This is not a blog post about personal safety, although, after reading several “end of the year” articles about the hazards of texting while driving, even walking, a blog post on the subject would have merit. Let’s just say that looking up is crucial for many reasons. This post is born out of my personal Bible study from the book of Colossians and a truth God has led me to teach:
Spiritually, for the sake of our souls and the sake of our witness, we are required to look up.
I decided to study the book of Colossians for the first of the year. The Bible is unlike any other volume of written words. If you doubt the perfection of God’s word, spend some extra time reading it. Reading the same words and receiving a different message each time is a wonderful reminder that the author of Scripture is the one true God. There is power and perfection in the message of the Bible.
Colossians was inspired by the Holy Spirit and given to us through the Apostle Paul. This year, chapter three answered a question that I’ve had through the years. Why is church history a roller coaster ride of ups and downs? Most of us have wondered why the Israelites could see so many miracles, and not find it easy to faithfully stay the course. How could a people who had crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, eaten quail and manna, and witnessed all those plagues, ever have doubted that entering the Promised Land would be doable? Why didn’t the Israelites who crossed the River Jordan at flood stage and entered the Land stay the course? They had it made and then they blew it! Why did God’s people have such a hard time believing God’s word to them? Why do you and I have the same problem?
Colossians provided the answer. Paul begins the letter by saying, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people” (Colossians 1:3-4). Paul had never visited this congregation, he had just heard of their powerful witness and wanted to send them a word of gratitude and encouragement. The book of Colossians provides us a perfect definition for a strong Christian witness.
Paul details why the people of this region had developed their effective witness for Christ and then he tells them how they can keep up the good work. In fact, he teaches them the only way to keep up the good work. He says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2). Paul tells them to look up, not around, if they want to live for Christ.
The totality of Scripture teaches us that God’s people were drawn to whatever their eyes were focused on. When they worshiped and walked with God, their lives were strong and blessable. When they became enamored with the world or fearful of it, their focus shifted from God to the things around them, and they gradually sank spiritually.
We know this is true physically. I did gymnastics in high school and I worked mostly on the balance beam. The coach taught me to do several different tricks on a wooden beam that was four inches wide. The key to not falling was to find a focal point and maintain it during each trick. Every archer learns where to aim before allowing the arrow to fly. Christians can’t walk with God unless their minds are focused on things above and not focused on the earthly things around them.
The people who entered the Promised Land were not the same people who had left Egypt. They were the children and grandchildren of that generation. The people who were expelled from the Land were not the people who entered it with Joshua. They were the descendants of those people. Church history is best seen as a long journey with slow rises and slow falls. God’s people gradually become more and more interested in the things of God or the things of this world, and their descendants either pay the price or reap the rewards of their witness.
My theory is this: When God’s people look around, it usually appears that we are acting better than the people who don’t follow God. As a result, we assume we are walking a higher path and are therefore doing fine with God. The problem with that standard is, the lower the world gets, the lower our own standards become. When the standard for our witness is based on a comparison with the world’s standards, we have taken our eyes off of God’s standards. Looking around instead of looking up causes us to gradually decline – and eventually fall. Looking around instead of looking up explains Church history and the decline of our current culture.
When Jim and I began in the ministry it was considered a sin for a couple to live together as married if they weren’t. Now, it is not at all uncommon for a young couple to openly admit they are living together, but not married. Consider the many changing attitudes in our culture. How did we get so far away from God’s standards? I believe Christians have looked around, tried to live better than the world, and thought that was good enough. We looked around instead of up.
I want to encourage each of you to read the book of Colossians until you sense that your focus is where it should be. If we set our hearts on things above, our standards are sure to follow. The best thing you and I can give our children and grandchildren, and everyone else whose life we touch, is a higher focus.
It would be a great honor to arrive in heaven and have Paul greet us saying, “I’ve heard of your faith in Christ and your love for all God’s people.” Colossians defines God’s standard for us as Christians. Look up, not around, if you want to be a witness for Christ in our world.