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Clearing the Way for Fruit

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By Linda Rex

March 20, 2022, 3rd Sunday in LENT—Today our neighbor is having her fence replaced. One of the blessings that came with it was the removal of a small tree next to our shed which had been holding up her fence. It is amazing how the removal of this one misplaced tree enabled us to clean up some things next to the shed we hadn’t been able to reach, while at the same time facilitated the installation of something new which our neighbor was needing done.

As I was studying the readings for this Sunday, I was struck with how this little event in my day coincided with the Word of God for today. The gospel reading tells us about people coming to Jesus with a couple of stories of how several people lost their lives—some in a Roman bloodbath within the temple grounds, and some when a tower fell on them. The common thought of the day was that if something bad like this happened to you, it was because you were a horrific sinner and you were getting what you deserved.

Jesus told them that this wasn’t the case at all—that’s not how his Father works. Instead of worrying about the spiritual condition of the people who died in these events, Jesus’ listeners were admonished to consider their own spiritual condition. He pointed out that they needed to be sure they were right with God themselves rather than focusing on the sinfulness of others.

Isn’t this typical of us, though? I remember years ago when God woke me up to the reality that I needed to quit focusing on the faults of my spouse and others, and start looking at my own issues. You and I are unable to change another person or fix them. The only person we have any control over is ourself, and there is extreme doubt that we can even regulate ourself—we are utterly dependent upon God making us what we need to be by his Holy Spirit. For that reason, we need to do what Jesus was telling these people here to do—repent. We need to experience a change of mind and heart as well as action—a turning away from ourselves to Christ in faith.

After reminding his listeners of their need to repent, Jesus told a story about a vineyard owner who had a fig tree that, after three years, still hadn’t borne any fruit. The owner told the vineyard keeper to cut it away, removing it because it was occupying space needed for production. It was hindering the growth of everything else by blocking the sun, and was taking up resources that were needed for the other plants and trees to be fruitful. The vineyard keeper, like Christ did for all of us by the way, interceded on behalf of the fig tree. He said he would dig around the tree, fertilize it and give it another year to see if it would finally bear fruit.

The point is, there are things in our lives which may simply not be fruit-bearing. Sometimes the things we believe about God or ourselves are inaccurate, misplaced, or even toxic, and they need to be removed so that healthier patterns and beliefs may take their place, and we may begin to bear spiritual fruit. Sometimes the issues may be so small and seemingly insignificant, we miss them, and don’t realize they are symptomatic of some bigger issues—things we need to face up to and repent of so that God can bring us to a healthier, more wholesome way of living and being.

Sometimes the way we read the written Word of God is part of the problem. We may need to go a little deeper in our own personal study of God’s Word rather than just going by what other people say about it. Let me give a couple of examples, drawn from the readings for this Sunday.

First, we read in 1 Corinthians 10:1–13 about how God in Christ walked with the nation of Israel through the wilderness, being the spiritual rock from which they drank and drew their life. When someone is, like I am now, going through a time of intense trial and difficulty, people have a tendency to say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” They believe they are quoting 1 Corinthians 10:13, when it actually says: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (NASB). If you look at the context of this verse, you will find that the apostle Paul is talking about temptation to sin, not about difficult times or trials. Jesus is the way of escape from temptations to sin, and he taught us to pray, “lead us not into temptation” (Matt. 6:13).

A kinder, better statement for someone going through tough times, I believe, is that Jesus has promised to never leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). He may not keep us from the flames of fire, but like he did with Daniel’s three friends, he will stay with us in the midst of those flames and carry us through to the other side (Dan. 3). We can be truthful with the text at the same time we are compassionate with the person who is hurting, thereby avoiding toxicity and unhealthy spirituality.

Another passage in the readings for today which leapt out at me is Isaiah 55:6–9. When we are faced with difficult or confusing situations or hard times, I often hear people quote verse 9, pointing out that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts.

I’m all for God being way beyond anything I could be as a human. But the context of this particular passage is about grace. It’s a call to repentance, to turn back to God. It’s about God not looking at sinful people the way that we look at them, or the way we look at ourselves and God when we fail to live the way we know we ought to. God is offering his grace, his mercy, if only we would just turn away from ourself and turn back to him.

Just like the people Jesus was talking to in the gospel passage for this Sunday, we often get focused away from where God would like our focus to be—turning away from ourself and turning to Christ in faith. I’ve been thinking about why we go to church—is it so that we can get a free meal, or help with our bills, or so that we can feel better about ourselves? Or is it part of a personal relationship with the God who has called us to himself in Christ by the Spirit and is wanting us to be a part of what he is doing in the world? Yes, we need to experience God’s love through the good deeds done for us, but shouldn’t we be going beyond that to sharing God’s love with others, once we have experienced the profound goodness and mercy of God?

God is so incredibly patient and generous with us. He continues to bury us with Christ that we might once again rise with him to new life. Christ was willing to be the fertilizer in the ground, placed in the earth so that we might be given the ability to produce lasting spiritual fruit. He offers himself to us, inviting us to turn from ourselves and to turn to him in faith, allowing him produce spiritual fruit in us by the Holy Spirit, as we open up to One who is the Light of the world. May we respond to him in faith, trusting he will finish what he has begun in us.

Thank you, Father, for not cutting us out, but allowing your Son and your Spirit to intercede for us, drawing us deeper into life with you. Grant us the grace to ever turn to you in faith, trusting in your faithful love and mercy, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’ And He began telling this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, “Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?” And he answered and said to him, “Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.” ’ ”      Luke 13:1–9 NASB

[Printable copy of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/03/clearing-the-way-for-fruit.pdf%5D

The Messiah’s Lament

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By Linda Rex

March 13, 2022, 2nd Sunday in LENT—Lost and all alone. Wandering in the wilderness. Struggling to survive one more day. Fearful of every person they meet, wondering if they are friend or foe. This is the life of a person caught in a heart-rending situation such as war or abuse.

When life gets tough and we have lots of questions and concerns about what is going to happen next, it is good to be reminded of the compassion and tender concern of our living Lord. Indeed, it is at those times when we’re at the bottom of the well and looking up that we begin to see how much we need Someone looking out for us and tending to our every need. And we have such a person in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Here in America, the average citizen has not experienced having their city invaded by a foreign army. Nor do many of us know what it is like to live in a war zone, fearful to do the simple tasks of life like buying groceries or visiting a neighbor. Our veterans understand the horrors of war, having experienced this firsthand on the battlefield. And some of our citizens and immigrants within our borders know this kind of devastation, having experienced it in their home country.

I don’t believe that God ever intended for any of us to experience the terror and suffering of war. We find that war is a natural consequence of placing our focus on earthly things rather than on the heavenly realities which are ours in Christ.

What is true about our existence as human beings is that what our senses experience often becomes the focus of our attention. What we experience often becomes our reality, unless we intentionally make the effort to turn our attention to the spiritual realities which are ours in Christ. When we allow what is going on around us and the opinions and preference of others determine our life choices and decisions, we are often tossed about and caught up in circumstances and situations which take control of our lives.

Jesus was often caught in the midst of experiences which might have become the motivation for his actions. But he had his focus squarely placed upon the Father’s will, and was intentionally moving toward the goal that he had been given—the salvation of our souls, through death and resurrection.

In this Sunday’s reading we find Jesus having a conversation with the Jewish leaders, who were encouraging him to leave the area lest Herod take his life. It’s possible, but not likely, that they were genuinely concerned about his safety. For the most part they had constantly plotted Jesus’ death since his ministry often interfered with their earthly concerns for popularity, power, and prestige. Even so, in this passage, we find them insisting that for his safety, Jesus should leave the region.

Jesus knew Jerusalem’s historic attitude toward the prophets—they often ended up stoned or killed. He pointedly reminded the Jewish leaders that he knew the road he was on. His path involved healing the sick, casting out demons, and heading towards the goal of his ministry—the crucifixion and resurrection. Then he broke into deep lament for the people of Jerusalem, who rejected the One who so dearly loved them and sought to gather them into his arms of love. How deeply he felt that rejection! He knew the price they would soon pay for choosing other messiahs other than the true Messiah—they would experience the loss of their city and their beloved temple, and experience all of the suffering involved in being invaded by a Roman army.

In Jesus we find that God has come and lived in our human flesh, experiencing in our place and on our behalf, suffering, death, and resurrection. What Jesus has done is significant and powerful. He has brought all of humanity into the presence of the Father in the Spirit, and he has sent the Spirit to us so that we can live in intimate relationship with God now and on into eternity.

Our problem is that we often believe these spiritual realities become intangible and irrelevant in the light of our increasing focus on tangible earthly realities. What I hear people being concerned about often has everything to do with ourselves, what we need, want or desire, and very little to do with God or what he might want or desire. In fact, one’s perception of the spiritual realities is often associated with going to church somewhere, or reading some book, or having a religious symbol to focus on. It’s easy to miss the point completely that the spiritual realities have to do with a living Being, with having a relationship with the God who loves us so much that he came personally to join us in our humanity and to bring us home to himself.

God is calling us out of our blindness and deafness into the light of his presence. He has come for us in Christ and has done what is needed to make us right with himself. Just as Abram slept through his covenant agreement with God (Genesis 15:1–12, 17–18), we have been included apart from our own effort in the covenant God has made for us in the sacrifice of his own Son. Our participation is saying yes to God’s ‘yes’ to us in Christ. Rather than being “enemies of the cross of Christ”, we receive the perfect gift of God’s own Son in his death and resurrection, trusting in his finished work, and receiving the gift of new life given to us in the Holy Spirit (Philippians 3:17–4:1).

In Christ, God has done all that is needed for our salvation. He will finish what he has begun in us. We focus our minds and hearts on the things of the Spirit, not on earthly things (Col. 3:1–2). We focus on our relationship with God through Jesus in the Spirit, trusting in Christ’s finished work, not in our own ability to make things how we believe they need to be. Jesus is our firm foundation, and we stand firmly in him as we trust in his finished work and God’s love and faithfulness.

God has our best in mind, and will not quit until he has finished what he has begun in us. This means that even though we are facing difficult, painful, or devastating events, we are not alone. God is still at work. We turn away from ourselves and our own self-sufficiency, and trust in the One who has the capacity to make things how they need to be. As we experience the consequences of choosing our own way, as we live in a fragile, broken world, we can be comforted, knowing we are not alone, but are held in God’s love and grace. He will not stop until all is brought into conformity with his plan and purpose—our inclusion in his love and life now and forever.

Dearest Abba, thank you for loving us so much—for caring for us in spite of our willful turning away to ourselves and the things of this life. Open our minds and hearts to the spiritual realities, that we may see you and live in the truth of who we are in Christ. Thank you for bringing us into the fullness of that glory which is ours through Jesus your Son in the Spirit. Amen.

“Just at that time some Pharisees approached, saying to Him, ‘Go away, leave here, for Herod wants to kill You.’ And He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox, “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.” Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” ’ ”     Luke 13:31–35 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/03/the-messiahs-lament.pdf ]

An Opportune Time

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By Linda Rex

March 6, 2022, 1st Sunday in LENT—This morning I was reading about the conflict currently going on between the nations of Russia and Ukraine. There seems to be a variety of opinions on why this conflict is happening and what the motives are behind it. But I have yet to see anyone say that the conflict is a result of our natural human tendency to desire what is not ours and to raise ourselves above others, while subjugating them to our will—a biblical worldview regarding conflict (James 4:1–4).

While it’s easy to play the blame game when talking about conflict and war, the reality is that we often point out human failings while ignoring the underlying spirit of conflict which has its roots in the evil one. Satan is constantly at work creating suspicion and mistrust between people and groups, causing division and conflict. He is masterful at destroying fellowship and community. Often, we see him at work, not realizing we ourselves may be participating in his work of destruction and death by our own human tendency toward envy, greed, selfishness, pride, and unforgiveness.

This Sunday’s reading in the gospels tells how Jesus came away from his baptism experience filled with the Spirit, but then was thrown out by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the evil one. In Luke’s account, Jesus was tempted in a variety of ways—a summary of the temptations we experience as human beings—and yet he did not sin. Drawing upon the word of God as written in the book of Deuteronomy, he countered every temptation, until Satan finally left him. But then, Luke adds—“until an opportune time”.

What Luke is pointing out is that even though Jesus emerged triumphant from this great spiritual battle, Satan was not yet done. He continued to seek out opportunities to trick Jesus into sinning—to tempt him to turn away from his purposeful journey towards the crucifixion and resurrection. The evil one knew what was at stake, and did his best to trip our Savior up as he made the challenging journey to the cross.

One example of this is the conversation Jesus had with Peter regarding his identity as the Messiah. Peter understood Jesus was the Messiah, but when Jesus started describing what he as the Messiah would have to go through—rejection, arrest, abuse and death—Peter’s concern as a friend and disciple got in the way. He told Jesus that he was wrong—these things wouldn’t happen. And Jesus rebuked him strongly by saying, “Get behind me, Satan.” Jesus understood the true source of this conflict. Peter was merely a participant who had his mind on human things instead on what mattered most to God (Mark 8:29–33).

This is a good example of how Satan watches for opportune moments to bring about his agenda of discord, division, destruction and death. It’s not always obvious at first glance. Many times, it is hidden underneath the guise of what seems to be good, comfortable or pleasant. This is why we are so often reminded in the scriptures to be on the alert. Peter knew firsthand how important this is and wrote in 1 Peter 5:8–9: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world” (NASB).

Some of the opportune moments we give the evil one are moments of unresolved anger. The apostle Paul reminds us not to allow angry disagreements to go on and on without working them out. He wrote, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:26–27 NASB). It’s not wrong to be angry. Anger shows that a violation of some kind has occurred and needs to be addressed in a healthy way. There needs to be reconciliation, forgiveness, repentance—whatever needs addressed in order to restore the relationship. But it needs to be addressed, and not allowed to fester. Allowing anger, resentment, and then bitterness to fester is what creates an opportunity for Satan to enter in and begin to create a whole mess of issues and broken relationships and destructive situations. He loves it when we participate with him in creating division and disruption in this way.

The apostle Paul reminded us that our conflicts are not so much against humans as they are against spiritual strongholds and authorities. He wrote that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” For that reason, he encouraged us to put on Christ—the armor God has given us to protect us against the wiles of the devil.

In Jesus, we see the armor Paul talks about in Ephesians 6:10–18 being forged as Jesus resisted Satan’s temptations. Jesus walked the path to the cross—the way of the gospel of peace—and would not be deterred even though he knew the pain and suffering involved. Jesus, as the living Word of God, drew upon the power of the Spirit and the written word of God to counter Satan’s arguments. As the Son of God, Jesus knew the Father intimately and trusted completely in his love and faithfulness, even as he experienced Satan’s attacks. And as God in human flesh, Jesus lived in right relationship with his Father, keeping his heart in faithful devotion to his Abba.

In the garden of Gethsemane, one last “opportune time” occurred when Satan sought to turn Jesus away from his commitment in the Spirit to his Father and to all of us as humanity. Jesus wrestled in agony against the strong pull to do what his human flesh and Satan desired. Today, as we walk through these wilderness days of the Lenten season with Jesus, we are reminded how masterfully Jesus struggled in our place and on our behalf in this battle over evil, sin, and death. Soon we will rehearse again the events of Holy Week, walking with Jesus down the road toward his final moments in Jerusalem, weeping with Mary and the disciples as he hung in agony on the cross and lay silently in the tomb, and rejoicing on that glorious resurrection morn, when Jesus rose triumphantly from the grave.

The joyous good news is, that even though the evil one does his best to create conflict, division, death and destruction, Jesus is still triumphant. He is Lord. There is nothing that will stand in the way of what Jesus determines he will do in a given situation. Yes, as long as we human beings still try to be in charge and run things our way, we will have conflict and war and human suffering. But when we turn to Christ and do things his way, then healing, restoration, and renewal can begin to be experienced in this life, and most certainly will be experienced forever in the new heavens and new earth.

As long as Satan is around, he will be looking for “an opportune time”. But we have a triumphant Lord. We put on his armor. We trust in the Father’s love and care. And we live and walk filled with the Spirit. This is where we take our stand: in Christ.

Thank you, heavenly Father, for your faithful love and your grace. Thank you, holy Jesus, for the battle you waged in our place and on our behalf against the evil one. And thank you, precious Spirit, for filling us and guarding our hearts and minds, in Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. And the devil said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live on bread alone.”’ And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, ‘I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.”’ And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it is written, “He will command His angels concerning you to guard you,” and, “on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘It is said, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.”      Luke 4:113 NASB

[A printable copy of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/02/an-opportune-time.pdf%5D

Overshadowed by God’s Presence

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By Linda Rex

February 27, 2022, TRANSFIGURATION—One of the interesting things I have found to be true for me about life transitions is that it motivates me to go deeper in my relationship with God. I begin to be more intentional about spending time both talking to God but also listening to what he has to say to me.

Recently I was told that I have high-risk melanoma which is spreading, and I am going through the tedious and complicated process of discovering how bad the cancer is and what my treatment will be. This process, along with the recent changes in my church and job status, have been reminding me how important it is to stay connected with God, both by speaking with him and listening to him. How do I deal with all that is on my plate right now? I can only do it “in Christ.” Otherwise, it is more than I can bear.

What I am going through really is no different than what many humans go through and have gone through throughout the centuries. God often meets us in the midst of our difficulties and draws us even closer to himself. He does not mean any of these things for our harm, but seeks to work them for our good, as we trust in him. The struggle is the trusting in the midst of the not knowing and the intense challenges we face, especially when we are facing great loss or death.

This Sunday we celebrate the transfiguration of Jesus, a time when for a few moments Peter, James, and John saw beneath the humanity of Jesus into the glorious divinity of his Person. In that divine moment, they saw a glimpse of the kingdom of God in glorious splendor in the face and clothing of Jesus. They saw him speaking with the dead men, Moses and Elijah, and were overcome by the significance of the moment. As Peter was suggesting the building of three tabernacles, a cloud overshadowed them and they heard a voice saying to them, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”

This is the struggle these men had. So often they found themselves telling Jesus what he should and should not do. They could not simply allow Jesus to be the Savior he was—the Suffering Servant Messiah who would take away the sins of the world by his suffering sacrifice on the cross. Remember what happened when Peter said he knew Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, and then when Jesus told them about his upcoming betrayal and crucifixion? Peter tried to convince Jesus he didn’t know what he was talking about—that it wouldn’t happen. And Jesus told him, “Get behind me, Satan. You care more for the things of men than the things of God.”

This is really our struggle as human beings. We want God to guide us and direct us. But we certainly don’t appreciate it when God asks of us things we don’t want to do. And we don’t like it when God takes us down the road he took his Son Jesus down—the path to death and resurrection. That’s when life gets difficult and uncomfortable, and we don’t have control over the outcome. The path of the crucifixion of our flesh is hard, but a necessary task that Jesus took on in our place and on our behalf. When we go through difficulties and struggles in this life, we participate in his suffering and death. But ultimately, the purpose is to enable us to participate in the new life which is ours in him.

This brings me back to the importance of what the men experienced upon the mountain when they saw a glimpse of Jesus’ glory. The overshadowing presence of God was real, and they were frightened by it. Jesus was living in union and communion with the Father in the Spirit, so to him it was a welcome experience. How joyfully he must have appreciated the encouragement of the Father in that moment! But for the disciples, it was frightening.

If the disciples had understood more fully the love and grace of God present right there in that moment in Jesus Christ, perhaps the overshadowing presence of God would not have been as frightening to them. What if they themselves had had a relationship with God that was close and affectionate? Wouldn’t their response have been different?

And the voice they heard told them to listen to Jesus. Here was the Prophet foretold by Moses that they were to listen to and heed. What these disciples needed to do was take seriously the command from God to listen to and obey Jesus—to follow where he was leading them, to death and resurrection. His “exodus” from this life was essential to their salvation and ours. More important than the building of tabernacles was the building of their faith in Jesus Christ. They needed to place their trust in him and in what he was intending to do on behalf of all humanity in his upcoming sacrificial death and resurrection.

In the same way, today we need to take seriously the reality of what Christ did for us in his sacrificial offering and in the giving of the Spirit by which God comes to dwell in human hearts. We need to embrace the reality that God’s presence is near to each of us, overshadowing us by the Spirit and drawing us near. And we do not need to be afraid or anxious as God draws near to us and draws us to himself.

God is present and real by the Spirit, and is calling us into intimate relationship with himself through Jesus. He wants us to catch a glimpse of the glory that is ours, which he forged within our humanity in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. He wants us to embrace the gift he has given us of life in him by the Spirit—sharing in the union and communion with the Father he dwells and invites us into. He wants us to be filled with the Spirit, not with the things of this life. He wants us to be led by the Spirit, to walk in the Spirit—to live life moment by moment in the Spirit, aware of his presence and joyfully experiencing a tangible relationship with God that involves both speaking and listening to the One who calls us his beloved child.

We were created to love God and love one another, to live life in healthy, holy relationship. We were created to reflect the glory of God as image-bearers of the divine One. What better way to grow up in being Christlike than by growing in our intimate relationship with God through listening to and speaking with the One who made us and redeemed us. What is God saying to you and to me today? Are we listening to and actually acting on the things he is saying to us?

Thank you, Father, for including us in your relationship with your Son in the Spirit. Thank you for loving us so completely that you want to share your life with us now and forever. Grant us the grace to hear what you say and to obey, and to simply trust in your love and grace expressed to us in Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not realizing what he was saying. While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!’ And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen.”     Luke 9:28–36 NASB

[Printable copy of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/02/rexlinda2022feb27-overshadowed-by-gods-presence.pdf ]

When It’s Hard to Love

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By Linda Rex

February 20, 2022, 7th Sunday of EPIPHANY—Last night my husband, Ray, and I were talking about how hard it is sometimes to love people, especially when they make it very difficult to do so. In our everyday lives, we come across people who are thoughtless, inconsiderate, or downright rude, and we are asked by God to be gracious and to not hold it against them. And that is difficult, if not impossible, at times.

We’ve all had those experiences where we are simply going about our everyday lives and someone does something that totally disrupts and ruins our day. What is our response to the person who cut us off in traffic, causing us to miss our exit or to spill our coffee all over ourselves? If I look at what the apostle Paul says I should do, I find that “love…puts up with anything” (1 Cor. 13:7 MSG). Did he really mean that I have to put up with anything that people do to me?

What is unspoken in this passage in Luke 6:27–38 is the reality that often love looks much different than what we assume it looks like. Love, at times, is not very nice. Indeed, there can be a profound difference between being nice and being loving. One can be incredibly nice to someone and at the same time be holding them hostage to unhealthy ways of living and being. We often do this to one another when the most loving thing might be to speak the truth in love or to set healthy boundaries in the relationship by not doing for others what they need to do for themselves.

This is where it is a real challenge for us to love. I’m learning that I still have a long way to go when it comes to loving the people in my life well. Love, in the way Jesus describes it, is something sacrificial, serving, humble and self-effacing. It involves losing, dying, being taken advantage of, and being taken for granted. It means being willing to be the one who suffers undeservedly for the sake of another. This certainly doesn’t come naturally for us.

Jesus calls us up to a higher standard—one beyond our human ability. When have we ever gotten to the place where we could and would love our enemies and do good to those who mistreat us? It takes an inner transformation by the Holy Spirit to bring us to the place where we would actually love in the same way that God loves us. It takes the love of God shed abroad in our hearts to enable us to think, live, speak and act like the sons of God we are in Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:5; 8:14).

If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that there is probably nothing someone else has done to us that we have not in some form or fashion done to others. Indeed, if we believe we’ve never done to others what has been done to us, then we need to consider whether or not there are a few things we’ve done to God that he didn’t deserve. Oh, yes—I went there. We do stuff to God all the time that he doesn’t deserve. And most certainly, he did not deserve to be crucified when he came in the person of Jesus Christ.

And love is a challenge when we must do the right thing in the face of someone doing the wrong thing. When someone is unjust toward us, do we remain just and fair? When someone is cruel to us, are we kind back? When someone is indifferent or cold to us, do we respond with intentional compassion and concern? This is hardest to do in our closest relationships, where our everyday lives wear down our respect and patience with one another. When someone we love repeatedly messes up, it’s really hard to let them off the hook one more time. But isn’t that what God does with us?

Jesus really got down to the basics when he began talking about blessing those who curse us and doing good to those who hate us. He didn’t ask us to give up our human dignity, to allow ourselves to be abused, but he did ask us to go way beyond what comes naturally to us, so that we might be as gracious to others as his Father is to us. What standard do we want God to judge us by—the criticism and condemnation we hand out to others or the gracious patience and understanding we offer them when they mess up or hurt us?

This passage is really hard to read, because I realize how impossible it is for us to actually live this out in our world full of users and abusers. How was Jesus able to actually do this when he lived here on earth? It was only possible because he was filled with the Spirit from birth and was, as God in human flesh, living in union and communion with his Father moment by moment as he interacted with those he encountered day by day. How else could he have handled so graciously the constant condemnation, rejection, and abuse? How else could he have allowed himself to be crucified by those he came to save?

The reality is that living in right relationship with God and others comes to us only as a gift. It is Jesus’ right relationship with God and others that we participate in by the Holy Spirit. Jesus lived out loving relationship with his Father in the Spirit while he was here on earth, loving others in the way we were meant to love. And he forged within our humanity the capacity to love and be loved as God intended when he created us. When we love God and love one another—we are truly human the way God meant us to be human.

So, Jesus, having lived our life and died our death and risen from the grave, sent the Spirit from the Father. The Spirit shed abroad in human hearts enables us to truly love and be loved in the way we were meant to. We find the ability to love when it gets hard as we trust in Christ’s love being poured out within us by the Holy Spirit. When we are faced with unpleasant or difficult situations in which it is impossible to love another, we turn to Jesus. We find in him the capacity, by the Spirit, to do what we would not otherwise do.

Seeing our need for Christ, for his grace, for his ability to love and be loved, enables us to offer the same grace and compassion toward others. Understanding our dependency upon a power greater than ourselves to be able to simply love and care for others, enables us to graciously understand when others fail to love and care for us. May God awaken us to the depths of the love and grace he has toward us that we may offer it freely to all those whom we struggle to love.

Thank you, Abba Father, for your unfailing love and grace. We are so dependent upon your mercy and compassion! Fill us with your love that we may love others as you have loved us, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”     Luke 6:27–38 NASB

Consequences of Grace

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By Linda Rex

February 13, 2022, 6th Sunday of EPIPHANY—I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more I realize how many consequences there are to the little choices or simple decisions I make on a day-by-day basis. Things that I have in the past given little thought to, now I see as having a tremendous impact on my life and the lives of others now and in the life to come. As I go through the day, what I think, say and do, or don’t think, don’t say and don’t do, has a profound effect upon my own being as well as touching the lives and souls of those around me.

Isn’t it amazing how God enables every human being to share in his ability to make choices and decisions—to affect the universe in which we live by our freedom to choose? The danger is that we begin at times to believe that it is all up to us, rather than realizing that in every case, it is all up to God. He often submits to our decisions, allowing us to experience the consequences of our choices, not to harm us, but to enable us to grow up in Christlikeness. He wants us to learn that every choice and decision needs to be made “in Christ” and not as though we live independently from God, under our own power and by our own authority.

Many times, our approach to our spiritual life in Christ is from the point of view that it is all up to us. We believe that if we don’t say the sinner’s prayer or live a sin-free life, we can’t be saved or given eternal life. We forget that our ability to come to the place of even wanting to pray a prayer or wanting to be saved comes from God through Jesus by the Spirit. It is God who initiates our relationship with himself, Jesus who has included us in his relationship with the Father, and is working this into our human existence by the Spirit. Our decisions are a gracious participation in God’s life—though we often live and make decisions as though this is not the case.

We live in a world today which bears the consequences of thousands of years of human decision-making done in a misguided belief that it is all up to us, and that we can and do live independently of the God who made us and who sustains our existence. Indeed, over the millennia, we have experienced wars, rumors of wars, famine, disease, societal collapse and many other consequences of our stubborn willfulness and refusal to submit to the reality of who we are as creatures who are meant to be image-bearers of God. As creatures, we are dependent upon a higher power, and were created to love God with all our being and to love each other as ourselves, and when we don’t live in that way, we pay a hefty price both individually and collectively.

As human beings, we also are tempted to live as though this life is all there is. I saw a billboard recently here in Nashville that declares in great big letters this very thing, that we need to experience all we can in this life because there is nothing after death. My thought is—how sad. To live, believing that if you don’t experience it now, you never will experience it; or that one day your life will end so you might as well live self-indulgently and selfishly because there really is no purpose to life—this, to me, is tragic.

What if there is so much more to life than just today? What if God meant for us as his image-bearers to live in joy, peace, harmony, unity, and warm fellowship with one another? And what if, by our participation in a personal relationship with him, we might actually begin to experience those things right now, in this life, and have a strong assurance and hope that this will continue on into eternity?

In Luke 6:17–26, Jesus met with a large crowd of people and enabled many of them to be healed and cured from demonic harassment. The Spirit was flowing through Jesus from the Father and many people experienced the result of God’s power at work. It was in the middle of this dramatic circumstance that Jesus began to teach the people the difference between living in the kingdom of God and living as though it is all up to us, believing this life is all there is. Addressing his followers, “He began to say, ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way’” (Luke 6:20–26 NASB).

In this short sermon, an abbreviated form of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus draws upon the Deuteronomy 28 motif of blessings and cursings to talk about the difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. The realization we each need to come to is that the kingdom of God was inaugurated in Jesus Christ and it is the reign of God in human hearts through Jesus in the Spirit. The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, but it affects every part of life because all of our existence as human beings is dependent upon and is to be directed toward the Creator and Sustainer of our existence.

God validated our human experience in Jesus Christ, who as God in human flesh, took this existence we experience day by day upon himself and brought it into a new place in his life, death, and resurrection. The apostle Paul says we don’t see ourselves, each other, or Christ through the lens of this broken human existence any longer—we now see them through the lens of the resurrection. Our human existence has been taken to a new level—into the place it was always meant to be a part of—a participation in Jesus’ intimate relationship with the Father in the Spirit. This is the kingdom of God at work in us and in our world through Jesus in the Spirit.

We can make great decisions from a human point of view and experience the benefits in this life—being well-fed, wealthy, and famous. But our blessings and abundance will quickly fade away in the presence of death and the transience of the things of this life. What may at first be experienced as a blessing will instead reap us tragic eternal consequences.

On the other hand, we may find ourselves in the midst of difficulty, sickness, suffering, and even being persecuted for Christ’s sake. And as we struggle, we will grow deeper in our relationship with God in Christ and discover that we are actively participating day by day, right now, in the kingdom of God. In the middle of our hardship, pain, and grief, we are actually experiencing joy, peace, and all the spiritual blessings of life in Christ Jesus. We may also experience many of the blessings of this life, but as we surrender to the will and purposes of God through Christ in the Spirit, we discover that our blessings have an eternal shape, as the image of Christ is being forged into our spirit, and our lives are beginning to reflect the nature and being of the Son of God, who came to do for us and in us what we could not do on our own.

Christ came to write God’s law on our minds and hearts. He sent the Spirit so we could participate right now in that life in relationship with God that he forged into our humanity. He has done all that is needed for our full participation right now and on into eternity in the kingdom of God, and invites us to actively participate through our decisions and choices in all he has done. We are given an invitation—will we toss it in the trashcan and go on our way, or will we excitedly don the robes of righteousness he has sent and join him at the party?

Thank you, Father, for sending us your Son to do what we would not and could not do. Thank you for giving us your Spirit so we could share in your life and love even now. Grant us the grace to say yes to all that is ours in Christ, and to turn a deaf ear to all in this world that would seduce us away, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”       Psalm 1 NASB

“Thus says the LORD, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD. … Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. … I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.’”      Jeremiah 17:5–10 NASB

By the Grace of God

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By Linda Rex

February 6, 2022, EPIPHANY | 5th Sunday—When I started writing this blog back in 2013, my original intent was to take what I was learning about the inner relations of the Triune God as Father, Son and Spirit, and apply them to our everyday life. Often, we try to separate our life in Christ from our everyday experiences, rather than live in the reality that all of life is lived in the midst of God’s life and love. The blessing of the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus touches every part of our human experience in every moment because he lived as one of us, in a human body, as God in human flesh and lives in us today by his Holy Spirit.

Over time, I began to write these devotional pieces in conjunction with the Revised Common Lectionary so that they might be used as inspiration and edification for those planning sermons based on the lectionary. What I have discovered in writing these pieces is that the Word of God is never stale—there is always something new we can learn from God, if we are open and willing to learn. I find, too, that God’s Word inevitably has something to say to me personally, and I need to always and ever be open to God’s instruction, correction, and direction.

I am grateful to all of you readers over the years who have taken the time and made the effort to read my Our Life in the Trinity blog. I realize that there is a lot of material out there that you could be reading instead, and I appreciate your involvement in my life in this way. It means more to me than I could ever fully express.

My congregations here in Tennessee have been very supportive during the almost ten years since I first moved here in 2012. When I came, the Murfreesboro GCI congregation was part of my circuit, but in 2015 they came to the place where they opted to disband rather than continue as an unchartered GCI fellowship. I had gotten attached to the members there, so it was a difficult time of loss for both me and them when the church closed. Now I am facing the same change with my congregations in Cookeville and Nashville—apart from God’s divine intervention in a major way, they both will be losing their charters as GCI congregations at the end of June. And I will be unable to continue as their pastor.

It is not pleasant to make these changes—change is never easy nor is it comfortable. If I have learned one thing during my time here in the Nashville area—it is that God is faithful, and that even when the congregation where we meet quits meeting or becomes an unchartered fellowship, we do not lose our relationship with God or each other. God has come to us in Jesus Christ and has brought us into intimate communion with himself by his Spirit, and into fellowship with one another in the Spirit. He is always and ever present and at work, and he is faithful to us as we trust in him.

What I have seen is that when these changes occur, God has in many cases moved people into forming deeper relationships with the people in the community where they live. Rather than traveling a significant distance just to meet with other believers, many discovered that there were other believers right where they lived that they could meet with and share life with. They have discovered that life in Christ involves the everyday activities of life like grocery shopping, going to the library, and mowing the neighbor’s lawn.

Yes, we have been blessed with a very special journey as members of Grace Communion International congregations. We know from personal experience what it is like to have God take us from one direction and turn us completely around into the way of grace. We know how painful it is to experience division and accusation and condemnation from those who we thought were our brothers and sisters in Christ. And we’ve received, by God’s grace, a whole new way of coming to know and interact with the living God, who we know now as Father, Son, and Spirit—one God in three Persons. And we are learning what it is to live and walk in love—in Christ by the Spirit.

Over the years, one of the things we have tried to do as a pastoral care team was be involved in the communities in which our congregations are located. Many of us been unable to actually live in the neighborhoods in which our churches were located, which made our efforts to build relationships with people in our communities much more difficult. It has been a challenge, but we have managed to find a few ways in which we could offer Christ’s love in tangible ways to the people in the neighborhoods around where our churches meet. Unfortunately, as of late, we haven’t been able to do as many of these things. Recently, here in Nashville, we have even had to cease our Community Café ministry where we served meals weekly to our neighbors. We simply do not have the resources, human and otherwise, to continue this ministry any longer.

In 1 Corinthians 15:1–11, the apostle Paul describes how he diligently preached the good news of Jesus Christ to the people in Corinth. He knew that he was the last person who should have been doing this ministry since he had so viciously attacked the body of believers before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. He acknowledged that anything he did in furthering the spread of the gospel, the good news of God’s kingdom reign come in Jesus, was due to God’s grace. God was extremely gracious in redeeming and calling Paul to participate in his mission in the world in spite of his past history of persecuting followers of Christ.

In the same way, I realize how gracious God has been in allowing all of us to be a part of what he has been doing here in Tennessee. Considering all of the reasons God probably should not have picked any of us to do this ministry, we are here, simply following Isaiah’s example and saying, “Here I am, Lord. Send me” (Isaiah 6:1–8 (9–13)). There are many churches in this neck of the woods, and whatever little we may be able to do in service to Christ is only a small part of the work God is doing in this area. God has many people he has called into his service—we are only a small part of the picture. And we are truly privileged to participate in all the amazing things God is doing here in Tennessee.

Recently, my husband, Ray and I have been experiencing a call upon our hearts and lives to move into a small rural community in which we can both live and do ministry within either the same building, the same block, or the same square mile. We have felt God’s affirmation of this in several ways, and feel that he is guiding us down a path that will lead us to doing this when my time here as a pastor comes to an end. We invite you to pray with us for God’s guidance and provision as we seek to follow Christ going forward.

I hope to continue this ministry of writing, online ministry, and of sharing the gospel. It may take a different form—I don’t know for sure yet. But in God’s good time, I believe we will be in a place where we can share the good news of Jesus Christ in our everyday lives with others of like mind. In the meantime, please pray for my congregations as we make this necessary transition and adjustment to the changes ahead of us. Thank you for keeping us all in prayer.

Heavenly Father, thank you for including us in your life and in the ministry you are doing in this world through Jesus and in the Spirit. Thank you, Jesus, that you have included us in your life with the Father in the Spirit, so that all of life is lived in and with you. Heavenly Spirit, guide us into the path you have for us to walk, that we may leave all and follow Jesus wherever he goes, for our Father’s glory. Amen.

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; … Your right hand will save me. The LORD will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O LORD, is everlasting; do not forsake the works of Your hands.”   Psalm 138:7–8 NASB

“Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat. When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered and said, ‘Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, ‘Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.’ When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.”     Luke 5:1–11 NASB

Faith, Hope and Love Abide

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By Linda Rex

January 30, 2022, 4th Sunday | Epiphany—At times I am amazed at how fickle we can be when it comes to our interests and affections. I remember when we loved using our VCR. Then one day, we discovered DVD’s. Now I have a shelf full of VCR tapes destined for the thrift store, in hopes someone somewhere will still find them useful.

Unfortunately, our transient passions and affections also affect our relationships. We don’t always realize that we base our interactions with one another on this flimsy foundation of human attachments rather than in the faith, hope, and love expressed towards all of us in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. What is the basis of our relationships with family members, work associates, or community members? Are they grounded in Christ, in his self-offering of love?

This story of Jesus attending the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth is instructive. Look at how Jesus, as was his custom, enters the synagogue and is invited to speak. At first, he is welcomed with open arms, people having heard of his miracles and the popularity of his preaching. They seem to be amazed at his words of grace, saying, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Perhaps it wasn’t even astonishment. They may simply have been appalled that he would imply that he might be more than just the boy down the street.

That’s where the tide begins to turn. Joseph’s son—the child everyone knew growing up, not as a person in his own right, but as the son of Joseph, the craftsman. This young man was daring to step out of the box his hometown had enclosed him in, and was challenging them to rethink who the messiah would be and what would happen when he came. How dare this homegrown hero declare that he was the Anointed One!

Jesus was quite aware of the transition in their affections and was not fazed by it. In fact, it was almost as if he were baiting the crowd when he pointed out the historical reality of Israel’s response to the prophets of old. Anyone can read about Israel’s refusal to believe the prophets when they came. Jesus reminded them of how, during a famine, God sent Elijah to the home of a Gentile widow, and that the only leper healed by Elisha was Naaman, the Syrian. This infuriated the people listening to Jesus. In their rage, they grabbed Christ and tried to shove him off a cliff to kill him.

How interesting. The people of God, the congregation of God’s people, gathered before the living Word of the Lord reading the written word of God, and when he spoke, they were so infuriated, they sought to kill him! This gathering of God’s people should have been the place where faith, hope, and love abode, where the presence of the Lord rested by the Spirit. And instead, the spirit of hate and murder arose in their hearts and they sought to kill Jesus.

But it was not his time—so he walked right through them and went on his way. When it was his time to be killed, in the garden of Gethsemane he willingly offered himself to the temple guards to be taken to the cross to be executed. The reality is that our refusal of Christ’s finished work and our efforts to keep Jesus in our box restricted to our expectations does not alter his perfect gift as the Anointed One on behalf of all people, in his perfect timing according to his Father’s perfect plan.

In living our life, dying our death and rising again, Jesus calls us into a new relationship which we can attempt to ignore or we can joyfully embrace. Jesus, by including us in his intimate relationship with the Father in the Spirit, has brought us up into the reality of the abiding presence of faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these, of course, is love, because that is the very nature of the God who is Father, Son, and Spirit—the God who lives eternally in perichoretic love.

The finished work of Christ invites us to live in a new way—the way of love, expressed in a community of faith which offers the hope of salvation, available to us in Jesus Christ. The Spirit calls us together as the body of Christ, not just so we can hear educated people talk about the Bible. The Spirit calls us together to join in what God is doing in this world through Jesus in the Spirit. The essential ingredient to participation in God’s life and love is relationship, growing in healthy relationships with God and one another—abiding in the faith, hope, and love which is ours in Christ by the Spirit.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Growing up, I was taught to keep to myself, to not interact with people who did not think or act like me. I was expected to keep my distance from anyone who did not profess Christ in the same way I did. I was not much different than the people in the synagogue in Jesus’ hometown. I had Jesus pigeonholed into a particular belief system and way of living, and would not allow him to be who he really was, because that did not fit my expectations and preferences.

God has taken me down a long road of repentance—of turning away from what was false and misguided into what is true, healthy and whole. I still have a long way to go. I realize this because I still struggle with staying in that place where faith, hope, and love abide. I don’t always ground my everyday relationships in Christ and in his perfect self-offering. I spend way too much time avoiding intentional participation in Christ’s mission here on earth rather than immersing myself in everything he is doing. It is a challenge to participate rather than to hide or self-protect—but that is what we are called to do as God’s adopted children.

We don’t get to choose our spiritual siblings. We are all included in God’s embrace, whether we realize it or not, and in spite of our refusal to accept or embrace it. Our experience of life in the abiding presence of God through Christ in the Spirit may be like the warm fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit, or it may be like that angry, violent mob furiously hanging onto their self-dependency and stubborn willfulness. Christ has planted our existence within himself in the center of the inner relationship of the Trinity, where faith, hope and love abide. Will we live there, or continue to seek our own existence, according to our own rules and preferences? Apart from the abiding presence of faith and hope centered in God’s love, we just sound like a noisy cymbal, adding little value apart from that which has been provided by God himself, in Christ by the Spirit.

Jesus Christ is our “rock of habitation to which [we] may continually come.” He is our salvation. This is what is true. What will we do with this blessed gift? Will we abide in Christ, the place where faith, hope, and love abide within the Triune God? Will we walk in love, in the Spirit, intentionally building relationships with those around us as full participants in God’s mission in this world to let everyone know of God’s perfect love and life? Or will we go our own way?

Dear God, thank you for inviting us to participate in your life as Father, Son, and Spirit. Thank you for inviting us up into the place where faith, hope, and love abide. Grant us the grace to abide there with you and one another through Jesus in your Spirit. Amen.

“And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, He went His way.”     Luke 4:(21–29) 28–30 NASB

“Be to me a rock of habitation to which I may continually come; You have given commandment to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress.”     Psalm 71:3 (1–6) NASB

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. … But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”     1 Corinthians 13:1–13 NASB

The Messianic Spirit

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By Linda Rex

January 23, 2022, 3rd Sunday of Epiphany—One common thread that seems to run through life no matter what century we live in is a desire for someone to come and solve the great problems of life. We may face economic woes, political corruption, moral depravity, or natural disasters, and be tempted to embrace just about anyone who will come in and “save the day.” The price we pay for trusting the wrong person to be our messiah can ultimately be pretty steep, but in those times of great stress and struggle, we may think that we can look the other way for a while, and trust them to fix what we want fixed, and hopefully deal with the fallout on the other side without too much loss.

It is significant that when God pulls together by the Spirit members of the body of Christ, he doesn’t choose any particular person to be the savior. Rather, he pulls together all different sorts of people, gifting each one uniquely so that his purposes will be accomplished, but done in the context of community. The Spirit brings together unique persons with distinct gifts and creates a body of people in and through whom he can do ministry in this world. But Christ remains the one unique Messiah, Savior of all, and allows his body, the Church, to participate in what he is doing in the world.

When Jesus described his messianic mission, he began by saying, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” Jesus did not function alone in this world while he was on earth. No, he came as God in human flesh on mission with his Father in the Spirit. The Triune God was at work in and through Jesus Christ, and it was God’s kingdom that was present and active in his personal presence and action when Jesus stood that day in the synagogue and began by the Spirit to read from the book of Isaiah.

Jesus went on to read about what he was anointed by the Spirit to do: “… he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the line, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

Then he ended by telling his listeners that this was being fulfilled in that moment as Jesus stood and expounded the Scriptures to them (Luke 4:14–21 NASB).

In a community that had recently experienced Roman wrath poured out against a Jewish messiah, such talk from a Jew who they were familiar with was really hard to handle. What would be the consequences of the wrong person hearing Jesus speak? Perhaps the common people might appreciate the miracles and the preaching, but the leaders would not have wanted another season of Roman oppression and violence.

But Jesus said, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” That’s the real issue. What do we do when the Spirit goes to work and says to us, “I’ve got something new I am doing—join me.” When the Spirit calls us down a new road of ministry that looks different than what we have been doing, then what? Do we dictate to the Spirit or does the Spirit call us to join with him? This is our challenge as the body of Christ. Are we doing what we are doing “in the Spirit?” Or are we doing it in our flesh and asking the Spirit to bless it?

The body of Christ takes many different forms in the world today. The Spirit brings people together to do ministry in this world. The Spirit even moves in ways which many of us would consider secular. But the Spirit is always and ever active, moving to accomplish the purposes of God in this world. We can enthusiastically join in with him in what he is doing, or we can insist on God accomplishing those tasks we think he should be accomplishing. What does the kingdom of God look like when God brings it to fulfillment here on earth as it is in heaven?

Life in the kingdom of God begins now as Christ in us by the Spirit reigns in human hearts. There is an already-not yet aspect to the kingdom of God. In Christ by the Spirit the kingdom of God is already at work in this world, specifically within the body of Christ, in the communion of the saints. But we also realize that the kingdom of God is not realized in its fulness since so many people today do not fully participate in God’s life and love, not knowing that the kingdom of God is present and active in their lives even now through Jesus and in the Spirit.

The Spirit brings people together into a body, a group of people joined together, uniquely framed into a form that will accomplish God’s particular task in that place for his purpose. We find that not everyone is the same. The Spirit gifts people uniquely, and some may seem to be more gifted than others. The point is not whether someone is more gifted than another. The point is that each of these gifts are brought together into the unity of the Spirit to accomplish a particular purpose in that specific place.

It is equally true that the body of Christ takes a form which is always changing. We like to get in our groove and start doing things a certain way, and then assume that it will always stay like that. In reality, the Spirit is living and active. He is always in motion, doing what is new and life-giving at all times.

It may be that that the Spirit is wanting to do something new while we have our boots stuck in the mud and don’t want to move forward. This is why Jesus faced such opposition from the Jewish leaders in his day. They believed the Spirit only worked in one particular way—their way. They did not see that the Lord of all, who was filled with the Spirit, was the one directing them into a new path. The king of the kingdom of God was present and calling them to a new direction, but they did not want to hear it, much less participate in it.

The apostle Paul, in our reading from 1 Corinthians 12:12–31a, ends this section about spiritual gifts with an invitation to see a new and better way rather than focusing on spiritual giftedness. This transition invites us to discover the beauty and wonder of God’s way of being—love. This is an other-centered way of being that both gives and receives in a mutuality of love and respect. This harmony and unity among unique and equal persons is the image we are to reflect as the body of Christ, for this is the way of being of the Triune God as Father, Son, and Spirit.

Ultimately, we don’t need a messiah just to deliver us—we need the Messiah to transform and heal us. What happens in this world would be so much different if we each were living “filled with the Spirit” in the unity and oneness Christ brought us into through his messiahship. Jesus described life in the kingdom of God in this world today as discipleship, and said that people would know we are Christ’s disciples by our love for one another. What if, instead of counting on a human messiah, we began to trust in our true Messiah, Jesus Christ, and began living and walking in the Messianic Spirit he has poured out on all flesh?

Thank you, Father, for including us in your life and love through Jesus in the Spirit. Grant us the grace to remain open to your leading and obedient to your Spirit at all times. Keep us surrendered to your will and purposes, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. …  God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. … Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. … But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.”     1 Corinthians 12:12–31a NASB

Grateful for the Gifts

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By Linda Rex

January 16, 2022, 2nd Sunday in Epiphany—The sun is shining over my yard filled with snow. There is every reason to be filled with joy, but this morning my joy is tempered with grief at the passing of Bob Taylor. Bob was a mentor to me as well as a support in many ways in our ministry here in Nashville. I still remember how he and Jan made me feel welcome and at home when I was so nervous and anxious about starting my first pastorate. I was a newbie and they were gracious and patient as I learned the ropes of ministry.

I learned a lot from Bob over the years. We did not always agree on things, but he opened my eyes to see things from another viewpoint. Through his eyes I saw my need to grow up and my need to be gracious to those whose strong opinions did not agree with mine. He encouraged me to develop the spiritual gifts of ministry—preaching, leading, administrating. And he supported me in ways for which I am very grateful.

It is significant that this Sunday’s reading from the New Testament is 1 Corinthians 12:1–11. It is the Holy Spirit who gifts people for ministry of all kinds and in the unity of the Trinity, works out the purposes of God in this world. Even though each of us is different and excels in our gifting in unique ways, all our gifts have their source in the one, unique Spirit who is Lord of all.

Bob definitely had the gift of administration and finances. He could do things with numbers that would make my brain fog over. He helped a lot of people over the years by offering up his gifts in service to Christ. Many members recall his visits during the critical transitional years in GCI, and are grateful for the sacrificial service he offered during that time.

At times, when I am speaking with a follower of Christ, they will tell me that they have no spiritual gifts. I certainly do not believe that to be true. In most cases, I have found that it is not a matter of them not having gifts. It’s more a matter of them not having the courage and faith to try something new and discover the latent gifts they do have. Or not being willing to offer up to Christ and his Church the gifts he has given them, but choosing to hide or ignore them instead.

In refusing to believe God has gifted us in any way, we deny the work of the Spirit in our lives. Take for example a mother who chooses to stay at home and care for her children full time. Having done this at one time in my life, I understand the negative messages such a mother may receive from the culture regarding her decision. She may believe she has no spiritual gifts. In reality, she is doing a powerful ministry to her children and family—one that will last on into eternity. Isn’t the ability to love and care for others a gift we receive from the Spirit?

We all have been given unique gifts, talents, abilities, experiences, and educations. The spiritual gifts listed in Scripture are important as well. All of these gracious gifts from God, when gratefully offered up to him, have an impact on our marriages, our families, our communities, God’s creation, and his world. Why would we want to hide what God meant to be a blessing and a joy for him and others?

Developing the gifts, talents, and abilities we do have is important as well. Bob and the church graciously supported my completion of a masters in pastoral studies. This was such an encouragement to me, as it affirmed my worth as a woman as well as a pastor. When someone offers up their gifts to Christ, we can offer our support by coming alongside them to help them on their journey of obedience and service. Often it is the encouragement, financial or physical support, prayers, and help of others that enables someone to courageously step out in faith to offer up the gifts God has given them.

There is also the matter of finding our giftedness and growing in it within the context of community. There are times when we may decide we have a certain spiritual gift, when others around us see clearly that this is not our gift at all. It is important for us to listen to those around us in the body of Christ who love us and know us well. They often see what we do not see. They may call forth a gift in us by pointing it out and encouraging us to develop it. Or they may point out that there are others who are more gifted than we are in an area we believe we are gifted in. In humility, we can receive this information and be blessed by it, for God’s Spirit guides us in the recognition of and development of our gifts as we are open to his leading.

I was thinking about these things and reading the gospel story for this Sunday. It’s the story about Jesus going to a wedding in Cana with his disciples. His mother realized that the host was out of wine—a very embarrassing circumstance in that community. She took the problem to Jesus. His response was, “What does that have to do with us/me? It’s not my time yet.” But she responded by saying to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you to do.”

A couple of things popped out as I looked at this. First, why did Mary immediately go to Jesus with the problem? Was she expecting him to pull out his wallet and go shopping? Or did she realize the Spirit had uniquely gifted her Son, and that he could do exactly what was needed in that moment? At times, the Spirit places us in a circumstance in which we are the ones with the gifting which is needed to do what needs done in that time and place. We may not realize that we are the ones gifted by the Spirit to do what is needed, but others will and they will come to us and invite us to be a part of the solution. Has that ever happened to you? What was your response?

The second thing that popped out was what Mary said to the servants. The thing about spiritual gifts is that they are given by the Spirit for a purpose and to fill a need. What has the Spirit prompted you to do? What is the Spirit calling you out to provide in that moment of need? I would say to you what Mary said to those servants: Do whatever the Spirit tells you to do. Follow the lead of the Spirit as he directs you and affirms that direction by the unity of the body of Christ.

Jesus very well could have pulled out his wallet, told the servants to go into town and buy up all the wine they could find. He could have hidden his anointing a little longer if he had wanted to. But he didn’t. He knew that the minute he turned that water into wine, he was headed for the cross. But that did not stop him from doing the one thing only he could do—transform H2O molecules into wine molecules. He offered himself up freely for the sake of others, a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. May we offer our own spiritual gifts up in that same Spirit of self-sacrificial offering.

Thank you, Father, for freely offering us your Son and your Spirit. Thank you, Jesus, for freely offering us yourself. Thank you, Spirit, for coming and filling us, and gifting us so generously. We offer ourselves and all these gifts back to you with gratitude, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is accursed’; and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”      1 Corinthians 12:1–11 NASB

See also John 2:1–11 NASB.