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
by Linda Rex
I was reading a local paper today and noticed that one of the columns was an anonymous contribution in which the author memorialized a brother she had recently lost. She told stories of how her brother had quietly gone about helping her and helping others. It was obvious from what she had written that her brother had had a heart of gold.
I think sometimes we focus so much on what people say and do that we forget to look at their heart. A person’s heart may be in the right place, but all we can see is what they did or say that was wrong or hurtful. We take their words or efforts totally wrong and get offended or are hurt when really they never meant us any harm at all. In fact, they probably were probably clueless about having done or said anything amiss.
What can make a difference here is how well we know the person. How well we know them can determine how well we understand their motives and their heart. When we know someone really well and have seen over time that their heart toward us is good and that they only mean us well, then our response to them will mostly likely be positive and welcoming.
But if we really don’t know them to the point that we feel we can trust their heart toward us and that we’re pretty sure they only mean us well, we can become extremely self-protective and begin to impute false and hurtful motives or unjustly criticize their words and actions toward us.
When life gets tough and we aren’t receiving any positive answers to our prayers, it is easy to get in the frame of mind where we begin to question God’s motives, thinking he means us ill or doesn’t care about us at all. We question God’s heart—because we don’t know him well enough.
It takes time and effort to build a relationship with God. As we walk along life’s road with God we gain experience in recognizing God and seeing his heart towards us is always and ever good. We grow in our knowledge of God—not just about him, but knowing him as an intimate Father, Brother, Friend, and Companion.
It takes going through the ups and downs of life with God to help us to come to know him intimately, and to learn that his heart towards us is always and ever good. He never means us ill. Even when he has to deal with sin in our lives and life gets too tough, his love never fails.
It is God’s heart to draw us into intimate fellowship with him through Christ by the Spirit. God is working to eradicate or remove anything that may come between us and him, and to drive out the evil and sin that seeks to separate us from him. God will not stop until we truly know him for who he is—Love, a divine Love who is always looking out for our best interests. This is his heart toward us. We can trust him completely.
Dear God, thank you for being so gracious to us when we do not understand or recognize the love and tenderness that are in your heart toward us. Continue to draw us near to you that we might be transformed by your love. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
“Then they will know that I am the LORD.” Ezekiel 29:6b, 9b, 16b, 21b. (NAS)
by Linda Rex
Attending my first family reunion when I was a young teen was an eye opener for me. As one of three siblings, I had rarely ever seen or been around any of my cousins, aunts and uncles or grandparents. I remember sitting in a restaurant back east in Pennsylvania and being amazed at the number of people I was related to. Some of them I recognized from having met them earlier in my life or from having seen their picture. But the majority of them I didn’t know. And yet I was related to all of them by birth or by marriage. It was hard to get my mind around.
But there is another extended family scene that still sticks out in my mind as well. I was at a fall festival in Squaw Valley, California, sitting in the nosebleed section of the ice arena, listening to a minister preach to thousands of us who had gathered there to worship God. I was overwhelmed at that particular moment by a sense of the unity of the Spirit among all of us as believers. We were each unique, with our own lives, families, jobs, and all, and yet, here we were, joined together in the Spirit, worshiping God as one. We were a spiritual family.
One of the blessings of understanding the unique nature of the God we worship is that we can know him as the God who exists in an eternal fellowship or communion of Father, Son, and Spirit. As God, he has a Oneness that cannot be separated, yet at the same time he is in an eternal relationship of love. Jesus said, “I and my Father are one.” He said that when he returned to his Father, he would send “another Helper” like himself, the Holy Spirit. We don’t understand the mystery that is God, but we do know that he has invited us to share in his love and life through Jesus Christ in the Spirit.
This was God’s plan from the beginning—that we would share in the divine life and love. He did this by giving us an “Elder Brother”, Jesus Christ the Lord. We are not called to become gods as God is God, because we will for all eternity still be his creatures while he will forever be our Creator. We are yet human and will be human (glorified human) for all eternity. It is just that the Word became human like us to purify our human flesh and to give us eternal life in him, so that we can share eternity with God. We can live with him and in him in an intimate relationship forever. We can share in the divine fellowship. Jesus became our brother, so that we would be God’s adopted children (only Jesus is the eternally begotten Son).
Not only are we joined now with God through Christ in the Spirit, but we are also joined with one another. Because Christ lived and died for all human flesh, not just certain ones, there is a place for you and me at the table of fellowship with the Father, Son and Spirit and with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus is the firstborn among many brothers—he is one of us (while at the same time being God) and embraces each of us as a brother and sister in him, because he became for us all that we need to be to participate in the life and love of God.
This means that because of what Jesus Christ did in his life, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension, we are now invited to participate in an eternal family reunion where we are included forever in a relationship with God and each other that God intended since before the beginning of time. God has opened wide heaven’s door and is beckoning—“Come on in! There is a place for you, right over there! I saved it just for you!” We can live as part of his family right now by embracing the truth about who we are, who he has said we are and will be—his very own children. We are included. We are loved. This is the true reality, no matter what or who may tell us otherwise.
Holy God, thank you for your heavenly invitation. Thank you, Father, for planning this out and working out your plan so that we each have a place at your table in Jesus. May your Spirit bear witness with our Spirit that we are indeed your children and fully related to one another in Christ. Thank you for making us all one in him. In his name, we pray. Amen.
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:29
by Linda Rex
A Facebook friend of mine posted a story the other day about a new opiate drug that started in Russia and is making its way into America. It was difficult for me to read the story about the drug krokodil (pronounced like crocodile) or desomorphine because the users of this highly addictive heroin-like drug will use it even though the use of it may cost them the loss of parts of their body. It made me physically ill just to think of it. How tragic that we seek so hard to end our pain or escape our world that we are willing to self-destruct in order to do it!
The truth is that users of krokodil are not much different than us abusers of food, especially those of us who are so addicted to sweets that we are willing to risk similar consequences in an effort to feel good for a few moments. We are all guilty of this escapism in one form or another. Our method may vary: watching a game or video on TV, playing video games endlessly or reading another fairy-tale sex-laden romance novel.
We can see our desire for a savior to come and rescue us from our insanity in many of the plotlines of the stories we watch and read. Superheroes such as Superman, Spiderman or Batman are popular. Legendary heroes, superstars and sports giants all capture our imagination. The key is that they are human and down-to-earth like us, but they are more than us—they achieve what we only dream of.
Wanting the world to end, or the carousel to stop so we can get off, is not unique to us in our generation, however old we may be. It’s the human condition, really.
Christians down through the ages have had a similar focus. This is the “end of the world” mentality that grows especially intense whenever there are calamities ahead or Christians are facing intense persecution. Maybe now Jesus will come, they think, and those who are addicted to prophecy begin to reinterpret the Bible to fit the new hope of deliverance.
Indeed, Christian believers hold fast to the hope of the return of Christ in glory to make all things right in the end. He will one day bring about justice in every way. But if we focus solely on this as a means to escape whatever it is we are going through at the moment, we are missing a golden opportunity to participate in God’s work in this world today in a real and personal way, helping to ease the pain and suffering of those around us and making this world a less painful place in which to live.
Jesus’ disciples were constantly expecting him to bring about an overthrow of the Roman government and to restore the Jewish people to their “rightful” place. Jesus worked throughout his ministry to get them to understand that he came to establish an entirely different kingdom, the kingdom of God. This was not a kingdom that was apparent in a physical way, but was a kingdom of the heart and soul. This was a kingdom of the spirit that involved trusting in him as Savior and Lord, knowing that he was the Son of God in human flesh, and believing that through him we all are adopted by God as his own sons and daughters. What Jesus was looking for was faith.
What if all the energy we put into escaping those things that are our rulers today was put into trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior and participating in his mission to extend his kingdom into all the world so that others could be free as well from their slavery to the addictions and compulsions that control them? What if we had such an intimate relationship with the One who is willing to walk with us through every problem that we were in tune with his Spirit and were walking in his Word day by day, sharing it boldly with those around us? What if our Christianity were more than just a profession or an ideology and was instead a transformed way of being, thinking and living that involved a daily encounter with the living Lord and embracing each and everyone around us in God’s love?
With such a faith, we would embrace the pain and suffering we encounter and by God’s grace begin to be transformed ourselves and then begin to positively influence the world around us. We would bring Jesus’ healing touch into places that hunger for freedom from oppression. But we would not do this under our own power or in an effort to establish God’s kingdom on earth in a physical way. It would solely be a work of the Spirit who lives within us. He would bring about a changed world as we put our faith in the Lord Jesus who gave us the Spirit as the gift of his Presence in the world today. It is Christ’s faith, not our faith, that is world-changing and life-transforming.
God loves you and me and each person who has ever lived. He has demonstrated this love by sending us the savior we long for—one who is fully human and understands our frailty and faultiness without being faulty himself, and yet is transcendently divine—so beyond us that with him everything is possible. And he has sent his very Presence in the Holy Spirit to dwell in the hearts of those who believe. Will you let him rescue you from every oppressor and bring you into his heavenly kingdom of light?
Lord God, thank you for sending us a Rescuer in Jesus Christ and a present Comfort and Help in the Holy Spirit. We trust you to save us and to transform us by your grace into all you mean for us to be. Grant us the faith to believe and to trust fully in you for your salvation in every way. In Jesus’ name, amen.
“And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:7-8
by Linda Rex
I’m sure most people have heard the argument as to whether or not a glass of water is “half-empty” or “half-full.” A person’s temperament often determines how they see the glass. An optimistic person may view the glass as being half-full, expressing gratitude that at least there is something in the glass to drink. A person with a more melancholy temperament will tend to see the glass as half-empty, being concerned that there may not be enough in the glass or that the water will run out before their thirst is quenched.
Having a “half-empty glass” mentality is often seen as a bad thing. “Be more optimistic!” people say. It’s a good thing to be optimistic, but in kingdom of God terms, being empty is actually considered a better state of being than that of being full. For example, Jesus said that it would be the “poor in spirit” who would be the ones who inherited the kingdom of God. (Matt. 5:3) He said it would be those who lost their lives who would find their lives. (Matt. 10:39; 16:25) It would be those who left everything behind and followed Jesus that would find real life in him. (Matt. 16:24-26). These are not our everyday modern life values—these are kingdom values, God’s values.
Jesus spoke these values out of the heart of who he was as the Son of God. As the Son of God and the Son of man—in other words, as the divine Word who became human flesh—Jesus knew and understood that God (Father, Son, and Spirit) lives in love and has for all eternity. By the Spirit the early church fathers came to see that God was revealed by Christ’s incarnational (God in human flesh) ministry to live in relationship, a relationship of being they called “perichoresis” or “circumincession.” They worked for centuries to find the best way to describe how it is that the Father, Son and Spirit are each distinct and yet are one—they are God. They live in self-emptying, self-giving oneness where there can be no division between the Persons of God, and yet they are each unique in their Being and in the relation they have with one another.
What is important to understand about this? Well, if you see the key concept I’m talking about in this blog—it is their self-emptying, self-giving oneness. It is the nature of God’s Being to be self-emptying. By definition “perichoresis” involves each Person of the Godhead “making room” or “making space” for the other. They fully indwell one another. Their nature is to make room for one another, and to make room for us by creating us and drawing us up into relationship with God in Christ by the Spirit.
So is it better to be half-full or half-empty? From what I’ve shared so far, I’m seeing that there is real value in being less than half-full and more than half-empty. It sounds like the real value is in being fully empty of self and self-concern. For when we are fully empty, God moves to fill that space with himself in Christ by the Spirit. It is in pouring ourselves out to God and to others that we find true fullness.
One of the places in which we can pour ourselves out is in the place of prayer. This is an excellent “emptying place” because prayer is our communication with the One who has and will pour himself out into us and for us in Christ through the Spirit. C.H. Spurgeon once wrote:
“…a true prayer is an inventory of wants, a catalogue of necessities, a revelation of hidden poverty. While it is an application to divine wealth, it is a confession of human emptiness. The most healthy state of a Christian is to be always empty in self and constantly depending upon the Lord for supplies; to be always poor in self and rich in Jesus; weak as water personally, but mighty through God to do great exploits; and hence the use of prayer, because, while it adores God, it lays the creature where it should be, in the very dust.” 1
The blessing of walking in a daily, moment by moment attitude of prayer is that we participate in the Holy Trinity’s divine self-emptying love and life. In pouring ourselves out in prayer for other people and about the problems going on around us, we participate in God’s work of changing other people’s hearts and lives and transforming the world we live in. As we do this we may find ourselves being more optimistic about the water in that glass, thanking God that it is half-empty so that he can fill it to the brim and overflowing.
Holy God, thank you so much that you are always pouring yourself out into us and for us moment by moment as we go through our lives. Grant us the grace to pour ourselves out into and for others as you do. It is your nature, your heart of love we need. We praise you for it, Father, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, in your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.
1 Spurgeon, C. H. Morning and evening: Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006.