Thursday, 24 November 2016

Making the Most of Advent

The four weeks running up to Christmas are known as Advent, starting on Advent Sunday, which this year was November 27th and which officially marks the start of the new church year.

Traditionally in the church the season of Advent is set aside as a time for reflection and prayer as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, and as we look forward to the day when Jesus will come again.

However, the weeks leading up to Christmas happen to be amongst the busiest and most hectic time of the year for many of us, and we don’t benefit as much from the season of Advent as we could.  If used properly, Advent gives us an opportunity to create space in our busy lives to focus again on the important things in life, especially upon Jesus.
Here, in no particular order are some things you can do to make the most of the weeks leading up to Christmas.

1. Be careful not to treat Advent as just another busy time of the year: 
During Advent life is supposed to be different, find time every day to relax, pray and reflect on the wonder that is Jesus, God’s gift to us all.

2. Avoid the frenzy:
Try not to add to the craziness of this season by being frantic yourself about last minute shopping, entertaining or decorating.

3. Make time to read the Bible & pray every day:
Hopefully this is something as Christian’s we’re already doing, but Advent is an excellent time of the year to familiarise yourself again with the Bible’s stories that lead up to the birth of Jesus.  Use Bible reading notes, which give you a short passage to read each day, with a commentary (you may find some of the suggestions in the article ‘Apps for smart phones & tablets’ in this magazine helpful).

4. Make time for regular exercise:
Avoid the temptation to over eat, and watch lots of TV, instead make time for regular exercise because this is good for body, mind and spirit. 

5. Do not over do your schedule:
Learn to say “no” to some of the demands or events that may beg for your presence, however enjoyable or good they may be. Know your limits. As the saying goes, “Too much of a good thing is still too much.”

6. Do not overdo gifts:
In Britain we spend more than £20bn a year on credit and debit cards in the run up to Christmas, and many people find they get themselves into debt.  This year consider giving smaller, more thoughtful items.  It is important to remember that the gift-giving of Christmas is supposed to spring from and be a sign of our gratitude to God for giving us the gift of his son Jesus.

7. Do not expect the culture to follow your lead:
A truly Christian approach to Advent will inevitably be counter-cultural. Our spiritual health depends on our resisting the cultural message that we need to get out and “shop till we drop.”

8. Help those less fortunate than yourself:
Remember that the real Christmas story is not set in a warm and cosy house, tastefully decorated and filled with more gifts than can fit under the tree, however wonderful that all may be. The real Christmas story is set amidst those who know enduring poverty and danger. What more loving witness could you offer than to seek out some opportunity to identify with the poor and downtrodden as God does?

For example you could make a reverse advent calendar. Reverse advent calendars work by taking a box and filling it every day with an item of food that can then be taken to a food bank (such as the one we run at St James) or clothing that can be donated to charity in order to help those less fortunate that are struggling at Christmas time. 

Image result for reverse advent calendar

If you have children, it is a good way of involving them in preparing for Christmas, and teaching them about the importance of helping others and seeing the bigger picture at Christmas.

Things that could go in your reverse advent calendar include:
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Tinned tomatoes
  • Tinned potatoes / dried mash
  • Tinned vegetables
  • Soup
  • Tuna
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Tinned spaghetti
  • Baked beans
  • Jam/spreads
  • Squash
  • UHT / Long life milk
  • Tinned fruit
  • Tinned meats (chilli, pie, curry, chicken, hot dogs)
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Biscuits/chocolate
  • Shampoo/conditioner
  • Soap/shower gel
  • Toothbrushes/Toothpaste
  • Washing up liquid
  • Loo rolls
  • Sanitary items
  • Nappies, powdered milk, wipes etc

Let’s try and reclaim Advent and make the most of this time of expectant waiting and preparation, so that we can prepare for the coming of God into our world and in our lives once more this Christmas.

God bless


1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 The Coming King


Experience of having to wait for something.


Advent Sunday - marks start of the new church year.

The word Advent means "coming" or "arrival."

Season of Advent is a time of eager anticipation and preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, but also a time of looking ahead to the day when Jesus will return in power and glory to 
the earth.

But unlike his first coming, born as a tiny infant to a young teenage mother into poverty in an obscure little town in Israel, an event that went largely unnoticed by most people, when Jesus comes again it will be an event that the whole world will notice.

Mark 13:26 At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.

And when he comes again it will be to judge the world.

In Matthew 25 Jesus said “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." Mt 25:31-32

The coming of God to judge the world is something to be eagerly looked forward to. Tom Wright former bishop of Durham, writing in Surprised by Hope says:

“. . . God’s coming judgment is a good thing, something to be celebrated, longed for, yearned over. It causes people to shout for joy, and indeed the trees of the field to clap their hands. In a world of systematic injustice, violence, bullying, arrogance and oppression, the thought that there might be a coming day when the wicked are finally put in their place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be. Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment.” (p. 137)
People have tried throughout history to predict when Jesus may return - most notably the Jehovah Witnesses, who predicted his return in 1878, 1881, 1914, 1918, 1925 & 1975

And more recently Ronald Weinland gained a lot of attention when predicted the end of the world on Pentecost Sunday, May 27th 2012. But don’t worry you didn’t miss it, he has now changed this date to Pentecost 2019.

Scripture & the Second Coming

Scripture is clear however that no one ones when Jesus' return will take place - all we do know is that it will happen one day.

Matthew 24:36-44 - Jesus talking about his return said:

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come…  because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

The first Christians clearly expected the return of Jesus to be within their own lifetime, and so when fellow believers started to die, it caused worry and concern. What would happen to these believers? Will they miss out on the resurrection? What about those of us who are alive when Christ returns?

That is why Paul writes Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.1 Thess 4:13-14

Paul wants the Thessalonians to understand that death is not the end. When Christ returns, all believers, dead and alive, will be reunited, never to suffer or die again. Therefore he says 'do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.' Notice that he doesn't forbid us to grieve. Mourning over the death of a loved one is natural and healthy, even Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus.

When those we love die, it can often feel as though part of us has died with them. And working through the grief can take a very long time.   

BUT as followers of Jesus, when we grieve, especially for fellow Christians who have died, there is a difference. Our grief is not a hopeless one.

A Real Hope Not Wishful Thinking

When we use the word ‘hope’ it’s often without any sense of assurance. It’s more like saying ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen, but this is what I hope for.’ For example, I might say 'I hope it's sunny tomorrow', or 'I hope my football team does well in the match next week', but it’s more wishful thinking, it is hope without any guarantee of certainty.

Whereas the hope that Paul writes about is a real, cast iron, solid assurance. It's a hope based not on what WE DO, but on what has been DONE FOR US by Jesus on the cross.

That is why Paul writes 'We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep.' (4:14)

Our hope is based on the Resurrection. Because Jesus came back to life, so will all believers. All Christians, including those who have already died when Christ returns, will live with Christ forever. This is the great assurance, all believers throughout history will stand reunited in God's very presence, safe and secure.

So therefore when a loved one dies, or when world events take a tragic turn, or the future seems all uncertain, we should not despair as those who have no hope. God will turn tragedy to triumph, poverty to riches, pain to glory, and defeat to victory.

The question we need to ask ourselves is where do we place our hope? Because there is no hope apart from Christ. If you put your hope in your church, you will be disappointed. If you put your hope in your family or friends, they will fail you. If you place your hope in your money you will be disillusioned. Only Christ can provide hope in a hopeless world.


Notice how Paul describes those Christians who have died, as having ‘fallen asleep’ in verses 13, 14, 15, Sleep has often been used as a euphemism for death, but in a Christian context it takes on a different meaning. Namely that death is only temporary. As sleep is followed by an awakening, so death will be followed by resurrection. That is why when Lazarus died, Jesus said 'Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up' (John 11:11)

On the cross, Jesus took upon himself the full horror of death so that he could transform it into no more than 'sleep' for his followers – which is why the Bible only uses the term ‘asleep’ or ‘sleep’ in reference to believers. We still face physical death, but the moment we die, we go to be with Christ. That is why Jesus was able to promise the thief on the cross that ‘today you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:42) And why Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:8 wrote ‘to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.’ That’s the wonderful thing, as Christians the very moment we die, we go to be in the Lord’s presence.

Coming of the Lord

As Christians our hope is founded on the knowledge that Jesus will one day return to earth, and when he does His reign of Justice and Peace, will be fully established on earth.
In the mean time we live in the tension of now and not yet. The Kingdom of God has broken out in the world, that is why Jesus declared 'The Kingdom of God is near' (Mark 1:15) but it is yet to be fully established.

It's like seeing the first snow drops in winter, it's a sign that spring is on its way. So when Jesus restored the sight of the blind, made the deaf hear, and the lame walk, and cast out demons, restored relationships it was a sign of God's kingdom breaking out in the world. But when Jesus returns in glory, the waiting will be over, all creation will be transformed.

And when Jesus returns to earth, it will be heralded by a shout from heaven, the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God (4:16) Christ's return will be unmistakable. No one will miss it, neither the living nor the dead.


So what does all of this mean for us?

A friend of mine was had a cup which had on it Jesus is coming, quick look busy.

In Church we often use this great acclamation of faith:
                Christ has died
                Christ is risen
                Christ WILL come again

If you had a call to say the Queen was going to visit you, you would make sure everything was ready in time.

The Scouts have a slogan, ‘Be Prepared’.  We need to live in readiness for the return of Jesus. A question to consider is, if you knew without a shadow of doubt that you were going to see Christ face to face in a month’s time, would you change anything about the way you live now?

If the answer is yes, what are you going to do about it?

Jesus could return at any moment, or we could be called home to him, what might need to change in our lives to prepare to welcome Jesus?


Secondly we need to pray.

With the birth of Jesus, God stepped into the world, and became one of us.  He came to bring hope, and light, and peace, to a dark and fragmented world. And the Spirit of God continues to do this through the lives of God’s people.

The world today desperately needs Christ. And so we need to pray for Jesus to come and fill our lives with his presence, fill the church with his presence, fill nation and our world with his presence.


Finally we need to partner with God in bringing the reality of his reign into our world. That is why we pray ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, ON EARTH, as in heaven’.

Each one of us is called to play our part in shaping the world around us for the good of all.

As the quote attributed to John Wesley says: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

So let’s use this Advent season to look ahead with expectation & anticipation at the return of Jesus who will bring peace, justice and righteousness to the world, and let’s welcome his presence afresh into our lives. 

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Calling of Levi Mark 2:13-17


Election of Donald Trump surprised many & caused a great deal of uncertainty about what 
he will do as President.

Therefore a lot of focus this week has been on the people Trump is appointing to key positions in his administration, to try & determine what his priorities will be, and what he plans to do during his term in office. Like Trump's own election, there have been some surprises and some concern about a few of his appointments.  Particular the appointment of Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist, who is accused of making homophobic, racist and sexist comments.

Jesus’ choice of disciples also must have surprised many people, and it is this that I want to focus on tonight, especially in the context of the calling of Levi the tax collector. 

Calling of Levi 2:13-17

Levi, who is better known as Matthew, and who many scholars believe is the author of the Gospel of Matthew, was a Jew who worked for the Romans as a tax collector.

He collected taxes from citizens as well as from merchants passing through Capernaum, which was an important customs post on the caravan route between Damascus to the north east and the Mediterranean Sea to the west.

No one enjoys paying tax, but Israel at the time of Jesus was occupied and controlled by the oppressive, corrupt, pagan Roman Empire, and the taxes that were being collected were going to Rome and the Emperor, and thereby financing the Roman occupation. Imagine how you'd feel if Britain was occupied by a foreign power and you were being forced to pay money to the very people who were oppressing you.

Any amount that the tax collectors collected over and above what Rome required, they could keep for themselves. But many of the tax collectors exploited the system for personal gain, effecitively stealing from people & pocketing the profits for themselves. Therefore understandably tax collectors were hated by most Jews, and were excommunicated from the synagogue and seen as traitors and thieves.

That is why in Luke 3:12, when tax collectors came to be baptised by John in the Jordon and asked him "Teacher, what should we do?" His response was "Don't collect any more than you are required to." And when Zacchaeus came to faith in Christ, he said "If I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back 4 times the amount."

Capernaum although an important and prosperous town wasn't a particularly large place, with a population of only around 1,500 people, and subsequently Levi would have been a well-known, albeit unpopular person.  And because much of Jesus' ministry was based in and around this area, Jesus would have known who Levi was, and observed him before, they may have even talked to one another.

Think how quickly news can spread around a town like Carlisle. Imagine therefore what it must have been like in a place like Capernaum, everyone would have known who Jesus was, including Levi, who may well have been one of the people in the crowds who flocked to hear Jesus speak, and seen him perform miracles.

For example when Jesus healed the paralysed man in Capernaum, it is possible that Levi was amongst the crowd, or would certainly have heard about it. People were drawn to Jesus, and I suspect Levi was also drawn to this young, charismatic, preacher and miracle worker, Jesus.

But Levi, could never have guessed what would happen next.

Because Jesus walked up to Levi and said "Follow me" and Mark tells us that Levi got up 
and followed him, just like that. In that moment Levi's life changed forever.

Calling to be a Disciple

Jesus was not the only person to have disciples.

But how Jesus chose his disciples was very different to how disciples were normally chosen.

The aim of a disciple was to become like their master, to be able to do and say the things their master could do and say.

Therefore only the best of the very best were normally chosen to be disciples.

When a child reached the age of about 6 that is when their formal education began, going initially to Bet Sefer between the ages of 6 and 12.  Bet Sefer means House of the Book. There they would study the Hebrew Scriptures (the OT), in particular the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible, and would learn to read, write and memorise the sacred text.

At the conclusion of this boys would undergo a bar mitzvah, which they were welcomed into the community as a full-fledged male member. Usually at this point, the boy would begin to learn the family trade. That would have been the case for most of Jesus' disciples, few if any would have gone onto further study.

In first century Judaism higher education beyond Bet Sefer was for boys alone, and only the brighest and most promising boys would continue in their studies.

For the best of the best they would go onto Bet Midrash between the ages of 13 and 15, where they would study (and memorize) the entire Old Testament.

After Bet Midrash, there was Bet Talmud which went from the age of 15 to 30, which only the very best were able to pursue.

To participate, they had to be chosen by a Rabbi. The way this would work is that they would go to the rabbi they wanted to follow, and see if he would accept them. The rabbi would question their prospective disciples, to determine their scriptural knowledge. He would ask questions about the prophets, search their understanding of scripture and various laws. Ultimately the rabbi would be seeking to answer just one question. That is.... can this potential disciple, really become just like me.

And then, only if they passed all these tests would they be accepted, and be called a 'talmid' or in English, disciple. 

There was a saying 'May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi', they would literally follow in the footsteps of their rabbi, being a disciple was a way of life. They would seek to emulate their rabbi and become like him. They would eat the same food in exactly the same way as their rabbi. They would go to sleep and awake the same way as their rabbi and, more importantly, they would learn to study Torah and understand God the exact same way as their rabbi.

When a disciple took on the teaching of a particular rabbi, they were said to take on the ‘yoke’ of the rabbi. That is why Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30 said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

If after all this questioning, the rabbi felt the person had the potential to become one of his disciples by learning to think and act like he did, and become like him, and spread his ‘yoke’ to others, then he would say to them “Come follow me.” But if they didn’t meet the necessary requirements, he would send them home to continue to learn the family trade or business.

This is significant because when Jesus called his disciples, and they were at work, Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishing, Levi was sitting at his tax collectors booth. There is nothing to suggest that these were the top students from the graduating class of Jerusalem Theological Seminary.  Therefore they weren’t the best of the best, they hadn’t made the cut, they weren’t the obvious first choice. Put bluntly, it would appear that Jesus was settling for the rejects.

And crucially JESUS CHOOSE them, not the other way around.

That is why in John 15 Jesus said “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit--fruit that will last.” (John 15:16)

Levi, and the other disciples were not the obvious first choice. If you were looking through human eyes and considering natural abilities, they didn’t measure up.

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.
As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes without any additional fee.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high 
score on the manic-depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.


Jordan Management Consultants

Jesus, when he called Levi to follow him, wasn’t making His choice based on natural human reasoning, or the abilities of Levi or any of the other disciples. His choices were made using much different criteria. He saw the potential that exists within them and within us all – to become like him. 

So what?

What does this mean for us?

In calling Levi, and the other disciples, Jesus demonstrated that this movement is everyone, and not just for the elite. It was for the rich & poor, old and young, men and women, educated and uneducated.  This Jesus movement was for anybody and everybody.


We may be sitting there & thinking how can God use someone like me, but he can and he does. And if God can use someone Levi, and someone like me, with all our failings and short comings, then he can definitely use someone like you.

Paul in 1 Corinthians writes ‘Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.’ (1 Cor 1:26-30)

Unlikely People

Our lack of experience or perceived lack of ability, or past mistakes is never an obstacle to being used by God.

Throughout Scripture we see that God uses the most unlikely, and often deeply flawed people.

If God could use people like Noah who was a drunkard, Abraham who was an old man, Moses who was a stutterer, Rahab who was a prostitute, David who was an adulterer & murderer, Jonah who ran away from God, Matthew a tax collector, a young boy with a small picnic of five loaves & two fishes, or Saul who persecuted the church, then he can certainly use people like you and me.

Call to follow Jesus

As Jesus called Levi to come and follow him, so Jesus calls us to come and follow him.

The question for each of us to ponder is – in what way do we sense God is calling us? It may be that God has something very specific in mind for you, and maybe you’ve been wrestling with that sense of calling, like an itch that won’t go away.

Or it may be that the call is recommitting yourself to be faithful to God where he’s already placed you, as a husband, wife, mother, sister, friend, neighbour, work colleague. 

Maybe the call is for you to recognize that what you are doing now matters to God, and that is where God wants to use you, as an agent for transformation and change.

Or it might be a realisation that you have drifted away from God, and that Jesus wants to call you back to himself, to recommit to following him.

So some questions to consider - in our daily lives what does it look like to be a disciple of Christ?

What would it mean for us to be covered in the dust of our master Jesus?

Levi’s Response

Just as extraordinary as Jesus’ call on Levi, is Levi’s response to Jesus.

‘Levi got up and followed him.’ (Mark 2:14)

He literally left everything behind, to follow Jesus.

Levi was probably very wealthy, being a tax collector was a lucrative occupation, but he left that all behind, realizing that material wealth was nothing when compared to the spiritual wealth of knowing Jesus.

But what he lost was far outweighed by what he gained in following Jesus. Because he discovered acceptance, forgiveness, a new family to belong to, and new direction and purpose for his life. 

And the same is true for us. There is a cost in following Jesus, that is why Jesus talked about taking up our cross & following him (Matthew 16:24). Putting him first in our lives, is not always easy, but it is the path that leads to everlasting life.

The other important thing Levi discovered in Jesus was here was someone who believed in him.

We talk about the importance of believing in God, but do you know that God also believes in us too.

In Rob Bell’s book, Velvet Elvis, he writes.

The entire rabbinical system was based upon the rabbi having faith in his disciples…. A rabbi would only pick a disciple who he thought could actually do what he was doing. 

Notice how many places in the accounts of Jesus’ life that he gets frustrated with his disciples. Because they are incapable? No, because of how capable they are. He sees what they could be and could do, and when they fall short, it provokes him to no end. It isn'’t their failure that is the problem; it is their greatness. 

They don’t realise what they are capable of.

So at the end of his time with his disciples, Jesus has some final words for them. He tells them to go to the ends of the earth and make more disciples. And then he leaves. He promises to send His Spirit to guide them and give them power, but Jesus himself leaves the future of the movement in their hands. 

And he doesn’'t stick around to make sure they don’t screw it up.

He'’s gone. He trusts that they can actually do it.

God has an incredibly high view of people.

God believes that people are capable of amazing things.
I have been told that I need to believe in Jesus, which is a good thing. But what I am learning is that Jesus believes in me.

I have been told that I need to have faith in God, which is a good thing.

But what I am learning is that God has faith in me.

The Rabbi thinks that we can be like him!

What I love about the story of Levi is that the very first thing he does after Jesus calls him, is to throw a party for his friends, people like him, considered outsiders, people who weren'’t considered good enough, people who hadn’t made the grade, so that they too could meet Jesus. Levi discovers in Jesus, someone who loves him, and believes in him, and more than anything else he wants others to know this to.

And this for me embodies what the Christian faith is all about, it is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.

Jesus tonight calls us to follow him. To leave behind our old life, and discover a new life with him. And in calling us, he says to us “I believe in you. And through the empowering of my Holy Spirit, you can become like me. To even do the things I did.”

How are you going to respond?

  • None of Jesus' disciples were the obvious choice, what lessons can we learn from this?
  • What did Levi have to leave behind in order to follow Jesus, and what things might you have to leave behind?
  • What did Levi gain in following Jesus?
  • How do you respond to the idea that Jesus believes in you, and that you can become like him?
  • The Jews had a saying 'May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi' - what might that look like for you as a Christian?
  • What does it mean for you personally to respond to Jesus' call to "Follow me"?

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Colossians 3:1-17 Rules For Holy Living


On packaging for a iron:
Do not iron clothes on body.

On a Japanese food processor:
Not to be used for the other use.

On a child's Superman costume:
Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly.

On a Swedish chain saw:
Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands or genitals.

Emergency safety procedures at a US summer camp:
In case of flood, proceed uphill. In case of flash flood proceed uphill quickly.

On a Harry Potter wizards broom:
This broom does not actually fly.

Rules on a tram in Prague:
Beware! To touch these wires is instant death. Anyone found doing so will be persecuted.

On a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle:
Some assembly required.

On a blowtorch:
Not used for drying hair.

On a toaster:
Do not use underwater.

New Life With Christ

First two chapters of letter Paul has focused on what Christ has done.  

Now in chapter 3 the focus shifts, onto more practical matters – onto how we should live as Christians.

Paul writes "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." (Colossians 3:1-4)
Or as The Message puts it:

“So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.”

First thing to note:

You have been raised with Christ (v1)

Extraordinary statement – of earth shattering significance.

When we become Christians, we move from death to life.

ILL. Popular TV series, Walking Dead, about world following a zombie apocalypse – they are literally the walking dead. But we were the walking dead, before we came to faith in Jesus.

Paul makes clear before we came to Christ, we were dead in our sins, but now through faith in Jesus we have been raised to new life.

Paul in Ephesians (2:1-2, 4-5) writes ‘As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world… But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.’

Christ has led us from death to life.

As Christians we share in both the death & resurrection of Jesus.  

Paul in Romans 6:3-4, 8 writes ‘don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life…. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.’

ILL – paper in Bible

Through baptism & faith in Christ, our lives become one with Christ.

So that when Christ died on the cross, we died with him. When Christ rose from the dead, we rose with him. 

That is why in Col 3:3 Paul writes “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”

Significance, Security, Acceptance

What every person in life is looking for is


The world teaches us that:
  • Significance comes through performance + accomplishments
  • Security comes through status + recognition
  • Acceptance comes through appearance + admiration

But these equations don’t add up.  Only Jesus can provide the significance, security and acceptance, we are all looking for. That is what it means for our life to be hidden with Christ in God.

Emily Harmon, writing in a blog about what it was like to come to faith in Jesus said that before she came to faith in Jesus she didn’t feel good about herself or her life. But when she became a Christian, things started to change. She writes:

My life finally had meaning… And I began to realize how important it was for me to continually stay centred on [Jesus}, because without him as my focus, everything falls away.

My identity is found in Christ… I know where my meaning comes from. I don't have to go looking anywhere else to find it. Anything else I may try to hold up as something to complete me is always disappointing, because it can't define me. Only Jesus can. And as bad as things may seem sometimes, I can truthfully tell you that I have an amazing life. Even when it seems like everything is falling apart, I still have a peace inside of me, because those things can't ruin me. Even if my whole world fell apart, Christ would still be there. And he tells me who I am, not anything or anyone else. For this reason, I am joyful.

This is what it means to have your life hidden with Christ in God, knowing where your significance, security & acceptance come from, and that no person, or no event can take that from you. As Paul writes in Romans (8:39) nothing can ‘separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’   

Set your mind on things above

Because we have been raised with Christ, Paul appeals to us to ‘set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.’ (Col 3:2-3)

We are to set our hearts AND minds on the things above. Literally to seek after Christ, make him the focus for our lives, our families, our relationships, our jobs, our communities, our church. To ‘set your heart on things above’ is also about viewing life from God's persepective and seeking what he desires.
ILL: Richmond Mission Week 1996-standing in railway station

Often we reduce the message of the Gospel to how do we get to heaven when we die. But it’s so much more than this.

Dallas Willard - The Gospel is less about how to get into the Kingdom of Heaven, after you die, and more about how to live in the Kingdom of Heaven before you die.

When we set our heart & mind on the things above, we begin to understand God’s vision of bringing heaven down on earth.  That is why we pray ‘Your Kingdom come, your will be done, ON EARTH, as in heaven.’

Our calling as Christians, is to help bring heaven down to earth.

Josh Ross in his book ‘Bringing Heaven to Earth’ writes “The gospel is more about this world than the next. It is the story of God’s work in restoring a broken world and broken people…. Christians have asked this question for far too long: If you were to die tonight, where would you go? We need to start asking, if you wake up tomorrow morning, what will you live for?” 

Our focus needs to be the things above, the things that matter to God. 

CS Lewis in Mere Christianity wrote:  If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.

Set your heart and mind on things above.

Sexual Sins

Paul goes on to write…

THEREFORE (always important word in Paul’s letters)

‘Put to death, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.’

The earthly nature, refers to the sinful nature, the old self, which Paul calls us to put to death.

Although we have died and be raised to new life with Christ, we are still a work in progress, and still face temptation. As Paul himself wrote “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19) 

To ‘Put to death, whatever belongs to your earthly nature’ it the conscious daily decision to live according to God’s value’s & rely on the Holy Spirit’s power. 

Paul lists two sets of sins, the first five refer to sexual sin, ’sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.’

Sex is a tremendously important part of life, it is given as a gift of God, but to be used within the context of marriage between husband and wife.  But like all gifts, it can be misused.

The Greek word that Paul uses for sexual immorality is porneia, where we derive the term ‘pornography’, which refers to any form of illicit sexual relationship. Paul considered any sexual relationship outside marriage to be sinful.

The world we live in, is very similar to the world that the Christian in Colossae were living in, in terms of its attitude towards sex.

Results published in The Lancet as part of the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles found
  • People are having sex at a young age
  • People are having more sexual partners (this has doubled from 3.7 in 1990 to 7.7 in 2013)
  • More people cohabit
  • Attitudes towards sex, sexuality & marriage are changing
This change in attitude is also taking place amongst Christians.

Then there is pornography.
  • Research by NSPCC  revealed that 53% of 11-16 year olds had seen explicit material online, almost all of them before the age of 14
  • Pornography is a huge industry worth billions.
  • It is having a massive impact on people.
  • It distorts reality 
  • It damages sexual relationships within marriage 
  • It portrays people as objects to be used
  • It devalues sex, as God intended it
  • It can promote sexual violence towards women. 
  • It’s an issue that affects many Christians. Research by Premier Christianity magazine suggesting Four in ten practising Christians in the UK say they have a 'porn addiction' and over 50% admit viewing adult content online on a monthly basis.
Just as you would remove a diseased limb from a tree, so these sinful practices need to be cut off, to be put to death.

Sins of Anger

Paul goes on to say you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.’ (Col 3:5-8) 

Paul makes it clear that the sins of anger need to be taken just as seriously as sexual sins, and can cause untold damage to people and to churches, destroying unity, breaking down trust, tearing down relationships, and leading to conflict. Gossip, lies, back biting, outburst of anger, crude talk, swearing, and so on, have no place in the life of a Christian or the church.

Take off the old, put on the new

Paul goes on to talk about taking off the old & put on the new (verses 9-10).

ILL When my children come home after playing outside, and their clothes are covered in dirt, before they put on new clothes, they first have to take off their old dirty clothes.

This is what we are to do. We are to take off the old self, the life we had before we came to faith in Jesus, with its harmful habits, attitudes & actions, and put on the new self given to us by Christ, and guided by the Holy Spirit. 

ILL Imagine you’ve spent all your life where the same old rags. They’ve been patched up time after time, they’re hanging limply off your body, there are holes everywhere, and it smells. And then one day, someone offers to take these rags from you, burn them, and give you a new beautiful set of clothes, ones that will not spoil, will not fail. You would be mad to refuse such a wonderful offer. This is what Jesus has done for us.

Clothe yourself

Each morning when you get up, you make a decision about what you are going to wear.
This is the uniform that we are God’s people are called to clothes ourselves with:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Col 3:12-14

When you wear a uniform, it says something about who you are and what your identity is. When we clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness & patience, we identify ourselves as belonging to Christ.

As new men and new women in Christ, every day we need to deliberately put on these qualities of life every single day, because you are a new men and women in Christ.

Compassion - is what we would call a "heart of pity." Have genuine sensitivity and heartfelt sympathy for the needs of others.

Out of compassion comes kindness – the outworking of compassion - a smile, a kind word, a pat on the shoulder, an invitation to lunch, an offer of help.

Many centuries ago, a certain young man from a rural setting went to live in a large city and fell in with the wrong crowd He lived a wild and life, becoming involved in many hurtful things which almost destroyed him. But he heard a preacher one day and though he did not particularly appreciate his preaching, he was struck by the man He went to hear him again, and soon that preacher was able to lead him to Christ. That young man was St Augustine. This is what Augustine wrote of Ambrose, pastor of the cathedral in Milan: "I began to love him, not at first as a teacher of the truth, which I despaired of finding in the church, but as a fellow creature who was kind to me " What an open door kindness can he!

The third quality is "humility." CS Lewis said “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”  We are not to consider ourselves in any way as superior to others. A modern proverb puts it well, we are to remember that "all of us are made in the same mold, only some are moldier than others!"

The fourth quality is "gentleness," which is sometimes translated as “meekness” which is not weakness, but "strength under control." Jesus described himself as being ‘gentle & humble in heart’ (Matt 11:29) Gentleness is the exact opposite of rudeness and abrasiveness.

The fifth quality is "patience.” Literally, long suffering.

The last quality is "forgiving one another"---"Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Our model, is Christ's treatment of us. That is what he did when we came to him. The first step to forgiving others, is understanding how much God has forgiven us. Corrie Ten Boom said ‘Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment & the handcuffs of hatred.”

And other all these virtues we are to put on love.
Love like a belt holds everything together.

As Jesus himself said,  ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ (John 13:34-35)

We cannot practice all the other virtues, if there is no love. Without love we are nothing.
CS Lewis said “Don’t waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”

Do all things for Christ

Finally Paul writes ‘whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.’ (Col 3:17)

As Christians we represent Christ at all times – wherever you go, whatever you say. Our calling is to seek to bring honour & glory to Christ in everything we say & do, and to do it with a spirit of thankfulness. Ruth Graham had for years a sign over her kitchen sink that said, "Divine services held here three times a day." Washing the dishes can be an act of worship if you do it in the name of the Lord, as unto him.

ILL – Brother Lawrence - a 17th-century Carmelite monk

If you love someone you will do things for his or her sake that you do not particularly like doing. That is the point here. If we love the Lord we offer to him the activities of our day; we do everything with a view to his glory. Fill out your income tax forms with that in mind! Meet with your boss, or your employees, "in the name of the Lord Jesus." Buy your groceries in the name of the Lord. Do your homework in the name of the Lord Jesus. Thus, you are labouring, not for the world or its benefits, but for Christ. What a glorious picture this gives of the whole of life under the Lordship of Christ.