Bible Texts Colossians 1:9-14, 2 Peter 3:13-14,18
Colossians 1:9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (NIV)
2 Peter 3:13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him… 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (NIV)
Message “Get on the Ball!”
Dave Engells said that before his comedic days, he used to work as a cave tour guide. He said when people are under the earth they freak out easily. He claims his supervisors didn’t like him much because he would begin to lead the tour group around a corner and then come running back yelling “Bats! Bats!
Well, I didn’t experience that, but I do remember going to Mammoth Cave as a child, and seeing the eyeless fish and experiencing that loss of equilibrium as they turn off the lights for just a second in pure darkness. You are on stable ground, and I was athletic then, had good balance – but not in that kind of dark.
Paul tells us that there are two kingdoms. We start out in darkness, but God takes us out of the dark and puts us in the kingdom of light, the kingdom of his Son Jesus, the kingdom of heaven. (See Colossians 1:12b-13)
But as we learned last week, it is not just about us getting in to his kingdom; even more it is about his kingdom moving in to us, reproducing faith, love, and hope. And by our example, reproducing it in others all over the world. All this is made possible by our new or renewed relationship (or ongoing relationship) with God through Jesus Christ.
So Paul, having heard that Christ has led them out of the cave and grave of darkness and death, knows that that doesn’t mean they might not just blindly stumble right back into the tunnel again. So, he goes right on to talk about what we do with our new relationship with Christ.
This was important for Paul was well aware that there were false teachings, sandy foundations, that wanted to disrupt the delicate balance between belief and behavior; focusing on one while ignoring the other. Let me put it in a modern analogy to get this point across:
A young man and woman meet. There is a spark. They begin to date. They conscientiously do their very best to please each other. They learn all kinds of things about each other. They grow in love. They make a big decision and they go the altar and pledge to make it a life commitment.
The end or the beginning?
The jeweler gives them rings, the state gives a piece of paper, and the church leads them in prayers and promises. And having received these, they kick off their tuxes and gowns as they enter their home together; where they plop on the couch, turn on the TV and passively wait for their yet to be born perfect children who are going to give them their 50th golden wedding anniversary celebration. The journey of coming together is over. No more need to date, to be conscientious, to please each other, because they fell in love and got the rings and papers and promises from each other. Now they are done.
Is that good reasoning? No, I hope you would not think so. Unlike the movies, when couples get to the altar and then the credits come; in real life, it is but a major step forward in an ongoing journey, and some might even call it the beginning of the journey.
But in Colossae, teachers were trying to persuade the church that once they entered into a relationship with Jesus by believing him, that once they received the promise of salvation from sins – they got the baptism certificate, they got the confirmation certificate, they got the church membership certificate – that they didn’t have to do anything else. All they had to do was sit back and wait for that promise of an inheritance from heaven; then there was nothing more. It was like finding Christ was the end of the journey rather than the beginning. Therefore, their new-found belief in Jesus would not have any impact whatsoever on how they were going to live the next day of their life. They could sit back in their easy chair, and get the remote in their hand -- a son asked his father about work one day, and said “How it was in the old days when you had to actually get up out of your chair and walk to the TV to change the channel or the volume up and down?”
Nope, got the certificates, don’t even have to do that anymore. Just sit, metaphorically speaking, and wait for Jesus to return and bring us home.
But we all know that entering a relationship with God (or with anyone) with this passive, stationary strategy is never wise because relationships do not sit still, by definition, they are always on a journey. They move with time.
Entering without forwarding
That is not to downplay the critical importance of entering the relationship, of the decision, of the belief, of the commitment. But look at it this way. If you decide to ride a bike, the first and most important thing you do is to decide to do it. And then you take action on that decision and you get on the bike. And then you say – “I’m done.”
Entering without forwarding -> Falls over, Falls Apart, Falls Away
What’s going to happen? Unless you have an extremely stable bike and a great sense of balance -- you will fall over. What happens if you get in a relationship and choose not to nurture it? It will likely fall apart. What then, happens to a relationship with God, if after seeking and finding him with all our hearts, we choose to not give that any forward momentum? We fall away.
That’s why Peter says -- since you are looking forward to a new heaven and earth, make every effort… to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. (See 2 Peter 3:13-14,18)
And in our Colossians text today, Paul says that ever since they heard of the Colossians accepting Christ and loving others, they have not stopped praying that the Colossians will continue to move forward in that relationship with him – for in that new state in Christ, they are still weak and need to be made strong in the Savior’s love. They are made strong by an increasing knowledge of God’s will as given by the Spirit, living out a life that pleases him in every way, and being productive in good deeds. (See Colossians 1:9-10). Just like any other relationship.
In other words, there is always an intentional forward movement in our relationships. A forward moving relationship has these characteristics according to Paul in this particular text:
Forwarding the Relationship: Gratitude
Well actually it is in the preceding paragraph from last week. This week he says “I always pray for you”, last week he said, “when we pray for you, we always give thanks for you.” So, he is always being thankful for this relationship. When is the last time you told someone, or told God, that you are grateful for the privilege to know them? And to have the experience of living and sharing your life with them? For what they do, and more, for who they are? Relationships grow better in an atmosphere of thankful praise than of criticism.
Forwarding the Relationship: Strengthened
But there is also a determination to be strengthened. The phrase is used in an unusual way, designed to create two ideas for us. One is that it is not a onetime thing – you are strengthened. it isn’t like you go to the gym once and you are done. I don’t get a lot of strength from doing that, it is when you do it day after day after day. You don’t just go to the gym once and then win the award. It is not a onetime thing. It is ongoing, consistent, determined to stick with it and to stay strong.
In 1992, two strong Soviet cosmonauts went into orbit. When they returned to earth after 211 days orbiting it, they suffered from dizziness, high pulse rates, and heart palpitations. They couldn’t walk for a week, and after 30 days they were still doing therapy for atrophied muscles and weakened hearts. At zero gravity, there was no resistance, no effort, and so their muscles just wasted away because they had nothing to do. Astronauts now undergo vigorous exercise programs while they are in space to keep them strong. We need to keep our relationship with Christ strong.
Forwarding the Relationship: Strengthened
The phrase not only indicates it is a consistent, ongoing thing, it is a quality that we receive as we put ourselves in God’s mighty hands. Stop and sense God’s direction.
Some years ago, a speedboat driver survived a racing accident and he described what had happened. He was at near top speeds when his boat veered slightly and hit a wave at a dangerous angle. The boat was sent spinning and spiraling into the air crazily. He was thrown from his seat and propelled into the water with great force -- so deep, in fact, that he had no idea which direction was up. (It is like in Mammoth Cave when you turn the lights off). But he remained calm and waited for the buoyancy of his life vest to begin pulling him, and then he knew which way was up, and then he could start swimming for air.
Sometimes we find life pulling us with all kinds of forces -- so hard we don’t know which way is up -- but if we remain calm, we will learn to sense God’s gentle tug in the proper direction for us to go. The life vest we receive may be Scripture, it may come through the Holy Spirit (those inner nudges), it may come through mature Christian friends, it may come through circumstances, but -- the key is learning to depend upon and trust in the Almighty God -- and over time we will recognize his will as he strengthens us to live it out what is best. The result of this strengthening is:
Endurance - In this context, it means not retaliation, but a willingness to forgive, to endure things that are thrown at us. And Patience - not passive acceptance of what seems inevitable, but is better defined as a steady persistence toward a goal. It is an active, unrelenting endeavor, in spite of difficulty or trial. Hebrews tells us, and this is a good definition of how the Bible looks at patience: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance (with patience) the race marked out for us. So, it is not a passive thing, it is that constantly, “let’s get rid of this thing, work through this and keep on trying”. If you are Finn, it is that “Sisu” – it is that enduring, keep on going, plugging away. And we do it with joyful thanks - because Christ has qualified us for the inheritance of the saints.
Forwarding the Relationship: Strengthened for Fruitfulness
And this strengthening leads to fruitfulness. Our life will be filled with active endeavor - we will be fruitful, productive and increasing.
A golfer’s errant shot landed his ball on top of an ant hill. Sounds like me. He got out his wedge, lined up his shot, he squared up and took a shot and missed the ball and hit the ant hill straight on. Lots of innocent ants perished. The rest of them are scrambling in panic. The hacker took another swing -- and missed again. And another wave of ants lost their lives. The colony sirens were blaring and the ants were running around everywhere but they didn’t know where to go because it seemed the incoming shots were coming randomly all around from every which direction. He was a really good hacker. Finally, one wise ant saw the pattern and took charge. “Follow me!”, he cried with authority, and he started running. And another ant called back “Where are we going?” The first ant pointed to the golf ball in front of them. “There! If we don’t get on the ball, we are going to die!”
Well, getting on the ball can mean a lot of different things for each of us as we grow spiritually in the Lord. Sometimes relationships need more actions of service, more participation in ministry, more expressions of appreciation (a totally different thing), sometimes they need more quiet, quality time. Sometimes we have to go the other way. What does your relationship with God need right now? For you, what do you need to draw closer to him and him to you?
Paul is talking to us about laying our lives in the hands of the Cornerstone of our faith, the one who rules over his creation with all power and his glorious might. How are you progressing in that life long process of becoming more and more like Christ who reflects God and humanity as it was intended to be? One last story.
Sid was an ugly caterpillar with orange eyes. He spent his life groveling and squirming in the dirt of God’s earth. One day Sid crawled up the stem of a bush, made his way to a branch, and secreted a fluid on the branch in a kind of gooey button. Then he shaped himself into a J, curled up, and proceeded to build a house around himself. There was a lot of activity for a while, but before long Sid was entirely covered up and you couldn’t see him anymore. It may have seemed like nothing was happening, but a lot was. Metamorphosis was taking place.
One day Sid began to raise the window shades of his house. He let you look in and see a variety of colors. On another day and eruption took place. Sid’s house shook violently. The little cocoon jerked and ripped until a large beautiful wing protruded from one of the windows. Sid stretched it out in all its glory. His work continued until another gorgeous wing emerged from the other side of the house.
Eventually, Sid got his house off of his back. He ventured out onto the branch, stretched, and spread his wings and he was nothing like the old worm he used to be.
And you know what else? Sid didn’t crawl back down the branch of that bush and back into the dirt and squirming and eating dust again. Instead. with this new power of flight, he zoom from flower to flower, enjoying the sweet nectar of God’s wonderful creation. God wants to do that for us – transform us daily from one step to the next, from one glory to another (as Paul puts elsewhere).
Are you allowing God to transform you daily? Look forward to and cooperate with the changes God desires you to experience in him, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins…
Our closing hymn holds in tension the delicate balance between believing and being, and doing. The first lines talk about retreating to be nourished in quiet, the next lines talk about nourishing others, then it talks about spending time with Jesus in secret, but then by our conduct others see him, -- you see how it all comes together in balance -- and if we let him have our heart -- he equip us for his service...
Closing Hymn # 395 (vv 1,2,4) Take Time to Be Holy
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.