The Things Above

January 1, 2023

John McCormick

What do you think about and want the most in your life? Paul tells us that we should set our hearts and minds on the things above.

The Things Above

January 1, 2023

John McCormick

What do you think about and want the most in your life? Paul tells us that we should set our hearts and minds on the things above.


Morning! My name is John McCormick, Leader of Renovation U

Which is our summer theology classes

Happy New Year’s!

I’m excited to see what God is going to do this year!

And I hope you had a great Christmas reflecting on the birth of Jesus!

Making New Year’s Resolutions

I don’t know if you do this, but 40% of Americans have been thinking about what their New Year’s resolutions will be

That could be something they want to start doing

Or maybe something that they want to stop doing

If they anything like me, they’ve told themselves that they are going to eat salads every day for lunch for the whole year

Gotta eat right and get in shape!

Maybe they’ve admitted to themselves that they should use that gym membership that they’ve been paying for and haven’t used in…….. a long time

It could also be a fun resolution like wanting to travel more

Or wanting to try something new like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane

People make resolutions because we want to make something better in our lives

Resolutions give us hope that we can finally change that this year

And sometimes, they really do help us make important changes in our lives

But…. and I think you know where I’m going to go next 😊

People who study such things say that we make our resolutions and then quickly forget or abandon them

A company called Strava (which has an exercise tracking app) did a study in 2019 of over 98 million activities logged into their app

According to their research, the average American gives up on their exercise related New Year’s Resolutions on January 19th

They even went so far as to name that date “Quitters day”

Other studies suggest that over a third of us give up on our resolutions within the first week of January and over 50% will give up by February

And that only around 10% of people keep their resolutions for the entire year

That’s some pretty crazy statistics for something that millions of people are doing each year!

Keep those stats in the back of your mind this morning and we’ll come back to them

Catching up on Colossians

Now if you’re new with us over the last few weeks, you may not know that we have been studying through the book of Colossians as a church

We studied chapters 1 and 2 In October and November, before taking a quick break for a short series on the names of God

Today, we’re back in Colossians, starting with Chapter 3

Before we get there though let’s do a quick summary of what we read in the first two chapters

I’d also strongly encourage you to go back and watch the messages on the first half

Knowing the context of what we have already covered will be super helpful!

In Chapter one, we see Paul talk about the faith of the Colossians and how they have trusted in and are following Jesus

Their faith has been a blessing and encouragement to others

He also talks about how Jesus has authority over everything on Earth

In Chapter two, Paul talks about how we should live our lives following Jesus

Paul also spends time contradicting false beliefs that human teachers had been spreading in the city of Colossae

Paul tells the Colossians that all of these teachings are wrong and in fact don’t help Christians at all to resist temptation

These points are all really important because this letter is meant to be read as a whole

What Paul has said so far is leads up to chapter 3 where we’ll see Paul shift gears for the rest of the book and talk about what we’re calling the “Roadmap for the Resurrected”

That brings us to today in Chapter 3

I want everyone to follow along today, so grab your Bible or the Bible under the chair in front of you

I want to start at the verse right before chapter 3 to help us get context and then we’ll keep going into chapter 3

We’ll be on page 805 and we’ll be starting right at the bottom at the little number 23

Colossians 2: 23 – 3: 4

Set your mind

As we finished chapter 2, we saw Paul tell us that human regulations and rules aren’t going to help us follow Jesus

Paul points out the bad theology to avoid and why it is wrong

But he doesn’t leave us with warning…. he gives us a better alternative

Paul’s alternative to what the false teachers has been saying is that we are to “set our hearts” and “set our minds” on the things above

What on earth does that mean?

These phrases may not be super familiar to you, but you might be more familiar with something like: “I have my heart set on it”

Essentially “setting your heart” means that you really want something

And instead of saying “set your mind” you might say “I can’t stop thinking about it” or “I can’t get it off my mind”

Setting your mind just means thinking about something all of the time

What we see Paul saying is that we are to desire and think about “things above”

Now we’re not talking things literally above you

Instead, he’s using the idea of “above” as we see Jesus use it in a couple places

Let’s look at some quick examples:

John 8:23

He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.

John 19:11a

Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”

So this idea of “things above” is talking about Heaven and God who dwells there

The opposite of the things above are earthly things, which would include all of the things the world around us loves: money, power, alcohol, sex, drugs, etc.

A few years ago, I did a message here at Renovation Church called “Eyes on the Prize” where I talked a lot about Heaven

One of the big themes was how we have to set our eyes on Heaven where we will be with Jesus someday

Like people competing in a race, you have to be thinking about and focused on your goal

Otherwise, you’ll end up being distracted and lose the race

And that is exactly what Paul is trying to tell us here

We should really want to be in Heaven and to be with our King

We should spend a lot of time thinking about Jesus and our home with him

Paul is not just giving us some empty command though, what does it say right at the beginning of verse 1?

You have been raised with Christ

Because we have been given new life with Jesus, we are to set our hearts on the things above

We are to desire to be in Heaven, to desire to be with Jesus because of what he has done

And not like a small side desire, we’re talking the main, big desire

Paul just spent the last two chapters establishing how awesome and amazing Jesus is to give us reasons why we would want that

We are free from death and sin because of what Jesus has done

All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Jesus

Jesus who died for us single-handedly holds everything in the universe together

Paul wants us to remember that when we believe in Jesus, we are adopted through him as sons and daughters of God

This means a few things:

The sustainer of the UNIVERSE wants to spend time with you

He is making a place for you in Heaven where you will be with him FOREVER

That should make our hearts light up like fireworks!

Friends, we are no longer dead but are instead made alive for an eternity!

The great pastor and theologian Charles Spurgeon had a great metaphor that he used to explain this transition from being dead to being made alive and why we it makes us want to set our hearts on things above:

A dead person laid to rest in a crypt is okay with their surroundings…. because they are dead

But if that same person came to life, they would find that crypt dead, oppressive, and terrifying

All their whole heart would be consumed with wanting to see some sign of life

And they would work as hard as they could to get out of that place of death just so they could find something better

Friends, when we don’t know Jesus, we are the dead person in the crypt

We are dead in our sins and don’t know any different than what we see in the world

We’re content with the temporary, lackluster offerings the world has

But when we accept Jesus’ gift and start to follow him

Suddenly the things we have been wanting and desiring, the things we were okay with before, are shown to be what they really are

Empty, lifeless tombs

Having had that realization, Paul is saying that we should leave those things behind and instead seek the things that give life which are found “above”

There we will find joy, hope, purpose, freedom, the list goes on and on

With how amazing the things above must be, you’d think we’d never need reminding to think about and desire them, right?

And yet here Paul is writing this letter to people that he complimented on their faith just 2 chapters ago!

Are they doing a good job or are they not?

Paul has already told the Colossians that he is super proud of them and their faith

But he also knows that humans need constant reminders because we haven’t escaped our sinfulness

Our sin is constantly trying to get us to think about and desire only the things of this world

Our sin wants us to run away from God and do whatever it wants instead

Our sin keeps telling us that we should just get home from work so we can relax and zone out to our favorite show

Or that we should go buy that thing we want because we deserve it

Or that we should give up on that relationship because frankly it’s too exhausting

What is your heart and mind set on?

And that leads us to the question, what do you think about constantly? What is your heart set on?

Is it on Heaven? On our amazing savior Jesus and what he has done?

The awesome power of God the Father and what he has made

The seeming impossibility of the Holy Spirit, God himself, living within us?

Truthfully, I think we can all say the answer to that is sometimes no

And maybe in your life right now it’s more than just sometimes

I want you to honestly ask yourself these questions right now, what is it that fills your thoughts all of the time? What do you lay awake at night wanting so badly?

If you wrote down a list of everything you thought about or really wanted last week, what would it say?

Was it to be home in heaven? Was it to know Jesus more today than yesterday?

I sincerely hope that you had those thoughts and desires

But it’s okay to be honest and say that you didn’t

As humans we are easily distracted from the things above by earthly things

Not that all earthly things are bad, but Paul is telling us that they aren’t supposed to be our primary focus

Now I don’t know what your answers are specifically, but this week we should listen to Paul and actively set our hearts and minds on Heaven and being with our King forever!

I do want to highlight one desire that is super pervasive in our culture right now and I think is worth calling out specifically

As I was preparing for this message, God kept bringing me back to the topic of careers

And I think this is a huge stumbling block for so many Christians

As Americans, we are basically taught from birth that our careers are our identity

I submit for your consideration the phrases “what do you do?” and “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Wrapped up in both the questions is the inherent belief that “what you do” or where you are in your career makes up who you are

But should we be defined by what job we have that day?

Does it really matter if we are a secretary, an accountant, a manager, or an executive?

We even give some people important sounding names like “executive,” “president,” or “chief”

It can make it seem that those people are better, more important, or have more value just based on their job

And our culture spends a lot of time praising people who have risen high in their careers

These people have made something of themselves!

They are happy and have lots of money!

They are the ones changing the world!

But friends, let’s be honest with each other: setting your mind and heart on a career, is not going to make you happy

So often I hear in house groups or from my students in Renovation U that they are trying to get a promotion or a raise

And I follow up with the question: “why?”

This question seems to confuse people and they struggle to find an answer

They usually say something like:

To make more money

They can finally get the recognition they deserve

Or that the company doesn’t value them

But once you have that next promotion, what’s next?

Why the next promotion of course!

But when will it be enough?

As Christians, the Bible wants our main focus to be on things above

God may plan for you to be promoted, or He may not

We can worship Him and find contentment in Him either way!

And if we find our value in our job and not Jesus, what happens when we lose our job?

Setting your heart on money or career success is not going to make you happy

Instead, it will pull you into the eternal rat race of the next promotion, the next job, more money

It is so hard because we see everyone in our culture around us seeking after this

But friends, Paul is SO clear here, that we are not to focus on earthly things like this

Now I’m not saying that taking a new job or a promotion is a bad thing

In fact, if God is calling you to it, if you’re focused on him and he puts you there, it can put you in a place to do a tremendous amount of good as a believer!

The next time you start to think that the goal is to have more money or to make that next career move, instead stop, and ask God and see what he wants you to do

I feel into the career trap for a long time and honestly left me with scars

When I finally stepped back and asked God what he would have me do

He sent me to a lower paying, less stressful job

At first it hurt my pride because it seemed like a step backward

But you know what? I have LOVED my job

God knew that this was what was best for me

And it has given me space to be more present with my family and to do a ton more at Church

Have you asked God what he wants you to do?

Because friends our value, our worth comes from the fact that we are loved by God, not from a job title!

And he is what we should set our hearts and minds on

Hidden with Christ

Here is what is absolutely fascinating: God knew that we would have these kinds of struggles

He knew that the moment that Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, that they (and we) would begin fighting a losing battle

A desperate battle to find joy and meaning from something in the world

He knew that our sinfulness would blind us to the only one who could actually satisfy

And in God’s great mercy and love, he sent Jesus to die for us to give us a chance to see him

A chance to see that he is good and SO much better than what the world can offer

Paul knows that there are good things in the world

He just got done telling us in chapter 2 that the false teachers were wrong to say that we should treat our bodies harshly or give up everything in the world

But Paul knows that our focus and our what directs our thoughts changes when we believe in Jesus

Let’s read verses 3 and 4 again

Colossians 3:3-4

Paul says that when we believe, we die to our old lives

All of the things we were chasing, all of our desires, all of our sinful impulses

We are dead to them now; they no longer rule over us as they did before

Paul goes so far as to say that Christ is our life

Not that he’s a part of our lives or that he’s important to our lives

He IS our life now

100% of our lives should be about Jesus

Check out how Paul describes his own life in Philippians

Philippians 1:21

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain

While he lives, Paul is living for and focused on Jesus

And when he dies, he gets to go home to Heaven to be with Jesus forever

That is the great reward for living a life that is in Jesus

Both ways, his heart and mind are set on the things above

Paul himself is the model to us of how we should approach life

As Christians our life is supposed to be centered on Jesus

Our goal, our pursuit, our aim is to love, follow, and imitate Christ

How could we possibly do that if we set our hearts and minds on something other than who he is and being with him forever?

Like a driver on the road who takes their mind of where they are going, they will end up halfway across the state before they even realize what’s happening

We need to stay focused on where we are going to keep ourselves walking towards Jesus!

And the prize for finishing that walk faithfully comes at the end of verse 4

We will appear with Jesus in glory

Those of us that hold fast and seek the things above, we will get to appear with Jesus

And not just like an awkward sidekick, it says we will appear in glory too

How amazing is that?

We won’t just be regular humans; we will be new creations that are glorious!

And we will be with our savior and our king for an eternity in paradise

Joyful, peaceful, and free FOREVER

And therefore, Paul is saying that THIS should be your ultimate focus and goal that you live your life for

It won’t matter how far you advance in your career or how good your kid is at sports in 500 years

But THIS will.

You, and your kids, and your family coming back in glory with Jesus…that will matter

So set your mind and your focus on THOSE things!

But let’s be real about this, it’s hard in this life to not be distracted by the world and everything it offers to us

We all have a bad case of shiny ball syndrome where every cool new thing is super exciting… briefly

What can we do in the midst of that?

How can we keep our hearts and minds fixed on Heaven and on Jesus?

Remember the New Year’s Resolutions?

The same studies that show that most people give up quickly also show that some people persist

Remember the 10% that actually kept their resolutions?

What’s different for those people?

Interestingly enough, those studies show that people who set goals for themselves are significantly more likely to keep their resolution

Because they keep thinking and wanting that goal, they stay on track

Additionally, people that try to keep their resolution with a group not only increase their chances of success but also tend to exceed their goals

Friends, we are just like those people who are making resolutions

We should resolve to set our hearts and minds on the things above

To read our Bibles every day

To pray and talk with God all of the time

We should be those 10% in how we seek after the things above!

And yet, how often are we 90% that forget what we wanted to do?

Too many people hear about Jesus, are saved and are so excited about it, and then within a few weeks, a few months, or few years stop following him

He stops being what they think and desire and like a New Year’s Resolution, Jesus is forgotten

I think that there is a lesson for us in these studies

Don’t leave today telling yourself: “I just need to think about heaven more this week”

The studies say to make a really specific goal that you can achieve:

You’ll start reading the book of Matthew in the Bible each day this week at 7 am

Or that you’ll pray each night at dinner time

Paul doesn’t just say be content in Jesus, he says actively pursue thinking about him!

Secondly if you’re not in a house group, now is a fantastic time to join one

Invest your time in being in a group that will help you set your heart and mind on things above

The Bible tells us over and over again that need community in our lives

We need other Christians to encourage us, help us, and correct us when we are focusing on things of this world

And in that group, YOU could have the same effect on another believer, what a cool privilege!

We have 2 brand new groups that are starting this month! Trust God and sign up for one today.

They will be starting in just over 2 weeks!

Everyone in those groups will be new just like you, so you’ll all be on the same page

Those are good practical steps, and another is that it is to pray and ask God to give us the desire for the things above

Sometimes in our lives, we hit hard patches where God seems far away

Or where the things of this world seem better

God tells us to pray and ask him to fill us with a desire for him

Jesus tells us in Matthew 7 to seek him and we will find him

We should pray all of the time and ask him to make us desire the things above even more

No other prayer request gives God joy like when we ask him to make us want to seek him even more!

King David sums it up well in Psalm 37 when he says:

Psalm 37:4 (ESV)

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart

The Gospel

I believe there are some of you in this room that have spent your whole lives chasing after the things of this world

You’ve started to realize that the endless pursuit never really makes you happy

Maybe chasing after promotion after promotion has left you exhausted and stressed

Or you’ve ended up in the job you wanted, and it turns out that you hate it

You’ve chased a relationship

And being with that person wasn’t enough to make you happy

Or you got that special present at Christmas that you really wanted

And already you aren’t interested in it anymore

The great news is that you don’t have to chase after those things anymore

We all have an opportunity every single day to choose to seek something better

Today you can choose to pursue something that will truly give you joy and peace

You can choose to believe that God sent his son Jesus to this earth to die for your sins

He came to set you free from the tomb that you are trapped in without even knowing it

Paul is telling us that if you believe Jesus died for you and trust Him as your Savior, he will become your life

Every wrong thing you’ve ever done will be forgiven

And that when you die someday, you too will appear with Jesus in glory

And then spend forever with him in Heaven experiencing joy like you’ve never known before

Jesus just asks you to believe and to follow him

And when you do, he will give you a new life

In fact, let’s just have everybody close your eyes and bow your heads for a moment

If I’m talking to you right now and you feel that stirring inside of you, I want you to do something

Now is the time to believe in Jesus and receive his gift

And if you’ve never done that before

As a way to draw a line in the sand, I’m going to ask you to stand up wherever you are

Don’t worry about everyone else, they’ve got their eyes closed

This is your moment to say, yes Jesus, I accept your gift and I want to follow you

I am tired of chasing after things that leave me feeling empty

I know that you are so much better than those things

If that’s you right now go ahead and stand up

IF PEOPLE stand up

For those of you that are standing, the Bible tells us that when we accept Jesus that we are to believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths

So we want to pray with you right now

This isn’t a magic prayer, it’s just a way for us to tell God that we are going to follow him

Whether you just started believing in Jesus right now or have for a long time, let’s pray this together

Okay, repeat after me:

Dear God

I confess to you, that I have sinned against you.

But God I believe, that you sent your Son Jesus, to take my place

And God I thank you, for forgiving my sins.

And now I commit, to following you, with my life.


As everyone still has their eyes closed, for those of you that are standing, you just made the most important decision of your life, and I believe that requires some more information…

So here’s what we’re going to do to get you that…as everyone has their eyes closed, I want you, in just a second, to slip out of your row and head out to the lobby where it will be quiet.

You won’t walk out there alone.

There are others with you, and our follow-up team is going to walk out at the same time with you

And I, and our follow-up team are going to get you some extremely important resources & next steps to get you started on the most important journey of your life.

If you’re part of this church, and your friend or family member stood up, PLEASE come out there with them.

All right, you can all go now.

As they’re walking, I’m going to thank God in prayer.

Let’s pray

Copyright: John McCormick
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN

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