darkness

Taking the Lower Place

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By Linda Rex

September 1, 2019, Proper 17—A while back my ministry team and I were invited to attend the 150th anniversary banquet of the Stones River Missionary Baptist Association from whom we rent our church building. My outreach ministry leader, Pat Brazier, and I attended this event as a gesture of gratitude and goodwill toward the association and its members.

As we entered the building, I was hoping we could find a table at the back which would not be conspicuous. I tend to be shy at large gatherings like this, especially if I don’t know anyone—I describe myself as an extroverted introvert. I prefer to hide rather than open myself up when there are a lot of people around me in a room whom I don’t know.

On this occasion, though, I could not have my wish of anonymity. Even though we were the only people there of white skin, the harmony of God’s Spirit made us one with these brothers and sisters in Christ. Pat and I were escorted to the front of the room to a special table reserved for guest pastors. We ended up seated across from Tennessee Senator Brenda Gilmore and two other pastors and their wives. It was a wonderful, inspiring experience for Pat and me.

During the event, I learned a lot of things I did not know about this group of fellow believers and their journey with Jesus. And I learned some things about myself as well. I experienced what it meant to be faced with challenges to my beliefs, preferences, and opinions. Whatever hidden prejudices I have, they were also brought a little closer to the light, as such encounters often expose those things we try, consciously or unconsciously, to keep in the dark.

Our interactions with other human beings are the place where the Holy Spirit does its greatest work, bringing us face to face with others and by doing so bringing us face to face with ourselves and Jesus. It is in relationship with others that the Spirit works to transform hearts and minds, specifically in teaching us about the Father’s love for us in Christ expressed in our love for one another. We are broken human beings, often due to significant relationships which have demonstrated to us and taught us everything but God’s love. Our way of doing things is often the exact opposite to the way God does things, and our broken world with its broken people clearly shows the result of trying to do it our way instead of his.

One of the greatest struggles as human beings sometimes is this whole question of self-exaltation and humility. We live in metropolitan Nashville, a place where musicians and singers come when they want to make their mark in the music world. Often I talk with people who tell me they moved to Nashville from somewhere else in America and when I ask why they moved here, they tell me they wanted to get a job in the music industry and maybe even to be a star. Almost every one of these people is not working in the music industry today but in some other job entirely unrelated to it.

Were they wrong in coming to Nashville and seeking to make their mark? I doubt very much that any of these people were seeking self-exaltation. I’m more inclined to believe most of them were seeking self-expression, to obtain some personal significance, worth, and value through their music. I imagine they wanted to do what they loved and make a living at it. The real world often stands in the way of people being able to achieve their dreams in this way.

The issue, I believe, is not in the desire to take one’s talent, abilities, and gifts and use them to their fullest expression. In God’s kingdom life, we receive all of these things as gifts from God and pour them back out to him in gratitude and in the service of others. We are meant to shine with the glory God has given us as his adopted children and if that includes our musical gift, then it is meant to be fully expressed as God guides and provides us with the opportunities.

The problem seems to be more in what our motive is and why we do what we do. Christian musicians and pastors can very easily care more about their popularity, prosperity, and getting noticed than how they go about being a follower of Jesus Christ. Even while they are up in front of the audience talking about Jesus and his ways, they may be drawing their worth and value from the applause and approval of others rather than resting confidently in the grace and love of their Abba. We are broken human beings—we do these things, whether we are willing to admit it or not.

In Jesus Christ we see exemplified the epitome of humility. The One who was the Word, who had all power, glory, and honor, set the privileges of his divinity temporarily aside to take on our humanity. He who lived in inapproachable light joined us in our darkness, in the tiniest cells in Mary’s womb, so that we could be lifted up from our abasement and drawn up into the Triune life and love.

Jesus told his followers that when they were invited to a banquet, they were not to take the prominent seats, but to sit in the lower places and to allow themselves to be moved up by the host. Jesus did not seek his own exaltation, but sought the exaltation of humanity. When challenged in the wilderness by Satan, he rejected his offer to give him ultimate human power and rule. He refused to stop identifying with us as broken human beings and serving us by offering his life for us in our place and on our behalf.

There is no place low enough that Jesus was not willing to enter. Even though the most shameful death for someone in Christ’s day was to be crucified, Jesus intentionally walked toward the cross throughout his ministry. It was not beneath him to enter the realm of the dead nor to become sin for us. His whole purpose was in lifting us up, not in promoting himself.

The kingdom value of true humility as exemplified in Jesus is countercultural. It opposes everything our culture and society work toward. It stands in stark opposition to any leader who promotes himself as being a messiah or savior to his people or someone to be revered. It resists the human pull to self-promotion, arrogance, and pride which often afflicts those in the public eye.

To follow this value of humility is to open up oneself to crucifixion, to being negated, harmed or destroyed. And yet, when we seek the way of true humility, we find that our relationships begin to be healed, our life moves away from darkness into greater and greater light. Leaders who are truly humble and seek to serve those under them rather than manipulate, control, or manage them create a healthier community which more closely resembles God’s kingdom life.

But being humble exacts a price. The price we must pay to be truly humble is to share in Christ’s death and resurrection, and in his sufferings. In this life we may never experience our exaltation, but we can trust in the exaltation of Jesus. We will be exalted in his presence as the adopted children of Abba, fully glorified and reigning with him forever—this is our hope and expectation as we walk in humility before him. In the meantime, our challenge is to live counterculturally in in a world which venerates self-exaltation, self-promotion, and self-interest, by participating with Jesus in his true humility.

Thank you, Jesus, for demonstrating so wonderfully the grace of true humility. Abba, please grow this in us by your Spirit, enabling us to participate fully in your humble nature. Give our human leaders hearts and minds which are truly humble. If they are stubbornly resistant to your humility, may you take them through the consuming fire of your love and grace that they may learn humble servants. We are grateful that you are the true Lord of all and have included us in your life and love in and through Jesus. Amen.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:11 NASB

Consequences of the Resurrection

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By Linda Rex

4th SUNDAY OF EASTER—I have met many people over the years as I have been doing ministry here in Tennessee. I am sometimes surprised by how many times a person has been baptized on their journey with Jesus Christ. It seems that some churches require baptism as a mark of entry even though the person had been baptized before. Baptism, I believe, can begin to lose its significance when it is treated solely as a ticket for membership.

Jesus tells a story about a king who sends out invitations to a wedding feast (Matt. 22). The people he invited didn’t come, so he had his servants go out and invite anyone they could find to come. Finally, the day came. At the banquet, he finds a guest who doesn’t have on a wedding garment. Since every guest had been given a wedding garment when they were invited, there was no reason for this man to not to be dressed in one. He was excluded from the banquet.

When Jesus hung on the cross, all of humanity hung with him. When he was laid in the tomb, we all laid there with him. And when the resurrected Jesus walked out of the tomb glorified, our humanity walked out glorified with him. In his life, death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus carefully constructed our white robes of righteousness, preparing before time began for us to share in his glory.

It’s not when we are baptized that Jesus includes us—we were included back when he did his perfect work in our place and on our behalf. But we do come to a point in our lives when the Holy Spirit brings us to the place of recognizing and believing in who Jesus is and trusting in his finished work, gratefully receiving what he has done for us in place of our self-centered and self-sufficient ways of living and being. Our baptism becomes a participation in Jesus’ baptism, a symbolic sharing in his death and resurrection.

We can know about Jesus and even believe he is the Son of God, but never put on what he has given us. He has given us a new life, a new existence, a sharing in his love and grace which is life-transforming, healing and renewing. Jesus has included us in his perfect relationship with his Father in the Spirit. He has drawn us up into their perichoretic dance of love, and is allowing us to participate in his life in the Trinity both now and forever. He has baptized us with the Father’s love by and in the Spirit.

We express our grateful reception of and participation in Jesus’ perfect and extremely expensive gift through baptism. But going beyond baptism, we begin to live in the truth of who we are in Christ. In essence, we take the white robes which are ours and we put them on. As we eat the bread and drink the wine of communion, we tangibly “put on” Christ—we acknowledge our dependence on and trust in Jesus—we “feed” on him in an ongoing way, because he is our life. God works to grow us up in Christlikeness, as we respond to him in faith.

A lot of us, though, act as if we have to make ourselves good people. We work really hard at “being good enough to go to heaven.” The reality, though—if we are honest with ourselves—is that we will never be quite good enough. We are broken, sinful people who just can’t get it right. We can put on a nice front, make ourselves look kind, helpful, and generous, but at the same time be greedy, selfish, and indifferent. We can learn a lot of Bible verses, spout them at will, and yet never have a kind and thoughtful word to say to someone who is hurting.

Jesus’ finished work speaks volumes to us if we are willing to listen. It is because we are so faulty and in need of rescuing that he came to rescue us. It is because we are broken and sinful that he came to live in our humanity and redeem us. It is because we were captured by the kingdom of darkness that he, like a knight in shining armor, came to our defense and brought us safely into the kingdom of light at the risk of losing his own life like a sacrificial lamb.

This shepherd king, Jesus Christ, is the one who found us starving and wallowing in the pig sty, and brought home to his Father. God created us for so much more than this—we were intended to share in Jesus’ kingship and priesthood by the Spirit—an elevation to dignity and worth which is far beyond our own ability to attain. We were meant to live with God forever, immersed in his love and grace, filled with his Spirit, and participating in his plans and activities. We have a reason to live—a purpose and a hope beyond the temporary pleasures of this life. Whatever we do in this life now, and in the life to come, has great meaning and value as it is connected through Christ and in the Spirit with God’s love and will.

The fundamental issue which we face when faced with Jesus Christ is—are we willing to submit, surrender, relinquish all our claims to the throne? Are we willing to take our appropriate place as his dependent children, humbly surrendering to God’s desire for us and our lives? Are we willing to allow Jesus Christ to define our humanity and how we live our lives? This is the place where we are faced with the ultimate decision.

It’s easy to go through the motions of repentance, faith, and baptism. We can do the things we believe are necessary to become members of whatever church we may wish to join. But can we—no, will we—allow Jesus Christ to be who he is, the Lord of this universe and our Lord as well? Will we surrender to all to his purposes and plans, allowing him to redirect our lives and our relationships? Will we live and walk in the Spirit and not in our flesh any longer? This is where things get tough.

When Abba through Jesus sent his Spirit on all flesh, he opened the way for each and every person to make their very own the finished work of Jesus Christ. There is substantial freedom in what God has done. We can come to the wedding banquet wearing our own clothes or we can toss them in the trash where they belong and put on the white robes Jesus made for us. We are free to make this choice. It does not alter God’s love for us, but it does alter our experience of that love and whether or not we can participate in what God has planned for us, both now and in the world to come. The Spirit says, “Come.” Will we?

Thank you, Jesus, for doing everything necessary so we can be with you both now and forever. Thank you, Abba, for the gift of your Son and your Spirit. Give us willing and obedient hearts, and enable us to gratefully receive and live in the truth of all you have given to us. Amen.

“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ ” Revelation 7:9-10

Waiting in Silence

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By Linda Rex

HOLY SATURDAY—Sometimes when wandering through a garden or while I’m picking berries, I’ll come across a cocoon hidden under some leaves. Looking at the neatly formed shape, I will marvel at God’s creation, and then I will wonder just what might be lying inside.

There within this cocoon a transformation is taking place. I once read that while in its cocoon, all a caterpillar was is reduced down to its elements and reformed into something new. The butterfly or moth which eventually pushes its way out from the cocoon may look completely different from its earlier form, but it is still in essence the same creature.

From the outside, the cocoon is like a tomb. There doesn’t appear to be any activity. It looks like a misshapen blob at times—something which needs to be removed from the plant or limb and thrown away. Even though something significant is going on inside, it is not obviously apparent to anyone who happens upon it.

On Holy Saturday we are reminded of how Jesus’s body was removed from the cross and laid in a tomb. Nicodemus brought myrrh and aloes, and helped Joseph of Arimathea with the burial process, wrapping the body linen and spices. The new tomb in the garden near where Jesus was crucified was blessed to receive the body of our Savior.

After Jesus was laid in the tomb, a stone was rolled in front of the entrance to close it. The Jews asked that the tomb be sealed, and it was—they hoped to prevent a rumor that Jesus had risen from the dead. They had heard that Jesus had promised to rise again, and thought it was only the vain hope of a would-be messiah. They did what they could to ensure the tomb could not be tampered with.

If we had sat opposite the tomb on Saturday, as Mary and Mary Magdalene had done the night before, we would have seen a silent spectacle. We would have had no ability to see what was going on inside the tomb. The grave would have been silent, with the only sounds being the wind rustling the tree leaves, the birds singing, or perhaps the voices and activities of people nearby.

Looking hard at the tomb, we would have seen only stillness. Considering the dead body within, we’d only hear silence. There would only be darkness within the tomb, we’d reason—nothing would be going on. When a person dies and is laid in the grave, all that’s left is decomposition and eventually dried out bones and dust. From the exterior, we would have had to assume that this was what was happening here, and that this was the end of all we had hoped and planned.

Maybe after a while, we would remember that Jesus liked talking about seeds in reference to himself and the kingdom of God. A seed, he said, must die in order for a new plant to grow and for many new seeds to be harvested. For Jesus, death never stood alone on its own—it was always accompanied by resurrection. He wanted his followers to understand that his path needed to go down the road to death, but that was never meant to be the end. Jesus’ death was only a step along the path to new life for all humanity.

This is a good thought. What if we saw the times of death, of silent waiting, not as times to grieve, but rather as times to hope? What if, instead of imagining someone going back to the dust from which they were made, we picture instead the renewal and transformation of what has been laid in the tomb? Maybe we should look at the places in our lives or relationships which appear to be dead and lifeless as being places where seeds have been planted which only need the light and water of God’s presence and power to bring about new life and an abundant harvest.

It is easy to come to places in our lives where we are faced with death and dying. The human story is one in which death occurs constantly—not just death of people, but death of dreams, relationships, businesses, or even churches. We fear death, when actually we should embrace death as the path Jesus trod in order that we might experience new life and new existence grounded within himself. Death can be a good thing, especially when we die to wrong ways of thinking or living or we die to the control of our broken sinful ways of being.

The spiritual discipline of silence in some ways resonates with the silent waiting at the tomb of Jesus. In silence, we set ourselves in God’s presence to listen and to wait, allowing ourselves to become attuned to the heart of the Father. When our attention wanders or our mind takes off on some errant thought, we need only redirect ourselves back to silence. Here we are, in this moment, with God. What does he have to say to us?

When we are busy going about our lives, caught up in the day-to-day issues we face, we may miss the growth and healing opportunities which come through attending upon God in silence. There is an intimacy in our relationship with God which grows when we slow down to pause and just be with God for a time. Perhaps we could spend a few minutes even now, picturing ourselves sitting beside the tomb, pondering what just happened this week and wondering what God is planning to do next.

Is there some place in your life where you are facing death or loss? Do you have a place in your life which feels as though it is dark and empty, with no hope of renewal? Perhaps symbolically you may take this into your hands and hold it out to God, laying it in the tomb with Jesus. And then wait for a time in silence. Allow Jesus to meet you in these moments, to remind you of his promise, which he kept in faithful love.

The seed planted in the ground often lays there for a time. The roots may be growing deep into the soil long before we ever see a sprout. Jesus lay in the tomb and all was silent—but great, amazing things were at work in God’s creation. A renewal, a turning about of all which was broken, lost, and dying was happening as Jesus Christ lay in the grave.

Holy Saturday reminds us that God is always and ever at work in our lives. As we turn to Jesus in faith, the Spirit reminds us that God loves us and has our best interests at heart even when all we see is a silent grave. Abba is a working, renewing, restoring, and healing, even though we may not see him at work. As we rest in Christ and wait in silence, we can find renewal and encouragement to hope in times of despair. God is at work and will not stop until he has finished what he has begun. We can count on him.

Thank you, Abba, that you never cease to bring new life and hope into our lives. Thank you, Jesus, for embracing death so that we could share eternal life with you. Holy Spirit, remind us anew that we are loved and cared for, and that Abba will work all things to the good, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” John 19:42 NASB

Wilderness Musings

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By Linda Rex

LENT—As we move into the season of Lent, I have been wrestling with the call Jesus has on my life right now to live in his grace and love in each moment. Letting go of old, incomplete, or inaccurate ways of thinking or believing regarding what has happened in the past is a struggle. The father of lies loves to blur the boundaries between what is true and what is false, so much so that it is hard to live and walk in the truth sometimes. Indeed, it is much easier to hold on to wrong and unhealthy ways of thinking about things than it is to embrace the reality that I may have misunderstood or may have (perish the thought!) been wrong.

Ooch! How much easier it is to wallow in my pride and self-defensive self-justification than it is to admit that I messed up and need a big dose of forgiveness! It is much easier to point the finger elsewhere or to blame someone else for what happened. But no, I must embrace the integrity and humility of Jesus which calls me to agree with the truth and to walk with him through his death and resurrection into the new life he bought for me and gave me in the Spirit.

Even though this season of Lent is an opportunity to reexamine the reality of our need for Christ, it is also an opportunity to see more clearly the spiritual reality of our inclusion in Christ. As we stand in front of the mirror, Jesus Christ, who is the exact representation of the Father, and see ourselves mirrored in him, we cannot help but see how far short we fall from being the perfect image-bearers of God. This can, at times, feel overwhelming and can lead to feelings of guilt and shame.

First, we need to ask ourselves—is this genuine guilt I feel? Or is it that imitation guilt and shame which the father of lies and his companions like to dish out to make us feel unworthy, unloved, and separated from God’s love and grace? Sometimes the events of our childhood or the way we’ve been treated by significant people in our lives create in us constant feelings of guilt and shame that aren’t in any way related to the truth of our actions or thoughts. When we tell the truth about these feelings, that their root is in a lie, we often find freedom and peace. But we may find ourselves wrestling with them for a time until that root is completely eradicated and replaced in our hearts and minds with the truth of our inclusion in Christ.

True guilt though is meant not to tear us down, but to bring us to the realization that we have moved away from our center in Christ. Because of Christ’s finished work, there really is no reason to wallow in guilt nor is there any reason to feel ashamed. Jesus has drawn us up into his intimate relationship with the Father, covered all our guilt with his righteousness, and given us a new life in himself by the Holy Spirit.

We need to view ourselves and those around us in accordance with the truth—we are included in Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension. We have been given the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ—in and through the gift of the Holy Spirit—in us and with us. We need to stay focused on the reality that our life in Christ is a life of grace. God already knows the sin we are capable of and has covered it all in his Son. There is nothing so bad that God has not, cannot, and will not redeem and restore us. Rather than continuing to muddle around in the pig slop, we might as well run on home into his waiting arms. There’s no point in waiting around thinking if we tried a little harder, we could clean ourselves up on our own.

What about these “messies” we carry around with us and never seem to be able to get free of? What about the dark places we don’t want anyone to see? We like to keep our dark places dark. Bringing them into the light, letting others into the closet with us, is something we avoid like the plague. We prefer the darkness to the light. But Jesus tells us to bring the darkness into the light since God already sees it anyway. There’s no point in hiding what God has already seen, taken up in Christ, and freed us from. (John 3:18-21) Embracing the truth, living in this painful but liberating honesty and transparency on an ongoing basis, is the healthiest place for us to be.

Really, this is all summed up in the realization that Christ is the center. We live in him, for him, and by him. As we are assaulted by the lies Satan and others speak into our souls, we need to turn to Christ who is the truth of our personhood and our existence. We will be tempted to resolve our failures on our own—we need to turn to Christ who already has resolved our failures in his finished work and in his very person. Satan will call out our shortcomings, sins, and weaknesses, but we need to listen instead to what the Father says to us through Jesus by the Spirit: “You are my beloved child. You are forgiven, accepted, and forever included in my perfect relationship with my Son in the Spirit.”

The season of Lent is an opportunity for us to embrace fully the reality that now and forever, we need Jesus. Daily we need the Spirit poured into us afresh so we can more fully live out the truth of who we were created to be—the image-bearers of God himself. Indeed, what Paul said is so true—in him we do live, and move, and have our being. Apart from Christ, we are a mess. We are preoccupied, indifferent, greedy, broken, hurting, self-absorbed, self-centered—you name it. We can live life pretty comfortably on our own for quite some time, but inevitably we will come face to face with the truth—we need Jesus.

I hope during this Lenten season we will come to that place in a new way. I hope we will see our need for the love of God and the redeeming grace we have in Jesus as well as how empty we are without the indwelling presence and Person of the Holy Spirit. We can be sober and realistic, but I believe we can also rejoice—for we know what happened after the cross. We know the end of the story, and we’re included in it. Spoiler alert! … We rose with Christ—and we are new in him. Praise God!

Our dear Abba, thank you. Thank you that we can run home to you because you are waiting. Thank you, Jesus, for doing all that is needed so we are welcome at home with Abba. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for making this real to each of us individually, for enabling us to know we are God’s beloved children, forgiven and beloved. Holy Spirit, enable us to see our need for Christ as well as the reality of our inclusion in Christ. Enable us to turn away from ourselves and to turn to Christ. Thank you, Holy Trinity, for your love and grace through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days.” Luke 4:1-2a NLT

When Christmas Gets Messy

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By Linda Rex

LOVE—The Christmas celebration at my house this year hasn’t been at all what we anticipated or planned. The lovely Christmas tree with its shiny ornaments and bells was taken out by one half-grown kitten. Our other cat never showed much interest in the tree, but we knew this might be a different story with the kitten, and it was.

We didn’t mind losing the tree–it was an old artificial one and the base had been held together by hanger wire for a couple of years now. The kitten was fascinated with the the old tablecloth we used for a tree skirt. The tree skirt ended up torn in half, and carried to other parts of the house. Her obsession with the tree branches and one certain Christmas bell caused her to knock the tree over, and in the process, what was left of the tree base ended up broken.

The cat-astrophy meant all the ornaments and pretty ribbons were put away and the tree was taken down. But the loss of the décor, though sad, was not the end of Christmas. It just meant the celebration was going to be different this year. We’re already thinking about a cat-proof tree for next year.

This is a good illustration of what Christmas is about though. Our commitment to a little creature who in her innocent and fun-loving heart ruined our decorations remains unchanged. Sometimes love means disrupting our lives for the sake of another—maybe even not having things the way we prefer them to be. People and pets are messy, and they have the ability to inconvenience and irritate us. But love enables us to set such things aside or to deal with such things with grace, and to make room for people and pets in our lives anyway.

Our Christmas celebration has already ended up different than we expected this year with my son not being home with us. But we’ll still do many of the fun things we like to do—bake cookies, share with others, open gifts, and sing Christmas carols. We’ll celebrate Christmas with others at church, light candles at the Christmas Eve service, and take communion together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And we’ll rejoice in the great gift God gave us in sending his Son to us for our redemption and salvation.

Somehow the fundamentals of Christmas really have nothing to do with the trappings of Christmas and have everything to do with the reality that God has come to dwell with man, and we are forever changed because of it. God’s love for you and for me was so great that he was not willing to allow anything to come between us, and he was willing to put himself at great expense and inconvenience for our sake to ensure that we would be included in his life both now and forever.

You and I are not much different than the little kitten who is just seeking life, enjoying a moment of pleasure without realizing or assuming responsibility for the consequences of our actions. We often go about our lives indifferent to the spiritual realities, not realizing the impact we have on those around us both in bad and good ways. Many times it isn’t until the tree falls that we realize what we are doing isn’t really a blessing for those around us.

We have a gracious and loving God who is well-acquainted with our faults and failures. God did something incredible and amazing when he created human beings in his own image. And he declared from the very beginning that what he made when he created us was very good. God doesn’t make worthless items. All he made is good—even the annoying little kitties who ruin our Christmas decorations.

It wasn’t enough for God to make everything very good. He ensured the restoration of our fallen humanity, and with it this fallen creation. He came himself in the person of the Word, taking on all that was fallen, and in himself Jesus made, is making, and will make everything new. In Christ, the messiest person has new life and hope for a new day. The miracle of Christmas is light in our darkness, hope in our despair, and peace in our anxiety and distress.

If you are struggling through a difficult Christmas this year, wondering how you will ever make it through, Jesus Christ offers you his hope, peace and joy, and the most gracious gift of love anyone could give—he offers you himself, in your place, on your behalf. He offers you his Spirit, the gift of love, grace, comfort, and renewal. He offers you his perfect relationship with his Father—one which is never ending and filled with love and understanding.

Life may continue to be difficult. Christmas may continue to be messy. The struggles may not seem to get any easier. But in the silent moments as you ponder the baby in the manger, do you not feel it? Do you not hear it? For you, the heartbeat of love, of tender care, of deep unending affection, will never cease—you are loved now and forever, and held in the embrace of the holy One, while the angels sing.

Merry Christmas!

Dear Abba, you hold us as the holy mother held her Son Jesus, gazing with deep love and affection upon us, willing to do whatever it takes to keep us close to you, living in the truth of who we are as your beloved children. Comfort, heal, strengthen and help each of us—free us from our despair, loneliness, and grief. Grant us the grace to know we are beloved, held and provided for both now and forever, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Awaken your might; come and save us. Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” Psalm 80:2a-3 NIV

“And he will be our peace…” Micah 2:5a NIV

A video of this blog may be accessed here.

Reason for Joy

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By Linda Rex

JOY—Who is Jesus to you? At this time of year, we often focus on an infant, born in Bethlehem, who was placed in a manger. The Christmas story can seem like a sentimental fairy tale which really has no application to real life. How is does any of this apply to those of us who are struggling to find the strength to go through another day, to keep from drowning in sorrow and grief?

This sweet child in reality came into a world under Roman rule which was plagued by unrest and discontent. Jesus Christ was born in a Jewish culture which over the years had mixed with Greek Hellenism, and had substituted a historical religious faith with one based on political expediency, money and power, and faithfulness to a human standard and the seeking approval and applause of others.

The circumstances of this infant’s birth illustrate the difficulties which arise when a couple struggles to obey God’s call upon their lives while living in the midst of an often violent and officially pagan culture. It seems that often their obedience to God was intertwined with their necessary obedience to the government. Joseph found he had to go to Bethlehem, to the region of his forefathers, because of a Roman census. But in doing so, he fulfilled the prophetic word about the Messiah. The family was told they needed to flee the wrath of the king and go to Egypt, and it turns out this was prophetically exactly where they needed to be to fulfill Scripture.

We are often so immersed in our culture, our circumstances, and our experiences, that we can easily believe God is uninterested, uninvolved, and indifferent to our struggles and suffering. We feel as though we ourselves cannot change anything, or that we must bring about change.

In reality, God is the one who must bring about real, lasting change. We forget that whatever we do if it is not founded in God himself, has no enduring value. What this means is that all which God created from nothing was going to return to nothing apart from the entrance of God himself into creation to redeem, restore, and renew it.

God worked even from before the beginning of this cosmos to ensure that what he made would endure and fulfill the purposes for which it was created. This meant orchestrating different events, working with and through different people and patiently enduring their failures, stubborn willfulness, and disobedience. And then, when the time was exactly right, when all was prepared, when the world and the Jewish people were prepared to give birth to the Messiah, the Word took on our human flesh.

The human story is one filled with struggle, pain, suffering, and death. But it is also filled with joy—joy in the midst of sorrow, grief, and dark nights. There is great joy expressed in the Scriptures by those who experience God intervening in their difficult circumstances and saving them in impossible situations. It seems that in reality, our Lord is a victorious warrior who loves to rejoice over us as we experience his love and grace in the midst of our darkness, hopelessness, and despair.

On that dark night when Jesus was born, the shepherds saw and heard the angels share the wonder and joy of God over his Son’s birth. Our heavenly Father had waited and prepared for a long time for this special event—it was a wonderful, joyous occasion which he knew would change things forever. He knew that in giving his one unique Son, he would in time have many other adopted sons and daughters as his beloved children. And this would bring him even greater joy.

Advent is a great opportunity to reflect on our need to wait on God—to learn to wait as God waits. We wait, not apathetically, but intentionally, working to prepare the ground for the planting of the Word of God. John the Baptist came to prepare the Jewish people for the coming of the Messiah. He had a significant role, for he was to testify that this person who he baptized and who received the Holy Spirit in a special way was indeed the Messiah.

His words seem harsh to us—he was critical of the religious and civic leaders, and called people to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. But he never pointed to himself—he always pointed away—to the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Jesus would transform our humanity in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and would send the Spirit so that each and every person could participate in that true renewal and transformation he had forged for them.

Today we wait for the return of Christ, the second Advent, in the same way. We prepare our hearts and our lives by removing the weeds of sin, self, and Satan through repentance and allow the seed of God’s Word to penetrate into the core of our being. We receive the gift of God’s indwelling Christ, the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, and we walk in the Spirit day by day. We daily testify to the truth of who Jesus Christ is—our Savior and Messiah, the Redeemer, the One who baptizes with Holy Spirit and fire.

We testify to the reality that Jesus Christ, beyond his entrance into this world as a tiny infant, is our divine warrior who went into battle on our behalf. He left behind all the glories and privileges of divinity to join us in our humanity. And he fought in hand-to-hand combat against sin, evil, Satan, and even death. His weapons of warfare involved submission, humility, and simplicity, and the ultimate weapon—death and resurrection. And he won. He rose victorious, ascending to his Father, carrying all of humanity into his Abba’s presence.

What Advent and the birth of Jesus mean for us today is that in the midst of darkness, loss, sin, evil, and even death, we can have joy, real deep joy. This joy reaches beyond our human experiences into the true spiritual realities where we are held in Christ in the presence of Abba by the Spirit. There is hope, peace, joy, and love in the presence of Abba, and it is all ours—we are fully victorious in Jesus Christ. Nothing can ever come between us and the love of God in Christ. We, even on a dark and gloomy night, can gaze upon the face of the divine Son and rejoice, because he is a victorious warrior!

Thank you, Abba, for the precious gift of your Son. Thank you for not leaving us in our darkness, pain, and sorrow, but for lifting us up and giving us the victory over evil, sin, Satan, and death in Jesus. Holy Spirit, bring us close and enable us to see clearly the face of the Father in the face of his Son, so that we can fully participate in the divine love and life Jesus has created for us. Abba, fill our hearts overflowing with your joy, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“The LORD your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.”
Zeph. 3:17 NASB

A video of this blog may be accessed here.

Walking in a New Way

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By Linda Rex

PEACE—I awoke this morning to negative news. Apparently last night the law-abiding citizens of this city were put in danger by the exploits of those who defy the law as our law officers sought to bring them to justice. Then I read that some friends of the family lost a loved one—another loss in my list of recent losses. There are times when it seems like it’s safer to be in bed than out of it.

Seeing and experiencing the evil and pain in this world can really weigh us down. Though I would never want to grow indifferent to suffering and loss, there are times when I wish I could always keep an eternal perspective about such things. It would be nice to be able to only focus on the benefits of such things rather than on the pain and grief they bring with them.

This morning my daughter called up the stairs to let me know her almost grown kitten had found a new toy. She was tossing it around and hiding it under things and playing with it. She was really having fun. But what disturbed my daughter was that it wasn’t her favorite mouse toy—it was the real thing.

There was absolutely nothing evil or bloodthirsty in what the kitten was doing. She was just enjoying her new toy—embracing the joy of play. But the poor mouse, on the other hand—it had an entirely different perspective. It had merely been doing its thing—finding a warm place to hide during the winter—when suddenly, its life was over and it had become an object of delight.

In this instance we can see two completely different perspectives as to what has happened and to what is currently going on in a situation. Perhaps this can help us to understand a little better what it means for us as human beings to live in a world where we are constantly experiencing the results of our human brokenness while at the same time we are participants in the entering of God’s kingdom into this broken world. We may only feel pain, suffering and grief, but we are actually participating in God’s joyful dance of love, grace, and peace.

Loss, separation, pain, evil—these cause suffering, anxiety, fear, and grief, and a host of other feelings and consequences we were not originally intended to experience. We were created for joy, peace, hope, and to share in the love of our heavenly Father and his Son Jesus Christ in the Spirit. This is the “way of peace” we were created for.

C.S. Lewis, in “The Problem of Pain,” talks about how human beings were created to live in joyful obedience to and full dependency upon God. We were meant to be and were masters of our flesh and our world, as we drew upon God for our life and our strength of will. But we decided in Adam that we would take to ourselves the prerogatives which were solely God’s. We became self-sufficient, self-centered, self-directed. And rather than walking in the garden to commune with our Creator, we walked away from the garden and began to establish for ourselves a new way of being.

The problem is, we chose a way of being which was non-sustainable. We do not have the capacity within ourselves apart from God to properly manage ourselves or our world, much less to live in harmony with one another or to continue our existence. What the incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmastime, means is that God took our plight seriously, took on our humanity, and reformed it in himself. As God in human flesh, Jesus lived a human existence which was fully dependent upon his Abba and completely and joyfully obedient to his Father’s will. He redeemed us, forging for us “a way of peace.”

The enemy of our soul has always sought to destroy us by the incessant lie that we do not need God and we most certainly do not need one another. He deceives us into believing that our human perspective about everything is the true reality—that our experience of what is occurring is what is actually at work in this world. He tells us there is no life beyond this life, or that what we do now does not affect what comes after, or that if we work hard enough and achieve a high enough standard, we’ll receive abundant rewards in the hereafter.

Notice how all these lies we are bombarded with us tell us we are sufficient within ourselves for whatever is needed in every situation. To live in full dependency upon God and in joyful obedience to his will is something contrary to our broken human way of being. We resist this, and seek a multitude of methods to avoid having to surrender to the reality God is God and we are not. And we experience suffering, grief, pain, and sorrow as a result.

Christ has come. He has reconciled all things with God and has brought humanity up into the love and life of the Trinity—by faith we participate with Jesus in his perfect relationship with his Father in the Spirit. As we participate with Jesus, we find ourselves walking in the “way of peace” he forged for us, and we find by the Spirit we have the capacity for self-control, other-centered living, and joyful obedience to God we would not otherwise have.

In Christ, we are new creatures—experiencing a new way of being—Christ in us, the hope of glory. We find as we die with Christ to ourselves and our old way of being that Christ’s new “way of peace” finds greater and greater expression in us and through us. And we begin to experience real peace—peace within ourselves, peace in our relationships and in our communities.

As we turn to God in real dependency upon him in every situation, heeding the Word which tells us to “cast all our cares upon him” (1 Pet. 5:6), we begin to experience that peace “which surpasses understanding” (Phil. 4:6-7). We find a deep joy even in the midst of our sorrow and grief. This is the blessing of the amazing gift of God in his Son Jesus Christ we celebrate during the Advent season.

Abba, thank you for not leaving us in our brokenness and our stubborn resistance to your will. Thank you, Jesus, for forging for us “a way of peace” which we have not known and which we desperately need. Holy Spirit, enable us to turn away from ourselves and to Christ, trusting in his perfect relationship with Abba, and enable us to walk in the “way of peace” we were created for through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,/For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, … To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies,/Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. … To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,/To guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:68, 75, 79 NASB

A video of this blog may be accessed here.