Saturday, June 28, 2008

Christ the Rock

When I was looking for a place to hold this year’s version of “True Men in the Mountains” someone suggested Joshua Tree. So I drove out there and when I saw the rocks at Indian Cove campground, I thought that might be a good place to camp and maybe do some rock climbing. Which led me to invite Craig DeMartino to come out and lead that part of it.

Those rocks looked so inviting. They looked easy enough to climb. Lot’s of places to find handholds and footholds. And with a climbing leader like Craig, I thought, “Piece of cake.”

But looks can sometimes be deceiving. When you get up close to these rocks, they get bigger and bigger, and more intimidating. When you place your hands on them, they seem to change right before your eyes. What looked easy turned out to be one of the most difficult and scary things I’ve ever attempted.

Craig made it look easy, too. He scampered up those rocks like nothing. At first, I thought, “Hey, he’s only got one leg, this should be easy.”

I have a new and greater and deeper appreciation for Craig DeMartino and anyone who climbs on a regular basis.
After I got back, and I started the finishing touches on this message, I had to stop and just be amazed at how God works. This weekend is the time when we Christians have the opportunity to thank God for the life and work of Saints Peter and Paul. Peter the Rock and Paul who wrote so passionately about Christ – the Cornerstone!

In the Old Testament, God is described as a rock. Last weekend, I got a new appreciate of why. From a distance, you think you can get a grip on God, understand Him, think He’s “not such a big deal.”

But the closer you get to God, the more He changes in your eyes. Not that He changes – He doesn’t. He’s immovable, He’s unchanging. But we change, our position, our outlook, in relation to God. We are also changed by our proximity to God.

The Church, since Christ’s time, has referred to Christ as “The Rock” – long before Dwayne Johnson arrived on the scene. Peter was a follower of Jesus – which was part of the reason that Jesus called him “The Rock.”

Romans 9:31-33, Paul says that those “who pursued a law of righteousness, [have] not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the "stumbling stone." As it is written: "See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame."

This “rock” theme permeates both Peter and Paul. It is a good way for us to look at Christ and our relationship with Him.
As a Rock, Christ doesn’t move easily. We can’t really shape him into what we want Him to be. When we try to shape rocks into what we want them to be, we must forever alter what they are and what they can do. With Christ, if we try to make him into what we want we end up with a Christ that really isn’t The Christ of Scripture.
Rather than try to change Christ, it is us that need to be changed.

Last weekend, I was challenged by the rocks and I was ultimately conquered by the rocks. I couldn’t get further than about six feet off the ground for at least two reasons: 1) I lacked the physical strength to carry this body up the side of the rock. 2) I didn’t have very good foot-gear. That motivated me to work on #1 – with more jogging and swimming and better eating habits. #2 will take planning and saving – also good exercise for life.
But in the end, I won’t be able to conquer that rock anyway. Rather, I’ll have a relationship, of sorts, with that rock. It presents different challenges in foot-holds and hand-holds each time I try to climb it. In the end, it is the same rock and it is a different rock each time I try to climb it.
That’s Christ as well. He is the rock that cannot be conquered – rather He conquers – sin, death, and the power of the devil. With Jesus’ death, that which haunts each one of us – death – is destroyed. We no longer have to fear what is to come because Christ has already been there and conquered it!
With Christ’s death and resurrection, our sin has been conquered and we are now free to really live life.
I appreciate that life right now for a lot of people is not the most joyful experience – gas prices rising, housing values dropping, fear of the future escalating, political campaigns decreasing into mud-slinging – no, life is not full of joy and peace at the moment.
But if we want peace and joy in life, there is only one way to look, only one way to go – the Rock of Christ! Immovable, unchanging, forever challenging us to great heights of discovery.
That was the attraction for Peter and Paul – although they may not have known it at the time.
Peter and Paul epitomize most of us. They thought they had all the answers. Peter looked to a full and happy life out on the lake with his fishing business. Paul was content with his life of study and contemplation. Both suffered from pride and arrogance that their ways were best and immovable.
Until both of them came to the rock. Christ freed Peter and Paul from their pride and in doing so, he freed them from their sins and their fears.
Christ does the same thing for us. Christ gives us a future when all around us the future looks dim.

1 comment:

Paul Schreiber said...

Lessons in strength ~ rocks, leadership, and Jesus Christ

Well, it’s been a week and a day since returning from Southern California’s Mohave Desert and Joshua Tree National Park. Joining Ed, John H., John K., and Irving from Ontario-based True Men Ministries and Craig DeMartino from his Colorado-based After The Fall Ministry, was a great experience.

As a rep from St. Louis-based Lutheran Hour Ministries’ Men’s NetWork, I had a great chance to see a men’s ministry group in action ~ outside a church context. Led by Ed, a Lutheran pastor from Redeemer Lutheran Church in Ontario and founder of True Men Ministries, this four-day interface with California’s high desert proved once again how marvelous and spellbinding are the earth’s deserts ~ and how rich and sustaining are the treasures of God’s Word: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

The camaraderie was superb, the temperatures toasty as a blast furnace, and the desert ~ as always ~ astonishing in its bone-dry and wind-swept beauty. Supplementing this picture of nature were Ed’s own campfire Bible studies and his retelling of Major Dick Winter’s leadership lessons on faith gained from his military service during World War II. These studies reinforced the real-life lessons each of us gleaned during the day from rock climbing with Craig. It was there we gained a whole new appreciation for the word “trust” as we relied on his amazing and Spiderman-like skills for assessing rock faces and ways to get up them.

With daytime temperatures pushing 115 degrees, the sidewinder, the roadrunner, and the stinkbug weren’t the only creatures seeking the shade of a rocky crevice or the darkened overhang of an eroded monolith. On Friday afternoon, in the cool shadows of what must have been a million-ton outcrop of rock, we listened to Craig recount his unimaginable 96-foot drop at 60mph in 2002 from the Sundance Buttress in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Today, with more metal in him than a 2008 Hyundai, Craig is once again scaling the heights to snag views sacred to big-horned rams and bobcats. Showing us the ropes, he led us upward and, in the process, we learned a whole new vocabulary: belays, carabiners, slings, hexes, nuts, and quickdraws. Beyond all these, however, Craig’s most important tool is a below-the-knee prosthetic device that became his second foot on the ground when his irreparably damaged right leg was removed after much prayer and therapy ~ a year and a half after his accident. With humor and equanimity, Craig recounted to us the pains and unexpected pleasures (increased reliance on God, greater empathy, fortified willpower) resulting from his plummet on July 21, 2002.

I don’t think there was one of us there who, listening to Craig’s account, didn’t come away with a newfound appreciation of how we are both “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14a). Both our conversations in the desert and the desert itself impacted us in ways hard to predict before arriving. At the end of the day, there was for me a clearer recognition of the nature of man ~ both his frailty and his enduring value to the One who made him.

Peering through the star-clustered edge of the Milky Way on a jet-black night has a way of making you feel puny and perfectly inconsequential. Yet, we know that the Father places an inestimable worth on these lives we live and these bodies of dust we inhabit. His concern for our permanent welfare is such that His Son carried the cross of our shame ~ a burden we could never bear ~ and through His life, death, and resurrection, won for us eternal life.

Thanks again to the guys of True Men Ministries for their faith and friendship. This will be an adventure I will long remember.

Paul Schreiber
Senior Editor, United States Ministries
Lutheran Hour Ministries