Philippians 3:1-11

Such a rich, loaded passage. I would normally want to break this down into smaller chunks, but what is normal. 😉 Instead I mostly want to let the focus fall on the last few verses.

I know he uses the terms loss and rubbish, and I’ve read in a couple places where the word used here is very strong–even to the point of calling it the good word for poop.

I don’t think the point, though, is so much to discount the badges that he has. The successes he’s had in the flesh aren’t useless or pointless. It’s not so much that they have no value… I don’t think.

And maybe I’ll end up saying the same thing, but I think the point here is in contrast with the knowledge of Christ that these things, which in and of themselves are good as far as they go, they pale in comparison. In fact, there is no comparison.

I find my identity in a lot of things that are valuable. I am a good teacher. It defines a lot of my identity. I’m a fairly good husband and a pretty good dad. I identify with those things. I do a decent job representing the voters of Boiling Springs on town council. I try to be vulnerable and honest on FB and Insta in hopes of casting a bit of light on others who may experience similar trials. I love my kids. Yeah I know I already said that I was a good dad. But seriously, I love them so much. And Sarah. Yeah.

Those things are rubbish. Ha. Compared to the knowledge of Christ. To the sharing of his sufferings. Think on that for a lifetime! Becoming like him in his death and attaining the resurrection. Wow.

Again, I think being husband and daddy and teacher and friend are phenomenal. But the Christ. The life and work of Jesus and the path that is opened up for me, for us, due to the Humility and Grace created by him. That’s the value.

Lord let me identify in you and the identity I find in other things flow from that first. The Love and Life and Hope and Peace found in you surpasses all other things. All else will seem to fade. My health, my identities mentioned above. But the Lord reigns forever. He remains. Praise the One.

Finally, my brothers and sisters,[a] rejoice[b] in the Lord.

To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard.

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh![c] For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God[d] and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh— even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard 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 one that comes through faith in Christ,[e] the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ[f] and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 2:19-30

Just a few things to say about this passage.

One, is that I’m grateful that Paul displays his vulnerability. He admits his anxiety. He’s a real human. That means a lot to me.

Two… well, two examples of what I mean here. The first is watching Iowa basketball in their final tournament game. Garza at the end of the game was filled with emotion at the finality of his career at Iowa. He went from player to player and then finally a glance up at his dad in the stands and a lasting, knowing hug from his head coach.

The second example is from Sam’s tennis match. During the singles match Sam was in a grind. He ended up winning a hard fought match. The moment that struck me—almost to tears, though, was during an amazing back and forth point, Sam made a great shot to set up the winner at the net. A smash.

From across the way, on a different set of courts, his doubles partner, JP, was watching the point and after the winner yawped out “yeah Sam!!!”

The knowing connections. The mutual respect. The days spent grinding and sweating and losing and winning and training some more. The days that yield the trust and admiration and communion.

It’s what I see in the way Paul talks about Timothy and Epaphroditus. He knows. He has seen them grow and mature. They’re his guys. Yeah. I get that.

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon. Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need; for he has been longing for all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. He was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people, because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.”
‭‭Philippians‬ ‭2:19-30‬ ‭NRSV‬‬

RCL: Fifth Sunday Lent

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12: 20-33

Unless a single grain falls and dies… lose your life to gain your life. It is for this reason that I come to this hour. To be lifted up. Lifted up like the snake on the pole in the desert. Lifted up. On an executioner’s cross. Unless a grain falls and dies… but when it does it bears much fruit.

The ruler of the world driven out, and ALL people drawn to me. When I am lifted up. Lose to gain.

Whoever serves me must follow me. Dang it. Why’d they have to add that line in there? 😉

Ahh the letting go. The facing up to the enemy of death. The faith that we will go through and come out the other side.

Resurrection. Life. Eternal.

Jeremiah says the covenant is now written on our hearts. And I believe that. I feel the draw. The calling forth. The Psalmist writes of crushed bones rejoicing. Of the restoration of the joy of salvation.

Letting go. Trusting in Goodness. Believing in the One. Unity. Union.

I know it. I do. I believe that letting go and losing to gain and dying and being lifted up… I believe that is the path. But I really do struggle with taking the next step on that path sometimes. Or all the times. With following the One. Bearing my own cross. I struggle.

So I take great respite from the words of John that say when Jesus came to this hour. He came to his hour. He knew it was his time. But John says he was “troubled.”

Troubled. In his soul. Our great high priest! So I guess the Christ does know how I feel.

Lord, please grant me the courage to let go. The strength to lose my life so that I may gain it. To Believe in the Ultimate Reality of Grace and Love and Hope. Of the Christ.

Philippians 2: 12-18

I appreciate the pattern that Matt set at BRCC in many ways. One, in particular, is that he would guide the church through an entire ‘book’ of the Bible. It could be easier to pick and choose and use passages to support what you wanted to say, but confronting an entire letter or gospel or prophet necessarily causes you to confront the entirety of scripture. Wednesdays in Philippians is bringing that confrontation to me.

“Do all things without complaining or arguing”… grumbling. Oops. I don’t think that can mean don’t express dismay, or don’t question the things. The Psalmists do quite a bit of that. Of course, they do all seem to come back around to rejoice. In all the things rejoice. And be glad. Paul says that here too. Even if he’s poured out, sacrificed.

Honestly I’ve asked myself the last few daze what else could we latch on to besides mercy and grace. Life is pain, highness. There seems to be so much of it around. So much. New each day. I wish I knew why. I wish I didn’t want to know why. Maybe there is no why.

Elsewhere Paul calls on us to press on. Keep… going. Here he says shine like stars. The generation is crooked and corrupt. That’s not us and them. They aren’t corrupt and I’m pure. Laughable. The corruption is mine as well… somehow. But we do live amid this crookedness. Things are upside down.

But… glory. Everytime we dance. Everytime we love. Brings us closer to glory. We know it. I sense it. There’s something else. There’s a different way. This is my faith. Day by day this faith takes gut punches and is deceived. It can easily seem as though massacres and disease and hatred and greed and war and power are the realities. But the reality is peace and health and love and generosity and wholeness and gentleness. This is the reality I sense. The sight I see, though sometimes as only through a glass dimly lit.

Hold on, Paul urges. Hold tight. Press on. Small steps are still steps. And clinging, grasping to the hope of the ultimate and true reality brings light. And what may seem to me as the smallest glimmer, in fact, ripples through the universe as the light of the brightest star. And in combination with your light! With our light…

(Fly Famous Mockingbird just came on… no joke. And I’ve got the chills. Grace and Peace y’all.)

12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

14 Do all things without murmuring and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. 16 It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— 18 and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.

RCL: Third Sunday Lent

Exodus 20:1-7; Psalm 19; 1 Cor 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

It’s much easier to capitalize on division, to stoke grievance, to solidify factions. It’s much easier, and there’s a great deal of power and prestige that can come from such. But don’t take that path. Seek unity. Seek understanding and forgiveness. Grace.

Don’t store up your treasures. Give to those who have need. Sell all your possessions and give to the poor. Consider that you have everything in common with the believers with whom you have gathered.

Violence feels good. Right. Cathartic. If someone punches you, metaphorically or otherwise, punch back twice as hard. Don’t back down. Stand your ground. Those things provide power and pride. But don’t take that path. Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Be meek and gentle. Humble and kind. You don’t have to respond to that tweet or post. You don’t have to respond in kind. Not to be as a doormat or to suffer abuse, of course. There is a sense in which you must protect yourself. But as much as it depends on me, I aim to seek peace. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.

Open up your doors. Build bridges. Not walls. It’s safe inside the walls, though. It feels better, perhaps. But open up your doors and arms and embrace the outsider. Welcome the stranger. Dine with the sinner. The untouchable.

Lose your life to gain it. Consider others better than yourself. Lay down your life. Let go of control. Surrender.

Foolishness. That’s how Paul describes how the life of Christ seems to the powers of the world. Jesus who was a part of a despised race, on the wrong side of the empire, and was tortured and executed as a criminal. He’s the King? This is your God? This is Power?

Yes indeed! The world turned upside down. The temple torn down and rebuilt in 3 days in His resurrection Glory.

Yes indeed!

RCL: Second Sunday Lent

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

I have been influenced by N.T. Wright and his emphasis on the historical aspect of the covenant. I believe the story of Abraham is all of our story. It’s the one big story. But this isn’t the space I want to devote to the specifics and consequences of all that. Worth studying Romans using his For Everyone or his commentary in The New Interpreter’s Bible though if that’s your thang…

Today I just want to focus on a few verses from the reading in Mark’s gospel. 8:34-35 specifically… “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

That’s upside down it seems. Foolishness Paul calls it. It turns the powers inside out. What we are presented as the reality of this world, this life… things like power and security and greed and selfishness and hatred and an inward focus… those things, it seems, we should release. Let go. And instead embrace salvation in what Paul refers to as the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Considering others better than ourselves. Giving up selfish ambition and vain conceit. Going the extra mile. Offering my coat also. Throwing the best party for the homecoming of the one who squandered everything. Going out after the one that is lost while the ninety-nine hang back. Offering love and hope and grace to those the world claims are untouchable and unworthy. The gospel. Lose the life that the powers of this age claim are necessary to survive and thrive, and be saved by the True Life found in letting go and offering all that you have for the other.

It’s my favorite person’s born day today! She teaches me each day what this self-sacrificial love looks like. A true servant. A generous soul. She empathizes with all and labors and longs to bring wholeness and holiness to bear on their lives. She considers others. I try to be like her.

The Avett Brothers sing in one of our family’s favorites “And if you take of my soul you can still leave it whole with the pieces of your own you leave behind.” I don’t have to worry about giving of myself. Our souls will replenish each other.

So, “if I’m walkin’ through the rain and I hear you call my name, I will break into a run without a pause.”

I’m for self-care. I enjoy quiet time in my special nook. I visit our friend Erin once a month for a healing massage. And I recognize the need for Sarah and the kids to have their own times where they can replenish. But I don’t want to lose sight of the reason for doing those things to re-liven our bodies and souls. This life is a great gift. And in large part, or maybe in all the parts, it is such a gift because of the joy and satisfaction of sharing all that we have and all that we are with others. I suppose it makes a nice perfect circle, or sphere of some other dimension, when we are all giving in that way. The giving and receiving. Reciprocal. Eternal. Much like what I imagine the relationship the Trinity shares. More than One. And also One.

So sing it out! “We came to break the bad, we came to cheer the sad, we came to leave the world a better way!”

Philippians 1:18b-26

‘I wish I could go all the way with you to Rivendell, Mr. Frodo, and see Mr. Bilbo,’ said Sam. ‘And yet the only place I really want to be in is here. I am that torn in two.’

‘Poor Sam! It will feel like that, I am afraid,’ said Frodo. ‘But you will be healed. You were meant to be solid and whole, and you will be.’ 

I hear you Sam Gamgee! Torn. And Paul hears you too. Departing or remaining… Paul says he is “hard pressed between the two.” “To live is Christ to die is gain.” Now that will get the old wheels turning ’round.

There’s a passage in Jack (Marilynne Robinson) in which one of the characters thinks about what it means to see the soul of another. In all the crowd of humanity she has seen the soul of another. I get that. I don’t do that passage justice here, but I really don’t want to provide any spoilers–you should read these books!

As I read that passage though one of those thoughts flooded my mind. It was write-it-down-now worthy. So I did write it down. And all it says is that ‘I am more than my body.’ Of course I am. Right? But reading that particular passage about seeing someone else’s soul–you know really seeing them for who they are. Their essence. Even if it’s just a glimpse here and there. And considering that other people may claim the same about me. Maybe they see me that way. I am more than my body.

Now… I have moved on from Robinson for the time, and am now re-reading NT Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God. And if I haven’t admitted yet, Wright is one of the major influences on my life in the last decade or so. The first book I read of his was Surprised by Hope and I have since read just about everything he has written–excepting Climax of the Covenant because too much Greek (and I don’t know Greek).

I am more than my body. But… what I have gleaned from Wright and what has settled into my thinking is the reality of the body. The physical. I may find this difficult to convey in these few words, but Wright tackles the we ‘go to heaven when we die’ notion and says that it is incomplete at best. He argues that we aren’t just headed for some spiritual netherworld when we die, but that instead the hope of the gospel is the resurrection of the body. The material. That what we do and experience here and now in this age matters. That we somehow get to create the building blocks for the new world.

Now, Wright says that there will be a transformation of some sort. It won’t be these bodies exactly as they are necessarily. And, of course, this is just his viewpoint, though well researched and put together. I include a terrible summary of it here only to point out that the body is phenomenal. The physical, material world was made good, and very good, in the beginning in the story of creation.

But this body does fade. It does. It is fading. And reading that passage in Jack, or being influenced by Wright’s thinking, or a sunset in Montana, or a winning question in trivia, or experiencing a moment together listening to the Dreaming Tree or whatever… there is a Spirit that connects us all. The Spirit moves in all things JB wails. Soul. And there is a sense of the good in that kind of thing. The beautiful. The peaceful. The eternal.

And the Hope is that it will be. And the Hope is that the connection that we experience at the soul level, at the beautiful/peaceful/eternal level, that it will be. It will be. Always it will be. And the Hope is that we will experience the goodness of the body. The physical. The material. The laughing and crying and constant battling to rest in the present. The touch. The glances that we receive that revive and reveal. By God it is good! And so I learn to rest in the Glory–everytime we dance–that awaits. That is already and will be. And I learn to rest in the present Body. Working and struggling and sharing in the majesty of existence. And learning to see the souls of others and accept that they see me. As we live in the now that is always. The eternal moment. Maybe that’s where the two really meet. The now and not yet. Maybe they converge in this very moment.

At the end of LOTR Sam walks in to his Rosie, after letting Frodo go, and… he takes a deep breath. Yep.

…Tomorrow I’m thinking some words from Walt Whitman, Friday I’m leaning towards a Flashback about my old Ford Escort, but not certain, Saturday I declare war on the word WOULD… Sunday RCL, Monday Acoustic Syndicate… Thanks for reading y’all!

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. 20 It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26 so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

RCL: First Sunday of Lent

Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

Beloved. You are my child. My kid. All my love belongs to you. My love is because of you. You and my love cannot be separated. They flow together like water. You are my beloved.

That’s what the voice from heaven expresses to Jesus, and it is the same message, I believe, that is expressed to us. The Christ has made us new. We are not separate from the Father. We are one as they are One. Beloved.

And in turn, as we are made new, as we experience the renewal of all things–that is already and not yet. The renewal that has already been accomplished and is also being worked out. As we experience that renewal that washes away the old through dying to ourselves with Jesus, and coming through death and out the other side in his resurrection… well… we get to be a part of the renewal! Behold, a new creation! And as the body of Christ we get to take part in the building of the Age to Come… ? Can that be so?!

I’ve been thinking some about the plight of humanity. The human condition. Specifically, how it seems that most people through most of time have had tough lives. At least from my modern, comfortable perspective. Suffering and death were real. Imminent. And perhaps the divisions over the proper methods of baptism and splits in the church over such things were due to the existential necessity to be firm in the translation of their experience. The rigidity was a byproduct of the reality they faced. I don’t know about all that, but I do know that we, that I, fail to live up to the calling of Beloved. Yet, I receive that same voice from heaven over and over. Each day. Renewed. Grace.

If you haven’t heard, I’ve been immersed in the 4 books by Marilynne Robinson set in the town of Gilead, Iowa. Almost finished so don’t worry… then I will move on to another writer from whom I will bombard you with quotes. But here’s maybe a last one… maybe… and certainly one that I’ve already shared at least once. But it captures baptism perfectly in my opinion:

“There is a reality in blessing, which I take baptism to be, primarily.  It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is power in that.  I have felt it pass through me, so to speak.  The sensation is of really knowing a creature, I mean really feeling its mysterious life and your own mysterious life at the same time.”

The acknowledgement of sacredness. The voice from heaven. May I have eyes to see others through the lens of sacredness. May I hear the voice of heaven saying ‘beloved’ to everyone I meet.

Philippians 1:1-11

Right out of the gate Paul hits me in the spiritual teeth. “Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Grace to you, and peace. What if we approached our conversations that way? Our relationships? Our daily interactions? It has become almost expected to do quite the opposite. Responses stocked up and ready for whatever someone may say. At best, considering what our response may be while the other person is speaking–hardly listening if listening at all.

Consider our tone even in our advocacy for prayer or religions symbols such as the Decalogue. So often we use prayer or our Christianity to make a point. A point of us and them. There seems to be something bordering on anger, or perhaps smack dab in the middle of anger. “We pray!” sometimes comes almost as a challenge or a warning. A barrier. A wall to separate the righteous from the unrighteous.

How much different could it be, if our lead was “grace to you, and peace…”?

I’m guilty too. Don’t misunderstand. I allowed my own anger and wall building to spew out in an outburst towards one of my dear friends and colleagues. I could try and make an excuse and say that I am wound pretty tight, and that I’ve bottled up much of my emotion. And if not an excuse that is some measure of an explanation. So I should consider others with grace and peace. I don’t know what they are going through. I don’t know how they’ve processed this pandemic or the other million things that are swirling around.

Grace to you, and peace…

From the Trinity that provides hope and life and love. From the Son who is the Prince of Peace. The one who exhibits ultimate Humility. And as Paul continues on in these first 11 verses, the one who “began a good work… and will bring it to completion.”

It’s not a straight line. What I mean is that we will suffer and falter. I can be angry and rude with the ones that I love the most. I am, after all, not the source of grace and peace. But I am filled with it thanks be to the One. The apology and contrition that comes afterward is an expression of grace and peace. An outpouring of it sometimes. But the work will be completed in us. That is good news indeed.

And the ultimate work will be completed on the day of Jesus. I try to learn to rest in that Hope each day. Each moment. And I believe as much as I can believe that the work will not only be completed, but in a real sense has already been completed. Both and. Already and not yet. The Age to Come burst in to the current age as N.T. Wright might explain it. That because of Jesus we can live in Grace and Peace even now. We don’t just have to anticipate it. The powers of darkness have already been given their death blow. Glory!

And so may our “love overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight.” Grace to you, and peace…”

Paul and Timothy, servants[a] of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops[b] and deacons:[c]

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart,[d] for all of you share in God’s grace[e] with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.