When In the Now of Suffering

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by Linda Rex

In my last blog, “Beyond the Now of Suffering” I talked about how to rejoice when you feel your world is crumbling or has been profoundly shattered. It is only in Christ that we may have any joy at all under such circumstances and it is a joy that looks in hope towards the future. But, as I stressed, in the midst of our heartache we are never alone in our grief and suffering—God in Christ by the Spirit is present in the midst of it, weeping and aching with us.

God does not want us to deny or ignore or try to fantasize away our suffering. God does not ask us to pretend tragedy did not happen or that loss will not or did not occur. Nor does he ask us to have a “stiff upper lip” and just brave it out, pretending that everything is okay. Living in denial, emotional numbness or in a sense of false spirituality is not healthy, nor is it godly.

There are many examples from the human life of Jesus that express his compassion and willingness to share in another person’s grief and suffering. He did not deny the real grief of Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus died. In fact, he wept with them. Yes, he pointed them beyond his death to the hope of the resurrection, but he also shared in their grief and did not minimize it in any way. This is the heart of compassion and understanding that God has given us in Christ.

I am reminded of the story of when Jesus was traveling to the city of Nain. He met a funeral procession on his way. The mourners were weeping over the death of the only son of a widow. In that culture, this was a real tragedy because, not only did she lose someone very dear to her, but now she would be forced to find some way to provide for herself whether through begging or some worse occupation. She was really at a place where there was no hope or future for her. The text says that when Jesus saw her, his heart went out to her. He was filled with compassion.

Jesus does the same for each of us today. Just as Jesus faces our suffering today with a heart of compassion, he comes alongside us as well to ease our burdens and to find a way to help us through our tragedies and difficulties to a new place. He may, in our case, not raise the dead as he did in hers, but he will bring our dead and dying circumstances and situations in time to a place of new life. Meanwhile he ministers to us in many ways.

Jesus ministers to us through the person and presence of the Holy Spirit. When we turn to Christ in our struggles and suffering, we are blessed with the real comfort and peace that comes through the ministering presence of God through the Spirit. I have had widows tell me how they have experienced the nearness of God in a profound way after the death of their spouse. They have been comforted and encouraged in a real way through his ministry and grace. This is something we can ask God to do for those we know who are suffering or going through a time of darkness.

Jesus also ministers to us through his body, the universal church of God. We are surrounded by people of faith, whether from our church or not, who offer us consolation, encouragement, support and real, human assistance. The people of God are the physical “hands and feet” of Jesus for us in the midst of our tragedy and struggle. It is important for us as believers to be sensitive to the needs of those in the midst of crisis and not to belittle or minimize or spiritualize away their suffering. God meant for us instead to express Jesus’ heart of compassion and comfort toward them in the midst of it. God meant for us to be “place-sharers” in their lives—to be present with them as they go through it—not trying to fix it or them, but just being for them the real presence of God in the Spirit in that moment.

Finally, Jesus ministers to us through his Word, whether through the Scriptures, the spoken word and through “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Many a person has been revived at a point of crisis through hearing a song on the radio, receiving a card in the mail, being given a note of encouragement, or by listening to an inspired message. These are all real tangible gifts we can extend to others in their time of need or assist others in being able to receive.

God finds ways to bring us real help and strength in the midst of our human existence which includes suffering, struggle and difficulty. He does not leave us to muddle through somehow on our own. Nor should we expect others to do so either. If we have any heart of compassion at all, we should be finding ways to ease the suffering of others, not adding to it by our insensitivity or by ignoring it or minimizing it. For as members of the body of Christ, we do not suffer alone; when one person suffers, we all suffer.

Holy God, thank you for the wonder of your great compassion and tenderness for us in the midst of suffering and tragedy. We praise you that nothing in our lives escapes your notice. Thank you for the real ministry of your Holy Spirit, of the body of Christ and of the Word of God when we are in need. Remind us now of ways in which we might bless the lives of others who are suffering this week in a real way. Encourage and strengthen each of us who are in the midst of tragedy and loss right now in a real way so that we might bear these things we are facing that are difficult and painful to bear. We are grateful that we never have to walk through these things alone—you are always with us. Triune God—Father, Son and Spirit, we need you now, more than ever—please send your comfort, your peace and your grace, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

“But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” — 1 Corinthians 12:24b-27

Beyond the Now of Suffering

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by Linda Rex

I sat with a friend one day as she told me the sad story of her husband’s tragic accident. He lingered for several agonizing days and then passed on. It was heartbreaking. I was sorry to lose his friendship as well as to watch her grieve the loss of her dearest friend. In the midst of this horrific event, how could we rejoice?

The only joy we can find in such times is in our knowledge that we may look forward to spending eternity with this dear one because of what Jesus Christ did for us. We look forward to a wonderful future spent in the presence of the Triune God, enveloped in and included in the triune life and love of Father, Son and Spirit. Next to this eternity of joy, peace, and heartwarming meaningful occupation in God’s presence, our time of struggle becomes extremely brief and almost insignificant. It’s all a matter of perspective.

This is why Paul repeatedly calls us to keep our minds and hearts on heavenly things rather than on earthly things. It is our focus on the heavenly things that gives our struggles and trials meaning.

It is a given that we will struggle in this life and may even have to suffer extreme trials. It is a given that at some point we will have to experience grief and sorrow. It is the nature of the human condition.

But our human condition is the reason why Christ came. God saw us in our pain and suffering, and in the person of the Word, he came and joined us. He became human in the person of Jesus Christ, living like us, grieving with us and dying our death for us. The answer to human suffering is found in God’s choice, made in his divine freedom, to take on and transform human flesh by living as a human being, dying, rising and ascending to heaven, taking our transformed humanity with him into the love and life of himself.

God, who is love, revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. God taught us, in Jesus Christ, that true love is forgiving, self-offering, and self-sacrificing, humble and serving in nature. Jesus, in rising from the grave, transformed our humanity, making us new in him and drawing us into the very presence of the triune God for all eternity. There is no suffering, grief or sorrow we experience in this life he will not share in. He feels it keenly himself.

So in the transient suffering of this life we are not alone. We can rejoice that Jesus Christ shares in it with us and that by his Spirit he strengthens us and carries us through these dark times. And in the end the whole purpose of all that we have suffered and gone through will be revealed in him when we are transformed into his likeness as glorified human beings and spend eternity in joyful unity with the triune God, sharing in his love and life forever.

Dear God, thank you that we are not alone in our suffering and trials. Thank you for being with us, in us and for us through them all in Christ by your Spirit. Thank you for giving us an eternal, living hope to carry us beyond them to a glorious future with you. Grant us the grace to endure and to be transformed by your gracious efforts in our trials and suffering into your glorious and radiant sons and daughters who will love and serve you faithfully forever. We pray in your name, Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,…” 1 Peter 1:6 (NASB)

A Faded Inheritance

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by Linda Rex

Have you ever experienced the transience of an inheritance? I spoke one time to a lady who had worked all her life to save up a pension and to set aside money for her retirement. All of that money was slated to be given to her children upon her death. It was to be a substantial inheritance for them.

However, due to an unexpected and unfortunate set of circumstances, the lady ended up needing long-term care. As she was receiving her care, she ended up in the hospital for an extended length of time. Within six months, every penny of her children’s inheritance was gone and she was left living on Social Security. She could not believe that all those years of doing without to save those funds ended with nothing to show for it. She was devastated.

But this is the nature of human inheritances. They are transient and easily fade away. A simple fluctuation in the economy can eliminate thousands of dollars in value. To many people, it is a tragedy beyond belief. Or is it?

In reality the greater tragedy is to place one’s dependency there rather than on an eternal inheritance that cannot fade away. God has an inheritance waiting for you and me—a living hope—who is Jesus Christ, our living Savior who rose from the dead in triumph over self, sin and Satan, and death. This inheritance cannot be stolen or spoiled.

We need to invest daily in our eternal inheritance by growing in our relationship with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. For this is eternal life, to know God and to be known by him. Our daily walk with Jesus, our care and concern for one another shown by good deeds are ways of investing in our eternal inheritance. We cannot earn this inheritance because it is a gift in Christ from God to his children. But we can invest in it.

Jesus said not to worry so much about the physical but to invest in the eternal instead. Our inheritance will never fade because it is secure in Christ as we trust in him. One day we will share eternal glory with all our brothers and sisters in Christ forever. For this we give God thanks and praise each moment of our lives.

Lord, thank you for the many blessings you give us in this life. Help us, though, to set our hearts and minds on what is eternal and will last forever rather than on things that are transient and can fade away. Help us to make choices with eternity in mind—to do good and share with others, and to invest in our relationships with you and with others. Thank you for this living hope and inheritance that will not fade away which you have freely given us in Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” –1 Peter 1:1-3

Trusting Fully

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by Linda Rex

In this verse for today, Peter admonished his readers to have a mind that is prepared for action. This means we are alert and aware of what is happening or may happen, what God is doing in the world and our role in it, what we are doing and saying as we live and walk in this world in his presence. We cannot predict what may happen, but we can be prepared and ready to deal with it when we are walking in the Spirit. The Spirit will prompt us and give us an alertness when we are listening and living in tune with him.

Peter said we are to be self-controlled. Being self-controlled is a humanly impossible task. The human will and spirit often insists on being in control and going its own way. As we are governed by the Holy Spirit, we find the strength, wisdom and ability to be self-controlled.

If we depend on our own ability to be alert and self-controlled, we will be sorely disappointed. The human condition is such that at some point we will falter and fail. This is why Peter added the following thought: “Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you…” There is no way we will be fully and completely alert or self-controlled at all times. There will be moments when we aren’t alert, and moments when we are not self-controlled.

That is why we must fully trust in the hope we have in Jesus. In him, we will not fail but receive fully God’s grace for ourselves, our circumstances, our life, our growth and our salvation. Nothing will be left out as we stand in Christ when he is revealed. We will remain while all sin and evil will dissolve away. There is nothing that God’s grace cannot and will not cover. We can fully trust in God’s grace.

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” –1 Peter 1:13

Lord, it is easy to get caught up in trusting in myself and my own ability to be self-controlled and alert. I agree that I am limited in every area and must fully trust in you. I ask you for the grace to trust fully in your grace so that I may stand firm and remain when all else is extinguished in the furnace of your presence in glory. Thank you for making me what I am and for ensuring that I may have a relationship with you for all eternity. I praise and worship you for your generous, loving nature and goodness towards me. In your name, I pray. Amen.

When Angels Marveled

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by Linda Rex

Sometimes I wonder what angels think about and talk about. Just imagine the conversations that went on in heaven when the Word announced that he would be joined with an embryo in a baby here on earth! No doubt the reverence and awe of the angels was tinged a bit by amazement and incredulity. The apostle Paul tells the believers of his day that the working out of God’s mystery hidden through the ages was for the edification of the angels. How fascinating!

The prophets over the millennia sought to know and understand what God was doing and would do to save his people by sending a messiah. Yet even with their best efforts, the people of Jesus’ day did not recognize him for who he was as God in the flesh, the Messiah, who would suffer and die and then be glorified, uniting himself with humanity forever.

No doubt this is why Jesus took such pains to explain the fulfillment of scriptures and prophecy to his disciples, especially after his resurrection. This awesome miracle of the incarnation and the subsequent work of Christ for us is a marvelous mystery that was unveiled at the perfect time in history and in the perfect way. Praise God for his faithfulness in keeping his Word to us and also for faithfully revealing his Word to all his creation when the time and situation were just right.

We are to faithfully search these things out, but the Holy Spirit gives us revelation and understanding. We seek not to gain more information but to deepen a relationship with the living God as revealed in Jesus Christ. We need to grab hold of this privilege of knowing what so many sought to know and seek out these marvelous mysteries of the kingdom that are revealed in Jesus Christ. He is the revelation of all that the prophets and angels sought to understand and know. As we come to know him more fully and completely, we will come to know God and ourselves more fully and completely, for in Jesus Christ, the perfect God/man, they are each revealed.

Lord, thank you for revealing to us the mystery of the ages which is Christ in us the hope of glory. Thank you for not hiding yourself from us, but by your Spirit, revealing yourself in Jesus Christ in your perfect time and in your perfect way. Please grant us the desire and ability know you more fully and more perfectly each and every day. For this is eternal life, to know you and to be known by you. Thank you for this precious gift given to us in Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

“It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even the angels long to look into these things.” –1 Peter 1:12

Grace for the Mockers

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by Linda Rex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transitions

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by Linda Rex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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