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Focus – by Courtney Schmidt

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. – Colossians 3:1-4

My ability to “Set my mind on things above and not on earthly things,” has been tested this week. Really it’s been tested for the last few weeks. Full disclosure: I did not want to focus on things above today.

I’ve found it true throughout my whole life that I struggle to focus on Christ the most when my life is just regular. When it’s extraordinarily difficult or wonderful I am constantly reminded of God’s goodness and faithfulness and am spurred on towards following him all the more, but when things are just normal, sometimes focusing on things above gets lost behind doing laundry and making dinner and playing restaurant for the 15th time.

I think fairly often Christians get caught up in the idea that “things above” must include day dreaming about streets of gold or high and lofty aspirations that no one can attain. And it probably does include that, but it also includes the way you interact at the grocery store, how purposeful you are in your marriage, how you react to your children, and how you choose to spend your time.

I am constantly reminded of a family friend who preaches, “Don’t waste your parenting.” I’m sorry to anyone reading this who can’t relate, but as a stay at home mom to a 1 and 3 year old it’s often hard to think about anything beyond parenting. I all too often categorize fixing snacks, reading books, waking up at 6 am or playing restaurant as “regular” things, when in actuality, the constant opportunity to model Christ in everything that I do is completely focusing on “things above.”

For example: today was a challenging day.

Following an exceptionally whiny morning I took the kids out to the car to run errands and locked the keys in the house resulting in a call to my husband, who I forgot to fix lunch for today, asking him to please come home from work. Then my children were less than exemplary and terribly defiant. Later, the bag of popcorn purchased at the store just moments before was dumped in its entirety into the garbage can and all over the floor—and on and on.

Sadly, I didn’t handle it well and found myself consumed with earthly things rather than focusing on things above.

I think there are plenty of reasons why God told us to focus on things above: it glorifies him, it’s good for us, and in my case it points my children to Jesus. For the last few weeks we’ve spent every day in our house learning and practicing the fruits of the Spirit and are now focusing on the Armor of God, but in a single moment today I made all the words I’ve been telling Aisley obsolete by choosing to set my mind on earthly things. I sought anger and frustration and meanness rather than God and rather than living in the joy of the truth that I am joined with Christ, concealed in him, and eternally secure despite what happens in my day to day, I gave into the temptation of wallowing in my own pity.

Brad spoke on Sunday about choosing to live differently in light of the fact that we will one day appear in heaven with Christ, and it could be now, or now, or now. If I look at the timeline of my life I see the progress of the Holy Spirit working in my life, but today, I did not choose to live differently.

We are not exempt from being subject to this fallen world because we have chosen to follow Christ, and setting our hearts and minds on things above is not always an easy task. But, we have not been asked to do it alone. In Matthew 11:30 Jesus tells us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. A few verses earlier he calls for those who are weary and heavy laden to come to him so he can give them rest. Living a life worthy of the calling we have received through Christ is impossible for us as humans, but it has been made perfectly clear through scripture that we are not expected to do it in our own strength.

Later today, as I prayed for the Spirit to gather within me the strength to put my pride aside and redeem this day, I felt this desire to overcome creep up within me. Things didn’t get easier, and I didn’t transform into a perfect representation of Christ, but I chose to set my mind on things above—and to set, is to take action. I sat down with Aisley and talked about the day, sought her forgiveness, and stressed the importance of wearing our armor. I spent some time reading and rereading Colossians 3:1-4 and felt confirmation within me that the command to set our hearts and minds on things above gives mundane earthly struggles so much more eternal significance.

I am so thankful for his grace and mercy, and that he doesn’t leave us alone.

Courtney serves on Hospitality Team, in Children’s Ministry, and is a part of the Epic Married Group. She is married to the tall drink of water that greets everyone at the front door on Sunday mornings and has two precious, exhausting children. She loves pretending to be creative, cooking, eating, and being outside.

Shadows – by Rachel Adair

In Colossians 2:16-23, Paul teaches about shadows and the one true substance. Christ is our substance and He is all that matters. The Christians at the church of Colossae were being told they had to adhere to the Old Testament law. Paul explained to them that the law was the shadow and Christ is the substance.

Brad gave a great illustration for this. If you were to stand on one side of a building and you were expecting a friend to arrive, you would see their shadow coming around the building before you saw their substance. The shadow would alert you that your friend was coming and you would begin to get excited about seeing your friend. But, once the substance of your friend appeared, you would no longer focus on the shadow, you would focus on your friend because they are the substance. It’s the same way with Christ! The Old Testament law and covenant were a shadow of Christ and the new covenant. The Christians at Colossae were being told that they needed to focus on the shadow instead of the substance.

The church at Colossae was experiencing legalism. This is something that still affects the church deeply today. Paul was trying to help them understand that they are free in Christ and that Christ is the fulfillment of the law and covenant. This isn’t to say that we should just ignore the Old Testament law and never give it a second thought. We need to study it and love it because it is God’s Word. It shows us how He wanted His nation to be set apart from the nations around them and how deeply He cared about their everyday lives. The problem was that by the time Jesus began His ministry, the OT law was just a list of rules because the Jewish people had corrupted the law through sin, legalism, and disobedience.

I mentioned that legalism is still a problem for the church today. I experienced this first-hand in the church where I grew up. I want to preface this next part by saying that I have a deep love for the church I grew up in and the people that were there. Most of my fond memories revolve around the church and those people. However, it was a very strict, fundamental church which meant alcohol was strictly forbidden. You didn’t drink it, talk about it, think about it, or even look at it. But then, the pastor, deacons, and most of the men of the church would stand around and smoke after church. Do you see the irony there? Legalism equates holiness with avoiding cultural taboos. I grew up in the 80’s and so smoking was not taboo, but alcohol was- which is why these men saw no problem with lighting up after church. When we are legalistic in our approach with each other, we have blinders on and can’t see the ways that we sin.

I have struggled with this legalistic mentality over the years. I have thought that I am somehow better or holier because I don’t struggle with certain sins that others may struggle with. But, here’s the thing, I still struggle with sin! I am not better or holier than anyone. I need Jesus and His grace as much as anyone else. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit convicts me when I begin to get “too big for my britches” and shows me that I am in constant need of grace and forgiveness.

Brad summed up his message on Sunday by saying that we need to make our primary goal to grow in Christ. If we spend our time focusing on what everyone else is or isn’t doing, then we’ll never have the relationship with Christ that we desire. So, let’s put away legalism and instead, fix our eyes on Jesus. Let’s run our race with Him and keep our minds and hearts focused on what He would have us do in any and every situation. Instead of putting down our brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s build them up and love them. Let’s constantly point each other to Christ.

Rachel Adair is the Administrative Assistant for VLC. She is also wife to Nick and mom to Angie and Caleb. Her favorite thing to do is spend time with those she loves (family, friends, and her VLC faith family).

Nothing Can Separate Us – by Adam Howell

Colossians 2:8 reads, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” While the Apostle Paul wrote this in A.D. 62 to the church at Colossae, this verse seems as though it could be directly aimed at Western society in 2015. Too easily are people swayed by the falseness, lies, and deceit of the world that promise pleasure and the satisfaction of our earthly desires. It seems as though the early Christians in Colossae were facing attacks that seem very similar to what we face today. “The world” is constantly looking to steal your heart away from the truth of Christ and we must constantly be on guard. Personally, it always helps me to find these connections to Scripture. To see that society in A.D 62. wasn’t all that different from society in A.D. 2015 helps me understand Scripture better.

“See to it that no one takes you captive…” the Greek word for “captive” here is “sylagōgeō.” It was a word commonly used for the plundering of cargo from a ship. It brings an image of vicious pirates violently taking what is not theirs by force with no mercy or regard to human life. Using this metaphor, you are the vessel that the world intends on plundering. A cargo ship is not out to sea without reason or risk. Its purpose is to transport valuable cargo from point A to point B. This cargo is precious both to the sender and the recipient. As you have been charged with carrying cargo more precious than gold, that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there will be adversaries.

Today, these adversaries are the very same as what Paul was warning against almost 2,000 years ago. He called them, “philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world.” They are still the same today, as Brad pointed out “secular humanism.” Atheism, naturalism, evolution, and ethical relativism all seek to remove God from the picture. They seek to remove the truth from your heart, to plunder your cargo. We defend against such “pirates,” such “counterfeits”, by studying the truth that we have been shown. That truth is that we are made alive in Christ! Paul gives us a beautiful reminder with seven facts in the remainder of the passage:

We are filled in Him
We are in a covenant with God because of Him
We are buried and raised with Him
We are made alive with Him
We are forgiven by Him
Our debt is cancelled by Him
We share in His triumph!

Stand firm, brothers and sisters! We are in Him and we share in His victory! We are “more than conquerors through Him!” In the words of Paul from Romans 8:38-39, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” No pirate, no counterfeit, no scheme of man can separate us from Him.

Adam Howell serves on the Hospitality Team and works as an intern at VLC. He is currently enrolled at Georgia Highlands College pursuing a degree in Communication. He enjoys reading, hiking, and good fellowship.

No More Excuses – by Jason Pierce

Man, what an illustration that Brad gave this week! It sounds ludicrous to talk about an adult who chose to continue living as an infant being spoon fed from a highchair while wearing a bib, but Brad managed to find that example! We laugh about that, but the sad reality is that so many Christians are living spiritual examples of this every day.

Brad shared Sunday what Paul tells us in this passage about how we can get out of the highchair, snatch the bib off, and grow up. “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,” (Col. 2:6 ESV). So, how did we receive Him? During our discussion on Sunday, my wife and I realized we have completely different stories. There has virtually never been a time in her life when she does not remember loving Jesus. There have, of course, been periods where she has drifted away, but He has always brought her back and over the years she has grown closer and closer to Him. My story is completely different. I grew up not knowing the Lord. When I was younger, I got mixed up in all kinds of bad things. Finally, after choosing to live deeply in sin, I realized that something was missing in my life and that even though my sinful ways brought moments of pleasure, deep down inside, I was miserable. It was at this point that the Lord began to work on my heart and I came to the realization that I needed to change my ways; Christ was the way to change and I desperately needed to ask Christ into my life.

For me, the “just as you received Christ Jesus the Lord” was a moment of repentance and faith that was accompanied by a radical change. I still had a lot of growing in Christ to do, I still had a lot to learn about walking in Christ, but there was an immediate, radical change that was brought about by my new submission to Jesus as Lord.

Submission is key to growth in Christ. The book of James tells us, “you believe in one God, that is good. Even the demons believe and tremble.” (paraphrase Jas. 2:19). The difference between the belief demons have concerning Jesus and the saving faith of a Christian is submission to Jesus as Lord, not just believing He exists. Moreover, just as submission is key for beginning a saving relationship with the Lord, an ongoing daily submission is key for growing in Him.

The question must be asked, “Whom are we submitting to?” Paul uses the term, “Christ Jesus the Lord.” Christ meaning the “anointed one,” and Jesus meaning “savior;” so the anointed savior who is Lord. When we are convicted of sin, realize its consequence, and desire forgiveness, we understand that Jesus is the anointed savior and desire Him to be our anointed savior which is the right response when the Holy Spirit has convicted us of sin. In addition, we respond to His Lordship. This response is the beginning of “walking in Him,” “growing roots in Him,” and “being built up in Him.” It is this response to Christ Jesus the—Lord of the universe, creator and sustainer of all things visible and invisible, the one in whom all the fullness of deity dwells—that begins the process which “establishes us in the faith.”

Our Lord Jesus is the holy, wise, perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing, unchanging creator who gives everything life and breath! When we receive/submit to Him as Lord, we set aside ourselves and begin to seek His holiness, His wisdom for our lives, His perfection, His will, His life. To use Paul’s terms, “we walk in Him the same way we received Him.”

Living our lives in daily, moment-by-moment submission to Jesus as Lord will produce tremendous growth in our faith. I have personally found that the more I choose to submit to the Lord, the greater growth I experience and the deeper my walk becomes. Of course, there are times when, as Brad mentioned, I have (we all have) made other things priorities. We put our jobs first, our spouses first, our families first, our hobbies first. It’s not that these things are bad, but the Lord Jesus should and must take first place.

The message this week prompted me to ask, “Is the Lord Jesus really first in my life? Am I daily submitting to Him in the same way I received Him? Are my roots as deep as they need to be?” Reflecting on these questions, I have to honestly say I need to realign my priorities and stop making excuses. I have room to grow! I have roots, but I would like to go deeper; I have been built up in Christ, but there is work to be done.

Brad mentioned some keys to growing deeper roots in Christ, being built up in Him, and becoming established in the faith. If we really want to grow in our walk, we need to make it a priority in our lives to know the Lord in prayer, in His word, in His service, in giving, in worship, and in communion with other believers.

As I listened to the message, there was one thing that the Holy Spirit continued to impress upon my heart – the need to read His word with a new purpose. I have given a great deal of time to the study of his word, much of it academic. During the message, I had a great sense that God was saying, “read my word to know me; not just know about me; read my word to experience me; read my word to meet with me; read my word to see me in it; read my word with this intent and you will grow deeper!”

How did the Holy Spirit speak to you? How can you go deeper? What excuses are you making?

Jason Pierce is a manager for Nickell Rental in Hiram. He has been involved in ministry for the last 15 years. He enjoys spending time with his family and bass fishing.

Seek Him First – by Katie Burns

In last week’s sermon and blog, we acknowledged that we are ALL ministers and that we ought to be setting our hearts on the will of the Father – specifically through the spread of the Gospel. Every encounter we have with our family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers is an opportunity to be, share, or show the love of Jesus. On Sunday, Joe took the urgency of ministry to a whole new level by stating that we should “have bloody knees from praying, have sore throats from speaking, and have weary eyes from weeping.” My initial reaction was that he was over-exaggerating or mistaken about the level we should take our relationships with people. After all, my own ministry didn’t feel so burdensome. Then, I started to internalize what he was saying. Perhaps I wasn’t loving people deeply enough because my knees weren’t bloody, my voice wasn’t anywhere near hoarse, and I actually have wrinkle lines from smiling instead of red-rimmed eyes from crying. Then, I thought, perhaps I wasn’t looking at the relationships I maintain clearly enough. Serving my family and VLC is an amazing joy to me, but maybe Joe was right about all those sins committed against me. Both my family members and those I serve alongside have been guilty of asking too much of me at times, of assuming too much of my abilities. Perhaps I was suffering, and I wasn’t fully acknowledging it. However, I still didn’t feel like I was bleeding, sore, or overly-burdened. Maybe I wasn’t working hard enough or sharing God enough with the people around me. Maybe I haven’t been ministering all that well.

But then an amazing thing happened. Under the heavy burden of my guilt and anxiety, I sought God. I prayed, “I know I’m selfish. I know I’m self-centered. I know I forget about others far too often, but I can’t possibly be that far off the mark, Lord? Am I affecting ANYONE for change? Am I pointing ANYONE to You?” I expected more reprimand, honestly; I expected Him to say, “You’re not doing well enough.” Instead, I felt a still, small voice inside of me whisper, “Seek ME that hard.” The rest came like a flood. We are definitely called to minister with all that we have. We should absolutely be pouring ourselves into loving and sharing and doing and serving. We should definitely use our energy to get our eyes off ourselves. But if we don’t follow Jesus’ example to love God first with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and if we don’t seek Him with all of our hearts and souls, then we’ll miss the point. If we aren’t first and foremost in love with Jesus, then our motivations for sharing the Gospel will be completely askew. We won’t have an obedient heart to hear the Spirit of the Lord when it tells us to minister with a joke instead of a look of sympathy. We won’t hear the same Spirit tell us to be quiet, to get our eyes off ourselves and to LISTEN.

Yes, people will be a burden to us when we’re ministering to them, but what are we called to do with our burdens? We’re supposed to put them on Jesus’ shoulders and take up His easy yoke and light burden instead. I firmly believe that is where our hearts TRULY get knit together. Yes, serving someone or serving alongside them will help create a bond between us. However, when we’re both seeking God, listening to the Spirit’s leading, and unloading each other’s burdens onto Jesus’ able shoulders through prayer, then the LORD will knit our hearts together in a way that goes beyond human efforts to God-ordained unity. Ministering to that person is no longer a burden because Christ has taken the load and knit our hearts together. The focus of our relationships and our ministry is no longer on ourselves, but is on Christ and glorifying Him. We’re no longer consumed with fulfilling our needs, but are working together to further God’s Kingdom. This is the ultimate goal of fellowship.

This is also the type of fellowship that brings a new level of understanding to the mystery of God. It is the thing that makes those outside the body of believers hunger for what we have. Peace. Unity. Joy. We affirm each other’s faith in a way that exceeds human terminology. We experience God corporately in a way that makes us yearn to come back for more of Him.

This is where Paul’s joy comes in. I imagine it’s the same joy Brad Parkhurst feels when he sees us ministering to each other and to those outside our walls. It’s the joy we all feel when we fellowship in the amazing, overwhelming, unexplainable presence of God on Sunday mornings.

So, while I agree with Joe that we should lead a life that is motivated by serving others and by pointing those we encounter to Christ, I disagree with the level of torture we should feel over doing so and the emphasis that we should place on our ministry. Instead, we should seek the Lord with all our hearts, lean not on our own understanding, and acknowledge Him in all our ways. Then, He’ll make our paths straight.

Katie Burns serves on the Graphic Design team at VLC. She spends her days homeschooling her 8-year-old son and chasing after her 3-year-old daughter. She enjoys spending time with her family, designing cool layouts for church, reading, and watching organizing videos on youtube.