by Linda Rex
One of the things I can’t help but reflect on as I go through the Christmas season is how at one point in my life I totally misunderstood the celebration of Christmas. It did not make sense to me why everyone made such a big deal about a baby being born and laid in a manger. Sure, he was the Lord of all, but why worship him as a baby? He was human after all.
I believe a lot of people go through the holidays and do not have any foundation for the celebration of them. This, obviously, may be why Thanksgiving has lost its luster, and Christmas has become a major marketing tool rather than the celebration it was meant to be. We can celebrate the solstice if we wish, we can light candles for Hanukkah if we wish, and observe whatever festival we wish. But there is no reason to celebrate Christmas if we remove Christ from it. Why?
The celebration of the “Christ mass” (Christmas) was set at the same time as an old pagan holiday, because of the Christian tradition of replacing the pagan with Christ. Replacing the pagan with Christ is fundamental to the whole Christmas story and the Christ child.
In the Christian Scriptures the apostle Paul talks about the foolishness of God that is in reality wiser than any human wisdom. This wisdom, or foolishness, however you wish to look at it, is found in the Person of Jesus Christ. For in him, God has made possible and real the perfection, redemption, and restoration of each and every one of us. For Christ has taken our place: he stands in for us, being our goodness, holiness and purity, in our place. (Gal. 2:20) It is Christ who makes us new creatures.
He did this, as the apostle John wrote, by coming as the Word of God, God’s one and unique Son, and taking on our human flesh. (Jn. 1:14; 3:16) The baby in the manger we read about in the Christmas story was God and yet was at the same time fully human. It seems foolish that God would put himself at risk in this way—but in order to bring us as humans in with the union and communion of the Father, Son and Spirit, he sent his only Son to live in human flesh—to go through all the human experiences we go through, living in the Spirit as we are called to do, dying a horrific death in our place—so that one day we could dwell with God.
God risked it all for us—even the eternal fellowship of Father, Son and Spirit—the love that God lives in. As Jesus hung on the cross and cried out in pain, feeling the separation caused by the evil we as humans embrace, all of that oneness and love hung in the balance. All of us and our relationship with God hung in the balance at that moment—as God said ‘No!’ to evil and ‘Yes!’ to us being with him forever. It is in Christ’s life, death and resurrection that we have hope. For Jesus did in our place what none of us could do. His perfect response to the Father on our behalf in the Spirit made possible a future that otherwise could never have happened.
So the foolishness of a little baby in a manger which we celebrate at Christmas actually shows God’s tremendous and loving wisdom. Reject it, ridicule it, mock it if we wish. But it is still true. It is still there for us. The perfect gift, from a perfect God—a life filled with love in his presence forever. It is through the miracle of Christmas and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who once was a baby in a manger, that we enter into a new day—the Lord’s Day—and a new life in fellowship with God forever.
May you find comfort, peace and healing as you believe and receive God’s perfect ‘foolish’ gift of Jesus Christ, his Son, to stand in your place. And may God bless you with his hope, peace, joy and love throughout this New Year!
Thank you so much, Lord, that you are so much wiser than we are, and that you were willing to be ‘foolish’ so that we can participate in your holy fellowship of love and eternal life. Thank you for giving us a place at your table. We celebrate you and thank you for your precious gift. Bless us throughout this New Year with a deeper appreciation for all you have given and do give, as you pour out on us every heavenly blessing in Christ Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.
“But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” 1 Cor. 1:30-31 (NASB)
By Linda Rex
As Moses and his people Israel stood on the shores of the Jordan River with the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness behind them and the Promised Land before them, Moses put Israel’s story down on paper.
But this wasn’t just Israel’s story. This was God’s story. And it began in Genesis with the creation of all things. Moses made it clear that God made all things out of nothing–a creaturely universe of much different material than the God-nature we know as the Father, Word and Spirit or God the Creator. And after six days of creative work, God rested. It was in this day of rest that God called us as humans into covenant relationship with himself. It was God’s joy to walk and talk with man and woman in the garden in a personal relationship of outgoing concern, love and service that was a reflection of the inner life and love of God.
But we as humans have incessantly refused to believe that God loves us and wants what is best for us. God called his people Israel into relationship with himself to rest in him so that one day all people would rest in him, but too often they turned the 7th-day reminder of that rest, the Sabbath, into a work to earn his love. They did not hear the words of Moses as he spoke of the Coming One who would save his people from their rebellion, sin and self-isolation.
But God continued to love and serve his people and to call them back into the love relationship he created them for in spite of their rejection of him. As all of humanity kept their continuous efforts in the darkness to earn the love they could not earn, the evening of God’s Sabbath rest moved towards morning.
In the midst of that deep starry night came the birth of a child–a birth so tremendous and earth-shaking that the angels lit up the night sky with glorious anthems of praise to God. Through the Holy Spirit, God as the Word entered human flesh–not as some kingly ruler but as a small child of humble means.
The shepherds bore witness to this angelic event and to the birth of the Messiah. Now the Sabbath had truly dawned in the birth of the Messiah! Here in the person of Jesus, all the hopes and dreams of all mankind are found, for God has come to be with us in a real way. God in human flesh–bringing to us a new day–through his life, death and resurrection. Through the Spirit we each participate in Christ in a real personal relationship with God. We can truly rest in him. He has become our Sabbath rest—we can truly have an intimate relationship with God in Christ through the Spirit.
A new day dawned in our Savior when he rose from the grave after his crucifixion. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, every human being has entered a new day—the Lord’s Day. In this day, we all are offered the gift of new life in Christ. The old has gone and the new has come. We are included in his life, death and resurrection because he became human like us, bore all our human weaknesses and sins and failures, our self-isolation and rebellion, and purified it with his divine presence, with his life, death and resurrection.
This gift is for every man, woman and child. God is calling each and everyone to rest in Christ. Come, walk in the garden daily with the Lord of your life. Have an eternal relationship of love and grace with the One who knows you intimately and loves you completely. You are forgiven. You are loved. You are his. Receive this Christmas gift with open arms and open hearts. It is yours, forever.
May God pour over you all his blessings in Christ Jesus this Christmas and throughout the New Year!
Dear God, thank you for the great love you showered upon us through the birth, the life, death and resurrection of the Word, Jesus Christ. What a gift you have given! We receive it by your Spirit in deep gratitude, and we praise you for it! Emmanuel—God with us! Thank you so much! Amen.
“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:21-23
by Linda Rex
I anticipated another note of encouragement as I opened a friend’s letter last week. She had been like a spiritual mentor to me as God prepared me for ministry. Her ongoing support and prayers have been a real blessing to me in so many ways.
Sadly, though, this letter did not contain any positive news. Rather, it was to let me know that she had been rejected as a volunteer in the ministry she had helped to start and had faithfully served in for seven years. Her heart was broken, obviously, for her work there was instrumental in building and maintaining that ministry from nothing to serving hundreds of poor and needy people each month.
When someone pours their heart, their finances, their prayers, their whole life into ministry to others, they often become deeply attached to those they help care for. This friend’s heart was broken because she was called by God to care for those she had grown to love in this way and now she could not do it.
This is the flip side to ministry—when you give your heart to others in service to them it very well might get broken. When you lay your life on the line for others, you may very well lose it. When you give freely to others, they may take everything you own.
When God calls us to do ministry of any kind (and for many people their vocation is their ministry) he doesn’t promise a smooth road or a long-term commitment. Often our service has ups and downs, joys and deep disappointments. And at some point it will come to an end and God will begin a new thing. Incarnating the life of Jesus in our everyday life is no different than when the God of heaven took on human flesh and was born in a manger. God didn’t pick the easy way of life, but the humble, difficult path of being the Suffering Servant. And this is what he calls us to as well.
The benefit we have is that Jesus Christ paved the way before us. He lived the life we are to live, died our death and rose from the grave. And even better, he took us with himself into the presence of the Father. Now, when we do ministry, we never do it on our own initiative or under our own power. All that we do in ministry is only a participation in Christ’s eternal ministry. Whatever we give is sharing in his eternal giving. For Jesus Christ is both the Giver and the Gift. So whatever may happen to us in ministry, we are not alone. It is not our ministry—it is his ministry.
And so when the tough stuff happens and the disappointments come, we surrender to the leadership and purposes of Jesus as he works to fulfill his mission in the world. We allow God to determine our next steps, trusting that he has something better in mind. Unlike our Christian institutions, which tend to enclose God’s mission in the world into one way of working and serving over years and years in the midst of a changing culture, the Holy Spirit is always doing something new, meeting people where they are in their culture and personal circumstances.
Doing life and ministry with Jesus in this way means there will be ups and downs, and there will be beginnings and ends. Though the end of the baby born in a manger was death on a cross on a hill, the ministry of Jesus Christ only began there. The resurrected Christ ministers to us even today and stands as our Worship Leader, our Priest, our Mediator and Intercessor forever in our place. All that we do, we do in him. And this is the other “flip side to ministry.”
No matter how tough it gets, no matter how many losses we suffer, we always start anew. Because we know and trust that Jesus Christ is in the midst of it all, guiding and directing it according to the Father’s will by the Holy Spirit. We are reminded that it is God who serves each and every one of us and we get to share in that service. So whatever we do in life, whether a vocation or ministry of service, we do it in Christ by the Spirit to the glory of the Father. And so it has meaning and value. And in Christ it is blessed. So we serve in joy no matter which “side” of ministry we happen to be on at the moment.
Father, thank you for giving us your Son to minister to us and so that we can do ministry in him. Thank you for sending your Spirit to inspire, lead and guide us as well as comfort us as we care for others and serve you. Refresh our hearts, souls and minds so that we can freely and fully serve you and each person you bring into our lives. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
“…but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.” 2 Cor. 6:4-10 (NASB)
by Linda Rex
Note to self: Shop for Thanksgiving before Halloween, not after.
I was rather frustrated this year when I found that the Halloween items took precedence over the Thanksgiving items at the store. In fact, once Halloween was over, it was next to impossible to find any Thanksgiving, fall or harvest decoration and gift items to buy. I had assumed (wrongly) that they would stay on the shelf until Thanksgiving. But apparently they only stay until Halloween is over and then it’s time for Christmas.
I forget sometimes how our mercantile system drives our culture, especially when it comes to our celebration of our holidays. I’m happy to have access to so many fun things to celebrate with, but it is obvious that our culture has moved beyond the Judeo-Christian basis for its holidays.
Whether or not one is a Christian, there is always a place for gratitude in one’s life. Gratitude is a way of thinking and living that genuinely appreciates the little and big things of life as gifts. It is a way of being thankful for the people and relationships and blessings that come to us everyday unbidden and unsought—the air we breathe, a beautiful sunset, dear friends and family, a newborn baby.
When we lose our appreciation for these things that come into our life with or without our effort, we may become calloused, cold, and cynical. Nothing is ever enough for us—we will always need or want more. We can become sad, depressed and overwhelmed by all the negative stuff in life.
Gratitude in some ways is a discipline—a choice in how we approach life and the events we encounter day by day. When we make the effort to pause and be grateful for what we have and share it with others, we begin to have a more positive attitude and spirit with which to approach life.
Our gratitude and appreciation for all the good things of life, in my view, merely points to the reality that we have been given life, breathe, all the resources we need to be alive and to live blessed because of God’s grace. We can believe that God does not exist, but the truth is, we would not exist if it weren’t for his kindness and mercy in sustaining what he created.
And that wasn’t good enough for God—just giving us life and breath and food and things we could do. He wanted a relationship with us as well—so he came to our universe, to our earth to live as one of us. He forged a permanent bond with us in Jesus Christ—living a perfect life we could participate in, dying our death so we could live with him forever, bringing us into the presence of God so we could be in relationship with the Creator our Redeemer forever.
To me, that gives us every reason to celebrate not just once a year, but every day, with gratitude.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day! May God bless you abundantly each and every day throughout this holiday season!
Lord, I give you thanks for all the wonderful people and blessings you have poured into my life. I pray you will watch over each of those who are reading this and bless them in every way. Let them feel your presence and peace in a deep way so they may be able to endure whatever hardships they are facing or struggling with. Thank you for your faithful love shown to us in Jesus. Amen.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1
by Linda Rex
One of the most difficult ministry experiences I’ve had recently has been to be with members of my congregations as they go through the process of watching a loved one die of cancer. The strength they show in fighting this awful disease, dealing with the heartbreak and loss, and rebuilding after loss has been awesome and is a testimony to the grace and power of God. Losing a loved one is devastating, but it seems even more so when a family has to watch the loved one suffer and die slowly and progressively, whether from cancer or any other long-term disease.
Cancer, specifically, is so destructive to the human body because the building blocks of the body—the cells—turn into something they were never meant to be and subsequently attack the body they are a part of and are meant to help build up and sustain.
According to Wikipedia, cancer can occur when there is a loss of cell to cell interaction. When proper contact with neighboring cells is prevented from happening, cells become stunted and begin to collect into tumors and the unhealthy cells spread into other organs and places in the body. As the cancer continues it eventually spreads into the blood stream and lymph system and is carried throughout the body. And in time, and often after much suffering, the body dies. 1
Death, of course, happens to each of us at some point in our lives. It is inevitable. But I don’t believe God ever intended any of us to have go through the suffering and horror of cancer.
Yet it happens. It happens because we are frail and flawed human beings and we live in a broken world. It happens because we attempt to step away from and live apart from the God who designed and made us and the world we live in.
Thankfully, this life is not the end—God never meant it to be. He always meant for us to live in eternity with him in glorified human bodies which are strong, beautiful and whole, and in relationships with him and one another that are healthy and intricately intertwined by love and grace through Christ in the Spirit—just like the intricately intertwined relations of the cells in a healthy human body.
Even though the apostle Paul probably did not know what a cell was, his description of human interaction in the body of Christ reflects the truth of how we have been intertwined together by the Holy Spirit into one body in Christ. When we lose healthy interaction with one another, we begin to destroy one another instead of building one another up. When we believe things that are not true about God, about ourselves and others and act on those beliefs, we begin to destroy not only ourselves, but the body of Christ as a whole. This is also just as true in our communities, our state, nation and the world.
Even though we often try to live like it isn’t true, none of us exists apart from someone else. We were created to live in loving relationship with the Creator and one another. We were designed to exist in intricately woven webs of relationships which require healthy interaction and reciprocal caring in order to function in the best way possible.
We were each created uniquely, not so that we would be separate from one another, but so that we would all fit together into a united, well-coordinated whole—a body. This body’s life was given to us in Jesus Christ and has its source in the Holy Spirit.
Because there is one Spirit manifested in many ways, we are each unique and yet one. Just as a blood cell is not the same as a brain cell or a skin cell, none of us are the same. But the human body would not be what it should be if it did not have all three and every other different type of cell it needs to be whole and well.
When a person lives in a way that is contrary to their design by God, when they are abusive, selfish, fearful, hurtful to others, then they are like a stunted cancer cell. Such a person influences, affects, harms other people around them who in turn harm, wound and corrupt others—just as cancer cells metastasize and spread.
When society, culture, cities, nations, organizations, and churches become twisted and unhealthy, it is because the individuals within have lost their center in Jesus Christ. They are living out of their human brokenness instead of in the Spirit of life as God originally created them to live—in healthy relationship with God and one another. A cancer is created that in time, if unchecked, destroys families, churches, communities, organizations, cities, and nations.
So is cancer inevitable? Will cancer always win? Where’s the hope in this?
Our only hope is what it always has been from the beginning—in the God who loves us so much that he came himself in the Word, took on our human flesh and cleansed and healed it with his own divine Presence. Jesus Christ is the answer because he is the whole, cleansed and purified human we were all meant to be. He lived the life we were meant to live, suffered our pains, died our broken death and rose from the grave. He took our human flesh into the presence of God and gave us the gift of his blessed Presence in the Holy Spirit so that we could be regenerated or made new.
In Jesus Christ, every broken, cancerous cell in the human body, both individually and collectively, has been healed, cleansed and restored. God has declared us to be whole and well. He is offering to you and to me life in Jesus Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit. When we receive and embrace this, believing this truth and living accordingly, our hearts, minds and lives will be healed and transformed.
The corrupting cancers of sin, self and Satan have been neutralized and transformed by the healing Presence of the life-giving Spirit in Christ. Death has been defeated. Jesus triumphed over the cancers of evil, sickness and death. They can only make a big noise, bluster and try to cause pain, fear and suffering and to destroy our faith. But they have no power over us any longer. One day they will be only a forgotten memory. In the presence of the Living God they are nothing but a moment in the eternity of his Love.
As we embrace new life in Christ and live in the intimate fellowship with God and each other we were created for, the cancers of sin, self and Satan will be supplanted by spiritual, mental, emotional and social wholeness and health.
Sometimes it is a battle. Just as we battle cancer of the human body with every possible instrument we have available to us, we battle these cancers of the spirit with the divine weapons of the Holy Spirit—receiving God’s gift of salvation, trusting in Christ’s righteousness, and believing and living in the Spirit of truth and the Word of God. We use divine methods of treatment, but we do this in Christ. He is our life. He is our breath. He is the One who lives the life we seek to live.
It is the Presence of the living Word within, the Holy Spirit, who reminds us we are God’s beloved children and who guides us and teaches us how to live in healthy relationship with God and others. As we listen to him and grow up in this divine Life, we become a healthy part of the body of Christ, of our family, our community, our state, nation and world. Our true value and worth can begin to be seen and contributed to the whole. And this is what God created us to be in our own uniqueness and giftedness. This is the intercellular life God designed us to have from, with and in him forever. This is worth living and dying for.
Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth and all that is in them, thank you. Thank you for life and breath, for all that you give us each and every day. Holy, Eternal Father, we believe in and embrace the gift of new life you have made possible for us in the life, death and resurrection of your precious Son Jesus Christ. Thank you for giving us new life even now in Christ by your Holy Spirit, your Presence within. Dear Jesus, we acknowledge you as our Lord as you are our Savior—we commit ourselves to live not in ourselves and our sin and brokenness, our guilt and shame, but in the forgiveness, healing and wholeness we have been given in you. Be our life, be our breath, our healing, health and wholeness. Almighty God, in your One Name as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we pray. Amen.
“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:3-5
1 “Cell–cell interaction”, “Metastasis”, “Metaplasia”, “Dysplasia”, “Anaplasia”, Wikipedia.com. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cell-cell_interaction (Accessed 11/22/13).
by Linda Rex
It’s come to my mind quite often lately how much I have taken for granted the gift of being able to read, and to read quickly and with comprehension.
I go places and find that I have to be able to read the signs to know where to go and where not to go, how fast to go, what street I need to turn at, and so on. I walk into the store and find I have to be able to read the labels to make sure I’m buying the right thing.
The blessing of reading, by necessity, includes the blessing of sight, unless a person learns to read Braille. Someone was telling me the other day about a man who was more or less blind and who, because he couldn’t see to read the labels on the cans at the store, had eaten dog food for years. That seems like a stretch to me, but who am I to say any different? I just realized, though, what a blessing it was to be able to see and to read.
I have been finding also when leading worship in my congregations, that I must never take it for granted that the people who come to church have a Bible, or if they have one, that they are able to read it. We want all people to participate with us in the learning and understanding of God’s Word as they grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. So the Apostle Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to not neglect the public reading of scripture is just as relevant to us today as it was then. This is why we read the Scriptures out loud during our worship services and in our study groups.
It is easy to ignore or neglect the reading of Scripture. It can be a chore we’d rather avoid. But if we feel we’ve read the Scriptures and we know everything that’s in the Bible, then we most likely are merely reading the Scriptures for information. It is no wonder that it is meaningless, boring and empty reading to us. But if and when we have entered into a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ, we are able to read the Scriptures in a whole new way.
We are able to read them as God’s Word to us both collectively and personally. We can begin to seek Jesus Christ in the midst of them. Before we begin to read, we say, “Lord, what do you have to say to me today?” We invite the Holy Spirit to open our minds and hearts to receive whatever it is God would like to say to us in that moment. We ask Jesus by his Spirit to live out in us what we hear in his Word.
It is often in the hearing as well as reading of the Word of God that conviction occurs and life-change begins. The Spirit of God goes to work when the Word of God is read, whether silently, or out loud. We continue in the reading of the Word of God day by day for God’s Word to us is made new to us moment by moment in our relationship with Jesus Christ in the Spirit.
Thank you, Father, for giving us the Living Word, Jesus Christ, who came for us in our place to live out our perfect life in his human flesh and who comes to us in the written Word by your Holy Spirit. Give us a holy hunger for your Word and may your Word transform us as we read and hear it each and every day. In Jesus name by your Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.
“Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.” 1 Timothy 4:13 (NLT)
by Linda Rex
I hate it when the dog is right and I’m wrong.
This afternoon she sat on the floor next to me, periodically bumping my elbow with her nose. With every bump the mouse jerked and I had to reorient the cursor on the screen. I was frantically trying to finish the last few touches on a PowerPoint presentation for Sunday and didn’t want to quit right yet. And she wasn’t exactly being very helpful.
Bump. “Just a minute. I’m coming.” I gave her a pat on the head and told her what a good dog she was. Bump, bump.
She’s really a patient pooch for the most part. This meant it was important that I get done and let her out the door. “All right! … I’m sorry—I’m going as fast as I can!” Bump.
Silly dog. I realized that indeed the project could wait a few minutes while I tended to the needs of someone other than myself. So I stopped where I was, put my shoes and jacket on, and took her out. As I was waiting for her outside, I heard myself urging her to hurry up, hurry up, hurry up!
And then I started laughing. Because if I didn’t know any better, I’d have to say that she was being pokey on purpose just to show me! She had to wait on me, so why shouldn’t I have to wait on her? As she curled up in the grass in the sunshine for a moment, I just had to laugh.
It’s funny how the simplest things in life are opportunities for God to teach us how to live in fellowship and communion with one another. Something as simple as the Golden Rule and treating others the way we would like to be treated can be easily swept aside when we lose our focus on what really matters—our relationships with God and each other.
Thankfully, if we pay attention, God can draw us right back into holy fellowship with himself and others. All we need to do is to agree with him that we have momentarily lost our way and thank him for his gracious forgiveness and for helping us get reoriented once again. And, if you are blessed like I am, we can also thank him for the pooches he sends our way to remind us of what really matters.
Lord, thank you for the lessons you send us each day, even through the animals and nature that we share our life in you with. Give us open and alert minds and hearts so we can hear and see what you wish to say to us, and grant us the hearts to always treat others as we wish to be treated. In your name, Jesus, we pray. Amen.
“Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” Luke 6:31