Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Tag: romans

On Dying with Jesus

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”Philippians 3

It’s not exactly good advertising: COME DIE WITH JESUS!  That’s one reason people aren’t flocking into the Church these days.  We’re currently interested as a culture in mastering death; have you seen the trailer for Johnny Depp’s new movie?  It comes out April 17–just in time for Easter.  Who needs resurrection when you have Transcendence [link]?  My biggest fear about this movie is that it doesn’t seem too far fetched that we could some day map the electronic patterns of the brain, digitize it and have a consciousnesses that could live forever.  I pray that it is impossible, but I am not confident it is.

But this coming week at Circle of Hope and at many churches around the world is all about death, more specifically, Jesus’ death.  Let’s not reduce it to storytelling though.  Holy Week, the week we remember Jesus’ last days before his death, is not just about Jesus’ death, it’s about ours too.

At the beginning of Lent many of us marked ourselves with ashes under the evocation “Remember you are from dust and to dust you shall return.”  We’ve spent weeks remembering our frailty, recognizing our need, and longing for the Resurrection.  Lent is about finding the parts of us that need to die.  It’s a quarantine from business as usual designed to give us some perspective on ourselves and our condition.  We fast to create some artificial suffering that could help us “participate in his sufferings” as Paul writes in Philippians.  The fasting also reminds us of what we are doing.  It gives us small opportunities to turn to God in our need.

The practical “lynchpin” of Christian theology is that we are freed from caring if we die.  Eternity is an everyday necessity for those who follow Jesus.  Hopefully (and probably) we won’t all become martyrs but it is the fear of death, the most basic human fear, that leads to any number of theological and practical concessions.  When Paul says in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” he does not mean that God will eliminate all who come against us, he means that our ultimate safety is secure.  We are called to lean into this ultimate security in order to avoid making personal and familial security paramount.  This conviction is the only way we can obey Jesus’ teachings on enemy love and peace making, but it is also pretty important in following Jesus in his special concern for the poor and not worrying about tomorrow, clothes and food.

We are saved from fear by Jesus’ promise of abundant and eternal life.  Personally, I have further uncovered the truth  that my basic human fear of death is integrally linked with my understanding of my own limitations and frailty.  To trust Jesus unto death allows me to trust him unto moments where I need to die to myself and the myths I make for myself about my own capacity.  This is taking up my cross and dying daily.  This is dying with Jesus.

Retreat!

In battle, retreat is not defeat.  It is a recognition that the enemy has an advantage in that moment that is too costly to overcome.  In our mission it is important to recognize that the enemy often has an advantage in our battle, in our own weakness and little faith.  So a tactical retreat needs to be a rhythmic part of our  “battle plan” so to speak.

bike shadow selfie

Bike Shadow Selfie

Last weekend I charged up the hill at Neumann University on my bike to get the keys to my peace hermitage. (I like these dichotomous metaphors I’ve got going here)  I was feeling a great need to retreat from the front lines and be encouraged by some concentrated time alone with God.  I needed more stuff from God to do the big things that I am feeling called to do.  I didn’t have much of an agenda but a fall back to quiet, nature and bible reading.  I didn’t have any great revelations but I did rest greatly and I did sense God’s presence and love.

I read the book of Romans and God rescued it from the corner of my mind consumed in debate and rebellion against popular modernist doctrines prevalent in much of the mainline protestantism in which I was schooled.  So many points of doctrine have been pulled from this letter!  I didn’t want to dwell on the points (though they are good to think through).  I found the relentless love of God setting us free from the law of sin and death, including the laws that the Christian point makers have been making since the era of modern biblical scholarship.  I memorized some verses and put them on repeat in my mind.

aston nature

The view from my peace hermitage at the Franciscan Spirituality Center

Romans 8:38-39 “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor any other thing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  I needed a retreat because the things we face seem capable at times of separating me from that love.  Be it in my own psychology–my fear of rejection and my need to be liked, or in my relationships with others–conflicts that are hard to navigate and partners who are, like me, recovering from the sin addiction, or in the overwhelming power of our cultural gods–consumerism, scientific rationalism, egocentrism and racism to name a few.  None of these things, nor any other thing that I am not mentioning or have even encountered yet will separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Retreat is a tactic in being the indefatigable missionary I need to be to break through to a resistant culture.  There are many things that stand against us.  The enemy is indeed strong but our base of operations, our stronghold is a person whose promise is true.  I was really grateful to my wife especially that she let me make this time so that I could be deployed anew with fresh legs and stronger heart.