Straining Toward the Goal

This was my last sermon this summer here in Death Valley, CA. In two weeks I go back home. It’s been a trip!

Straining Toward the Goal

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Philippians 3:1-21 ESV

Sometimes we wonder what our goal should be in life. We live our lives looking for our “calling,” hoping that we will find it. We pray to God and ask him what we should do with our lives. We search, and we wonder. “Do I marry this man?” “Do I move to that city?” “Which job offer do I take?” How can we know what to do? Does God have a plan for me? What am I striving for?

The answer is simple. Look at verse 14: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Let’s break down what the apostle Paul is saying here. At the beginning of the verse Paul says that he “presses on,” meaning that he keeps going, he keeps striving, he keeps working, he keeps trying. But towards what? The goal. And what is the goal? The prize. And what is the prize? The “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Now, what does that mean? We know that Christ has ascended into heaven. That is where he is. Although we have the Holy Spirit now, the real prize is that we get to go upwards into heaven to be with Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. That’s a pretty incredible prize.

Jesus Christ is the most amazing person you will ever meet. He did all kinds of things you wouldn’t believe. He turned water into wine. He gave sight to the blind. People who couldn’t walk, were healed to walk once again. The paralyzed regained use of their limbs. He walked on water. He calmed the storms. He even brought people out of death and back to life. He could be stern. And he could be angry, but he also laughs. And he also cries. He feels so much sorrow, and yet is still so joyful. But then he died. He gave himself up to death. His sacrifice of himself was for us. He was the perfect, sinless man. His death means that all of us who come to him are absolved of our transgressions. The way that he died, all of us were supposed to get that same punishment. But because he gave himself, and we believe in him, we no longer have to suffer that. And this man who did all of this, we get to spend eternity with him. That’s the prize. That’s the prize that we strive for. That is the goal.

With our prize in mind, let’s look back again at the beginning of the verse. “I press on toward the goal of the prize…” It’s easy to see here what needs to be done. The Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon had an analogy for this striving for the prize. He said, “The Savior held the same place in Paul’s esteem as the crown did in the esteem of the runner at the Olympic games. To gain that crown, the competitor strained every nerve and sinew, feeling as though he were content to drop down dead at the goal in order to win it.” Barne’s Notes on the Bible stresses that the prize, “demands his highest efforts, and it is worth all the exertions which a mortal can make even in the longest life.”

Now we have to ask, what kind of striving and effort do we put in? A runner will practice running, she will cross-train, she will keep up a healthy diet, she will get proper rest, she will alter her entire lifestyle to revolve around that prize. It’s worth that much. Imagine then that our prize is Jesus Christ. How much more is this prize worth? And what must we do? Thankfully the instruction is also rather simple. In Philippians 2 verse 3 to 4, Paul writes, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others.” So, Imitate Christ like he humbled himself while he was on earth. In all things as well, strive to imitate Christ.

Verses 20-21 say, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” When we press on to imitate Christ in our earthly lives, Jesus will transform us and bring us to himself. As followers of Christ, we are citizens of heaven. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “We live because he lives, and never is our life more joyous than when we look most steadily to him.” 3:20-21

When you wonder what God has in store for your life, forget about worrying whether you’re working in the right position in the right place with the right person. Forget about worrying about your next meal, or about your next house or apartment. Remember that your home is in heaven with Jesus. Let this be a comfort to you. Your purpose is to be more like Christ.



I seem to have found what God has intended for me to do. It is ever evolving of course. But I’ve come to manage this ministry team leader role as if I knew what I was doing. Somehow I knew exactly what I was getting into. It’s every bit what I expected. I can tell you however, that it has been difficult. And I knew that it would be.

I’ve gotten to develop some great friendships that I will remember forever. The thing is though, that I will never see them again. That thought is… well, I don’t even have the words. But thankfully we will always have this summer, and we will also have the internet.

A month from today I will begin the Fall semester at Dallas Theological Seminary. It’s the second half of my first year. And in just two weeks, Summer 2018 for me in Death Valley will come to a close.


bible study

Jesus Calms the Storm

This week’s Bible study focuses on weathering the storm of life with Jesus in the boat with you. We had some quality discussion on Wednesday. We even had two guests who saw us studying stop by and join us. They were truly a blessing in encouraging our group to be bold and continue the great commission. The following is our study questions and the passages that we read. Share your answers or questions in the comments!

  • Read the Passages below.
  • Disregarding the differences in the narratives, what about the story is most interesting to you?
  • Why do you think Jesus was asleep?
  • What does it mean that Jesus would rebuke the sea?
  • Why do you think the disciples wondered who this man (Jesus) was?
  • What parallels do you see in this story with your relationship with God?
  • What obstacles might prevent you from believing that God has all power?
  • What obstacles prevent you from knowing that God cares?
  • Why are you afraid?
  • Where is your faith today?


Matthew 8:23-27 ESV
Jesus Calms a Storm

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

Mark 4:35-41 ESV
Jesus Calms a Storm

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other
side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Luke 8:22-25 ESV
Jesus Calms a Storm

22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. 24 And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”


An Unexpected Passing

One of the things you wish you never have to deal with happened. Our community here in Death Valley has experienced the passing of a coworker.

I really don’t have the words to express how it’s been. It happened. People were mourning. And now things are back to normal. But for so many people I know that it is not. She was a kind soul to so many people that I can’t imagine how her closest friends are feeling.

We held a prayer and reflection service. It was informal, and I felt so inadequate for leading it. I didn’t know what I was doing, but it doesn’t matter. God is in charge, and I know that He guided that time in the way that He intended.

We’ve had so many people praying for the community here in Death Valley. It’s been good. All I can say is that I’m grateful for the people I have around me and around the country.

bible study

Bible Study – Romans 7:7-25

15 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Romans 7:15

I was asked to develop a study about this particular verse and what it really means. It’s a challenging verse to understand, but I think the whole passage below and the following questions can help to clarify its meaning. Please talk to me about it in the comments!

1. Read the passage (below). a) What do you understand? b)What doesn’t make sense?

2. An understanding of Sin. What do you know about the nature of sin? Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel. That which goes against the commands of God

3. An understanding of the Law. What do you know about Mosaic Law?

4. What did Jesus say about the Law? Why would Jesus say this? Why was the Law good? Why was the Law bad?

5. Nature of the Spirit Romans 8:9 Galatians 5:22

6. Nature of the Flesh Ephesians 2:3 1 Cor 3:3

Galatians 5:19

7. Background of the Letter to the Romans. Tensions between Jews and Gentiles Paul is writing out his theology. gospel and law eternal plan of God for the salvation of sinners Righteousness that God both demands in obedience and offers as a free gift in Christ, received by faith.

8. What are your next steps?

Romans 7:7-25 (NIV)

The Law and Sin

7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”[b] 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[d] a slave to the law of sin.