Phil. 3:7-14 – Connected to Christ…

Phil. 3:7-14 – Connected to Christ…

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:7-14ESV

The first time I ever went climbing and rappelling was at Lutheran Valley Retreat, a Christian youth camp in the heart of Pike National Forest, outside Woodland Park, CO. Now, they don’t just fling you off the cliff, but they walk you through the gear you have, how it works, safety procedures, communication with your belayer (the guy making sure you don’t fall to your death if you slip), and how to recognize safe rock. Then, they start you at the bottom of the cliff to work your way up.

Going up is mostly a matter of skill, rather than courage. With your face pressed against the rock and your eyes generally upward, it’s easier to forget about the distance opening up between your feet and the next horizontal surface. The fear comes when you’re ready to rappel. You lean backward, putting tension on your rope…and walk backward off the cliff. The more parallel you are to the ground below as you go over the edge, the easier it is to rappel. If this isn’t enough, rappeling in its most enjoyable form involves hopping away from the cliff face, letting the rope run through your hand and allowing gravity to use your hop to drop you down the cliff.

When you’re backing off that cliff for the first time, for many people…it’s a supreme act of will to be able to force yourself off the ledge. As you back toward the drop, leaning toward the drop, all your instincts are screaming that you’re going to die. Even though you rationally know you’re connected to someone who’s not going to let you fall, your survival instincts are screaming “DANGER! DANGER!” When you finally coax yourself off the ledge, it’s another act of will to lay backward, rather than trying to go down the cliff in a sitting position. When you add the hop, it’s even harder, as though your body thinks that as long as your legs are touching the rock you won’t fall. Despite everything, at the deepest level you don’t really trust your belayer to save your life, even though they’re the only one who can.

This is like our life with Jesus. Jesus is all the gear preventing us from falling: a harness clinging snug to our bodies, the carabiner connecting the belay to the rope, the rope connecting us to the belayer and their gear. In fact, Philippians 3:12b says “Christ first possessed me” with the word “possessed” implies God’s hand taking hold of us and laying claim to our lives. Through the death of Jesus and the faith that connects us to Him, God wraps us up in His protection and life.

Yet there is still the cliff that is this life. There is still the apparent danger of each day. There is still the possibility of rope burn or a knock against the rocks or fatigue as we go along. There is still the discomfort of the harness. As we go through life, connected to God, we can still be hurt, we can still grow weary, we can still find our very connection to God a source of discomfort and even pain in a broken world.

Like the new rappeler, we try to take control of the process, to the impediment of the journey. Instead of trusting in the connection God has wrapped us in, we begin to seek other solutions to ease our journey, other things we think will make us feel secure: popularity, professional excellence, wealth, beauty, education, athleticism, family, or the one-thousand other things we pursue in this life. And there is nothing wrong with these things in-and-of themselves, just like as you rappel down a cliff you can pause to looking around you at the sweeping mountains, a beautiful sunset, a shining river, or a bird flying by. But these things are benefits of the journey…not your source of life. If you reach too hard for them, you risk a massive fall.

Instead, the source of life is the connection to the belayer…to Jesus, in whom is “life, and that life is the light of men” (John 1:4ESV). He is the one who takes hold of us, offering His life, holding tight to us even though He knows how often we will reach for other sources of security. He is the one who will never let go.

  1. Make a list of the pursuits in your life that get you out of bed in the morning; that make life for you worth living.
  2. How much do you depend on these things for security? (If helps to consider if you could still love God if you no longer had these things.)
  3. What would it look like to still love these things, but for your perspective to shift to depending on God for your security?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Whenever you feel anxious, pause and take a moment to note what is triggering your anxiety. Is this a situation where you are finding security in something other than God? If so, ask God to set you free.

 

 

Matthew 28:19-20 – Fearful & Free

Matthew 28:19-20 – Fearful & Free

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20ESV

Most kids, it seems to me, love puppets and clowns. They’re funny, they’re outgoing, and they inspire the imagination. I was not like most kids. By three years old, I had decided both these things were scary and untrustworthy. My mom would take me to the fair, and she couldn’t get me to go anywhere near the clown shows. Even the Christian clowns made me uncomfortable.

I remember one fair, when I was very young, we were walking past a tent where they were doing a kids’ event, and they were appealing to families walking by to come into the tent. It was a clown show, and I could see the kids gathering around the clowns doing the presentation. Amidst the rising fear, I reached for my mom’s hand. As she held my hand, the fear was still there…but I also felt safe. I knew my mom was there, that she wouldn’t leave me…that I would be okay because she loved me.

In Matthew 28, the disciples are coming to the end of three-and-a-half incredible years at the feet and side of Jesus. Not only had they seen Him heal the sick, cast out demons, stand up against the Pharisees, raise the dead, and feed thousands with a poor boy’s meal…He had enabled them to do the same in His name. What is more, they had watched Him die a brutal, agonizing death…only to rise from the dead and walk with them and teach them even more. Now…He is about to ascend into heaven, and He has just given them an incredible responsibility:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20aESV).

In other words, Jesus is telling them, “Make faithful believers of the whole world.” May it be noted the leaders of the most powerful nation on earth – namely Rome –  just decided Jesus was a threat and had Him executed with no evidence of a crime. The religious leaders of the Jews, the very leaders ALL the disciple’s friends and family are part of, conspired for Jesus’ murder to take place. And the world outside Rome is no safer for lone people with no apparent protection. Add to that, Jesus is leaving. While He had sent the disciples on missions before, it was always with the plan of them returning to His side to learn and grow again at His feet. To their eyes, this time He will not be there to physically turn to. They will not be able to have the same deep, heart-to-heart and mind-to-mind conversations.

Can you imagine how daunting this task would seem? How afraid they might have been?

But, like my mom taking my hand when I was afraid, Jesus acknowledges their fears with these final parting words, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20bESV). He isn’t leaving them alone to this task, with no support and no help. He will be with them through it all, speaking the truth to their hearts, speaking the truth through their mouths and hands. And to be honest…they faced a brutal road. Every disciple, except for John, would be murdered serving this mission, and John himself would die in exile on a prison island. Yet they did not die alone. In death they leapt into the arms of Jesus because He was never away from their sides.

The same stands true for you, believer. In every moment of fear, every breath of terror and uncertainty, every sense of inevitable, crushing defeat… Jesus has never left your side. As He promised the disciples, He is with you always, even to the end of all we know. The fear may persist, but you are not abandoned.

You are never alone.

  • On a piece of paper, list all the fears you are facing right now, great or small.
  • When you think about all these fears, how do you feel? Whatever feelings or thoughts came to mind, note them under your list.
  • How might Jesus’ constant presence in the midst of these fears and feelings impact how you deal with fear?
  • Challenge for the week: Jesus has promised to be with us in fear. Memorize Proverbs 3:5-6 and speak it to yourself whenever your fear begins to rise.

Matthew 6:25-33 – God’s Character

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Matthew 6:25-33ESV

I was a horse girl growing up. Some girls liked dolls or makeup or playing dress-up… but for me, it was all about horses all the time. Naturally, the majority of my toys were plastic horses, and there aren’t enough pages to record all the stories I wove out of their flashing hooves and flowing manes. At one time, I think I remember counting around 250 horses of varying sizes and colors stashed in my closet (the “barn”).

Inevitably, in these valiant horse-stories, there were also casualties. Sparring stallions sometimes broke legs. A foal slipping from careless fingers would lose an ear. My favorite toy horse (a black stallion named Spark) even had two broken legs. My horses were well-loved, thoroughly played-with, and they showed it. Broken legs, in particular, were a cause for tears. How can a horse with broken legs roam free?

But I always knew where to take my anxiousness. His oversized coffee-cup proudly proclaimed him “Mr. Fix-It”…and in my world he was better known as “Dad”. I knew if anyone could fix my horses, he could. I also completely trusted him to never turn me away. He never had before, and even if it took a long time, I knew my horses were well-cared-for in his hands.

In Matthew 6:25-33, Jesus tells us “do not be anxious about your life.” It is easy to get caught on these words and frame the rest of what He says in the context of an impossible command. I don’t know about you, but I struggle with anxiety constantly. I am uncomfortably familiar with the knotting stomached, pounding-hearted, sleepless nights that leave you feeling exhausted and even more worried the next day. Viewing this passage only as a command would easily leave me anxious about trying not to be anxious.

But to stop at “Do not be anxious” would be to miss the life-giving truth Jesus points us to over and over again throughout this passage:

  • verse 26 – “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Emphasis mine).
  • verse 30 – “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you…” (Emphasis mine).
  • verses 31 & 32b – “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ …your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Emphasis mine).

Jesus is reminding us not to be anxious because we don’t need to. I didn’t need to be anxious about my horses’ broken pieces because I knew the character of my father. He loved me and wanted to help me. In his hands, I knew my horses would be fixed.

We don’t need to be anxious our lives because we can trust in the character of our God, who…

  • is faithful (1 Corinthians 10:13),
  • is patient (2 Peter 3:9),
  • created all things (Genesis 1:1),
  • is more powerful than anyone on earth (Isaiah 40:23),
  • provides all good things (James 1:17),
  • sacrificed His only son to save us (John 3:16),
  • keeps promises (Numbers 23:19),
  • is perfect (Psalm 18:30),
  • is compassionate, gracious, and righteous (Psalm 116:5),
  • and even more!

Compared to our anxiety, our God is far more mighty and able to handle what we cannot control. The creator of the universe, in the midst of your anxiety, taps you on the shoulder and reminds you “Look at me. Remember me.” He whispers quietly in your ear “I am with you always, to the end” (Matthew 28:20b).

 

  1. What are the things causing you anxiety right now? It may be helpful to list them out.
  2. Search for a list of bible verses about the character of God online. How do the characteristics of God speak to your list of anxieties?
  3. When anxiety is ruling you, how does that impact your decision making?
  4. Challenge for this week: using the bible verses you found about God’s character, pick one characteristic that really spoke to you and spend a little time each day reading Bible passages that explore this characteristic of God.