By Linda Rex
I remember the first time I ever participated in a sacred service which involved eating bread and drinking wine in communion with others of like faith. I had just been baptized and was new at the whole process. At that particular time, our church only observed this once a year. That particular observance stands out in my mind because it was so solemn and so serious. Hundreds of us stood in line to participate and everyone was completely silent.
Back then I heard many a sermon prior to this observance telling us that we were to examine ourselves so we would not take of the elements in an unworthy manner. Examining oneself meant comparing oneself against the law, including keeping food laws and holy days. By the time I was through with this kind of self-examination, there was no way I could ever come away believing anything positive about myself. It was a one-way trip towards discouragement, humiliation, and defeat.
Then one day, I heard a pastor bring out another verse which talked about self-examination, 2 Cor. 13:5-6: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test.” That particular passage put the whole discussion on another level.
The first type of self-examination is really easy for an introvert like myself. I can go down a million rabbit-trails in my head where I see all the things I’ve said or done wrong, and beat myself up for each one as I go. It is a lot more difficult to do the second type of self-examination, because it involves looking beyond my broken humanity to who I am in Christ.
To see Christ in oneself is to see the truth about one’s being. First, we were created in the image of God in his likeness, to be his image-bearers—adopted children who live in loving relationship with God and one another. In Christ, God redeemed our broken humanity, restoring our fellowship with him and one another—and in the gift of the Spirit, God came to work this out in us individually, enabling us to live and walk in Christ, who was and is the perfect image-bearer of God.
When we look within, not to see ourselves but to see Christ in us, we come up against the reality we indeed fall short of Christ’s perfection. But in the same moment we find Christ stands in our stead and on our behalf. Grace triumphs over judgment in that moment. Not only does Christ intercede moment by moment in every situation. He also works to heal, restore, and renew our relationship with God and each person in our lives as we turn to him in faith and respond to the Spirit’s work in our hearts and lives.
Self-examination, then, becomes not a negative thing, but an encouraging, anticipatory experience in which we begin to see what Christ did on our behalf and what he is doing right now in each moment on our behalf. And we begin to have some hope in what he will do in the future because we are learning he is trustworthy and faithful as well as loving, and he, by his Spirit, is at work within us, transforming us from the inside out.
The first type of self-examination tends to create an outlook which is self-absorbed rather than one which is outward-looking and other-centered. The life of the Trinity is other-centered and focused outward—towards God’s adopted children who are being brought into the life and love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Within the inner relations of the Trinity, there is a mutual pouring out and receiving—a movement which is unending, and which we were drawn into by Christ, and participate in through the Holy Spirit.
We were meant, not to be self-absorbed or self-conscious, but to be focused on Christ and conscious of his indwelling presence as well as aware of his work in the world around us. Attending to God in Christ and what he is doing by the Spirit in us and the world around us keeps us from being self-centered and self-absorbed. Indeed, it is best that we come to have no thought of self-at all, but rather find our self in Christ, who by his Spirit enables us to be truly ourselves.
This does not mean we negate ourselves or diminish ourselves, but rather that we begin to truly believe we are those people God intended us to be in the first place—his beloved, adopted children who with their own unique selves live as equals in loving fellowship and harmony. And in believing, we begin to act as if this is indeed the case. In this way we image the God we were created to reflect, and find in doing so, we experience the love, joy, and peace God meant for us to participate in from the beginning.
To examine ourselves and find Christ within is a far cry from examining ourselves and ending up discouraged, defeated, and despairing. We are reminded by the apostle Paul, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).” Our life in Christ is a journey in which we grow—it is not a static position or a place we come to and stay in. This is an existence where all of life is a participation in Christ’s life. We find our everyday tasks and experiences take on a whole new meaning as we realize we do not live alone and on our own, but share all things with Christ in the Spirit, and join in with what God is actively doing in the world around us.
Then when we come to the communion table to eat bread and drink wine, we are seeing Christ much more clearly. The body of Christ takes on a whole new meaning, including not only the human body of Jesus Christ, and the bread and the wine, but also the group of fellow believers with which we share a common faith. It also makes room for us to welcome all others to the table, since we were all taken up with Christ in his hypostatic union with God when he bore our common humanity to the cross, died, and rose again on our behalf.
Our participation in communion is a reminder, not of our failures and shortcomings, but of the gracious gift of Christ in our place and on our behalf. By the Spirit, we put on Christ, and we live in the assurance of his mediating presence with the Father, as now we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. This makes sharing communion with others a pleasant remembrance of joy and warm fellowship, rather than a silent, serious, painful experience we would rather forget.
Thank you, Abba, for the gift of your Son, and the pouring out of your Spirit. Thank you we are in Christ and by the Spirit we are able to share in your joy, peace, and loving fellowship. Free us from our self-focus and self-absorption, from our self-centeredness and self-condemnation. Enable us to see and embrace our true self—forgiven, accepted and beloved in Christ—and live in the truth of who we really are. In examining ourselves, may we discover we are in Christ and Christ is in us, and that by the Spirit, we are bound up in you, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.” 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 NASB
by Linda Rex
I love it when I get up in the morning and every devotional and scripture reading I look at has to do with that one thing God is dealing with in my life. Like this week when I was feeling so much of my life was out of control, everything I read seemed to be on the topic of control. When something like this happens, I get the sneaky suspicion I’d better be listening to what God is trying to say to me.
I believe we as humans go to great lengths to maintain control over everything in our lives and even in our universe. How much of our research into the intricacies of our bodies, our environment, our earth and our universe has to do with our desire to have some way to manage and direct what happens to us as human beings? I think we would be surprised at how much of what we do and think about every day has to do with this desire to be in control of ourselves, our lives and our world.
We get even more fanatical about holding tight to the things, people and events in our lives when we have experienced a lot of chaos and dysfunction in our early years or significant attachments. Sometimes this manifests itself in obsessive compulsive disorders, co-dependency and other mental or emotional struggles and illnesses.
In my opinion, the irony is the harder we try to control things and even to control ourselves or other people, the less in control we really are. Our efforts to be self-disciplined may work for a while, but often they fail us when we need them most. Our efforts to manipulate, manage or micromanage other people may give us an illusion of control, but they will end up destroying the very relationships and organizations we are trying to build.
It is true we were given the responsibility by God to steward, tend, and care for our world. This stewardship by necessity requires some measure of control over what is being cared for and tended. But I don’t believe God ever meant for us to assume it was all up to us. The only way it could be all up to us is if we were self-sufficient self-existent beings like God, and that’s not what we are.
As many of you are aware, I’ve been sharing the Celebrate the Grip curriculum in my preaching in recent days, and we’ve been talking about how each and every human being is held in the grip of grace. Since before creation, God determined we would be his adopted children and he planned his Son would enter our humanity and by the Spirit, bring us up into the Triune life. And through Jesus, God accomplished what he set out to do, forging for us a true humanity in and by his Son. Through Jesus and by his Spirit, God has made and is making all things new.
Talking about the grip reminds me of the many lectures and readings in which the concept of contingency was discussed in seminary. Contingency is showing up more and more in modern science and mathematics. It’s that thing some people want to call chance, but doesn’t work like chance does. It’s a whole lot more—like Someone designed and is designing things to work a certain way. And it’s something we can’t manage or control. It’s beyond us.
We don’t like things to be beyond us. Because when something is beyond us, it means that quite possibly there may be a divine Being Who has the right to call the shots in our world. We love our freedom so much—we don’t want anyone messing with our efforts to do what is right in our own eyes.
When our existence, or our future, or our daily existence, is contingent upon some divine Order or Person, then we are faced with the reality we are not lords over our own lives. This means someone else can change things in our world in such a way we may lose something we value, or we may have to struggle to do without things we think we should have. We may have to do difficult things or repent of unhealthy ways of thinking and being, and change. When Someone beyond our human existence has that much control over us and our world, we don’t like it.
Sure, we love God to be control as long as he keeps order in the world, makes the weather nice, and makes sure all the people are friendly and kind and respectful. But only because we want the world to be the way we want it to be for our convenience, comfort and pleasure. See? We’re still trying to be in control.
What about when everything in your life or mine seems to be in chaos? It can be hard to imagine God is still in control when everything in our lives seems to be totally out of control. But that kind of control is just an illusion. God has a grip on you and me which does not change. He won’t let go of us at all—we just need to trust him. And Jesus even gives us his faith so we can trust God in the midst of chaos and confusion when it seems impossible to do so.
So God says to you and to me, “Rest in me.” He calls to us by his Spirit to lay down our burdens of anxiety and fear, and to surrender all the control we imagine we have over the circumstances, people and things in our lives.
We need to be intentional about this. I find this letting go of control and fully resting in Christ is a journey. It’s a decision which is constantly being put before us—we’re tempted to try to do it all ourselves and to do it our way—or we’re called to lay down all illusion of control and to rest fully in Christ, and in his perfected humanity.
This verse which has been constantly popping up of late is found in Proverbs 3:5-6. As I remember it, it goes something like this: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.” It is a passage full of comfort and promise, and I thank God Jesus has already done all the trusting and leaning and acknowledging in my place. Now all that is left for me is to rest in his perfected faith in Abba in and by the Spirit. And that’s when my life is really under control.
Abba, thank you for being Lord over all, and thank you, through your Son and by your Spirit, you have ensured our perfected humanity and our eternal relationship with you. Grant us the grace to release all control to you and to rest fully in your perfect love. Through Jesus and by your Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5–6 NASB
by Linda Rex
How often do we take the time to consider the truth about who we are? When faced with a situation in which we need to make a significant decision in our lives about where we are going to work, who we are going to marry, or how best to develop our gifts and gain experience in the area of our giftedness, how do we go about it? And are these two questions even related?
I believe sometimes the struggle is made more significant when we try to find these answers under our own power, or when we base them on what someone else says about us. It seems to me we often make this whole process more difficult than it needs to be because we forget who we are.
We forget we are daily being molded and shaped into the person God created us to be by the One Who made us in the first place. We are the adopted children of the One who redeemed us by taking on our humanity and transforming it into the perfect image-bearer of God our humanity was meant to be. Were we to fully embrace our calling to bear the image of God in our person, we would gradually find ourselves being who we were meant to be.
But this is a process. And it is not something we are able to do by human effort. Whatever effort we put into the process is merely a participation in what Jesus Christ has already accomplished in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. We participate in Christ’s perfected humanity, and as we do, we come to be more and more truly human, as God meant us to be.
Many times we invest ourselves deeply in things such as our work, our marriage, a project, or in a group of people such as a church congregation. When things don’t turn out as we expect and we find ourselves at odds with those we used to be in close relationship with, or we lose our job, or fail at a project, we find ourselves devastated.
We have identified ourselves so closely with that which has broken or has ended, we end up feeling lost or aimless, without a sense of direction or a purpose for our lives. Sometimes the fear of this type of outcome prevents us from getting involved in the first place. We don’t want to risk this kind of hurt or possible rejection.
Isn’t it interesting how much of our identity or our feeling of personhood is bound up in our relationships and in the things we say and do which involve other people (i.e. things which are relational in their impact)? I don’t think we realize how much our identity as persons in the divine Personhood is bound up in our relationships with one another as well as with God.
Perhaps one of the reasons it hurts so much when we experience a loss in this way is because it hits us at the core of our being. We were created to be in loving relationship with God and each other—this is who we are. We identify ourselves by what we do and by who we are in relationship to others.
When what we do and who we are in relationship to others is based on self-gratification, self-interest, and self-service, we may avoid such deep pain, but we become a law unto ourselves. Greed, lust, immorality—all the hurtful things we do to ourselves, God and each other—consume us.
This is not who we really are—this is a false self, not the person we were created to be. This is the person Jesus took on when he took on our flesh (our self), bore it to the cross and died with it. This person, as far as God is concerned, is dead and buried with Christ. This is why over and over the apostle Paul tells us to put it off. This is not our true self.
That person we really are, the truth of who we are, is found in the resurrected Jesus Christ. Perhaps we only catch glimpses of it in this life, but this most certainly is who we were meant to be. This amazing person we are even today is “hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:3) We are told by the Word of God to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 13:14)
This is who each person we encounter throughout the day is meant to be. When we look at them, we are looking at the dwelling place of Abba and Jesus by the Spirit. They are bearers of the image of God just as we are. When they don’t reflect the image of God and cause harm to themselves and/or others, then we experience separation, pain, all the things we were not intended to have to experience—this is not what we were created for.
There are many descriptions in the New Testament of how followers of Jesus live in their relationships with God and each other. These ways of being and actions are not expectations of God, but rather descriptions of the truth of who we are in Jesus Christ. As image-bearers of God (who we are), we will act in these ways (what we do to image God), not in the ways which orbit around ourselves.
Our life revolves around and in Christ now, and dances within the life and love of Abba, Jesus and the Spirit. Our life is a fellowship with Abba’s adopted children, our brothers and sisters. This life in community means every action and reaction impacts someone around us—so we rest in Christ and his perfected interaction with his Abba and all of us in the Spirit, and we live out the truth of who we are in Jesus Christ by that same Spirit.
Difficult questions of life then can be held within this place of true reality. We can invite Jesus to open our eyes to the truth of who we are in him—ask Abba to help us see the person he created us to be. We can listen to the Spirit, listen to the Word, and open ourselves to the work God wants to do in us to transform and heal us. Many times the objective is not as important to God as the journey is.
Life in the Spirit. Walking with Christ. This is Abba’s focus—mutual indwelling with God and one another. Somehow as we do this the answers come. It becomes clear to us which direction to go. Relationships begin healing. We find the grace to forgive and to renew broken relationships. We find the courage to stretch ourselves into new ways of being and doing. And all along the way we are never alone, but are held in the divine embrace. Praise God.
Dear Abba, thank you for including us in your life, in your love, through your Son and by your Spirit. We treasure our walk with you and ask to open our eyes to see, our ears to hear and our hearts to know the truth of who we are in Christ, and who you are making us to be by your Spirit. May we rest fully in you, trusting you to finish what you have begun. In your Name we pray, amen.
“But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Ephesians 4:20–24 NASB
“Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” Romans 6:4–7 NASB
by Linda Rex
How important is it for us to tell our story? Do we even have a story worth telling? Sometimes we expend all our energy trying to hide from others, and telling our story is the last thing we want to be caught doing.
I would imagine that the first approach we would all take to telling our story would be to talk about all the things we have done in our lives, and what we are doing today. But I believe we need to rethink this whole approach and begin to approach telling our story, and indeed all of our life, from the point of view of our being rather than our doing.
The reason I say we need to approach our story, and our life, from this point of view, is we do not consist of our doing—what we do does not determine who we are. It is rather who we are which determines what we do.
When we read a story about a person who does something amazing or dangerous, we often find ourselves asking, “Why did he do that?” or “What made her decide to attempt that?” We want to know the reason, the motive, behind the doing. In other words, we want to know about the person’s being which caused them to do the doing.
It is unfortunate our culture today is so obsessed with productivity. Unless someone is a productive part of society, they seem to have no value or place in this world. Those who are unable, due to health issues, or age, or some type of disability, to do what a “normal” person would do are easily cast aside or ignored. They become a problem, a burden on society, rather than a reason for care and concern.
This is because of our focus on the “doing” of life. Rather than valuing the being of a person, we value what they can produce, what they can do, and how they can contribute to society. If we do focus at all on their being, it is in regards to how well they can perform. In other words: Are they gifted? Are they intelligent? Are they extremely well skilled? This really doesn’t have to do with their being per say, but rather with the value of their being with regards to their productivity or doing.
If we were to look at this discussion from a totally different point of view, we might begin from the point of view of God’s Being. One of the things we focus on in the Trinitarian, incarnational faith, is the Being of God as Father, Son and Spirit. God’s Being is relational. God’s Being consists of three divine Persons who are intricately related in a perichoretic relation of love. And all that God does has its roots within that Being of superabundant love.
In other words, all God does arises out of Who God is. And Who God is is a Being in relationship of love. God’s story is a story of Who he is and what he did because of Who he is. God’s story, because it is a story of the Being of God who pours himself out in superabundant love, is our story. And we, whether we like it or not, are caught up in God’s story, because we have been caught up into the inner relations of Abba, his Son and his Spirit, through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension.
To bring this down into the zone of our personal experience, we need to understand how relationships are integral to our human existence. None of us exist apart from a relationship of some kind. Even if we are orphans, at one point we had a mother and a father. If at any time we believe we are alone in the world and no one cares about us at all, we find ourselves in relationship with someone somewhere, even if it is a hostile relationship. Relationships are integral to our being as they are integral to God’s being—for we are made in God’s image.
Who we are is intricately related to who we are in relationship with. Our relationships influence us, affect us, form us, harm us and help us. Often, whether we like it or not, our relationships identify us—we are fathers, mothers, sisters, friends, companions, enemies. Relationships are integral to our being.
What we don’t often realize is we all have a relationship which is at the basis of all other relationships—we are bound together in relationship with the God who made us in his image. Through Christ and in the Spirit, we are caught up into a personal relationship with the One who created us and calls us into relationship with himself—into the truth of the relationship which existed with you and me before we ever came into existence.
We may not wish to be related to God in any way, especially if we don’t even believe he exists, or we believe he has failed us in some way. But nevertheless, God has declared we are his, and he is never going to leave us or forsake us.
He has bound himself to us in the humanity which his Son took on in the person of Jesus Christ, and he has borne all the hate and anger we could throw at him through the crucifixion. He has experienced the death we all experience but has raised our humanity from the dead and brought it into the inner relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit. We are bound together with God in Christ in such a way we cannot be removed.
So God has interwoven our story with his story. We can pretend we are all alone in the world, but in reality, we are not—we are held in the grip of God’s love and grace for all eternity. We are beloved, cherished, adopted children of God—this is who we are.
And as we live in the truth of this relationship, we find deep within us by the Spirit, lives Jesus Christ, and through him, our heavenly Father. We find there is a real God who interacts with us, speaks to us in our hearts, guides us through his written Word, and watches over us moment by moment. He is with us in the sorrows and griefs of life, as well as the successes and joys of our existence.
As we experience the life in Christ by the Spirit, we find there is a lot happening in our lives and within us which is transforming and life-renewing. And so we find we have a story to tell. And in telling our story, we find we are telling God’s story as well. And what a story it is!
When Jesus sent out his disciples he told them to say, “The kingdom of God has come near you.” This proclamation is the same one we make today when we tell our story. For the story we tell is how God has come near, and joined us in our humanity and is transforming us by his Spirit just as he transformed us through Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. In the gift of his Holy Spirit through whom God lives in us today we are experiencing and participating in the kingdom of God, which is both here and is yet to come.
This is a great story to tell. And if you are feeling a little left out of this story—don’t believe it. You are just as much a part of this story as I am—we are all included in God’s love and life through Jesus and by his Spirit. We all share in this gift God has given us—God’s story, and my story, and everyone’s story is your story too, because Jesus Christ’s story is a story which includes every human being from the beginning of time until today and on into the future. And so, it includes your story.
Thank you, Holy One, for including us in your life, and for allowing us to participate in telling your story. Thank you for sending your Son and sending your Spirit so we can experience life in you and share in your superabundant divine love. Grant us the grace to see ourselves in the midst of your story, and the shared story of all humanity, and to have the courage and wisdom to tell the story you have given us wherever we go. May these Words of life bring healing and transformation to all. In Jesus’ Name, amen.
“Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” Luke 10:8–9 NASB