Making His List, Checking it Twice…

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by Linda Rex

Have you ever been through the experience of having someone count out your faults? One by one, they pointed out everything you ever did wrong, and you weren’t sure you could really defend yourself against their accusations? Do you remember how it made you feel?

Luke tells a story in his Gospel about a woman who had an experience like this. A Pharisee had repeatedly requested that Jesus be his guest at a banquet, so Jesus agreed to attend. As was customary, they reclined on couches around the table, and anyone from the community was welcome to listen in on the conversation or to stand quietly next to the wall and observe the festivities.

What is interesting about this story is that even though it was customary in that day to have your guests’ feet washed, and their head anointed, and to greet them with a kiss, the Pharisee Simon had done none of these things for Jesus, even though he was his guest. As they were dining, a woman came, poured out an expensive jar of perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. For a woman to do any of these things was considered inappropriate and culturally defined her as a woman of loose morals.

Being a man who was quite proud of his meticulous obedience to God, Simon thought to himself, “If this man were a genuine prophet, the predicted Prophet to come, he would know what sort of person this woman was that was touching him. He would know she was a sinner.”

Jesus knew what he was thinking, so he began to tell him a story about two men who owed a moneylender some money. One owed him a lot and the other owed him a little. The moneylender forgave both their debts. Jesus asked Simon, “Which one of these debtors loved the moneylender the most?” The obvious answer was the one who was forgiven the most.

So Jesus brought up the elephant in the room—the lady who was anointing his feet with perfume and kisses. He pointed out that Simon had not shown him any customary courtesies when he came, and yet, this woman was showering him with kindness and love. For that reason, she was forgiven, not Simon, who did not even know or admit that he was wrong in any way, nor did he show Jesus any kindness and respect.

Then Jesus turned to the woman and said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Then he told her that her faith had saved her, that she should go in peace. Nowhere in this conversation do we see Jesus pointing out all the things the woman had done wrong in her life. Simon had definitely gone through the list in his mind. But Jesus merely acknowledged her contrition and sent her away forgiven, with a new life ahead of her.

So what kind of people are we really? It seems it is better to acknowledge the reality of our need for forgiveness and our appreciation of God’s grace than it is to deny Jesus Christ our devotion and respect. If we are so busy looking at the faults of others, we may miss the important thing and that is our own poverty-stricken soul that is full of evil. Perhaps we are so sure of our spiritual insight and wealth that we don’t realize we are really poor, blind and naked in God’s sight.

But Jesus’ response to all of us is the same. “You are forgiven. Therefore, go and sin no more.” We are invited to live life in the fullness of God’s love, for we are welcomed home with open arms. Let’s run home to our Daddy-God who loves us so completely that he forgives us even before we ask.

Dear Lord, Father of us all, forgive us for our blindness and cold-hearted devotion to ourselves and not to you and to others. Refresh us in your love and forgiveness, and give us each a new heart and mind so that we might truly know and love you, our Father, Jesus, Spirit of truth. Amen.

“’For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ Then He said to her, ‘Your sins have been forgiven.’” Luke 7:47–48

Ode to List-makers
by Linda Rex
Have you ever seen a List-maker,
Their conscience all aglow
With the wonders of their goodness
And the horrific sins of those they know?
Too bad they miss the point,
It’s their own sin they cannot see,
Otherwise they’d welcome sinners
And forgive them like God forgave me.

Reversals

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by Linda Rex

I still recall an argument I had many years ago in high school with a classmate who was a member of another faith. We argued about the rightness and wrongness of what we believed. I was sure that he was not a true believer because he did not keep the Sabbath and holy days, or all the other Old Covenant laws that I kept. I was pretty proud of the fact that I did all these things. He was so sure I was an unbeliever because I did not worship in the temple as he did, observe the rituals and worship days he believed were right, and sing the songs he sang. He was, of course, so absolutely wrong, I thought. It was a stupid argument between two people who didn’t understand the truth about who we are in the light of who Jesus Christ is for us in the incarnation.

The ironic thing is that years later God has helped me to see and grieve the reality that indeed I was very much a member of what was more or less a cult. And though this person, and many others, did not observe what I had believed at that time was necessary for salvation, it did not automatically follow that they were not believers. How often I mocked what I now understand to be true! God has taught me true humility in this regard.

It is only more evidence that God gives us the gift of himself in “jars of clay.” It is a testimony to his greatness, his mercy and his patience that he did not ignore me or reject me, but instead, turned my entire belief system and manner of life on its head and turned me completely around. What I never would have dreamed of doing before, God is now doing in my life, not for my exaltation but for his glory. In this, there is no glory for me—only glory and praise for God, and a life committed to serving and worshiping him.

But this is the way God works in human lives. Just yesterday I was reminded of the way God takes someone who is caught in a lifestyle of addiction and transforms their life completely, so that in the end they are free to reach out to others with the Word of life and freedom in Christ. This is the magnificent work of Christ in the world through the Spirit. It is so beautiful and inspiring to see God at work in someone’s life in this way!

So, the question is: Where is God at work in us and in our lives today? What is he doing in the lives of those around us? Where is he taking us? What does he have for us to do today? God is at work each and every moment, working out his will that all people would come to know him and to understand the wonder of the love he has for them as demonstrated in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. God holds us in the midst of his life and love each and every moment, and wants to us share every part of our lives with him each and every day. All he asks is that we believe it, and then share it.

Thank you, God, for the infinite love you show us each and every day. Thank you, that mercifully you raise us up out of our blindness, ignorance and hostility toward you, and transform us by your Holy Spirit. Work that miracle in each of us again today. Show your glory in these “jars of clay”. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

“I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; but only, they kept hearing, ‘He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.’ And they were glorifying God because of me.” –Galatians 1:22-24 (NASB)

Taking the First Step

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by Linda Rex

Nothing can be more maddening than to find out that the business you trusted to take care of your car has taken advantage of you instead. I recall that sinking feel well and really don’t wish to repeat the experience.

I picked the company because I had been informed that they were good at what they did. Well, that was a true statement, but I’m not sure that what they were good at was fixing cars. I think that maybe what they were good at was something else entirely.

The unfortunate thing about such experiences is that they cause a person to question the motives and values of everyone they encounter. They destroy a person’s faith in others and in their good will. We find that we cannot take anyone at their word. We begin not to trust anyone.

It is hard to trust someone who you do not know. Until you have spent enough time with them to really get to know them well, you have no way of knowing whether they are a person of integrity or are just real good at putting on a façade. Sometimes building a relationship with someone requires us to take a step of faith.

If you do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ and you’re not sure whether he is even real, it is extremely difficult to even want to get to know him. What is the point? How can you trust someone when you know nothing about him? Why should you even try?

Perhaps some people associated with the name of Jesus Christ have been hurtful and insensitive to you. Maybe they seem to only be critical and condemning, or perhaps they are just really good at being hypocritical. Perhaps the only followers of Jesus that you know are people you’d rather not have anything to do with. I’m sorry if that is the case. Like the people at the repair shop who ruined my opinion of all auto mechanics, they give all Christians a bad name by their conduct.

I invite you to look beyond your negative experiences to see Jesus Christ himself. Might I encourage you to get to know him yourself by reading about him in the Bible? You might start in the Gospel of John. And if that is too much of a stretch, how about just talking to him? “Jesus, if you are real, show yourself to me. I want to get to know you.” Take the beginning steps of relationship with him—he will meet you there.

Jesus isn’t just a myth or a story in a book. He isn’t just a religion or a wise teacher. He is a real person who is alive today and is seeking a real relationship with you and each person on this planet. Nobody is unworthy to come to him—his arms are open to all of us. He invites us to trust him and to take that first step. It may take some effort, some courage and even some perseverance, but it will be worth every effort.

Lord Jesus, open our eyes, our mind and heart, to see you and to know you today. Show us that you are real, you are alive, and are expectantly awaiting the opportunity to spend time with us and to share life with us. Take away our fears and doubts and grant us the courage and faith to reach out to you. In your name, Jesus, we pray. Amen.

“Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, ‘Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.’” Luke 7:6-7

Helping the Healing

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By Linda Rex

As I closed the book, I reflected on the many stories I had read recently that told of the power of relationships to bring healing into the lives of the suffering. Each author told of how a person found healing from trauma, abuse or even physical ailments within the context of a friendship or pastoral relationship.

In a technological world that communicates through cell phones, computers and other media rather than through face-to-face encounters, it is getting harder to find people who understand and practice the skill of healthy relationship-building. Many have grown up in relationships that lacked healthy boundaries or in which one or both parents were missing or were no longer a part of their home life.

One of the keys to healthy life and being is living in relationship with others in healthy ways. If those relationships are missing in our lives, we ought to begin the process of looking for positive relationships to be a part of. This can be difficult, if not even painful, as we struggle to relate to others who may or may not respect our boundaries and know how to love us in healthy ways.

The first and most important relationship we can begin to build and strengthen is our relationship with the One who made us and called us into relationship with himself. The thought of having a relationship with God can be intimidating, so a way to start is to find someone who does have a strong relationship with a loving, relational God. They can be recognized by how they relate to the people in their lives.

Sadly, there are those who say they believe in God but their relationships are in chaos and are destructive because the God they worship is not the relational Lord of the Bible, but the God of their own passions, traditions and/or imaginations.

The Triune God of love and grace, who lives in an eternal relationship of mutual submission, service, and unity, is the God to seek a relationship with. When he is worshiped and adored, when he is the center of a person’s life, their relationships will reflect his love, compassion and unity.

Their families and friendships will be relationships in which each person seeks not their own self-interest, but that of others, while at the same time being responsible for their own needs. When there is hurt or unhealthy ways of living and relating, they will courageously speak the truth and offer help, forgiveness and reconciliation. They will be real people who are flawed, and yet in whom there is that unique quality of inner love and peace that cannot be explained but can be felt by others they are around.

If you are a person who is living in relationship with this God of love and grace, it may be time to ask yourself whether you are an effective reflection of him. Keeping in mind that all relationships require much grace, much room for faults and failures, it may be that you are the person who could offer relationship to someone who has not had the blessing of healthy relationships to learn from. Could you be the person someone is seeking to find, to teach them what it means to be respected, loved and cared for? Could it be that you are the one they need to hear the truth from in the context of trust and compassion?

Perhaps it is time for all believers of Jesus Christ, who have the inner light of God’s love filling them and leading them in his ways of truth and light, to step up and provide leadership in relationship building. Perhaps it is time to leave behind our isolationist thinking and behavior and begin to relate to others for Christ’s sake alone—because that is what we were created by God to be and do. Perhaps? No, it is time. The need is there. Let’s meet it. Let’s participate in God’s gift of healing to others through relationship. And let’s do it now.

Holy Triune God, We are so often alone. You never meant for us to be so. Grant us those relationships we need to fully be all that you created us to be. Thank you for being the One who calls us into relationship with yourself so that we never need to be alone. We trust you to provide the other relationships we need in our lives to help us heal and grow into all you have in mind for us. Lord, forgive us when we refuse to share the gift of love and grace you have given us in Christ by not living in healthy relationships with others. Grant us the grace to always give as well as receive your love as you intend us to. In the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.

“I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” John 17:23

Reflections on a Legacy

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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

Living in a Culture of Fear

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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)

When Running Gets Tough

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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)