I cannot help but think of my grandfather today. Three years ago, today, he passed away following a long battle with heart and kidney issues. There are many memories I have with him, especially since he served as a father figure for me in the absence of a father, and I have been thinking of them since we moved back to West Virginia.
One of my favorite moments with him occurred at Ona Speedway. My grandfather and my younger brother joined me on a reporting assignment. The earliest part of my reporting career focused on covering local auto racing. I was the only one in the sports department who liked the sport. The racetrack was having a legends night featuring some of the drivers from the 1960s and 1970s. While I got to interview Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, and others my grandfather got to watch them race one last time.
That was the plan. After the interviews, I joined up with my grandfather and brother in the stands to watch the race, which was postponed after a few laps due to a monsoon of a rainstorm. This would be a long running story that he would share filled with laughter. I can still hear my grandfather laughing describing how WOWK’s Spencer Adkins, who was the emcee for the night, proclaimed to the fans that the weather would be fine only for the storm to begin a few moments later. He loved that story.
Racing brought us together. We were both Dale Earnhardt fans and, in my office, I have one of the many cars I received when he died. The car is filled with an assortment of sponsors and promotions that help you to identify the driver. A driver is contractually obligated to name their sponsors during interviews aired on radio and television. It is what helps to pay the bills.
That has me thinking about something. What if we did that? What if we wore jackets or placed decals on our cars that represented everything that defines us, our loyalties, and our priorities? Could you imagine what that would look like? Even more what if in every conversation we had to name all of our loyalties and priorities before we even began to talk? It would certainly make cable news debates more interesting.
As I think about that, I have to wonder as well about where Christ would be in all of that? Would Christ have the center place – the most dominant and important spot – or would he be in smaller print drowned out by the other loyalties and priorities that define who we are and how we live?
It is something for us to consider as we reflect upon our passage from Colossians 2:6-15. The passage is part of Paul’s working out of his Christology, which means his theology or understanding of Christ. The entire letter is written to the church in Colossae, which is located in modern Turkey, with the desire to help the church then and now to reflect upon the nature of Christ and what it means to live as followers of Christ.
Prior to these words, Paul wrote one of the most powerful and quoted descriptions of Jesus in the epistles. He says, in Colossians 1:15, that “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” Christ is the divine image of God. Jesus is the reflection and the embodiment of the Godhead. What Paul means is that Jesus is God made flesh, who dwelt among, and who points us to the way of God’s love for us.
Jesus is everything we could desire. In Christ is our hope for salvation. In Christ is our hope for unconditional love. In Christ is our hope for true peace and joy. In Christ is our everything.
It is in Jesus, the divine image and presence of God, that we are to be rooted in and claim as what defines us and our relationships with one another. Paul writes that we should let our “roots grow down into him.” As he has done in other letters, Paul shares how we are to be completely taken in and defined by Christ’s love, grace, and eternal presence. That our entire life should be centered and enriched by the life of Christ. Followers of Christ, Paul tells us, grow when we are rooted in the life of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ.
When we think of being rooted our minds, perhaps, turns towards trees, at least mine does recently. As I walk around Ritter Park, I’ve been overwhelmed by the beauty of the walking trails and the trees that line the paths. These are not new trees. They are old trees with deep roots that have sought the underground water supplies in the soil that provides what the tree needs to live. As those roots remain within that water source, the tree is enabled to grow taller, firmer, and more secure.
Our faith should be like those trees. Discipleship and growing in the image of God is about having our life centered in Christ. It means having our lives be secured and strengthened by God’s love and hope. A love that sustains us and encourages us. A love that transforms us into a new creation that flows out of God’s redeeming and life-changing grace. To be rooted in Christ means that we claim our very existence and hope in the life of God’s love and everything else in our lives is shaped by our faith.
We are to be rooted in Christ, especially as other voices and thoughts try to keep us from being established in God’s love and hope. Paul wrote in a time that the early church was trying to understand who Jesus is and what it meant that he came to the world. As this was going on, other viewpoints and perspectives emerged that falsely claimed Jesus is not divine, that the body is of no use, and that only a few people have any hope of ever gaining an understanding of God. That was just within the church. Beyond the church, there were other views, ideas, and claims to people’s lives that were trying to supersede Christ’s place.
That is taking place still today. Every day, we hear voices and thoughts that try to get us to be completely identified and defined by their view and understanding of the world. They will sound appealing and fascinating with their offer of joy, hope, or, even, peace. When we become enamored with these ideas, they become distractions to us in our faith in God and prevent us from truly growing in Christ’s likeness. As we give them power and influence, they become an idol that we give a place of importance and guidance in our life. They become what we are rooted in.
When we think of idols, though, we want to immediately think that they are bad or evil things that distract and keep us from being rooted in Christ. Most of the time, however, idols are formed when good things become corrupted and are given too much power, influence, and control over our lives. Idols are formed when we allow ourselves to be rooted and established in the things and ideas of the world and not Christ.
It’s not hard to find where these potential idols exist. Politicians will argue that they are our only hope for survival and leadership. Our careers will claim they are the only way to truly provide for our families. Our families will try to dictate how we live. Even our sports will tell us that if we want to find true joy we have to be completely loyal to our team.
We could easily keep going. There is nothing wrong with political ideology, our careers, our families, our sports, or many other things that easily take up our time and concern. In many ways, these are all necessary things to life. The problem comes when we believe that they have all our answers and our only true hope. The problem comes when we give them a place of power and influence over our lives that only Christ should have.
Just as it’s not hard to figure out where a stock car driver’s loyalty lies, it’s not hard to determine if there are ideas or priorities that we have allowed to define us more than Christ. Ask yourself this question: Are there things in my life I am more passionate about than my walk with Jesus? When we ask ourselves that difficult question, we soon see how some good and necessary things in our lives that have defined us more than our faith in God. When our hope and passions are more defined by the world and less by Christ, we’ve allowed ourselves to be rooted in the wrong things and believe the false promise that the ideas of the world will lead us to true hope and life.
As Paul reminds us, it is only when we are rooted in Christ that we will experience true hope and life in this world. True hope and life will only be experienced when we abandon our desire to chase after the world and take on the life of being centered in Christ. If we want to experience the life of Christ, then we have to be completely defined by the waters of Christ’s love, grace, and hope to the point that everything in our lives is determined by our faith in God. It cannot be the other way around where the priorities of the world take precedence over our faith in Christ. To be rooted in Christ means there is no other way than to be identified in Christ.
Because when we are identified in Christ true transformation takes place. Spiritual transformation takes place when we are defined, rooted even, by the grace of God at work in our lives. It happens when we are identified by Christ and by nothing else.
Every day and with every moment there will be voices and distractions that will come our way. It is why wanting to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is not a one moment act. It is an everyday desire to want to completely let go of the identities of the world and, instead, be completely taken over by Christ’s love. Every moment of our lives we are called to let go and take on Christ. To let go of the world and to be rooted in Christ and continue to grow in the Lord’s love, so that we may be the very reflection of God’s love to all the people we meet.