Calling Fire from Heaven

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By Linda Rex

June 26, 2022, PROPER 8—As I was preparing to write this blog, I began to hear a noise outside my window. The fury of a thunderstorm was being unleashed, dropping heavy raindrops and tiny pellets of hail on the concrete. The thunder growling from the sky caused the cat napping nearby to raise her head and stare at the sheets of rain flying sideways by my window.

This was a timely event because I had just been reading the gospel account in Luke 9:51–62 where Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, was passing through Samaria. He had sent some disciples ahead of him to prepare a place for them to stay, but they were rejected by the people in that city. James and John, attempting to be helpful, were indignant and asked Jesus if he wanted them to call down fire from heaven and consume the errant ones. It’s understandable where James and John got their nickname “Sons of Thunder”!

Jesus’ response to their request isn’t in the earliest manuscripts, but it coincides with the apostle Paul’s message in our New Testament reading for this Sunday, Galatians 5:1, 13–25. Paul contrasted the works of our flesh—things like outbursts of anger, strife, dissensions, and factions, with the things of the Spirit—things like kindness, peace, patience, and self-control. The apostle reminded his readers that we live by the Spirit—our true life is in Christ by the Spirit, but we are meant to walk by the Spirit—our daily existence is meant to be walked out moment by moment in every situation in the Spirit, not in our flesh.

Our automatic human response to things like rejection, abuse, or disrespect may resemble that of John and James—we may ignite with passionate fury, seeking the harm of the responsible party. But Jesus’ response is different. Here, he just moved on to another town, recognizing that he could not do the job which he had been given by his Father in that particular town. And he began to talk with his followers about the cost of discipleship.

In the gospel passage for today, Luke described three separate responses to Jesus’ call to follow him. The first person gave an emphatic commitment to Jesus, that he would follow the Messiah wherever he went. But Jesus pointed out that, unlike the foxes and birds, the Messiah didn’t have a place to stay at night. His disciples had requested a place to stay but had been rejected—would this person be willing to accept such rejection and continue to follow Jesus, especially if it meant doing without the basics of life?

Bring this forward to today: As the cost of filling our gas tanks here in America begins to double or triple and the prices of our groceries skyrocket, we are faced anew with the question, will we trust God to care and provide for us? Will we continue to follow Christ when it seems that he isn’t going to make our life easier or more comfortable? What price are we willing to pay in order to follow Christ?

The second person who was asked by Jesus to follow him requested that Jesus allow him to bury his father before he did so. Though Jesus would not want us to harm or neglect our families, the reality is that we often make elaborate excuses for not simply obeying Jesus’ command to follow him. We find reasons that we cannot do as he asks, and we excuse ourselves by reasonable arguments as to why we should be able to continue on our way, unhampered by Jesus’ calling upon our lives.

In essence, Christ was saying to the man, “Let the spiritually dead take care of the physically dead. You go and proclaim the good news. That is the more urgent task.” We can care for and love our families, and still share the good news with the world while we are doing it. Jesus was reminding his disciples that there is an all-encompassing priority about the gospel. As he said elsewhere, seek his kingdom first, and all those things we’re concerned about will be provided.

The third person Luke described in this passage asked if he could first say goodbye to his family before he followed Christ. The disciples would have remembered that Elisha had asked Elijah this very thing when he was asked to follow the prophet, and Elijah had permitted it. But Jesus was describing an even more radical commitment to himself, one in which all took second place, including the customary expectations of society and family.

Jesus told this person that someone who begins to plow needs to keep looking forward, and not look back. Today most people in our nation plow using large equipment. Back then though, there was a single plow, possibly pulled by animals. Unless the person guiding the plow kept their eyes on where they were going, they would not create a straight row, thus ruining the possibilities of a good harvest. If they turned to look back from where they came, the row would end up horribly crooked and their efforts would be fruitless—a good picture of what happens when we take our eyes off of Jesus.

Keeping our eyes on Jesus in many ways is like walking by the Spirit and not by our flesh. The spiritual reality is that true life has come in the sending of the fire of the Spirit. The Spirit’s indwelling is the life the Christ in us, bringing us into fellowship with the Father. We live our lives in moment-by-moment dependency upon and in relationship with God by the Spirit. We follow the lead of the Spirit and in doing so, we follow Christ. We listen to and heed the living Word of God, Jesus, as we, by the Spirit, drink in of the written Word, allowing God to speak deep into our souls, moving us to obey.

We don’t turn back to gaze upon the spiritual death we once were living in, but keep our eyes focused forward on the living Word Jesus. He has set us free—so we live free, abandoning our past associations, plans, and deeds, and we embrace the new life he has given us by the Spirit. Jesus has moved us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. We have no desire to go back to our slavery to evil, sin, and death. So we keep our eyes on him, our mind and heart fixed upon his, trusting him to finish what he has begun in us, no matter the cost to ourselves.

This is a challenging passage for us today. Our world is changing. Times for many are getting more and more difficult. It is a struggle for some to simply find something to eat or a place to live. The good news is we are not doing any of this on our own. We have a Savior who dwells in us and with us, who knows what it means to be homeless and hungry, to be despised and rejected, and yet be held in the midst of the Father’s love. In the midst of the fury of the evil one’s efforts to kill, steal, and destroy, he holds us in his care and will lead us safely home. As we follow him in faith, he will finish what he has begun in our lives. Praise God!

Heavenly Father, as things get harder and harder for us, continue to keep us in your tender loving care. Thank you, Jesus, for understanding us so well and for holding us steadfastly in the Father’s arms. Grant us the grace by your Spirit to pay the cost of discipleship you ask of us, faithfully enduring to the end. Amen.

“When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem; and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him. But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But He turned and rebuked them, …. And they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, ‘I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’ And He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’ But He said to him, ‘Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.’ Another also said, ‘I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’ ”     Luke 9:51–62 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/06/calling-fire-from-heaven.pdf ]

Stop Living in the Tombs

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by Linda Rex

By Linda Rex

June 19, 2022, PROPER 7—I remember years ago receiving a phone call from a nurse who had helped in the delivery of my child. She lived down the road, and had seen me out walking, along with my newborn child in a stroller. She had called to tell me that my doctor wanted to see me.

The reason she had called was a good one. She was concerned that my postpartum depression had turned into clinical depression, and she wanted me to get the help I needed. What I had not known back then was that my mother had struggled with this same difficulty, and this was a genetic predisposition that could be passed down from one generation to the next.

I am, in a way, thankful that the recent pandemic has brought to the attention of many the importance of good mental health. Within churches, there has been a tendency to shun any discussion of mental health issues, or to lump them all under the heading of Satan’s work or demonic affliction. In my birth family, we discovered the painful consequences of being ignorant with regards to mental health issues—it’s important to be honest and upfront about our human brokenness and frailty, and to get the appropriate help when we need it.

If we look at the scriptures, we can see that struggles with depression and mental health related issues are addressed in the same way as many other of the struggles we have as human beings. Take, for example, the story of Elijah the prophet. Just after he had experienced a major triumph against the pagan prophets championed by Queen Jezebel and King Ahab, Elijah was threatened with the loss of his life. He ran to hide, ending up in a lonely place in the wilderness. There, he simply asked God to take his life. He didn’t feel he had anything else to offer—he was all alone and broken in soul, and done with the battle he had been fighting.

What is interesting about that story is that God didn’t magically take his depression away. Rather, he met him in the midst of it. He didn’t meet him in the great wind, nor in the tremendous earthquake, nor did he meet him in the massive fire. The way God engaged Elijah was through his still, small voice—meeting him right where he was and asking, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Then, having been present with him in the midst of his despair and distress, God gave him a new purpose, and sent him out with a firm, “Go, return on your way… (1 Kings 19:1–15a).”

I was reading Psalm 42 and 43 which are readings for this Sunday, and was reminded of how helpful the psalms were when I was in my darkest days. The writers of the psalms (or songs) captured many powerful emotions and our common human response to crises, tragedies, and affliction. Pondering these poetic expressions of the inner soul, allowing them to resonate with what is going on within our own soul, and even using them as prayers, can awaken us to the reality that God understands our difficulties and is present with us in the midst of them.

Listen to what the “sons of Korah” wrote in this excerpt:

“As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him? Day and night I have only tears for food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, ‘Where is this God of yours?’ My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be: … But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life. … Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me. Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live. There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God! Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!” (Psalm 42:1-3, 8; 43:3-5 NLT)

If you read the entirety of these two psalms together, you will see that the psalmist is wrestling with deep, passionate feelings of isolation and discouragement. He rightly interprets this longing of his soul as a need for God’s presence in his circumstances. He needs to know he is not going through this all by himself. He needs to have some glimmer of hope in the midst of the darkness.

In verse 3 of Psalm 43, the cry of the psalmist is, “Send out your light and your truth.” There, right there, is where we see a glimmer of the answer to our struggles with depression, despair and discouragement. God did send out his light and his truth. We find in the person of Jesus Christ himself, the One who is the Light and the Truth, what we are longing for. We find that God himself has taken on our human flesh, to live our life and die our death, to experience the worst that humans could inflict upon him, even to the point of suffering and death. He knows the pain of losing people dear to him. He knows the grief of being rejected, insulted, and falsely accused. And he knows what it is like to be betrayed and abandoned by his friends.

What God did was to enter into the midst of our human experience and bear it all upon himself. He went all the way into death itself, to bring our human flesh up into the presence of God, to be there in Christ forever. He sent the Spirit from the Father so that our human flesh becomes the temple of God’s presence, the place where we are able to worship him in Spirit and in truth. That means, in the midst of our darkest inner gloom, God’s Light is present and available. When it seems we have no hope, our heavenly Hope is present and able to lift us once more into a new place. We can seek the Lord, and when it feels as though our prayers never penetrate the ceiling, we may suddenly discover he has been right with us the whole time.

Jesus knows what it feels like when it seems we are all alone in the dark night of our soul, wandering about the tombs of our dreams. He knows what it feels like to barely be able to take another step. He knows the agony of one more moment of painful life. On the cross, he drove out the Satanic spirits of despair, desolation, and despondency—let them go. He clothed us with his righteousness—put it on. And he offers to you and to me his endurance, his forbearance, his hope, and his peace. He holds us and is faithful to us even when we are ready to give up.

Yes, there are times when we need to ask others for help. If we need to take medication to balance out our body chemistry, then we need to take it faithfully and consistently. If we need to talk with a therapist, then we need to have those conversations. But in every case, we always have Christ present in us and with us by the Spirit, giving us hope and strength. He will not abandon us, no matter how much in the moment it may feel like he has. Choose to ignore the lies that tell us God doesn’t love us or that he has abandoned us. Choose, by God’s grace, to believe Christ is still there, beneath all that mess, holding us steadfastly by the Spirit in the Father’s embrace. Let Jesus be who he is—the Light and the Truth at the bottom of the deep well of our darkness.

Thank you, Father, for never abandoning us or leaving us alone in our dark places, but coming to be with us and in us by your Spirit. Thank you, Jesus, for being the Light and the Truth who holds us safely in the Father’s embrace, filling us with the hope to go on. Grant us the grace to take one more step, to find the strength for one more day, even if that is all we can manage right now, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from him; but when he cried to Him for help, He heard.”     Psalm 22:24 NASB

“So they arrived in the region of the Gerasenes, across the lake from Galilee. As Jesus was climbing out of the boat, a man who was possessed by demons came out to meet him. For a long time he had been homeless and naked, living in the tombs outside the town. … A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, and they saw the man who had been freed from the demons. He was sitting at Jesus’ feet, fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid. … The man who had been freed from the demons begged to go with him. But Jesus sent him home, saying, ‘No, go back to your family, and tell them everything God has done for you.’ So he went all through the town proclaiming the great things Jesus had done for him.”     Luke 8:26–27, 35b, 37–39 NLT

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/06/stop-living-in-the-tombs.pdf ]

Receiving the Things of Jesus

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By Linda Rex

June 12, 2022, HOLY TRINITY—Last week we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus from the Father, following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. During our journey through the days on the Christian calendar, we have come to see the love of the Father expressed to all humanity as the Word of God, the Son of the Father, took on our humanity in the incarnation, lived our life, died our death and rose again, bringing all humanity in his glorified human flesh into the presence of the Father.

There at the Father’s side Jesus reigns supreme, and death, evil, and sin have lost their power over us. We are free now, in Christ, to love God and man, to be who God designed us to be as image-bearers of the divine One who is Father, Son, and Spirit, living as unique but equal persons in unity and perichoretic love. We celebrate the ascension and the coming of the Spirit, for now we find ourselves included in the midst of the intimate union and communion of the Father and the Son in the Spirit—included by faith in God’s very life and love.

During the season following Pentecost, we begin to look at what it means that Christ and the Father are present now in human flesh in the Person and presence of the Holy Spirit. What does it mean that God dwells with man even now in and through the Spirit? What difference does this make in our lives?

For many of my younger years, I believed that God was made up of the Father and the Son but that the Spirit was merely their power and essence, that he was not a personal being. I had missed all the scriptural references that quite clearly showed that the Spirit was a Person—the other Helper like Jesus—who made decisions, who gave gifts, who spoke and who listened. The biblical evidence was that what the disciples experienced and what Jesus taught about the Spirit, indicated that the Spirit was of the same essence as the Father and the Son, and was equal with them and yet uniquely related to them in that the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father.

The unique role that the Spirit plays in our lives is to take what is Jesus’ and to reveal it to us. Jesus forged within us the capacity to be temples of the living God—the dwelling place of God himself by the Spirit. What we find in the coming of the Spirit is that we can, by faith, participate in all that Christ did for us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. His life as the beloved Son of the Father becomes our very own as we by faith are adopted as the Father’s beloved children. The perfected humanity of Christ becomes our very own as we trust in Christ’s finished work. What we discover when we turn away from ourselves and turn to Christ in faith is that God himself dwells in us.

The beginning of the human story was in God’s heart, as he determined to share life with his creatures in a unique and special way. We, as human beings, were designed from the beginning to reflect the nature of God and were given the capacity to make choices and to reject or accept God and his love. Our true way of being is to live in loving relationship with God and others. But we human beings have so often chosen instead to turn away from God and to determine for ourselves what is right and what is wrong, and to try to run this universe in a way which so often ends in death.

God knew, though, before he ever created us our capacity to reject him and to choose the ways of death. And he planned even then to come himself and do whatever it took to bring us home to himself. And so, we see that even before he created us, God had planned through the coming of his Son to include every human being in his life and to give them his Spirit so that they could live in union and communion with him forever.

Whatever we do as human beings, we need to realize that the truth of our being is found in the person of Jesus Christ and is present within us by the Holy Spirit. God wants us to awaken to the reality of what Christ has done in offering himself freely in his life, death and resurrection—by the Spirit we participate in his loving relationship with his Father. All of our life then becomes an expression of that loving relationship—we begin by the Spirit to reflect the qualities of Christ and begin to look like our loving heavenly Father, as we trust in Christ.

The Spirit is, as Jesus said, another Helper just like himself. When you see the Spirit, you see Jesus. When you see Jesus, you see the Father. The oneness of the Triune God is evident in their relationship with you through Jesus in the Spirit. How amazing it is that we each now live swept up into the life of the Triune God! But it is by faith in Jesus that we participate in and experience this reality. It is the Spirit who makes our experience of Christ’s intimate relationship with the Father and with us, real.

The Holy Spirit in you and me speaks to us the words of Jesus. Jesus said while on earth that he spoke only what he heard the Father say. This is why the apostle Paul said that when we walk in the Spirit, we won’t walk in our flesh. If Jesus is the truth of our being, then we want to walk in him, right? So, we follow the lead of the Spirit, who speaks to our hearts the truth about who Jesus is and how Jesus lives, and we won’t live in a way that is contrary to the truth of who we are in Christ.

The Spirit in us gives us guidance. When we read the Scriptures and ask for God’s inspiration and guidance, the Spirit enables us to discern the truth about Jesus and about ourselves. When we listen to inspired speakers who preach the Word of God in accordance with the truth, the Spirit enables us to understand it and moves us to live in obedience.

The Spirit places within us Jesus’ own heart and mind, and we discover we don’t want to do the wrong thing, but desire to do what is right in the Father’s sight. We find when temptation is strong and we turn to Jesus, that we are able to resist the temptation and make the God-honoring choice because Jesus’ choice is given to us by the Spirit. And when we don’t do what is loving and we experience the guilt that comes with failure to be true to who we are as image-bearers of God, the Spirit reminds us of the grace of God, enabling us to see that God knows all things and he does not condemn us—he forgives us.

On this Holy Trinity Sunday, we pause to ponder, in awe and wonder and gratitude, our amazing God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit, and who has included each of us in his life and love. How blessed we are, that we are never alone, but are always and ever held in God’s love, cared for and cherished, now and forever, as God’s beloved adopted children, in Jesus by the Spirit.

Heavenly Father, thank you for making us your very own, beloved and cherished, and for including us in your life. Thank you for the gift of your Spirit, who enables us to know you and live in relationship with you, all through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.”     John 16:12–15 NASB

[Printable copy of this blog https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/06/receiving-the-things-of-jesus.pdf ]

One People, One Language

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By Linda Rex

June 5, 2022, PENTECOST—There have been so many changes in our world these past few years. The technological advancements are getting to be overwhelming at times—it’s hard to keep up with them all. Many of these, though, came about through the cooperative efforts of gifted and talented people coming together for a common purpose.

It seems that many of us do not realize the capacity we have as human beings to accomplish goals, develop strategies and create new things. As image-bearers of the divine Creator and Sustainer of all things, we have been given a great ability and potential that is meant to benefit our world and those who live on it. This capacity is enhanced and empowered when we come together, each bringing his or her own unique contribution to the whole, and as a single body begin to address a common purpose.

This is something God knew about us from the very beginning. After all, he created us to be a reflection of his very nature as the God who lives in perichoretic love—three distinct, uniquely related equal Persons in one Being. Out of that union and communion was birthed our cosmos and everything in it. As the humans God created began to multiply on this earth, they came together to build a great civilization and a massive structure that would showcase their greatness. At that time God said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them (Genesis 11:6 NASB).’ ” 

We find that humans from that point on were given by God the challenge of multiplicity of languages, making it difficult to communicate with one another. They developed into separate countries, ethnicities and races, and ultimately, division and conflict were more common than union and communion. It has been the development in recent years of common languages and powerful communication tools that has begun to make it possible for greater collaboration and bringing together of different people from around the world to solve problems.

Apart from some effort to work together, much lies undone or incomplete. And without the natural checks that come from all sides coming together in unity, so often what is created ends up being used for the wrong reasons or for selfish and evil ends. Or people who seek unity fall into the ditch of uniformity and end up creating unhealthy or dangerous situations that are destructive, with coercive insistence upon everything being done one particular way.

It is our broken way of doing things that gets us into trouble all the time. What happens when we do things our way, insist on our own path apart from God, is evident by the conflict, war, and other destructive experiences that can be seen in every area of our lives. This is why God, knowing even before he created us our capacity to end up this way, did what was needed for our healing and renewal.

The way God did this was by his Son taking on our human flesh in Jesus Christ, living a genuinely human life, dying unjustly at the hands of those he came to save, and then bringing our restored and glorified humanity up in his resurrection and ascension to be in the presence of the Father. He sent the Holy Spirit from the Father so that by faith each of us individually could now participate Christ’s perfected humanity and begin to live within the intimate relationship the Son of God has with the Father in the Spirit. We can, by the Spirit, live in union and communion with our God now and forever as his adopted children.

The Spirit now given to all, is ever working to create union and communion—to draw people together into loving unity to fulfill God’s purposes on this earth. We find the Spirit at work in many places, tearing down walls that would otherwise exist between people, healing relationships that would otherwise be estranged, and bringing harmony between people who would otherwise be at odds.

We find the Spirit, since that first Pentecost, has been at work, within Christ’s Church and elsewhere, to bring people together to accomplish amazing feats of kindness, charity, healing, restoration, and renewal. He brings people together, not just to be churches, but to be those who care for the orphans, for the sick, and for those in prison. We find people caring for the safety and protection of citizens and countries. We find people working together to find cures for illnesses and solutions for caring more tenderly for the world on which we live. We find people gathering together to create things of beauty, that bring joy, peace, and encouragement to others.

Jesus told his followers, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with [meta] you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with [or by; para] you and will be in [en] you (John 14:16-17 NASB).” The way in which we are able to live and work together in unity and oneness is simply by the presence of God through Christ in the Spirit, who is with us, by us, and in us. Vincent puts it this way: “With you (μετά), in fellowship; by you (παρά), in His personal presence; in you (ἐν), as an indwelling personal energy, at the springs of the life (Vincent, Marvin, Word Studies in the New Testament).” Through Christ, God’s indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit brings us into personal relationship with our Creator in such a way that we are joined in union and communion with one another.

Thinking this through then specifically in terms of the body of Christ, the Church, we have been brought together in the Spirit to share the good news of God’s love expressed to us in Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension and in the giving of the Spirit. We do this, not on our own initiative, but on the instructions of Jesus Christ. He is the head of the body, and the head tells the body what to do. So, the body of Christ, the Church, acts on the initiative of its head, Jesus, and does as he instructs her.

There are many things Jesus calls us to do. We are each uniquely gifted and uniquely called. We are created with different personalities and natures. But we are brought together, like all the unique parts of a human body, in order to work together to do a common purpose—the will of God—sharing the good news.

Just as Jesus never did anything on his own initiative—he did what he saw the Father doing and said what the Father told him to say. In the same way, we don’t do anything on our own initiative—we do what we see Jesus doing and say what he tells us to say. This can be very challenging for us. We often busily find projects we’re going to do for Jesus or people we’re going to save and never once consider that maybe that is not what Jesus wants us to be doing. He may have a different priority at the moment.

Just as Jesus lived all of his human existence while on earth in union and communion with his Father in the Spirit, we are individually called, no matter who we are, to live our human existence in union and communion with the Father through Jesus in the Spirit. What we see Jesus doing we by the Spirit participate in, using those gifts and abilities and personalities which are uniquely our own. Together, by the Spirit, we become a more effective whole in service to Christ, and in obedience to his will and purposes, we accomplish amazing and wonderful things in this world. These amazing and wonderful things are a work of the Spirit in and through us, and they glorify our heavenly Father and his Son Jesus.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the marvelous and wonderful way in which you have created us and designed us to live and work together in union and communion with you. Grant us the grace to act only on Jesus’ initiative and to only say and do what he directs, by your Holy Spirit, for his name’s sake. Amen.

“Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”     John 14:8–17 (25–27) NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/05/one-people-one-language.pdf ]

Why Look at the Sky?

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By Linda Rex

May 29, 2022, ASCENSION Sunday—The past few years I have been slowly working toward a divinity degree. Last week I started a new course with Grace Communion Seminary called Church Planting and Development. As I was writing a reflection paper last night, it occurred to me that the timing of this class fits right in with where we are on the Christian calendar.

Indeed, this Sunday we are celebrating Jesus Christ’s ascension, a significant event in God’s story. Here we focus on the spiritual reality of the fulfillment of an essential part of Jesus’ mission here on earth, him having been sent by the Father to bring all humanity home to eternal fellowship with the Triune God. It was necessary for Jesus to live, die and rise again as God in human flesh in order for all of us to be included in his own intimate relationship with the Father in the Spirit. It is in Jesus’ ascension that the mission of God to restore our relationship moves into the realm of the Spirit, who is sent so that each of us individually can participate by faith in what Christ has done.

Luke’s gospel version of the ascension event, Luke 24:44–53, gives the impression that it all happened on the same day as the resurrection. However, when he describes the event in Acts 1:1–11, we see that all these things happened over a period of forty days following the resurrection. The disciples and others were given many opportunities to experience firsthand the risen Lord, to talk and eat with him, and to hear him expound the Old Testament scriptures which spoke of his coming and his mission. At the end of this time, he blessed his followers and ascended to his Father’s side.

In Acts 1, Christ’s followers stood there for a while after being blessed, looking up into the sky. This makes me ask: I wonder how long they stood there before the angels spoke to them, saying, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky?” I can imagine Jesus, having already made the transition into glory, saw them standing there still trying to see him and he finally said to the angels nearby, “I think you’re going to have to tell them to quit looking for me and get busy.”

But this does speak to what we as the body of Christ have often done when it comes to the whole idea of the ascension. It’s as though we believe Jesus is done with his project, has gone home, and we just have to wait until he comes back. Faith in Christ and salvation become all about us being good people who live good lives until Jesus returns in glory. And we miss the point of it all—God bringing all of humanity back into relationship with himself through Christ in the Spirit.

What had Jesus told the disciples to do? He had told them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the promised Holy Spirit. Then they were to go and make disciples, baptize them, teach them, and include them in Christ’s mission to the world. Jesus came as God in human flesh to draw all of humanity up into right relationship with God in the Spirit. He’s still on that mission. Having been sent by the Father, he has returned home and sent the Spirit to continue his efforts. We, as the body of Christ, are set apart to participate in that mission of reaching out to all the world, sharing the good news and making disciples or new followers of Christ. Our unity and our love in the body of Christ, the church, are meant to testify to the presence of the kingdom of God here on earth by the Spirit, a kingdom in which all people are welcome to participate.

Even at the end of John’s apocalypse, he points out the reality of the body of Christ, his bride, being on mission with Jesus. He writes, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ Let anyone who hears this say, ‘Come.’ Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life (Rev. 22:17 NASB).” Our role is to join with Jesus in the Spirit to say to the world around us, “Come.” Anyone who is thirsty is welcome to come. The water of life is available to everyone now in Christ, so every is able to drink if they so wish. And the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the church, is called by God in participation with Jesus by the Spirit to freely offer that water of life to all.

And, if this seems to be an intimidating prospect, consider the indicatives which went with Jesus’ command to preach the good news and to make disciples. First of all, as we read in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus has ascended to his Father’s side and has received all authority and power and glory in his exaltation as the risen Lamb of God (Ephesians 1:15–23). Secondly, he has promised to be with us until the end. And thirdly, he has sent the Spirit, the One who empowers us to do the ministry and mission Jesus has called us to. God is doing the heavy lifting—we just get to join in with what he is doing through Jesus in the Spirit.

As Luke explains, our mission to the world begins where we are, and moves in ever-widening spheres of influence as we respond in faith to the voice of the Spirit and move out, sharing the good news of God’s love expressed to all of us in Jesus Christ. What is your current sphere of influence? Are there people God has placed in your life that you have conversations with and do everyday activities with? These are opportunities for the gospel. And sharing the good news is what Jesus has called us to participate with him in doing.

When I think about how far God has brought me in this journey of faith, I see that we have traveled a longways together. But I also see that I have only begun to really understand what it means to live on mission with Jesus, and to be a genuine follower of Christ. It is so easy to be distracted with the concerns of everyday life. And so easy, too, to place my focus on how well I am doing in my own relationship with God, rather than on remembering that others need to hear the good news too, and need to experience the joy, unity, and love of the body of Christ for themselves. Oh, for the heart of Jesus for others!

May we remember today, and every day, to pray for the people in our lives, to ask Jesus for opportunities to share the good news, and for the courage and faith to do so. May we quit looking up at the sky and be busy doing what Jesus has called us to do—to move out on mission with him, sharing the good news of all God has done for us in sending his Son and his Spirit for our salvation.

Heavenly Father, thank you for all you have done in sending your Son and your Spirit for our salvation, for drawing us up into life with you now and forever. Grant us the grace to move outside of ourselves into genuine relationship with the people around us, and give us the inspiration, courage, and wisdom to share with them all you have given to us through Jesus and in the Spirit. Amen.

“The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.’ And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.’ ”     Acts 1:1–11 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/05/why-look-at-the-sky.pdf ]

Living Sent While Abiding

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By Linda Rex

May 22, 2022, 6th Sunday in EASTER—Many of those who know my husband Ray and I recall that recently we experienced God asking us if we would “go.” We both affirmed that we would go wherever God intended to send us, but we are still listening for God’s direction as to a specific location. While we are abiding here in the Nashville area currently, we are also living in the reality that we are “sent” by God to participate in his mission in this world.

The reality that each of us as followers of Jesus Christ is called to “go” is hard to reconcile sometimes with the need to continue to live our day to day lives. The “go” Jesus gave every one of us is found in what is often called the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19–20 NASB).

Notice the double reality of that instruction from Jesus: 1) He told the disciples to go and make disciples of all the nations, and that 2) he had been given all authority in heaven and on earth and would be with them even to the end of the age. Jesus never asks us to do something without equipping us for the task and promising to be with us in the midst of it, empowering us to do it.

Think about the story of Moses, meeting God for the first time at the burning bush. God sent him back to Egypt to deliver his people, but he also instructed him about who he was (the I Am), and equipped him with signs to show God was with him, and he promised to be present in the midst of all that happened. But in order for the people of ancient Israel to be freed, Moses had to take the steps of obedience God had given him, trusting God would be with him and would do what was needed in each moment. It was a walk of faith.

If you look at the story in John 5:1–9, which is the partner gospel passage for this Sunday, you will find Jesus entered the pool at Siloam where a multitude of sick, diseased and lame people lay. He walked up to a man who had laid there paralyzed for thirty-eight years and asked him if he wanted to be well. Why would he ask him such a question? Possibly, this man needed to decide whether or not he really wanted to be well or if he wanted to continue in his hopeless, pathetic state. To want to be well required that he act upon what Jesus said to him next, “Get up, take up your pallet, and walk.”

Inherent within Jesus command lay the power and capacity for the man to do exactly that. But he needed to actually do what Jesus told him to do about the situation he was in. When he acted upon Jesus’ command, he discovered that he was able to get up off the ground, bend over to pick up his mat, and to begin walking. What a delightful discovery!

The book of Acts is filled with stories of how the members of the early church would hear a command from Jesus or from the Spirit and would act upon it, thereby bringing about transformation in their spiritual community. An example of this can be found in the first reading for this Sunday, Acts 16:9–15. The apostle Paul and Silas were traveling about on one of their missionary journeys, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. One night, Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing there, asking him to, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Now if anybody in many churches today had that experience, what would they say? They probably would say, “That was such a weird dream. Maybe I ate too much pizza last night. No, it was the anchovies. I did have one too many glasses of wine before I went to bed, that’s true. Where is Macedonia anyway?” They most certainly would not wake up and say, as Paul and Silas did, “We need to go to Macedonia and share the good news with them.” More than that, Paul and Silas immediately got on a boat and took a long trip to Macedonia. And having arrived, they looked for and found a group of people gathering for prayer, shared the gospel with them, and a new house church was born.

Do you see the connection between hearing what God says and then acting upon it? The key to our ability to actually do as God asks, though, is the abiding presence of God. The disciples, toward the end of his ministry, were saddened by Jesus constantly teaching that he was going to leave them or die. Jesus told them that if they really loved him, they would be excited that he was leaving, since that meant that afterward the presence of both he and the Father would be in them by the Holy Spirit. God’s abiding presence in the Spirit would bring to mind everything Jesus had taught them and would give them a deep understanding they could not otherwise have. By the Spirit they would receive that profound sense of peace Jesus had promised them, and they would be able to do even greater works than Jesus had done while on earth.

Jesus was not asking the disciples to do anything he was not willing to be a part of and present within. He had every intention of abiding with them as they abode in him. It was to be a relationship between their Lord and them that, by the Spirit, not only directed them in where they were to go and what they were to do, but also empowered them to do it as they obeyed his word. Jesus wanted them to keep his word, to preserve and spread his good news message to the world, and live it out by loving God and loving others. They, as we are today, were sent to share with others in every nation, the truth about who our loving God is, what he has done for us and is doing in his Son Jesus Christ, and to be empowered by the Spirit as they did this.

Followers of Jesus Christ are given the same calling today that Jesus gave his disciples. He does not ask us to “go” without being present with us and in us, and does not leave us struggling to figure out what to do next. The testimony of Scripture teaches us that Jesus by the Spirit led the disciples wherever he wanted them to go. As the disciples abode in Christ, everyday activities like traveling on the road, moving to another community due to persecution, and going to the marketplace or temple all became places where Christ was present by the Spirit, and where the good news could be shared with others.

We can do the same thing today as we go about our lives. We can live “sent” by God knowing he is present right now, abiding in us as we abide in him. We can listen attentively to the Spirit and obey his directions to us about people to talk to, deeds of kindness to do, and places to visit. What is he saying to you today? More importantly—will you go do it, knowing Jesus is with you and in you as you “go”?

Father, thank you for meeting us in the midst of our sickness and paralysis by sending us your Son to tell us to arise, to take up our mat of indifference and complacency, and to walk in love. Grant us the grace to obey your word by your Spirit, and to simply do as you ask, trusting you are in us and with us to the end, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. You heard that I said to you, “I go away, and I will come to you.” If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. Now I have told you before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe.’ ” John 14:23–29 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/05/living-sent-while-abiding.pdf ]

As He Loves Us

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By Linda Rex

May 15, 2022, 5th Sunday in Easter—Many years ago, while sitting on the banks of the Des Moines River, I chatted with a Vietnam veteran who was helping with a display of the traveling wall of honor. My memories of the war in Vietnam were very vague since I was very young when it occurred. This man, seasoned by conflict and suffering, was frank and relentless in his descriptions of the event, as he sought to acquaint me with a little of his experiences during the war.

I’m more and more convinced that the struggles our veterans face when returning from conflict are often rooted in the reality that God never meant for us to have to experience the horror and atrocities of war. Nor did he intend for us to experience betrayal, subterfuge, corruption, or destruction. The consequences of war are so great—and yet we still use war as the means by which we solve our disagreements with one another.

The war occurring currently in Ukraine is a good example of humans continuing to use unhealthy and unholy ways of resolving their differences. And what is really tragic about this conflict is what is being said with regards to the Christian beliefs of those involved. Is war ever an appropriate solution to differences between followers of Christ?

The struggle many have with following Christ is that his response to conflict and differences of opinion is often the opposite of what ours is as his followers. In the gospel reading for this Sunday, John 13:31–35, we hear Jesus telling us that the way others see God’s love is by the way followers of Christ love one another. If we resolve conflict by accelerating it and using weapons and warfare, we are not reflecting the nature of the God who is love nor are we being Christ-like, for our Lord allowed himself to be crucified by his enemies rather than sending his legions of angels to fight on his behalf.

The first reading for this Sunday, Acts 11:1–18 (NASB), describes when Peter went to Jerusalem to meet with the other believers and was accused of defiling himself by having fellowship with Gentiles, the people excluded from Jewish worship. Peter explained how the Spirit had given him a vision of unclean animals, telling him three times to kill and eat. Peter had never eaten anything unclean before, and said so. But the Spirit told him, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” Peter then discovered that what was more important than his religious rules was his relationship with God and those with whom God was calling himself into relationship.

The Jewish rules at that time regarding what a person could eat or not eat and do or not do, created a rigid wall that kept out anyone who was not of their own background and beliefs. God had called the people of ancient Israel to be witnesses to the world of who God was, but they had been isolating themselves from the world instead. For Peter to walk into the home of a Gentile required a commitment to Christ and to his Spirit that superseded his religious background and belief system. Was he willing to meet these Gentiles on the common ground of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Was he willing to be obedient to the Spirit rather than following his rigid list of rules?

As he stood before his Jewish accusers, Peter explained his reasoning for having obeyed the Spirit’s instruction to go to this Gentile’s home and preach the gospel. As soon as he spoke the words of life—the gospel of Jesus Christ—to them, the Spirit descended upon his listeners just as the Spirit descended upon the disciples on Pentecost. Peter remembered that Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit and said, “who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” We don’t choose our siblings in Christ—God does. And we need to learn how to live in right relationship with them, just as Jesus brought us into right relationship with the Father in the Spirit.

This is why Jesus so often stressed that we are to love one another. In his conversation with his disciples before he died, Jesus emphasized that his disciples need to love one other. Our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ is a tangible sign of God’s love expressed to all humanity in Jesus’ self-offering.

Jesus laid down his life for us, setting aside for a time the privileges of divinity to join us in our humanity so that he might draw us into the circle of love between the Father, Son, and Spirit. What God has done for us in Christ, we are compelled by the love of Christ to do for one another, and to do for those who are not followers of Christ as well. To not love God and to not love one another is to be inhumane—to be not truly human as we were intended by God to be. Every one of us was created to live in loving, other-centered relationship with God and one another, no matter who we are. To not live in that way is to not truly be ourselves.

This leaves us in a difficult position as followers of Christ. Jesus tells us that the evidence of our being his followers is our love for one another. When a brother or sister is not walking in love, they are walking in darkness rather than in the light. As people of light, how do we respond in the most loving, light-bearing way possible to the deeds of darkness? What does it mean to be a peace-maker in a circumstance of war?

The evil one always seeks to divide, disrupt, kill, destroy and steal. His kingdom is not the one we are members of, so his ways must not be our ways. We must, as followers of Christ, follow the lead of the Spirit as he draws people together rather than ripping them apart. God loves us and gives us air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat even when we reject and ignore him. Can we do any less for our brothers and sisters, no matter who they are? What is the Spirit saying to you and to me today about the people in our lives? Are we building walls to keep others out, or are we welcoming them with open arms into the fellowship of Christ?

Heavenly Father, forgive us our petty squabbles and disagreements, our refusal to live with one another in peace. Forgive us for looking down on others and for refusing to make room for them in our lives. Grant us the grace to love others in the same way you have loved us, by laying down your life in your Son Jesus. Move in us by your Spirit to truly love one another, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

“Therefore when he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately. Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.’ ”      John 13:31–35 NASB

[Printable copy of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/05/as-he-loves-us.pdf%5D

Walking in Unity With God

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By Linda Rex

May 8, 2022, 3rd Sunday in EASTER—When we had our Community Café ministry running strong, I remember sitting at the table talking with some of our church neighbors. Around us, busily taking care of all of us, were the Martha’s of our congregation—those with the gifts of hospitality, service, and helping. How tangible was the expression of the love of God through their hands!

I believe this is the significance of the story in Acts 9:36–43 about the disciple named Tabitha (or Dorcas). Luke tells us that she was “abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did.” Apparently, she used to make clothing for people, providing a necessary service for those in her spiritual community. When she passed away, the loss was felt keenly—keenly enough that they call for Peter to immediately come.

Indeed, I think about those who are no longer with us who had this same gift of the Spirit of service and helping. It would be nice if they could have stayed awhile with us so we could continue to enjoy the blessing of their loving care. But this was not God’s best for us or them, and they have moved on.

What we can learn from them, though, is that we help to make Christ visible to others when we serve, help and care for others. These tangible expressions of God’s love enable people to not just hear about Jesus, but to feel and experience his love in a real way that can be life-changing. These expressions of God’s love testify to the truth of the good news of Jesus’ finished work. When we live out what we say we believe, then the gospel, or good news, begins to carry some weight. When we don’t live out what we believe, we dishonor and grieve the Spirit, and make all that we might say about Jesus appear to be false.

The apostle John told about a time when Jesus was walking in the temple during the Feast of Dedication, what we today call Hanukkah. The Jews there gathered around him, hoping to catch him saying or doing something they could use as an excuse to arrest him. They wanted him to plainly tell them that he was the expected Messiah. But Jesus knew their intentions were not honorable and that they did not have his best interests in mind.

Jesus reminded them that he had already clearly told them the truth about who he was. Then he said to them, “…the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me.” Jesus was saying that they should have known who he was by looking at the things he was doing. What he was doing—healing the sick, casting out demons, giving the blind sight and the deaf hearing—was all done in his Father’s name by the power of the Holy Spirit. No one else could do these things in the way he was doing them. His actions quite clearly showed who he was—the Son of the Father, the Anointed One.

Question: do our actions quite clearly show who we are—the adopted children of God? How well are we reflecting our Lord Jesus Christ? We may preach the gospel effectively with our words, but how are we doing with our actions?

This question can be quite intimidating for a pastor. I realize that I stand up each week and preach, telling people what I believe God wants us to hear and do. But it never ceases to amaze me how that very thing I preached on or planned to preach on becomes an object lesson for me personally. God doesn’t want us to just talk about Jesus and his ways. He wants everyone of us to live and walk at all times “in Christ”—so all of life is swept up into walking in the Spirit in such a way that when others look our way, they tangibly experience God’s love—Jesus Christ in us by the Spirit.

Every one of us has opportunities throughout the week to offer help, care, and service to others.  When GCI talks about the Love Avenue, this is what is meant. We are each called and gifted by God to love others. God has shed his love abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Participating in the Love Avenue is what we all do, though some of us are more gifted by the Spirit for these specific types of ministries.

And those who are especially gifted in the area of helping, service, and hospitality, I encourage you to be sure to find ways to use your gifts to express God’s love. You are a blessing to this world and I am very grateful for each of you—you are the reason that we have truckdrivers, farmers, caregivers, nurses, cooks, and all of those who work in hospitality, medicine, and many other fields where having people who serve others is essential to our well-being. When you are busy and active using your gifts to serve others as to the Lord, not only are people blessed, but you become a vibrant, tangible expression of God’s love.

Some of us find serving others in this way to be challenging. For all of us, trusting in the Spirit is essential. The apostle Paul said that if we work, we work as if we are working for the Lord. All of life is lived “in Christ” now. Just as Jesus did what he did in his Father’s name, we do what we do now in Jesus’ name and for the Father’s glory. What Jesus did, he did motivated by God’s love, since he was filled with the Spirit. Paul says for us to let the Spirit fill us. And, knowing we are compelled by God’s love, we are to love one another—proving we are Christ’s disciples.

The reason Jesus did the works he did was that he lived in united with his Father in the Spirit. It is because Jesus and his Father were one in will and action that by the Spirit Jesus expressed love so powerfully and profoundly. The reason we do caring, helping, and serving things is because we are united with Christ by faith, therefore united with the Father in the Spirit. It is our unity with God through Christ in the Spirit that we receive the capacity and desire to love and serve others effectively—and God offers this to everyone. May the Lord fully express through each of us by his Spirit the love and grace of our God.

Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us people in our lives who are especially gifted to serve, help and care for others. Thank you for pouring your love into our hearts by your Spirit so each and every one of us can serve, help and care for those you place in our lives. Grant us the grace to love others even as you have loved us, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“At that time the Feast of the Dedication [Hanukkah or Festival of Lights] took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, ‘How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’ ”      John 10:22–30 NASB

[Printable copy of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/04/walking-in-unity-with-god.pdf ]

The Grace to Follow

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By Linda Rex

May 1, 2022—3rd Sunday in EASTER—Have you ever thought about how you would respond if Jesus told you that you were going to die an excruciating death because you chose to follow him? I’d like to hope I was brave enough to cast all care to the wind and follow him anyway, but truth be told, I’m not sure I’d be that courageous and committed in the face of such dire circumstances apart from the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.

In many ways, I can identify with Simon Peter, who bravely said that he would follow Jesus no matter where he went, yet, when faced with imminent arrest, refused to acknowledge he was one of Jesus’ followers. What we say and do when times are easy and our circumstances are convenient is often a great deal different than what we say and do when faced with rejection, exclusion, violence, and death.

Initially, Peter went to the tomb with John to check out the tale that the women told about finding the gravesite empty. John and Peter’s usual rivalry was evident, for John took note that he got to the tomb first, before Peter. But Peter was the bold, brash one, for he immediately stepped in to see how things really were. John, however, was the one who believed. We don’t know for sure what Peter was thinking at this point.

After the resurrection, the disciples hid in the upper room behind locked doors, but two Sundays in a row, Jesus showed up. He offered to show them his wounds so that they could verify that it was indeed him. And he pointedly offered this to Thomas, who had refused to believe until he saw Jesus’ wounds with his own eyes. How thrilling it must have been for the disciples to see and talk with Jesus after the resurrection!

Still, we don’t see Peter’s direct response to Jesus’ resurrection until John’s story of the third Sunday following the resurrection. The disciples had returned to Galilee, and Peter took the lead by deciding he was going to go fishing, the one thing he knew how to do. The other disciples joined him. They fished all night long, without catching anything. When morning came, they began to head back to shore. Someone on the beach called out to them, asking whether they had caught anything. They told him they didn’t catch a thing. The stranger suggested that they throw the net off the right side of the boat instead.

Why in the world would they do what a stranger asked? But sure enough, they threw the net one more time as instructed and the net collected so many fish that the men were concerned that it would break. At this point, John leaned over to Peter and stated the obvious—“It’s the Lord.” This whole experience felt like déjà vu to them, since this is what happened when they were first called by Jesus to follow him. Rash Peter donned his jacket and dove into the water to swim to Jesus, while John stayed and helped with the fish.

I’m not sure what drove Peter to go back to fishing after the crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus didn’t seem to mind that he had. He simply met them there on the shore and invited them to breakfast with him. Just as Peter had denied Jesus three times while gathered around a campfire, now Jesus affirmed Peter’s commitment to Christ three times.

“Peter, do you love me more than these?” Perhaps Jesus was asking, “Do you love me more than you love fishing?” Or maybe, “Do you love me more than your friends?” Peter could no longer boldly proclaim his devotion by rash promises, but finally had to confess, “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.” Jesus was confirming that he still had work for Peter to do: “Feed my lambs… take care of my sheep…feed my sheep….”

But Peter needed to move beyond bravado and rash promises into genuine humble commitment in the face of opposition. This time Jesus didn’t tell him he would deny Christ three times before the rooster crowed. This time, Jesus said, Peter would end his days at the mercy of those who would murder him. But he was to follow Christ anyway.

What a prediction! Jesus obviously believed that Peter would never again deny Christ in the same manner in which he had denied him at Jesus’ trial. Did Peter ever make the same mistake again? Well, in a way, he did struggle with this issue, for we read in the book of Galatians that the apostle Paul called Peter out for not standing against the Judaizers who were denying the sufficiency of Christ (Gal. 2:11-14). But ultimately, tradition tells us that Peter was crucified in Rome and he insisted that he be crucified upside down, in honor of his Lord.

Whatever we may face in our future as we follow Christ, we must trust that God will grant us the grace to go where he leads and that he will keep us faithful. We cannot count upon our own ability to do so in the face of opposition. But there also is the matter of commitment on our part. What price are we willing to pay? Jesus gave his all. Will we give ours in return?

Lord Jesus, we love you. But we humbly realize our inadequacy when it comes to devotion and faithfulness. You know us completely and love us entirely. Grant us the grace to follow wherever you lead, no matter the cost, all the way until the end, whatever that end may be, by your Holy Spirit, to the glory of the Father. Amen.

“Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened. Several of the disciples were there—Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples. Simon Peter said, ‘I’m going fishing.’ ‘We’ll come, too,’ they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night. At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. He called out, ‘Fellows, have you caught any fish?’ ‘No,’ they replied. Then he said, ‘Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!’ So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it. Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It’s the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore. The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread. ‘Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,’ Jesus said. So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn. ‘Now come and have some breakfast!’ Jesus said. None of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead. After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ Peter replied, ‘you know I love you.’ ‘Then feed my lambs,’ Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ Peter said, ‘you know I love you.’ ‘Then take care of my sheep,’ Jesus said. A third time he asked him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, ‘Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Then feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.’ Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, ‘Follow me.’”     John 21:1–19 NASB

[Printable copy of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/04/the-grace-to-follow.pdf%5D

Unless I See

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By Linda Rex

April 24, 2022, 2nd Sunday in EASTER—Do you ever do that thing where when you’re expecting a visitor, you start tidying up everything in the house? Pretty soon you’re checking the bathrooms and the bedrooms to be sure there’s no clutter or dust. You’re fluffing the pillows on the couch, straightening the dining room chairs, and wiping off the kitchen counter one more time. And then the doorbell rings.

What I find interesting about social media and our online presence today is that we often do the same thing, only in a different way. I’ve been trying to go through things at home, so I can begin downsizing and packing, and I have empty boxes laying around and stuff scattered here and there. But when I was joining a Zoom meeting today, all of a sudden, I decided that the boxes had to be moved around so that my online line presence didn’t look like a stockroom.

It is rather distressing to me to realize how managed and manipulated what we see and hear online really is nowadays. It’s getting harder and harder to hear the quiet, sincere voices of the loving truth-tellers. We can’t really discern the hearts and minds of those we are listening to, or whether what they are showing us or telling us hasn’t been doctored or altered in some way. Perhaps they spent hours preparing for the “white glove” test rather than simply being real and honest with us.

There is a hunger I am beginning to sense in people for genuine, healthy community and relationship. I’m not certain that many of us know or remember what that even looks like. What does it mean to love and be loved in the way God created us to exist as image-bearers of the divine? Whatever it means, it must include the ability to see what is unseen—the heart and mind of the living God at work in us and with each of us by his heavenly Spirit. And that happens in the context of face-to-face relationship.

I think this was the cry of Thomas’ heart when the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” Jesus’ death was a real event—a truly graphic and horrendous human experience. What outcome could there be from a crucifixion other than a painful, arduous death? And the body that was taken off the cross was lifeless and cold—and the tomb Jesus was laid in was sealed shut. There was an end to all that the disciples had experienced together with the Messiah.

Thomas could not wrap his mind around the possibility that there could be a different outcome from what he experienced. The disciples’ words, that they had seen Jesus alive, must have seemed like a doctored-up story created out of their vain imaginations. “I must see his hands and his side myself,” he told them, needing to have something tangible he could touch and see, so he could know for certain that Jesus was indeed alive.

We can take comfort in the way that Jesus handled Thomas’ reluctance to believe what the disciples were saying about their experience. Jesus knew Thomas well, and understood his heart, as he was the one who bravely volunteered to go with Jesus to Jerusalem to die with him, when Jesus was going there to raise Lazarus from the dead. And Thomas was the one who, when Jesus told the disciples they knew the way he was going, asked where that way was, since he didn’t think they did know where Jesus was going. Jesus’ memorable reply was, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” He understood this disciple’s inquisitive mind, which wanted to be certain about the details and to really comprehend what was going on.

We find the second Sunday after the resurrection the disciples were once again behind locked doors in the upper room of the place they were staying. All of a sudden, once again, there was Jesus in their midst. But apparently, he was there for a specific reason. He went directly to Thomas and addressed his doubts, showing him his hand and his side, and inviting him to touch the wounds he had received. Thomas, being overcome in that moment with the reality of who Jesus was, could only say, “My Lord and my God!”

Let me ask you this: Have you ever had a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you know what it is like to know for certain that he is a risen Lord—that he is real, and alive, and interested in a personal relationship with you? Do you know what it means to live your life knowing that he is present and real by the Holy Spirit, and that he is aware of everything you think, feel, say, or do—and loves you completely and entirely in the midst of it all?

I can tell you about my own experiences with the Lord Jesus Christ, but how do you know whether or not they are genuine? Perhaps it is good to have the outlook of Thomas—the willingness to ask for yourself whether or not the resurrection really did happen. “Unless I see”—I myself. I must come to terms with the reality that God has come, as God in human flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ, has lived a genuinely human life, died at the hands of the people he came to save, and rose again from the grave. I need to ask the difficult question: Do I believe? What do I believe about Jesus Christ?

The good news is that Jesus is ready and willing to enable us to know the truth. He wants us to see and to believe. Now, I don’t believe he is going to show up like he did back then with Thomas, but by the Spirit, Jesus has ways of showing up that we cannot dismiss without real effort. He’s not waiting for us to prepare ourselves or our lives for the “white glove” test. He’s already cleaned house for us. He’s inviting us to open ourselves and our lives up to his presence—to tell him the truth—Lord, I need to see. Lord, I want to see. Lord, open my eyes, my mind, my heart—so I may see and believe.

Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows exactly what it will take for us to see and to believe. And he is at work right now, doing his best to meet us at that place. And he is ready to, by his Spirit, awaken us to faith, a faith that is his gift to us, as he draws us into a face-to-face relationship with God which is ours now and on into eternity.

Heavenly Father, how blessed we are in the sacred gift of your Son and your Spirit—life in relationship with you now and forever! Bless us anew with the grace to see the spiritual realities, to daily see and experience the presence of our risen Lord by your heavenly Spirit. Amen.

“So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.’ But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’ After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.’ Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”      John 20:19–31 NASB

[Printable copy of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/04/unless-i-see.pdf%5D