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Monday, October 29, 2012

Facing Persecution (John 15-16)

Sermon by: Quay Youngblood
October 28, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" (Jan Sanborn)
Song of Praise: "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" (Wesley; D. Crowder)
Hymn of Praise: "Holy Bible, Word Divine" (ST. GEORGE'S, WINDSOR)
The Word through Drama: "Good Little Christian Girl" (Sr. High Girls)
Offering of Music: "I Want Jesus to Walk With Me" (piano, arr. Bobby White)
Song of Sending: "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" (EIN FESTE BERG)
Postlude: "A Mighty Fortress" (Michael Praetorius)

"Facing Persecution"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: John 15:18-16:4; 2 Corinthians 11:23-28; 1 Peter 4:12-13 

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

In the past few weeks, Robert has talked to us about the value and joy of being in Christian community. There is really nothing like it and it is a dress rehearsal of the great community that awaits us in heaven in God’s presence. Unfortunately, there is a flip side to being a believer in Jesus Christ.  That is today’s text. If you get disturbed by what I am saying, I only ask that you hang in there. It really will be well in the end.

There aren’t too many Sunday’s at Good Shepherd when there isn’t a sign up table in the gathering area – Crop walk, adult game night, family retreat, White gift program. But did you know that when you signed on and called yourself a Christian, you also signed up for something else? Persecution!!

In our scripture passage this morning, John relays Jesus words warning his disciples of their coming persecution. The passage is found in the middle of a passage know as the Olivet Discourse, Jesus speaking to his disciples after He celebrated his last Passover with them and was on his way to his arrest in the Garden. In the verses just before this morning’s text, Jesus has told his disciples not to let their heart’s be troubled, that should not be fearful, that when he goes away, a helper will come, how much he loves them and his joy may be in them to that their joy will be complete.

After this wonderful, reassuring talk, he then warns them that the world will hate them! They will be persecuted, drug from the synagogue, outcasts and even killed in the name of God. Oh boy! Where do I sign up? He even admits he waited until now, three years after they began walking with him before telling them this. I don’t think you would tell a new Christian this is what they have signed up for.

If we are to believe what non-Biblical but historically reliable sources tell us about what happened to the disciples, we know that Jesus warning were accurate. They met their fate in various heinous ways –stabbing, thrown from a roof top, boiled in oil and Peter hung from a cross albeit upside down because he said he was unworthy to die as Jesus did. We also know that other early Christians faced all kinds of persecution at the hands of Emperors Nero and Domitian. This would make it easy to dismiss this warning as specific to the disciples and early Christians. But Jesus message is timeless.

Let’s  take a walk through history, starting even in time before Christ. There are numerous examples in the Old Testament of people who made the choice to listen to God, even when it brought persecution upon them. The first person that came to my mind was Jeremiah. Day after day he stood alone, calling on the people of Judah to repent. Even after the majority had been carried off to Babylon he continued to preach repentance while under house arrest in Jerusalem. He was thrown into a well in Egypt where he died because the people refused to hear his message.

Other Old Testament people come to mind that were stood and did as God commanded while being persecuted: Elijah, Job, Noah and I am feel sure you name more.

We will come back to the New Testament but let’s jump to October, 1517. This was actually was inspired to talk about persecution. This is Reformation Sunday when the Protestant Church commemorates what is commonly thought of as the beginning of the Reformation. You probably know the events:  Martin Luther, Roman Catholic priest and professor, wrote a letter protesting the sale of indulgences by the Roman Catholic church.  The letter was nailed to the front door of the church in Wittenberg,  Germany on October 31 and is more popularly known as the 95 Theses. His main point was that only God can forgive sins and it is through faith in Jesus Christ alone. You can’t buy or earn your way into God’s favor. He also objected to the edicts of the church which stood in direct opposition to scripture. From those two Latin phrases  “sola scriptura” or scripture alone and “sola  fide” or faith alone. These ideas are the basis of the reformed faith we profess.

But what drew me to this scripture in John was what happened to Martin Luther after he posted the 95 Theses. Luther was branded a heretic and ordered to stand before the Diet of Worms. I wish the children were still in here because they like me when I was there age thought this meant he was fed a steady diet of worms. “Diet” actually means “a formal deliberative process” which was held in Worms. Luther was held as prisoner of this assembly for 4 months. When he was allowed to speak in his defense he gave an historic speech:

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen”

Luther was found by the Diet to be a heretic. Now his ideas don’t sound very radical to us that have grown up in this reformed tradition but let me tell you what Luther faced. Another reformer who lived approximately 100 years before Luther was named Jan Hus. He too was labeled a heretic and burned at the stake.
While Luther was being transported out of Worms, he was taken by an unknown band which had been sent by a friend and hidden away in as castle at Wartburg. In this seclusion, he translated the New Testament into German, the first time it has been translated out of Greek into a language of the common people.
Its hard for me to imagine a church without the reformed faith. Luther’s courage in the face of persecution made it happen. Or a Bible not in a language I can’t understand or speak.

Luther wasn’t the only one. Tyndale House publishers was named for William Tyndale. He provoked the church by translating the Bible into English. He was strangled to death and his body burned. Remember Jesus’ words “a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering service to God.”
Dietrich Bonheoffer spent the last 2 years of his life in a Nazi jail and was hung just before the Allies liberated Germany for his Biblically based opposition to Hitler.

Angela McCaskill was suspended last month from her job at Gallaudet University In Maryland for signing a petition that expressed her beliefs.
This summer, I heard  from a theology student who is preparing to enter the ministry. His family had come here from Vietnam. His father had just been released after 20 months in prison  for telling others about Jesus Christ.

Right now, Christians in China, Southern Sudan, Nigeria, North Korea, Egypt and many other nations are laying their lives on the line literally to worship Jesus Christ.

We can see from Paul’s letter the Corinthians that he suffered numerous physical and mental persecutions. Its interesting that he didn’t really think it was all that important for him to discuss and was even embarrassed that he felt forced to use his persecutions to justify his ministry. Paul even used his persecution as an opportunity to advance the gospel by demanding as a Roman citizen that he be brought before the Roman Emperor knowing that doing so would lead to his execution. “Now they are without excuse”.

Its easy to see why as we sit in the comfort of this sanctuary in this country why Jesus’ words seems strange to us. So do they apply or were these ancient warnings from Jesus as some would say outdated and not relevant.  I think the reason it doesn’t seem relevant to me is I don’t live my faith on the edge. I kind of keep it tucked back somewhere to pull out when its convenient. Perhaps if I stepped out more boldly I would experience persecution, maybe not physically but mentally and socially.

Even if I don’t suffer from persecution now because of my timidity, there may be a time when you and I do face persecution. I doubt the Puritans and Pilgrims ever thought they would have to leave England to escape persecution. So even if it never comes upon us in a harsh manner the way some of our brothers and sisters around the world are facing it, we need to need to be prepared.

How? I really didn’t stop to count how many ways I will mention so if it’s not three, it may not be very Presbyterian. The first is to know what it is you believe and why. Peter puts it this way: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect keeping a clear conscience so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their behavior.”  Let me state this another way: If you were asked if you were a Christian, could you first say yes and then tell why? Could you do it if doing so might put you in jail?

The second way is prayer. Don’t wait until it happens. Ask God now to prepare you to withstand any persecution that may come your way. Make it such a habit that if you get caught up in persecution, it will be the first thing that comes to mind.

Third, believe what Jesus told his disciples. “Be on you guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them (remember what happened to Paul?)  and to the Gentiles. Bit when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”  In the scripture this morning and   all of Jesus teachings, we are promised the Holy Spirit. Depend on him to be there! It’s called  faith!

Did I just contradict myself?  I had just said be prepared and now it says not to worry. I believe we can reconcile the two like this: When you need it, the Holy Spirit will bring to mind what it is you have studied and know and the proper things to say.

Fourth, be obedient. In the military, they train for hours to follow orders so that in the heat of battle, they will now how to react. Its practice so that you will have discipline to follow through.

I have to go back now and pick up on the obvious. Its right in front of us and its so easy to miss. None, not even one other person has suffered persecution more that Jesus himself. And no one has ever deserved it less. There is a strange twist o words in Jesus speech. He says “This is to fulfill what is written in their law ‘they hated me without reason’”. I understand that they had no reason to hate him. The word that puzzled me was the phrase “their law”. Jesus is actually quoting Psalm 35 and 69.I think by calling it their law, he was pointing out that they were incorrectly applying God’s word by making it a law.

So if we are to be persecuted like Jesus, we must strive to be more like Jesus. We must be imitators. We must live in the world but not as the world. We must avoid unwholesome activity which may cause us to be labeled boring. We must avoid crude talk which gets us labeled prudes.  We must avoid being consumed with things which become false idols which will make you appear poor.. Sometimes we have to swim against the tide of popular opinion which will get us labeled rebels. We must help those less fortunate than us because that will make us do gooders. We must trust in God which will get us labeled as ignorant. Boring, prude,, simpleton, rebel, do-gooder, ignorant, poor: all of the things Jesus and the disciples were called.

Here is a question you and I need to ask ourselves: If you were arrested and charged with being a Christian, would there be enough witnesses and evidence to convict?

Now it gets even harder:  not only must we must endure persecution, we are told elsewhere to do it with a good attitude. Really?  Jesus didn’t look forward to his persecution. Earlier in John, he said “Now my heart is troubled and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify you name.”

It’s easy to  have the fruits of the spirit when things are going well. What about when you face trials and persecution. The subjects come up again and again in the gospels, Paul’s letters part of which we read; James said “count it pure joy, my brothers whenever you face trials  of many kinds”.; Peter says “dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you are participating in the sufferings of Christ.” Wherever right suffering is mentioned in the Bible it is coupled with joy or an acknowledgement that it’s for God’s glory.

Now if you tuned out because all this talk about suffering and persecution were not what you came to hear, start listening again. Why did we sign up for persecution? Paul says “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”  It’s because by suffering like Christ, we can share in his resurrection.

James says  that the trials produce perseverance which helps us grow into maturity or more like Christ. We become the people God intended us to be.

Peter says trials and persecution come our way so that your faith may prove to be genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” We join in the heavenly worship that is promised in the new heaven and the new earth. In continuation of Peter’s early exhortations to endure suffering it is “so you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” A joy like no other you can ever experience on earth and a joy that never ends.

And finally from Romans: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” We can’t even begin to imagine how wonderful its going to be to spend eternity in God’s presence. It will be well worth the price.

You may never have a denomination named for you but you never know who else might be watching!! We know who for sure is!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Joined Together in Prayer (Ephesians 1.18-23)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
October 21, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Crown Him with Many Crowns" (Burkhardt)
Hymn of Praise: "Crown Him with Many Crowns" (DIADEMATA)
The Word in Music: "The Church's One Foundation" (Hopson)
 Song of Response: "I Need You to Survive" (Hezekiah Walker)
Song of Sending: "Holy Spirit" (Townend/Getty)
Postlude: "Processional in G Major" (John Stanley)

"Joined Together in Prayer"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today we pick up in Ephesians 1:18, with a prayer offered for those who would read or hear this letter. Really, all of Ephesians 1 is an extended prayer.  After the greetings of the first few verses, there are about 12 verses of praise to God-who-is-blessed.  That’s what we looked at last week.  After all the theology and blessings and human response, it all boiled down to one powerful point: God’s character, actions, and our participation all sound a glorious note of praise to God.  Then, a few verses that we have jumped over, vv. 15-17, are a prayer of thanks to God, a natural follow up to the praise.

Today, starting in verse 18, the prayer continues, now focused on those who might not know of God’s character and loving actions toward us.  The prayer reaches outward to those around us, that eyes would be opened to see and know God for who He is and what He has done.

I’ve mentioned that in September we focused on what it means for an individual to be a Christian or follower of Jesus Christ, and that in October we are focusing on what it means to be the community of Christ together.  Today’s text and prayer remind us that individual believers are connected to one another with Jesus Christ as our “head.”  In order to fully realize and experience that, we may need to have our eyes opened!

Open the Eyes of My Heart (v. 18)

This passage begins with the prayer that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” (v. 18)  Then all the rest is what the one praying hopes that our enlightened hearts will see.  The language is a little strange: we don’t talk about our hearts having eyes.  But we do talk about having a hard heart or a broken heart or being tender-hearted, and none of those are literal descriptions of the muscle that pumps the blood through our bodies.  From ancient times until now, and perhaps because the heart does pump life-giving blood through our bodies, humanity has spoken of the heart as a very significant part of our inner person.  It is a term for describing our emotions, our will, or our deepest-seated passions.

And all that gets at what is in view here as this prayer is prayed.  To truly know and follow Jesus Christ is more than an external ritual or intellectual belief; it is an inward, life-changing, passion-stirring reality.  And what follows begins to describe in words what it is that our hearts might come to know.

To Know Three Things (vv. 18-19)

There are three things named that our hearts will come to know if we are truly to trust, love, and follow Jesus Christ.  You may realize that each of these echoes words and phrases in the passage we looked at last week, which was an extended description of praise to God.

1.    The Hope of His Calling (v. 18)

The first is the “hope of His calling.” In the earlier part of this chapter, the word “calling” was not used, but it was densely packed with descriptions of God’s plan, purpose, predestination, choosing, adoption, and more.  And yet God doesn’t force any of that on us, though his love toward us has existed since before the foundation of the world.  As we heard last week, we must listen and believe.  And so all that adds up to God “calling” us.  The hope is in the certainty of God’s faithfulness and response.  If we listen and respond, we can be sure of God’s love and purpose; our faith is well-placed and certain because God is true.  We can have hope in the character of God.  So you have that kind of hope in God?  That is the prayer – that you would.

2.    The Riches of His Glory (v. 18)

The second thing that our hearts will come to know is we are to see and know God is the “riches of His glory.”  This, too, recalls the praises in last week’s passage, which described us as adopted sons.  “Sons” did not signify gender, but that all who are adopted into God’s family in Christ are heirs or inheritors of God’s rich grace and blessing.  Do you even begin to grasp how lavish God’s grace and love toward you is?  That is the prayer – that you would.

3.    The Greatness of His Power (v. 19)

The third part of the prayer is that we would know the “greatness of God’s power toward us who believe.”  In fact, it’s not just great power, but is SURPASSING greatness, as in greater than any other greatness and more powerful than any other power.  Again, this all flows out of the praises in last week’s text, which spent some time highlighting God’s great power – over time, creation, and even sin and death.  Can you begin to imagine how great and powerful God is?  If not, your God is too small!  That is the prayer – that you would know hope in God’s character, the abundant riches of God’s grace, and the surpassing greatness of God’s power.

As Shown in Three Things (vv. 19-22)

In good Jewish fashion, the Apostle Paul circles around and repeats much of this in order to underline it and drive it home, even in the context of a prayer.  These three things that he prays for us to know have already repeated the praises he has offered to God.  Now, he notes that the three things are “in accordance with” three actions of God in Christ.  The three things we should know line up with or match three things God has done, specifically “brought about in Christ.”  Let’s look at those briefly and we’ll see that they give us even more reason to see, know, believe, and trust God.

1.    Christ raised (v. 20)

The first thing God brought about in Christ through His mighty strength was that He raised Christ from the dead.  Of course that is one of the core parts of the Christian story; it’s the Easter story.  It’s also the source of our HOPE, which was the first thing Paul prayed that we would know in our hearts… our deepest parts.  God raised Jesus from the dead as a demonstration of His love, power, and grace toward us.

2.    Christ seated (v. 20)

The second thing God brought about in Christ is right after that: He seated Christ at His right hand.  Though it’s right after “He raised Him,” the explanation runs a little longer.  That’s probably good, because I think we have a harder time understanding “Christ seated” as compared with “Christ raised.”  As you read on, you realize that being seated at God’s right hand must have something to do with authority and power, because Jesus is said to there be “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”  That’s quite a statement about the authority that comes with that seat.  And I think it gives us some idea of the scale.  Jesus wasn’t just “King Jesus” like David was “King David”; God put him in the place of highest authority and power over all creation for all time.  That is a corresponding action to Paul’s prayer that we would know the “riches of the glory of His inheritance.”  We are not only in the family, but inheritors of the riches of this King!

3.    Christ Over All (v. 22)

In verse 22, we read that God “put all things in subjection under His feet and gave Him to the church as head over all things.”  This final description of God’s actions in Christ corresponds to Paul’s prayer that we would know the surpassing greatness of God’s power.  To know that, we must yield as subjects to our King and Head.  That not only we but ALL THINGS are subject to Christ again gives a sense of scale to God’s power.  Remember it is surpassingly great!

A Picture and a Prayer (vv. 23, 18)

On that final note of Christ as Head of the Church, Paul uses a word-picture that itself helpful to opening our eyes to the spiritual reality all around us.  It also makes the connection I want you to see between an individual’s faith and life and the community of believers to which God connects us.

God gave Jesus as “head over all things” to the Church, which is “His body.”  That means not only that each of us who believes and trusts Jesus must obey and follow his leading as our King and Head, but we are all part TOGETHER of His body.  Paul makes much of this image elsewhere, but there’s enough here for you to get it.  This final note of a truth-packed prayer doesn’t end with a personal salvation, me-and-God picture, but with all believers in all times connected together into an organic whole with Christ at the head of it.  So, as Paul writes elsewhere, the hand cannot say to the foot, “I have no need of you”; rather, the whole works together for the singular purpose of its head, Jesus Christ.

As we will sing in a moment, “I need you, you need me; we’re all part of His body.”  So, that is also the final part of this rich prayer: not only that you will know God’s character, God’s actions, and all that it means for you; but also that you will know what it is to be bound together as one body under Jesus Christ.  That is the Church.

That will raise a natural question: if we are the Church, what are we supposed to do together?  And that is where we will turn in the month of November.  It is not without cost, though.  Next week, Quay Youngblood will preach on the challenge and cost of following Christ as His Church, then we will turn to our mission under Christ.  Amen.

Monday, October 15, 2012

To the Praise of God's Glory (Ephesians 1.3-14)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
October 14, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Holy Spirit" (Townend/Getty)
Hymn of Praise: "The Father's Love" (Dawson/Austell)
Hymn of Praise: "Holy Spirit" (Townend/Getty)
Offering of Music: "Praise the Lord, God's Glories Show" (Schelat)

Hymn of Sending: "From All that Dwells Below the Skies" (LASST UNS ERFREUEN)
Postlude: "From All that Dwells Below the Skies" (Paul Manz)

"To the Praise of God's Glory"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today we are starting into two weeks in Ephesians, chapter one.  We are continuing what we started in September, which is asking what it means to be a Christian or follower of Jesus Christ.  But in October we are looking at how that is not an individual or merely personal decision, but a community to which God calls us.  It’s like making the high school band: getting in and playing well are just part of it.  It’s the TEAM that’s the point; and it’s a team with a purpose, to play music that stirs up the listener.  How very similar that is to the community of Christ, as you will see in today’s text!

Having said that, Ephesians 1 is notoriously dense writing.  It is full of long, complex sentences and a whole string of terms begging for further explanation.  While all that is important, I don’t want us to get lost in the weeds, as important as those weeds might be.  So, I’d like to pull out several big themes that are woven together throughout these eleven verses.  And I’d like to draw your attention to the broader picture those themes paint: a God who has gone to extravagant lengths to love us and invite our love back for the purpose of making glorious music that is itself the story of that love.

I want to point you to four ways that God is described as loving us.  I want to name three ways we benefit from that love.  I want to name two ways we can respond to that love.  And after that countdown I want to point to the one resultant note sounded by and with God through the community of Jesus Christ.

Blessed be God! (v. 3) - 4 ways God loves us

The passage starts off with the main idea, which is simply this: BLESSED BE GOD!  Blessed be God.  It’s more common to hear or talk about God blessing us, but this is different.  This is declaring that God is blessed, and all that follows really has to do with that short statement.  I might add that it’s not like God is lacking and we are giving God something.  Rather, it is that God IS blessed (because He’s God) and we are declaring it so.  This could have been “blessed is God.”  And it’s a great place to start because it is worship.  Rather than start with what all God does for us, let’s just start with this: God is blessed!  I declare it.  That is worship and that is praise.  (That will be an important point when we get to the end!)

Now God-who-is-blessed is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” and has acted in at least four ways described in this passage.  Let’s look at those actions.

1.    God has Blessed Us (v. 3)

First, look at the next part of verse 3: God has blessed us.  Blessings are not things we want, like presents; they are an overflow of the very character, will, and purpose of God.  Remember where this started?  GOD IS BLESSED!  So what God wants for us and what God does for us – THAT is blessing.  And this verse tells us that God has blessed us with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”  In the second part of this sermon we will look at three specific examples of those blessings.  But for now, simply recognize the significant difference between a blessing as something we wish for and the blessing that is the overflow of God’s character.  It’s like the prayer I pray every week before the sermon: “God, cause my human words to line up with your holy word.”  That is what blessing is: experiencing the alignment of our lives with God’s purpose for us.

2.    God has Chosen Us (v. 4)

Second, look at verse 4: God has chosen us.  The next few verses show just how infinite and mind-boggling God’s purpose for us is.  It is not just the case that God sees you and knows you or that God has watched over you your whole life.  Look at the description of God’s choosing.  God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.  Think about that!  Think about WHEN that was.  It’s before Genesis 1 – BEFORE the foundation of the world.  God had you in mind and willed the world into being that you would be in it.  And what does God choose us for?  It’s not just anything… it’s “that we should be holy and blameless before Him.”  Holy and blameless - that describes God’s character.  God chose to create us for fellowship and relationship with Him.  Let’s add one more bit to that…

3.    God has Predestined Us (v. 5)

Third, look at verse 5: God has predestined us.  Now, that word opens up a long and enticing rabbit trail we could follow.  I’ll just speak to it briefly.  This does not say “God fated us” for something.  Fate denies human will, but God created and affirms human will.  This verse works with the previous one to speak to God thinking about us and having a purpose long before we even existed.  But notice the limitations on it as well.  This verse doesn’t say that God predestined our every move, but that God purposed our adoption IN LOVE to His family.  This is what was already said above when God chose us; it just adds on some imagery to help us understand that.  And it uses an image we are familiar with: adoption.  Isn’t it entirely understandable to say to a child who has been adopted that her parents had her in mind long before the moment of adoption, and perhaps even before her birth?  That’s the image here to help us understand.  God planned in eternity past to create human beings to be part of His holy and blameless family.  And what the story reveals is that not even sin, death, or disobedience can undo the love which God has held for us – for you – since long before you were born.

4.    God has Revealed His Will (v. 9)

Fourth, look at verse 9: God has made known to us the mystery of His will.  Said another way, God has revealed His will.  Though this eternal choosing and purposing is way beyond anything we could comprehend, God has also explained it to us, most perfectly and completely through Jesus Christ, whom scripture even calls in one place the “explanation” of God.  (John 1:18)  So God – who is blessed – has a purpose and a plan for all eternity and out of love created us to include us in it.

Every Spiritual Blessing in Christ (v. 3) – 3 things we have received

Now I said I would come back to those spiritual blessings and here they are.  Remember, verse three said that God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”  And we noted that blessings are not defined by what we want, but by the character and purpose of God.  This passage goes on to name three very distinct spiritual blessings that God has given us in Christ.  These are from God, but specifically given in or through Christ, and you’ll see each one flagged by the words “in Him.”  (Sometimes “in Him” is in God; but these are the ones where “Him” references Christ.)  Here are the three blessings.

1.    Redemption (v. 7)

First, in verse 7: “In Him we have redemption.”  We know “Him” is Jesus because of “Beloved” in the preceding sentence and because it is “through His blood.”  And what a lovely, compact description of salvation given right in these relatively short words.  Starting with the end of verse 6, describing a grace that is “freely bestowed on us in the Beloved,” this redemption is further described as forgiveness of our trespasses or sins – our disobedience – and accomplished through the shedding of Jesus’ blood.  Redemption is when you purchase or buy back one thing with another thing.  With death the penalty and consequence of sin, Jesus literally and spiritually gave his life in our place that we might be purchased or bought back into freedom and life.  It’s not just a symbolic act, but a supremely costly one, which is what prompts the language of riches lavished upon us.  In Christ, God poured out a King’s ransom for each of us, because of love.  This is the gift that we call grace.

2.    Inheritance (v. 11)

Second, in verse 11: “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance.”  This relates back to the adoption language earlier.  There, we were “adopted as sons.”  That was not to exclude women and girls, but because in ancient times sons inherited from the father.  This is a description of the validity and nature of our adoption.  We are in no way secondary members of God’s family, but right in it – inheritors of God’s treasure, already described in terms of blessing and lavished riches.  I’ve tried to say this in other ways before.  The Good News of Jesus Christ is not just salvation or rescue from death - which would be enough; it is welcome into a relationship and a family and a home, so much so that you can be called an heir.  In Christ, you belong in community together.

3.    Sealing (Protection/Marking) (v. 13)

Third, in verse 13: “…you were sealed in Him.”  This is a good time to mention that in this passage you see God as Father, Son, and Spirit.  This verse brings all to bear.  A third one of God’s blessings is that in Christ you were sealed in the Holy Spirit.  The seal is not only protective, but identification of who and whose you are.  It is a PLEDGE of that inheritance I spoke of, which at the least is the redemption. 

God’s blessings are known in and through Jesus Christ, and include redemption and inheritance, signaled and promised by the Holy Spirit of God.

What Do We Do? (vv. 13-14)

So, that’s four ways God has acted and three blessings in Christ; now I want to name two ways we can respond to all that.  Incidentally, this also offers some commentary on how human will and action relates to God’s planning, choosing, and predestinating.  You have heard such strong statements about God’s plan and purpose; but right here in the same passage are descriptions of human choosing and action.  Both of these come before the blessing of being sealed in Christ with the Holy Spirit. 

1.    Listen (v. 13)

First, in verse 13: believers are described as “listening to the message of truth, the gospel of truth…”  A first act of human faith and obedience is to listen to God’s Word, the message about God’s eternal, loving, saving, redeeming plan that we’ve been talking about.  It is both true and it is Good News.

2.    Believe (v. 13)

And linked to that, second: “having also believed.”  One must listen AND believe.  And by hearing and trusting that Good News, we then come to know the seal or pledge of God’s work in our lives.  Simple enough, right?  Well, you’ve got to listen and believe.  But God does not force that; that’s not predestination or godly purpose.  And as Romans 10 says, “How will they listen and believe if no one speaks the Good News to them?”  In no way does God’s purpose and plan diminish our call to share the Good News.  It is that Good News, in fact, to which human beings respond.

And What’s the Point of All This?

1.    Praise (vv. 6,12,14)

Four, three, two… one.  The point of all of this boils down to one thing, which is repeated several times throughout the passage.  I wonder if you noticed it.  It comes in verses 6, 12, and 14, in reference to God’s action, to the blessings of Christ, and shortly after the description of human response.

All of this, which is part of God’s plan, purpose, love, and our participation in it, results in the praise of God’s glory.

We began with “blessed is God,” which is as good a way as any to talk about God’s glory.  God is said to be glorious because God is blessed, because God is God.  God’s goodness, love, wisdom, justice, and all of God’s character, being, and actions are not only blessed, but glorious.  Something is glorious if it is more radiant, more weighty, more true, more real than anything else; and God is the most glorious of all.

So, when this passage talks about “the praise of God’s glory” it is describing how these actions, blessings, and human responses highlight or praise the character and being of God.  And that brings me back to one of my opening illustrations.  While we eventually run out of brain power to comprehend these things, music does afford us a glimpse into these spiritual realities, because one aspect of both music and godly glory is BEAUTY. 

You try out for band and get in and get your part, written by someone else with a greater purpose and whole in mind.  You can play your part by yourself, but it only references part of the whole.  But when you participate in community, with each playing their part, and you rehearse and rehearse, you begin to make music and sound what the composer heard and in a way that is not just for the composer or performer’s ear, but is public.  When it works as intended, beauty is created in partnership between the composer and the community of performers.  That’s a pretty good description of the community of Christ that is the Church.

You each are called into this community to listen, believe, and follow the Word and work of God explained in Christ.  It is something you can pursue on your own, but you will only sound a part of the intended whole.  You were meant to be in community, rehearsing and working together to praise God’s glory.  That is a public thing; it is a communal activity; and it is not just saying, “Praise God,” over and over, but living and breathing God’s purposes in our life and work together.

What must you do to be a Christian?  Listen, believe, and follow.  But know that God has been at work long before you were even born to love, adopt, lavish, and bless you with every spiritual blessing.  And God has called us together to do this with one another.  That is a glorious purpose and there’s nobody I’d rather do it with than each of you!  Amen.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Putting on the New Self (Colossians 3.1-17)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
October 7, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Communion" (Susan Slade, flute) (Vierne)
Hymn of Praise: "Blessed Assurance" (ASSURANCE)
Hymn of Praise: "O For a Heart to Praise My God" (AZMON)
Offering of Music: "Own Me" (Ginny Owens)

Song of Sending: "Holiness" (Underwood)
Postlude: "O For a Heart to Praise My God" (Anna Laura Page)

"Putting on the New Self"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: Colossians 3:1-17

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Sometimes the spoken sermon varies more than other times from the manuscript, which is an early version of the sermon.  This is one of those times.  The content is mostly the same, but I organized it a bit differently and would commend the audio version for that reason and it's connection to previous week's sermons.

During the month of September, we looked at what it means to be a Christian.  More specifically, we looked at what it means to trust Jesus.  We had several comparisons: it is like being born again; it is like being reconciled to someone – all debts paid; the old is made new and with that God gives us new names to remind us of our new identity in Christ.

For the month of October, I’d like to move from what it means for an individual to be a Christian to what it means for us to be gathered together in community.  The Bible is full of the language of community and part of God’s redemption is not just to life and a new start, but to a people and a group and a gathered purpose.  I think you will hear the connection today with what we have been talking about with old becoming new and identity.  But I hope you will also see and hear the move toward one another as the gathered community of Jesus Christ.  Let’s look together then at Colossians 3:1-17.

It turns out there are ten commandments in this passage.  It’s not THE Ten Commandments; but there are ten imperatives or exhortations or challenges to all those who have been born again, who have a new identity and a new name.  I’m going to group them in two sets of five to look at with you today.  In addition to what this says to each of you individually, listen for each time these words are joined to “one another” or those in community with us.

If You Have Been Raised (vv. 1-11)

The first five commandments or instructions come in verses 1-11.  I’ll name each one and briefly say something about it.

1.    Keep seeking the things above (v. 1)

The first challenge is to “keep seeking the things above.”  So you’ve trusted Christ; don’t pack him up in your “that was a good experience” box; rather, keep seeking him out.  Keep learning and growing and following.  When Jesus talked with Nicodemus, he spoke of the “things above.”  We noted that you can’t understand your way to God, but must first trust.  But THEN, we do grow in understanding.  So keep asking questions and seeking.

2.    Set your mind on the things above (v. 2)

The second challenge is like the first, but this time is “set your mind on the things above,” and there is quite a bit more elaboration that follows.  The things above are contrasted with the things that are on earth.  And then comes this interesting statement: “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (v. 3)  And then, when Christ is revealed, we will be revealed.  We talked about this last Wednesday night at Bible study and what it means that Christ is hidden and our life is hidden.  In this context, I think it simply means that the things of this earth easily grab our attention because they are visible, loud, and distracting, right in front of our face.  But Christ is in Heaven, is invisible, is seemingly “hidden.”  And there is a sense in which our Christian identity, even those names we handed out last week, is “hidden.”  We have to keep reminding ourselves of what is really true and real.  And that’s the question, isn’t it?  Which is more real… your favorite TV characters breaking up, or wondering if the neighbor down the street has a secret crush on you, or the truth behind the declaration that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”  It’s easy to focus on the things of earth, but our challenge is to set your minds on the things above… not to check out, but to have an eternal and godly perspective.  The verse ends by saying that Christ and our true identity is only hidden for a time.  All will be revealed.

3.    Consider yourself dead to immorality (v. 5)

Third, we are to consider the members of our earthly body as dead to immorality” …and a whole list of other sins – impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed.  All are false gods that amount to idolatry.  Okay, that’s straightforward enough.  But look, this is interesting.  It is because of these things that God’s wrath comes down… ON OTHER PEOPLE.  Isn’t that just what we like to do with God’s wrath?  We either deny it, saying that God loves everything and everyone, or we displace it on somebody else.  But Paul reminds us that this is OUR story.  This is just where we were before we were rescued by God.  Don’t forget; and don’t live in that past.

4.    Put them all aside (v. 8)

And then this is also interesting.  The fourth commandment begins with “but now you also.”  It is an extra reminder that God is not done working on you either.  It’s not just the really disobedient folks, but you also need to put aside sin, particularly sins of judgment and speaking against others in anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abuse.

5.    Do not lie to one another (v. 9)

And fifth, do not lie to one another.  This list builds on itself.  Yes, it walks us through our own personal salvation from old to new.  But it doesn’t let us forget those around us.  They are neither abandoned nor left behind.  That John 3:16 love wasn’t “God so loved each of you” but “God so loved the world.”  God even loved the non-Jews, the uncircumcised, the barbarians (apparently the Scythian’s were extra bad!), slave and free.  This Good News of new birth, a new start, reconciliation and a new name is for ALL who believe and trust Jesus.  Do you hear it building in there?  God doesn’t save us to individualism, but to community for the sake of the world.

Now look back at verse one.  These five commandments all fall under the opening statement, “If you have been raised up with Christ.”  These are words for those who trust God for all that we talked about in September.  You trust God’s love shown to you through Christ and have been born again, reconciled, made new, and given a new name.  If that’s not you or you don’t understand, don’t worry, but let’s talk.  If you start with the to do list without the trusting relationship, this can easily turn into a religion of lists and laws.  It’s not that.  This is all part of your identity – who you are.  It’s like the names; a reminder of where you’ve come from and where God is leading you.  And God is leading you toward one another and into the world as His own people.

As Those Who Have Been Chosen (vv. 12-17)

Five more commandments or instructions come in verses 12-17.

6.    Put on a heart of… (vv. 12)

Here is the list of good things to correspond to the list of sins and vices in the earlier verses.  We are to put on a heart of “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and forgiveness.”  Those remind me of the spiritual fruits we studied this summer!  And look, the reconciliation is in there from a few weeks ago: “…just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” (v. 13)  And wait, there’s more!

7.    Put on love (v. 14)

Adding to the previous list, there is this, which is “beyond all those things” and is the “perfect bond of unity”: put on love.  That also reminds me of the summer study: faith, hope, and love remain, but the greatest is love.  What also strikes me in this 6th and 7th commandment is the visual image of “putting on” these traits.  This summer the image was that of fruit growing.  But now, it’s more like clothing; you put it on.  It’s a choice and it’s a daily choice, if not a moment by moment choice.  Are you dressed?  Have you put on these traits?  That’s the challenge; that’s the command.

8.    Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts (v. 15)

Then there are two more commandments that sound alike.  They both have a “Let the ____ of Christ ____ in you.”  Number eight is “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.”  And here the image of all Christians being part of one community, one BODY, is emphasized.  If the old pattern (v. 5) was to feed the desires of our own body, the new pattern is to serve the community which is Christ’s body.  He is the head; he is the ruler.  And notice the extra command tucked away at the end of the sentence: “and be thankful.”  That’s part of what being in community cultivates… a sense of grateful participation.

9.    Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you (v. 16)

And so number 9 is similar: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you.”  That is unpacked in terms of scripture and singing and thankful worship.  And the community is again invoked: “teaching and admonishing ONE ANOTHER.” And again, with thankfulness.

10.    Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus (v. 17)

Finally, as a kind of summation of all of it, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  No part of life is exempt from trusting and following him.  Last week we gave out some of the names by which God describes and calls you.  But our most fundamental name, as those who trust in Jesus, is to carry his name – Christian… “little Christs.”  We belong to him and his name is attached to all we do.  Notice, too, for the third time: “giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

Now look back at verse 12.  Just as the first five commandments were headed by the phrase “if you have been raised up with Christ,” so the second five are governed by the statement, “…as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved.” (v. 12)  Not only has God rescued all who trust in Jesus to a new life, God has chosen and named you ‘holy’ and ‘beloved’ in Christ.  And that shapes who we are and how we live.  God has chosen you in Christ; we love because God first loved us.  We are thankful because God has pursued us in love.

Mindset, Choice, and Submission

What can we take away from these ten commandments?  What does it mean to be born again, reconciled, and renamed?

It means having a certain mindset, making certain choices, and submitting ourselves to God.

Our MINDSET is one that seeks and focuses on God, on heavenly things, on hidden but real things.  Our CHOICES involve putting aside the old ways of speaking and living and putting on a new way of being.  SUBMISSION means allowing Christ’s presence and power to govern your heart and life, with perhaps the most telling indication being a profound sense of thankfulness to God. 

And God steers all these interior, personal, and powerful realities into the presence of others in community.  That’s the church.  That’s this family.  That’s God’s family and it’s a family God has put in the world with great purpose and intent.  Amen.