One time Christians are commanded to kill? – Colossians 3:5-11, Part 2

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In the previous post, I said that we will be studying Paul’s comments about laundry for a few weeks. This week is part one, Colossians 3:5-11, all about taking off our dirty clothes. Next week will be part two, Colossians 3:12-17, all about putting on clean clothes. In today’s post, we start studying part one. But before Paul gets to talking about clothes, you might be surprised to read that he talks about killing.  Killing? Yes. Take a look for yourself.

In verse 5, Paul says that we are to put to death whatever belongs to the earthly nature.  When he writes, “put to death,” in the ancient Greek he originally wrote this letter, Paul is using the imperative tense, and that is important for us to know.  The imperative tense is the command tense.  That means this isn’t a suggestion.  Christians will do this, Paul is saying, insinuating that it is wrong in God’s eyes if we don’t do it.  That might seem harsh, because we are not used to being commanded to kill.  We Christians are supposed to be peaceful, and we are not to commit murder, except in this area.  So what is Paul doing talking about killing? He says we are, “to put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” 

What is the earthly nature?  Paul is using figurative language here.  If you’re looking at the language he wrote it, he literally says, “Put to death the members which are upon the earth.”  What members is he talking about?  He describes the members that we, as people who are desiring to look more and more like Jesus and to have our hearts in line with his heart, are commanded to put to death. They are actions of the earthly nature, actions of the sinful nature.  They are actions or attitudes that are not in line with the heart and character of God.  Therefore we put them to death!  How do we kill them?  We stop doing them!  Cease them completely.  Essentially Paul is saying, “Christians, you people who have been risen with Christ so that you are no longer enslaved by your sinful earthly nature, stop sinning!”

Look at the list of the things that we are to stop doing.  It’s pretty specific.  “Sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”  Paul says those actions are members of the earthly sinful nature.  Put them all to death.  Cease them completely. 

Notice these sins, these actions and attitudes of the earthly nature that Paul tells us to put to death, all are self-focused.  Consider how different they are from the way of Jesus, which is very “other” focused.  He shifted his life and sacrificed heaven for others, for us.  He washed the feet of the disciples, asking them to follow his example in being other focused.  Jesus tells us one of the greatest things we can do is to love our neighbor.

So when Paul says “put these things to death,” he is grounding his teaching in the selflessness of Jesus, who once taught, “If you want to be my disciples, you must die to your self.” That’s how serious Paul says Christians are to consider this command to stop doing these sinful things.  Let’s look at each of the actions on the list. 

First, he describes three actions or attitudes related to sexuality.  Paul is not leaving any room for confusion.  No loopholes.  He is talking about sinful sexual thoughts, sinful sexual actions, and the general sinful state of sexual sin.  Christians should stop participating in sexual immorality.  Again, considering God’s heart, Paul is responding to an area, sexuality, that is often rooted in deep selfishness, in actions of not loving another selflessly, which is what Jesus did on earth and what he calls us to.

When Paul lists sexual immorality, he is saying that God’s way, the Kingdom way, is to not involve ourselves in sexuality immorality of any kind.  God’s design is for sexual expression to take place only in marriage between one man and one woman in a loving, committed relationship.  That is not me talking, and that is not a political statement.  That is God’s design and desire, for our good, and for the flourishing of society.  So when Paul says that Christians must cease any immoral sexual activity or thought, Paul is communicating that God-given desire.

Now at this point some of you might be thinking, “That is so antiquated and wrong. How can you maintain those repressive fundamentalistic teachings?” I’d be glad to talk further about that. Feel free to comment below. I’m not trying to hurt anyone. I’m simply trying to present the message Paul wrote as it is because I believe it is God’s best for all people.

I suspect, however, that a majority of my readers might be thinking,“Yes!  I agree!  Our society is so sexually immoral, and we need to clearly proclaim this!  Preach it, brother!” 

Fair warning. You might not be so happy when we take a look at what is next on Paul’s list.  Check back in tomorrow to find out!

Prince Philip’s Surprising Choice For His Hearse – Colossians 3:5-11, Part 1

Queen sits alone at funeral for Prince Philip to set example

Did you watch the funeral of Prince Philip who recently passed? Or maybe you saw highlights or pictures on the news.  Did you notice that his coffin was transported in a plain old green Land Rover Defender pick-up truck?  Defenders are mode of Land Rovers that look kind of like Jeeps.  You rarely see Defenders here in the USA. 

When I saw that the casket of the long-time husband of the Queens was being transported in a Defender pick-up truck, I thought, that is a very unique, decidedly non-royal, choice. It was reported that it was Philip’s request to use the truck, an 18 year old vehicle that he owned, rather than a hearse, because of his love for Land Rovers and his love for the military, as Land Rover Defenders have long been the iconic military vehicle of the British armed forces, of which Philip was a member.  Philip’s choice jumped out at me right away, not just because it is so uncharacteristic for a royal.  When we were missionaries in Jamaica, because it was a former British colony, there were Land Rover Defenders all over the place, and they really grew on me.  During that year in Kingston, Jamaica, I looked into buying an old beat-up Defender for sale.  These feelings still rise up inside me when I see one of those on the road.  Longing.  Desire.  Coveting.  I want one! 

It might not be for Land Rover Defenders, but maybe you know the feeling of longing, of desire.  Wanting something that isn’t yours, something you don’t need, or that you can’t have.  Or maybe there are other thoughts or feelings that bubble up from deep inside you?

As our hearts become more like the heart of Jesus then our thoughts and actions will naturally be more and like his.  But did you ever notice how things come into your mind or out of your mouth that aren’t like Jesus?  Have your ever balled your hands into fists to hit? Ever notice how your eyes wander?  Or that your neck cranes to look at what is not yours? Or that your fingers tap away, in the process of taking you online to places you should not go? 

What we do about this?  Sometimes these feelings and desires can be strong. As we continue studying the letter of Colossians, we’ll find here is hope and there is help!  Turn to Colossians 3:5-11. 

Before we read the passage, notice how Paul starts verse 5. Paul has a flow of thought, which we know by his use of the word “therefore.”  What he said before provides the rationale for what he is about to say now.  What did he say before?  Last week we studied verses 1-4, and we saw Paul talk about how, as people who love Jesus, we are people who are raised with Christ, and therefore we focus our hearts and minds on things above.  Paul was talking about developing a longing for and mindset focused on the mission of the Kingdom of God. 

Now in verses 5-11 he is going to give us practical guidance to help us have that Kingdom mindset.  Actually, verses 5-11 are part one and verses 12-17 are part two.  Those two parts are very easy to remember, as they feature a common metaphor.  Clothing.  Part one, verses 5-11, is “take off dirty clothes,” and Part two, verses 12-17 is “put on clean clothes”.

We also see how the clothing metaphor connects to what Paul wrote in chapter two, because there Paul said that what being raised with Christ means for a Christian is victory over sin on two levels.  The first level is the eternal level.  Victory over sin, because Jesus’ defeated sin, death and the devil when he died on the cross and rose to new life, means we have hope of eternal life, freedom from sin’s final consequences.  But that is not all there is to victory in Jesus.  The second level affects the here and now.  We also have the wonderful privilege of experiencing victory over sin in our lives now.  Setting our hearts and minds on things above is not only the hope of eternal life in heaven but also an active seeking and focusing on living a Kingdom-focused life now. How do we do that?  We take off the dirty clothes and we put on the clean clothes!  But what does that mean?  Laundry? 

Go ahead and read the passage, and then check back in to the next post, and we’ll start to discuss what Paul has to say.

How often should you wash your jeans? – Colossians 3:5-11, Preview

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How long do you typically wear a pair of jeans before you wash them?  Unless I get them sweaty or so dirty they are unpresentable, I will wear a pair of jeans for multiple days because I want to preserve water as well as avoid wear and tear on the denim.  But after a couple days, natural skin oils leave my jeans feeling grimy. Also the normal motion of my daily activity stretches them out, and they feel too loose to my liking.  For me, the sweet spot is three days, but no more than that.  After day three, the jeans go in the dirty laundry bin.  How about you?  Are you a single-use person?  Maybe two days?  How many days do wear them?

Believe it or not, the CEO of Levis, Chip Bergh, said that you should never wash a pair of jeans.  He meant it, claiming that he does not ever wash his jeans.  Washing them, he said, does damage to the denim.  Instead he spots cleans with a toothbrush, as needed.  How do you feel about that?

I love the feeling of newly-washed jeans, either crisp from being line dried, or softer from the dryer.  Admittedly, Mr. Bergh is right; over time, washing jeans will fade their fabric.  Mine always thin in the knees, inevitably leading to holes.  But I can’t imagine never washing my jeans.  Wouldn’t they start to stink?  They would!  Anti-washers have solutions for that.  Put your jeans in the freezer overnight to kill the bacteria creating the odor, or hang them out in the sunlight, or spray them with a deodorizer.  Again, I ask, how do you feel about that?

I’m talking about laundry because over the next two weeks, in our sermon series through Colossians, the writer of the New Testament letter of Colossians, the Apostle Paul, talks about laundry.  This coming week we’ll study part 1, taking off the dirty clothes, and the following week, part 2, will be about putting clean clothes on. 

When it comes to the kind of laundry Paul is talking about, it seems he would differ from the CEO of Levis.  But what kind of laundry is Paul talking about?  Check out Colossians 3:5-11 ahead of time, then I look forward to discussing this with you on the blog next week.

Two essential habits for Christians – Colossians 3:1-4, Part 5

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How do you practice following Jesus? What are the essentials? This post is the conclusion to this week’s five-part series through Colossians 3:1-4, which started here, and we will reflect on two essential habits for Christians.

Paul wraps up his teaching in Colossians 3:1-4, with what he writes in verse 4: “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” 

Here he gives a nod to that future day when his followers will go to heaven.  He wants the people to clearly understand that, while they are commanded to live the heavenly life now, even though now they are on earth, there will be a day in the future when they go to heaven.  But notice what Paul embeds in that vision of the future.  He calls Jesus, “Christ, who is your life,” or “Christ who is our life.” 

Jesus is our life.  Our old earthly, self-focused life is dead, Paul wrote in verse 3.  Jesus who is alive is now our life.  He is our energy, our power, our sustaining force, by his Holy Spirit who lives in us. 

You might think, “Ok, this is all well and good, Joel. I believe that Jesus won the victory over sin, death and the devil, and I believe he lives in me through his Spirit. I also believe he wants to empower me to have victory over sin, over the old earthly, self-focused way of life. But I still struggle with thinking and living the heavenly or kingdom way.  I can often still have that earthly focus.  It doesn’t seem to me that the old self-focused earthly way is dead.  Not even close.” 

I struggle with that too. 

Paul is not saying, “Christians, it is now impossible for you to sin, it is now impossible for you to think about the old selfish earthly way.”  Paul is writing this section, and what we study over the next few weeks, because he knows how difficult the struggle can be.  That’s what the Colossians were dealing with, an ongoing struggle to put to death the earthly way and focus on the Kingdom.  And that is what you and I often struggle with.

It is a tricky reality, isn’t it? We believe it is 100% true that Jesus defeated sin, death and the devil, and we are free from that old way.  It no longer enslaves us.  But we can still give the earthly focus sway over our lives, and in fact we can often be willing participants in that old way, even when it leads to destructiveness in our lives and in the lives of those around us! 

The response, then, Paul writes, is for Christians to set our hearts and minds on things above.  We must choose to obey that command.  How do you do that though? 

When I am setting my mind on the longing to run a marathon, I rework my days so that I have time to make all the training runs, I buy new running shoes, I get a plan on my phone that guides my training.  I sacrifice other things to make time for the goal and the longing that I’ve set my mind on. The things we choose to set our minds on will show up in our habits and in our priorities, and that is when life-changes will begin to happen. So when it comes to setting our hearts and minds on things above, what exactly are we are commanded to do?

As we think about making a practical application by obeying the commands, it is important to note that the commands in verse 1 and verse 2 are slightly different from one another.  In the New International Version, which I have been quoting from in this five-part blog series on Colossians 3:1-4, both of the commands are translated with the same word, “set.”  See that in verses 1 and 2: “set your hearts on things above,” and “set your minds on things above.”  Those are the two commands in this passage.  Let’s look at them a bit more closely, because they are actually two different words.

First, the word “set” in verse 1 is better translated “seek,” and it means “to desire to have or experience something, with the probable implication of making an attempt to realize one’s desire.”[1]  Notice that this is an active word.  It involves a heart that seeks the things of God. This is the first essential habit. Actively seek the things of God with your life.

Next, the word in verse 2 fits with Paul’s subject, the mind.  The word means “to keep on giving serious consideration to something—‘to ponder, to let one’s mind dwell on, to keep thinking about, to fix one’s attention on’.”[2]  It is also very active.  It is to use one’s mind in an active way to seek the Lord. This is the second essential habit.

These habits are imperatives, commands. Seek with your heart. Ponder with your mind. We are being told by Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that these are two actions that we Christians need to do.  They are essential habits we should practice. What we know about God is that if he is telling us something that we need to do, it is for our very best.  He loves us, he wants the very best for us, he’s a good God.  When he commands us to set our hearts and minds on things above, it is the best possible thing we can do.  It will be for our good. 

Again, let me ask, “What ideas, goals or longings have you set your hearts and minds on?  What perspective takes up space in your heart and your thinking?” 

Given what Paul wrote in Colossians 3:1-4, I also want to ask you, “What steps and sacrifices do you need to take to have more of your heart and mind set on the things of God?  What specific actions will help you focus your longings more on him, for his ways to be your foundation, your rock?” 

Therefore, when circumstances and troubles of life come your way, when you have to make difficult choices, it will be easier to know what’s right, to remember that you are standing IN Christ.  You won’t need to be on the hunt for where he is; you will know that are IN Christ.  He is with us.  And we are with him.

Furthermore, as you evaluate your longings, I’m not saying that everything our culture says is important is automatically evil.  It is not wrong to want a sports team to win, or to want to enjoy retirement, or to want to spend a week at the beach, or for the struggles in our country to be solved. 

None of these things are bad things desires or longings.  But are they what your heart is set on?  What things do you turn to for security?  If some of those goals, hopes and dreams don’t happen, are your foundations shaken?  Or is your mind set on things above? Meaning that you can feel upset about circumstances and about difficult things, but your world is not rocked.  You have stability because your mind is set on the truth of who God is and who you are in Him.

So seek with your heart, and ponder with your mind. Actually make a list of practical actions you can do to follow through in each of those areas. Schedule them in your calendar, and then keep them as you would any appointment. I would recommend that you read Emotionally Healthy Discipleship by Peter Scazzero, as he writes about this even further. Another resource I recommend is The Deeply Formed Life by Rich Villodas. Read the with a group of friends. Hold one another accountable to follow through with changes you want to make.

[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 289.

[2] Ibid, 351.

How to overcome “Some people never change” – Colossians 3:1-4, Part 4

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“They will never change.”

Have you ever said that? Maybe you thought it? Or maybe it was declared about you. Is it true that people never change? Perhaps it has been true for some people. But for the vast majority, change is always happening in our lives, even if incrementally.

As we have been studying in Colossians 3:1-4, starting here, God wants us to focus above, and the result will be change in our lives.

The change that God wants to work in our lives, first of all, is not entirely dependent on us. The proof for this Paul writes in Colossians 3, verse 3, is that “You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”  The earthly way is dead.  That self-focused way is dead. 

Do you find that harsh?  It is pretty severe.  Death!  The old way is gone.  Now your life is hidden with Christ in God.  That’s a wild statement.  Do you feel like that?  Do you feel that your life is hidden with Christ in God?  Many Christians do not feel that. What does Paul mean?

When I think about that image, what comes to mind is a picture of a child who is hiding in the flowing folds of their mother’s dress.  The child is maybe two or three years old, just a couple feet tall, hugging their mother’s legs. As the mom talks to other adults, the child grabs the dress and wraps it around them, hiding from the world, safe in their mother’s presence.

What Paul is saying is that our earthly way of thinking and living is dead, and we have been folded up into the life of Jesus.  We are hidden. Not gone.  But hidden, and when people see us, they see Jesus.  He is visible through us, through the new life we live we display Jesus to the world.  Our way of thinking and living has been transformed so that people see not the old earthly way flowing from us, but the new heavenly way.

But God does not change us against our will. While he has made it possible for us to change, he then invites us to join him in the transformative process.

Are you striving to join Jesus in your own transformation? One way to answer that question is to look at what you value in life. Jesus himself once taught: “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.”  What he meant was that our treasures show whether or not our heart is focused on the things of God, on this new life we have in him.  

Paul is saying basically the same thing in Colossians 3.  Christians, you are utterly different.  You have been changed by Jesus, and you also participate in advancing the change. It shows by how you think, how you talk, how you spend your time and your money, how you treat your friends, how you treat your family, how you work as an employee, how you are as a student, or as an athlete.  Our hearts and minds are to be set on the things of the Kingdom of God. We are IN Christ.  And by his Holy Spirit, he is IN us.  Let us show that to the world.  Allow the actions of the Spirit to flow out of you: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, self-control.  See people like God sees people, made in his image, loved, valuable. 

You might think, “I want that for myself. That outflow of the Fruit of the Spirit sounds wonderful, but I don’t know how to nurture that in my life.”

Consider, then, how the Christian philosopher and writer, Dallas Willard, started each day, slowly praying the Lord’s Prayer, phrase by phrase, dwelling on each phrase.  What a great practice.  Imagine what God could do in your life when your practice a sustained, consistent habit of starting every day with the prayer, “Your Kingdom come in my life, Lord, your will be done in my life, on earth as it is in heaven.”

In one of Michelle’s monthly meetings with her spiritual director, they talked about a similar prayer that she posted on our fridge: “God May I be aware and see you.  May I listen and hear you.  Help me to know you more.  May I think act on all I’ve seen and heard from you and come to know of you.”

Here’s a practical suggestion for you: either use the Lord’s Prayer or write your own prayer to help you focus on God’s Kingdom.  Consider writing that on a post-it and putting it on your bathroom mirror, and praying it each morning. 

When that kind of prayer fills your thinking, the earthly way, the society around you, the culture around you no longer informs you, no longer providing the false measure of success, the false measure of joy, the false measure of life.  Instead, the new heavenly way informs and guides you!

What my pandemic weight gain taught me about my thinking – Colossians 3:1-4, Part 3

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During the Covid pandemic that reached the USA in 2020, and is still going strong now in 2021, we’ve heard talk of pandemic weight gain.  People have been sitting at home a lot more, sedentary. We don’t have a scale in our house, but I was at the doctor for a checkup in December 2020 and I noticed I was five pounds heavier.  Then in March 2021 I was back for a follow-up, and there were five more pounds on the scale.  That will happen when you indulge, especially in sugary foods and drinks. 

And indulge I did. I mention this because I believe it will help us understand what Paul is teaching in Colossians 3:1-4. In the previous post, we learned how he instructed us to set our hearts on things above.

Notice how Paul continues this thought in verse 2, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”  Here Paul is making what could be a confusing distinction.  It could sound like he is saying, “Don’t focus on life on earth.  Focus only on heaven.”  Instead Paul is trying to show us that there is an earthly way of thinking and living in the here and now, and there is a kingdom or heavenly way of thinking and living in the here and now.  This he describes with the word “above” in both verses 1 and 2. 

We are to be focused above, on the Kingdom of God, while we live in the here and now.  That is a Kingdom way of thinking.  It is looking at every part of our lives from the perspective of God’s Kingdom mission. 

An earthly way of thinking is vastly different from a Kingdom way of thinking.  An earthly way of thinking looks at life from an earthly perspective, and not from God’s perspective.  An earthly way of thinking is focused on what earthly culture and society says is valuable and important, which often results in an indulgence of our self-focused desires. 

Remember my question in the first post of this five-part series: what authority do we use to help us evaluate life?  Well, our society, our culture, the earthly way of thinking, is quite eager to be our authority.  It could be a political idea.  It could be the media that wants you to tune it to its various offerings, or it could be a company that wants to sell you its products. All of them are desperate to make money off you, in the guise of offering you the good life.  The earthly way of thinking says that our ultimate satisfaction, our ultimate comfort, our ultimate peace, and the best way of human life is found an self-focused way of life.

As a result, we often indulge in the things of this earth…and we gain ten pounds. 

Imagine feeding your longings in every area of your life.  Society and culture, oftentimes very subtly tells us that if we indulge, we will feel amazing.  What this indulgence leads us to is a self-focus.  We learn to be selfish in our relationships.  Selfish with our money, our time.  You won’t just gain ten pounds.  You might gain a lot more than ten, especially over time, but worse, you will likely face broken relationships, perhaps financial and health problems as well. Carried out over thousands and millions of people, it is clear how indulging our longings leads to a society that is degraded. 

What I am talking about is an earthly way of thinking, as if all there is to life is an earthbound existence of survival of the fittest.  Instead, Paul says that Christians should focus our hearts and our minds above. We fix our thinking, our choices, all of our longings and goals, on the principles and the mission of the Kingdom of God. 

But how? Check back in to the next post, as I hope to share some practical suggestions in the final two posts in this series.

Why we need to evaluate our longings – Colossians 3:1-4, Part 2

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Recently I got a notice that a person wanted to send a message to the church through our Instagram account’s messaging system.  I’m always a bit suspicious about requests from random people, but the message had me curious.  The person asked, “Can I ask a biblical question here?” 

Yes.  Yes, you can!  They asked a question that relates to what we’re talking about today.  Here’s the question: “If the Bible does not address a topic, and a Christian chooses to make a decision every day for the rest of their life that they believe is not a sin, but it turns out it is a sin in the eyes of God, will they be forgiven and will they go to heaven?” 

You get that?  Basically the question was, “Will I always know if I am sinning?”  The ramifications are serious.  What if we genuinely do not know that a certain action is a sin, and therefore we do it all time thinking we’re in the clear, only to end up standing before God after we die, and we hear him say, “That thing you did all the time?  That was sin.”  You can see why the person asked their question! 

So my answer to the person was that the Bible is clear about what is sin.  Sin is anything that is not in line with God’s heart and character.  I don’t need to list out every single sin for you to understand what is sin and what is not sin.  If you are wondering if something is a sin, compare and contrast that action with the heart and character of God.  Is there alignment?  Is there dissonance? 

It seems to me that identifying most sins is fairly obvious.  I don’t need to spend time deliberating and praying about whether or not I should steal or lie or cheat or lust and a great many other actions.  Those sins also obviously go against his heart and character. Also, God has already clearly told us that those actions are wrong, and we know that because he has communicated this to us through the writers of the various books of the Bible.  It is the “gray area” sins that have Christians disagreeing with one another and confused.  I’ve written here and here about how to think about “gray area” sins. This week, though, we’re studying Colossians 3:1-4 (starting here), and those gray areas are not the focus of the passage.  Instead, as we saw in the previous post, we have been raised with Christ, and that means we have been set free from sin!

What Paul writes in our passage today are some imperatives that are so important for us to consider so that we can experience Jesus’ resurrection power in our lives because we have been raised with Christ, and thus we can have victory over sin, not only in its final consequences, but also in the here and now. 

I used the word “imperatives” in the previous sentence.  That was on purpose.  In the language Paul wrote, an ancient form of Greek, the verbs had some additional tenses to show what kind of action the author intends.  The imperative tense is the command tense.  Paul is issuing commands here, inspired by the Holy Spirit as he writes.  That means we Christians are bound by God to obey these commands. 

What are the commands?  Paul gives us the first command in verse 1: “Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”  Do you notice the command in that sentence?  In the New International Version, as with most English Bibles, you don’t see the command because English doesn’t have a command tense. We must add it in like this: “I command you, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: set your hearts on things above.”

Let’s get all of verse 1 in view: because we have been raised with Christ (which we discussed in the previous post here), we are commanded to set our hearts on things above.  Because we have been set free from slavery to sin, we are to have a new focus above.  In other words, if we want to experience resurrection power in our lives, we will set our hearts on things above. 

What does it mean to set our hearts on things above?

When Paul mentions our hearts, he is referring to our affections, our will, our inner desires.  Our longings should be set on things above. 

What do you long for?  What direction are your goals set towards? Do you long for Covid to be done?  Health?  Financial security?  Getting your Driver’s License?  Graduation?  Lunch today? 

The Phillies have had a decent start.  When I type this, they are in second place in the NL East.  Maybe you long for your favorite sports team to make it back to the playoffs this year.  I’m a Phillies fan, and it has been a looooooong time since their nice run of years in the 2000s. 

What do you long for?  

None of those longings I mentioned above are inherently wrong things to long for.  In fact, they might be good!  But Paul helps us see the forest for the trees.  He helps us have a wider view, so that we can evaluate our longings.  Paul says that we should long for what he calls, “things above.”

What are the things above? Paul writes that whatever “things above” refers to, it has some kind of connection to the place “where Jesus is seated at the right hand of God.”  Where is that?  It sounds like a throne room in the palace of God, doesn’t it?  At the very least, that’s heaven he’s talking about.

But Paul is not simply talking about a longing to go to heaven.  It is not wrong to want to go to heaven.  That is a wonderful hope that we Christians have.  But that is not all that he’s talking about here.  How do we know this?

What Paul is talking about is very much like what Jesus prayed in the Lord’s prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  The Kingdom of God, Jesus taught in that prayer, is more than just the heavenly place in the spiritual realm where God lives.  The Kingdom of God, Jesus prayed, is something that can have an impact here and now as well as in the future in heaven.  In other words, God desires his rule and reign to increase and spread throughout our world now.  So it makes a whole lot of sense here in Colossians 3:1 to understand Paul as saying that we should have our longings and our affections focused on the Kingdom of God.  Of course, we can have a joyful grateful hope of eternal life in heaven, but we must also set our hearts on experiencing Kingdom life now.

Have you heard the phrase, “That person is so heavenly-minded, they are of no earthly good.”  A person can fixate on heaven, so that they do not give an appropriate Kingdom-minded attention to their life now. What does it mean to live a life such that we long for God’s Kingdom not only in a future in heaven, but also “on earth as it is in heaven”? Check back in to tomorrow’s post, as we’ll see if Paul writes anything further to help us answer this question.

How to evaluate the headlines – Colossians 3:1-4, Part 1

Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

It has been quite a week in our country.  The trial of Derek Chauvin.  Police shootings of people of color.  Racial protests.  Mass shootings.  A removal of our troops from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years.  And of course…Covid. On the one hand, more and more people are getting the Covid vaccines, while on the other hand Covid infections are on the rise in some places.  Furthermore, we are being told that we might need an annual Covid booster?  I could go on and on listing the headlines. But I’m not writing this post to review the headlines.  Instead, I want us to step back and evaluate how we think and feel about the headlines. 

What system do you use to evaluate the things that you see on the news or the things that go on in your life?  Is there a source of authority that you can bounce things off of?  What is that source of authority?  How do you decide what is true, what is false, what is right, what is wrong?  Do you have the answer in your mind? 

I’ve heard some people answer, “My intuition. I just have a sense about things.”  Similarly some people say, “My feelings, what seems right to me.”  Others say, “Common sense.  People just need to use common sense!”  Some people answer, “A certain media personality, politician, author or celebrity.  They just have a knack for hitting the nail on the head.”  Some people answer, “A friend, a family member. I know I can trust them.  They are wise.”  In some countries and cultures, it is the perspective of the elders.  What they say goes.  Then of course there is the spiritual answer, “The Bible.  I base my life on God’s Word.”  Or better yet, “The Pastor.  You all just automatically go with what I say, right?”  Uh…no.  What is your source of authority? 

Turn to Colossians 3:1-4.  As you turn there, remember that Paul is writing a letter to what would have been a house church, or maybe a group of house churches, in the ancient Roman city of Colosse.  He has heard some troubling news about false teachers trying to influence the Christians, and he writes this letter in response. Do you see what that means? Those ancient Christians had a very similar situation as what we face today, the confusion about what is our source of authority, about what is true.  Paul has some specific instruction for those Christians to help them evaluate what to believe, and by studying his letter, we can learn important principles to help us evaluate our world too. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to pause reading this post and read Colossians 3:1-4.

This week on the blog, we’re going to slowly walk step by step through Paul’s logic in these four verses, and what we’ll find is a powerful principle to follow if we want to learn what authority we can use to evaluate our world.

In verse 1, do you see how Paul is describing Christians?  Paul says Christians are people who have been raised with Christ.  This is such an important thought!  Why?  Why is it so important that we identify ourselves as people that have been raised with Christ?  To try to answer that we first need to understand what “raised with Christ” means. 

To understand what “raised with Christ” means, take notice that Paul does not say, “One day in the future you will be raised with Christ.”  Of course in 1 Corinthians 15, which we studied just a few weeks ago for Easter, Paul does talk about the future resurrection of our earthly bodies, that day when our dead earthly bodies will be raised and made alive into new spiritual bodies.  On that day we will experience in our bodies what Jesus experienced in his body.  So Jesus’ resurrection does give us a future hope. 

But that is not what Paul is talking about here in Colossians 3:1.  He says, “you have been raised.”  If you are a true Christian, you were already raised with Christ.  Somehow or another, you have already in the past experienced resurrection.  But how?  Do you feel like you have experienced resurrection in your life?  You never died, so how can you come back to life? 

When Paul says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ,” he calls our attention back to what he wrote in chapter 2, verse 12.  There he said that we were “buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”  Baptism symbolizes the death and resurrection of Jesus.  In baptism, we are identifying with and linking ourselves somehow to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Let’s continue reading what Paul says in chapter 2, verses 13-15, because it is that passage Paul will, in chapter 3, explain more fully. Read chapter 2, verses 13-15.

In those verses, Paul is saying is that Jesus’ death and resurrection has made it possible for us to be set free from slavery to and final consequences of sin.  Jesus won the victory through his death and resurrection, and therefore, when we believe in him and give our lives to truly follow him, we experience the power of his resurrection now.  Being raised with him means that we are set free from the sin nature now.  We can stand in his victory now. 

You might think, “That sounds nice, but I don’t feel like I have been raised with him.  I don’t feel resurrection power working in my life.  I definitely still struggle with sin.”  If you think that, you are not alone.  I suspect we all think that, to some degree. 

I’m not trying to make you feel bad about yourself, but just take a moment, reflect back over the last week, and make a mental note of the times that you sinned.  Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t have to look back over the last week…I just need to go back into the past hour!”  We can feel a lot of guilt about how much we still struggle, wondering, “Where is this resurrection power in my life?” 

Our daily hour by hour reality is that, though we are set free from sin, though Jesus won the victory over sin, we still struggle with sin!  I think Paul knows this.  I think that’s why he decides to go in the direction he goes in chapter 3.  He wants the Christians and us to not only know that we have been raised with Christ, but to experience that resurrection power over sin in our lives.

Check back in to the next post as we explore this further! 

Autostereograms and learning to focus on God – Colossians 3:1-4, Preview

Have you heard of autostereograms?  If you are a child or teen of the 1990s, you are likely quite familiar with autostereograms, but maybe you don’t know them by that name.  Let’s see if you recognize them when I give you the name of the most famous commercialized version of autostereograms: Magic Eye pictures.  Now do you know what I’m talking about?  In the 1990s these 3D computer-generated images were so popular that Magic Eye books were on the New York Times bestseller lists for a combined 73 weeks.  All these years later, they have a website!

Magic Eye pictures are actually random dot autostereograms, three-dimensional pictures on two-dimensional surfaces, created by artists using computer-generated imaging. Look at the example below.  It looks like a pattern of colorful dots, but there is actually a 3D image of a shark as well.  Can you see it? 

I promise you…it’s there.  I made sure of it!  It might help to enlarge the picture to full screen.

I remember looking at these images when they first became popular in the 1990s, agonizing as I failed to find whatever 3D image was supposed to be hidden in plain sight.  Maybe you’re feeling like that as you look for the shark in the picture above!  I would cross my eyes.  I would stare.  I would look up, down and all around.  I would try putting the picture closer to my eyes, then farther away. I would tilt it every which way. What did I see? Nothing but those colorful dots.  There was no 3D image!  Was this all just a grand prank?  It was exceedingly frustrating.

The instructions in the books said you had to look “behind” the image, whatever that meant.  I tried and I tried, and then one day, all of a sudden, there it was!  A 3D image appeared as if by magic.

When I say, “all of a sudden,” and add that with the word “magic,” it gives the impression that the ability to see the hidden image is not something that we can control.  But that is entirely not true.  In fact, the trick to seeing the 3D image in these autostereograms is all about focus.  Once you learn to focus your eyes “behind” the image, you will see the 3D picture quite easily.  When it comes to Magic Eye pictures, there is nothing magical about it.  Focus is everything.  More specifically, learning to focus the right way is everything.

The same can be said for being a disciple of Jesus.  Learning to focus on Jesus is everything.  Just like Magic Eye pictures, if we want to see Jesus properly, we have to focus on the right thing, in the right way.  Also like Magic Eye pictures, learning to have the right kind of focus can be difficult, especially as we live in a world that draws our focus elsewhere. 

As we resume our series through Colossians, we’re going to be talking about how to focus on Jesus in the middle of our sometimes busy and confusing lives.  It is possible to focus on Jesus, and when you learn to do so, what you will see is amazing.  Check out Colossians 3:1-4 ahead of time, then next week talk about it further!

Why I believe Jesus’ resurrection is not only true, but matters – Easter 2021, Part 5

Photo by Ann on Unsplash

So is the resurrection truly true?

If you want a scientific answer, with insurmountable proof, I’m sorry but I’m not able to give that.  I hope you heard in the previous post some strong evidence for the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. People who had very good reason to kill the Christian movement only had to produce a body, and they didn’t. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul wrote that there were many people still alive who saw the risen Jesus at the time Paul wrote the letter. Furthermore, some of those people who claimed to be eyewitnesses both of Jesus’ death and resurrection gave their lives for his cause. They died specifically due to their commitment to spread the news far and wide that this actually happened. How likely would it be for people to die for what they knew was a lie? While it does happen, I find it quite unlikely or rare. In early Christianity, it was extremely prevalent.

What I write here, then, is evidence that Jesus’ resurrection is true.

But do I have scientific proof? No. 

Instead we must place our faith in the resurrection.  As Paul said in Romans 10:9,10, “Believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead.”  If God is all-powerful, it’s not hard to envision the possibility that God could do this.  But it is still a matter of faith.  I’d also offer up for proof ways that I’ve seen a living and active God interacting in my life, and maybe you in your life.  He is real to me.  And, alive in my life. I would be glad to talk with you further about this.

I urge you to place your faith in Christ, that he died and rose again, and that in him we can all be made new.  Because of his death and resurrection for our sins, we can experience his abundant life now and eternal life in heaven. 

If Jesus really did rise from the dead, then hold on.  Stop everything.  Life cannot go on business as usual.  If Jesus really did rise from the dead, then Jesus is God.  He is the way, the truth and life, like he said he was.  He is a massively big deal.  We should give our lives to believe in him, follow him, and live for him.

Maybe you already believe in the resurrection. But I wonder if it has become ho-hum for you. When is the last time you’ve been in awe of the resurrection? Do you talk about it much? If it is true, like we say we believe it is true, then we Christians should be talking about it regularly.

So how about taking part in a social experiment this week with your family and friends, neighbors and co-workers.  Ask them what they think about Jesus’ resurrection.  First, do they believe it actually happened?  Or do they think it didn’t happen?  Second, ask them, if it did happen, what does it matter?  What is the significance of Jesus’ resurrection?  Does it matter only to Christians?  Or does it matter to everyone?