theROCK

Transformation and Conversion

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Over my years in ministry, I have heard many different interpretations for why we take up practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent. I’ve heard that we take up these practices for the sake of suffering as Jesus suffered. Another common theme is that we do these practices as a form of penance for our sinfulness, or that we take on these practices as a kind of personal testing, as Jesus was tested in the wilderness, to see if our faith holds up. The list goes on.

While there is some element of truth in each of these interpretations, what they lack is that they often make the practices ends in themselves. We suffer for the sake of suffering, or undergo a test for the sole purpose of saying we did it.

But the Gospel for today shows us what we are truly aiming for: transfiguration, transformation. This passage from Mark is widely understood as a revelation of the true reality of the crucifixion—that what on the face of it looks to be gory destruction, is actually the glorification of Jesus Christ. So too, our Lenten practices are not meant to be just brutal sacrifices for the sake of brutal sacrifice; they are meant to be transformative. They are meant to bring about the glory of God through our own transfiguration. The goal of Lent is not suffering, it is conversion. We too are meant to be “dazzling white.”

So this Lent, may we keep this perspective as we strive and struggle to hold fast to our resolutions. May we remember the ultimate goal is conversion, and allow the Lord to use our successes and failures to lead us closer to Christ and make us more Christian, more Christ-like.

Seeing Scripture

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Have you ever taken time to sit with the Scriptures and contemplate what it would have been like to really be there, to hear it first hand? I had always tried to do that especially when unpacking Scripture with students. It helped in trying to connect with what Jesus was saying by trying to make it more real. I often tried to imagine what it would have looked like, sounded like, felt like to be in that moment.

This became more "fun" as I became older and had a better sense of what the world was like and what people were like in general. I tried to picture what Jesus would have physically been like based on people who live in the Middle East today. Now that I have been to the Holy Land, I have a better appreciation of the landscape of Israel and the challenges this presented in moving from one place to another. I see the Scripture in a whole new way.

Seeing Scripture in a whole new way has now challenged me a bit differently. Recently, I was meditating on the passage of John 21: 12-22, when Peter is depressed and sets out with two other disciples to fish in the Sea of Galilee post resurrection. They are having no luck. In the distance, they see a man on the shore. One of the men recognizes him as Jesus. Peter jumps into the water. He can't get to the shore fast enough. Jesus was preparing fish on an open fire. They sit to eat. Upon finishing eating, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him. For every time Peter responds, Jesus tells him to "feed my lambs", "take care of my sheep", and "feed my sheep".

In the past, this passage didn't affect me much. I knew that it was a conversation between Peter and Jesus whereby Jesus is essentially forgiving Peter for denying him. It is also a commissioning of Peter
as the head of the newly founded Church. Now having been there, and stood upon the rock where this conversation took place along the Sea of Galilee, I am forever changed. Our retreat leader charged those present to think of this passage as the resume for all Christian leaders, for it identifies what is needed to be a leader: Love the Lord greatly, Obedience to the will of the Father, and Focus on what God has given you to do. Truth be told that on the pilgrimage, I struggled to meet this rock. It sits alongside and under the Church of the Primacy of Peter. I couldn't go in. I cried at the doorpost. I imagined what it had to have been like for Peter, for
the two that were with him fishing that day and catching nothing, only to find yourself having breakfast with Jesus on the shore. These men were no longer fishermen, they were fishers of men. They were transformed by Jesus. I truly asked if I have been transformed by Jesus on that day on pilgrimage. Am I willing to go where He is
leading me? Am I ready to be accountable to it? Are you ready to be accountable to where God is leading you?

Painting Beauty with the Ashes

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Often, people will approach me regarding the history of their lives, sharing the mistakes they have made and wondering how God can love them in spite of their brokenness. It’s a question I am sure many of us hear from friends or relatives.

When I visited the Jesuit Retreat House on Lake Winnebago, one of the most inspiring images for me was a tree located near the lake. Years ago it was struck by lightning and the power of the blast hollowed out the tree. The tree is virtually hollow. Just the bark holds the upper part of the tree. The Jesuits were going to remove the tree, until they noticed that it still had life, and every spring it blooms again with new life and foliage.

It’s the same with our lives. God allows difficult or challenging events and experiences in our lives and yet, God is ultimately the One who gives us the strength to grow in the midst of the mess of our lives—using our brokenness to transform the world.

Jesus transformed water into the choicest wine during the wedding at Cana. This is an act of love and communion with humanity. Scripture also tells us of God’s faithful covenant with us; that He breaks into our brokenness and claims us for Himself. It is in that weakness and brokenness that we find our God-given mission in this world. 

What is broken in your past? What are your hurts and wounds that need healing? Believe that God has a very special mission for you at this moment in your life… and know that you belong to Him as His beloved. God beckons us not to focus on our brokenness but on His love, His divine life within us, and being open to use our life to help others. Casting Crowns has a song that I listen to daily, called "Just be Held" ~ “I'm painting beauty with the ashes, your life is in My hands.”

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