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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

24 (Colossians 4.2-6)

August 30, 2009
Sermon by: Robert Austell
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One of my favorite TV shows is “24.” It is a fictional story about a government agent and patriot, Jack Bauer, who gives whatever it takes and all that he has to serve and protect his country. The producers tell his story uniquely because they do so in “real time” with each episode depicting one hour out of a 24-hour day. So over the season, you see one amazing, terrifying, and inspiring day of his life. One of the inside jokes fans have is that Jack never seems to take time to eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom, he is so committed to his calling and purpose.

In some not insignificant ways, Jack is to his country as we should be to God’s Kingdom. Our awareness of, motivation by, and service to God should be a 24-hour a day and every day calling and purpose. That is the true depth of worship.

This is something I’ve talked and taught about before, but I was challenged and stretched on this topic during my trip to Nicaragua and I’d like to begin by telling you some more about that before we turn to the text and one specific application of this all-out worship perspective.

Teaching at School of the Bible

About a year and a half ago, Jason and Tiffany Hinton visited Good Shepherd to share about their work with YWAM. They invited all those present that night to come visit and I casually mentioned that I was having a sabbatical in 2009 and might consider it. Well, Jason didn't forget and invited me down to teach for a week at the "School of the Bible." This is a year-long residency program taught in numerous YWAM bases around the world. What makes Jason's base unique is that it is the only base that teaches the program in Spanish, so people come from all over for the training (including U.S. students interested in Spanish language missions).

I taught for a week in the School of the Bible. It was 20 hours of class time, which was about 10 hours of teaching since it all had to be translated into Spanish. There were 5 students and 3-4 staff in the class (last year there were 19 students). Three of the students were from the U.S., called to mission work in Central or South America. Two other students were from Nicaragua (though one spoke English well). What that all meant was that I was able to talk with the students directly over lunch and in-between classes (something I didn't expect). I enjoyed getting to know each of them and hear about what God is doing in their lives.

The course I taught was intended to teach some skills for Biblical interpretation, using the topic of worship as a case study. The students really dug in and engaged the material, with the highlight being some really diverse and creative responses to a homework assignment to create a worship service from scratch based on the worship principles we identified from Scripture. Each thought so broadly about worship and went far beyond the service to describe a really exciting vision for life, calling, and service together in Christian community. I think the students' perspective flowed out of their desire to obey the word and out of their rich experience living for a year in close Christian community.

Their response lead me to one significant "takeaway" from this experience. I have taught before that worship is more than the Sunday service; rather, it is all of life lived before God. But being a part of this voluntary community and studying and living God's Word with them for a week gave me a new perspective on what this means. Certainly each of the students and staff at the YWAM base had a particular missionary calling to go and serve God away from their home (even the Nicaraguan students and staff experienced this, preparing to go wherever God might send them in Latin America). But what the students and staff had that I believe should be a part of every Christian's life and calling is the perspective that all our life belongs to God. They were living it out and had a vision for a lifetime of living it out.

While I expected the trip to refocus me, it did so very keenly in answer to the question "what matters?" What really matters is not the next American Idol, or whether Jack survived on the season finale to 24. What really matters is not my tennis game or getting the newest golf club. What really matters is not even being successful at my job - whether that means striving to get a raise, get a good review, or beat my competition.

What really matters - and I saw this with such great clarity - is faith, family, and community. What are we doing with all the hours in the day? Is God just a little sideline hobby or the central and dominant reason for all that we say and do? Do we cherish our family and children? Do we become more and more isolated through American "entertainment" and miss all those God has surrounded us with - children, spouses, family, Christian community, and neighbors who need Good News?

One of the greatest treasures of my time in Nicaragua was being reminded in my heart (not just my head) that all I am and all I have belongs to God. I also have a rekindled desire to encourage folks to see the truth of that.

Open Doors, Opportunities, and Responding

With that in mind, let’s look at our text from Colossians. Paul is giving some end-of-the-letter instructions to the believers in the Colossian church. These instructions are specific, but they presume the kind of 24-hour a day alertness to God’s purpose and Spirit that I experienced and witnessed in Nicaragua.

In verse two, Paul writes, “Devote yourselves to prayer.” Well, easy enough – we know Christians are supposed to pray. And if you dig in to that word ‘devote’ you will find that it bears the connotation of some serious praying. This isn’t a 20-second, “God bless me and mine today” prayer, but a call to pray diligently and often. That being true, it’s really the rest of the text that opens up the real mindset Paul is after here, and it is what I would call a worship-mindset, or a 24/7 mindset.

Look what follows:

[Keep] alert in [that prayer] with an attitude of thanksgiving

…that God will open up to us a door for the word

Keeping alert requires constant focus and attention… it is something Jack Bauer does well! This says that our prayer life should have that kind of focus and diligence. But don’t miss the purpose of this particular prayer – it is to ask God to “open a door for the word.” This worship-mindset has a missional focus! We are to be constant, diligent, and alert in our prayers in hopes that God will open a door for the word of Christ to go out.

The rest of the text orients around that twin focus: worshipful attentiveness and missional purpose. In verses 5-6 Paul calls for wise conduct and gracious (but salt-seasoned) speech so that when that door is opened to sharing Christ through word or deed, we will know how to respond to each person. See, too, the result of that worshipful attentiveness and missional purpose: we don’t just toss off the same response in every situation, but respond to the need God puts before us in specific and appropriate ways.

While that may sound like something you aren’t equipped to do, understand the whole context of this. Here in God’s Word, each of you is being challenged to ask God to open a door for you to serve him with worshipful attentiveness and missional purpose. Not only will God not put you in a situation where you can’t faithfully serve and obey Him, but I believe God may well open a door to a situation in which you may serve and obey Him uniquely.

Also don’t miss this phrase in verse five: “making the most of the opportunity” or “redeeming the time” in the KJV. This worshipful attentiveness and missional purpose is not only a posture of obedience, but one of stewardship and faithfulness. This is what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. And it can and should happen wherever you are.

God calls some to be foreign missionaries; but God calls all believers to be disciples and local missionaries.

Everyone Should Visit a Missionary

I pray that God will give us ears to hear this challenge. If it’s hard to hear or experience, let me make another suggestion, from experience: go visit a missionary or go on a short-term mission.

When Jason and Tiffany came to Good Shepherd a year or so ago, they told people that one of the best ways we could support God's work in the world is to come visit them. It was that challenge that led Barbara Thompson (and Jane Chiseck with her) to take up needle and thread and go to the YWAM base in Nicaragua and teach local women how to knit. The fruits of that faithful response were very evident when I was there, some 12 months later!

I know I learned things about what God is doing there AND what God would do through me that I would not have learned without going. If all we ever do is send money to missionaries, we miss out on the real opportunity, which is to encounter God at work in the world. It's kind of like only chatting with people on Facebook and never meeting in real life.

All that is to say that I think the short-term mission trips we send our youth on are very important... not only helpful to those they go serve, but invaluable to their larger vision of what it means to serve God with their whole lives. Likewise, I believe it would be invaluable for adults to pack up, take a trip, and take some time out to visit and serve on site with a mission. The lessons learned are many and deep. It gets us out of our routine, away from so many distractions, and what can be a very spiritually dulling setting. Ask Barbara or Jane if they agree. Or some of those (youth or adults) who have gone on Son Servants trips.

Being a follower of Jesus is everything – not in the sense of needing to spend more hours in church, on Habitat build, or reading your Bible. Rather, it is more like being in love. We worship God when we are in His house and when we are away. We talk to God every chance we can get. We look for opportunities to serve and love him and say “yes” when He asks something of us. Sometimes it takes the shock of a mission setting to wake us up to what it really means to worship God fully. My prayer is that His Word this morning calls each of you to see, hear, and respond more clearly and faithfully.

The big question I faced in Nicaragua and that this text raises this morning is: “What is God to you? What is God’s Kingdom to you?” And “How will you respond?” Amen.

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