The Better Thing

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by Linda Rex

I’ve often thought about the story of Mary and Martha, wondering what their relationship must have been like when Jesus wasn’t around. Was Martha one of those “managing females” who was forever telling everyone else in the house what to do, and when and how to do it? Was she like some of us who are incorrigible perfectionists who never have any peace unless everything is absolutely perfect? It’s not very hard to picture her in those roles.

Mary comes across as the quiet timid soul, who finds a deep well in Jesus and lingers there at his feet to drink in of all the spiritual richness she can. Forgotten is every other detail of life, for now her soul is being renewed and replenished in this special moment with her teacher.

Indeed, it is easy to see the simple lesson here, that it is important to focus on what really matters—our relationship with our Lord and Savior—rather than always on the mundane details of life. We have to keep our spiritual priorities straight and put God first in our lives. When we do that, it’s amazing how much better our lives will run!

But when we look at the context of these verses and take into account that Jesus was in the process of deliberately heading towards Jerusalem and his crucifixion, trying to get his disciples to understand what the future truly held for him, then we can see an underlying message that could be missed here. Jesus was calling to his disciples to follow him as the Suffering Servant Messiah with a sense of commitment—a willingness to lay down their all for his sake—a willingness to follow him to and through the crucifixion to his resurrection and new life.

A lawyer had asked him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus had told the story of the man who was left for dead and the Good Samaritan who came and cared for him and even took him somewhere and paid to ensure his care there. Through this story Jesus put the question before the lawyer, what price are you willing to pay to be rightly related to God? Are you willing to sacrifice your dignity, your spiritual purity, your time and resources, and your convenience to live in union with the lost, the least and the ones in need? Are you willing to be identified with the One the world would reject?

These are critical questions. Was Martha aware that she did not need to do a bunch of stuff in order to be rightly related to Jesus? Did she realize that she could rest fully in what Jesus had done and would do in, with and for her? Mary apparently had come to see this and so was not concerned about the other details of hospitality and household management that were of such importance to Martha.

We can reflect on what Luke wrote in his gospel and ask ourselves how well we understand the message of grace. Do we realize that in Christ, we have been fully reconciled to God, and that he is waiting for us to give up our human efforts to do all these things, and to just trust in him, in what he has done for us and will do for us in Jesus Christ, in his life, death and resurrection, and in the precious gift of the Eternal Spirit?

God is calling to us, giving us the opportunity to choose “the better thing” by embracing his gift of love and eternal life in Jesus Christ and by forsaking all other loyalties in our lives. When we choose Christ first over all else, then he goes to work to make sure the rest gets done—and we can fully trust him to finish what he has begun.

Dear God, thank you for your perfect love that you have shed out on us in Christ. We trust you, Father, to accomplish all you set your hand to do, including transforming us and making us to reflect the image of Christ. You are a glorious and faithful God and we praise you, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (NIV) Luke 10:41-42

Being Truly Neighborly

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by Linda Rex

I stood in the hallway of the house that was used as the food and clothing pantry I helped to get started back in Iowa, Heavenly Hands. A young woman in her twenties was talking with me and with Jo, the lady who was instrumental in growing our outreach ministry. Tears filled the young woman’s eyes as she told me about standing at the gas pump and finding she had to decide between putting gas in her car so she could go to work, or buying groceries for her children and her to eat that week. Unlike those of some of the visitors to the pantry, hers was a real story of poverty and loss. I found I too had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

Over the years I learned that what was most meaningful about participating in an outreach ministry such as this was seeing the difference we made in another person’s life, most especially when that person came to see and experience the love of God in a real way in their lives. What compensated most for the negativity of those taking advantage of God’s generosity were the stories of those people whose lives were transformed by the Holy Spirit along with these human gestures of help, prayer and support.

The story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 is most often used as an instructional passage to teach us about the importance of caring for those who are lost, wounded, forsaken and/or ill. This is indeed a meaningful way to look at the passage. But I believe that it is important to consider the small detail of exactly who Jesus wanted us to understand as being our neighbor.

In Luke 10:25-29 we read about a lawyer who was testing Jesus, asking him what he should do to inherit eternal life. (Question to ponder: how does anyone “do” something to inherit something? Doesn’t it come about mostly due to how you are related to someone?) Jesus gave him the standard rabbinical answer—another question: “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” The lawyer answered by repeating the two great commandments, loving God and loving one’s neighbor. Jesus answered him, “Do this correctly, and you will live.” And then he told the story of the man who is left for dead by the side of the road, those who passed him by, and the social outcast, the Samaritan, who tended his wounds, took him to an inn, and paid for his continuing care. This was the true neighbor to the one left on the road. But let’s go a little deeper.

We find elsewhere, in Matthew 25:31-46 that when a person tends to someone who is ill, in prison, or in need, Jesus said that they are actually tending to Christ himself. In many ways, the man left for dead is a true Christ figure in this parable, not just the Good Samaritan. Do we see that in loving and caring for our neighbor, those in need or in trouble, that we are actually caring for Jesus himself? Are we willing to commit ourselves to Jesus as the Good Samaritan did to the man in the road—risking our reputation, sacrificing our time and resources, providing Jesus with care and, paying for his needs and care in a committed and ongoing way?

Taking it even further—perhaps the real question here in regards to inheriting eternal life and in caring for one’s neighbor is the question of relationship: how well and in what way are we related to Jesus Christ? Do we recognize that in him we died and rose again, and are now living a new life in him? For eternal life is this: knowing God and the One whom God sent, Jesus Christ. How well do we know him? Are we willing to lay down our lives and live in newness with him each and every day, and in such a way that we are tending for others who are in the same predicament we are in?

When we see ourselves as the one laying by the side of the road left for dead in commonality with the One who died for us as well as others, we begin to see ourselves and Jesus more clearly for who we truly are and we can begin to have greater, true compassion for others. We find that the power, the will and the heart to care for others comes not from ourselves, but from his compassion that is now ours as we trust him for it. It is Christ in us by the Holy Spirit, who is this neighbor, who cares not only for us but for each person we may encounter, and who gives us the heart and mind to truly care for God and for one another.

To truly and properly love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves requires the very person of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit living his life in us. Because he lives in us and we truly know him in this way, we then have eternal life. This is the correct answer to the lawyer’s question of what to do to inherit eternal life. There is only one way—to be rightly related to God and to truly know him and the One he sent, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, our dearest and closest neighbor.

Holy God, please open our eyes to see you in a new way, as being our nearest and dearest neighbor, and to open our lives and hearts to you completely. Grant that we might truly know you and begin to live in right relationship with you and with others as you intend. Fill us with your love and compassion, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

“But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Luke 10:29

Sowing the Right Seed Matters

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by Linda Rex

One of the lessons I learned as a farmer’s wife years ago was the importance of planning ahead for the harvest. I remember that we had some pasture ground that was not growing well and needed to be reseeded. Being the city girl that I was, I just figured we needed to go somewhere and buy some grass seed and plant it. Simple enough.

But it was explained to me that there were a multitude of grass types that could be planted in the pasture. And in order to have a crop that would provide the proper nutrients for our cows that would enable them to produce the proper milk and so on, we needed to plant a particular combination of grasses. Apparently it does make a big difference what type of grass seed a person sows in his or her pasture, since what he or she sows there determines what will be reaped in the end in the health and well-being of the cattle which graze there.

This lesson of reaping what you sow was rehearsed many times over for me during my years on the farm. The apostle Paul used reaping what you sow as a way of explaining the importance of setting one’s hope and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ rather than in one’s own self.

In our verses for today, Paul was talking to the Galatian church, which had members who were returning back to their Jewish practices as the substance of their faith, rather than continuing to trust in Jesus Christ for their salvation. He pointed out that they did not receive their new life in the Spirit by observing certain rituals and ceremonial days, by circumcision, or by keeping the old covenant laws. They received it through faith, the faith of Christ. He went on to explain how depending upon ourselves to do what is right is futile—it does not save us. Only Christ saves us, by coming to us in the Person and presence of the Holy Spirit.

The lesson for us today is that we need to consider what we are sowing in our lives and how we are sowing it. What do we trust in day by day to ensure that everything in our lives goes the way we want it to? What are we depending upon? Do we have a tight control on ourselves, our world, our lives, our relationships? Are we counting on our ability to keep it all together and solve our problems? Are we diligently trying to make sure we are being patient enough, kind enough, good enough?

I need to ask you now: How is that going for you? Personally, it never really worked well for me. I would be surprised if it worked well for you all the time. Because God never intended you to do it all yourself. If he had intended that, he would never have come himself in the person of Christ to live in human flesh to live and die for us and be resurrected for us. What God intended was for us to be crucified with Christ and to live a new resurrected life in him. We don’t live out of ourselves, we live out of Christ by the Holy Spirit.

This is what Paul means by reaping what we sow. If we sow to our human flesh and out of our own human flesh, we will reap death and corruption. But if we sow by the Spirit, seeking and depending upon the spiritual realities in Christ, we will reap eternal life, the kingdom life we can participate in now as we live in relationship with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. We do have hope of a new life because God has, in Christ, made us new—he has sown the spiritual seed of the Holy Spirit in us as we embrace and receive it. Let us trust in Christ and in what God is doing in us and with us by his Holy Spirit. Let’s allow him to be for us, in us and with us, all that he desires. The harvest will be an eternal blessing of living in the life and love of God as Father, Son and Spirit.

Holy God, thank you for sowing in us your perfect seed of life eternal. Transform us by your Spirit. Resurrect us even today in Christ into the new life you have for us. Begin now to remake us into your image of love you want us to reflect. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:7-8

After Camp Musings

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by Linda Rex

Recently my daughter and I returned home from spending more than a week at The Rock summer camp. This camp was held at lovely Camp Sertoma in Westfield, North Carolina, with its antique hotel, green trees and bubbling creeks. One favorite pastime in the searing heat was spending time in the pool. I made a point of visiting it as often as I could.

There were many opportunities at this camp to be challenged with something new and out-of-the-box. The high ropes, giant swing, rock wall and evening banquet all presented unique challenges for the campers. Counselors and other staff had their own challenges, but God’s Spirit was actively at work throughout the camp, bringing healing, comfort, and deliverance in many lives.

The highlight of each morning was the chapel service, where the campers met to share positive moments through shout outs, to sing praise songs, and to hear the word of God for the day. Worship director Bill Winn and his volunteers provided great music for the campers and staff to sing to. The theme for the camp was “Built on the Rock”*, and had its own camp chant to go with it. Campers or staff would shout “Built on the Rock” and the response from other campers would be “Rock On!”

Chaplain Rocky Ray led the first chapel service and talked about the way God has known and planned for each of us before the world began, and prepared for us by giving us Jesus Christ. When we were born, he began working in our lives, preparing the ground for laying the foundation of Jesus Christ in our lives.

Jeff Broadnax from Generations Ministries came for a brief visit. He gave the Tuesday chapel message and talked about how Jesus Christ is the foundation for our lives and our relationships with God and others. By joining his humanity with ours, Jesus joined himself with us in such a way that we will never be separated from him, but instead are able to participate with him in the life and love of Father, Son, and Spirit. So whatever we may be going through in our lives, we are not alone in it, but God is always with us.

As co-chaplain, I was given the privilege of leading the session on Wednesday morning. I reviewed how God prepared the ground and Jesus is the foundation, and then began to talk about how we go about building our lives on the foundation God has given. I pointed out the critical connections we have been given by God: being fully united with God in Christ forever; being given the gift and Presence of the Holy Spirit; through the Spirit being bonded with other believers and with the living Word of God. I also pointed out our need to build with quality building materials: the faith God gives to us, the hope in Christ we receive from him, and the love he pours out in our hearts that enables us to fully reflect the image of God we were created to reflect.

As an illustration of these messages, the campers and staff worked to build two small houses. One was built on a foundation of sand, while the other was built on a concrete foundation. After chapel Wednesday, the campers built the house on the sand using small logs. On top they placed a roof made of cardboard and styrofoam. Later in the day, some staff members constructed the other house out of similar logs and a metal roof, nailed and connected together and connected to the foundation.

On Thursday, camp director Stephen Webb gave the message. He talked about the storms of life God allows to come out way and how they can help us to see how well we have built our house. They help us to see where we have built on sand, and begin to wash that sand away so we can build on the proper foundation of Jesus Christ. After his message all the campers went outside and chaplain Rocky Ray used a pressure washer on the buildings. The sand under the campers’ house washed away and the house fell, while the other house stood firm.
house cut

Friday was an opportunity for campers and staff to share some final thoughts on the theme and to give personal testimonies about how God had worked in their lives during the week. It was a very moving experience and gave an opportunity for campers to share. The consensus was that God had shown his love and power throughout the week. Campers were encouraged to be positive influences in their world and to be builders, building up their friends, families, communities and country in all they would say and do. Built on the foundation of Jesus Christ and bound together in the Spirit, they are and will be transformers of their world.

Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, thank you for the privilege of participating in your kingdom work last week. It was wonderful to see you at work each and every day in the lives of the staff and campers. Be with each of them as they seek to do your kingdom work in this world. May you be glorified in every way in their lives, words and conduct. Continue to build them up in you, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 (NKJV)

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