By Linda Rex
September 8, 2019, Proper 18—As I was reading the passage for next Sunday, I remembered a scene from when I was driving home from Cookeville to Nashville recently. It was located in a small farming community nestled between several tree-covered peaks. In the middle of a large pasture near some other houses sat a wooden frame which looked as though it had been abandoned, with new pieces of lumber scattered among broken pieces from an old farmhouse. What had been built looked great, but sat abandoned, with no one working on it, with no equipment around, and no sign from what I would see that anyone was planning to finish what they started.
If we are honest with ourselves, there are times when we feel like that unfinished building—abandoned, forgotten, with no hope of ever becoming what we believe we really ought to be or could be. We may have had great plans of overcoming this, of developing that, of doing that good deed, but we so often come up short. What we may feel like is worn out, burned out failures at life.
When we think about picking up and carrying our own cross daily, this is often what we feel like. Living life as a Christian and trying to do the right thing all the time is difficult. I’m grateful I do not have to carry Christ’s cross—I’m still trying to fully understand how to carry my own. And this is why it is important to understand what Jesus meant when he said this.
We often assume that the Christian life is meant to be a struggle against sin, a war to overcome the evil within ourselves. This makes our Christian walk rather self-centered, as an effort to become what we are not. But this is not really a helpful way of seeing things, and not what Jesus meant when he told us to carry our cross and to follow him.
What would be helpful for us to understand is that when Jesus told us to pick up our cross daily and to follow him, he was not telling us something we had to do on our own all by ourselves. When a contractor sets out to build a house, he usually does not attempt to do so all by himself. No, he has someone come to do the plumbing, someone to do the electricity, maybe even a few carpenters and carpet layers come to help him out. In other words, he doesn’t attempt the task all by himself—he does it in community.
In the same way, Jesus calls us into community, into fellowship with the Trinity, where we live life in Christ by the Spirit as participants in his own intimate father-son relationship with his Abba. Jesus says no other relationship should have this precedence in our life—we love all others less in comparison. As participants in the divine life and love, we don’t build our lives under our own power according to our own plans. Whatever we do coincides directly with who we are as God’s beloved adopted children who share in Christ’s perfect and holy sonship.
Jesus also calls us into the community of believers. We are not meant to go through the struggles to live as a follower of Christ alone. The Spirit calls us together into a community so that we can encourage each other and lift each other up, and when our burdens become too difficult for us to carry alone, we have someone to come alongside us to help and strengthen us. We aren’t alone, but rather are called into spiritual community, the church, which is made up of brothers and sisters in Christ who, like us, are beloved adopted children of Abba.
In other words, the life of a follower of Jesus becomes a matter of finding and living out our true identity in Christ as Abba’s beloved adopted children rather than seeking to gain acceptance by our religious performance and moral goodness. We don’t depend upon our ability to do what is necessary—the cost is too great because we will fail. We depend solely upon Christ, walking by faith in him, and living and walking in the Spirit rather than in our flesh. Our focus is not on how well we are doing or not doing, but rather on Jesus Christ, and how he has done it, is doing it in us by the Spirit, and will finish it when we are glorified at his return.
What this means is, the cost of our salvation has been paid by Jesus. The cost to us is the laying down of our life and the receiving of Jesus in our place and on our behalf. This means we cease to be the center, other people cease to be the center, and the cares of this life are set completely aside—Jesus Christ himself is now the center of our life. We are baptized in his baptism, acknowledging he lived our life, we died in his death, we rose in his resurrection, and we ascended in his ascension. We eat the bread and drink the wine of communion, thankfully celebrating that he is all we need—his life for our life. He became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
When we count the cost of following Christ, we aren’t examining ourselves to see whether or not we have what it takes to follow through to the end. The reality is we don’t. That’s why God had from the beginning, before all was made, intended to join our life with his life through the incarnation. God in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ is our assurance that we have what it takes—we turn to Jesus, again and again, daily relying upon him to finish what he began in us. We, as temples of the Spirit, are in process, and in the end, the beautiful bride, the universal fellowship of all believers, will shine with God’s glory in his presence forever.
So, the question for today is, what do you need to lay down so that you are solely picking up your daily reliance upon Jesus? What is it that you need to relinquish or surrender control over so that Christ can rule in your heart and life? What relationships need to be given healthy boundaries so Christ becomes your focus instead someone else being the center of your life? You are the beloved adopted child of Abba and by the Spirit you share in Jesus’ perfect relationship with him. Accept your cross of life in Christ daily, and follow him wherever he goes. Let him do the heavy lifting—you enjoy the journey.
Dear Abba, thank you for including us in your perfect relationship with your Son Jesus. Thank you that by the Spirit, we participate in Christ’s perfected humanity. What a blessing that it is all up to him and not all up to us! Enable us this day, and each day, to lay down all our human efforts at righteousness and surrender fully to dependency upon Christ alone. Enable us to establish healthy relationships, keeping Christ at the center of our lives. Grant us the grace to yield control completely to you, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:27 NASB
By Linda Rex
For whatever reason, probably mostly due to the family dynamics and church legalism I grew up in, I struggled for years with a deep sense of being unwanted and unloved. My personal history has been filled with the struggle to fill these empty places—as many others around me have struggled as well. This journey often led me into unhealthy relationships or situations, though I will be the first to admit that God graciously kept me safe so many times when I deserved painful consequences for my choices.
I was born to two parents who cared deeply about God and wanted to live their lives according to what they understood God required of them. They were careful about what they ate, believing they needed to keep the old covenant commands regarding clean and unclean meats, and that as caregivers for the temple of the Spirit, their bodies, they needed to only eat the healthiest, organic foods and drink the cleanest water. Part of this concern about health led them to choosing to give birth to me at home with the assistance of a midwife.
The facts of my birth, though, were that I was a breech birth—a long and difficult process that the doctor had to help with. Mom really struggled and was in grave danger during the process. I was eventually born, with the umbilical cord rapped around my neck and my body blue from lack of oxygen. My dad told me years later that I was laid aside so they could tend to my mom—I was not expected to live.
I think sometimes we live our lives as though we are babies God has tossed aside and given up on. We somehow believe God has his attention elsewhere, with more important things to tend to than us. We impute to God some indifference or coldness which is not in his heart at all.
In fact, our view of God and ourselves very often reflects the important relationships in our lives. If our parents were indifferent or cold, we may believe God is indifferent and cold. If our parents were controlling and had unreasonable expectations for us, we may believe God expects more from us that we could ever give, so why even try? In our refusal to be controlled, we may give ourselves over to substances and/or relationships which eventually begin to control us.
Our experiences as children and teens impact us in greater ways than we often realize. The ridicule we experience about our clothes or poverty may drive for years our determination to never be considered less than ever again, and so we become successful, well-to-do adults. The loneliness we felt as an isolated, unloved child may drive us to be a social butterfly who never wishes to be alone or without a partner—even though many of our relationships may be shallow and transient, at least we’re not abandoned or isolated.
What we believe to be true about ourselves often works at such a deep level within our soul that unless we take the time and make the effort to examine these things, our brokenness can become something which sabotages or undermines whatever good may be happening in our lives. In Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, the authors explain how these wounds from the past may drive us to be successful and effective adults, but if they do not find healing within the reality of our new life in Jesus Christ, they will trip us up or cause us to have a major failure later in life. (1)
Many leaders today, both secular and Christian, are reaping the consequences of not dealing with the truth of their brokenness and need for redemption. We need to accept the reality that we are broken people with flaws and wounds. We are utterly dependent upon Jesus to redeem, restore, and renew us. Every moment of every day, we need his transforming power at work in us and in our lives. We need to not be afraid to do the hard work of looking inside and allowing ourselves to be the needy, hurting, and broken people we really are, because God loves us and has already redeemed and forgiven us.
Remember that baby, laid aside so the doctor could attend my mom? A few years ago, I had a dream that was so incredibly vivid I have been unable to forget it. In the dream, the baby I was laid there alone and forgotten. But all at once, I saw this man there. He was loving, kind, and compassionate, like a heavenly Father or a gentle Savior. He walked over to the abandoned, forsaken baby, and picked it up and held it. Broken, but beloved. Set aside, but chosen. Given up on, but believed in and held.
In spite of what we may believe about ourselves, and in spite of what others may believe about us or say about us, the truth is, we are loved. We are chosen. We are held. Broken we may be—but God determined before we were even born that we were his and would be his forever. And he never breaks his promises, for he is a faithful, loving Abba, a tender-hearted Dad, a loving Father. You are his, and he is yours. Both now and forever.
Thank you, Abba, that even though we may believe we are forgotten, forsaken, and unloved, we are in reality remembered, held, and beloved. Remind us again, Holy Spirit, of who we are and that we share in Jesus’ perfect relationship with our heavenly Father. Give us courage to face our brokenness and to bring it to you, Abba, that we may be healed, restored, and renewed, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Yes, you have been with me from birth; from my mother’s womb you have cared for me. No wonder I am always praising you!” Psalm 71:6
(1) McIntosh, Gary L. and Rima, Sr., Samuel D., Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: The Paradox of Personal Dysfunction. Grand Rapids, MI (Baker Books, 1997).
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
By Linda Rex
One of the Bible characters I admired most when I was younger was Daniel. I was impressed by the way even though he was overwhelmed with adverse circumstances throughout his life, he still came out on top. His devotion to God in the face of an anti-God culture has always been inspiring to me.
In his day, tyrants and despots ruled the known world. They believed they could move people about like pawns on a chess board (Sound like anyone we know today?). When Judah was conquered by Babylon, many of the people were carried away from their homes and taken to a new location. Daniel, a child of Israelite nobility, was along with others like himself, taken away from his country and family and placed in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace.
Now, true, Daniel was given the opportunity for three years to learn things many other people never had the privilege of learning. He was offered the finest of foods and wines and was being prepared to enter the king’s service. These were unimagined opportunities which no doubt other people longed for, but he had to pay a high price—giving up his nation, his people, and his God.
From the beginning, though, Daniel determined he would not sacrifice his personhood or his faith in God for the sake of this ruler and his political ambitions. He first risked the wrath of the king by asking to alter his diet to match the humble requirements of his faith—and was given permission to make the change. Throughout his life he came up against the simple question, do I do what is politically expedient and participate in evil plans, or do I stand for what is true and just, and do what I believe my God says I am to do?
The unique thing about Daniel is that he understood what his ruler did not fully understand—there is a God, and he is Lord of all. When he was a young child, he was forcibly removed from his family, taken to a new land, and put into a new environment. He had no control over what was done to him during this whole experience. But he did have faith in the God who did have control over it all, that he would work it out in the end for his best. And God did orchestrate Daniel’s life in amazing ways, allowing him and his Jewish companions to participate in bearing witness to the Babylonians about who God was.
We as human beings are often very arrogant. We presume to make decisions and to assume control of things in this world, acting as though we are in total control of the outcome. We have managed our world so well, with our technology and other advancements, that we feel we don’t need a God—God must just be a figment of our imagination. For centuries and even millennia the cry has been, “There is no God.” In this post-Christian culture, believing in God or in the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ is seen as a liability, a problem which creates trouble and bad feelings between people, not as a precious gift which creates healing and unity.
Sometimes leaders or business owners, especially here in the Bible belt, will use Christianity as the means by which they gain the trust of their constituents or customers. You may walk into a business which has a Bible verse prominently displayed on the wall above the counter, expecting to be treated honestly and justly. But beware—what is hung on the wall may have nothing to do with how they do business.
The problem is, when people rule themselves and others in such a way that God is set aside and replaced by dogmas or creeds of their own making, we end up with rulers like Nebuchadnezzar or Hitler. Hitler even went to the point he reconstructed the Bible to fit his agenda and reorganized the German church to fit in with his ambitions and prejudices. And, sadly, many people followed him and accepted his rule, not willing to stand against the evil he perpetrated.
The one who leads and does not acknowledge the living Lord will in the end answer to God for his or her decisions. Even Nebuchadnezzar had to deal with God, spending seven years in insanity before he humbled himself enough to acknowledge the authority of God in the world. Decisions leaders make are held to a high standard by God, because they affect the lives of many people—people who are unable to defend or protect themselves from a powerful government or leader. God will and does hold them accountable for the harm they perpetrate on innocent people and children.
The lives of those who are victims of the evil and/or injustice of such a leader will be redeemed and restored as they trust in the love and faithfulness of God. The story of Daniel reminds us there are ultimately no lost children. God has his hand on the lives and futures of each and every person who walks this earth. Whoever may be in power and whatever decisions they may make will ultimately be made subject to the will and purposes of our Almighty God who seeks our best, and who loves us so completely he was willing to sacrifice what he held most dear—his own unique Son.
In Christ, each and every person has hope. The Jesus who held children in his lap and blessed them is not indifferent to the suffering they have been subjected to in being torn from their families and homeland. They are intimately known and loved by our Abba, who knew them before the creation of the world and counted them as his very own in his Son, and he holds them in the midst of their trials and struggles.
As believers, we have a responsibility to speak up on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, and to provide hospitality and welcome to those who are far from home. We are to show mercy, do justly, and walk humbly before the God who created us and redeemed us. These are simple, and yet very difficult things to do, especially in the midst of a culture which seems to have opposing values. And yet, we continue to participate in our Abba’s love and Christ’s redeeming grace by the Spirit as we reach out to provide healing, help, and support to those who have lost home or family.
And we assume responsibility for our leadership of this country as we vote, participate in community leadership, and reflect the light of Jesus in the areas in which we live. And we never cease to pray not only for those who have lost home and family, but also for our leaders. We pray for those who are in positions of responsibility, that we can live at peace and in unity with one another and continue to freely share the good news of Abba’s love and grace expressed to us in the gift of his Son Jesus Christ.
Thank you, Abba, for your faithful love and the grace you have shown us in Jesus. We know you love each and every child and adult, no matter who they are. You hold each of us in your loving hands, whether we are lost or we are found, whether we have been stolen away or we are safe at home with our families. God, please remember those who are mourning the lost of their home and family this day—comfort them and keep your promise to place the lonely in loving families and homes. Lord, your justice is perfect and restorative—judge our leaders and cause them to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before you, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service. Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.” Daniel 1:1-6 NASB
By Linda Rex
Here I am in palm-tree laden Orlando, Florida where water and sunbathers can be found just about anywhere. The beauty of fellowship between people of a multitude of nations and backgrounds can be seen and experienced at this gathering I am attending of Grace Communion International.
Yesterday I was in a workshop session, and a pastor from Bermuda introduced himself to me. I ate breakfast this morning with people from California and West Virginia, while yesterday had breakfast with a friend from Wisconsin. I have lost track of all the places the people I have talked with have been from—Canada, Wyoming, Illinois, places in Africa, Europe and even Asia.
I have seen classmates from my elementary school, college, and Grace Communion Seminary where I finished my master’s degree. I have listened to and seen young people from Florida and elsewhere share their heart for Jesus through music and art, and a lovely lady from the Carolinas share the love of God in Christ through a devotional.
What is so beautiful to watch is the way people from clear across the world from each other will embrace and with excited voices share with their delight in seeing one another. Yesterday we watched videos and looked at pictures of the ministry which is being done now in Africa, and today we will learn about other work God is doing in this world to bring healing, renewal and grace to people’s lives.
As I sat in the rear of the room (I have sensitive ears), I bore witness to this wonderful sight of a wide variety of people all worshiping together, and participating in the joy of the Lord through praise. The presence of God in the Spirit was very near, as I could sense Abba’s delight in the praises of his people in which we participate with Jesus in giving.
Indeed, if there were a picture of the perichoretic life of God with his people, this would be as close as we can get to it in this life. To me, this is what God has in mind for all of us—to love God and love one another deeply and whole-heartedly, as equals yet uniquely ourselves in a unity and harmony of the grace and love of Abba, Jesus and the Spirit. All of life is centered in Christ and is lived in worship and praise to our Creator and Redeemer. Our sharing in Christ by the Spirit and with one another demonstrates to all those around us we are God’s beloved children.
Yes, as God has shown me, we have our struggles to live in the truth of this love and grace. We rub up against one another in our everyday life in ways which can cause irritation, frustration and even anger. But if we are open to it, God can use these situations and experiences to refine us and heal us and transform us. The Spirit, when we respond to his leading and prompting can use these conflicts to actually build stronger, healthier and more real bonds between us. As we grow up in Christ, we become more and more bound together in a oneness which can only be divine in its origin and reality.
As I listened to Cathy Deddo speak this morning, I was reminded again all our lives are held in the midst of this relationship with God in Christ, and we awaken each new day in the reality we are fully and necessarily dependent upon God for everything. And our purpose here on earth is to point one another to, and to share in the truth of, this reality—we are Christ’s and he is ours. Our life, truly and in its entirety, is in him in and by his Spirit, and not in anything else.
This day of grace, which through Jesus is ours, is a day of joy, peace, and fellowship through the Holy Spirit. May we all enjoy every one of the blessings of life in Christ Jesus by responding to this work of harmony, oneness and unity the Spirit is calling us into to be lived out both now and forever in the presence of Abba, Jesus and the Spirit. Thank you, Jesus, that in you, all this is real and possible by your Spirit.
Dearest Abba, thank you. Thank you for all you’ve done particularly in our fellowship to bring healing, renewal and growth in spite of, rather in the midst of, our failures, struggles and losses. May you finish the marvelous thing you are doing in Grace Communion International and through us in the world around us, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“…that they may be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. …I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” John 17:21, 23 NASB
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
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
by Linda Rex
Over the years I have had to learn the difficult lesson that sometimes it pays better to stop being so nice to people. Being nice can actually make things more difficult and painful rather than creating a place of safety and healing for those involved. In fact, being nice can actually cause a dangerous situation to continue which needs to be made right.
But being nice isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself, right? God would want us to be nice people wouldn’t he? Isn’t God always a nice God?
And being nice can seem like the Christian thing to do. If someone is a follower of Christ, they will always be nice, right? They will never be mean or unkind. Jesus was always nice, going around healing people and helping people when he lived on earth, wasn’t he? Or was he?
What about when we are parenting our kids? We may want to be a good parent, so we are always kind, and thoughtful, and generous to our kids. We may give them everything they want, and never say anything to correct them, thinking we are being a good parent by doing so. When they get in trouble in school, we may take their side instead of allowing them to experience the painful consequences of bad behavior. But when we do this is it really the most loving and best thing we can do for them?
Parents may find it very difficult to correct their children and to hold them accountable—it just feels heartless to make a child experience the consequences of their bad choices. Putting limits on a child, and enforcing them, and dealing with the accompanying tears and frustration is not a task for the faint of heart. It’s tough being a parent sometimes.
And it may appear that when a person speaks difficult and painful truth, they are being cruel and heartless, when actually they are doing their best to make a bad situation better. Everyone needs someone in their life who won’t just be nice, but who will speak the truth in love.
If you have a friend who will never tell you the truth about your hurtful behavior, are they truly your friend? If your friend is so busy being nice to you they don’t tell you the truth about how insulting and rude you were to someone the other day, are they really doing what is best for you? Are they really loving you with God’s love?
And what about God’s love? We’re all okay with God being a nice God, giving us so many things, and being good to us, as long as he never makes any demands of us and never tells us when we are wrong. We are happy to have a nice God, but not a God who has the right, and the responsibility, to correct us, and to guide and teach us. As long as God stays on his side of the universe and leaves us alone, but makes sure our life is happy and blessed, we like God.
But I’m not so sure God is a nice God. I’m more inclined to believe God is a loving, compassionate God who has a passion for his children becoming the beautiful, Christlike creatures he initially created us to be. God’s heart toward us is not that our life be easy and convenient, but that we grow up into the fullness of the image of God we were created to bear.
I tend to believe God isn’t as concerned with keeping us happy as he is helping us to be transformed into the image of his Son. Sometimes the process we must go through includes difficulty and pain and suffering. We experience the consequences of our behavior, our words and our choices, and we experience the consequences of the things other people say and do. We experience life in a broken world full of broken people, and this is the crucible in which God forms us into new creatures.
I am a firm believer, though, that there is nothing we go through in this life which God cannot redeem or restore, when and as he so chooses. Those unjust and hurtful things people have done to us or said to us over the years are not ignored by God. In his own time and way, he works to make everything right in the end. In Christ who became sin for us, he takes all these things and redeems them, transforming them into a means for accomplishing his Christ-like perfection in our character and way of being.
We can participate in this process of renewal and restoration by allowing God to use our brokenness and pain as a means of helping others to heal and be restored. We respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives to heal us and comfort us, and then we turn to others who are suffering and in pain, and share with them the gift which God has given us.
Sometimes healing requires the painful process of removing what is causing the pain—surgery is sometimes necessary in order for healing to occur. This can be true even with regards to our emotional pain. What we do not deal with, we carry around with us, and it often causes difficulty for those around us. So we need to own our stuff, and face it, and get help with it if need be. This is why we have counselors and other people God has gifted to help us with emotional, mental and spiritual struggles and wounds. These are people who will tell us the difficult things we need to hear, while listening to the horrendous things we need to say.
In other words, we need people in our lives who aren’t so much interested in being nice as they are interested in helping us be whole. We need friends or companions on our journey through life who are real, genuine, honest and compassionate. We don’t need people who are nice all the time, but rather who are willing to take the risk of speaking the truth in love, and standing by us when life gets tough. And not only do we want to have these types of people in our lives, but these are the kind of people God is calling us to be.
As parents, we can be people who are more interested in our children growing up to be honest, faithful, compassionate, and genuine people, than keeping them happy and not ever disappointing them. As parents, we can allow our children to suffer, to grieve, and to struggle, while at the same time, helping them to bear up under what they are not able to bear on their own. We can encourage them to take risks rather than taking all their risks for them in their place. We can do things alongside them in such a way that eventually they are able to do them on their own without our help—and this may mean allowing them to struggle and fall down in the process.
In other words, we will all be healthier people, with healthier friends and families, if we would stop being so nice and start being truly loving. We are able to do this because this is the nature of God in us—the God who is so genuinely loving he was willing to join us in our mess and become one of us. This God who lives in us by his Spirit is the God who confronted evil and sin in sinful man by taking our broken humanity upon himself and redeeming it. God was too nice to be nice to us—he became sin for us so we could become the righteousness of God in him.
This God by the Spirit tells us what it looks like to live in true spiritual community. He tells us to avoid living in ways which are hurtful to others, and names what those are in his Word. He by the Spirit enables us to have the courage to speak the truth in difficult situations, and to handle the meltdown which occurs when we directly address unhealthy behaviors and words. This God, who may not always seem to be nice is the God who is Christ in us, and who enables us to stop being nice and to start being truly loving and compassionate in how we live and what we say.
Thank you, God, for not being nice to us—for not allowing us to continue in our broken and unhealthy ways of living and being. Thank you for joining us in our humanity, and forging for us a new humanity which reflects your divine life and love. Grant us the grace to respond to your transforming work and to stop being nice, and start being truly loving and giving–in your name, Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” 1 Jn 4:7–9 NASB
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