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Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries

 

A New Start   audio (coming)

Col 3:1-17 

As the year rolled over last Monday night did you think to yourself, “That’s one year I’m happy to forget”? Or “Let’s hope next year is better than last year”? I can’t be sure that 2018 was worse than any other year but it sure felt like it. When you think back on 2018 there was no shortage of controversies, scandals, bad behaviour at every level of society. Domestic violence, murder, house invasions, gangs terrorising suburbs, 2 Royal Commissions, reporting, first, sexual abuse by priests, school teachers, scout leaders, etc. added to by accusations against parliamentarians, actors, movie producers, international aid workers, etc., then banks and other financial institutions who’d been ripping off their customers. And let’s not forget national leaders who’d committed fraud and embezzlement, or threatened their own citizens or other nations, closing borders, inciting civil war and so the list goes on.  It’s not a pretty picture of the world we live in is it?

But then, when you read the words of Col 3 you realise that nothing much has changed. Listen to the list of vices the Paul describes in v5-8: “Fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire”, the sin of greed (which he tells us is idolatry) and sins of violence: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language.” Then there’s racial and other forms of discrimination at the end of his list. He could be describing the world in 2018 couldn’t he? Paul’s writing to a world, like ours, where this is the norm: free love, plenty of passion but focused in the wrong direction, greed and lust, desire running free, tempers unchecked, abuse, physical and verbal violence. You couldn’t trust anyone, because lying and cheating was a normal way of life. Australians are appalled at the ball-tampering scandal last March but why would we be surprised when dishonesty is the norm in so many areas of life?

But this sort of behaviour is no longer the norm for those who have encountered Christ. When Christ appeared everything changed. He says, “These are the things you did when you were living that old life, but now a change is needed.” He says get rid of that sort of behaviour and put on behaviour that befits those who are followers of Christ.

Of course this is an annual problem isn’t it? I wonder what you resolved to do this year. What were your New Year’s Resolutions? And will you do any better than last year? I like this quote: “I can’t believe it’s been a year since I didn’t become a better person!” Or as Mark Twain is quoted as saying: “New Year’s Day is now the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

Every year we struggle with the question how can I do better in the year to come? So how do you do it? Are you one of those people who just resolve to do it, trust your willpower and then get on with it? “I’m not going to eat so much chocolate.” “I’m going to go to the gym 4 times a week.” “I resolve to listen calmly and reasonably to my teenage son or daughter and never lose my temper.” Or if you’re the teenager it’ll be “I resolve to listen calmly and reasonably to my parents and never lose my temper.” But then what happens? Someone comes to visit in the next few days bringing a late Christmas present and what is it? Delicious Belgian chocolates! Or your teenage son or daughter have been out to a  New Year’s Eve party and they don’t get home until 3 in the morning when you said they had to be home by 1. You know what I mean? It’s all too hard isn’t it? But why is it so hard? Is it that the things we resolve to change are actually the bad habits that have built up over many years? And the trouble with bad habits is that we do them habitually, without even thinking about them. I read this week about a coach who said “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it only makes permanent.” So our resolve only lasts as long as our short term memory; which in my case gets shorter every year.

But maybe you’re the sort of person who makes a list of rules and puts it on the fridge to remind you. There were people in Colossae who were recommending that. They had a whole set of rules for living a godly life: fasting, avoiding certain foods, certain animals, certain people, setting aside certain times for worship and focussing on God. If you go back to the end of the previous chapter you’ll see what Paul thought of that idea: “23Such 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.” (Col 2:23) It sounds like a better approach than just a simple resolution but in the end it’s no more effective. Why? Because the problem is deep inside us, in our heart.

What we need is the power of God, the same power that raised Christ from the dead. And in fact that’s what we have. See what he says there in vs1-4: “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”

Here are three great statements about our current status before God that may help us as we work on being better this year.

First, you have been raised with Christ. This is the given, how we are, so if that’s the case shouldn’t we have our minds focused on where Christ is, on things above, rather than on earthly things. Paul wants the Colossians not to look back to their old habits, or to the world around them, but to look up, to where Christ is, seated at God’s right hand. He wants them to be firmly focused on the power of God which raised Christ from the dead. He wants them to be looking at Christ in whom all the fullness of the deity dwells in bodily form. He wants them to look to Christ who’s the head of the body, the church, who is supreme over everything. Why? Because of the second great truth:

v3: “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” The spiritual reality in which you now exist, is that your life is now intimately tied up with the life of Christ. Christ is in you and you are in Christ and that means that your life, your true existence, is tied to the life of Christ.

Thirdly, v4, “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” Your current existence may not feel like it’s with God. You may be feeling the opposite in fact. You may feel like you’re going through a living hell at the moment. But even if that’s how you feel right now, the truth is that if you’re a follower of Christ, if you’ve taken that step of faith, of handing your life over to him, then he’s taken your life and has it in safe hands. And when the day comes when he’s revealed in all his glory, then we too will be revealed with him in glory. If you haven’t taken that step then here is the great incentive for becoming a follower of Christ: the promise of being raised with Christ in glory on that great day in the future when Christ returns.

I can tell you from personal experience that when a terrible tragedy strikes it’s that truth that will see you through.

So they’re to look back to Christ’s death and resurrection, they’re to look up to Christ, seated at God’s right hand, and they’re to look forward to Christ’s return when all who are his will be raised to glory with him. In other words, Paul wants them to make sure that Christ is central. He’s the source of their life, the preserver of their life and he’s their destiny.

But how does that help us change our lifestyle, our bad habits? C.S. Lewis in one of his books is talking about the kind of difficulty that people have with their very strong desires that often lead them into sin. And he says that what we think is that all we need is weaker desires so we can overcome them. But no, he says, what we really need is stronger desires centred on God. You see if we desired God most of all, above everything else, then these other desires wouldn’t control us. In Paul’s language, if we set our minds on things above, not on things that are on earth, then these things would have no power over us. This is a call, do you see, for passion, but passion focused on the right things. That is, focused on Christ and all he’s done for us. If your mind is focused on Christ, think how that will affect your behaviour. If you’re always aware of being present with God, what will that do to the way you react to people, or the way you speak, or the way you approach your work? And when you find the going tough, what difference will it make that you’re aware of Christ’s presence with you? Won’t it make you more ready to call on his help, on his power to change your life? You see, the gospel that Paul is talking about isn’t just a gospel of external forgiveness. It isn’t just about having your sins wiped out. No, it’s also about the power of God to change us. It’s about the power of God to take our old habits and reform them. It’s about the same power that raised Christ from the dead and that will in the end raise us from the dead.

So be passionate this year about the right things. Be passionate about the truth. Be passionate about Christ and what he’s done for you. Be passionate about what he promises to do for you.

And what will be the practical outworking of such passion? It won’t just be that we’ll rid ourselves of all these vices. That would never suffice would it? I mean you can imagine the sort of person who’s given up all those things but that’s all they’ve done. They’re the ultimate bore. They’ve given up anger and malice and impurity and lust, but they’ve put nothing in their place. They have nothing to say, nothing to do. No, there’s a much more positive side to what Paul is saying: That is, v12, that we’ll clothe ourselves with a whole new way of living: with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. We’ll bear with one another. We’ll forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven us.

This is like a description of heaven, isn’t it? This is what it’s like to be in the presence of God. This is what will happen if our minds are set on things above where Christ is. And the more we do these things, the less we’ll do the other things. Rather than losing our temper in rage when someone does something stupid, or lets us down again, we’ll show compassion, we’ll bear with them, we’ll forgive them; we’ll be patient with them. Rather than lying, or slandering, or showing malice, we’ll act with humility and meekness; we’ll show love. The sort of love that is, that Christ showed, who died for us even while we were still sinners. In fact it’s love, he says, that’s the key. “Over all of these, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” This is the sort of love that has no self-interest involved. It’s love for the unlovely, love for those who don’t love us back. That’s the sort of love that will bind everything together in perfect harmony, because if there’s no self-interest involved there’ll be no arguing or fighting to cause division.

What’s more, he says, let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. Now he isn’t talking here about a sense of peace in your heart that you’ve made the right decision. That’s how some of us have been taught to understand this passage in the past. No, he’s talking here about the life of a congregation. We’re called to live in peace together as members of a single body. That’s why Paul reminds them in v12 that they’re God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. They are who they are, because God has chosen them and placed his love on them and set them apart. So live with ne another the way Christ would.

And he doesn’t leave us with just that advice. He adds to it with a practical approach to enabling this to happen. He says: “16Let 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.” Why? Because the word of God and the power of God are so closely linked. It’s as we apply the word of God to our lives that we find ourselves being encouraged and admonished. It’s as we sing hymns and spiritual songs together that God’s word grows in us. And that in turn will generate an atmosphere in which the peace of Christ can rule in our hearts.

Finally, be thankful. Notice how the idea of giving thanks is repeated in the last few verses. “be thankful,” “with gratitude in your hearts,” “giving thanks to God the Father.” Thankfulness is the opposite of dissatisfaction. The false teachers in Colossae were working on the dissatisfaction some people were feeling at their spiritual experience. But Paul says, be thankful. Recognise the full extent of the treasure you have in Jesus Christ your Lord. And of course the irony or the wisdom of this is that the more we give thanks the more we’re aware of the greatness of God’s love for us. And the more we understand God’s love for us, the closer we’re drawn to others and the more we’re willing to share God’s love with them.

So how are we going to change to be better this year? Not by sheer willpower, not by New Year’s Resolutions, not by sets of rules for Christian living, but by setting our minds on things that are above where Christ is, seated at God’s right hand; by taking seriously our status of having died and been raised with Christ; by looking forward to the day when we’ll be raised with Christ in glory; by putting on a new set of clothes, wrapping ourselves in a new way of living and relating; and by appropriating the power of God to bring about a change in our lives that we’re powerless to make by ourselves.

Let’s pray that God would take us and change us to be more like him as we set our minds on Christ, as we let Christ’s peace rule in our hearts, as we let the word of Christ dwell in us richly and as we respond to his goodness to us with gratitude in our hearts.

 

The Key to Gaining the Kingdom  audio

Matt 5:1-15 

What does the word blessed – or bless-ed mean to you? I remember it was the closest thing to a swear word that my mother used to use: – “Those blessed ants are back in the kitchen!” More seriously though, it’s used to describe saints – “Blessed Saint Patrick”, “The Blessed Virgin Mary. If an ordinary person is described as blessed we generally mean they’re enjoying good fortune; God has been kind to them; they’ve received the rewards for their good life.

But what does Jesus mean when he describes this list of people as blessed? What did his hearers understand by it?

As we so often find in English the one word can mean various things, depending on the context. But in Hebrew and Greek there were two different words used for blessed. The first was used when you were talking about God doing something good for you. e.g. “The Lord bless you and keep you” is a prayer that God will look after you and bring you prosperity” But the other word that’s used speaks of a state of blessedness, or being at rest, at peace. It’s a bit like the idea of “Shalom”.

Who is the Greatest in the Kingdom?    audio

Matt 20:20-34 

I had to get a new pair of glasses a few years back. These weren’t everyday glasses. These were ones that are made so I can see what’s on my computer screen without ending up with a cricked neck. They’re fantastic. They make the characters on the screen look perfectly in focus. They just have one drawback. If I forget to change them over when I leave my office I can’t see anything clearly unless it’s right in front of me. It’s not that I’m totally blind. It’s just that everything is blurred.

Of course being unable to see things clearly doesn’t just apply to physical sight, does it? There’s an even worse affliction of sight that some people suffer from. That’s the sort of blurred vision that comes from prejudice or from unthinking acceptance of a particular set of presuppositions or perhaps from listening to too much talk back radio. For example it’s the sort of blindness that might prevent us from understanding the various issues in the debate over asylum seekers or youth gangs. It’s the sort of blindness that leads some people to suggest that the Churches have no right to speak out about social issues.

Well, both of these sorts of blindness appear in Matthew chapter 20. There’s physical blindness in the two blind men, mixed with clear spiritual sight, and there’s spiritual blindness on the part of the disciples and others we meet in this passage.

Jesus Enters Jerusalem  audio

Matt 21:1-27 

Everyone likes a parade don’t they? Whether it’s the Moomba Parade or the Anzac Day Parade, or the Grand Final Parade, we all love to get out and watch our heroes. Probably for some Australians the greatest parades are when the Queen comes to visit - or these days William and Kate. People come out in their thousands with flags to wave, cheering as they pass by. 

Well that’s a bit like what happened when Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. The city was buzzing. The word had got around. Jesus, the great teacher and healer was coming to Jerusalem, despite the danger from the Jewish leaders. Word was that he'd even been talking about death, predicting that he was going to be crucified, and saying that people had to be willing to take up their cross if they wanted to follow him. But that hadn’t stopped him from teaching and healing people and he was still arguing with the Pharisees.

So when Jesus came to Bethphage, a small village at the top of the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem, the crowds were ready. When he appeared at the gates of Jerusalem riding a donkey they got really excited. They took off their cloaks and threw them on the ground in front of him. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. They started crying out "Hosanna". That is: "God save you". Just like Australians waving their flags and crying out "God save the Queen" as she drives by. But notice they call him the Son of David. They clearly recognised that here was the one they’d been waiting for. They may well have been hoping for a showdown with the Romans, because they also cried out "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord " Jesus’ arrival on a donkey would have reminded them of the arrival of Solomon, as he rode into Jerusalem on David’s own mule, to claim the crown. Perhaps they thought that here at last was the one whom God had sent to oppose the Roman occupation. So they were very excited.

The Workers in the Vineyard  audio

Matt 20:1-19 

We read this parable and perhaps the first thing we ask ourselves is “Why doesn’t the landowner act fairly?” Then we think, “If this is a parable of the Kingdom of God does it mean that God doesn’t act fairly?” Well let’s think about that question as we go through the passage together.

Something that struck me when I looked at this parable of the workers in the vineyard is that it just seems to pop up in the middle of a series of narratives as Jesus moves towards Jerusalem, without any introduction. Why has Matthew put it here?

Well, partly the problem is that someone, centuries ago, decided to put a chapter break between v30 of the previous chapter and this parable. If you look back at that final verse of the chapter then forward to v16 of this chapter you find they’re the same. That phrase, “the last will be first, and the first will be last” forms a bracket around this parable. What does that tell us? It says that this parable follows on from what’s happened just before.

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