Setting Our Sights (Colossians 3:1-4)

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When I went to camps as a teenager, I loved going on night hikes. We felt a real sense of adventure as we headed off in the dark down unfamiliar country roads, trying to dodge potholes, tree branches and other obstacles and we attempted not to fall, trip or get lost along the way.

While it was fun walking in the dark, we were still relieved when the lights of the campsite would come into view and we could see our destination. Knowing where we were heading made the walk easier. We could see the endpoint of our journey and it gave us the hope of being warm, safe and sometimes even dry with a cup of hot Milo to enjoy. Being able to see the lights of our destination helped us get through the darkness that surrounded us.

This year we won’t be able to gather in worship at sunrise on Easter Sunday for our annual dawn service. I’m disappointed about that because it’s a highlight of the year for me. There’s something special about getting up in the dark, and meeting together outside in worship as the dawn breaks and the sun rises. It is a way of connecting with the first Easter morning when the women went to the tomb and were greeted by the angels with the good news of the resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 28:1-10).

For the women and men who followed Jesus, the news of his resurrection from the dead was like light bursting into a dark place. They had been grieving Jesus’ death since Friday. They must have felt lost, confused, uncertain about the future, and afraid of what might happen next. In their darkness, the good news of Jesus’ resurrection must have been as welcome as the morning sunlight. It gave them hope. It gave them joy. It gave them purpose. The resurrection of Jesus gave them life!

In our own time and place, a lot of us can feel like we are in dark places too. Everything that’s happening with the COVID-19 virus is upsetting our regular way of life and generating uncertainty about the future, fear, anxiety and worry. In addition to these, many of us are also coping with illness, grief, disabilities, mental illnesses, addictions, broken relationships, and so much more. I can understand that at times life can feel like a night hike which seems to go on without end as we struggle in the dark from one day to the next.

The message of the resurrection of Jesus is still good news for us today. When we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, we don’t just remember something that happened two thousand years ago on the other side of the world. The resurrection isn’t even just about going to heaven when we die. Instead, the good news of Jesus’ resurrection casts life-giving light on our lives right here and now.

In Colossians 3:1-4, the Apostle Paul writes,

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honour at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. (NLT)

The way Paul talks about Jesus’ resurrection is significant because he writes that we ‘have been raised to new life with Christ’ already! Through faith in Jesus we are united with him in his death and resurrection. The life of the risen Christ is God’s gift to us by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith. No matter what else is going on around us or within us, we carry the life of the risen Christ in us. That shapes and determines our reality.

Paul encourages us to set our sights on Jesus and the new life he gives to us. Like seeing the campsite lights when we were on our night hikes, the light of the angel’s words helps us see where we are going. The good news of Jesus’ resurrection helps us to see our destination. Its light also helps to illuminate our path through life so we can see each step we take a little more clearly. When we set our sights on the risen Christ and look beyond what’s happening in us or around us to see the future Christ has for us, it helps us find our way in this world.

It doesn’t mean that we ignore the realities of this world, that we pretend they don’t exist or try to escape from them. Setting our sights on the reality of heaven doesn’t mean that we deny or minimize the difficulties and challenges of this life. What it does mean, however, is that we see them from a different perspective. When we set our sights on where we are going and the future God has for us, we can see through our current struggles or problems to a better tomorrow in the faith that Jesus is carrying us there. That makes it possible to put one foot in front of the other, following Jesus into a better future, in the faith and hope that the source of our lives is the risen Christ. Faith in Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t ignore or escape from the darkness of this life. It gives light to our path so we can be confident that Jesus will get us through.

We set our sights on heaven’s reality by reading God’s word and listening to what the Bible has to say to us. Story after story tells us how heaven’s realities broke through into different people’s lives so they could live in the light of the goodness of God and the life Jesus gives through his Holy Spirit. As we read or hear their stories and the ways that setting their sights on heaven’s realities made a difference in their lives, God will provide us with what we need to set our sights on our common destination. That’s when we will find the help we need and the courage that comes through faith in the risen Jesus to keep going.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!

This message was good news for the women when they went to the tomb as the new day was dawning all those centuries ago. It was good news for Jesus’ followers as it drove away the darkness of fear and uncertainty. It is still good news for us as we experience the darkness of life in this world in a lot of different ways. The good news of Jesus’ resurrection is a light in our darkness, showing us where we’re are heading, giving us a destination to hope for as we live in the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and his victory over the darkness.

More to think about & discuss:

  • Have you even tried to find your way in the dark? What was it like for you? How did it help to have light to help you find your way?
  • As you look at the world around us at the moment, where do you see the darkness of fear, worry or uncertainty? Where do you experience darkness in your own life?
  • How do you think the good news of Jesus’ resurrection can bring light to the darkness we are going through at this time?
  • How do you react when you hear Paul say that ‘you have been raised to new life with Christ’ already? What sounds good about that? What is difficult to believe?
  • How might you see what’s happening around you or within you differently if you look at it from the perspective of Jesus’ resurrection and the reality of heaven?
  • What might you do different today in the faith that the hardships you might be experiencing will pass away, but the life of Jesus in you will last forever?

Of One Mind (1 Corinthians 1:10-18)

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On the five Sundays since Christmas, our congregation has been gathering for one worship service each Sunday. This is different from our usual practice of having two weekly services: an earlier service with more traditional liturgies and an organ, and a later service with less formal orders and a band.

One of the reasons for having one service on the Sundays after Christmas was the desire some people in our congregation express to have one common service more often. Some have told me that they are concerned that having two services divides the congregation and it would be good for us to worship together at one time and in one place to make us more united.

I understand their point of view and see some merit in it. Over the last month people have told me how much they have enjoyed the services and appreciated the chance to worship with people from our other service. However, if our goal is a deep sense of unity in the congregation, maybe there are other ways to achieve that. Worshiping together in one service can be a visible form of unity, but it needs to reflect a deeper unity we have as the people of God.

The Apostle Paul addresses this deeper unity in 1 Corinthians 1:10-18. He appeals to the Corinthian Christians in the name of and ‘by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other’ (v10a NLT). These words tell us that the unity of the church is not a trivial thing. Unity is something we need to take very seriously. Paul goes on to instruct his readers to ‘be of one mind, united in thought and purpose’ (v10b NLT).
The unity Paul is talking about runs much deeper that simply having a combined worship service. Looking at the Greek words he uses, Paul is talking about being in the same mind and in the same intention. He mentions this ‘mind’ a little later in his letter when he tells his readers that ‘we have the mind of Christ’ (1 Cor 2:16). When the Holy Spirit gifts us with the life of Christ we are also gifted with a new mind, the mind of Jesus.

This ‘mind’ gives us a whole new way to think about God, ourselves, our relationships with other people, the world around us, in fact our whole existence. Paul uses this same word for ‘mind’ in Romans 12:2 when he writes, ‘let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think’ (NLT). A key element of the unity God is looking for in our congregation is that we are in the mind of Jesus and we are learning to think in the way of Jesus together.

Another aspect of this unity is that when we are in the mind of Christ together, we will also be in the same purpose or intention. This has to do with why we are here as a congregation, what our reason is for existing, what God is calling us to do and where he is leading us into the future. Paul is urging us to be united in our understanding of who we are, why we are here and where we are going as God’s people in this time and place. This is closely connected to and grows out of being in the mind of Christ and learning to think in the way of Jesus. When we are united in our purpose or intention, we will be looking at our circumstances from Christ’s perspective and not just thinking about what is good for ourselves as individuals, what we like or how we can get our way. Instead, being united in purpose is about finding our purpose in Jesus and then living together in his purpose as his people in the world.

It is vital to recognise that unity is not the same thing as conformity. Conformity happens when one person decides that everyone should be like they are and do the same things they do. The church in Corinth wasn’t like that. As we saw last week, for example, there were a wide variety of gifts among the Corinthian Christians. Living with this diversity caused tensions in their community of faith but it was necessary for them to function faithfully as the body of Christ. In the same way, when we look for our unity in our minds and purpose we will be able to embrace diversity in our congregation as we see people who are different from us as people who are also part of and who contribute to the body of Christ as a whole. To try to enforce an external form of unity only leads to conformity as we attempt to get everyone doing the same thing. We’re not the same. Part of the mind and purpose of Christ is accepting that and accepting the people around us with our differences (Romans 15:7). Our differences are vital for the church to be the body of Christ in the world.

With all of our differences, then, it is possible for us to aim for the harmony Paul points us to, being united in the mind of Christ and our purpose as his church. At this point I could go on to describe what I believe that looks like, but I’m not going to. Part of our growth to maturity as Jesus’ followers is to work that out together. As we get to know Jesus more, we learn more about his mind and the Holy Spirit transforms our minds to be like his. As we listen to God’s word in worship, in small groups, in our families and on our own, the Holy Spirit shows us more and more who Jesus is and how he thinks. The Bible is the way in which we meet God through Jesus. The Holy Spirit uses its words, stories, poems and letters to continue to share the mind of Christ with us, transforming our thinking to be like his. As we remain in God’s word together and as we pray together, the Holy Spirit will continue to gift us with the mind of Jesus so we can participate in Christ’s purpose and move closer to the harmony God wants for us.

This unity can be evident when we worship together in one service. It can also be evident if we have multiple services in a number of different places. Worshiping together needs to be the fruit of being united in thought and purpose because trying to achieve these by enforcing things like one worship will only result in external conformity and not the kind of deep unity God is looking for. The unity God wants, the unity Paul is pointing us to and the unity that is possible in our congregation is being united in the mind of Christ, when thinking the way that Jesus thinks is the most natural thing for us, and participating in Jesus’ purpose for his church.

United (Acts 4:32-35)

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Can you imagine being part of a community of faith like the one described in Acts 4:32-35?

Here we have a picture of a group of people living in the reality of Jesus’ victory over death. They had been following Jesus and witnessed his resurrection They were so convinced of God’s goodness and life-giving love in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit that they were totally focused on the needs of the people around them. They were willing to do whatever it took to take care of others, even if it meant that they sold their homes or property to do it. All of this resulted from the unity the believers had in heart and mind. Their faith in the resurrection of Jesus brought their community together to the point where they were able to prioritise the needs of others because they trusted that God would provide for their own needs.

We can be so amazed at the disciples’ willingness to sell their homes and property that we miss the reason why they were willing and able to be so generous. What is crucial to this story is that they were united in heart and mind. During the years I spent growing up in the church as well as my years of ministry as a pastor, I have seen too many communities of faith divided over a range of issues. Particular aspects of the congregational activity were important to some and not to others. Some had very strong opinions about what the congregation was doing or how it should have been done. The result was divisions in the church as factions developed and relationships broke down.

I’m not saying this to be critical of the church. Instead, I believe we need to be honest about the realities in our churches before God if things are going to get better. When we compare the dis-unity and fractures that exist in our church with this community of believers in Acts 4:32ff, it is easy to see that we are not what we could be. As a result, just as the community in Acts was able to testify powerfully to the resurrection of Jesus and ‘God’s grace was … powerfully at work in them all’ through their unity, so our witness to Jesus’ resurrection and the flow of God’s grace is often impeded by our arguing, infighting and disputes.

Acts 4:32-35 gives us a glimpse of God’s vision for his church. Instead of adopting a consumer, individualistic attitude to the faith where our prime concern is what’s good for me, the vision that God gives us in this text is a community of people who are so convinced of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection that they are all willing to do whatever is necessary to look after each other, no matter what the cost to themselves.

This is what Paul describes in Philippians 2:2-5 when he writes:

… make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus… (NIV)

Paul was imploring the Christians in Philippi to be ‘like-minded’ with each other and with Jesus, just as the believers were in Acts 4:32-35. As members of the body of Christ, he wants them to give a faithful witness to the love of Jesus by ‘not looking to (their) own interests but each of (them) to the interests of the others.’ This is what was happening in Acts 4. This is the vision God has for our communities of faith. We give the most powerful witness to the resurrection of Jesus when we are able to put aside our own priorities, preferences or agendas, and come together as one by the power of the Holy Spirit to provide for the needs of others.

This is what faith is about: trusting in the giving nature of God so that we become giving communities. Faith in God is about trusting that our heavenly Father loved us enough to give us his one and only Son, that Jesus loved us enough to give his life for us on the cross, and that the Holy Spirit loves us enough to breathe the life of the risen Christ into us so we share in his life now and forever. Through this faith, we share in the nature of God so we become giving people. Faith in the giving nature of God will always shape us to become giving people, both as individuals and as a congregation, just like it did in Acts 4:32-35.

As I prepared this message for our congregation on Sunday, I kept asking myself, do we believe this is possible? It’s easy to read this story from Acts 4 and think it’s wonderful that they were so united in heart and mind that they were able to provide for the needs people had in their community, but is this just a nice story from a time long-gone? Or do we believe that the Spirit of the risen Christ can bring us together in heart and mind, to give us the heart and mind of Jesus, so we can live in unity with each other and live for the needs of those around us?

I’d like to believe it is. I’d like to believe that Jesus, who has overcome sin, death and the power of the devil, can also overcome our selfishness, our pettiness and our disunity to bring us together as one. Every person in a congregation or faith community has needs of one kind or another. The way God wants to provide for those needs is through the living, breathing body of the risen Christ – through you and me and the grace he gives us. The needs may be different from the needs in Acts 4, but the needs people in our communities have are still real. The way God wants to meet those needs is through us, people who believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

In Growing Young, one of the essential strategies for a congregation to be effective in its ministry with young people is fuelling a warm community. When I listen to this story about the early church being one in heart and mind and their willingness to share whatever they had with each other, I can see a community of believers that is warm with the love and grace of Jesus. Sure, they ran into problems, as the story of Ananias and Sapphira explains (Acts 5:1-11), but there was still unity among them which lead to God’s grace being powerfully at work among them.

How would you like to be part of a community like this? Do you believe that such a community is possible here and now? If the Spirit of the living God can raise Jesus to life, then I believe that he can also unite the hearts and minds of followers of Jesus in his grace and love. Like Jesus said, for people this might be impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

Which leaves me with one final question: what are we willing to give for this kind of community to exist in our communities of faith?