The Quest for Real Friendship

The most popular college course at Yale (and maybe the whole country) at the moment is Laurie Santos’ aptly nicknamed “Happiness Class.”  Considering happiness leads us to the natural question: What’s one thing that would make you happier?

The possible answers are innumerable, of course, but surely there are trends.  Many people would look to circumstances like increased money or health to increase their happiness, but statistics show that our external circumstances account for only about 10% of our happiness!  Besides our natural inclinations (genetics) for happiness, the largest contributing factor is — the quality of our relationships!

The Bible has been bearing witness to this truth for millenia.  Man and woman were created for relationship (Gen. 2:18.)  And when sin enters the picture in the garden, it is  expressed as a damaged relationship (blame): She gave me the fruit! (Gen. 3:12).

In Romans 7:7-12, Paul gets vulnerable about another phenomenon that divides real friendships — covetousness.  Each of us struggles with it at some level, if we’re honest.

So sometimes we make due with lesser types of friendships: digital friendships, transactional friendships, and one-dimensional (superficial) friendships.  Consider the irony that across the globe we are more “connected” than ever, and yet more lonely than ever, too.  There has perhaps never been a greater need for us to seek out real friendships.

For reflection:

  1. When we were five years old, we could just walk up to someone and say, “Do you want to be friends?”  How would it change our interactions with people if we could see them as their 5-year-old selves?
  2. Who is God calling me to befriend this week?  With whom am I being led into a more real friendship?
  3. Consider: what is it like for others to have you as a friend?

 

Many blessings,

MM

 

 

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Vision Refill

There’s a saying: “Vision leaks.”

Our ability to stay focused on long-term goals relies on our vision of those goals, and every one in a while, our vision has leaked to the point that we need a refill.

As disciples of Jesus, our ultimate goal is clear, of course: to be faithful to God’s will for the world.  That faithfulness includes being good stewards of the calling God has given us as a church in our community.  So to stay focused on our vision, today we looked at six value statements for University Place Presbyterian Church.

  1. We are a church on mission.  We don’t just gather to sing songs and wait for heaven.  We’re committed to being the love of Jesus to our 5-mile and radius and beyond.
  2. We get messy, as we do our best to be agents of change for what is broken in our city.  For example, we’re still so pleased that one of the strongest ministries is our partner, Families Unlimited Network, and their ministry among other things to 3,000 food insecure people in our community.
  3. We stand with refugees.  Jesus was clear about welcoming the stranger and doing everything we can to provide for those in need and stand up against oppressive systems.
  4. We are intent on building a culture of discipleship.  95% devotion to God is 5% short.  Following Jesus means intentionally engaging in ways we can grow and mature in Christ’s likeness.
  5. We are looking ahead toward future pastoral leadership.  We’ve been listening to the congregation as we prayerfully discern the needs that a more comprehensive pastoral team could serve.
  6. We are stewarding generously, wisely, and sacrificially.  A person can never get very close to Jesus if they aren’t willing to let Jesus near their wallet.  In fact, generosity is integral to spiritual formation.  We believe God rewards and resupplies those who are faithful with what God has given.

For reflection:

  • Which of these value statements resonates well with you, and why?
  • Which of these value statements challenges you, and why?
  • God calls us in ways that can make us uncomfortable, but also purposeful.  In what ways might God be calling you to new purpose in the upcoming year?

Many blessings,

MM

 

Three Little Words

Colossians 4:18

Though he was in chains under house arrest, Paul was able to send letters encouraging and guiding people as they sought to live out their new lives as Jesus’ people.  Given the slow and expensive mode of communication available to Paul, it’s likely that he chose his words carefully, wanting us to forever know that God’s subversive kingdom is fulfilled through people empowered by grace.

Paul made his greeting personal with his own autograph.  Before the time of email and texts, people hand wrote letters to each other.  Paul’s handwritten autograph showed people that he was a real human being, just like they were, whose teaching was informed by a real experience of the living God.

Paul chose a single image of himself to leave with the Colossians — “Remember my chains.”  In a time of slow and expensive communication, why would Paul choose that image?  If you had only three little words to describe yourself, which three words would you choose?  Why was this image so important for Paul to give them?

Perhaps it is the image that demonstrates one of Paul’s most consistent themes throughout all of his letters — Grace.  How could Paul share the gospel while under arrest?  How could people come to know Jesus in a contrary dominant culture?  How is the message of unconditional grace and mercy in Jesus supposed to permeate today’s often cynical and sometimes even hostile culture?  Not by rules or laws.  Not by wealth or prestige.  And most definitely not by earthy power.  But in the same way as it always has.  In the words of the prophet Zechariah: “‘Not by might nor power, but by my Spirit’ says the Lord.” (Zech. 4:6)

For reflection:

  1. God works through people.  Have you ever had an experience of God through another person?  What if God is calling you to be that experience for someone else?
  2. If you had only three words to describe yourself, which three would you choose, and why?
  3. What kinds of restraints (“chains”) are you experiencing today?  What about someone you know?  God’s grace transcended Paul’s restraints … do you believe it can transcend yours?

Many blessings,

MM

 

 

 

Weaving the Church Together

Colossians 4:7-17

“Final Greetings.” It’s a phrase that sort of suggests Paul’s pretty much done writing the important stuff, huh? But the words at the end of Paul’s letter also contain helpful truth about the nature of Christ’s Church.

First, it points to the importance of visiting people in person.  In the days before email or the postal service, Paul sent his letter with a messenger, Tychicus.  But it wasn’t only to relay information.  Tychicus’s personal presence with the people of Colossae was also meant to “encourage your hearts.” (Col. 4:8)

Second, all the names and implied circumstances signify the variety of stories God is writing throughout the world, and also the unity of all of them as part of one subversive movement.  There Jews and Gentiles, prisoners and free people.  There are the churches at Laodicea and Hierapolis, as well as the particular ministries of Nympha and Archippus.  Each of them holds a piece of the puzzle, and none but God sees the whole picture.

Paul’s letter was intended for a variety of church communities with a unified purpose, thus also encouraging us: “You are not alone.”  All of Jesus’ people, across town and across the globe, are being woven into God’s much larger story.

For reflection:

1. The Gospel is about people, not just abstract ideas.  Who in your sphere of influence needs to hear the good news that the grace of God conquers the demands of the world?  Can you graciously show that to someone this week?

2. In Jesus, the Word of God became flesh.  The mode is crucial to the message.  Sure, emails are okay.  But there’s no substitute for personal contact.  Whom is God urging you to be in direct contact with this week?

Many blessings,

MM

Prayerful, Salty, and Growing

Colossians 4:2-6

Sometimes life goes the way we plan. Many times it doesn’t. But Paul’s circumstances never made him deviate from his life purpose–to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom. Here, he continues to move from his description of God’s kingdom and its implications for our lives, to how we can join in proclaiming God’s kingdom to the world.

Paul talks about prayer three times in this short passage.  Prayer is the most effective aspect of the proclamation of the gospel.  Prayer properly puts us in the posture of submission to God’s will for how the gospel will be shared in the world.  Moreover, when we’re aligned with Jesus, the Holy Spirit empowers us to be the proclaimers that we are commissioned to be as God’s people.

Paul also uses “saltiness” as an analogy for how to share the good news of God’s kingdom.  Now, sometimes people are described as “salty” when they’re bitter or grumpy, usually about something they’re upset about (like the Dodgers losing in the 10th inning to the Mariners because of a walk-off balk!)  But here, Paul uses the analogy to describe how the people of God add something pleasing to the broader culture; something desirable to taste, making it easier to ingest the spiritual food which will ultimately nourish them.

Finally, Paul reminds the early church to not let their life-situation deter their service.  It’s sometimes easy to look at the past through rose-colored glasses.  “They had it figured out,” we might think.  Or, “They had a special dose of God’s Holy Spirit.”  But when we read Paul’s letters carefully, we realize that life was as “real” for them as it is for us.  They struggled.  They became confused.  They doubted.  In the same way, church culture can sometimes seem so polished that we forget that we are also a motley collection of saved sinners.  That is precisely why the way we live out and proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom in that context makes our proclamation to a world who has not really experienced it all the more necessary, and all the more powerful.

For reflection:

  1. Prayer:  If you have a regular practice of prayer, describe it.  If not, what kind of practice could you begin this week?
  2. Saltiness: In what ways can you help shape the culture’s perception of Jesus’ people in the way you live a “salty” life?
  3. Growing: Since we’re all saved sinners, our lives are a process of growing into the people God created us to be.  What destructive tendencies is God calling you to leave behind?  What life-giving gifts has God given you that God is calling you to embrace?  How can this letting go and embracing enable you to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom?

Want to read ahead for this Sunday?  Check out Colossians 4:7-17.

Many blessings,

MM

The Christ Familia

This week we looked at one of the more controversial passages in Colossians. But context is key and Paul is skillfully subverting the foundations of the Roman Familia. If you are a Christian – the true authority of the family is Jesus himself. And if in the Roman Familia the Father has all the power, Paul is saying not so in the Christian home, because Jesus is the true master. Paul is walking a fine line here. He takes one of the most basic Roman institutions and reshapes it around Jesus, who rules the family with self-giving love. So, while Paul doesn’t critique the Roman house structure outright, he speaks to the reality that Jesus, Messiah, demands that it be transformed, almost beyond any recognition for any Roman living in Colossae. It is the Christ Familia. A family ordered by the lordship of Jesus Christ.
 
So you can only imagine how this speaks to us now. If the Christian household is different… if Paul is changing the status quo of how we live in our homes… what are the implications? Certainly, people are going to notice. They are going to wonder what kind of “ORDER” is provoking this? Where once there was judgment and fear, now there is grace and peace. There is greater emphasis on all people as members of Gods family.
 
You know, if we are honest there is an American Familia order that exists and is often at odds with the way of Jesus. Cynthia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh in their commentary of Colossians say this: 
 
Life in America is like life in a cult. We’ve been recruited into behaviors and cultural patterns we did not consciously choose … Think of what it is you and your family chase. Is it this new order Paul speaks of… Respect, love, obey, honor, not embittering your children, doing what is fair and right? Or do you and your family chase cultural patterns you arenconsciously choose. Theygo on to say,The bulk of our population is dreaming the same dream. It’s a dream of wealth, power, fame, plenty of sex and exciting recreational activities. (Colossians Remixed by Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat.)
 
Paul is asking, “Who rules your home? Is it Christ? We are all bombarded by temptations to live the American Familia. To chase that dream of more money, recreation and power. And yet Jesus says there is not life to the fullest there… just as there wasn’t in the Roman order of familia. Life in America is often so hurried, frenzied and rushed. But Jesus calls us to slow down and be present with others and with God.
 
Many of us who have families are ordering the year ahead. Consider prioritizing the Christ Ordering which pushes back against the patterns of our culture.
 
*Regular Weekly Worship
*Daily table Fellowship with your family
*Weekly table Fellowship with other families
*Rest and weekly Sabbath
*Self-giving love exhibited to neighbor and friend. 
Blessings,
Pastor Aaron

Old Self, No Self, New Self

Colossians 3:5-17

“Put to death!”

That’s a pretty strong way to make one’s point, don’t you think?

Most of us don’t think of being in life-or-death situations all that often.  There are exceptions, of course.  Professions like police and military create more life-or-death situations than others, perhaps.  Also, people struggling with illness or injury, or people in certain violent areas of the country or world think about their life or death, to be sure.

But how often do we think about our spiritual life as one of “life or death?”  Paul puts it in those terms.  In Colossians 2 and 3, he reminds those who are in Christ that they “have died with Christ” and have also been “raised with Christ.”  Now here, he exhorts us “put to death” that which leads to death, while “clothing ourselves” with that which leads to life.

There are three essential sections to this passage: Old Self, No Self, and New Self.

  1. Old Self.  Before one finds life in Christ, one’s earthly self is perhaps all that matters to them.  The problem is that the earthly self has an insatiable appetite, which is why feeding it alone eventually reveals itself to be a futile exercise.
  2. No Self.  Of course Paul doesn’t deny our existence or even our individuality.  But his language in verse 11 is specific: “there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”  The labels we inherit from our earthly cultures are made null and void in Christ.
  3. New Self.  Therefore, we are able to live out Christ’s virtues (compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love) freely, without fear and without the futile motivation of serving our own needs.

In other words, because Christ is all, and is in all, when we are poured out for others’ sake as he was, he fills us with the fullness of his own life (see Col. 2:9-10)!

For reflection:

  1. What aspects of your “old self” are you ready to “put to death.”
  2. What aspects of your “old self” would you rather not let go of?
  3. What labels do you carry?  How does finding your identity in Christ set you free of those labels?
  4. Of the behaviors Paul lists in vv. 12-17, which do you find easy?  Which do you find difficult?  How can these more difficult virtues guide you in your prayer life?

Many blessings,

MM

Raised with Christ

Colossians 3:1-4

Where we “set our minds” is of the utmost importance!  When we live with and for Jesus, the reality of the Kingdom of God becomes clearer and clearer to us.  But this is no pie-in-the-sky pining away for utopia.  It’s not about letting our imaginations conjure a fantasy we wished we were living in.  It’s an acknowledgement and daily awareness of a reality that at one time we could not see, but in Christ we begin to see.

The first two chapters of Colossians focus largely on “what is true.”  In chapter 3, we see Paul turning the corner to the always-important question: “What does this mean for our lives?”

Having established that “you died with Christ” (2:20), Paul begins here with the encouragement that having died, we are also raised with Christ.  And that means new life in every facet.  We have new identities, new spiritual family, new purpose, and of course, new vision.  It was this kind of “kingdom vision” that set apart all the great ancestors of the faith, described in Hebrews 11.

For reflection:

  1. If the Kingdom of God were fulfilled today, what would it look like?  Use your imagination!
  2. Read Isaiah 61:1-4.  Take some time to visualize how the Messiah, Jesus, can transform people’s lives.
  3. Pray: what is God calling you toward, as God builds his Kingdom in this world through you, Christ’s body the Church?

Many blessings,

MM

 

Jesus Rescues

It was Bible Day Camp at UPPC all last week!  And that means that our regularly-scheduled series was on hold this week as we celebrated all the KIDS!

The overall theme of the week was Shipwrecked, and you can see tons of photos of all the fun on our UPPC Facebook page.

There was a unique focus each day, and together they all had something in common.

  1. Loneliness.  We know Jesus understood this, in his own life and as he interacted with various people.  There was a woman who was isolated for twelve years because of a medical condition, and Jesus “rescued” her by giving her dignity…and of course physical healing as well.
  2. Worry.  Everyone worries, right?  But it rarely does much good.  When Jesus is in the home of Martha and Mary, Martha is “worried and upset” about many things, but Jesus reassures her that only one thing really matters: himself.  He rescues her from the notion that she has to be good enough and invites her to enjoy his presence.
  3. Struggle.  There are internal and external struggles of course, and sometimes they even overlap.  A very wealthy young man approaches Jesus, asking how to inherit eternal life.  But when Jesus tells him to sell everything, he struggles with his dilemma.  The good news is that Jesus looked at him and loved him, unconditionally.
  4. Wrongdoing.  Everyone has done wrong at some point or another, but not everyone’s sin has been retold for centuries the way Peter’s denial of Jesus has been.  Even though Jesus didn’t “rescue” him that night, he sure did the next day — on the cross.  The same place he rescues each of us from the sin that otherwise holds us down and leads to death.
  5. Powerlessness.  Like Peter, when we do wrong we often deal with regret, or being powerless to change things.  When Peter felt powerless after his denial of Jesus, Jesus came to him — resurrected, never to die again.  What’s more, he didn’t leave Peter (or any of us) powerless.  Jesus empowered him to be the rock of Christ’s church and begin sharing the good news throughout the known world.

All of these things share in common one universal human feature:  weakness.  That’s why the “Shipwrecked” theme is so great.  When we are truly shipwrecked in our loneliness, worry, struggles, sin, or powerlessness, Jesus’ love remains constant, the Holy Spirit remains present, and the power of God is made perfect in our weakness.

For reflection:

  1. One question this time!  Consider any one of the five human attributes above.  Rank them in order, from the most relevant to you right now, to the least.  Bring each of them to God in prayer and ask God to make his power perfect in your weakness.

 

Many blessings,

MM

 

Free to Remain Connected

Colossians 2:16-23

As we grow up, we have to learn to process and discern multiple different sources of advice and wisdom for life.  When we’re quite young, it’s 100% parents or guardians.  As we grow up, we broaden our sources to include friends, teachers, coaches, and more.  Many times, we learn conflicting things about the best way to live.

This is similar to what the Colossian church was facing, which Paul gets into detail about in the latter half of chapter 2.

A lot of the advice they’re being given appears wise.  (Doesn’t it always, in the moment?)  But Paul has a perspective that isn’t subject to the same kinds of pressure.  And from that perspective, Paul reminds the Colossians of this paradox: the kingdom of God has already come, but is not yet fulfilled.  Now, he doesn’t say it in that exact way.  But Paul’s audience has had a thorough and fruit-bearing experience of Christ already.  But they are not yet fully mature.  It appears that Christ guaranteed God’s kingdom, but it is being worked out in our world over time.

What does this mean for us?  First, the “already” means we can live in freedom from otherwise empty religious obligations that only foreshadow that which Christ fulfills.  We can live in freedom from the judgmental eyes of those who are puffed up with what they claim are special spiritual insights.  Second, the “not yet” means we are called to remain connected to Christ, the “head” by which the whole body grows.  This connection has a twofold purpose: to grow and mature us, and to be examples of God’s kingdom to the world.

For reflection:

  1. Looking back on your life, did you ever do anything that you now realize was unnecessary?  Why did you do it?  (If you heard my sermon, think “enormous gym bag.”)
  2. Is there anything you do now that is based more on fear-filled duty than on joy-filled living?  What are you afraid of?
  3. If you lived out God’s “already” kingdom, how would it affect your daily life?
  4. If God’s kingdom is also “not yet” fulfilled, what role might you play in its unfolding in our world?

Many blessings,

MM