So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you.
(Colossians 3:1-4a, The Message)
On the second Sunday of Advent, Pastor John lit the love candle. He invited us to consider how we are preparing for the coming of Christ, and whether or not it’s the love of Christ–or something else–that is magnified in our lives. During this season, as John pointed out, we do a lot of preparing. We spend time decorating, cooking, planning, wrapping–and we see Christmas morning as the culmination of all of our preparation. If you remember what we talked about last week, though, you know that we–as Jesus followers–aren’t only looking back at when he came in the past. We are looking with hope toward His coming again. That means our “preparation” need not be seasonal. It is, instead, a lifestyle.
Pastor John told us that he believes there is a verse that summarizes what Christmas needs to be about. It is Colossians 3:2, contained within the passage above. I opened with the Message paraphrase of the passage because it adds nuance that makes the whole passage more understandable. But you are probably more familiar with the NIV translation of verse 2. It reads,
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
How does this verse fit with Christmas? The same way that it fits every day of the year. Which, if I’m not mistaken, was Pastor John’s point. We take time to celebrate and remember the first Advent of Christ at this time every year. But how we live, what we prioritize, where our focus is–these ought not change with the seasons. For Kingdom-minded Jesus followers, the “spirit of Christmas”–hope, love, joy, preparation, celebration, giving–is how we aim to live every day.
How do we live this way? We set our minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Does this mean we live with our heads in the clouds, dreaming of heaven and angels with harps? Uh, no. Thankfully, it doesn’t mean that at all. And not setting our minds on earthly things does not mean we stop decorating, gift-giving, white elephant partying, etc…
What it means is we have to find our focus. What, or who, is most important to you? What do you prioritize? What we focus on has our attention. Whatever has our attention becomes the object of our affection, our love.Whatever has our love is magnified in us. People know what we love because whatever we are focused on, we naturally magnify. So, to “set our minds” is to bring something into focus, to give our attention to something.
The verse tells us to set our minds on things above, not on earthly things. I love the way the Message expresses this part: Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. “Things above” are the things of Christ. The things that matter to Him, to His kingdom. The earthly things aren’t all bad–many earthly things are good, and lovely. We’re just not supposed to set our minds on these things, give our affection to them, prioritize them. We are invited to look up from all the things of this world that can consume our hours and our days, and be alert to Christ. He is the One worthy of our affection, and His kingdom is the one we live from.
I listen to a weekly podcast called “Things Above”. It is hosted by author James Bryan Smith. He describes his podcast this way:
“This is a podcast for ‘mind discipleship.’ It is for those who want to set their minds on ‘things above’ (Col. 3:2). Each week, I will offer a glorious thought–something good and beautiful and true, something excellent and praiseworthy–to fill your mind with heavenly truths.”
I love listening to this short podcast every week because it does exactly that. It offers glorious thoughts–thoughts that draw me deeper into Kingdom-mindedness, thoughts that deepen my understanding of the character of God and what that means for life here and now. Thoughts that I can set my mind on…
But what do we do once we find our focus and set our minds on things above? Is that it? Focus on Christ and watch Him for the rest of our lives?
Far from it… We can choose to live that way if we want to… But, according to novelist & journalist Chuck Palahniuk, living that way wouldn’t be living at all. He wrote,
“The easiest way to avoid living is to just watch.”
If we set our minds and our attention on Jesus and His ways, but don’t join Him where He is, we aren’t living. This line, from the Message translation of our Colossians passage, seems to be in agreement with Chuck:
Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is.
John said on Sunday that “movement marks [God’s] whole story.” Every part of the story that includes Creation, life & death, our humanity, and God’s activity in it all moves. And perhaps no part of the story moves more than the pages where Jesus put skin on and came to us as one of us.
What if Zechariah & Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men had simply watched…? Simply seen and heard…?
Here’s the thing–
It is possible to focus on Jesus, give Him our attention, and watch what He’s doing… all without moving from the place where we are.
However, if He has all of our attention, and if that attention becomes affection that blossoms into love that outgrows our insides… it’s impossible to simply watch.
When preparing our hearts and making space for our King becomes our one overwhelming desire, when we are wholly focused and wholly devoted to the One leading us, when we can say “Jesus, be the center of it all” and mean it with all that we are, we. will. move. Because love moves. Love sees what Jesus is doing and is stirred to join Him–no matter the cost.
The individuals in our familiar Christmas stories had an awareness of God. But more than being aware of Him, they were devoted to Him. He was their priority. And so when He came to them, in whatever ways He chose, they accepted His invitation to join Him on the journey of a lifetime. A journey that would change not only their lives, but would change the entire world.
Maybe we need to ask ourselves where we are this Advent season… Are we sitting in the stands, spectators who live with our heads down, focused on the things of earth? What if God wants to move part of His story through you? Through me? I have no doubt that we are invited to partner with Him as He changes this world. I have no doubt that He desires for all of us to join Him in what He’s doing right now. He loves to bring things above to bear through things below… More specifically, through people below.
Will we join Him?
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Sit with that verse for a minute. Let it have your attention–your focus. Ponder what it means.
Laura wrote above:
What we focus on has our attention. Whatever has our attention becomes the object of our affection, our love.Whatever has our love is magnified in us. People know what we love because whatever we are focused on, we naturally magnify. So, to “set our minds” is to bring something into focus, to give our attention to something.
I also want to reiterate Laura’s point that to “set our minds” on something does not imply that we just sit and watch. To set our minds on something leads to the trajectory of our lives. Our actions begin in our minds, our words begin in our minds, our choices begin in our minds, our relationships thrive or not depending on how we think and what we choose as a result of those thoughts.
Scripture is not silent on this issue:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…(Ph 2:5).
For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6 ESV)
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2)
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind‘; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
So, this week’s advent theme is love, yet it would appear that we are talking about something totally different–except for the fact that what we love consumes our minds, and agape (unconditional love) is a Holy Spirit empowered choice of the heart and mind followed by action.
As I’ve pondered our key verse--set your minds (focus) on things above, I’ve wondered if “things above”– rather than referring to things far off, way up in some inaccessible place– could mean “things above” as in above our fallen world’s ways of doing things and our fallen world’s ways of thinking…setting our minds on the way God thinks–his mindset.
God has said to us: As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9).
I believe that to set our minds on things above means to align ourselves with God’s ways. In order to align ourselves with His ways, we must know Him, and to know Him we must love Him, and if we love Him, we will walk with Him, and He, and His ways, will consume our thoughts, and those thoughts will inform our choices, and our choices will lead us to live in Him, and His life in us will spill over to those around us, and He will be magnified.
Paul, just a couple of verses after he wrote set your minds on things above… wrote the phrase, …Christ, who is your life...
Acts 17:28 tells us that in Him we live and move and have our being. That verse certainly implies that Jesus is our total life force– it also implies action– movement.
Pastor John, when talking to us about focusing on and magnifying something, explained to us the science behind magnification. In order for something to be magnified, light rays, which normally run parallel to one another, have to be bent, which happens when they pass through a curved lens. Those light rays then converge-are concentrated through the lens- and bring whatever is out of focus or hard to see into focus, making it possible to see detail that was previously unclear.
I love the fact that magnification has everything to do with the bending of light. Light is always on the move. The Apostle John tells us of Jesus that in him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:4)
In the Old Testament, when Moses asked God to show him His glory, God replied “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”(Ex. 33:20).
But in the first advent, God bends His glorious, blinding, all consuming light rays in the person of Jesus— and concentrates all of His love and His desire for relationship with us through Jesus, so that who He truly is–the God whose very nature is love–– can be made clear to us. He makes Himself knowable and approachable through Jesus–the Light of all mankind. When we look through Jesus we see who God is. If we have seen the Son then we have seen the Father. (Jn 14:9)
The Christmas story includes beautiful accounts of magnification and light.
Mary, in her song of praise (after Gabriel fills her in on God’s plan), exclaims my soul magnifies the Lord… (Luke 1:46). She rejoices that she is part of God’s plan and is willing to make Him great, to bring Him into focus, to carry His light, to yield to His plan, to magnify Him.
In Luke 2 we are told that there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them... Brilliant light caught their attention and resulted in them being among the first to see God in the flesh, to worship Him in person, and to carry the message of that encounter to those around them.
In Matthew 2 we learn that the wise men, when looking for Jesus, told King Herod, “We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” Light led these men to leave their own country and travel a great distance in order to draw close to God who had come to make Himself known in the person of Jesus.
There is acknowledgment, awe, and movement in each of these encounters.
Jesus, in John 8:12 tells the people “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Whoever follows me… will have the light of life. To follow implies movement.
In Matthew 5:14 Jesus tells us “You are the light of the world…”
To be the light of the world; to magnify the God who so loves the world that He gave His only Son; to bring God into focus, means choosing to bend before Him, to yield to His ways, so that His glorious light rays can shine through our lives, illuminating Him in a way that those around us can see Him and experience His love, His life, His light.
Beautiful lyrics that we sing every year speak of this glorious light:
Silent night, Holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light. Radiant beams from Thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace. Jesus, Lord at Thy birth. Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth. (Joseph Mohr)
Redeeming grace, grace which makes it possible for us to be restored, to be made new, to be in relationship with God, to receive His light, to be His light, to reflect His love…
In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
Set your mind…