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Just How Radical is God’s Grace?

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By Linda Rex

I’m so grateful God loves every stubborn, willful child! If he didn’t, I would be in a very difficult place right now. And a lot of other people I know would be as well.

Do you know what it is like to raise a strong-willed child? I do. This is the child who, when given the choice between obedience and consequences, will choose consequences almost every time. This child is the one who may grudgingly obey, but in their heart of hearts is plotting some way of getting out of doing what they were told to do. Often, they are more inclined to do the exact opposite of what is asked of them rather than simply doing what they are told.

The neat thing about such a child is when they turn that strong will in the right direction, they become determined, decisive, and diligent adults. They accomplish things which us less strong-willed people never quite get around to finishing. They stand their ground on those issues which those of us less stalwart of heart tend to yield on. There is a hidden glory in a strong-willed child—one designed by God to reflect part of his own glory.

One thing I have learned from these precious children of mine is that often I am that strong-willed, stubborn child. I am the one who knows better and yet does it anyway. I am the one who chooses the consequences over obedience because “no one is going to tell me what to do!” As time has gone by, and the merciful Spirit has done his work, I have come to see more and more how my Abba has had all these years to “put up with” the stubborn, willful child I am.

Surely this must resonate with some of you. Every day I see or meet someone who is stuck in the consequences of the life choices they have made. Even though they know a better way, and could choose a better way of living, over and over they choose consequences over obedience. The Spirit says to them, give up your broken path and follow Christ—and they hear and turn back to the way which they freely have chosen for themselves, refusing to turn back to Abba and to his way of being.

The hardest thing we face as human beings is surrendering to the truth, to the One who is the truth of our existence—Jesus Christ. We don’t want anyone, Christ especially, to tell us what to do or how to live our lives. We want to be free—free to decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil, what we can and should do, and what we shouldn’t do. Freedom for us means we do whatever we want, whenever we want, to or with whomever we want, no matter the consequences.

But true freedom, the freedom which reflects the image of God, is a freedom bounded by the love of God, which is the very way of being of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This love makes room for others in a mutual submission and a giving and receiving which is fully reciprocal and genuine. In Christ we participate in this divine freedom, as we surrender ourselves to the truth of our beings as those made in the image of our God after his likeness.

As I drove home today and enjoyed the sight of newly mowed hay in the fields near where I live, I was reminded of the many ways in which I tend to stubbornly refuse to allow anyone to dictate to me how things should be done. So often in my life I have intentionally done the exact opposite of what I knew I should do just because someone told me I shouldn’t do it. I know I have reaped the consequences of these decisions, but I also know that this has also been a way in which God has taught me the meaning of grace and divine forbearance toward each of us.

Has God ever given me just what I deserve in these situations? More often than not, God has not given me what I deserved, but rather what I did not deserve—his unconditional love and patient, compassionate forbearance. Even when I was wallowing in the midst of my well-deserved consequences, God has heard my plea for deliverance and forgiveness and has lifted me out and let me start over again. Even when I was sitting in the wreckage of what I did wrong, God came and held me, and gave me the courage and strength to get up and start doing the next right thing.

Sometimes we need to experience the consequences of our foolhardiness and stubborn disobedience. But more often than not, God is gracious and overlooks things, enabling us to turn around and start going in the right direction. Not only does God pass over our shortcomings, he also forgives our stubborn, rebellious disobedience. He doesn’t do this so we’ll keep taking the wrong path and making bad decisions, but so that we may turn the other way, and begin living and walking in truth.

Repentance and faith are lifelong companions on our journey with Jesus. As we get to know him better, we come to see how far we fall short of his perfected humanity. And yet this does not alter our relationship with Abba or Jesus. For in Christ we are united with Abba in the Spirit, and this perfect relationship which Christ forged for us in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension is ours forever. It is unchanging and our failures do not alter it on God’s side. They only blind us to the reality of God’s infinite love and grace and cause us to suffer all kinds of needless consequences.

The repentance, or metanoia, which God brings us to by his Spirit’s work in our hearts and minds, is a turning around. We turn so that we no longer stubbornly have our back towards Abba, but rather we are turned toward him in a face-to-face relationship which is our participation in Christ’s perfect relationship with his Abba.

When we get turned the correct direction, toward Abba instead of away from him, and begin living in the truth of our real being as his beloved children, we will find our hearts and minds beginning to change. The way we think, say, and do things will begin to change. We won’t lose our unique way of being, but we will begin to shine with that glory which was our all along, that glory which is a reflection of the very glory of the God who made us, redeemed us, and who loves us unconditionally and freely in and through his Son Jesus Christ both now and forever.

Abba, thank you for your faithful love and endless amazing grace. Grant us repentance and faith, in deeper and deeper ways—so we grow in our trust of you, and in our relationship with you through Christ in the Spirit. Open our eyes to see you, our ears to hear you, and our hearts to know you, as you have revealed yourself to us in your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. We thank you and praise you for your goodness and faithful love, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:12-17 NASB
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Our Response to God’s Overflowing Benefits

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by Linda Rex

As I was looking at some scriptures this morning, I was struck by the way the psalmists often remind us to not forget God’s benefits. It got me to asking myself how many benefits are out there for us we are not even aware of, and are we even enjoying the benefits God offers to us each and every day?

Even though I work full-time hours as a pastor, I also work part time for another organization. One of the things I do at my other job is to help sign people up for benefits. These benefits are determined by the organization, and people are eligible for them if they meet certain criteria such as working the equivalent of 30-40 hours a week.

It is important for me to determine whether or not someone who is eligible for certain benefits has actually signed up for them and is receiving them like they should. There may be some really good benefits they could be receiving, but they might not even know those benefits are available to them or that they qualify for them.

Now in the working world, benefits can be things the employer pays for, but they can also be things we pay for. But God’s benefits to us are freely given to us by him. Any cost incurred was paid in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of his own Son Jesus Christ. We don’t owe him anything for these benefits other than gratitude, a gratitude which expresses itself by living in loving relationship with God and others.

So what are some of God’s free benefits? The most significant and life-transforming benefit God gives us is eternal life—a knowing and being known at an intimate level both now and for all eternity by God, because of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ, and his gift to us of his Spirit. God through Jesus and by the Spirit intervenes in our human existence and brings redemption, healing, renewal and abundant living. God’s benefits also include a deep and abiding love and compassion, and personal participation of Christ by the Spirit with us, in the midst of our suffering and daily struggles.

So, this begs a question: Do we have to sign up for these benefits in order to receive them? What if we don’t even know about these benefits? Does this mean we never receive them at all—we’re just out of luck—too bad, so sad?

The truth is, God’s giving of his benefits to us as his creatures, made in his image, is a freely given gift. God gives us all of his benefits, not because we deserve them, or we have earned them, but merely out of the abundance of his great love. He is the Benefit-giving God. It is his nature to be beneficent.

Considering all God has provided for us not only in this amazing cosmos we live in and earth we live on, but also in all he has given us in sending his Son and giving us his Spirit, we are really overflowing each moment with benefits. It may feel like our world is falling apart, or God is indifferent to our existence, but the truth is, we are held in the midst of his love and grace, and we are abundantly blessed with his benefits.

These benefits are ours just because we are God’s creatures, his beloved and redeemed children. The thing is, we have an extremely difficult time participating in and enjoying these benefits when we either don’t know about them, don’t recognize them, or refuse to embrace and receive them as a free gift from the Giver of all Benefits.

We may think we need to sign up for them in order to have them, but the reality is—they belong to us already. How we participate in, enjoy and experience these benefits has more to do with our relationship with the Benefit-Giver than in our experience of the benefits themselves or our need to do something to enjoy them. When we turn to Christ in faith, we find our eyes and hearts opened to the deeper reality of an immense array of benefits at our disposal, many of which we didn’t know existed or thought were worthless.

And God is not expecting us to pay him back for the benefits he gives us. Rather, he is inviting us to turn away from ourselves, and all our other loyalties, and to turn back to him in face-to-face relationship so we can experience the fullness of his benefits. He’s offering us what the deepest longings of our hearts cry out for—to be truly and deeply known and loved. And this comes as a free gift to us—something he has already paid the price for.

This leaves us with only one thing to do—to give thanks! And we do this out of a heart overflowing with gratitude for all God’s goodness, grace and love. Yes, there will be times when we lose sight of all God has done and is doing because life is such a struggle or so distracting. But even then, God will remind once again to live gratefully by sending his Spirit to whisper his Word into our heart: the echoes of the psalmist’s song, “forget none of His benefits.”

Abba, thank you for all your overwhelming abundance of benefits which you pour out to us moment by moment, day by day. You are so generous to us! May your Spirit ever remind us when we forget of all the benefits which are ours, and grant us the grace to live gratefully in response, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits; Who pardons all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases; Who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; Who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle. Psalm 103:1–5 NASB

God Redeems Our Children’s Past

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by Linda Rex

Last weekend I not only had a house full of company, but I also attended the Converge 2017 event, which was held this year at the Scarritt-Bennett Center here in Nashville. The venue was very pleasant, with its buildings of cut stone and stained and cut glass windows. The food was excellent, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to share good times with old friends and new.

The focus of this Generations Ministries event was encouraging to me. It was good to hear and see the emphasis on interlacing the ministries of camp and mission (and internships) ministries with those of local congregations. There was also much talk about building leaders, starting with our children all the way up through the generations. We can build leaders in any area of camp or mission ministry or in our local congregations, when we are intentional about the process and are actively involved in building relationships with God and one another in every part of life, and encouraging one another towards growing up in Christ.

While on the one hand I am very excited about the direction GCI is headed, I grieve the reality my children will most likely not be participants in these new initiatives, nor benefit from them. It’s sad to think there might not be a place for them where they can really feel at home in GCI. Perhaps in time God will prove me wrong. I hope he will.

It has been very difficult for me to watch my children grow up without the benefit of a group of young people their age within the church who enjoy doing the things they enjoy doing. I’m thankful they met a few friends in school and in camp, but for the most part they have lived without the benefits of a large church social group. It might not matter to them as much as it matters to me, since they are both shy, reserved people who aren’t really social butterflies at heart.

I think what bothers me the most is the price my family paid over the years for staying with WCG/GCI. This is not the denomination’s fault by any stretch of the imagination. It was more a matter of my personal choice. Many of my friends chose to attend a neighborhood church, even though they did not fully agree with their doctrines. It was more important to them that their children have the benefits of a group of friends and activities they could participate in.

Since I felt the calling many years ago to return to WCG because God had something he wanted me to participate with him in doing, I have attended with my children in a WCG/GCI congregation. I do not regret having responded to God’s call upon my life, but I am sorry it came at such a price. And yet, over the years, God has shown me ways in which he has redeemed the years of service.

When we lived in Iowa, we traveled an hour and fifteen minutes one way to attend services in Illinois. The benefit of such lengthy travel time was a captive audience with my children at least once a week. We could talk about things of importance because they had my full attention. We found ways to turn the travel time into a positive experience. No doubt they would rather have done many other things instead, but we learned a lot about sharing life with one another, and about bearing with what we would rather not have to do.

They didn’t have friends at church they could hang out with. But my son found friends at school who would travel the long drive to church with us and go to camp with him in the summer. I don’t think he ever realized how good he was at making disciples—or at least, at bringing people along with him to encounter Jesus. But these experiences have helped him to grow in his relationship with God and with other people as he has matured.

When we moved to Tennessee, the worship team graciously included my daughter, and she began to sing in the worship band. She has really grown over the years in her ability to sing and praise God through music because of this opportunity. And I don’t think she realizes how gifted she is at this. So recently, when she chose to step down from serving the church in this way on a regular basis, it surprised everyone, and they have expressed how they would like her to continue to sing in the band.

Maybe my children didn’t have a large group of peers to hang out with when they were kids and teens. But what they did have during all those years was family. This was a group of people, most of them older than me, who adopted my two as their very own, who loved them and wished them well. These members of our church family encouraged my children, sometimes irritated and offended them, but more often, remembered them on their birthdays, prayed for them, and listened to them tell their stories.

No doubt, this may not have been the kind of relationships my kids would have preferred to have, but these were the relationships through which my children learned how to be kind, loving and compassionate adults, with strength of character and strength of will. These adults modeled healthy (and unfortunately on occasion, unhealthy) relationships and behavior. They valued my children, and so taught my children to value themselves as God does.

I am grateful for each and every warm and loving person God placed in our lives through GCI over the years. He cared for us and loved us through the churches we attended whose members embraced us and held us during some very difficult and painful years. God provided many opportunities, especially with enabling my children to attend camp at Heartland Summer Educational Program in Illinois and The Rock summer camp in North Carolina. These experiences, which were both bad and good ones for my kids, were an important part of their education and growth as God’s children.

Today, in GCI and at Good News Fellowship, we long to see children come together to learn about Jesus and about themselves as God’s beloved children. We long to see them have friends they can share everyday life with, and share Jesus with. As we prayerfully seek God’s face about this desire of our hearts, we can love well those children God has already given us to care for, sharing with them both in word and in deed the good news of what Christ has done for each and every one of us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension, and in the gift of God’s precious Spirit.

And we can trust God will redeem the lost years, and the times of loneliness and struggle, turning them into opportunities, and growing our young people up in Christlikeness. God will never cease tending our lambs and doing all he can to enable us to fully participate with him in being good shepherds to our young people. And he will finish what he has begun, because he is a good God we can count on.

Abba, thank you for being faithful to watch over and care for the little ones who we participate with you in raising, teaching and loving. God, grant us the grace to love well those you put in our lives and in our congregations and in our homes. Work with and through us to grow them up into all you have in mind for them to be. We thank you that ultimately, you are the one who grows us each up into the image of your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.

“So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Tend My lambs.’” John 21:15 NASB

God’s Freedom to Say No

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By Linda Rex

I think one of the most difficult things for us as human beings to accept is God’s freedom to tell us “no.” For those of us with boundary issues, it can be even more difficult to accept, especially when we see no human reason why he should not say “yes” to what we may be wanting from him. If God is a good God, then why doesn’t he say “yes” to our requests, especially when they are important and good requests? Why do people suffer injustice, pain, loss, and other tragedies when God could so easily protect us all from evil and suffering?

There is something so tragic about someone who is caught due to circumstances beyond their control in a situation in which they must suffer loss, pain and/or grief which is overwhelming and debilitating. The human condition is such we face these type of events in our lives whether we like it or not. We cannot escape them, even when we want to. Some of us may try to find ways to escape the pain and suffering of life through addictions and distractions. But at some point, we all have to come face to face with the reality God sometimes says “no” to all our pleas for relief and deliverance.

The past few weeks in our Wednesday night small group we have been talking about boundaries, and how healthy and unhealthy ones are formed in the early years of life. Parents play a crucial role in a child’s development of boundaries which will enable them as adults to handle interpersonal and relational issues in heathy ways.

Our modern business world is looking for people with a high EQ or EI (emotional intelligence) rather than just a high IQ or intelligence, because business leaders understand the need for workers to be able to interact in healthy ways with their boss and their peers as well as with the customers they serve. So, teaching a child and a teen to respect other people’s boundaries as well as their own is important work to be done in their lives by a loving parent.

Every parent knows, if they are honest, there are times when they have to tell their child “no” but they really don’t want to. When a parent loves a child too much to tell them “yes” and tells them the “no” they need to hear but don’t want to hear, the parent may struggle with this process. How is it possible to tell a child “no” when it seems to cause them such suffering? Wouldn’t it be better to just let them have what they want?

The obvious answer, of course, is “no,” but that certainly doesn’t make it any easier for the parent to stand their ground. But stand their ground they must. And yet, there is always room for grace. Every parent needs to learn to listen to their child and to come to know their child’s heart.

Sometimes a child says “no” for really good reasons. And sometimes a child has a really good reason to ask their parent for something. This is where the parent can offer his or her child the opportunity to experience what it is like to have their healthy boundaries respected and honored. The critical piece here is the intimate relationship between the parent and the child.

What we see in action in this whole process is something called mutual submission. This is the mutual submission we see at work in the Triune relationship between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. C. Baxter Kruger explains their relationship in this way:

“Jesus lives by relating to God as his Father, by seeking him and knowing him as Father and loving him with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength. His life is not really his at all, it is sonship. He never lives on his own, doing his own thing, following his own agenda. He has no self-interest. ‘Not what I will, but what you will be done (Mark 14:36); is not just the prayer in Gethsemane; it is the prayer of his whole life. …The Father is utterly riveted to his Son’s every move; he is the beloved Son. And the Son is in tune with his Father’s heart and filled with joyous passion for its pleasure. …This is a relationship of the deepest affections of the soul. There is no dead ritual, no façade or shame or hiding or reticence. The Jesus of the New Testament is so aware of God’s presence, so aware of the present God as his Father, and so confident in his relationship with him; and in turn his Father has such earnest joy in him and affection for him, that they share everything and live in utmost fellowship. The formula ‘Thou art my beloved Son’ and ‘Abba, Father,’ signals a living, personal, and active relationship of profound love and togetherness, a rich and blessed communion in which all things are shared.”

We tend to overlook the reality the Father submits to the Son in the same way the Son submits to his Abba. God, who is Judge over all, defers all judgment to his Son. Our heavenly Father, who created all things, created them through the Word in the Spirit. There is no hierarchy in the Trinity, but there is a Father-Son relationship in which there is mutual respect and submission. Jesus illustrated for us and lived out in our humanity the obedience each of us was created for—an obedience held in the midst of a loving, warm fellowship with Father, Son and Spirit as our Triune God of love.

The thing is, Jesus in his humanity, did not tell the Father “no” even when he was faced with the horrors of the crucifixion. He did ask the Father, but he did so in submission to the love and wisdom of his Abba, allowing him to say “no” to what he in his humanity desired. Jesus was invited by the Father to participate in humanity’s rescue from sin and death, and Jesus was free to say “no” to his Father. But his relationship with his Abba was such, he would not say “no”—his free choice was to join us in our humanity and to do for us what we could not do for ourselves, even though it cost him suffering and death.

One of the most difficult things for a loving parent to do is to watch their child suffer. Abba did not turn from his Son when he went through this suffering, but was “in Christ” when he suffered (2 Cor. 5:19). This event of Holy Week from beginning to end was a shared experience with the Father and his Son in the Spirit. There was no separation at all.

So, God’s “no” is never something which disassociates him from us. When we must live in the midst of whatever “no” we may think God has given us, God is present, going through it with us. When evil seems to be holding sway, understand the God who makes things right will indeed do so when the time is right. He sees what we cannot see, and understands the full ramifications of what is going on, and knows the end from the beginning. There is nothing too hard for him to set right. In Christ, in his life, death, resurrection and ascension, and in his gift of the Spirit, we have this assurance.

It boils down to this: Will we trust him? 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?

Abba, thank you for your patient and faithful love. Grant us in Jesus and by your Spirit, the will and power to believe you are who you really are—good, loving, and gracious. Hold us in the midst of our suffering, pain, and struggles, and enable us to experience a deepening in our relationship with you. Let us know you are near, through Jesus our Lord, and in your Spirit. Amen.

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; …” 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 NASB

The Inward Movement Toward Rest

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tn-hayfield
by Linda Rex

Yesterday I tried to reach someone at business by phone, but was put on hold. I waited and waited for someone to take me off of hold and to answer what I thought was an important question, but they took a very long time to respond. As I tried to wait patiently, I listened reluctantly to the voice on the line telling me all the positive attributes of the organization and why I should be doing business with them rather than with someone else.

There were a lot of good things said by the recording I was hearing, but after waiting on the line for quite literally an hour, all I really heard was their indifference to their customers. In fact, every couple minutes they would remind me someone would be with me “shortly”. I remarked to my daughter, who was tempering my impatience with reminders to be calm, that apparently their definition of “shortly” was a lot different than my definition of “shortly”.

After another phone call put in a little later during which I was hung up on and then called back and apologized to, I finally got the answer I needed. And I didn’t even think to mention my concern about their definition of “shortly”. I was just happy to have my concerns taken care of.

However, today when I got put on hold with another company, after about 10 minutes of waiting for tech support, I was beginning to wonder about what the word “momentarily” was supposed to mean. The recording told me someone would be with me “momentarily”. I thought “momentarily” meant in just a moment something would happen. I’m beginning to see that I might need to adjust my use of the English language to fit a culture where time has become very relative for some people.

But then again, maybe the problem isn’t with them, but rather with my inner need to have what I want done, done right now and at my convenience rather than theirs. Maybe what needs to change is my view of time and what is really most important in each moment. For me it is the task at hand. But for God, I’m beginning to believe it is instead the relationship I am encountering in that moment.

When I slow down enough to create space in a circumstance for Christ to enter in by the Spirit, I find the capacity to be patient when I have no reason to be patient, and to be gracious when I have every reason to be frustrated and angry. I’ve noticed lately I need to pay closer attention to my response to the situation in which I find myself, and to detach enough I am no longer reacting but am being proactive instead.

I first learned about dealing with inter-relational issues proactively when my children were little and they knew just how to push my buttons. I learned the time to deal with a problem behavior was not after it had occurred and my temper was hot, but before it ever occurred.

Being proactive meant I set a healthy, safe boundary and let them know ahead of time what it was, why it was in place and what the consequence would be for choosing to violate it. And when they pushed the boundary, the consequence was immediate though compassionate and gracious. In this way they could not blame anyone but themselves for having brought the unpleasant result upon themselves by their behavior.

Handling such issues in that order saved all of us from a lot of anger, yelling, and other unhealthy ways of dealing with the problem. And the result was healthier and more pleasant relationships, I believe, and a greater sense of security in my children. They didn’t have to guess at how I was going to respond, nor could they manipulate me into responding the way they wanted me to in order to get their way.

And a lot of times it only took one or two times standing my ground on important issues in this way, and it ceased to be an issue. They just needed to know what it meant to be a part of the family with regards to that particular issue, whatever it was—honoring bedtime rules and being honest and caring with others, for example.

Now at this late juncture in my life I am learning I need to treat myself in the same way—proactively rather than reactively. It works so much better when I plan ahead of time what my response is going to be in a difficult situation instead of allowing it to cause me to be upset, frustrated and angry.

When I make a phone call expecting to be answered immediately, I am put out when I have to sit on hold for an hour before getting the information I need. I could have hung up and called back, but I still would have been on hold. The issue isn’t with the phone call, but with my expectations and my response—I am reacting to the situation, not proactively following the way of love. I am allowing the circumstance, the person on the other line, the poor customer service, to define me and how I am going to respond.

But what really defines me is not that phone call. Nor is it the person who answers or doesn’t answer. What defines me is the Who in whose image I was made. It is the love of God in Christ which I am filled with, led by, and surrounded by. I, and every other person, am made in the image of God Who is love, and Who created us to love and be loved.

So proactively, I respond to this irritating life situation with the love of God in Christ—making space for Jesus to rest between me and the other person I am interacting with. If I just react instead, there is an immediate response directly to the person and to the situation, which leaves very little room for the Spirit to work. God is a whole lot more concerned about us loving him and loving others than he is about us getting our way in one particular instance in our lives. So we need to proactively create space for the Spirit, to allow the Spirit to go to work in every situation.

My daughter and I were talking about the phone call yesterday, and I was reminded again that stress is never the issue—stress does and will happen. It is our response to the stress which happens in our lives which can be the issue rather than the stress itself. Do we make space for God to work? Do we rest in him and seek to build the relationships of love in our lives, or are we merely focused on the task at hand?

How we respond to and deal with stress impacts our mental, emotional and physical health, as well as our spiritual health. I can see I have a new way to put what I have learned into practice in my relationships with God and others by proactively living in love with those who can be and are irritating, thoughtless or indifferent.

I will face challenges to my self-control and my patience and peace of mind, just as everyone else does. But Christ has already provided what is needed in these situations and he lives in you and me by his Spirit. As we invite him into these situations, and slow down in the moment and realize what is most important to him—living in love—we will find the capacity to create space for the Spirit and the ability to be patient, gracious and understanding instead of frustrated, irritated and angry. It is the work he is doing in us and in our lives, and by making room for him to work, we participate with him in the process.

Lord, thank you for your faithful love and grace, and for living in love in us, with us and for us. May we open space up in all our relationships and encounters in daily life for you to do your perfect work, so we may all grow up into the fullness of Christ. In your Name we pray. Amen.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” Ephesians 5:1–2

Leading with Love

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Tree covered in ice silhouetted against the sky.
Tree covered in ice silhouetted against the sky.

by Linda Rex

One of the difficulties of life as a single parent is the need to do things for your children which are normally done by both parents. It’s really difficult to play the role of father and mother for a child. There are some things only a mother does well, and some things only a father is really good at. We do the best we can as single parents, but there are some things we just can’t do.

It was easy for me to see early on as a single mom, I could never provide for my son or daughter the feeling which comes when a dad recognizes, values and affirms his children. I could recognize the hunger for this affirmation and attachment, but I still could not fill those needs.

A father has the capacity to destroy his children’s self-worth and crush their belief in themselves and in their ability to succeed simply with a glare or condemning word or by indifferent neglect. But he also has the ability to teach a child to take on challenges and to believe he or she can do the impossible. He can teach them what it means to be loved and valued as a human being. It’s all in how a parent leads.

I was raised in a family which valued authority because of what they believed about who God was. In the early years, dad was in charge and nothing happened without his approval and direction. We feared him and did our best to be good kids so as not to upset him.

As an older adult, I realize now my dad repented of this way of leading the family, and began to mellow over the years and eventually learned and used the power of love and understanding to bring about change in his children in place of authoritarian control. As a teen, I experienced his grace and understanding in many ways. He understood in his later years that leading in love is much more effective than leading by control and coercion.

Control and coercion are external motivators. Motivators like shame, guilt, fear and anger are also external motivators. Dictators, controlling and dominating people, and terrorists like to use motivators such as these to force people to agree to their expectations and terms in an effort to create a society in which everyone does the same thing. These external motivators may create a form of unity, but it is a unity that is merely in form, not necessarily in content. In other words—you may have a person’s compliance, but you don’t necessarily have their wholehearted obedience.

The most powerful thing a parent, and especially a dad, can do, is to love, truly love, their children. This is the kind of love which sets healthy boundaries for a child and enforces them, not punitively, but with grace. This is the kind of love which values each child as a unique person, and so finds their bent and helps grow them to be that person God created them to be.

When a parent has a strong, healthy relationship with a child in which they really see that child for who he or she is, and value their child as a gift from God, and are deeply involved in their child’s life, this creates a bond of love between the child and the parent. This bond can be highly motivating for the child, causing them to make healthy choices when they are being influenced to make unhealthy ones.

Granted, life happens, and every person is different. Some children just go the wrong way, no matter how well loved they are. But this does not negate the reality, that when our family participates in and reflects the divine perichoresis, and is filled with love and grace, there is a strong bond of love which binds everyone together in love. There is a tolerance and respect which would not otherwise be there. Children find themselves motivated, for the most part, to do the right thing from a place inside. Love is an internal motivator which supersedes any other external motivator in its ability to create genuine unity.

I believe this is why the apostle Paul stressed the need for a husband to love his wife, and for parents to love their children. Paul’s culture taught men to rule their wives and to insist that women and children submit to their leadership. Authoritarian rulership and coercion in a family may create external obedience temporarily, but they often crush the hearts of children, foment rebellion in teens, and can eventually destroy people. I have seen and experienced the tragedy that results in such leadership. The broken hearts and minds it creates are a testimony to its ineffectiveness and destructiveness in the long run.

Love, however, creates a familial bond of unity, which motivates those involved to treat one another with respect and concern. Discipline—and here I mean training, not punishment—given in love and tempered with grace, enables children to learn to live within healthy boundaries, while giving them room to grow. In this type of environment there is freedom—freedom to be the people God created us to be, and freedom to treat each other with love and respect. Freedom goes both ways because it is bound up within God’s love.

I was speaking with Doug Johannsen yesterday, and he reminded me that a father, and a husband, is meant by God to be the source (read “head” in most translations) of this love within a family. He is to be the one who pours this love so abundantly over his wife and children they cannot help but love him back and love one another. He is to be the source of this love which binds the family together in unity. Why is this true?

Because this is how our heavenly Father so loves his Son in the Spirit. He loved him so much he gave him all of this which he made. And the Son, and the Father, so loved us, they created us and gave us everlasting life through Jesus in the Spirit, so we can live in the midst of this superabundant love both now and forever.

It is this love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which is to be the basis on which our families are built. This love which he receives from the Holy Spirit enables a father and husband to love his wife and family with the same love which caused Jesus to lay down his life for humanity. And this love creates an environment in the home in which a family can live together in real unity.

This is the same love which we as single parents must draw upon to enable us to love our children and care for them when we are unable to fill the role of the missing parent. This love of God shed abroad in our hearts is the source of unity, love and grace in our family. And we can trust God to do in and through us what we cannot do on our own to care for, love and minister grace to our loved ones.

Loving Father, thank you for the great love you shower upon your Son in the Spirit, and that we participate in this, your superabundant love, through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension, and in the gift of your Spirit. Grant us the grace to live in loving communion with one another in our families, churches, and communities, in the same way in which you live in loving fellowship with your Son, and with us through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” Eph 4:1–6 NASB

“Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity (lit. the uniting bond of perfection).” Col 3:14 NASB

Sharing the Same Earth

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cross

By Linda Rex

Lent: This morning I am sitting in the office of the social security administration, waiting to finish up some business regarding my mother’s estate. As I sit in the hard, plastic chair, I look around me. People of all shapes, sizes, colors and ages are all waiting too, anxiously eyeing the board to see if they will be helped next.

It seems all of us waiting have a common concern this morning—having our particular need met by a government agency staffed with human beings like us. Each of us sitting here has our own unique story, and our own special problem we need help with. We each want to be heard, and we each want to receive a solution to our own dilemma.

At a window nearby a lady raises her voice. She is frustrated because she is having to state her personal affairs out loud because, she thinks, the agent won’t read her paperwork. The agent continues to quietly help her, doing her best to understand the lady’s situation. Unfortunately, there are laws and restrictions that prevent the agent from being able to do what the lady wants done, so the lady becomes angry and leaves.

When we are out in the midst of life, interacting with others, we come up against people who are very different from us. Our uniqueness meets up with their uniqueness. This can cause friction, misunderstandings and/or pain. Or it can be an opportunity for one to help or strengthen or bless the other.

I recall a conversation I had last night where I was owning up to my tendency to be more spontaneous and easy-going than I am organized and controlled about my affairs. When I come up against someone who is very precise, disciplined and organized, I can drive them crazy if I don’t make some effort to be considerate of our differences. It is important to make room for one another and not to expect everyone to be the same as we are.

We can get so bent out of about our differences that we miss the most important realization of all: even though we each have unique stories and ways of being, we also at the same time share a common humanity. We need to remember that all of us come out of the same earth as Adam. The same elements which composed his body are those which exist in ours. The same Spirit who breathed life into him breathes life into each one of us. And the same God who created and sustains each of us came and lived as a human being just like each one of us.

As I sat last night and watched the preview of the new movie “Young Messiah”, I was touched again by the realization of the humanity of Jesus as a young child. I have so many questions about what it was like for him: What was it like to be moved from one country to another as his family traveled from Egypt and settled in Nazareth? How was he able to grow up and come to a realization of who he was, while at the same time dealing with Satan’s constant efforts to kill and destroy him? When did Jesus realize that he was not just Joseph’s child, but was the Son of God? How did he feel when his stepfather Joseph passed away and he became the leader of his family in his place?

The battle Jesus fought in his humanity began at birth. I’m sure the angels were kept very busy watching over him as he grew up. When I think of all the children around the world today who lose their innocence and/or their lives on a daily basis due to man’s inhumanity to man, it is a miracle indeed that Jesus, living in the Roman Empire, grew up to be the man he was. But having been a child, experiencing the things he experienced, Jesus could with a warm and tender heart hold children near and bless them when he was an adult. He knew what it was like to grow up in a dark, scary and dangerous world.

I have a hard time believing as a child Jesus was someone who took everything seriously and walked about preaching and praying all the time. I’m more inclined to believe he reveled in his heavenly Father’s creation—running through the fields, wading in the streams and chasing after the butterflies just as my children did when they were little. I’m also inclined to believe Jesus enjoyed living and so he laughed, joked with his friends, and played just like you and I do.

Talking and thinking about Jesus’ humanity does not diminish him in any way. If anything, it makes him more amazing and worthy of our adoration and praise. Through Jesus we can begin to find a commonality with God rather than just a separateness and uniqueness. Humanity is completely other than God, but God took on humanity in Jesus Christ so that we would be and are connected with God in the very core of our being—God in human flesh, transforming humanity from the inside out so that we can dwell forever with he who is completely other than us.

Jesus was not just a vague human being without distinction. He was born and raised in a specific culture and in a specific area of the world. He was a particular race and a particular gender. This does not mean that he did not identify with others different than himself, but rather that no matter who we are in the specific way of our being, Jesus was that for us. He identified with us in our unique situation, in our unique time, place and circumstance. Because he understood the context of his specific life, he understands the context of each of ours.

Unlike the agent sitting in the booth waiting to hear another person’s concerns, Jesus is present and able to hear each and all of our concerns at every moment because he God. And he is present and able to understand and act in our best interests in every situation because he has experienced our humanity and shares it even now.

Wherever we are and in whatever situation we may find ourselves, we can trust we are not there all by ourselves. God has come through Christ and in the Spirit to live in human hearts. He is working to complete Christlikeness in each of us, because Christlikeness is our perfected, glorified humanity which Christ lived out here on earth which is poured out into each of us by the Holy Spirit.

We have nothing to fear, because whatever road we are on, Christ has walked it and will walk it with us all the way through to death and resurrection. We don’t have to get anxious that God won’t call our number in time—he’s got each of us covered—he knows us intimately. We don’t have to get upset if we aren’t helped immediately—he’s already working in our situation even though we may not see or recognize this is true. And we can trust that he understands the details and will do what’s best for us, no matter how things may appear to us at the moment.

Holy Father, grant that we each might be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus so that we may all with one voice glorify you. May we accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us, so you might be glorified in us. [Rom. 15:5-7] Thank you that before time began you chose to adopt us as your children through your Son Jesus Christ, and even when we were so terribly human and unlike you, you became like us so we could participate in your divine nature. [Eph. 1:5-6; 2:4-7] Grant us the grace to love one another as you have loved us, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:19–22 NASB