by Linda Rex
“He’s gone.” These words spoke of the end and the beginning of a story of a life well lived. The end—because he had taken his last breath. The beginning—because he had begun his eternal journey into places we have yet to explore.
I had gone to see him earlier this week. When I told him I had intended to bring him a joke but couldn’t think of one, he cracked the slightest smile. He wasn’t able to speak anymore, but he had not lost his sense of humor.
During my visit, one thing came apparent. This man had grown in his walk with Christ to the place that he had begun to reflect the life and love of Jesus in a deep way. As his wife held his hand and talked to us about him, his eyes never left her face. It was as if he was trying to drink her in—every last drop.
At one point I had to step out with his mom onto the porch so he could be cared for. We talked for a while. When we stepped back into the house, I told the gentleman I had met his mom and that we had been chatting. With an extreme effort that lifted him off his pillow, he blurted out the words, “All right?” I assured him that she would be all right. He relaxed, as though it had been on his mind for some time.
This man set a powerful example of how to love: Here he was in the midst of his own crucifixion but his concern was for his wife, his mother and his children. Doesn’t that sound familiar to those of us to have heard the story of Jesus’ crucifixion? This is the legacy of a saint. May we each find the grace to leave such a legacy behind us as well.
Lord, I thank you for being given the privilege of witnessing the legacy of a life well lived. Thank you, that in you, Jesus, we are never alone in any of our circumstances, but you are always and ever present in the Spirit, sharing with us in our joys and our sorrows. Father, please pour your Comforter out in new ways in the hearts and lives of those who have suffered loss. Remind us all of your faithful love and grace—in Jesus name. Amen.
“When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.” John 19:26–27
By Linda Rex
Recently I was glancing through an online news channel and came across an article about Beate Zschaepe. Ms. Zschaepe is a neo-Nazi, a terrorist who is on trial for the murder of eight people as well as for several bombings and bank robberies. The article went on to say that members of such ultra-right wing groups are actively working to “normalize” their groups in such a way that they are able to recruit children and youths, indoctrinating them at an early age into their political views and tactics.
It seems that everywhere I turn I am bombarded with one reason after another as to why I should be afraid of something or someone. On Facebook I read about the dangers of consuming aspartame and genetically modified foods. I hear on the radio about someone with a new scheme for stealing people’s personal data that I need to watch out for. I read about a new form of meth that’s being sold or some other reason why I don’t want my teenager in public school. I’m told by a friend about how their mother and father were tricked into losing their pension by a scam artist. The list goes on and on.
We live in a culture of fear. It seems that everywhere we turn there are more things to be afraid of or watch out for. We are busy striving to make sure we meet our obligations, handle our relationships well, and cut out some time to take care of ourselves. But it is never enough. It is no wonder many people end up with high blood pressure or stress-related diseases! We exist in a culture that can cause us to live constantly in a state of “fight or flight.” We’re always on the alert for something that could disrupt or ruin our life.
It seems to me that there is a mythology that goes along with this fear culture. It is the belief that somehow if we worked hard enough, were clever enough and used enough ingenuity, we could prevent all this bad stuff from happening, or at least could keep it from harming us and those we love. There seems to be an underlying belief that if we just had enough information, put out enough effort, we could keep ourselves safe and prevent all this craziness from touching us or those close to us. But then reality hits and we find we are just as vulnerable as the next person.
I am learning that living in a culture of fear requires that we be people of faith. Not faith in things or in people or in institutions or religions, but faith in that which is certain, dependable and trustworthy. We need someone or something bigger than we are that we can turn to in every situation and circumstance of our lives. Someday we will find ourselves in a place where there is no one to turn to but ourselves and we will find then that we are not enough. It is in that place that we come up against the truth about our humanness—that we are not divine, but fragile and temporal though we may indeed be valiant and brave.
We can face this truth of our need for something beyond ourselves in many ways, including despair and denial or rage. But at some point we will come face to face with the Divine, with that underlying, wise, loving Person in whom we “live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) At that point we can continue to live in fear of him or come to see him as he truly is—our loving, compassionate Daddy-God who wants nothing more than to live in a close, intimate relationship with us and to have us share in his life and love as Father, Son and Spirit.
Sadly, throughout the centuries, we as human beings have chosen our own path, to determine for ourselves what is right and what is wrong, and to live independently of him as though he didn’t exist at all. Yet God has been doing everything possible to provide for us, to give our lives value and purpose, so we can live in a happy, meaningful relationship with him.
In fact, he came into our universe, bore a human body just like you and me, lived, suffered and died and rose again, so that we could live without fear, in a relationship of peace and trust and joy in him. As the person Jesus Christ, God the Word took upon himself our lives with all that we experience day by day—the fear, the suffering, the struggles as well as the joys and triumphs. He brought us into a relationship with God in himself that is like that of a beloved child with his parents. He demonstrated his great love for each of us in this way.
It is this great love which God expresses to us in Jesus Christ that takes away our fear. When we know and live in relationship with a living Lord who is involved in every detail of our lives each and every day, we no longer need to live in fear. When we see, hear or feel the fearful, negative things around begin to bombard us, we can allow them to overwhelm us. Or we can turn to our heavenly Father who through our loving Lord brought us into relationship with himself by the Holy Spirit. God is personally interested in everything about us and passionately seeks to protect us from or help us through everything that seeks to harm or destroy us.
God is real. His servants, who are ministering spirits, are also real. You are deeply loved and cared for. If and when bad things happen, God does not love you any less. In fact, in Christ, he experiences your pain, your struggle, or sorrow, and he goes through it with you because his Spirit is with you and in you.
It is a matter of faith. What, or who, do you trust in? Where do you turn when the world around you gets scary? All that you need is present in Jesus Christ—will you believe? If you find you can’t—feel free to ask him for the faith you need to believe. He has plenty of it to go around and some of it he meant for you to have so you could trust in him. Choose faith over fear. And begin to see the world through new eyes.
Thank you, Loving Father, that there is no reason for us to live in fear. Thank you for putting your angels around us, for leading and guiding us each and every day, even when we forget to ask or turn to you. Grant us faith to believe that you are ever with us and that you love us so deeply that we can live without fear each and every day. You are our trustworthy God. In Jesus Christ, we choose to trust you. Amen.
“When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust ; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?” —Psalm 56:3-4 (NASB)
by Linda Rex
I was deeply grieved and concerned by the events that transpired at the Boston Marathon yesterday. No doubt the marathon runners had spent months and even years training, preparing to run in the event. Those who came out to watch had loved ones who were running in the race. Each of these people who were at this event, whether participating or watching, had a story—what brought them there and what they hoped to have happen at the event.
Then the unforeseen occurred. Someone, somewhere, sought only to wreak havoc on other people’s lives. They sought to harm, not to heal or to help. And they had no conscience about who they hurt, for even those who were there to tend to the wounded were harmed.
In the aftermath of such carnage, it is easy to give trite responses. I hope that I will not do that today. But I do want to call the people of America back to their heritage of resilience in the midst of struggle and suffering.
Throughout the decades of our existence as a nation, we have faced many struggles and tragedies. Native peoples and settlers alike fought to survive. Many endured the tragic loss of dear ones through war. The troughs of depression and recession have had their victims as well. Other devastating events like 9/11 have left their mark.
But there is a deep inner strength that, in years past, our people called upon to carry them through these times. Some gave in to their fear and some yielded to the call of traitors and easy money. But there have been others, many others, who looked upward and inside and found a deep faith to carry them through the hard times. This faith gave them the courage to stand against evil and its ravages. This faith gave them strength and endurance as they ran the difficult marathon of life.
In American society today where everything except perhaps our relationships comes easily for most of us, there are not as many occasions available for us to learn the skill of resilience. Many people may complain about their bills or about making ends meet, but most of them have food to eat and a place to live and a way to earn their living, as well as money for the pleasant things of life.
If people cannot make ends meet and end up on the street, there are programs and people who will feed them and may even give them a place to stay the night. There are food banks, shelters, mission houses and soup kitchens galore. This shows the compassion of our people and the love God places in our hearts to care for one another.
But what if you are the one who finds out you are going to be evicted and you know you have no place to go? What if you are the one was laid off unexpectedly and now you don’t have any money even to pay for the groceries? What if you are the one who is facing the consequences of years of mismanaging your money and overspending? What if you are the one facing an unexpected, tragic loss like those experienced yesterday in Boston?
We come to these crossroads in life, these forks where we must make difficult choices. We can give up, give in, or we can do the hard, grueling work of training like the marathon runners preparing for a race. We can bewail our loss and lose our heart for living and running the race when tragedy strikes us, or we can reach upward and inward and draw upon the deep spiritual resources of our faith in God and persevere. These are opportunities to grow in resilience, in endurance and patience, if we are willing to see them in that light.
Undergoing the loss of a loved one, the loss of a limb, the loss of home, family or occupation is not for sissies. It is tough. We need each other and we need to remember we are deeply loved by Someone who is much greater than ourselves and our circumstances. It is the crisis of faith, the final leg of the race, where we need the inner strength to push ourselves to our limits and beyond if necessary. And we are never alone as we do this, if we are willing to allow others in. May God continue to carry you through your tragedies and struggles this day, and may we offer one another the encouragement and support as it is needed.
Loving Heavenly Father, your heart is broken by the many ways in which we harm and hurt one another, and by the pain and suffering that comes from it. No doubt, Jesus, your heart goes out to those grieving and suffering in Boston, as well as elsewhere throughout the world where tragedy has occurred. Lord God, may your divine Spirit pour out upon each of us your comfort, peace and love. Give us strength of heart, courage and faith to endure the struggles and grow in endurance and resilience. Let your compassion, healing and help be evident as we care for one another in difficult times. Thank you for your faithful love in Jesus. Amen.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Heb 12:1–3 (NASB)
by Linda Rex
Have you ever had one of those occasions when your mouth gets the best of you even though you are trying real hard to bite your tongue? I had one of those the other day.
A very nice lady called me up to talk to me about a form I had filled out. She had some valid questions and comments to make. And I tried to listen and answer her in the best way that I could. But as we talked, I understood less and less what she was talking about and became more and more confused and frustrated, even though I was trying very hard to understand and respond appropriately.
Eventually I found myself talking out of my frustration instead of out of the love of Christ. I realize now that I was so busy being upset about what she was saying and that I might have made a mistake that I really didn’t hear what she was saying. If I had just heard her out and took a few minutes to think, I would not have responded as I did. The phone conversation would have taken half as long. And she would not have had to put up with my inconsiderate speech.
As we closed the call, I apologized to her for my poor phone manners. I was truly sorry I had been such a sore heel about such a simple matter. She was very gracious, considering the fact that I was guilty of “shooting the messenger.” I’m grateful that she was patient and willing to forgive.
So often we can find ourselves in the place where we are so busy defending ourselves from a supposed wrong that we don’t realize that the other person isn’t there to criticize but to help. We can become guilty of attacking the very person who is there to help us out and is trying to do us a favor.
I believe this happens when we lose sight of the reality that at the cross we all stand at the same place. We are all made worthy of the same love of God in Christ. We need to see each person we meet as a “messenger” of God in that he or she is also made in God’s image for his glory. We are all sinners, every one, cleansed and perfected by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and brought into the love and life of Father, Son, and Spirit.
In the light of that truth about ourselves and others, we can face up to our failures with humility and grace. And because we are deeply aware of our need for God’s grace and love and are living and walking in the Spirit, we can be gracious and loving to others, even when we are feeling frustrated or confused. And when we fall short, as I did the day I “shot the messenger”, we can receive the same grace we offer to others when they too fail to act and speak in love. This is the way in which God meant for us to live and walk in love, in the light of Jesus, the Word of Life. This is what makes us family.
Holy Father, thank you for always being gracious with us when we do not guard our tongues or our attitudes and behaviors as we ought. Too often we are governed by our tongues rather than bringing them under submission to your will and your love. Lord, please fill our hearts and minds with your love and life. Let us daily live and speak in love as we dwell in heavenly places with you in Christ Jesus. May your love, as Father, Son, and Spirit, dwell in our hearts by faith and continue to transform us in such a way that our speech and conduct always reflect your glory. In Jesus’ Name, we pray. Amen.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” –Proverbs 15:1
by Linda Rex
I recall many years ago when I would sit down at the piano for a few quiet moments with the music, I was never able to finish more than a song or two before I was interrupted. A tiny hand would begin tapping on my knee and one of my children would begin to snuggle up next to me and try to crawl into my lap.
I would try to talk with them while I was playing and avoid the lapful, but soon I would feel both their hands reaching up to clasp my face and to turn it towards theirs. They wanted all of mommy, not just her voice. They wanted my full attention!
This reminds me of a song that I heard again recently—“From a Distance.” It is a beautiful song with lyrics that remind us of the importance of keeping our perspective when looking at ourselves and our lives here on earth. However, there is one phrase from the song that really bothers me: “God is watching us, from a distance.”
Perhaps the reason it bothers me so much is that I feel it contradicts the very nature of God in his relationship with humanity. From the beginning we see God walking in the garden with Adam and Eve, talking with them and building a relationship with them. The Scriptures show God interacting with human beings throughout their history here on earth in a real, personal way.
In Psalm 139, the psalmist reminds us that wherever we go, wherever we are, God is already there. He knows us before we are born and what we will be when we grow up. He knows when we rise and when we lay down, and knows what we are going to say before we say it. In fact, we cannot go anywhere, where God isn’t because God is everywhere. He is omnipresent. It is God’s nature, in the Spirit, to be everywhere in his creation all at the same time, as well as being fully present in his Triune relations of Father, Son and Spirit.
God did not intend to deal with humanity “from a distance.” In coming himself in the person of the Word and taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus, Christ became one of us. Being God “from a distance” was not something he wanted to do. Instead, he wanted to share in our humanity and he took on all that was and is ours, transforming it by his very presence and power into a new humanity in himself. The God who was wholly other than us and who made us became one of us, forever joining himself to us, becoming something he had not been before.
Why would this God do such a thing? His love for all of the humans he created was so great that he did not want to live in eternity without us. He did not want us to return to the nothingness out of which he created us, even though in Adam that was our choice. No, he was willing to do everything he could to prevent it. In this case it meant his very presence in our world, in our humanity. God gave us his full attention! He gave us his one, unique Son, so that we might have eternal life in him.
Recently we celebrated Resurrection Day, commonly called Easter. This day remembers the miracle of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the grave after his crucifixion and death. The death of Christ was a horrific experience that so profoundly affected his disciples that they locked themselves away in fear of the Jews. Closed away, they had great difficulty believing the story of the women who came to tell them of the resurrection. Even when they saw the empty grave themselves, they still closeted themselves away in fear.
One of the first things Jesus did after his resurrection was to appear in the locked room where the disciples were gathered and to greet them with the customary greeting, “Shalom.” “Peace be with you,” he said to his fearful followers. He graced them with the reassurance of his presence and ensured that they would have his presence within them in the person and presence of the Holy Spirit, the “other Helper.” He had promised his disciples that he would never leave or forsake them but would always be present with them, and he kept that promise.
We can be comforted in the knowledge that the promise of God’s constant presence continues for each of us today. God continues to be for us, with us, and in us, as we believe and trust in him to work his saving grace in us and our lives. We may hear the music of God singing over us as we go about our work and play, and at any time we can reach out to him, and we will have his full attention. God is fully present in every way at all times, whether we realize it or not. What a precious and perfect gift from the Father of lights!
Holy God, thank you for your complete and perfect love for each and every one of us. Thank you for your gift of your personal presence in us and in our lives. Thank you for your precious Spirit who is always present in every possible way, and that we have Jesus as well. For you, God, as Father, Son and Spirit are ever omnipresent, always in us, with us and for us, and so you are more than worthy of our praise. 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.” John 20:19-20
by Linda Rex
In my last blog, “Beyond the Now of Suffering” I talked about how to rejoice when you feel your world is crumbling or has been profoundly shattered. It is only in Christ that we may have any joy at all under such circumstances and it is a joy that looks in hope towards the future. But, as I stressed, in the midst of our heartache we are never alone in our grief and suffering—God in Christ by the Spirit is present in the midst of it, weeping and aching with us.
God does not want us to deny or ignore or try to fantasize away our suffering. God does not ask us to pretend tragedy did not happen or that loss will not or did not occur. Nor does he ask us to have a “stiff upper lip” and just brave it out, pretending that everything is okay. Living in denial, emotional numbness or in a sense of false spirituality is not healthy, nor is it godly.
There are many examples from the human life of Jesus that express his compassion and willingness to share in another person’s grief and suffering. He did not deny the real grief of Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus died. In fact, he wept with them. Yes, he pointed them beyond his death to the hope of the resurrection, but he also shared in their grief and did not minimize it in any way. This is the heart of compassion and understanding that God has given us in Christ.
I am reminded of the story of when Jesus was traveling to the city of Nain. He met a funeral procession on his way. The mourners were weeping over the death of the only son of a widow. In that culture, this was a real tragedy because, not only did she lose someone very dear to her, but now she would be forced to find some way to provide for herself whether through begging or some worse occupation. She was really at a place where there was no hope or future for her. The text says that when Jesus saw her, his heart went out to her. He was filled with compassion.
Jesus does the same for each of us today. Just as Jesus faces our suffering today with a heart of compassion, he comes alongside us as well to ease our burdens and to find a way to help us through our tragedies and difficulties to a new place. He may, in our case, not raise the dead as he did in hers, but he will bring our dead and dying circumstances and situations in time to a place of new life. Meanwhile he ministers to us in many ways.
Jesus ministers to us through the person and presence of the Holy Spirit. When we turn to Christ in our struggles and suffering, we are blessed with the real comfort and peace that comes through the ministering presence of God through the Spirit. I have had widows tell me how they have experienced the nearness of God in a profound way after the death of their spouse. They have been comforted and encouraged in a real way through his ministry and grace. This is something we can ask God to do for those we know who are suffering or going through a time of darkness.
Jesus also ministers to us through his body, the universal church of God. We are surrounded by people of faith, whether from our church or not, who offer us consolation, encouragement, support and real, human assistance. The people of God are the physical “hands and feet” of Jesus for us in the midst of our tragedy and struggle. It is important for us as believers to be sensitive to the needs of those in the midst of crisis and not to belittle or minimize or spiritualize away their suffering. God meant for us instead to express Jesus’ heart of compassion and comfort toward them in the midst of it. God meant for us to be “place-sharers” in their lives—to be present with them as they go through it—not trying to fix it or them, but just being for them the real presence of God in the Spirit in that moment.
Finally, Jesus ministers to us through his Word, whether through the Scriptures, the spoken word and through “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Many a person has been revived at a point of crisis through hearing a song on the radio, receiving a card in the mail, being given a note of encouragement, or by listening to an inspired message. These are all real tangible gifts we can extend to others in their time of need or assist others in being able to receive.
God finds ways to bring us real help and strength in the midst of our human existence which includes suffering, struggle and difficulty. He does not leave us to muddle through somehow on our own. Nor should we expect others to do so either. If we have any heart of compassion at all, we should be finding ways to ease the suffering of others, not adding to it by our insensitivity or by ignoring it or minimizing it. For as members of the body of Christ, we do not suffer alone; when one person suffers, we all suffer.
Holy God, thank you for the wonder of your great compassion and tenderness for us in the midst of suffering and tragedy. We praise you that nothing in our lives escapes your notice. Thank you for the real ministry of your Holy Spirit, of the body of Christ and of the Word of God when we are in need. Remind us now of ways in which we might bless the lives of others who are suffering this week in a real way. Encourage and strengthen each of us who are in the midst of tragedy and loss right now in a real way so that we might bear these things we are facing that are difficult and painful to bear. We are grateful that we never have to walk through these things alone—you are always with us. Triune God—Father, Son and Spirit, we need you now, more than ever—please send your comfort, your peace and your grace, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” — 1 Corinthians 12:24b-27
by Linda Rex
I sat with a friend one day as she told me the sad story of her husband’s tragic accident. He lingered for several agonizing days and then passed on. It was heartbreaking. I was sorry to lose his friendship as well as to watch her grieve the loss of her dearest friend. In the midst of this horrific event, how could we rejoice?
The only joy we can find in such times is in our knowledge that we may look forward to spending eternity with this dear one because of what Jesus Christ did for us. We look forward to a wonderful future spent in the presence of the Triune God, enveloped in and included in the triune life and love of Father, Son and Spirit. Next to this eternity of joy, peace, and heartwarming meaningful occupation in God’s presence, our time of struggle becomes extremely brief and almost insignificant. It’s all a matter of perspective.
This is why Paul repeatedly calls us to keep our minds and hearts on heavenly things rather than on earthly things. It is our focus on the heavenly things that gives our struggles and trials meaning.
It is a given that we will struggle in this life and may even have to suffer extreme trials. It is a given that at some point we will have to experience grief and sorrow. It is the nature of the human condition.
But our human condition is the reason why Christ came. God saw us in our pain and suffering, and in the person of the Word, he came and joined us. He became human in the person of Jesus Christ, living like us, grieving with us and dying our death for us. The answer to human suffering is found in God’s choice, made in his divine freedom, to take on and transform human flesh by living as a human being, dying, rising and ascending to heaven, taking our transformed humanity with him into the love and life of himself.
God, who is love, revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. God taught us, in Jesus Christ, that true love is forgiving, self-offering, and self-sacrificing, humble and serving in nature. Jesus, in rising from the grave, transformed our humanity, making us new in him and drawing us into the very presence of the triune God for all eternity. There is no suffering, grief or sorrow we experience in this life he will not share in. He feels it keenly himself.
So in the transient suffering of this life we are not alone. We can rejoice that Jesus Christ shares in it with us and that by his Spirit he strengthens us and carries us through these dark times. And in the end the whole purpose of all that we have suffered and gone through will be revealed in him when we are transformed into his likeness as glorified human beings and spend eternity in joyful unity with the triune God, sharing in his love and life forever.
Dear God, thank you that we are not alone in our suffering and trials. Thank you for being with us, in us and for us through them all in Christ by your Spirit. Thank you for giving us an eternal, living hope to carry us beyond them to a glorious future with you. Grant us the grace to endure and to be transformed by your gracious efforts in our trials and suffering into your glorious and radiant sons and daughters who will love and serve you faithfully forever. We pray in your name, Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.
“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,…” 1 Peter 1:6 (NASB)