Actively Seeking Christ’s Kingdom

My wife, Amber, and I sat anxiously in a teal blue room waiting for the doctor to return… we were both pretty anxious. Finally he came back in and he was pulling a contraption on wheels which he brought to do some tests on Amber.  He placed a tool on Amber… and that’s when I heard a noise that would forever change my life… It was the sound of Jason’s heartbeat beating at over 150 beats a minute!

I was like, “Oh my goodness! Is his heart going to explode?!” The Dr. assured me though that 150bpm was completely normal for a little guy, and then

he started explaining some of the things we should keep in mind and expect over the next few months.

I was so full of joy – although I had known for several weeks that a baby was on the way, it wasn’t until I heard his heartbeat that it became really REAL to me.

And as the Dr. spoke, I began to think about how much I wanted and needed to change in order to get ready for this little dude.

Over the next several weeks we started reading books on what to expect and how to be good parents. we wanted to know everything there is to know about this whole parenthood thing!

We also finally cleaned out the upstairs “junk” room. All the useless stuff we’d been dragging around the country was finally either sold or tossed… then we cleaned the room up and made it fit for a little person.

And although I had worked with HazMat and Weapons of Mass Destruction for over 10 years… the thought of changing a poopy diaper was absolutely terrifying to me!  had never changed a diaper before so Amber pulled out one her baby dolls from when she was a little girl and I practiced changing diapers.

Jason coming into our lives caused us to want to change every aspect of our life.

And I’m sure just about all of us have had some sort of event happen in our lives that has caused us to re-evaluate how we live. It might be that you adopted a child, or maybe you decided to make a drastic change in your career that required you to learn all new things–perhaps you had to move, or change your living situation.

Or maybe it was a time when you realized that what you thought was really important suddenly fell out from under you, and what you hoped would bring happiness and satisfaction ended up not being what you had hoped.

These events cause us to want to grow in our knowledge about what really matters and to make the changes in our lives to match with what is truth and reality.

In a very similar way, when a person makes the decision to become a lifelong apprentice of Jesus and turn away from their old life – it is a life transforming event… And this is far more than just external changes to our situation… this event affects us at the deepest fathoms of our soul.

Today we are continuing our study in Colossians and last week we finished up chapter 2. So if you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Colossians 3:1-4. I’ll be reading from the New Living Translation.

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. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

Now before we go any further, it is important that we first understand what Paul is saying when he talks about us being raised to a new life and that our old self is dead?

This is a really important concept to address because it will inform the how and the why for the rest of what we talk about today.

So when we think of “a life”, there are different kinds of life evident in the world around us?

Think of a plant… we could all agree that a plant has life. It is a kind of life that is concerned with sunlight, carbon dioxide, chlorophyll, etc.

Now say there is a rubber band ball sitting next to this plant… the fact that the ball is present is completely irrelevant to the plant. It has no idea that it’s there, nor can it care that it’s present.

Now a kitten enters the scene. A kitten has life, but it is a different kind of life – because the kitten can see and interact with the world in a much more dynamic way than the plant can. It not only can recognize that there’s a rubberband ball; it can’t help but play with it!

In the same way, before Christ we are much like the plant. We are incapable of seeing, pursuing or even caring about what God cares about…

But when Christ comes into our lives we are regenerated  into a new kind of life – We become aware and concerned with as Paul says, “the realities of heaven, where Christ is.”

We come to have the awareness and the choice to “think about the things of heaven, and not the things of the earth.”

And that is really the main point of this passage that Paul is getting at: Now that you have entered into this new kind of life, don’t waste your life pursuing things that you used to think were important… Instead pursue the things that you now know are actually important.

Now there’s a striking parallel here between Paul’s words and Jesus’ own words in the Gospel of Matthew:

That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? […] These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

Paul and Jesus are talking about the same thing…

So the question we must ask is, “How do we we learn to seek the Kingdom of God?” Not just “what’s a list of things that we should focus on – but “how do we each continuously seek the Kingdom in each of our situations?

And Paul answers that question for us earlier in his letter, Col 1:9-10

“So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.

The starting place of any of our efforts needs to be “growing in our knowledge of God,” because we want to know what is truth and what is reality… and when we study and meditate on God’s Word we begin to recognize where our beliefs, assumptions and worldview conflict with truth and reality. We learn what the realities of the heavens are.

So to grow in knowledge, we need to Study and meditate on God’s Word.

This is because the Bible is God’s primary form of communication and guidance to us. It is the primary guide for Kingdom Living. It is through reading and meditating on God’s Word that we begin to have an accurate vision of who God is and it is where we read Jesus own words. How can we expect to know how to follow him if we don’t know what he has said?

Now I am not advocating for you to start a rigorous reading plan of several chapters each day, or anything like that.

From my own experience I have found scheduled reading plans often lead to burnout and it can cause us to miss the point of WHY we read the Bible.

Having thousands of words pass before your eyes doesn’t necessarily mean that the realities of the words are being implanted into our soul. Thus we need to ask ourselves: Does the way I study the Word actually help me to become more like Christ and more filled with the life of God when I read it?

It would be better to study just 10 verses for an entire year and have those ten verses actually become implanted into the substance of your life than to read than entire Bible in a year. There is of course nothing wrong with reading the entire Bible in a year – that’s great! I am simply pointing out that having the words become reality in our lives is far more important than checking a box.

So if you struggle with keeping up with reading plans like I do – you’re in good company.

But reading the Bible regularly is still very important.

If you’re looking for a place to start, consider making a goal of reading a Gospel (like Matthew) from beginning to end, but just read a small portion of it each day. If you don’t get all the way through it, not a big deal! If you skip a day; no worries – come back to it the next day!

But when you do come to the Word, treat it as a place where you will have a holy meeting with God.

Read it slowly and think about the words that you’re reading… stop whenever you read something that puzzles you, or peaks your interest and dwell on it, praying for the assistance of the Holy Spirit to bring fully before your mind the realities expressed.

Ask yourself, “What is my life like since this is true? “How shall I speak and act because of this?”

So for example, Psalm 23:1 says “The Lord is my shepherd.” So I contemplate on what that really means… If the Lord really is my Shepherd… that means I don’t have to fend for myself. It means that I can trust him with the uncontrollable events in my life. It also means that he knows where he’s leading me.

Contemplating on the realities that scripture teaches helps us to better understand the realities of the Kingdom of God – and it also teaches us what God cares about, what we need to start doing and also what we need to stop doing.

This leads to us to the importance of Practicing the Disciplines

As we grow in our Knowledge of the Kingdom and begin “[dwelling upon] the things of heaven, and not the things of earth… v2” we develop a vision of what our life in the Kingdom should look like.

We begin to recognize the aspects of ourselves that need to be put to death, like we see in Col 3:5, “So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.”

Now overcoming some of these things might seem insurmountable, but the reality is that with Christ in us (in this new kind of life) we actually can have victory over these sinful habits in our lives!

The Spirit of God will give us everything we need to undertake this effort as we follow Christ’s example, and throughout when we look at the Gospels we see Jesus setting time aside for solitude, silence, prayer, intense study and meditation upon God’s Word and His ways – he also practiced simplicity, and service to others.

As his disciples, we would be wise to follow this example.

Being transformed into the likeness of Christ (i.e., spiritual formation, sanctification) requires that we take intentional steps towards becoming the type of person whose natural expression is the likeness of Christ. Meaning we we become the type of people who are at the ready to bless those who persecute us, slow to anger, and so on.

These are the realities of the Kingdom of Heaven actively at work in our lives!

And white knuckling obedience will not work – simply trying to stop doing whatever it is you’re struggling with will not work over the long term.

For example, if you are trying to control your anger – deciding that you are no longer going to get angry will only work as long as you are minding your P’s and Q’s… But the moment something really torques you off – the anger deep inside you will spill out because you are still the type of person who gets angry.

So with the Holy Spirit’s guidance and help, we need to undertake well directed efforts to being transformed into the type of person who just doesn’t react that way anymore – this is always a heart issue.

The best way to address a heart issue is to engage in some of the disciplines listed on the screen. Christians throughout the millennia, including Jesus himself, practiced these disciplines in order to continuously refocus their heart, mind, and body towards the Kingdom of God.

Back in March Phil preached 2 sermons on the spiritual disciplines where he went into detail on each one of these, so I’ll just encourage you to go back and give those a listen if you’d like a refresher or to learn more about the disciplines.

March 1, 2015: Disciplines of Abstinence

March 8, 2015: Disciplines of Engagement

I encourage you to write these disciplines down and consider placing one or two of them into your routine this week. They might be called disciplines, but they’re not lockstep and you can adjust them to fit your situation.

I’ll give you an example of how I’ve been using a discipline that’s not on this list:

I am the type of person that speeds (not crazy speeding, but ~5-10mph over on a regular basis). When I get my in the car and I’m just cruising, day dreaming speeding is part of my Standard Operating Procedure for a vehicle. I don’t even have to think about it because I’m the type of person that speeds. It’s been something I’ve allowed myself to do since high school.

I know this isn’t right and even a few police officers have reminded me of that over the years… So this one time I decided that I wasn’t going to speed all day!  It was one of the worst days of my life! I might have been going the speed limit, but I was the most unhappy obedient driver you’ve ever met because I was still the type of person that speeds but was just acting like someone who obeys the speed limit…

Then this last year I was introduced to the spiritual disciplines and realized I wasn’t addressing the heart issue which made me want to speed… so after a lot of thinking I came to the realization that the idea that that informs my desire to speed is: I like to have the best.

Not sure where I developed this but I probably lost a lot at sports as a kid or something ….

So, I felt the Lord leading me to practice The Discipline of Giving Others the Best – and this a discipline I’ve been able to apply even outside of driving.

Notice how the discipline addresses my heart issue, whereas me just trying to slow down just makes me more frustrated. I’m not saying it’s easy… it’s still an effort, but it’s directed at transforming my heart. This discipline also largely keeps me in the right lane (because the left is best) and doesn’t allow me to jockey for position in traffic,  so it causes me to slow down.

Perhaps this week you might practice a discipline not on this list. Perhaps this week you can practice the discipline of:

  • Not having to have the last word.
  • Letting God take care of the reputation and recognition you deserve.
  • Blessing those who make your life miserable.

Now the good news is that we’re not doing this on our own.

As we intentionally move towards growing in our knowledge of God and obedience to him, we actually begin to experience His presence with us throughout the day. Going back to our scripture for today, notice the consistent “with Christ” theme throughout the whole thing:

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. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

In just 4 verses, Paul says the same thing 5 times in 5 different ways! I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that Paul is trying to get at something here… he’s saying, “Guys, this is important!”

Christ is with you in the moment-to-moment activities that make up your daily existence, and as you seek his Kingdom and his righteousness you will naturally be drawn into constant conversation with him.

But this is a choice we make. Our first freedom is where we chose to place our mind –– but it is an easy choice because as we contemplate on him and cooperate with him – we receive his joy, peace and contentment.

So what does this look like practically speaking?

In every situation we can ask, “Father, what would you have me do this moment?”

For a particular situation, you could pray something like:

  • “Lord, give me the words to speak to this person because I don’t know what to say!”
  • “God, be with me as I wash these pots and pans! May the peace and joy you’ve given me be evident to everyone around me!”
  • “Lord, let your love shine through me now as I care for this patient who is afraid of the operation she’s about to go under. Help me to comfort her and to let her know that she is deeply loved and valued by you.”

If you are an apprentice of Jesus, God is with you every moment of the day and you can be sure that he will indeed meet with you when you turn your focus to him. The fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” will be instilled in you in ever increasing measure as you commune with him.

There is a great little book on this topic that I want to recommend to you. It’s super easy to read and it’s a collection of letters that Frank Laubach, a missionary to the Philippines, wrote to his Father. The letters were later published as, Letters by a Modern Mystic. It has a strange title, but I assure you it is a good read.

In the letters he describes his attempts to keep God in his mind each and every moment of the day, thinking of and talking to Him, and allowing God to work through him. He shares his failures but also incredible discoveries that you can apply directly to your own life. Frank was just a normal guy… much like you and me, but God used him in amazing ways to impact President Truman’s international policies and he even developed a written language for verbal only language – absolutely amazing stuff!

Before we wrap up, I want to leave you with just a few challenges:

1. Intentionally set aside some time to study and meditate on God’s Word. Perhaps start with the passage we’re studying this week and next week, Col 3:1-17. Think about and meditate on the words as you read them. Col 3:1-17 is also a great passage to memorize!

2. Ask God to help you identify what disciplines you could practice this week to aid in the transformation of your heart. Remember, we want to get at the heart issue, just stopping whatever it is we’re doing will only lead to frustration because deep down we’re still they type of person that gets angry, or lusts, or cheats.

We need to ask God to help us discern what it is deep down that is causing us to act in such ways.

3. Throughout the day, as often as you think of him, take a few moments to just speak with God as if he we sitting next to you in the car, or sitting with you at your work. He is most certainly with you and you can speak with him as you would with your father or closest friend, and I am absolutely positive that as you turn your focus to him throughout the day you will see a transformation to how you view your day and the people around you.

When you invite God into the daily texture of your life you can be sure that he will gladly meet you in those moments and bring into reality what Paul prays at the end of Romans, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

And it is that hope overflowing from you that this world so desperately needs.

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