August 8, 2010

… lives worthy of the Lord

Passage: Colossians 1:1-14, Luke 12:32-40, Colossians 1:9-10

22 9 For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s* will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.


“Office workers will soon be capable of being in two places at once – thanks to their very own robot,” Orange UK News reports. “Californian company Anybots has developed the five-foot (1.5 metre-tall) robot called QB which can act as your stand-in if you’re working from home, away on business or stuck in a meeting. Controllable by Internet from anywhere in the world, you simply log-in online and activate your QB which you park at your usual desk. QB can even trundle around the office joining conversations with colleagues in real time.” The robot’s eyes glow so your colleagues know you’re “there.”

On a theme of stand-ins is another recent story. Two inmates have escaped from a prison in Argentina after guards placed a dummy with a soccer ball for a head in the watchtower because of a shortage of manpower, The Daily Telegraph reports. ...  Prison workers said that a shortage of staff meant they were only able to man two of the 15 guard towers so they had to resort to using a stand-in. A prison source said: ‘We’ve made a dummy out of a football and a prison officer’s cap, so that the prisoners see its shadow and think they are being watched.’”

There are some things only humans can do.   More particularly, there are some things only you can do.

“We are to pray as if it all depended on God and work as if it all depended on us,” Cardinal Cushing of Boston used to say.  We know what he was trying to say and we agree with him; namely, that God alone can do what God is to do, while we alone can do what we are to do.  While we are always beggars (in the words of Martin Luther), always beggars in the sense that we are utterly dependent on God’s grace, we are never to loll lazily in God’s grace, like a sunbather soaking up the sun’s rays passively, mind and muscle out of service.

Only you can live your life worthy of the Lord.  Imbedded in this prayer of Paul’s for the Colossian church is this vision—this fundamental belief—that you can lead a life worthy of the Lord.  Yes, the power comes from our Saviour still, you—and only you—can lead this life you have in such a way that actually makes God smile.  No stand-in can do what you were designed to do—to live your life in fellowship with God.

1. I am ever interested in the subject of what motivates people in their life endeavours.  What is it that drives you out of bed in the morning with purpose in your stride because you have places to go, things to get done, people to meet, goals to achieve, appointments to be kept, and stuff that I need make happen?  What makes you go do all that?  It may be that I am fascinated by motivation because I am one of those people ever wondering what in the world do I have to do this or that for?  Why? I fully understand my three year old grandson who asks why after every sentence you speak to him.  (I also acknowledge that many do not share my angst over this question)

The idea that we alone can do what we are to do can be a very motivating idea; the notion that only you can be you resonates deep in the human heart out of which can arise striving for things we at one time considered impossible.  There is a caution we need to sound here illustrated by a Nevada resident named Kevin Baugh; he set up his own country which consists of his three-bedroom house and 1.3 acre yard.   Baugh is a micro-nationalist, one of a wacky band of do-it-yourself nation builders who raise flags over their front yards and declare their property to be, as Baugh puts it “the kingdom of me.”

For Baugh it is a fun joke; on many levels, though, it illustrates precisely how people live motivated by some sense of their own uniqueness, as if my unique contribution is the thing that will make life satisfying.  What motivates people is a question that business leaders are ever trying to tap into; it is the very foundation of the size of a paycheque.  Motivational speakers are ever in demand; Stephen Covey’s book The Eighth Habit addresses this very subject under the heading of “significance”.  But if uniqueness—a sense of my unique contribution—is so obviously the key that will unlock the human spirit to soar, why do so many people remain so sadly unmotivated in life?

The Frank Sinatra song My Way crystallizes into verse life built on “the kingdom of me”.  I realize that I may be treading on sacred ground for some; nonetheless I do not find the idea that at least I did things my way inspires me to achieve very much.  Self-importance is very limited in scope; it is limited by what the self can do.

I know of no one who can motivate, who can put spring in the step, who can undergird in the face the difficult challenge, who can get you out of bed to get stuff done like Jesus Christ.  I find that no inspiration compares to the inspiration that is embedded in the vision of life expressed in the idea of living life worthy of the Lord.

2. We must be careful here not to reduce Jesus Christ to merely a commodity for motivation; as if I have some inner box called “significance” and if I have Jesus that box is now filled.  As far as Jesus is concerned our significance is not in doubt—his life given for us on the cross surely shows his conviction that we are already significant to God.  Yes, believing in Jesus provides motivation to live life; at the same time to decide to believe in Jesus because I need to get some motivation for myself is to miss the point.  We may think we need motivation; what we need is Jesus Christ; those other things emerge in relationship with him.

It was similarly reductionist views of Jesus Christ that Paul was addressing in the letter to the Colossians.  Epaphras—the one Paul calls “our beloved fellow servant—was the disciple/preacher who founded the church at Colossae; Paul did not visit this congregation.  It was likely founded during Paul’s first missionary journey that was to this region; you can imagine fellow preachers spreading out with the gospel message from a common base; as Luke records in Acts (13:49) “the word of the Lord spread throughout the region.”

At the writing of Colossians Paul is in prison; either in Ephesus or in Rome.  Epaphras has come to see Paul with some questions about how to deal with teachers who have emerged in the Colossian church whose teachings have had a reductionist effect on the importance of Jesus Christ.  It is a message of “Jesus plus”—“yes, Jesus saves, but you really need some other things to help.”  Or a message of Jesus as the little piece of the puzzle that is missing and if you simply insert the piece you will have made your life complete.

The letter to the Colossians says no to that; Jesus isn’t the missing piece nor is there any “Jesus plus”.  This letter is Paul’s Christological masterpiece in which he declares in unmistakably universal terms the glorious supremacy of Jesus Christ as both Saviour and Lord; he is the one you need and the only one you need.  Consider the either/or terms Paul uses in this opening prayer; on the one side is the “power of darkness” on the other is “the kingdom of his beloved Son”.  “He (God) has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”*

3. What does a life worthy of the Lord look like?  Paul uses four participles that indicate what he has in mind. The first is to bear fruit in every good work, the second is to grow or increase in the knowledge of God, the third is to be made strong, by God’s supply, with strength for the long haul, and the fourth is to give thanks to the Father who enables.

Each of these is worthy of further exploration but I want to take our remaining moments to reflect on this third aspect Paul raises of being strengthened for endurance, for the long haul.  Often when we speak of motivation for life we think of ‘excitement’ or a ‘charging from the gate’ to go do something we love to do.  Sports pages last week highlighted the story of Brett Favre; will he retire from the game he loves to play.   On the challenge of retiring from playing professional sports former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms offered this reality check: “You’re never going to find anything you can do as well as this.”

Motivation for things we love to do comes easily; motivation to endure the difficult is not so easy.  Many people find themselves confronted with realities they never planned on; chronic illness or disability of a loved one from which there no relief.  God’s people are not immune to the hardships of life and we need the motivation of the kind that is strength to endure and patience that somehow still finds joy.  It is the kind of motivation that you cannot plan for nor muster up by putting on a happy face.  It is what I think Paul is speaking of when he prays that we be made strong

The apostle Paul knows that God supplies his people with "power...for all endurance and patience with joy". It is the hidden power of God that infuses his people with joy; and joy alone keeps patience patient and endurance enduring. You see, of themselves patience and endurance will tarnish, then corrode, and finally crumble.

Of itself patience grows weary as it is tried day after day; patience-grown-weary becomes frustrated and slides into indifference; the last stop is apathy. Apathy may look like patience, but in fact apathy is patience whose nerve has gone dead. Of itself endurance grows weary as it is tried day after day; endurance-grown-weary becomes grim and then resentful. The last stop is bitterness. It is only as God-empowered joy infuses us that we can keep on keeping on and not slump down into apathy and bitterness.

When we are young we tend to think that human problems admit of quick fixes. Gradually we learn that very few human problems are set right overnight. To think that they can be, of course, is to want magic. When I am tempted by magic or frustrated because I can't have magic I recall any one of those I admire, someone who models that discipleship I should be most grateful to exemplify myself. One such, for me, is William Wilberforce. Wilberforce worked twenty years before he saw the slave-trade abolished; he worked forty-six years before he saw the practice of slavery eliminated in the British Empire. Forty-six! And in it all he never gave up, never gave in, never gave out venomous contempt for opponents and detractors. His endurance never became grim nor his patience apathy.

Power is the capacity to achieve purpose. It is God's purpose for us that we continue to shine as lights in a dark world, continue to be salt in a decadent world, continue to be the aroma of Christ (says Paul) in a world whose rot simply stinks, continue to be God's letter (Paul again) to a world which needs a word from the heart of God himself. This is God's purpose. His power is simply his guarantee that our joy-infused patience and endurance will continue as his purpose is achieved.

God's purpose is a people who reflect his glory—lives worthy of the Lord.   His power will see to it that such a people lives now, and will live before him for ever and ever.  Let us pray for each other as Paul prayed; “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 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled* you* to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”