For the next several weeks, we are going to focus on good news. Not fake news. Good news! News based on the truth of Jesus. Who needs to hear some good news in their life right now? Well, you have come to the right place because we continue to learn that there is more than enough good news to go around out there. It has to do with God. It is good to be receptive to God in our lives. It is appropriate to want God in our lives because it is a good thing to do.
So, how do we make progress in receiving God’s good news in our own lives?
We are going to use a real life example of a group of Christians who realize having God in their lives is a good thing.
These are Christians who lived just after the time of Jesus. They lived in a Roman city called, “Colossae,” which is in present day Turkey. Pronounced “Colossi.” These new Christians weren’t Turkish, they were Roman. And they were influenced by Paul. Yes, they are young in their faith and they are learning how great it is to believe in Jesus and follow him. They are learning how God has great treasures waiting for them as they abandon their lives to him. And they are discovering these treasures.
Paul is writing to the Colossians while he is in prison. But, prison isn’t holding him back. He is counting on the presence of God to be with him. He is excited to encourage these Christians to discover the treasures God has for them and to live their lives accordingly. Not out of guilt, but because living this way is a good thing to do.
As we learn this good news from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, we start with learning how it is God who brings us grace and peace. It is about being receptive.
But first, we have a problem. Two problems actually, separation and striving.
First, separation. The world I live in is crowded. I don’t mean my home or my neighborhood, but the moment I go anywhere in public, the vast majority of people I see are strangers. I have never met them before, and for most of them, I will never meet them again. When you live in Los Angeles, or any other place where there are a lot of people, you sure can feel disconnected. Can you relate?
Yet, today, I would say that even if you live in a town of 1000 you can still feel disconnected. There is something going on in our society today where we crave to belong and be in relationships with each other, but it’s not happening. Even for those of us who use social media, no matter how connected we think we are, there is so often an emptiness. Something missing.
And, consider our relationship with God. Even if we think we are connected and we are busy being in relationship with people, we can still feel disconnected with God. We may have a prayer life, but it is usually sending rather than receiving. In other words, we have a prayer life, but it is not a praying life where minute by minute our lives are soaked in an ongoing interaction between us and God. I experience this disconnect from time to time, how about you?
Yes, separation is a problem.
Where do you sense you are most disconnected today?
Striving. Living in Los Angeles, we live in the capital of striving. Everyone is comparing themselves to everyone else. I am not just talking about celebrity and the fact that LA is at the center of one-ups-manship. We don’t often think of this or even admit this to ourselves, But much of what we do has to do with making comparisons and judging how we are doing. This even appears “normal” in our everyday life.
Again, this is not just in LA, but all around our society. Everything these days seems to be comparing ourselves, and if you have kids, comparing our children with everyone else.
Yep, this does start early on. Think about kids in our society. For instance, when is the last time you saw young kids playing a team sport together by themselves? In other words, by themselves, without crabby adults hanging around? Just playing together without some guy with a clipboard telling them what to do or not to do?
Or ask any young person in middle school or high school about their grades. Somehow they’re always behind. They have to do more and be more, they have to get better and and be more involved in everything that will help them get ahead because, well if they don’t they just aren’t going to make it.
But, striving is a problem for most of us. We always have a sense of always being behind. We are always thinking, “I need to do more.”
Yes, that’s a problem. And so, is separation.
How many of you have felt challenged by striving or separation? Does this ring true?
Where do you see yourself making comparisons and feeling behind?
This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy.
Colossians is a letter from Paul. One of the great mysteries of the Bible is did Paul ever meet Jesus? In person. Paul never talks about ever actually physically seeing Jesus. We know Paul is present at the stoning of Stephen, which is soon after the time of Jesus. But, we don’t know if Paul ever saw Jesus himself.
As a result, one of the things we do know about Paul is that he is considered a renegade apostle. He isn’t always highly thought of, even by other Christian leaders.
After all, an apostle is a leader of the early church. An apostle is someone who knows Jesus. Paul says he’s an apostle. But, how did that happen? Who made him an apostle? Was he chosen by the home office back in Jerusalem? Was he chosen by the other apostles? The ones who personally followed Jesus? No, Paul says, “I was chosen by God.”
You can imagine what many Christians are saying back in that day.
“So, Paul, who gave you the authority to say these things? You don’t seem to have ever been with Jesus. You don’t ever talk about being with Jesus. You don’t seem to have the support of the home office at Jerusalem all the time. In fact, they are always calling you back to Jerusalem to figure out what you are up to. Almost like they are interrogating you. So, by whose authority do you do these things?”
Paul is always having to try to prove himself. He didn’t come through the right channels to be an apostle. He didn’t have the right credentials. After all, an apostle is supposed to be one of the people who followed Jesus.
But, Paul doesn’t let this stop him. He knows why he is an apostle.
“I am chosen by the will of God to be an apostle.”
You can just hear them. “What, do you have a direct line to God? What are you talking about?
Who o you think you are? On what authority are you doing this? To be an apostle of Christ Jesus?”
Well, Paul’s picture of Jesus is broader than just following some guy around for a couple of years. He is speaking of Jesus in more cosmic terms. The Jesus who is the intersection between heaven and earth. The Jesus who comes as a human being into human history to make sure we realize we are not disconnected from God. The Jesus who makes sure we understand and invites us to live out the fact that we are connected to the spiritual realm.
So, Jesus, in Paul’s mind, is the center-of-the-universe Jesus, not the guy who goes out in fishing boats. Then he writes,
“And from our brother, Timothy.”
Timothy is a leader in training. Actually, Paul has a lot of leaders in training. As I have mentioned, he invests in many younger people.
We are writing to God’s holy people in the city of Colossae.
Remember these Colossians are Romans, not Jews. Even though he is Jewish, Paul didn’t have much luck with Jewish people. He would go the synagogue in town and try to reach out to the Jews there, share with them about Jesus, but it didn’t work for him.
Then he would go to the non-Jews in the same town, non-Jews or, “Gentiles,” they are called, he would go to the Gentiles and they would be receptive. Then he would try the whole thing out again in the next town.
He would go to the synagogue in the next town and it wouldn’t work out again. But, with the Gentiles, they are receptive. Eventually, Paul realizes he is created by God to work with people who aren’t Jews.
Sometimes this happens. I know this personally, because it’s happening to me right now. I wrote a book, Reboot, that I just knew would be helpful for young people to grow in faith. The reader I envisioned was a young adult coming out of a Christian background, growing in their own faith. It would be great for them to be helped by the book, even sharing it with friends who aren’t Christian. I saw the primary audience coming out of churches.
Well, currently, there is a niche for my book, but it isn’t young adults coming out of churches. My book is actually being read most in prison. In fact, even a more particular niche, Reboot is being read in women’s prisons. There are various women’s prisons around the country right now where young women are connecting to God and each other, and God is using the book Reboot as a tool for that. Who knew?
Now, this doesn’t mean I was wrong and my book isn’t helpful for young adults in church and college ministries, for instance, it’s just that God is taking things in a different direction currently.
We can sure be glad that Paul did make these connections he people he didn’t expect. When you think about it, because Paul’s niche is with Gentiles, he is the one who makes it possible for those of us who are not Jewish to get connected with the faith of the Bible.
It is our blessing that Paul knows it is so important for him to make sure the good news of Jesus can be shared in such a way that Gentiles get it. To make people become Jews first and then become Christians is never going to work. Christians will never reach the world that way. So, Paul takes the essence of what Jesus is about, the Messiah who comes out of Judaism, and he finds a way to connect this with the rest of us who aren’t Jewish.
Who seems to be in your “sweet spot” when it comes to sharing about Jesus?
A Personal Testimony to “My People”
We are writing to God’s holy people in the city of Colosse, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.
You know what? You are such a blessing to me and everyone else here because you are faithful. You see, just showing up physically is an act of faith in California. People don’t show up for each other much anymore. Just text me. Send me an e mail. But you’re actually here in the flesh.
To show up, to gather together in person, to gather around the bread and wine of Communion, to gather for prayer, give each other encouragement, to be here in person, face to face, this is what it means to be faithful in California. As active Christians, we are so counter cultural today, that just by showing up, well it’s counter cultural to go to church.
For example, we have lived in the same house for over 25 years, and we have gotten to know a lot of our neighbors, even invited many of them to come to church. But, I have to tell you, when I leave Sunday morning to “go to church” there isn’t much activity going on. The neighborhood is quiet and the cars are all still parked. Yes, In our neighborhood it is an act of faith to just show up at a church. It is so counter cultural.
In many ways you are very similar to the people of Colossi. Paul is writing to the faithful and something I continue to learn is the faithful need encouragement, too. In fact, you, the faithful, need the most encouragement. You are the ones out there just trying to live out your life, let alone live out your life as a faithful Christian, day by day, and I know it’s not easy out there.
It’s not easy for you as a believer at work. It’s not easy to be an active Christian at school. Who has it easy living as a Christians with your friends who aren’t Christian?
I mean I know most of you personally, pretty well, and I know you need encouragement. The faithful need encouragement. I know this, because I need encouragement.
The world that has changed for you has changed for me, too. Again, it’s counter cultural to be a Christian in Los Angeles, and if the truth be told, it is counter cultural to be a Christian pastor, too. All of us in this room need encouragement.
This is what Paul is all about. He is encouraging those who are outside the culture of his day. Encouraging the faithful. In Colossi, the first generation of believers outside the Jewish realm are the counter cultural ones. Not just because they come out of the Roman culture, but they don’t have the history God’s people in their background, and so they have nothing to go on. No experience to go on. No history to go on. No wisdom to go on. It is a whole new thing.
Where do you need the most encouragement in your life right now?
A Personal Testimony to My Local Band of Brothers and Sisters
The church at Colossi is similar to many congregations today. The church at Colossi is a house church, meaning the Christians would meet in houses. The size of the church community was what you could fit in a house. Under Roman persecution, that’s all they have. There is no such thing as a church building until the 300’s.
And, even with larger Christian congregations throughout our country, especially in big cities, it is like the Colossians in that Christians are just a tiny group compared to the rest of the population around them. But, these small house church communities like in Colossi, meeting frequently together, mainly for encouragement, well these house churches changed world history by expanding God’s Kingdom significantly those first 300 years after Christ, in spite of being small. They swept through the whole Roman Empire.
And the church of Colossi looks like bigger cities in another way, too. They are multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. The Colossians are coming out of many religious backgrounds or no religion at all.
When I think of our church and preschool 35 years ago and what we looked like then, and then I think of what our church and preschool community looks like now, let’s just say today we look a bit more like Los Angeles now then we did then. Here are some of our preschoolers at our recent Christmas program.
You see, California has always been highly multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, it’s just that Christian church and preschool communities don’t always reflect this. But, more and more the churches and schools that are alive and active today are ones that are making progress. Like Colossai.
If you have been part of a church community for the past decades, how is it different?
A Personal Testimony to My Local Band of Brothers and Sisters from Other Christian Communities
And when I think of the wider church in Los Angeles, I think of pastors and other church leaders I am blessed to say are my friends and cohorts who I am sharing life with. Well, I can tell you, this community is way different than it used to be, too.
As many of you know, church leaders from all around the Valley gather together here at LIFEhouse every Thursday morning at 9 a.m. for prayer, encouragement and support. We’ve been doing this for over 15 years. Anywhere from 12 -20 of us gather any given week, out of about 50 or so who are part of this community at any given time. With new people coming all the time.
So, when I think of being a Christian in Los Angeles I think of my LIFEhouse family first, and I think of these friends, too. Along with you, these are my band of brothers and sisters, too. We come from all different denominations, and yes, we really look like Los Angeles.
At our recent gathering, we had a larger group than usual, probably being the new year and all. Because I knew I was going to speak of this in my sermon, I actually wrote down who was there. There were men and women from every age group, from early twenties to the old guys like me. And our ancestry was as follows:
Some were Hispanic, Iranian, Indian, Nepalese, Palestinian, Armenian, Asian and Black. And on that day to round out the group, there was Doc and I. We were the two token white guys.
Now, you have to understand, we are all just voluntarily showing up. Not one of us is trying to do something programmatic in particular to try to be more culturally diverse. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to try to connect on purpose with people from different backgrounds. It’s just that in this case, none of us is following any kind of set system to get more diversity. We didn’t have to take workshops on how to be more inclusive or anything. We just show up, and we invite our friends.
The real reason it is such a culturally diverse group of friends is we are open to God’s lead in gathering us together. God is the one who is building our relationships because God wants us to connect.
You see, our Thursday Morning prayer group represents God’s desire for our unity. It is a unity out of our cultural diversity.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Again, it is such a blessing to be enriched by relationships with people of other cultural and ethnic backgrounds. At the same time, however, it appears that for God at least, it is even more important that we are all one in Christ. We are learning God’s primary influence on us is not our diversity, it is our unity. This shouldn’t be much of a shock considering Jesus tells us just this.
Jesus is speaking directly about his disciples at the time, and he is also speaking to you and me, as well.
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
So, we get what Jesus gets from God.
Why do you think Christians of different denominations and cultural and ethnic backgrounds are coming together more than they have in the past?
How is Your Reception?
May God our Father give you grace and peace.
This is God’s antidote to separation and striving. Grace and peace.
Grace is God’s way of relating with us. He thinks we are special, precious, the “apple of his eye,” the Bible says.
God loves you individually as much as he loves Jesus. He is the perfect father. He works for the good of all of his children with exactly the same amount of love. Grace makes it possible for brothers and sisters to have the same kind of love for each other. To will the good of each other with the supernatural love God possesses. Can you see how this takes care of both separation and striving?
Then there is peace. Shalom, the Bible calls it. Because God has unlimited special love for us, we have access to everything he has. That’s shalom. You can call it God’s “more than enough” blessing. God’s peace means everything is going to be fine no matter what. Everything is going to work out even if we don’t know why.
Good bye separation and good bye striving, in other words.
With God’s shalom comes no conflict.
No conflict with God. God is our loving dad.
And he is all powerful, so he can make sure we have no conflict within ourselves.
And as we work for our own good, we can work for the good of others.
No conflict with others. Deeper relationships and sharing God’s abundant love is what we have to look forward to in our relationships.
So how do we get grace and peace?
We don’t get them. We receive them. When God is actively present in our lives we can actually perceive his grace and peace.
This is the key to life with God. We become open to his presence. Gratefulness is the key to opening ourselves to God. The more we appreciate what God does for us, the more open we are to his presence, the more he does. We let God flow through us.
There is no reason for separation. We are with God forever. We get enjoy him for eternity. And we will be with each other for eternity. No separation ever again when you receive God in your life.
And there is no need for striving. We have an eternal life time to become who God is making us to be. There is no chance we can ever be behind in what God wants for us. How can you be behind when you have all of eternity? And we don’t need to constantly try to get ahead. What God has available for us is there forever. How do you get ahead of infinity, anyway?
May God our Father give you grace and peace.
When God wants something done he provides everything you need to do it. What is God saying to you about this today?