As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.
We are thrilled that our friend, Reverend Nathan Kilbourne, has agreed once again to write for us. Pastor Nathan and his wife Pastor Lynn are incredible pastors, people, and friends. In addition to serving on the Advisory Board of Led By The Word, Rev. Kilbourne serves as the Associate Pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church in Little Rock, AR. He is a graduate of the Duke Divinity School.
A reading from Paul's epistle to the church at Philippi.
Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, 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 is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 3:1-14 (NIV)
It is easy to boast in our achievements. When we were kids, I’m sure we all have uttered the words, “Hey mom, watch this! Hey dad, look at what I did.” We starve for attention. We want people to notice who we are and what we can do. We hold up our accolades and our abilities hoping people might congratulate us or pat us on the back.
After all, we are taught and learn in our world that what is important is setting ourselves up over and above everyone else. What matters most is how we rank against others. For instance, we have all had to take tests like the ACT or SAT. Such measure our competency; and yet, the competency level is often displayed as to how one performed in comparison with others. You ranked higher than 55% of the student population in your language skills. Bell curves mark our distance from others. While I’m not launching an onset against our grading systems in America, I find it enlightening as to the kind of attitude it creates among us. We find ourselves battling (or succumbing to) feelings of superiority or inferiority based on how we perform. We are measured over and against one another and learn to hold our achievements high so that all can see.
Lent is however is a time of relinquishment. It is a time in which we lay down our crowns. We shed our achievements. And we put aside own gains. Why? Because all such achievements, all such gifts, all such ability is only possible through grace. Moreover, all those things which we hold as important or meaningful, in the end, lack substance or ability to sustain.
Paul certainly held all the accolades. He was an accomplished individual. He had all the reasons to be confident as he tells us. He had followed all the Jewish laws. He dotted every “i” and crossed every “t.” He was a zealous individual when it came to his religious studies. Paul was so good that he eventually became a Pharisee, a well respected teacher and keeper of the Jewish faith. Even more so, he was known as a great defender of the faith, persecuting dissenters known as Christians. Paul was a well accomplished, zealous individual, striving by his own great power and strength.
And yet, when Paul encountered the presence and grace of Christ he realized all such things were rubbish, meaningless, when compared with knowing God in Christ Jesus who relinquished all that others might live. Such is counter intuitive to a world built on accolades and achievements, a life built on self-fulfillment and self-aggrandizement. Paul came to the realization that righteousness, of which he was so zealous, came as a gift of God. It wasn’t by his own efforts that such was achieved. Rather, life itself was a gift and the path of righteousness was not one built on achieving at the expense of others but learning to live a life of relinquishment. Resurrection comes through sacrifice and surrender.
The goal to which we strive as believers is to know Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). In other words, it is to live in the path of Jesus, who though he was in form of God, considered it nothing, and took on the form of a servant (Philippians 2). Our goal is about taking the grace given to us in Christ and putting it to work in us. It is about inhabiting a different way of life counter to the life of achievements and accolades. Indeed it is a striving, a movement, a goal. But it is a goal different than the goals we have learned to hold up and to show off. Instead, we show off not ourselves, but the power of God working in us to do in us what we cannot do for ourselves. May this Lenten season be one full of knowing Christ, and the surpassing knowledge of his grace, and may we be willing to relinquish those things which do not reflect the Spirit of Christ.