August 27, 2017
Hymn What Gift Can We Bring?
Bible Reading Philippians 2:5-11
As you deal with one another, you should think and act as Jesus did. In his very nature he was God. Jesus was equal with God. But Jesus didn’t take advantage of that fact. Instead, he made himself nothing. He did this by taking on the nature of a servant. He was made just like human beings. He appeared as a man. He was humble and obeyed God completely. He did this even though it led to his death. Even worse, he died on a cross! So God lifted him up to the highest place. God gave him the name that is above every name. When the name of Jesus is spoken, everyone will kneel down to worship him. Everyone in heaven and on earth and under the earth will kneel down to worship him. Everyone’s mouth will say that Jesus Christ is Lord. And God the Father will receive the glory. (NIRV)
Message “One for all, Therefore all for one” Romans 12:1-8
What gift can we bring in light of what we just heard (Philippians 2:5-11)? Additionally, in Roman’s 11, Paul adds to the amazement of what he has done for us by painting an eloquent agricultural picture of how non-Jews (that means most of us) have been grafted into the vine of Jesus– and are graciously included in the saving work of Jesus Christ. In today’s text, he begins to give us what is our reasonable response to God’s wonderful work of mercy.
Proper, true worship This is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1c (NIV))
Paul tells us to spend our life in true, proper, worship. We may have a clearer understanding or worship is supposed to be and strive for that – but in those days, it was a cloudy issue at best. For in 1st century culture, much non-Jewish worship was filled with mindless, immoral, drunken, and physical ecstasies. These emotionally charged events were designed primarily to please the participant, and secondly, they believed by engaging in these exercises they would be manipulating the ‘gods’ to bring about their own personal or national good fortune; in other words, worship was first about feeling good, and second it was about getting what they wanted from their gods.
So, it is not surprising Paul moves on quickly to explain that they will not find proper true worship by conforming to the patterns of their culture.
Non-conformity to Patterns Do not conform to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2a (NIV))
There was a lot of pressure to push people to conform to the established norms of religious, social, relational, and physical expectations.
Jesus refused to conform to the guidelines of political and even religious authorities. Instead, he spoke of a loving, merciful God and who lived out that teaching by being friends with people that most of society and religious leaders would turn a blind eye to. Chatting with prostitutes, lunching with outcasts, and touching lepers. His goal was to be faithful to God, not to fit in and be popular with peers.
According to Paul, our life of worship is not so supposed to be about pleasing ourselves or getting God to please us,
Transforming and Renewing But be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2b NIV))
but being transformed and mind renewed by God's Spirit and pleasing him. Throughout Romans, Paul has described the process of mental and moral decay, describes what God has done in Christ and how he calls us to reverse this down slide that we are on by allowing God to create in us and through us a new creation, a new mindset, new values, new motives and new methods.
It is not a minor repair but a complete reconstruction. The transformation begins when we realize, and keep before us, that life and worship is not about God pleasing us,
Holy and pleasing God …holy and pleasing to God. (Romans 12:1b (NIV))
but the goal of true worship and a full life is to please him. Unfortunately, like children who press their parents to the very limit, until they sense that anger – and then they might back off a little bit. Many do the same thing with God, not wanting to please him, but go as far as they can without receiving His wrath.
One person made the comparison this way: He said, I have a golden retriever. I raised him from a pup. Occasionally I ran my dog against other breeds. My golden retriever was so eager to please that only a word of disapproval was all it took to bring him into line.
Other breeds were known as "hardheaded." The owners would have to thump their dog on the head just to get their attention, much less get them in line. God wants us to be like the golden retrievers – eager to please him, and not like others who have to be thumped in the head to get their attention. Be sensitive to His approval or disapproval, because when we are eager to respond to his pleasure, it not only goes better for him, it goes better for us as well.
Knowing God’s will … test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will.
(Romans 12:2c NIV))
Of course, the only way to even begin seeking to please him is to know what he wants for us. When many of us think about the will of God, we think very narrowly about what his desire is for me in this specific moment, in this specific choice or this specific situation that I am facing. The will of God has a much wider scope than just me and my individual choices. We need to discover the more comprehensive and all-inclusive will of God that he purposes for his creation for all time and eternity. The better we understand this broader destiny, this broader mission of God, this big picture – the more it informs me about how my choices may best plug into life and into his plan. That is how we (as Paul writes) we test (discover) and approve (agree with) his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Put it another way -- His will is not as much about whether I go fishing or farming in the next couple of hours, but how I participate in the renewal and transformation of the world. Let me give you a couple of examples:
Some of you know that I have been working on this [stomach] for a while. I’m down 48 pounds now. What I’ve realized, because I’ve rarely been successful at this before, is that when I look at the big picture, it works better. If I look narrowly, then; well for example, when I stepped on the scale today I was up a pound and a half. That is typical of Sunday morning because all Saturday is spent in an office chair getting ready for today, so no exercise, and eating more because I am thirsting for the energy to do what I do what I’m doing right now. So what does that say to us about looking at the big picture versus the small personal picture?
Two things. If I look too narrowly at this jump up, I could get discouraged and give up – the big picture (which is graphed on my phone) shows a lot of up ticks, and it would be easy to focus on that, but instead I can see the big overall picture which shows that it is trending down – so seeing the big picture rather than the little is encouraging.
Secondly, you know from what we do at Children’s Time that you know I don’t think there is anything wrong with a treat once in a while. But if we always look to the very moment, “Does God want me to have that Sundae today? There’s nothing wrong with a Sunday.” But before you know it, if you are looking only the isolated individual moments, you won’t even realize that you have had 15 sundaes this week. But if you see the big picture, and you keep your eyes open to the overall look of what’s going on – a sundae is okay once in a while. Unless you are one of those people who has an addictive sweet tooth, and once you have one, it puts you on a road – and you have to be aware of that about yourself too; so that is an exception.
But if we can see the big picture, we can get a better view and maybe we can recognize the overall goal in process… Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. We want to care for them so that they can be effectively live a full life. We can get really judgmental and beat ourselves up about how we treat our bodies sometimes, or we can look at the big picture and ask ourselves, am I doing what I need to do to make my body ready and available for God’s use to help transform the world, to be his instrument. That’s really oversimplified but I think you get the general idea.
Let me give you one other kind of example of how the individual, personalized look may get us into trouble if we are not careful. If I went into the construction business, naturally I would assume that it is God's will for me to be successful in this business which I have "dedicated" to him as the work of my life. But then, if I keep looking at God’s will in this narrow view of me and my choices; and his will is narrowly seen as “he wants me to be successful”. Then, theoretically, over time, I might become confused in my decision making, and so to accomplish what I perceive as God's will for my business (to be successful), I might cut corners, use cheaper material, hire less skilled workers, short change quality where it will be hidden (not use as many nails as code calls for), that kind of thing. And I may get successful. So does that mean God’s will been fulfilled? [No].
Personally, I might be confused because that is what I thought God’s will was for me and my business. But if I understand God's will from a less individualistic point of view -- when I see the purchaser of that house that I cut corners on; as one of God's family and therefore part of my family, I would have never considered cutting corners - because that would be violating God’s will.
We need to be thinking more in terms of God's ultimate will -- that people are not cheated, not taken advantage of, not oppressed; I would not think of violating ethics or others to accomplish a personal goal -- even if I perceive it to be God’s will for my life, because I’d be wrong.
Call to Corporate-ness …offer [yourselves] as a living sacrifice… each member be-longs to all the others… We have different gifts according to the grace given to each of us… [exercise your gift for others with all you got]
(Romans 12: 1b,5b,6a,[6b-8] (NIV))
The rest of this passage is devoted to seeing how we fit in to the big picture, telling us how we are connected with each other. It includes accurately evaluating our strengths and limitations, to discover how God has graced us and to use those gifts and talents and time and resources with all the energy that we can muster for the benefit of everyone, and to trust others to fill in the gaps where we are limited and they are strong.
But our culture (you know, “conformed to our culture”) has taught us to live “independent”, self-centered lives; isolated. We use our strengths to hinder others, and we deny our weaknesses, refusing to acknowledge that we need each other. To really be strong, we need to think corporately. We are all in this together. We are not independent of other. We are not islands, nor are we stranded on one. We must see ourselves as interdependent members of one unified whole. We must rely on each other, and realize we are all on the same side, ultimately shooting for the same thing. So,
How closely are you linked to the body of Christ, so that you may benefit others and that you may draw from the strengths (gifts) of others?
Paul exhorts us to use our gifts in certain ways. Just one example: The one who shows mercy is to do so "cheerfully." At one time or another, most of us have attempted to show mercy. Sometimes the recipients are not pleasant or grateful for the mercy that we show them. It may not take too long for the merciful to become embittered and cynical about mercy giving.
Paul sees two dangers in the exercise of spiritual gifts. The first is neglect - not devoting ourselves to exercise our gifts (strengths). Sometimes it is because we don’t get the response we expect. Sometimes it is because we don’t know what our gifts are, there may be many reasons. But God is not pleased when prophets remain silent, teachers fail to teach, leaders fail to be diligent, servers serve only themselves, encouragers complain, givers hoard, and mercy is offered grudgingly.
The second danger is using our gifts in a way that is not consistent God's grace -- to use the gifts to serve ourselves rather than others… For our sacrifice is not dead and given to undeserving people. It is alive and it is given to God himself – in our service of others. This is why Paul goes through this litany of "if you have this gift, exercise it in accordance with your faith, generously, diligently, and cheerfully --- enthusiastically as a representative of God – daily living out our lives selflessly for God – and for his world which is becoming ONE; diverse and different, yet complementary and gracious under the common view of God’s mercy, and what he has done for us.
Lord, we confess that like so many before us, from time to time we have gotten sidetracked and gotten things backwards. We have thought worship is only about what we feel and asking what you can do for us; rather than living lives of worship in which our goal is to please you and offer ourselves in what we can do for you. And even when we get it right, we too easily become cynical and burned out because we expect the results we want rather than leaving the results to you.
We have strayed from your love and will. Forgive us with your never- ending mercy. Continue to transform and renew us that we may please you. It is for this that you have equipped us with gifts and graces. Empower us to know and to use our gifts for you and your creation, always to the best our ability, and with the most positive of attitudes. Forgive our failures and free us for joyful obedience through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Closing Blessing So now, in light of all God has done for us in Jesus, and gifted to us with the Spirit, go with a renewed sense of determination to be holy, living sacrifices, leading a truly proper worshipful life that points to the Father, Son, and Spirit through the energetic service of others. Amen.
August 27, 2017
Call to Worship # 374 Standing on the Promises
Hymn # 492 (vv 1,2,3) Prayer is the Soul’s...Desire
(to tune of O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing)
Prayer Chorus There’s a Spirit of Love in This Place
Two weeks ago Jackie talked about things we are afraid of -- and one of them was the dark. One reason we don’t like the dark is that we don’t know what might be there with us, or where they are. We can’t see where that table leg is that stubs our toe, or where that toy is that makes us trip. So, when it is really dark, it can make our walk through the room unsafe and we can feel confused and lost and afraid...
The Bible uses words like dark and lost to describe how confusing and lost we can feel when we don’t have God in our life showing us the way. In a minute, we are going to hear today’s lay reader read about how we are to be salt and light for the world. Pretty clear what light does against the dark. You can now see your way… Salt is something that makes things last and makes things tastes better, and can makes us thirsty, So it is what makes us want the lighted journey, keeps us on the lighted journey, and helps us enjoy the lighted journey. That is what we are supposed to be and do for each other. How do we do that?
We’re going to answer that question by the use of our hands, and today’s music choices. The first songs dealt with prayer, First, we sang that God’s promises to us give us confidence, then we sang about what prayer is, and then we sang to create an atmosphere, a feeling of prayer. So, the first thing we want to do is pray. Can you put your hands together like this, symbolizing prayer? Then we come out of prayer, we know better who we are, confident, faithful about what we should do. And so, in a minute, in response what I am saying right now, we are going to sing about the desire to have the faith to take action - to do things -- good things.
Can you hold your hands out like this (open and palms up) receptive (to offer service to others, because that is usually the kind of acts we are called on to do).
And by the time we get to the end of the service we will be singing a song about speaking about how great God is. We use words to telling people about how great it is to have God lighting our way. So can you put your hands like this? (cup hands around mouth as if ready to shout to someone).
So if we put it together, we pray, (hands together) and in the listening of prayer we discover how to become salt and light, by taking action (doing what God wants us to do) (hands open in service) and by saying (hands to mouth) the words God wants us to say.
Prayer leads to action and words. (Again, with hand motions). Prayer leads to action and words. And we have used our “paws” to remember prayer (p) action (a) and words (w) PAW!
Let’s pray. Lord we thank you that when we are confused and not sure which way to walk, how to live our day, you can light our path through prayer as you remind us of your life and example for us. Amen.
Hymn # 650 Give Me the Faith...
Bible Reading Matthew 5:13-16
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (NIV)
Message “Prayer - Action - Word” Col 4: 2-6 (-18)
There is a photo of an elegantly dressed woman who is holding a cup of coffee. Her little finger is cocked (you know how that is), and her face reveals complete self-assurance. The woman does not yet know that her slip has collapsed around her feet. The caption below the picture reads: Confidence is what you have before you understand the situation.
The trouble with pride is that we are ignorantly confident of our situations and brashly unaware of our limitations. In the real world, in order for our confidence to work for us and not against us, we must humbly acknowledge both our reality and our limitations.
Colossians reminds us that our hope and faith is grounded in the ability of Christ to provide for every aspect of our life. Paul applies this on very practical levels. If we are in Christ, and Christ is in us, then we grow, progressively giving up evil and putting on love. Last week we heard examples of how that might be expressed in our life's closest relationships. And today Paul has us lift our eyes as his application expands beyond those close relationships to those all around us; to live so that our life of faith will make sense and appeal to any open-minded people who have not yet embraced the faith in Christ. How do we become those kinds of people?
Devotion to Prayer
Devote yourself to prayer, being watchful and thankful
(Colossians 4:2 (NIV))
It begins with devotion to a full – an attentive, grateful prayer life. A small ship was tossed back and forth in a storm. The crew did its best to ensure the safety of those on board. As the storm got worse and worse, an anxious passenger asked the captain if there was anything else that could be done. He replied, “All we can do now is pray.” The passenger then panicked, “Is it that bad?!?”
Sometimes there are those days. Days where God is never called upon until there are no other options. He is treated as the last resort rather than the first resource. But prayer is not meant to be a distress flare, but a steady, daily light.
And other days when we do pray fervently, yet it feels like God is hidden far away from us. We pray, we worship, we serve, we live as faithfully as we can. And yet it still feels, as George Buttrick once said, we are "beating on Heaven's door with bruised knuckles in the dark." Hope evaporates, questions and doubts amplify. Prayer feels like empty words; the Bible becomes just an old book. Music fails to move us. We seek out other Christians and don’t discover what we need.
It is especially in times like these that we must strive more than ever to remain devoted, vigilant, persistent, watchful, just as Jesus asked the disciples to do during while he was suffering at Gethsemane.
Wise in Conduct
Be wise I the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
(Colossians 4:5 (NIV))
Prayer prepares us to trust and find Christ and his help in the middle of personal or wider crises. We can encourage others to be encouraged that God, in his timing and way, will enter people’s situations and offer real help for real needs.
Not only diligent in prayer, we also want to be wise in our actions. A commentator wrote that, "we must live a self-scrutinized life so that there is no misrepresentation of Christ, and no cause for stumbling placed in another person's path toward faith. We should not beat ourselves up, that is not what he is trying to say. But we should be aware of how we are living, and improve as we can by Christ’s grace.
William McCumber wrote, Wisdom lies not [only] in the possession of truth but in the practice of truth. A sin-laden people with dust-covered Bibles may be clever about many things, but they are not wise about what matters most. (The Bible needs to remain a spiritual guide to modern life, not a neglected artifact).
Ralph Cushman comments that ten Christians who become notably different and far better Christians will produce a greater effect… than a hundred [who are Christian only in name].
But we are not to wait for this transformational growth to be completed before we begin being salt and light, but are to make the most of every opportunity even now as we begin those growth stages.
You may have heard the story about Larry Phillips who took his children to a restaurant. His 6-year-old son – who he described as the quickest to anger, the first to break something, the last one to do as he is told, by far the most trying – and this child asked if he could say grace. He prayed, “God is good. God is great. Thank you for the food, and I would even thank you more if Mom gives us ice cream for dessert. And liberty and justice for all! Amen!”
Along with the laughter of others nearby, a woman remarked, That's what's wrong with this country. Kids don't even know how to pray. Asking God for ice cream! Why, I never!”
The son heard her and got really upset. “Did I do it wrong? Is God mad at me?" Phillips, the father, assured him that he had done a terrific job, and God was not mad at him. An elderly gentleman winked at him as he passed by and said, “I happen to know that God thought that was a great prayer.” “Really?” “Cross my heart.” Then with a nod at the woman who made the remark, he added in a theatrical whisper (kind of soft but so everyone can hear), “Too bad she never asks God for ice cream. A little ice cream is good for the soul sometimes.”
Of course, the meal concluded with ice cream. The son stared at his sundae for a moment. Then he picked up his sundae, and without a word, walked over and placed it in front of the woman. With a big smile, he told her, “Here, this is for you. Ice cream is good for the soul sometimes, and my soul is good already.”
As we heard, the six-year-old was far from perfect. But none of that matters, none of that prevented him from making the most of a moment because, even with all his flaws, his soul was good. The old man, the young child: wise actions and good speech. . . which leads to the last quality.
Conversation salted with grace
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt.
(Colossians 4:6a (NIV))
Devoted prayer, opportunistic in wise conduct, and conversation salted with grace. Salt brings out the best flavor and preserves Christ’s relevant message. Our prayers, actions, and words must demonstrate God’s provision and love and wisdom in a way that meets the needs and answers the questions of others. The opposite is also true, by the way, prayer-less, foolish conduct, with cruel speech also has its powerful impact. Some quick examples…
I heard at a conference this past week and heard a story about a person who as a child was told every day as a child that she was worthless (to use a toned-down word). Every day she would hear that. By the time she had become a teenager, of course, she had come to believe it. She ran away from home as a teenager to get out of that toxic environment. It took a lot of prayer, and work, and words to help her move from seeing herself as worthless to believing she was a beloved child of God.
A long time ago, a boy named Adam struggled to learn. The teacher threatened him, "If you do not speedily get this lesson, I shall pull your ears as long as [a hound dog that was outside the school most days] and you shall be a beggar till the day of your death." From then on, Adam’s classmates called him Stupid.
Eventually, they transferred Adam to the school run by his own father. Unfortunately, his father decided it would be better to terrorize him than to teach him. Adam wrote later about these experiences: “It nearly broke my heart. I wandered in the fields and sighed and wept and kept trying, but I could not get it."
A fortune-teller visited their home one day. He predicted Adam’s brothers would be a doctor and the other one a sea captain. When he came to Adam he told him, “You’re going to be a fat drunkard with a red nose and an enormous belly.
Later, a new teacher came to school. Adam’s father introduced the various students one by one and talke about their various strengths and benefits that they had, and when he got to his own son Adam, he he apologized for him saying, “This boy is slow at learning. I fear you will not be able to do much with him." Adam later reflected on that moment, "My heart sank. I would have given the world to have been as some of the boys around me."
That new, now unknown teacher took some time with young Adam, spoke kindly to him, gave him some directions, and, laying his hand on his head, observed, "This lad will make a good scholar yet."
Adam said, "I felt his kindness. It raised my spirit... a ray of hope sprang up within me ... it seemed to create power. My lessons were committed to memory with ease.”
Adam later wrote that "encouragement and kind words from the teacher are indispensably necessary [to learning]... The mildest methods are the most likely to be efficient... The smallest progress should be ... commended."
And “stupid” Adam Clarke became one of early Wesleyanism’s most distinguished theologians and scholars, writing Clarke's Commentaries on the Bible. And he drew mega-church sized crowds as a preacher.
The power of gracious salted speech, when combined with wise action and diligent prayer can have more powerful influences that we may ever realize…
Final example. A girl named Belle. Her father had been imprisoned, and to free him she agrees to be a prisoner in his place inside of the castle. She has arrived and feels, alone, afraid, and with no connection to anyone in that place. Upset and confined to her bedroom, she refuses to come to the scheduled time for dinner. But later, feeling hungry she goes down to the kitchen, where she is greeted by the servants. The servants had been ordered not to feed her anything because she had not cone when she was supposed to. But they longed and loved to serve, and even give the impression that they are not worth anything unless they serve (listen for the quote in the story -- “life is so unnerving for a servant who’s not serving”. They disobey their master’s instructions and go over the top to create a connection to her in order to make her feel welcome and wanted. We are going to play a clip that illustrates their welcoming spirit to Belle. (Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast).
Do you think Belle felt welcome now? No connection, imprisoned, alone, no connection… and also, on the other side of that, did you hear the servants, under that spot light, “Ten years we have felt totally useless and now we can finally serve someone again!” And did you see what was coming down on them in that moment? Salt. The castle is the church. When I go to someone else’s church, it doesn’t matter if I have been there before or not, it doesn’t matter where in the world it is, it doesn’t matter what kind of church it is -- I’m not comfortable until somebody makes me feel welcome – or not. What a powerful image for what we are to be for each other.
Let’s pray. Lord, we want to be filled with your light, and salted with your love. Through prayer, teach us how to act and speak well for you, so that we can be inviting and welcoming to other people around us, whether it be within this building or outside this building in our community or wherever it may be – that people may find some comfort and strength and confidence – because we have prayed, and are learning how to act and speak for you. We ask this in Jesus, who was always inviting us to share in his life. And so we go and proclaim what we have learned about hospitality, and in Jesus name we offer it. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 568 Christ for the World We Sing
Closing Blessing Our final blessing from Colossians: In Christ all things hold together. So as you go this week, hold on to him, let him hold on to you, so that you may bring praise to Christ who is all in all. Amen.
August 6, 2017
Hymn # 431 Let There be Peace
Bible Reading John 10:10, 1 Corinthians 15:58
The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows]…
Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord [always doing your best and doing more than is needed], being continually aware that your labor [even to the point of exhaustion] in the Lord is not futile nor wasted [it is never without purpose]. (AMP)
Message Colossians 3:18-41, Ephesians 5:19-6:9
“Christian Character - Relationships”
We’ve been marching through the book of Colossians, in which we were last called to take off our distorted desires and angry hatred and to put on the love of Christ, which Paul summarized as compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, graciously and persistently tolerating each other; and forgiving each other for the sake of loving unity. This is accomplished by letting Christ's reconciling peace determine our decisions, allowing the Word of Christ to dwell in our hearts, and by thankfully doing everything in the name of Jesus Christ; whom you represent. Paul, now tries to give very specific instructions to those people back then on how these character traits play out in their 1st Century relationships --- relationships where it has always begun; (See the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-9) in each of us (as we just sang), and in our homes - homes – which for them were husband-wife; parents-children; master-slave.
Today's text is one of those problematic texts that is often chopped us and misused. It would be much easier to pretend we didn’t see it and move on. On the other hand, it may well have some good practical benefit for us today. So, I will quickly, probably not completely, deal with some of the more common presenting problems; and then lay out what I hope are some perpetual principles.
*Cursory reading (out of context)
Many years ago, a parishioner came up after the service and said she had begun reading the sermon text like it is in your bulletin, and when she read, "Wives submit to your husbands", she said she was ready to walk out of the church; or stay to give me a lecture – one of the two. But then she did add that she felt better after the sermon ended. So one of the problems that we sometimes have is that we take at first glance what seems to be the obvious understanding without getting the whole picture of what is really going on – and that can lead us down many difficult paths.
Context – text = con
One of the things I learned in seminary is that if you have a text, and you take the text out of its context, you could be left with a con – a misinterpretation of the true meaning. So we don’t want to do that.
*Selective reading (wrong text)
Another problem is selective reading. It is like the cartoon that has two couples coming home from church; a sign in front of one house says, "The Jones' and in front of the other home, "The Schmidts". As they walked up their respective sidewalks; the wives are speaking to their husbands and they said almost exactly the same thing: Mrs. Schmidt said to her husband "That sermon today really told off the Jones' today." and at the same time Mrs. Jones was telling her husband that "That sermon today really told off the Schmidts today'.
Reading another’s mail
The problem is, husbands focus on what the wives are supposed to be, wives study what husband’s fail to be, children think every discipline is a provocation to bitterness, and parents focus in on the required obedience. We keep paying attention to everyone else’s mail but our own. Paul wants us to pay attentions to what he says to each of us.
*Reading in (add what isn’t there)
Another third problem is that we tend to read into the text an intent that was not there. I learned in seminary that the weakest argument for something is an argument that is based on the absence of something. Some argue that Paul talks about slavery but doesn’t directly speak out against it, so therefore he approved of it. The is about the equivalent of saying Paul used the Roman military uniform to help us remember the armor of the Lord, and therefore he was a war monger. No. Among additional arguments I don’t have time for today, I’ll simply say Paul, like Jesus, used the common imagery around him in his world to explain and illustrate the spiritual world – it didn’t mean he approved of those images or situations; he was just using them to explain. On the other hand, what we rarely hear, is the fact that he was addressing the slaves at all, for if he felt badly toward slaves, he wouldn’t have even bothered to address them as fellow Christians who were worthy of receiving instruction on an equal plane like everyone else. He really did believe what he wrote just a few verses earlier (in Colossians 3:11) – that in Christ there is no hierarchy, Gentile or Jew, circumcised or not, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free – Christ is all, and is in all -- he supersedes all human categories of distinction and value. As one of my professors said, For a variety of reasons, Paul did not attack slavery directly, but he cut the heart out of its justification. Something we need to hear again today, apparently.
*Misreading (wrong application)
A final problem is misreading, or misappropriating the text to an unintended application. A close friend of mine worked at the seminary's Child Care Center. A new supervisor was hired to lead them. One of the first memos sent to all her employees quoted this verse of how slaves were to obey their masters... Even IF we could make that leap from master-slave to employer-employee, it was clear that this supervisor was not off to a good start. And by her actions; she created the exact opposite of what Paul was trying to
create when he was writing these words – his intent was not to set up hierarchies but to tear them down, and to unite Christians in love.
We know Paul is addressing a specific people within in a specific culture with specific personalities and qualities and flaws. We also believe his specific applications are drawn from eternal (or for alliteration purposes); perpetual -- principles. It is easy to confuse the Colossian application with the perpetual principle. But let me take a stab at some of those perpetual principles upon which we can draw and live out today.
* in the Lord
First, our relationships with others are based on how we live out our relationship with God. He qualifies each instruction to each group with a phrase like: "as to the Lord" or "as Christ", or "in the Lord". Scripture is full of words that say love as Christ loved, forgive as Christ forgave you. The basis of our relationships with each other is based on how God, in Christ; demonstrated how we should relate to each other. Do it if God would do it. If God wouldn’t, then we shouldn’t.
* mutual submission
The whole idea is that mutual submission is the norm, In Ephesians, he heads up the whole section with that sentence: Submit to each other out of reverence to Christ Biblical submission does not mean being a doormat to another; it means that both or all people are working hard at forming working partnerships; it has to do with a willingness, on all sides, to become a team.
* obey the Lord
-- general promise of
a full life
When I was real young, some relatives visited and I overheard aunt Linda talking about this particular passage. She sai that this text sounds like it is really hard to live out, but if the husband lives out his part, then it is not hard at all. At least she was opening the right mail. Reading what applied to her instead of just her husband.
And then there is the principle of obeying God’s principles which has with it a general promise of a full life. Here, in this text, it is directed at the children. But the idea is, the parents obey the Lord, and the children obey the parents, thus the children are obeying the Lord. And if everyone is living by the wisdom of God, then there is this promise.
This promise comes from Deuteronomy and Exodus which promises the enjoyment of long life in the land. That promise was given through Moses and was a promise -- not necessarily of individual life spans; but of a high quality of life; based on the enduring "national" success, based on the fact that each generation was living life wisely, constructively, built on godly ethics and the faith of the generation before it; which begins in each home. So if everyone is living it, we are going to live longer and more happily.
Generally speaking, you reap what you sow. If you listen to true wisdom; it will teach you that certain ways of living will bring fullness to life; and other ways of living will put you in danger of living fully. I remember a parishioner way back when. Mary T. When she was young, she suffered from polio, which put her in a wheel chair for life. But she was a saint and she felt she had had a full and joy filled life anyway – she said it is not what the chair does to you, but what you do with the chair that makes a difference.
This promise is based on the premise that children are being taught principles that will hold them fast throughout their years; no matter what specifics their course of life takes them.
* encourage each other
Encourage each other to become the best they can be, not molded into what we happen to think they should be. Parents are to teach their children, as Proverbs 22:6 says, in the way that they should go. Not the way we want them to go, but the way they should go. Teaching and encouraging them to be and do what is best for them, whether or not it is what we wish they were. We instruct in accordance with their personality, not ours. (People sometimes try to impose their broken dreams on to others or their children. They try to relive their youth through others, or pressure people into careers or recreations, or activities that we desire for them, instead of what is truly best for them, and we end up provoking them into ways that they cannot tolerate.
I like the example of the football coach; who loves and knows his players so well that he treats each of them individually, in ways that bring out the best for that player. If one running back fumbles, he may yell encouraging words, pat him on the shoulder; get him to shake it off; to another one, he may have to get in his face and say things a little differently to get him motivated to bring his best out of him. But he knows the players so well he knows which to do with which one. Anyone who has had more than one child knows they respond differently – they all respond differently to the variety of approaches we have. One mold doesn’t make it. We need to do what is in their best interest; not what feels easiest for us.
* Do all with all you got
And then whatever you do, do it with all your heart (whether someone is watching or not.) Steven Covey gives the negative example of business people who may treat traveling customers differently than local customers. They think, they are just passing through, I can rip them off and it won’t hurt me because they will be long gone from the area and the word won’t get back to haunt them. But Covey says we should live by the right principles whether we think we will get away with it or not, because principled living is the only way we can be true to ourselves and others. And living in unprincipled ways may well come back to haunt you sooner or later. Ecclesiastes 10:20 says, Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird of the air may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say. (NIV) Don’t take that too literally, but in these technological days, it might not be a bird, it might be a bug. But we aren’t talking about that. What he is saying is that somehow, if you live certain ways, it is going to come out and people are going to see it and it is going to have an effect on you. So, do all that you can with all that you are.
* Be right, fair, gracious
And then finally, do what is right and fair and gracious; -- for the idea of superior and inferior; conquered and conqueror, loved and unlovable; has been broken down and removed by Christ on the cross, who makes it possible for us all to be one. The concluding eternal principle is the basis for the first one. Paul begins by saying submit to each other -- work for a win-win cooperating teamwork with one another out of reverence for Christ and after all of these practical, specific, illustrations of this principle in their first century cultural setting, he concludes with the same rationale for submitting to each other: “For your Master is in heaven, and with Him there is no favoritism.” We are all mutually servants of each other, for Jesus; who is clearly a leader of us all, decided to be our servant; and we follow his example, and it is what we are to mutually be --- and do --- for each other.
Prayer Let’s pray. Lord, your came in Jesus to give life: joyful, lasting, full of quality; if we only see who you are and what you have to offer. So we strive to do our best for you, knowing that what you do through us will always find its’ purpose. So, help us move past getting caught up in imagery, and find the intent and meaning you would have us to find as we serve you and others… In the name of Jesus who showed and shows us the way. Amen.
* Closing Hymn # 432 Jesu, Jesu
* Closing Blessing In Christ all things hold together. So, as you go this week, hold on to him, let him hold on to you, so that you may bring praise to Christ who is all in all. Amen.
August 6, 2017
Hymn # 593 Here I Am, Lord
Bible Reading From 2 Cor 5:16a,17-18a, Eph 5:15-17, 20
Stop evaluating Christians by what the world thinks about them or by what they seem to be like on the outside. When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand-new person inside. He is not the same any more. A new life has begun! All these new things are from God… so be careful how you act; … be wise: make the most of every opportunity you have for doing good... try to find out and do whatever the Lord wants you to… Be filled with the Holy Spirit and controlled by him… Always give thanks for everything to our God and Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (TLB)
Message “Renewed and Alive” Colossians 3:9b-17
When I was looking up the words on a website for that last hymn, (“Is it I, Lord?”) so I could put it in the PowerPoint, I found this comment below the lyrics: Shouldn’t it be, “Is it me, Lord?” and it was written with a lot of grammatical mumbo jumbo laws that made it sound really intelligent but are beyond me. Five people liked the comment, and no one disliked it. There were no other comments on the website. I do grammar by gut, not by law – so if it sounds right it usually is because of my experience, and Is it I, was what sounded right to me. So I went to one of those websites that say “I versus me” and I read through all those rules that I couldn’t figure out and so I wrote a friend who also researched for me and she sent back a grammarian’s website that explained with all the rules that this song did not just use poetic license, “Is it I, Lord?” is the correct grammar. My gut was right.
But then it got me to wandering into my own imagination. Through the song, God is hearing the cries of misery of people living in the darkness of sin, he is weeping with them, and he promises he will bring them into the light, he will tend to their pain, transform their hearts from stone to love, and will set a feast for them and give them life. Then he asks – Whom shall I send? Who am I going to send to do this? And the writer wants us as singers to respond with what he wrote: “Is it I? Yes, it is me, I’ve heard you calling, and by your grace and leadership -- I’ll do it – I’ll go and do that mission you have for us.” But instead, in hubris, we think it is more exciting to question the grammar of the sentence, rather than think about the call on our lives. Jesus said it in Matthew 23:23-24: we strain out gnats and swallow camels. We focus on the small things to avoid dealing with the weightier issues of justice, mercy and faithfulness. And I wonder how often I get distracted into the minutia -- keeping me from the more important things in my Christian walk.
What would my list be?
Paul tells the Christians at Colossae that they are firmly grounded in Christ who is our life – and we have died to living sinfully. But then he goes on to tell these committed Christians that they are still struggling with two lists that he names for them -- a list of deviant desires that began with the acts of sexual misconduct and worked its way inward to greed and idolatry – wanting and craving something or someone that doesn’t belong to you. And another list which began with anger inside and worked its way out to manipulative lies. It makes me want to imagine if the Spirit was inspiring Paul to write to me – what lists would he catalogue for my life that I need to be more diligent in putting to death.
Paul makes it sound easy – you put to death the bad lists like you are taking off your clothes at the end of the day, and put on a new life like you are putting on fresh clothes in the morning. But clearly, more often than not, the bad doesn’t die so easily, and the good of the new life doesn’t so easily work itself out into action.
Of course, Paul knew this process of transformation doesn’t happen easily or overnight. That is why he tells us to stop judging each other by the stereotypes of outsiders or simply on the basis of what we externally observe. Because down in the heart of the Christian a new life has begun, we may just not see it yet – but it has begun and growing, and further, if we are on the other side of it, and experiencing that new life within us, then we should be doing all we can to live wisely, and make the most of every opportunity to live the new life, doing what God wants, allowing his Spirit to direct us into every opportunity for being and doing good, and to be thankful for the opportunity.
CS Lewis describes the challenge in The Narnia Chronicles through a child named Eustace. Eustace was an obnoxious child. A real beast. His ugly temperament and deceitfulness made him quite unlovable. Then one day, something strange happened. By some fantastic metamorphosis, Eustace was actually changed into the literal dragon that he had acted like. He finally saw for himself how ugly and unlovable he really was. No longer happy with himself, he was desperate to change. But regardless of his remorse, Eustace could not change himself back all by himself.
In despair, he cried for help to Aslan the Lion, Lord of the Kingdom of Narnia (Aslan of Narnia is Christ in the real world.) And Aslan, because of his love for all his people, came to the rescue. It wasn't easy to change Eustace back. Being a dragon, he had to shed his skin, much as a snake sheds its skin as it grows to new levels. It was a terribly painful process. Nor was the shedding one layer enough. It was layer after layer, each one more painful than the one before. Eustace laid himself bare to Asian, and with each successive layer, he became more and more dependent upon Aslan's help to be rid of that old skin. Finally, after the last layer of dead skin was gone, Eustace stood, free of his dragon dungeon, full exposed to Aslan. Only then could Aslan bathe him and soothe him in his tender new skin.
When we cry out to Christ and surrender ourselves totally to him, he kills that inner sinful nature. It no longer has power. But once that is accomplished we cannot be satisfied to stop there. Who wants to go around with a dead skin? Shelves are lined with products trying to remove dead skin from our bodies. The good news of this text is that God's transforming power can work in our lives; he doesn’t simply leave us stripped of the old, but tells us what to put on in its place, and he will begin to build us toward maturity – toward compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and especially the love that binds them all together in unity. Now that is a list that I actually preached this past Easter, so I am not going to re-develop that same list this soon after that.
I’ll just say that we must keep trusting God as he peels off layer after layer of external vices and sins, and the inner attitudes that cause them; and allow him to grow into us - his likeness. We become more and more like him. It doesn’t matter how far we’ve gone, what we have done of failed to do. Paul says that Christ can reach and transform even the barbarians and the Scythians. The Scythians were the worst you could name in those days. They were the terrorists. They were the ones who terrorized the civilized world with their savage like behaviors. But Paul didn’t have any doubt in his mind that Christ could and would transform them. Do we believe that Christ has that kind of power today? Can he transform even me? even my most engrained, worst habits?
Paul lists three things that help us submit to the transformation process.
Let the peace of Christ rule
Let Christ’s peace rule in your hearts. Allow what will be the long term inward calm and external peace that comes from knowing Christ make conclusive decisions in every internal and external debate -- deciding for God and others and against sinful selfishness. By letting true, long term peace --- now what I mean by “long term” is this: What in the long run will bring the longest lasting and deepest peace. Because if you do it for the short term, and you are going to be like Eustace – getting my skin peeled? I don’t think so. That’s not short-term peace, that’s uncomfortable. But in the long term, that is where Eustace needed to be – so I’m talking about the long- term peace that will help us feel God’s peace inside and work for peace externally; as we choose love and forgiveness over anger and bitterness.
Let the word of Christ dwell
We understand that ruling better if we let the Word of Christ dwell in us. If we want Christ to guide us in the right decisions, then we must let his word and spirit fill our heart. Interesting word – “dwell”. There are two ways you can let someone dwell in your house. You can set them up in a guest room with bath and they are responsible for their own food and meals, so their own dishes, their own laundry, let them live in their own corner of the world, and you’d never see them. That is one way you can let somebody dwell in your life. The other way to let someone dwell is that you share meals together, you share common space and time – you do everything together, that person is in the center of the hub of participation with that guest in your home. How do let Christ dwell? How do we let his message dwell in our lives? It’s not going to work if we just have Jesus back in a dusty corner of our lives somewhere where he never is allowed to fully participate in our life. Let his word and spirit fill our heart and participate in your life.
Do all things in Christ’s name
And then when we respond to what we have learned, we act on it -- and we do all those actions as if we were doing it for God himself – because that is what we are doing. When we carry the name Christian, we represent him in everything we do, and how we do it.
In the early 1900s, a ship Captain told pastor FB Meyer that on those dark, starless nights, the only way to safely enter port from the English Channel, was to steer the ship. There were three points of light on land, and they would steer the ship around until those three points of lights on the shore converge as a single point and then they would head straight for that one single light.
For the Christian, we know we have hit the center of God’s will when our attitudes, words, and actions when these three grounding points (the peace of Christ, the word of Christ, doing all thing in the name of Christ as his representative) all align and make sense. So then, some questions on these three points of light:
1) First, Does what I am going to do move me toward long term peace within my heart and work toward long term peace without? Am I convinced that the Spirit is assuring my spirit that I moving in the right direction? One way to help discern this is to put yourself into the future, and look back at what you are choosing to do today. What might that be like when you look back at this event? Will I be proud of what I did, will I have done my best? Or will I regret the choice I am about to make? Did I give the best possible solutions for peace between peoples? within my heart?
2) Do those choices line up with the spirit of what Jesus lived and taught by his words and his example while he was on earth?
3) And the third grounding light: Will our choice we are making today represent Christ, God, and heaven well, or will it feed into all the negative stereotypes we hear about Christians and the church today?
For as God’s holy and chosen people who are dearly loved, we are called to gratefully allow Christ to peel off the negatives of the old life and push out from our re-born heart and into action -- the Christ transformed life. All this is made possible by the Spirit of God who works in us as we focus more and more on him and less on less on the distracting gnats of life.
Closing Prayer & Blessing Now Lord, may we be reminded of your unending love and be empowered by your Spirit. So that we may work for the common good, using your strength to build, to meet needs, to encourage, to reach out, to give sacrificially and selflessly. Thank you for the example of Jesus and for the trust you have placed in us to continue to model the greatest commandment to the world, and through this – to bring hope in Christ -- through whom all things hold together. So as you go this week, hold on to him, let him hold on to you, so that you may bring praise to Christ who is all in all. Amen.
July 30, 2017
Bible Reading Ephesians 4:25-27
So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil. (NLT)
Message “Dead and Renewed” (2) Colossians 3:1-12
I have heard sermons and read Christian books and articles dealing with anger. Almost always it is a treatise justifying our right to be angry. After all, Jesus got angry at the Temple, angry at the Pharisees, at a fig tree; and as we go through the Bible you can list example after example after example.
In Colossians, Paul created a list that described the dangerous trip toward twisting desires, moving from the outward temptation to inner motivations. He follows that list with another list, another path of which to be wary -- one that begins with an inner attitude and bubbles upward and outward into ever worsening actions.
Right vs wrong anger
It begins with the emotion of explosive anger, which is then nurtured into a long burning bitter rage, out of which flows mean spirited malice that is out to destroy others, which is then expressed in slander and abusive speech, character assassination, and ultimately, bald faced lies. (You’d think the lies were anticlimactic in relation to what preceded it, but to Paul the ultimate end of twisted anger is that we begin lying to each other now. Clearly, Paul is not justifying anger in this list. The question then, is: when is anger justified, often called “righteous indignation” and when is it wrong?
The tongue in cheek answer is: If I feel angry at someone, or the anger it is directed as someone I disagree with, then that is righteous indignation, but if someone is angry at me, or someone I agree with, then that is sinful. In other words, if I or my friend feels anger toward somebody, then that is justified. But if anger is directed at me, or my friend, then that is wrong – how can they even think that? It isn’t right, it is just a litmus test that too many people use. That is why I said tongue in cheek, it is not really a good test. It is the wrong test to use, but it often is the test we use – How does it affect and impact me? How do I feel about it? Rather than looking at it more objectively.
Just like Paul’s list of desires is a corruption and twisting of God-given drives that were intended to move us to positive things, so anger is a God-given emotion that spurs us to survive and deal with negative things that life throws at us.
Just as hunger pangs tell us to eat, or a throbbing finger tells us to stop the bleeding and clean and wrap the wound; the emotions of anger warn us that something is not right, and it is supposed to drive us to deal with a hurt, the fear, or the frustration so that we can take action to bring justice, or start the process of healing, and/or make life better for others or ourselves. So it isn’t the emotion of anger, but what we do with it that has the potential for good --- or for bad.
It is when it gets twisted and distorted -- either getting angry over things that we shouldn’t be getting angry over; or managing and expressing it in poor ways – it is then that we begin to have trouble. That is why the Bible doesn’t just tell stories about righteous anger (although those are the ones we like to quote) -- it also warns us about the twisting of anger into damaging attitudes and behaviors.
Proverbs says, A hot tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel. (Prov 15:18) A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control (Prov 29:11). The Bible reminds us that God is slow to anger and quick to forgive, and gives practical advice such as “Do not let the sun go down on your anger”. Now don’t take it too literally – because you might make it worse if you are trying to work through anger while you are exhausted and frustrated and too tired to do anything about it. But it is saying is to not to just let it go so that it festers. Deal with it. Because it is in the festering and the hanging on to it and the nurturing of anger that leads us down the path of Paul’s list which he climaxes with outright lying to each other, and probably to ourselves. So. feel the emotion of anger but don’t sin -- put away unhealthy anger.
So here is the better test of whether anger is good or bad. It is not whether or not we feel anger, it is not where the anger is directed by whom or to whom. Instead, ask yourself these questions: Do I like being angry? Do I sense others are intimidated or uncomfortable around me because of my words or temper? Am I constantly unhappy because of things that anger me? Are the resulting actions of my anger designed to control and/or hurt others in order to build myself or my agenda? Does my anger lead to compromising my values of justice and goodness and fairness and truthfulness? If I answer these questions objectively, and the answer is (well, we all may do that once in a while, but if too often the answer is yes to too many of those questions, then anger might be a personal project worthy of my attention.
Dealing with unhealthy anger
Some of how we deal with unhealthy anger depends on how we express it. Someone (I can’t remember the resource for this) thought it would be helpful to label some styles of the more common expressions.
The first one is the splatterer, or the erupter -- like a volcano – Boom! This aggressive explosion of anger may feel good in the moment, relieve stress and feel like they are exercising control over others, and there is no doubt that the information they are angry about is on the table because it is thrown in the face of the person to whom they are talking. But love is absent. Even if the splatter gets us what they want, it may leave them feeling guilty (if they have a conscience), and wound those around them and damage their relationships.
Splatterers need to learn the discipline of delaying their impulsive explosiveness. That’s what time outs are all about. Take a break, leave for a while then come back. That doesn’t mean don’t deal with it, but that the time to calm down so it the issue can be dealt with more constructively and bring a healing solution. In the fire code, we learn to stop, drop, and roll. When we experience the fire of anger, we need to stop, think, and pray. “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and its all Small Stuff” offers one common example. Some adults have a real struggle to not burst out in hot headed tantrums during childhood athletic events. Umpires and coaches alike receive their wrath. Splatterers need to keep in mind that the game’s outcome is not THAT important, when we are talking about little kids, or when we are talking about the Packers or the Lions either, for that matter. And while there may be exceptions, chances are pretty good that the refs have probably not been plotting all morning about how they can unjustly treat your child or grandchild’s team. Pray for the players, the teams, the coaches, recognize they are not perfect and they do not have you bias about who should be winning. Ask God to prepare you with patience and grace before the game for during the game. Just one simple example.
And then there are stuffers who repress (bury) their anger, and eventually it turns so inward it can’t get out. Stuffers may look on the outside like they are mature, controlled people of peace because all those feelings are hidden beneath the surface, and some people are very good at hiding them.
But in truth, Stuffers are like sharks. When sharks get caught (at least I read this) When sharks get caught they get so angry at that frustrating situation that they will turn on themselves and bite hunks of flesh out of themselves. This is what happens when we stuff anger -- the pain has nowhere to go -- it is a self-wounding expression that eats up the stuffer. Doesn’t hurt the person they are angry at, but eats themselves up.
And it also hurts others because if it is stuffed down then it is not dealt with and so the circumstances cannot change and the pain continues, because it is not resolved because it is not dealt with constructively. Stuffers need to learn how to express their anger appropriately for the good of others as well as for themselves.
And then there are leakers. Leakers have learned to let anger out, but it is misdirected or re-routed. I think we’ve all heard that story by now about the man who gets yelled at by his boss, but he is afraid to yell back and get angry at his boss -- so he foes home and gets angry at his wife. The wife is afraid to yell back at the husband, and so she yells at the oldest kid, who turns to the next kid, and the next kid until they get to the youngest -- who goes out at kicks the dog. That is a leaker version of anger.
Another version of the leaker is the passive aggressive approach, where they are submissive and controlled in response and agreeable to – say -- the boss’s anger. But then they get the boss back by underperforming or doing something else-- that might be completely unrelated -- to undermine the boss.
This misdirected lashing out can be confusing not only to the lashee (who may have done nothing to deserve it) but also to the lasher -- the employee may not even understand why he is underperforming at his job, may not realize there is some sort of anger going on from another event. He may not understand why he is undermining his boss or why he is lashing out at his family.
The main growth area for leakers is to identify the true source of their anger (because sometimes it is hidden beyond them) and then address it in a constructive way rather than diverting it to innocent, albeit safer outlets or victims.
Of course, sometimes there is a combination of strategies – sometimes we bury anger until it cannot be contained anymore and then it will erupt and splatters horribly, sometimes at the source of the anger, but sometimes leaked sideways to others as well...
Whether our expression of unhealthy anger splatters outward, gets stuffed downward, or leaks indirectly or sideways; we can all use these following strategies to help us cope with unhealthy anger expressions.
For All Styles: Alternate Activities
Fill yourself with other activities and projects and attitudes that will dissipate the anger... such as --- Laughter -- sometimes I will watch long doses of healthy comedy (harder and harder to find these days) but look for and find it and use laugh therapy as means of healing the heaviness that anger may bring. Taking time for gratitude and worship, participating in heavy duty activities like intense exercise, chopping wood or playing football, writing, sing a song -- like "Life is a booger, pick it pick it; life is a booger all day long"… a coping mechanism.
Go ahead and scream, cry, but in a way that isn't harmfully visited on yourself or on others… Lift your eyes to a wider view of life beyond the source of our anger of anger feelings. Like we said a couple weeks ago in overcoming the difficulty of a tempting desire, don’t let your struggle with that desire -- or now in this case – with your anger -- define who you are. You are more than that one thing.
Understand the circumstances
Then try to get a grasp of the circumstances. If you aren't sure what triggers your anger, what makes you lash out – then every time you find yourself angry, write it down – write down the circumstances. Not only is that good catharsis – it helps get the anger out of you because you have written it down, it may help you identify patterns – “oh that’s when I get angry – I’m always tired” or something else specific is going on in your life that triggers it. And then you can prepare and try to prevent some of it.
A simplistic example. If you learn that feeling rushed and anxious and susceptible to anger in traffic (It took me an hour longer to get home on Friday just moving from the top of Hancock to the bridge. But we turned on the Pandora and listened, and enjoyed our long journey home. Sometimes you can’t prevent it, but if you realize you feel rushed and easily angered in traffic, so then plan ahead so you aren’t always trying to make a 20 minute trip in 15 minutes, and maybe that allegedly slow driver if front of you that is holding you back won’t be so irritating to you.
Or knowing that I need to be careful when I am overly tired; for that it is when my patience is shorter, my nerves are frayed, and I don’t hear as well or think as clearly and that I am more prone to self-doubts and more likely jump to crazy conclusions --- and emotional outbursts. So I need to be aware of that, and that allows me to be careful…
Understand the person
And then seek to understand. Much anger comes because we ascribe malicious intent to the other person, when most times it is a simple lack of clear communication. It is possible they are motivated to manipulate and control you and make you mad, but at least try to believe the best and give the benefit of the doubt. Make people prove that they have evil intent towards you. Don’t assume it. And even if they did attempt to deliberately wound you; try to empathize - we don't know what that person is dealing with -perhaps it was hurt, frustration, or fear in their life that came out misdirected – maybe they are a leaker and so it came out at you sideways as lashes in our direction. They may not have intended it, or even realized why they do it, but it just happened. That doesn’t excuse what they are doing, but understanding does help us cope with it a bit more easily. Jesus on the cross, in part, was able to forgive because he understood that they didn’t understand what they were doing.
Strive for forgiveness
And then, if we can stretch ourselves to do it with God’s grace -- forgive and let go. H. Norman Wright defines forgiveness as sincerely being able to wish that person well. For deep wounds, that doesn’t come easily or quickly, it takes a lot of time and a lot of prayer and sometimes we may never get there, but it is something to strive for.
And then, get alone with God, out of the turmoil of life, and find that eternal perspective. Remember that this text is all under the introducing topic line of: having been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above (on heavenly values), and not on earthly things, (on priorities below).
Get this eternal perspective by getting away with God and away from your own agenda, find humility, understand we are treasured no matter what are our hurts, our fears, or our frustrations – what angers we may have.
Pray FOR those situations, confess them. Confess when we are angry at people and when they are angry at us – and put it on the table with God and ask for his help. And then he can tell us to [work at] letting go of it, or he may tell us to appropriate it and channel it into something positive.
We will always feel anger – not constantly, but we will always, from time to time feel anger because one of the warning systems built into the human body, but by God’s grace, we can also take responsibility for our ability to control it, and express it in healthy ways.
Many organizations that do so much good today (MADD, SADD Crop Walk, even America’s Most Wanted back in its time) came into being because someone was angry about something that was going on in the world or in their life, and they wanted to channel that negative energy into something constructive --- creating something positive so that same angering circumstance won’t continue to happen in our world, will not continue to happen to other people.
Remember the example of Nehemiah. When he heard about Jerusalem laying in ruins, he was angry. But then he stopped, and he thought, and he prayed, and then he acted in a positive manner to bring a constructive solution. In his case, literally a constructive solution – he went to lead the rebuilding of the city.
Paul concludes today’s text with another list –not one to avoid but one with which to fill our lives -- compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. If these are growing in us in increasing measure, unhealthy anger will have to decrease because they are almost opposites.
Turn from hanging on to anger that erodes and stings like sand in the wind storm --- and place our hurts, frustrations and fears on the ever- faithful God who befriends us in Jesus, the solid ground who leads us through these difficult paths to joy.
Prayer with Song
Closing Hymn # 534 v 1 Be Still My Soul
Let’s pray. Now Lord, we recognize our fear and frustration and wounds tend to shake us, causing self-doubts and makes us want to lash out in anger because it gives us a false sense of confidence. But turn us again to you. We don’t understand it all but you will make it clear and you can still control the storms of our life.
Closing Hymn # 534 v 2 Be Still My Soul
So Lord, we look forward to the day when we realize that disappointment, grief, fear, and all other anger producing events of life will fade in comparison to the restoration of your pure joy and we will find ourselves safe in your arms at last.
Closing Hymn # 534 v 3 Be Still My Soul
So Lord, help us to still ourselves before you -- not to passive inaction, but to choose to act in your comfort over the chaos of our own angry attempts to control -- to surrender our way to your way, to learn to know you more as we breathe your way within us so that we may walk by faith, our eyes fixed on you, trusting in you and your promises until the race is over and our work is done, and we stand before you and you affirm that our life was indeed lived for you because you have formed and transformed us even today. For it is --
Closing Blessing -- In Christ all things hold together. So as you go this week, hold on to him, let him hold on to you, so that you may bring praise to Christ who is all in all. Amen.
July 16, 2017
Theme Today Paul gets practical -- if we start thinking right about Christ, we will start living right for Christ -- from our hearts to our actions… life will never be the same and we will make all the melody that is our life bring praise to God by the grace of his powerful love.
The English language has some odd phrases that don’t necessarily make a lot of sense. I am going to try a few on you and see if you know what they mean.
“On the tip of my tongue” What does that mean? You know you know it but you just can’t quite pull it out of your head to say it – but it is sooo close). If someone says that, do you ask them to stick out their tongue so you can read the thing that is right there? No, because it is just an expression…
“Top of my head” What does that mean? You are giving an instant reaction or idea about something and you haven’t really thought about all the possibilities. It is a way of warning others that it is a gut reaction, and may not be what you think after you think it through.
But what if if you add “to the tips of my toes”? What does that mean? It means “all of me”. All of me is happy, All of me is sad, All of me is healthy… I’m giving all of myself to this idea.
“At my fingertips” What does that mean? If I say this one, it is usually said in the negative way. “I don’t have that at my fingertips right now” I can check my calendar, but I don’t have it here at my fingertips on my phone right now, I’ll have to go to get it…
This one is closely related: “On hand” or “At hand”. I was in a store yesterday and they had to go in the back to see if the product was in the store. He could have said, “Let me check to see if we have that on hand”, or at hand, some people use either phrase but at hand is more of a near or soon, close by. Jesus used this one when he started his ministry. He said the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It means heaven (and what it was all about -- what is good and what isn’t) is right here now or right nearby or about to be here. Jesus came from heaven -- and the truths of heaven came with him. Sometimes we think more like God and Jesus and the Spirit are in heaven way up there beyond the cloudy sky, and we are way down here on earth, and faith is about thinking about things way up there. But Jesus says it is at hand -- it is here, with us even now. And we are to think about heaven and what God thinks is important right down here right now. So, I have a couple questions. Off the top of your head, could you say that Jesus is always at our fingertips? (Yes). And from the tip of your tongue, would you say that we should live with him from the top or your heads to the tips of your toes? (Yes).
Bible Text Colossians 3:1-12
3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (NIV)
Hymn # 701 When We All Get to Heaven
Message “Dead and Renewed” Colossians 3:1-12
And so, thinking about heaven, Paul begins the text today: Since, then, you have been raised -- and from the context of the passage that means – raised from being dead in sin and made fully alive) with Christ, set your hearts and minds on things above and not on earthly things.
I saw a drawing. Compared to the surrounding, there was a dis-proportionately large man who was kneeling on the street. His head above the clouds, he felt the sun and felt peaceful serenity as he meditated on all those things shining on his face; while below the clouds, down by his knees -- to the left were tanks and soldiers and bombs and wars; and to the right of his knees were household disputes and murders and a house fire and a tornado, a wrecked car, a cop running with gun pointed, an air plane spiraling into the earth. More going on to his right than his left, but all this chaos going on down there on the world, and this man is paying no attention to it because our head is above the clouds. It was an artful way of critiquing those who are (to use another one of those phrases) “so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.”
Or another way to look at it is when we see people wearing headphones or studying their cell phones. They are standing right in front of you; but they are connected to a totally different world.
This is NOT what Paul means and is not what he is hoping for by his words, “Since then you have been raised with Christ, put your hearts and minds on things above.” That is not what he means. What he is saying is that as Christians living in this world we will live our lives from a different set of values, but we will be totally engaged in this world. But the material things of this world are not the only things that matter. Our determination of right is not guided by what is around us, by what is popular, or powerful, or wealthy, or beautiful on the surface, and not even necessarily what seems to be personally beneficial; but is guided by God’s love for all people, and what is good for all people. Paul will illustrate what that looks like a little later. But the reason we do this is because we died to sinful self-centeredness and now our lives are hidden in Christ – which could mean hidden away as in secure, our lives are secure in Christ; or it could mean we are in this progression, we don’t even know what this looks like yet, but someday it is going to be clear to us when Christ appears.
Christ, who is our very life, will come. We hear that phrase a lot too, don’t we? Sports is his life, music is her life, work is his life, tv is her life. Paul says, if we are Christian, then Christ is our life. He is our peak priority, the height of our devotion, the crown of our commitment and our energy; as we live for Him, he lives in us and enlivens us to trek through this life on earth in an effective and meaningful way. So, Paul’s intent when he says these words at the beginning of Colossians 3 is that when we are truly heavenly minded, we will be doing the world a lot of good – doing what is truly good for His world.
To do that, we need to put away the values that do not leave a positive influence on our world and on other people. We put away those things that oppose the good of God and his world. We must treat in us this tendency to sin like a fish seller treats a fish. It stinks. It's dead, and it's only good when it is off our hands... (out of our hearts).
Paul then lists, subheadings of two major areas that the Colossians are struggling with, and I bet a bunch of us are too. The first list fleshes out examples of distorted desires, and the second gives examples of unhealthy anger. This week I’ll deal with the first one, and when we resume Colossians, we’ll deal with the second.
We need to be clear. Desires are God-given; and designed for both our survival and our enjoyment. For examples: One of the things we need to do is survive is eat. God built within our natural instinctive systems a desire to eat and he has built into that system a reward of enjoying the idea of eating. That is why so many of us love to eat. God designed the desire for relationships with people, to propagate the race; and to unite with each other, and the reward of that is the pleasure of intimacy. God designed in us an innate desire for beauty and order; and it surrounds us wherever we look; and when we notice it; he rewards us with the pleasure of contentment. Have you ever stopped to notice and how well it smells, and then go on without thinking “Well that really is nice?” Without getting that good feeling about the smell of the rose? No, when you stop to enjoy it – you enjoy it! It is built into us.
There is nothing wrong with the pure joy of work, or pleasing others, or seeking financial security; and so many other desires. But -- the temptation is – in the delusion of finding something even better (ala Genesis 3 and the garden and the tree) – the temptation is to take God's natural joys of fulfilling pure desires, and the joy of having a productive and meaningful life – and to twist and distort those desires and destroy others and ourselves (that’s not our intent, but that is the result) when we try to twist these desires into something more than what they are made to be.
As Paul talks about the twisting of desires, he begins with specific outward acts; and moves inward to the attitudes that are at the root of those actions; and he ends the list with “greed which is idolatry” -- the worship of having more things or having people who do not belong to you. The frustration of greed is that while it may seem to satisfy in the short run; we soon find we need more and more and more to create even the same level of satisfaction -- ultimately, these twisted desires can be filled as easily as you can fill a cup that has no bottom.
Bill Hybels and John Ortberg talk about how we subtly move away from building our lives on the solid ground of pure pleasures that help us move along by the guidance of Christ, and how we move down a different path of seeking the shifting sands that twist desires into something artificial and temporary and selfish. Sometimes it is helpful to understand how we move along the wrong path so we will realize “Oh, I’m on the wrong path – I need to not do this anymore.” So let’s take a look at that list.
We begin with a natural God-given inner desire. The first step to straying from that and twisting it is the most critical step of them all. If you remember this one, you’ve got it.
To distort desires: 1) Quench the Spirit
The Spirit will always prompt us to lay our desires before Jesus. He will never encourage us to act on our desires in a way that is harmful to God, ourselves, or others. So, to go down the wrong road, the first thing we have to do is quench (stop listening to) the Spirit. You avoid listening to sermons or friends’ conversations on the topic of this path you are thinking about going down. We don’t connect the dots, we don’t apply the principles to our life; we leap frog Bible passages that talk about it, we don’t pray about it, we don’t meditate on the actions – because if we are going to stray, the first thing we need to do is to make space in our mind and life to ignore the convictions that God will give you. That is what allows us to follow the temptation.
To distort desires: 2) Hide it
That leads to a hiddenness. Now you’ve started to take the bait, you’ve started to quench the Spirit, you’re not listening so now you have a chance to do the wrong, but you still king of have a hunch it isn’t good, and so you do it out in front of everyone, “Oh yeah, I’m going to go do…” whatever it is. As Jesus says the one who does evil will ... not come into the light. They’ll keep it secret, in the dark. John Ortberg tells the story of his brother more of less like this: Mom controlled the cookie jar, they were not allowed to get cookies on their own. So, his brother went through this developmental stage where if you don't see, no one sees; and so he would go into the kitchen and cover his eyes (because if he couldn’t see, they wouldn’t see him doing this) so he would cover his eyes and he would go into the kitchen and stumble around, crashing into everything, feeling around for the cookie jar with his eyes closed. And in a sense it worked, because the parents were so amused by watching him crash his way through the kitchen that they let him have the cookies. He concludes that story by saying, I didn't like it, because I couldn't do that, and he was 17; which is a little too old to get away with stuff like that...
But the truth is, no matter how old we get, we do the same thing. We act as if God is not present and doesn't know what is going on; and He allows us to do it – not because it is amusing to him to watch us stumble around on these wrong paths, but because He wants us to freely love him and freely do what is right.
To distort desires: 3) Play with it
So, after trying to hide it from God and others, then we begin to dabble with the desire -- just to see if we will get the emotional spark we hoped for. When I was in Sunday School, I think it was during my college years – I’d come back for the summer. We had a unique Sunday School class, we all sat in a wide circle of chairs. We collected the Sunday School offering this way. We placed a big, foot tall, wide-mouthed pickle jar in the center of the circle of chairs, and then from our chairs we would take out our coins and try to flip them into the jar. So that is the way we collected our offering. Now one day, the Sunday School teacher was talking about this flirting or playing with sin. And he was talking about how, if the jar was the sin, we just get closer and closer to it, we just kind of play with it, throw things at it, and dabble with it. It is kind of like driving in the mountains. Do you hug the cliff side or do you hug the down side? Which way would you feel safer? Some people like to do daring stuff – they like to get real close to that jar… they keep playing with it and playing with it and playing with it, and see if it gives that emotional spark for us.
To distort desires: 4) Ethical violation
And then the next step, down this errant path is for us to start to cross those lines we used to know we shouldn't cross; but it seems we’ve gotten confused about it now. We do things we used to think were unthinkable in an effort to create a thrill. We push the envelope.
To distort desires: 5) Emotionally Connect
And the next step is that instead of running with the desire, the desire starts to run us. This is all a very gradual and subtle – because if it isn’t, we will wake up “Oh, I’m on the wrong path”, and we might repent and correct our direction. So it is all very subtle and gradual. Gently, oh so gently we let the distorted version of the desire consume our thoughts, our time, and our efforts. And we don’t even realize we have become dependent upon it and addicted to it.
To distort desires: 6) Decide it is OK
Eventually we come to a door. And if we go through that door -- nothing will ever be the same – we will violate our values, God’s values; and we’ve made it out in our head to be okay, but it isn’t; and it becomes a part of our lifestyle. And we discover that instead of dabbling with the jar, we are now in the jar and the lid gets closed and we are stuck, and we wonder how we ever got here. Depending upon the desire we are fulfilling, may also inflict massive pain on people we love, damaging relationships, launching ourselves into a period of unimaginable destructiveness, resulting not in the exciting joy that we started this journey to get -- but rather heartache, and wondering how we arrived here.
To distort desires: = Slavery -- dead
What it leads to, in a single word is slavery. Jesus: "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin." (John 8:34) We become slaves to the desires and are dead in our sins. What do we do now?
Well even beyond the door, we are not beyond God’s grace. We can turn around and begin walking back. And here are the steps that get us back --
Return by: 1) Open and honest prayer
Bring all desires that we have before God. It can be embarrassing, it can be shame filled feelings for us, but God already knows all this stuff anyway. So bring all things at all times to him in open and honest prayer. This is the opposite of quenching the Spirit. You hear some of the prayers of the Bible and we think, “How can they even pray like that?” Well, they aren’t saying it is an “appropriate” prayer, they are just being honest about how they feel. They are bringing it before God because it is when we bring it before God that he can being to work with us. If we keep it under the table, if we deny it, we aren’t going to let him work with us on it. But when we bring it out on the table before God, it allows us to start to work with these things. He begins to tug at our heart, and we being to feel his convictions again, and we begin to respond to his nudges. Pray what we really think and want, not just what we think he wants to hear. God will not be shocked or appalled by what we say. So, first, open and honest prayer, and then --
Return by: 2) Decide to honor God
-- decide to honor God. To not express (act out) desires in a way that does not honor him. Decide not to commit evil. Learn that it is possible to have an unfulfilled desire and we can survive. (It may not seem possible at first) but it gets easier -- Jackie talked about that in Children’s Time last week -- how repetition of consistently good choices leads to good habits until it gets to be easy and second nature to us. In fact, we’ll begin to realize that not only did we survive without that twisted desire, we are much better off, fulfilling it the proper way; better than we could have imagined.
Return by: 3) Project the cost
The third thing to help us get back on the right path is to project the future and the cost would be if we continued down this wrong path. If we go down the road that gives into a twisted desire, what will happen? And when we get to the end of that road, we’ll say "Why would we ever want to go that way?" What is the cost of going down the road of lust; or of manipulating others, or of whatever the natural desire we are tempted to twist.
Return by: 4) Fill your mind
And then fourth, fill your minds with thoughts other than the temptation. One of the problems we struggle with is that we are so consumed by the desire that that is all we think about and we define ourselves by it. And then it becomes a real struggle. But if we fill our lives with other things, with scripture, music, and prayer, so that desire is not dominating every thought, every moment of every day, then there won’t be so much struggle, because we are doing something else instead of it, or thinking about it. When we broaden our view, we find a new aliveness of life, for we are no longer defined by what we are struggling with. What was once a great battle (over time) becomes more and more natural and first nature to us. Dallas Willard (he’s a theologian) said that "One of the great signs of [spiritual] maturity are the thoughts [with which you were once obsessed] that they no longer occur to you." Mature discipleship is when it becomes easier and easier to do what Jesus would do in our situation, and it is not the struggle anymore. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen,
Returning: = Freedom
and that leads to freedom. We will know the truth, and the truth will set us free. What is life like when we are free? Free from the tyranny of power, of lust, of vanity, of success, free from the addiction of selfish gratification -- so that we are strong and powerful for what is good for us, what is good for God, and what is good for others. And we most truly desire what God most wants us to experience.
CS Lewis caps it off by saying this: If we consider the unblushing promises of reward [that God has built into us], and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels; it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is [being] offered to us. It is like a child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased (with temporary and artificial, circumstances). Hold out for infinite joy.
Prayer: Lord, we understand that to hold out for true joy it means denying ourselves and serving you and your world -- you built that into us – and you built into us a feeling of deep reward for staying on the right path – so do in us whatever you need to do to fill us with your glory so that not only we, but the entire world will not be the same. Help us to fulfill our promise to you...to refuse temptation and embrace our hearts and protect us from even the desire to sin – by the power of the one who saved us by his work on the cross, his ascension to heaven, and his coming in Spirit to live within us right here on earth – it is in his name that we pray. Amen.
Closing Blessing In Christ all things hold together. So, as you go this week, hold on to him, let him hold on to you, so that you may bring praise to Christ who is all in all. Amen.
July 9, 2017
Welcome and Theme
We can rise up and sing about God’s faithfulness because Christ has made us alive and set us free from the powers of darkness that used to control us. So then, Paul will ask the Colossians, if you are alive and free, why do you keep wanting to go back to the ways that own you? Instead we need to draw close to Christ because he is enough -- he is only and all we need; and so, let’s come together and worship God, for we belong to him.
Bible Reading Colossians 2:8-29
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (NIV)
Hymn # 110 A Mighty Fortress
Message “The Elementary Principles” Colossians 2:8-29
False teachers had come into the Colossian church, trying to undo everything that God in his power can do for us, just as the hymn was saying. In an episode of a classic television show: A young couple traveling to receive a new promotion in a new location have car trouble and require a short layover in a small town in Ohio. They enter a restaurant and on the table, is a little machine in which you put in a coin and you ask a “yes” or “no” question, and it gives an answer. Some of the answers seem to have a ring of truth to them and the man starts to get hooked on the machine, and act on its answers to his questions. As the show nears the end, the wife finally says to him, “Are you going to just sit here and let that thing run your life?”
“Run my life?” He is surprised. It caught him off guard – that’s how things work, isn’t it? It is all very subtle – we don’t even realize what is happening to us.
She asks, “Isn’t that exactly what you are letting it do? [she cites examples that took place earlier in the episode]. She continues, “It doesn’t matter whether it can foretell the future, what matters is whether you believe more in luck and fortune than you do in yourself. You can decide your own life. You have a mind, a wonderful mind, don’t destroy it trying to justify that cheap penny fortune machine. We can have a wonderful life together if we make it wonderful ourselves. I don’t want to know what’s going to happen. I want us to make it happen together....”
He concedes, “We’ll go. You’re right, I’m a jerk... Let’s go get our car, drive out of this town, and go where we want to go -- any time we please.” And the camera follows as they drive out of town, and as they do, an older, stressed out couple rushes to the table where the young couple had been sitting and begin pouring in coins asking questions and getting answers that they are allowing to dictate their life.
Then narrator concludes the story: Counterbalance in the little town of Ridgeview OH. Two people permanently enslaved by the tyranny of fear and superstition, facing the future with a kind of helpless dread. Two others facing the future with confidence, having escaped one of the darker places.... (The Twilight Zone, S2 Ep 7 “Nick of Time”)
The Colossians were in a dark place, dead in their trespasses, but were made alive by the grace of God in Christ. But teachers had come into the church telling them that in order to be saved; instead of or in addition to Christ, they needed to go back to practices that they had left behind – practices that Christ had freed them from. They were being asked to rebuild their faith on shifting sand rather than the rock of Christ.
Paul continues his letter in Colossians now by responding, “See to it that no one takes you captive” -- and the words picture that of a kidnapping or a prisoner of war. Paul takes very seriously – as seriously as we take our liberty in America, our physical freedom. He takes this spiritual freedom, the sacrificial fight for freedom in Christ and he does not want us to be ensnared by empty philosophies and human traditions.
Physical evil - spiritual good
Paul describes this list that follows as hollow shadows compared to the solid substance of Christ. These shadows are applications of the main false teaching that he has already dealt with -- that “physical is evil and spiritual is good” and therefore we have to know and work our way back to God. Paul has already dealt with that premise and now he takes up the sub-points, applications that have flowed from it.
* Spirit pleasers
He mentions the elemental spiritual forces of this world. Most scholars believe he is referring to this fatalistic dependence upon the spirits of the stars and planets. The ancient world, from the top rulers to the least of the powerless, were all dominated by this idea that their lives were predestined by these spirits. Born under a good star and your life was --- smooth sailing. But if it was under an unlucky star, there was nothing you could do to make your life successful or happy. They wouldn’t make a major decision, they wouldn’t make a minor decision without consulting with these spirits of the stars and planets.
The false teachers at Colossae said Christ cannot help us escape submission to “the stars”. Paul has already answered this in a previous text by saying the “power of the star and planets - these spirits” have no power over the Christ who made them, set them in place, and calls them by name. He has overcome all of these powers.
They were also pushing circumcision as a requirement for salvation. Paul answers by talking about the spiritual nature of circumcision and baptism. Baptism is, among other things, a symbol of dying to the influential power of the sinful nature that we are all born with -- and/or the old life of sin that we have been living. We go under the water, we drown, we die to that way of life, and we come out of the water, we rise to new life in Christ – a new person). It isn’t about the physical act, (as important as that is) but what it symbolizes.
Even in the Old Testament, the emphasis on circumcision was much more than the physical act. Thus, they talked about circumcision of the heart, and of the lips, and of the ear. (Dt 10:16, 30:6, Ex 6:12, 30 Jer 6:10) These references refer to cutting away (metaphorically speaking) things that hindered spiritual progress and hindered our covenant with God. In those texts, they felt like they didn’t believe, like they heard, or like they spoke like a person who was in covenant with God. Paul argues that these hindrances are being stripped away by Christ when you give him full control of your life. So, as important as physical circumcision was, as the rite of baptism is -- the key to living faithfully relies not on completing the physical act, but the ongoing spiritual work that they represent -- and that is: to enter into and maintaining a covenant relationship with God by receiving the work of Christ as he completes it in you. (Phil 1:6)
* Angel worship
The Colossians also felt the need to add the worship of angels. Do you remember the emanations we talked about a couple weeks ago? God is up here because God is spiritual and good, and the physical was down because it was evil and God couldn’t touch it. So, there were all these emanations, waves between the two, and all these angels were a part of that, so as they began to work their way back up they began to worship these angels along their “way back up”. Well, the fascination with angels is not a problem in itself, but some seem to be more excited by the work of angels than the God those angels serve, if they even mention God at all. That is a problem. Maybe that is a symptom of our society. There is a lot of hero worship going on these days. As one person put it, we get a lot more excited about someone winning a basketball game than about Christ transforming a life. We get more excited about a rock group than living on the Rock.
* Asceticism and customs
And then they added rigorous bodily disciplines, including do not handle, do not taste, do not touch -- probably food regulations; in an attempt to escape their “evil bodies” (quote unquote because they thought anything physical was evil) and enter into some sort of angelic, spiritual bliss. It’s probably a separate line of thinking, but I’ll throw it in along with this one, the customs of the holy days, and strict observance of sacred days and rites -- a mode of gaining special insights and visions that can earn your way back towards God.
Paul says all of these things seem to be wise, and even worshipful, and humble, and disciplined; and in their proper place, those actions can have value for us – IF they are placed properly within the scope of what we are doing o our spiritual journey; but they do not do what Christ does. They do not forgive sin, they do not earn our way back to God, they are not effective in restraining the powerful temptations to sin, or any power that seeks to direct our lives.
We may not feel powerless. Maybe we don’t consult or rely on any of these things to shape our lives, but there are plenty of other things that may imprison us – make us feel helpless to the powers (or lack of powers) of: financial resources, human resources, time restrictions, or an unlimited number of situations and feelings. Just one example, written by Richard Hoefler...
One summer, young Sally and Johnny visited their grandparents. Johnny was given his first slingshot. He practiced in the woods, but could never hit his target. As he came back to the house, he spied the pet duck walking along. On a random impulse, he took out his slingshot, picked up a stone and let it fly. Lo and behold, he finally hit a target, and the pet duck fell dead. He panicked. He hid the pet duck in the woodpile, only to look up and see his sister Sally had seen it all, but she didn’t say anything.
After lunch that day, Grandma said, “Sally, let’s wash the dishes.” She replied, “Johnny told me he wanted to do it.” And she whispers to him, “Remember the duck.” So Johnny did the dishes. Later, Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing. Grandma said, “I’m sorry, I need Sally to help make supper.” Sally smiled and said, “Oh, it’s okay, Johnny wants to do it” and again whispered “remember the duck”. And Johnny stayed and helped prepare supper while Sally went fishing with grandpa.
After several days of doing both his chores and Sally’s chores, Johnny couldn’t stand it anymore; and he went to grandma and confessed that he’d killed the duck.
Grandma gave him a hug and said, “I know, Johnny. I saw the whole thing. I love you and so I forgave you. I wondered how long you would let Sally make a slave of you.”
There are all kinds of people and powers and forces and emotions and histories that would love to enslave us and direct how we speak, how we listen, how we act, how we live. What are the ducks of our lives? What acts, words, mistakes, or sins have a grip on us that we can’t seem to get past?
Alive in Christ
Against all of this, Paul says that Christ has set you free from all of this, and it is when we turn to him that we can find life as it is meant to be lived. (We can go fishing, and we can do the other things and we don’t have to do everyone else’s chores) Paul waxes eloquent as he gives five pictures of how and why we can be alive in God through Christ.
First, he says God has forgiven us all our sins. God did it and does it through the work of Christ -- he heals our relationship and brings peace between God and humanity. It is like the duck never happened – our duck never happened.
He canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness. In those days, their pen and ink and “paper” (their version of paper) worked a lot like a proper functioning whiteboard and marker. When they wanted to re-use the paper, they simply took a sponge and wiped off the old ink and it was perfectly clean – and white (our whiteboard, not their paper).
We have not lived up to what we are supposed to be as humans. So we have this ever growing, unpayable debt piled up in our sins against God and humanity. It is all written down, but when God made us alive, he took that IOU and wipes it clean as if it had never happened. It is like our ducks never happened.
And if that is not enough, Paul then says Christ took that paper, that IOU, and nailed it to the cross. It is not only wiped clean, it is executed, put to death never to rise again. It is like our ducks never happened.
* Military * Victory Parade
And not only are our failures forgiven, wiped clean, and executed, they are then captured prisoners of war, stripped of their armor and weapons and power and led down the streets in chains so that everyone can see how helpless and utterly defeated they are by the conquering Christ. The powers that once dominated the lives of the Colossians, the powers and temptations that want to dominate our lives - have been defeated forever! Our ducks have no power.
So then Paul says: So why, in light of all Christ has done to destroy the power of the “ducks” in your life, why, Paul asks, why would you go back to those shadowy, ineffective means of dealing with the ducks, granting these helpless things power over you again?
Is there a vice you cannot break? A habit that keeps you defeated? Are you trying to win with shadows or with Christ? Only in Christ’s resurrection power can we break through the old way of life and live anew. But it requires a full surrender to him. And as Jackie said in Children’s Time, an ongoing, life time learning, but it requires a full surrender to him.
As the story goes: In Haiti, a man wanted to sell his home. A prospective buyer wanted it badly, but he could not afford the asking price. After much bargaining, the owner finally agreed to cut the cost of the house in half, with one stipulation – that he would retain the ownership of one small nail protruding just above the top of the front door. Contract was signed and the house was sold.
Several years later, the original owner of the house decided he wanted the house back after all. But the new owner was not willing to sell. So, the first owner went out and found an animal carcass and hung it on the nail that he still owned above the front door of the house. Soon the stench from the decaying carcass permeated the house making it unlivable, and the new owner was forced to sell the house back to the owner of the nail.
If we leave the shadowy powers of evil, if we leave them one small peg, if we leave them one small foothold, it will use it for all its worth to hang all its rotten garbage over our lives, over the door of our hearts; and make our life less livable. We must give the whole of our life to Christ and grant him access to all of us.
Prayer Lord, the hymn writer George Matheson captured the paradox in his hymn. It is when we try to face our challenges without you that we are overcome by fear and worry and begin to sink beneath the strain. We can’t find our own way until we find your way, and it is in your arms that we find strength. It is only as we allow you to take control of every last part of our life that we become truly free, and it is only as we surrender that we become victorious. So grant us the ability and the grace to lay every last part of us before you. Take the deed of the house, take the deed of our lives – we’ll sign at the bottom, no qualifications, and make our lives yours. Take us and guide us and direct us to victory in your name as we surrender to you. In Jesus name, Amen.
Closing Hymn # 354 I Surrender All
In Christ, all things hold together. So, as you go this week, hold on to him, let him hold on to you, so that you may bring praise to Christ who is all in all. Amen.
July 2, 2017 – Independence Sunday
Welcome and Theme
Welcome to Independence Sunday where we celebrate the freedom of our country and the freedom we are given in Christ. The question in both cases are, what are we going to do with that freedom? We’ll look at what Paul did with his freedom in Christ …
24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
2:1 I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2 My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. 5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (NIV)
Do you know what we are going to celebrate in a couple days? (July 4). Do you know how you are going to celebrate? (Children’s answers) Do you know why we celebrate? (Nation’s birthday -- Now free to run our own lives…) To be free from the control of others.
The question is -- what are we going to do with the freedom we have been given? A funny person was trying to make that point when he told an audience, “Do you ever notice that when people say, “It’s a free country”, it is almost always because they are doing something bad?” Someone says to them, “You shouldn’t be so obnoxious and rude.” They answer, “It’s a free country”. Why are you doing that thing that hurts yourself so much and gets you into trouble?” “It’s a free country”.
Why don’t you ever hear it the other way. (Don’t do it, you’ll probably confuse people), but try opening a door for someone. If they say, “Thank you.” Tell them, “It’s a free country!” “Why do work in a soup kitchen and help the poor?” “Because it’s a free country!” Do something really nice for your parents and when they say, “Thanks you”, say “It’s a free country.” Wouldn’t be cool if people used their freedom for good instead of bad?!”
The leaders in the early days of our country sacrificed a great deal to win America’s freedom, and people have made sacrifices ever since to keep that freedom from powers that would not want us to be free. They also set up rules so that they would not turn into a nation from which people would want to win their freedom. Rules like the free practice of religion, free speech, free press, the right to get together, and to right to petition the government. These freedoms help make sure we could become and remain the best nation in the world, and the best people we can become. We haven’t always got it right all the time for all the people, but we have the freedom to keep trying.
In a similar way, Jesus sacrificed to win our freedom from the power of evil that pressures us to live in bad ways. Paul says in Galatians 5:1 that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” [Repeat that with me]. He goes on to say: Stand firm, then, and do not [go back to being controlled by the power of sin and evil]. Make the most of the freedom that has been granted to you, because Christ has set us free.
We have pledges that help remind us to protect freedom, and to make the most of our freedom to do good and not bad -- by serving others, and by staying away from sin. So, if you turn around and stand, and the adults, as they are able, will stand with us, and we will lead them in the pledges. The words will be on the screen to help us.
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again with life and liberty to all who believe, uniting all humanity in service and in love.
I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God's Holy Word, I will make it a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path and will hide its words in my heart that I might not sin against God.
Message Colossians 1:24- 2:7
“The Privilege of Suffering for Strangers”
Bob Benson wrote long ago that he doesn’t know why he likes glasses to match. (I think I do.) But he does, so the last thing he does on Christmas Eve is to take out all the old glasses and stand a brand new set in orderly rows. After a few weeks, the same thing always happens. Someone finishes the peanut butter jar. Someone else puts it in the dishwasher. Someone else puts it into the cupboard. Then one evening at dinner he comes to the table and looks around and he sees all the nicely matching delicately etched crystal glasses, and one thick, old, ugly peanut butter jar with part of the label still attached… Jump to the conclusion of his story. The variety of vessels proves that it does not matter that some of us are goblets, some of us root beer mugs, or peanut butter jars. The differences prove that the power does not come from us. We are not great because of what we are. We are great because of what we contain. (Paraphrased from Laughter in the Walls by Bob Benson)
In Treasure Island, Jim Hawkins boards the good ship Hispaniola in quest of buried treasure. In Captain Billy Bone’s sea chest, a map is found with a red “X” containing the words -- “Bulk of treasure here”, and it spurs the crew onward in motivated search of buried wealth.
For the treasure, there is:
In Colossians 1:27 and 2:2-3 we find the red X verses that are labeled “bulk of treasure here” The secret mystery (I let you know that last week) the secret mystery is made known. The treasure that we are all looking for is this: Christ is in us and it doesn’t matter whether we are so fine crystal that we are never taken off the shelf to be used for anything, or whether we are peanut butter jars. What is important is that Christ is in us; and in him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
For the treasure, there is: * Joy in sacrificial commitment
Paul has been jailed for this message, for preaching Christ, and today’s part of the letter begins with these words from Paul: “I rejoice in what I am suffering for you.” This is not about living in misery. “I’m happy I’m miserable” that’s me, that’s not Paul. That is never his goal, and should never be our goal. But because of what Christ did for him, he considers it a privilege and a joy to deny himself by contending really hard for them -- and many of them he has never met personally. Think about that. Many people have enough trouble being inconvenienced by people they love and who love them. How willing are we to inconvenience ourselves, leave our own comforts, go out of our way to reach out, welcome, and inspire the strangers among us? For who and how much are we willing to suffer? This is still important. In our mobile society, many of our children (not all) but many of our children and grandchildren have scattered all across the country and even the world. Our prayer for them as they go is that wherever they land they will find a people who will welcome and embrace them and encourage them in their faith and life. Right?
And there are parents and grandparents all over the world who are hoping their moving children and grandchildren will find people like us here at Grace who will reach out and welcome them when they happen to land in our area. Right?
Paul is highly motivated -- to the point of actively fighting for and being persecuted for the sake of people he doesn’t even know! His motivation is to – quote: fill up in his body what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, [for the sake of his church]. unquote. What a difficult quote.
Certainly he does not mean that Christ did not do enough to bridge the gap between our holy God and sinful humanity. He couldn’t have meant that because he has already said earlier in this book and will say again, that we are off track if we believe the offer salvation is limited to certain people, or that we need to complete our salvation by something other than, or in addition to Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension and sending of the Spirit. Jesus is all and only who we need for salvation.
For the treasure, there is: * Never-ending work
And yet, there is a sense in which the ministry Jesus began has not been completed. Christ’s work is sufficient (is all we need) for him to save all people completely, yet not all people are saved. That is where the work is yet to be done. By living the life of Christ in us, we give people an opportunity to know and respond and be inspired by God’s gracious love.
Paul’s motivation to work for these strangers is what Christ has done for him -- the life of Christ. His purpose and goal for these strangers is that they will be – several things.
A never- ending work so that strangers will be: * Encouraged in heart
One is that they will be encouraged in heart by recognizing them as human, as people of sacred worth. Dignity is something you usually see taken away, not given. It can be taken away by aggressive mean-spiritedness, which I lament is becoming more and more popular over the last few decades. But dignity can also can be taken by inaction or by indifference. By what the receivers might perceive as the “cool shoulder”.
Yet how easy it can be to give a smile -- let me see them! My dentist is always telling me – “let me see those teeth!” -- a handshake, an appropriate hug, a hello, maybe even a very brief conversation. Anything that recognizes the personhood of the other person. You are legitimate, you are here, you are with us, you are one of us. Some people reserve these things only for people they already know, or at least go to them first, and then fail to get around to the stranger. A church I was growing up in in Lansing had a rule and they said it every single Sunday when it was time to greet each other: Talk to somebody you don’t know before you talk to someone you do. And everyone had to hunt them down. (Now if you are a visitor that would be scary, probably) But that is not the point of the intent. But to make sure that they get welcomed because it is easy to go to our friends first, and then – oh, they already got out the door. Always go to them first if you can. That’s their rule. Not a bad one. The Bible says to not forget to entertain (be hospitable, make welcome) the strangers among you, because you don’t know that you may be entertaining an angel. (Hebrews 13:2). Once you give someone a chance, you may discover a world of benefit from a mutual relationship…
A never- ending work so that strangers will be: * Knitted together in love
Paul also wanted these strangers to become knit together in love. A rabbinical story (very slightly expanded). A man once lived in a village who became fed up with his life. When that happens it usually soon after follows, and it did with this man, that he became fed up with his town, his family, his children, his everything. So, one day he decided to pack a bag and hike away from it all. He would walk as far as he could go in a day and then as evening fell he would stop by the side of the road, sit down, take off his shoes and point them in the direction he was going. Then he would walk further off the road and set up camp for the night. He’d have a nice sleep and rest and restoration. In the morning he would pack up, return to the road, put on his shoes and head off for another day’s journey. He did this day after day after day. What he didn’t know is that one night, after many weeks, someone walked along in the middle of the night and turned the shoes around and went on their way. The next day he came back to the road, put on his shoes and continued his journey. Weeks later, he began to see a town in the distance. It looked very familiar. He entered the town and found a street and a house that looked very familiar. He entered and saw a family that looked very familiar. He laid his pack on the table and determined not to be fed up, but to feed those around him with happiness; and it was so. The rabbi’s moral was this: It is foolish to try and not be part of a community. And we would add to it in our context, that it speaks to attitudes and point of view (the direction we are going); and it is also a practical call for action -- to have more than a rhetoric of love for neighbor and stranger and enemy, but in word and deed, to joyfully participate in that never-ending work of seeing and treating people as sacred creations of God.
A never- ending work so that we all will be: * Rooted and thankful
The ultimate hope is that the strangers will join the friends in a journey to knowing Christ more and more so that they are not led away by fine-sounding arguments that are false, but will become even more firmly rooted in Christ and built up in him, and overflowing with thankfulness. Are we becoming established in our faith? Are we continuing the never-ending work of serving our church and community? Are we doing it with a commitment to excellence, giving our best as doing it for the Lord, and is this self-denial filled with joy? (That’s the tough one sometimes, isn’t it?) I was listening to a tape of a stand-up comedian (well, they aren’t called tapes anymore are they) I was streaming a show in which this stand-up comedian’s special as he performed live in this big auditorium. He stopped half way through the show and said, “By the way, in all sincerity, thank you for coming out tonight. I really appreciate it. Because, you didn’t have to, and it is really easy not to go to things. It is so much easier not to do things than to do them; that you would do anything is totally remarkable. Percentage wise, it is 100 percent easier not to do things than to do them. And so much fun not to do them, especially when you are supposed to do them…. (I’m thinking “church” through his whole little spiel. You don’t have to be here today. But you came for whatever reason you came for. Someone told me last week, “I don’t come for you”. (which is good) “I come for Him!” (which is really good). That is great. And then the comedian made this comparison. Kids are always wanting to do something. And that is why parents are always tired (Well he didn’t say that part, I did). Kids are always wanting to do something and complaining that they didn’t get to do anything, or can’t do anything -- but when you ask an adult what they did over a quiet week-end, their faces light up when they say, “Nothing at all!” It is like a reprieve.
This is tongue in cheek, but I’ll say it anyway: Maybe that is what Jesus meant when he said, “unless we have the faith of a child”. When it comes to our faith, maybe there are some of us who need to get back to being like the little ones who are always eager to do stuff and never seem to run out of energy to do it. If we had the energy of some of these young children around here – wow.
But we get tired. A man went to a counselor saying that he felt he was being used up, burned out; by community, church, and family. Everyone takes, no one gives. I feel like a pump that has gone dry. Everyone is pumping the handle, and there is nothing more to come out.
The counselor said, “Do you believe what the Bile says about service?”
He said, “Yes, that is what created this problem in the first place.”
The counselor continued, “Then maybe the answer is in the image of the water pump. The problem is not the pump, it’s not you; and it’s not the that people are pumping the handle, it’s not them. The problem is that the pipes are too shallow. It is only getting surface water, and it quickly and often runs dry. We need to send the pipes down below the sand dunes, deep into the bedrock to the underground streams that never run dry. Is your relationship rooted deep enough in Christ that you are able to consider joyful, energetic service to strangers, and consider it a privilege that we get to do?
God is committed to us in Jesus. His death and resurrection and return promise the peace of God making for us peace with God. His blood covenant proves his unfailing love and grace for us. How freely has he forgiven us, how freely he calls us, then, to forgive others, so that day in and day out the name of the Lord shall be praised, and we will come together to mutually serve each other in the name of the holy spotless lamb who sacrificed himself for us.
God is as faithful and reliable as the sunrise -- not always seen for the clouds, the struggles, but happening nonetheless – the sunrise, and God’s faithfulness. There is a certainty of that hope lives in us regardless of whatever dark circumstances we may face. And so we eagerly want to participate in God’s grace.
Our response to his grace and love and faithfulness is expressed well in our closing hymn, so let’s sing it prayerfully, and as we do -- think about our actions and in-actions, our attitudes and our words.
Hymn # 399 Take My Life...
Lord, I believe most if not all of us here do not want to build our lives on shifting sands, but on your steady unchanging love. We crave an ability to commit to doing something meaningful for you, and we desire to do it with joy. As Romans says, in light of all you have done for us, it is a very reasonable act of worship to offer ourselves to you as living sacrifices dedicated to your mission. And we do rejoice when it happens.
But we must confess that at times, we find ourselves in ministries we have been doing for so long, or with which we have become so familiar, that we have forgotten their sacred worth. Or we simply get tired physically or emotionally, and it hampers the meaning and joy of our service. Or maybe we have been too much of a channel -- carrying your work to others, but forgetting to receive from you ourselves -- and we dry up quickly. Help us to be reservoirs, so full of your refreshing, motivating grace and always overflowing with your grace to friends and strangers and enemies all around us. Pour out your Spirit on us that we may fill up in our bodies what is yet to be done for sake of Christ and his church. Make us one with each other, one in ministry to the world, until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet. All of this is made possible by Jesus Christ, for it is --
-- in Christ that we live and move and have our being. In him all things hold together. So as you go this week, hold on to him, let him hold on to you, so that you may bring praise to Christ who is all in all. Amen.
June 25, 2017
Bible Text Colossians 1:15-29
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (NIV)
Message “The Image of Jesus” In Paul Bunyan's allegory "The Pilgrim's Progress", Christian is traveling on his spiritual journey and meets two men named Formality and Hypocrisy. Christian asks where they are headed.
“Heaven”, they reply.
Christian asks why they didn't come in at the gate that stands at the beginning of the Way.
They reply that it is too far, so they made a shortcut by climbing over the wall.
Referencing John 10:1, Christian asks, “Can you violate His revealed will [and skip the gate]”?... [Do you know who the gate is? (Jesus)].
They reply, “It has been a long tradition, so surely it will be accepted. So long as we are on the path, what difference does it make if we got in by going through the gate or tumbling over the wall? We are here as you are, so how is your condition better than ours?”
Hold that thought…
The town of Colossae was on a trade route and so they were exposed to all kinds of philosophies and ideas, formalities and hypocrisies; some of which they began molding into their Christian faith. One of the false ideas they had latched on to was: a separation of the physical life from the spiritual life. In fact, they saw them as diametrically opposed to each other. The spiritual life is good and whole. The physical life is bad and evil.
And since our bodies are physical and therefore evil; there were only two possible applications to that alleged truth. They could glorify evil in their bodies, believing it had no relevant bearing on their spiritual faith. And so where the rubber met the road, they felt free to live however they wanted, chasing after whatever their evil whims and passions craved; because the physical life did not affect the spiritual life or vice versa.
Or, the other application is that they could strive to glorify God outside of or in spite of their bodies. In this application of this false “truth”, anything that brings joy to our physical lives must be done away with. These people are never happier when they and everyone around them are miserable; because that means they were not giving in to the natural inclinations of the evil, physical world.
Now take it a step further. Since God is perfect and good, they believed he could not touch the physical creation, lest he be contaminated by its evil. So, they had this emanation theory (think of it as a rock in a pond that sends ripples out from its center. Where God is the rock in the middle, and the rings go out and as they go out they get less and less and less like God and somewhere along the way of those waves, far enough removed from God, there was finally something that could touch and create the evil physical world.
Saved by Works: Do we try to earn our way back to God?
Then, of course the application to that is that to be saved and to be spiritual is to work your way back up through all those ripples to get back to the source, to the holy and good God.
Saved by Works: Limited to “Special”
Do we limit God’s salvation? Do we exclude?
The practical application for them, then, is that they began to teach methods of working through the ripples. And the people who were able to do that included only those people who were able to discover special knowledge, secret passwords, and certain mystical practices.
Set aside the ripples for a second. There are many people today who feel – we know better in our heads – but we feel like we have to earn their way back to God. It is rarely by the secret mysteries that the Colossians proposed, but how often do we feel there must be some sort of specific type of salvation experience: That’s how I experienced it, that how you have to experience it, that is how everybody has to experience it.” Do you ever catch yourself thinking that? or they have to have a special gift or talent, or do certain type or number of good deeds, or fit a certain cultural pattern or we are not saved at all. We have to earn our way back to God.
What do we make of Jesus?
One more step. If God can’t be touched by “evil physical-ness”, then what do they make of Jesus Christ? The choices are limited. He either is human and evil like everything else that is physical, or he is God and did not actually come in the flesh; for God cannot be in contact with and contaminated by the evil physical world.
Do you see how one flawed premise just messes up everything? How quickly they moved to building their faith on shifting sand.
Andrew Greeley wrote that [rather than allowing God to remake us in the image of Jesus], we seem to have a need to create Jesus in our own image, [our ideas, our preferences]. "Much of the history of Christianity has been devoted to ... reducing … (Jesus) to dimensions we can [get a hold of] … and convert to our own purposes.”
As one illustration of that, theologian Bruce Wilson asked people to say the first word that comes to their mind when they are asked to think of someone who is very religious. The common answers were “churchy, rigid, pious, and otherworldly”.
Then he asks the first word that comes to their minds when they think of someone who is described as very human. The common answers were “caring, understanding, warm, kind, forgiving, helpful.
Why is there such a disconnect between being religious and being caring, understanding, warm, kind, forgiving, and helpful? Isn’t that some of Jesus’ primary teaching – how we relate to each other?
Could the disconnect be because too many Christians act as if Jesus is a nonessential addition to their Christian life? A wonderful piece of historical nostalgia but not really relevant to how we want to go about living? or he is only a power to bless us with our desires without any purpose or commitment on our part? Or to put it in a paraphrase of Greeley’s terms -- do we make him what is convenient for us, rather than allowing him to make us into his image, which is the image of the invisible God (which would involve all those things we way are “very human”?
In many ways, whether by the Colossian ripples or modern equivalents, Jesus has been stripped of his authority. He is seen as nothing special, nothing unique. The representative of many good ethical positions, a master teacher, a moralist, a prophet, a wonderful example to follow -- just like many other inspiring men and women of history. And these things are true, but it isn't the whole truth. Jesus isn't just one of many great historical figures.
Christ is the: *image of God *first-born/Creator
So, now what a tall task Paul has to correct all of this thinking. The Colossians had put Christ somewhere down on those ripples, far from God -- above them for sure, but not near where God is. So, Paul now begins to answer. (See Colossians 1:15 ff) No, Christ is not some being far removed from God, he is the very image of God. That doesn’t mean he is a hologram, an empty 3-D picture of God, not truly physical; but rather a true physical representation of God -- He is God focused in a human flesh, limited by time, space, and circumstance; but God nonetheless. He is also the first born of all creation. That does not mean he was created, but rather a title meaning to have the love, privileges, honor and authority that, in those days, was granted to the eldest son. Paul has just effectively eliminated all of the ripples and put God and Jesus back together in one.
Then he goes on to say that in Christ all things were created and granted authority. He was before all things, and in him all things hold together, and he is also the head of the church, the most important to be raised from the dead. In short, in all things he is superior to everything.
By saying this, Paul challenges the core thought that led them down this errant path. Physical creation is not evil. God can and does create, and it is in Christ, and through Christ and for Christ that they were created. So, God and the physical world can indeed touch and intersect, and in fact God’s fullness dwells in Christ. And isn’t that good news?
Christ: * represents God to us * represents what humanity is supposed to be
So if you want to know what God is like -- get to see and know Christ. But there is more to it than that! Christ is not only God focused in humanity, in his humanity, he was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). and so not only does he represent God to us, he represents to us what humanity is supposed to be like; in ways that no other historical person can. So if you want to know what God is like - look at Christ. If you want to know what humanity is supposed to be like - look to Christ. Learn about him, his life, his teachings, his death, his resurrection, talk with him daily, allow him to teach you through scriptures and prayer. It is a never-ending experience, isn’t it? You know that. There are depths that we cannot fathom.
Christ: * is the unique bridge between God and us. * is the peacemaker
But in trying we will begin to get a glimpse of what God is like, and what we are supposed to be like -- for we are to be the image of Christ, as Christ is the image of God. Christ is the unique and only bridge between God and humanity and humanity and God. It is like the Houghton-Hancock bridge – there is only one like it; except Christ never breaks down, or makes us impatiently wait. (Well, we might, but his timing is best). But he is the only one.
And the purpose of this unique role is to make peace between God and humanity by his physical body through death, through his blood shed on the cross. He is the peace maker.
Paul is saying don’t excuse your evil behavior because of it is physical. Creation was not intended to be evil, but good, and humanity was not intended to do badly, but to be very good; and holy and without blemish and free from accusation -- all made possible again – only by Christ’s work in his good physical body.
And then Paul wraps it up this way -- playing on their claims on needing secret knowledge to work their way back to God, Paul says he’s got the special knowledge. The secret that has been hidden throughout all the ages but now has been revealed to God’s people. Here it is -- the big secret, the glorious riches of the mystery that gets us back to good standing with God and gets us into heaven --- are you ready for the secret? This is what it is: Christ in you. And he is the hope of glory, and he is the one who works in us that we may become fully mature in Christ.
So, where the Colossians had dismissed the importance of Christ with all these add-ons and instead ofs, Paul calls us to rediscover the authority of Christ over our world and over our lives.
Chuck Swindoll says he was a raw recruit in boot camp. The Marine Corps was "looking for a few good men," so he decided to give it his best shot. The schedule was busy and demanding, one designed to turn undisciplined young civilians into determined fighting men. Time and again they were reminded that the difficulty of the training was imperative. They were soft. And in order for them to overcome the odds they were sure to face in battle, they must be prepared. The rigors of warfare would blow them away unless their minds and bodies were tough enough to withstand the demands made on them.
Looking back, Swindoll realized that one of the major reasons that he and his buddies survived was this: They learned to respect their "final voice of authority"—namely, the drill instructor. For those weeks in boot camp, they did precisely what he said to do. Without hesitation, they went where be pointed. They jumped at his command. They marched to his cadence -- no questions asked. They learned to distinguish his voice from the many other drill instructors also barking out commands on that same field. It took time, but within a few weeks each company of young Marines knew their master's voice. When another shouted instructions, they deliberately ignored the order. But when theirs gave the order, they moved instantly. It took time to develop that kind of discipline; but finally, after endless hours of constant, painful repetition, it all fell into place.
Swindoll said that some of the lessons learned back then are still with him ... lessons like listening to the right voice, like ignoring the movements of the majority, like being disciplined enough to filter the essential from the incidental, committing to excellence while many are comfortable with mediocrity, aiming high though most seem to prefer the boredom of aiming low. The ramifications of this kind of discipline are life-changing.
So, to expand and finish the opening story I told you to hang on to: Formality and Hypocrisy are standing with Christian on the road to heaven; and asking Christian how his condition is better than theirs. And this is Christian’s answer: God’s revealed will is to accept Christ through faith. I walk by the rule of my master: you walk by the rude working of your fancies… you say you do not need Christ, that you don't need him to save you, that you can do it yourselves, through your own special knowledge or good works, or the unraveling of some secret mystery. You can just go through the motions and pretend to be Christian and you think that that is good enough. You come in by yourselves without His direction, and you shall go out without his mercy."
So for us, that means: Daily, accept Christ in faith, for he is mighty to save. Allow him to revive you and rejoice over you as he transforms your life into his kingdom, for Christ is all in all in the world, now allow him to be all the world to you. Let’s stand and sing our closing prayer.
Hymn # 469 Jesus is All the World to Me
All things were created through and for Christ. It is in him that we live and move and have our being. In him all things hold together. So, as you go this week, hold on to him, let him hold on to you, so that you may bring praise to Christ who is all in all. Amen.