04/30/2017 – Philemon 1-25 – Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “Slave and/or Sibling?”

Mark Wheeler

Philemon 1-25

Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “Slave and/or Sibling?”

04/30/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Set free, O Lord, any tension or anxiety which may keep us from fulfilling Your vision of what we can be. Fill us with the strength of Christ, the power of Your Holy Spirit, and the faithfulness of all true saints, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

When I asked my friend if she was planning to attend church, she just shook her head. “I haven’t gone in a long time,” she said.
“Besides, it’s too late for me. I’ve probably already broken all seven commandments.”

 

What’s wrong with that answer? [TEN, not seven Commandments; it is NEVERtoo late” (remember the thief on the cross next to Jesus?); WORKS righteousness is wrong (“saved by grace thru faith”); she was a slave to sin when she could be a child of God, a sister in Christ!]

 

Our last two months were spent in the New Testament book of Colossians, Paul’s Epistle to the Christian Community in Colossae, and in that letter we met a runaway slave named Onesimus. In today’s passage we are reading the one-page letter from Paul and Timothy to Onesimus’ master, a man named Philemon.

And, just to help us be aware, note that Philemon’s name means “Affectionate One” and his slave’s name, Onesimus, means “Useful”.

 

Listen with me to God’s Word from Paul’s Letter to Philemon. Philemon 1-25 ….—-

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker — …   Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers,  because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man (or does this mean “a church elder”?) and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.  He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me ….. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.         (NIV)

 

The meat of this epistle starts in verse 8 (where it says, “Therefore ….”), but the first seven verses are vital to its content. Why? Wherever there’s a “therefore” we have to ask what the “therefore” is there for. The “Thereforelinks the opening seven verses to the reason for the letter. The opening of the letter states Paul’s love for Philemon and his trust in him as a church leader and as a brother in Christ. Because the opening seven verses are true, Paul has the right to make a request of his Brother. So he does.

As an interesting side note, who remembers what Philemon’s name means? Can anyone parse the root word from the rest of the name? “Philemon” means “Affectionate One” (“phile” is the same root as in “pluviophile” which means “lover of rain”, a “bibliophileloves books, etc). Paul appeals to this “Affectionate One’ssense of forgiveness as he treats his slave who has runaway….

 

Onesimus was Philemon’s SLAVE. What is a slave? A piece of human property, with the job of doing what he’s told by his master. When a slave runs away, he is guilty of theft (he has stolen from his master), and the punishment could be severe. But,

Onesimus was also Paul’s spiritual SON. Being a spiritual son means that Onesimus had become a Christian under Paul’s personal tutelage. Therefore, Paul has a stake in Onesimus’ fate here.

In verse 8, Paul says that he could give orders (as an Apostle, with apostolic authority Paul’s directives carried some weight). But, he says, that he appeals to the affectionate One’s basis of love. As “an old man” (or, I believe the better understanding is “as  church leader” – the word is “presb[e]uteros”, from which our denomination gets its name, Presbyterians), he appeals for mercy and grace for his “son” Onesimus. This is where Paul tells a joke. Look at verse 11: “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.” Did you get the joke? [CS Lewis, in three of the seven Chronicles of Narnia books, has a character that is introduced like this: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” A cousin of the Pevensie children who have been to the fantastic land of Narnia, Eustace mocks the Pevensies for their faith in Aslan and in the Narnia stories; so he gets nicknamedUseless Scrubb”. That’s the joke here, too. “Onesimus” is a name that means “Useful”; but when he ran away Philemon calls him “Useless”; so now Paul says, “He is not only notUseless’, he is ‘Useful’ to us all!”]

 

And here’s the kicker. Paul appeals to Philemon as a spiritual BROTHER, and he wants Philemon to see Onesimus as a BROTHER s well as a slave.

Paul does not say, ignore the wrong that’s been done to you. He does not say, pretend it’s all OK. And he does not abolish the institution of slavery! He does say, “Treat this slave as if he were your brother – because now he is!” (Some of you might remember that he said the same thing in his Epistle to the Colossians.)

 

Where is God’s hand at work in this story? At verse 15 Paul turns up the intention of the conversation. He recognizes that it was wrong what Onesimus did. He willingly chose to steal from Philemon by running away. But Paul’s eyes are on God and he sees the hands of God working through all of this. “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you [notice the passive voice, yes Onesimus ran away on his own accord, but perhaps it was God who took him from you] for a little while was that you might have him back forever 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.” Was God’s sovereignty and providence behind this inconvenient and criminal activity?

When we are in the middle of suffering, any kind of suffering (from a stubbed toe to another two decades unjustly going back to prison, from losing a nickel bet to losing your home to foreclosure, from missing the green light to missing your loved one), when we are in the middle of suffering it is really difficult to see anything other than the pain. But might God use that “temporal” suffering to bring about an eternal consequence?

How did this change the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus? They became Siblings! Co-heirs with Christ! Children of God!

 

Where is God’s hand at work in OUR story? God can do that with us, too. The very last line of the letter says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.Paul writes this letter to one man, Philemon, “the Affectionate One”. But in this final sentence he uses a plural pronoun. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with all-y’all’s spirit.

Paul writes this letter not only to his friend, colleague, brother in Christ, but he writes it to the entire Church. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is OURS also, to teach the same lesson of love, and to produce the same spirit of obedience.

 

“I haven’t gone in a long time,” she said. “Besides, it’s too late for me. I’ve probably already broken all seven commandments.”

Noooo. We are more than just slaves to sin – we are siblings in the Spirit, children of God, saved by grace through faith!

 

 

Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia means becoming a people who believe like that!!

 

We are a Church on the very verge of truly experiencing all of that – and we are blessed, privileged to be in on the ground floor! Let’s join Philemon and Onesimus and be that kind of church together.

 

We serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today;

we know that He is living, whatever Eustace may say;

we see His hand of mercy, we hear His voice of cheer,

and just the time we need Him He’s always near.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!

He walks with us, and He talks with us along life’s narrow way.

He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!

Let’s forsake our lives of sin, invite Him in our heart!  Amen.

 

Resources:

Ackley, Alfred H.; “He Lives!”; 1933

 

Carson, H.M.; Colossians and Philemon; Tyndale new testament Commentaries; 1984; Pp. 102-112.

 

Lewis, C.S.; Book 3 in the Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”; 1954; P. 1.

04/23/2017 – Colossians 4:7-18 – Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “We Are Family”

Mark Wheeler

Colossians 4:7-18

04/23/2017

Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “We Are Family”

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Set free, O Lord, any tension or anxiety which may keep us from fulfilling Your vision of what we can be. Fill us with the strength of Christ, the power of Your Holy Spirit, and the faithfulness of all true saints, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

WWII Private Desmond Doss volunteered with the Army as a Conscientious Objector – willing to go to the front lines, but not willing to even touch a rifle, or a grenade, or any weapon. After a Boot Camp of abuse and beatings and an almost-Court Marshal for disobeying a sergeant’s orders to train with a rifle Desmond Doss became a Medic and was sent to Okinawa to fight at Hacksaw Ridge.

Who here has seen the movie? I’m going to give a little spoiler now – so if you haven’t seen it and plan to, plug your ears until I wave my hands in the air (or stop reading until the next paragraph break).

Desmond Doss was a 7th Day Adventist, a Christian with some moral principles he stood strong for. We might not all agree with what he stood for, but that he did is extremely admirable. At the Hacksaw Ridge battle, Private Desmond Doss rescued over 75 wounded soldiers and brought them to safety, by himself!

At the 100ish minute mark of the 140 minute movie, after those rescues, his sergeant came to Doss and said, “I know tomorrow’s your Sabbath…. Most of these men don’t believe the same way you do…. But they believe so much in how much you believe!

          “And what you did on the Ridge, it’s nothing short of a miracle, and they want a piece of it; and they’re not going to go up there without you….”

The next scene is Saturday, Private Doss’ Sabbath, and won’t go up there – but he prayed with the whole platoon – and they went to battle with Doss’ prayer and faith infused into their collective conscience.

[Wave hands.]

Today is the last Sunday in this series looking at the New Testament letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christian Community in Colossae. Paul writes to these Turkish Christians who lived with false teachers and worldly temptations and threats against humanity and fear of domineering governments were all taking overremind them who they were, to encourage their discouraged souls, to tell them again of who God is and what God had accomplished in Christ Jesus. In this letter we are invited to experience authentic ecclesia – to practice genuine Christian faith.

In this series we have learned some theological truths about the sovereignty of God and Jesus’ role in that sovereignty; and we have read some counsel about how people who follow Jesus might live.  Our last lesson, before Easter, concentrated on God’s faithfulness to us when we pray.

Today’s closing passage contains a list of names to whom Paul is sending reports about and greetings to. And this list shows us something of the way God works in our corporate Christian collective.

Listen with me to God’s Word from Paul’s Letter to the Church in Colossae. Colossians 4:7-18 ….—-

           7 Tychicus [a close friend who is delivering this letter, as well as Paul’s letter to the Ephesians] will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus [we learn from Paul’s letter to Philemon, this was a runaway slave], our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

          10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus [was with Paul in Ephesus when a riot broke out, “fellow prisoner” probably refers to being in bondage to Christ] sends you his greetings, as does Mark [who knows who Mark was? The Gospel writer, and fellow missionary with Paul], the cousin of Barnabas [another fellow missionary with Paul]. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11 Jesus, who is called Justus [this everything we know about this man], also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras [listen to what we learn about Epaphras: what does this suggest about this friend?], who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor [besides being a doctor, what else do we know about Luke? He wrote the Gospel bearing his name, and the Acts of the Apostles, and he was a fellow missionary with Paul], and Demas [it appears that Demas was another fellow missionary with Paul, but that somewhere in their co-ministry Demas went astray – in Paul’s second letter to Timothy he mentions Demas as one who has been united with the world (that comes as a warning, but a sentence later Paul welcomes Mark who had also left Paul’s side earlier, so this comes as a word of hope – in this letter, Demas is simply named as one who sends greetings)] send greetings. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house [the identity of Nympha? No one really knows. Scholars don’t even know if that is a man or a woman. What it looks like, and what the NIV suggests, is that the Church in Laodicea met at Nympha’s house].

          16 After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

          17 Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.” [Archippus appears to have been ordained to some kind of ministry, probably in Laodicea.]

          18 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.     (NIV)

Just a list of names? I don’t think so. Look at your Sermon Notes page. The first question asks how Paul describes Tychicus in verse 7: What do you see? [trusted, faithful, mature, enduring, “fellow servant”]

Now look at the description of Onesimus: What is different? [brand new believer]  This list of names contains people at every step of faith development, and in a variety of roles. This list describes every church – it certainly describes LPC.

This is where experiencing authentic ecclesia gets real. We Are Family. And we need each other – for accountability, to be challenged, to find solace and comfort, to provide sustenance.

But it does not stop with just us. This letter was to be read to the Christians in LAODICEA! Experiencing authentic ecclesia means being united with Christ-followers, fellow believers, from down the street and across the ocean!  It means joining in ministry with Fellowship Church of God in Hillyard and with Child Empowerment Outreach in Kiminini, Kenya!

And the last line of this epistle brings us right back to the main point of the letter. Paul closes with “Remember my chains.” In that simple phrase he is asking for their PRAYERS. But he is also asking them to recognize and SUBMIT to his apostolic authority…. Not as a prisoner of the Roman Emperor, but as one in bondage to Christ!

As such, Paul tells these believers in Colossae, and to we believers at LPC, “Most of these [people] don’t believe the same way you do…. But they believe so much in how much you believe!

          “And what you [do in ministry at LPC and in Spokane and in Kenya], it’s nothing short of a miracle, and they want a piece of it; and they’re not going to go [anywhere] without you….”

 

Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia means becoming a people who believe like that!!

We are a Church on the very verge of truly experiencing all of that – and we are blessed, privileged to be in on the ground floor! Let’s join the Colossian Christians and be that kind of church together.

Because He lives, we can face tomorrow; because He lives, all fear is gone;

Because we know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives!  Amen.

 

Resources:

Carson, H.M.; Colossians and Philemon; Tyndale new testament Commentaries; 1984; Pp. 98-102.

Gaither, Gloria & William J.; “Because He Lives”; 1971.

Hacksaw Ridge”; 2016; LionsGate Production Co.; Mel Gibson director; Starring Andrew Garfield.

04/09/2017 – Colossians 4:2-6 – Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “Praying Purposefully”

Mark Wheeler

Colossians 4:2-6

Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “Praying Purposefully”

04/09/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Set free, O Lord, any tension or anxiety which may keep us from fulfilling Your vision of what we can be. Fill us with the strength of Christ, the power of Your Holy Spirit, and the faithfulness of all true saints, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

The minister’s little six-year-old girl had been so naughty during the week that her mother decided to give her the worst kind of punishment. She told her she couldn’t go to the Sunday School Picnic on Saturday.

When the day came, her mother felt she had been too harsh and changed her mind. When she told the little girl she could go to the picnic, the child’s reaction was one of gloom and unhappiness.

“What’s the matter? I thought you’d be glad to go to the picnic,” her mother said.

“It’s too late!” the little girl said. “I’ve already prayed for rain!”

 

Today is the last Sunday in the Season of Lent, and it is the beginning of Holy Week.  We have been investing in this season by studying the New Testament letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christian Community in Colossae. Paul writes to these Turkish Christians who lived with false teachers and worldly temptations and threats against humanity and fear of domineering governments were all taking overremind them who they were, to encourage their discouraged souls, to tell them again of who God is and what God had accomplished in Christ Jesus. In this letter we are invited to experience authentic ecclesia – to practice genuine Christian faith.

We have seen that this means: we have to learn to discern fake news from Good News; we are given Jesus as the visible image of the invisible God; real Christians really suffer, and when we suffer on behalf of another we become more like Jesus; living into these truths makes us free to be who God wants us to be; and from a practical perspective we are asked to shed our old ways of living and become brand new beings, children, in His Kingdom; and last week we saw that God’s ways of creating Communion Community works in 2017 as well as it did in 2,000 earlier!

 

Today’s short passage offers some suggestions for praying purposefullypraying with expectation of an answer, praying in a way that demonstrates our trust and faith in the God who alone answers those prayers.

Listen with me to God’s Word from Paul’s Letter to the Church in Colossae. Colossians 4:2-6 ….—-

     Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

 

The little 6-year-old girl prayed with a purpose: She devoted herself to prayer, she watched for and expected the answer, and she was … mad because she prayed for the wrong thing!

 

Paul says: Pray with devotion – with regularity. Pray with expectation, watching for the answer to come. Pray with thanksgiving – because God loves us and will always answer with the best answer (if not the “right” answer – please note the air-quotes)!

Paul is not afraid or ashamed to ask for prayers for himself! And he asks for specific, measurable prayers: that God will create an opportunity; that Paul will recognize that opportunity; and that Paul will step into that opportunity with confidence and wisdom.

But, praying is not the be-all and end-all. Especially in the context of this letter – his prayers are for success in sharing the Gospel (but the prayers really could be for anything), and so his advice is simple: Be wise in the ways you act with “outsiders” (people outside the faith), and be aware of every open door to bear witness of the Good News of Jesus. Be graceful, and be ready. Always.

 

This week, as we wander toward the cross of Jesus’ death, let’s wander with direction. Devote ourselves to prayerexpecting God to really and truly answer – and being thankful for God’s faithfulness to us, always.

 

I have, over the last month, introduced you to a few quotes from  Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch watch maker during the days of Nazi occupation in Europe, and Jewish annihilation. The ten Boom family hid Jews in their home until they were discovered, and then Corrie and her sister Betsie and their father were all captured and put in concentration camps where they all died except Corrie.

Your Sermon Notes page has a few more CtB quotesabout prayer. Listen to these quotes and see if any leave their mark on you.

 

The first quote describes how Corrie ten Boom learned to pray with purpose:

I prayed to dispel my fear, until suddenly, and I do not know how the idea came to me, I began to pray for OTHERS. I prayed for everyone who came into my thoughts – people with whom I had travelled, those who had been in prison with me, my school friends of years ago.  I do not know how long I continued my prayer, but this I do know – my fear was gone! Interceding for OTHERS had released ME!”

 

The second quote describes a reality about prayer:

The wonderful thing about praying is that you leave a world of not being able to do something, and enter God’s realm where EVERYTHING  is possible.  He specializes in the impossible.  NOTHING  is too GREAT for His almighty power.  Nothing is too SMALL for His love.

Syria is killing its own people. America drops bombs on Syria. I have NO power to do anything to stop that! Wait. I can PRAY! In God’s realm EVERYTHING is possible! NOTHING is too GREAT for His almighty power.

And NOTHING is too SMALL for His love – so I can pray for even my least problematic concern!

 

The third quote asks a question about howdevoted to prayerwe are:

Is prayer your STEERING  wheel or your SPARE  tire?

Do we rely on God to guide our every move? Or do we only go to Him when nothing else has worked?

 

The fourth quote gives advice about HOW to be “devoted to prayer”:

Don’t pray when you FEEL  like it. Have an APPOINTMENT  with the Lord and KEEP  it.

 

The fifth quote is advice specifically stated for me:

To pray only when in PERIL  is to use safety belts only in heavy TRAFFIC.” … or only AFTER the accident….  or only when you see a POLICE officer watching you….

 

The sixth quote simply states a truth:

A man is powerful on his KNEES.

To assume that needing prayer is a sign of weakness is to not understand  that our strength is rooted in Jesus!

 

The last quote on our Sermon Notes page is Corrie ten Boom’s testimony of what she learned from her sister Betsie – and a condition she hoped for for herself, and that I strive for in my own life:

More and more the distinction between PRAYER  and the REST  of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.

Paul says to pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks to God the Father, in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God!

 

Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia means becoming a people who pray like that!!

 

Let’s spend just a few minutes here. Someone tell us which of these quotes hit you the hardest; which one made you stop and reflect the deepest; which one convicted you into “devoting yourself to prayer” a little more diligently.

 

We are a Church on the very verge of truly experiencing all of that – and we are blessed, privileged to be in on the ground floor! Let’s join the Colossian Christians and be that kind of church together.

 

O how the world to evil ensnares me! O how my heart is tempted to sin!

I must tell Jesus, and He will help me over the world the victory to win.   Amen.

 

Resources:

http://www.azquotes.com/author/1659-Corrie_Ten_Boom?

 

Carson, H.M.; Colossians and Philemon; Tyndale new testament Commentaries; 1984; Pp. 95-98.

 

Hoffman, Elisha A.; “I Must Tell Jesus”; 1894.

04/02/2017 – Colossians 3:8-4:1 – Experiencing Authentic Eclessia: “Then and Now”

Mark Wheeler

Colossians 3:18-4:1

Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “Then and Now”

04/02/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Set free, O Lord, any tension or anxiety which may keep us from fulfilling Your vision of what we can be. Fill us with the strength of Christ, the power of Your Holy Spirit, and the faithfulness of all true saints, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

After watching sales falling off for three straight months at Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Colonel calls up the Pope and asks for a favor.

The Pope says, “What can I do? “The Colonel says, “I need you to change the daily prayer from, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ to ‘Give us this day our daily chicken’. If you do it, I’ll donate 10 Million Dollars to the Vatican.”

The Pope replies, “I am sorry. That is the Lord’s Prayer and I cannot change the words.” So the Colonel  hangs up.

After another month of dismal sales, the Colonel panics, and calls again. “Listen Holy Father. I really need your help. I’ll donate $50 million if you change the words of the daily prayer from ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ to ‘Give us this day our daily chicken.’

And the Pope responds, “It is very tempting, Colonel Sanders. The church could do a lot of good with that much money. It would help us to support many charities. But, again, I must decline. It is the Lord’s Prayer, and I can’t change the words.”

So the Colonel gives up again. After two more months of terrible sales, the Colonel gets desperate. “This is my final offer, your Holiness. If you change the words of the daily prayer from, ‘Give us our daily bread’ to ‘Give us this day our daily chicken’ I will donate $100 million to the Vatican.”

The Pope replies, “Let me get back to you .”

So the next day, the Pope calls together all of his bishops and he says, “I have some good news and I have some bad news. The good news is that KFC is going to donate $100 million to the Vatican.”

The bishops rejoice at the news. Then one asks about the bad news. The Pope replies, “The bad news is that we lost the Wonder Bread account.

Sorry – that was to explain today’s bulletin cover – what the bulletin cover actually displays is the truth that while the building has changed on the outside, what happens inside that Wonder Bread Bakery is the same Now as it was Then!

 

Today we begin our fifth full week of the Season of Lent in which we are studying the New Testament letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christian Community in Colossae. Paul writes to these Turkish Christians who lived with false teachers and worldly temptations and threats against humanity and fear of domineering governments were all taking overremind them who they were, to encourage their discouraged souls, to tell them again of who God is and what God had accomplished in Christ Jesus. In this letter we are invited to experience authentic ecclesia – to practice genuine Christian faith.

We have seen that this means: we have to learn to discern fake news from Good News; we are given Jesus as the visible image of the invisible God; real Christians really suffer, and when we suffer on behalf of another we become more like Jesus; living into these truths makes us free to be who God wants us to be; and last week we saw the beginning of the practical application of these theological truths that when we live like we believe what we say believe, God gives us the ability to shed our old ways of living and become brand new beings, children, in His Kingdom.

 

Today’s passage provides some evidence of how our relationships with each other effect our relationship with God, and vice versa. And this is just as true today as it was 2,000 years ago when Paul wrote this letter. How we treat each other creates a Communion Community, then and now.

Listen with me to God’s Word from Paul’s Letter to the Church in Colossae. Colossians 3:18-4:1 ….—-  Before we get started, take a glance at the passage. There are six short paragraphs about six different people-groups, and they are set up in three groups of pairs: wives and husbands, children and fathers, slaves and masters. Now, let’s listen to this as if we believed it was God’s Word to us, because it is:

3: 18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

     19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

     20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

     21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

     22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor,    

       but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working

       for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a

       reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is

       no favoritism.

4: Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven. 

 

Before we start talking about how uncomfortable some of us in this room are with instructions like: wives, submit; children, obey; or slaves, obey; let’s remember how the paragraph immediately preceding these instructions ended: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts; let the Word of Christ dwell among you; and everything you do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

 

Yeah, OK, 2,000 years ago, in an utterly patriarchal society, telling wives to submit to their husbands made sense! But we live in America in the 21st Century AD! No longer applies!

Children obey your fathers/parents – OK, that one’s alright.

But wives submit to your husbands, and slaves, obey your masters?! What?! No one would argue that rules about slaves obeying still applies, why would we listen to rules about wives submitting?

 

And their counterparts? Husbands, love; fathers, be nice; and masters, be fair. How are those equal counterparts to submit and obey?

OK, so is some of your blood starting to boil, or are your nerve synapses collapsing under the strain? Remember that thing about the Peace of Christ ruling? And the Word of Christ dwelling?

 

To help us see how these instructions still create Communion Community, now just as well as then, look at the number of times the phrasein/for the Lord” is used in these teachings.

I do not mean that Paul uses this phrase as a panaceathat if he says “in the Lord” then he can say whatever he wants and get away with it. Rather, it refers directly back to allowing the peace of Christ to rule our hearts and the Word of Christ to dwell among us.

 

And those “easy” instructions to the husbands, fathers, and  masters? Look again.

Husbands, love your wives” means far more than merelydon’t be harsh”! If this is done “in the Lord”, then the love of Christ is what Paul is talking about – look at I Corinthians 13: patient, kind, rejoices with truth, protects, trusts, hopes, endures all things. Husbands, when we love our wives with that kind of Christ-like love, everyone will want to have what we have! Admittedly, I Corinthians 13 is not limited to marital love – in fact that describes what all love should look like – it describes, perfectly, what Christ’s love for us looks like! If husbands actually loved their wives like this, the “submitting” would never be a burden! It, in fact, would not even be considered subservientWe submit to Christ as His co-heirs!

Fathers, don’t embitter” again takes us to I Corinthians 13: no envy, no boasting, no un-due pride, no rudeness, no self-seeking, no easy anger, no keeping score. When we fathers, or parents, love like this, our children will want to obey and honor!

The “slaves” paragraph is way longer! Toward the end of this letter we see that a run-away slave is helping to deliver this epistle, and that may be the reason for the longer treatment here. Paul neither condemns nor condones the fact of slavery. I really do wish he had. That would have made the Civil War of 150 years ago more difficult to defend from the Confederate side. It might also have made the Civil Rights movement of 50 years ago easier to accomplish. And give stronger grounds for current day slave trade (yes, it still happens, globally).

But look at what Paul does do! He demonstratively treats the slaves as human beings! He declares that they are not just things (chattel), they are fully human beings, men and women, people. And as such they deserve the same love and respect and care as everyone else! While that may not condemn the economy of slavery, it does utterly condemn the way masters have always considered their slaves as mere things!

 

And in all of these relationships the overriding consideration is always the LORDSHIP of JESUS CHRIST! Did you hear that? Treat each other the way Jesus treats you! He went to the cross for you! And He offered forgiveness to you while on His way, and again while hanging on that cross of condemnation!

 

Being “moral” is never enough! Conforming to conventional morality is NOT enough! Our lives are not meant to simply please our ourselves, not our neighbor, not our society at large! Our lives are meant to please GOD! That may mean that sometimes we have to go against the grain of our culture-at-large! It might mean we need to invest more of ourselves in prayer so that we can discern God’s ways from human ways! It also means that if we are going to live like we believe what we say we believe, we need to actually know what our Bible says we’re supposed to believe!….

 

So, as we approach the Lord’s Table this morning, let’s realize the truth that, just like 2,000 years ago, we still form Communion Community when we LOVE with God’s love!

 

And, if you’re anything like me, you know your own limits, and you realize how impossible that feels. But the truth is, as Corrie ten Boom once said, “The AMOUNT of God’s love is UNLIMITED, but we only receive as much as we USE.” Let’s use a little more today than we did yesterday, and allow God to fill our love reservoir a little more tomorrow!

 

Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia means living like we believe what we say we believe!! This is a Church on the very verge of truly experiencing all of that – and we are blessed, privileged to be in on the ground floor! Let’s join the Colossian Christians and be that kind of church together.

 

Lord of past ages, Lord of this morning, Lord of the future, help us, we pray:

Teach us to trust You, to love and obey You, and to crown You each moment Lord of today!   Amen.

 

Resources:

http://www.azquotes.com/author/1659-Corrie_Ten_Boom?

 

Carson, H.M.; Colossians and Philemon; Tyndale new testament Commentaries; 1984; Pp. 92-95.

 

Clarkson, Margaret; “God of the Ages”; 1982.

03/26/2017 – Colossians 3:1-17 – Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “From Old to New”

Click HERE if you want to HEAR this message.

Mark Wheeler

Colossians 3:1-17

Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “From Old and to New”

03/26/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Set free, O Lord, any tension or anxiety which may keep us from fulfilling Your vision of what we can be. Fill us with the strength of Christ, the power of Your Holy Spirit, and the faithfulness of all true saints, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

We’ve all seen those New and Improved commercials, and the Before and After ads – and some of them become kind of enticing after watching them untold numbers of times….

I believe those advertisements have been around for as long as humans first learned to speak, or since the first swap meet in history – “Look, Og. This New Wheel round! Way better than Old square wheel.

 

Today we begin our fourth full week of the Season of Lent in which we are studying the New Testament letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christian Community in Colossae, Asia Minor (today’s Turkey). These Colossians, while living across the planet, 2,000 years ago, in the Roman Empire, weren’t all that different from we Lidgerwoodians.

Colossae was on the decline, in the midst of a thriving Greco-Roman world – and false teachers and worldly temptations and threats against humanity and fear of domineering governments were all taking over!

 

Paul writes to remind them who they were, to encourage their discouraged souls, to tell them again of who God is and what God had accomplished in Christ Jesus. In this letter we are invited to experience authentic ecclesia – to practice genuine Christian faith.

Today’s passage contains such a “Before” and “After” image, going from Old to New. Where do we land on that spectrum?

Listen with me to God’s Word from Paul’s Letter to the Church in Colossae. Colossians 3:1-17 ….—-

     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. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Like most of Paul’s Epistles, the first half is mostly theology and the second half is mostly application. Today we begin that second half of this brief letter.

Since, then” means there should be some evidence of our salvation, evidence that we believe the theological doctrine of the first two chapters. “Sincewhat has just been stated in the previous two chapters is true, “thenour lives should reflect that hope of glory….

If we live each day, stuck in our own self-doubt and unable to experience the light of Christ, maybe we haven’t grasped the truth of the Gospel yet. If we wonder if we’ll make it to heaven when we die, maybe we haven’t heard, or believed, the Good News of Jesus’ sufficiency, of His grace-payment on our behalf, of His death for us and His conquering death after His crucifixion so that we, too, could live victorious lives through Him!

 

Since, then,” Paul writes; and he continues with the application process:

     5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.  You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 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.

Whenever there’s a “therefore”, you have to ask what the “therefore” is there for? In this case, the “therefore” is there because of what comes before: “Because we have been raised with Christ, because our hearts have been set on things above … therefore – we put to death, we crucify with Jesus, our earthly Old nature, our Before picture dies on the cross!”

The simple application is that we stop sinning! And the list of sins, while not meant to be exhaustive, involves both sins of the body and actions that offend both our God and our neighbor, AND sins of the heartlust, greed, envy. Specific sin categories are mentioned – sexual immorality at the top of the list, but this is meant to cover the 10 Commandments of Exodus and Deuteronomy AND the Great Commandment as both Moses and Jesus stated itto love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

In Matthew’s Gospel, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You know the Law, Do not commit murder; but I say if you even keep a grudge in your heart you’ve broken that commandment already.”

Paul says, “You used to walk in those ways … but now you must rid yourselves of ‘anger, rage, slander, filthy language….’

Those were your Old ways, but in Christ all things are made New (actually, that’s from II Corinthians). So, No lying, no evil talk, no slander, just cut it out! Play nice with each other!

Simple, right?

And, Paul knows his audience. There were Jewish Christians living in Turkey, and they thought they were better than Gentile Christians; there were also Gentiles from further north and from further west; and there was at least one run-away slave mentioned in this letter, so Paul says, “There is no Democrat or Republican, no Mexican or American, no Refugee, Immigrant, or Native born in the Church of Jesus Christ! There is only Christians! So love each other and be nice to each other!

Simple application? Yeah, right! How does one do that? How do I never throw a cuss word, or spread gossip, or hold a grudge against someone, or never speak ill of someone who I think deserves it?

 

Paul gives us another “Therefore”:

     12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

We cannot do it on our own! To the Church in Rome Paul said, “All have sinned, and all continue to fall short of the glory of God.” Even we who are “chosen, the “elect of God”, while saved into a saving relationship with the God who has the authority to forgive and to gift us with Holy Spirit power – we still live in our earthly bodies and in our earthly circumstances! While we are “New” in Christ, we still bear the “Old” nature every day!

Since we cannot do what we know we should do, Paul says, “Because you are completely loved by God, and He cannot love you any more than He already does, no matter how good or bad you act, just get dressed every morning with the things God has laid out for youcompassion for the needy, kindness for those around you, humility with those ‘beneath’ you, gentleness with those who aren’t quite ‘there’ yet, and patience with everyone (including yourself!). … And because life is hard, wear an overcoat of love to hold it all together.

If we consciously decide, not just when we wake up, but also when we encounter our first “other (spouse, neighbor, child, whomever), and again several times throughout the day, to step into Jesus’ sandals and allow His power and love to flow through us, then we have a chance of experiencing authentic ecclesia, of knowing Christian community, of expressing Christ-like love.

But we have to be willing to be made willing to “clothe ourselves” with God’s beautiful garments of Grace. Last week I made reference to Corrie ten Boom, and gave you one of her quotes that said, ““If You look at the World, you’ll be DISTRESSED. If You look within, you’ll Be DEPRESSED. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at REST …”

This week let me share with you another CTB quote. This is one of her prayers, and she prayed it every day while in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp during WWII. She would simply pray: “God, make me WILLING to be MADE willing.”  That was her prayer of compassion for fellow prisoners, kindness toward prison guards, humility among her comrades, gentleness alongside weaker fellow-sufferers, and patience while God seemed to just wait forever to send His rescue!

“God, make me WILLING to be MADE willing.”

 

And Paul continues:

     15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Someone, give me an answer here: What does it mean to “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts”? What does that mean for you personally?

What is thismessage of ChristPaul wants us to allow to dwell in us richly?

What doesdwell in us richlymean?

I love that for Paul, a thinking man, a man of action, a man with a life-agenda to accomplishPaul says that when we allow the “peace of Christ and the message of Christ to rule us and dwell in us” (and notice that strange pairingI would have had the “peace of Christ dwell in me” and the “message of Christ rule me”, but Paul reverses that) when we allow that to happen we will stop our preaching and our mission activity and our study and our teaching and we will just sing – and we’ll sing all kinds of songs – from the Old Testament Psalter, from the Hymnbook, and from the Praise Song books – and we’ll sing all these songs with thanksgiving! – We will simply worship, in Spirit and in Truth!

And, finally, whether in Church or in Culture, in Sacred things or in Secular thingswhatever we do, in speech or in action, we are to do it in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

 

“God, make me WILLING to be MADE willing.”

 

Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia means living like we believe what we say we believe!! This is a Church on the very verge of truly experiencing all of that – and we are blessed, privileged to be in on the ground floor! Let’s join the Colossian Christians and be that kind of church together.

 

We are One in [Your] bond of love; We are One in [Your] bond of love.
We have joined our spirits with [Your] Spirit [O] God;  We are One in [Your] bond of love.

 

Let us join our hands that the world will know, We are One in [Your] bond of love.

 

Amen.

 

Resources:

http://www.azquotes.com/author/1659-Corrie_Ten_Boom?

 

Carson, H.M.; Colossians and Philemon; Tyndale new testament Commentaries; 1984; Pp. 79-92.

 

Skillings, Otis; “The Bond of Love”; 1971.

03/19/2017 – Colossians 2:6-23 – Experiencing Authentic Eclessia: “Falsehood, Fullness, and Freedom”

For the AUDIO link, please click HERE.

Mark Wheeler

Colossians 2:6-23

Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “Falsehood, Fullness, and Freedom”

03/19/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Set free, O Lord, any tension or anxiety which may keep us from fulfilling Your vision of what we can be. Fill us with the strength of Christ, the power of Your Holy Spirit, and the faithfulness of all true saints, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

This week I was given a list of official Emergency Room medical charts – that seemed a bit off the mark. See if you can catch what might have been “wrong”:

  • Patient is numb from her toes down.
  • While in ER, she was examined, x-rated and sent home. [This probably was not far from the truth!! Those gowns are probably put under the classification of ‘x-rated!!!!]
  • Occasional, constant infrequent headaches.
  • Patient was alert and unresponsive.
  • She stated that she had been constipated for most of her life, until she got a divorce.
  • I saw your patient today, who is still under our car for physical therapy.
  • Patient has two teenage children, but no other abnormalities.

 

Maybe some of you have seen the reports about the British newspaper, The Guardian’s article – highlighting Gonzaga University’s basketball reign in the WCC and Coach Mark Few’s leadership in that endeavor? This article was meant to be just that, but to emphasize how amazing the team is it also said this: “As the coach of the Gonzaga men’s basketball team, he is the central – perhaps the only – source of hope for a struggling city.” The article then invested another several paragraphs about how bad Spokane is as a place to live.

 

Today we begin our third full week of the Season of Lent in which we are studying the New Testament letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christian Community in Colossae, Asia Minor (today’s Turkey). These Colossians, while living across the planet, 2,000 years ago, in the Roman Empire, weren’t all that different from we Lidgerwoodians.

Colossae was on the decline, in the midst of a thriving Greco-Roman world – and false teachers and worldly temptations and threats against humanity and fear of domineering governments were all taking over!

 

Paul writes to remind them who they were, to encourage their discouraged souls, to tell them again of who God is and what God had accomplished in Christ Jesus. In this letter we are invited to experience authentic ecclesia – to practice genuine Christian faith.

I read that list of Medical Charts as an intro to something every Colossian Christian, and every Lidgerwoodian Christian faces every day: verifying Falsehood from Truth; finding Fullness of Christ in a world of emptiness; and determining Freedom in God’s power while facing spiritual bondage in our own circumstances.

Listen with me to God’s Word from Paul’s Letter to the Church in Colossae. Colossians 2:6-23 ….—-

           2So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

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 Christ18 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.

 

Those ER medical Charts and that The Guardian sports article, and the religious teaching surrounding the people in Colossae, and the overall understanding of the Christian faith in today’s main-stream media, and frankly, in many of our pews, is filled with False info – which produce false expectations, and foster false hope.

Paul writes to 1st Century Colossian Christians (and to 21st Century American Presbyterians), verse 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.” He has said this in several ways nowThere is only ONE God; Jesus Christ is the visible image of that God and He is supreme; and therefore it is only in Him that we find real hope, the hope of glory, hope that is guaranteed and that becomes an honest relationship with Almighty God, Creator of everything that exists!

 

Some of you, I know, are looking at your Sermon Notes page, and you want to know how to fill in that quote by Corrie ten Boom. Ms. Ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker before and during the Nazi reign of terror in Europe. Her father and sister and she hid Jews from the Gestapo and as a result they were all put in Concentration Camps, where her elderly father died, and after a few years her sickly sister also died. But the Ten Booms never lost their faith – and in the end several people who were held in prison with Corrie ten Boom, and even some of the guards that held them captive, gave their lives to Christ. Corrie ten Boom eventually left Europe and moved to Placentia, CA, where she died on her 91st birthday as a patient of my mom in a nursing home.

Corrie ten Boom has been an inspiration to millions of people, with dozens of quotable quotes. This one, reads: “If You look at the World, you’ll be DISTRESSED. If You look within, you’ll Be DEPRESSED. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at REST …”

 

In verse 9, Paul continues, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.”  In Christ, we are invited, you are invited, to experience Fullness of true reality – which nurtures Fullness of new reality, and even Fullness of fueled reality. That means our lives can express the power of God, even when we are unable to feel the strength of faith in our own souls.  As CTB has said, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.” And, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.

Beware of Falsehood, and be open the Fullness of God’s presence.

 

Because God’s presence always leads to Freedom! Jesus said, in John 8:32, that when we “know the Truth (faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior), that Truth shall set [us] free!” And that’s when we experience Freedom in Christ’s grace – which leads to Freedom in Christ’s mercy, and complete Freedom in the Way, the Truth, the Life.

This evening, you will be blessed by what we experience as our own brother, Jack Hewson, shares his heart, his experience, his faith, and his hope, his fears, even his Freedom, regardless of which side of the bars he finds himself.

Jack is learning the truth of Paul’s word in II Corinthians 3:16-18: “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.   And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

 

Today, I invite you to experience the Freedom that only Christ can offer. Freedom from fear, freedom from anxiety, freedom from doubt, freedom from anger, freedom from revenge …. Do you want that? Do you, like me, need that? Let’s give ourselves, a little more deeply, to Jesus.

“If You look at the World, you’ll be DISTRESSED. If You look within, you’ll Be DEPRESSED. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at REST …”

 

And, yeah, The Guardian, after yesterday’s game, Gonzaga basketball does give Spokane a lift, but Gonzaga is not what gives any of us ultimate hope! That comes through God’s grace, by faith – and that alone!

 

Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia means knowing that we can go from Falsehood to Fullness to complete Freedom! This is a Church on the very verge of truly experiencing all of that – and we are blessed, privileged to be in on the ground floor! Let’s join the Colossian Christians and be that kind of church together.

 

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,        When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,     It is well, it is well with my soul.

 

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,     Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,    And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

 

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—         My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,       Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

 

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:    If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life      Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

 

Amen.

 

Resources:

Carson, H.M.; Colossians and Philemon; Tyndale new testament Commentaries; 1984; Pp. 59-79.

 

Crosswalk.com; 40 Powerful Quotes from Corrie Ten Boom; May 21, 2015.

 

Delistraty, Cody; “How Gonzaga Became the Central Hope for the Struggling City of Spokane”; The Guardian; March 14, 2017.

 

Spafford, Horatio G.; “It Is Well with My Soul”; 1873.

03/12/2017 – Colossians 1:24-2:5 – Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “Christian Suffering Is for Realsies”

Click HERE for the audio link.

Mark Wheeler

Colossians 1:24-2:5

Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “Christian Suffering Is for Realsies”

03/12/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Set free, O Lord, any tension or anxiety which may keep us from fulfilling Your vision of what we can be. Fill us with the strength of Christ, the power of Your Holy Spirit, and the faithfulness of all true saints, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

So much pain. I was at what should have been the prime of life. Med school finished, internship and residency done. Two kids and a wonderful wife at home. But there was so much pain.

I was a rheumatologist practicing in Roanoke, Virginia, when I began to have discomfort in my feet. I instituted the usual interventions that I told my patients about every day. But the pain did not diminish. In fact it increased. And strange sensations started to occur in my legs and feet. I quickly became unable to complete a day’s work. On my fortieth birthday I was diagnosed with Charcot Marie Tooth Syndrome, an inherited peripheral neuropathy. My father had this illness.

I remembered praying for my dad for years, even decades, for healing which never came. This illness is expressed as weakness and numbness along with pain in the extremities. My dad always had difficulty walking any great distance. His physical endurance was not good and he could never participate in any type of physically demanding activity. Our family was always the family that was different. While growing up I was always the strong one in the family. If chores required physical activity, they usually fell to me. I had never known I carried the gene, but it had been with me always.

The pain progressed to the point that I had to drag myself to the bathroom. I could not tolerate the searing discomfort that came with standing. I was unable to drive and only left the house on Sundays, when, with great difficulty, I used a wheelchair to get in and out of church. For a year, there was little sleep, little activity, just the constant pain that dominated my life 24 hours per day. I went to all of the major medical centers within a day’s drive. The diagnosis was confirmed but there were no suggestions for treatment.

During this time I did not ask questions. Just getting through each day consumed all of my energy. I had faith from before and I had friends from church and these two things sustained me.

With much trial and error, my neurologist eventually found drugs which gave some relief. I was finally able to sit up and look around and consider life again. I began reading the Bible again, starting with Job. I was still largely confined to the house but I was able to begin to play a little music. And I even started to work a bit, reviewing medical charts and working with computer programs.

One day my daughter, in seventh grade, came in. “My feet hurt” were the only words I heard. Within a few months, she required a wheelchair to go to school.

I had already lived a good bit of my life. I had a faith that had carried me through. But why Anna, who had certainly never hurt anyone. Who had such a gentle spirit. There was nothing I could do. I knew the life she had ahead. Never being the same as everyone else. Never able to participate with the group. So many difficulties. So much pain.

Where is meaning in this situation? This is a genetic problem, it only gets worse. I am trapped in the very situation which non-Christians hold up to argue against the existence of God. How could a loving God allow what seems like such meaningless and undeserved suffering?

The book of Job took me through the options for meaning in the face of suffering. In the end, Job learns to serve God for God alone, with total trust. Suffering burned away Job’s superficial understanding of God.

Then there is Jesus. Jesus came and suffered in a very intentional way. He looked suffering in the face and made a conscious decision. His decision was to embrace suffering—suffering more severe than mine, or even Anna’s– in such a way as to change us forever. And the foundation of his decision was love. Jesus lived a long time ago. However, there is no one else who can walk with us in the depths of suffering. There are no other examples. Though the duration of his life on the earth was long ago, he continues to walk with us. For me, suffering brought his walk to my time on earth.

It is hard to talk about suffering. The subject makes most people uncomfortable. I can’t say I received much help from my brothers and sisters at church. But there were a few books that helped me along my path, including Tim Keller’s Biblically-based “Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering,” Peter Kreeft’s more philosophical approach, and C.S. Lewis’ personal story in “The Problem of Pain.” These authors have been my best friends through this time.

My process of understanding was not instantaneous. But as time went by, I was startled to discover joy. Joy in seeing my Christian brothers and sisters. A new found joy in Sunday services, in the liturgy and in Christian music. All of the hymns and contemporary songs that mention joy, their messages suddenly shot straight to my heart. I have been a Christian for most of my life but I had never felt this. With just a little reading, I discovered I was not alone but in the company of St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, C.S. Lewis. Joy is a sensation past even happiness. It is one of the most sought after things on earth. Suddenly, here it was for me in the most unexpected of places.

Life is still difficult. I still must arrange my day around pain, but I know that is not the point of my day. It is not the point of my life. I don’t know exactly how to communicate this to Anna. In a way it is easy to write the words and it is difficult to walk the walk. Her walk is different from mine.

At least I know there is a way. Total desolation is not our fate. Desperation and hopelessness are feelings of this world that need not define us.

There is love now and, most unexpectedly, there is joy.

This was a true story about Tim Henshaw, a physician from Roanoke, VA.

 

Today is the beginning of our second full week of the Season of Lent in which we are studying the New Testament letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christian Community in Colossae, Asia Minor (today’s Turkey). These Colossians, while living across the planet, 2,000 years ago, in the Roman Empire, weren’t all that different from we Lidgerwoodians.

Colossae was on the decline, in the midst of a thriving Greco-Roman world – and false teachers and worldly temptations and threats against humanity and fear of domineering governments were all taking over!

 

Paul writes to remind them who they were, to encourage their discouraged souls, to tell them again of who God is and what God had accomplished in Christ Jesus. In this letter we are invited to experience authentic ecclesia – to practice genuine Christian faith. In today’s reading Paul reminds them of the gift of God and the purpose of suffering.

 

Listen with me to God’s Word from Paul’s Letter to the Church in Colossae. Colossians 1:24-2:5 ….—-

           124 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 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. 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, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. 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.

 

Our Thursday Bible Class is in the last chapters of Luke’s Gospel, so in the last three weeks we read about the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the trial before Caiaphas and Pilate and Herod, and the crucifixion, and death and burial of our Lord Jesus.

Someone in the class, tell us what was bigger: Jesus’ physical trauma, or His spiritual suffering? [Because of how it included His separation from His Father, due to our sins that put Him on the cross – the spiritual suffering surpassed the physical pain.]

Christ’s sufferings culminate in His CRUCIFIXION! – because of how it included His separation from His Father, due to our sins that put Him on the cross.

 

But in this passage of Paul’s letter to the Colossian Christians he says, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you”. Why does he “rejoice”? What is it about suffering that might be a source of joy? James says in James 1:2-4, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

When James and Paul suffer, for the cause of the cross, for the sake of the Gospel, they realize God’s presence in fuller and fuller ways. And when they suffer simply because sometimes life sucks – right? – they turn it into something that creates joy.

Look at the ways we all suffer just because we woke up this morning – Boris spent 17 years in prison for his faith; Grace can’t drive because she has lost the feeling in her feet and fingers; Sigrun has been feeling sick and depressed for months; Mary’s arm still hurts; Kathy goes in for dialysis three times a week; Jack is facing a potential ‘nother 20 years; Denise wakes up every morning wondering how her husband is going to handle today and how she will make it through another 24 hours; every one of us could find something to complain about – from aches and pains to financial woes to our phones down to 12% battery….

 

Look at the end of verse 24. Paul writes, “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.” What IS still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions? That does NOT mean that what Christ suffered on the cross was not sufficient. Paul never says that! Paul continually tells us that Christ alone is completely sufficient!

Interesting translation fact: The Greek words Paul used which the NIV translates as “what is lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions” really means REMANENCE – that is a word that is usually used when talking about how to magnetize a piece of iron. You rub a magnet against the iron, and the iron becomes like the magnet!!!

How are we “remanent” of Christ’s suffering? When Christ suffered, as He walked from the Praetorium along the Via Dolorosa to Golgatha, from the courtroom to Calvary, after being whipped with a scourge, after a night of interrogation and abuse, to His execution by crucifixion, how did Jesus suffer? He gave peace to the “women of Jerusalem; He promised Paradise to the repentant criminal crucified next to Him; He prayed that His Father would forgive all those who forced His death. He suffered, by choice, for the sake of others.

 

Christ’s death WAS absolutely completely SUFFICIENT! Our salvation is not dependent on ANYTHING we have to do! Jesus Christ was of the same substance as God the Father (that’s what we’ve seen over the last two weeks of looking at this Letter to the Colossians) – that’s why His death, the only begotten Son of God, fully human and fully God, His death was able to pay the complete debt of all our sin! That’s why His most grievous suffering was not the physical pain of crucifixion but the Spiritual suffering of separation from God the Father (that is the definition of Hell)!

 

How does God use our suffering?  Listen to this letter from Edina Nekesa Wanyonyi – our CEO Director and Social Worker in Kiminini, Kenya, as she answers my question of the seriousness of the drought conditions in Kenya. She first tells us that our children are all currently OK, but that living has become increasingly difficult because of the lack of water and the lack of resources (the entirety of the letter is posted on my office door). Then she says:

But in all as mentioned above we give glory to God because the Bible says that we have our above-father who is there for us in the time of happiness and hardship, so we are not moved with this drought season. i believe God sees well beyond every one and understands why it is happening and finally he will give us in double ways like he did for Job in the bible. Am faithful to him that he will take control, if God can provide for isrealites in desert place what about we in Kenya? ???? And i thank him for giving us this hard lesson so that we can remember him and do what he want through his name.

Get too much appreciation from me on behalf of C.E.O children and Ridge [her son]. I love you and thank you very much for your concerns, send my greetings to your family especially your beloved wife and church members. 

How does God use our suffering?  For Edina, she believes it is to help them remember God and do what He wants through His name! CS Lewis uses the image of a megaphone, suggesting that God uses suffering to get our attention! And then to draw us back to Him! Even our daily suffering from aches and pains, from loneliness and lostness, from fears and fights, from unjust judgments and disregard for truth, our suffering from systemic injustice and stupid decisions, can be turned into something that reflects the remanence of Christ! It can even be Dr. Tim Henshaw and Edina Wanyonyi and CS Lewis joy!

How does God use our suffering?  When we suffer for the sake of another – by doing the dishes you didn’t dirty to dying on behalf of another who is guilty – or when we suffer in a way that allows God’s light to shine through our suffering onto another who might catch that light and experience its warmthGod will be glorified!

 

Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia means knowing that Christian Suffering really Is for Realsies and how we suffer makes a difference for the Kingdom of God! This is a Church on the very verge of truly experiencing all of that – and we are blessed, privileged to be in on the ground floor! Let’s join the Colossian Christians and be that kind of church together.

 

My hope is in [You,] Lord who gave [Your-]self for me, and paid the price of all my sin on Calvary.

[Your] grace has planned it all; ’tis mine but to believe, and recognize [Your] work of love, and Christ receive.

For me [You] died, for me [You live], and everlasting life and light [You] freely [give].     Amen.

 

Resources:

Becker, Amy Julia; “A Doctor faces His Own Suffering”; Christianity Today; April 2014.

 

Carson, H.M.; Colossians and Philemon; Tyndale new testament Commentaries; 1984; Pp. 49-59.

 

Clayton, Norman J.; “My Hope Is In the Lord”; 1945.

 

Wanyonyi, Edina Nekesa; Email to Mark Wheeler; 02/28/2017