I want to share with you that at the beginning of this year, I realized that I was struggling. What I realized is that I was having a difficult time keeping up with my schedule and trying to accomplish all the things that I thought I needed to accomplish. A lot went into this realization. First, I pastor two churches, one is supposed to take about a third of my time and the other two thirds. Then in October, we began what is basically a new church start, Messy Church. And through Messy Church, about 40-50 new people have become involved in the life of the congregation.
This new movement of God has been a huge blessing to me, and I have seen some amazing things through Messy Church. But what I realized a couple of months into the new year is that I was busier than I had ever been and couldn’t get a really good handle on my schedule and todo list. Perhaps these are things that I shouldn’t be sharing with you, but I am because it’s just life and it’s just reality. What I soon realized is that my schedule wasn’t serving me, but I was serving my schedule. That list of things to do kept increasing, and I was drowning in things left undone. What I realized is that all I was doing was reacting to things as they popped up. Something would happen and I would react to it. I had no time or energy to act on things that I saw as important or necessary, because all I seemed to be doing was reacting to things as the popped up.
I soon realized that this was unsustainable. So I took it upon myself to take some time away from some of these tasks and to reevaluate what I do and what I need to be doing. I took some online classes and read some books that helped me focus on what matters. I made it a personal goal to reprioritize and reevaluate my work, and made it a goal of myself to run my schedule instead of my schedule running me. I made a commitment to spend less time reacting and more time acting on the things that I desired and valued.
Since my to do list wasn’t getting any smaller, this whole process took about three months to accomplish. I will share that I think that I have been about 70-75% successful in this endeavor. There is still more work to do to, but what I have realized is that there is a great benefit in refocusing and reminding yourself of who you are and what you need to be doing. When you are able to do this refocusing, it helps enable you not to live a life of reacting to things, but to live life by intentionally doing or acting.
If you are anything like me, you know what it is to have your schedule run you. As many are getting ready to go back to school, I know that is true of you. I think about our students that graduated a couple of months ago who will soon be headed off to college. It’s a time full of transitions, but if you aren’t careful you can find yourself overwhelmed by the new schedule and new responsibilities. The dread of an 8:00 class, the coursework that will begin to pile up, the freshmen get togethers, parties that you will want to attend, and even the possibility of living with new and unfamiliar people. While this is an exciting time, it is also a time that you have to be careful. It’s easy to live this new chapter in life by reacting to everything that comes your way without really acting intentionally to do the things you want or the things need or the things you value.
Of course, even if you aren’t headed to college in a few weeks, this is something you likely face as well. Is your mood or outlook determined by what you see watching the morning news? Is you schedule and everything you plan to do already established by the doctors’ appointments or lab test you need done? Do you allow that diagnosis to determine who you are? If you have to drive for your work, is your outlook determined by the flow rate of traffic and whether or not someone cuts you off right before your exit? Are your spending habits defined more by what sale items you see on Amazon than on the products you actually need? It is so easy to allow the demands and the needs of the world to determine and define who you are and how you function in the world. When you allow the world to determine and define you, you forget who you really are and lose the ability to act on your own.
This summer when we hosted camp, one of the things that we taught our campers was the importance of knowing who you are. In teaching them this, our memory verse came from Colossians 2:6-7. We call Colossians a book of the Bible, but really, Colossians is a letter. This letter was written by Paul and Timothy to the church located in Colossea, which is a town located in modern day Turkey. In this letter Paul and Timothy begin by giving thanks for the grace of Jesus that is active in the lives of the Christians in this community. Then Paul tells them the importance of remembering who they are.
In Colossians 2:6-7, our memory verse from camp, we read
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Paul tells these people, you are people of faith, remember to live your lives in the Lord. When you build your life, build it up in Jesus, and be strengthened in this faith. Then, in the very next sentence, Paul cautions his readers not to allow the demands and schedules of the world to define and determine who they are. He says in verse 8:
See to it that nobody enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ.
Paul tells his readers that they, if they are not careful, can be enslaved by the demands of the world. In fact, he says, that the world is full of deception. Things out there that tell you of their importance, but they are things that end up leaving you empty. That 40% off sale and the Tupperware that promises to never clutter your drawer—it’s a lie. If you need more storage containers, fine, but there are no storage containers that will not end up eating and destroying your cabinets. That seduction that says that you need to please people and say yes when someone asks you to do something even when your schedule is full, and you don’t have any time left for yourself or those close to you. These deceptions of the world tempt to bring you in line with reacting to the things around you, instead of acting with agency as a child of Jesus.
When you fall for these deceptions, they tell you things about yourself that are not true. They tell you that you aren’t good enough. They tell you that you aren’t strong enough. They tell you that you are not worthy. They tell you that you aren’t pretty enough or thin enough or that you just aren’t plain enough.
This is why Paul cautions this church about the deceptions. They will steal your life and your joy and keep you from experiencing the love of God. If you really want to refocus, restart, and remember who you are, Paul gives us a clear place as to where to start. To resist the temptations and deceptions of the world, Paul gives a clear point of action that you can cling to. If you have a Bible with you, I want to invite you to turn to Colossians 3. It’s in this part of the letter that Paul gives the most important thing that you can do to resist the deceptions of the world. In Colossians 3:1-4, Paul tells us.
Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right side. 2 Think about the things above and not things on earth. 3 You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
To resist the temptations and deceptions that are all around you, Paul says two things: he says think about and look toward the things that are above and remember that your life is hidden in Christ. When you take a moment to look at this advice, I think that you will find that Paul is right on target and that these two things can really help you remember who are you so that you are not pulled apart by the deceptions around you.
When your schedule seems too incredibly full and the demands of school or work or life seem to be beating down on you, I know it can seem rather ridiculous for Paul or me to suggest that you should keep you minds on the things above instead of the things right in front of you. I already hear the objections, yea, but you don’t know what I have going on. You don’t understand what my life is like. You don’t understand the pain and the trials that I am facing with my diagnosis.
While I understand these objections, I want you to know that setting your mind on the things above does not mean that you will forget or not deal with the things that are in front of you. A Christian writer from the first half of the twentieth century gives us some great insight into what Paul is talking about and how it can help us all. You are likely familiar with this writer; his name is CS Lewis. He was a prolific writer, and you are likely familiar with his Narnia series that was made into movies. In one of his other books, a book called Mere Christianity, Lewis tackles this idea that Paul is trying to teach us. He writes that:
This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not … a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were those who thought most of the next.
Then he goes on to give some examples of how those who were most committed to looking toward Jesus and the things above were some of those that had the greatest impact for good on the world. And then he concludes with a statement that I find incredibly helpful. He says:
Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p.134)
In other words, look to Christ; think of the things above and you can make a difference here in this world. Think of the things of Christ, and you can act with agency and love in this broken and hurting world. Think of the things of Jesus, and you can even act toward hope and healing in your own life. But if you only think of the things right in front of you, they will define you and keep you from what is important, keep you from your true identity in Christ. So, aim for the things above, focus on the things of God, and as you do so your action plan and the things that you need to accomplish or handle will come into view.
And, secondly, Paul tells us that as you aim for the things above, remember whose you are. Paul says in verse 3: you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. At the time Paul was living, people would commonly say that when you died you were hidden in the earth. These days, we might say, so and so passed away, in Paul’s day, people might say, so and so is hidden in the earth. The early Christians built on this and used imagery of death as a way of understanding baptism and faith in Jesus. When you died the death of baptism, you weren’t hidden in the earth; instead, when you died the death of baptism you were hidden in Jesus.
In essence, what Paul is telling you is that through your baptism you are wrapped up in Christ. It’s not you that God sees, it is Christ. Your life and your love are hidden in the life of Jesus. When you encounter the things of this world, you do so, not alone; you do so as one who is guarded by Jesus—as one hidden in Jesus.
Through these words, Paul is giving us a chance to reevaluate where we are. He is giving us a chance to stop responding to everything that comes in our way and to begin remembering who we are whose we are. When you take this time to remember, when you embrace who you are in Christ and keep focused on the things of God, I think that you will find the deceptions and distractions of the world as easier to resist. And this same place in Christ will fill you with the love and care you need to act and live as one defined by Jesus not defined by the world.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.