Keep Thinking About Things Above

There have been many moments recently where I have been contemplating the Christian life in ways I find a little unsettling. It is far easier to look at the Christian faith as a way to make our lives easier or better. The popularity of Joel Olsteen’s “Your Best Life Now” reveals our tendency to embrace a feel-good, therapeutic faith. While I don’t intend to deal with all that here, suffice it to say that the Christian life is, by design, meant to be in Christ in all the fullness of what that means in the Bible.

To be in Christ entails some non-negotiable biblical truths. For starters, none of us are good people who merely have a few flaws where we then simply add Christ to our lives. St. Paul writes in Romans 3 that we all are born rebels — hostile to God. Romans 3:23-24 affirms that we “fall short of the glory of God”, yet we “are justified by his grace as a gift in Christ Jesus…” To be in Christ is to receive his gracious gift by faith alone even as we reject our former hostilities towards God and his ways.

As we grow in Christ, we begin to come to terms with what this life here on earth is really all about. Again, St. Paul’s words:

“Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Keep thinking about things above, not things on the earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ (who is your life) appears, then you too will be revealed in glory with him.” (Colossians 3:1–4, NET)

This is where it gets tricky: the Christian life means we have died. No, I mean it. There’s really no other legitimate interpretation to this passage. Of course, Paul goes on to say your life in hidden with Christ. Ah, so I’m only mostly dead 🙂

Okay, back up to Col. 3:1 and notice his words “if you have been raised in Christ…”: that gracious gift about which Paul wrote in Romans 3 involves us being connected in a profound way to the risen Lord. In other words, Jesus was raised bodily from the dead (as the Holy Scriptures strongly attest), so the one who rejects their rebellious life and places their faith in Christ has been raised from the dead. True, we await the completion of that in our bodes (and as I get older, I am becoming more anxious for that!). So, even as I have died (in Paul’s normal language, he is saying I have died to my former way of life), I have already been raised.

So the emphasis of Colossians 3:1-4 is Paul’s strong encouragement for us to re-prioritize our goals, ambitions, pursuits, and even our routine, mundane activites in light of that new life — and specifically, not to keep thinking about things on the earth.

Well, that’s the problem. My felt needs scream inside my head and I forget all too often about the things above.

What am I to do about that? I keep reverting to earthly appetites and felt needs!

Get up when I fail and by God’s grace get back to it! Notice Paul’s wording: “keep thinking about things above…” — to keep thinking (as rendered in NET Bible) is translated in ESV as “seek…” ζητέω (zēteō). vb. to seek. (Randall Merrill, “Seeking,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).

zēteō: verb “to seek”

Therefore, to keep thinking or seeking is an ongoing activity that is central in the Christian life. It is central because it reorients our priorities around the purposes of God in Christ Jesus, even as I (daily) surrender all over again to God. This is, in fact, the proper christian perspective on life. And it’s hard! If it was easy, Paul wouldn’t have to remind us to keep doing it: the Greek word “zēteō” is a verb, present, active, imperative, second person, plural. That just means all who are in Christ must always without exception keep on doing this. Don’t stop. Don’t get lost in the weeds. Look up. Continue thinking about what the Christian life really looks like. Keep thinking about the things above.

I am saying this to myself with every ounce of my being. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner!

ALMIGHTY God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we possess; Grant us grace that we may honour thee with our substance, and remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of thy bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, 1928)

Mountaintop Experience: What Now?

Mountaintop worship experience in the opening Eucharist, June 28, 2017.

I have had a few weeks to reflect upon the week at Wheaton College at the 2017 Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America. The gathering of worship and workshops was one of those rare mountaintop experiences in life. Yet I have had a nagging question almost since I unpacked my suitcase and returned to the mundane tasks of my life: what now?

To be sure, my faith in Christ was strengthened and encouraged. The opening Eucharist service was wonderful, and it started the conference on a stirring note. Archbishop Foley Beach spoke of Mission on our Doorstep and the urgent need to pray for people to work in the harvest. The harvest (biblically speaking) is ripe because God is working in the heart’s of people, drawing them to Christ. The workers are few. That is not a mere biblical phrase. That is a stark reality. What now?

Workshop on Christian engagement in culture

Likewise, my mind was thoroughly engaged as many thoughtful people presented in various break-out sessions. It took me back to when I was in seminary and was being challenged by Christian thinkers and leaders to grow beyond my limits and to see the biblical gospel in light of the world around me.

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali’s session on Christ and engaging the culture was a highlight. It energizes me to think about things that transcend the mundane and routine! Walking on Wheaton’s campus almost made me want to return to the classroom–almost. Actually, if we could afford to do it I probably would return, if I could see what things would look like on the other side of matriculation. What now?

Bishop Stuart Ruch

Then there’s the announcement by Bishop Stuart Ruch of his vision to see 200 churches planted in the Diocese of the Upper Midwest: we both found it interesting that the majority of workshops we attended had to do with church planting. I’m not a church planter in the modern, evangelical American ideal. Even Ed Stetzer (in his session on church planting) frequently employed the adjective “entrepreneurial” in front of “church planter”, which frames such activities in a light that gives me pause. Frankly, that’s too American in its connotations. I personally feel it places too much weight on the personality and can detract from a balanced view on God’s empowerment and calling. Yet Stetzer’s overall message underscored the very real sense that gospel ministry growth is best accomplished with church planting. I agree totally. What now?

For most of us, those rare mountaintop experiences are nice, but it is normal to return to the flatlands of monotony. In some cases, it probably is a slow decent. Yet I can say as one still struggling with a heart of an idealist that is in tension with my mind’s practicalities: how do I come away from this event truly changed? What difference did any of this make?

Final Eucharist service at the ACNA Assembly 2017

To return to the mountaintop for a moment, the final worship service at the Assembly (we had a follow-up service to celebrate the installation of Fr. William Beasley as the Missioner General) was another high point. Towards the end after the Eucharist, several clergy were available to pray for individuals as desired. I went forward and an elderly priest prayed a blessing over me. I do not recall his words, but I do recall praying that this experience would leave me changed.

I am changed, but I still am very unsure about where this will all lead. Career is such a struggle for me. I have prayed for 6 years that God would either remove any sense of ministry as a career or make it clear just how I should proceed if there is a real calling. Well, I believe there is a calling. What now?