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.

 

 

2 Corinthians 5:18-21 – “Mr. Fix-It”…

2 Corinthians 5:18-21 – “Mr. Fix-It”…

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-21ESV

I’m a problem solver. Like… a huge one. I see something wrong, and I feel like since I notice it, I must be responsible for fixing it or at least getting involved. I know the jokes are usually about men always wanting to “fix” things, instead of just listening, but sometimes when people share their life challenges with me, I have to mentally force myself not to jump into “fix it” mind.

When that comes to ministry or relationship issues in my own life, that means I tend to go straight to relying on my own intelligence or experiences to find a solution. I look at what outcome I’d like to see and start strategizing out how to get there. See what’s going wrong, already?

Me… I’m what’s wrong.

You see… what if God cares more about the outcome than I can imagine? What if He is actually working toward a solution, and my arrogant interventions to “save the day”, without reference to Him, are actually just causing grief for myself and the very people I am trying to help? What if, instead of relying on myself and my intelligence, I relied on God?

You see…we cannot have healthy relationships, healthy self-image, or meaningful lives relying on our own abilities. That is why in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, God calls us to be reconciled to Him. Before we can even be reconciled to others, we need to be connected and woven into who He says we are. We need Him. We need Him to heal us, we need Him to guide us, we need Him to help anyone else.

So you fixers are now already fixing, aren’t you? You’re trying to figure out how you can reconcile yourself to God so you can get on with business! But the reality is God has already done that work in Christ. While we were “enemies of God”, Jesus let His broken body die on a wooden cross in ancient Palestine (Romans 5:10ESV).

In this Christ, we “become the righteousness of God”, able to live in reconciliation with others and bring healing to our world (2 Corinthians 5:21ESV). Yes…you read that right. We are God’s righteousness on earth; we are an image of a life made in relationship to the God who made us. And that is a life laid upon you by God to set you free to let Him lead. He’s the one who fixes it…and He lets us join in.

  1. Looking at your own life, how are you a “fixer”?
  2. What do you tend to rely on to fix things in your life?
  3. If we’re really just going along with God in His great work to fix all things, how does that change how you look at the “broken” things in your life?
  4. Challenge for the Week: On a sticky note or note card, write the words “Pray First” and put it where you will see it daily. Use it as a reminder to lay the things you want to fix in God’s hands, first.
1 Peter 5:6-11 – True Advertising

1 Peter 5:6-11 – True Advertising

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Peter 5:6-11NIV

According to a 2015 survey of 6000 people, the number one priority in a relationship is honesty, with a whopping 70% saying it is the most important aspect of a relationship (Croce, 2015). More than anything, we want to know the truth about where we’re at with the people we value most, even if that truth is painful or takes some getting used to.

It explains why so many people today are done with the institutions in our country. We sense, often rightly, we’re being sold something, but we aren’t necessarily sure what is really being sold. We’re afraid to commit to anything because we’ve been so often disappointed by false or misleading advertising. As the adage says, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” We long to connect with people and institutions who genuinely care about us, not just what we have to offer or what the other party can get out of us…but we’re skeptical anyone really is offering that kind of relationship. Even Christianity is more and more viewed as a group selling morality but not delivering.

In this passage, Peter is writing to fellow Christians during a time when Emperor Nero, the leader of the Roman Empire, is absolutely butchering Christians. One of the more well-known ways Christians were killed was by putting a group of them in the Colosseum and then releasing into their midst half-starved lions. The crowds would watch as they were hunted and ripped apart before their eyes.

It is interesting Peter describes Satan as a lion prowling about, looking for someone to devour. The implication is, as great as the threat of persecution for the Christian is, the threat of the spiritual attacks of Satan is just as great. He can also rip us apart…in soul-deep ways.

Does Peter go on to say, “But no worries…it’ll be fine”?

No…no he doesn’t. In fact, he goes on to write they will, in fact, suffer at the hands of Satan during their life here on earth. He doesn’t sugar-coat it. He. Is. Honest.

That means God’s priority in His relationship with us is exactly what we’re hungry for: honesty. He guided the writers of the books of the Bible to be completely honest with what the cost of following Him will be. He doesn’t try to make it look prettier or easier than it really will be. He doesn’t dismiss the struggle.

He points it out. Right up front.

In my book…that’s a trustworthy God. And if He’s honest about the suffering, then we can trust He’s honest about the promise, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ…will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

  1. How has your trust been betrayed by misleading promises?
  2. Why do you find it hard to trust what you hear in scripture?
  3. How is God’s honesty about the struggle helpful in your life?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Each day, keep track of struggles you’ve faced related trying to be faithful to Christ. Ask God to give you strength to stand firm in Him.

References

Croce, M. (2015, September 1). Forget sex, the secret to a good relationship is communication. Daily Record. Retrieved from https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/lifestyle/family-relationships/forget-sex-secret-good-relationship-6357824

John 14:6 – Jesus’ Truth

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” – John 14:6ESV

When I was young, I remember going to the local butterfly habitat with a group of kids. I vividly remember getting up the courage to pet a tarantula (it’s legs felt like kitten fur!), flicking lights on an off in a scorpion habitat because the scorpions could glow-in-the-dark, and entering the giant, butterfly room. There were butterflies everywhere, of every color. They even landed on people as they walked among the verdant flowers and plants.

Unfortunately, as clear as these memories are, there is one even clearer that ended up defining the trip for me. This was the time of the “Beanie Baby” craze, and in the gift shop they had a stuffed bee that looked a lot like a “Beanie Baby”. I wanted it desperately…but I didn’t have the money to purchase it. So, when it was time to leave, I reluctantly put it back on the shelf and headed out with the rest of the group. While we were eating outside, our leader came around and was checking everyone’s bags, so when she got to the friend I had gone through the exhibit with, I said jokingly, “What? You think we stole something?”

When the bag opened…to my horror, there sat the very stuffed bee I had wanted so much. And my supposed friend accused me of putting it there while she was in the bathroom. Over my protests, our leader made us both return the bee and apologize for stealing it. It was one of the most humiliating, and unjust, experiences of my childhood.

Experiences like this can end up defining a person. When we are treated poorly, when we suffer because people cannot be honest and decent to others, we start to believe everyone is that way. When a husband or father leaves, when a mother or wife is abusive, when a boss pushes us to lie to make the sale, when a teacher clearly plays favorites, when friends betray our confidences…we start to believe we can only trust ourselves.

Sometimes…perhaps more than sometimes…we even look at God that way. When the world is so dark, when there is so much hardship we have to endure… it is easy to lose trust in God.

Yet Jesus insists He is quite the opposite of the lack of honesty and decency we see in the world. Instead of being out to trick us, He insists, “I am…the truth.” He is the embodiment of all that is true. It is His very nature. In a world where we are constantly overwhelmed by lies, even from inside our own heads, we can look to Jesus for honesty and guidance. We can rely on Him to be consistent when no one and nothing else is. We can find direction and hope in a world that seems to empty of both.

Let the voice of Jesus cut through the garbage this world and Satan throws at you…and be set free by the Truth.

  1. What untruths do you see portrayed as truth in our culture?
  2. What are some untruths you find yourself believing about yourself?
  3. Why are those untruths so hard for you to shake?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Read this compilation of who God says you are by bible.org. Write down a few that really speak into your heart on a notecard. Put it in your wallet in front of your credit card so every time you spend money, you are reminded of the Truth about you from God.

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.

Luke 5:1-11 – An Illogical God

“On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.’ And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’ For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.” – Luke 5:1-11ESV

It was the summer of 2002. The Hayman Fire was raging across Colorado. Colorado summers were already boiling hot, but we were also in the middle of a significant drought. The sky was orange with ash, the sun a bleary eyeball of fire peering through. To top it all off… the United States was in a brutal recession. My father’s company, prior to eventually collapsing, finally laid him off. Jobs were scarce and unemployment…time limited.

Leading up to this, my family had been saving for years to build a barn. I had inherited a love of horses from my mom, but we wouldn’t get a horse without proper shelter. We were supposed to start building, but I was sure my dreams of a barn and horse had vanished along with my dad’s job.

Against all logic, my dad started building. He had been praying to find time to build the barn, and he maintained as the months progressed this time unemployed was God providing the time. It made no sense, to be spending savings when we didn’t know when he would get another job, but despite soil so dry it crumbled at a touch and days so hot we could only work an hour at a time, the barn rose. And within days of finishing the barn and unemployment ending…my dad had a job again.

In Luke 5:1-11, Jesus asks Peter to do something that went against all logic as well. The time to fish was over. Peter had been fishing all night, and his fishing crew was already pulled to shore cleaning their nets. As you may know, broad daylight is not the time when you’re going to catch a lot of fish. What is more, Peter, a professional fisherman, had failed to catch anything all night long. Yet to this, Jesus (a career carpenter I might add) tells Peter in verse 4, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Now, from reading we can tell Peter wasn’t just any fisherman. He had a team of fisherman who worked for him, and being a small business owner wasn’t a dream many ever achieved in the ancient world. He was undoubtedly a respected professional, already stinging from failure at his chosen trade by coming in empty-handed from the night’s fishing. If we’re following logic, Jesus telling this knowledgeable professional to go out in front of a crowd of his neighbors, employees, and more to fish at the absolute wrong time of day was a sure path to social humiliation. Yet in verse 5, Peter replies to this illogical request, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

And what a result! Luke 5:6&7 tells us, “And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.”

We live in a world that celebrates doing what is logical. Doing what is practical. Doing what “makes sense.” But sometimes what is wise and logical and “makes sense” to our culture does not take into account what could be wise, logical, and “make sense” to a God Who crafted the universe with merely a flexing of His will. Sometimes, to our limited reason, the logic of an infinite God seems like none-sense and a sure recipe for disaster. Yet this is the God who tells us in Isaiah 55:8-9ESV, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Obedience to God is not always logical to our limited reasoning. Where it will lead can seem frightening and uncertain and even dangerous. It may even be costly. But as you dare to step into obedience to what God has called you, remember this: the God who has called you also, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8ESV) out of love for you…to be your hope and your companion every step of the way.

  1. Have you ever had to do something your were scared to do that ended up working out? Describe what it was and how you felt.
  2. Why is it so hard to trust God to be faithful, despite what we know about Him from the Bible?
  3. Think about the deepest relationships with people you have in your life. What has created the strong trust and connection you have with them?
  4. Challenge for the week: Strong relationships come from spending time together and getting to know one another really well. This week, spend a little time each day reading about what God has told us about Himself in the Bible. Stuck on where to start? Check out some of these online options or call the church office at 303.424.4454 for more ideas!
    1. Lutheran Hour Ministries Daily Devotions
    2. Portals of Prayer LCMS Daily Devotions
    3. Group Publishing Jesus-Centered Daily Reading Plans