Saturday, November 30, 2019

191201 Always Thankful

Three days ago across America, and to some degree around the world, millions of households sat down at a common table to “break bread” together and remember to be thankful. Depending on the family history and culture many different things could stimulate an attitude of thankfulness. Historically, we look back to 1621 when the pilgrims shared in a common meal with the Native Americans celebrating their first harvest. In 1789 our first President, George Washington, proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was not a national holiday until 1863 when President Lincoln called for a day set aside to give thanks to God for turning the tide of war in our country. Today, Thanksgiving Day is often called “Turkey Day”.
Paul certainly had better reasons for being always thankful.
Colossians 1:3-4 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints.”
Paul sent this letter to the Christian believers in Colossae from prison. So far as we know, Paul was not the missionary who founded the church. In fact, he may not have known anyone in the church personally. We do know that Paul was informed by one of their ministers named Epaphras. God willing, we will come back later to do a detailed series of messages based on Paul’s letter to Colossae. Right now our focus is on Paul’s faithfulness in prayer that stirred him to always thank God for the Colossian’s faith and love. Their faith and love were bearing fruit and increasing. However, the church in Colossae was experiencing division because of false teachers who claimed the Gentiles were not equal to the Jewish believers. After Paul’s first missionary journey the church at Jerusalem had settled these issues. Luke recorded the event in Acts chapter 15. So, Paul now needs to equip the Colossian believers for the battle with the Judaizers that lay ahead of them. He called on them to remember how they were taught, look at Colossians 2:6-7,
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Let’s look at what Paul had to say to the Colossian church, and to us. Since we have been raised with Christ we should set our minds on things above. We should put to death the earthly things that hold us back from spiritual growth. The Jewish false teachers were wrong. This was no longer a case of Jew versus Gentile since we are all one in Christ. We can now choose to live a life abounding in thanksgiving.
Colossians 3:12-13 tells us, Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
It is true that God originally chose the nation of Israel to be his people. Now everyone who is in Christ is a “chosen one”! As such, we have the ability to put on a new lifestyle that reflects who we are. We are chosen to be holy and beloved therefore we can have compassionate hearts. The Judaizers would take them back to Moses rather than forward to Jesus. Since we are now sons and daughters of Abraham and Sarah “sin will have no dominion over you, since you’re not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Having been freed from the law we are able now to live out that freedom.
Our compassionate heart will allow us to display kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. We are no longer enemies. The new believers become sons and daughters of Abraham and Sarah. We are now able to bear with one another.
That is an interesting phrase! Bear with one another! It certainly speaks of a great need for love and tolerance in the body of Christ. It’s easy to find something to complain about in another person. Yes, even among Christians! The cure for intolerance is forgiveness! What do we base our forgiveness of another person on? Think about who you were before you were saved — if you are saved! Our great need is salvation that involves the forgiveness of SIN and the sins it produces.
Christian believers are able to forgive any complaint we may have against another brother or sister in Christ. We are able to forgive each other as the Lord has forgiven us! After all, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32). Since our Heavenly Father paid such a high price so we can be forgiven should we not also forgive others? Anytime we have a hesitation about forgiving another we should pause to consider the great price he paid in forgiving us.
Now that we have dealt with forgiveness we can go on to the highest character trait — LOVE!
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians chapter 13 magnifies love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. Remember? That chapter ends in verse 13! So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Jesus told his disciples one of whom passed it on to us: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35).
Therefore Paul could build on Jesus’ words telling the Colossians that putting on love like a garment is above all else. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:14.
In a similar vein, Paul had written to the Ephesians. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:2). Once again we see how great his love is for us! I remember my mother had a framed picture of the cross with the caption, “I asked Jesus how much do you love me?” “This much” he answered, then he stretched out his arms and died.” Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13).  His friends! Our life should be filled with thanksgiving because of his great love for us.”
When we accept his love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony, we have new abilities. Paul continues, And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15). Please note that having put on love as a binder we now have the ability to allow the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts. Please don’t mistake what I say! We cannot cause ourselves to somehow be loving and peaceful but we can allow love and peace. Having been called into one body then we can be thankful.
What can we do to strengthen these qualities in our life? I look at the next verse: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16). Please note how the Bible answers our questions! Never hesitate to ask questions of the Bible Then read the contextual passages (before and after) many times the answer will be immediately obvious. Sometimes we will have to meditate on the passage until we have it burned into our memories and then when we need it, we will understand it. So how do we go about letting the word of Christ dwell in us? The word of Christ is the Bible. We need to know it in order to question it. In order to know the Bible we have to read it. Paul goes on to say that we are to teach each other and sing the word of God! The best hymns and spiritual songs are those that are based on the truth of the Bible. For some reason God has designed us so that we memorize better what we sing. Once we have buried the Bible in our memories we will be able to be thankful, not just on the surface, but deep in our hearts.
Paul concludes And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17).
“Whatever you do”. Not just in talk but in action! “Everything” means all things, small or large, in our lives. If you find yourself doing something that you cannot do “in the name of the Lord Jesus” give it up!
It may be a thought pattern that needs to be abandoned. It may be acting out those thoughts. Everything we do or say begins in our mind. Many times we act as though we must speak every thought. I’m here to tell you that’s not necessary. The easiest way to end wrong thinking is to stop it while it is still in our brain. Once it’s spoken or acted upon it can’t be taken back. So nail it down in the brain and leave it there till it dies!
Everything we do in the name of the Lord Jesus enables us to give thanks through him.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton, Ill, Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

191124 The Power of Love

Romans 13:8-14 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
Paul concludes his list of debts began in verse seven. There he said if you owe taxes pay them. Our debts are not just counted in money. We are to pay respect and grant honor where it is owed. We are to stay out of a very real bondage that is triggered when we don’t meet our obligations. We need to keep in mind always that debt does not just involve money.
It used to be, though I haven’t heard it lately, that when a person finished their prison sentence they had paid their debt to society. I don’t know when the concept was changed.
For a child of God, the greatest unpaid debt is love for one another! Love for one another fulfills the law — all of it!
Jesus was challenged by a lawyer who asked, “which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus’ answer was more than the lawyer expected. Jesus responded with “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Enough said! Every Jewish schoolboy would have known that answer. Jesus knew they were trying to trap him and he was willing to enter into debate with them. However, he was not willing to leave it at one Great Commandment. He added “a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-40) It is easy to say that we love God because it is a concept very hard to prove. However, love for a neighbor is clearly provable by actions. These two commandments are the anchor points of the entire law. Everything that we owe and love is summed up by them.
In fact, Jesus had said that the evidence that we are his disciples is our love for one another. And this is not just some sweet wishy-washy love this is robust adult level love! The kind of love Jesus referred to is the kind that lays down one’s life for another (John 15:13). What does the love Jesus described look like? Is it possible for us to see the kind of love God wants us to have?
Yes, for sure, that description is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a. There Paul wrote, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends”. This kind of love reflects the love of God in Christ Jesus. This love is patient, kind, considerate, not self-serving, not haughty or resentful. This love is always supporting truth. This love tolerates anything in order to prove its existence. Infatuation may end but God’s kind of love never will! Friends, God’s kind of love requires activity on our part. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are to think about ways to encourage love for one another. (Hebrews 12:24-25).
This is not necessarily all sweetness and light. We are to give serious consideration to how we are to love one another. We are to stir one another in a way that will sharpen our response. We are to stimulate each other and urge one another. The original language implies we are to stimulate even to irritate each other so that love will dominate our lives. We definitely want unbelievers to recognize that we are disciples of Jesus. He said that we would be so recognized when we love one another with his kind of love.
Did the world that Jesus was born into understand the radical kind of love Jesus called for? I would like to quote the words of Alexander McLaren. (Born‎: ‎11 February 1826; Glasgow Died‎: ‎5 May 1910).

When these words  (John 13:34-35) were spoken, the then-known civilized Western world was cleft by great, deep gulfs of separation, like the crevasses in a glacier, by the side of which our racial animosities and class differences are merely superficial cracks on the surface. Language, religion, national animosities, differences of sex, split the world up into alien fragments. A “stranger” and an “enemy” were expressed in one language, by the same word. The learned and the unlearned, the slave and his master, the barbarian and the Greek, the man and the woman, stood on opposite sides of the gulf, flinging hostility across. This is what the world that Jesus was born into was like. As time went by and the truth of Christianity spread around the Roman world there were changes beyond our imagination.
Let me return to pastor McLaren: Barbarian, Scythian, bond and free, male and female, Jew and Greek, learned and ignorant, clasped hands and sat at one table, and felt themselves “all one in Christ Jesus.” They were ready to break all other bonds, and to yield to the uniting forces that streamed out from His cross. There never had been anything like it. No wonder that the world began to babble about sorcery, and conspiracies, and complicity in unnameable vices. It was only that the disciples were obeying the “new commandment,” and a new thing had come into the world—a community held together by love and not by geographical accidents or linguistic affinities, or the iron fetters of the conqueror.
Christ’s radical command created a profound commitment to love support and encourage one another.
Let’s return to Romans 13:9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When we see the phrase “for the commandments” we might expect to see the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments has two divisions called the two tablets. The first division is vertical from top to bottom. The horizontal commands pertaining to human relationships. These commandments are specifically reflective of human relationships. Adultery — a sin that has widespread effects. The adulterer, or adulterees, damages his or her relationship to their spouse, to their family, and to the family of the other party.
Throughout the Bible, God uses the word adultery to represent idolatry! When you love your neighbor you will not commit adultery. When you love your neighbor you will remember that he was made in the image of God just as you were! You will not murder him! When you love your neighbor you respect his ownership of property. We might convince our neighbors, and even ourselves, that we love God because it’s so hard to measure love for God. However, we cannot pretend love for neighbor unless we act it out on a day-to-day basis. Our neighbors know when we love them -- or not. No wonder the world, by and large, does not recognize that we are disciples of Jesus. I believe the only example given by our Lord is love for one another.
Having given us four specific examples Paul then sums everything up with “love your neighbor as yourself”.
I don’t believe Paul is telling us that these human relationship commandments are the most important. In fact, the vertical commands illustrate our relationship to God. No other gods; no idols; no misuse of the name of God and set aside one day out of seven to honor God.
If we recognize on a daily basis that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves then, and only then, will they recognize that we have been with Jesus!
10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Love does what is right to the neighbor and so doing it fulfills the law. Jesus assured his disciples, in the Sermon on the Mount, that he had not come into the world to abolish the law but instead to fulfill them. The words of the law, which include all the Old Testament, will never pass away, not a dot or a dash will be lost. (Matthew 5:17-18).
Beginning in verse 11 Paul seems to change directions. He does not! He has called us to radical love and now he points out that time is passing quickly. There are two Greek words Paul could have used here. Chronos represents calendar time. Kairos represents quality time. “You know the time”. What kind of time? Throughout the New Testament it is called the last days. In those last days — continuing now — should give us a sense of urgency. The last days began with the birth of Christ and will end on the day of his return.
11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand.
Salvation has come to us and we have dozed off. Just as the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane slept while Jesus prayed we too sleep spiritually while the world around us goes to hell in a handbasket!
Every day that passes is a day closer to the return of Jesus Christ. Every day is 24 hours nearer to complete salvation. The world around us is darkness — spiritual night! Peter, in his second letter, pointed out the attitude that surrounds us today concerning the second coming. 2 Peter 3:3-4a  tells us, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? Peter quickly points out “do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8). Then Peter challenges us, “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 11-13).
Paul gives us an answer to Peter’s question in Romans 13:12-14.
So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy”
Looking back at Romans 12:2 we see “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Later, John would add to this discussion. 1 John 1:6 “if we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” A little further on John adds “it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” (1 John 2:8).
Then Paul wraps up the message in verse 14 of Romans chapter 13. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. We are not to struggle to live right. We are to submissively let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts and then, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16).

All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton, Ill, Standard Bible Society.