by Linda Rex
I was thinking about the lost art of Bible reading. The Bible used to be the main textbook in the classroom. Many parents and teachers used the Bible to teach their children to read. Although I don’t really see the benefit of teaching a child to read using, “and Attai begat Nathan, and Nathan begat Zabad, and Zabad begat Ephlal, and Ephlal begat Obed,…” (1 Chr. 2:36-37 YLT) when most adults including myself can’t even pronounce the names correctly, there is benefit in the Bible being used so frequently. The words and content were more readily available to the average person, so that many learned a basic form of morality and Christian basis for living as part of their daily life.
The great Protestant tradition of each person being able to read and interpret the Bible as the Spirit leads has allowed for a great variety in translations and religions within the realm of Christianity. But, naturally, there is some danger in this. When a person believes that they have received a specific revelation out of scripture and they begin to spread it around as though it is the truth (when really it is a misinterpretation of Scripture) then this is a problem. When the Scriptures are used to lead people away from the central truth of Scripture—Jesus Christ and salvation through him alone—this is a serious situation indeed.
In Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees and scribes, who were taking him to task for associating with and caring for the sinners and outcasts of society, he brought up the fact that even though the Israelite nation had had the word of God for centuries, they really never did hear it. Or when they did hear it, it did not transform their lives. It pointed them to Jesus Christ, who would be the fulfillment of the scriptures and bring salvation for all people, but they didn’t recognize him when he came.
The truth is that a person can have the Bible and even read it and memorize it, but without a heart of faith, a heart that is humble and surrendered to the Father, that trusts in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and is open to the work and will of the Holy Spirit, the Bible will make no difference in their life. Until God, by his Spirit, writes the law of love on a person’s heart and mind, the words cannot and will not be understood correctly, or believed and obeyed as God intended.
Surely, a person can have an outstanding “form of godliness.” We had a form of godliness for many years as members of the former Worldwide Church of God. We had seventh day Sabbath-keeping, holy day keeping, tithing (3 of them even) and clean foods eating godliness. We had the “we are the nation of Israel” holiness that excluded people of other races and ethnicities through our Anglo/British Israelism. And we brought the Holy Spirit along as the power we needed—always asking God for more of it because we never could be quite good enough. We definitely stood out in the society as being “separate.”
It was a “feel good” religion because all of us felt how good we were compared to everyone else because we were doing what was right while everyone else was obeying pagan holidays and disobeying God. The truth was that this “form of godliness” was a slavery and we didn’t really feel that good after all, because in our hearts we knew we never could be good enough. We were constantly striving to “overcome” so we could make it into God’s kingdom. We lived daily with that nagging feeling of guilt and shame that comes when we are striving to do relationship with God in our own strength. We were never sure that God really did love us, individually, fully, unconditionally.
Being immersed in this religion since the day I took my first breath and having seen and heard the founders, movers and shakers of this religion since the time I could first remember, I, much like the apostle Paul in his day, feel a deep yearning for the freedom of all those who are still bound by these ways of thinking and believing. How I long to help others see that Jesus Christ, who is/was God in human flesh, brought together all of Israel and all other people together in himself, in his person! He joined us forever in himself so that now he is the law, the law written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The testimony of the Scriptures points to Jesus Christ as the center—the old covenant and new covenant have him at the core. It is all about him—he is our Sabbath rest, he is our holy day, he is our clean food as the Bread and the Wine, he is our baptism, he is our tithe—the One set apart for holy use!
Was it not enough that he lived in our place, died for us and rose from the dead? Must we continually add things to this in order to feel good enough? If we need guidelines for living, then we need to look to him and look to those he taught when he came. They provide plenty of “rules for living” if we need them—but the apostles all began at a central place, faith in Jesus Christ and in our union with God in him through the Holy Spirit. This is the beginning of our faith and from there we build. This means we have a unified basis for belief and faith.
Jesus warned of the dangers of attributing the work of the Spirit to Satan. This is what our church did. We taught that the early church was deceived and left the faith. This is a denial of the Spirit and his work and I shudder to think that we disrespected him by professing this. May God forgive us! The real truth is that as the Spirit led the early church into a new and deeper understanding of the nature of God that had been revealed to them by Jesus Christ, they included this in the creeds and in their worship. Rejected by the Sabbath-keeping Jews, they began to center their life around Jesus Christ, with the Christian calendar focused on his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. This was not a twisted deception, but a leading of the Holy Spirit and a handing down faithfully of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles. It was Spirit-led and Spirit-filled.
Moses and the Prophets spoke of these days, when the knowledge of God would fill the earth like waters cover the seas, when the worship of God would be found in all nations. Moses and the Prophets pointed us to the One who would come and transform the world by transforming human hearts. When God goes to work in someone’s life and heart through the Spirit and Christ becomes the foundation of their faith, they become a new person. There is a joy and light in their eyes that comes from them knowing to their core that they are loved and cherished by God. I pray that that light will never be extinguished by the lie that somehow being loved and forgiven, being in Christ, is not enough—that they have to add something to this, that they have to add all the things Christ did in their place. May God grant us all the grace to truly trust in Christ and to trust in him alone!
Holy Father, it breaks my heart that so many cannot see the wonder of what you have done for all of us in Jesus Christ. It makes me sad that we are so easily deceived by words, words that twist and corrupt the simple message of the gospel, of faith in Christ. Holy Spirit, forgive us for grieving you, for attributing your gracious work for humankind to the devil. I’m so sorry! Lord Jesus, please come in your Spirit and transform hearts. Forgive and bring healing, liberation, hope, regeneration, God, please. Jesus, in your name, for your sake, I pray. Amen.
“But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’ ” Luke 16:31 (NASB)
by Linda Rex
I remember back to my early twenties when I went to a bookkeeping class and learned how to keep track of the debits and credits in an accounting system. As part of the final exam for the class I had to balance the books for a pretend business and complete all the year-end financial statements.
This was a challenge for me. I will have to say that this type of accounting is something I can do, but not something I am good at. It was a struggle to get every debit and credit to balance, but I finally got it to balance, after hours and hours of work. At some point I had inverted two numbers and it took me a long time to find my mistake—time I didn’t have, due to the deadline set before me.
I have come to have a deep respect for those number-jugglers among us who are able to handle debits and credits with finesse and ease, getting them to do their bidding by balancing the books at the end of the month and the end of the year. How they do this without altering or cooking the books is amazing, and as I said, it is a profession worthy of respect.
Jesus told a story about a man who wasn’t quite so up front in how he handled his boss’s books. In fact, this manager had to give an accounting to his boss for his mismanagement of his master’s accounts. His mishandling of the funds meant he was facing the loss of his job. So he did something totally off the wall—he went to each person who owed his boss money and cancelled part of their debt. His motive? To ensure he had friends somewhere when all was said and done. And, amazingly enough, his boss commended him for his shrewdness.
What was so shrewd about what the manager did? What was shrewd was the manager used the one method by which reconciliation can be done honestly, apart from the debits and credits side of the ledger. The only other way in which reconciliation of the books can be done if the debits and credits don’t align, is through the forgiving of the debt. Grace is the only way in which a debt can be removed from the books when it is not paid in full.
Jesus pointed out to his disciples that the true wealth, that of forgiveness or grace, always supersedes the bookkeeping of lawkeepers. If one is focused on the keeping of the law, since it must be kept perfectly, a person always ends up in debt, with no way to ensure payment in full.
When trust is put instead in the goodness and compassion of the One who is the Law, Who kept the law faithfully and fully for us, in our place, we live without debt, for the debt is always and ever, paid in full. With our debt paid in full, we live gratefully and joyfully from a heart filled with God’s love and Christ’s obedience to the Father by the Spirit. We live debt-free. And this is true wealth indeed.
Thank you, dear Father, for paying all debts in full in your Son Jesus, so we might live freely before you, unhindered and unburdened. We offer ourselves fully to you in gratitude and thankfulness that in Christ by the Spirit, we may live a debt-free life that glorifies and serves you, for your glory and praise, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
“‘And he called him and said to him, “What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.”’” Luke 16:2 (NASB)
by Linda Rex
One of the conversations I used to have with my children was about anger. It seems that we tend to look at anger in one of two extremes—either it’s a really bad thing and we should never get angry or it is a good thing and we should be free to express anger in whatever way we wish. So I would tell my children that anger is a healthy, human response to being violated in some way—it is an inbuilt self-protection system.
The problem comes in how we use our anger. What is our response to those violations of our personal space, personal value, property and belongings? We can respond in such a way that we cause harm, are hurtful to ourselves and others, or we can use our anger to make things better—to improve the situation and restore broken relationships and circumstances. Our motivation, when it is love, will move us to seek to improve or heal the situation rather than cause harm or exacerbate the situation. But ultimately it is up to us to make this choice to respond out of a heart of love.
The story Mark relates in his gospel (Mark 3:1-6) illustrates this. Jesus called a man with a withered hand up in the midst of the synagogue. Jesus did not sense any compassion for this man in the hearts of the Pharisees who were there—they were more concerned with watching Jesus and finding some reason to accuse him of wrongdoing than with helping this man get well.
But Jesus had already perceived what was going on in these men’s hearts. They were plotting to kill Jesus while at the same time they were defending the laws they had instituted with regards to the Sabbath. This “hardness of heart” grieved Jesus and angered him. So his response was to heal the man whose suffering was being ignored and superseded by a spirit of murder.
When Jesus healed the man and his hand was restored to normal, the men in the synagogue did not joyfully praise God and congratulate the healed man on his wonderful transformation. Instead, they accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. And then they went out and began to seriously plot Jesus’ death.
Here we see two responses to anger that arise out of two hearts—one of love and one of hate. Jesus’ heart was full of love for both the man with the withered hand and the men who refused to acknowledge him as Messiah. He did the most loving thing he could do in the situation and that was to heal the man who was suffering while at the same time showing the other men their hearts and inviting them to change their minds and hearts toward him.
The men whose hearts were filled with hate responded by plotting Jesus’ death. Their anger had its source in something other than love and when it was acted out, it did not bring healing, health and wholeness, but in the end led to the crucifixion of our Lord. Thankfully, anything we do is never beyond God’s ability to turn it to fulfill his purposes, and this was not the end of the story for Jesus.
From this story we can see that how we respond when anger comes depends largely on what is going on in our hearts. Are we filled with the Spirit of love or are we consumed with our own spirit with its hate, resentment, jealousy, and selfishness? When we turn away from those human emotions and attitudes that tend to fill our hearts and seek God’s heart of love, asking him to renew and refresh us daily in his Spirit, we will find that our responses to the things that anger us will begin to change.
As we put distance between those events that anger us and our response, inviting Jesus by the Spirit to fill that space, we will begin to respond in ways that are more loving, thoughtful and helpful. It is a process and something we grow in, but in time we will find that anger will become something that is a blessing, not something that masters us or that we need to be afraid of. It will begin to be what it was meant to be in our lives.
Lord, thank you for the gift of anger—that anger that was meant by you to be used in healthy ways to make our world healthier and happier. We give our anger and our hearts to you to transform. Make them how you mean them to be so that we will glorify you in all we think, say and do. For your name’s sake. Amen.
“And He said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?’ But they kept silent. After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” Mark 3:3-4
by Linda Rex
I wandered through my yard in the early morning blackness. I was alone with the crickets, hearing them creak and an occasional car pass on the highway nearby. There were a few streetlights that pierced the darkness, but across the farm fields nearby, there was only blackness.
I sat down in my iron lawn chair, quietly awaiting the dawn. This was a favorite part of my day, watching as a pale light began to glow in the sky. I loved when the crickets would suddenly go silent and there would only be one sound—that of a single bird’s carol welcoming the morning. One by one other birds would join in the chorus as the sun burst into view through the trees. It was a magical time—one I savored.
It is a comfort to me that God created and placed me in a world where morning always follows night. There is always light to welcome us on the other side of darkness. God has ensured that there is no darkness deep enough that he will not come and bring his Light there. He came into our darkness and brought his eternal Light to us in Jesus Christ and he has promised to never leave us or forsake us.
How sad that too often we would prefer the darkness to the Light! And how unfortunate that after all he has done to bring us into the Light and to welcome us into oneness with himself, we would reject this gift! Why wander about in loneliness and lostness when we could have his presence, his comfort and his peace? Why struggle with the will to live when the One who gives life wants to enable you to live it to the full?
When we wrestle with the darkness and feel it overwhelming us, there is one assurance we can have. We need only cry out and God will come near. And if we are in that darkness and we have cried out to him again and again and have not heard from him—that is the time to hold fast to the promise that morning always follows night. In the “dark night of the soul” it is the time to hope when all hope is gone, to believe when no reason to believe is left—to hold to the promise when it seems all expectation of its being answered is gone. This is when we choose to love and trust God even when we feel he has given us no reason to do so.
The truth is, as it says in Psalm 139:12, darkness is as light to God. God has met us in the midst of our darkness in Jesus Christ and has reconciled it with himself. Darkness and evil only exist in opposition to God and his Light—they are always subject to God’s will. No darkness is ever dark enough to prevent him from bringing us back to himself. For Jesus Christ is the Victor and in him the Light has come. Come welcome the dawn with me—share in his glorious light with me forever!
Lord, come to our darkness and let your Light shine on us once again. Give us strength to hold on through this dark night till the morning comes. Let your glory, love, and mercy dawn on us anew. Thank you for making it possible for us to live this brand new day with you. In your name, Father, Savior, and Comforting Spirit. Amen.
“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” John 3:19 (NASB)
I’ve really enjoyed reading John Ortberg’s book, If You Want to Walk on the Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. The parable of Peter walking on the water is full of important messages for us. Particularly, we see that (unlike the other disciples) he actually stepped out into the water. He left his place of comfort and safety and took a step forward.
My concern is too many of us never take that step. We may see Jesus out there on the water, doing miraculous things. We may even be mature enough to call to Jesus and ask him to give us direction (Peter said, “tell me to come out to you”). But I think in some circumstances, we ask, he answers, and we stay in the boat because we’re scared. Or we say, “You know what? On second thought, it looks like you’ve got this water-walking thing under control. I’ll just watch from the safety of my boat, and if anyone asks me what I’m looking at, I’ll be sure to tell them your name.” Or we suddenly play deaf — “What’s that you say Jesus? Huh? Sorry, the waves and wind are a little loud, I’m not sure I heard you right. I better take a nap and wait for the storm to die down. I’ll catch up with you later when things are quiet.”
But most often I suspect we say to ourselves and each other, “I just haven’t heard back yet from God. He hasn’t answered me yet. I’ll just keep waiting on The Lord.” But as a friend likes to say, “Are you waiting on God, or is he waiting on you?” I think we (here I sincerely include myself) use our fear of making a mistake as an excuse for not doing anything. But let’s be honest –How often in the rest of our lives do we go out on a limb and take a chance? How often do we just run out and make a decision and hope it’s a good one? My bet is every darn day, multiple times!
Yet when it comes to sharing Jesus with someone else, or when it comes to simply building a new relationship with someone, or when it comes to just sitting down to listen and help bear another’s burden — we shy away in fear that we’re not skilled, equipped, or trained enough. We forget how often we share things we’re excited about, with people around us every day. We forget about all the chances we have to form a new relationship with people we see and work with every day, however briefly. We forget all the times we hear someone avoid the “how are you doing?” question with a non-answer like “I’m still here,” and we know darn well that person is in pain and could use someone to talk to. –Usually in cases like that, all we really need to do is shut up and listen! I think most of can handle that! But worst of all, I think we forget Jesus’ promise when he sends us out — “I am with you always, until the very end.”
So seriously, what are we afraid of?? We have a God who walks on water, an assignment to spread the good news, and someone to put words in our mouth! He has already invited us out on the water with him. Let’s get out of the boat!
by Linda Rex
So it seems that we have lost yet another youth to the decadence of fame and fortune. The longing for significance, value and meaning has once again set a young person on the road to stardom, only to bring her to the place of sacrificing herself to the god of media success. Upheld by her fans, condemned by her critics, she is selling herself, and millions are buying. I don’t know whether to be angry or sad. Maybe both.
The problem is, she is not alone. Her performances are only symptomatic of the loss of identity so many are struggling with today. We are all guilty at some time or another of basing our identity on what others say about us, who they want us to be, how they want us to dress and act, what fashion, media and peers define us to be. We look to magazines, movies, music—you name it—to help us to understand ourselves and to figure out exactly who we should be. Self-help books and shows tell us to look inside—that we will find our real self within. But what if we don’t like what we find there?
If these things are where we need to go to find our identity, our value and our worth, then it is no wonder that many are struggling with depression and other emotional/mental issues. With so many choices and unstable means of self-definition, how can anyone have any peace of mind? No wonder suicide is so common among teens today—teens who are seeking to find their sense of identity, worth and value in this transient, media-driven world. In my view, it is tragic. This was never meant to be.
The truth is, we become like the gods we worship. When we define ourselves by ourselves and by one another, we become less than we were ever meant to be. When we are not compelled to something better, we often give ourselves over to our basest passions and desires. And we influence everyone around us to do the same or worse. We close ourselves off to the finer, nobler aspects of humanity such as character, honor, fidelity, compassion, and self-control.
All the legislation and government in the world cannot change the human heart or transform it. Nor can it create a society of unified, caring and loving people. It just won’t happen—because it is not natural for us to be this way. We need to be awakened to the truth that God has given us a better way and this better way is not us, nor does the capacity lie within us to create it ourselves.
You see, God knew beforehand that this is the way we are. He made us in his image, to reflect his likeness—the image of ever-living, self-emptying, mutually submissive serving love. And he knew that by giving us the freedom to choose whether to know and love him or to deny his very existence and choose to live apart from him, we might very well turn our back on him. It has not surprised God at all that we continue to reject him and today choose to live as though he didn’t exist. This is nothing new. Our decision to define for ourselves what is good and what is evil has existed since the time of man’s initial existence.
Keeping all this in mind from the beginning, God planned from before time to make a way for human hearts and minds to contain his glory, to truly reflect his likeness. It involved God himself entering into human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ—this man who was testified to by so many, that he was and is the Son of God and the Son of man, fully God and fully human. This Person lived the perfect life we all long to live, died an excruciating, unjust death by crucifixion, and after three days, rose from the grave and was encountered in a real, personal way by hundreds. The testimony of the early church was that Jesus died for us, rose from the grave and ascended to his Father’s right hand in glory, bearing forever the human glory meant for you and me—the glory that is ours to have when we die and live again in Christ.
This is the glory God created us for. And not only did God give us himself in Jesus Christ—his life, death and resurrection for our life, death and resurrection. The Father and Jesus Christ sent the other Helper, the Holy Spirit, to live in human hearts as we open up ourselves to him to embrace him. This means that you and I were created to be the place where God himself would come to live, to be with us forever. So not only did God create us to be a reflection of his glory, but he also intended us to be the containers of his glory. This is who we are and who we were meant to be. This is the meaning, value and worth of our life. Everything else is transient and passing. This is meant to be ours forever.
But God’s not going to shove it down our throat. We can turn and walk away if we wish. It will break his heart—it already has broken his heart, his very being, in the crucifixion of Jesus. But God will always maintain and protect our freedom to choose out of his love for us. We can choose to live apart from him forever, denying his existence and rejecting his deep, endless love for us. Or we can surrender to his passionate love and give ourselves fully to embracing the identity he has given to us and renewed for us in Jesus Christ. It is our choice. Will we trust God completely and believe his heart toward us is fully good and loving? Will we embrace all that God meant for us to be in Jesus Christ? Will we give ourselves fully to God and trust him to transform us from the inside out by his Holy Spirit and to make us into all he meant for us to be? Will we believe?
Dear God, I confess that I have spent too much of my life deciding for myself what is good and what is evil. Please forgive me. And forgive me that I have not trusted you. I have not trusted that you are real and that your heart for me is always good and loving. Lord, grant me the faith to believe and to fully trust in you. I surrender my life and will to you—it is yours. Thank you for giving me the privilege of reflecting and bearing your glory. Grant me the grace to faithfully live and walk in Christ each day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“‘Has a nation changed gods when they were not gods? But My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, and shudder, be very desolate,’ declares the LORD. ‘For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.’” Jer. 2:11–13 (NASB)
“They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a molten image. Thus they exchanged their glory for the image of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God their Savior, …” Psa. 106:19-21 (NASB)
By Linda Rex
I was wandering through the woods with family at a state park recently. The trail we were on was an arboretum walk, so there were signs telling us facts about the forest. And periodically on one of the trees we would find a small sign indicating the common and Latin name for that particular tree. We would pause to look at the tree and wonder why that particular tree received that particular name. This was cause for discussion as we had a farmer, a budding scientist and a student among the group, and common names often vary depending upon where a person lives.
The student had been studying taxonomy recently. Taxonomy or the classification of living things has been going on since the beginning of time. It seems that we as humans are always looking for ways to organize things according to their characteristics, and in the process, we give them names. One of the first things we do when we have a newborn in the family is to give the child a name. We do not want our little one to be nameless, because names are essential to someone’s identity and designate the particular family the child belongs to.
Belonging and identity are things that are very important to us as humans. It seems as though we spend much of our lives seeking to answer the question, “Who am I?” We pay attention to other people’s views of who we are and we allow friends, the media, school and even church to define us. We look within ourselves to find the answer as well. Sometimes this pursuit of self-definition becomes an obsession. Or we find late in life that we were not all that we thought we were and so we start the process of “finding ourselves” all over again. It can be a difficult and painful process.
One of the advantages of holding a Christian worldview is seeing ourselves as having our identity and sense of belonging based in the One who made us. Having made us in his image, the God who is and lives in love as Father, Son and Spirit, defined us as humans at the beginning as being made in his image and created to love and be loved by him and by one another. Not only that, but he ensured that whatever we may come across in our lives or may say or do to mar or disfigure that identity would be powerless to ultimately alienate us from his will and purpose for us. He did that by taking human flesh himself in Jesus Christ and fully living out all he meant us to be as human beings. He has given us a new self “which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Eph. 4:24 NASB)
The beginning of any search for identity, belonging, worth and value should begin with Jesus Christ, and with the God who made us all in his image. And we have no reason to fear whatever we may find along the way that may be unpleasant about ourselves, because it is already held up, forgiven and embraced in the person of Jesus Christ and the grace we have in him. God meets us where we are to bring us to himself in Jesus Christ. As we grow in our relationship with God through Christ in the Spirit, we are slowly transformed into the image of God we were meant to be and are in Jesus Christ. If we keep our focus on Jesus Christ, we will find ourselves becoming more fully and completely the people we were created to be. We will begin to reflect our true identity. And that is definitely worth finding.
Lord, thank you for creating us in our image to reflect you and for giving us yourself in Jesus Christ to ensure that we may fully reflect you in spite of our human limitations and flaws. We trust you, Lord, to finish what you have begun in us. Grant us the grace to find our worth, our value, identity and meaning solely in you. In your name, Jesus, we pray. Amen.
“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” –Genesis 1:27 (NASB)