Nov - Dec 2019

Setting Your Mind on Things Above

Barry Rodriguez

Nov 24, 2019

Several months ago I was watching a YouTube clip of a Twitch stream of Ninja playing Fortnite. (If that's not a 2019 statement, nothing is!)

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, there is a very popular video game out right now called Fortnite. And also right now there is this whole trend of gamers streaming so others can watch them play.

Well, I was watching a clip of one of these streamers, Ninja, who, at the time, had 14 million followers. It's estimated that in 2018 Ninja made $10 million from his gaming-related activities. So he's kind of a big deal.

What was so fascinating to me was that, as he was playing, he would interact with his followers. They'd make a donation, ask a question, and he'd answer it as he ran around the game.

I quickly realized that many of the people asking questions were middle school students. And most of their questions had to do with relationships.

"Ninja, what do I do about this girl I like?" "Ninja, this guy stole my girlfriend and I'm just so mad I want to punch him."

And then Ninja would give his advice. One time, literally with no sense of irony, he said, "you've got to deal with your emotions but you can't ever resort to violence"

As I watched, a dawning realization came over me: these guys were listening to him. These 14 million followers were hanging on every word.

Now, nothing he was saying was particularly bad or wrong, necessarily. Probably the worst thing he was doing was convincing a generation of young people that they had a future in professional gaming.

But when all was said and done I realized that this 28 year old man was shaping the worldview of middle school students and framing their understanding of morality because he was good at video games.

Ninja is an influencer. One of countless influences which are shaping our lives.

And I know some of you scoff at that and think, "I'd never let someone like that influence my life."

Well, you may think that. But I would argue that in this technological age every one of us is under more influence than we could ever possibly know.

SERIES RECAP

This is the fourth week of our series, "The Good Life: Technology." Looking at five biblical principles for a healthy life in the digital age. A quick recap to bring you up to speed:

In the first week we emphasized the fact that our job is not to abandon technology, but to transform it. To bring light into the darkness in the name of Jesus. We're not of the world, but we are sent into it. In other words,

Principle 1: You are on a mission.

In week 2, we talked about how important it is to remember where your identity comes from in a social-media driven world.

Principle 2: Your identity is in Christ, not in likes.

Last week, I introduced the idea of "sabbath" - taking sacred time to stop from the addictive cycles of our technology and remember that we are free. The principle there was:

Principle 3: Sabbath breaks chains.

As a part of that, we introduced the "No Screen Saturday Challenge." One whole day "resting" from our devices to see what we would learn.

Next week we're going to talk about re-connecting with real life people.

Principle 5: Face-to-face is best.

As a reminder, we're going to a Parent's Technology Forum on December 3 at our Fishers campus. You can find info (and a bunch of other resources) at gracechuch.us/thegoodlife

So there's more good stuff to come. But today we're going to talk about influence.

INFLUENCE
The truth is, every one of us is being constantly affected by a never-ending stream of influence.

Some of it is obvious:

o Pundits on news channels spreading their political theories
o Social media influencers talking about favorite brands
o Marketing and Advertisements


All of that is coming at us every day, but so is a lot of much more subtle influence.

o The moral code hinted at by our favorite music lyrics
o The philosophical underpinnings of the YouTubers we follow
o The worldview of our favorite podcast hosts


These things trickle into our subconscious and shape our view of the world.

In this technological age, who we are and how we live is shaped by this barrage of influences. Frankly, it's unavoidable. Unless you live in a remote, off-grid cabin with no connection to the outside world, this is a part of your life.

So let me start with this:

The problem is not that we are being influenced. The problem is that far too few of us think about who or what we are letting influence us. We're just along for the ride.

And this is a problem because we are called to be distinct from the darkness around us.

If we are meant to be light-bringers in this world, I believe we need to be far more intentional about what we are choosing to let influence our worldview.

I wonder if the Bible has anything to say about that? Let's find out.

Colossians is a letter written by Paul to the church in the smallish city of Colossae in Anatolia (what is today western Turkey).

He's writing because Christians in Colossae were under the influence of some pretty weird religious ideas. What I'd call syncretistic mysticism.

Basically they were taking elements of Judaism, sprinkling in some Jesus, but then also worshipping elemental spirits and adopting these extreme rules and customs which had nothing to do with following Jesus and brought division into the church.

Paul wants to help them break free from these corrupting influences.

Colossians 3:1-11
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God's right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don't be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don't lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn't matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.

In his letters, Paul loves contrasting two realities. Old and new. Light and dark. Life and death. In verse 2, he contrasts the "things of heaven" (literally, "things above") and "things of earth."

Now, I want to make something clear.

Heaven, in Paul's mind, was not just some ethereal place full of harps and angels. Heaven is the place where God dwells - where his rule and reign is total: love, peace, joy, life, harmony, wholeness...

And in Paul's mind, heaven is not some place we zip off to when we die. Heaven is coming to transform the earth - the kingdom of God is coming. It's already begun through Jesus. The New Creation is on its way.

That's what we're meant to think about. Things of heaven. Why? Verse 3. Because "you died to this [earthly] life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God." Your real life is a part of heaven, a part of the kingdom. Not just as a future hope, but as a present reality.

The moment you give your life to Christ you become a citizen of heaven. You are now a participant in the coming of the New Creation, and as Paul says elsewhere, God is now shaping you to be

Romans 8:29 "conformed to the image of his Son"

Which means that when you follow Jesus, your life is supposed to look more and more like his.

Under Christ's influence, you are meant to become a light-bringer in this world.

Which is why Paul has such strong words for those who say they follow Jesus but spend their time thinking about - setting their sights on & being influenced by - the things of earth.

And what are those things? Well, Paul essentially lumps them into two big categories. Sins of Desire and Sins of Disunity.

In verse 5, he describes sins of desire, which corrupt our hearts:

Sins of Desire

o Sexual immorality
o Impurity
o Lust
o Evil Desires
o Greed

In verse 8, he describes sins of disunity, which corrupt the church:

Sins of Disunity

o Anger
o Rage
o Malicious behavior
o Slander
o Dirty language
o Lying


These are the kinds of things which keep a community from thriving.

But here's what I don't want you to miss. These aren't just things which break some list of God rules. They are actions and thoughts which directly undermine the New Creation.

Think about it. In the New Creation - in heaven - in God's kingdom - every human has dignity and value. What does lust do? It turns humans into objects. It strips away their dignity.

In the New Creation there is no need because everyone gives of themselves with love and generosity. There is abundance. But greed undermines all of that. Greed says "this is mine and I want more."

In the New Creation peace and harmony are universal. But anger, rage, and slander rip apart communities.

So when Paul says we must "think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth," this isn't just a trite, moralistic suggestion to try and ponder the afterlife more often.

This is a desperate reminder that if we are in Christ we are a part of the new creation - we are citizens of God's kingdom right now - and our lives should look like it!

INTENTIONALITY

Our world looks very different from ancient Colossae - fewer temple prostitutes and syncretistic angel cults for one thing. But we are constantly flooded by influences which are no less "earthly" than what the Colossians were experiencing.

And thanks to technological advances, we have access to more of it than ever before.

o Extreme, bigoted views now shared on a global platform.
o Pornography at our fingertips.
o Pride, greed, lust, violence, slander, and rage not just present, but elevated and celebrated in our culture.
o Syncretistic worldviews which mix and muddle Christian faith with other stuff.
o And on top of it all: countless ways to hide our darkness and pretend that nothing is wrong.

Sins of desire, sins of disunity. And all of them drawing us away from the New Creation life we are meant to experience and resemble.

That is the world we are allowing to just flow right on in and influence us day after day after day.

So what do we do about it? Well, first I believe we have to understand, as Paul did:

Principle 4: Garbage in, garbage out

This was originally a computer science term. Essentially, you could have the best software program in the world, but if you feed it garbage inputs, it's going to spit out garbage results.

We're really no different. When we flood our minds with the things of this earth, guess what will come out in the way you live? Things of this earth! Shocker! Garbage in, garbage out. Now look. I am not here to be moralistic and tell you what you should or shouldn't be watching. Or reading. Or listening to.

But I am going to agree with Paul here and say that if you want to be healthy in this digital world, if you want your life to look like Jesus, then you'd better pay attention to what's influencing you!

Look back at Colossians 3 one more time. Look at the words Paul uses here.

o Set your sights on
o Think about
o Put on
o Be renewed
o Put to death
o Get rid of
o Strip off


These are action words. They're not passive. These are things which require intentionality and purpose. They don't just happen.

If we want to "think about the things of heaven," then we need to start by thinking about what we're thinking about!

We so often let influences flood our minds without ever giving it a second thought. I'm asking you to stop and consider what is influencing you!

Remember: Garbage in, garbage out. So how do you know if it's garbage? Well, here's one way you can do that: a tool you can use.

You can chart your influences.

We've got two axes. On the x axis, we've got things of earth on this side and things of heaven on this side. (Remember, heaven here does not mean naked angel babies. It means how much does this influence reflect the values of the kingdom of God?)

On the y axis we've got "influential" up here and "insignificant" down here. How much does this influence shape you?

What I'm encouraging you to do is to map your influences onto this chart. Go through your podcasts. The last 10 movies you've watched. Think through the Twitter accounts you follow most closely. And put them on here.

For example. One of my favorite YouTube channels is the Bible Project. They have incredible videos which bring scripture to life for me and shape my worldview. It's influential. For me, they're here.

On the other hand, I'm also subscribed to FailArmy, which is completely earthly, but also doesn't have much sway over me. It's insignificant. I don't have much of an urge to jump off of things because I watch it.

If I were to map all of my YouTube subscriptions onto here, what would my chart look like? What would yours?

When I watched the video of Ninja playing Fortnite and talking about relationships, that was probably down here for me. I'm not shaped by Twitch streamers. But if I was a middle school kid? Ninja might be up here because I'd worship the ground he walked on.

Give it a try. If reading political rants on Facebook fills you with rage, you'd probably put that here. Not only because it makes you angry, but because it makes it more likely that you'll post angry things yourself. Garbage in, garbage out.

What about dating apps you use? The angry pundits on your news channel. The HBO miniseries you love. Your music. Think about what you're thinking about.

This is also valuable for the spiritual influences in your life.

For example, having K-Love on in the background, or posting a Bible verse in your kitchen, or going to church once every couple months... Those may be things of heaven. But they don't really influence you that much.

Compare that with being discipled by an older believer. Walking with them through life and having them mentor and teach you. That's a heavenly influence.

So is studying Scripture in community and serving in the Care Center and going through Rooted and being at Church every week, rain or shine.

Ok, so you get the idea. Everyone's chart is going to look different. Things influence us in different ways.

So what should our chart look like? Should everything be clustered over here? Well yeah, if we were monks living in a vacuum. Space monks.

The reality is we are living in a broken world. We are going to be influenced by stuff all over this chart.

Now, if everything in your upper right box is empty, that's a problem. Or if every aspect of your faith in Jesus is just down here, that's no good. If this box is overflowing with influences, something needs to change.

But I'm not calling us to legalism. I'm not saying "burn all your secular CDs." I'm calling us to movement. Reducing the amount of garbage we're consuming lowering the influence of unhealthy things and pursuing a life of transformation.

Moving into, as the Bible calls it, sanctification - becoming more and more set apart. Becoming different. Christ-like. Even as we remain in this broken, technological world.

As Paul says in verse 10, let's "be renewed as we learn to know our Creator and become like him."

What does your chart look like? What do you want it to look like?

Technology may be here to stay, but it doesn't have to tell us who we are.