Gospel growth

In Colossians 1:6, Paul writes, “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.”

A little seed doesn’t look like much. But in a seed is enough power to cover the earth with trees – in theory.  In the same way – the gospel is alive – Paul says it is growing and having an impact on people’s lives all over the world. There is a movement to the gospel which is built in – it’s part of the language that Paul often uses. God is on the move and He is redeeming this world.  The big picture of the bible is that the world is broken and God is making it right through the person and work of Jesus.

But how do we get from an intellectual idea that God is on the move in the world to the emotional excitement that Paul seems to have? I think Paul has this excitement because he is grounded in the truth of who God is and he is involved in the lives of normal people. There is both an intellectual understanding of the character and the mission of God as well as a practical involvement in that mission.

The same is true for us. Know the truth about God as revealed in the scriptures but don’t just stop there. Get involved in the lives of people around you, especially those on the edge of society. 2,000 years ago these were the widows, the fatherless and the immigrants. Not much has changed – these folks are still on the edge and this is where God is most at work. The gospel is still bearing fruit and growing. The exciting part is that God actually uses normal people, like you and me, to help make this happen.

Sermon: Rule and regulations

Colossians 2:23

Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

This past weekend I was able to preach from Colossians 2:16-23 to Grace Fellowship Church in Culcheth near Warrington. Here’s a key portion of the message:

If Paul was speaking here – it almost seems like his voice would be dripping with sarcasm. “What’s wrong with you guys? Aren’t you united with Christ in his death? Why are trying to kill yourself again with your rules: Don’t touch this! Or Don’t taste that?” We continue to try to return to a salvation that we can accomplish all by ourselves. Most of us would never say it – but so often we think – if only, I would stop blowing up in anger to my husband – then God would love me. If only, I would stop looking at girls – then God would love me. If only, I would do whatever!!! It does not matter – you can not make yourself better with rules so that you will be accepted by God.

Rules that we make for ourselves do not address the human heart. You know how it goes – try to stop doing this or that – we want try this and then we try that – the problems continue. Can there be change in our lives? Can we become more like Jesus? Yes – as we admit our failures – we call that repentance and turn to Jesus for both our acceptance before God and for power to serve him.

You don’t need more rules to get your life together – you need a new heart which Jesus will give if you come to him. How do you know if you’re depending on your own strength or the power of the Spirit? Often times it can sort of look the same – religious, self-righteous people can pray, can read the bible and do acts of mercy just like the man or woman who is empowered by the Holy Spirit.

I think the key in knowing the difference is here where Paul says in verse 23 that these regulations give “self-imposed worship”. What is self-imposed worship? It seems to me that worship like this is seriously lacking in joy because they are approaching God with a business mindset. I’ll do these things for you – go to church, pray, help others, – whatever and in return you give me forgiveness and eternal life. I’ve got to force myself to do this worship thing because I know that there is a deal to be done.

But if you understand the grace of God in the person of Jesus – you will approach God in worship with joy. Worship will be an overflow from the heart and it will be marked by great joy. In fact, all of life will be one of joy if you know that God is your Father and he adores you because of the cross. This will impact your emotions as you deal with injustice on your job. You’ll know that your boss is not supreme – no matter what he says, you are loved and cared for by your Creator. This will impact your emotions as you deal with your singleness. You’ll know that you marital status does not define you – you are loved and cared for by your Creator.

The grace of God – if it runs deep in your life – will mark you as a person in your community who is different. Not a weird religious person who can’t cry with those who are crying or laugh with those who laugh. But one whose approach to life is so marked by a confident joy in the ups and downs of life that it is noticeable to others.  Let the love of God sink deep into your heart and let it flow to those around as well.

Psalm 23 during dark days

This week I am attending two funerals – one for a 22 year old man who died from cancer and the other for the mother of my son’s good friend. I was reading Psalm 23 this weekend and wanted to share a few thoughts in light of these funerals.

As I read, it hit me that we must remember that life is a gift. The temptation at times like these is to question God or to be full of anger at God. “Why did he die so young?” “Isn’t God good?” or “Why does life have to be like this?” We may learn some of the answers but often we will be left with questions. And the reality is, we are not in a position to demand answers.

We must remember that God is the Creator and we are the rebellious creatures. As this psalm says – we are the dumb sheep and He is the good shepherd. Getting a perspective on who we humans are, can give us a heart of thankfulness for the good times we do have. If we’re honest, none of us has honoured our Creator God in the way that we should with the life that we’ve been given. We don’t deserve the good times that we do have, let alone, start questioning God for the good times in the future we think we deserve. Let us thank God for the day we are given here on this earth. Remember our friendships for what they were not for what they could have been.

Secondly, this Psalm reminds us that we are never far from God’s presence. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” – the writer, David, knows about struggle and death. He’s not pretending that everything is OK. But David does know that he is not alone. God is walking with him during the dark days. We know this most vividly through the person of Jesus who lowered himself, took on flesh and suffered in ways that we can’t even imagine. I can’t give all the answers but I encourage others that God does know suffering and is with us during our suffering.

Finally, I think David reminds us that God is good and we will see his goodness in the end. Even though life is hard now and is filled with many questions; we are assured that God is making all things new. There is hope for the future as we trust King Jesus to continue to bring healing, justice and mercy to this world that is broken down in so many ways. At this time of sorrow and pain, we honour our friends’ memory by coming to God; not by running away.

Traumatic times can and should be a major time for our personal growth as men and women of God. Years from now, we will still have many questions, but maybe, just maybe, we can say that God used this time in our lives for His glory to mold us into the people that He wants us to be. Don’t waste difficult times. Don’t let life just get back to normal. Pray for God’s power to be real in our lives and pray that He would use us in the lives of those in our community.

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