Our soon-to-be daughter is still down at the orphanage. COVID-19 has closed the borders of Colombia and it may be a long while before they reopen.
Thankfully, we have been able to Skype with her. At least once a week, we get on the video call and Julianna reads Spanish stories while I say, “Hola! Hola!” over and over again in the background. It’s not the same as being able to have her, but it is a blessing.
Anyways, over the course of these calls, I’ve learned something.
It is HARD to hold the attention of an 18-month-old through Skype.
I mean…I give it my all.
I squeak the squeaky Flamingo.
I speak in a high-pitched voice.
I make a popping noise with my mouth.
I turn on the pretend telephone.
I make a big commotion all so that she’ll LOOK at the camera – just for a moment.
It can be a bit frustrating.
I wonder if God doesn’t feel the same way.
Everyone’s looking around and panicking about the Coronavirus, wondering how they’re going to stay healthy and keep the economy strong.
And God’s speaks through his Word and says,
“Hey. You. Look up here. Everything is going to be fine.”
Today God’s Word reminds us where to look for hope and direction. Before we get into it, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Where to Look?
The lesson we’re looking at in order to learn where to look is found in Colossians 3. A bit of background. Colosse was a city in Asia Minor. It had once been a glorious place filled with a booming economy and decadent riches.
At the time of the letter, it was less important.
It was old.
It was forgotten.
it was deteriorating.
Still, there was a group of believers there led by a pastor named Epaphras. Epaphras had taught them that they could be rich again. Not with gold or silver, but with the blood of Jesus shed for their forgiveness. The result would be eternal riches of God himself.
Enough people believed that a church formed.
But more recently, this church had been learning about a different sort of Gospel.
We don’t have full specifics on what exactly this false teaching was. But if you look at the book of Colossians, there are clues.
This teaching claimed that Jesus wasn’t God (2:8-9)
It taught that Jesus wasn’t the Savior. (2:11-14)
It taught that Jesus was a man who did the right things to become enlightened and if you just did the right things too… (2:16-23)
If you read enough academic articles…
If you gained enough human wisdom…
If you figured out the right medicinal combination…
If you listened to the most compelling philosophers….
If you found the correct spiritual disciplines…
If you ate the right kinds of foods…
If you just looked around for the right kind of wisdom, you would be…
Above this slime-ball world and all its problems.
Of course, none of that is the Gospel.
That’s why Pastor Epaphras left Colosse and traveled to Rome to meet up with another pastor named Paul. He explained the situation to him and (since Paul was experienced at writing letters to Christian churches), he asked Paul to write a letter to his congregation to get them looking in the right direction again.
Let me say that again:
Colossians was written to believers that had been LOOKING in the wrong place…
Colossians was written to redirect that group of believers to LOOK in the right place…
Sounds a bit like 21st century American believers in the midst of a global pandemic?
And to be fair.
Paul wrote this down.
But he was inspired by the Spirit of God.
The Spirit had this message preserve.
And we’re about to read it.
This is just as much as message for you and me as it was for the Colossians.
Because right now…
Where are you looking for answers?
Where are you looking for hope?
Where are you looking for guidance on what to do next?
Are you LOOKING AT the news? One source says things are getting better. But there’s a conflicting report on this second source? Followed by an opinion piece that calls all reports into question.
Are you LOOKING AT the curve? Maybe you’ve got it bookmarked as your home page, so you can check it at a moment’s notice: “It’s going down. It’s going up. It’s going down. Nope…I’m just holding my phone upside down.”
Are you LOOKING AT social media for comfort!? Do you know what would make me feel better? If I read through all of Uncle Mike’s conspiracy theory posts and then read through all 179 comments attached to it. That’ll make me feel better.
Are you LOOKING TO your bank account? Cause…if that IRA can just turn around and stop losing money – we’ll be ok.
Are you LOOKING TO politicians? They are trying their best. But have you ever considered all the things they’ve got to look at? They LOOK AT…
…what the rest of their party is saying,
…hundreds of thousands of differing opinions.
…scientific tables that are difficult to understand
…economic charts that that are just as difficult to understand.
…how their vote on a COVID-19 bill affects their own electability.
...one group of people that just want life to go back to normal.
…another group of people that want life to go back to quarantine.
All resulting in some rules/recommendation/encouragements that people are to follow.
I’m not making any political commentary on any politician’s work at all.
I’m simply saying that if government is where we’re looking for hope and comfort, we won’t find it.
Because I’m not sure they’ve found it.
Here’s the truth…
If you look AROUND for answers, you just find others LOOKING AROUND.
That’s what’s happening right now. It’s as if we’re throwing our shoulders in the air, scrunching our facing, and generally looking bewildered, only to look around and find others throwing their shoulders in the air, scrunching their faces, and looking bewildered.
If you look for comfort from those who need comfort? You won’t find it.
If you look for direction from others who are directionless? You won’t find direction.
If you look for peace from people who lack peace? You will continue to be without peace.
Where should we look?
Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1)
Don’t look to the left.
Don’t look to the right.
Don’t look straight ahead.
Don’t look straight down.
Don’t look at your family.
Don’t look at your friends.
Don’t look at your computer screen.
Don’t look introspectively within yourself.
God calls us to LOOK UP!
It’s like what your swimming instructor taught you while you were learning the backstroke. They strapped on one of those little flotation pillows to your stomach. They guided you into the water. They gently placed their hand underneath your back and calmly reminded you, “Look up!”
Because if you look down or around, you’ll cause yourself to spasm, to sink, to get a mouth full of chlorinated water.
But if you look up…
God says the same to us:
I know it feels like you’re drowning.
But you aren’t.
Just look up.
You’ll see me.
You’ll see me smiling,
I got you.
II. Why Look Up?
Colossians 3 gives us some very specific reasons to look up. Let’s take it apart.
(1) UP is where Christ LIVES
Verse 1 says “Seek the things that are above, where Christ IS…”
Notice the present tense.
It means that whatever the verb is referring to is currently happening.
In this instance, Christ is currently happening.
Because Jesus isn’t dead, but he lives!
He isn’t some bones in a grave.
He isn’t a pile of ashes on a mantle.
Jesus is alive.
If you don’t look up, you’ll miss him.
Can you imagine if that happened at Jesus’ Ascension?
Imagine that Jesus feet began to lift off the ground.
That his body began to rise in the air.
That his form was at the level of the pine trees.
But Simon the Zealot was too busy looking at the bee that had landed on the dandelion!
Simon! Look up!
You’re missing it!
You’re missing our Savior.
You’re missing our Hope.
You’re missing our Comfort.
You’re missing our glorious Christ!
Friends, it’s the same for you.
Look at Christ.
(2) UP is where Christ RULES
Verse 1 continues, “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”
Do we have any left handers out there today? I apologize. I don’t want to appear discriminatory to left handers. (I have some good friends who are left-handed. We’ll remain good friends…as long as we don’t sit next to each other while we’re eating.)
Generally, more people are right-handed. So in ancient culture, an idiom developed. Because the right hand was more powerful, a powerful person in government was often said to be, “the king’s right-hand man.” It didn’t mean he was always on his right side, but that he had authority.
Jesus is at God’s right hands.
He has authority.
He is in control.
Not some government official that barely knows you.
Not some bankers on wall street.
Not the devil.
Jesus is in control.
There’s no one better to have in control.
No one who is wiser.
No one who is more powerful.
No one who knows you more than you.
No one who loves you more than you…
No one more than Jesus.
The one in control.
(3) UP is where PURPOSE is
Verse 2 continues the thought. It says, “Set your mind on things above, not earthly things.” The logic is simple. Jesus is our leader. Jesus is in heaven. If you want to follow your leader, you listen to the things coming out of heaven, not the things that are coming out of earth.
If you are shopping and you see a roll of paper towel available on the shelf and you catch a grandma shopping next to you giving that same paper towel roll a glance…
The world says, “You need it! Put the pedal to the metal and grab the glory!”
But the message from heaven says, “The Lord loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
You let her have it. And smile while doing so.
If you are meeting up with a friend for a walk and you notice that they are putting on a mask because they are afraid of catching COVID-19 and/or spreading it.
But you aren’t afraid. Because, “God’s got me.”
The world says, “Tough cookies for her. I do what I want. Nobody can make me do anything.”
But the message from heaven says, “Serve one another humbly in love.” (Galatians 5:13)
You wear the mask. Freely. Out of love.
If we open up for in-person worship and you are comfortable with the principles we put in place and are feeling ready to go. But you notice that another friend has chosen to continue to worship from home for the time being.
The world says, “Text her. Tell her that you’re a better Christian than her because you made it out and she didn’t.”
The from heaven says, “Be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)
So you text her: “Just checking to see how it’s going! Praying for you. You are my sister in faith.”
Look up. That’s where you’ll find purpose.
(4) UP is where your COVERING is
Sometimes you make mistakes while dealing with this pandemic.
Sometimes you lose your cool.
Sometimes you say things you shouldn’t say.
Sometimes you don’t take the proper precautions and expose someone to the virus.
Sometimes you harm friendships as a result.
Guilt is a thing.
Guilt over COVID-19 missteps is a real thing.
When COVID-19 guilt happens, the world wants you to just hide under a blanket of blaming other people:
“They’re just over sensitive.”
“They’re just misinformed.”
“They’re the ones with the problem.”
But that’s like taking a blanket and tossing it over your head in a game of hide and seek.
It doesn’t work.
Instead, look up for the eternal covering.
“For you died, now your life is hidden with Christ in God. (v.3)
Did you hear that?
Christ covers your guilt.
Christ covers your sins.
Christ covers all of your failures.
In Jesus, your sins are hidden.
In Jesus, you are forgiven.
(5) UP is where YOU will BE
The final reason to look up is found in verse 4,
“When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (v.4)
I had a colleague of mine die the other day.
He was a pastor of a mid-sized congregation. He had a family. He served many people with God’s Word. As a result, he will be sorely missed.
And as I was thinking about this, it home with me.
If that happened, that would be sad.
I enjoy all of you.
I enjoy ministering to you.
I look forward to seeing you again.
On the other hand…
I’m kind of jealous.
He is in a place where there aren’t computer glitches while preparing the sermon for Sunday.
He is in a place where he doesn’t have to deal with the fear of coronavirus.
He is in a place where he doesn’t have to social distancing from his people.
He is in a place where he doesn’t have to feel guilt for not making the best pastoral choices.
He is in a place where he doesn’t have to try to remember where he put his mask.
He is in a place where he doesn’t need to look up.
God calls us to look up right now, so that eventually we join him in a place where we no longer have to look up.
Because in heaven, there’s no need to look up.
In heaven, you simply look around.
You look around and see God.
You look around and see fellow believers.
You look around and see peace, safety, and health.
You look around and see Jesus.
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