Merry Christmas gang. Hard to believe it but we have only eleven shopping days until Christmas. I don’t even know how that became a term. How many days until Christmas? No man – we don’t talk about days – days are meaningless man. The only days that count now are shopping days man! And school days. We’ve got 11 shopping days left and 5 school days man. In any case – Christmas is coming. And we hope you are able to make one of our Christmas Eve services. We’re going to have two of them this year – 4pm and 5:30pm. And we do a rather simple service. We will read the Christmas story and sing some Christmas Carols and hear a short story and probably be done in about 45 minutes or so. But it’s nice to get a little time away to be able to worship before the craziness begins.
This week I was reading up a bit on the Large Hadron Collider. is an 8billion dollar 17 mile underground tube near Geneva. The collider itself is a marvel of precision engineering. Two beams of invisible hydrogen protons will be driven around this giant tunnel in opposite directions guided by super conducting magnets, chilled with liquid helium to a temperature of minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit, colder than deep space. As the two beams approach speeds of 186,000 miles per second, they will smash into each other causing a collisions that emit heat that is ten thousand times hotter than the sun.
So you can race these little…protons around this 17-mile track at the speed of light, smash ’em in together in a beam that’s the width of a hair. And you can measure what happens in a billionth of a second.
The things they are searching for now sound straight out of science fiction. For instance – one of the things they are searching for is proof of additional dimensions.
60 minutes recently did a fascinating interview with physicists who I can only describe as giddy with excitement at the idea of potentially discovering proof of the existence of dark matter that would prove the existence of extra dimensions.
The interviewer asked if the physicist about this dark matter, and the physicist said, “We know very little about the universe – we only see 5% of the universe. The rest of it is dark. – Meaning not visible to instruments. If we don’t know what it is but we know it exists – indirect but strong experimental evidence.
The rotating movement of the galaxies cannot be explained with the amount of matter we can see. Gravity is too weak to explain how things work unless there is a great amount of dark matter – invisible to the human eye.
To me the most fascinating part of the conversation was when the interviewer asked this brilliant physicist, “Is dark matter in this room, right now? Is there matter that we cannot see.” The reply, “Yes. Dark matter is everywhere in this room. Everywhere.”
So we have 9,000 physicists working in this 17 miles tube, conducting experiments in hopes of finding extra dimensions, dark matter and an attempt to discover the 95 percent of the unseen universe.
Which is interesting to us because even if you are here today and you don’t think that God exists – even you would have to admit that those experiments have incredible philosophical ramifications. It has spiritual ramifications.
Because the story of the Bible is a story that includes the very real, present day reality of dimensions we cannot perceive. We have been in a study on the book of Colossians that we are wrapping up today and within this very book we read that Jesus is the creator of all things. Things visible and invisible. (Col 1:15, 16) AND that he is presently responsible for holding all things together. He is the creator of the system of forces that are keeping this universe from coming apart at the molecular level.
Furthermore, the Bible insists and has insisted for the past four thousand years, in the presence of an alternative reality. Though the bible doesn’t call it a parallel universe, it is certainly close to describing what other dimensions would look like.
A spiritual dimension right now all around us called the Kingdom of Heaven where right now Jesus is ruling and right now an invitation has been extended to us to join this invisible yet certainly real kingdom.
It’s the alternative kingdom to the one you were born into. It’s the present reality of a kingdom where God is presently ruling. And are you telling me that right now in this room there exists a kingdom that cannot be seen with human eyes but it is in this room? Angels in this room? Jesus himself is in this room right now? Oh yes. most certainly.
Again – in Colossians 1:13,14 – indicates that we are born into this world that we can see and feel and live and breath – it is a broken kingdom that the Bible simply calls the Kingdom of darkness. But the Bible indicates all along that there is – in this room – yes all around us – the reality of the Kingdom of heaven. Just as we can’t see dark matter but believe it exists, we say that we believe there is an alternative reality around us right now. We cannot see it, but it doesn’t make it less real.
The kingdom of heaven is real. You can’t see it, but it’s there. In this room? A reality we cannot see? Oh yes, certainly. All around us.
And what is it like in this new kingdom? Well Paul writes that in this new kingdom there is no need for rule-book relationship with God. That’s done. The rule-book relationship with God is torn up. We no longer live our lives as if God is a referee in the sky looking to throw the penalty flag at us for breaking a rule. The job of a referee is to look for infractions. And unfortunately some of placed God in the position of being a God constantly on the search for infractions.
If that’s your view of God – that he is an infraction counter – then your view of God is way too small. What a joyless existence that would be. How demeaning to rob God of the chance to express utter joy in you, his chosen one. How degrading to put God in a position of being consumed thinking about and tracking your sin. It robs him of being personable – pleasant, kind and loving.
The result of this kind of thinking is that we are afraid of God. Waiting for the divine backhand.
So Paul writes these believer in Colossians to assure them, that God dearly loves them. And that life within this new kingdom – this invisible kingdom ruled by a good shepherd named Jesus – is one of transformation.
See, When you place your faith in Jesus – when you cross that line of faith and make a decision to become his apprentice – to allow him to be our trainer – then we begin a life that is eternal. Did you know that you have already started your eternal life? If you’ve placed your faith in Jesus, then you receive a gift of a new life – one that s eternal. You are already in it.
You will never die. Sure – your body will someday quit. Your heart will someday, temporarily stop. I say temporarily because the Bible says that one day you will be reunited with a renewed body. But someday your body will cease but the real you will continue – it will slip into this invisible dimension. Another parallel universe – where we will finally see Jesus face to face – and we will see how near he has been this whole time.
Can you imagine what it would be like if you could right now see the dark matter in this room all around? You somehow were able to observe these other dimensions? You would struggle to describe what you’ve seen, wouldn’t you. How do you describe that which no one can comprehend?
This was the challenge Jesus had for us. Describing this very real right now kingdom where Jesus is ruling and reining. Very difficult- and since it’s imperceptible to the eye it only makes sense that there would be people skeptical of it’s existence.
I don’t blame you agnostics – you are being asked to believe in a parallel reality that we Christians are saying is the actual true reality – the place where God exists among us and that when we place our faith we enter into and begin the process of being changed.
But just as those physicists say – she is certain of the existence of dark matter – 95 percent of the universe is unseen and unknown – we who follow Jesus are certain of the actual presence of the Kingdom of God.
Why? Well if you ask the physicist why she believes in dark matter even though there is no proof – she would say – that it’s the only thing that makes sense. And we say the same thing. the Kingdom of Heaven – it just makes sense. It makes sense of the world. We finally have answers for why this world is broken and we have answers for how it can be made right again.
And so at Christmas time we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Why did Jesus come to earth? Well some people are apt to say that Jesus was born to die. And they go straight to this idea that Jesus came in order to go to the cross so that our sins can be removed from us. And he lived and taught a little bit here and there – you know. But the bottom line is that Jesus came as a baby in order to die as a man.
Now I am certainly not taking anything away from the importance of the atonement – which is the official theological term for the work that Jesus did in order to take our sins away from us. But Jesus was born for far more than death.
He was born to announce the shockingly available parallel universe where God, though unseen by human eyes, rules in love. And right now even Jesus is standing at the gateway into this spiritual reality inviting us in – whosoever will may come.
And this changes everything with us. Once we become convinced of the parallel universe called the Kingdom of heaven, it changes everything about how we operate in life.
Now Paul is going to turn his attention to the main bridge – between the two worlds.
I’m not sure what’s on your list for Christmas. When I was a kid it seemed that one of the coolest gifts to get were walkie talkies. We had these exact ones I remember because they came with the morse code and we would like tap out messages to one another. Not the greatest – but at the time we were excited to have a way to communicate with your friend that was on the other side of the house – even though you couldn’t see him you were able to keep in touch.
Well as Paul begins to wrap up this letter he is going to turn his attention to prayer. Prayer is the bridge between the world we presently live in – and the parallel universe – filled with the 95 percent of everything we can’t see but know is there.
Now – follow me here – if it’s true that we live in a reality where there is an unseen but altogether real spiritual dimension of life, and if it’s true that we are living with God – or God is already living with us – then it means that at any time we can speak with God. He is already nearby.
And so prayer becomes then something that might look different than the way we often think of prayer. It can in fact be the case that we can speak with God at any moment and he hears us. He is really walking with us and we walk with him.
Now a quick word about prayer. Often when you listen to a pastor speak about praying we often feel we are doing an inadequate job praying. But today let’s just listen to what Paul recommends regarding how to pray and let’s just leave any guilt off the table.
The fact is that God is like that best friend of yours that you haven’t called in a long time. You know the second you call them it will be as if you’ve never stopped talking. You can pick up your conversation with God at any moment as if you’ve never stopped.
Now every time I do call those friends at the end of our time we say – I can’t believe we let so much time go – we really need to do a better job keeping in touch.
I think it’s normal – especially since we are conversing with an invisible God – that our prayer life can sometimes taper. And I think that’s why Paul so often reminds his churches to devote themselves to prayer. Just because you can’t see Jesus sitting nearby you doesn’t mean he isn’t – and so although we are presently hindered from hearing his audible voice on our side of the dimension – Jesus hears us all the time on his side.
So let’s hear Paul’s instructions to us regarding how to pray and what we can pray for and maybe we can incorporate these ideas into our own prayer life.
First, Paul addresses the manner in which we pray.
Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.
We become praying people and there are two qualifiers here – Paul wants us to be alert prayers. Watchful prayers. Making it a priority. Recognizing the importance of praying.
It is not a futile thing to pray. Well God knows everything and is in control of all things – so why pray? What’s the point? Well, here’s the amazing thing about God. God actually respects you highly enough that he invites you to participate in the government of your life. He welcomes your input. He wants to hear from you.
Incredibly God allows himself to be influenced by your own prayers. He treats you with that kind of dignity. Now sometimes God says no. And that’s no less loving then when you say no to your children. You say no sometimes to your kids because you know something they do not understand yet.
But that said, God invites us to participate in the governance of the universe. He delights to hear our prayers – according to Proverbs 15:8
That said, Paul reminds us to pray alertly. What does that mean? You know, if you had a son or daughter or spouse or mom or dad go off to war – you become a better prayer, don’t you? Why? Because you are alert to the reality that there are forces at work fighting against your loved one serving in the military. You are an alert prayer. You’re on it.
Well, Paul says, pray that way all the time. Wide awake to the realities of living life in a broken kingdom.
Speaking of going to war, you re going to be with your family at Christmas, all together, nestled up snugly by the fire branding opinions of your niece, nephew, uncle or in-law.
Well instead of going into that room bracing for the worst, what if you went in there alertly, looking for opportunities in your heart to pray for your family.
Pray alertly. Wide awake to the realities that the God who created all things is with you and would love to talk with you about what you see.
Secondly, as you pray, pray with thanksgiving. If indeed we are safe in the hands of God within the Kingdom and there is no need to worry, then we can become the kind of people with big thankers.
What condition is your thanker in? The thanker is that invisible organ with you that keeps a steady flow of gratitude flowing through your soul. The person in touch with the Kingdom become a thankful kind of person.
It’s an important theme for Paul, who truly believes that we can be thankful in every situation. Yes even in your family Christmas time. He mentions being thankful in the last chapter in verses 15 – where he says Always be thankful. and in 3:16 where he tells us to be the kind of people who can sing with thanksgiving in our hearts. and also in verse 17 when he tells us that whatever we do in word or deed do with thanksgiving in our hearts. And now here just a few verses later we are to pray with thanksgiving.
What kind of shape is your thanker in? Do we need to shock it to get it back to work? A bad thanker causes all kinds of problems in a persons soul, but mostly it leads to joylessness. Unhappy, complainers. People with bad thankers are kind of tough to be around.
But Paul says, listen if you are walking right now with the king of the kingdom who has openly professed that he dearly loves you, and promises to be with you whatever path he leads you down – then whatever you are going through can be gone through with a spirit of thankfulness.
And in case you think Paul talks a good game but can’t back up his words in the next verse we are going to discover that Paul has written this letter from prison somewhere! That is why I am here in chains. He’s been locked up for proclaiming the message of Jesus. How interesting.
You know if I were writing this letter from prison I think I would lead with this – not end with it. I think I’d be like – hey you guys – I’m in jail here for this stuff so you know I’m taking it seriously! So listen up. But Paul is very humble and waits until the end and even there the point is more of a humble request that he be remembered in prayer.
So Paul begins with our attitude in prayer – we come with a thankful heart and an alert mind. And when we pray though we are not to pray only for our own situations. We are to remember that we aren’t the only people in the Kingdom. We walk alongside our brothers and sisters in the Lord. It’s God and me and you.
And so as I walk with God in the parallel reality of the Kingdom of Heaven I get a chance to speak with God about my fellow believers.
Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about his mysterious plan concerning Christ. That is why I am here in chains.
Paul’s prayer request – again I find this interesting – we wasn’t praying that he would get released. I think he could assume that his friends would be praying for that. Instead Paul asks for prayer that his imprisonment will not hinder him from doing his job – preaching the good news about Jesus to people living in the dog eat dog broken down kingdom of darkness.
We also have a chance to pray for our ministry partners here at Journey.
Pray for our friends at Heartland Hope – that God would bless them as they minister so closely and personally to so many people who are hurting – who are on the front lines of poverty – who a re barely making ends meet. We are so proud of their ministry and support it whenever we can.
Pray for our friends in Haiti – that Jan would have all she needs to feed the kids and keep them sheltered and provided for. We love Jan and Christopher’s Hope – and we love Jubilee – the little town that we have loved on for the past seven years.
We pray as well for our friends the MacCleans in Mali. So proud of them and pray that God will use them to accomplish mighty things in those six clinics that we have had a hand in partnering with. This is a picture from them showing those oxygen concentrators we sent in February in service. Fantastic.
We are excited as well to tell you that in two weeks our friends at Restored Hope – a place the provides a home for homeless women and children. And Marty Barnhart will be here the Sunday after Christmas – in two weeks, to tell us more about their ministry as we prepare to add another ministry caring for the poor and the marginalized in Omaha.
So as we walk within this Kingdom we pray for our fellow ministries who are doing wonderful things to bring the good news of Jesus to so many people. Paul asked his church to pray for him as he advanced the good news of the Kingdom. How about we do the same this Christmas and remember to lift up our ministry partners this year as well.
Paul then turns his attention to a second group of people to pray for… Paul encourages us to remember to talk to God about our friends who only know of the kingdom they were born into. They have no knowledge of this alternative Kingdom where God wisely governs our lives.
Paul writes, 5 Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity.6 Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.
I recently spoke with a friend who is a church expert. Churches pay him money to come in and make their church better…
He came to Journey once. And afterward we got together and I asked him what he thought.
And he asked me this – why does anyone come to your church? Bad lighting. Bad chairs. Bad sound system.
And I thought and said – I think the only reason that people are coming is because the people in the room are genuine and real and authentic. There are no airs about us. And I think the people in this room are making it easy for people to find a safe place to discover the real Jesus.