By Linda Rex
This morning one of the members, Pat, and I were outside painting a sign at the church. The sun was slowly rising and the intensity of its heat was increasing as we worked to finish our project. Several people who live in the neighborhood passed by, either jogging or walking their dogs, and we said hello. Nearly all of them were friendly and responded cordially. It really was a pleasant day to be in the neighborhood.
I have been a pastor with Good News Fellowship for just about five years now, and this neighborhood has changed tremendously within that short period of time. A common sight are houses being torn down and new, multiple dwellings being put in their place. The neighborhood is in the midst of a gentrification process, yet in spite of all this change, neighbors are starting to get to know one another and look out for one another. And they are vocal about their desire to create and live in a safe, friendly community.
It’s good to see and experience the feeling of community growing around us. This neighborhood has only begun to feel that way to me within the last year or two. Perhaps the neighborhood seems different partly because I am actually in the neighborhood involved in some activity on some day other than Sunday morning or Wednesday evening. And I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the people who live on the street the church is located on, to learn their names and a little bit about them through the neighborhood association and community activities.
We have a few church neighbors who come over and participate in our weekly Community Café free meal. But these are not the neighbors I saw last night or this morning as we worked on the sign. I have met a few of these neighbors at community events or on the street, but not within our church doors. A few may attend other churches in the Nashville community, but most are uninterested in, and even opposed to, organized Christian religion. Christianity is being viewed more and more as the cause of disharmony and disunity rather than being seen as the solution to it.
One of the conversations we find ourselves having as a pastoral team is how we have a wide variety of people we minister to and who worship with us—all races and strata of society—but none of them are from this group of young adults who are moving into the neighborhood. These are talented and educated professionals who reflect a post-Christian mindset. They are very community-minded, but want nothing to do with organized religion. And I believe they have every reason to reject it when I take into consideration everything they have heard or seen about Christians and their churches.
What I have found since I moved to the South is a strong Christian culture in the Bible Belt—even more so than what I experienced while living in the farming country of Iowa. This Christian culture has its strong points and also its drawbacks. Nowadays in our ministry to people in our community I find I’m talking with someone who already has a lengthy experience with church and the Bible, rather than with someone who is biblically illiterate or unchurched. This means in the apostle Paul’s language, when I share the gospel with this person or preach the Word of God to him or her, I am building on another person’s foundation rather than building directly upon Christ himself.
Conversations with people who are churched can be challenging. What people may believe about the Bible or God might be drawn from the teachings of various televangelists or popular authors, and need some serious reassessment due to their lack of a healthy spiritual foundation in Christ himself and his written Word. But other times, some people are so sure they are right about what they believe there is no room for the Word of God to go to work to bring about renewal and transformation. The Spirit’s efforts to heal and restore are hampered by the haphazard building which has already been done on the foundation which may or may not be Jesus Christ.
This complicates our efforts to fully proclaim the gospel of Christ, as Paul puts it. We are dependent upon the Holy Spirit to minister the word of God to those who already have been built on Christ, and also to deconstruct and rebuild those who need to be reconstructed on a healthy foundation. We are utterly dependent upon Christ and his work by the Spirit in any effort to preach the gospel of Christ to anyone, whether believer or not.
Indeed, it’s a real challenge to reach out to those who are unchurched or who are adamantly opposed to church or Christianity in any form. There is only one option left open to us sometimes and it is a good one, actually. What is left for us to do is to share God’s love with each and every person we meet in tangible ways—we begin to be good neighbors to each and every person, sharing life with them, offering them truth and grace—and sharing in word and deed what it means to live in the truth of who God is and who we are in him.
Our challenge as a church congregation is to get out of the pews and get into relationships with our church neighbors. This is an extremely difficult and uncomfortable task for some of us, but it is one which God has placed before us. Yet it is not given without his promises and his real, personal Presence in the Holy Spirit to go with us.
The early church prayed for God to confirm his Word through signs and wonders, and to extend the reach of the gospel. And Jesus, by his Spirit and with his people, did those very things. We are called to pray and to participate in Christ’s ministry to the world. We have not only because we ask not, and because we depend upon ourselves and our efforts instead of upon Christ. I would encourage those who feel the longing for Jesus to grow and heal this world and this community to pray, to ask, and to anticipate God’s generous outpouring of response.
God is not put off by a post-Christian culture. None of this is about Christianity anyway. It is all about each and every person growing up in his or her Christlikeness—of sharing the common relationship we have all been given in Christ by the Spirit with the God who made us in his image to reflect his likeness and to share his love. And our role is to participate in the process and to follow wherever Christ leads us. May we respond to his call to each of us by his Holy Spirit. There is much to be done.
Dear God, thank you for loving each and every person whether or not they know you, or love you in return. I am grateful you are not put off by our refusal to believe, but rather you continue to work unceasingly to change our hearts and minds and to bring us into deep relationship with you in Christ by your Spirit. We long for you to bring spiritual renewal and transformation to our neighborhood so each person can experience the reality of true community. Make it so, Lord, by your Spirit. Give us each the boldness and courage, as well as the opportunities, to share your Words of life and your love with our neighbors. And Holy Spirit, please confirm your Word by the signs and wonders which are appropriate in this day and age, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: ‘Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.’” Romans 15:17–21 NIV
by Linda Rex
Last 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
It seems like everywhere I turn recently, there is some new report about one of the candidates for the presidency doing or saying something which has gotten a whole lot of people upset. I realize a person who has chosen to live in the public eye is faced with this all the time. But, from where I am sitting, there seems to be a lot of mudslinging in this election.
Mudslinging is a human response to our broken humanity. When we are experiencing fear, shame or guilt for our failings as human beings, it is a whole lot easier to sling some mud at someone else than it is to admit we are imperfect and flawed and are in need of redemption. Pointing the finger at another’s flaws enables us to be free for a moment from the unpleasant experience of being exposed for who we are at our core.
But being open and transparent is what we as human beings are created for. We are designed by God to live in a fellowship of love in which each is known and accepted completely for who they are as God’s beloved child. Instead of slinging mud at one another, we are meant by God to be slinging love and grace at one another. But this doesn’t come easy for us.
Think about it. What if each candidate, instead of finding fault with his/her opponent, spent every moment they could promoting the other’s best interests, and seeking to point out their strengths and valuable experiences, and all their qualifications for the position? What if they sought to promote the success of the other person instead of seeking their own success at the expense of the other?
It’s hard to get one’s mind around, isn’t it? This isn’t how we function as Americans in the political sphere. We don’t even work this way in the business world or at home. It seems a ridiculous concept to even consider. And yet, this is the perichoretic life we were created in and for.
But there is so much more involved in what is going on today than just candidates slinging mud at one another. There is also a lot of mudslinging going on between people on all sides of this equation, the most appalling being that of between Christians.
Christians of all people ought to understand and live out the reality the Trinity teaches us that since we are beings made in the image of God to reflect his likeness, we can and should live out our uniqueness in an atmosphere of love and grace which affirms both our equality and our oneness with one another in Christ. We are the ones who should be creating an atmosphere within our society and within the political arena in which each person is appreciated and respected for their unique calling, abilities, training, education and experience, while being included in the community as an accepted and beloved equal.
Bonhoeffer was quite clear in his book “Ethics” and I have to agree with him, that the [Christian] church was not meant to dictate to society, but to influence it. It is in how we live out the truth of our inclusion in God’s life and love, our personhood as God’s beloved children, which influences society and affects politics.
As a Christian pastor, I don’t tell people who to vote for, but I do speak pointedly about the difference between the life God created for us in his Son Jesus Christ and the life our broken humanity drives us to live. We need to pay attention to this difference and live out the truth of who we are in Christ, thereby influencing transformation in our community and in our society as a whole.
Some people are called into leadership roles in our communities, cities, states, and nation. How they fulfill their roles largely depends on how well they are immersed in and living out of their connection with the Triune God of love. If they are living out of a center which is located within their broken humanity, it will be reflected in everything they say and do, promote and accomplish. And the results of leading in this way speak for themselves.
I have to say, though, every human being finds themselves in that place where he or she wants to live in the truth of who they really are, but in this broken, sinful world, it can be almost impossible to really do it day in and day out. We can only live each day and each moment in the grace God gives us in Christ. We each respond feebly and ineffectively to the Spirit’s lead, and most of the time, I would say, we don’t even realize he is leading us.
So, this leaves us all at the same place—the place Christ bought for us in his personhood as God in human flesh—the place of grace. We live as best as we can in that life of love given to us in Christ by the Holy Spirit and then we need to trust—trust that God will work all this out for the betterment of all humankind, redeeming, renewing and restoring whatever we break along the way.
The best place we can be along this journey of faith is in the everlasting arms, resting in God’s grace and love, and doing our best to participate in those things God is at work doing in this world. We can come to see what it is God has called us and gifted us to do in this world, and be busy participating in God’s mission of redemption and renewal. We can actively be building community, helping to heal the hurting, and bringing about justice for the needy, poverty-stricken, enslaved and abused.
And yes, in this next election, we can vote. We can begin the process of voting by informing ourselves, studying each candidate objectively, and learning about the issues at stake in our world today. We can pray and ask God for wisdom and insight, and for the ability to look beyond our prejudices into what it is God would like to see done in this situation.
We will each come up with a different person, a different point of view, but this does not mean we cannot come together to make a mutual decision about who to elect. We want to all bring our opinions and choices to the table, and to have a just and fair election. But then we want to place the outcome into the hands of God. For indeed, he could allow us to elect a very scary leader. It happens. But it does not change God’s ability and desire to sovereignly work out what is best in the long run for all of us collectively and individually.
God is the One who puts people in power and removes them from power. Nothing can prevent him from removing a candidate, or a president, out of the way, should he choose to do so. (Ps. 75) Nothing stands in his way, either, from using this elected individual to accomplish his purposes in the world—there are plenty of examples of this in the biblical historical record.
This is why we ultimately rest in the everlasting arms. We trust in God’s love and grace. And we go vote our conscience while leaving the results up to him.
Abba, you are a good, good Father, and you want what is best for us. Thank you for taking our broken efforts to lead and care for ourselves and turning them to accomplish your purposes in this world. Give us wisdom, insight and courage to make the best decisions possible in this election so we may choose leaders who are people of godly character, who are wise and intelligent men and women with good hearts who will lead us into paths of peace, love and grace. May you provide us with leaders who will govern us with justice and mercy and humility. Through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit, may it be so. Amen.
“It is God alone who judges; he decides who will rise and who will fall.” Psalm 75:7 NLT
by Linda Rex
One of the hazards of being a pastor, I am learning, is receiving emails from concerned people who diligently attempt to correct what I believe and teach. For the most part, the emails I have received from these people directly contradict sound theology and attempt to persuade me to believe some esoteric prophecy about the end of the world coming at a particular time in the near future. And of course, none of these things have happened as predicted in these emails.
I received one of these emails recently in which the author boldly declared a new prediction of upcoming events in the light of what occurred with the ministry and death of Herbert Armstrong. I won’t go into what he believes or predicts because it is not worth your time or mine to review it, but I was struck by his statement that with Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, Jesus is no longer the Son of Man, but is today only the Son of God.
I’m sorry to hear he believes this. It is a useful belief for him, because in his predictions, saying the Son of Man is Jesus would contradict what he believes. It does away with what he believes is going to happen in the future. Apparently, it seems to me, it is inconvenient for him to believe the risen Jesus Christ is today, both the Son of God and the Son of Man.
Personally, I feel it is very important we understand who Jesus Christ is. Understanding who he is as the Son of God and the Son of Man establishes a basis for our belief in God and who he is, and what he is doing in the world today and will do in the future. If we do not grasp who Jesus is as the God/man who delivered us from sin and death, how can we understand ourselves and who we are? How can we understand who God is, and how much he loves us and desires to have a relationship with us?
Believe me, I cannot be critical of anyone who sees this whole thing differently from me. There was a time in my life when I had no clue of the significance of Jesus being both the Son of God and the Son of Man. I don’t think I even knew what this meant. I had no idea of the fundamental nature of this belief, much less how the early church came, by the Spirit’s direction, to establish the boundaries around this doctrine.
For this reason I am very grateful for my classes at Grace Communion Seminary on the history of the church since the time of Christ. So much I had been taught as I grew up in Worldwide Church of God was not true, or at the least, very misguided. The more I learned, the more I began to see how the Spirit worked to bring the church (and no, back then it was not the Roman Catholic Church or any other specific church. It was just the universal body of believers.) into a unified understanding of the nature of God and Jesus Christ, and the central core beliefs surrounding this truth.
In one of my textbooks, “What Christians Believe: A Biblical and Historical Summary” by Johnson and Webber, the authors quote a rule of faith which appeared at the same time in various parts of the Roman Empire toward the end of the second century. I’d like to quote it here:
“[We believe] in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father.” (p128, 129)
Even back then, while there were still people who were closely related to those who had known, heard and seen Christ, there was the understanding of the humanity of Jesus continuing on after his death into a glorified humanity. It was important to the body of believers to stress this because of the Gnostic heresy which was pressing in upon them.
The authors go on to say, “The rule of faith clearly affirmed an enfleshed God. Jesus Christ, it proclaimed, is no apparition, but a true human being who lived in the flesh, died in the flesh, and rose in the flesh. In this affirmation the church made a statement that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man.” (p. 129)
This, of course, was hammered out then in greater detail as the earlier church fathers met and began to clarify just what the incarnation of Jesus Christ involved, and what occurred before and after his crucifixion and resurrection. And fundamental to this discussion was, “Who is and was Jesus Christ?” The conclusions drawn from the Chalcedon council in 451 A.D. clarified the creed, and spoke of Jesus Christ as having two natures present in one person.
Of course, there has always been some debate as to the nature of Jesus’ person—how can someone be both God and man at the same time? What does this mean? Does he only have God’s will, or does he have a human will as well?
These are all great questions and worth consideration, but we need to consider some of these things pertain to the divine mystery of God’s transcendent being. Subsequent councils discussed and hashed out many things. There were disagreements and contradictions, and errors were made. At times, believers, especially those with more naturalistic or liberal interpretations, have drifted away from this fundamental belief about Who Jesus was.
In recent years, Karl Barth challenged these views and called the church back to an understanding of God being present in Jesus Christ in his human flesh, and in this way drawing all humanity up into true relationship in his resurrection and ascension. In spite of the Gnostic and other heresies which continue to raise their heads, there are believers today who hold to the understanding that Jesus was indeed God the Word present in human flesh, who both was and is God and man, and who has not ceased to be the Son of man now that he is risen from the dead.
I believe it was Athanasius who said, “The unassumed is the unhealed.” If Jesus did not and does not bear our humanity now, as he did then, then we as human beings have no hope. I agree with Johnson and Webber who write, “We stand in the historical tradition and affirm that our Savior was fully divine, for only God can save, and we affirm that our Savior is fully human, for only that which he became in the Incarnation is saved (salvation requires one who is fully man to represent us).” (p. 146)
I worship a God who is so holy and pure and just he is able to take on our humanity and transform it into something completely new. If he had and has the capacity to take on our humanity, to “be sin” on our behalf, he has the capacity to remove our sins and to make us new, uniting us with himself in his own being as Jesus Christ, the God/man. And as Jesus himself said, “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matt. 19:6) Let’s not separate God from us as humanity, for he has joined himself to us forever in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Thank you, Father, for your great love, and your faithfulness in fulfilling your covenant with humanity and with Israel. Thank you that in Christ and by the Spirit, you took on our humanity and transformed it, and you have brought us up in Christ’s glorified humanity to participate in your divine life and love forever. Open our hearts and minds to fully grasp and receive the truth of your loving gift to us of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, who lives forever in glory with you, and your precious Spirit, by whom you dwell in us. In your Name we pray, amen.
“You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.” 1 John 3:5 NASB
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15 NASB
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB
“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” 1 John 3:2 NASB
by Linda Rex
Last evening I attended a neighborhood association meeting for the community around our Nashville church site. I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to meet and get to know our neighbors a little better and to see them at work as they join together to bring improvements to the Highland Heights neighborhood.
One of the things being impressed on my mind more and more as I build these relationships is the understanding that God often works in community. Although I would not characterize all of these people necessarily as “churchgoers”, nevertheless I see in them a sincere desire to do the right thing and to make their world a better, safer place in which to live. I see them participating in God’s love and life—his work in the world to further his kingdom life right here and right now in the midst of difficult and sometimes alarming circumstances.
The longer I have served in this neighborhood, the more God has worked to change my attitude and approach toward this community. When I first came to the Nashville area, I was overwhelmed by the urban sprawl and the impersonal way of living and being which comes with living in the big city. I was frightened by the prospect of interacting with people in the church neighborhood because the community seemed dark and dangerous. Some of the people who we sought to help seemed to bring with them chaos, dishonesty and a determined effort to use and abuse those of us who wished to help them.
Since that time I have had multiple opportunities to meet and become acquainted with people who live and work in the neighborhood surrounding our church. I have found the demographic is dynamic—it is constantly changing. And our neighborhood is in the midst of a transition which is creating its own struggles and dangers.
I have learned our neighbors want a place where they can live together in peace, where their children can play safely in the front yard, and where they can enjoy their belongings without fearing someone will come and steal them. They want to have community events where they can get together and do fun stuff like at their recent East Eggstravaganza, which provided a safe environment for kids to play, learn and have fun. They just want what we all want—to live joyfully together in peace, being able to go about our lives without concern or fear.
This sounds to me like our neighbors want to live in Christian community, although I realize they would not call it by that name. And they would not want to have anyone limit them to a “Christian” or “church” box in order to have that community. Sadly, for them, “church” and “Christian” have negative connotations, because they are perceived as a means of restricting community not creating community.
And I do not believe this is what God intends. Too often our modern Christianity here in the West has had the “us” against “them” mentality. Some are “in” while others are “out”. We fail to realize God does not work within our restrictions. I have met many people who are seeking to follow Jesus faithfully but who are disenchanted by the gracelessness and pride of the modern church, and so they do not attend church services. But they are active in creating Christian community and following Christ.
There was a time here in America where a church building was a place the community would gather, where children might be schooled, where community concerns were raised and resolved, and where the community would come together for celebrations. Not everyone was a Sunday-go-to-meeting type of person, but they knew the church building was where the people came together for the essential matters of life in their community.
Today, however, a church is seen as non-essential, as even intrusive upon a community. It was suggested last night that our neighborhood group could meet in the community center at a church since it was a quieter venue, and more conducive to gathering as a group and talking. But a valid concern was raised—wouldn’t people be put off from attending meetings by the knowledge they were being held at a church?
There was discomfort with the idea of meeting in a church building, even though we would not be meeting in the church proper, because there was this innate fear someone would try to force them into believing something or doing something they were not comfortable with. There was not a perception of the church building as being simply a community gathering place.
This whole experience has been enlightening to me. I am beginning to understand more and more why there is a disconnect between us as a church community and our neighborhood community. The two ought to be so intertwined that it is hard to see the difference. Even though they are not one and the same community, they both include participants in God’s life and love. They are both at work in their own way of furthering his kingdom work in the world.
God is at work in every person’s life, whether they know it or not. And God is at work in these community groups, calling people together to do his work in the world. We can continue to isolate ourselves and create unnecessary divisions between “us” and “them”, or we can participate in his work to create harmony and unity, and to bring healing, health and wholeness to a broken world.
Our little church community in Nashville has been serving the people of their neighborhood for many years with the weekly lunch we serve at our Community Café. We have been striving to build healthy relationships with the people we meet, to serve and pray for them at this event every Sunday. This is an effort to serve our neighbors—and in my mind is very much a way exclusive of our worship services in which we hold “church” every week. We participate in God’s work in the neighborhood in this way.
But there are also other ways in which we can stop being “churchy” and start being good neighbors. We can become a community center where people can gather for fun and fellowship. We can begin to participate in community events and help to keep our neighborhood safe and clean. We can help tend to the needy, poor, the widow(er)s and orphans. There is much to be done when it comes to participating in God’s work in our neighborhood.
Whether or not people become members of our church or become Christians as a part of this process, in my mind, is irrelevant. That’s God’s call and is up to him whether or not that occurs—such things are a work of his Spirit. What matters most is we are being what God created us to be, his children living in harmony, unity, in our own diverse manner as equals in a loving, compassionate community. As we serve one another in love, following Christ wherever he leads us, we will find ourselves and our community transformed. May we be diligent in so doing.
Abba, thank you for all the brothers and sisters you have given us in Christ your Son and by your Spirit. Change our minds and hearts so we will begin to include others in our life of fellowship, and we will begin to participate more fully in what you are doing in this world to create your community which reflects the oneness, diversity and equality and love in your being as God. In your Name we pray. Amen.
“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 17:23
by Linda Rex
Yesterday I was watching with interest the speech given by Pope Francis to Congress. I was impressed by his finesse in taking the stories of four Americans and drawing from them positive principles by which our leaders and our people could move forward into the uncertain future.
As he was speaking, someone said to me, “Well, there’s our enemy.” It took me aback for a moment, but then I remembered how for centuries some Protestants have seen the pope and the Roman Catholic church as being exactly that—as being the anti-Christ spoken about in the Bible. Of course, this requires a misinterpretation of Scripture, but it has been assumed to be true by many and is still believed to be so by some today.
I’m a little ashamed to say today that I used to be one of those people who believed the pope and the Roman Catholic Church were the enemy of all that is truly Christian. This was born out of ignorance and false teaching I had adopted as a child. But God was not content to leave me in my ignorance.
One of the first things he did was to place me in a relationship in high school where I grew to know and respect a teen who was the daughter of Polish immigrants. She had attended Catholic school in her youth and was a devout believer. She had a crucifix on the door to her room and she would cross herself every time she passed it to go in and out. I saw a devotion to Christ that was different from mine but equally, or perhaps even more, genuine. Although I had other friends in school who were Catholic, she left an impression on me that was not easily forgotten.
As time passed, I had a family member who married someone who was Catholic. I still remember the beautiful ceremony in her church. I could feel the presence and power of God there in a way that amazed me. The song that invited the believers to communion with Christ was inspiring and captured my heart. God was slowly and surely destroying the arrogance in me that kept me believing my faith was superior to and more real than these Catholic believers.
In the years since then, God placed me in the position of coming to know more and more people of the Catholic faith. Many of them were devout, and some were actively pursuing a relationship with Jesus Christ. Sure, there were an equal number who were merely nominal Christians, whose faith was just something they adopted as part of their family heritage. But what God did over the years was to bring me to a repentance, a change in my mind and heart and in my beliefs, about the Roman Catholic Church and its followers.
The way God changed my mind and heart was by placing me in relationships with people in which I was forced to reevaluate what I believed and why I believed it. I could have been stubborn and refused to acknowledge and repent of my prejudice. But my personal integrity would not allow me to do that. The truth was—I was wrong—and I needed to admit it and change accordingly.
I have found as time has gone by that God keeps me in a continual state of needing to reevaluate, repent and change when it comes to what I believe about certain people, their beliefs and cultures.
Technology is making our world smaller by bringing together people and cultures that would probably otherwise never interact. We are being forced to build relationships with people of all faiths and political, economic backgrounds. We are being forced to reevaluate what we believe about them and how we should interact with them.
This is actually a good thing. Because one day, in our future, lies a time when all peoples of all nations and all cultures will be joined together in a world that has no political, religious, cultural boundaries. In this place, what will matter most will not be what clothes we wear, how much money we make, or what kind of foods we prefer to eat. Rather what will really matter will be our relationships with one another and with God. What will really count is how well we love and care for one another.
This is why Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” To have these heavenly values is more important than seeking the earthly values that are transitory and passing. We look beyond the human designations that separate us into the heavenly qualities that unite us. We are all one in Jesus Christ—he is our humanity—our unity, our equality, our diversity. He joins us together in such a way that all these other things we count as important become truly insignificant in the long run.
Our challenge is to remain in an attitude of a willingness to see and admit to our prejudices, and to consciously make an effort to change when we see we are wrong. When we respond to the work of the Holy Spirit as he brings us together with others we may feel uncomfortable with, we will find an amazing harmony and healing that can only be explained as divine.
God wants his children to be joined together with him in Christ, and when we respond to that, miracles happen in our relationships. We experience his divine life and love in a multitude of ways as we yield to the Spirit’s work to bind us all together as one in Christ. May we always respond in faithful obedience to him.
Thank you, God, for the amazing ways you bring healing and restoration in our broken relationships. Grant each of us the heart and mind to repent of our prejudices and to open ourselves to making room for others in the divine fellowship. We have so far to go! May we always turn to you for the love and grace we need so that we may love and forgive others. In Jesus’ name and by your Spirit. Amen.
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33 NASB
by Linda Rex
My care of my mother during her end of life is teaching me to value simple things like taking another breath, being able to take care of my own personal needs, and being able to have coherent thoughts and express them. And I see how God is in the midst of even these mundane, yet essential, parts of life.
It’s amazing how the simple things in life have such powerful lessons for us as human beings. Take, for example, a breath of fresh air. We breathe for the most part without even knowing we are doing it.
If we were to take a moment and consciously breathe in and out, we would notice not only the sound we make while doing it, but also the movement in our body. This is an essential event that happens every moment of our lives and our body, unless it is ill, just seems to know when and how to breathe so we can continue to live. It knows when it is not getting air and reacts in a way that tries to ensure than another breath is taken before it’s too late.
When God breathed life into Adam, he set a whole stream of things into motion that scientists today are still trying to figure out. The human body, with its ability to metabolize oxygen from the air around it, is an amazing piece of architecture. And it’s so much more than that. Each human being is a soul.
As a soul, there is a life that goes beyond the life we see and experience as we take a breath in and out. This life transcends the physical. There’s a spiritual element, something that involves the heart and mind, the reason and the emotions. Something within us connects us to one another, and to a life that is other than our humanity. We find ourselves considering such things as life beyond death.
God created us for relationship—it’s built into us. We connect with others and they connect with us. We connect with God, because he made us, and he took on our humanity in Christ and intimately connected us with him. Connections between human beings and between humans and God are a natural part of our existence.
Yet, some of us find ourselves resisting relationships, or being unable to have healthy ones. We may shut people out, or close ourselves off from building relationships with other people for many reasons. When we do this, we are actually cutting ourselves off from God’s divine Breath—preventing our spiritual lungs from breathing full breaths of air.
It is in relationships that God moves to heal, transform and grow us as individuals. Our encounters with other people provide the means by which the Holy Spirit tends to our hearts. Our souls or inner beings grow thirsty, twisted and hard when we do not have healthy, nurturing relationships in our lives. So much mental and emotional ill health comes from having grown up in families or circumstances where relationships were unhealthy and did not reflect the divine life and love.
Spiritual community among believers should be a place where God’s love and life are seen and experienced in an ongoing way. The gathering of God’s people should be a place where the breath of God renews, refreshes and cleanses people. It should not be a place that is abusive, cold, rigid, hard and condemning. Rather, it should be clear that the Holy Spirit is breathing life into all who are gathered there for fellowship and worship.
Those who have relationships with believers ought to experience this same invigorating, life-renewing love. A real breathing in of God’s life and love ought to occur when someone encounters a follower of Christ. They should walk away encouraged, blessed, renewed and comforted.
This breathing in and breathing out of God’s love and life ought to be for each of us as natural as our breathing in and out of the air around us. In God, we live and move and have our being, Paul wrote. So not only is our breathing of air an essential part of our humanity, so is our breathing in and out of God’s love and life by the Spirit.
We are connected at such a deep level with God and each person around us, that sharing God’s love and life with others should be as natural as the next breath we take—we shouldn’t have to struggle with being able to do it—it’s a part of who we are in Christ.
So as we ask God’s Spirit to awaken Christ within us and to make us more aware of the life and love we are already participating in through him, maybe we can begin to see that following Christ and loving others is just simply being ourselves. Caring for one another’s needs, comforting one another in the midst of our hurts, and having compassion for the hurting are just a natural part of our being—it’s who we really are. Really, it’s just as simple as breathing in and breathing out.
Dear God, thank you for each breath I take today. May I live with you and others in such a way that your Spirit breathes life and love moment by moment into all my relationships. Through Jesus our Lord, amen.
“And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” John 20:22 NASB