God’s Expectations

Readings for the day (Lectionary 18 – Sunday, July 31, 2016):

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

Psalm 49:1-12

Colossians 3:1-11

Luke 12:13-21

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Do you ever struggle with living for God or living for this world?  Do I go to church, or go golfing?  Do I pray and give thanks, or just dig in and eat because I’m hungry?  We are constantly faced with this challenge of living for God or submitting to the desires of this world.  I don’t know about you, but for me this is a daily struggle.  There are temptations all over, and the more secularized our world becomes, the harder it gets to resist those temptations.

Paul is writing to a group of Christians that are faced with this similar struggle.  They are Christian in a very secular culture, and Paul tells them that they ought to be putting aside their earthly desires and only focusing upward towards heaven.  In theory that’s good and easy, but living that is so much harder.  It’s hard to follow Christ while resisting all of the temptations that try to pull us away from Christ.  We live in this world, and yet God has claimed us as his children.

Did your parents ever set some expectations for you?  I expect you to be home at a certain time.  I expect you to be respectful in public.  Did you always meet your parent’s expectations?  Probably not.  The expectation was set at home and then you go off to school for the day and there’s all of these temptations from other kids.  And you want to fit in so you start acting, dressing and talking like these “cool” kids.  God has set some expectations of us as His children.  So we hear them in this place.  But then when we walk out those doors, we’re going to look different to the rest of the world if we follow God’s expectations.  So we allow ourselves to be molded into what the world thinks a Christian looks like and sounds like.

So how do we continue living for God, faithfully following God, when this world does everything it possibly can to pull us away from God through temptations and other distractions?  Do we just sit here and take it, complaining about it without taking any action?  For me, I wish I had a truck.  Just ask my wife, I ooh and aww over trucks.  I find myself eyeballing those nice, new 2016s.  I’ll even do research and check out what all the new features are on the new upcoming trucks that are coming out.  During one of the 2015 Super Bowl commercials, Chevy released an ad that ended the 30 second spot with “You know you want a truck.”  And I looked right at the TV and “You’re darn right I do.”  Of course there is nothing wrong with looking, but in our ever growing secular world, it values money, sex, and power more than grace, forgiveness, and holy living for God, the secular culture certainly makes living in this world harder and harder for us as Christians.  “You know you want a truck.”  Well of course I do, and you see, that’s the point.  Our secular culture doesn’t care about helping us live our lives following the expectations that God has given us as His children.  Rather all the secular world cares about is making that sale, pulling us away from God through temptations and other distractions.  I’m not saying that buying a truck is a sin.  Rather, what pulls you away from faithfully following God?  That’s sin!  That’s what needs to be stripped away, as Paul says.  Rid yourself of those things that tempt you and distract you from living your life for God rather than satisfying the desires of this world.

And part of living your life for God is in how you treat each other.  Remember those expectations that were placed on you before you left the house.  God expects you to treat each other in a loving way.  That’s why Paul says that there is no distinction between us.  Because at your baptism, a cross was marked on your forehead and that cross is all that God sees.  That cross is all that is used to define who we are.  God doesn’t see us as male or female.  He doesn’t see what denomination we are, what race or color of skin we are, what ethnic background we are, what town we live in, or even what kind of vehicle we drive.  God doesn’t see us that way.  God only sees you for who you really are – a sinful, broken, lost person who He has claimed as His child, who He has forgiven, and who is now righteous in His eyes.

So today, as our secular world is arguing, fighting, and even killing each other because of the distinctions that are made between us.  Remember that you belong to Christ, and that my friends is all that truly matters.  You have been claimed by God.  You belong to Him.  You are God’s and God is yours.  And Paul says that since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is.

So even though when we walk out of these doors, we walk back into this world that DOES show distinctions, that does define us by how much money we have, by what brand of vehicle we drive, by the location we live in, by our skin color, by our age, by the level of our education.  We all are defined and labeled in this world.  And how do we reconcile that?  How do we continue living in a world when we come to church and hear in scripture, that God doesn’t view or define us by our characteristics, but by the cross that was marked on your forehead at your baptism?  How do we reconcile that with this world?  By setting our minds on things that are above and not on the things of this world.  You belong to Christ, and nothing that this world says or does can change that fact.  It’s not always easy, but let the hymn we are about to sign be our prayer for strength, wisdom and courage in the days ahead.  For God alone is our hope and our strength.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

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Instructions for God’s Chosen

Readings for the day (Wednesday, July 27, 2016):

Psalm 103:1-14

Colossians 3:12-17

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

I’ve read Paul’s letter to the Colossians before, but I have never studied it as in depth as I have this month.  It has been truly amazing to see just how much we have in common with the Colossians, and how fitting Paul’s words to the Colossians is also words fitting for our ears to hear today as well.

Here at the tail end of Paul’s letter, he is concluding with some final instructions for the Colossians.  Final instructions on how as individuals, and as a church, they can possibly survive the brutality of living as a Christian minority in a world where the majority is anything but Christian.  Especially when these false teachers are telling the Colossians that they really aren’t fully united with Christ because they don’t have some special knowledge.  Plus how can they know for sure that God even exists?

Any of this sound familiar?  Fewer people are making church a priority; many are even denying God’s existence.  Tension builds as giving and attendance is less than desirable.  Many feel too old or too tired to continuing the ministry that has been entrusted to us.  And what happens when you get stressed, tired, and frustrated?  Who do you take your frustration out on?  Those whom you are closest to, right?  Your spouse, your children, your siblings, your parents, your closest friends.  When our world feels chaotic, we take our frustration out on those closest to us and make irrational decisions.  Paul is aware of that and so gives instructions for hope and peace and cooperation.

Some of you may have heard that news yesterday, that two men walked into a Catholic church in France while the daily Mass was taking place and murdered the priest in the middle of the service.  Yesterday a fellow brother in Christ was martyred.  We never met him, but with Christ as the head of the church, the head of the body, we did know him, through Christ.  Fear, uncertainty, sadness, and frustration are all natural feelings to have in the wake of someone’s martyrdom.  But do we let events like this drive us to insist on more violence?

Last week, a sister congregation in our synod, Hawk Creek Lutheran Church near Sacred Heart burned to the ground.  A lighting storm struck the steeple and the fire quickly spread throughout the building.  As the church was burning, the mother of the pastor that serves this congregation was praying for this congregation.  And she was specifically praying that God would spare the altar area as a witness to the world that God is still in charge.  On Monday, the altar as well as the pulpit was removed from the charred building.  Aftermath photos show the majority of the church just a pile of ashes and burnt boards that once was the walls of the church.  But in the background stands the altar, completely untouched by the fire.

There is so much chaos and evil that surrounds us in our world today; much like the world the Colossians were living.  So Paul’s final instructions are not of justice, getting ahead or getting even.  Rather, Paul’s instructions are one of peace, of hope, of assurance, in the midst of uncertainty.

With all of the horrible things we see in the world, from a priest getting murdered at the altar of our Lord, to a church building crumbling all around the altar of our Lord; Paul reminds us to be compassionate, kind, humble, and patient with and to each other.  Why then is it so hard to do this?  Why is it that at the first sign of something wrong we jump to being so negative?  Why do we look for the faults in others rather than their God given gifts?  When you have a complaint against someone, is your first response to forgive them?  I wish I could say that is how I always act.  But this is what Paul teaches and instructs, that if anyone has a complaint against another, we ought to forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven us.

Lately I have been finding myself re-evaluating my perspective on things in life.  And asking myself what really matters.  When I hear of a congregation’s church building burning to the ground and a priest who has been called to proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin, has been murdered kneeling at the altar – do the little things really matter anymore.  Let’s face it, we live in small towns.  We make big deals out of the little things.  We turn petty little issues into deal breakers.  We do this in our communities, in our homes, and in our church homes.

This is why I think Paul’s final instruction to the Colossians is so fitting for us even today.  Hear again Paul’s instructions from a different translation:

 

“So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.  Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense.  Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.  And regardless of what else you put on, wear love.  It’s your basic, all-purpose garment.  Never be without it.

 

“Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other.  None of this going off and doing your own thing.  And cultivate thankfulness.  Let the Word of Christ – the Message – have the run of the house.  Give it plenty of room in your lives.  Instruct and direct one another using good common sense.  And sing, sing your hearts out to God!  Let every detail in your lives – words, actions, whatever – be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.”[1]

 

We are the body of Christ.  We are brothers and sisters because of Christ.  Therefore, we work together for the sake of the Gospel message.  We play and laugh together because without fun and laughter all the negativity in the world would get the best of us.  We worship and sing praises to God together because everything that we have and everything that we are comes from God and was given as a gift to bring honor and glory to God’s name through Jesus Christ.  We pray together because we need God’s help and this world needs God’s help.  We pray for the congregation that Father Hamel faithfully served up until his martyrdom.  And we pray for Hawk Creek Lutheran as they recover through the ashes of their church building.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts and let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

[1] Colossians 3:12-17, The Message

Rules Made By Blood, not gold

Readings for the day (Lectionary 16 – Wednesday, July 13, 2016):

Genesis 18:1-10a

Psalm 15

Colossians 1:15-28

Luke 10:38-42

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Our lectionary focus has now changed.  Throughout the month of June we were working through Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  Now we will still be talking about Paul, but we are looking at one of his other letters.  Throughout July we will be looking at Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  The Colossians are located in what would be present day western Turkey.  Paul has only heard about the Colossians; he has not had a chance to actually visit them in person.

Now much like today, the Colossians are being faced with strong influence from a large external source known as the Roman Empire.  The Colossians find themselves conflicted – how can one be Christian in a very secular culture?  How can one possibly continue following Christ when it appears that neither you nor the church has any control or influence?  Which then brings up the question, who really is in control?  So who does have control and influence in our world today?  In my opinion, looking at life today, it isn’t the president, or our governor, or anyone in government that really has the control.  They have some power, but the real control is found in the media, Hollywood, and the rich.  The media has influence and power.  Based on what they choose to report, they are able to influence our thinking, sway our decisions, and ultimately control what happens in our world.  But remember that there are two sides to every story.

The other big power player in our world today are the people with all the money.  You’ve heard it said, “The one who has the gold makes the rules.”  And oh how true that phrase is in our society today.  Did you hear that the Koch brothers have budgeted to donate nearly $900 million to political campaigns during this year’s election?  $900 million to influence the candidates to make political decisions that will benefit the donor if the candidate wins.

So who really does have control?  For the Colossians, and much of the rest of the world at that time, it was the Roman Empire.  The Roman Empire was big, powerful, very influential, and not Christian.  Today, it is the media and the rich who make puppets out of our political leaders.  And what about the church?  Who is in control of our church?  Is it the pastors or council president?  Is it the ones who give the most money to the church or the parish council?  Sometimes it might seem that way in the church.  Sometimes it can feel like someone (or a small handful of people) hold all the power and control of our church.  Our church, that’s where we go wrong.  Paul finds it fitting and necessary to remind the Colossians who really is in control of the church.  Paul writes, “[Jesus] 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.”  So it isn’t the large givers of the church, or the parish council, or even the pastors who are the head of our church.  Jesus is the head.  Jesus is in control.  Jesus has power over our church because this church is not ours, but His.  We are in Christ’s church and since it is Christ’s church, He is the one in control.  He is the one who guides our decision making.  He is the one whom we look to for guidance.

And this is a good thing.  Just look at what happens to things when sinful, broken humans, like ourselves, are given too much control over something.  Just look at the mess of our world today.  Terrorist attacks happen so frequently that we can’t even keep track or remember all of them.  The nonsense that comes spuing out of the mouths of politicians gets ignored by many.  Police officers, who are supposed to be protecting us, are getting shot at and ambushed.  People feel like there is so much injustice in our world that they stand on interstates during rush hour to block people from getting to work.  And the stories that the news media reports on becomes all too predictable.

Thankfully there is an alternative.  Paul says that in Christ all things are held together.  Which is true.  Weddings are actually where we see this most clearly.  During the wedding ceremony it is fitting to use symbols of showing the unity that the husband and wife have vowed to each other.  Many times we see a lighting of a unity candle – one candle is lit from two candles – showing the two becoming one.  Unity sand is becoming quite popular, however.  They each have a different color of sand and during the ceremony they pour their sand into one jar, mixing the two colors together.  When couples want to do this, I encourage them to add a third color of sand – white, representing Jesus in their relationship.  Jesus is what holds all things together, whether it is in the church, in our marriages, or in any relationship that we have with each other.  It is in Christ that all things are held together.  Without Christ everything falls apart.  And that is noticeable throughout our world today.  You can see things falling apart wherever Jesus has been uninvited.

Now wherever things are being held together because of Christ, they are being held together through his blood that was shed.  It is only through the blood of his cross that peace is made, that relationships work, that ministry happens.  Not because of who gives how much money, or because of the pastors, or because of the church leadership.  Everything is held together and works because of Christ.  For us as Christians, living in an ever growing secular world, rules are made by the blood of a Jewish carpenter, not by wealthy millionaires.

Paul goes on to tell the Colossians that even though they have a bad history, that they were once estranged and hostile and doing many evil things, there is hope because of Christ.  Because through his death on the cross, Jesus has reconciled (or reunited) you to God.  Notice it isn’t because of how much money you have given or what you have done.  Actually you have been reconciled to God in spite of all the sinful things you have done.  But then Paul does have to add verse 22 where he says, “…provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard.”

Remain steadfast in the faith, putting your full and complete trust in God alone – not in your checkbook but in the One who completely paid your debts, not in the works that you do but in the One who did the ultimate work of dying for your sins, not in politics but in the One who has supreme control over everything, for in Christ all things are held together through His own blood that was poured out for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.