Advent: No Room

Matthew 25.31-46
Luke 2.1-7

One of the first summers after college graduation, my college roomie, Trish and I went to a friend’s wedding. Following we decided on an impromptu trip to Niagara Falls, Canada. It was around fourth of July weekend, but we thought, oh well, we are going to another country, Canada, so what does that matter. Well, turns out it mattered a lot. July 1 is a federal holiday in Canada, called Canada Day. Originally Dominion Day, Canada Day celebrates the creation of the dominion of Canada through the British North America Act on 1 July 1867, uniting three British territories — the Province of Canada (southern Ontario and southern Quebec), Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick — into a federation. So it was a major holiday in Canada, too.

We should have known it was a bad sign when we get in the wrong line at border customs. (I wasn’t driving!) We are in the tractor-trailer line, so the booth is way up high, so the customs officer is asking what our business in Canada is and Trish is yelling way up to him.

We arrive in Niagara Falls in late evening. The traffic is horrible. We have no real destination, except finding a hotel. But every hotel, says no room, "No Vacancy." We drive around and around, but it is useless, there is no room anywhere to be found.

We do see the Falls by night, but we are exhausted, so it’s really no big highlight to the trip. We pull in a parking lot at some park and wonder, “Can we just sleep in the car right here for awhile.” But soon some police officer taps on our window and asks, “Drinking tonight ladies?” And we giggle and tell our story and it is so insane I think the officer really believes us. But he also says we can’t stay in the park all night. Trish and I decide, if drinking is that big of a problem, we don’t want to stay in the park all night.

So we decide to cross the border back into the US and maybe we can find a room there. So we go across the border through customs again. We are asked, "Did you buy anything?" "No." "How long were you there?" Oh, maybe a few hours," we answer. We can’t help but laugh through the entire interview.

So we begin driving south. Still, no rooms available. We drive further and further south. No room. Pretty soon we decide we are not even going back north again. Driving and driving. Finally, across the border into PA we come again and we are able to find a room in Erie, PA. The next day we get to see Lake Erie instead of Niagara Falls.

It is not a good feeling to be exhausted and to be in a strange place and have no place to stay, no place to rest.

It makes you wonder what Mary and Joseph felt like that night they entered Bethlehem. They had to journey a distance, not for a vacation, not for fun, but because the government ordered them to do so. Caesar Augustus wanted to take a census and everyone had to return to the hometown of their ancestors. So Joseph and Mary, now very much with child, set off from Galilee to Bethlehem. It is about a 70 mile trip, as the bird’s fly, and would have taken 3-4 days or as much as a week’s traveling time. (http://www.btinternet.com/~prgreetham/Wisemen/ana2.html)

I’m sure Mary (and Joseph) were quite more exhausted than Trish and I were in Niagara. And they can find no room in which to stay.

You know how the story goes. They must be in Bethlehem. They can’t turn around and find another place. They don’t have the quickness of travel that we have, so that they can turn around and eventually find a room. You can’t very well sleep on a donkey or whatever mode of transportation they had. And don’t forget: Mary is very pregnant. Perhaps she is saying to Joseph, “I think it’s time, Joseph. We have to find some place.” Or “My water just broke.” Where do they go? What do they do?

Since Joseph is returning to the home of his ancestors, many believe that he (and other relatives) would have returned to an ancestral home. This may have been like a big family reunion. But still there was no room. But, Joseph is given a little shelter. A stable, some say a barn, early tradition says a cave. A place to get in out of the weather and a place for Mary to give birth, to give birth to her firstborn, a son. And they had so little that she took pieces of cloth and wrapped around the baby who was named Jesus, for this one whom the angel said “will save his people from their sins”. She laid  him in a manger, an animal’s feeding trough filled with animal food, hay, to soften it.

Such is the story of our Savior’s birth. But unfortunately Jesus still hears us say today, “There is no room.”

The scriptures say, “Behold I stand at the door and knock” (Rev. 3.20). He knocks on our heart’s door, asking to come in, but too many times, our response is, “No room.” There’s no room in my day today. I have my schedule made out already: I’m going here and there and have this and this to do. Not right now God. There just is no room.

So we respond when he calls us to pray, when he calls us away for some special time of conversation.

So we respond we when we see someone in need. No room today!

Our hearts are too full. Our schedules are too full. Our budgets are too full. We are already committed to too many other things. Our priorities have already been established. “No room,” we say.

Will we make room, this Advent Season? Will we make room in our hearts? You know our hearts our still considered the seat of our passions, the center of that which is most important to us. Will we make room for Christ? Maybe you want to invite him into your life for the first time? Maybe you want to recommit your life to him? Maybe Christ is calling you to find 10 minutes where you can slip away and be in his presence, just 10 minutes to make room for him in this Advent Season? Maybe it is to commit 10 minutes to your children pointing them to the true meaning of this Advent Season?

As these four weeks progress, you will have to make some choices. One of those choices is what is our Christmas Day schedule going to look like this year? Christmas Day is on Sunday. Will we make room for Christ on Christmas Day? Will our family make room for worship on this special holy day?

And as you go about your Christmas shopping, will you make room for the less fortunate? Actually you may recall that the figure of Santa Clause was first found in that of Saint Nicholas who in the 4th Century was a Saint in the Church and in what is now Turkey, he went around secretly giving gifts to those who were in need, most often these gifts were to children.

We are presenting an opportunity for you to give a gift to children in need. This Christmas Eve and Christmas Day you are invited to “Give a gift to Jesus” by giving a gift to our local pregnancy center. As the Matthew 25 passage says, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.’ You are invited to bring a gift for some child whose mother was brave enough to choose life for her child and you can help them as they begin life together. My favorite gift listed is that of the receiving blanket. I think of Christ wrapped in rags, and to be able to give him that nice, soft blanket.

What will your choice be this Advent Season? Will you say, "No room" or will you make room?

Christmas Keywords 1: Come

Question for reflection …
How will you prepare your heart this Advent for Christ’s coming?

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Our Advent series will look at several keywords of the Christmas story. Today, we’ll look at the word “come.”

The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word, adventus, which means “coming.”

There has always been a yearning for God to come (there still is). In fact, the Scriptures are full of stories of God coming to us. I like the way the writer to the Hebrews put it: “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets” (1.1).

We can go all the way back to the beginning of the Bible and talk about Creation. Early on, after Adam and Eve committed the very first sin, God came looking for them.

I also think of God coming and appearing to Moses in the burning bush, as he prepared to come and visit his people, Israel, in captivity. God also came to other people groups, like Nineveh, where God confronted the people with their sin through the prophet, Jonah.

But the greatest example of God coming to us is through Jesus Christ. A moment ago, I read Hebrews 1.1. The very next verse says, “But now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son" (1.2).

John 1.1-14

Jesus came to bring abundant life!
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10.10)

God’s coming always requires a response!
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4.17)

Our response is to repent, to return. God’s coming always requires a response. We can come to God because God comes to us!

In fact, it’s our responsibility to come to God. I like one definition I heard for responsibility: it’s the ability to respond! Action is important, more than belief. Polls show that most everyone believes in God, and many even believe that Jesus is God’s Son. But there is a huge disconnect between the number of people who “believe” and the number of people who act on those beliefs! (For example, some estimates are that only about 20% of the American population attend worship each week.)

Question for reflection …
Have you acted on Christ’s invitation to come into your heart/life?

"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me." (John 14.6)

Because of what God has done for us, through Jesus, we can come confidently to God’s throne. (See Hebrews 4.14-16)

I mentioned earlier that the Scriptures are filled with stories of God’s coming to us. And not only does the Story begin with God’s creating us, and coming to us, and even God’s yearning to come to us, it ends that way as well. The final words of the New Testament are, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22.21)

Questions for reflection …

  • Are these words your heart’s yearning as well?
  • Do you long for Christ to come?
  • Are you prepared?
  • What are you doing to prepare for his coming?

Happy Thanksgiving!

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.” (Psalm 107.1)

I want to take a moment to wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving holiday this week, especially since I did not have an opportunity to do that this morning in worship. I trust you will take time to give God thanks for his many blessings!

I spent the weekend at the “Great Escape” (a Conference youth event). It was a great weekend — good speakers, workshops, and lot of good, loud, praise and worship music! You can read a more detailed account at Joleen’s sermon blog.

I also want to take a moment to share some things I’m grateful for, at this time of the year. I’m grateful to God for all of his blessings on Joleen and me. I’m grateful to God for his call (and his hand) on our lives. Surely, “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (James 1.17).

I’m also grateful to God for all of you. I’m grateful for the process we are engaged in, together. God is with us, leading us to new places. Even though it’s very consuming for us, I believe it will be worth all of our effort!

And, now that dates have been set for information sharing and voting on recommendations regarding our future, I’m especially grateful that we are nearing the end of the exploratory phase, and are preparing to transition ourselves more fully to be the people God has called us to be.

On that note, I’d like to share a few things I wrote recently to the Exploratory Team. I hope this will convey my thoughts and feelings on what God is doing among us.

Occasionally, I catch myself taking this process a bit TOO seriously. Now, don’t misunderstand. This process is VERY important; we have life-changing decisions to make. That’s a BIG deal!

But I woke up this morning being reminded of Jesus’ words: “I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16.18).

That’s wonderful news! I hope you hear it.

God’s Spirit IS leading us, speaking to us, speaking through us. In the last 2-3 weeks, I’ve been saying, “God will do amazing things!” That’s not just nice encouragement from a pastor. I REALLY believe that God will continue to do amazing things in, through, and among us. Now, what God actually does may or may not be exactly what I expect, but God WILL do amazing things!

God once spoke an interesting word to Zerubbabel (through the prophet Zechariah): “It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty. Nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in Zerubbabel’s way; it will flatten out before him!” (Zechariah 4.6)

I believe that. God’s will won’t be realized by OUR strength or force alone. … It is by God’s Spirit that God’s plan will ultimately take place here!

Well, as we continue to engage in this process, I’m excited about beginning our Advent journey this Sunday. I am really excited about what God is going to do in us over the next few weeks as we prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming!

Prayer: The Best Wireless Plan

Each year the Conference Council on Youth Ministries sponsors a weekend retreat for youth. This year’s theme was Prayer: The Best Wireless Plan. The two main speakers for the event were Stephen Handy and Quay Hanna. Quay shared of the story of how when he went to college he changed to fit the mold of a redneck. Racism was one thing that was expected of him as a redneck. He shared how a 9-week bus trip transformed him. He also did a workshop on bullying, which he does regularly in the public schools. Mark Cable led the worship in song. Various individuals led afternoon workshops.

Stephen Handy, as the Bible teacher, taught on prayer. He was very dynamic and able to keep the attention of the youth (and adults). Friday evening he used the image of the cell phone for the main points: Available; Activate; Aware; Approach; Acknowledge. He emphasized at numerous points that people will try to disconnect you from God. He stated, "Wherever there is connection, there is conviction." He also stated,"Faithful prayers generate power and praise."

He also looked at the Lord’s Prayer as a model for prayer, leading us to be connectional, invitational, confessional (give up ourselves), missional (move to a different place), and spiritual. The prayer leads us to praise, to submit/surrender/remember, and to forgiveness. He also stated that temptation challenges truth but can’t defeat it (there is protection.)

He encouraged the youth to keep a prayer list: list people, be specific (rather than general), write down answers. He encouraged us to find a prayer partner. Keep a prayer journal. Wayne Cordeiro’s journal method is SOAP: Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer (enewhope.org).

In another session Stephen Handy looked at the story of Daniel and how Daniel loved to pray. It was Daniel’s habit to pray. There was a confidence in his prayer. He was committed to prayer – no matter what. Prayer is a conversation. There is a covering that comes from Jesus (Jesus will never disconnect.) God was already in the lion’s den. There is communion.

God-Robbers

Ann Landers once responded to a letter from a girl who was writing about her uncle. The girl told the story: “My uncle was the
tightest man I’ve ever known. All his life, every time he got paid he
took $20 out of his paycheck and put it under his mattress. Then he got
sick and was about to die. As he was dying, he said to his wife, ‘I
want you to promise me one thing.’ ‘Promise what?’ she asked. ‘I want
you to promise me that when I’m dead you’ll take my money from under
the mattress and put it in my casket so that I can take it all with
me.’”

The girl’s letter went on with the story. “He died, and his wife
kept her promise. She went in and got all that money the day he died
and went to the bank and deposited it, and wrote out a check and put it
in his casket.”

“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” (Jim Elliot)

Stewardship, the way we handle God’s gifts (time, talents, and treasures) is very important. Scripture says, Honor the Lord with the firstfruits of your harvest (Proverbs 3.9).

When people become members of the United Methodist Church, we ask them,
“As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in
its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your
service?”

Today, we’re going to look at one way we honor God with our
financial resources — tithing. One bumper sticker put it this way:
“Tithe if you love Jesus. Any idiot can honk.”

Questions to think about …

  • What are you doing with your money?
  • Are you tithing?
  • How much are you giving?
  • Do you recognize your money as a gift from God?

Practice of Tithing
God’s people take 10% of whatever
increase they experienced and they’d bring it to their worship place as
a symbol of their gratefulness to God for his giving them material
blessings. Secondary purpose: a means of supporting the ministry of
their place of worship.

Fresh Start
Malachi comes from a time after many people of
Judah had returned from Babylonia, but just before Ezra and Nehemiah
returned. The temple had been rebuilt, and the priests were again
offering the people’s sacrifices to the Lord. But times were hard, and
the people had lost most of their hope for a bright new future in
Judah. The people and the priests were no longer showing the proper
respect for the Lord or for his temple. They were also making wrong
sacrifices and disobeying God’s laws. Malachi challenged the people and
especially the priests to be faithful to the agreement the Lord made
with Israel. They were to honor the Lord by offering the right kind of
sacrifices and by giving ten percent of their harvest to him. Then the
Lord would bless them.

Descendants of Jacob, I am the LORD All-Powerful, and I never
change. That’s why you haven’t been wiped out, even though you have
ignored and disobeyed my laws ever since the time of your ancestors.
But if you return to me, I will return to you. And yet you ask, "How
can we return?"
(Malachi 3.6-7)

Robbing God > Curse
You people are robbing me, your
God. And, here you are, asking, "How are we robbing you?" You are
robbing me of the offerings and of the ten percent that belongs to me.
That’s why your whole nation is under a curse.
(Malachi 3.8-9)

God’s Challenge
I am the LORD All-Powerful, and I challenge you
to put me to the test. Bring the entire ten percent into the
storehouse, so there will be food in my house.
(Malachi 3.10a) (See also Leviticus 27.30)

Jesus says something interesting about tithing: How terrible it
will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees.
Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest part of your
income, but you ignore the important things of the law—justice, mercy,
and faith. You should tithe, yes, but you should not leave undone the more important things.
(Matthew 23.23) (See also 1 Corinthians 16.2)

Tithing Testimonies
Then I will open the windows of heaven
and flood you with blessing after blessing. I will also stop locusts
from destroying your crops and keeping your vineyards from producing.
Everyone of every nation will talk about how I have blessed you and
about your wonderful land. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have spoken!
(Malachi 3.10b-12)

I recently asked some friends for
"tithing testimonies," stories of God honoring them in their attempt to
honor God. Here are a couple of their responses.

“I am not getting paid much from our church, but we have continued
to tithe. God has kept us afloat every month, even when we didn’t know
how it was going to happen. We just got a check for $400 from a church
that is still like family to us that I was a youth pastor for when I
first got into the ministry. Why do I think that happened? Because we
have been faithful in our giving, and God has rewarded us for it.” (Art)

“In college, I got engaged just before my junior year began. I had a
good part time job and my future wife and I thought we had enough money
so we bought a car together (payment was $95/month). I did not tithe.
One day I went to work and, boom, I was laid off. So there I was with a
car payment, getting married in four months and no income at all.
Fortunately, my future wife could swing the car payment, but we had no
extra money to put together our apartment. I looked and looked for a
job, all to no avail. One day I looked in my checkbook and found that I
had left an amount that would be equal to what I had not tithed. I mean
to the penny. So, I wrote a check to the church in PA where Dad was
pastor, put it into an envelop and mailed it. The only person I told
was my future wife. She did not tell me not to do it. Within two hours,
I had received calls about two jobs that would last for a couple of
weeks. The following Monday, I received calls about two more part time
jobs, one in the morning before class, one in the evening after
classes. I was hired for both jobs and worked them through my senior
year in college. One was even full time in the summer and had the added
benefit of allowing me time to study on the job. Funny how that worked
out. I mean the check was still in the post office and I was getting
what I needed. I won’t ever forget that.” (John)

Heart
I’m amazed at how much the Bible says about money and possessions. In
fact, more is said in the New Testament about money than heaven and
hell combined. And there’s five times more said about money than
prayer. How we handle God’s gifts (money and possessions) is obviously
very important!

“There is no portion of money that is our money and the rest God’s.
It is all his; he made it, gives it all, and he has simply trusted it
to us for his service.” (Adolphe Monod)

“Tithing isn’t fundamentally about money. It’s about the condition of your heart.” (Bill Hybels)

That’s certainly what Jesus seems to say: "Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be" (Luke 12.34). He also says, "No
one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or
be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and
money"
(Matthew 6.24)

Return
I love what God says through Malachi at the beginning of this passage: “If you return to me, I will return to you …” (Malachi 3.7). No matter how you’ve handled your money up until today, you can have a fresh start today, by returnging to God, and committing to honor him in all things, including the handling of your money.

Motives/Attitude: Give cheerfully …
Remember this—a
farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one
who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each make up
your own mind as to how much you should give. Don’t give reluctantly or
in response to pressure. For God loves the person who gives cheerfully.
(2 Corinthians 9.6-7)

Reward
God always honors those who honor him!

I love what the master said to the guys who handled the master’s money well (in a story Jesus once told): “Well
done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling
this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities.
Let’s celebrate together!”
(Matthew 25.21)

That’s what I want to hear Jesus say to me someday!

God-Robbers

Malachi 3.6-12 NLT

Ann Landers had an interesting letter in her column. It was from a girl who was writing about her uncle & aunt. She said, "My uncle was the tightest man I’ve ever known. All his life, every time he got paid he took $20 out of his paycheck & put it under his mattress.” Then he got sick & was about to die. As he was dying, he said to his wife, "I want you to promise me one thing." "Promise what?" she asked. "I want you to promise me that when I’m dead you’ll take my money from under the mattress & put it in my casket so that I can take it all with me." The girl’s letter went on with the story. "He died, & his wife kept her promise. She went in & got all that money the day he died & went to the bank & deposited it, & wrote out a check & put it in his casket."

The Bible and Money
Money is an important party of life. We can’t live without money. We need money for food, clothing, housing, and car. God knows our need and he also knows the temptation to make money and possessions more important than they really are.

Facts about Money:
+ There are 38 parables recorded in the Bible; 16 of them deal with money management.
+ More is said in the NT about money than heaven and hell combined.
+ There is five times more is said about money than prayer.
+ And while there are 500+ verses on both prayer and faith, there are over 2000 verses dealing with money and possessions.

Tithe
Our passage today in Malachi 3 introduces us to the concept of tithing.

The word tithe simply means a tenth, 10 percent. The idea behind the practice was that God’s people would take 10 percent of whatever increase they experienced and they’d bring it to their worship place as a symbol of their gratefulness to God for his giving them material blessings. Then, as a secondary purpose, that tithe was a means of supporting the ministry of their place of worship.

The concept of the tithe first appears in Genesis 14.20. After Abram rescues nephew Lot from being captured by another army/nation; Abram gives a tenth of all he has recovered to Melchizidek.

The last time tithing is mentioned is in Hebrews 7, where this tithe is recounted. Jesus priesthood is like that of Melchizedek to whom Abraham tithed.

Malachi
The book of Malachi comes from a time after many people of Judah had returned from Babylonia, but just before Ezra and Nehemiah returned. The temple had been rebuilt, and the priests were again offering the people’s sacrifices to the Lord.

In Malachi 3, we have God saying, “Return to me, and I will return to you.” Return in the OT means repent. God has just said that they have turned away from his decrees and have not kept them; they are being disobedient. Be who God has made you to be. He urges them to return, so that his presence may again be with them. James 4.8 comes to mind, “Draw near to me and I will draw near to you.”

The Israelites reply is interesting,
“How can we return when we have never gone away?” There is a sense that they do not know what they have done. They are ignorant of their sin. They do not know how they have disobeyed God.

God’s reply is startling, “Should people rob God? Yet you have robbed me!”

One of the ten commandments is “Thou shalt not steal.” God’s people were commanded not to steal from other people and yet here they are stealing from God.

And God goes on to explain how they are robbing/stealing from God.

“You have robbed me of the tithes and offering that belong to me.”

Statistics indicating that today we are neglectful of tithing (generousgiving.org)
+Overall, only 3 to 5 percent of Americans who donate money to a church tithe (give a tenth of) their incomes though many more claim to do so.
+Among church members of 11 primary Protestant denominations (or their historical antecedents) in the United States and Canada, per-member giving as a percentage of income was lower in 2000 than in either 1921 or 1933. In 1921, per-member giving as a percentage of income was 2.9 percent. In 1933, at the depth of the Great Depression, per-member giving grew to 3.3 percent. By 2000, after a half-century of unprecedented prosperity, giving had fallen to 2.6 percent.

God goes on to say that the whole is under a curse because of they have been robbing God. And goes on to say, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple.” Then there will be blessing instead of curse.

All: not just some, but all
Storehouse: an actual room in the Temple to store the food that was brought.
Enough: God is concerned for the ministry. Without the tithe, ministry cannot happen, worship cannot happen, the work of the temple/church cannot take place. Who is the church? We are the church. Our ministry cannot happen.

Motive
If you do,” says the LORD Almighty, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Let me prove it to you! 11Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not shrivel before they are ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. 12“Then all nations will call you blessed, for your land will be such a delight,” says the LORD Almighty.

Caution 1
Verse 10 – Test me
Humankind testing God is rare in the Bible, so I caution you. Don’t ever test God uninvited. But in this case, God extends the invitation. “Test me and see if I don’t bless you abundantly.” “See if I don’t take care of you.” “I will open the windows of heaven.” – it will be like rain pouring down.

Caution 2
Do not give with the motive of being blessed. It is a question of the heart.

Heart check
*Who/what rules your heart?
Matthew 6.24
No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

*Who/what do you pursue?
Matthew 6.33
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

*How do you give?
2 Corinthians 9.7(8)
Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

*Do you have a heart for mercy and justice?
Amos 4.4-5 – people loved to tithe
Amos 5.21-24
I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them … But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Matthew 23.23 (Jesus’ teaching)
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth … But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

Statistics to motivate our heart of mercy (generousgiving.org)
*About 1.6 billion people have never heard the life-saving good news in this sentence: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

*More than 1 billion people live in absolute poverty. This includes 700 million people living in slums, 500 million people on the verge of starvation, 93 million beggars, and 200 million children exploited for labor.

Gut Check
Does my giving follow my heart?
Take a realistic look at your giving. What percent are you giving? What would God have you to give? Take a step up (give a percentage more in the coming year). Be intentional. Be intentionally generous.

Statistics indicating the special responsibility of the church in the US (generousgiving.org)
+Total Christian [including nominal] income in the United States is $5.2 trillion annually, nearly half of the world’s total Christian income.

Faith Check
Remember God’s generosity in the giving of his Son. Remember Christ’s generosity on the cross.

Remember the promise of God’s faithfulness in Malachi.

Get Focused: Life Is In the Details

Colossians 3.18 – 4.18

Household Rules (3.18-4.1)
Humorous Household Rules by Ian Frazier in the article Laws concerning food and drink; household principles; lamentations of the father. © The Atlantic Monthly, Feb 1997 v279 n2 p89(2)

Have you heard the old saying? “Don’t be too heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good.”

We are to set our minds on things above, but a life ruled from above effects our lives in marriage, parenthood and everyday work.

The whole of our lives are to be submitted to the Lord. Every aspect of our lives is effected by our Christianity.

Perhaps the false teachers were indifferent to the domestic. The Colossians are called to remember the simple duties of family life.

Paul begins with the closest relationship working to the most distant. There are twin admonitions: instructions given for both parties. Can’t look at one apart from the other.

Wives and Husbands
Wives, submit (balanced with husbandly love). Submit: voluntary. Never a breaking of the will. Same is expected of church members: submit to one another/ mutual submission.

Ephesians 5 “as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit…”

Husbands, love
Love is not just an affectionate feeling or sexual attraction, but the husband is to have an unceasing care and loving service for the wife’s entire well-being.

Eph 5: sacrificial aspect of Christ’s love for the church

Do not be embittered – the negative. Do not become angry …

Children and Parents
Children, obey. Children, at the age of growing up, obey in all things. Obey is a stronger word than submit. (Used for slaves, as well.) Absolute obedience.

Fathers, don’t provoke
Parents, but fathers especially, do not irritate or provoke unless children become discouraged or think it useless trying to please parents within the home. Give firm guidance; not servitude (Eph 6.4)

In Roman society, fathers were given unlimited power over their children. Hellenistic Judaism, sever punishment could be given disobedient children.

Here, power is not held up, but the responsibilities or duties to their children. They are not irritate by nagging at or deriding the child’s efforts, so that children become discouraged or think it useless to try to please.

Be an encouraging example: 2 Cor 9.2

Slaves and Masters
Slaves, obey. Obey in everything. Don’t just work to please your master. Service is not to be superficial or performed to attract attention, but conscientiously, with pure motives, wholehearted work so every action is serving the heavenly Lord. Lift tasks above compulsive necessity to that of joyful service.

Keep transcendent view. Earthly master distinguished from heavenly. The Master in heaven will graciously reward with an eternal inheritance of life in the age to come.

Masters, be just and fair
Stoic codes seldom addressed masters. Not commanded to release but treat justly and with fairness. (Fairness could refer to fair wage.)

Both master and slave have a Master in heaven, whom they must obey. Their relationship with one another must reflect their relationship with God.

Pray! (4.2-6)

Short statement regarding prayer. But this is an ever-present part of Paul’s teaching, emphasizing it’s importance.

Be devoted:
The whole congregation is instructed to persist in prayer. Make it a regular part of who you are. Be constant, persistent, adhere to. Something you are always busily engaged in. “Pray unceasing.” Don’t ever give up or grow weary. Always pray. (petitionary prayer).

And to give thanks – an outward expression of gratitude to God for his gracious decisive action through his Son on their behalf.

Mutual prayer
Paul prays for the Colossians. He asks for their prayers, for “us” and for “me”. Especially for the work of the Gospel.

“Open door” refers to the opportunity for effective evangelism.
“Proclaim mystery” is God’s plan of salvation in Christ (esp. for Gentiles).

Reaching others with Christ
“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities.” Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone.”

Wisdom: knowledge of God’s will; walking worthily of Lord. Be godly, give none cause to find fault or criticize. Live so that God’s name is honored. Do not hinder anyone from being saved.

Make the most of your time: snap up every opportunity. Not a specific point in time, but amount of time at one’s disposal. As we have opportunity; as we have time, because it is severely limited. (A retired local pastor shared how even though he is now in retirement, he is experiencing an increasingly greater evangelistic call. He has a burning desire to use every moment he is given for God’s glory.)

Speech:
Be tactful, yet bold in your Christian witness. God’s grace evident in speech. Choose the right words in response to each pre-Christian. Not only what you say but how you say it is important. Speech seasoned with salt: adds flavor, appeal; interesting speech.

Greetings (4.7ff)

Paul’s greetings reveal a diverse team:
Slave and free, Jew and Gentile, men and a woman are named. Other communities are named(Laodicea & Hieropolis) and Paul’s letter is shared between them.

Get Focused 6: Remember the Mission!

Colossians 3.18—4.18

This section begins with some basic household rules. Paul addresses
three groups of people: Wives (submit) and Husbands (love), Children
(obey) and Parents (don’t provoke), Slaves (obey) and Masters (treat
with justice/fairness). He gives each group instructions (see
parenthetical statements above) on how to live together in ways that
honor God.

(Note: In the sermon, I made some brief comments on this section, and
opened it up for Q&A, but quickly moved on to deal with the
remaining section of Colossians.)

Remember the Mission
The process we’re in is consuming! We’ve been in the process for some
time; intensively for the last 1.5 years. That’s okay. We have to take
the time we need.

In fact, timing is very important: we have to move slow enough that we
have time to digest/process what’s happening, and fast enough that we
don’t lose momentum/focus!

I want to begin looking ahead, beyond “the vote.” I want to prepare us
to be missional (I think I have been trying to lead us toward being
more missional all along) so that once the vote is behind us, we can
hit the ground running as best we can. And today’s passage really helps
us make this transition very well.

You may recall me saying at the end of service last Sunday: “God will
do amazing things if we give him a chance, if we fully engage God and
one another.” It struck me as I said that (which I went on to say),
“God HAS done amazing things for us!”

In fact, in the last year and a half, we’ve had four votes regarding
worshiping together. All four votes were unanimous! Can God do amazing
things? Absolutely!

So, let’s look at Paul’s final words to the Colossians, and his challenge to us, to remember the mission.

1 – Get seasoned with salt!
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone.” (Col 4.6)

“Be devoted to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.” (Col 4.2)

I heard a pastor say once a sermon something that really struck me in a
negative way: “Prayer changes the heart of God.” I don’t like that
statement; it gives me the image of arm-twisting!

Prayer is a means of communication …
Part of my understanding of prayer is that it’s a means of
communication — children of God simply listening, talking, spending
time with, worshiping, hanging out with God. Part of it may involve
asking or sharing requests (although I don’t think that’s the whole
point of prayer; that would make God nothing more than a genie, it
seems to me).

As we pray, and hang out with God, we become "seasoned with salt."

2 – Participate through prayer!
“At the same time pray for us too, that God may open a door for the
message so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am
in chains. Pray that I may make it known as I should.”
(Col 4.3-4)

Prayer is a means of participating in what God is doing …
Another part of my understanding of prayer is that it’s a way God has
ordained for us to cooperate with God, to participate in what God is
doing. Philip Yancey seems to make some statements to this effect in a
Christianity Today article, Does prayer change God?

“(C.S.) Lewis suggests that we best imagine the world
not as a state governed by a potentate but as a work of art, something
like a play, in the process of being created. The playwright allows his
characters to affect the play itself, then incorporates all their
actions into the final result.”

“Prayer, especially, brings together Creator and
creature, eternity and time, in all the fathomless mystery implied by
that convergence. … I can also view prayer … as a way of entering into
the rhythms of eternity and aligning myself with God’s point of view, a
way to desire while on earth what God has willed for all eternity, to
harmonize my own purposes with the purposes of God. … I immerse myself
in the changeless qualities of God, and then return to do my part in
acting out those qualities on earth: ‘Your will be done on earth as it
is in heaven.’”

“Why prayer? Of all the means God could have used,
prayer seems the weakest, slipperiest, and easiest to ignore. So it is,
unless Jesus was right in that most baffling claim. He went away for
our sakes, as a form of power-sharing, to invite us into direct
communion with God and into the struggle against the forces of evil.”

“By using prayer rather than other, more direct means,
God once again chooses the most freedom-enhancing style of acting in
the world. God waits to be asked, in some mysterious way making God’s
activity on earth contingent on us. Does the kingdom advance slower
because of that choice?”

3 – Make the most of the opportunities with “outsiders”!
“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of
the opportunities. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with
salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone.”
(Col 4.5-6)

A “missional church” is indigenous. That means the people of the church
think and act like missionaries. They strive to understand a culture
and then find ways to communicate God’s Word using the language of that
culture. A missional church will work to make the most of the
opportunities!


Making the most of the opportunities …
 

  • Pray – pray for your unreached friends 
  • Love – love your unreached friends 
  • Serve – serve your unreached friends 
  • Share – share the Good News with your unreached friends 
  • Give – give generously so that there are plenty of resources to accomplish the task

I read the following statistics recently (GenerousGiving.org) …

  • Among church members of 11 primary Protestant denominations (or their
    historical antecedents) in the United States and Canada, per-member
    giving as a percentage of income was lower in 2000 than in either 1921
    or 1933. In 1921, per-member giving as a percentage of income was 2.9
    percent. In 1933, at the depth of the Great Depression, per-member
    giving grew to 3.3 percent. By 2000, after a half-century of
    unprecedented prosperity, giving had fallen to 2.6 percent.
  • Overall, only 3 to 5 percent of Americans who donate money to a church
    tithe (give a tenth of) their incomes though many more claim to do so.
  • If members of historically Christian churches in the United States had
    raised their giving to the Old Testament’s minimum standard of giving
    (10 percent of income) in 2000, an additional $139 billion a year would
    become available.

4 – It takes a team!
In Colossians 4.7-18, Paul names a number of place who have been
helpful to the cause of Christ – Jews/Gentiles, Slave/Free, Men/Women,
from all kinds of places! It takes all of us working together in all
kinds of different places!

Three “Laws of Teamwork” (John Maxwell) that speak to us today … 

  • Law of Significance: One is too small a number to achieve greatness. 
  • Law of the Price Tag: The team fails to reach its potential when it fails to pay the price. 
  • Law of the Bad Apple: Rotten attitudes ruin the team.

Work at it with enthusiasm!
“Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord
and not for people, because you know that you will receive your
inheritance from the Lord as the reward. Serve the Lord Christ.”
(Col 3.23-24)