Saturday, November 19, 2016

Living a Life Worthy of Christ -- Colossians 1:1-14

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters[a] in Christ in Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant.[b]He is a faithful minister of Christ on your[c] behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
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[d]will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so 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. 11 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 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled[e] you[f] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

          I’ve been thinking about some of the things I have learned lately through Social Media.

Facebook is about the only contact I have with some of my old high school buddies.
I know that these folks were Christians when we were in high school.  I know that they are still Christians because they mention on their Facebook page their going to church, and they profess their faith in Christ through social media.
But I grew up with these people. 
I know their dark side.
I remember what they did on weekends. 
I recall some of the things they did back in 1972. 
And as I read what they put on Facebook, I’m pretty sure they have not changed one bit.
The folks I knew in high school who were lazy, or promiscuous, or dishonest, or racist back in the 1970s are still that way today.  It shows in what they post on Facebook.
I am convinced that when they say they are Christians, they are indeed Christian – but many of them have not grown spiritually at all.

I think about my old high school buddies when I read this first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. 
Paul has heard that this church is struggling to keep its faith pure of outside influences.  This group of people in the city of Colossai have not grown in Christ.  They have not matured. 
Paul is writing to rebuke them, but he doesn’t do this harshly.  He starts by praising the Colossians for the good that is in their church, because they are Christian and there is some good in what they do.  But then he zeroes in on what he wants of them.  In verse ten he tells them it is time to “live a life worthy of Christ.”

          “Live a life worthy of Christ…” --  Easier said than done.

          How do we do that?
          Paul wrote his letter in the Greek language and what we read in English as a phrase is actually a single word.  “Live a life” is the single word that actually means “walk.”  (peripatesai)
          In fact, some English translations render it this way.  The King James Version, for example, says, “Walk worthy of the Lord.” 

          We can’t just talk the talk – we have to walk the walk.
Most of us who are health and are able to walk physically do so on two legs.  Paul suggests that if we are to walk worthy of the Lord in a spiritual sense, we need to do so on two spiritual legs.

          Take a look at what he says in his letter, in verse 10:  “We pray that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way:
bearing fruit in every good work,
growing in the knowledge of God.”

          One leg is bearing good fruit and the other is knowledge of God.
          Or put another way -   One leg is action, the other education.

          Think about education.  Time and again, the Bible affirms the value of knowledge and understanding.
          Proverbs 1, verse 7, says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.”

          One of the things that has always been a part of the Presbyterian Church is that we have valued education, knowledge and understanding.
Years ago I served a church that had been established in 1779.  It is the oldest Presbyterian Church in Tennessee and it had a great history. Shortly after that church was organized, the pastor and elders opened the first school in the community.  A short time after that, the pastor opened the first college in the area. 
That’s the way it was all over this country.  Many of the first schools were started by ministers and churches. 
This tradition continues today.  We value education and knowledge.  Our own congregation demonstrates this with a college scholarship program.
We also do it through the ministry of our Small Blessings Child Care.
          We believe that knowledge is important.  When we learn about Calculus, we are not just studying numbers -- we are learning about the principles by which God operates the universe.  When we study astronomy, we are learning about the universe God created.
          St. Paul once told his student Timothy, “Study to show yourself approved unto God.” (II Tim 2:15, King James)
          You want to live -- or walk -- in a manner worthy of Christ? 
Use your mind. 
Grow in knowledge and understanding.
          Learn all you can about God’s world, and God’s Word.

          The other leg we need for our spiritual walk is “action” -- taking what you learn from God and putting it into the actions of your day to day living.
          In the words of Jesus and the Apostles, this was called “bearing fruit.”
          You can grow a good plant of some sort, but if you are a farmer, you expect that plant to produce some decent fruit of some sort.  Otherwise it is worthless. 

God has planted us.  He expects us to produce decent fruit in our lives.

          Much of my life has been spent in South Carolina, and most people in that area take advantage of the wonderful soil and climate and plant these wonderful gardens.  I would plant corn and peanuts and potatoes and okra and squash, and all sorts of things.  And they would grow.  They would produce great crops.  “Bear fruit” as the Bible would say.  Once in a while, I would plant something that failed -- and that failed miserably.
          Green beans for example.
          One year I planted lots of green beans.  But between the unusually dry weather, and all the deer that would come into the yard, I harvested one green bean.
          I don’t mean I had one plant filled with good green beans.  I mean I had one single green string bean.
          You have to be on a pretty strict diet for a single bean to be worth anything.

          God expects us to produce some decent fruit in our life.  He expects us to do great things that are worthy.  We don’t earn God’s love or salvation that way -- we receive that freely by God’s grace.  But having experienced God’s love and salvation, we ought to respond by living, walking, a life worthy of Christ -- we ought to want to produce a life that “bears good fruit.”
          Are you producing fruit in your life?
                    Do you show love to others – including the ones who treat us so badly?
                             Do you give generously to others?
Do you give your time to service in the community?
          You don’t have to build a college or hospital in order to bear fruit.  Bearing fruit is in the day-to-day way you live your life.  It’s in the simple things.

Do you know the biggest problem people out there have with those of us in here?  Non-Christians often have little respect for Christians because they look at us – they see what we post on social media, or how we live our lives, and they don’t see us living a life worthy of Christ. 

We talk the talk, but we don’t walk the walk.

We talk about love, but we have no love for others.
We talk about generosity, but we give little or nothing to help the poor.
It is time for us to walk the walk of a life worthy of Christ.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

When Dreams Die - Isaiah 65:17-25 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Old Testament Lesson                                                                Isaiah 65:17-25
17 For I am about to create new heavens
    and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
    or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
    and its people as a delight.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
    and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
    or the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
    an infant that lives but a few days,
    or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
    and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
    they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
    they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
    and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain,
    or bear children for calamity;[a]
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord
    and their descendants as well.
24 Before they call I will answer,
    while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
    the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
    but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

Children’s Sermon                                                          Candace Vander Weide

*Hymn                            My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less                          No. 353

1 My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

2 When darkness seems to hide his face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
in every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil. (Refrain)

3 His oath, his covenant, his blood
support me in the whelming flood;
when all around my soul gives way,
he then is all my hope and stay. (Refrain)

4 When he shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in him be found,
dressed in his righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the throne. (Refrain)
New Testament Lesson                                                   2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

 Now we command you, beloved,[a] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are[b] living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they[c] received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 Brothers and sisters,[d] do not be weary in doing what is right.

When I read the Old Testament lesson from Isaiah 65, my FIRST impression is that these words are wonderfully optimistic and full of hope. 

They must have been written at a great time in the prophet Isaiah’s life.

These words speak of a time when there will be no more sadness. 

There will be no premature deaths.

People will live long and prosper.

Productivity abounds!

Such optimism!

Such hope!

Now -- let me take you back to the thrilling days of Old Testament yesteryear to the time when this prophet wrote these words.  Let me tell you how far from great those times were.

Infant mortality was high.

People lived just a few precious decades.

The people of his nation had just returned from exile in Babylon.  They had come home!

But far from being a wonderful time, this was a terrible time.

For generations these people had heard of the beautiful memories of Jerusalem and of the great temple of Solomon.

And when they got there, what they found was a pile of rubble. 

The people were discouraged, dejected, overwhelmed with sorrow.

Looking at the rubble that was once the great city of Jerusalem, and looking at the pile of rocks that had once been the great and beautiful temple, the people of Israel realized they were looking at the death of all their dreams. 

They had worked so hard.  They had traveled so far. 

But instead, their day of celebration was a day of mourning. 

What do you do when dreams die?

Well - in Isaiah, the people who mourn are called to rebuild.

Rebuilding is a slow task.

It doesn’t matter which of your dreams have died.  You may be faced with rebuilding a career, a family, a marriage, a company, a nation – whatever.  Rebuilding is a slow task requiring faith, practical and realistic expectations, patience, and hope.

So, how do you take something that is destroyed and rebuild it? 

How do you restore a nation?  A personal reputation, a family, a friendship, or whatever it is in your life that has been left in a pile of broken rocks and dreams?

What do you do when dreams die?

First, have faith.  Not in yourself, but in God.

The people who returned from Babylon had to accept and believe that the same God who allowed destruction to come to their nation would have the energy and power to guide the people into rebuilding their nation and their temple.

Faith in the future!


The writer of Hebrews described faith as “the assurance of things we hope for, and the conviction of things we do not see.”

Never was this more true than when the people of the Old Testament returned to their ancestor’s home to find it a pile of broken rocks and were asked to have faith that it would once again become a great city with a restored temple. 


With faith, we understand the harsh realities of life without giving into them.

The people returning to Jerusalem were not the best and the brightest.  They were old people.  They were children.  They were young people who had not construction skills. 

But - They did not have a gullible faith in themselves that believed they could do anything.  They knew their limitations.  But also had faith BEYOND themselves, and realized that they could believe that God could do great things.

The prophet looked at the city and temple and saw beyond the pile of rubble and declared that the people were to be, in his words, “glad and (to) rejoice forever” in what God would create.  They were reminded that God rejoiced over Jerusalem, even though it was but a shadow of the greatness that it once had long ago.  The prophet reminded the people that God still took delight over the people.

Faith ---  not in ourselves, not in our institutions, not in plans, but faith in God.

What do you do when dreams die?

The first step is to have faith in God.

Second step – don’t just stand there, do something!  Get to work – and work hard.

It is so easy for people to have what they think is faith in God and then to sit back and expect God to do all the work.

But - God is not your servant.  God is not here to wait on you hand and foot.

We are God’s servants.  He expects us to work to rebuild whatever is broken in our lives.

In Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, he told them that devoted Christians should not be lazy and unwilling to work. 

In his words he said, “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” 

Paul had little patience for those “living in idleness … not doing any work.”

Paul must have been a hard and diligent worker.  

Isaiah said that that future God is calling us into, people would work – they will build houses and live in them.  They will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  As Isaiah puts it, “they will long enjoy the work of their hands.  They will not labor in vain.”

There is a difference between faith and gullibility.  Gullibility believes I can sit at home and without doing a thing I will be blessed.  Someone will drop by my house and give me a lottery ticket and I’ll win $200 million this week.  Gullibility says I don’t have to go to the doctor, I’ll get well spontaneously. 

Faith means you get up and move into the future!  That you work hard to build the future.

Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt and toward the promised land.  They came to a point at the Red Sea when they turn around and they could see the army of Pharoah coming over the hills. 

Death and destruction coming at them.  They were a people without hope.

They complained to Moses saying, “Why did you bring us out here just to die.  We should have stayed in Egypt.” 

Now we have all sorts of ideas in our mind about what happened.  Based not on the Bible – but on the movies.  Charlton Heston stood there and spread his arms out and says, “Behold….”  And the seas separate. 

In the Disney movie, “Prince of Egypt,”  Moses walks into the water and hits the water with his staff, and the waters part for the people to walk through.

This is what really happened… at least according to the Bible…

Moses told the people, in the words of the Bible, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.  The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

In other words, just have faith.  Don’t do anything.  God will do all the work.

In response, God says to Moses and the people, “Why are you praying out to me? Tell the Israelites to get moving.” And once they began to march, that is when God separated the water and allowed them through.

When you stand at the rubble of something important to you ---
When you are standing at the death of your dreams
– whether it is your career, a relationship, or Jerusalem and the Temple – step one is to have faith in God, and step two is to start working to rebuild.

You want to rebuild a relationship, a nation, a company, a career – whatever.  Have faith and get to work.

Now there is one more step. 

The third step is to accept the future that is to be built is built by God, not by you.

With faith, we know that we are moving into God’s future, not our future.  It is God who builds the future, not us.

The people of Isaiah’s day had to accept that maybe, just maybe, God did not want Jerusalem rebuilt exactly as it was.

The people had a vision of what the Temple should look like, but what was God’s vision?

If two people are trying to rebuild a broken relationship, you will have two, often very different, views of what that restored relationship will look like. 

In most cases, God’s vision will be completely different from either human side.

We just finished an election in this country.  Two candidates had two very different views of where this country was to head.  But if we truly listen to God, we may well find that God has a different view from either candidate.

If we are a people of God, we need to accept that the future God is moving us into is not the future we would build, but the future that God will build.

In the Old Testament, God spoke and said, “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth.”

You don’t see God asking the people what kind of future they would like to have.  No.  God is the one making the plans.

My senior year in college when I had no clue about my future.  I had thought about the ministry, but I wasn’t sure.  So I had accepted a job with the South Carolina state prison system.  My wife and I had just gotten married. 

One of my professors and I met together and we had a long talk about my future.  He told me not to be so worried about it.

Which I have to tell you, did not help a bit.

Of course I was anxious about the future!

But my professor, who was, in fact, a Bible professor with a doctorate in Egyptian archeology, said that as long as God had the plan, all I had to do was to listen and follow.  And my professor promised me that the vision God had for my future would be better than anything I could possibly envision.

And he was right.

We are expected to trust that whatever God plans for our future is better than anything we could conceive. 

When we stand and look at the death of our dreams – a broken marriage, an estranged relationship between parent and child, a career that is in shatters, a nation that has wandered off course –

--- what we see is a difficult challenge.

We look around us and we can be utterly dismayed.

What good can come from the death of dreams?

What I love is no longer here.  Why bother?

Rebuilding is not for the faint of heart.

Yet to those of us who have looked at our dead dreams and decided we are called to rebuild, we can hear this good news.

God has a vision. God is not overwhelmed or discouraged.

And God is calling you to have faith, work hard, and accept God’s plans.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.