David Jeremiah - Stay Centered
Let's face it, folks, there's never been a time like this in our lifetime. In the series that I preached and the book that I wrote entitled, "What in the World is Going On"? I summarized ten of these events and related them to the prophetic Word of God. We talked about the rebirth of Israel as a nation and the redistribution of wealth through oil and the realignment of Europe and the resurgence of Russia. And then the book was finished and along came the reversal of the financial markets. And any one of these events by themself might not cause us a concern, but all of them taken together present a troubling and frightening picture.
And the Bible speaks of such a time that is going to take place in the future. According to the Bible, this is going to be the way it is before the return of the Lord. And in the book of 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, we are told that "concerning the times and the seasons, we have no need that I should write to you," said Paul. "For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night. For when people will say, 'Peace and safety!' then sudden destruction comes upon them," now watch this, "as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape".
That little metaphor, "as labor pains upon a pregnant woman," really is a picture of the situation we face today. The signs that precede the Coming of the Lord will be like the labor pains of a pregnant woman. These will become more and more intense. That's what happens in the labor pains of a pregnant woman. The pain becomes more and more intense, and the contractions get closer together. That's how we know the baby's about to be born. Every woman here is, right now, remembering that and asking me not to talk about it anymore. So I will just go on. But the Bible says that in the future, the signs of the times will be like that. The signs will become more intense and they will get closer together.
When that happens, we will know something is dramatic on the scene. And I don't have to illustrate that any further. We all know that's what we're experiencing. We used to have earthquakes every once in a while. We have 'em a lot now. We used to have storms every once in a while, but now we have 'em all the time. They're just getting closer and closer together. So I don't think I need to spend any more time today convincing you that we're living in a different time. Some people call it a disintegrating culture. The question, however, that's in all of our minds is this. It's not "What in the world is going on?" anymore. It's "What on earth do I do"?
How can I live with confidence in a chaotic world? And I'd like to suggest to you that there are some instructions in the Word of God to help us answer that question. What if I told you that in the very verses of the New Testament that tell us that Jesus is coming back, he gives us the clues as to how we are to live while we're waiting for that to happen. We don't have to look outside the context. Right in the verse. And I am gonna come up with a strategy, based upon the Scripture, to help us live with confidence in a chaotic world. Say that with me. "Live with confidence in a chaotic world".
We begin with the first clue, which comes from the book of Colossians. And if you've opened your Bibles to the book of Colossians and the 3rd chapter, here's what it says: "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on the things on earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you shall also appear with him in glory". Now, notice the end of the verse. There is the reference to the return of Christ. "When Christ who is our life appears," says the Word of God, "then you also will appear with him in glory".
We believe that he's going to appear one day and we've learned that when he comes back for the Second Advent, we're going to come with him as he sets up his kingdom. That's gonna take place. But now if you go all the way back to the beginning of this passage and the first verse, you will see that we've been given some instruction here as to how we're to function in light of the fact that Jesus is going to come back. Read it again. It says: "Set your affection on things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. And set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth".
Immediately, Paul gives us two dynamic instructions, and may I suggest to you that these are, in the language of the New Testament, these are imperatives. These are not optional. He doesn't tell us to do this if we decide we would like to do it. These are instructions that are given to us. Set your affection, set your heart, and set your mind. Notice, first of all, us tells us we're to set our hearts on something. Now, when you set your heart on something, that means you're looking forward to it, you have your emotions wrapped up in it, and you are thankful for the opportunity to look forward to whatever it is you've set your heart on.
The Bible tells us we're to set our hearts on things above. And this present active imperative is a command which has an enduring quality. It means to continue to do that. Not just do it once but let this be a growing emotion in your heart, that more and more you think about heaven and what's there and, most of all, who's there. A better way to say this would be: learn how to pursue the things of heaven. Now, the psychologist tells us that we should look within. The opportunists tell us that we should look around. The optimist says we should look ahead. The pessimist says we should look out. And God says we should look up.
In the midst of the chaos of our generation, we are to seek a perspective that can come only from God. Just as the compass points north, our entire disposition should be trained so that it points toward the things of God and the things of heaven. We are to remember, ladies and gentlemen, that we are citizens of that place toward which we are encouraged to focus our attention. Philippians tells us that "our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior". We are citizens of heaven. It says not only are we to set our hearts on heaven, but we're to set our minds on heaven.
Notice the second instruction: we must not only seek heaven, we must think heaven. Staying centered on Jesus involves our minds as well as our emotions. We are to mind heavenly things. The focus of our mind is not so much to be on the place we call heaven, but on the spiritual reality of heaven that controls our whole motivation. This is to be our pattern of life as we are followers of Christ. Now, if you'll notice in this second instruction, there is a corresponding negative phrase that goes with it. It says: "Seek those things which are above, not those things which are earthly".
When Paul writes, "Not on the things of this earth," he's not saying that we should just become oblivious to the fact that we live on planet Earth, that we should walk around like a bunch of zombies, not paying attention to what we're doing: running red lights, getting in trouble, just acting like we don't care what's going on on this earth. He's not talking about that at all. We all have to deal with the earthly things of life, do we not? We have families to care for, we have investments that we're concerned about. We have businesses to run, we have all kinds of things that are part of being citizens of this earth. And Paul is not saying, "Disconnect from all of that". He's just saying, "Don't get so caught up in all of that, that you lose your focus".
Here's a good illustration in Psalm 62:10 for all of us who are thinking about finances today. Listen to what it says: "If riches increase, do not set your heart upon them". Isn't that an incredible injunction? How do you do that? How do you function like that? Well, maybe I can give you an illustration that helps me think about it. We travel sometimes internationally. And of course, when you go to another nation, to another time zone, you have an immediate problem with the fact that your body doesn't want to adjust immediately, and what most people do when they travel internationally is they set their watch to the time of the nation or the time zone where they're going to be.
Now, I need to tell you, I'm stubborn about that, and I don't do that. I keep my watch on San Diego time, I'm stubborn about it. And I calculate in my mind what time it is over there based upon what time it is in San Diego. And when I'm away on Sunday, I look down at my watch and I think, "You know what? They're about ready to have church back there," and I'm reminded that in San Diego it's church time. Now, it might be midnight where I am, but in San Diego it's church time. I keep my watch set on the time of my homeland and I adjust everything else around that. That's what Paul is saying. Keep your time set on heaven. Keep your clock connected with heavenly time. Live your life, obviously, you have to live your life, but don't lose your focus. Keep your mind and your heart centered on heavenly things. Learn to say with the psalmist, "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is none upon the earth that I desire beside you".
Now, this isn't about just saying, "Get yourself a little mantra and walk around mumbling all day, 'Jesus Christ is my life, Jesus Christ is my life.'" I mean, that might help somebody, but that's not what Paul's talking about. He gives us here in this text, an agenda for how we should think about Christ, how we should center our thoughts on heaven. And I just wanna go through that agenda quickly because it's right here in the text and we'll take it just in the order that it comes.
When we think about Christ, what should we think about? Well, first of all, we should stay centered on our identity with him. Stay centered on your identity with Christ. Here it says: "If then you are raised with Christ". The word "if" is better translated by the word "since," because it's a first class condition. It means because it's happened; not if it might happen but because it has already happened. When Paul mentions our relationship with the Resurrection of Christ, he's using a metaphor that is very consistent in all of his writings, especially in the book of Romans. According to Paul, listen carefully, when Christ died, we died with him. When he was buried, we went into the grave with him. When he came out of the grave, we rose with him. When he was seated in the heavenlies next to the Father, we were seated in the heavenlies with him.
When the Bible says that Jesus died for us, it doesn't mean simply that he died in our behalf. It means he died in our place. He died in our stead. He died where we should have died. He died for us. And the Bible says that because that is true, that just as Adam was the federal head for sin, Christ is the federal head for salvation, and in Christ because he died for us, we are in Christ and we participate in all that he did. "For as in Adam, all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive". That's what the Scripture says.
So here's the way this works. If you go through the Scriptures, you will see, consistently, this phrase come up. And maybe we haven't noticed it before but let's just notice it quickly. The Bible says we were crucified with Christ, Galatians 2:20: "I am crucified with Christ," Paul said, "and it is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me". We were buried with Christ, Romans 6:4: "Therefore we were buried with him through baptism". We were raised together with Christ. Here's our verse in Colossians chapter 3. And, in other words, in all that Christ did for us in the redemptive work, our sins are forgiven, our guilt has gone, it all took place because of what Jesus did when he was crucified and buried, and the third day came out of the tomb and was raised in victory over death.
And the Bible says that that all happened to him, and because of our identity with him, it happened to us. It even says that he is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven and that we are seated together with him in that place. Let me just read to you these words from Romans which are a commentary on what I have just said: "Therefore we were buried with him through baptism and death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For we have been united together in the likeness of his death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of his resurrection". Our relationship with Christ is not some old life; it is a brand new life. We have come out of the grave with him and we have been resurrected to a whole new life.
As Tennyson used to say: "Oh, that a man would arise in me, that the man I am would cease to be," and Jesus Christ is the answer to that quest. He came so that we could become what we could never by ourselves become. Through his death and burial and resurrection we have arisen to a new life. And just as surely as Christ marched out of the tomb that first Easter Sunday, there was a day when David Jeremiah was resurrected through faith in Jesus Christ, and in that moment, old things passed away and all things became new, and I began to walk in newness of life. Before, I was dead toward God and alive to sin, but when Jesus took over my life, I became dead to sin and alive to God, and sin no longer had a reign over me, even though sometimes I give in and don't live the way I should, I no longer have to be servant to sin because I have been resurrected in Jesus Christ. And I have been set free, amen?
So, that's something to think about. Set your affection on those things. Paul says, "Set your mind and your thought on the fact that you are identified with Christ in all that he has done to make you a new person". Think about that. That'll take a few minutes. Secondly, center your attention on Christ. Stay centered on your authority with Christ. Notice what it says next in verse 1. It says: "Seek those things which are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God".
Now, that's something we need to ponder for a moment. Where is Jesus Christ right now? He is in heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father. That is the position of authority. The right hand is the position of authority. And the Bible explains to us what this means in Ephesians chapter 1 where we read that "God raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age which is to come. And he has put all things under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all and in all". The Bible says that Jesus is in heaven. Set your affection on things above.
Here's something we need to consider this week. Seated at the right hand of the Father is Jesus Christ who is in charge of everything. He's in control. The Bible says: "Everything in heaven and everything on earth, everything in the age to come and everything in the current age, he's in control". Say that with me. He is in control. Now, it's a good thing to think about that, isn't it? When everything else is out of control, set your affection on the one who is in control. That's a wonderful thought, isn't it? And I know that if I set my affection on him, he'll show me what to do and he'll help me know how to make good decisions as we go through this very confusing time of chaos. So stay centered on your identity with Christ. Stay centered on your authority with Christ.
Thirdly, stay centered on your security with Christ. This was readily made for this day. Here's what it says: "For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God". The Bible says that when Christ died, we died, so we're died to the old life. And now, that's what happened in the past. Here's what's going on in the present: our life is hidden with Christ in God. We are secure in our relationship with Jesus Christ. I don't feel very secure in myself, but I do feel secure in Christ and I feel secure in God, and the Bible says I have both. I am secure in Christ and in God. Notice: "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God".
Now, just watch this for a moment. This piece of paper right here is Christ and this Bible is God. He's put me in the fold of this paper. I'm in Christ and I'm in God, and I'm safe. This is the double lock on the security of my life. You say, "What does that mean"? Well, let me help you with that. Let me turn with you to a passage of Scripture in the book of John, which I love because it's a wonderful passage to help people who feel insecure in their relationship with God. This is what it says. It says: "And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish," John 10:28. "Neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one's able to snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one".
There's the picture again, isn't it? I'm in Christ. Christ is in God. I have a double lock on my security. I am safe in Christ. I am hidden with Christ in God. So I might go into the fire like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but I just look around and there's Jesus in the fire with me. I might wonder about the whirlwind that might have frightened Elijah, but he found peace in that whirlwind when the mighty arms of the tempest wrapped around him, whirling and thundering all about him. In the secret place, he was just as safe as he was at home in bed. And so am I.
And you know, the safety that we have is also a matter of security and secrecy. Our true identity, our true meaning in life is hidden in Christ. People outside of Christ don't understand us. They don't. It's like the guy who was in college and his atheistic professor stood up and he said, "Son," he said, "I've read your book from cover to cover, and I don't believe in Jesus and I don't understand the book". And the student said, "that's that's what you get for reading somebody else's mail," you know? You know, it's not written to unbelievers; it's written to Christians and we're unique and we're hidden and our identity is hidden. And while they look at us and try to figure us out, they can't figure us out. But we have this knowledge that in Christ we are secure and we are safe.
And then notice the last one. Not only should we stay centered on our identity with Christ and stay centered on our authority in Christ and stay centered on our security in Christ, but we need to stay centered on our destiny in Christ. We go back to the last part of that passage which says: "When Christ who is our life appears, then you will appear with him in glory". 1 John 3:2 says: "Beloved, now are we the children of God; and it is not yet revealed what we shall be, but we know that when he is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is".
Now, have you noticed that in this passage of Scripture, Paul has covered all of the tenses of life. We have been raised with him in the past, we are hidden with him in the present, and we're going to appear with him in the future. We may be hidden now, but one of these days we're not gonna be hidden anymore. The Bible says we're coming back in the glory with the Lord. And we're going to be revealed with him, and he is our life. You know, that's the problem that we have today. This is why so many people are struggling right now because, along the way, and it's so easy to do this, we switch our hope from someone to something. Every thing you put your hope in will fail you, but there's one in whom you can hope, and that's Jesus. And he never disappoints. You know what the Bible says about him? When we are faithless, he is faithful still. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He never changes. You can count on him. He is as certain as certainty can be. You can put your hope in him.
Well, you say, "Pastor, these are all good motivational thoughts and I'm fired up about looking in a different perspective now on my life, but how do I do it"? Let me just give you two or three things before we finish. First of all, you do it by your insistence on priorities. You know, sometimes, when we go through crisis, one of the good things about it is it reorders our priorities. Isn't that true? I remember when I had cancer, I had people asking me all over the country to come and speak for 'em, and you know what? It was real easy to say no. Not necessarily 'cause I wanted to; I couldn't. I just said no. Every letter that came in, I didn't read half of 'em. "No, no, no, no, no, no, I can't do it".
Somebody said, "Pastor, the best thing you can do is never tell people you're better so you can just keep saying, 'No, no, no, no,' and you never"... But isn't it true that when you go through a crisis, it sorts things out? It helps you to see what's important and what isn't important. Here's what Matthew says: "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you".
A couple of years ago, Donna and I went to London. I got to preach in the church where G. Campbell Morgan preached all the years that he was there. He was a great expositor in London. But he was an interesting man, and when I was there, they gave me some of G. Campbell Morgan's books, and one of the books tells about how G. Campbell Morgan faced a crisis in his life as a pastor. G. Campbell Morgan preached during the First World War, the Second World War, and during the time of the Titanic. And many of the people from his church were on the Titanic when it went down. And he had to try to get his people together during those crises.
And the interesting thing about him was that, in essence, as you read his stuff, he was a pacifist, he didn't believe in war at all, but as he saw the Germans coming toward England and realized that they needed to protect themselves, he sort of became a quasi-pacifist. He began to talk about the importance of defending the nation and encouraging his people. But here's what I want to share with you. He said, "Men who are strong are always men who are fixed somewhere, who have a conviction from which they cannot be separated by argument, which cannot be changed whatever the circumstances in which they live. Sometimes, these men are very narrow but they are wonderfully strong. And they are singularly obstinate but they are splendidly dependable. Consequently, we always know where to find these men. The fixed heart is the secret of courage. Courage is an affair of the heart; courage is the consciousness of the heart that is fixed.
What then shall we do in the day of fear? We shall do our duty, the thing that is nearest, the thing we have to do tomorrow morning. We will do that, and do it well, and do it cheerfully. The rest we will leave to him of sorrow and suffering and of the issues. What this nation needs," he preached, "not just as much, but perhaps more than anything else, is the multiplication of strong, quiet souls who are not afraid of evil, even though the Zeppelins may be coming, and will not add to the panic that demoralized, but will do their work and stay strong because they're fixed". What he's talking about is to have a mentality that causes you to see the really important things and you're just fixed on those things. And that's what helps you get through, if you stay centered. So set your priorities. Secondly, not only by the insistence of your priorities, but by your interest in the Word of God.
Do you remember the story of Mary and Martha? One of the problems with a crisis is that when a crisis comes, you always wanna figure out what to do. That's what happens to me. To me, if you're a leader, problems are the challenge of your life. Here's a problem, so I'm a leader, let's figure out how to deal with this. Well, that was what was going on in the home of Mary and Martha when Jesus was coming to visit with them. Do you remember that? And Martha was busy. She was doing all this stuff, and Mary, when Jesus walked in the house, he sat down, she went over and sat down at his feet and she just was listening to everything he said and she was learning. I don't know if she was taking notes but she was learning. And it ticked Martha off. And she went to Jesus and she said, "Jesus, I'm doing all the work, and Mary's just sitting there. Would you tell her to help me"?
Now, if you have to go tell Jesus something like that, you are in real trouble, but she went to Jesus and she said, "Will you get my sister up off her duff and help me get this stuff ready"? And Jesus looked at her, and I love his words. Do you remember, he said, "Martha, Martha". Ha, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her". Do you hear what he said? He said, "Don't get all caught up in the activity to the extent that you lose your focus on the Word of God". Mary understood that the thing that would help her more than anything else was to know Jesus and she took the opportunity to know him. If you're to center on Christ, you've gotta center on the book. The Bible is the written Word of God. It speaks to us of the living Word of God.
"On every page, on every line, you will find the Son of God divine. If you want to learn to know the King of kings, if you want to learn all the heavenly things, read the book, learn the book, let the book teach you". Set your affection on things above by setting your priorities, by your interest in God's Word, and then there's one last one that's sort of interesting: by the investment of your treasure. And I'm not gonna give a stewardship message here, but just simply to tell you the Bible says it very simply: "Where your treasure is," what's the rest of it? "Your heart is". You know how to keep your heart fixed on things above? Keep investing some treasure there. If you put your treasure in heaven, your heart will be there too. His daily life was marked by barbarous treatment, near starvation, hard labor, the incessant threat of death.
Nazi concentration camp survivor, Viktor Frankl, had lost everything he ever owned or ever loved. Just nine months after their wedding, his young wife, Tilly, was deported to Bergen-Belsen, and he was sent to Auschwitz. He wrote of one early morning prison march, he said, "We stumbled on in the darkness over big stones and through puddles. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Hardly a word was spoken. The icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly, 'If our wives could only see us now. I hope they're better off in their camps and don't know what is happening to us.'" Viktor Frankl said, "That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind as we stumbled on for miles. Slipping on icy spots, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said but we both knew each was thinking of his wife. My mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with uncanny acuteness: her smile, her frank and encouraging look, more luminous than the sun that was beginning to rise".
And Frankl credited his own survival, when so many other stronger men died, to his thought life. "My mind still clung to the image of my wife. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, if for only a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved". When he was able to grasp the truth that focused love is a profound motivator, he was able to finally comprehend the words of an old proverb: "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory".
Their eternal focus is centered on the glory of him whom they adore. Let us be just as lost in the perpetual contemplation of the infinite glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. And he will get us through the storm if we focus on him. Let me give you a little verse to help you remember this. It's up on the screen, Isaiah 26:3. Say it with me out loud: "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you". Do you wanna have perfect peace? Stay centered on Jesus Christ, amen?