite a bit. A lot of mulch, a lot of mowing, a lot of trimming. Still a lot left to go. I walked the dog a lot. I had these ideas of getting out to some trails in central Oregon that I haven't been to yet and start checking off the list. I didn't get to any of them. I walked the sidewalks in my neighborhood over and over and over and over again.

And then I coached a lot of little league baseball and softball. My daughter's age group from five years old to seven years old. And, wow, five year olds are. They're so fun to coach in softball.

They're really competitive, and they care so much.

It's time for me to graduate to another age group, I think, sometimes. And my son is nine years old and coaching nine year olds in little league. And really, it is. Jokes aside, it is so. It is fun, and it's such an honor to be able to coach young kids. I love baseball so much. I've talked about it so much. From this stage, we'll continue to do so.

But I was met with another challenge of beginning to coach a little league season with kids that are good and competitive and intuit and curious, and then kids that have never played before, maybe have zero to no interest, maybe even haven't played a sport before, and they're all on the same team, which forces you to kind of reevaluate, what are we going to do in some of these practices? What are the goals? What are we really after? And you guys, I care too much about this. I have, like, notebooks that are full of practice plans for these nine year olds, as if they ever really work.

And the different drills that we can do, we can grow in this, and we can make our hands faster, and we got to teach them how to move their hips, and they can do all this stuff. And then, of course, I make all these plans. I have all this optimism. I start to think we're going to help these kids improve and love baseball, hopefully, the way that I do. And they're gonna be so into it. They're gonna grow in confidence, they're gonna have all these things. And then you get to the first practice, and then I meet this one kid on my team. His name is Joseph, who comes up to the first hitting drill and we're trying to show him where to set their feet, how they're gonna hold their bat. And instead of holding his bat up and imitating me, like he's going to participate in the drill, he holds his bat down to the side and he goes, I like dragons.

And I'm like, cool. Can you move your feet for me, please?

I need you to load your bat.

So green dragons are cool because of, you know, and I've got these, and I'm just like, kid, we've only got an hour and a half. I'm trying to get you through this drill. We've got team fielding. We've got individual fielding to do. We've got all kinds of stuff. All right, pay attention. What we're after here is not these little conversations. I'm trying to turn you into a ballplayer.

And then a couple weeks go by and, you know, I'm reevaluating all the time, right? What do we do with these kids and how do we do it? Because we want to teach them to be better players and we want to teach them whatever we get. A couple weeks down the road, and it's as if he picks up the conversation, a mid sentence about dragons that we were having weeks before, and I slow down and I go, okay, I'm going to talk to him about dragons.

I'm going to ask some questions.

And in that moment, I'm reevaluating this whole idea of, why do we even do this? Why do we have teams? Why do we do youth sports? Why do we do little league? And there's all kinds of good reasons, right? You could learn how to be competitive. You can learn to win. You can do whatever. But what I decided in that moment was all that stuff is trash. And what does it even mean to win a nine year old baseball league, right? Looking at some of you crazy dads out there, and I begin to think maybe the reason of this whole thing is actually, for me, at least, maybe the goal that I'm after is belonging.

Maybe for all these kids, we want them to feel like, even if it's just for a handful of months, that they should belong and have a place and be seen for exactly who they are and still be welcomed in.

And so what happened about a week after that, we're doing this drill, this competition. I told them I would have cookies delivered to the ballpark if they finished this trip around the bases in a certain amount of time as a team. And what do you know? Joseph's the last one to go.

And he's got to finish in a certain amount of time for the whole team to win.

And we say go. And Joseph starts to run and the team is chanting, Joseph, Joseph, Joseph. And he makes it all the way around and by some miracle he finishes half a second faster than he needed to. And he is mobbed by this team, jumping up and down, screaming his name, Josh. He did it.

And I go there. It is an overtly competitive nature, an ignorance to how much these impact, these drills are going to have an impact on these kids or whether or not they can become professional athletes would have absolutely hidden and destroyed the potential mission for a kid like Joseph who's never set foot on a ball field to find belonging.

But a little adjustment changed everything.

Now, all these things aren't bad, right? I'm a competitor. I like to compete. I think there's a lot of positives to it. I like learning, winning and losing. I like getting better at a craft and a thing. But ultimately, none of these things are the centerpiece of the idea. And it's the same here with west side church. There's a lot of good things in church. There's a lot of good things in faith that we actively participate in. We teach. We'll even do entire series of talks on prayer and worship. But I want you to understand that our goal here is not that we would worship the Bible. It's not that we would worship prayer. It's not that we would worship, worship in and of itself or a study or a certain amount of knowledge that we can gain. But what we do here is we worship Jesus at the center so that we might become exactly who Jesus is calling us to be.

Jesus is at the center of this thing. And I worry because I'll have conversations with people who will say, well, I want you to. I'm worried about this because if this policy doesn't pass and this person gets into office and this thing happens, then what's going to happen to our faith and what's going to happen to our churches and what's going to happen to the gospel? It's a real conversation that I have fairly often.

And I want you to know that I don't get more concerned about the church or our faith or our future when I have those conversations. I get concerned that we have begun to worry and to wonder and to worship the wrong thing. We begin to worship our fear. We begin to worship our political system. We begin to worship all these things as if we worship a God that is so weak that it can be swayed by our own government policies. As if the love of Jesus is so fragile that a vote that you or I make in November or a decision that we've made early on in our life that we regret, or one of these things that feels so massive and so impactful. And I'm not saying that these things do not matter at all. But I am saying if your concern is that our faith and our love of Jesus and the church of Jesus Christ will go away because of these changes, I got to tell you, you are worshiping and considering a very, very fragile God.

Cause the love of Jesus goes past and beyond all these things, and it will exist far after you and I are gone, and it will withstand even the most difficult of changes in this world.

Nothing can separate humanity from the love of Jesus Christ. And so if we worship a God that is this way, whose love is so great and powerful and goes beyond every border you and I can imagine, then when we put Jesus at the center of our lives, when we put that true love for all of us at the center of our lives, it should change how we live.

So this is Paul's contention in colossians in chapter two. And I'll take you through a few things that he says you need to watch out for before he kind of finishes in this moment, at the beginning of chapter three with this final statement that wraps everything together.

But the reason that this chapter is so powerful is that it delves into these themes of faith and fulfillment, true fulfillment in Christ, and the dangers of sometimes that we experience in false teachings. A central message in this chapter is that the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ is greater than all things. And as believers, we're urged to root our faith in him and in this truth, recognizing that in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Paul is speaking to a group of people that over time, because of some natural disasters and some economic changes, these people in Colossae have become very superstitious. In some ways, they become oddly spiritual and taking on all of these different kind of ideas of what God would be. And Paul is trying to address them. And he's saying, there are these people out there teaching you that you need to pick up this thought and this idea and this philosophy. Everything that is good that you seek after Paul says is actually found in the person of Jesus Christ and his death and his resurrection, that if you are looking for something to complete you, it's already found in Jesus Christ. So don't let anybody push you off of that mark.

It's important because Paul knows that we're treasure hunters, right? He knows that we're looking for this next little pearl of wisdom, this next little gift, this next thing, to go ahead and take us over the line and make us feel like we're gonna be content if any of you in the room ever accomplished the big goal that you hope to accomplish for your entire life and found yourself very quickly insecure and already wanting more.

I mean, there's no secret why the richest people in our world right now are trying to get to Mars. They're like, well, did it all here. All done.

Gotta find a new place.

You know, we buy into this lie that if I find the right person in the right relationship, make the right amount of money, if I find the right place to live, then I'll feel so good.

You know, I love Tom Cruise's quote in Jerry Maguire. I mean, some of you guys seen this movie. No, you don't have to admit it. That's fine. Just between me and Jesus.

But Tom Cruise looks at Renee Zellweger toward the end of this movie, and they've kind of had this on again, off and again relationship. And they're come to this emotional, dramatic moment toward the end of the movie, and Tom Cruise looks at her and he goes, you complete me.

And she goes, you had me at hello.

And I'm like, oh, my gosh.

Love is real.

This is so good and beautiful. You know what? Jerry Maguire doesn't show. They don't come to the end, and they go, okay, now we're gonna flash forward to six years from now. They're in the same room, and they're going, why aren't the dishes done?

What is wrong with you? They don't go on the counter. They don't go in the sink. They go in the washer.

And if it's full, you put the pod in the door. You close the door, and you hit start. Not once, but twice. Cause the first time turns it on, and the second one starts to cycle.

You complete me.

It looks so good in these moments. You have that moment, and then you have, like, a five minute epilogue at the end of the thing. And the movie's perfect, and it's great and it's wonderful and it's emotional. But we all know that we've had those moments. We felt completed by someone or something. And then we found them wanting not long afterward.

Paul is saying, you're seeking out these little hidden treasures. These relationships aren't bad. That money isn't bad. That job isn't bad. That degree isn't bad. That brief moment of relief isn't bad. But I want you to understand the treasures will always stop short and leave you wanting.

Your spouse does not complete you.

That relationship and job will not complete you. It will not happen. And it's unfair to put that pressure onto anybody in your life. Which is why, as Peter says, we cast all of our cares on Jesus as he's the author and the perfecter of our faith. If you want to stop hunting for that next high, that next level, that next thing, we're encouraged to come to Jesus.

This emphasizes the importance of deepening our relationship with Christ and seeking his guidance in all aspects of our lives.

He warns against being misled by fine sounding arguments or deceptive philosophies that are not based on Christ. Paul encourages the Colossians church to stand firm in their faith, rooted, built up in him, and not be taken captive by hollow and deceptive teachings. He says in verse eight, don't let anyone capture you with these empty philosophies and high sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world rather than from Christ.

We as the church, for ourselves and for others, need to be careful that we don't turn the church into some kind of club, that we ask for a pound of flesh from people to surrender in order for them to qualify or make it in. Paul is saying there are people out there trying to confuse you with language and confuse you with philosophies and make you feel like that. If you're not the right race, you're not the right background, you're not the right person, you're not the right height, whatever it might be. You don't belong. And he's saying, you belong. This is not just for the Jews. This is not just for the ultra religious. Instead, it's for everyone. No matter what their argument may be, this is a human way of thinking. In our tribalism, once we enter into a group, we like to make it difficult for other people to enter in at the same level. We like feeling like we belong and others don't.

Has anybody ever been encouraged by someone else's faults?

I have again, between me and Jesus. Don't raise your hand.

I love feeling superior. I love feeling like I have something that someone else doesn't, because I feel like then it makes me valuable to the group around me. Paul is saying, this is not the way of Jesus.

A radical acceptance of the world is the true gift that God gives us in his grace.

This serves as a reminder for us to be discerning in the midst of various worldviews and beliefs that may distract us from the truth of the gospel.

He highlights the spiritual freedom and victory that we have in Christ through his death and resurrection. And Christ has triumphed over sin and the powers of darkness, disarming them and making a public spectacle of them. And this is what he says in verse ten. He says, so you're complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler in authority. You're complete. You're complete. You're complete. The language is, it's already been done and finished. It's complete in you. No amount of striving can get any more complete, can level you up any higher. Instead, when we're with Christ, we understand that we've been made complete.

When you came to Christ, you were circumcised, but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision, cutting away the sinful nature. For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized, and with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. You were dead because your sins and because of your sinful nature was not yet cut away. But then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.

And he has made us alive again, this time not by our own willpower or our own accolades, but instead by his death and his resurrection.

And I love how Paul finishes this section of the chapter right here in verse 18. He starts with this. Let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self denial or the worship of angels.

Don't let anybody act their way into making you feel shame about your relationship with Christ.

They're saying they've had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud. They're not actually connected to Christ, the head of the body, for he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it. You've died with Christ. He set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules, such as don't handle, don't taste, don't touch. Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. Such rules were made human teachings about these things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self denial, and severe bodily discipline, but they don't provide any help in conquering a person's evil desires.

Paul is saying, I have been the centerpiece of the religious establishment and how they've done things. I see why the rules and the regulations exist for these religious people as they always have been. I was good at them. I participated in them, I led them, and I still found them wanting.

What can be a temptation for those of us in the church is to fall in love with our spiritual disciplines without falling in love with our savior.

Again. I believe in prayer.

I believe in meditation.

I believe in worship, both collectively and individually.

I believe in giving and generosity.

But all of these things are branches on the tree that is simply Christ himself and him crucified.

We can create incredible habits and do the right things at the right moments without falling in love truly with father God.

There's a story in scripture called the prodigal Son, in which one son goes to his father, and he says, I'd like my inheritance right now, even though you're not dead, which is tantamount. And that culture is saying, I wish you were dead so that I could live how I want. And the father obliges him, gives him his inheritance. He runs off, and he spoils it. And he comes back in shame. And his father embraces him back into the family as if he had never left. And you know who ends up outside of this giant party that they have at the end of the day?

The son that stayed and did everything right.

And that son even says so. He looks at the father, and he says, I've done right by you, and I have worked, and I have done these things, and you've never thrown a party like this for me and my friends.

And he leaves dejected.

And one son asked at the beginning of the story for the father to be dead. But the son at the end shows himself to have never been truly in love with the father.

We, as the church, cannot make the same mistake that we have fallen in love with our liturgies and our processions and our services and our songs and our disciplines, without having fallen in love with our savior, who came as the gospel embodied, is good news for the poor, a lifeline for those who have never belonged.

It's not until we make the decision to trust Jesus in this space and take on, as best we can, the way of Jesus that we will truly experience what it's meant to be complete in him.

Paul finishes with this in Colossians, chapter three. One, he says, since you've been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God's right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things on earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.

And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all of his glory.

I went to this new movie. If it's about imaginary friends, the other day in the theater, gosh, I love the movie theater.

That's another thing people say, you know, the movie theater's dying. And I'm like, I will keep it alive on my own.

And went to this, took my kids, and I cried for half the movie.

Just. And if you asked me right now, was the movie good, I'd be like, it was okay. And I wept through the whole thing. I don't. There was something. Maybe it was the music, but we went. We took the kids at.

I say it was like a 06:30 p.m. showing I have a nine year old and a seven year old, and my seven year old daughter, by the end, is doing that thing in her chair where she just kind of, like, flopping around, you know, I'm like, jovi, be quiet. I just. I gotta watch this. You know? She's like, ah, bored.

I look at her and I go, you're not bored. You're tired.

And I don't pick up my kids as much as I used to, right? Cause they're nine and seven. My son's a big nine year old, so usually he falls asleep on the couch at night, and I pick him up just to keep doing it, you know? Have you seen. Have you guys seen that? I think it's a post that came up on twitter or something a while ago that said, parents don't know this, don't realize this, but one day they'll pick up their child and put them down and never pick them up again, which is an assault on parents.

That's not funny.

So I pick him up just as say that I picked him up. Anyway, my daughter kind of crawls over the seats, comes over where I'm sitting, and she sits in my lap, and she does this thing where she's just kind of moving around, which ends up to be like a real workout for your legs, if they're sitting on your legs.

And so she's with me, right? She's with the father in this metaphor.

And she's restless, having a little bit of a hard time trying to figure out what she wants to do. Does she want to sit here? Does she want to go back? Does she want to watch the movie? Does she want to be. You know, and then there's this feeling that happens that, you know, nobody announces it. It's just something that you experience that when a child is in your lap or you're holding them in your arms where they, like, kind of just give up and they rest.

When they were little, two and three, you know, they'd be crying and screaming, and it'd be about 07:00 at night, and you pick them up, you kind of pat them on the back, and then before you know it, you just feel this.

It's like. It's almost like the life has gone out of their body, but they've finally given up on whatever they were mad about, or they surrendered to that pain or that exhaustion, and they found themselves with dad or mom, and they just lean all the way in, drool down the shoulder, and a church that has given themselves up to allowing Jesus to be the center of the church and of their lives, what does that look like? Does that look like a church so confident that we have the answers, that become militant, powerful, influential again in and of these things, in and of each one of these words? You know, there's complex meanings and things and directions that you could go.

I just don't think that a church that has allowed Jesus to be the center and really given themselves that looks like any of those things.

I think it's a church that is relaxed and reclined and rested in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, so that when troubles come in our world or in our city or in our own personal lives, we don't ignore them when we don't not participate.

But we understand, as Paul is saying, we understand that our minds are to be on the things of heaven.

And that's not just a someday in the sweet by and by, we'll enter into heaven, and I'll leave all the pain and suffering of this world, and I'll enter into something better. Paul's language is saying, if we have our eyes and our minds on the ways of heaven, then we understand that the victory of Christ is with us right here and now. It doesn't need to be conjured. It doesn't need to be swung for and struggled for any longer. The victory over death has already happened thousands of years ago. We're invited into this grace and forgiveness. It happens now. We've read all the way to the end of the book. We've watched to the end of the movie. The suspense is gone. We have received the grace and the forgiveness. And now we're given the opportunity to invite other people into it.

So we relax into our savior.

We recline in knowing that he loves us and this world belongs to him.