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The Death and Renewal of Community

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by Linda Rex

This week I was reading an article about the recent upswing in homicides which has been happening in our church neighborhood. Although it’s hard to know exactly what is sparking this upswing in these individual events which don’t seem to have any tie to one another, the article made an interesting observation: “…most shootings are not completely random. If you look closely, they’re often fallout of interpersonal conflict that can go back and forth over months or even years.” ( See http://nashvillepublicradio.org/post/homicides-spike-east-nashville-precinct-its-commander-looks-answers#stream/0 )

Everywhere I look I am beginning to see and sense a deep sense of rage underlying people’s response to politics, relationships, and even stopping too long at a red light. It seems to me that we are growing into a generation who do not know how to have healthy relationships or how to handle conflict in healthy ways. It’s so much easier to defriend someone on Facebook than to have a difficult conversation in which healthy limits are set and respected by each person involved.

But there is a reality we cannot ignore and it is that in spite of all our efforts to create an orderly, safe society, we cannot create one by simply legislating right behavior and enforcing laws. I believe there is a fundamental disconnect between our desire to be free individuals who can make our own choices and live our own agenda, and the reality of living in community. This is because living in loving, respectful community requires a change in our being, not just in our doing. And that is the issue.

We have, whether we want to admit it or not, an inner drive to be our own masters and in control of what we do and don’t do. We also want to be free to live uninhibited by rules or the control of another human being—unless of course, giving that control over to another person allows us to feel in control of our safety and peace. We want to be free to do what we want, when we want, how we want, without God (if we believe there is one) or anyone else telling us otherwise.

The problem with this type of freedom and control is, we live in a world with millions of other people who also have this same desire for freedom and control. When one person’s desires and plans clash with another’s—we have conflict. When one group’s agenda clashes with another group’s agenda, we end up with war. And this is not what we were created for.

Such an intense desire to be free and rulers over our own lives is not necessarily an evil thing in and of itself. In many ways it is a reflection of the God in whose image we were created. God has given us this world and our lives to be responsible for—they are ours to care for, use responsibly, and to share with others. And we need to be doing those things. And God, in his being, is fully and completely free. We reflect that.

But we need to realize God’s freedom is not the type of freedom we believe we were created with and for. This is a different kind of freedom from just doing what you want, when you want, and how you want. God’s freedom is held within his real existence as a Being who lives in other-centered love. The Word of God who came into our human flesh revealed to us a God who is Father, Son and Spirit and who lives in a relationship of equality, diversity and unity which the church fathers would later call circumincession or perichoresis.

These are interesting terms. The first one, circumincession, was used to express an ongoing movement of pouring out from one into another and receiving in return. If we were to give this some consideration, we would realize we as human beings, made in the image of this God, were designed to be other-centered persons who live in a constant existence in which we pour out from ourselves into others so we may receive that which is poured out into us. This constant pouring out and receiving is a movement which exists within true loving community.

A misguided sense of personal freedom shortcircuits true community. When a person turns away from those around them and seeks only to receive and not to give, this kills healthy relationship. The natural give and take which should occur between people cannot because there are walls between them, or there is abuse, neglect, indifference—you name it. We do all these things to one another because we are broken. And we find ourselves unable or unwilling to live together with others in the mutual submission, the compassion and understanding, and the mutual giving and receiving we were created for.

In my opinion, we do not need more rules to live by. Rules just create in us a desire to break them or to beat other people over the heads with them. We don’t need more legislators or enforcers. What we need is to realize and live out the truth of what God meant for us to be from the beginning. We need a deep realization of who we are, and whose image we were created to reflect, and to begin to live out of this center or core in our being.

God created us with good hearts, to live in loving relationship—this is the truth of our being. When we don’t live in this way, we are miserable and we make everyone around us miserable too. It seems we choose to live in misery, and God knew that wasn’t what we were created for. So he came himself in Jesus and allowed us to dump on him all the rage and evil of our broken humanity. And in doing so, he restored our broken humanity.

God’s purpose in allowing what we did to Jesus was to provide each one of us with the capacity for true humanity again. God gives us through his Son Jesus and by his Spirit what we really need—a change of heart and mind. We need a change of being which will drive a change in our doing. We need to be transformed by grace. So God in Jesus Christ made a way.

When a person comes to themselves—i.e. realizes they are not living as they were created by God to live, and not being the person they were created by God to be—it is a humbling experience. And I think God intends us to come to this place over and over in our lives, not so we can beat ourselves up, but so that we will face our need for him to heal, transform and renew us, and so we will invite him to enter in and begin to create in us anew the capacity for true, healthy relationship with God and with the people in our lives.

This is the whole purpose of the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. The Spirit creates true community among all people, because all people have been included in Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. The Spirit can be resisted, rejected, and even quenched, but this gentle Dove works diligently to resolve differences, to renew relationships and to heal wounded hearts. The Spirit can be invited to stay or be ignored. Either way, the Spirit is still present and at work—it is our experience of God’s presence which is unfelt or felt.

When we open ourselves to the Spirit’s work, we experience the reality that Christ is here in the midst of us, drawing each and every one us together into loving community. I am more and more convinced each day what we really need in our neighborhood, and throughout our world, is for God by his Spirit to breathe new life into each of us.

Darkness and evil will continue to resist the Spirit of life and truth. But in time Light will drives away the darkness, for darkness is merely the absence of light. Those who live and walk in the Light of God’s love and grace need to be willing to share in the sufferings of Jesus—for truth and grace are always resisted in some way. May we have the strength and wisdom to continue to demonstrate in a real way in spite of resistance and opposition what it means to live in loving community, and to suffer for the sake of love and grace, through Jesus our Lord, and by his Spirit.

Abba, thank you for the gift of your love, truth and grace. Thank you for rescuing us from evil, sin and death through your Son Jesus, and for sending us your Spirit so we could begin to recognize and experience true community. We pray you will breathe your Life into our neighborhood and indeed our world so we can live once again in the love and fellowship we were created for. Drive out the darkness with your Light. Enable us to experience the truth of the perichoretic life we were created for. In your Name Jesus we pray. Amen.

“You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Eph 4:20–24 NASB

When Life is Too Much

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by Linda Rex

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find God brings us right back to a place we have been with him before so we can see the same thing over again in a new way. Let me explain.

Many years ago, when God was rearranging my head and heart with regards to what I believed about him, I went on a search to learn all I could about living in relationship with the Holy Spirit. You see, I had been taught most of my life to that point that the Holy Spirit was merely the power of God or what God was made out of. The Holy Spirit was an essence, a thing, but most certainly not a Person, for that would mean I would have to believe in the Trinity, which I (misinformed as I was) believed was a pagan belief.

But coming to know the Holy Spirit as the Person he/she/it really was blew my mind, and rearranged everything I knew about God and myself. And all of a sudden, I began to see I was missing one of the most important things a person could know about life and how to live it—that I am beloved, I am never alone, and God is living within me in the Person and Presence of the Holy Spirit, transforming me from the inside out. And this Person is Someone I can (and should) interact with, follow, obey and worship.

To go through life struggling, powerless over sin, self and Satan, is not the desire of our heavenly Father. This is not what he created us for. Jesus didn’t come just to leave us as orphans. No, he sent the Paraclete, the other Helper like himself, so we could and would participate in the divine relations between the Father, Son and Spirit, and come to see and believe the truth about who God is and who we are in him.

Sometimes God allows life to get difficult and complicated. Sometimes he calls us into places of ministry and renewal which are beyond our ability to handle. And our human tendency is to either throw up our hands in defeat, or just knuckle under and do the best we can in the situation. But neither of these things are what God wants us to do in these situations, because we would be missing out on God’s best.

Our solution to life’s problems, challenges and opportunities too often is a new, well laid out plan or program, which we implement to the best of our ability in the situation we are facing. Now, I am not knocking well laid out plans or effective scaffolds we can work within. What I am pointing out, though, is this human tendency to be self-reliant rather than dependent upon God. I think being faced with more than we can handle is an opportunity to humble ourselves and acknowledge the reality we need Someone beyond ourselves to save us and help us.

Relationally, it is really difficult to live in relationship with someone who speaks and acts as though we are unimportant and unnecessary to their existence. It is really hard to parent a child or care for another person who believes they can do everything on their own when they don’t have a clue as to what they are doing—it’s so painful to watch them suffer the consequences of their stubborn willfulness and independence, and to not be allowed to guide and help them. But we put God through this all the time.

Indeed, in the wisdom of God, Abba has brought me again to the place he brought me many years ago—a place he brings me to a lot. This is the place where he brings all of us over and over again—the place where we must come to see, believe and admit, we are powerless over sin, self, Satan, and all those things in life we think we are capable of controlling or feel we are responsible for. We need to see, believe, and confess the truth—we need Someone beyond ourselves to intervene, and to empower us, to heal us, and to deliver us.

And this, I believe, is what the apostle Paul was talking about when he said it is in our weakness we are strongest. It is the place of emptiness and weakness where God pours in—not so we become a stagnant pool, but so we might again pour out into others and back into God, emptying ourselves so he might fill us again. This is the perichoretic life we were created for and redeemed to participate in. This is what some call the divine dance—the life which ever existed and exists and will exist in the inner relations of Father, Son and Spirit.

To always have everything under our control, or to always feel as though we need to save the day or to chronically attempt to do so, is to live dishonestly. This is not the truth of who we are, nor what we were created for. This is living in a dream world—where we are masters of our universe and we are in control of everything which happens in it. This is just not the way things really are.

And to live in this way is to be like the person in the square dance who decides to do a do-sa-do when everyone else is doing an allamande left—it creates havoc and pain for everyone involved. It’s like we become a tepid, salty lake rather than remaining a flowing stream. Something of God’s life flowing into us and out from us becomes quenched or stifled. And those around us no longer benefit from the overflowing spring of God’s Spirit and life, for it’s as if a quenching of the Spirit occurs in our relationships with them. When we feel we must always be in control of everything which is happening or what others are doing, or always be the strong one who has it all together—this grieves the Spirit, and strains our relationships. And it’s just not living or walking in the truth.

Can you or I, or anyone else for that matter, keep ourselves safe in every situation? Do we have to make sure everything is done perfectly, so nothing bad will happen? How many things like this do we take on, thinking somehow we are capable of controlling the outcome? How often do we play God? I’m learning I do this more often than probably I would ever want to admit.

So once again, I am moved to the place where I am grateful for God’s grace, in the gift of his Son, and the gift of his Spirit. God’s mystery at work in me and in my life reminds me the best place I can possibly be is the place where I recognize my weakness, my powerlessness, and my inability to control the outcome.

It is when I acknowledge this and turn to Christ, and open myself to the Spirit’s presence and power, God goes to work and begins to do new things in me and in my life and ministry. It’s on his terms, in his timing, and in his way—it’s a walk of faith. But this is the only place I want to be, because I’m moving in step with the Father, Son, and Spirit in the midst of the divine dance, and it’s such an adventure!

Thank you, Abba, for including each of us in your divine dance, for sweeping us up into your life and love. We are utterly dependent upon you for all things, and confess our weakness and need, our inability to be what we ought to be and so to do what we ought apart from you. We pour ourselves out so you may fill us anew, Holy Spirit, and finish what you have begun in us, through Jesus and in his name. Amen.

“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9–10

The Illusion of Control

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by Linda Rex

I love it when I get up in the morning and every devotional and scripture reading I look at has to do with that one thing God is dealing with in my life. Like this week when I was feeling so much of my life was out of control, everything I read seemed to be on the topic of control. When something like this happens, I get the sneaky suspicion I’d better be listening to what God is trying to say to me.

I believe we as humans go to great lengths to maintain control over everything in our lives and even in our universe. How much of our research into the intricacies of our bodies, our environment, our earth and our universe has to do with our desire to have some way to manage and direct what happens to us as human beings? I think we would be surprised at how much of what we do and think about every day has to do with this desire to be in control of ourselves, our lives and our world.

We get even more fanatical about holding tight to the things, people and events in our lives when we have experienced a lot of chaos and dysfunction in our early years or significant attachments. Sometimes this manifests itself in obsessive compulsive disorders, co-dependency and other mental or emotional struggles and illnesses.

In my opinion, the irony is the harder we try to control things and even to control ourselves or other people, the less in control we really are. Our efforts to be self-disciplined may work for a while, but often they fail us when we need them most. Our efforts to manipulate, manage or micromanage other people may give us an illusion of control, but they will end up destroying the very relationships and organizations we are trying to build.

It is true we were given the responsibility by God to steward, tend, and care for our world. This stewardship by necessity requires some measure of control over what is being cared for and tended. But I don’t believe God ever meant for us to assume it was all up to us. The only way it could be all up to us is if we were self-sufficient self-existent beings like God, and that’s not what we are.

As many of you are aware, I’ve been sharing the Celebrate the Grip curriculum in my preaching in recent days, and we’ve been talking about how each and every human being is held in the grip of grace. Since before creation, God determined we would be his adopted children and he planned his Son would enter our humanity and by the Spirit, bring us up into the Triune life. And through Jesus, God accomplished what he set out to do, forging for us a true humanity in and by his Son. Through Jesus and by his Spirit, God has made and is making all things new.

Talking about the grip reminds me of the many lectures and readings in which the concept of contingency was discussed in seminary. Contingency is showing up more and more in modern science and mathematics. It’s that thing some people want to call chance, but doesn’t work like chance does. It’s a whole lot more—like Someone designed and is designing things to work a certain way. And it’s something we can’t manage or control. It’s beyond us.

We don’t like things to be beyond us. Because when something is beyond us, it means that quite possibly there may be a divine Being Who has the right to call the shots in our world. We love our freedom so much—we don’t want anyone messing with our efforts to do what is right in our own eyes.

When our existence, or our future, or our daily existence, is contingent upon some divine Order or Person, then we are faced with the reality we are not lords over our own lives. This means someone else can change things in our world in such a way we may lose something we value, or we may have to struggle to do without things we think we should have. We may have to do difficult things or repent of unhealthy ways of thinking and being, and change. When Someone beyond our human existence has that much control over us and our world, we don’t like it.

Sure, we love God to be control as long as he keeps order in the world, makes the weather nice, and makes sure all the people are friendly and kind and respectful. But only because we want the world to be the way we want it to be for our convenience, comfort and pleasure. See? We’re still trying to be in control.

What about when everything in your life or mine seems to be in chaos? It can be hard to imagine God is still in control when everything in our lives seems to be totally out of control. But that kind of control is just an illusion. God has a grip on you and me which does not change. He won’t let go of us at all—we just need to trust him. And Jesus even gives us his faith so we can trust God in the midst of chaos and confusion when it seems impossible to do so.

So God says to you and to me, “Rest in me.” He calls to us by his Spirit to lay down our burdens of anxiety and fear, and to surrender all the control we imagine we have over the circumstances, people and things in our lives.

We need to be intentional about this. I find this letting go of control and fully resting in Christ is a journey. It’s a decision which is constantly being put before us—we’re tempted to try to do it all ourselves and to do it our way—or we’re called to lay down all illusion of control and to rest fully in Christ, and in his perfected humanity.

This verse which has been constantly popping up of late is found in Proverbs 3:5-6. As I remember it, it goes something like this: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.” It is a passage full of comfort and promise, and I thank God Jesus has already done all the trusting and leaning and acknowledging in my place. Now all that is left for me is to rest in his perfected faith in Abba in and by the Spirit. And that’s when my life is really under control.

Abba, thank you for being Lord over all, and thank you, through your Son and by your Spirit, you have ensured our perfected humanity and our eternal relationship with you. Grant us the grace to release all control to you and to rest fully in your perfect love. Through Jesus and by your Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.


“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
Proverbs 3:5–6 NASB

“Is It Love or Is It Magic?”

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Fall in Arkansas
Fall in Arkansas

by Linda Rex

I was watching an old classic TV series recently called “Nanny and the Professor.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with this show, it is about a nanny who helps a professor care for his three children. She has a Mary Poppins-type knack for knowing exactly what is needed in every situation. She always seems to know who’s at the door before they knock or who’s on the phone before it rings. At the beginning of each show, we hear the question being asked about all the amazing things Phoebe Figalilly does: “Is it Love or is It Magic?” And it is left up to the audience to decide.

I think sometimes that the current interest in all types of spirituality blurs the lines for us between what is magic and what is love. Whether we like it or not, our view of God and spirituality is influenced by our culture and all that we see and hear in the media. What we believe about love and being loving is also affected.

The apostle John wrote: “God is love.” That, I believe, is a true statement. But what does it mean?

Does “God is love” mean that love is God? No. Love is a relational property, something expressed. Love in itself is not a being. God is a being, who is Father, Son, and Spirit, who lives in love—love describes his being. It describes how he lives in mutual submission, caring and oneness—in perichoresis.

So if God is love, does that mean that God has to always do nice things for us? I mean, if God is love, how come there are so many nasty things going on in the world—so many hurt people, ruined lives—so much rampant evil? How can God be love and let that happen?

Well, no, God isn’t Phoebe Figalilly who’s going to make everything wonderful for us all the time. And he’s not obligated to do that, even if he is love. Love doesn’t equate automatically with being nice all the time.

And love doesn’t equate with God giving us what we want all the time. That’s a magical God that we can control and use. Magic is something we use to try to manipulate spiritual realities.

But God doesn’t work that way. God is completely free to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, however he wants. He’s totally free, but he’s also totally love. And he loves us enough that he does not allow us to control, manipulate or use him. He does, rather, allow us to influence him as a child may influence a parent to say yes to his request for a new puppy.

God teaches us, through Jesus, that real love is serving, sacrificial and never works in opposition to what is right, pure, holy and true. Real love is relational in a heavenly way. Real love calls out the best in people—raising them up to be all that God intended them to be when he created them in the first place—a true reflection of himself. Sometimes this means saying “No” or putting boundaries in a relationship. Sometimes real love hurts, causing or experiencing suffering, in order to help and heal.

Much of the evil and suffering we see and experience is the result of our own choices and our own stubborn willfulness. We inflict it on one another, even sometimes without realizing we are doing it. Sometimes love allows people to feel the full impact of the consequence of their choices—not to hurt them, but to motivate them to repent and change. God does this with us.

I think there is a huge difference between magic and love, one that God demonstrates to us through his Son Jesus Christ. Real love can be seen and experienced in a personal relationship with God in Christ by the Spirit. Real love can be seen and experienced as we reflect God in Christ by the Spirit in our relationships with one another.

But God isn’t interested in our magic incantations, our self-help programs, or worship rituals that we use to try to somehow get God to do what we want—to try to fix problems or heal people. God can do that all by himself and often does do that without any of our help. He likes to include us in his miracles—but only as participants, not as magicians. It’s not about magic—it’s all about love.

“Holy God, forgive us, please, for all the times and ways in which we try to manipulate, control and use you. Forgive us for seeing you as something to fix things with rather than as a person to relate to in love. Thank you that your great love goes beyond anything we can ask or imagine, and that you have our best interests at heart all the time. Perfect us in your holy love in Jesus. In your name, Father, Son and Spirit—you who alone are God. Amen.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jn 13:34–35