Things that Are Above – November 16, 2014
Psalm 19, Colossians 3:1-4
November 16, 2014
A few weeks ago, we talked about the second part of this passage from Colossians. We talked then about the difference between our “Old Nature” and our “New Nature.” We talked about how our lives “look different” since we are God’s people. I hope you are aware of those things in your own life!
Today I want us to think about how we do that. And I want to focus in on this one phrase, “Set your minds on things that are above.” Now, first of all, I think we’d all agree that’s not something that happens naturally. “Setting our minds on things that are above?” “Hey, I’ve got way too many things to think about right here on earth!” “Heavenly thoughts are nice, but I’ve got a huge ‘to-do list’ in the here and now, and I don’t have much time or brain power to ‘think about heaven.’” “Or I simply just don’t remember to do it.”
That happens doesn’t it? We don’t have the “brain power,” the time, or the presence of mind to think about “heavenly things.” Right now we’re just about in the season of Advent. I know it’s hard to think that it’s almost Advent, but it is! And of course Advent means that it’s almost… ski season! (Well, that’s what I was thinking…) But advent is that time of year when this kind of thing happens to us. We get so busy preparing for Christmas, we forget to think about the reason for and the meaning of Christmas! Do you see what I mean? It’s hard to think about “things that are above,” when there are so many things to think about “here below.”
So it goes almost without saying, that “setting our minds on things that are above” is something we must choose to do. If you’ve heard me enough, you know that “choices” is a big subject for me! And this is one of those choices. “Setting our minds on things that are above” is something we must be intentional about. At the very least, it’s a matter of disciplining ourselves to set aside the time to do so. But even better, it’s a matter of finding ways to remind ourselves to do that throughout the day.
Now, I think we’ll also agree that part of this has to do with priorities. We tend to spend time on that which is important to us, don’t we? Jesus said something similar. He said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” As we’ve been saying, that’s a very good thing to think about during Stewardship time. But I believe Paul, the highly spiritual, but also the imminently practical man that he was, would say something similar. Paul would say, “Where your thoughts are, there will your outlook be also.” Listen to that again. “Where your thoughts are, there will your outlook on life be also.”
So, where are your thoughts? Are they “set on things that are above?” Or are they not. Recently I heard a great talk on this whole subject. The speaker was talking about positive and negative thoughts, and how they affect us. And one of the things he said, was that scientists have discovered that negative thoughts take up more space in our brains. Maybe that’s why we tend to dwell on them. Maybe that’s why they are often the most traumatic and worrisome to us. Think about that. We don’t often worry about positive thoughts, do we? It’s very easy to get caught up in the negative.
Think for a moment about surveys. Has anyone taken a survey lately? Sometimes they’re on line, sometimes they’re over the phone. If you have, was it about something you liked, or about something you didn’t like? Think about that. When a survey is taken on any subject, isn’t it usually the people who are negative who respond? Isn’t that right? When something upsets us, we’re more apt to respond than when we’re happy about something, aren’t we? We have to remember to be positive, don’t we? We have to remember to compliment. Because criticism comes all too easily!
Let me suggest that we try to do that more often. Take this week, and try to be intentional about complimenting people. See what it does. If you do that, I think you’ll discover that doing so is very rewarding to us as well as the other person! There may even be some positive “body chemistry” that happens to us. There might even be some endorphins involved – you know, those “feel good” chemicals inside us. I don’t know if any study has been done on that, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that were the case!
It certainly happens the other way around! The same speaker talked about how negative thoughts affect our body chemistry. When we’re negative, when we’re “miffed” about something, it changes our chemistry adversely. I don’t have studies about that handy, but I have no doubt that’s true! It’s the same thing that happens with stress. Those two things are closely related, stress and negativity. And it’s well documented those things change our blood pressure, and acidity of our bodies. They add to depression and anxiety, as well. Many doctors are beginning to see stress as the epidemic of our age!
Well the speaker I was listening to that day talked about what he called the “TV channels in our brains.” And this was where his talk really got good! He said there’s one particular channel we tend to watch over and over again, like reruns of a favorite TV show. He called it the “What I did wrong Channel,” or the “Failure Channel.” Isn’t that true? Isn’t there a tendency to watch those failures in our lives over and over in our heads? And then he spoke of the opposite. He spoke of the “What I did right Channel,” or our “Victory Channel.” And the big thing he said was that “We have the remote control!” We can change the channel! It’s not easy sometimes. Those negative thoughts are strong! They are compelling! But we can say, “I’m not going to dwell on that.” We can say to ourselves, “I’m going to change the channel.” “I’m going to set my mind on things that are above!”
“Besides,” he said. “God has changed the content of that ‘Failure Channel!’” He has told us that he has forgiven all those things. He has decided that we are good people. He doesn’t want us to see ourselves in a negative light. He wants us to know that we are redeemed, we are beloved, and we have been made worthy through the redemption and the blood of Jesus Christ. Amen?
There’s another channel in that line-up. It is the “What other people did wrong channel.” Also known as the “Woe is me channel.” We kind of like that one, too, don’t we? When we are wronged, we tend to dwell on that. And we feel every justification to watch that, don’t we? And we feel the justification to retaliate. The ancient, and not-so-ancient middle-eastern philosophy of “an eye for an eye,” which can be found in the Levitical laws, are not easy to get around emotionally. We feel like we want that response.
Fast forward from the Levitical law, to Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount, he said, “You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’ (and you probably believe that in the depth of your being and in the center of your emotions!) but I say to you…” And what did he say? “Don’t do it!” “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” You know, we can easily find ourselves using that phrase, “turn the other cheek.” But can we really do it ourselves?
Friends, this is hard! Those listening to Jesus that day would have said the same thing. When people do something to us, we often react badly. I don’t know, maybe it’s a survival instinct. But what Jesus taught goes against our basic instincts and our natural reactions. Let me say that again. What Jesus taught goes against our basic instincts and our natural reactions. We have to understand that, or we won’t understand what we are called to be as Christians. It’s as simple as that!
The last thing I want to say today, and I want to end with this, is that we can watch those negative channels as individuals, and we can also watch them and dwell on them as a Church! We can collectively watch the “Failure Channel.” As a Church, we can watch it over and over, and dwell on “what we’ve done wrong.” Or, we can change the channel! We can “set our minds on things that are above.” That’s what Paul tried to get the people to do!
To the Hebrews he wrote, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet… For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom… But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven… and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:12-13, 18-19, 22-24)
“You’re not just part of the mundane life you think you are!” he said. “You are part of the great life of faith in our great God. That’s what you’ve come to!” That’s what we have come to as well! That’s what we need to focus on! No matter what the circumstances, no matter how bleak the world looks, or how unfortunate things in our collective world might be. We can change the channel! We can watch the “Victory Channel!” We can know the victory we have in Jesus Christ!
Next week we celebrate Christ the King Sunday! That’s the last Sunday of the liturgical year, and it’s the culmination of the all of it! So in our lives and in our Church may we think this week about Christ the King. May we set our minds on him – on “things that are above!” May we stay on the “Victory Channel.” And may we know that nothing – “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Eternal God, by your steadfast love and your amazing grace, you have redeemed us and you have “transferred us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of your beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Help us to know that. Help us to set our minds on that. Help us to rejoice in who you are and what we have in you. We thank you and we praise you, and we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.