First in series: Escape the Rat Race (the Letter to the Colossians)
I am not sure about you but semi regularly I struggle with feeling defeated.
I feel like no matter how hard I try
I will never be able to cover all the bases I am trying to cover
With the many balls I am trying to hold in the air, I will always drop one
I think of a good example of this from my life.
A couple years back I was juggling being a full time graduate student
Starting this church
Working a part time job
And trying to be a somewhat decent husband to my wife.
I had a week that was particularly chaotic.
I had a test in one of my classes
I was planning and preparing some new small group material that week for the church
At my part time Job I was trying to complete this huge newsletter, which is biggest project I am responsible for
So, over a matter of a couple days I finished preparing for and then lead the small group, and the group went really well.
Being a good pastor. Check! I handled that
I then finished the Newsletter for my Job, which my boss was super happy with.
Succeeding at my job. Check! Got that on lock down.
I then one night cooked dinner and had a romantic dinner with Michelle.
Being a passably decent husband. Check!
I then studied hard and felt really good about how I did on my test.
Being a good student. Check! Look how good I am doing.
But, then I had a second class later that day after my test.
And I walk in, and my professor says, “Alright, if everyone can hand in their papers, that would be great!”
And I just sat there, and I felt my heart drop. Paper... I completely forgot that the paper was due today. I just totally spaced.
Now this paper wasn’t a huge deal, we had one due every week, and in fact he dropped the two lowest scored papers from our final grade.
But, I just felt so defeated in that moment.
I had planned my week out so well.
I had worked so hard.
But, I just spaced on that paper.
There was something about dropping that ball that was just so disheartening.
Like the sense that I am never going to be able to get it all right.
And, for me, when I get in that place I tend to feel like there is no point to any of it.
no matter how hard I try, there is always something more, always some place I am going to drop the ball
What I have come to understand is that I am not all the unique in this.
I feel like I talk to people all the time who feel like they are just around the corner from feeling put together.
That if they could just get this one more thing right, life would feel ok
Or I talk to people who talk about how guilty they feel about this one area of their life where they feel like they are dropping the ball.
This is what I think of when I hear the phrase rat race.
This hamster wheel experience of life.
Where no matter how hard we try, no matter how many areas of life we get on lock-down, there is always something that is just out of our reach. That there is always one or ten too many balls to keep in the air.
Well, it’s this experience of life that we are wanting to examine deeper in a new series that we are starting this week. Over the next four weeks Vince and I will be walking us through Colossians, one of the shorter books in the NT of the Bible.
And we are really excited about doing this because I have found Colossians extremely helpful in finding a life that can escape the rat race.
So, the book of Colossians is a letter that St. Paul, one of the most influential early followers of Jesus, wrote to the Church in Colossae, present day Turkey
Letters that Paul wrote like this make up most of the NT, Named after the cities the church was located in. Ephesians in Ephesus, Philippians in Philippi, etc.
Paul had never actually personally visited the church in Colossae, but the Church was started by people who were trained and learned of Jesus from the Church in Ephesus which he did have a hand in starting.
The Colossian church was somewhat of a grandbaby of Paul’s.
It is super important to note that this was a letter
So, it was written to a specific audience addressing specific issues.
Understanding the context is the key to understanding the letter
So, it’s always good to start with addressing.
Who was this written to?
What was the makeup of the community?
What issues were they facing?
The Church is Colosse was primarily made up of Greek Gentile (or non-Jewish) followers of Jesus.
As you may know Jesus was Jewish, as were the majority of his first followers.
So, there are some letters Like Galatians which are speaking to that primarily Jewish background audience
But, because the church in Colosse was mostly Gentile(or non-jewish)Greek background people...
Paul of course addresses the things that mattered to them, the questions they were asking
So, for example, Greeks were largely polytheistic, they believed in many gods…
It may be helpful to think back to high school and what you learned about Greek Mythology
There were many Gods like Zeus and Hera and Poseidon, who by in large were playing their own game,
Out for their own interest.
And humanity’s role was either to
appease them, you better make sure you make all the right sacrifices to all the right God, better make sure we’re on their good side, because you are at risk if you have not covered all of your bases with a God.
Or to stay out of their way… because you do not want to see those gods angry or annoyed!
The greeks also had a high emphasis on self ascent.
There was a popular thought at the time that if you were good enough, if you knew enough, powerful enough, you could actually become a kind of minor God yourself.
Lastly, the Greek world was Highly patriarchal, obsessed with displays of male dominance (for fear of being seen as weak, submissive)
Being seen as strong, dominate, where you stood on the social hierarchy was super important.
Reading about that culture today it is really easy to see some super high-anxiety religiousness…something that very much came down to human effort.
People in Colossae were caught up in what we could call the 1st century Greco-Roman rat race
If I want to be ok, I better cover all my bases with all the Gods
I better become more and more perfect, try to actually become like a God myself, that sounds exhausting
And I better assert myself, making sure I’m in the dominate position on the totem pole.
I wonder if this isn’t so far away from our Modern American Rat Race.
I think of all the anxiety I felt in trying to keep all those balls in the air in my opening story. Work, Education, Family, Faith, Money, etc.
We may not be highly religious Greek Polytheists today, but think of all the aggressively-worded headlines vying for our spiritual and emotional and physical attention, ramping up our anxiety. They all seem so urgent and scary and can’t-miss, otherwise our lives are a wreck! Or second best!
That’s not so different from Greek polytheists trying to keep the gods on their side!
We are thankfully less patriarchal today, and less obsessed with dominance, but we are just as self ascent-focused as ever
Our okayness is very much dependent on checking off the right boxes, hitting the right benchmarks, making sure that we are doing well compared to those around us
Sure the details may be different today, but the underlying experience seems to resonate deeply for me
The people of Colossae, much like us today (or really any culture ever), are living in the midst of a rat race... let's see what Paul writes to them"...
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, 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. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Paul begins this letter by generally endearing himself to his readers, assuring them he knows of them, is thankful for them, and is praying for them
Paul is celebrating with them about how awesome Jesus is, how awesome and life giving their newfound faith is.
Remember, the concept of faith and god most of the Colossians have grown up with is NOT “a loving and consistent character, like Jesus” BUT “the volatile, inconsistent, and occasionally nasty characters of the Greek gods”
Look at the kind language Paul uses here
the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you
This is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you
We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge, Wisdom, Understanding.
That they would be bearing fruit, growing in knowledge, being strengthened, having endurance and patience, giving joyful thanks,
That they would be experiencing their inheritance, God’s love, redemption and forgiveness.
I think I sometimes miss what Paul is trying to do here, because the words he uses here.
It’s kinds feels like religious words mad libs to modern readers dropping into a totally different culture.
I think these kinds of words, redemption, bearing fruit, the faith and love that springs from hope... can sometimes wash over us, without really conveying much meaning at all.
But, to the Church in colossae these would have been very culturally familiar and relevant terms.
It would have be bringing to their mind everything good they have experienced because of Jesus. Like they would have been vibing with Paul,
In short, Paul is saying. You guys are great, Jesus is great, right, all the stuff Jesus offers us is great, by the way I am totally praying that stuff keeps going great for you.
Paul has never actually met them so he is like building a rapport
So, let see what else paul has to say.
15 The Son (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 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. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
For Paul, Jesus is at the head, and he puts everything else under him
Any narrative that holds sway, holds power, holds influence over us, in his words the thrones or powers or rulers or authorities. All are placed under Jesus
For the Colossians this would have included
The narrative that you have to appease or avoid God
That you have to assert your dominance, fight for your position of power and influence
That the path towards being ok, is built on their own efforts to ascend.
For me today it would be narratives like
I just tried a little harder I could juggle all the balls, get it right, and then everything would be ok.
You see, narratives like this are vying to be at the head of our life, to be the things that guide the decisions we make
And Paul is saying, what if we Laid all those narratives down, submit them as under Jesus?
Let Jesus guide us
Let’s continue reading.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
So, according to Paul, the reward of keeping Jesus at the head is a feeling of being "holy, without blemish, free from accusation"... We don't really use those words today, so what does that mean?
So, Let's just do a little experiment
I would love to take a moment to look at some of the Mantras of today’s rat race, the narratives that seem to be vying to guide us.
And then looking at some the sayings of Jesus, paying attention to what kind of life he would seem to lead us into.
So, you have the rat race mantra of.
Have all your ducks in a row. Your bases covered.
That seems like a lot of pressure on me.
Where Jesus says in Matthew 6:34 “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. ”
I like how that sounds
Rat race Mantra: The cream of the crop will rise. It’ the survival of the fittest.
Ohhh I hope I am one of the fit ones. Hmmmm probably not.
And Jesus, Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
Rat race Mantra, There are good guys and bad guys, make sure you’re part of the solution not the problem
Yeah, take down those bad guys
Jesus, Matthew 7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
Maybe it's a good thing I am not the judge
Rat Race: It’s good to be the boss. When you are in charge, you can do what you want.
So all I have to do is reach the top of the latter to get what I want?
Jesus, Matthew 23:12 “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Well that changes things
Lastly, the rat race. Life is hard work, pull yourself up by your bootstraps.
Man this one sounds familiar to me.
Then Jesus, Matthew 11:28-29 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
That sounds nice
If I am going to organize my life around something, Jesus just sounds so much more forgiving, restful, freeing, encouraging.I think this is what is meant by Paul's word choice “holy, without blemish, and free from accusation”
But the beauty of following Paul's encouragements here is that putting Jesus at the head is so much more than following a list of sayings, or living based off of a set of proverbs.
Because the promise is that Jesus is here today, offering Living guidance, as we make space in life to pray and listen, believing we, yes even us, might hear from him, speaking to us personally.
Guiding me in dealing with all of the stresses and burdens of life.
Work, money, relationships.
Offering living and interactive guidance
To organize our life with him at the head is to organize our life with the help of living and dynamic feedback and guidance. One that offers grace and comfort when things are hard, and wisdom and guidance in real time as we try to navigate our lives.
And that brings me to tip for you today.
Each morning this week, before get your day started, on your commute, whatever, take 2 minutes and pray for Jesus to show he has for you that day
perhaps it could even be helpful to use the words of Paul.
Pray to put Jesus at the head that day
And here is the thing, I don’t think putting Jesus at the head, is a one time thing. I don’t think we just ask him to guide us once, and that's that.
No, I think it is a daily endeavor.
It’s never something that can get old, because each new day there is need for fresh guidance and wisdom.
So, the idea here is that you take two minutes, small investment, each day this week. Just pray something simple like “God I want you to guide me today, God I'm putting you as the head of my life I pray that you would help me see what you have for me today.”
then take 90 seconds to minutes I'm just quiet
Perhaps you may feel prompted to do something
Maybe there's some task you been putting off but you just feel prompted to do now
There’s a good chance that maybe there's something God wants you to tackle today
Or maybe a particular person sticks In your head
perhaps God is wanting to encourage you to do something for that person
Or maybe an image or thought sticks I your head
I find that in these moments I can often have idea or images stick in my brain, they can be a way to encourage me. Like maybe some encouragement saying you can do it
Perhaps you are unsure if it's just your thought or how would you even tell if it was God
Well can I concurred you to go to our website tomorrow and you will see this Prezia from this talk listed on our talks page and you can see the five different quotes from Jesus.
And if what sticking your head seems consistent with with these sayings
I would say there's a good chance, or at least very little downside with attributing those thoughts to God.
and here's the thing, without a practice like this, we are far more likely to just default back to the narratives that are running through our head all the time. The things that just reinforce our rat race experience of life.
And I practice like this, just two minutes, even if we feel like we get nothing out of it that we can attribute to God,
It can at least be enough to disrupt the some of our high anxiety default thinking
So try it this week
I'd like to go back to Paul's words once more to close
24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
Paul ends this letter essentially saying
Want to see a picture of the benefit of a life with Jesus at the head...
look at me, I am in prison and still filled with joy and contentment
Nobody has prison on their list of life accomplishments, Princeton maybe, but certainly not prison
But Pauls own story offers the us an example of a life
where we can find joy, contentment, hope, even when all the balls of life seems to have been dropped.
I want to have that kind of resilience too, I want to wake up every day feeling hopeful and content regardless of the circumstances facing me.
And I believe that's what a life organized around Jesus is offering
If you'd stand with me to pray.