Saturday, July 21, 2007

Spiritual Capitalism

I ran across this Tech Central Station article about a new movie The Call of the Entrepreneur. I'm very intrigued, particularly since Roman Catholic guru theologian and economist Michael Novak, the author of the The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, appears in the trailer. Check it out.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

20 Years

Some of you might be amused to know that the twentieth reunion of the Highland High Rams of 1987 is coming up soon. Here is a fun video montage of what we were up to way back then. You may recognize at least one of the folks in the video.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Having Been Transferred...

Having Been Transferred...
Colossians 1:1-14
July 15, 2007
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

© 2007 by Christopher D. Drew

Sermon Focus: We speak frequently about the Kingdom of God, and we make many pronouncements about life in the kingdom. We sometimes forget, however, that the kingdom has already come, even as we wait for its fulfillment. Paul makes this point explicit in the final few verses of this week’s text.

Sermon Function: To remind listeners that the kingdom of God (who is the source of our joy) is present now, even though there sometimes seems to be little evidence to suggest that this is the case, especially if we use happiness, rather than joy, as our criterion.

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Having just wrapped up Galatians, we’re going to move into another letter from our beloved apostle, Paul. This is the first of a four-part series on Paul’s letter to the Christians in Colassae.

You may remember that Paul was writing to the Galatians in order to counteract the teaching of certain preachers who where pressuring the Galatians to accept the full obligations of the Jewish law in order to be considered faithful – in good standing with God. The letter to the Colossians seems to have been written for a similar purpose, although the details in this case are different. Whereas Paul himself visited the Galatians on at least two occasions, Paul, to our knowledge, never visited the congregation in Colossae. In today’s reading, you will hear about a man named Epaphras, who Paul mentions as the “faithful minister of Christ” who has been tending the flock of Christians in Colossae. The opening paragraphs of the letter lead up what is known in some corners as the Christ Hymn, a hymn that I will talk further a bit later in the sermon.

Let us listen now to God’s Word.

[Read Scripture - Colossians 1:1-14]

Introductory Illustration

The phrase “out of the frying pan and into the fire” is one we are all familiar with. In a nutshell, the phrase is used to describe when a person believes at first to have gotten out of a particular dilemma, only to find him or herself in a worse predicament than before. This phenomena gets wide play in our popular entertainment, movies and novels play off situations where characters jump from the flames only to find themselves falling into a volcano. The dramatic tension of the Indiana Jones movies were often heightened by placing Indy into situations that routinely go from bad to worse.

We often find ourselves in similar situations, don’t we? Sometimes, our dilemma seems recursive – that is, it repeats itself throughout life. Several of my close friends were at first business colleagues, back in my days as a business and information technology consultant. The demands of our work were notable, and inevitably people left the company to find better opportunities elsewhere. For several of my friends, it seemed that the leap from the consulting frying pan led to yet another frying pan of a different sort. Do you remember the “dot-com” explosion of the 1990s? In the greater San Francisco Bay Area, the dot-coms where the giant sucking sound that we could hear from the confines of our corporate office building. But those companies tended to be frying-pits, not frying pans. Many jumped form company to company, holding out for the big payoff, but finding themselves without stock options and without jobs. This process could repeat itself several times. On several occasions I was approached by my friends to join them in the leap. I declined, for no other reason really than I was scared of losing what little security I had with my existing job. Plus, having seen the multiplying frying pans out there, I was looking for something radically different. At that time, I didn’t realize that that new path would ultimately bring me to Portland, Texas. (It’s kind of hot in here, isn’t it? Just kidding!)

The Kingdom Has Come

I bring all this up because the phrase “out of the frying pan and into the fire” typifies much of American life. Moreover, though, it typifies our humanity. We’re hard-pressed to be content. In our church life, there are those who think we must take on the responsibility for bringing forth the kingdom today, right now. What is interesting about all of that talk is that it frequently misses an element of our faith that is pronounced quite clearly in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. And it is that part of our text that I want to focus on today. Beginning with verse 11, Paul says the following:

“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:11-14 NRSV).

What is Paul saying here? First off, he’s saying that whatever strength we have must be first credited to God rather than to ourselves. Our very life is a gift from God. Anything we may accomplish in life is really a credit to God, not to ourselves. We do not exist outside of the sovereignty and power of God.

The second thing Paul says here is more profound and more uncomfortable. We are to draw on this strength we receive from God so that we might be “prepared to endure everything with patience” (v. 11). The demands of Christian faith require the character trait of endurance. This is not simply endurance one needs, for example, to win out over an opponent in an athletic competition. No, this word specifically refers to “the endurance to bear up under difficult circumstances.”1 This is one of the more difficult lessons for Christians to hear, particularly if we’re used to living fairly comfortable lives – in fact, we are not put here on earth simply to be happy. We can anticipate and expect difficulties, hardships, disease, and evil deeds to invade our lives. There are those in our culture that might say that Christians have an “idealistic” view about life now. But the facts say otherwise. Christianity says more about the human condition we are in now than any other faith I can think of. It acknowledges, frankly, the hardships we face. The Reformed faith acknowledges what we know in our bones is true – that we are prone to sin and death.

Happiness Isn't Everything

Stan Guthrie is the Senior Associate Editor of Christianity Today magazine. He suffers from a mild form of cerebral palsy that causes him to walk with a somewhat “erratic gait.” Last week, he wrote an article about his son’s experience at school. While there, his son experienced the taunting of some classmates who had been making fun of Stan’s condition. Stan writes, “I worry about our society’s desire to engineer trials out of existence. Sometimes, even we who decry the health-and-wealth gospel forget that Christian life was never meant to be a cakewalk, that discipleship requires suffering, and that spiritual victory presupposes struggle.” He concludes his article with these words, “Only through suffering, disappointment, and death … are we weaned form the love of this world. There is more to life than happiness.”2 A noted pastor I know made what I thought was an incredible statement during his sermon one Sunday. He said, “The pursuit of happiness is non-biblical.” I blanched when I heard that, but on further reflection, I can see what he means. And in fact, if the bible did guarantee us happiness then I think our faith would by largely wasted, because everything we know about human existence says that life isn’t all happiness.

Joy Comes from God

Are we then just destined for a life of depression and futility? The answer to that question is “no.” Living mature Christian faith requires that we distinguish between being happy and having joy. Have you ever stopped to think that joy and happiness are not the same thing? Happiness carries with it temporal, circumstantial implications. If I have all the things I think I need, the job that brings prestige, nice kids, etc., them I’m happy. If any of those things are missing, then I’m unhappy. Joy is something different, something more profound, something that transcends the simple emotions we might take pleasure in. Joy is the product of something eternal. In fact, the gospel of John makes the case quite clearly. In Jesus’ great prayer in John, he says:

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:9-11 NRSV).

What a remarkable statement: The source of our joy is not in anything we can do in this world, or in any of the possession we have. Instead, our joy is found in Christ. And it is that great power that allows us to have joy in our worship of the Father, even in the midst of trials and suffering and, yes, unhappiness.

In the Father, we also have a “share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” We have a portion of that heavenly treasure redeemed for us through the blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross. We got there, because we have been “rescued … from the power of darkness” (v. 13). How? We have been “transferred … into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (vss. 13-14). I think the old King James Version states this same text in an interesting way when it says we have been “translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:13 KJV). We have been moved from where we are into the kingdom of the Son.

Did you catch those past tense verbs? “He has rescued us.” He has “transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.” Has. All of this has already occurred.

What does this mean for us? It means this: Having been transferred into the kingdom, we no longer leap out of the frying pan and into the fire. We’re been removed from those flames, thank you very much. Jesus Christ, our crucified Lord, saved us from that next fire that was worse than the last. We need only look to him for guidance, and obey his commands. It becomes easier to do that if you truly believe, in your heart, that he died for us, and that God raised him from the dead, and lifted him into the Kingdom, making him Head of the Church, of which each of you are a dear member of the Body. As you listen to these words, do so in the knowledge that we have already been transferred into the kingdom:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel” (Colossians 1:15-23 NRSV).

And may we all become servants of this same gospel.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Sprit. Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church, Portland, Texas

1Louw, J. and Eugene Nida. “ὑπομονη.” Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1989.

2Guthrie, Stan. “Stumbling After Jesus.” Christianity Today ( July 10, 2007. July 14, 2007. Path: Index; Faith & Thought; Prayer/Spirituality.