Note: I wrote this several days before the sad and shameful events that occurred at the Tops Friendly Market in East Buffalo, NY in which people were slaughtered simply because they were, like me, my family, and many of my friends, of African descent. I decided not to post it right away and let it sit as I processed through my immediate feelings and my thoughts about the deep root of virulent racism in this nation and the long history of human cruelty against other humans that seems unending. In the post, I make a reference to the high calling of God. This event and all like them are stark challenges and reminders to me that circumstances, even the darkest, must not be the reason for me to lower my sights on who God is and what He requires of me. May the heart desires of His people always be for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. May we live this call out in our daily lives so that the world has an opportunity to see that there is a pathway of light and life and not just the darkness and death that is all so common.
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 honor 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. (Colossians 3:1-3, NLT)
The popular cliché, “Easier said than done” may never have been more applicable in light of some of the real-world issues facing the contemporary church today. Like the Colossian Christians of Paul’s time, there is a lot of ‘noise’ in the atmosphere surrounding us. None of us can go a day without seeing or hearing someone posit something they think we need to be for or be against. In some cases, some of us in the church are adding to that noise. A lot of it, quite frankly, is spouted in ways that reflect “hostility, quarreling, outburst of anger…dissensions, division…,” things Paul called sin and which he contrasted with what he termed the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-23).
Even when our inclination is toward love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, it’s hard to not hear and think on all this noise and to form and even express opinions on who/what is right, who/what is wrong. And not vocally or otherwise expressing a point a view on any of these myriad issues does not mean we don’t carry one within.
This presents a paradox for the person who sincerely desires to follow Christ and, as a dear colleague puts it, be a living sanctuary for Him when some of this noise is ever present and growing in intensity? How can we not “think on these things,” but rather “think on things above?” Is Paul suggesting that we not care about what is going on in life around us? I don’t believe so.
Paul, I believe, was talking about where our deepest affections lie, the “things” we cherish the most to the extent that we align ourselves with the values associated with them. He is not saying we shouldn’t care; he is reminding us that these “things” are part and parcel of the kingdoms (systems) of this world which are temporary and that our true citizenship is in the kingdom of God which we entered through Jesus Christ. His admonishment is that we be mindful of where our allegiance lies, i.e. we ought to have the mind of Christ.
Some reflections of Christ that have come to mind over the last few days as I have been thinking about this posting:
- Jesus made a clear distinction between that which is God’s and that which belongs to Caesar (representing the world’s systems) and urged His followers to know the difference.
- Jesus never insisted upon His personal rights nor did He align Himself with any existing earthly power.
- Jesus never tried to convert an existing social structure of any kind such as a religious institution, culture, political group, or cause.
- Jesus invited people from diverse backgrounds to follow Him and represent Him (several tradesmen, a social activist/revolutionary, women, a businessman, a thief, and a religious radical) and all but one experienced a transformation of the heart.
- Jesus defined righteousness as love of God and love of neighbor and said our neighbors were whoever crosses our path at any point in time.
- Jesus acknowledged that being in the world would create a lot of problems for His followers (because of its rejection of Him and His word), but He encouraged them to keep their trust in Him (as opposed to others and elsewhere) because He had overcome all the systems of world (which, again, are temporary).
- Jesus taught His followers the essentialness of prayer and that their source of power would be the Holy Spirit.
- Jesus commissioned those who followed Him to influence and teach others in the way He had influenced and taught them.
Obviously, this list is not all inclusive, but it does represent His mindset and what His agenda did and did not consist of. He identified closely with the suffering and pain people experienced and we have some record of how it affected Him and what He did when He encountered it. We also have some record of His response to the coldness and callousness of those in positions of power toward the powerless. In the end, however, He said this, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” pointing to the depth of their ignorance.
We need not be ignorant like so many of those He was speaking of then. We have had the privilege of walking in the light and because we are not ignorant, we are likely to be held by Him to a higher standard (what Paul calls the high calling of God in Christ Jesus). And my, it is such a high calling!
My prayer is that we who have had the privilege of walking in the light think more on those things which are of eternal importance than on anything else. Let us not stop caring about the wrong around us. May we always seek Him on how we can and should respond. In all things, Holy Spirit enable us and guide us.
© Byron L. Hannon, 2022. All rights reserved unless otherwise noted.