Sunday, October 25, 2009

New Clothes

Despite the wet, chilly weather, we had a nice full sanctuary this morning, eager to enjoy one another's company and to worship the Lord. Pastor Brad greeted us warmly, and announced our semi-annual meeting after the service. Other announcements included:
1. Operation Christmas Child. Nov. 11 we will be packing shoe boxes in conjunction with the Adventure Club for distribution to children in need around the world. For more information visit Samaritan's Purse.

2. Teen Challenge Gala Banquet October 30
3. New Life Covenant will host a free Christmas concert featuring the music of Christina Deloach with a free will offering, proceeds going to a ministry in Africa.

After a time of worship and the offering, Joe Stapleton read from Colossians 3:1-11, the basis for today's message by Pastor Brad. After a time of prayer, we listened to another good sermon from Colossians.

New Clothes
A key point in today's message was that most things in life have two components: preparation and presentation. Both are essential and neither can be neglected.

Examples are all around us. Brad cited painters who must do prep work before doing the painting. Chefs do a lot of prep before making the final presentation at the dining room table. Darlene prepares for our services.

Brad applied this to the section of Scripture we were to address today. A lot of Christians simply want to know the rules, what to do and not do. But success in living a Christian life comes by understanding the preparation part, understanding the basis for our faith and how God is working in our lives.

As we approach today's passage, then, Brad felt it important to revisit the first two chapters of Colossians which are foundations for the latter half of the book. The "to do" rules are best understood within the broader context of this prep. Hence, Brad summarized his last several weeks of messages for us.

In Colossians 1:12-14 Paul wrote that the Father has qualified us to share in the inheritance of His people and rescued us from the dominion of darkness.

Colossians 1:27 is another great passage stating that Jesus is not "out there somewhere" but the glory of God is within us, "Christ in you, the hope of glory."

Colossians 2:6-8 then goes on to say that just as we received Him, we are to continue in Him, rooted in Him. Trees draw nourishment from the earth through their roots, and in the same manner our soul draws nourishment from Christ by being rooted in Him.

In verses 9 and 10 Paul warns against being taken captive by deceivers, and reminds us that we do not need anything else besides Jesus. Jesus plus nothing... He is our sufficiency.

Against this preparatory backdrop we turn to chapter 3. "Since, then..." It is a hinge point. The second half hinges on the first. "You have been raised with Christ..."

So, what now? "Set your minds on things above." It is our position in Christ that enables us to do this. Here and elsewhere Paul says we need to re-wallpaper our minds. "You died and your life is hidden with Christ in God."

Brad emphasized that we need to get certain thing in their right order, and understand what our part is and what God's part is, especially here. Our part is to count ourselves dead to sin, and God's part is to transform us. To make his point he used the metaphor of a caterpillar. The caterpillar can't turn itself into a butterfly by walking around all day. Rather, it climbs to a branch and gives up. The mystery of transformation occurs only when it has stopped trying, has died to itself.

In Galatians Paul states, "I am crucified with Christ nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me." (Gal. 2:20) This dying, being crucified with Christ, is a daily cooperation with God.

Where this leads is to the clothing metaphor. Brad brought some used, paint-spattered clothes and set them up front on a chair. It was not easy to see from the back, but the picture is clear enough. Paul instructs us to take off our old dirty, stained clothing and put on Christ. That is, take off your anger, bitterness, malice, slander and filthy language.

Brad explained these a little further. The word for anger is a slow burning anger, which undergirds the bitterness. Malice is intent, slander is the actual hurt, and filthy language the venom. It is a vivid picture of sin.

"The mouth is the billboard of your heart," he said.

The last portion of this passage flows out of everything previous.

5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] 7You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Col. 3:5-11)

It is in the context of putting off the old that we can understand how to put on the new. You don't shower and get clean then put on your sweaty old work clothes again, do you?

It is Christ who renews us, and transforms us. When we put off the old, put to death the earthly nature, the miracle can happen then. The caterpillar can't take credit for becoming a butterfly, nor does he even understand how it happened, but his full potential is reached only when he comes to the end of himself.

At this we sang a new variation on the classic hymn, "Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord, to Thee."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Paul's Labor for the Church

This week's cold snap culminated in an early snow yesterday. Yet this morning the sun broke through and as the service opened, melting snow was dripping from the roof outside, no doubt assisted by the warmth from within. The lively, celebratory mood was broken only by the ebullient greeting of Pastor Brad and his genuine exclamation, "I'm delighted you're here today."

Key announcements before the commencement of the service included a reminder that the junior high retreat will be next weekend at Covenant Park and some information about the discussions taking place regarding the possibilities regarding a potential purchase of Caribou Lake School for our future building. Meetings have been conducted regarding the pitfalls and processes for this kind of move.

Darlene ushered us into worship again with special music that was, as usual, evocative. Ellie and Brad served as worship leaders this morning. The Scripture reading, after an offering, was taken from Colossians 1:24-2:5.

Paul's Labor for the Church

Brad began be re-reading the text for today's message, asking us to consider the words that jumped out at us. At first blush it is a passage with a level of complexity that does not make for easy understanding. Brad said that sometimes when he reads a section of Scripture that is difficult he looks for keywords which he holds onto as clues for unlocking the message or meanings in the passage.

Affliction, suffering, purpose, mystery and commission were some of the key words or ideas here in this passage.

Using three of these key words, Brad formed an outline that he hoped would provide us with a measure of understanding.
I. Commission
II. Specific Goals
III. Suffering

Paul writes, "I have become its servant by the commission God gave me." His commission was to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles.

What does it mean to have a calling or commission? Brad explained that our calling is an answer to the question, "Where can I fit in to the larger work of God."

Do you believe every Christian gets a calling? Paul believes all have a call on their lives. The next question is, will we carry it out?

Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23) Brad asked us what kind of cross this was that we're asked to carry. A cross of wood? Obviously not. Rather, our cross is our calling. We are to be faithful to it, even if it costs us something.

Specific Goals
For this reason it is important that we discover our calling. Whose ultimately responsibility is it for you to find your calling? Is it God's responsibility?

Paul fasted and prayed for three days after his Damascus Road experience. (Acts 9) We have to lower the ambient noise level in our lives. Then we need to search out and deploy our gifts. As we step out we discover what we were born to be.

Jesus knew His calling, to seek and to save the lost. Mother Teresa's calling was to serve the poorest of the poor. Billy Graham, too, knew his calling, to preach Christ to the masses.

In verses 25-27 Paul writes:
25I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 27To 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.

The hope of glory was no longer something just reserved for the Jews. The doors of the kingdom had been opened wide and the Good News of the Gospel was being proclaimed for all. For Paul this meant not only making Christ known, but helping people grow to full maturity in Christ.

Do you hear an echo of the Great Commission? That's what we're about, too, to reach those who are far from the faith.

There is, Paul notes, a price tag. "I rejoice in what I suffered for you..." The kingdom of God does not advance to a higher level unless someone pays a price. Someone has to do a little dying. For the church to advance, we must die to self-absorption, must die to lesser dreams and get a greater vision, must die to wreckless pleasure seeking to put on the serving towel and serve in the church so that the church can prevail.

The key is knowing that Christ is working in us, and ultimately He will prevail.

Top Right: One of our two adult Sunday School classes.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Christ Is Enough

The leaves are changing and autumn's chill is in the air. Inside the walls and halls of New Life Covenant there was only warmth and a lot of good vibes. In fact, the decibel level was such that Brad had to shout to be heard as he welcomed us. "Good morning! Glad to be back."

Announcements included this afternoon's Old Fashioned Hymn Sing at the Newmans, the opening night of Adventure Club on Wednesday, and a women's Mocha Night at Barnes and Noble Tuesday evening at 7:00.

Darlene's introit set the tone as we we entered into worship.

The Scripture reading was from Colossians as Brad continued his series of messages drawn from this significant letter of Paul's. Following a time of prayer, he took the pulpit to speak from God's Word.

Christ Is Enough

"I just want to finish well," Brad stated as he opened the Scriptures to Colossians, where we have been the past few weeks. Paul wrote this letter to address a heresy that had been introduced in Colossae. That heresy was syncretism.

Brad illustrated syncretism by reminding us of school lunches in which on Monday you were served green beans, Tuesday corn, Wednesday broccoli, Thursday lima beans. And on Friday, we all recall the soup of the day with all the leftovers from the week, vegetable medley. It was a bad stew. And that was what was happening at Colossae. Every kind of teaching was getting mixed together.

Paul writes, no, no, no. You don't need all that other stuff. Christ is sufficient. Christ is all you need.

Brad did a re-cap of the passage he preached on two weeks ago, Colossians 1:9-11.

9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully. (NIV)

Paul's prayer was for these people to be filled with the knowledge of God's will and these several other items. Brad noted that it is a circular progression, that to be filled with the knowledge of God's will requires that we be in the Word, which leads to spiritual wisdom and understanding. As a result, we bear fruit and this causes us to want to know God better because of the work He is doing in our lives, which leads us back into the Word, etc.

Jesus was not just a good teacher. Jesus is our Savior. He is also the one who qualified us, has rescued us, and has transferred us into His kingdom. And He is more than sufficient for all our needs.

In verse fifteen Paul writes that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Paul is writing here that if you want to know what God looks like, get to know Jesus.

Jesus Himself said, in John 14:9, "Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father."

The letter to the Hebrews begins with a similar astonishing claim. 1In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Hebrews 1:1-3

In Philippians 2:6-7 Paul wrote of Jesus,
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

Brad pointed out that the phrase "made himself nothing" is elsewhere translated, "he emptied himself." By this Paul did not mean he emptied himself of his divinity, but rather, of his self-interest.

Returning to Colossians 1, verse fifteen states, "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation." The meaning here is not that Jesus was a created being. Jesus existed from before time and himself says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega." Paul's intent is to underscore that Jesus is of firstmost supreme importance, which we see amplified in the opening of John's gospel.

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.
3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

and verse 18: No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.

Again, John says here if you want to see who God is, look at Jesus who has made Him known. It is worth noting that the passage begins with the creation, that through Jesus all was created, and furthermore, he created it out of nothing, ex nihilo.

Jesus is Christ is above all and over all. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus even says as much when he declares, "All authority has been given unto me on and and earth, go therefore a make disciples..." As a side not when Jesus says he is above all authorities, that includes Satan. Satan has no authority over any believer. He can mess with you, but he has not authority over you. As regards your position in Christ, he can't even touch that.

Satan has been defeated, as Paul goes on to say in Colossians 2:13-15.

13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Brad compared Satan's power to the Chicago White Sox in this last game of the year. They fell short and can't win a playoff berth, but they can spoil it for someone else. Similarly, though Satan has been defeated at the cross, he is able to play a spoiler role and ruin as many lives as he can before the end. (Note: Brad is a White Sox fan and not trying to say the Sox are satanic.)

Brad shared a Frank Peretti story that aptly illustrated this same point. A family was headed somewhere in their car when a bee flew in the window, which was exceedingly distressing for the daughter in the back seat who had a serious allergy to bees. The father hoped it would fly out of the back seat area and when it did, he grabbed it in his hand, allowing the bee to sting him. When he let go of the bee, the daughter was initially afraid again, but the father comforted her by showing that he'd been stung, and "now all he can do is buzz."

C.S. Lewis, who at one time was himself a skeptic, pointed out that the notion that Jesus was a great teacher was actually a foolish position. "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic or else he would be the devil. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the son of God or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for as fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let's not come with any patronizing nonsense about him being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us and he did not intend to."

A hymn of praise followed as we prepared to celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.