(Advent Conspiracy 2011

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By Remy Diederich Cedarbrook Church
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For the last four years here at Cedarbrook we have joined other churches around the world in what’s called the Advent Conspiracy. It’s called a conspiracy because we are conspiring to undermine or overthrow the way most people celebrate Christmas. We want to put Jesus back at the center of it all. The Advent Conspiracy is based on four principles; to worship fully, to spend less on ourselves, to give more to people that really need it, and to love people with our presence more than our presents. To flesh out these principles I want to do a study of the first chapter of the book of Colossians over the next few weeks. Colossians is actually a letter that was written to a new group of believers. Let me show you where that is on a map. Pauls tells them... ...we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all his people... Colossians 1:3 Paul lets them know that he’s heard about them and he’s impressed with what he’s heard. Wouldn’t it be great to get a letter from a friend in another city and they said... I’ve heard about your church – I’ve heard about your faith in Jesus and your love for all his people. Wouldn’t that be great? That’s what we want to be known for isn’t it? Our faith in God and our love for all people. So Paul commends them for that. But surprisingly Paul isn’t content with their faith and love. He wants to add to it. Listen to what Paul says... God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— Colossians 1:25 Paul is telling them that he’s glad for what they’ve got but there’s more. What they’ve heard so far is just part of the message. He wants to give them the full story. ...[that is] the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord's people... At the time that Paul wrote this letter there were religions that were called “mystery religions”. They said that they held the keys to life but only certain special people could learn the mystery to life. You had to be a part of their group. But Paul’s says, No, I know what the mystery is and it’s not exclusive...it’s... ... Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:26 He refers to Jesus as the hope of glory. Do you know what that is? That’s something we all have inside of us. It’s the little glimmer we get of who we might be some day. It’s that glimpse of what our life could be like at our best. It’s the hope of what we’d be like if we reached our full potential...in our relationships, in our faith, in our job, in our health. You know, we daydream about the perfect marriage. We daydream about what life would be like if we trusted God fully every day or what life would be like if our health was perfect.

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We all have that hope of glory but its fleeting…it quickly fades. Paul tells us here that that glimpse, that hint, that glimmer that we all long for is a whisper of what life will be like when Jesus is fully formed in us. You see, Jesus is our hope of glory. Not some strange religion. Not some self-help remedy or new age philosophy or even “great” drugs or “great” sex or some great career or even great riches...whatever it is you might be chasing after. Paul tells these new believers to put their hope in Christ alone. That’s why Paul goes on and says... We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. Colossians 1:28-29 In this short letter Paul mentions Jesus’ name 24 times. What does that tell us? Paul wants these new converts to know right away that their faith needs to center on a person, not a religion. Paul didn’t say that he proclaimed the church. He didn’t proclaim a doctrine or a special revelation or a new set of rules. He proclaimed a person; Jesus. You know, it’s so easy to overlook the obvious. It’s so easy to let Jesus get lost in all of our religious activity...especially at Christmas. We can even lose sight of Jesus by doing good things...helping the poor, digging wells, going on mission trips-the very things that I talk about all the time. But that’s why the Advent Conspiracy starts with our need to Worship Fully – to put Jesus first. Many of us struggle with being generous and doing good because we forgot the most important step...Worship Fully. When you are full of worship then your heart is naturally generous toward others. But if you try to do good without putting Jesus first...it’s just hard work. The mystery religions prided themselves in having the inside track on wisdom and knowledge and all understanding. But Paul tells us where true knowledge comes from... My goal is that you may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that you may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that you may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:2,3 So that’s a little intro to the intent of this letter. Before we start reading chapter one I want you to understand how captivated Paul was by Jesus Christ. Jesus is not some stained glass religious figure to Paul. He’s not some ornament Paul added to his life to feel good about himself. To Paul, Jesus was a living presence in his life. He opens his letter by saying... Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, ... Look at what he says here. An apostle simply means a messenger...a representative. But he’s not a messenger FOR Jesus. He’s much more than that. He says that he is a messenger OF Jesus...by the will of God. That means that Paul believes he is sent by God to speak on behalf of Jesus. The message of Jesus defined Paul. It was his identity. That’s who he was. He couldn’t separate his life from the person of Jesus Christ.
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How many of us could say that? How many of us are so captivated by the person of Jesus that we would say that about ourselves...that we see ourselves as sent by God to represent Jesus on earth? That might seem super spiritual but that’s how God sees us. We are his representatives. That’s our calling...not in an official way like it was for Paul but it’s still our calling. And I want us to think about that especially in terms of Christmas because if we are indeed his representatives then it’s important how we celebrate Christmas. You see, how we celebrate Christmas isn’t incidental...meaning that it’s insignificant or unimportant. But how we celebrate Christmas is actually critical because people will be taking their cues from us. If we don’t take it seriously, no one will take it seriously. If we don’t get it right then how do we expect others to get it right? Some people like to criticize stores for not saying “Merry Christmas” or the government for not allowing a manger scene on public property. I’m like, don’t worry about that. Don’t tell other people how they should celebrate Christmas. Just make sure that you are doing it justice. I see three attitudes here that will help us celebrate Jesus this Christmas. First, we can celebrate Christmas by doing it together. Listen to the words Paul uses to describe the church... To God’s holy and faithful people,... The word “holy” means to be set apart. So this group of people is set apart by God to represent Jesus on earth. And they have proven themselves to be faithful or full of faith. But their faith isn’t independent. They aren’t lone rangers for Jesus. Paul refers to them as... our brothers and sisters who are united with Christ in the city of Colossae. Colossians 1:2 You see, Jesus doesn’t just define us as individuals. He defines us as a community. Paul saw the Colossian believers as standing together united in Christ. They were God’s family in that city – God’s representatives. And he assumed that they would work together to represent Jesus. I don’t think we often see it that way in America. We take our faith very personally and we live our lives very independent from each other. I think if Paul was transported into our culture today he would be shocked to see how we live out our faith. We live in our separate homes with our clearly marked yards. We spend most of our time inside of our four walls with just our immediate family. When we venture out to church we drive in our own separate cars...families often taking two cars…and we drive right past the homes of people we know along the way…never even thinking about riding together. When we get here we sit down careful to leave a seat or two in between us as a buffer. And if we share five minutes over a cup of coffee in the lobby we call that Christian fellowship. I know that’s normal for us but can you see how that might look to Paul? I think he’d say...you’ve got to be kidding. That’s not at all what it means to be united in Christ. Fellowship

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isn’t five minutes over coffee. The word “fellowship” means a “shared life”. How can you show the world the love of God when you all keep to yourselves? So often Christmas is a time of our personal traditions...our family traditions. But as representatives for Jesus we need to consider how we can celebrate Christmas together. We need to consider how we can create church family traditions. I don’t just mean attending a worship service on Christmas. But how can we make a statement to our friends and family about the meaning of Christmas… together. Well, that leads me to my next point: we can celebrate Christmas by showing God’s love in tangible ways...together. If you read between the lines here you can see that Paul is making reference to how this group of believers treated people. ...we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all his people...Colossians 1:5 When Paul refers to love here he’s not talking about a feeling he’s talking about a doing. The Colossians were sacrificing to help others in their city. Then Paul says... …the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world-- just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God's grace. Colossians 1:6 Now, there’s that phrase “bearing fruit”. We studied what that meant last month. I said that, put simply, bearing fruit means to help others in need. And that’s what these people were doing. So Paul commends them for what they’ve done and he says he prays that they would do even more... [I pray] that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work... Colossians 1:10 That’s an interesting statement. What is a life that is worthy of the Lord? What is a life that pleases him in every way? Bearing fruit in every good work. A good work is a good deed. It refers to helping people in need. So...if helping others is how we bear fruit for God...then how important is it that we work together to help others the month that we celebrate the birth of Jesus? I mean...it’s important every month. That’s why I talk about it so much. But it’s especially important in December.

There are many ways that we can help others this Christmas season but we want to work together as a church to do something special. We are asking you to do what we’ve done that past three years and that is to make a special Christmas offering to either the Stepping Stones food pantry here in town or to Living Water International to help dig wells in Haiti. This January we are sending a team to Haiti and so your gift will be put right to work. We typically raise about $15,000.

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Now, we aren’t asking for you to dig deeper into your savings for this. What we want you to do is redirect some of your Christmas money for this. So it won’t cost you any more money. But at the end of December you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that this year your money went to help others instead of buying another useless gift. Finally, we celebrate Christmas by knowing the true meaning of Christmas. Paul gives a clear picture of what the message is that we have to offer the world. This is what I read for communion earlier. …you will joyfully give thanks to the Father who has made you able to have a share in all that he has prepared for his people in the kingdom of light. 13 God has freed us from the power of darkness, and he brought us into the kingdom of his dear Son. 14 The Son paid for our sins, and in him we have forgiveness. Colossians 1:12-14 Paul tells us that when Jesus paid for our sins we were transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. We’ve been forgiven and restored to God. I hope that’s good news to you! We want to celebrate that good news. There are many things to celebrate during the holidays. Let’s make sure we celebrate the right things in the right way. Let’s do it by helping others and not indulging ourselves this Christmas. Next week we’ll hand out special envelopes for you to give your Christmas gift. You don’t have to wait for Christmas to give. So I hope you’ll start to consider how you might redirect some Christmas money to help others. Father...thank you for preserving Paul’s words for us. I pray that we might all be as captivated by Jesus as Paul was. Might we all find our identity in Jesus...not just as individuals but as a community. Help us represent you well this Christmas...together...by helping others rather than indulging ourselves.

Going Deeper Use the following questions for personal reflection and/or to discuss with family, friends and your small group. 1. Read Colossians 1:1. Paul saw his primary role in life as being a messenger of God to represent Jesus in the world. Is that how you feel? How would your life change if you felt that way? 2. Read Colossians 1:2. What does it mean for believers to be “in” Christ? Is that how you see yourself? How would your faith experience change if you saw yourself spiritually connected to other believers? How would it change the way you celebrate Christmas? 3. Count the number of times the name Jesus, Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus is used in Colossians 1:1-13. What does this alone tell you about the intent of Paul’s letter? 4. Read Colossians 1:3-6. Why is Paul thankful? What does he see? 5. Notice the use of the words: faith, hope and love. What is their connection? 6. What does Paul say has been happening naturally with the gospel (Good News) in verse 6?
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7. 8.

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Read Colossians 1:7-14. How does Paul define the Good News Message? Paul prays that they will gain the knowledge of God’s will for their lives. What does he imply that will is? Do you see the connection with the last sermon series on Growth? How should this impact the way we celebrate Christmas? What seems to flow out of a life of good works? (see verses 10 -12). Based on this short study, how might you celebrate Christmas differently this year?

Put Jesus First Part Two Text: Colossians 1:15-18

Outline: 1. Misconception: Jesus is good but not central to life. 2. Reality: Jesus... • Is the image of the invisible God • Is the firstborn of all creation • Created all things • Came before all things • Holds everything together 3. How can you make Jesus central in your life?

I’m beginning to like the word “Advent” better than the word “Christmas” these days. The word “Christmas” has come to represent all kinds of things. Christmas means not only the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus but it has also come to mean Santa and elves and snowmen and reindeer and snickerdoodles and snow and sleigh rides and decorations and presents and office parties and super discounts at the mall and Bing Crosby movies…the list goes on. When we say that “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” we aren’t talking about a worship service celebrating Jesus but we are usually talking about the weather or the decorations. I think it’s time that we admit that we’ve lost the battle for ownership of that word. That ship has sailed! We’re never going to own exclusive rights to that word again. But the word “Advent” has somehow kept its spiritual meaning throughout the years. Advent doesn’t just refer to a day but it refers to a month long season of reflecting on what it means to have God come into the world and our lives. And I want to continue today talking about how we can put Jesus first in our worship. To do that we are going to continue my study of Paul’s letter to a church. Open to the book of Colossians if you will.
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Paul sent this letter to a small group of new believers to encourage them in their faith. They were off to a good start but Paul heard that they were already straying from their faith...losing sight of the centrality of Jesus to their faith. You know, that can happen to any of us. It’s so easy to lose sight of Jesus. There are so many things that compete with Jesus...even good things, like serving others. This happens to me all the time. Jesus moves me to serve others but then I get so busy helping people that I forget about Jesus. It’s kind of embarrassing. I don’t know why it happens but it does. It reminds me of an old song by Linda Ronstadt. Does anyone remember who she is? She was very big in the country/rock world 40 years ago. She wrote a song called, “We need a whole lot more of Jesus and a lot less rock and roll”. I think that’s true in the church today. We need a whole lot more of Jesus and a lot less of just about everything else we do. Jesus so easily gets pushed to the side of our faith and we need to put him back in the center. So Paul commends the Colossians for their faith but he warns them about three things that have pushed Jesus off center; • deceptive philosophies • meaningless rituals and • questionable spiritual experiences. Let’s look at what Paul says about the philosophies. Paul tells them... See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. Colossians 2:8 Our world is full of these kinds of deceptive philosophies. Go to the book store and you’ll find hundreds of self-help books, each one telling you how you can achieve health, wealth and success but few of them ever mention Jesus Christ. They imply that we don’t need Jesus. We just need a fresh perspective. Paul says, be careful. Don’t let these people fool you. If Jesus isn’t at the center of their teaching then they are deceiving you. They are leading you astray. Their principles might give you a level of success but as Jesus said, What does it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? So that’s one caution. The second caution Paul gives is about religious rituals. …do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Colossians 2:16,17 Paul was referring to believers…probably from a Jewish background…who continued to insist that to be a good Christian you had to fulfill all the laws of the Old Testament and celebrate all of
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the Jewish festivals. They went around criticizing other believers (probably the Gentiles) for not being as spiritual as they were, celebrating all the rituals. Every once in a while I stumble upon a Christian who is obsessed with performing certain rituals in a very specific way. They are convinced that the WAY they do something and the ORDER that they do it is a key to pleasing God. It might have to do with communion or prayer or reading the Bible or a worship service. It might have to do with eating certain foods or celebrating certain religious holidays. But Paul is clear that these rituals aren’t what are important. What’s important is what the rituals point to...and they point to Jesus. It’s like a bride obsessing about the wedding ceremony but neglecting her fiancé. The wedding is important but not at the expense of the relationship. We do that with Jesus all the time. Paul observes... Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. Colossians 2:23 He says, look, these rituals seem really spiritual but they won’t change your life. They don’t help you to be a better person. They just make you feel religious. So don’t waste your time. The third area that Paul warns them about is spiritual experiences. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head [Jesus], ... Colossians 2:18,19 Now, I believe that God gives some people spiritual experiences. But some people are more interested in having an experience than they are interested in worshipping Jesus. And that’s a problem. I judge all spiritual experiences by two simple questions: Did the experience help you know Jesus better? And two; Did the spiritual experience help you become more like Jesus? And if the answer is “no” to those questions then what good is the experience? It’s like Paul said…it puffs them up with idle notions. So, Paul warns this church about getting distracted from Jesus by three seemingly good things; interesting philosophies, intriguing rituals and exciting experiences. But Paul says...don’t do that. Jesus should never come second in our faith. Jesus should always have first place. He should always be at the center of everything we do and think. And to prove his point Paul lays out his reasoning starting in chapter one, verse 15. Paul says... The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

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He is before all things, and in him all things hold together…so that in everything he might have the supremacy. Colossians 1:15-18 (Note: I will not keep showing this text but the part I’m referring to will appear in bold below). Let’s break this down and look at what Paul is saying here. First of all Paul tells us that Jesus...is the image of the invisible God. When I ask people what the hardest thing is about connecting with God they will often say it’s hard because God is invisible. You can’t see him. How can God expect us to believe in him if he’s invisible? Well, God appreciates this argument so he did something incredible. He took on flesh. Imagine that I was invisible so to show you my hands I put on a glove. The glove helps make the invisible become visible. So Jesus is the glove or the manifestation of the invisible God. Some people find it hard to believe that Jesus is God. They don’t see it in the Bible but it’s there. You just have to know where to look. In chapter two Paul says… For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, Colossians 2:9 The word “fullness” here means “lacking nothing”… “fully complete”. So Jesus isn’t just partly God but fully God. In the book of Hebrews the writer says... The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being,... Hebrews 1:3 Some have said that Paul just made this idea up on his own…the idea of Jesus being God. But Jesus said it himself. To a group of Jews he said… My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, … John 10:27-31 The Jews wanted to stone Jesus because he was claiming to be God. And then to his disciples Jesus said… I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. John 14:6-9 Jesus is not only the image of God – Paul tells us - he is the firstborn of all creation. The word “firstborn” has confused some people because it sounds like Jesus is just a human being...born like the rest of us. But the word firstborn doesn’t refer to his birth but it refers to his status. In

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ancient times it was the firstborn son that inherited all things from their father and then the firstborn was responsible to distribute the wealth to the rest of the family. That’s somewhat true in my family today. My older brother was given the responsibility of managing my parent’s estate. My parents didn’t entrust me with the money! So when my mother dies if I want to receive my inheritance it will come through my brother. I can’t receive my inheritance without first contacting him. All the treasure of my inheritance is found “in him”, so to speak. And Paul says that it’s the same way with Jesus You can’t access anything in regard to God without experiencing Jesus. He’s at the center of it all. Paul goes on to tell us why that is. Jesus isn’t just the steward of God’s things. Jesus...created all things. Listen how emphatic Paul is about this… For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. Colossians 1:17 The apostle John understood this. That’s why he opened his account of Jesus with these words... In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made... And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us,... John 1:1-4,14 John was making a direct comparison to the opening lines of the Bible where it says... In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1 Both Paul and John make it clear: Jesus created all things and therefore Jesus is God. And since Jesus created all things we know that Jesus came before all things. Note that Paul is moving us down a line of logic here. He is making a case for why the Colossians should elevate Jesus higher than anyone else or anything else. In other words, Paul tells the Colossians that Jesus is second to no one. No one is more important than Jesus. No prophet or teacher is more important. From the Jewish influence in the church there is a good chance that people were preferring the words of Moses over Jesus. But no philosophy…no ritual…no experience is more important than Jesus. Today we Paul might make the case that Jesus is greater than Mohammed or Buddha or the Dali Lama (or in December, even Santa!). Jesus is above all things. Nothing exists that didn’t come through him. So people shouldn’t treat Jesus as some kind of second class prophet or errand boy for God or an enlightened teacher. You know, that’s where both Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses go wrong. They both say that Jesus is important. But neither of them believe that Jesus is God.
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But Paul is convinced that Jesus is God and that’s why he says that Jesus holds everything together. He doesn’t tell us what he means by this but I’ve always taken this very literally. I believe that from subatomic particles to the rotation of the cosmos to our personal relationships...Jesus holds it all together. And without him everything would vaporize into thin air. In fact, I often pray these words when I feel that I’m melting down emotionally. I say, “Jesus, you hold everything together. So I trust that, in you, I can hold together as well.” The book of Hebrews says it this way... The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1:3 In the book of Acts Paul said it like this...that in Jesus ...we live and move and have our being. Do you see what Paul is saying here? He’s elevating Jesus to the highest place in their minds and he tells them why. He says so that in everything Jesus might have the supremacy. Other Bibles say “so that Jesus might have first place”. Or, I like how the English Standard Version puts it. It says...”so that in everything Jesus might be preeminent.” And so Paul makes the point...if Jesus has first place in the universe ...and if he is indeed God... then how can we not give him first place in our lives? Why would we bother chasing empty philosophies, or rituals or spiritual experiences? Is it possible that some of the problems that we have are simply that Jesus doesn’t have first place in our lives? I mean, think of any situation in life where there is an authority figure. It might be in the military or in business or in government or in schools. Does it ever work to ignore authority or treat the authority with less respect than they deserve? It most always ends in failure, doesn’t it? In the military you might end up in jail. In business, you might end up on the street. And that’s true with Jesus too. Try ignoring him or putting him second to anyone or anything will only lead to a frustrated life. So the question is...how can you put Jesus first in your life? How can you move him from the margins to the center of your life? I think the Advent season is a great time to do this. The word advent means “to come”. It refers to the coming of Jesus into the world. So what if you used this Advent season to allow Jesus to come into your life? What if you invited Jesus, not only into your life...but invited him to have first place in your life? What if you made him the “main event” and not just a sideshow in your life? What if every day this month you got up and invited Jesus to have first place in your day... to have first place in your relationships
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to have first place in how you spend your money to have first place in your conversation. That’s what it means to give Jesus the supremacy in all things. That’s what it means to worship fully. Prayer: Jesus…we just want to agree with Paul today that you are God. You are the firstborn of all creation. You created all things. You are before all things and in you all things hold together. Might we give you first place in all things starting right now in this season of Advent.

Going Deeper: Use the following questions for personal reflection and/or to discuss with your family, friends and/or small group. 1. What is your image of Jesus? What comes to mind when you hear his name? Baby, teacher, healer, suffering servant, creator God, other? 2. How does your image of Jesus impact the way you live out your faith? 3. Read Colossians 1:15-17. Does anything surprise you about Paul’s description of Jesus? 4. Paul’s point is that Jesus does not play a secondary role in the world but primary and therefore should have first place in our worship. What does it look like to give Jesus first place in our lives? 5. Read the following passages to learn more about Jesus being God in the flesh; a. John 1:1-18, 10:30-38, 12:44,45, 14:1-11 b. 2 Corinthians 4:4,6 c. Philippians 2:6,7 d. Hebrews 1:1-3 6. Most religions focus on a philosophy, doctrines, and/or rituals. Christianity focuses on a person. How focused are you on the person of Jesus as compared to “doing things for God”? 7. How would your life/faith change if you were to focus more on the person of Jesus? 8. How can this study help your appreciation of the Christmas season?

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Putting Jesus First Part Three

Outline: A. Top Ten Reasons to Put Jesus First in Your Life 1. He qualified you to share in the inheritance of his people. (1:12) 2. He rescued you from the dominion of darkness.(1:13) 3. He purchased your freedom (redemption). (1:14) 4. He forgave your debt. (1:14) 5. He reconciled you to the Father. (1:20) 6. He made peace between you and God (1:20) 7. He presents you holy, without blemish and without accusation. (2:22) 8. You are filled up and made complete in Christ (2:10) 9. Your sinful nature has been removed by your faith in him (2:11,12) 10. You have been made alive in Christ (2:13) B. The appropriate response is to die to your old life and live a life that reflects Jesus’ example. (3:1-17) I was listening to Bing Crosby’s song this week… I’ll be Home for Christmas. The song says that he’s coming home and he is hoping for three things; snow, mistletoe, and presents under a tree. And I thought...you know...for a lot of people...that’s all they want for Christmas. Because Christmas isn’t a time of worship. It’s just a time of family traditions and celebrations. But today I want to help us to put Jesus back in the center of your Christmas celebration. I’ve been taking us through a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to a church. If you have a Bible you can open up to the book of Colossians. Paul warns the Colossians that they have lost sight of Jesus. When you were new to the faith Jesus was the center of everything but now you don’t seem to talk about Jesus that much. You don’t seem to think he’s very important. Something has changed. He seemed to think that they had been listening to false teachers. Paul says... See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. Colossians 2:8 That’s an appropriate verse for Christmas, isn’t it? See to it that no one uses a human tradition to pull you away from Christ. It’s so easy to have Christmas taken over with traditions that have nothing to do with Jesus. Paul says, be careful. So to get people back on track he reminds them why Jesus should have first place in their lives. One reason is because Jesus is God. We looked at that last week. They treated Jesus like some kind of second class angel or prophet…but not God in the flesh so Paul set them straight on that. He said... He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or
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powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. .. so that in everything he might have the supremacy. Colossians 1:15-18 Paul thought that the Colossians should put Jesus first because he was God but he also thought they should put Jesus first because his death accomplished a number of things for them. And that’s what I want to talk about today. If you pull out your notes I have ten reasons why we should put Jesus first in our life. I won’t have time to talk about them all but I wanted to list them for you so you could reflect on them. I’ll work through the first three or four reasons this morning. On Christmas Eve I’ll reflect on a few more but I won’t get to them all. So let’s see what Paul has to tell us here. ...the Father, …has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.... he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation--Colossian 1:12 -14, 22 So the first thing God did for us through Christ’s death is that He qualified us to share in the inheritance of his people. Let’s just think of that phrase for a second…the inheritance of his people …Think of some of the richest people on the planet; Maybe Warren Buffet or Bill Gates. They are going to pass on a huge inheritance to their kids. Do any of us think we qualify to share in their inheritance? NO! Of course not. So if we don’t qualify for their inheritance how much less do we qualify for God’s? Yet, amazingly, Paul says we ARE qualified. Jesus qualified us by paying for our sin on the cross. I don’t understand how that works. All I know is what the Bible tells us. It’s a mystery to me. It doesn’t always make sense. But somehow in God’s mind it was necessary and when Jesus died we were automatically qualified to share in God’s inheritance. And since God never dies we can start to draw on our inheritance the moment we believe. And we don’t have to wait until we die to start enjoying the goodness of God either. The word “qualified” means to “make sufficient”. You know, some of us go through life always feeling inadequate. Most of us do. We never feel like we quite measure up. We always fall short to some extent. Well, this is the word for you because Jesus made you adequate. You qualified. You may fail at everything else in life. But the most important thing…the thing that really matters… you’ve been qualified…not because of what you’ve done but because of what Jesus did for you. Paul says… for that alone you should put Jesus first in your life. But that’s not all. Paul says that God rescued us from the dominion of darkness .(1:13) The word “rescue” literally means to pull from a river. So from Paul’s perspective...we’ve all been pulled from a river of spiritual darkness. This is interesting because Paul talks about something here that most of us know nothing about... this whole idea of there being a kingdom of darkness. I bet that when most of us talk about our faith to our friends very few of us describe ourselves as having been rescued from a dominion of darkness. That just sounds too weird. Some of us aren’t even so sure there is a devil.
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But Paul would say...Oh yes there is. There is a devil, he has a kingdom and he has control of this world. And before you turned to Jesus he had control of you – whether you knew it or not. You were being swept along with the current of this world to a place of destruction. But when you put your faith in Christ you were rescued from that river. It’s an interesting word picture. Have any of you been in a river where the swiftness of the current made you lose control? That happened to my family years ago...not long after moving to the area. We were canoeing down the Red Cedar River with my kids and my brother and his wife. We were having a nice trip down river. We stopped at a sand bar for lunch. But we didn’t realize that the dam had just opened and let more water into the river. So when we got back into our canoes we didn’t realize that the river was flowing a lot faster. We dropped a couple cushions in the water and they went down stream and got hung up on a tree that was in the river. So my brother says, no problem, we’ll swing by and get them. Well, does anyone know where this story is headed? I later learned that you never go along side a downed tree in a river. Do you know what happens? If the current is strong enough it sucks you under. And that’s what happened. It was like the river opened its mouth and swallowed them. My brother’s canoe, with his wife and our oldest daughter Nicole, all went down under the tree. My brother popped right up but not the other two. Lisa and I were in shock. Our canoe was moving so fast we just blew by them. Being the courageous and heroic person that I am…I jumped out of the canoe, thinking I was going to help. But I just got swept down the river and it left Lisa and my two kids with a rudderless canoe. Lisa was not happy. Meanwhile my daughter and sister in law were out of sight. I later learned that my daughter finally popped up, but my sister in law got stuck on a branch under water. She finally broke loose but she came very close to drowning that day. My brother was traumatized. He really thought he had lost his wife for a couple minutes. The power of that river went from being fun to being very dark and very deadly. And that’s how Paul would describe our world. It looks like it’s all fun and games. It all looks very harmless until it starts to take you down. Then you realize that life is not all fun and games. There is a dominion of darkness that is actively working against you. Some of you have been there. Some of you might be trapped in that river right now. Well, here’s the good news. Jesus rescues anyone who wants to break free from the flow 1. The Bible says, “...anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. (Acts 2:21)
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1 In chapter two Paul makes another reference to evil powers and he uses an interesting military metaphor that requires a little explalining. Speaking of Jesus’ death he said.... And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Colossians 2:15 Paul is describing a victory parade. You know what teams do after they win the Super Bowl? They have a big parade through town. Green Bay is probably going to have another one of these this year. Well in ancient times when an army came home they had a parade but they made the captives trail behind making a public show of them. Humiliating the enemy was part of the celebration. Imagine the Packers having a parade and then at the

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So God rescued us from the dominion of darkness. But he didn’t stop there. It says that he brought us into the kingdom of the Son. That’s actually another reason to put Jesus first. You should add that to your notes. God didn’t just rescue us and leave us on the bank of the river so to speak. He brought us into the kingdom of his Son...and I like this qualifier...the Son whom he loves…in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. God didn’t just put us in a safe place or a good place. He put us in the best place. God welcomed us into the company of his Son…whom he loves. A place of redemption and forgiveness, meaning a place of unconditional love and acceptance. It’s the very opposite of the dominion of darkness. It’s a kingdom of light and life. Think of it this way. My son is coming home on Wednesday. My older daughter is coming home on Friday with her family. Imagine us sitting down to dinner on Friday night. We haven’t seen each other for months. We are all just enjoying being together as family. How many of you would want to interrupt that? How many of you would feel comfortable knocking on our door and asking if you could join us? Probably no one. You’d say...that’s not my place. I don’t belong there. Tonight is just for Remy and his family to be together. But now imagine that we see you outside and we all jump up and rush to the door and invite you in. You are not an interruption or a bother. We are excited to have you join us. We are thrilled to have you share our joy. That’s exactly what God wants for us. He doesn’t want to leave us on the outside looking in. Jesus died so you could be a part of the family and part of the party. In fact, that’s a good picture for what church is supposed to be all about. Church is like a big family party where we keep inviting new people to join us. It’s not just for “us four and no more” like so many churches seem to act. People think that they are preserving “the best” by keeping others out…the riffraff. But in some strange way, it’s just the opposite. We get better when we let others in. And if we don’t we start to get stale. In chapter two Paul makes another reference to evil powers and he uses an interesting military metaphor that requires a little explalining. Speaking of Jesus’ death he said.... And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Colossians 2:15 Paul is describing a victory parade. You know what teams do after they win the Super Bowl? They have a big parade through town. Green Bay is probably going to have another one of these this year. Well in ancient times when an army came home they had a parade but they made the captives trail behind making a public show of them. Humiliating the enemy was part of the celebration. Imagine the Packers having a parade and then at the end of the parade was the losing team with their heads dropped in shame. That’s the idea.

end of the parade was the losing team with their heads dropped in shame. That’s the idea. Paul says that’s what Jesus did in the spirit world. After he died on the cross and rose from the dead there was a parade through heaven with all the evil powers. I don’t know if this literally happened or if Paul is just using the metaphor but the point is that Jesus saved us and we should be thankful. We should put him first in our lives.

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Paul says that’s what Jesus did in the spirit world. After he died on the cross and rose from the dead there was a parade through heaven with all the evil powers. I don’t know if this literally happened or if Paul is just using the metaphor but the point is that Jesus saved us and we should be thankful. We should put him first in our lives. Well, Paul does his best to convince the Colossians to put Jesus first. He goes on and on. Let me just take a minute to help you fill in my notes since I don’t have time to go through them all. forgave your debt.

But the question I want to answer before we go is; What does it mean to put Jesus first? Paul is very concrete. He says, look...Jesus laid down his life for you. So the best response – the most appropriate response - is to lay down your life for Jesus; not by dying physically but dying to an old life that dishonored God. I don’t have time to comment much but let me just read a chunk from chapter three: …if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it...Your old life is dead....And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That's a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God… make sure it's all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk. Don't lie to one another. Colossians 3:1-9 (The Message) Paul says that living a life for Jesus is like throwing away your old set of clothes and choosing to wear new ones. You're done with that old life. It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you've tripped off and put in the fire. Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete...So, ...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 Colossian 3:9-14 I got to thinking about this metaphor of changing clothes. You know, a lot of us get new clothes for Christmas. At least I hope I do because I never buy new clothes myself! Anyway…what if you do a little gift exchange with God? Why not pack up everything that Paul listed here; the lust, the selfishness, the bad temper and all and give those to God. It might sound gross but that’sone gift he’d love to get. And then accept from him his new wardrobe; humility, compassion, forgiveness. You know, there are a lot of clothes we get as gifts that we never wear. That’s true with God too. A lot of us never even attempt to try on patience or compassion, etc. We leave all those gifts in the box. Why not put them on this Christmas? The wording here implies that God GAVE us
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these qualities. You don’t have to pray for them. They are yours. You just need to choose to put them on. That’s what it means to give Jesus first place in your life. Prayer: Father, thank you for all that you’ve done for us in Christ. Help us not take these things for granted but may we choose to live lives of gratitude. You’ve laid down you life for us. Give us the courage to lay down our lives for you and clothe ourselves with the character of your Son. May that be our present to you this year. Amen.

Going Deeper Use the following questions for personal reflection or to discuss with family, friends or your small group. 1. Look at the Top Ten list. Which mean the most to you? 2. Read Colossians 1:11-14. Can you relate to feeling inadequate? In what areas of life do you wish you would have qualified but failed? (School, a race, a career, a relationship, etc.) Reflect on what it means to be qualified for the greatest thing in all eternity. 3. Read Colossians 1:13 and 2:15. What do you think it means to be trapped in the dominion of darkness? Can you relate to that at all? Do you have any sense of having been trapped in “the river” of Satan’s power before turning to Christ? 4. Read Colossians 1:14. Has anyone ever paid a debt for you or canceled a debt? How did that feel? What was your response to that person? 5. Read Colossians 1:21,22. Do you believe that you were ever alienated from God and hostile toward him? Why or why not? 6. Read 1:23. There seems to be an inherent warning in Paul’s words here. Remember what their problem was as a church...they had let Jesus become less important to them. How does this warning relate to Paul’s overall caution to keep Jesus “preeminent” or having “first place in all things”? 7. Read Colossians 2:11-13 and 3:1-17. What is the connection between these two sections? Note the metaphor of “putting off” (vs.8) and “putting on” (vs.12). Paul is referring to behavior like clothing. 8. How does this study help you worship fully during this Advent season?

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Put Jesus First Part Four (Christmas)

Text: Colossians 1:12-14,21,22

I read a story of a woman the other day who was sitting in a restaurant and a ceiling tile fell out of the ceiling onto her head.2 It had a strange effect on her. She lost her sense of smell along with a number of other senses for a year and a half. She was forced to lay in bed with the shades drawn, limiting what she could listen to, watch or touch. It was a devastating time for her...causing her to question her value and identity. Surprisingly, one day a friend came over and started to make some homemade spaghetti sauce. As the aroma wafted through her house her sense of smell returned. Over the coming months all her senses returned miraculously. She concludes her story by saying... I was astonished and ashamed at my appalling lack of appreciation for what had been right under my nose. Cliché or not, we just don’t know how blessed we are until misfortune strikes. No more. I swore I would never, ever forget3. She realized that she had taken life for granted. I mention this because I think the same thing happens with God. God has done so much for us but it often escapes us. We take God for granted. But it’s Christmas, and if there is ever a day we should be thankful it should be today. So I want to help us do that today...thank God for sending Jesus into the world. The apostle Paul wrote a letter to a small group of believers who were on the verge of ignoring Jesus. We’ve been looking at this letter this past month. These people lost sight of who Jesus was and why he was important to their faith. So Paul writes them and goes into detail about who Jesus is – God in the flesh – and what he has done for them. He wants them to be thankful. He says... ...live a life worthy of the Lord and ...please him in every way: ...joyfully giving thanks to the Father... Colossians 1:11,12 And then he lists a number of reasons to be thankful. We looked at some of them last week. Let me focus on just a few verses... God was pleased ...to reconcile to himself all things, ...by making peace through his [Christ’s] blood, shed on the cross...he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. Colossian 1:12-14,19-22 To reconcile means to bring two people together who were separated due to disagreement. That’s what God did for us. And the result is called peace. We have peace with God. I wonder how

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Coming to My Senses by Sarah Ban Breathnack in Stephen Covey’s Everyday Greatness, a collection of stories. page 168-170

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many of us appreciate that. I wonder how many of us have thanked God for making peace with us. It’s not automatic. Do you know what it means to be at peace with God? Paul told us right here. Peace is when we can stand in God’s presence holy, without blemish and free from accusation. Do you believe that? I bet many of us find that hard to believe. We don’t see ourselves as being special. We are fully aware of our faults and we have the accusations of others ringing in our ears. So if we are that aware of our shortcomings then how much more is God. Many of us are convinced that God is set against us. He’s got a long list of how we fall short. His arms are permanently folded and he wears a continual frown because he’s just so disappointed in us. Well, that’s not true. God made peace with us. We stand in his presence this today fully accepted by God. He wants to be actively involved in our lives speaking to us and showing us his purpose for our lives. He wants to send his Spirit into us and empower us to do great things. But what I want you to see here is what it took to accomplish peace. Like I said, it’s not automatic. What I mean is that peace is rarely accomplished in a peaceful way. Look how Paul said peace was accomplished. Speaking of Jesus he said that God made... ...peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body... Colossians 1:21,22 You see, peace with God didn’t happen just because Jesus was born. That’s a misconception that we mistakenly promote at Christmas. That’s just the beginning of the story. The cold harsh reality of the Bible is that peace with God came in a brutal, violent way. It came with beatings and suffering and a cross. I was reading the other day that almost 2000 men and women died in Afghanistan over the past ten years. 2000 sons, daughters, mom’s, dad’s, brothers, and sisters. The peace we enjoy every day comes at a price, doesn’t it? A violent price. We hear news reports every week about someone in the military dying and it barely phases us...just like the words of the Bible barely phase us at times. In both cases I think it’s just too much for us to take in. We can’t get our heads around it. It’s easier to simply dismiss it. But it’s such a shame that we can take that kind of sacrifice for granted. Don’t you think we need to find a way to stop and say thanks? Imagine what it would feel like to lose a loved one in the war. Wouldn’t it feel good to get a card in the mail thanking you for the sacrifice that your loved one made? It wouldn’t bring them back but it would feel good to know that their sacrifice was appreciated. In the same way, I think God appreciates us stopping to say thanks. And in a very simple way that’s what Christmas is about...just stopping to say thanks...God thank you for sending Jesus

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into the world to rescue us and redeem us and reconcile us to God. I hope that’s why you are here today. I want to pray a prayer of thanks in a just a second. But I want to encourage some of you that might feel far from God. I want you to know that Jesus died so you could have peace with God. You stand before God holy, blameless and without accusation. God is for you. He’s not against you. You can walk out of here a friend of God today. So I want to invite you to join me in praying this prayer of thanks and let it be the start of a new relationship with God. Prayer: Jesus...first of all, forgive us for taking your love and your sacrifice for granted. Maybe what you’ve done is just too good to fully appreciate. But we can at least try. We want to take this moment to thank you for coming in to this world to reconcile us to the Father. To think that we stand before you today holy, without blame or accusation is amazing.

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