To Know Christ

October 8, 2017 – Pastor Doug Stratton

Philippians 3: 4b – 14  and  Isaiah 43:16 – 21

If anyone else thinks he has 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 legalistic righteousness, faultless.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, 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 and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

This is what the LORD says—

he who made a way through the sea,

a path through the mighty waters,

who drew out the chariots and horses,

the army and reinforcements together,

and they lay there, never to rise again,

extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:

“Forget the former things;

do not dwell on the past.

See, I am doing a new thing!

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the desert

and streams in the wasteland.

The wild animals honor me,

the jackals and the owls,

because I provide water in the desert

and streams in the wasteland,

to give drink to my people, my chosen,

the people I formed for myself

that they may proclaim my praise.

 

Intro: Annat’s mother did not trust banks.  For years she had been storing her life savings in her mattress.  In 2008 and 2009, she felt quite pleased because the 1,000,000 she had in her mattress was safe while banks all around the world were collapsing.  She treasured her secret and never told anyone.

On June 9, 2009, Annat, who declined to give her full name, decided to surprise her mother.  She had noticed how tattered and lumpy her mother’s mattress was, so one day when her mother would out, she left early to go to the store and made the arrangements to have a new luxurious mattress delivered for her mother.  After the new one was delivered, Annat struggled to move the old out to the curb for the trash.

When her mother arrived home, she was tired.  In fact, when Annat showed her the surprise, the reality of the situation did not even register.  And then, sometime in the middle of the night, the comfortable mattress connected with her brain and she sat up and screamed.

Annat ran out to the street, but it was too late, the trash men had come.  She called the local dump sites and together they searched for the million dollar mattress.  There is no news on whether the mattress was ever found.

According to Annat her mom is a bit philosophical about the incident though, saying that “people have to thank God for what they have, and to accept the good and bad things in life.”

What do you value?  What are your treasures?  What are the things you protect and save and savor?  Perhaps you treasure the fact that you are a daughter of the American Revolution.  That pedigree is unusual and people who can trace their roots to the revolution are proud of their heritage. I can trace a portion of my heritage to a trapper who became the first sheriff of Albany, NY in the 17th Century.

Heritage is so important that Ancestry DNA in just a few years has grown its database of DNA samples to 5,000,000.

Perhaps you hold your church membership in very high regard.  In fact, it could be said you are zealous for your church.  I have at times heard people say, “The doors of my church will close over my dead body.”  Meaning they will do everything under their power to carry on the life of their congregation.

Perhaps you value the memories of what God has done for you and your ancestors.  Maybe you remember and treasure a day when God provided for you in a special way, and you often thank God and tell others of that wonderful experience when God spared your life, or when God opened a door that you thought would be closed forever.

Maybe you treasure some of the things your mother gave you, or you hang on to a piece of jewelry.  Perhaps you carefully guard a collection that you have worked hard to gather.

All these things can be just like Annat’s mother’s mattress.  They are special to us, we treasure them.  We cling to them.

And our scripture lessons this morning provide a perspective on our treasures.  Each of the passages look at a different set of important things, and in each case, the things that are so important, evaporate in the light of the gospel.

Isaiah tells us that our history, even the things God has done for us do not compare with the new thing God is doing every day.  Did you catch that when it was read earlier?

This is what the LORD says—

he who made a way through the sea,

a path through the mighty waters,

who drew out the chariots and horses,

the army and reinforcements together,

and they lay there, never to rise again,

extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:

“Forget the former things;

do not dwell on the past.

See, I am doing a new thing!

Get this, God is dismissing the importance of the Exodus and of the crossing of the Red Sea!  These are not the things to focus on, rather look for what God is doing now!  Look for the streams he is giving the wilderness.  Look for the water that thirsty people are able to drink.  Look at the people who God is providing shelter for today.  Do you want praise God for his mighty acts?  Then look at the work that Nzunga & Kihomi are doing in Haiti. Here is what Kihomi wrote n Sept 19, “Let me invite you to rejoice with Ms. Willemine from North Eastern Haiti. Willemine is 22 years old and lost her left eye in car accident when she was a young girl. For the last five years, a cataract has blinded her right eye. She has been unable to see the face of her child. She came to our eye clinic where she was operated on. Ms. Willemine can now see her child and the rest of her family members. This is a new thing that God is doing! Willemine is now jumping in joy, ready to join the crowd in the temple. All this is possible because you care.

Do you want to praise God for his Mighty acts? Then look at the people God has brought into our midst! Just this week, I watched as God opened the door and provided a place to live for a hard-working man who has been living in his vehicle for months! God is doing a new thing!

And as God does that new thing, all those things we have clutched in the past are evaporating.  Paul understood that.  He had a perfect pedigree.  He could trace his family back to Abraham. He spoke the language of Abraham.  He was zealous about his faith, zealous to the point of violence against anyone who might threaten the faith of his fathers.  He obeyed every rule he was given, he did all that the law commanded, he went could even call himself blameless under the law.

But he considered none of this important. The only thing he valued was knowing Christ, experiencing the power of his resurrection and sharing in His suffering, and being obedient even to the point of death.  That is what was important.

In other words, while it is good to be a member of a church, while it is good to do the right thing, while it is a blessing to have a family heritage of faith, all of these things pale when compared to what God is doing for you in Christ right now.  Whatever we consider important, whether it be a mattress full of money, or an impeccable pedigree, it is not important in the long run.

Anything we cling to, is worthless in God’s economy. Our money, our homes, even our churches and our responsibilities. We cling things and positions and treasures. But there is something else we cling to, and it is just as worthless, though we often treasure it even more.

What am I talking about?  It is the treasure of secrets. We hold onto many secrets just as if they were treasures.  Things we do not dare to speak.  Things that we hide just as Annat’s mother hid her money.

What are these secrets? There are secrets in families that we protect.  There is the alcoholic uncle we try to ignore.  Or the addicted mother whose life was snuffed out because of her abuse.  There are the financial crisis that we hide from our spouses and our children; secrets that we cling to like treasures.

In many, if not most families there are stories of sexual abuse that we try to forget, but the reality of the secret makes it priceless to us, to let it go would mean facing it again, and so we let bitterness grows from the secret to become a hard shell that might protect us from the pain. That shell reminds us not to let people get too close so we will never hurt again.

But just as our heritage, and our goodness and our memories and our treasures, and our experiences are not worth clinging to when we come to Christ, so the treasured secrets of our lives, and protective hardness of our hearts lose their value when we come to Jesus.  If we cling to them, the bitterness will keep us from knowing Christ, but when we let them go, when we speak the secrets and give even the hurt and the pain of secrets to God, they become to God treasured possessions because they are a gift from you.

The story is told of little Amy who while playing near the china cabinet in her home got her hand stuck in a vase.  Suddenly her mother heard her scream and rushed into the room to see what had happened.  Sure enough, the girl could not get her hand out.  Mother tried everything she could think of.  They pulled and pulled, but all it did was make the child cry.  They even tried to put oil on her hand, but it was to no avail.

Finally, they decided they would have to break the vase to save his hand, though they were afraid of hurting her.  So Dad tried one last time.  He said, patiently and quietly, “Amy, just relax, open your hand and let’s try to pull it out.”  “But Daddy,” the little girl said, “If I open my hand, I will lose the penny I found in the vase.”

The treasure she was clinging to, was worthless in the economy of the family.  And in the same way, the treasures we cling to, whether they are things we are proud of, or things we are ashamed of, these treasures will keep us from the freedom God longs for us to know.

We are called to forget that things that are behind, and press forward to what God has for us. The original language uses the same grammatical form for both forget and reach forward. They are present participles. What that means is we are to constantly, in this moment, put out of our minds those things we cherish, and at the same time continually refocus on what God is doing today, seek the transformation God wants to bring into our lives. When we cling to the treasures of the past, we become trapped just like little Amy.

In one of his books, writer Robert Fulgham tells the story of when his daughter was a little girl and gave him a paper bag to take with him to work. When he asked what was in the bag, she answered, “Just some stuff. Take it with you.”

When he sat down for lunch at his desk the next day, he pulled out the paper bag and poured out its contents: two ribbons, three stones, a plastic dinosaur, a pencil stub, a tiny seashell, used lipstick, two chocolate Kisses, and thirteen pennies. He chuckled, finished his lunch, and swept everything off into the wastebasket.

When he arrived at home that evening, his daughter asked him where the bag was. “I left it at the office,” he replied. “Why?”

“Well,” she said, “those are my things in the sack, Daddy. The things I really like. I thought you might like to play with them, but now I want them back.”

Oops. I bet you know what he did, after she went to bed that night, he returned to the office to search for Molly’s treasures.  When he found the bag, he uncrumpled it, and filled it again with his daughter’s items: two ribbons, three stones, a plastic dinosaur, a pencil stub, a tiny seashell, used lipstick, two chocolate Kisses, and thirteen pennies. He took the bag home, sat down with Molly, and had her tell him the story of every treasure in the bag.

After that day, Molly gave him the bag many times over several months. Same ratty bag. Same stuff inside. He liked those days when his daughter entrusted him with her treasures.

However, in time, Molly turned her attention to other things.  “But,” he writes, “Me … I was left holding the bag. She gave it to me one morning and never asked for it back. It sits in my office still, left over from when a child said, “Here. This is the best I’ve got. Take it. It’s yours.”

When you bring your treasures to God, he will never mistake them junk. If a dad can learn to treasure his daughter’s stuff, you can be sure Jesus will guard your stuff. And when you give him those things you think are so important, they become to him a treasure.

What are you clinging to? It is time to put them in a bag and give them to Jesus who will treasure them, he will use your heritage. He will heal your secrets. He will honor your faithfulness. And as you give Jesus your treasures, Jesus will give you His treasures.