The Otherwordly Life

Colossians 2:6-15

Words matter.

A little over four months ago, I stood on the dais of Luminary UMC and used words to join in marriage my oldest child, Pollie, to a young man named Derick. I said some words, they said some words, and their lives were irrevocably transformed, so much so that my daughter now uses the word “Morelock” for her last name instead of “Griffin.”

Pollie and Derick will grow and change, but they can never deny that on March 19, 2016, she began to call Derick “husband” and he began to call her “wife,” bound in a Christian relationship intended to last as long as they both shall live.

Words have great power. Two of the Ten Commandments deal directly with how we use words, one prohibiting the vain use of the Lord’s name and the other prohibiting deceitful words in our dealings with each other. And then there are the words of life, the words that save us from the power of sin, the words putting us in a relationship with Christ forever.

Those of you who are baptized Christians likely answered three questions as part of your faith walk. Do you believe in God the Father? Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit? In the Methodist baptism liturgy, the answers are in the form of the Apostles’ Creed, rooted in truths “contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.”

Those answers open you to God’s grace, poured out through Jesus Christ on the cross. Modern medicine doesn’t give eternal life; there is no pill you can swallow and live forever. There is no fountain of youth in Florida—with so many of you vacationing there, I’m sure we would have found it by now. When it comes to living beyond the grave, the world has failed you. Only Christ can save you.

I speak to two groups today, those who call themselves Christian and those who would consider taking on the name. Understand the serious nature of declaring Jesus Christ is Lord. I offer you the same message Paul sent to the church in Colossae in our reading for today. When we call ourselves “Christian,” everything is supposed to change.

This careful, deliberate use of words brings on more than just a shift in worldview. We are to develop an otherworldly view. We escape the ideas of this world, the emphases of this world.

No doubt, it is difficult to make that separation. The Colossians were struggling with the influences of the world around them. They had legalists in their midst. They also had temptations very familiar to us today. Improper sexual desires and greed are specifically listed in Paul’s letter. The world beckoned to them just as it calls us.

Hey, I know how the world comes calling. With digital technology, it walks right into your house and plops down to stay like a friendly dog. I particularly love a story well-told in 30 minutes to an hour. And yet, when I pause to consider the ideas behind some of what I watch, I’m astonished at how out-of-tune the premises and storylines are with what I believe as a Christian. I am constantly challenged to be “in the world and not of it,” to paraphrase John 17:14-15.

But be encouraged. The same media that deliver what can challenge us also offer a continual stream of otherworldliness. We have God’s word available to us in ways unimaginable just a few decades ago. I can read God’s word in paper form, of course. I also can read it on my computer or my Kindle, parsing the words and studying centuries worth of analysis just by touching a screen.

I can have someone read me the recorded word or watch video depictions of important books of the Bible. What a gift digital audio and video represent for people who struggle to read or simply need a little extra stimulation to stay engaged. In medieval times, such people (often, most of the population) had to rely on a preacher and some stained glass. Now the stained glass moves and talks.

Scripture is so ubiquitous we can forget what it represents. We have thousands of years of  encounters with God laid out for us, each one revealing a truth about our creator and his love for us, his plan for us. If we didn’t know such writings existed and then suddenly, we found them, billions would clamor to know what truths they contained.

If you call yourself Christian but don’t know what is in those writings, you owe yourself a lot of otherworldly study time, the kind that will “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”


Four Parts of Worship: Celebrate!

So, we’ve talked about what it means to gather ourselves in search of God, and we’ve talked about how God is consistently revealed in Scripture. What is an appropriate response to God’s presence?

A celebration! The third part of worship is like a thank-you, praise-you party thrown for God, where we declare our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer the jolly good fellow, the one worthy of honor.

Again, it’s one of those reasons I like to put the declaration of God’s word up front as much as possible in a worship service. I think a lot of people struggle with worship because we don’t spend enough time rejoicing, and it’s hard to celebrate until we’ve really heard from God. When we fail to celebrate in worship, we miss out on the joy of being Christian, a joy available to us regardless of our circumstances.

I know—we may not always feel like rejoicing. Poor? Sick? Lonely? Broken by sins committed? Victimized by another’s sin? Those aren’t ideal situations to be in, but our current circumstances brighten considerably when we put them in the light of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. The temporary nature of this life becomes obvious when the Holy Spirit begins to work in us through God’s word, giving us a taste of what it means to be citizens of an eternal kingdom.

The joy of the resurrection—first, Christ’s, and later, our promised own—is something God offers us whenever we immerse ourselves in his story and praise him.

You see such celebratory worship in the Old Testament. One example would be the story in 1 Chronicles 16:1-6, when David returned the Ark of the Covenant—Old Testament evidence of God’s presence—to Jerusalem. Even before these verses, there are recorded acts of worship on the way to Jerusalem: sacrifices, singing, dancing and music, most of it quite exuberant. It all continued once the Ark was in place, with people appointed to keep it going.

Celebratory worship continues in the New Testament, particularly after the victorious nature of Christ’s work on the cross is made clear in the resurrection. We’re told in Colossians 3:16-17, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

God’s word begets gratitude, and with gratitude in our hearts, we sing and direct our celebration toward our audience, God. We can rejoice in such ways during appointed worship times, at 11 a.m. on Sunday, for example. We can rejoice when gathered in small groups. We can rejoice in our one-on-one time with God.

I know not everyone rejoices and celebrates in the same way, just as people will enjoy a party in different ways. I’ve always been more of a wallflower at a party. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy parties; it just means I’m not necessarily going to put a lampshade on my head.

You may be a fairly laid-back, reserved person in worship. Not everyone wants to jump up and shout “Amen!” while holding their hands up in the air. (Thank God for the worshipers who do such things; they are great help to a preacher and to worship in general.)

But if you’re reserved in nature, ask yourself this: Am I celebrating? Does that joy regarding Christ’s gift wash over my soul, at least as a quiet, tender experience?

Do I let the music take me back to the revelation of God I’ve just heard, connecting my emotions to my logic? Do I understand the prayers we lift up corporately as an open door to heaven? When I come to the table for communion, am I expecting to meet the one who will feed me for all eternity?

God calls you to such celebratory experiences whenever you stand before him in worship.