Friday, May 20, 2016

Laboring with His Energy

If you have to sit in prison, you had just as well write a few letters.  This time Paul writes to the church in Colossae. 

This city was about 100 miles east of Ephesus and situated in the fertile Lycus valley.  It was near the cities of Lacodicea and Hierpolis.

Paul did not plant this church but was very much involved in its beginnings.  On Paul’s third missionary journey, he spent about 3 years in Ephesus.  From this ministry, churches emerged in the surrounding area.

A man named Epaphras likely took the gospel that he had heard from Paul and spread it to the surrounding areas, including these cities 100 miles away.  This church is special because as far as we know, none of the apostles had been involved in getting it started.

This was the next generation of church bodies that emerged not from eye witnesses to the resurrected Jesus, but by those who had not seen but believed and carried the good news to the world.

This church faced some external challenges.  First, this was pagan country.  The Jewish influence was minimal.  Next, the Jewish believers were likely hot on the trail of this Christian faith even here.  These Jesus followers had broken new ground, now it was time to bring in the Law of Moses.  Finally, the Gnostics—those folks that didn’t fully believe that God would come in the flesh and live among sinful men—were spreading their wings wherever they could.  The Gnostics were more about knowledge than transformation.

So Paul made sure that Christ was not only central in this letter; but noted that true knowledge came only through him.

Christ is the image of the invisible God.
The fullness of God lives in Christ.
The reconciliation of all things comes only in Christ.
Christ is the head of the body, of the church.
Christ is the beginning and the first born from among the dead.
Christ reigns supreme.

Paul proclaimed Christ central to everything, but also challenged his readers to respond in conduct, obedience, practical behavior, and living worthy of our Lord.

It’s not just knowing, it is responding to what we know.

So Paul begins this short letter in thanksgiving and prayer.

So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding.  Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.
 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.

This should all sound quite familiar.  Paul is beckoning these believers to live up to the people that God has already made them to be.  He wants them to live in the fullness of knowing God’s will.  Elsewhere we might refer to this as his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Paul understood what these young believers were facing, so early in his letter he begins to reinforce the supremacy of Christ. 
·      He is the image of the invisible God!  Sinful human flesh cannot look upon God the Father so God came in the flesh where we could not only see him but see God—Holy God, God the Father, Yaweh, Elohim, Abba—through him.
·      He is the firstborn over all creation.  He was not only present at the creation but it seems that he had to do most of the work.  The gospel author John would say that everything that was made was made through him.
·      He is the beginning of all things and the very glue that holds all things together.
·      He is the head of the church.  Remember what Jesus said to Peter:  On this rock I build MY church.  The church belongs to Jesus and he is the head.  On a few occasions I have responded to someone who did like a change or something new and told me, “It doesn’t feel like my church anymore.”  I said, “It never was.  The church belongs to Jesus.”
·      He is the first born from the dead.  In him we have victory over death.  Death is defeated!
·      God was pleased to put all of his fullness in Christ Jesus.
·      God reconciled all things to himself through the shed blood of Jesus—all things!

Paul conveyed a very basic message:  It is Christ and Christ alone that saves you from your sin and from death.  Don’t make the simple complicated.

You were once strangers, aliens, outcasts from God, but through Christ you have been made holy, without blemish, and free from accusation.  While Paul wrote to church bodies far and near, this message remains constant.

Jesus paid it all.

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

Jesus name above all names.

One day, if you are taking a test on Colossians and you have to fill in the blank, chances are the answer is Christ.

If it is a multiple choice test, choose the selection that reads “Christ.”

If it is an essay, start and begin with Christ.

Paul is telling these believers, you got it right the first time.  It is Christ and Christ alone.  Don’t be distracted.  Don’t be dissuaded.  Don’t change your focus.  Christ is supreme.  He is central.  He is the answer.

Now we get to the fun stuff.  Paul talked about his service, sometimes suffering service, in the name of Christ.

Paul explained that he wanted everything for these believers.  What had been a mystery was now revelation.  God’s love was for all.

Paul said he was commissioned to take this word to the world striving to fulfill the desire of God’s heart, but here is the fun part.

First, let me explain my job as manager at the Oklahoma Publishing Company, you know it as The Oklahoman.  This was from another lifetime.

I was responsible for circulation and sales in the southwest fourth of the state.  This was not my favorite job, though I did very well at it.  My managers contracted carriers to deliver papers.  Their earnings were pitiful and often we could not attract the best carriers.  Carriers would quit without notice.  Service was disrupted.  It was ugly.

I spent almost 5 years trying to fix things that the organization did not want fixed.  After several pilot cases where I showed that by paying the carriers a little more and keeping them on the job, the company made more money—actually a lot more money—and having these rejected again and again, I decided it was time to do something else.

I had never been in an organization where I was not effective with continuous improvement and I found myself in the middle of a culture that didn’t care.

But there was the company car, and not just the car but the fuel card.  During my time with the paper, we probably spent $50 a year on gas.  If we were going somewhere, we took the company car and burned the company’s fuel.

As far as the job, you can have it.  I was burned out trying to convince circulation directors and vice presidents that people with no phone service were not signed up for a subscription by a telemarketer.

But the car, and oh the fuel card, those were nice.  Being fueled by somebody else’s energy, now that was something.

We who follow Christ are sent into the world but we are using God’s fuel card.  We are using God’s energy!

Our response to God’s incredible love that we know in Christ is to take that love to the world.  It might seem an exhausting task, but we use God’s energy and his strength.

Think on this provocation for a moment.  Why don’t we use God’s strength and his power and his energy more often?  Why do we burn our own fuel so much instead?

Have you ever seen an exhausted basketball team outplay the better rested one?  Where did their energy come from?

Have you ever dragged yourself to Bible Study on a Wednesday night wishing you had just stayed home and gone to bed early, but left feeling full of energy?  What happened?

If the camaraderie and loyalty of the sports team can sustain them beyond their limits, how much more will the energy of God fill and sustain us?

Paul tells us that he is running the good race, fighting the good fight, and keeping the faith but God gave him his fuel card.

Listen to how Paul concludes this first chapter in The Message translation.

This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That’s what I’m working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me.

If you will step forward in your commission to take God’s love that we know in Christ Jesus to your neighbors and to the people you see at Walmart or Hutch’s or the Post Office, God will give you the energy to keep going.

Our message is simple—we know love and life in Jesus Christ.  Sometimes we just start the conversation with “God loves you.”

You don’t have to memorize a script.  You just take God’s love with you wherever you go.  Let people taste God’s goodness whenever they cross your path.  Be a light that shines in the darkness.

Know that God will fill your tank again and again.

Yes, we are called to labor in service to the Lord, but he gives us his energy.  His yoke is easy.  His burden is light.  

He gives us his fuel card.

Let’s labor with joy for our Lord!


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