death

Deciding Who’s In and Who’s Out

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Amazed by His Grace by Linda Rex May 17, 2002--resized

By Linda Rex

In the day to day issues of relationships, it would be helpful if there was a referee in our personal lives whose only responsibility was to tell us who’s in and who’s out. When we just can’t get along with someone because they are a stinking awful jerk (in our mind and maybe our experience too), we’d love to have someone come along and say to them “You’re out!” and blip! they’d just disappear.

This would be really helpful in those relationships where we’re not sure if the person is really what or who they say they are. We wouldn’t have to risk the danger of being wounded, hurt or rejected by them because the referee would just call them in or out, and everything would be wonderful.

When we’re having a fight with our mate, we’d be able to know for sure that indeed we are right and our mate is wrong (which is generally the case, right?). We wouldn’t have to wrestle with the discomfort of repentance, confession, and admission of guilt, not to mention the hassle of understanding, forgiveness and mercy.

I think this whole paradigm of some being in and some being out comes from the dualistic framework in which western culture and religion are framed. This impacts our relationships with one another and with God, and causes us to live out our existence with the idea that good and evil are real opposites with equal power. This way of thinking and believing has its roots in Greek philosophy. I appreciate Dr. Bruce Wauchope wrestling with this in his series on “God, the Who and the Why” (see the link on the blog site, bottom right).

We make a lot of assumptions that in reality are not based on the teachings of Christ and the early church. For example, we assume that either a person is in God’s kingdom or out of God’s kingdom. Often in our view, there’s no other alternative.

But the scripture teaches us that God through Christ and in the Spirit created all things, and all things are upheld by his powerful Word. (1 Cor. 8:6; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2; John 1:1-5) Nothing exists apart from God or outside of God. When Christ came to earth, taking on our human flesh, Jesus declared that the kingdom of God had come to earth in a real way in his very person and presence. God was present, and so his kingdom was being established in and through Jesus Christ.

And yet we talk about sin and evil and the evil one as though they exist in some place or existence apart from God. Dr. Wauchope points out that anything that exists in some place or existence apart from God is therefore self-existent, and therefore also a god. In other words, when we say that an evil person dies and goes to hell, separated from God forever, we are saying that person is capable of self-existent life apart from God and will sustain him or herself forever in an existence that is not dependent upon God in any way. But this is not the truth.

Nothing exists apart from God. All life is contingent upon God sustaining it and holding it. In order for anyone or anything to exist, God has to give it life. Even evil and the evil one, though not caused by God, are held within God’s very life and existence. They are permitted by God, but always servants of God. They must always bow the knee to God and God ever works to redeem and destroy the harm they do. They do not exist separately from or independently from God.

This is where alarm bells go off and people get offended. We believe that God cannot be in the presence of evil or sin, quoting Habakkuk 1:13. In reality the prophet was declaring that God cannot look on evil without doing something about it. And the way God did something about evil and sin was that he became sin for us. (2 Cor. 5:21) God came into our brokenness and healed it.

So we have to wrestle with this whole idea of who Jesus Christ is and what he did when he as God came into our human existence and reconciled all humanity, indeed even the creation, to God. If indeed in the very beginning God through the Word and by the Spirit breathed life into us to give us our very existence, and if indeed, God himself as the Word through the Spirit came into our very human existence and lived, died, and rose again, ascending while bearing our humanity with him, all of us as human beings exist within the kingdom God has established through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit.

Now, existing in the kingdom of God and participating in the kingdom of God are, I believe, two very different things. Just because we exist in the presence of God (which we all do) doesn’t mean that we even acknowledge that God exists. We can live our entire lives believing there is no such thing as a God. The gracious Creator of all allows us the freedom to do that. But the consequences of believing and living according to that lie are disastrous.

Suppose a person lived their entire life opposed to the idea that God exists at all, and they certainly did not believe that there was any such thing as heaven or hell. What if they were so adamant that when we die that we just cease to exist and that there is no existence beyond this human life—and then they died?

If it is true that God holds all things in his hand and nothing exists apart from him, it would be quite distressing for such a person to suddenly find themselves in the presence of a loving, gracious God. If this person had spent their whole life running from God and resisting every effort God made to draw them to himself, they would be caught in a serious dilemma.

They would find they had spent their entire life acting as if they were a law unto themselves, that they were a self-sustaining, self-existent one, who could make up their own rules and run every relationship however they chose. But now they are face to face with the reality that God in Christ defines and sustains their very existence. And they’re part of an enormous extended family. It’s like they’ve lived in a darkened room with the shutters drawn, and God has just walked in and turned on the floodlights, showing the room is filled with millions of people.

They’re in, but they’re wishing desperately to be out. God’s adopted them and given them life in the Spirit, but they’re wishing there’s some other family out there who’d take them in. So they run off screaming, hoping to find the door and leave, but they can’t leave. They’re on the inside—there is no outside.

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like a very nice way to spend eternity, does it?

Especially since we really can’t take anything with us but the relationships we have built during our lives and the character God has formed within us through Christ and in the Spirit. This poor person has no relationship with God (at least from their point of view) and many, if not all, of their relationships with others were based on selfish, self-centered motives which no longer apply in this new existence. And the One they thought was the referee (since apparently he does exist after all) has called them in, not out! What do they do now? Good question!

Holy Father, thank you for including each one of us in your life and love through your Son and in the Holy Spirit. Remove the blinders from our eyes so we can see the truth about who you are and who we are in you. Grant us the grace to fully embrace and participate in the adoption you have given us, allowing your Spirit to lead us and to transform us into Christlikeness. Through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, …” Romans 8:15–16 NASB

Seed of Glory

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Incarnation by Linda Rex, copyright 2005
Incarnation by Linda Rex

By Linda Rex

The other day I was listening to a presentation in which William Paul Young spoke about the story of his life and the events which led to his writing the best-selling book “The Shack”. This book has been quite controversial, especially since his approach to the presentation of the nature of the Trinity in the book is quite out of the box. Some Christian believers have been and are quite critical of the book and the author, while many millions of people of all walks of life and belief systems have found healing in their souls and in their relationship with God through Young’s writing.

In his presentation, William Paul Young talks about the horrors he experienced as a missionary child and how they created an inner world of shame that nearly destroyed him. In fact, at a critical moment in his life when he could no longer bear the truth of who he believed he was, a friend spoke into his shattered, broken being some simple words which gave him a reason to live. When all he could see was the abyss of his black, dark soul, she pointed him to the divine reality that in the midst of this darkness and death, was a tiny seed. A tiny seed—that was enough to give him hope.

I believe this was what Jesus was talking about when he told his disciples that he would soon be glorified. But his disciples could not grasp the truth that the path to glory was through death and resurrection. Over and over Jesus sought to explain how the kingdom of God would be inaugurated in this new way. At one point Jesus used the example of a grain of wheat which falls into the ground and dies, and through its dying ends up bearing a large amount of fruit.

When a person is sitting in the midst of a soul full of shame and guilt, and no matter where they turn they can see no hope, it is essential that they see the truth about who God is and who they are in him.

Unfortunately, the God many Christians believe in is a God of wrath, who is so holy that he cannot look upon evil, much less be touched by it. This leaves broken people in a very dark place. If God is the only One who can rescue broken people out of their darkness, shame and guilt, and yet he will not sully himself with sin, death or evil, then broken people have no hope.

This view of legal holiness is choking the life out of the Christian church today. And, sadly, it ignores the truth the early believers came to see and hammered out about the God who is Father, Son and Spirit and who is love.

The hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” talks about the broken and sinful nation of Israel pining away in the darkness, waiting for the light of the Messiah to dawn upon them. It is the cry of the ages—we are caught within a web of death created by our sinfulness and brokenness, and the evil one who seeks our demise. Where can we turn, if there is no God who will love us and rescue us?

But God, the God of the Bible, is concerned about a whole lot more than our holiness. He does not stand aloof from our brokenness and darkness. The Scripture says that even before the foundations of the world were set into place, this God who is love, knew and prepared for each one of us. He intended all along that you and I, every one of us, were to share eternity with him. He intended, even before any of us were created, to bind each one of us to himself in the incarnation.

The entrance of the God of the cosmos into our humanity changed the whole sweep of human existence. God in human flesh. This means that forever our humanity is joined with his divinity. There is life in the midst of death. There is healing in the midst of brokenness and darkness.

The simple statement of truth in scripture—Jesus became sin for us—is transformational. God is not too holy to be sullied by sin, death or evil! He took it on, and overcame it, transformed and healed it. He cleansed us and made us new—through Jesus Christ, through pouring into our humanity his glorious divine life.

Yes, of course! If anyone wants to participate in the kingdom of God, he or she must be born again—have new life (John 3). This is what Jesus did for all of humanity through his life, death and resurrection. We share in his life, death and resurrection and are made new. We are transformed because we receive God’s very life in our human flesh. Participating in the eucharist, in eating the bread and drinking the wine, reminds us of the beauty of this gift of God’s of life in Christ poured out into our human flesh.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are not the end of the gospel. There is so much more to the story! Because with Jesus, each of us died and rose again and were carried with Christ into the presence of the Father. Jesus bears our humanity even now in the presence of the Father. (Eph. 1)

This means that when we are sitting in the midst of our shame and guilt, in the darkness and brokenness of our human existence—no matter how dark or lost we may feel and be—we are not left hopeless. There is hope for you and for me! In the midst of all that death we experience and feel, there is a seed. There is life.

Death and resurrection—that is the path to glory. Jesus took it and invites each of us to travel it with him. He will not leave us in our darkness, but holds us by the hand and leads us to the Father. When he is done with us, we will see that in the midst of our darkness, the Father was with us the whole time, holding us and helping us, carrying us through.

Jesus’ words of loss on the cross, where he cried out for his Father and expressed his grief at not sensing his Father’s presence were taken from Psalm 22. In that psalm we see that our human experience of separation from God because of our brokenness is a lie—that no matter how bad things get—God never leaves us.

Jesus, as the incarnate Word, had through all eternity, never been separated from his Father or the Spirit. God, who is a Oneness of unity, equality and diversity was threatened with separation, but nothing could ever separate the triune Oneness—not even death on a cross. Jesus, as a human being may have experienced this silence, but it was a lie—God cannot be separated from himself—he is not a schizophrenic God.

The evil one struck at the very heart of the triune Oneness when he inspired the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But he could not separate God from himself. Jesus may have died in his humanity, but he entrusted his Spirit to the Father. He trusted God would raise him from the dead. He knew and trusted the Father’s heart, and so he rested in that deep knowing when he died.

In the midst of our darkness, however black it may be, there is always a glimmer of light. In our human death—whatever form it may take—there is a seed, a seed that will bear much fruit. Trust the Father’s heart, that it is good and it is love. God so loved—you and me, in the midst of our darkness, shame, guilt and sin—that he gave us himself. He planted a seed of glory in you and in me. He holds this pulsing, glowing promise of life in his hands, tenderly working until we all shine in glorious splendor like his Son. Trust him to finish what he has begun. Because he will.

Father, thank you for giving us the gift of yourself, in your Son and in your Spirit. Thank you that in the midst of our brokenness, darkness, and death we have the promise of life in Christ. Thank you for giving us hope. We trust you to finish your perfect work in us as you transform us into masterpieces of glory through Jesus Christ and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

“And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:23–24 NASB

A Father’s Love

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By Linda Rex

While reflecting on the events of Holy Week yesterday, it came to my mind that even the small details of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection reflect the love of the Father for his Son.

I got to thinking about how it was all orchestrated that Jesus, though born in poverty, was buried in a rich man’s tomb so that a long-forgotten scripture would be fulfilled:

His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
Isaiah 53:9

The Bible Knowledge Commentary suggests that perhaps Jesus had made these arrangements ahead of time with this Joseph. It is conceivable that Jesus might have done that, since he was well aware of what would occur and how it would end up, and had for quite some time been preparing his disciples for this reality. Jesus may have made sure this was taken care of so that his mother Mary or the rest of his family would not have had to deal with the details.

In any case, whoever this man Joseph of Arimathea was, we do know this about him: he risked his reputation, his position as a member of the Sanhedrin, and his life in order to give Jesus a dignified burial. This was not normally done for crucified criminals. They were normally thrown in a mass grave, rejected and forgotten, or not even buried.

Jesus’ kinsmen, the Jews, preferred the dignity of appropriate burial for their dead, but they would not have gone to the extent Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus went to in providing a new, unused family tomb, spices and fine linen for the burial of Jesus. Because Jesus had been crucified, they would not have given him an honorable burial at all.

Joseph was able to use his influence and position in the Sanhedrin to request from Pilate and receive the body of Jesus after his death. Jesus’ family would not have been able to request and receive his remains. Nor would have any of his disciples. Joseph was perfectly positioned to be able to do this.

And since Jesus was placed in a new tomb, and the tomb was sealed by the Jewish authorities and guarded by the Roman soldiers, the evidence for the resurrection was even more obvious when it occurred. No doubt Joseph’s service to Jesus ended up playing a bigger role in God’s plan than he ever imagined.

How fitting it was that Joseph of Arimathea bore the name of Jesus’ human father. In the Spirit of Jesus’ heavenly father, Joseph, with the help of others, expressed the compassion and affection of a loving parent by taking Jesus off his cross, tenderly caring for him and laying him in a new tomb.

Here is Jesus, God’s beloved Son, being given a hasty, but dignified burial worthy of a godly man and dearly loved child. Joseph participated in a unique way in God’s work of fulfilling all things through and in his Son Jesus Christ in his life, death and resurrection.

We can learn from this simple gesture of love and compassion that each of us has a unique place in God’s story. God takes us where we are, using not only our gifts and talents, but our relationships, our influence, our finances and belongings as well, in accomplishing his kingdom work.

We each can and do have a meaningful role in the accomplishment of God’s will in this world. Perhaps instead of trying to offer some significant, earth-splitting, profound contribution to mankind, we need to take a humbler path of service. Something so simple and profound as the care of the dead, giving of one’s wealth, time and reputation for the sake of caring for those who are the outcasts of society—this is a great gift of service.

Joseph illustrated with his life what Jesus did symbolically on his knees in the upper room the final night before his arrest. He gave freely and served humbly and compassionately. And it was enough.

Father, thank you for the gift of your Son. Thank you, too, for all the people you place in our lives who show us your love and compassion through their simple acts of service. Grant us the grace to serve humbly too with all that we have and all that we are. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

“When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away.” Matthew 27:57–60 NASB

Intercellular Living

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by Linda Rex

One of the most difficult ministry experiences I’ve had recently has been to be with members of my congregations as they go through the process of watching a loved one die of cancer. The strength they show in fighting this awful disease, dealing with the heartbreak and loss, and rebuilding after loss has been awesome and is a testimony to the grace and power of God. Losing a loved one is devastating, but it seems even more so when a family has to watch the loved one suffer and die slowly and progressively, whether from cancer or any other long-term disease.

Cancer, specifically, is so destructive to the human body because the building blocks of the body—the cells—turn into something they were never meant to be and subsequently attack the body they are a part of and are meant to help build up and sustain.

According to Wikipedia, cancer can occur when there is a loss of cell to cell interaction. When proper contact with neighboring cells is prevented from happening, cells become stunted and begin to collect into tumors and the unhealthy cells spread into other organs and places in the body. As the cancer continues it eventually spreads into the blood stream and lymph system and is carried throughout the body. And in time, and often after much suffering, the body dies. 1

Death, of course, happens to each of us at some point in our lives. It is inevitable. But I don’t believe God ever intended any of us to have go through the suffering and horror of cancer.

Yet it happens. It happens because we are frail and flawed human beings and we live in a broken world. It happens because we attempt to step away from and live apart from the God who designed and made us and the world we live in.

Thankfully, this life is not the end—God never meant it to be. He always meant for us to live in eternity with him in glorified human bodies which are strong, beautiful and whole, and in relationships with him and one another that are healthy and intricately intertwined by love and grace through Christ in the Spirit—just like the intricately intertwined relations of the cells in a healthy human body.

Even though the apostle Paul probably did not know what a cell was, his description of human interaction in the body of Christ reflects the truth of how we have been intertwined together by the Holy Spirit into one body in Christ. When we lose healthy interaction with one another, we begin to destroy one another instead of building one another up. When we believe things that are not true about God, about ourselves and others and act on those beliefs, we begin to destroy not only ourselves, but the body of Christ as a whole. This is also just as true in our communities, our state, nation and the world.

Even though we often try to live like it isn’t true, none of us exists apart from someone else. We were created to live in loving relationship with the Creator and one another. We were designed to exist in intricately woven webs of relationships which require healthy interaction and reciprocal caring in order to function in the best way possible.

We were each created uniquely, not so that we would be separate from one another, but so that we would all fit together into a united, well-coordinated whole—a body. This body’s life was given to us in Jesus Christ and has its source in the Holy Spirit.

Because there is one Spirit manifested in many ways, we are each unique and yet one. Just as a blood cell is not the same as a brain cell or a skin cell, none of us are the same. But the human body would not be what it should be if it did not have all three and every other different type of cell it needs to be whole and well.

When a person lives in a way that is contrary to their design by God, when they are abusive, selfish, fearful, hurtful to others, then they are like a stunted cancer cell. Such a person influences, affects, harms other people around them who in turn harm, wound and corrupt others—just as cancer cells metastasize and spread.

When society, culture, cities, nations, organizations, and churches become twisted and unhealthy, it is because the individuals within have lost their center in Jesus Christ. They are living out of their human brokenness instead of in the Spirit of life as God originally created them to live—in healthy relationship with God and one another. A cancer is created that in time, if unchecked, destroys families, churches, communities, organizations, cities, and nations.

So is cancer inevitable? Will cancer always win? Where’s the hope in this?

Our only hope is what it always has been from the beginning—in the God who loves us so much that he came himself in the Word, took on our human flesh and cleansed and healed it with his own divine Presence. Jesus Christ is the answer because he is the whole, cleansed and purified human we were all meant to be. He lived the life we were meant to live, suffered our pains, died our broken death and rose from the grave. He took our human flesh into the presence of God and gave us the gift of his blessed Presence in the Holy Spirit so that we could be regenerated or made new.

In Jesus Christ, every broken, cancerous cell in the human body, both individually and collectively, has been healed, cleansed and restored. God has declared us to be whole and well. He is offering to you and to me life in Jesus Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit. When we receive and embrace this, believing this truth and living accordingly, our hearts, minds and lives will be healed and transformed.

The corrupting cancers of sin, self and Satan have been neutralized and transformed by the healing Presence of the life-giving Spirit in Christ. Death has been defeated. Jesus triumphed over the cancers of evil, sickness and death. They can only make a big noise, bluster and try to cause pain, fear and suffering and to destroy our faith. But they have no power over us any longer. One day they will be only a forgotten memory. In the presence of the Living God they are nothing but a moment in the eternity of his Love.

As we embrace new life in Christ and live in the intimate fellowship with God and each other we were created for, the cancers of sin, self and Satan will be supplanted by spiritual, mental, emotional and social wholeness and health.

Sometimes it is a battle. Just as we battle cancer of the human body with every possible instrument we have available to us, we battle these cancers of the spirit with the divine weapons of the Holy Spirit—receiving God’s gift of salvation, trusting in Christ’s righteousness, and believing and living in the Spirit of truth and the Word of God. We use divine methods of treatment, but we do this in Christ. He is our life. He is our breath. He is the One who lives the life we seek to live.

It is the Presence of the living Word within, the Holy Spirit, who reminds us we are God’s beloved children and who guides us and teaches us how to live in healthy relationship with God and others. As we listen to him and grow up in this divine Life, we become a healthy part of the body of Christ, of our family, our community, our state, nation and world. Our true value and worth can begin to be seen and contributed to the whole. And this is what God created us to be in our own uniqueness and giftedness. This is the intercellular life God designed us to have from, with and in him forever. This is worth living and dying for.

Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth and all that is in them, thank you. Thank you for life and breath, for all that you give us each and every day. Holy, Eternal Father, we believe in and embrace the gift of new life you have made possible for us in the life, death and resurrection of your precious Son Jesus Christ. Thank you for giving us new life even now in Christ by your Holy Spirit, your Presence within. Dear Jesus, we acknowledge you as our Lord as you are our Savior—we commit ourselves to live not in ourselves and our sin and brokenness, our guilt and shame, but in the forgiveness, healing and wholeness we have been given in you. Be our life, be our breath, our healing, health and wholeness. Almighty God, in your One Name as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we pray. Amen.

“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:3-5

1 “Cell–cell interaction”, “Metastasis”, “Metaplasia”, “Dysplasia”, “Anaplasia”, Wikipedia.com. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cell-cell_interaction (Accessed 11/22/13).