By Linda Rex
I was chatting with my son this morning and I was talking about how God has always taken care of us as a family. “Even when I was only making $6.50 an hour,” I said. “He’s always taken care of us. I’ve always tried to put God first in my finances…”
He interrupted me. “You’re not drifting into that health-and-wealth gospel stuff, are you?” he asked, amused. I laughed. “No, but it probably was starting to sound like it.”
I was reminded how easily we can slip into the cause-and-effect manner of thinking which we prefer as humans. We like to be sure God is going to do what we want in every situation, and so we come up with the perfect plan to make sure he does. We’d like to believe if we always pay our tithes off the gross and give generously to the poor and other charities, then God will always make sure we are taken care of. We hope if we always eat the right thing and drink clean water and do a good job of exercising and staying in shape, we will never develop cancer or die of a heart attack.
Doing things this way takes all the guesswork out of our relationship with God. In fact, we don’t have to even get into any of the messy stuff of dealing with our false motives or bad attitudes. As long as we’re doing the “right” thing, we’re in good with God and we have no reason to expect any issues in our life.
Of course, as we grow in our spiritual maturity in Christ, I would like to hope we get to the place we recognize this isn’t the way God works. Indeed, he seems at times to do the exact opposite of what we expect him to do in certain situations. And we can get pretty bent out of shape about it if we are not careful. It seems God likes to remind us about who is the Lord of the universe, and it’s not us. And he also likes to remind us even when it seems like everything is falling apart, he can still take it and work it all out for the best.
The real issue here is God’s real nature is relational, and all he does with us as human beings is with this relationship in mind. To live in the Triune relationship is to live in a relationship in which there is uniqueness and equality of Personhood in oneness of Being.
We are created in the image of this God, called into relationship with this God, and embraced in the midst of our turning away from this relationship in and through Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. In the gift of the Spirit, God works to bring us fully into the Triune embrace in such a way we know we share in Christ and we begin to intentionally participate in God’s love and life.
The thing is, this is a relationship we are called into and created for. And within this relationship we have been given great freedom. God has freed us from sin and death so we may live forever in the true freedom which exists in God’s being—a freedom to truly be who God created us to be—children of God who love their Abba with all their being, and who love their neighbor as themselves. This is the true freedom Christ won for us—to live out by the Spirit our true humanity which is hidden with Christ in God.
This freedom given to us by our Creator and Sustainer is what we wrestle with as human beings. On the one hand we like being able to do what we want, when we want, and how we want. We want to call the shots in this universe, while having God take care of us and give us everything we want when we want it and how we want it.
We live, if we are honest with ourselves, too often as if we are our own little gods, not realizing that such freedom is a false freedom. It is a lie—and whatever it is we have chosen which is not in within the truth of our being as God’s children will in the end enslave us and consume us, and without God’s intervention, may even eventually destroy us.
And these things we choose are not always the vices most of us easily acknowledge as being wrong or unhealthy. The worst choices we make are the most deceiving—the choice to objectify God and one another, the choice to put our trust in money, people, and other things rather than in God alone, or the choice to try to control God, or even one another, by the things we do or say—acting as though we can change the way God or others behave if we just act correctly or speak perfectly. We do our best manipulate, use, manage, and/or control God and one another, rather than respecting each one’s personhood and honoring him or her as the person he or she is.
If I choose to honor God with my finances by tithing, for example, by giving 10% off my gross income, that is a good thing to do as an expression of my love for God. I am free to tithe or not tithe, and no doubt, if I genuinely wish to bless God by tithing, he will be pleased by my heart of gratitude and generosity. But tithing does not obligate God in any way to make sure my bills are paid or I have money for a new car. It demonstrates a heart of devotion and trust toward God but it does not cause God to do anything in return. The cause-and-effect rule does not apply.
My experience in my relationship with God, however, has been when I was making next to nothing and felt convicted of the need to continue to tithe in spite of my poverty, God honored that and somehow always made sure I had what I needed. I did not control or manipulate God by my giving—but I did express my genuine heart of devotion and commitment to God through my giving, and I found myself being blessed and helped by God in the midst of my poverty.
I remember one ongoing conversation with God expressed my anxiety about the bills which I thought I couldn’t pay. Anxiety in itself demonstrates a lack of faith in my Abba, and I have struggled with this over and over—it’s one of those subtle yet encroaching sins. But God merely would remind me to write down my needs and to ask him to take care of them. That is a relational thing, not a cause-and-effect thing. It is an act of trust. I felt compelled by the Spirit to do write down my needs and give them to God, I obeyed God and did it, and God responded by hearing and answering my prayers. It began with God and ended with God, and I got to be in the midst of it and be blessed in the process.
Looking back, I know too often in my life I thought I had to do this or do that other thing in order to be blessed by God or experience his good will towards me. In reality, God’s will toward me was already good, and he was looking out for me when I didn’t even realize it. He intervened in so many situations, and I never realized what was going on until later, if at all, and was amazed by his tender love and concern.
What I have learned is God is love and God is faithful. And we are held in his love and grace, He is always at work, no matter what is going on, bringing us to a place of redemption and healing. We are free to make choices, and God allows us to experience the joy or pain of those choices. But he is ready and willing at any time to embrace us when we come running and are ready to participate in making choices his way, in the way which best expresses our true humanity as God’s beloved children.
Dear Abba, thank you for your faithful love and gracious provision for our needs each and every day, whether we realize it or not. Thank you for holding us in your love and grace, and that your heart toward us is good and full of compassion. Grant us the grace to live in the true freedom which is ours in your Son and by your Spirit so our lives and ways of being are a true expression of your nature and Name as Father, Son, and Spirit. In your Name we pray, Amen.
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.” 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 NASB
When I was growing up, I learned at an early age that God had rules for everything. He decided what I could eat and what I could not eat, when I could eat certain foods and when I couldn’t. He decided what I should wear and what I shouldn’t wear, and when certain things should be worn and when they shouldn’t. In fact, it seemed as though God was making sure I did everything exactly right so he could bless me and I could be happy, or punish me if I went astray.
I suppose, looking back, there was something helpful about having some order to my existence. But I realized early on I had an inner resistance to this constant dictation as to what I had to do or not do. There was a rebellion deep within me to being controlled in this manner. And of course, this was seen as being sinful and evil. I did a lot of repenting and I worked really hard at “being good.”
The irony in all of this was I wasn’t made any better or any worse by all this effort. If anything, I was so busy putting on my appearance of having my life in order, I was missing out on real life—real relationship with God and with others. It was only in those relationships where I dropped the façade—with my high school buddies, for example—and where I was genuine and transparent I actually experienced true communion with others. The rest was just pretense.
When God finally got through to me with the reality of his grace and Who he actually was for me, with me and in me, I realized I was one of those people Jesus quite adamantly criticized when he was here on earth. I was a Pharisee—a white-washed tomb—a viper in the woodpile.
To come to the realization that you have all the glitz but none of the reality is a painful, difficult process. It takes experiencing the loss of all the things you cherish and coming to the end of all the things you count on to carry you through and to make you “good enough.” It means discarding all your previous notions about Who God is and who you are as his creature. And this is a tough road to travel, because our humanity and the culture we live in encourage us to stay where we are—in the façade.
One of the things I had to learn about God was he is truly free—free to be Who he is, apart from my expectations of him or preconceived notions about him. He is free to do whatever he wants in this world—which is often the exact opposite of how I was taught and believed he would act in certain situations. God is free to be Who he is, not Who I think he is. The Lord of the universe is truly that—Lord—and I am not (shockingly enough!).
But that freedom God has is always tempered by his boundless, deep love, which surpasses our comprehension. The God I grew up with was punitive and angry. And it was not helpful my personal experience of a father reinforced this belief in many ways. But when God revealed himself to me in Christ by the Spirit, I came to see this wasn’t Who God really was. The God of grace and love has always loved me and you and meant for us to be included in his divine life. This is amazing!
The other amazing thing is God gives each of us freedom—freedom to choose, to embrace or reject him, to live in harmony and unity with him and others, or to live in opposition to everything which is good and honorable and to experience the consequences of living in that way. It is hard to image God doing that, but he did and he does. Freedom to live in loving communion with him and each other, or not—it’s as simple as that.
One of the topics which kept coming up last night at a social gathering I attended was the way each of us has a unique history or genesis, but we are all intertwined and interrelated in some way. Indeed, it seems a person cannot assume someone they do not like is not at all connected with them because we have, as the centuries have passed, intermingled our DNA with one another. We are all bound together in a common humanity.
The joys of fellowship and community are a consistent thread throughout human existence. And this is what we seem to cherish most about our family and community celebrations such as Christmas. At the core of our being, we are drawn to one another in ways we don’t even realize—we are created for community and so we are drawn to it as a part of our very being.
This type of loving community, this interweaving of lives with one another in harmony and grace and peace, cannot be built by making rules and enforcing them. This is a work of the Spirit which takes place in the heart. God does not control us or force us into relationship with him and others, but invites us, draws us close, and compels us by his deep, perfect, and gracious love.
I pray you will each experience the blessing of true spiritual community this Christmas in many ways in your lives. I pray your families will experience healing and comfort and encouragement in the midst of all which pulls us apart and divides us. And I pray you will have a blessed and wonderful Advent season, through Jesus, our Lord, and by his Spirit. Amen.
“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:1–3 NASB
by Linda Rex
The other day I was talking with some ladies who were sharing stories of famous people they had met or interacted with. This is always fascinating to me because of the way we tend to get excited over someone who is just another human being like we are, but who has succeeded in their area of expertise to the place they are well-known and well-like by thousands and millions of people.
It’s kind of like walking into a gathering at Converge and finding myself next to W. Paul Young, the author of “The Shack”. He’s a regular guy and would probably be the first to remind everyone that he’s nobody special. But he’s had tremendous success as an author and speaker, and has drawn the praise and support of millions of people. And so I felt myself privileged to share the same space with him for a few moments.
It’s not like being a successful person in this culture necessarily changes who we are fundamentally. It’s more like it changes our experience of our world and how we interact with those around us. It would be very difficult to live one’s life under the constant scrutiny of strangers and to always be open to criticism and the possibility of rejection by the same people who currently applaud us.
And yet, this is exactly what happened to Jesus Christ. He was an inspiring, charming person to be around. He was loving and compassionate, always doing good works and healing broken people. He drew crowds around himself just by being who he was.
And the Jewish leaders hated him for it. They were constantly picking at him, looking for faults and some justifiable reason to destroy him. They criticized even the good things he did, because they did not fit in with what these leaders understood to be the way the Messiah would do things.
In Jesus’ story, we see him one day entering Jerusalem to pomp and circumstance—heralded as a deliverer. But within just a few days, we see him being imprisoned, tortured and crucified. Being a “famous” person definitely has its drawbacks.
But when we look at Jesus’ life here on earth, we see someone who laid it all out there. He told people who he really was, and lived like who he really was, so no one could say that he was merely putting on an act. He was genuine and real, making himself vulnerable to the point he was crucified for just being who he was.
Too often we are like the movie or music stars who hide under the gloss of a certain persona, because it is much safer for them to do this than to let people see who they really are. They cannot leave the house without having their image in place because they don’t want people to think less of them and so to reject them. After all, this is their livelihood.
We often believe and act as though it is much safer for us to project an image of having it all together than it is to be vulnerable and allow people to see the truth of our being. And too often, we experience events in our lives which prove to us that this is what we have to do in order to be safe and loved. If we don’t look as if we have it all together we will experience rejection or persecution rather than acceptance and understanding.
Sadly, this is especially true within Christian circles. We seem to have expectations of one another which, when you really get down to it, are often unreasonable and unrealistic. If we were to really think our expectations of one another through, we would realize that no human being other than Jesus Christ himself could live in such a perfect manner. So why do we expect it of one another?
But this brings us back to this fundamental thing for which you and I have been created: to know and be known. In John 17:3, we read Jesus saying this: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Eternal life, life in the presence of the Father, Son and Spirit, involves being completely and fully known by God and one another.
This describes a way of being which is truly transparent, honest and real. This is what we were created for. And when we don’t live in this way, we suffer. We create pain, suffering, and angst. There is disunity, war, strife, and separation. There is death and destruction—of people, relationships, organizations, nations—you name it.
Looking around us today, we can see and we experience the consequences of not living in accordance with the truth of our being. We don’t think, act, interact and live in way which corresponds exactly with the truth of who we really are. The truth of our being is that we are meant to be fully known and fully loved and accepted by God and one another.
We were not created for isolation or separation. We were not created for hiding or facades. We were not created to live one way on the inside and another on the outside. When we do this, when we live in this way, we hurt ourselves and we hurt others.
Sometimes we hide our true selves because we’re afraid we will hurt the people we love. And we don’t realize that in hiding our true selves, we are hurting them, because we are not allowing them to see the real glory God created us to shine with. God made us in his image to shine with his glory—his true light. Hiding this within ourselves does not help others.
It would be good to accept and live in the reality we are both completely known to the core of our being and totally, deeply loved. God even knows our thoughts before we think them and our words before we say them, and he says to us, in spite of everything, “I love you. You are mine and I am yours.”
And so you and I can ask for the courage and faith to begin to live according to the truth of our being, of who we are in Jesus Christ. He lived the perfected humanity you and I long for. And in him and by his Spirit, we are able to be the people we were meant to be.
Yes, we are broken people with scars and messy lives. But we are also at the same time, the beloved adopted children of Abba. We have the ever-present Spirit in us and with us, working out our true humanity, and Christ our divine Brother, including us in his life.
In Christ, and by his Spirit, we can face up to the dark places within, bringing them to the light so that Abba can heal them. We can let people get close because God enables us to see them through his eyes, as our brothers and sisters, who are just as broken and faulty as we are. We can begin the process of being real, of being honest about who we really are, letting safe people help us go through the difficulties which come along the way as healing occurs.
Abba, thank you for loving us just the way we are. Thank you for not leaving us in our brokenness and unbelief, but through your Son and by your Spirit, working to heal, restore and renew us. Grant us the grace and courage to be genuine and real, while at the same time putting on Christ as we ought to, in place of the false self which we so easily yield to. We praise you for your faithful love and grace through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you understand my thought from afar. you scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” Psalm 139:1–7 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