One Thanksgiving my wife Joanne, my 4 nieces and I were all excited about working on putting together puzzles in the guest room. We had 3 puzzles and we worked on each puzzle together in pairs of two. After finishing one third of the puzzle Joanne and I were needed down stairs in the kitchen and we didn't visit the puzzle again until after dinner. When we got back Joanne and I had the room to ourselves and continued with the puzzle along with some light marital flirting… "Hey how you doin?" As we worked on the puzzle for 1 1/2 hours we were stuck. There seemed to be more puzzle pieces than before, but we didn't care we just kept working. The puzzle making had become a competition between our nieces and us and we were not going to be upstaged by puzzle amateurs. The pressure was on, Joanne's face scrunched in frustration and I was sweating from the pressure. None of the pieces seem to be right, I kept holding on to the same puzzle piece convinced that it fit somewhere in the image of the puzzle. Joanne and I began to conspire to use scissors to cut the puzzle pieces to make them fit. As Joanne grinded her teeth in concentration and I stared at the image on the puzzle box thinking that I would find the secret, our 8 year old niece Ruth walked in. "Is everything okay?" she asked. "We're okay, but we're just having a little trouble with this puzzle." I said. Ruth continued, "You do know that not all puzzles go together to make one puzzle right?" In response Joanne said, "Of course we know that." Ruth continued with a big mischievous grin "Oh, okay I just wanted to make sure you knew that the elephant puzzle doesn't go with the lion puzzle and that neither goes with the jungle puzzle." Ruth started laughing and fell to the floor. I asked, "What is going on?" Through spurts of laughter she said, "We put all the puzzles together, gotcha!" Then our other 3 nieces burst through the guest room door laughing and said, "Gotcha!" Our oldest niece Brittany explained with an intellectual calm, "Did you not know that many parts do not a whole make? Not just any piece fits to make one image." We all laughed. Since then Joanne and I have not attempted another puzzle. People of God in the same way sometimes without knowing, we take many things from the surrounding world and try to make them fit into our faith.
Imagine with me a small city that is a marketplace for trade and business. Not merely a small town of commerce, but a melting pot where ideas, politics and religion meet. Colossae, a home to many different sects, religions, philosophies, people groups and ways of life, take refuge in their diversity, enterprise and identities. In Colossae there are many ways of thinking to choose from where Mr. and Mrs. Colossian can mix and match different ideas. They believe that the afterlife is an escape from this world while observing sun and moon festivals that need to be celebrated, worshiped and kept regularly. There are spirits and angels around every corner guiding, ordering and laying claim to certain areas of life. In Colossae we can seek and discover the secrets of knowledge to the universe through religious gurus and learn through reason and philosophy how to live well.
In this small town there is a new movement forming. The movement holds the possibility of turning this town upside down. This movement if accepted would change not only the spiritual character of the town, but potentially change every sphere of human life. This movement is wrestling between the threads that bind Colossian culture together and the Christian faith. At the heart of the struggle is not simply Colossian culture, but the very fabric that weaves and holds all spheres of life together. The focal point centers on the man who came from another small town named Nazareth. The man who claimed to be the fabric that holds all things together in himself. The Colossian church clings to the rich stew of traditions in which they simmered in since their youth, which is threatening to burn away their newfound faith. There is a struggle between the way we live and The Way. There is a grappling-taking place between heritage and The Truth. There is a fight between life as we know it and The Life. There is a wrestling with the currents of the old culture and The New Creation. In Colossae the Christian community is battling for the heart of the Gospel.
The community in Colossae was taking pieces from different puzzles trying to make them fit into one whole. Although having a desire to reconcile their surroundings to the Christian message instead the surrounding teachings were being infused into Christian life. Their practices were not leading to say that Christ is supreme over all things and redeems everything in creation. Instead the Colossian Church was going in a direction that teaches that the surrounding worldliness reconciles the church with its' surroundings. This growing syncretism, this merging of the surrounding teachings and culture into the Christian faith, in practice becomes an attempt at culture to redeem the world, the Christian faith and even to redeem Christ.
Today in our surrounding culture we don't see how much we have merged our faith with the surrounding world. I remember going to a young adult convention and hearing a speaker named Mike talk about culture and the Christian faith. Mike first showed a clip from the movie Star Wars. After the clip Mike said, "One image that seems to sum up the Christian message for me is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It is a masterpiece and a good representation and embodiment of the Christian faith. Similarly, many people believe that Star Wars is a film masterpiece. Star Wars and the idea of the Force captivated me when I was young. Today the Force runs strong in all of us." The audience hooted and hollered in agreement and Mike continued, "Today, millions of people have been captivated by the idea of the Force, which moves in everything and is everything and I remember an interview with George Lucas about how he came up with the force. He explained that the Force came out of his religious reading, study and experience. The Force was a culmination of compassion from Christian thought, it's philosophical framework from Zen Buddhism, a blending of wisdom and morality from several different religions. The attraction to the force lies in having created a new way of thinking and with it a new way of understanding life." Then with lament Mike continued, "I had a conversation with a friend about Star Wars over coffee. We talked about the Force and we used very precise language to describe it. For a Star Wars nerd like me it was fun to talk about the Force, until we transitioned into talking about the Christian faith. We began to describe the Christian faith in the exact same ways as we described the Force. Our discomfort came from an all too cozy blending of two things that are not the same thing. We realized that we had begun to meld together two masterpieces that are not meant to be melded. We realized our faith had become like the Sistine Chapel's Ceiling with spaceships in place of clouds and a little green Yoda in place of God stretching out with his finger to Luke Skywalker with a light-saber instead of Adam. The ceiling would then be a cheap imitation of what it once was. Our faith is like that ceiling, a masterpiece, but when we add other characters, other stories, other worldly cultures it becomes a perversion. It doesn't convey the same message anymore; it isn't the same faith anymore. Our faith was being corrupted and becoming worthless and then I realized I might not be a Christian anymore." People of God when culture seeps into our Christian faith it can lead to believing in something that isn't Christian. We begin using music from the culture to listen for Christ. We examine miracles through science instead of exploring it through faith. We use a painting to take us into a deeper knowledge of God instead of looking to Christ. We use movies as the lens through which we view Christ. We use our Political philosophies, democrat and republican, liberal and conservative to interpret the scriptures. We begin to view Christ through they eyes of the world, not the world through the eyes of Christ. As if through Osmosis sometimes the ways of the world subtly trespass through the boundaries of our faith. Other times we welcome worldly culture with openhearted embrace. We desire to redeem culture through Christ, but sometimes without knowing it we piece together culture into our faith. We try to put together an image of faith with pieces from multiple puzzles and in the process never see the full picture. When we inject a worldly culture into our Christian faith we don't redeem the culture, but begin to think Christ is subject to the culture or Christ is replaced by the culture.
We can imagine what the Colossian church felt and heard in the letter to the Colossians. John could touch this letter and feel the power behind the words. Debra could hold the letter in her hands and hear the voice of the Shepherd calling to her to follow Him. The letter is a convention created by the world, the language created by a particular people, the ink, the papyrus, and the hands that wrote it are all things that reside firmly in this world and yet God is working, moving and shaping the Colossian community through them. God is using a letter to speak to His people. To the people in Colossae the letter is a connection between heaven and earth. Christ is more human when we hold in our hands the evidence of a pen stroke on paper. Christ is God, the author shaping the letter, the author writing in hearts and composing the story of our lives. In the letter to the Colossians we hear what the Colossians hear, which proclaims in God's voice "whatever authorities or principalities may come and go, whatever powers may hold sway, whoever may rule over the lands of the earth, whatever we may come to see in this life or whatever is beyond the reaches of our sight, Come what may in this earthly existence or in the heavens, whatever this world may say, whatever the cultures of the world may seize and whatever the traditions of this world hold captive and yes even with all these things whoever may sin, whatever the sin, however the sin may come Christ is above it all. Although the world surround and push against the walls of the Church and though they may invade the faith of God's people, Christ does not stand against the world."
The rulers of this world are not in charge, but are only temporary stewards who like ambassadors represent the power and order of Christ. The reign of rulers and leaders end but the Kingdom of Christ endures forever. The bible maybe despised, ridiculed and burned, but the Word of the Lord stands forever. Walls may divide us, but Christ calls us together into the beloved community. Times of great struggle come and go, but God's love endures forever.
We see that there is a God that works in this world throughout history. God called out to a man from Haran named Abram, changed his name to Abraham and brought him to the land of Canaan. God promised to bless the people of the earth through Abraham and his descendents. God blessed Abraham with the promise land. God delivered the Hebrews from the hands of the Egyptians. God established the Kingdom of Israel. God works through people. God establishes nations. God blesses people with his presence as He establishes and sets apart a culture, a land, a people, and a kingdom for himself.
We see God working through the world by establishing the kingdom of Christ. God himself came as a human baby to a Jewish culture, to a Roman province, under Pontius Pilate. This God became a God we can touch, a God who makes himself vulnerable to us and lets us cradle Him in our arms. The intimate God who cradles us in the womb came to be cradled by us. Jesus Christ came to establish the Kingdom of God. Christ is spreading His kingdom through every human convention ruling over every sphere of life. Today we see Christ's reign over culture when we listen to a Christian rap song, watch a Christian movie, but we see it most in the Church.
We see the Kingdom through churches throughout the world and down the street. We see the Kingdom in the world and every Sunday we proclaim that this Kingdom is not of the world. We see Christ reigning over our lives when He proclaims in the church and throughout all the earth, "This is my body, which is given for you… and this cup is the new covenant in my blood, do this in remembrance of me." And we say with one voice Christ died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again. As the covenant people of Christ we hear his promise, "the gifts of God for the people of God" and we see with our eyes, touch with our hands and taste with our mouths, the Kingdom of God. Christ takes all the things of this world even bread and wine and redeems it. Christ is Lord over all. Christ is establishing His kingdom in this world.
The letter to the Colossians is still a living testimony of the one who is the image of the invisible God by whom all things were created. In the face of the encroaching cultural influence, this letter carrying the Gospel message has survived not because of human effort, but because this world was created with purpose. This world was created for Christ by Christ and for the sake of His plan to see His people someday live in perfect harmony with Him. It is for that same purpose that Christ shed His blood on the cross to pave the road of redemption that leads us from perdition back to God.
Jesus is not subject to anything, but He holds all things together. No wall can be built that he cannot demolish, no depth is so deep he cannot reach, no power so great he cannot overcome. Culture does not bind the Gospel. Christ transforms culture. Christ redefines the way we look at the world and it's cultures. Christ reinvigorates the way we interact with the world. Christ reshapes us in His image and by the power of the Holy Spirit re-designs every sphere of this life. Christ sustains this life and makes every culture in this world possible. Regardless of all the brokenness in this world Christ holds the world in His hands. Though the world may be crimson with sin, Christ's love covers the world with His crimson blood. Far from being an exaggeration the reality is Christ our Lord breaks every rule in the man-made book becoming human to show us how far, how wide and how deep is the love of Christ. He looks at us as we are and he looks at every square inch of this world taking away our sin by paying the price Himself claiming ownership over all things saying, "This is mine". Christ is turning the wheels of history. Christ is moving every piece of the puzzle until it all reflects Himself. He takes each broken piece of the puzzle and places them together calling it the Body of Christ. The truth of the Gospel came to change the world and it's message echoes in our hearts with Christ saying "I will wipe every tear, I will heal every wound, there will be no more hurt and behold I make all things new."