When God Lets You Down

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By Linda Rex

Have you ever felt like God just totally let you down? I mean, not in a little way, but in a big, huge way?

Has he ever seemed to have just closed his eyes to the disaster that was looming in front of you, that you had repeatedly told him about, that you begged him to save you from, and he seemed to have just have ignored you? Did God just let it crush you, overwhelm you and ruin your life?

It’s hard to imagine that a God who is love would even consider doing such a thing. How could he be love and yet at the same time stand by and watch us be devastated by something he could have prevented? Indeed, it’s hard for us understand the heart of God in such matters.

The apostle John tells the story of a man in Bethany named Lazarus who contracted a fatal illness. His sisters Mary and Martha sent for their dear friend Jesus to come and heal Lazarus. It seemed like a simple matter, and they trusted that Jesus, being such a loving, compassionate friend and having the power to heal, surely would do whatever was necessary to make Lazarus well.

When he heard the news of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus told his disciples to wait. They misunderstood his motives, thinking he was concerned about himself, that he wanted to avoid trouble in Jerusalem.

In fact, he deliberately waited until he got the news that Lazarus was dead. Then he said, “Don’t worry. This is all for God’s glory.” And against their protestations, he told the disciples they would be going to Bethany.

On the face of it, not responding to the plea for healing would seem to be the most arrogant, heartless thing he could have done. It is no wonder that when she finally did see him, Martha said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21) Yeah, Jesus, where were you when we needed you? I can’t believe you let us down like this!

Was Jesus really that insensitive and heartless? I think it is significant that in this place we read those two precious words: “Jesus wept.” Jesus, as God in human flesh, wept. He cried openly and fully.

He wasn’t heartless and cold. He shared the pain and loss and sorrow of his dear friends, and he expressed it. Even though he knew in the next moment that Lazarus would be alive again, he grieved with his friends and shared their pain. He understood what it cost them for the will of God to be accomplished in this moment. And it broke his heart.

In our simplicity, we often don’t perceive the depth, height, length and breadth of God’s love or wisdom. It’s hard to understand how allowing deep suffering in one person’s life in this moment can be such a blessing to others in the next. Or why God would be deaf to our pleas for intervention now, but then he may intervene dramatically some time later.

It’s easy to question God’s motives, to suspect him of being heartless and uncaring. Our trust of God is often tested, and when he fails to live up to our expectations of what a loving God must be like, we feel let down and disappointed. We find it hard then to have any faith in a God that does not deliver.

Could it be at this moment, Jesus understood the pain his disciples and followers would feel in the next few days as he would be crucified and buried in a tomb? Was he hoping that they would catch a glimpse of the glory that would come through death and resurrection and so have hope in spite of the circumstances?

We don’t know the mind of God, but we can know his heart. His heart toward us is always and ever love—the full expression of his very nature. And even when we don’t know his mind we can always trust his heart. For in the end, he will prove that he is and always has been love, just as in Jesus, he demonstrated it through death and resurrection.

Father, thank you that in Jesus you showed us depth, height, width and breadth of your love for us. Holy Spirit, renew in us the faith to believe that your heart toward us, God, is always and ever good. Grant us the grace to trust you even when we feel only disappointment, despair and loss. Remind us that every tear we shed and every pain we feel you share with us in Jesus. In his name we pray. Amen.

“Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?” John 11:35–37 NASB

Dying Embers

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By Linda Rex
One of the things I enjoy doing on a summer night is to sit around an open fire with friends and family. Something about sharing laughter and stories under a starry sky is heartwarming and inspiring.

Eventually the fire burns down and there are only glowing coals left. During a pause in conversation, the night sounds become more pronounced. Out on the farm in Missouri and in Iowa, we would hear the coyotes, owls and frogs, along with the constant chirp of the crickets.

Any fire left unattended and unfed would eventually go out. But even a few dying embers, if fed the right fuel and given enough oxygen, would burst back into flames.

There are times when I feel as though my inner spiritual flame has been left unattended too long. Being preoccupied with daily living and worn down with the stresses of everyday life, even of ministry itself, can become spiritually suffocating. Even though I know God is near, sometimes I can feel as though the flame of faith within me has been reduced to dying embers.

If it was fully dependent upon me to keep the flame of faith alive, I would be in real trouble. It is a comfort to know that Jesus Christ stands ever ready to intercede and to fill each of us with his faith, with the fresh air of his Spirit of power, love and self-discipline. I am grateful that the Spirit does not come and go willy-nilly, but he abides—he stays. God is ever-present, fully in us, with us, for us.

Yes, we can and should participate in the ministry of the Spirit by inviting him to fill us. We can open ourselves to hear and heed his Word to us. We can be willing to suffer if necessary for the sake of Christ. And we can actively, in whatever way he gives us, bear witness to the grace of God for us in Jesus Christ. All of these things help to fan the flame of the Spirit within us.

Even if you feel like all that is left within you are just a few dying embers, do not give up hope. Perhaps all you need is a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit or a hefty chunk of his Word to feed the flame. Maybe just adding a twig or two of effort to share with someone the story of how God has done something special in your life will do the trick. Maybe just a sigh of a prayer, “God, I’m here and I’m yours” is what’s needed. Each and every one of these bits of fuel can help reignite the fire of faith.

And never forget the power of community—spiritual community feeds the fire of faith. This is why we’re encouraged not to neglect assembling together with others who believe in Christ. How often our faith is renewed by the prayer, the concern and/or a fitting word from someone who listened and who knew just what to say!

In any case, never give up hope. The fire may have died down. There may only be few glowing coals left. But even a few dying embers have the capacity to ignite a holy flame.

Holy God, please refresh us today, reigniting the fire of your Presence within. Restore and renew our faith. Bring us back to full flame, feeding us with the fuel of your Spirit, your Word and your testimony. We praise you for your faithfulness in keeping us alit with the fire of faith. We trust you will finish what you have begun in us by your Spirit, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

“I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” 2 Timothy 1:5–9 NIV

“As You Wish”

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by Linda Rex

The thought came to mind this afternoon that it is easy for any of us to imagine that everything in this world ought to revolve around our wishes. I am reminded of the line from the movie “Princess Bride” which was repeated more than once by the hero of the story. It was an expression of his love for the beautiful princess. When he was incognito, she recognized him by his use of the phrase, “As you wish.”

There is a freedom that comes with love—a freedom that may put the relationship itself at risk. This is the freedom to not love the other, if one wishes. It is the freedom to think, act and relate in ways that are unique to oneself rather than in harmony with the other party. It is the freedom that comes with personhood—with being self-aware, being created with a human, made in God’s image, identity.

Some of the saddest relationships I have seen are those in which this phrase is used improperly. One or the other of the parties involved is so controlling and/or insecure that the other is never allowed to have a differing opinion, a separate will, or an individual choice. Or the person has willingly given up that freedom, thinking that is what having a relationship requires. But this is not a healthy relationship—because there is a person in this relationship whose personhood is being violated.

We learn from God what it means to be persons, each with a separate unique identity but made to live in harmonious relationships with God and others. Jesus, as God taking on human flesh in the incarnation, showed us that he had an individual identity which reflected God in which he was free to choose, to love and not love. And at the same time he never did anything apart from or opposed to the will of his Father. In the Spirit, he lived in harmony with and in obedience to the will of God. He loved freely and fully.

Jesus taught us that God is Father, Son and Spirit—each unique, equal and eternally one. How is it that three unique, equal individuals can at the same time be one? Here the church fathers coined the term perichoresis or ‘making room for one another.’ There is the kind of freedom in love where each party makes room for the other to be fully who she or he is. It is God’s nature to be fully free in love in this way. Each says to the other, in essence, “As you wish” and yet no one’s personhood is ever violated.

And because of Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension, God has included us in that divine relationship of love. In sending his Spirit to us as humans, he has made a way for us to share in the perichoretic union and communion in which he lives. He’s willingly risked it all to give each of us the freedom to love or not love, as we wish.

But at the same time, God calls us into a new way of being, a new way of loving and living. He calls us into a relationship with himself in which we are to say to him, “As you wish.” And he says to us, “As you wish.”

This is why, when all is said and done, the choice to not love, to not be in relationship with God, to reject all that God has done for us in Christ to give us new life and forgiveness, is ours to freely make—and God will honor that choice. He will work as long as he is able with all that is in him to bring us to a change of mind and heart, but the choice is ultimately ours. And he will honor it, even though it may break his heart.

So, as once again I am frustrated by the demands of a thoughtless person, I say in my soul, “Father, as you wish,” and in the Spirit of that submission say to this person with grace, “As you wish.” I am mindful of all the times I have made thoughtless, unreasonable demands and so, with sincerity, I freely choose to forgive and move on. Perhaps another time love will require a different answer, but for now, this is enough.

Heavenly Father, thank you for saying to each of us freely in love, “As you wish,” and for calling us into a relationship with you in which you provide for us in Christ by the Spirit the heart and will to say to you, “As you wish.” Grant us the grace to live freely in love with one another and with you in this way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

“And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, ‘Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.’” Luke 22:41–42 NASB

Taking the High Road

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by Linda Rex

This morning I was reading about the spiritual discipline of sacrifice. I got to thinking about how so many of us love hearing stories about people who put themselves at risk for the sake of an animal or another person. These are the kind of stories that go viral on the Web—everybody loves a hero.

The thing is—there wouldn’t be heroes if there weren’t people who were willing to sacrifice something, including their own life and well-being, for the sake of someone else. But where does this willingness to lay down our lives and our well-being for another come from?

It is my belief that such a heart and mind is not something we drum up out of our own humanness. Really, our natural tendency is not to sacrifice but to self-protect and be self-absorbed not self-sacrificing. I mean, really—if you or I were asked to give our month’s salary away so that someone who is homeless could live somewhere, would we do it?

We’re happy to give if it doesn’t cost us anything. But what if it cost us something, cost us a lot, maybe even cost us everything? Would we do it? Speaking for myself—I have a long way to go to be truly self-sacrificing.

I believe that this heart of self-sacrifice and service is something that comes from outside of ourselves. It is the heart of the God who made us. And we all share in that Spirit of self-sacrifice that was expressed in his gift of his Son Jesus to all humanity.

When I see a mother daily sacrifice her hopes and dreams, her possibility of a meaningful career, for the sake of caring for her disabled or special needs child—I see the heart of the Father. This is the Spirit of self-sacrifice that is a beautiful reflection of God’s perichoretic love—making room for another within the family circle at tremendous cost to oneself.

When I see a spouse tenderly visit and care for his or her mate each day even though the loved one has forgotten who he or she is, I see the tender and faithful love of God at work. This expression of love in the face of forgetfulness or rejection has its roots in the patient, longsuffering and faithful love of God, who never turns us away even though we may turn away from him.

I was reading a story this morning about a soldier who put his life at risk during the Vietnam War to care for a Vietnamese woman’s child in the middle of combat. What would drive a solder to lay down his or her life in this way? This Spirit of self-sacrifice has its roots in the nature of God who is love. It is an expression of the heart of the God who was willing to lay aside his divinity so that he could share in our humanity and reconcile our self-centered, selfish nature with his at tremendous cost to himself.

When faced with different options in life, the question occurs to me—will I take the high road? Will I do the difficult thing? Will I risk anything, maybe even risk all, for the sake of another? Will I do something that will cost me something, maybe even everything? Or will I take the easy road?

I think Robert Frost had it right. To take the untraveled road, the more difficult path is the better choice. It is the choice inspired by the One who has given us the power of choice. With our gift of free will, will we take the high road, the road of sacrifice? Or will we continue in the cyclonic black hole of self-absorption and self-centeredness? May God grant us the grace to take the high road in every circumstance in which it is needed.

Lord, thank you for always choosing to do the hard thing whenever necessary. Grant us your heart of service and self-sacrifice so that we may be an accurate reflection of your divine perichoretic love. We need your grace in this as in everything. Thank you that it is there for us in Jesus. Amen.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:12–13 NIV

Mourning in a ‘Pain-Free’ Society

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By Linda Rex

I love reading. I have a stack of books that I gathered while doing my thesis that I wanted to read but didn’t have the time to enjoy. Now that my schoolwork doesn’t take up all my down time, I’ve begun reading some of these, a few chapters each day.

This morning I was reading a chapter in the book “Authentic Faith” by Gary L. Thomas. This book is an interesting overview of certain spiritual disciplines that we as the Christian church in America sometimes overlook. I feel that learning and practicing spiritual disciplines as a means of putting ourselves in the presence of God and opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit to work is an essential part of our spiritual formation or growing up in Christ.

So, as I started to say, I came across the spiritual discipline of mourning. Now I would have to assume that mourning is not something we as human beings would naturally choose to do. If anything, I’m thinking that most of us do everything we can to avoid feeling pain or having to deal with difficult situations, horror or suffering. Taking painkillers for pain is considered normal behavior in our society. So much so that they are often abused. And many people use other forms of dealing with pain that are not always healthy—alcohol and drug abuse for example.

Unfortunately, the reality is that pain, suffering and grief are a part of our natural human condition. I believe one of the reasons such suffering, evil and pain are a part of our world today is because we as human beings do not practice the spiritual discipline of mourning. When an evil is perpetrated against another human being—we may make that a big news story in the media or on the Web, but how does it affect us personally? Do we feel the pain that goes along with the evil? Do we weep at the injustice and groan inwardly at the carnage? Are we then motivated by our sorrow to right the injustice or to heal the hurt? Rarely.

I don’t know about you, but too often I find my own self turning away from the story because I can’t bear the pain. I turn away and miss God’s invitation to mourn with him over the suffering in his world. I fail to participate in Christ’s suffering by refusing the opportunity to weep and sorrow over the injustice and depravity I witness. I too often am blind to the grief of others or am insensitive and thoughtless in responding to their suffering.

This week many Christians the world over participated in the observance of Ash Wednesday. The observance of this day marks the beginning of the season of Lent, which precedes the Easter celebrations marking the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lent is typically the season in which Christians practice penitence, fasting from certain foods or items in acknowledgement of their need for and appreciation of God’s grace.

One of the things I think we can overlook as we consider the concept of mourning evil, grieving losses, and practicing penitence, is that these things are not something we as Christians have to do all on our own as though they are something we owe God, ourselves or each other. Rather, we practice penitence, repentance, grief, and mourning as a participation in Christ’s grief, penitence, repentance and mourning. It’s never something we do on our own—we are joined with God in Christ by the Spirit, and we share in his grief, his suffering, his mourning over loss, sin, evil, pain and injustice.

Just as Jesus obeyed God’s call through John the Baptizer by being baptized on behalf of all humanity for the remission of sins, so also did he obey the will of the Spirit who led, or drove, him out into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days. In the midst of Jesus’ penitence on our behalf, he came face to face with evil. And he did not look away.

He did not give up his penitence to stifle the hunger in his stomach. The devil was right that Jesus could have made the stones into bread, but Jesus never used his divinity to serve himself. He only used it to serve others and to serve us.

Jesus did not give up his penitence, his identifying himself with us in our humanity and sinfulness, even to prove his identity as the Son of God. Nor did he pursue his own shortcut to glory by submitting to evil and turning his back on humanity. He chose the path of humility and humanity, of being the Servant Messiah even when it meant he would be treated like a common criminal, rejected, crucified and murdered by those he came to rescue.

Jesus went all the way with us and for us. And as the perfect reflection of God, he demonstrated to the core of his being that God is for us and against evil in any shape and form. If God in Jesus was willing to choose to do this so that we could be and would be free from the clutches of evil, how can we do any less ourselves?

Significantly, after Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem to the adoring cries of “Hosanna”, one of the first things he did was to weep over the city who refused to repent and receive the Messiah God had sent them. He grieved over the pain, the suffering, and the evil. He mourned.

Even though we can have great joy that God in Christ has once and for all triumphed over evil, we also are privileged to suffer and grieve with God over, and in the midst of, the pain, injustice and evil of this broken world. God has given us eternal hope in Jesus and we can, in the midst of all that breaks our heart, point suffering and grieving people to the One who suffers and grieves with them and for them. We can, in Christ, participate in God’s work to relieve the suffering and right the injustices in the world. In the perichoretic life and love of Father, Son and Spirit, there is room for the depths of grief and suffering, the struggle against evil and injustice, just as there is room for the fullness of joy everlasting. For this we live in gratitude.

Lord, we are grateful for your grace, for the reality that we are never alone in our grief and sorrow. You grant us the privilege of participating in your suffering just as you, Jesus, took on our humanity with all its weakness, suffering and brokenness. Grant us the grace to cease our efforts to kill the pain, and to begin to just walk in the midst of it with you, allowing you to redeem all that is evil, hurtful and unjust, and to cause it to serve your purposes rather than the purposes of the evil one. For you, God, will and do have the last word in all these things, and we trust you to love us and do what is best for us no matter what. Gratefully, in your precious name, Jesus, we pray. Amen.

“For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.” Romans 8:16–18 NLT

Rain in the Desert

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By Linda Rex

I remember a brief visit to the Arizona desert. The setting sun was painting the sky with brilliant colors. The saguaros and Joshua trees were silhouetted against it, and the air was crisp and dry. The desert was beautiful, but it was dry and parched. The only thing that would have made it even more beautiful, that would have made really it come alive, would have been rain.

Sometimes, like the desert, we may feel dry and parched. We feel an inner emptiness that nags at us that we really can’t quite put our finger on. We try to avoid dealing with it, so we cram ourselves and our lives full of all kinds of stuff, none of which truly fills that emptiness. Our life may have a stunning beauty and be full of all kinds of stuff, but nothing quite takes away that nagging feeling of thirst.

The sad thing is that we can be doing all kinds of things for God, and still feel this way. This is because we have forgotten who we are and what we were created for. We weren’t created to do things for God, but to do all things with God.

Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it and to be fruitful. And God walked with them in the garden—sharing life with them as they went along. God did not just put them in the garden and then walk away and say, “Take care of it. It’s all up to you now. You’ve got to get it right or else.”

But he did give them a choice—the same choice he gives us. A choice between life on our own—choosing for ourselves what is good and evil—or true life, life in communion with him forever, trusting him in every situation. Even when Adam and Eve made the wrong choice, God intervened and promised them that evil would not have the last word. Their failure was not the end of the story. It was redeemed in Christ.

Because Christ took on our human flesh and lived, died and rose from the grave in union with us, all of life is a participation in God’s Triune life and love. We can try to live life as though we are here on earth all by ourselves, tackling everything ourselves on our own. (Our track record with that hasn’t been the greatest.) Or we can live life in an intimate relationship with God moment by moment through Christ in the Spirit.

Through Christ God sent his Spirit so that we could share in his life. We are free to ignore the tree of life, the Spirit, if we wish and continue to hide away from God. Worse yet, we can declare ourselves aligned with God and with Christ as our Savior, and yet live as though it’s all up to us. Either way we end up making demands on other people that they cannot fill. And we live with an inner dryness that we try to stuff with all kinds of things that are never quite enough to fill the emptiness.

Instead we can choose to live our lives as a participation in Christ’s life, believing that all of life is taken up in Christ. Whatever we are doing at the moment, we are doing in union with Christ and as we are walking in the Spirit, we are doing in communion with God in Christ. This is the perichoretic life of the Father, Son and Spirit—making room for one another. God has made room for us in his life. We make room for God in ours. We make room for others in ours as well. We live gratefully in God’s true freedom based in love in a warm, loving relationship with God and each other.

This means that we live, moment by moment, with an awareness of God’s presence. We begin to tune into the presence and power of God’s Spirit. We make some effort to listen to the Word of God and the promptings of his Spirit. We begin to make room for God in our hearts, our minds and our lives.

Every act of life, no matter how trivial, is not an unusual thing for God—he is not surprised. He already knows all about us. He knows us intimately. Nothing is hidden from him, no matter how good we are at hiding it.

He wants to share all of life with us, just as we would with a best friend, a lover, a brother or sister. God wants to do all of life with us, not just the parts we get right. That’s why he gives us his unconditional love and acceptance—his grace. And he loves us so much that he’s not going to leave us where we are—he’s going to grow us up to reflect the perfect image of himself, Jesus Christ. He’s going to work to heal us and make us whole. He’s going to transform us.

When we feel that nagging inner thirst, we need to ask ourselves—am I doing life on my own again? Where’s God in all this? Who is God for me in this moment, in this situation? Am I doing life for God or for myself? Or am I doing life with God—together with him in joyful companionship and friendship?

Whenever we find ourselves in that dry spot where we’ve started going the wrong direction, all God asks of us is to turn around. He beckons to us, “Come—join me in my life and my work! Share life with me! You don’t need to do this all by yourself.” And he runs down the road to meet us and embrace us. Because he’s always expectantly looking for us to join him. Let’s not keep him waiting.

Holy God, thank you so much that we don’t have to do life all on our own. Thank you for your real, intimate presence with us and in us by your Holy Spirit. Forgive us our tendency to live life our way on our own without you. Grant us the grace to make room for you in our lives, our hearts and minds, and to live each moment in an intimate relationship with you. Fill our thirsty souls with your real presence—we long for you. We’ve lived too long in this desert place without you. We praise and thank you for your faithful love in Jesus. Amen.

“They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:8-9 NASB

Grace in the Rough Stuff

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by Linda Rex

In my last blog I mentioned that “There are lots of opportunities in life to celebrate pity parties.” I followed this with a comment about our common human experience of at times feeling forgotten and unnoticed. Then I began to talk about Hagar’s experience.

Unfortunately, this may have given my readers the impression that I believed Hagar was having a pity party out in the desert, sitting next to a spring of water somewhere feeling sorry for herself. In reality, she was no doubt reflecting upon what had just occurred and was frightened and upset. When God, the One who saw her, came to her in her distress, he had something to say to her about the whole situation in which she found herself.

This all began because her mistress, Sarai, was unable to conceive a baby. According to the cultural norm of the time, but against the wishes of God, Sarai offered her maid Hagar as a surrogate mother. Hagar’s child would become the family heir in place of the baby Sarai could not conceive.

The problem arose when Hagar conceived. All of a sudden her attitude toward Sarai changed. She despised her. And Sarai could not tolerate this. In her frustration, she went to Abram and laid the blame at his door. In response Abram gave Sarai permission to do whatever she wanted with Hagar—she was considered their property. Sarai acted according to the cultural norms again, and rather than treating Hagar with God’s grace and wisdom, she treated Hagar harshly.

In response to this abuse, Hagar fled. Thankfully in the wilderness she found a spring of water, and it was there that the angel of the Lord met her. Hagar’s response to the angelic visit was to name the spring after the God who saw her there in her distress.

Which is a little surprising when you think about what God said to her through the angel. He didn’t pat her on the head and say, “Oh, you poor thing.” He didn’t sympathize with the injustice of it all. He didn’t criticize her for her behavior and attitude toward Sarai. Nor did he excuse it. He merely said in effect, “Go back and do what’s right. I will redeem this. This child has a future and a purpose.”

John’s gospel tells us that Jesus’ response to another woman facing unpleasant circumstances and unwanted consequences was exactly the same as that of the God who sees us. This woman was being accused by some Pharisees of committing adultery. When all was said and done, Jesus never accused her nor did he excuse her. He merely said, “I don’t condemn you either. Go, and sin no more.”

Jesus’ response exactly reflected the response of Israel’s God—God’s response to our failures, the struggles and consequences we face in life is grace. God takes whatever happens in our lives, whether we caused it or not, whether we are the victim or not, and determines that it is not the end of the story. God, in Christ, has redeemed and will redeem it all—he will cause it to fulfill his ultimate purpose and will. He will work it to good as we love and serve him in the midst of it.

What he asks of us is to leave all these things in his hands and to go and do what is right. He wants us to trust him to make it right, to restore what is lost, to forgive what we’ve done wrong, and to heal what is broken. He wants us to rest in him and just live in gratitude for what he has done and will do for us, and to bear witness to his grace and truth in Jesus. He gives us his Son and his Spirit and says to us, “Go and do what’s right. I’ll take care of all this. Trust me.”

Thank you, Father, for your precious gift of grace in your Son and through the Spirit. Thank you that no matter where we are or what we’ve done or what’s been done to us, it is redeemed in Jesus Christ, and you will use it to accomplish your purposes in our lives and in the lives of those around us. We thank you in advance for the grace to trust you no matter what has happened, is happening or will happen in our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Now the angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” Then the angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.” Moreover, the angel of the LORD said to her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” Genesis 16:7–10 NASB

Loving the Unseen and Invisible

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by Linda Rex

There are times in our lives when we may feel completely invisible. Everyone around us at work seems to receive the perks and we get nothing. All our friends have a significant other, but we don’t. Our life is falling apart and no one seems to notice or care. Perhaps we come to the holidays, like Valentine’s Day, and we wonder why we, once again, have to spend them alone and forgotten.

There are lots of opportunities in life to celebrate pity parties. It seems to be the nature of being human to have days when life just doesn’t seem to be worth living, when we feel forgotten and unnoticed by God and everyone else.

I am reminded of the story of Hagar. Hagar’s story begins with her being forcibly employed as a servant to Sarah, the wife of Abraham. When Sarah could not have a child, but Abraham had been promised to have an heir, Sarah decided to follow the customs of the time and have an heir through her maid Hagar.

Humanly, it seemed to be a great plan, but the plan quickly began to fall apart. Jealousy, anger, conceit—all the human weaknesses seemed to be involved in destroying the family unit. Sarah beat her and the frightened and pregnant Hagar fled into the wilderness. As she wept in the desert for herself and her precious son, an angel provided her with water and told her to go back to Sarah. God saw her and her son—God had an inheritance in mind for him—he saw the ones who were invisible.

This encounter with God profoundly impacted Hagar. Hagar was one of the few people in the Bible who gave God a name—‘the God who sees me’. She understood and appreciated the reality that God was not some ethereal concept or distant being in the sky. He wasn’t just some manifestation of human consciousness. The God who had intervened in her life was real, powerful, personal, and cared about her and had come to her in the midst of her suffering and isolation.

So what about you and me? It’s not every day that we see or experience manifestations of the divine. Life still falls apart around us while we do our best to hold it all together. Is there really a God who sees you and me? Or is that just another mythological story in a book? Is that just a nice fairy tale that’s designed to make us feel better about ourselves and the world we live in?

I suppose a person could give all types of explanations about why you should believe in a real and personal God. I can share the testimony of scripture, of the God who created you and me, and loved us so much that he came to be one of us, to live with us and die for us, and who rose from the grave. But it boils down to this—have you personally encountered the living God? Do you realize for yourself that you are not invisible to him? Have you experienced the reality that he sees you and loves you and wants a personal relationship with you?

Faith in the God who sees you in the midst of your invisibility begins with knowing that he is real, and that he rewards those who diligently seek him. (Heb. 11:6) God enjoys hide-and-seek, but he will not be found unless he chooses to be found. We often prefer God, if we want to believe he is real, to be a God who will show up and to do something for us, but we aren’t about to seek him out, much less let him tell us what to do.

God gave us a really big clue as to how to find him when he came to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being. (Heb. 1:3) He is God in a tangible human being—the God who sees us here among us as one of us. Jesus died and rose again, and the testimony of the church is that the Father sent through Jesus the gift of the presence of God in the Holy Spirit to those who would receive him. So you and I, as we seek God, have been offered the gift of God living in us by his Holy Spirit. The God who sees us now is the God who lives in us.

God sees you and he sees me. He became you and became me in that he took on our humanity in Jesus. And God lives in you and in me by his Holy Spirit. As we welcome his presence within us, we will begin to experience the reality of the living God as being more than just an idea or mythology. As we hear the inner voice of the Spirit guiding us, teaching us, and as we experience the Word of God in the Bible coming alive and real to us and beginning to transform us, we realize the unseen God is indeed the God who sees us, his beloved and cherished unseen ones. Life may still be hard, and we may still feel invisible, but when God abides in you and me, our lives are never the same. God may ask us to do the hard things, but we never do them alone—he is present in the midst of our invisibility—you and him, me and him, forever.

Dear God, thank you for making yourself real to us in your Son, Jesus Christ, and by your Holy Spirit. Thank you that we are not invisible to you, but really and truly treasured, cherished and understood. Make yourself real to us today—open our eyes to see you and our ears to hear you. Transform us by your grace. Holy God, may we bless and serve you forever, through Jesus’ name. Amen.

Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” Gen 16:13

Heart-Sharing

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by Linda Rex

I was intrigued by the story of Samson when I was a little girl. Here was a man whose birth was announced by an angel to his barren parents. He was set apart for God from birth, which back then meant he could not drink any juice or wine made from grapes, nor could he cut his hair. As long as he was separated for God in this way, God gave him supernatural strength by which he helped his nation overcome their oppressors, the Philistines.

This was all well and good, and Samson began destroying the enemies of Israel. But he had a small problem. His heart was not fully devoted to God. Many times he gave his heart away to a woman and inevitably ended up in trouble because of it.

In the final scenes of Samson’s life we see the infamous Delilah show up. Delilah stole Samson’s heart, to the place that one night he told her everything that was in his heart. In other words, he told Delilah the secret to his strength. The one thing that God had said was his and his alone, Samson gave to another.

This would not have been a problem, only Delilah was not a safe person for Samson to be sharing his heart with. Delilah took that knowledge, sold it to the Philistine leaders, and cut off Samson’s hair. He became a prisoner then of the enemy. They blinded and shackled him. He could no longer do the work God created him for.

Too often in life we are not careful about to whom or what we give our hearts. Then the people or things we’ve opened our hearts to begin to wound us, destroying the beauty God meant for us to have and our usefulness for his work in this world. We find ourselves trapped in a place God never meant for us to be, bound and shackled. What begins as a moment of pleasure or a relationship of passion ends up as bondage, suffering, and maybe even destruction.

The story of King Hezekiah also tells us about the hazards of opening the heart of one nation to another. In this story the king had recovered from a fatal illness because of God’s mercy. Some Babylonian envoys came by for a visit to share the joy. Now Babylon at that time wasn’t much of a country. And Hezekiah didn’t really think he needed to restrict what they saw. So he showed them everything. He opened the heart of the country completely to them.

There was a small problem with this. What Hezekiah did not realize was that Babylon was on the way up. They were to become the next superpower of the ancient world. And Israel would be one of the nations they would squash. Opening the heart of his nation to Babylonian envoys was not a smart move.

The truth is there is only one person who can be fully trusted with your heart and mine. That is God.

You belong in this universe he created. You were meant to have a place in God’s story. He created your heart for himself and he will do and has done everything he possibly can to protect and care for your heart when you give it to him. He honors your boundaries and will not push himself on you.

If you are willing to receive the gift, he has given you his heart in place of yours. He has given you a whole heart in place of your shattered one. He has given you a strong heart in place of your weak one. Your physical heart may give out and you may die. But his heart in you will live on into eternity.

Heart-sharing. God seeks your heart and mine—he has given his fully to you and to me. The cost of opening himself up fully to us was the suffering we inflicted on Jesus Christ in his life and death. But the payment is everlasting life for us in God’s presence through his resurrection. We need to be careful to whom and what we give our hearts in the world around us. But we can freely and fully give our hearts to the One who completely shared his heart with us. He stands with open hands, his heart fully yours. Will you share?

Lord, thank you for your heart of love that is fully ours in Jesus Christ. Grant us the grace, the courage and faith to share our hearts completely with you. Amen.

“So he told her all that was in his heart and said to her, ‘A razor has never come on my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaved, then my strength will leave me and I will become weak and be like any other man.’
“ When Delilah saw that he had told her all that was in his heart, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, ‘Come up once more, for he has told me all that is in his heart.’ Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her and brought the money in their hands. She made him sleep on her knees, and called for a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his hair. Then she began to afflict him, and his strength left him.”
Judges 16:17–19 (NASB)

“Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah and said to him, ‘What did these men say, and from where have they come to you?’ And Hezekiah said, ‘They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.’’ He said, “What have they seen in your house?” So Hezekiah answered, ‘They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing among my treasuries that I have not shown them.’” Isaiah 39:3–4 (NASB)

The Pursuit of Perfection

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by Linda Rex

On my desk there is a block of wood with the word “MENTAL” engraved on it. A colleague of mine from several years ago knew I liked to write and he gave it to me for the times when I experience writer’s block. I can’t help but chuckle when I see it because right then, at that moment, I experience a “mental block.”

How often, though, do we find that we have a mental block when it comes to spiritual perfection? If we are expected to become perfect, how do we do it? For the perfectionists among us, this is important information, because perfectionists cannot settle for anything less than perfection.

There is way of looking at faith in Christ as an expectation that we become perfect people once we get done saying we are sorry for our sins. For some of us, we even think that we have to become perfect before approaching God or he will reject us. Either view is based on a misunderstanding of God’s expectations of us and confusion about who we are as his creatures.

First of all, part of the process of coming to faith in Christ is an acknowledgement of the perfection of God and his love for us, and the confession of our imperfection in the face of God’s perfection. As long as we see ourselves as acceptable, good enough, and able to take care of ourselves, there really isn’t much need for anyone else.

But there is a dignity in our confession of our imperfection. We are human, made in God’s image, to reflect his likeness. We were created for perfection. God desires to share his perfection with us. This is why Jesus came.

Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith—the one who began and will finish the process of perfecting us. Because he joined us to himself in his life, death and resurrection, God in Christ shares his perfection with us. We participate in God’s perfection in Christ by the Spirit.

But this is a process, a journey. It is a relationship with God in Christ by the Spirit in which we are, over time, transformed by the renewal of our minds. In light of God’s mercy in Christ, we surrender ourselves to God in obedient service and we walk in union and communion with the Father, Son and Spirit in love with God and one another.

Our spiritual perfection lies in Christ—we have the assurance that we will one day be like him in glory. For now, though, we focus on Jesus Christ and persevere in our relationship with God in him, rejecting and resisting anything that may seek to draw us away from the path of righteousness we walk in him.

When we read the history of faith in Hebrews 11, we recognize that faith does not come simply but exacts a price. Perfection is not an easy process. It is hard work. But it is not something we do on our own to perfect ourselves. And faith is not something we have to somehow come up with on our own. It is all of grace. It is a gift. Just as faith is a gift from God, so is our perfection.

So, in the midst of the messies of life and our imperfections, we can have Christ’s perfect peace, because he has given us his perfection, and he will continue to perfect us until we fully reflect him in glory. Seeking perfection isn’t a bad thing—but in the midst of all that effort, it is best to remember that there is only one who is perfect, and it is not us. But that Perfect One has graciously included us in his perfection.

Thank you, Perfect and Holy God, for including us in your perfection. Thank you that we don’t have to perfect ourselves or have perfect faith. You are the source, the author and finisher of our faith and our perfection. We trust you to finish what you have begun in us. In Jesus’ name. 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.” Hebrews 12:1–3

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1–2