The Starting Line of Faith

We are in our second week of a new series on the book of Colossians.  And I’m excited because the church that resided in the town of Colosse was not unlike this church right here.  For instance the town of Colosse was a smaller town on the outskirts of some larger cities, not unlike Gretna.  And the church itself was a newer church, not unlike Journey

This book that we call Colossians was actually a letter that was written by the apostle Paul most likely around 54AD.  Christianity itself is only twenty years old by the time this letter was written.  And it is written by Paul to a church that is probably less than five years old.  We are only six years old here at Journey.

Even though Paul had never visited these folks that live in Colosse he wanted to write them this letter of assurance – to encourage them to continue the good work that God has been doing in and through them.

Paul begins his letter by saying, “I’ve heard about you.  You have a reputation!  It’s getting around – you people are filled with faith in God and love for people – that bursts from a heart that is filled with Hope.

So if you have a bible turn now to Colossians, chapter 1.  Colossians is in the New Testament – and about halfway through the New Testament.  You can look at the table of contents in your bible for help if you need it – no one in this place will look down on you, because this place is filled with people who are newer to faith in Jesus.  We are all fellow learners.

I remember when I first started my faith journey I was a teenager and we had this teacher that used to play a game and she would say – “Okay well we have a few extra minutes, and so let’s have a sword drill!  And I was like, swords, in church?  Man, I had church all wrong – where are the swords?

But no – it turned out that they called this bible a sword, and the drill was that she would call out a book of the bible and a chapter and verse we’d all race one another find it.  Nehemiah 2:1 Go!   Oh man!  This game is lame!  Where are the swords?

I’d always just open my bible to the middle and flip through pages – and some bible nerd would jump up – Nehemiah 2:1 – oh man, you just beat me – I almost had it!  I was in “Puh-salms.”

So I guess all that to say there is no need to pretend that you know more than you do here at Journey.  If you pay attention as we go maybe you’ll pick something up along the way – but no need to pretend you are something you are not.

Colossians 1:9 So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you.

I don’t know if there are any more encouraging words than to hear from someone who says – I pray for you.  Paul is a praying kind of guy.  And he is about to mention two general areas that he is praying for them about – but – before we see what these areas are – it’s very important that we understand the basis for his prayers.  There is a foundational truth that needs to be understood before his prayers will make sense.

Have you ever played the board game called “The Game of Life”?  And you have all these roads you can travel and they had that unusual spinner thing that would always fly off like a flying saucer and hit some kid in the nose – and he’d be crying and you’re like – hey It’s Lief – it happen.

Now when you first look at this board it looks confusing – you are looking to know where you start?  And so once you find the place where – here for instance it says “Start”  Start here.  Once you find the start place – then you can head in the right direction.

Well, we find the start line to life in Christ in the passage we are studying today.  And we find it here in Colossians 1:13,14.  This is the starting line.  This is what the Bible calls the Gospel – or the good news.  Here’s the good news.

13 For he (the Father) has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.

This is the Good News.

You and I were born by default into a kingdom that is characterized best by the word “darkness”.  It could have been called many things – it could have been called the Kingdom of cancer, death, disease and pain.  The kingdom of ‘every person for themselves”.  The kingdom of Dog eat dog, eat or be eaten, survival of the fittest.

The Bible just sums all of it up with one word – the kingdom of darkness.  And who is going to argue with that choice?  This world is a dark world.  We saw just how dark it can be with the tragic shootings in Oregon.  But we need not travel a thousand miles away to know that our world is really a mess.

And we could spend time cataloging just how evil our world is – but really there is no need – there is no one in this room who is going to stand up and say -no this world we live in healthy.  This world is diseased with sin.  And so the Bible says, darkness is as good a word as any to describe it.  And it is this kingdom that we are born into by default.

Well, one day about two thousand years ago there’s a bunch of people sitting in the synagogue when Jesus walks in and picks up a scroll and makes an announcement.  He begins reading from an old Testament book from Isaiah and announces…

Matthew 4:16 16 the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light.
And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow,
    a light has shined.”

17 From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

Jesus announces an option.  The good news is that Jesus has come to make an announcement that there is, right now, available to all, an alternative kingdom to this kingdom of darkness into which we were born.

Jesus did not come to bring the kingdom.  It’s not a new kingdom.  The kingdom of God has always existed – the kingdom of God is everything that falls under the governance of God.  After all – the word kingdom implies a king and subjects.

And pretty much all of creation is subject to God’s governance with two glaring exceptions.  One is evil angels – who walked away from the God in a long ago failed rebellion in heaven.  The only other beings that are not under the governance of God are rebellious human beings.

And if you are here today and you are not yet a follower of Jesus then you are outside of the Kingdom of heaven.  Well why doesn’t God just force me into his Kingdom?  Well God doesn’t do hostile takeovers.  He doesn’t conquer unwilling souls – he respects you too much – instead he offers you an invitation.

There is another kingdom and Jesus came to announce that the agtes have been thrown open and all who will may come.  The gates of the kingdom of heaven are open to anyone and everyone, regardless of the messiness of their life.  Whatever shape they might be.  Entrance into the kingdom is available to anyone willing to surrender control of their kingdom, and be incorporated into the Kingdom of Heaven.

So when we place our faith in Jesus it’s as if we are hanging a sign on the front door of our souls – under new management.

Trust in Jesus is the entry into a new kingdom.  When you  in your heart – you make the decision to go to Jesus – sins and all – and you humble yourself and bow your heart to him – at that moment you will find yourself subjects in a new kingdom.  Jesus himself is our leader.  And we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His Son.

This is the starting line of faith.  Paul says – I’m praying for you who have entered into the Kingdom of the heavens – the kingdom of Jesus.  And this is his prayer…

So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.

11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, 12 always thanking the Father.

I’m going to boil these into two main requests for the people of Colosse, and here’s what would happen – the Church in Colosse would get a letter and read it to the church and then they would send it along to another church in a neighboring town – and so these letters became circular letters – passed around from one church to another until it eventually reached us.  And so when we read about the Colossians, we can apply the principles we read to our own situation.  – Paul prays that we grow in our knowledge of the Lord.

Paul says – I’m praying that you know God.  You know what he’s like.  That you know what he wants from you.  That you grow in your knowledge of spiritual matters.  That you grow in your knowledge of God and how he works.

Paul says, I want you to learn more and more about God. (Put the slide up with verses 9,10)

This is critical.  It is critical for us to understand who God is and what he is like.  And how does one learn what God is really like?  The best way to learn what God is like is to learn what Jesus is like. And that means spending time reading the only four books in the Bible that give us the details about the life Jesus lived.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  These four books are where we read about the life and times of Jesus.

And it is imperative that we soak ourselves in His life.  He is God in the flesh.  When we look at Jesus we see what God looks like.  How he feels things.  What brings him joy.  What makes him sad. We read about the emotions of God.  About the compassion of God.  About the kindness of God.

There is no more important question to answer than what is God like.

When I was in college I remember seeing Jody for the first time, and I remember thinking – I have never in my life seen such a beautiful looking girl.  I was very attracted to her.  Of course I didn’t really know her.  I didn’t know what kind of person she was on the inside.  Listen, I’ve met alot of ugly beautiful people in my life.  Attractive on the outside but ugly on the inside – right?  You know what I mean, right?  My guess is you have met your share of ugly beautiful people.

So I set out to discover what this girl Jody was really like.  And after spending time with Jody – I discovered that this girl was Beautiful – Beautiful!  What was going on in here (heart) was even more beautiful than what was going on here (Face).  Which meant trouble for me – because I became -I believe the scientific word is “Whooped”.  I was whooped.  I wanted to be around her all the time.

Now it gets even better.  Eventually, as Jody got to know me, amazingly – inexplicably – she came to see me as beautiful beautiful too!  Hot dog diggity, for as long as we both shall live.

So I say that to say, that the more we read and ponder the kind of person Jesus was…  how compassionate, gracious, joyful, intelligent, cool under pressure, loving.  The more we see that then the more we want to be around him.

Jesus was not only the smartest human who ever lived, he was the most attractive.  Not necessarily physically, but I mean people wanted to be around the guy.  Thousands of people crowded to be near him.  They loved the guy.

And the coolest part of the story is that the more we learn about Jesus, not only will we see God as beautiful beautiful – but we learn that God looks at us as beautiful-beautiful too.

I’d venture to say that for some – this might be the hardest thing for you to believe.  Because you are in touch with what you are like – because you are in touch with your ugly side – the internal ugly side – like the sinful woman, you can’t imagine Jesus looking at you as a beautiful person.

I don’t want to skip ahead too far but in the third chapter of Colossians, verse 12, Paul writes, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

You are holy and dearly loved.  Yes you are.  May you grow in the knowledge of God’s great love. May you be in touch with the grand idea that Jesus considers you beautiful beautiful.

So the more we get to know God the more we see how much he loves us, and therefore, since he loves me so much, I can trust him with my life – with my days – I can trust him wherever he leads me and I can follow him joyfully – confident that He is a good manager of my life.

But we’ve got to grow in that knowledge.  It’s hard to trust someone we don’t know.

Let me ask you a personal question.  Are you growing in your knowledge of how God operates and works?  Are you growing in your knowledge of God?  How?  What are you doing to grow?  If you aren’t growing, what are you doing to change that?

What can I do?  You can read the gospels.  You can read books by a trusted authors – For instance my wife and I are both enjoying the works of Timothy Keller – and he has a podcast that Jody has been listening to on her way to work that she is really finding to be a blessing.   There’s plenty of things you can do to grow in your knowledge of God.  We live in the information world!  It’s out there.

But here’s the deal – you will not grow in your knowledge of God by doing nothing.  The Apostle Paul himself could lay his hands on you today and pray for you – if you do nothing you will learn nothing.  It takes some time and effort.

Are you willing to put time into your faith journey?  May you grow in knowledge of spiritual things and grow to see God as beautiful-beautiful and fully worth entrusting your life to safeguard in the kingdom of his Son.

Of course, it’s not enough to have this great knowledge of God – that knowledge must be able to migrate out of our heads and through our hearts and out of our hands and fingers and tongue and thoughts and feelings.

You know that knowledge in and of itself is not the end game of faith.  I mean the bible says even demons know about God.  Did you know that there are people who know all the right answers to bible trivia and yet are outside the kingdom of God?

Have you ever stopped to consider what Jesus meant when he said in Matthew 7 21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. 

Ever wonder what kind of people Jesus is talking about?  I’ll throw up for you exhibit A.

These people are easy to pick on – but I’m willing to make a bet that they could beat most of us in a game of bible trivia.  See they have this supposed head knowledge – but it’s not knowledge of God.

They might be able to kick me around when it comes to total amount of bible verses memorized. But do they know God.  Of course not.  These are the kinds of people who will say Jesus we did all kinds of things in your name.  Depart from me – I never knew you – you never knew me.

It’s not enough to grow in knowledge.  It must produce something.  Which is why Paul prays this second prayer:  He prays that the knowledge of God will – indeed must – produce fruit in the actual days of your life.  “Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit.”

So Paul prays for growth and fruitfulness.  What kind of fruitfulness, is it just doing good deeds? No, Paul mentions the kind of fruit that ought to be growing in the life of a person rooted in God – and he mentions in verses 11,12, patience, joy, thankfulness.

This is extremely important so I’d like you to understand this.  The fruit comes as a result of the transformation of your life from the inside.  According to Jesus in Matthew 7 – the section of scripture immediately preceding the depart from me I never knew you section, Jesus says that you will know whether people know me by the fruit.

A bad tree cannot produce good fruit.  Bad roots.  But healthy roots – produces healthy fruit – naturally – it couldn’t be any other way.

The fruit is proof that the roots are healthy.  Jesus says that a bad tree – someone who has not been changed on the inside – cannot produce naturally the fruits of that are produced by the spirit of God – and that includes for instance – the ability to love people who are generally unlovely kinds of people.  You might be able to force yourself to be nice to them for a while, but a transformed heart loves naturally and easily, even people others would consider an enemy.

Paul says that we should be joyful.  People who have been transformed and are growing in their knowledge are the kinds of people who are able to be joyful even in the face of death.  People who are joyful in affliction.  Joyful in suffering.  Joyful in cancer.  Joyful in a toxic work environment. Joyful in inconvenient traffic.  Joyful when things don’t go their way.

Now some people might train themselves to act joyfully in many ways, but Jesus is making a claim that only people in the kingdom of heaven can truly, naturally, easily be joyful when they don’t get their way.

And here’s why this is important.  This goes to the fundamental difference between Jesus and religion.  Religion says we have to be joyful.  We must obey.  Be joyful or else.  And so it turns even joy into a heavy burden.

Be loving or else!  Religion says.  Religion usually has this often unspoken insinuation of… ‘or else’. I gotta be kind, or else.  I gotta be patient, or else.  Or else what?  God’s going to be disappointed? God’s going to be angry?

So anytime we add an ‘or else’ onto something it become religion and it turns whatever it is into a heavy burden.

Jesus came to destroy religion.  Instead Jesus says, trust me with your unloving heart.  Come to me. Grow in me.  Allow me to transform you and I will make you joyful and loving people.  And it will not be a heavy burden – indeed it will be no burden at all – my yoke is easy – says Jesus.  Bring your unloving, impatient, worrisome heart – whatever shape your heart is in – bring it to Jesus, enter the kingdom, get to know what He is like, and we will begin to see a transformation – we will begin to think differently and begin to wish for good things to happen even to people who were once our enemies.

Our feelings will be transformed so we begin to become thankful people.  Even thankful for whatever comes our way.  The change is from the inside – out.

Can I bring us back to the game of life?  See I always thought this game was interesting but the ending was the least satisfying ending to a game I’ve ever played.  Because at the end of the game you count up how much money you have and the player with the most money wins.

Really?  I mean, even someone who doesn’t believe in God would call that a shallow answer.  Everyone hopes that there is more to life than the accumulation of money, or things.  Okay, well what IS the purpose of life then?  Is it to get through life with the least amount of pain?  The most amount of pleasure?

What if the purpose of our life is to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven – to become a player in the kingdom – where our movements – our days, are planned for us by a God who invites us to enter into the great drama of life in the kingdom of heaven.  What if he intends to use our days to bless others.  What if at the end of our days the real winner is not the one with the most dollars – but the one who has loved the most people.  The one who has lived their life with joy, and endurance, and patience and thanksgiving.

What if the winner of the game of life is the one who lives the most surrendered to the plan of God for their life.  The person who lives their life with their palm up – take what you want from me Lord, I hold it loosely.  Give me what you need me to carry Lord, I will hold that loosely too.  My heart my days, my time and my dime – it’s all yours.

What a prayer! And so I close by praying Paul’s prayer upon you, friend.

May you grow in knowledge of the God who has rescued you and transferred you into the kingdom of his glorious son.  May you bear much fruit, as God makes the roots of you healthy.

May it result in a life bursting with endurance and thanksgiving!

And may it bring you tremendous joy to know that you, beloved one, are being shepherded and used in the great drama of the Kingdom of God.  You belong.  You have a role.  And you are perfectly safe with Jesus as the governor of your life.

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