Theme Today Paul gets practical -- if we start thinking right about Christ, we will start living right for Christ -- from our hearts to our actions… life will never be the same and we will make all the melody that is our life bring praise to God by the grace of his powerful love.
The English language has some odd phrases that don’t necessarily make a lot of sense. I am going to try a few on you and see if you know what they mean.
“On the tip of my tongue” What does that mean? You know you know it but you just can’t quite pull it out of your head to say it – but it is sooo close). If someone says that, do you ask them to stick out their tongue so you can read the thing that is right there? No, because it is just an expression…
“Top of my head” What does that mean? You are giving an instant reaction or idea about something and you haven’t really thought about all the possibilities. It is a way of warning others that it is a gut reaction, and may not be what you think after you think it through.
But what if if you add “to the tips of my toes”? What does that mean? It means “all of me”. All of me is happy, All of me is sad, All of me is healthy… I’m giving all of myself to this idea.
“At my fingertips” What does that mean? If I say this one, it is usually said in the negative way. “I don’t have that at my fingertips right now” I can check my calendar, but I don’t have it here at my fingertips on my phone right now, I’ll have to go to get it…
This one is closely related: “On hand” or “At hand”. I was in a store yesterday and they had to go in the back to see if the product was in the store. He could have said, “Let me check to see if we have that on hand”, or at hand, some people use either phrase but at hand is more of a near or soon, close by. Jesus used this one when he started his ministry. He said the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It means heaven (and what it was all about -- what is good and what isn’t) is right here now or right nearby or about to be here. Jesus came from heaven -- and the truths of heaven came with him. Sometimes we think more like God and Jesus and the Spirit are in heaven way up there beyond the cloudy sky, and we are way down here on earth, and faith is about thinking about things way up there. But Jesus says it is at hand -- it is here, with us even now. And we are to think about heaven and what God thinks is important right down here right now. So, I have a couple questions. Off the top of your head, could you say that Jesus is always at our fingertips? (Yes). And from the tip of your tongue, would you say that we should live with him from the top or your heads to the tips of your toes? (Yes).
Bible Text Colossians 3:1-12
3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (NIV)
Hymn # 701 When We All Get to Heaven
Message “Dead and Renewed” Colossians 3:1-12
And so, thinking about heaven, Paul begins the text today: Since, then, you have been raised -- and from the context of the passage that means – raised from being dead in sin and made fully alive) with Christ, set your hearts and minds on things above and not on earthly things.
I saw a drawing. Compared to the surrounding, there was a dis-proportionately large man who was kneeling on the street. His head above the clouds, he felt the sun and felt peaceful serenity as he meditated on all those things shining on his face; while below the clouds, down by his knees -- to the left were tanks and soldiers and bombs and wars; and to the right of his knees were household disputes and murders and a house fire and a tornado, a wrecked car, a cop running with gun pointed, an air plane spiraling into the earth. More going on to his right than his left, but all this chaos going on down there on the world, and this man is paying no attention to it because our head is above the clouds. It was an artful way of critiquing those who are (to use another one of those phrases) “so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.”
Or another way to look at it is when we see people wearing headphones or studying their cell phones. They are standing right in front of you; but they are connected to a totally different world.
This is NOT what Paul means and is not what he is hoping for by his words, “Since then you have been raised with Christ, put your hearts and minds on things above.” That is not what he means. What he is saying is that as Christians living in this world we will live our lives from a different set of values, but we will be totally engaged in this world. But the material things of this world are not the only things that matter. Our determination of right is not guided by what is around us, by what is popular, or powerful, or wealthy, or beautiful on the surface, and not even necessarily what seems to be personally beneficial; but is guided by God’s love for all people, and what is good for all people. Paul will illustrate what that looks like a little later. But the reason we do this is because we died to sinful self-centeredness and now our lives are hidden in Christ – which could mean hidden away as in secure, our lives are secure in Christ; or it could mean we are in this progression, we don’t even know what this looks like yet, but someday it is going to be clear to us when Christ appears.
Christ, who is our very life, will come. We hear that phrase a lot too, don’t we? Sports is his life, music is her life, work is his life, tv is her life. Paul says, if we are Christian, then Christ is our life. He is our peak priority, the height of our devotion, the crown of our commitment and our energy; as we live for Him, he lives in us and enlivens us to trek through this life on earth in an effective and meaningful way. So, Paul’s intent when he says these words at the beginning of Colossians 3 is that when we are truly heavenly minded, we will be doing the world a lot of good – doing what is truly good for His world.
To do that, we need to put away the values that do not leave a positive influence on our world and on other people. We put away those things that oppose the good of God and his world. We must treat in us this tendency to sin like a fish seller treats a fish. It stinks. It's dead, and it's only good when it is off our hands... (out of our hearts).
Paul then lists, subheadings of two major areas that the Colossians are struggling with, and I bet a bunch of us are too. The first list fleshes out examples of distorted desires, and the second gives examples of unhealthy anger. This week I’ll deal with the first one, and when we resume Colossians, we’ll deal with the second.
We need to be clear. Desires are God-given; and designed for both our survival and our enjoyment. For examples: One of the things we need to do is survive is eat. God built within our natural instinctive systems a desire to eat and he has built into that system a reward of enjoying the idea of eating. That is why so many of us love to eat. God designed the desire for relationships with people, to propagate the race; and to unite with each other, and the reward of that is the pleasure of intimacy. God designed in us an innate desire for beauty and order; and it surrounds us wherever we look; and when we notice it; he rewards us with the pleasure of contentment. Have you ever stopped to notice and how well it smells, and then go on without thinking “Well that really is nice?” Without getting that good feeling about the smell of the rose? No, when you stop to enjoy it – you enjoy it! It is built into us.
There is nothing wrong with the pure joy of work, or pleasing others, or seeking financial security; and so many other desires. But -- the temptation is – in the delusion of finding something even better (ala Genesis 3 and the garden and the tree) – the temptation is to take God's natural joys of fulfilling pure desires, and the joy of having a productive and meaningful life – and to twist and distort those desires and destroy others and ourselves (that’s not our intent, but that is the result) when we try to twist these desires into something more than what they are made to be.
As Paul talks about the twisting of desires, he begins with specific outward acts; and moves inward to the attitudes that are at the root of those actions; and he ends the list with “greed which is idolatry” -- the worship of having more things or having people who do not belong to you. The frustration of greed is that while it may seem to satisfy in the short run; we soon find we need more and more and more to create even the same level of satisfaction -- ultimately, these twisted desires can be filled as easily as you can fill a cup that has no bottom.
Bill Hybels and John Ortberg talk about how we subtly move away from building our lives on the solid ground of pure pleasures that help us move along by the guidance of Christ, and how we move down a different path of seeking the shifting sands that twist desires into something artificial and temporary and selfish. Sometimes it is helpful to understand how we move along the wrong path so we will realize “Oh, I’m on the wrong path – I need to not do this anymore.” So let’s take a look at that list.
We begin with a natural God-given inner desire. The first step to straying from that and twisting it is the most critical step of them all. If you remember this one, you’ve got it.
To distort desires: 1) Quench the Spirit
The Spirit will always prompt us to lay our desires before Jesus. He will never encourage us to act on our desires in a way that is harmful to God, ourselves, or others. So, to go down the wrong road, the first thing we have to do is quench (stop listening to) the Spirit. You avoid listening to sermons or friends’ conversations on the topic of this path you are thinking about going down. We don’t connect the dots, we don’t apply the principles to our life; we leap frog Bible passages that talk about it, we don’t pray about it, we don’t meditate on the actions – because if we are going to stray, the first thing we need to do is to make space in our mind and life to ignore the convictions that God will give you. That is what allows us to follow the temptation.
To distort desires: 2) Hide it
That leads to a hiddenness. Now you’ve started to take the bait, you’ve started to quench the Spirit, you’re not listening so now you have a chance to do the wrong, but you still king of have a hunch it isn’t good, and so you do it out in front of everyone, “Oh yeah, I’m going to go do…” whatever it is. As Jesus says the one who does evil will ... not come into the light. They’ll keep it secret, in the dark. John Ortberg tells the story of his brother more of less like this: Mom controlled the cookie jar, they were not allowed to get cookies on their own. So, his brother went through this developmental stage where if you don't see, no one sees; and so he would go into the kitchen and cover his eyes (because if he couldn’t see, they wouldn’t see him doing this) so he would cover his eyes and he would go into the kitchen and stumble around, crashing into everything, feeling around for the cookie jar with his eyes closed. And in a sense it worked, because the parents were so amused by watching him crash his way through the kitchen that they let him have the cookies. He concludes that story by saying, I didn't like it, because I couldn't do that, and he was 17; which is a little too old to get away with stuff like that...
But the truth is, no matter how old we get, we do the same thing. We act as if God is not present and doesn't know what is going on; and He allows us to do it – not because it is amusing to him to watch us stumble around on these wrong paths, but because He wants us to freely love him and freely do what is right.
To distort desires: 3) Play with it
So, after trying to hide it from God and others, then we begin to dabble with the desire -- just to see if we will get the emotional spark we hoped for. When I was in Sunday School, I think it was during my college years – I’d come back for the summer. We had a unique Sunday School class, we all sat in a wide circle of chairs. We collected the Sunday School offering this way. We placed a big, foot tall, wide-mouthed pickle jar in the center of the circle of chairs, and then from our chairs we would take out our coins and try to flip them into the jar. So that is the way we collected our offering. Now one day, the Sunday School teacher was talking about this flirting or playing with sin. And he was talking about how, if the jar was the sin, we just get closer and closer to it, we just kind of play with it, throw things at it, and dabble with it. It is kind of like driving in the mountains. Do you hug the cliff side or do you hug the down side? Which way would you feel safer? Some people like to do daring stuff – they like to get real close to that jar… they keep playing with it and playing with it and playing with it, and see if it gives that emotional spark for us.
To distort desires: 4) Ethical violation
And then the next step, down this errant path is for us to start to cross those lines we used to know we shouldn't cross; but it seems we’ve gotten confused about it now. We do things we used to think were unthinkable in an effort to create a thrill. We push the envelope.
To distort desires: 5) Emotionally Connect
And the next step is that instead of running with the desire, the desire starts to run us. This is all a very gradual and subtle – because if it isn’t, we will wake up “Oh, I’m on the wrong path”, and we might repent and correct our direction. So it is all very subtle and gradual. Gently, oh so gently we let the distorted version of the desire consume our thoughts, our time, and our efforts. And we don’t even realize we have become dependent upon it and addicted to it.
To distort desires: 6) Decide it is OK
Eventually we come to a door. And if we go through that door -- nothing will ever be the same – we will violate our values, God’s values; and we’ve made it out in our head to be okay, but it isn’t; and it becomes a part of our lifestyle. And we discover that instead of dabbling with the jar, we are now in the jar and the lid gets closed and we are stuck, and we wonder how we ever got here. Depending upon the desire we are fulfilling, may also inflict massive pain on people we love, damaging relationships, launching ourselves into a period of unimaginable destructiveness, resulting not in the exciting joy that we started this journey to get -- but rather heartache, and wondering how we arrived here.
To distort desires: = Slavery -- dead
What it leads to, in a single word is slavery. Jesus: "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin." (John 8:34) We become slaves to the desires and are dead in our sins. What do we do now?
Well even beyond the door, we are not beyond God’s grace. We can turn around and begin walking back. And here are the steps that get us back --
Return by: 1) Open and honest prayer
Bring all desires that we have before God. It can be embarrassing, it can be shame filled feelings for us, but God already knows all this stuff anyway. So bring all things at all times to him in open and honest prayer. This is the opposite of quenching the Spirit. You hear some of the prayers of the Bible and we think, “How can they even pray like that?” Well, they aren’t saying it is an “appropriate” prayer, they are just being honest about how they feel. They are bringing it before God because it is when we bring it before God that he can being to work with us. If we keep it under the table, if we deny it, we aren’t going to let him work with us on it. But when we bring it out on the table before God, it allows us to start to work with these things. He begins to tug at our heart, and we being to feel his convictions again, and we begin to respond to his nudges. Pray what we really think and want, not just what we think he wants to hear. God will not be shocked or appalled by what we say. So, first, open and honest prayer, and then --
Return by: 2) Decide to honor God
-- decide to honor God. To not express (act out) desires in a way that does not honor him. Decide not to commit evil. Learn that it is possible to have an unfulfilled desire and we can survive. (It may not seem possible at first) but it gets easier -- Jackie talked about that in Children’s Time last week -- how repetition of consistently good choices leads to good habits until it gets to be easy and second nature to us. In fact, we’ll begin to realize that not only did we survive without that twisted desire, we are much better off, fulfilling it the proper way; better than we could have imagined.
Return by: 3) Project the cost
The third thing to help us get back on the right path is to project the future and the cost would be if we continued down this wrong path. If we go down the road that gives into a twisted desire, what will happen? And when we get to the end of that road, we’ll say "Why would we ever want to go that way?" What is the cost of going down the road of lust; or of manipulating others, or of whatever the natural desire we are tempted to twist.
Return by: 4) Fill your mind
And then fourth, fill your minds with thoughts other than the temptation. One of the problems we struggle with is that we are so consumed by the desire that that is all we think about and we define ourselves by it. And then it becomes a real struggle. But if we fill our lives with other things, with scripture, music, and prayer, so that desire is not dominating every thought, every moment of every day, then there won’t be so much struggle, because we are doing something else instead of it, or thinking about it. When we broaden our view, we find a new aliveness of life, for we are no longer defined by what we are struggling with. What was once a great battle (over time) becomes more and more natural and first nature to us. Dallas Willard (he’s a theologian) said that "One of the great signs of [spiritual] maturity are the thoughts [with which you were once obsessed] that they no longer occur to you." Mature discipleship is when it becomes easier and easier to do what Jesus would do in our situation, and it is not the struggle anymore. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen,
Returning: = Freedom
and that leads to freedom. We will know the truth, and the truth will set us free. What is life like when we are free? Free from the tyranny of power, of lust, of vanity, of success, free from the addiction of selfish gratification -- so that we are strong and powerful for what is good for us, what is good for God, and what is good for others. And we most truly desire what God most wants us to experience.
CS Lewis caps it off by saying this: If we consider the unblushing promises of reward [that God has built into us], and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels; it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is [being] offered to us. It is like a child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased (with temporary and artificial, circumstances). Hold out for infinite joy.
Prayer: Lord, we understand that to hold out for true joy it means denying ourselves and serving you and your world -- you built that into us – and you built into us a feeling of deep reward for staying on the right path – so do in us whatever you need to do to fill us with your glory so that not only we, but the entire world will not be the same. Help us to fulfill our promise to you...to refuse temptation and embrace our hearts and protect us from even the desire to sin – by the power of the one who saved us by his work on the cross, his ascension to heaven, and his coming in Spirit to live within us right here on earth – it is in his name that we pray. Amen.
Closing Blessing In Christ all things hold together. So, as you go this week, hold on to him, let him hold on to you, so that you may bring praise to Christ who is all in all. Amen.