The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, August 1, 2010.  The Scripture for this week’s message is Colossians 3:1-11.
We are jumping out of Luke’s gospel this week, and turning to one of the letters of the Apostle Paul.  Paul’s letter to the Colossians is considered to be one of his Prison Epistles because it was most likely written from prison, around the same time that he also wrote Ephesians and Philemon.  This particular letter is split pretty evenly between theological exposition and practical application.  Where we find ourselves today is at the beginning of the second half of the letter where the practical application really begins to take over.  So, let’s dig into it and see what it is that we can walk away with this morning.
Paul begins by saying, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”  When it comes to the Greek text, there are four different ways to approach an “if” clause.  In the construction that is used in this phrase, Paul assumes the statement found in the “if” part of the statement to be true.  In other words, we could translate this verse as, “Since you have been raised with Christ, and I assume that you have been, consequently, seek the things that are above.”
Paul is writing to a group of believers in this letter.  His instructions here are not for those who do not believe in Christ.  Earlier in the letter, in Colossians 2:12, Paul says that those who have been buried with Christ will be raised with Christ.  Those who have put their faith in Jesus, through their baptism, have been buried and raised with Christ.  They have died to their old self and have been given new life because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And now, in this section of the letter, Paul begins to describe what such a life should look like.
If you sit here this morning and can say that Jesus Christ is the Lord of your life and that by his blood you have been redeemed from all that separates you from God, then, guess what, Paul is talking to you this morning.  If that doesn’t describe you, then you can take the morning off if you’d like, but I’d suggest listening in anyway.
The first thing that Paul tells us is to “seek the things that are above,” and he follows it up in the next verse by saying, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”  This instruction really has to do with where our minds are going.  At the end of his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  The focus here is to keep our minds occupied with things that are worthy of occupying our minds.
Let’s face it, there are a lot of things in this world that are not worth our time.  Movies, television shows, music on the radio – do they add to our spiritual life, or do they detract from it?  Now, I want to make sure I’m very clear here.  I’m not suggesting that we totally close ourselves off from the world and be oblivious to what is going on around us.  But we also want to make sure that we don’t totally close off ourselves to the spiritual world and become oblivious to the things with which we surround ourselves.  We have to be intentional about what we let into our lives.
I want to give you an example that may be a little odd at first, but I think it makes sense.  When I was in seminary, I worked at the Sears in Fayette Mall in Lexington, Kentucky.  I tried to work it out so that I would have classes on two days a week and I would work four days.  I usually worked a full day, and sometimes, okay, most of the time, I wouldn’t bring anything for lunch, so I’d have to go down to the Food Court to get my lunch.
Like most food courts, there isn’t much in terms of healthy selections at the Fayette Mall.  I would usually end up at Arby’s, and I began to notice that every time I would eat at Arby’s, I would just feel “bleh” all afternoon.  I wasn’t sick.  I didn’t have an upset stomach; I just felt sluggish, tired and “bleh” for the rest of the day.  I realized something else.  Whenever I ate their curly fries, I felt like this.  
Now, before you get offended that I’m talking about your favorite fries in the world, I love Arby’s curly fries.  I think they are fantastic.  But I also know that if I ever eat them, I’m just going to feel like “bleh” for the rest of the day.  What we put into our bodies has a profound effect in how we feel and how we carry ourselves for the rest of the day.  A balanced diet is important for us physically because it can affect how well our bodies work.  The same is true for our spiritual lives.
If we just allow the junk into our spiritual lives, we can end up feeling like “bleh” for quite some time.  We may dabble in spiritual junk from time to time because a part of us really likes it still, but if we allow ourselves to continually be taken in by the things that this world produces which are of no value to the kingdom of God, then our spiritual lives will suffer for it – just like how our physical lives suffer when we take in bad food all the time.  But if we have a more holistic approach to our spiritual lives, if we start to have a balanced spiritual diet, then we will find ourselves in a much better spiritual position, and having a more balanced spiritual diet begins with where we set our minds.
Making a lifestyle change is one of the hardest things that we can do, especially if we have been doing things a certain way for such a long time.  It helps to have a reason to make the change.  You have probably heard stories about people having a heart attack and it gives them a new perspective on life, so they start eating better and taking better care of themselves.  You may be one of those people.  Something like a heart attack gives one a compelling reason to make a change.  Likewise, when it comes time to make a change in our spiritual life, we don’t just change to make a change.  We change because there is a reason to change.  Paul gives us such a reason.
He says in verse 3, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  What is our compelling reason to make such a significant spiritual change in our lives?  Because our lives aren’t about us any more.  Again, if you can sit here this morning and say that Jesus Christ is the Lord of your life and that by his life, death and resurrection you have been redeemed into a new relationship with God, then, you’re life is no longer about you.  Our lives are no longer about what we want and what we desire, but our lives are about what is best for the kingdom of God.
When our lives our hidden with Christ in God, we have an obligation to look at our lives in a different way.  As we talked about last week, praying that God’s will be done is one of the most radical things that we can pray.  It’s radical because it means that we are praying for God’s will even when it goes in direct conflict with our will.  We have a tendency to lean towards comfort and the status quo in our lives when we make decisions, but sometimes, the will of God causes us to go outside of our comfort zone.
When God calls us to do something that is uncomfortable or different, do we hold back in hesitation, or do we go forward, knowing that God is in control?  Again, our natural inclination is to hold back because we like the comfortable nature of the world that we have constructed around us.  But we can’t do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.  Einstein says that is the very definition of insanity.
If I keep going to Arby’s and I keep getting the curly fries, I need to realize that I’m going to have a lot of bad afternoons unless I make the conscious decision to change that habit.  In the same way, if we keep filling our spiritual lives with things that are comfortable, but not productive, then we need to know that we are going to have a lot of bad days spiritually.  But when we realize that our lives are not our own, then we can start making some significant changes.
In verses 5-10, Paul gives us a pretty sizable list of things in our lives that need to be changed if we really consider ourselves to be followers of Jesus Christ.  I’m not going to ask you to raise you hand as we go through the list, but think about how your life is affected by these things: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, idolatry, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk and lying.  That’s a big list, and the truth is, some of the things on that list are things that we have been taught are acceptable by society.
Watch television for an evening.  Take a look at the movie listings when you get home.  Carefully listen to the radio on the way home.  Many of the things on Paul’s list are not only featured on movies, television and music, but in many cases, they are glorified.  We have to be able to draw the boundaries.  Again, I’m definitely not saying that we should cut ourselves off from the non-Christian world, but we need to be discerning about what we let into our lives.  If we can’t relate to the world around us, we are going to have a hard time winning people to Christ.  But if we get so caught up in buying what culture is selling, and people can’t see the light of Christ in us, then what difference has Christ made in our lives?
We need to be able to show that there has been a change in our lives.  Paul uses the language of taking off the old self and putting on the new self.  The language that he is using is a lot like changing clothes.  The old self, the “us” before we have new life in Christ, is a lot like a dirty shirt.  Not just the shirt that I’ve been wearing all day, but the shirt that I’ve been wearing while mowing the grass, running the trimmer, working in the garden and then mucking out the stalls.  It’s nasty, filthy, sweaty, and you may just have to grab a pair of scissors in order to get it off.  That’s the old self.  That is the “us” without Christ.
Paul tells us to put on the new self.  The new self is that clean shirt that just came out of the dryer.  It is in pristine condition.  Paul says that the new self is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.  In other words, the new self is the “us” that is continually being conformed to the image of Christ.  It is the “us” that follows God’s call.  It is the “us” that we have been created to be.
Paul gives us some very practical things to think about here as we strive to live our lives as followers of Jesus Christ.  We are certainly challenged by what our culture has told, but we have to remember that we no longer live for ourselves, but we live for Christ.  Our old self has died.  We are to seek the heavenly things, and we are to do so in the midst of a world that tries to distract us from those things.  It is not easy, being a follower of Jesus Christ, but when we remember that our life is no longer our own, then we put ourselves in a much better position to be faithful to the call that God has for each one of us.