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.
by Linda Rex
Once one of my friends showed me a picture of Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. On one side of the towering walls of water between which the thousands of Israelites were fleeing the Egyptians was a man in a boat. He had a fishing pole in his hand which was bent under the strain of having a large fish on the hook. The only problem was that the fish with the hook in its mouth was on the other side of the great chasm!
How often in life we are caught in a predicament like the fisherman who was out of his league. Or the Israelites who froze in fear when the Egyptians caught them with their backs to the Red Sea with nowhere else to go. But God’s word to the Israelite nation then are his same words to us today: “The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.” (Ex. 14:14). All God wants from us is for us to trust him in the midst of our predicament.
The problem is the “keep silent” part—the “be still” part of the whole thing can make us really anxious. It’s counter-intuitive to do nothing in the face of a real problem but sit still and keep silent. And that makes us very uncomfortable, especially if we are one of those Type A personality people who likes to “get ‘er done!” It’s the waiting that kills us.
But the waiting in silence is the key to the whole process. This is because God is a whole lot more concerned about what we learn from the whole experience and how we grow in our faith and love for him than he is about rescuing us immediately from our struggles. It is in the silence and in the waiting that we begin to see the situation more clearly. We begin to hear the Holy Spirit’s calming whisper and encouragement. We find that the Lord does have an answer for us in the midst of the chaos. It may be just as simple as, “Hang on!”
The spiritual disciplines of silence and stillness are important for Christians to practice regularly. In silence and stillness, we open ourselves to hear what God has to say to us and we make ourselves available to God for his Spirit to give us guidance, encouragement, correction and hope.
Many times in the midst of the quietness we are amazed to find the answer come to us in a complete and clear way we would never have thought of on our own. Or we may get that phone call we’ve been waiting on and fretting about. God often moves powerfully when we determine to be still and just trust him. Waiting patiently for God in silence and stillness is worth the effort.
Lord, thank you that we can turn to you in the midst of our predicaments and wait in silence and stillness for you to act on our behalf. Grant us the grace to trust you and wait on you patiently when we are in need or in trouble. Amen.
“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;…” Psalm 37:7
by Linda Rex
I was thinking about the lost art of Bible reading. The Bible used to be the main textbook in the classroom. Many parents and teachers used the Bible to teach their children to read. Although I don’t really see the benefit of teaching a child to read using, “and Attai begat Nathan, and Nathan begat Zabad, and Zabad begat Ephlal, and Ephlal begat Obed,…” (1 Chr. 2:36-37 YLT) when most adults including myself can’t even pronounce the names correctly, there is benefit in the Bible being used so frequently. The words and content were more readily available to the average person, so that many learned a basic form of morality and Christian basis for living as part of their daily life.
The great Protestant tradition of each person being able to read and interpret the Bible as the Spirit leads has allowed for a great variety in translations and religions within the realm of Christianity. But, naturally, there is some danger in this. When a person believes that they have received a specific revelation out of scripture and they begin to spread it around as though it is the truth (when really it is a misinterpretation of Scripture) then this is a problem. When the Scriptures are used to lead people away from the central truth of Scripture—Jesus Christ and salvation through him alone—this is a serious situation indeed.
In Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees and scribes, who were taking him to task for associating with and caring for the sinners and outcasts of society, he brought up the fact that even though the Israelite nation had had the word of God for centuries, they really never did hear it. Or when they did hear it, it did not transform their lives. It pointed them to Jesus Christ, who would be the fulfillment of the scriptures and bring salvation for all people, but they didn’t recognize him when he came.
The truth is that a person can have the Bible and even read it and memorize it, but without a heart of faith, a heart that is humble and surrendered to the Father, that trusts in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and is open to the work and will of the Holy Spirit, the Bible will make no difference in their life. Until God, by his Spirit, writes the law of love on a person’s heart and mind, the words cannot and will not be understood correctly, or believed and obeyed as God intended.
Surely, a person can have an outstanding “form of godliness.” We had a form of godliness for many years as members of the former Worldwide Church of God. We had seventh day Sabbath-keeping, holy day keeping, tithing (3 of them even) and clean foods eating godliness. We had the “we are the nation of Israel” holiness that excluded people of other races and ethnicities through our Anglo/British Israelism. And we brought the Holy Spirit along as the power we needed—always asking God for more of it because we never could be quite good enough. We definitely stood out in the society as being “separate.”
It was a “feel good” religion because all of us felt how good we were compared to everyone else because we were doing what was right while everyone else was obeying pagan holidays and disobeying God. The truth was that this “form of godliness” was a slavery and we didn’t really feel that good after all, because in our hearts we knew we never could be good enough. We were constantly striving to “overcome” so we could make it into God’s kingdom. We lived daily with that nagging feeling of guilt and shame that comes when we are striving to do relationship with God in our own strength. We were never sure that God really did love us, individually, fully, unconditionally.
Being immersed in this religion since the day I took my first breath and having seen and heard the founders, movers and shakers of this religion since the time I could first remember, I, much like the apostle Paul in his day, feel a deep yearning for the freedom of all those who are still bound by these ways of thinking and believing. How I long to help others see that Jesus Christ, who is/was God in human flesh, brought together all of Israel and all other people together in himself, in his person! He joined us forever in himself so that now he is the law, the law written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The testimony of the Scriptures points to Jesus Christ as the center—the old covenant and new covenant have him at the core. It is all about him—he is our Sabbath rest, he is our holy day, he is our clean food as the Bread and the Wine, he is our baptism, he is our tithe—the One set apart for holy use!
Was it not enough that he lived in our place, died for us and rose from the dead? Must we continually add things to this in order to feel good enough? If we need guidelines for living, then we need to look to him and look to those he taught when he came. They provide plenty of “rules for living” if we need them—but the apostles all began at a central place, faith in Jesus Christ and in our union with God in him through the Holy Spirit. This is the beginning of our faith and from there we build. This means we have a unified basis for belief and faith.
Jesus warned of the dangers of attributing the work of the Spirit to Satan. This is what our church did. We taught that the early church was deceived and left the faith. This is a denial of the Spirit and his work and I shudder to think that we disrespected him by professing this. May God forgive us! The real truth is that as the Spirit led the early church into a new and deeper understanding of the nature of God that had been revealed to them by Jesus Christ, they included this in the creeds and in their worship. Rejected by the Sabbath-keeping Jews, they began to center their life around Jesus Christ, with the Christian calendar focused on his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. This was not a twisted deception, but a leading of the Holy Spirit and a handing down faithfully of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles. It was Spirit-led and Spirit-filled.
Moses and the Prophets spoke of these days, when the knowledge of God would fill the earth like waters cover the seas, when the worship of God would be found in all nations. Moses and the Prophets pointed us to the One who would come and transform the world by transforming human hearts. When God goes to work in someone’s life and heart through the Spirit and Christ becomes the foundation of their faith, they become a new person. There is a joy and light in their eyes that comes from them knowing to their core that they are loved and cherished by God. I pray that that light will never be extinguished by the lie that somehow being loved and forgiven, being in Christ, is not enough—that they have to add something to this, that they have to add all the things Christ did in their place. May God grant us all the grace to truly trust in Christ and to trust in him alone!
Holy Father, it breaks my heart that so many cannot see the wonder of what you have done for all of us in Jesus Christ. It makes me sad that we are so easily deceived by words, words that twist and corrupt the simple message of the gospel, of faith in Christ. Holy Spirit, forgive us for grieving you, for attributing your gracious work for humankind to the devil. I’m so sorry! Lord Jesus, please come in your Spirit and transform hearts. Forgive and bring healing, liberation, hope, regeneration, God, please. Jesus, in your name, for your sake, I pray. Amen.
“But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’ ” Luke 16:31 (NASB)
by Linda Rex
I remember back to my early twenties when I went to a bookkeeping class and learned how to keep track of the debits and credits in an accounting system. As part of the final exam for the class I had to balance the books for a pretend business and complete all the year-end financial statements.
This was a challenge for me. I will have to say that this type of accounting is something I can do, but not something I am good at. It was a struggle to get every debit and credit to balance, but I finally got it to balance, after hours and hours of work. At some point I had inverted two numbers and it took me a long time to find my mistake—time I didn’t have, due to the deadline set before me.
I have come to have a deep respect for those number-jugglers among us who are able to handle debits and credits with finesse and ease, getting them to do their bidding by balancing the books at the end of the month and the end of the year. How they do this without altering or cooking the books is amazing, and as I said, it is a profession worthy of respect.
Jesus told a story about a man who wasn’t quite so up front in how he handled his boss’s books. In fact, this manager had to give an accounting to his boss for his mismanagement of his master’s accounts. His mishandling of the funds meant he was facing the loss of his job. So he did something totally off the wall—he went to each person who owed his boss money and cancelled part of their debt. His motive? To ensure he had friends somewhere when all was said and done. And, amazingly enough, his boss commended him for his shrewdness.
What was so shrewd about what the manager did? What was shrewd was the manager used the one method by which reconciliation can be done honestly, apart from the debits and credits side of the ledger. The only other way in which reconciliation of the books can be done if the debits and credits don’t align, is through the forgiving of the debt. Grace is the only way in which a debt can be removed from the books when it is not paid in full.
Jesus pointed out to his disciples that the true wealth, that of forgiveness or grace, always supersedes the bookkeeping of lawkeepers. If one is focused on the keeping of the law, since it must be kept perfectly, a person always ends up in debt, with no way to ensure payment in full.
When trust is put instead in the goodness and compassion of the One who is the Law, Who kept the law faithfully and fully for us, in our place, we live without debt, for the debt is always and ever, paid in full. With our debt paid in full, we live gratefully and joyfully from a heart filled with God’s love and Christ’s obedience to the Father by the Spirit. We live debt-free. And this is true wealth indeed.
Thank you, dear Father, for paying all debts in full in your Son Jesus, so we might live freely before you, unhindered and unburdened. We offer ourselves fully to you in gratitude and thankfulness that in Christ by the Spirit, we may live a debt-free life that glorifies and serves you, for your glory and praise, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
“‘And he called him and said to him, “What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.”’” Luke 16:2 (NASB)
by Linda Rex
One of the conversations I used to have with my children was about anger. It seems that we tend to look at anger in one of two extremes—either it’s a really bad thing and we should never get angry or it is a good thing and we should be free to express anger in whatever way we wish. So I would tell my children that anger is a healthy, human response to being violated in some way—it is an inbuilt self-protection system.
The problem comes in how we use our anger. What is our response to those violations of our personal space, personal value, property and belongings? We can respond in such a way that we cause harm, are hurtful to ourselves and others, or we can use our anger to make things better—to improve the situation and restore broken relationships and circumstances. Our motivation, when it is love, will move us to seek to improve or heal the situation rather than cause harm or exacerbate the situation. But ultimately it is up to us to make this choice to respond out of a heart of love.
The story Mark relates in his gospel (Mark 3:1-6) illustrates this. Jesus called a man with a withered hand up in the midst of the synagogue. Jesus did not sense any compassion for this man in the hearts of the Pharisees who were there—they were more concerned with watching Jesus and finding some reason to accuse him of wrongdoing than with helping this man get well.
But Jesus had already perceived what was going on in these men’s hearts. They were plotting to kill Jesus while at the same time they were defending the laws they had instituted with regards to the Sabbath. This “hardness of heart” grieved Jesus and angered him. So his response was to heal the man whose suffering was being ignored and superseded by a spirit of murder.
When Jesus healed the man and his hand was restored to normal, the men in the synagogue did not joyfully praise God and congratulate the healed man on his wonderful transformation. Instead, they accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. And then they went out and began to seriously plot Jesus’ death.
Here we see two responses to anger that arise out of two hearts—one of love and one of hate. Jesus’ heart was full of love for both the man with the withered hand and the men who refused to acknowledge him as Messiah. He did the most loving thing he could do in the situation and that was to heal the man who was suffering while at the same time showing the other men their hearts and inviting them to change their minds and hearts toward him.
The men whose hearts were filled with hate responded by plotting Jesus’ death. Their anger had its source in something other than love and when it was acted out, it did not bring healing, health and wholeness, but in the end led to the crucifixion of our Lord. Thankfully, anything we do is never beyond God’s ability to turn it to fulfill his purposes, and this was not the end of the story for Jesus.
From this story we can see that how we respond when anger comes depends largely on what is going on in our hearts. Are we filled with the Spirit of love or are we consumed with our own spirit with its hate, resentment, jealousy, and selfishness? When we turn away from those human emotions and attitudes that tend to fill our hearts and seek God’s heart of love, asking him to renew and refresh us daily in his Spirit, we will find that our responses to the things that anger us will begin to change.
As we put distance between those events that anger us and our response, inviting Jesus by the Spirit to fill that space, we will begin to respond in ways that are more loving, thoughtful and helpful. It is a process and something we grow in, but in time we will find that anger will become something that is a blessing, not something that masters us or that we need to be afraid of. It will begin to be what it was meant to be in our lives.
Lord, thank you for the gift of anger—that anger that was meant by you to be used in healthy ways to make our world healthier and happier. We give our anger and our hearts to you to transform. Make them how you mean them to be so that we will glorify you in all we think, say and do. For your name’s sake. Amen.
“And He said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?’ But they kept silent. After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” Mark 3:3-4
by Linda Rex
I wandered through my yard in the early morning blackness. I was alone with the crickets, hearing them creak and an occasional car pass on the highway nearby. There were a few streetlights that pierced the darkness, but across the farm fields nearby, there was only blackness.
I sat down in my iron lawn chair, quietly awaiting the dawn. This was a favorite part of my day, watching as a pale light began to glow in the sky. I loved when the crickets would suddenly go silent and there would only be one sound—that of a single bird’s carol welcoming the morning. One by one other birds would join in the chorus as the sun burst into view through the trees. It was a magical time—one I savored.
It is a comfort to me that God created and placed me in a world where morning always follows night. There is always light to welcome us on the other side of darkness. God has ensured that there is no darkness deep enough that he will not come and bring his Light there. He came into our darkness and brought his eternal Light to us in Jesus Christ and he has promised to never leave us or forsake us.
How sad that too often we would prefer the darkness to the Light! And how unfortunate that after all he has done to bring us into the Light and to welcome us into oneness with himself, we would reject this gift! Why wander about in loneliness and lostness when we could have his presence, his comfort and his peace? Why struggle with the will to live when the One who gives life wants to enable you to live it to the full?
When we wrestle with the darkness and feel it overwhelming us, there is one assurance we can have. We need only cry out and God will come near. And if we are in that darkness and we have cried out to him again and again and have not heard from him—that is the time to hold fast to the promise that morning always follows night. In the “dark night of the soul” it is the time to hope when all hope is gone, to believe when no reason to believe is left—to hold to the promise when it seems all expectation of its being answered is gone. This is when we choose to love and trust God even when we feel he has given us no reason to do so.
The truth is, as it says in Psalm 139:12, darkness is as light to God. God has met us in the midst of our darkness in Jesus Christ and has reconciled it with himself. Darkness and evil only exist in opposition to God and his Light—they are always subject to God’s will. No darkness is ever dark enough to prevent him from bringing us back to himself. For Jesus Christ is the Victor and in him the Light has come. Come welcome the dawn with me—share in his glorious light with me forever!
Lord, come to our darkness and let your Light shine on us once again. Give us strength to hold on through this dark night till the morning comes. Let your glory, love, and mercy dawn on us anew. Thank you for making it possible for us to live this brand new day with you. In your name, Father, Savior, and Comforting Spirit. Amen.
“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” John 3:19 (NASB)