Grace for the Mockers

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by Linda Rex

I was chatting with some volunteers one day as we waited for our next round of clients. As I listened to the comments they were making about some Christians of other faiths, I felt acutely uncomfortable. The condemnation in their tone and words was severe because they believed that these particular Christians should accept the same position they held on secondary matters of faith. I felt that the position that those that were being critical held was based on prejudice and a theologically unsound understanding of certain scriptures. I guess I was uncomfortable because, unbeknownst to them, I was one of the ones they were mocking.

But I felt very much like the apostle Paul when he underwent such persecutions and sufferings. Because he at one time had persecuted and condemned Christians, he accepted his persecutions and condemnations as a Christian with great grace. For he knew at one time he was such as they were. I also had a time in my walk with God when I was equally critical and condemning of those who did not believe as I did. So I must approach such things with the great grace God in his mercy showed me in bringing me to a more accurate and healthy faith.

The key is understanding in whose image we were made. We were made in the image of God to reflect his likeness. Humans have the unique ability to replicate the image of God through childbirth. We were created to bear the image of God in that we might be temples of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling place of the living God. In Christ we have been reborn into God’s image, purified and renewed by his pure and holy life, death and resurrection. And in his ascension God sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

When we see ourselves through Jesus Christ as God sees us, we see that we are all one in him. There is no male or female, no Jew or Greek, no slave or freeman. These distinctions no longer apply. We are all one in the same way that the Father, Son and Spirit are unique and yet one, living in “perichoresis” with one another. And God has included us in this divine life and love in Jesus Christ, who died for all that all may be forgiven.

If our salvation and faith are based fully on Jesus Christ, on what he did, has done and will do, then there is no basis for prejudice or condemnation. We all stand at the same place, the throne of mercy, at the feet of the One who is both the judge and the condemned sinner who was sin for us, in whom we died, rose again and ascended to the Father’s side, our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.

So whatever differences we may have find their unity and diversity in Jesus Christ. In him we find a place of unity where we can reconcile our differences in grace. In him we find a standard by which we may accurately judge but not condemn those who reject his saving grace and choose to find their own path of salvation.

Yes, we will be different, but there is no need for cursing others. For God has called us to bless not to curse. Are we not even to bless and pray for our enemies? So let us rather pray for and bless those who oppose Christ or who do not acknowledge the centrality of his grace. But let us not curse. For that does not reflect the image of God in Christ we are to bear.

Lord, forgive us for our prejudices and our condemnations with regards to others of different faiths and beliefs. Open our eyes to see what you are doing in each person’s life we meet and grant us the grace to bless, not to curse, to forgive, not to condemn, to pray for them, not to reject them. Unite our hearts and wills in you, Jesus, that we may worship at your feet forever in the unity in which you dwell, Holy God. In the name of the Father, Son and Spirit, we pray and thank you. Amen.

“With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.”
— James 3:9-10

Transitions

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by Linda Rex

Last summer my daughter and I made the difficult transition of moving from a quiet rural town in southeast Iowa to metropolitan Nashville. We have noticed not only the change in climate, but also the change in the number of people and homes and cars that we see on a daily basis. No longer can we step out of the house at night and see a blanket of stars. Instead we see only a few of the brighter stars, and we hear the noise of the city with the cars, trains and trucks constantly on the move.

We have been blessed with a nice home in a pleasant neighborhood. We have enough room and all that we need. But it is not the same as our home back in Iowa, no matter how we look at it. At times we feel uprooted like plants lying on the ground, with our roots withering in the hot sun. At other times we feel like transplants stuffed into hard clay soil, with no soft loam tucked around us to comfort us or ease the transition. Sometimes adjusting to the transition can be very difficult.

But there is one thing that has enabled us to weather the transition in positive ways. It is the knowledge that when all is said and done, this physical home is not our ultimate habitation. God has invited us to make him our habitation, our dwelling place. God has invited us to rest in him, to take up residence in Jesus.

When we live and walk in him, there is a comfort and peace that passes all understanding. When we live each day in his presence in this way, God brings people and circumstances into our lives that are encouraging and healing. He surrounds us with his love and feeds us with his grace.

It is his body, the Body of Christ, who expresses his love and care for us. We are blessed by the support and generosity of our brothers and sisters in Christ, whether members of our fellowships or not. God has shown over and over that he is with us in this transition, that in Christ, in him, “we live, and move and have our being” as the apostle Paul wrote. We are held in the center of the life and love of Father, Son and Spirit, for God is our dwelling place. We are truly grateful for this blessing.

Thank you, Lord God, that we may dwell even now “in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Thank you that in the midst of upheavals and transitions in life and those times when we feel uprooted we have a permanent dwelling place in you. You are our refuge, our place of safety, our comfort and peace. We praise you and thank you. In Jesus name. Amen.

“For you have made the LORD, my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place.” Psalm 91:9

Light in Our Darkness

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by Linda Rex

I recall one winter when my children and I were playing Monopoly in the living room and the lights went out. Normally I would not have been concerned. We would just get the candles out and keep going. But the weather was frigid and ice was accumulating on the trees and bushes outside. No power meant we would be very cold since we use propane to heat the house and the blower would not be working to force the heat into the rooms.

We did finish our Monopoly game by candlelight, but when bedtime came, there was still no power. The house grew colder. The darkness seemed darker somehow, with the clouds and storm, and no lights on inside or out. Bundled up in blankets and warm clothing, we huddled in our beds for the night.

During those winter months, when the days were growing longer but the gray skies and cold weather lingered, I was reminded of the darkness spoken about in Isaiah. The people of Israel had continued to break God’s heart with their unfaithfulness and disobedience. So he sent them away from their homeland into captivity. For many centuries there was no prophetic word from God. It was a time of deep darkness for the nation of Israel and the other nations Israel had been sent to as God’s representative.

It was in these days of darkness and despair that God entered the world in the person of Jesus Christ. John, in his gospel, speaks of Jesus as being the Light of the world (John 1:4) even though the world did not comprehend who he was and what he was doing here on earth. Throughout his human life, Jesus healed people, cast out evil spirits and fed large numbers of people. He spoke words of truth that challenged accepted world views. He taught his disciples a new way of life, of loving their enemies and doing good to those who persecuted them. The result of Jesus’ good deeds and compassionate love was an untimely, gruesome death on the cross.

But the Light had already begun to shine and the grave could not and would not stop him. Jesus rose from the grave and his resurrection impacted the world in such a way that it has never been the same since. In the centuries that followed as Christianity began to spread throughout the world, Jesus’ followers began to shine light into dark places wherever they went. Where there was despair, suffering, loss and hunger, there came hospitals, orphanages, and schools. Jesus’ followers were human and faulty—they had shortcomings. But the truth is that Jesus’ eternal light entered the world, and from then on the world has never been the same.

Not only does the Light of Jesus bring a new way of living and interacting with other people throughout the world we live in. But when we trust in Jesus, we also have the hope of that Light shining in us and through us for all eternity. We embrace the hope of shining brightly like stars with Christ in glory. Jesus, our Light, and the Light of the world, has come and the world, as with us, will never be the same again.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you.” Isa. 60:1-2

Morning Snow

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by Linda Rex

This morning I was puttering around, putting the teakettle on the stove so I could have hot water for my morning cup of tea. I glanced out the window and was astonished to see that a heavy snow was falling, just like the snows we used to enjoy back in Iowa. I could not keep this news to myself!

My daughter was still asleep and I wanted so much to wake her up and tell her. I stood outside her door and thought to myself, “It would be such a shame for her to miss this.” It was a struggle to keep quiet about what I had seen especially when I knew she would absolutely love it.

Have you ever felt so compelled to share something that you couldn’t keep quiet about it? It’s like you have a fountain spilling over inside and filling you up to the place you feel like you’re going to explode if you don’t have some way of releasing the pressure. Sometimes it’s a bit of good news that you know everyone is going to love when they hear it and you can’t wait to share it.

When we come to faith in Christ, we are given the blessing of God’s very presence within, with the Presence and power of the Holy Spirit. We experience the wonder and grace of the life and love of the Father, Son and Spirit as we welcome into our hearts and lives Our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit poured into our hearts and lives is a spring of living water that overflows, bringing refreshment and renewal. We find ourselves wanting to tell everyone about it, to share with them the good news of how our lives and hearts have been transformed by God.

The sad thing is that after a while we may get so used to all that water that we become a stagnant pool. Why? Because there is no outlet for all that water. When we keep the life and love of God to ourselves, secure within our own little world and confines of goodness, the fountain begins to lose its freshness.

The good news is that Jesus has promised never to leave us or forsake us. We are assured that when we spend time with him, removing the clutter that has muddied the water for us, and open ourselves up fully to the Holy Spirit, inviting him to fill us, our fountain will again flow freely. Filled with the Spirit, we will be compelled to share what God has given so freely to us. As we share the live and love of the Father, Son and Spirit with those around us, the living water will flow out from us, refreshing others as we are refreshed. And God will smile, for it all begins and ends with him, in Jesus.

Holy God, Fountain of all life and love, refresh us. Renew our hearts and minds, and cause your Spirit to flow freely and fully within us and out from us once again. May we share freely your generous gift in Christ of our participation in your life and love. We thank you and praise for the Living Water you give. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

 “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”      John 7:38 (NASB)

When Winter Lingers

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by Linda Rex

When I walked into the business office one day, I was greeted by a wonderful floral fragrance. On the desk sat a beautiful bouquet of flowers. The lilies in the bouquet were filling the room with their pleasant scent.

We often associate lilies with Easter or with the passing of a loved one. Lilies remind us in times of death that there is always the hope of new life in Jesus. Lilies begin to bloom in the spring, and are often associated with the seasonal renewal of life. The winter season is when lilies go dormant, drawing their energy back into their bulbs. The cold soil hides the life of the lily until the warm spring sun awakens the bulb again to new life.

During the winter of our lives as our bodies begin to give way to stress and strain, we may feel that we are like the dormant lilies. We may feel lifeless and dull. We may have lost our energy and desire to do much of anything anymore. The aches and pains may overwhelm our desire to get up and face the day. Our loneliness or sadness may feel like a weight upon our soul. Like the lilies, we may withdraw into the cold bulb of our hearts or our room and wish to be just left alone.

God says in these times he will be like the dew to us so that we will blossom like a lily. To find renewal, an ability to keep going in the tough times, the strength to carry on one more day, we go to Jesus. He understands our suffering and our struggles because he bore them in person, in human flesh, just as we do. He will listen to our heart’s cry when we cannot pray, and comfort our spirits when we are overcome with sorrow.

Jesus is the sunlight that melts away the coldness of sorrow and loneliness. He is the friend who is closer than a brother. He comes near and warms us with his love and grace. When we turn to him and bask in the sunlight of his love, we find renewal and strength to face each new day. In the light of his presence, we find encouragement and comfort. In Christ, we find within ourselves the strength and wisdom to share his Light with others so they might be encouraged and comforted as well. Like the spring lilies we will blossom, and the fresh fragrance of God’s love will begin to spread to all those around us.

Lord, thank you for the beautiful lilies of the field. They remind us of your great love that is endless and faithful. Thank you, that in Christ, we may find the comfort, strength and encouragement that enables us to begin again each new day. Please grant that today we like the lilies of the field, will blossom and share the fragrance of your love with all those about us. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

“I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily.” Ho 14:5 (NIV)

Poor Little Lost Lamb

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by Linda Rex

I recall a day many years ago when I was out in a small pasture on my mother-in-law’s farm, trying to find a missing lamb. One of our ewes had given birth to twins, and it was necessary for us to bottle-feed them. Their mother could not supply them enough milk.

That day on the farm, at feeding time, one of the twins was nowhere to be found. This particular twin had a fondness for the greener grass on the other side of the fence. Sure enough, it had squeezed through the fence to the other side. Sad to say, it was not in very good condition when I found it.

That particular lamb did not survive because it would not do the one thing that would have kept it safe and strong—it would not stay near its mother. It insisted on going its own way, seeking adventure outside the safety net of the pasture fence.

Often we as human beings are much like that poor little lamb. In fact, that lamb’s story brings to mind how we as humans, from the beginning, have so often declared to God we would go our own way and choose to find our own “greener grass.” We find ourselves harried by the wolves and coyotes of life, not realizing that if we stayed within our pasture, we would be safe and secure.

The good news is that God took care of that problem many years ago in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Unlike the poor little lamb that lost its way and lost its life, we have the blessing of a Savior who joined us in our humanity and brought us up into his eternal life and love, healing us of our brokenness and our need to live out on our own. Jesus calls himself the “good shepherd” who cares for his sheep.

Our good shepherd was willing to join us in our human mess, and meet us in the midst of our search for the “greener grass.” He has reconciled us with our heavenly Father and sent his Spirit to be with us. He draws us to himself, calling to us to leave our frantic search for something more and to be content in the life and love of the Father, Son and Spirit. When we fall or suffer or struggle, when we make a wrong turn or wander off too far, he is faithful to bring us back home. We need only believe, to trust in his love and faithfulness, to trust in our loving, good shepherd, Jesus Christ.

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.” Ezekiel 34:11

Countercultural Faith

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by Linda Rex

“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” 1 Peter 2:15

Sometimes we may find ourselves asking the question, “What is God’s will in this situation?” There are many verses that talk about the will of God. In this particular instance, Peter is talking about the will of God in the midst of a pagan anti-Christian culture with an oppressive government.

The people of that time lived under Nero and other Roman caesars, who took pleasure in the persecution and destruction of Christians. Peter himself would eventually experience a martyr’s death. This was a difficult, and no doubt, fearful time in which to live. Many of the issues Christians faced in those days are similar to ones Christians face in their world today.

Peter wrote that the way to silence those who know nothing about God and the way of life Jesus taught his disciples was to live in love with fellow Christians and others in the community in the face of suffering, rejection and death. What got the attention of the people of the day was the love and affection of the Christians. They had formed communities in which those in need were cared for and relationships were built. Not only that, but they reached out to those who were not Christians and showed them love and compassion even when it meant putting their lives at risk.

The Christians may have been ridiculed by their neighbors and community members for their funky observances like eating the body and blood of a dead guy (participating in communion), but the criticism was often silenced by the love and compassion these people witnessed these Christians sharing in the midst of suffering and difficult circumstances. It was the “doing good” and the non-violent response to martyrdom and suffering that eventually silenced the persecutors and paved the way for the Roman empire to embrace Christendom.

As we go about our daily lives and experience troubles and trials as Christians, it would be good for us to keep in mind the impact we have on others by our words, actions, and attitudes. We are preaching the gospel in the way we “do good” in our daily lives. As we reflect to the world around us the grace and love and truth of Jesus Christ, we pave the way for God to ultimately silence those who oppose him by transforming their hearts by faith. This is the path toward accomplishing the will of God–giving his Spirit full expression in and through us in the midst of a broken and hurting humanity who are ignorant of or live in opposition to God’s love and grace and truth in Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord of Life, please grant us the vision to see beyond our daily trials to understand the impact we can have on the world around us by living upright, godly, loving lives no matter what we may face or suffer. Help us to fully reflect the wonder of your love and grace in Jesus as we go about our daily business. You have worked mightly through your people to change the world. Please work mightly thorough us as well. Grant us the strength, wisdom and courage to bear whatever suffering or sorrow this may require and to do whatever you may ask of us. For Christ’s sake and by your great power. Amen.