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Lent Readings: In Christ Alone

Readings Begin February 21

Saturday (Day 7) - THE REAL ADDRESS OF THE CHURCH

DISCOVERING WHAT'S "IN CHRIST"
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Colossians 1: 2  
To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae . . . 
 
Philippians 1: 1b 
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi . . .
 
1 Thessalonians 1: 1
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
 
Ephesians 1: 1 
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus.
 
2 Thessalonians 1: 1 
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ . . .  
 
Consider
The “churches” to which Paul wrote were groups of believers in particular cities. They usually met in homes and had no building dedicated to Christian worship. Paul thought of these believers as dwelling in two places at once: in Christ and in the town. They were co-located. A gathering of those worshiping Jesus as Lord might be held in a city you could find on a map. But at the very same time, this church also dwelt in Christ. For instance, though geographically in Ephesus, those believers were declared by Paul to be already seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2: 6). Physically somewhere in the visible world, they were also spiritually united to Christ Jesus and with him in the Father’s presence. 
 
There is a mystical quality to the church. He is the head and we are the members of his body, as organically joined to Jesus as a hand or stomach is part of human anatomy. What’s more, we are joined with all other believers, across the space of the world and the ages of time. This reality is what the Apostles’ Creed means by “the communion of saints.”  
 
In the Garden, the LORD asked our first parents after they had eaten the forbidden fruit, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). They were hiding in the bushes, ashamed of their nakedness and alienated from their Creator. Now we have a different answer about the status of our lives. Where are you? The answer is “in Christ.” Or, to answer the Genesis story, we are still hiding but now “your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3: 3). And Christ brings us with him to draw near to the Father unashamed and unafraid—as long as we go joined to him. 
 
The deepest reality of our lives is our union with Christ. So it follows that the deepest bond we can have with other humans is to share the Spirit of Christ who binds us together as one.  
 

TREASURES FROM THE STOREHOUSE OF CHRISTIAN WISDOM

 
“Ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2: 12). His life is yours, Paul means. You do not need to wait “until the day break and the shadows flee away” before beginning to live eternally. In union with Christ, that glorious privilege is yours here and now. Risen with Him, you have passed out of relationship to sin, out of the hampering limitations of this present order, out of the domain of the world and the flesh, into the realm of the Spirit, and into life that is life indeed. In short, even here on the earth, “you are a colony of heaven” (Phil. 3: 20). Never forget where your citizenship lies! “Reckon yourselves alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6: 11). 
 
To be “in Christ” means that Christ is the redeemed man’s new environment. The human body, by the acts of eating and drinking and breathing, is continually drawing for its strength upon the resources of its physical environment. So the Christian spirit, by prayer and worship and surrender, makes contact and keeps contact with its spiritual environment, which is Christ: thus the soul draws for its strength upon the supplies of power which in Christ are quite inexhaustible. “I can do all things,” it says, “Through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4: 13). Faced with the strain and stress of the moral struggle, surrounded by stubborn hereditary foes, torn sometimes on the rack of almost unbearable temptation, it lifts its head and cries, “Thanks be unto God which always causeth us to triumph in Christ” (2 Cor. 2: 13). (Stewart, A Man in Christ, pp. 105, 107)
 
Consider
Dr. Stewart reminds us of our true home when he writes that “even here on earth, ‘you are a colony of heaven.’” We live and work and serve in this world, all the while tethered to our homeland, and representing the interests of our King. Stewart tells us that even in this daily life we can keep contact with our “spiritual environment, which is Christ.” We live in him even more truly than we live on this earth. Just as we draw physical nourishment from the physical world, so we can draw strength from Christ, who is now our true natural habitat. The church gathers weekly to reset our focus on our real address.
 

PRESSING INTO CHRIST
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Triune God, we live and move and have our being in you.
More than sky to a bird or the sea to a fish, 
Great Father, you are the environment of eternal life. 
Even more than we must have air to breathe,
Windy Spirit, we must breathe you in.
Even more than we must have food to eat,
Lord Jesus, we must partake of you the Bread of Life . . .
It mystifies us that right now 
You have made us spiritual amphibians:
Both of earth and of heaven.
Yet we know we are here to bring your Word
And your love to those who do not yet 
Breathe the air of heaven, eat the Word of God
Or revel before your shining face.
So give us strength for this day here
As we yearn for you there.
 

 

Friday (Day 6) - THE TRANSFER OF OUR DWELLING

DISCOVERING WHAT'S "IN CHRIST"
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Colossians 1: 11-14
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
 
Consider
Paul uses dramatic imagery to express how we live in Christ alone. Think in terms of a moving company. Let’s call it the Triune God’s Relocation Services! Elsewhere Paul writes of “God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2: 3-4). God does not want us to perish (2 Pet. 3: 9), but he knows that without him we are trapped in the inky night of our lonely sinfulness. So by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Father sent the Son to come get us out. Jesus came to relocate us.  
 
Our old neighborhood could be described as the Domain of Darkness. We lived under the shadow of death. We were enslaved to sinful passions. We could not see a future with any hope. But then the orders for a transfer came. The Father sent the great mover. By the Spirit, we were given faith and got placed into Jesus Christ. The transfer came through. We moved from the Domain of Darkness to a new neighborhood: the Kingdom of the Beloved Son. In Christ, we no longer live where we used to.  
 
Now we joyfully learn the streets and paths of this new neighborhood. We don’t need to go back to revisit our old streets! We really, truly, get to live here. In Jesus. In his Kingdom. 
 

TREASURES FROM THE STOREHOUSE OF CHRISTIAN WISDOM

 
Paul thinks of the Christian as living and moving and having his being in a spiritual element which is the very breath of life. Just as it might be said that the human body is in the atmosphere that surrounds it on every side, and yet that atmosphere is also within it, filling it and vitalizing it, so it may be said of the Christian soul that it both exists in the Spirit and has the Spirit within it. Here, then, is the key to the phrase “in Christ.” Christ is the redeemed man’s new environment. He has been lifted out of the cramping restrictions of his earthly lot into a totally different sphere, the sphere of Christ. He has been transplanted into a new soil and a new climate, and both soil and climate are Christ. His spirit is breathing a nobler element. He is moving on a loftier plane.  
 
The sinful soul, confronted with God’s wonderful self-disclosure in Christ, and with the tremendous and subduing fact of the cross where the whole world’s sins were borne, responds to that divine appeal and abandons itself to the love that stands revealed: and that response, that abandonment, Paul calls faith. This is what God sees when He justifies the ungodly. Far from holiness and truth and all that makes a son of God, the sinner may yet be: but at least his face is now turned in a new direction. 
 
He is now “in Christ.” He is “looking unto Jesus.” And that means three things. It means, first, that the sinner is now looking, not inwards, but outwards—trusting not to any merit in himself, but to something outside of himself altogether, the grace and love of an entirely trustworthy God. It means, second, that he is looking not downwards, but upwards, not down to sin’s alluring shame, but up to the beauty and purity of Christ. It means, third, that he is looking not backwards but forwards, “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before.” His position may not have altered much, but his direction has been changed completely; and it is by direction, not position, that God judges. Once the sinner had his back to Christ: now his face is Christward. This is faith, and it holds the potency of a glorious future (Stewart, A Man in Christ, pp. 87, 138-9).
 
Consider
“Christ is the redeemed man’s new environment. . . . he has been transplanted into a new soil and a new climate.” Dr. Stewart uses this same metaphor of being relocated into Christ. He elaborates how in Christ we can live on a higher plane. The air is better up here with Jesus! The new neighborhood is brighter. Its soil is much better for growth.  
 
Later, Stewart describes this relocation as a change of direction. We point our lives Christward. The physical neighborhood around us may not change much. The streets may still be mean, the pathways may still be littered with broken relationships and trust. Yet, when the fundamental direction of life changes from self to Christ, we see the world in a new way. We find forgiveness to replace bitterness; kindness substitutes for mean ways; love heals old wounds. The desert can bloom even if we don’t physically leave it. This spiritual redirection of focus transforms everything.
 

PRESSING INTO CHRIST
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Thank you Father, for getting me out!
The Domain of Darkness was terrible.
All the streets were fear, guilt, clamor and despair.
But you sent the Mover!
Christ created salvation.
The Spirit put me into Christ.
I live now in the Kingdom of Your Beloved Son.
The streets paved with steadfast love and mercy.
The future shines bright with hope.
I belong to you and I go to work each day
On the mission of your kingdom.
Oh, thank you for getting me out of the dark
And into your marvelous light. 
 
 

 

Thursday (Day 5) - WHAT'S FOUND IN CHRIST JESUS

DISCOVERING WHAT'S "IN CHRIST"
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Faith and Love  
Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 1: 13-14
 
Mercy   
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1: 15-17
 
Nearness  
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2: 13
 
Peace  
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4: 7
 
Truth  
. . . the truth is in Jesus . . . Ephesians 4: 21b
 
Treasures of Wisdom and Knowledge
. . . in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2: 3
 
Life  
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus . . .  2 Timothy 1: 1
 
Eternal Life  
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6: 23
 
Strength  
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Ephesians 6: 10
 
Consider
On Monday and Tuesday, we looked at passages describing our lives outside of Christ Jesus. Today we receive the riches of ten gifts that come from being in Christ.
 
Faith, Love and Mercy. Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy about three decades after his conversion on the Damascus Road. But we see that Paul never lost connection to that life-changing moment of being joined to Christ. He kept constant awareness that his harassment of the first believers made him feel the foremost of sinners. Though Paul the persecutor deserved only wrath, God’s grace overflowed toward him. He received a share in “the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” His phrasing is key to our understanding.  
 
Living, active, constant faith to God the Father is not possible for we who are sinners. Only the man Jesus lived in fidelity to his Father wholly and completely. True, other-centered love is not sustainable for we who are sinners. Only the man Jesus lived pure, self-giving love to others. Jesus is the man of faith and love. We cannot ever successfully imitate him on our own. Rather, we have to be organically joined to Christ. With Paul, we have to receive “the faith and love that are in Jesus” if we are to live them out. 
 
Being joined to Jesus all begins with the reality of the mercy of God. By his grace, the Father sent the Son: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. As we take a sinner’s place with Paul, we can then also become those through whom Christ displays his patience.
 
Nearness and Peace. In Christ, we are brought near to God again. Because we have peace with God through Christ (Rom. 5: 1), we may have peace in our souls day to day. But again, we note that the peace promised to us never comes apart from a living relationship with Christ. The bumper sticker is correct: No Jesus, no peace. Know Jesus, know peace!
 
Truth, Wisdom and Knowledge. We all seek an enduring view of the world that will make sense of our lives. We seek an integrated vision that embraces the reality that life is difficult while yet offering a real hope for a better future. No other philosophy on the face of the earth engages suffering with realism and optimism. Only the foolishness of the cross (1 Cor. 1: 18) gives wisdom that endures.
 
Life, Eternal Life and Strength. Jesus defeated death and opened the way to eternal life for all believers. In union with Christ that everlasting life begins now. Jesus is the water of life, the bread of life and the light of life right this minute as well as in eternity. From Christ who is our life we, by faith, draw strength for daily tasks. In relationship to Jesus, we find his strength to be our strength.
 

TREASURES FROM THE STOREHOUSE OF CHRISTIAN WISDOM

 
Everything depends on a man’s union with a living, present Saviour. In the absence of that union, even the Gospel of the cross loses its saving efficacy. Atonement remains impersonal and largely irrelevant until we make contact with the One who atones: and contact of a vital kind is possible only if Jesus is risen and living now. Hence, the New Testament writers refuse to treat either the death or resurrection of Christ in isolation. When they speak of the cross, they see it ever in the light of the Easter glory; and when they speak of the resurrection, they set it against the dark background of the cross (Stewart, A Man in Christ, p. 124).
 

PRESSING INTO CHRIST
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I have known my heart to say “I am the foremost of sinners.” 
I have heard the accuser say, “You deserve no good thing.” 
I have looked at the futility of the world and despaired. 
Yet this I call to mind: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 
Most blessed Lord, continue to display your mercy in me! 
Draw me near to the Father and speak peace to my soul. 
By your life, I can live and find strength for this day.
 
 

Wednesday (Day 4) - HE SAVED US!

DISCOVERING WHAT'S "IN CHRIST"
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Titus 3: 4-7
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 
 
Consider
Yesterday we visited Titus 3: 3 which describes the sin-spiral of life without Christ. It’s a steady slide into hatred of life itself. Today, we hear Paul proclaim how God interrupted our cycle of futility.
 
Note how something happened once at a particular time in history that has dramatic, continuing effects for us right now. The goodness and love of God appeared in the world. Into the darkness of our rebel world, God shone a great light. He sent his Son. Jesus came to us as one of us. He answered hate with forgiving love. He restored broken relationships and broken bodies. He lived the fidelity and obedience to his Father that we could never achieve. And he did it on our behalf! He accomplished the purpose of God for humanity: to live a life of utter love and worship.  
 
Further, Jesus took the rage of our sin onto himself. All the God-hatred, the self-hatred and the people-hatred that our sin created piled onto Jesus on the cross. He absorbed it until it killed him. But God raised him from the dead, destroying the death into which we were all plunging. 
 
Paul is saying all that (and more!) in those three simple, magnificent words: he saved us! That happened once for all in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Salvation was accomplished.
 
But then, throughout the rest of time, God has been sending the Holy Spirit to unite people to Jesus so that they can get in on this salvation. Based on what Jesus has already done, the Spirit washes us clean of sin in his name. He creates new life in us. He enables us to believe. We come back from death. Everything gets renewed. Instead of expecting condemnation to come, we anticipate inheriting eternal life. 
 
 

TREASURES FROM THE STOREHOUSE OF CHRISTIAN WISDOM

 
[A direct consequence of Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road was his surrender to the divine love which now stood revealed.]
 
That Jesus Christ, whose name he had maligned, whose followers he had harried, whose cause he had striven to bring down to destruction, should nevertheless have come to meet him, and to lay his hands upon him, was a thought at once gloriously uplifting and terribly subduing.  
 
For him, then, blasphemer and persecutor as he was, Jesus had been seeking! For him, grace and mercy had entered the field. For him, the Lord had climbed Calvary. In that hour of revelation, Paul realized that right on to the end of his days he would be immeasurably Christ’s debtor. With endless wonder he now could speak of “the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2: 20). And never for a moment did he doubt that the love which had come seeking him was the love of God himself.
 
All his feverish quest for peace and righteousness and certainty was now over, for God in Christ had taken the initiative. The poor, smoking lamp of legalism had flickered out in the glory of the dawn. God had reconciled him. While he was yet a “sinner,” an “enemy”—how deep dyed in Paul’s own heart’s-blood, the great words in Romans are!—Christ had died for him. 
 
Gone was the stern, inexorable God of [Pharisaism], watching his creatures toiling for a justification he knew they could never win. Now there stood revealed a Father yearning for his child. Face to face with that seeking grace, that reconciling love, Paul’s whole being went down in uttermost surrender. 
 
With all the passion of his soul he responded. He gave himself to God. He worshipped Christ. Grace on the side of God had met faith on the side of man: and from the white-hot crucible of that experience there emerged a new life. The cataclysm of that hour ushered Paul into a totally different sphere of being. He was now as unlike the man who had set out from Jerusalem as noonday is unlike midnight, as life is unlike death. His outlook, his world his nature, his moral sense, his life purpose—all were changed. He was a man “in Christ” (Stewart, A Man in Christ, pp. 76-77).
 
Consider
As you read back through the above passage, try to identify what changed for Paul when he encountered Jesus on the Damascus Road. From what things specifically did Paul get saved?
 
Also, identify Paul’s response to this salvation that Stewart describes. 
 
Where would you say that you are in relationship to the salvation Jesus accomplished? Have you also been called to a response of surrender? Have you entered into “a totally different sphere of being” than when you were outside of Christ?
 
 

PRESSING INTO CHRIST
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Fairest Lord Jesus,
You are the goodness and loving kindness of God
Who entered our world
In order to save us.
Thank you for coming as light into our darkness.
Thank you for washing clean our humanity
By your faithfulness.
Thank you for taking our sin to the cross.
Thank you for rising in resurrection power
So that everlasting life may be opened to us.
Oh, shine your light into our hearts this day!
Shine it so clearly that we see you and 
Joyfully yield our whole lives to you. 
 
 

Tuesday (Day 3) - OUTSIDE OF CHRIST, PART 2: ABSENCE OF ALL LIFE AND GOOD

DISCOVERING OUR LIFE WITHOUT CHRIST
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
No Good
I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;            
I have no good apart from you.” Psalm 16: 2
 
Futility  
Apart from me you can do nothing. John 15: 5b
 
Anger and Hatred
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. Titus 3: 3
 
Death
. . . in Adam all die . . . 1 Corinthians 15: 22a
 
Headed for Wrath 
. . . among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Ephesians 2: 3
 
Consider
Humanity was made to live in active relationship to the Triune God who created us. From the earliest days, however, we made decisions to distrust God’s good intent for us. We wanted to be our own gods and trust our own wisdom. From the beginning, we human beings, made in the image of God, have tried to live without God. That decision expresses itself in myriad ways, but at its root, it can simply all be described as sin, a word which means literally “missing the mark.” 
 
Today’s passages show us the consequences of our sin.
 
We cannot achieve the good we envision if we seek it apart from God. Godless utopias can be envisioned but never accomplished. We can climb for a while toward something we think is good, whether it involves wealth, power, intimacy, intoxication, enlightenment or adventure. We routinely try to make lesser goods into ends in themselves. But always with diminishing results. (Just ask an addict.) Without God, our goods evaporate. Futility and despair solidify.
 
Frustration rises from the failure of our self-determination project. We get angry that we cannot make life work out on our own. Rather than own up to the choices we made, we blame. When we blame, we go on to envy, slander, undermining and hate. Bitter death remains, as well as the expectation of God’s judgment against the squandering of his gift of life.
 
Have you noticed people caught in the downward spiral the Titus passage describes? What is life like for them? When have you been there yourself?
 

TREASURES FROM THE STOREHOUSE OF CHRISTIAN WISDOM

 
Only those who through Christ have entered into a vital relationship with God are really “alive.” Existence outside of Christ is not worthy of the name at all; for as compared with the soul that has seen everything in heaven and earth transfigured by a personal experience of redemption and has begun to live daily in the romance and wonder and thrilling stimulus of Jesus’ fellowship, the man who lives for the world and the flesh and has no knowledge of God is virtually dead. He does not know it, he thinks he is “seeing life”; he cannot guess the glory he is missing, nor realize the utter bankruptcy and wretchedness of everything in which he has put his trust. But the fact remains. “To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life” (Stewart, A Man in Christ, pp. 104-105).
 
Consider
Those outside of Christ often ridicule us for losing out on a great life. They say we don’t live in the “real world.” We are described as boring, narrow, constricted and fearful of truly living.  
 
By contrast, how does James Stewart describe life outside of Christ? 
 
Why does being apart from God actually diminish our experience of life? 
 

PRESSING INTO CHRIST
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
How often I have left you, dear Jesus,
To seek some “good” I think I need.
I have feared that you want to withhold life from me.
So, I have not even asked you about these new “wants!”
I do not consecrate my desires.
I do not compare them to your Word.
 
I have found that:
The experiences I demanded
Have left me bored.
The relationships I manipulated for advantage
Have left me empty.
The revenge I craved
Tastes bitter, not sweet.
The offence I took at the least slight
Led neither to harmony nor satisfaction. 
I do not savor life apart from you
But fear constantly discomfort, disappointment, illness and death.
 
Truly, apart from you I have no good.
It’s all empty and angry without you.
Oh, do not leave me to myself! 
 
Would you receive me back into your arms?
Let me taste your goodness again.
Restore me to life in you that I might
Be made well and rejoice.
 
 

Monday (Day 2) - OUTSIDE OF CHRIST, PART 1: THE GREAT DIVIDE

DISCOVERING OUR LIFE WITHOUT CHRIST
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Scripture describes two impenetrable barriers between us and God.
 
Mortal Frailty   
“For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3: 19b
       
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,          
   neither are your ways my ways, 
      declares the LORD.       
For as the heavens are higher than the
      earth,           
   so are my ways higher than your ways            
   and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55: 8-9
 
God lives forever and is holy. He is high and lifted up (NCV). Isaiah 57: 15  
 
Consider
God lives forever. We live, at best, for a century. God created the universe and rules over it. Our frail strength, never much anyway, rises and falls like a breeze. God knows all things and sees all things from every angle. We know only a fraction of reality.
 
How, then, can we relate to God? How could he even notice us or care for us? We can never climb up to God’s level in our own strength and wisdom.
 
How does such truth put your life in perspective? What in us resists this reality?
 
Sin   
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans 1: 21
        
Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Ephesians 2: 12
 
Consider
My creaturely limits are not the only impediment between God and me. Scripture from first to last concludes that I have a bigger problem than mortal frailty. I am sinful. That is, I am prone to rebel against God’s revealed way in order to seek my own way. I am prone to live without continuing recognition of God as my source and sustainer. And I consistently fail to thank God for my life and his mercies, including what The Book of Common Prayer calls “our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life.”
 
To which of these ways do you feel most prone: a) lack of acknowledging God, b) failing to give him thanks or c) choosing your way over God’s way?
 

TREASURES FROM THE STOREHOUSE OF CHRISTIAN WISDOM

 
Of all sin’s consequences—and they are many and varied, including outward penalties, and suffering to self and others, stings of conscience, hearts hardened and wills enslaved and “a certain fearful looking for of judgment”—by far the most serious is the loss of fellowship with God which sin involves. It brings a cloud across the sun. It interrupts the family relationship. . . . What makes sin an essentially lonely thing is not the separation of the sinner from his brother men or even from his own best self: it is his isolation from God. This is what Paul calls “alienation.”
 
This condition of alienation has various stages and degrees. It begins with a vague feeling of estrangement. The soul becomes aware of a barrier which has mysteriously arisen between itself and God. It realizes that although in the actual sin there may have been no intention of wounding God, indeed no conscious thought of God at all, still the relationship has subtly changed. . . . Inevitably the barrier rises, and the fellowship is broken. The soul is alienated.   
 
Now it often happens that alienation of this kind hardens into resentment. The soul in its bitterness turns and accuses God. It lays the blame for the estranging barrier at God’s door. Has it failed to observe the law? Then the fault is God’s, who has pitched His demands so unreasonably high. Is God almighty and the soul itself feeble? That only serves to increase the resentment. Thus failure breeds hopelessness, and hopelessness begets recklessness, and recklessness becomes downright hostility. The man who was made for the highest fellowship now stands over against his Creator as an enemy. “We were enemies,” says Paul, describing the general attitude to God before conversion (Stewart, A Man in Christ, pp. 113-114).
 
Consider
When have you been aware of the loneliness which sin creates because it isolates us from God?
Stewart describes a progression in the alienation from God that sin causes. He says that in the beginning, we may not even be aware that our relationship has changed. But if we persist, alienation hardens into resentment. What a paradox! We sin; we isolate. Then we blame God! 
 
We do not want to accept responsibility for the breach in the relationship, so we project blame outward onto God. Then, things get worse, and we get hopeless. So we sin more because it doesn’t seem to matter. Before long, we have steady hostility to God.
 
Can you remember any times in your life when you followed that path to God-resentment? How did you get out of it?
 

PRESSING INTO CHRIST
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Lord Jesus, lights from houses and streets hide your stars.
Walls and shades hide your sun.
Screen lights illumine the trivia that occupies our hours.
Breaking news demands that Now is all.
We live in a shrunken awareness.
We forget the immensity of the cosmos,
The variety of creation, the mystery of the microscopic,
And the eternity of our lives.
We are so easily distracted.
So we hardly feel you, scarcely believe you. 
The immediate is our world and we are lonely.
Jolt us with your grandeur 
So that we might know our true place,
As nothing to the indifferent universe, 
But as a pearl of great price to you. 
 
 

Sunday (Day 1) - LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

WEEK ONE

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

The conversion of Saul the Pharisee was one of the most dramatic in history. He despised Christians, believing their “gospel” to be an idolatrous perversion of the Jewish faith of his fathers. Saul was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus with official papers authorizing the arrest of known Christians. In the middle of the day; however, a light brighter than the Middle Eastern sun suddenly burst upon him. Blinded and terrified, Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The answer came in a voice from heaven, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”
 
Everything changed, including his name. Saul became Paul. He went from being a hostile outsider to intimately united to Jesus. The very location of his sense of identity moved. For years he had lived inside a sense of Jewish heritage, elite education and scrupulous keeping of the law as the markers of his life. Now he considered all that as nothing compared to being located in Christ. Over and over Paul uses that simple phrase to take us into the riches of grace Christ brings us. This signature expression “in Christ” reveals a reality that pervades the New Testament. Jesus has opened for us an intimate, insider union with himself. This joining fills us with a sense of Christ’s presence, love, forgiveness and hope. 
 
This famous painting by Caravaggio expresses the dramatic transformation Paul underwent. It is an emblem of the deep change anyone experiences in moving from “outside” to “inside” Christ Jesus.
 
Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da. Conversion on the Way to Damascus. 1601. Oil on canvas. Cerasi Chapel, Rome.
 

DAY 1 SUNDAY

PAUL RELOCATES INTO CHRIST
 

DISCOVERING WHAT'S "IN CHRIST"

 
Acts 22: 3-16  
In Paul’s own words:
 
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus . . . educated at the feet of Gamaliel [a famous rabbi], according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God. . . . I persecuted this Way [Christianity] to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women. . . . I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.
 
As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. 
 
And one Ananias, a devout man . . . came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” 
 
Acts 26: 17-18 
“‘I am sending you [to the Gentiles] to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sin and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’”  
 
Consider
When have you had moments of realizing, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see?” (If the answer is “never,” what do you imagine you are missing?)
 
Describe the circumstances leading up to the realization.
 
Describe the change in focus that occurred in you after this realization.
 
After his Damascus Road experience, Saul changed his name to Paul, and considered himself from that time on to be “a man in Christ” (2 Cor. 12: 2). 
 
How would you describe Saul before conversion? He was a man in ________?
 
Consider what it means to have your leading identity statement be “I am a (wo)man in Christ.” How would that distinguish you from other identities?
 

TREASURES FROM THE STOREHOUSE OF CHRISTIAN WISDOM

 
Paul writes again of his transformation in Philippians 3: 3-4, 7-11:
 
For we . . . worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. . . . 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.
 
Consider 
What does it means to be “found” in someone? Think of the ways we might finish this sentence, “If you’re looking for me, you can be sure you’ll find me. . . .” The answer would say lots about what we love and value. You can find me . . . watching the Tigers. Working on my computer. Down at the boats. Hunting at the camp. Taking care of Dad.  
 
What would your life look like if people said about you, “Oh, you can find him/her in Christ”?
 

PRESSING INTO CHRIST

 
Graham Kendrick set to music Paul’s ardor for Jesus recounted in Philippians. This song epitomized a season of renaissance in my faith when the Holy Spirit reignited my first love for Jesus. It’s directly affectionate, a true love song to our Savior. It captures our yearning to have our soul’s true home to be “found in him.” I invite you to YouTube this beautiful song and sing along in your prayers today. Here are the first two verses and the chorus:
 
All I once held dear, built my life upon,
All this world reveres, and wars to own, 
All I once thought gain I have counted loss,
Spent and worthless now, compared to this:
 
Knowing you, Jesus
Knowing you, there is no greater thing. 
You’re my all, you’re the best!
You’re my joy, my righteousness,
And I love you, Lord. 
 
Now my heart’s desire is to know you more,
To be found in you and known as yours
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All-surpassing gift of righteousness:
 
Knowing you . . .
Graham Kendrick, “Knowing You,” 1993.
 

 

Saturday - INTRODUCTION

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Where you do you live? That’s a deceptively simple question. You could, of course, just answer with the address of where you sleep. Or the state or country in which you reside. Or you could take it deeper.
 
I live in traffic, driving people from dawn to dark.
I live in hope she’ll one day come home.
I live in pain; nothing they can give me touches this wound.
I live in the fast lane, always pushing it, never resting.
I live in the shadow of my brother.
I live in complete disarray, forever losing my keys and phone.
I live in expectation that all this has got to change sometime.
I live in fear of what will happen when she gets home.
I live tangled in the web of his addiction.
I live in the sunny warmth of her love.
 
We can describe where we live in terms of the condition, pace and longings that permeate our days. The atmosphere created by the people with whom we live can seem more like our home than any physical dwelling. The culture of our community becomes so much a part of us we’re not even aware of it. Its values and priorities seep into us. More, we each live inside the habits of our technology, media and daily routines until we don’t imagine that anything could be different. 
 
Scripture, however, urges us to awaken to our truer home. Early in John’s Gospel we hear this description of Jesus, the Word of God, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1: 4). In Christ is life. Life that lights up all our days. 
 
Living in Christ is a major theme in the letters of the Apostle Paul. More than 150 times, he uses the phrase “in Christ,” “in him” or “in the Lord.” For Paul, coming to live “in Christ” marked a transition as striking as passing from death to life. Everything changed. He found his heart’s home. He found the heart of the universe. He found the point of everything. 
 
This Lent, we explore what it means to live “in Christ.” We take up in prayer and study what it means to discover that our truest address is in Jesus. This reality pervades every aspect of our life. Living in Jesus, we draw on a source which alone satisfies the deepest human longings and needs. In Christ may be found deep peace, effective forgiveness, enduring hope, robust love, energizing purpose and everlasting life. During these 42 days, we want to take time daily to live where we truly live: in Christ alone! 
 

HOW TO USE THIS STUDY 20 MINUTES A DAY
 

This study is meant to be a springboard for your own reflections and prayers. My work is to take you to the sources and encourage you to drink deeply from them. The power, of course, is in the Scriptures which we will read in reliance on the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. Further insights from recognized spiritual masters will help open our hearts and minds to the deep Scriptural mystery of union with Christ. Each of the 42 days unfolds according to this pattern. I encourage you to plan to spend about 20 minutes each day working prayerfully through the material. Here’s how a day sets up.
 

DISCOVERING WHAT'S IN CHRIST

 
We’ll read over 80 passages of Scripture together during Lent! The treasury of all that is “in Christ alone” is a vast one. Each day we’ll study the Word deeply with a particular goal in mind: to trust more in Christ so that we can live more from Christ and be more effective in the world for Christ. After the passages, I offer questions and commentary meant to inspire your own quest to live in Jesus more fully.
 

TREASURES FROM THE STOREHOUSE OF CHRISTIAN WISDOM

 
To assist our explorations, we’re inviting several great spiritual masters to guide us through what it means to live in Christ. Their contributions have stood the test of time. I quote most from Dr. James S. Stewart’s beautiful 1935 work, A Man in Christ. Stewart was a renowned Edinburgh minister and teacher. One website (preaching.com) ranked him as the number one 20th century preacher! His insights into union with Christ sparkle with loveliness and light. We will also hear from Andrew Murray, a South African pastor at the beginning of the 20th century. His books on the spiritual life have endured more than a century. His Abide in Christ and The Holiest of All usher us into the intimacy of continuing communion with Jesus. John Calvin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Thomas Torrance and C. S. Lewis also resource our reflections. I’m delighted to have excavated these jewels for you.
 
Daily Quotes to Pray
 
Each day, two Scripture passages recur. We’re meant to read them aloud in order that, by the end of six weeks, we will have them memorized. This treasure will be ours to enjoy no matter where we are. These verses encapsulate the theme of our study.
 
2 Corinthians 1: 20: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” 
 
As we will see, Jesus is the fulfillment of all that God promised to do for our salvation. Jesus is also the way by which we make our response to God’s grace. Jesus is the station through which all the trains of faith and redemption run! 
 
 
 
Galatians 3: 26: “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
 
The wonder of who Jesus is and what he has done is that we, men and women, become sons of God with him!
 

 

 



PRESSING INTO CHRIST

 
In this section, I’ll invite you to use the printed prayers as a springboard for your own prayers. We’ll each try to push deeper into the mystery of living from and in Jesus.
 
Weekly Art
 
In each week’s introduction, we will engage a work of art related to the theme. Both classic paintings and contemporary expressions will give us one more avenue down which we may consider all it means to live “in Christ.”
  
Fare forward, beloved congregation! It’s a joy to pursue Christ Jesus with you in this season,
 
Gerrit S. Dawson
Senior Pastor

 

You're Weird!

You're weird! Not like everybody else. Unique in the world. Different than most.
 
After all, what Muslim says “I live in Mohammed?” What practicing Buddhist says, “I spoke with Siddhartha this morning?” What existentialist says “I am in organic union with Camus?” What atheist says “I have a mystical link to Richard Dawkins?” But you say all those things about Jesus! We Christians are “in Christ.” We speak with the historical founder of our faith personally and presently. His Spirit links us to Jesus and to each other the way parts of a human body are linked to the whole. That’s weird—if you’re on the outside looking in. But such wonder is normal for those who have been joined to Jesus.
 
This Lent, we’re going to explore what it means that our truest home is Jesus himself. We’re going to pursue the mystery of what Paul meant by being “in Christ.” We’ll see how living in Christ and from Christ lights up everything in our lives. John Calvin called it a “mystical union” and declared it to be of highest importance to our faith. 
 
Honestly, engaging in this study will change your life. Like discovering priceless treasure you hadn’t known you possessed. Like tapping into an endless supply of energy. Like coming home. Like finally living in Reality. We’ll be drawing from more than 85 Scriptures as well as the writings of experienced spiritual masters such as James Stewart and Andrew Murray. We’re questing for the very heart of Christian experience. We’re going to claim our distinctive faith. Yep, we’re weird. Gloriously, joyfully so!
 
The week of February 14, your elders, deacons and pastors will be bringing your Lent books to your house! It’s a quick, safe drop off. But we wanted to be sure, in these COVID times, that every member gets a copy before February 21 when the daily readings begin. You can get extra copies at church and also sign up for daily emails. Smaller, well-distanced 6 week home groups will also begin. We hope participating with others will help to reknit our congregation after so long apart.
 
I’m so eager to join you on this journey deeper into Christ our true home!