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!
Matthew 2:13-15 – Familiarity breeds indifference

Matthew 2:13-15 – Familiarity breeds indifference

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.'” – Matthew 2:13-15NIV

There is a saying “Familiarity breeds contempt.” I have heard it used most often to supposedly explain why marriages go sour. I don’t know if that adage is necessarily true in most circumstances, but I have found familiarity tends to breed indifference. The more we are exposed to ideas or experiences, the less they seem to impact us. It’s why ski jumpers progressively have to hit higher jumps. It’s why travelers always want to see new places. It’s part of why kindergarten is fantastic and junior year is terrible. It’s part of why people cheat in relationships or people get new jobs. Once the newness wears off, the ordinary no longer holds our attention.

It’s true with travesty, too. In our post 9/11, post Columbine, post Black Lives Matter, post #MeToo world, we hardly go a day without news of a new war, a new terrorist attack, a new shooting, a new politician spouting hatred, a new beloved icon turned out to be a monster. It’s so expected it rarely excites us. Rarely holds our attention. The movements which spawned in response to these atrocities and abuses slowly lose momentum as we become used to them being part of the news and our lives.

So it is with the story of Jesus’ birth. Every year, we read about Mary’s and Joseph’s dreams, Elizabeth’s testimony, the journey to Bethlehem, the angels singing, the shepherds rushing, the Magi journeying, the star shining, Herod’s slaughter, and the escape to Egypt. Memorialized in ornaments and cute manger scenes and Christmas lights…there’s a blurry, soft edge to the account. Something familiar and comfortable. We focus on the fluffy lambs, the excitement, the cooing baby, the adoring family, the hope of nations… and forget the nightmare. Forget the courage and desperation and fear.

Mary was probably thirteen or fourteen years old when Jesus was born. Shockingly early for our world, but the age of many new brides in first century Israel. Joseph…no more than a teen himself. He was probably between seventeen and nineteen, as Jewish men often married shortly after completing their apprenticeship in their family trade. No more than children themselves, they’d also probably rarely been far from home and family. First century people did not travel the world as we do today.

Yet now, a new husband, a new father, a new wife, a new mother…the angel appears to them to proclaim, “Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him” (Matthew 2:13b NIV). They are being hunted by the ruler of their land. Personally. For death. So, in a world where being an unprotected stranger often left you killed or enslaved, these teenagers had to flee to the very country from which God had liberated the Jews hundreds of years before. A land with no family or connections with whom to claim refuge. It was roughly a 200 mile journey just to the border of Egypt, into a life they had never planned for.

It was a call to extraordinary courage from a young, inexperienced, unprepared couple from rural Israel.

As we begin a new year, hoping it will be better than the last, getting wrapped up in the new demands and expectations of our lives… Don’t forget the courage of two ordinary believers caught up in the work of the extraordinary. Don’t set aside the account of Jesus’ birth with your ornaments and trees and lights until next December. Don’t forget what God achieves through the most unexpected means.

Remember…remember the courage of Christmas. Remember what God’s strength made Joseph and Mary capable of. Holding the Savior in their arms, they journeyed in fear and doubt, yet with the God of the universe right there in their midst.

And as with them, so with you. The God of the Universe is with you as you face the unknown, perhaps with your own fears and doubts. He does not abandon you to the evil intentions of others or the uncertainty of the path. He gives you strength to face the day. To face your times: through the Bible, through worship, through fellow believers, through the miraculous in every day that we so easily overlook.

Have courage, my friends. The Author of Life is with you.

  1. How does your life feel overwhelming right now?
  2. If you’ve never considered the courage of Mary and Joseph before, how does it impact you to think on it, now?
  3. How is it different to try to be courageous versus trusting God to provide you with the strength you need for your challenges?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Courage happens through small instances of acting in trust in God’s promises. Pray for an opportunity to practice courage this week. When it comes, take steps into it.
Matthew 26:36-42 – Jesus gets you

Matthew 26:36-42 – Jesus gets you

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter. ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.'”
– Matthew 26:36-42NIV

One of the things that perplexed me as a child was that Jesus went through the big deal of living a life on earth, going through all the betrayal and pain of the cross, rising from the dead…just to save us. Not that I thought saving us wasn’t a big deal, but why did God do it that way? He’s the All-Powerful One, right? Couldn’t he just wave His God-hand and obliterate our sin, then make sure someone told us we were forgiven? It would still have been a free gift to which we could respond in faith. He’d still get to bring us healing and the opportunity to be with Him always. Win-win, right?

As an adult…I get it. It’s not for any profound theologically-discerned reason based on an understanding of God’s adherence to justice because of His wholly-just nature. This reason is certainly true…but there’s a reason that hits right into my heart far more than a highly rational explanation like that.

Jesus’ life proves He gets me.

Jesus’ suffering proves He knows me.

You see…as an adult, I have come to understand Jesus’ words in the depths of my soul:

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”
(Matthew 26:38NIV)

Have you ever cried until your were screaming? Have you ever felt like the world was spiraling into an inescapable dark hole beneath your feet? Have you ever looked at your future and saw…nothing? Have you ever faced a moment where you knew the next moment would determine whether you’d ever be able to truly live again? Have you ever roamed the darkness of night in silent desperation and found no hope or comfort at all?

The worst night of my life was the first night in the hospital after my husband unexpectedly collapsed at work and nearly died in the ER. We didn’t know what was wrong with him, yet. We didn’t know if we had a future together. We didn’t know what the next day would be like. We just knew other people’s blood was keeping him alive. We would find out three days later he had leukemia…that we were in a fight for his life.

He was asleep in his hospital bed. I couldn’t hold him…I couldn’t sleep. Everyone I knew was asleep. I was alone.

And that’s why Jesus took the path to the cross.

Because when I read His words in Gethsemane on the eve of His death…I know He understands what it’s like to be me. My God knows me. He has lived through what I am living through. So when the author of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 4:15, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses”… I know it’s true. I know Jesus’ heart is with me on this road we’re walking.

And if it’s true for us…it’s true for you.

  • “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Describe a time when that was true for you.
  • How did you endure through that experience?
  • How does it impact you to realize Jesus has felt the same as you?
  • Challenge for the week: We all know someone whose soul is in the same situation as Jesus described. Do something small to let them know they are not forgotten.
Psalm 139:13-16 – Wonderful

Psalm 139:13-16 – Wonderful

As a child, I spent a lot of time with chickens. Not only did my parents, for a time, raise them for meat, we also raised hens throughout my childhood for eggs and sheer entertainment value. Those of you familiar with chickens know they march to the beat of their own drum, and I often found myself watching the antics of our little flock for twenty minutes at a time, amused throughout.

Growing up with chickens, one thing you learn pretty quickly is not to mess with momma-hen. You might say that’s nothing surprising, as most animals are fiercely protective of their young. However, the protectiveness of a hen doesn’t start when the chicks hatch but long before. As soon as she commits to sitting a nest, her protective instincts kick in hard. We call this being “broody”. A broody hen will fight to the death to protect her little clutch of eggs. I have seen a bantam cochin hen, weighing in at a whopping pound-and-a-half, fly out to attack a ninety-pound Labrador in defense of her nest. I have seen hens starve themselves nearly to death, refusing to leave their eggs even for a moment to eat. As the chicks grow within the eggs, the hen will make soft, tender clucking noises to her eggs as she rolls them over carefully, already establishing communication with the chicks growing within. Before they are born, chicks become familiar with the unique voice of their mother, and the mother will be able to pick out their chirping from any other chicks born in the barn. They are hers.

In Romans 1:20ESV, Paul writes, “For [God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” When I read this, I often think of mountains and oceans and sunsets and all the beauty of the created world. But even in the a little, momma hen, we can see the fingerprints of the creator in her fierce love for her children, even unborn.

In Psalm 139:15-16ESV, the Psalmist writes, My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Before you were born, God knew you. You weren’t a mystery to Him. Your days were not yet to be revealed, but He knew every moment of every day of your life before one of them came to be. He knew your failings, your successes, your gifts, your faults, your loves, your regrets…the deepest parts of all you are.

And He didn’t recoil.

He didn’t sign in regret that He hadn’t done better.

He didn’t roll his eyes, shrug, and mutter, “Oh well…”

Rather, the Psalmist writes you are, “Fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works”. Wonderful. Not just wonderful, but fearfully wonderful. In other words… incredibly, awesomely, overwhelmingly wonderful. No matter how you feel. No matter what you are told by others. This is the declaration the CREATOR of the UNIVERSE makes over you:

Wonderful.

  1. Why does your life often seem less than “wonderful”?
  2. Why is it so difficult to believe God’s word’s about you, compared to your own inner dialogue or the criticisms of others?
  3. How often do you look at others as wonderful works of God?
  4. Challenge for the Week: God affirms His love for you in every day. Pay attention for those moments and little gifts He gives you. When He does, write them down and spend some time reflecting on them instead of dismissing them with negativity.
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.

John 10:11-18 – Trustworthy

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd. The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:11-18NLT

The first US Presidential election I remember really having any kinds of thought about was when I was in middle school. I remember the controversy in our country at that time, and the middle school rhetoric floating around about who should be president. In retrospect, it was mostly parroting of opinions we heard around our dinner tables at home, as most of us were still rolling dial-up internet from home (if we had it at all). Similar scenes repeated in high school for President Bush’s second term election, perhaps with a little more diverse opinions from our parents, due to increased maturity and high speed internet access.

But the election I really remember was when President Obama was running for his first term. I was on a large, public university campus. The election seemed like the end of the world, with battle lines drawn and angry debates across the quad throughout the spring and fall. There was so much stock placed in what would happen during that election. Both sides predicted the end of America if the opposing candidate took the Oval Office. Each presidential election since then has produced the same kind of language…and I suspect similar ideas were spread in elections long into the past. Those opinions just didn’t have the internet to spread them like wildfire immediately after they were expressed.

We seem to expect so much from our leaders, as though we believe if we can just pick the exact right person, the inevitable spiral of corruption can finally be stopped and even reversed. It’s as though we expect them to save us, to keep the “wolves” at bay and perhaps even lead us to greener pastures. Yet in verse 12 of John 10, Jesus says, “A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock.” In other words, the leaders of this world, whomever they are and however they come to lead us, cannot live up to the standards we place upon them. They are doomed to fail to “deliver” us. Under the right conditions, they will break and run, no matter how honorable. They are human. Like all humanity, they have a failure point.

In contrast, Jesus calls Himself the “good shepherd.” Unlike the “hired hands”, He “sacrifices [his] life for the sheep”. And He doesn’t do so out of a sense of obligation or external pressure. Instead, He says, “I sacrifice it voluntarily.” Jesus runs into the danger, offering His life that His sheep may survive.

We are those sheep, and He is the leader in whom we can trust for salvation from the wolves. Presidents and judges, bosses and managers, even pastors and elders…they cannot save. While we can love them and support them and call them to higher service…we cannot trust them to save this world. But we can trust the one who made the world; who crafted it with His own two hands. We can trust the one who “know[s] [his] own sheep.” In other words…the one who knows us inside and out and still choses to step into the wreckage of our lives and fend off Satan and the sin that tears us apart. He is good; He does not give up; and He is coming again.

  1. What people or things do you tend to put your trust in to make your life better? Make a list.
  2. Why do you find yourself trusting these people or things?
  3. Have these people or things always succeeded in earning your trust? Why do you continue to trust them for security if they have failed you?
  4. Challenge for the week: Spending some time every morning talking to Jesus about why you struggle to trust Him with certain parts of your life. Ask Him to show you how to trust Him more.

Mark 13:24-37 – Peace in Turmoil

“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” – Mark 13:24-37ESV

In our interconnected world, news from across the ocean is before our eyes within moments. A natural disaster in South Asia can be captured on a smart phone and accessible online the minute it happens. While this instant access certainly allows for a plethora of cute cat videos and videos of incredible feats of human ability, it also means we are inundated with immediate notifications of everything going wrong in our world, so much so it feels like our society is tearing apart at the seams.

In the last year, we have faced accounts of husbands murdering their families before completing suicide, people shot to death at concerts or as they worshipped on a Sunday morning, teenagers murdering one another in school or with their words online, dictators in North Korea threatening nuclear war, men in authority using their power to abuse women, children trafficked into sexual slavery, and at every turn… political stances polarizing our nation, dividing us along lines of hate so entrenched they offer no chance for thoughtful, loving hands to join across party lines.

Focused on this world, our fixated eyes tell us to despair. In fact, I learned at the Future of the Church Summit this year the human brain cannot distinguish between threats across the world or right in your community. It’s no wonder our daily lives are filled with anxiety, depression, anger, pain, confusion, grief, and fear. The world looks like it is crashing down around us.

Leading up to Mark 13:24-37, Jesus is sitting on the Mount of Olives, outside Jerusalem, explaining to His disciples what the signs of the end of time will be. He tells them there will be:

  • wars and rumors of war,
  • people claiming to be God,
  • earthquakes,
  • famines,
  • persecution of Christians,
  • families betraying one another to death,
  • false prophets who perform miracles,
  • and stranger natural phenomenon.

As you read this list, it’s tempting to believe Jesus’ return must be imminent. Yet Jesus clearly states in verse 32, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” In fact, a cursory perusal of history will tell you all these signs have been tearing our world apart since Jesus ascended into Heaven before the disciples’ wondering eyes. Shortly after His ascension, Emperor Nero of Rome would be impaling Christians and burning them alive. Ethnic cleansing and widespread wars were a staple of the ancient world. Forty years after Jesus’ ascension, Mount Vesuvius would bury Pompeii, becoming one of the worst volcanic eruptions in European history. It would not be the last. World history is speckled with people who have claimed to speak for God or be Him, only to be proven liars. World hunger has been a known issue for centuries.

Why was Jesus so specific and yet so unclear?

Perhaps because He wanted our eyes fixed, not on the despair of this world, but on His face. The promises of verses 26 & 27 were what He really wanted us to remember: “and then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

Our world is a mess. It has been since Adam and Eve, duped by Satan, bit deep into the fruit of sin and in so doing shrouded our world in death. It will be until this promise is fulfilled.

But this promise will be fulfilled.

In an act of eternal compassion, Jesus ensured we knew He would be back, promising in verse 31, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” This broken world will never be the final story. We don’t need to worry about how He will resolve all the pain we see… because the hands which created the universe, the same hands which bore the nails at Mount Calvary, offer us a place to rest, no matter what comes.

  1. What issues in our world trouble you the most right now?
  2. What fears do you have for the future?
  3. Read Psalm 139:1-16. How does this passage offer you comfort in the midst of your fear?
  4. Challenge for the week: write a prayer to God about your fears on an index card or sticky note. Try to make it 100% genuine. Don’t try to pretty it up but be honest with the God who already knows you inside and out. Put the note someplace you will see it every day and talk to God about it daily.