You all probably know by now that I am a big fan of summer.  I like the warm weather, and by February, or March, and some of those late sneaky cold days of Spring I can get a little grumpy and am ready for it to warm up.  There are a lot of reasons that I like summer, but I will tell you around MRC it’s a time I have always looked forward to and enjoyed.  Now that isn’t necessarily for the incredible attendance in those warm summer months at church, but because every summer we walk through a Bible study.  We study a book, or a chapter, or area of Scripture.  Which is so exciting for me personally and for our church family.  I love when we are walking through The Bible together…over the years we have walked through books of the Bible, we have hit Romans, Corinthians, and James.  We have walked through the Sermon on the Mount for an entire summer diving into that incredible teaching from Jesus, and last year we walked through a good bit of the Old Testament…all of it is so much fun, and hopefully challenges us to live Godly lives, and grow in our faith.  So today, I get a chance to kick off our big summer series studying one of Paul’s letters.  This summer we are studying the book of Colossians.

I really have two goals today, the first is to introduce and give you some background to the book of Colossians, but as I thought through all the facts and context that I can give you on this book, I just felt really challenged to not just give you a history lesson here at church today, but to also dive into the importance of The Bible in our lives.  I want to talk about what it means or could mean if we fully engage Scripture.  The Bible is so important, and maybe up until today to you it was just a big book that didn’t make a lot of sense, or something that you know you should read, and engage but it just hasn’t been a priority in your life.  Well, I hope that today and all summer long as we study Scripture you find a passion for God’s word and begin to understand how essential it is to your life.  As I write this, I think of Jesus quoting Deuteronomy to Satan in the Temptation of Christ…and wonder if you see the urgency or intensity of this statement about God’s word to our lives?

Matthew 4:4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” NIV

Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Well, where do we find those words from the mouth of God to live on?  Let’s read that again in the Message version.

Matthew 4:4 Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”  MSG

God’s word is so essential to our lives, and my hope is that by the end of this talk, you will not only see that but you will be ready to dive into God’s word in your own life too.  But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here.  Let’s talk a little bit about Paul’s letter to the Colossian people or church.

So, why are we studying the book of Colossians this summer?  When Ken and I started thinking through which book we would study this year we were all over the map and Ken really brought up the idea of studying Colossians, and it just feels like the perfect book for us to be studying at the perfect time.  This is a letter written by Paul with his buddy Timothy…if you are wondering how I know that, or how I would say that with confidence it’s because the book starts this ways…

Colossians 1:1 This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy. 2 We are writing to God’s holy people in the city of Colosse, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.  May God our Father give you grace and peace. NLT

I also think it’s important to remember where Paul is writing from…and that would be a prison cell in Rome.  So, Paul and Timothy are writing to the Christians in the city of Colosse.  As I was putting this talk together, I found some interesting things about the city of Colosse that I thought were worth discussing because it gives us an image of who Paul’s writing to.

The city of Colosse was in the valley of a river called Lycus.  So, in those days the more vibrant and flourishing cities, and wealthier people were in general located near rivers and seas…which makes sense because water is needed to live and was so important and not something you could find as easily as we can today.  Technology, irrigation systems, and travel methods are a little different today, but in those days bodies of water were helpful.  In Colosse at those times Giant and Sheetz weren’t located on every corner to grab a water to live.  So, I think vibrant, and flourishing is a good way to describe the area that Colosse was located.  There were three important cities located in the area Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colosse.  Laodicea is hard to ignore because that’s the church that John wrote of in Revelations that was lukewarm…they were wealthy, thought they could handle life on their own, and were rebuked in Revelation 3…do you remember that?

Revelation 3:15 “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! 16 But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! 17 You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. NLT

So yeah, pretty intense moment as God speaks to Laodicea there in Revelation…but that’s this area.  Wealthy with important cities, lots of water and fertile ground, trading, money, people, and wealth.  But one of the things that I found most interesting was that over time Colosse just doesn’t grow and become as great or as prominent a city as the other two.  Laodicea goes on to be the political and financial power of the area.  Hierapolis was big for trading and wealth and was known for its great spas…they had volcanic grounds where hot vapors and springs were, and many people would go sit in them, like hot tubs, thinking they had healing powers, so I guess it was like the vacation spot for everyone to go visit.  But Colosse was a pretty small town, and even as Paul wrote this letter it just wasn’t keeping up with the big towns around it.  In fact, some of the big scholars who study these towns and times in detail would later say that Colosse was the most unimportant town to which Paul ever wrote a letter.  But what Paul was doing with this letter was extremely important.

Why did Paul write this letter to Colosse?  So, there was this pattern that seemed to happen with Paul as he planted churches.  He would bring the Gospel, and Jesus, and freedom to the people of the churches he planted…then he would leave, and things would go a little wonky.  Oftentimes, the religious people around that church from that area would come in and begin to push in on and influence these young Christians in this new young church in ways that weren’t Biblical.  Different forms of heresy would pop up, and I find this really interesting…because as frustrating as that had to be to Paul and the churches to walk through, it gives us Paul’s letters…to learn from now in Scripture which is pretty awesome.  But that is exactly what began to happen here in Colosse.  There were a lot of Jews in that area, now remember Paul was bringing God’s word to the Gentiles or (non-Jewish people) and the pattern continues, the religious moved in after this church was founded and started pushing around young Christians.  So, while Paul didn’t physically come to Colosse and plant this church personally, it definitely came from Paul’s instructions and he cared deeply about it…in case you are wondering how I would know Paul didn’t personally plant the church, it’s because he told us so, in chapter 2 of the letter…

Colossians 2:1 I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. NIV

So this is the pattern, Paul and His ministry plant a church, then have to circle back because after they leave unbiblical ideas and thoughts and heresy come into the young churches…which gives us a large part of the New Testament to learn from today!

What was this heresy or unbiblical belief Paul is addressing?  I think the best way to summarize what Paul is addressing here is to say that the people in Colosse were not centering their lives fully on Christ as all and enough.  This letter is all about restoring Jesus to the center of their lives as He should be in all of ours.  This is so important and is at the heart of everything a Christian life and church should revolve around.  One of my favorite moments from Paul comes as He tries to rally this church around Jesus…

Colossians 1:26 This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. 27 God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. 28 We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. 29 That’s what I’m working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me. MSG

So, this is what we see here as we get started with our study of Colossians, Paul in a jail cell in Rome, with his buddy Timothy keeping him company, trying to center this new church in a small, unimportant town on Jesus.  So maybe it helps you see why this letter would be so important to you and I today.  This is Colossians…and yet we all need to keep this same central focus on Jesus today as well.  William Barclay writes this about Colossians.

“It remains a strange and wonderful fact that Paul wrote this letter which contains the highest point in his thinking to so unimportant a town as Colosse was.  But in doing so, he halted a tendency which, had it been allowed to develop, would have wrecked Asian Christianity and might well have done irreparable damage to the faith of the whole Church.”  William Barclay

This is Colossians, Ken and I can’t wait to study this with you…but I told you at the start of this talk that I had two goals, and the first was to introduce Colossians to you, but the second is really important to me.  I told you that I didn’t want to just give you a history lesson here on a town that Paul wrote a letter to, but to really dive into why we need the Bible in our lives, and what it can mean to your life on a personal level when you are reading, studying, and allowing God’s word all the way into your heart.  The Bible is not like any other book or instruction manual…it’s alive and can lead you to that amazing life in Christ that you hear about every Sunday at MRC…but only if you choose to engage it and follow it’s teaching.  Do you buy into what I just said?

Listen, I want you to understand that The Bible is not like any other book, manual, or resource you have at your disposal, this is God’s word!  Which, Jesus quoting Deuteronomy earlier said was essential to our lives…do you remember what we read earlier?

Matthew 4:4 Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”  MSG

It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth to truly live.  This is why the Bible is so important…but for so many of us, we think that is a bit of an over statement, because we are doing ok.  We think to ourselves, come on Sam, we aren’t actually going to die if we aren’t reading Scripture, but we also aren’t standing in God’s truth, and living that full life in Christ that we can live when we are living out God’s will for our lives…the Bible is the living word of God and leads us into that true life and freedom and joy and energy that comes with living out God’s plan for our lives.  So, let’s talk about what the Bible is in comparison to all other books, and why Jesus would say it’s every bit as important for us people to stay alive as food is for us all.

The Bible is living and active. You know one of the main things I know about life at this point from life, ministry, trying to raise four teenagers, and just looking at my own journey.  Experience is just the best teacher there is…it’s life experience that often gets our attention and leads us to do something different.  I can tell you something like living a Godly life is important but in the end most people will just need to experience it for themselves before real life change can ever happen.  Well, I think this is also why so many people read the Bible and it just doesn’t seem to land in their hearts or become part of their lives, because they treat it like work, or just stale words on a page.  They don’t grasp that it’s alive and if it’s alive then it’s more than words on a page but something I can truly experience in my life!  The Bible is living and active…Check this out…

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. NIV

The word of God is living and active.  That is different then reading an Encyclopedia or Dictionary or Textbook.  This is God’s word, His truth, that dives deep into our lives and forces us to respond and deal with truth.  If it is alive and active then we can experience it, and we would all agree that experience is often what leads us to change…much more so than any words said or read.

The Bible is a teacher and a trainer.  So, when we dive into studying Scripture it’s important to go into our time in Scripture with the idea that we are training or about to learn from it.  You know when it comes to training, we have a mindset don’t we?  If I’m going for a run, I don’t necessarily jump out of bed, drink a large cup of coffee and go for a run, I prepare.  I eat something that won’t make me feel worse than I always feel on a run, I dress right, I check the weather, I stretch a little first.  Well, The Bible is the ultimate trainer or teacher, so I need to prepare when I read and study Scripture.  I turn off distractions, I pray for focus and an open heart to what I’m about to read, and I go into it with the mindset that I’m going to grow, learn and train.  This is what God’s Word is and does!

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.  NIV

I love the phrasing “All Scripture” there by Paul as inspired by God.  I like to point out different places where Paul says that word “all” like we all sin and fall short of God’s glorious standard or here with “all” when it comes to Scripture because so many of us would like to grab bits and pieces of Scripture, but it is all from God.  When we dive into all Scripture with this mindset that it is training and teaching it can lead us into that new life.  In the next verse, Paul tells us what it’s training us for…

2 Timothy 3:17 Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. MSG

The Bible is teaching, and training, and equipping us to do God’s good work.

The Bible shows us God’s will for our lives.  One of the things that we just learned in our last series is that in the end a successful life according to God is to obey His commands for our lives.  We learned that definition of success by reading the Bible, and also we need to see that when we read Scripture and open up our Bibles we are reading about God’s will for our lives…and it can actually transform us on a personal level…this isn’t just written for someone of Biblical times, or for a Pastor type person but for all of our lives, right here, right now, today and when we see that God’s word can renew and change our lives as we walk in and understand God’s will for our lives.

Romans 12:1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. NLT

As we read Scripture our minds are renewed and we give our lives over to God, we break out of the ways of this world, and become a new person by changing the way we think and act…that only happens as we engage God’s living word.  I read the other day that we are hit with over 5,000 different messages a day in our lives…from social media, tv, billboards, you name it…we are inundated with information and messages from the world…all of this information is shaping our thinking, we must go to God’s living word to renew our minds!  Everyone has an agenda or will for our lives, but we know we must follow God’s will for our lives…we know we become a success when we obey God’s will for our lives…and those commands are not a burden, or frustrating or work in our lives anymore…

1 John 5:2 The reality test on whether or not we love God’s children is this: Do we love God? Do we keep his commands? 3 The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome. MSG

Do you see it?  The living word of God transforms us so that we can live out our true life in Christ, with new thoughts, and a heart for God’s will instead of our own…with a sincere desire and peace for God and His commands in our lives.   I think that is why Jesus would say this…specifically focus on verse 7…

John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. NIV

As I live a life shaped by God’s living word, and my mind is renewed…and I walk in this successful life of consistent obedience to God, verse 7 there will take on new meaning.

John 15:7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. NIV

I think many people read that and get excited because it sounds like Jesus is saying God will give you whatever you wish like a magic genie, these three wishes I give you…but we need to really look at what Jesus is saying there.  He said, if you remain in me and my words remain in you…you will have whatever you wish…and what we are learning today about the Bible, God’s living word, is that it shapes our desires and will and transforms us to a life that is God-willed not self-willed…so if I’m living a transformed life the thing I ask God for looks very different than what it would be without God’s living word shaping my will to God’s.  This is why so many get frustrated, they read that and think God’s going to make them wealthy or prosperous because they are still viewing statements like these from a self-willed state…rather than allowing God’s living word to transform their minds, shape their lives and thinking, which would change their desires completely.  I could just hang out in that statement for a while, but I have a few more things I want to show you about the Bible before we close.

The Bible is our source of inspiration, strength, and courage.  You may find this hard to believe but asking Jesus into your life as your Lord and Savior doesn’t mean that life shuts off, and everything will go perfectly for you moving forward in life because you are now a Christian.  Life will still have it’s challenges, the difference is you now walk through life with Jesus by your side…but there will still be tough moments.  You will still experience fear at times, there will still be heartache, and tough times…and in those moments we turn to God’s word for inspiration and strength.

Joshua 1:7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  NIV

There have been so many times in my life where I was struggling and time and time again at those difficult moments it’s God’s living word that inspires me and gives me courage, strength, hope, and guidance through those difficult times.

The Bible guides us towards a Godly and Holy life.  I think Psalm 119 gives us so much insight on God’s living word, and here we see something so important about how God’s word leads us towards Holiness.

Psalm 119:9 How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word. 10 I have tried hard to find you—don’t let me wander from your commands. 11 I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. NLT

The Bible is also our source of wisdom.  Sticking with Psalm 119 here…

Psalm 119:97 Oh, how I love your instructions!  I think about them all day long. 98 Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are my constant guide. 99 Yes, I have more insight than my teachers, for I am always thinking of your laws. 100 I am even wiser than my elders, for I have kept your commandments. 101 I have refused to walk on any evil path, so that I may remain obedient to your word. 102 I haven’t turned away from your regulations, for you have taught me well. 103 How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey. 104 Your commandments give me understanding; no wonder I hate every false way of life. NLT

This Psalm leads right out of wisdom and into something that really was on my heart from the moment I knew I was introducing our Summer Bible study to you, and something we must embrace as we study God’s word.

The Bible along with the Holy Spirit in us guides our lives.  When I put this talk together, I couldn’t stop thinking about this particular Scripture.

Psalms 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. NIV

God’s living word can be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path…but only if we choose to engage it.

So as we dive into a study on the Book of Colossians this summer our real prayer for you is not that you gain some knowledge about Scripture or that you get some facts about the times and context of who Paul wrote this letter to so that you can win some game of Christian Trivial Pursuit someday.  We want you to be personalizing Scripture for yourself.  Our prayer is that you can continue to or begin to experience The Bible for what it is and can be in your life.  It is so much more than just words on a page but, you can’t experience something you don’t engage or read.  The only way to get all the wisdom, strength, courage, inspiration of God’s living word is to open our Bible’s and engage God’s word on a personal level.  You know what, maybe now you can do that with a new or different understanding of just how essential the Bible is to your life.  It isn’t just another book.  The Bible is living and active.  It teaches and trains us.  It shows us God’s will for our lives.  It’s our source of inspiration, strength, and courage…and helps us move towards holiness while growing in wisdom and Spiritual Maturity…it’s literally our life guide, leading and lighting our next steps in life.

This is why we are so excited each and every summer to dive into a Bible study with you and it’s our prayer that God’s living word comes to life for you in a way that you can experience that true life in Christ we are all looking for.  You may be thinking I have never been good at reading and retaining words from a page…well now you know these aren’t just words on a page.  You may be thinking you are way too busy to engage God’s living word…well it’s our hope that you now understand how important it is…because what I find for all those who tell me how busy they are, they always have time for what matters…and God’s living word matters.

Matthew 4:4 Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”  MSG

Welcome to our summer Bible Study here at MRC!  May God’s word come to life in your heart, and mind and soul from this day forward.