Not so long ago at work me and some colleagues gathered around a computer monitor and we witnessed the live lift off of the space shuttle Endeavor as it embarked on its final mission to space. As I watched the countdown and lift off of the Endeavor something struck me as it continued to climb, leaving earth behind and making its way on its intended mission. At one point mission control said the following:
Mission Control to Endeavor: Negative Return
Endeavor to Mission Control: Roger. Negative Return
As the mission continued the commentator on the video explained that this meant the Endeavor had reached a point where it could no longer return to the Kennedy Space Center. I was struck and fascinated by this phrase, "Negative Return". For the shuttle to return to where it came from would produce disastrous consequences. My mind immediately made a faith correlation best described in the Apostle Paul's epistle to the Colossians. In chapter 3, the first 17 verses read as follows (ESV),
"1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. 12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
I love the phrasing in verses 1 and 2 about seeking those things that are from above and setting the mind on things above - and NOT on the earth. And as I read this passage and thought on the phrase "Negative Return" I came up with a simple diagram that is helping me as a Christian. Perhaps it will be helpful to you.
1. Deliverance - verse 1 - "If then you have been raised with Christ..." As a Christian I have been "raised with Christ" which speaks of being delivered. From what? So much! But specifically as it pertains to this passage - sin. In all its forms found in the earth. More on this below.
2. Direction - verse 1 again - "...seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God." As a Christian I have a certain direction that I should be focused on as one who has been delivered - and that direction is toward all things above - where Christ is!
3. Determination - verse 2 - "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." Just because, as a Christian, I have been delivered and I have a new direction doesn't mean it happens automatically. It takes purpose to pursue things above and not on this earth. It requires a "Negative Return" perspective. I can't go back. I am on a mission that is leading me out of this earth. But even determination isn't enough to accomplish this.
4. Death - verse 3 - "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." I think this perspective escapes the Christian far too often. I know it does me. I have died. To put it differently, as Corinthians does, I am a "new creation." And as a new creation I may be in the world, but not of it. I am in pursuit of something eternal. Old things are passed away and all things have become new. I must be dead to self.
5. Destination - verse 4 - "When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory." There is so much here. My life is no longer my own. I have been bought with a price. Christ is now my life. He bought me with His life. Now He is my life. And I will have a destination with Him in glory forever. This changes everything while I am making my way from here to there.
6. Distinction - verses 5-9 - "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you..." As a Christian there are certain things that need to die in me. I cannot return to them. These are things that are distinctly of this earth:
* sexual immorality
* improper passion
* evil desire
* obscene talk
These are things that pertained to the old life and the old self. They are distinctly of this earth and I need a "Negative Return" perspective on these things. To return would produce disastrous consequences. And just as the list above is distinctly of this earth, the passage goes on to list things that are distinctly not of this earth but are things from above and are traits of God's chosen ones who are holy and beloved (verses 12-15):
* a compassionate heart
The list is not exhaustive but these traits are indicative of one who has "put off" the things of the earth and "put on" the things of Heaven. So, daily, for me and for you, it all comes down to one thing:
7. Decision - verse 10-11, 16-17. Each day we must, "put on the new self" and be "renewed in knowledge..." We must resemble our Creator, Savior, and Lord. We must seek to be "free" - letting Christ be our "all." We must let the "Word of Christ dwell" in us "richly." We must sing, praise, and pray. And everything we do we must do "in the name of the Lord Jesus." When He is our Lord, and these things are true, and we decide to put off the things of the earth - never to return - and put on the things that are from above then we will know what it means to be Christian. And the world will know what it means to be Christian. And the world could use a little more of that as we try to make our way out of it.