By Linda Rex
The door to my bedroom opened. In walked my daughter’s dog. She headed straight for the bed and jumped up on it. Rather than curling up at the foot of the bed as she often does, she curled up right next to me so her side was pushing against my body.
It seems my daughter’s dog understands better than we do sometimes the need for physical connectedness. She knows by instinct the need for relationship and belonging.
It is too bad we are often so busy pushing one another away or protecting our space, we end up alone and disconnected. We prefer our independence rather than understanding and living in the truth we are all interdependent. We cannot and should not live as separate satellites. This was not God’s intent when he created us.
I think it is interesting that when we pack ourselves together in big cities, people become more and more disconnected. We find ways to hide from each other and to protect ourselves from being harmed. We isolate ourselves and then wonder why we are lonely and depressed.
I was reading an online article this morning about these utopic wellness communities which are being created. They are places where people live together in natural and wholistic communities where their environment is kept as close to nature as possible, and in which people live together and interact together in a community life.
Unlike the inner city, such a community leaves room for people to interact with nature as well as with one another. There is space to just be out and free, rather than concerned about one’s safety and one’s belongings.
I first felt this sort of freedom when I moved to southeast Iowa many years ago. The place I moved to was out in the midst of rural Iowa where any city of any size was about half an hour to forty-five minutes away. Leaving the back door unlocked was the norm, and taking a walk in the woods was a normal daily occurrence when the weather was nice and one wasn’t working. Letting the kids roam at will in the outdoors was a just a part of everyday life.
I noticed a couple of things when I first moved there. The first and most immediate was a sense of relaxation, of rest. I was not in a constant state of subtle inner anxiety. I could just be. The self-protective angst of the big city was not necessary in the same way anymore.
The second thing I noticed and had a hard time getting my mind around, was how everyone knew everyone else. Relationships in a small community were the norm, not the exception. It seems if you didn’t open up and be friendly with your neighbors, that was more of a reason for talk than if you did.
The sense of community all of us long for is a precious commodity. Not all of us have the financial resources or the ability to move to some place which can be more conducive to such a way of life. But we can learn to live in community right where we are. We can learn to live in the rest and freedom of knowing we are included and held in God’s love and life.
In creating the Body of Christ, the Church, Jesus created a community where people who are sharing in God’s love and life are brought together into relationship. The work of the Spirit brings people to faith in Christ and binds them together in spiritual family. The Church then becomes a place of rest where people can grow in their relationship with God and one another, and can find themselves in a “safe” place. This is what the Body of Christ is meant to be for God’s people.
The Body of Christ is also meant to be a safe haven for those buffeted about by this world—a place where they can encounter the Lord Jesus Christ and experience a little bit of the kingdom of God on earth, and the love of God expressed in and through his people.
When someone enters the door of our fellowship hall or our chapel upstairs, they should feel as though they could come in and snuggle up against us, trusting we will not kick them out the door. This requires a lot of grace and understanding. It requires being able to set healthy limits on what we can do and can’t do as far as our behavior toward one another. The house of God is meant to be a place of order, of peace, and a place of worship—but also a place of welcoming, understanding, and grace.
In Christ, the kingdom of God was initiated here on earth. Over the centuries, the Church of Christ has taken on different forms and shapes. But the one identifying factor we can all cling to is that the Church is meant to be a reflection of the very nature and being of Jesus Christ himself. The Church is his hands and feet in a dark world. The Church is a place of hospitality and welcoming when all other doors are shut.
The Church is never meant to be a place of hurtfulness, abuse, or rejection. It is never meant to be a place of separation, cliques, or snobbery. When we find ourselves treating people in these ways, it is time for us to rethink who we are. As God’s children, made in his image, we all gather at the table to share the abundance of his goodness and love. May we never forget the blessings and benefits of sharing in his divine community, and let us never fail to share them with others.
Lord, I thank you for all you have done and all you are doing now, and all you will do, to bring us together into one body in Christ by your spirit. Open our hearts to the truth of our inclusion in your community of faith. Grant us repentance and a change in our way of living so we will begin to experience and live in the truth of how you created us to be as your children. Do continue to work to tear down the walls between us and to create places of community, peace and unity in our world, through Jesus Christ our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 NASB
By Linda Rex
One of the prophecies in the Old Testament which I find to be most interesting is in the book of Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah wrote about Cyrus years before he became the conquering king written about in the history books.
Ironically, even though he played a type of messianic role for the Jewish people, he was not a Jew. It speaks volumes that God would work through and with a non-Jewish king to rescue his people. In Isaiah’s prophecy, God says through Isaiah that even though Cyrus didn’t even know God, God still singled him out, called him by name, and gave him a special job to do. And it wasn’t for Cyrus’ sake God did this, but for the sake of God’s relationship with his covenant people, the Israelites.
Even though Cyrus was not acquainted with the God of Israel and worshiped gods who were not real gods, he was still equipped by God for this special mission and blessed by God as he performed it.
Cyrus was indeed responsible for conquering and killing a lot of people as he took power and invaded nations. I’m sure such bloodshed was not in God’s heart—it was something in Cyrus’ heart and was his way of doing things. Yet God chose to work in and through Cyrus in the midst of all this so that he, the God of Israel, would be made known as the one and only true God, who creates and sustains all there is in heaven and on earth, and his people would be returned to their promised land to prepare the way for the real messiah.
A lot of times we differentiate between good people and bad people, assuming God only works with, in, and through good people. We figure if God is going to do something significant in this world, he’s going to do it through people who are moral, righteous people or who are people who share a particular faith or belief system.
God is a Being who can and will work out his plans to love and care for his covenant people and to accomplish his purposes in the world by whatever means he feels are necessary. He can do and sometimes does do this all on his own. But it seems more often than not he includes human beings in the process. He likes to have us participate with him in what he’s doing in the world.
Our participation in what God is doing in the world often looks much different than what we assume it should look like. Sometimes humans do evil and horrible things. But God takes these things and in spite of them, or by transforming and redeeming them, he draws us all deeper into real relationship in and with him, into life eternal within the God who is Father, Son, and Spirit.
And those of us who participate with him in his work in this world are not always aware of the significance of how we are participating with God while he works out what he is trying to do. Many times, we go through life like little children, believing it is all about us, about what we are trying to accomplish, and what we are wanting to do or what we believe is important. We can be quite narcissistic in how we approach life and living. But that doesn’t keep God from finding ways to include us in what he is doing.
I don’t know how many times in my life I have realized after the fact something I said or did turned out to be a significant event in another person’s life. It may have been to me a simple, unimportant thing I did. It may have actually been a thoughtless word or deed. It could have just been an offhand comment. But in some way, it impacted another person or impacted some situation in such a way it completely altered the direction it was headed. And really, I was unaware of it at the time—I was just doing what I was doing, being me, and this amazing thing happened in spite of me.
For those of us who are trying to live good Christian lives it may be a challenge to take our focus off our efforts to do good and be good. It is easy to get caught up in whether or not we are being good people, and whether or not we are pleasing God. We can get so focused on how well we are living our lives we miss the real point of it all—that God knows us and loves us completely and thoroughly, and calls us into relationship with himself in and through Jesus Christ. God wants us to know him and love him, and to come to the place we really know and love one another as well. There is a relational focus to life in Christ which is a far cry above just being good, moral people.
Instead of being focused on how well we are performing, or whether or not we are achieving success in some enterprise or conquering some country, maybe we need to be focused on getting to know the real God—the One who made all things and sustains all things by the Word of his power. Maybe this has more to do with growing in our relationships of love and grace with God and our fellow human beings than about exactly what we are doing in a specific moment. Maybe what is really significant is living each moment of our lives in the presence of and in real relationship with our God, and acknowledging the truth of who he is and who we are in Christ.
I don’t think any of us truly understand the significance of Jesus sharing in our humanity. There is something about him as God being here in human flesh which is important to our day to day existence. He shares in our particular profession or human activity, and we can participate in some way in what God is doing in the world while we are doing it.
Yes, we need to consider whether or not it is a real participation in what God is doing in the world. Is Jesus in the midst of it and does it reflect his nature and way of being? Is it life-giving and life-sustaining? What does it mean to have real life in and with the Father, Son, and Spirit—and how is doing this particular thing a sharing in God’s life?
But we also need to remember it’s always more about our relationship with God and with those around us than it is a matter of perfect behavior, abundant production, and material success. It’s learning to walk through life knowing and believing God is in you and with you in the midst of whatever you are doing in every moment.
We live in and with our God, and he is always at work in us and in our world, and he invites us to come along and participate in what he’s doing. We may not know him fully yet, but he knows us thoroughly and completely, and loves us, and calls us to live in and with him both now and forever, and we can do this in and through Jesus Christ and by his Spirit.
Dear Abba, thank you for inviting us to share life with you in and through your Son Jesus Christ and by the gift of your Holy Spirit. Enable us to focus less on our material success and physical accomplishments and more on living in loving, gracious relationships with you and all those we encounter day to day. Enable us to do all things in a way which is a real participation in your love and life through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“God’s Message to his anointed, to Cyrus, whom he took by the hand to give the task of taming the nations, of terrifying their kings—He gave him free rein, no restrictions: “I’ll go ahead of you, clearing and paving the road. I’ll break down bronze city gates, smash padlocks, kick down barred entrances. I’ll lead you to buried treasures, secret caches of valuables—confirmations that it is, in fact, I, God, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. It’s because of my dear servant Jacob, Israel my chosen, that I’ve singled you out, called you by name, and given you this privileged work. And you don’t even know me! I am God, the only God there is. Besides me there are no real gods. I’m the one who armed you for this work, though you don’t even know me, so that everyone, from east to west, will know that I have no god-rivals. I am God, the only God there is. I form light and create darkness, I make harmonies and create discords. I, God, do all these things. Open up, heavens, and rain. Clouds, pour out buckets of my goodness! Loosen up, earth, and bloom salvation; sprout right living. I, God, generate all this.” Isaiah 45:1-8 MSG
By Linda Rex
Five years ago, when I first arrived in Tennessee, I was visiting with people after services during our Community Café free meal when I noticed a lady who seemed to be in tears on the other side of the room. I remember going over to her and asking her if I could help. We had a long conversation that day about all the struggles she was having in her life. I prayed for her, and hoped in my heart she would experience God comfort and peace in the midst of her struggles.
As time passed, I and the members of Good News Fellowship began to get to know this woman better. And as we watched, she grew in her relationship with Jesus and her love for God and his ways. She still had struggles as she continued her journey of growing up in Christ, but she was learning to live and walk daily in a relationship of love and grace with God and others. It was wonderful for me and my spiritual family at Good News Fellowship to see her blossom and grow as time went by.
This journey she was taking was the journey of faith, of developing a deeper relationship with the God who made each of us in his image and who is growing each of us up into the likeness of his Son Jesus Christ by the Spirit. I like to use the image of a journey because when a person comes to faith in Christ, turning away from all other idols and distractions and turning towards Jesus in face-to-face relationship, God doesn’t suddenly make that person perfect. Rather, their perfection is hidden with Christ in God and the Spirit works it out in them as they walk through life and respond to Jesus’ work by the Spirit in their hearts and lives.
Growing up in Christ takes time. And it takes experiences in which we engage in relationships with other people and in circumstances in life in which we are challenged to live out the truth of who God is and who we are in him. We sometimes do a great job of responding to the work of the Spirit, but other times it seems as if we are the same as we always have been. Even to those closest to us it may look in some ways as if nothing has changed, while in others, we are not the same at all.
This is the work of the Spirit. He seems to have his own agenda as he goes to work in our lives. And the more I learn from God’s Word, the more I see it’s a whole lot more about interacting with our Abba and Jesus on the journey than it is about reaching some impossible ideal in this life. There is a life for us, eternal life, which involves an ongoing conversation and interaction as we go through our everyday circumstances. We learn to trust and we grow in faith as we walk with God in the Spirit.
As people of faith, we have the opportunity to share our relational journey with others. We can share with them how we struggle, what we have learned, and how we have encountered the living God in our life situations and difficulties. We can learn things about ourselves and God on this journey, and then share what we have learned with the significant people in our lives. And we can include them in our journey with the Triune God through prayer for them and with them.
At different times and at the perfect moment, God puts people in our lives with whom he wants us to share our journey of faith. He creates opportunities for us to share with these people what we have learned about Abba, Jesus, and the Spirit, and what we have learned about ourselves. He puts us in situations where the only answer we can give to another person is Jesus Christ, and so we respond to this reality by praying in his name for the blessing of God upon this person in the midst of their troubles or their joy.
And so we find ourselves interconnected in relationships of compassion, grace, and love. We grow close to each other, and our differences in personalities and preferences come into play, causing us to have to wrestle with and work them out with one another. What we are doing is growing up in Christ—growing up into the type of persons who can and will live together in eternity with one another in a oneness in which each is able to be distinctly themselves, and yet in which each is found to be equal in person and being with the others. This is a true reflection of the being of the God who is Abba, Jesus, and Holy Spirit.
Yes, this life is but the beginning of a relational journey which will last for all eternity. If we insist on living independently of others, or on preying on others, or on creating division and suffering in our relationships, we will find ourselves isolated, alone, and uncomfortable in a place where God’s goodness, love and grace reign. Missing those material goods and temporal values we clung to in this life, we will feel lost and devastated—something God never meant for us to have to experience.
It’s not easy to open ourselves up to God or others, but it’s what we were created to be—relational beings. When we make room for God and others in our lives, and we acknowledge our utter dependence upon God in each moment, living in the truth of who we are in Christ, we will find ourselves not only filled with God’s peace and joy, but also held by God in the midst of the struggles and griefs of this life. And we will want to tell others about what God has done and is doing in our lives.
This is the life God created for us in Christ and is calling us to share in. This is the eternal life which is ours and we can participate in even now when we turn to Jesus Christ. My prayer is that each of us will begin to see more clearly Abba’s face in the face of his Son Jesus by his Spirit, and that our hearts and lives will be transformed in the process. There is such joy, peace, and personal blessing available to each of us, and God wants us to experience them both now and forever, and so do I.
Thank you, Abba. You are always at work revealing yourself to each of us in your Son and by your Spirit. Thank you for transforming our hearts by faith as we turn to Jesus and surrender to your ways of living and being. May you finish what you have begun in us so we may spend both now and eternity growing in our relationship with you and all those you place in our lives, through Jesus our Lord, and by your Spirit. Amen.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4 NASB)
By Linda Rex
Do you ever have one of those days when you don’t realize the plank in your eye is getting so big you are no longer seeing what’s right in front of you? Worst of all is when suddenly the plank is pulled out and the light of the truth about your own brokenness is so strong you are overwhelmed by it.
I had this experience the other day when talking with a group of friends. We were and are concerned about someone very dear to us who is doing something self-destructive and unhealthy. My heart was breaking about this, so I mentioned my real concern about her indifference to the harm she was doing to her own body. As I said this I reached across the table for my fifth handful of chocolate-peanut candies.
Later, in the quiet of my own home, I was praying about these concerns for this person and sharing my thoughts with Abba. I quite clearly saw that picture in my mind’s eye, of me reaching for another handful of goodies. God’s love for me understood my concerns for someone else, but would not let me off the hook about the harm I was doing to myself. A taste here and there is fine—but this was more than I probably should have been eating at the time.
Here’s the point: whatever harm I am doing to myself is no different than the harm someone else is doing to themselves. Yes, I need to love them enough to not enable them to continue in self-destructive behavior. But I also need to love Abba and the others in my life as well as myself enough to not continue in my own self-destructive behavior. It goes both ways.
God often brings us to these places, if we are willing, where we are faced with the reality of how our ways of living do not reflect the truth of who we are in Christ. The apostle James says it’s like looking at ourselves in a mirror:
“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:23–25 NASB)
This perfect law of liberty—our true freedom in Christ to love God and love one another—is written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. It is Jesus Christ living his life in us by the Spirit who moves us to be the doers of this law of liberty. God pours his love into our hearts and we find ourselves loving others in ways we never could or would before.
Recognizing the indwelling presence of God in our hearts gives us hope. When we are burdened by our failures to love and receive love, we are comforted by God’s grace and compassion.
We are helped in this redemptive process by healthy relationships which are full of grace and understanding. Often in order to forgive ourselves or receive God’s forgiveness, we need to experience abundant grace and mercy from those around us.
One of the biggest struggles some of us may have is with receiving love and care from others which points out our need to grow in Christlikeness. On the one hand, we may like people taking care of us, but on the other, we don’t want them challenging us to change. We may want them to do good things for us, but we don’t like them asking us to assume responsibility for what is ours to do.
This is where the redemptive grace of God becomes a cause of offense to us rather than the sweet-smelling aroma of God’s blessing and favor. Over and over in our lives God draws near to us through people and circumstances, showing us the truth of who we are in him. The miracle of grace in the life, death, resurrection of God’s Son causes us to see our failures to love and receive love.
The gift of forgiveness in Christ Jesus says to each of us, whether we like it or not—you and I are in great need of forgiveness. But God doesn’t just leave us in that place of need. The realization of our need for forgiveness creates space in our hearts and lives for him to enter in and begin his transformation process. In opening ourselves up to receive God’s grace, we participate with Christ in the redemptive process.
One of the blessings poured out on us in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is the realization we are Abba’s beloved child in Christ Jesus. The Spirit enables us to experience the living presence of Christ and Abba in us, and he is at work transforming our hearts by faith. We see the evidence of God’s indwelling presence by the way we love God and love others as ourselves. Over time it becomes obvious to us and to others we reflect the nature of the living Lord.
As the Spirit works, he grows us more and more into the image of Christ. This means he brings us to deeper and deeper levels of self-awareness as well as to a greater awareness of the real Being God himself. Our relationship with God develops over time, and as it grows, we are brought into a greater realization of the size of the planks in our own eyes as well as a greater compassion and concern for the well-being of others.
Drawing nearer to God means we draw nearer to others, but it also may mean we come to see ourselves and God in new ways. The Spirit gives us greater insight into the deepest parts of our person, and there are times when we find we must once again repent, or turn back to Christ, and trust him to heal and restore us. Repentance and faith are an ongoing part of our life-long journey with Christ. As we continue to participate with Christ in our salvation through repentance and faith, he by the Spirit will continually bring us into a deeper, more authentic relationship with God and others.
Dear Abba, thank you for your faithful love. Thank you for freeing us to love you and love others through your Son Jesus Christ. Thank you for the gift of your Spirit who draws us deeper and deeper into intimate relationship with you. Grant us the heart and mind to turn to Christ and respond moment by moment to your Spirit’s work, so we are not offended by grace, but rather are transformed, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“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.” 2 Corinthians 13:5–10 NASB
By Linda Rex
This week as my daughter and I were experiencing the unique dimming and darkness of the total eclipse, I could not help but express how cool God is. An eclipse is one way in which the sun, moon, and stars participate in bearing witness to the glory of God—this God who set planets and heavenly bodies into motion and who holds them in their particular relationship with one another.
And God made it so we each could have this extraordinary experience of a total eclipse in which we might see our smallness in comparison with the magnitude of the cosmos in which we live. It is a blessing, though, we live in a generation which isn’t intimidated and frightened by eclipses. Not too many centuries ago this type of event would have been accompanied by great fear and distress.
I thought it was wonderful how this day actually became a holiday of sorts in America. I know it might have made us look a bit ridiculous to other nations, but to celebrate the wonders of the heavens is not in itself a bad thing. It actually is a way in which can we point out the goodness, power, and glory of our Creator and Sustainer to one another.
Unfortunately, I heard some say this eclipse would be signaling God’s judgment on America because of the error of her ways. Why create fear in the minds and hearts of people over something which is meant to point us to the power and glory of our amazing God—something in which we can celebrate his majesty, glory, and power, and his ability to do all things, including saving the human race?
Now I agree—America and her people have some very serious errors going on right now. And the consequences of those errors are pretty profound. Many unwilling souls are experiencing loss, torment, suffering, and even death because of the errors of our ways. And I say our—we are all participants in these evils to some extent.
I believe what we are experiencing as a result of our ways of living is a significant judgment in and of itself. Living in a certain manner has unhealthy and unpleasant consequences—it’s just the truth about living life apart from the reality of our created and redeemed being as image-bearers of the Triune God. We create our own living “hells” when we seek our existence apart from our true humanity in Christ.
And apart from the unifying power and presence of the Spirit of love and grace, we find ourselves divided and at war with one another. Away from the Spirit of humility, service and compassion of the living Lord, we become insensitive and indifferent to the suffering and grief of those around us. When we focus merely on good and evil, we cease to focus on life—the true life which is found in real relationship, in knowing and being known intimately by the God who created both us and the amazing cosmos in which we exist.
God’s purpose isn’t to condemn us. In fact, Jesus himself said:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17 NIV)
God was most concerned with bringing us up into communion with himself in Christ, not with condemning or judging us. God in Christ saved us from evil and the evil one by becoming sin for us—taking on any judgment or condemnation we deserve upon himself.
God in Christ judged all of humanity worthy of eternal life—of grace and forgiveness—of spending eternity within the Father, Son, and Spirit relation. God determined not to be God without us.
However, we as human beings are really good at judging ourselves and judging one another. And we actually condemn ourselves as not worthy of God’s love and grace. We reject Jesus Christ, the One who stands in our place and on our behalf. We believe more in ourselves and our way of living—making our own choices, following our own agenda—than we do the One who created everything and who sustains it by the Word of his power. Here’s how Jesus put it:
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:18–21 NIV)
I don’t believe we as Christians need to go around condemning anyone. Yes, we can be discerning. We can tell the truth about what is being said and done which does not align with who we are as God’s children and his image-bearers in this world. We can work to bring about healing, change, and renewal so all people may live together in the unity we have in Christ.
But only God can change a person’s mind and heart, and bring them to faith. Only God can enable someone to believe the truth about who God is and who they are, and what Christ did, is doing, and will do to save them. Only God can change a person’s mind and heart in such a way their actions become different. Only God can truly heal relationships in such a way people live joyfully and at peace with one another.
And God always honors our right to choose—our freedom to say “no” to him and to reject him, and thus experience the consequences of living life in the shadows. Even though the Light has come, people do choose to turn away from the Light and live in the shadows. We can show them they need only to turn back to the Light into face-to-face relationship with the God who made them and redeemed them. But we must realize, God has granted each of us the freedom to say “no” to him.
In this way—by saying “no” to God—we pass judgment upon ourselves. God does not condemn us—we condemn ourselves as unworthy of the love and grace God has already poured out and made available to each and every human being who has ever existed. And this is what breaks my heart.
But thankfully, God is not willing that any person perish apart from his grace and mercy. And so he is patiently at work in each and every human’s life to bring them to faith—into trusting him rather than themselves for salvation—into finding their life in Jesus Christ rather than in the temporary things of this world which will one day be burned away and replaced by a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness (right relationship with God and humanity) dwells.
And I, as well as others, am able to participate with God in this ministry by sharing his life and love with each and every person I meet. This is my small way of participating, along with the amazing cosmos, in bearing witness to the glory of God.
Abba, Jesus, Holy Spirit, thank you for your amazing creation which testifies to your glory and power. You have done and will do awesome things as you work to redeem, restore, and renew all you have created from nothing. We trust you to finish your work, to bring to pass a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Grant, please, that we may participate fully with you in this new life you created for us in Christ and are creating for us and in us by your Holy Spirit. In your Name and by your power and for your glory. Amen.
“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” 1 Peter 3:18 NIV
By Linda Rex
This morning one of the members, Pat, and I were outside painting a sign at the church. The sun was slowly rising and the intensity of its heat was increasing as we worked to finish our project. Several people who live in the neighborhood passed by, either jogging or walking their dogs, and we said hello. Nearly all of them were friendly and responded cordially. It really was a pleasant day to be in the neighborhood.
I have been a pastor with Good News Fellowship for just about five years now, and this neighborhood has changed tremendously within that short period of time. A common sight are houses being torn down and new, multiple dwellings being put in their place. The neighborhood is in the midst of a gentrification process, yet in spite of all this change, neighbors are starting to get to know one another and look out for one another. And they are vocal about their desire to create and live in a safe, friendly community.
It’s good to see and experience the feeling of community growing around us. This neighborhood has only begun to feel that way to me within the last year or two. Perhaps the neighborhood seems different partly because I am actually in the neighborhood involved in some activity on some day other than Sunday morning or Wednesday evening. And I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the people who live on the street the church is located on, to learn their names and a little bit about them through the neighborhood association and community activities.
We have a few church neighbors who come over and participate in our weekly Community Café free meal. But these are not the neighbors I saw last night or this morning as we worked on the sign. I have met a few of these neighbors at community events or on the street, but not within our church doors. A few may attend other churches in the Nashville community, but most are uninterested in, and even opposed to, organized Christian religion. Christianity is being viewed more and more as the cause of disharmony and disunity rather than being seen as the solution to it.
One of the conversations we find ourselves having as a pastoral team is how we have a wide variety of people we minister to and who worship with us—all races and strata of society—but none of them are from this group of young adults who are moving into the neighborhood. These are talented and educated professionals who reflect a post-Christian mindset. They are very community-minded, but want nothing to do with organized religion. And I believe they have every reason to reject it when I take into consideration everything they have heard or seen about Christians and their churches.
What I have found since I moved to the South is a strong Christian culture in the Bible Belt—even more so than what I experienced while living in the farming country of Iowa. This Christian culture has its strong points and also its drawbacks. Nowadays in our ministry to people in our community I find I’m talking with someone who already has a lengthy experience with church and the Bible, rather than with someone who is biblically illiterate or unchurched. This means in the apostle Paul’s language, when I share the gospel with this person or preach the Word of God to him or her, I am building on another person’s foundation rather than building directly upon Christ himself.
Conversations with people who are churched can be challenging. What people may believe about the Bible or God might be drawn from the teachings of various televangelists or popular authors, and need some serious reassessment due to their lack of a healthy spiritual foundation in Christ himself and his written Word. But other times, some people are so sure they are right about what they believe there is no room for the Word of God to go to work to bring about renewal and transformation. The Spirit’s efforts to heal and restore are hampered by the haphazard building which has already been done on the foundation which may or may not be Jesus Christ.
This complicates our efforts to fully proclaim the gospel of Christ, as Paul puts it. We are dependent upon the Holy Spirit to minister the word of God to those who already have been built on Christ, and also to deconstruct and rebuild those who need to be reconstructed on a healthy foundation. We are utterly dependent upon Christ and his work by the Spirit in any effort to preach the gospel of Christ to anyone, whether believer or not.
Indeed, it’s a real challenge to reach out to those who are unchurched or who are adamantly opposed to church or Christianity in any form. There is only one option left open to us sometimes and it is a good one, actually. What is left for us to do is to share God’s love with each and every person we meet in tangible ways—we begin to be good neighbors to each and every person, sharing life with them, offering them truth and grace—and sharing in word and deed what it means to live in the truth of who God is and who we are in him.
Our challenge as a church congregation is to get out of the pews and get into relationships with our church neighbors. This is an extremely difficult and uncomfortable task for some of us, but it is one which God has placed before us. Yet it is not given without his promises and his real, personal Presence in the Holy Spirit to go with us.
The early church prayed for God to confirm his Word through signs and wonders, and to extend the reach of the gospel. And Jesus, by his Spirit and with his people, did those very things. We are called to pray and to participate in Christ’s ministry to the world. We have not only because we ask not, and because we depend upon ourselves and our efforts instead of upon Christ. I would encourage those who feel the longing for Jesus to grow and heal this world and this community to pray, to ask, and to anticipate God’s generous outpouring of response.
God is not put off by a post-Christian culture. None of this is about Christianity anyway. It is all about each and every person growing up in his or her Christlikeness—of sharing the common relationship we have all been given in Christ by the Spirit with the God who made us in his image to reflect his likeness and to share his love. And our role is to participate in the process and to follow wherever Christ leads us. May we respond to his call to each of us by his Holy Spirit. There is much to be done.
Dear God, thank you for loving each and every person whether or not they know you, or love you in return. I am grateful you are not put off by our refusal to believe, but rather you continue to work unceasingly to change our hearts and minds and to bring us into deep relationship with you in Christ by your Spirit. We long for you to bring spiritual renewal and transformation to our neighborhood so each person can experience the reality of true community. Make it so, Lord, by your Spirit. Give us each the boldness and courage, as well as the opportunities, to share your Words of life and your love with our neighbors. And Holy Spirit, please confirm your Word by the signs and wonders which are appropriate in this day and age, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: ‘Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.’” Romans 15:17–21 NIV
by Linda Rex
Last time I ended my blog by asking the questions: Will we allow God the freedom to do as he wills in our lives, believing he will make all things right in the end, and has our best interests at heart? Will we respect God’s freedom to do what he will in our situation, trusting he is a good God, a loving and faithful God, who will never leave us or forsake us?
These are tough questions to respond to because often our response to them arises out of our personal experience and our attachment issues. We may never have had an experience in our lives in which a person was trustworthy and safe in their interactions with us.
Perhaps our only experience with men has been with those who have used us and then discarded us. Maybe our only living parent has always insisted on making every decision for us our entire life, and didn’t stop when we became an adult. It’s possible that the father we adored when he was alive was great fun to be around but never took responsibility for anything with regards to his family. There are many ways in which critical relationships in our lives wound us.
Our view of God, then, becomes skewed and we begin to believe things about God which are not true. Relationships and our relational losses are so critical to our understanding of ourselves and God! The thing is, too often we plant our broken view of humanity onto the face of God rather than seeing God as he really is, and viewing broken humanity in the light of who God is. We get it flipped around.
So it is very hard to trust a God who we believe is like these images in our mind which have been created through our experiences with the people around us in our lives, especially during our formative years. When God said to Israel, “You shall have no other gods before me,” (Ex. 20:3 NIV), he was telling them to set aside all their preconceived ideas of God. They had gathered a God-concept over the centuries which included the worship of things made by human hands as well as those things created by God.
Today we may not have idols in our house we worship (though some of us may), and we may not worship the sun, moon and stars (though some of us may), we do often worship a God of our own imagination—a being who exists only in our hearts and minds, but not in reality. For if we want to know who God really is, we need to pay attention to what God says about himself, and quit focusing on what we or others might imagine God to be.
This Sunday at Good News Fellowship we will be celebrating Palm Sunday. On this day, we are reminded about the enthusiastic welcome Jesus Christ received as he entered Jerusalem before the events of Holy Week. Here he was applauded as Messiah, come to save his people—which indeed he was. Yet within a few short days, he was crucified and he died at the hands of the very human beings he came to save.
The Messiah did not show up the way the people expected him to. Jesus was not the person they wanted him to be. God in human flesh? This meant Jesus had something crucial to say about the status quo, about the ruling authorities, and what it meant to be God’s people. And they all needed to listen and to obey. Israel, and indeed all humanity, was called to see God in a new and different way, and to repent of their wrong-headed view of God. Jesus was, and is, the exact representation, or ikon, of the Father, and he would send the Spirit, who was, and is, the other Helper or Paraclete, just like Jesus.
God had revealed himself to his people through Moses not only as the “I Am”, but also as the God who is, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished;…” (Ex 34:6–7 NIV) Here we see God as a relational God, who loves his people and is gracious toward them. Yes, he deals with the nasties, but all within the context of his covenant love.
God rescued his people from slavery, provided food and water for them in the wilderness, and brought them to a new land. Throughout his history with his people, he cared for them, called them by his Spirit back to their covenant relationship with him. God was who he was. It was Israel who needed to change their view of God—to have a new heart and mind. And God told them he would work this out by sending a messiah who would usher in the age of the Spirit.
The thing is, since time began, we as human beings have resisted the Spirit’s effort to open our minds and hearts about the truth of who God really is and who we are in him. We believe we are on our own, doing everything under our own power. We believe we are in control of ourselves, each other, this earth, and the universe, and at the same time are faced with the reality we really don’t have any control whatsoever.
Fundamentally what we need at the core of our being is a realization we are creatures, who are dependent upon the God who made us and who sustains us. This is a God who wants to live in a relationship with us in which we share intimately all of life. We were meant to walk and talk with God as Adam did at the beginning, and as is described by the apostle John in his gospel and in his description of the heavenly Jerusalem. And this type of relationship requires trust.
To go deep with someone, anyone, in this way requires a level of trust which is very deep. We climb, and climb up our mountain of life, thinking we’ve got to hold it all together and keep moving up to the next level, when what we need to do is let go and fall, trusting in the Everlasting Arms.
We are unable to make sure everything works out as it should—but God already knows the end from the beginning. We are unable to protect ourselves from evil or disaster, but God has the capacity to turn evil and disaster into the best experience of our lives. We feel lost and alone and unloved, but the reality is, we are held, we are beloved, and God never leaves us—he is Immanuel, the God who is present, near and available at all times.
It was this God who joined us in our mess, and walked among us, and was willing to submit to our mistreatment and rejection of him. He was willing to go with us all the way to the cross and to death so we could learn to trust him. There was nothing he was not willing to put on the line, even the inner relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit, so we could not only learn to trust him, but also receive by the Spirit a new heart and mind filled with Jesus’ trust for his Abba.
This is the blessing of the gift of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension, and the gift of the Spirit. This gift is a life filled with trust and faith in God, in which we find ourselves able to know and see God for who he really is, and over time have our mistaken notions about God corrected and healed. This is a relationship which will never end but grow more precious with time, and will include others in joyful fellowship for all eternity.
Abba, thank you for the gift of your Son and your Spirit through whom we might come to know you for Who you really are. Fill our hearts with Jesus’ trust in you, so we might live in true, loving community both now and for all eternity. Through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“But I trust in you, LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me. Let your face on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.” Psalm 31:14–16 NIV