Lent Reflection: Resurrection power

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Once upon a time in a faraway season of life filled with children, homeschooling, church activities and Junior Camp I was involved in a small Bible study taught by a woman who was Titus 2:4 in the flesh. One day, in a more private conversation, she asked what I prayed for myself, what my spiritual goals were on a personal level, not as a wife or mother or Pioneer Club leader. I told her that there were verses from Philippians that had recently been my prayer: “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings…” She told me to be careful how I prayed.

Three months later, on Elisa’s fourth birthday, I received a cancer diagnosis that gave me a 50 percent chance of living to see her fifth birthday. Clearly that was an answer to my prayer as I needed to know Christ and trust Him in a way I had never trusted Him before. And in that He taught me and loved me, and invited me over and over to know Him more… not just know more about Him, but to know Him more deeply. Time and again in our lives, Jesus invites us to know Him intimately even as He knows us.

Psalm 51 in today’s readings reveals how deeply God knows us, and what the psalmist knows of God, the one who knows our sin and still loves us and saves us by His grace. This is how we first know Christ, as Savior. We know Him as our righteousness, our hope. But we cannot stop there. We need to press on in our walk day by day and know Him fully so that we may be transformed into His image. We need to learn to call Him by name through the ups and downs of life as we experience Him as our peace, as our provider, as our strength, our present Lord, our sanctifier. In knowing Him we can share in His resurrection power and share in the suffering that continually refines us and draws us into deeper relationship with Him.

How is it that we know Christ today? Do we know the fellowship of sharing in His suffering? Do we know Him as the Coming King? Do we know His victory? Or perhaps you once proclaimed Him the Christ, the Son of God, and now. like Peter, say, “I don’t know Him.” Do we know Him at camp and forget Him when we are home? Or are we pressing on in knowing Him, press on in understanding who He is, in trusting Him to always be who He says He is, and do what He says He will do? Jesus longs for us to know Him intimately and will faithfully teach us who He is as we give ourselves to Him and seek to know Him even as we are known.

Lent Reflection: Love in the midst of risk

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Mark 5:1-20

When I read this passage from Mark’s gospel, there are so many things that strike me as peculiar about the shape of the narrative. What is Jesus doing in a place where a demon-possessed cemetery dweller can be among the welcoming party? For a Jewish rabbi, he was really too close to a herd of swine, as well. The location is not that easy to identify, either.

About 50 years ago, a theologian at United Seminary in New York named Richard Niebuhr (Wikipedia him) tried to advocate for the position that Christ should transform culture. This was preferred to the alternatives for the church. Should the church become a separatist group and preserve its own space and ignore the surrounding culture? Should the church (the body of the living Christ) succumb to the culture and condone the messages, even when those messages seem to be at odds with the mission? Should the risen Christ simply conquer the cultural milieu and institute its own values from the top down? Niehbur suggests that the risen Christ should transform culture from the inside out. Like Jesus in Mark 5, though, there are some rather significant risks.

Churches, parachurch organizations, really big Christian bookstores, and even some pretty flashy websites can run the risk of either avoiding the culture altogether (don’t get mixed up in all of it) or they can attempt to do everything that the surrounding culture is doing, with a slightly different, baptized message. (I recently saw an ad for a dvd exercise program that looks a whole lot like P90X with a gospel twist. I will let the reader decide…)

As we have seen from Egypt, Libya (trying, anyway), and the surrounding nations, genuine transformation only comes from within. Transformation that is forced is already moving toward its own undoing.

In Mark 5, Jesus demonstrates a risky redemption. Jesus doesn’t avoid the graveyard. He does not try to avoid the scandal that graveyards and nearby swine herds might bring up. Jesus doesn’t insulate himself from the potential mess. Instead, he sees a person that was sacred to God and decides to work right in the midst of the risky context, not along its periphery.

The scandal of the cemetery scene is a precursor to the scandal of the cross. Jesus enacts a radically different kind of program than say the Pharisees or the Zealots of his day. He doesn’t withdraw from the scene. He doesn’t heap guilt on everyone who isn’t with him already. He walks through the cemetery and provides something quite different from what cemeteries usually offer: life.

There is a tension in the Bible that remains unresolved, it seems to me. In the Old Testament and in some places in Paul and in the gospels there is a distinct “come out from among them” motif that motivates Christians to separate from anything that seems irredeemable or at odds with a Christian ethos. Shun the cultural messages and messengers who seem to be taking you in the wrong direction. On the other hand, in some places in the New Testament, certainly in Jesus’ teaching, and in Paul, believers are encouraged to move past the boundary lines and make a difference. “Go and plunder Egypt,” God instructs Moses. Jesus, meanwhile, is at a dinner party with unmentionables. Paul looks to include Gentiles.

This Lenten season, I wonder if we can make a difference in the world through our love in the midst of risk? Are we able to preserve our witness while also being open to different expressions of culture and messages that seem out of step with our own? Genuine engagement with the culture will make a genuine transformation possible. Holiness, like transformation, comes from the inside out.

Take courage. Right where you are; the Jesus in you can make a difference. It will not come from judgmentalism or avoidance. It will come as we are open to where the Lord deploys us as we love like He loves us.

Lent Reflection: The Good News of Easter

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Anyone who has ever walked in sandals knows how dirty your feet can get. This is especially true if you live in Africa or attend Delanco Camp. During the “Passion Week” (the week before Easter) Jesus & the disciples would have traveled very far to be in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Feast & no doubt would have had filthy feet.

John 13:3 says, “the Father has put all things under my power.” Jesus follows this statement by washing the disciples dirty, smelly feet. Why does Jesus do this if He has all the power in the universe, literally?

I think the answer is wrapped up in the deeper meaning of Easter. You see, for most of us Easter is only about Jesus having the power to rise from the dead. Dr. Dennis Kinlaw said this about Easter, “I’m glad Jesus has the power to rise from the dead, but I’m so glad there is something deep in the heart of God where He wants me to be with Him, so that He can be with me.”

This is the Good News of Easter. Jesus demonstrates what life in God looks like, a life of self-sacrificing love. He loves humanity enough to die on a cross, conquer death & even wash dirty feet. Whose life are you living for this Easter season?

John Rinehimer is a former camper and staff member at camp who has served as a missionary, speaker and worship team member out at camp. He lives in Louisville, Ky., with his wife, Erica, and son, Jackson, and works at Southeast Christian Church.