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 26:26-30 – Blood of life…

Matthew 26:26-30 – Blood of life…

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’ And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” – Matthew 26:26-30ESV

In the United States, it seems like Christians are kind of in love with the idea the United States was a Christian paradise at one time. We were once this place where it was safe and okay to live out our lives in obedience to Christ without criticism from the world around us. But is that really true, or is that a rationale we have to deal with how sidelined Christian values are becoming in our culture?

Certainly Christianity was less controversial in our country at one time. It was expected people were part of a church community as a social norm and subscribed at least publicly to Christian ethics. But does that necessarily translate to it being “easy” to be Christian “back then”? Does that mean the lifestyle of one who follows Christ was ever anything but controversial? I’m not sure it does. Even in 1940s and 1950s America, a man who didn’t curse, didn’t smoke, didn’t “chase skirts”, and maybe even didn’t drink was a shocking anomaly. Go back even farther to the British Empire, and while the gentry and nobility were expected to attend church on Sunday, it wasn’t “fashionable” to be fervently religious.

In fact, a life modeled after Christ is perhaps designed intentionally to be the very opposite of “comfortable” at any time in our world. After all, the one we follow tended to shock people. Even the most religious of the day. Even those who thought they had a finger on what it meant to follow Him: the disciples.

In Matthew 26, we tend to gloss over some of what was really going on in this scene. Jesus establishes the practice of communion, offering a cup of wine as his blood and a loaf of bread as His body. This practice, where we believe, in some way we can’t understand, that Jesus physically comes to us in wine-that-is-also-blood and bread-that-is-also-flesh, is central to our faith. We focus on this as a comfortable, familiar piece of our life in Christ.

Yet this communion was anything but comfortable for the disciples…because Jesus said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood.” 

This single phrase would have been shocking… disturbing… especially from the one they followed as the Son of God. And it’s not because of them merely finding it tasteless to drink blood. It’s because God expressly forbade the drinking of blood in Leviticus 17:14. The very idea of drinking blood was anathema.

And Jesus never explains Himself. Never explains away the controversy to make the disciples more comfortable with it. As far as we can tell, He proceeds with this First Communion. And the disciples go with Him, stepping boldly into the breech without any recorded objections to what He offered them.

That, perhaps, is the unifying truth about Christianity we can point to at every instance in history. Not that it was easier once or less controversial. I don’t know if that’s ever been true. Rather, what we can say with confidence is Jesus has always called us to a life of controversy. To be Christian is to, in some way, defy the rules society tries to bind around us. Christians answering the call of Christ have fought to free slaves in defiance of the entire British government, shared Christ and His forgiveness with Japanese war criminals, sheltered Jews against the Nazis authorities, gave voice to the unborn when the law does not, and a million other acts of defiance for the sake of Christ and His work here.

Yet we don’t pursue controversy for the sake of “making a scene”. Rather… it is a side effect of holding out in our trembling hands the life of Christ we have been given. We bring Life to our world when we serve Christ because we point people to the God who inspires us.

Just as Jesus did. For as Leviticus 17:14 states, “the life of every creature is its blood”, and whose blood is offered in Matthew 26 and in every communion ever since? The blood of Christ, the Son of God.

In offering this controversial cup… Christ offered us His blood. The life of Jesus Messiah, Son of God…Creator.

  1. How is Christianity controversial in our society? Try to avoid politics and stick to what about Christianity itself people disagree with.
  2. What values of Christianity do you agree with, but struggle to openly follow in our culture?
  3. If being Christian is, and always has been, controversial, why is it often portrayed as the “boring, normal path”?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Pick one of the values of Christianity you subscribe to that other people find controversial. In a non-political, non-argumentative way, find one way to live into that value in an open way this week. Then do it!