death

To Hire a Sheriff

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By Linda Rex

Good Friday: There was a time in my life where one of my favorite authors was Zane Grey. One reason I enjoyed his westerns was because he illustrated well both the beauty and depravity of the human heart and spirit. Granted, by modern standards, his writing may have been laborious and tedious at times. And I understand history was much more complex than what was described in the pages of his books. But the whole idea of humans taking on the adventure of settling in a new land and being transformed as they faced the dangers and challenges inherent with such a change has been inspiring and instructive to me.

One of the concerns wrestled with by inhabitants of the newly settled West was that of law and order. Former citizens of the Eastern seaboard took it for granted the average person was bound by an inherent need to do what was best for the community and to live by standards of honesty and decency. Having officers of the law available to enforce these expectations was assumed. But such individuals did not exist in the West in the early years. What did exist was the inner law, however misguided, of the hearts and minds of those venturing out into areas which were unsettled by those not native to America.

As small towns grew up, one of the settlers’ first items of business might have been to begin to enforce law and order. The citizens of these small towns would come together and agree to hire or elect a sheriff. These sheriffs usually weren’t picked because they were nice, friendly folks. Rather, they were almost always men who could draw a gun at lightning speed and track down and bring to justice evil men who preyed upon others. These sheriffs often were just as hard, cold and calculating as those men the townspeople were hoping to get rid of, but that was the price the townspeople were willing to pay in order to have law and order in their community.

If you were to drop down into the midst of one of these stories, you might find yourself standing in front of the general store, facing a ragged-looking pony. Looking up the street you’d see a tall, lean man standing quietly on the dusty road, his body tense, his guns low, and his hands hovering close by his holsters. He’d be intently staring up the road at something.

You’d lean a little to the left to look past the pony, and you’d see a couple of nasty looking fellows, both of whom are sporting wicked leers and heavy artillery on their belts. At this point, you’d decide you’d be much safer inside the general store, especially since all the other residents would have vacated the street several minutes ago.

Imagine at this point if instead of electing a tall, dark gunslinger for sheriff, the townspeople had hired Jesus Christ. Yes, I realize that even trying to imagine this possibility might cause excruciating mental torment, but please bear with me.

These two, twisted, violent men are well known in their community for the horrible things they have done to men, women and children, and for the wretchedness of their character and behavior. They are cold, calculating, and evil to the core. And they are facing a man who looks at them with eyes of compassion and understanding, but who is not wearing any form of law enforcement equipment. What would happen next?

I can’t imagine any author of Western novels creating such a storyline. The West wasn’t “won” by mild-mannered men in robes and sandals. Law and order wasn’t established by someone offering multitudes bread and fish, or by someone telling parables and healing the sick. This isn’t what we associate with the civilizing of early Western America. To even imagine this possibility creates a huge level of disbelief in our hearts and minds.

In the same way, the historical event of Good Friday stands out in my mind as an enormously unbelievable and countercultural event. It seems we as human beings refuse to accept the reality we are more inclined to resolve our issues through the application of force, violence and control than to resolve them by offering ourselves up in humility, service and sacrifice. To handle the depravity and brokenness of human nature by giving oneself over to be beaten, ridiculed and crucified just doesn’t make sense to us. Yet, this is what Jesus did.

God came to earth and we crucified him. It’s as simple as that. When Jesus Christ could have drawn upon all the power inherent within himself to execute deserved retribution on all who hated him, abused and crucified him, he instead offered himself up as a sacrifice. Even though God could have created law and order by forcing people to do everything the way he wanted it done, God gave us instead the freedom to choose and to make mistakes. And the Father even offered us his beloved Son, and we treated his Son shamefully, rejecting his most precious gift by destroying the One who came to save us.

But it was in that very effort of ours to destroy the One who was given to us God did his most amazing work. It was in our rejection of and crucifixion of Jesus Christ that God bound us to himself with inseparable cords of love. Through the resurrection, what was meant for death and destruction has become our salvation and redemption. This is God’s most amazing creation of all—a new humanity built in the midst of and out of the depths of our depravity, evil and brokenness. God said we were worth every bit of suffering and loss the Father, Son and Spirit had to experience in order to bring about his perfect end.

Unlike the perfect Zane Grey ending where the cowboy gets the girl and puts the criminals behind bars or under the gravestones in the local cemetery, God gives us a more perfect ending. He works it out so he has us, with him, for all eternity. He gets transformed, healed, renewed children to share his life and love forever. And in my humble opinion, that is the best possible ending to the story which includes the events of Good Friday. What more could we ask for?

Lord Jesus, I don’t understand how you could just stand there and let us do to you what we did. But you allowed us to do to you whatever we wanted—and it turns out we treated you shamefully, rejecting you and your love, and we tried to destroy the most precious gift your Father could have offered us. It is amazing how your Father took this very act and used it to bind us all to you in an unbreakable bond of love. Now we are yours, God, forever, in the grace offered us in you, Jesus. Thank you for your unfailing love and forgiveness, through Jesus Christ and by your Spirit we pray. Amen.

“So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?’” John 18:11 NASB

Not Just a Taste

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by Linda Rex

Lent: One of the things my kids have always hated is the taste of coconut. I myself, having grown up in southern California and been exposed to a variety of tastes as a child, am quite fond of the taste of coconut. I enjoy the taste of pineapple and coconut on top of cottage cheese, and in piña colada yogurt. I like cake with coconut icing. But since my kids don’t care for coconut, I don’t usually use it in my cooking.

There was one time, though, when I had a very large bag of coconut which my mother had left in her fridge when she moved to Texas. I took it home and thought, however feebly, that perhaps I could make something with it so it wouldn’t go to waste. My initial attempt involved hiding it in no-bake chocolate cookies. At first my kids surprised me by eating them. But then they realized they had coconut inside. And from then on I had to eat the rest of the batch myself. Not that I minded. They were chocolate, after all.

The other day my daughter opened a box of chocolates someone gave her, picked a nougat out and bit into it. Her face screwed up and I just had to laugh. “Coconut?” I asked. She nodded and handed the piece to me. She still can’t stand the taste of coconut in any form.

Truthfully I believe we all have the same response when faced with death. None of us likes to taste death in any form, whether it is our own death, the death of someone close to us, the death of a relationship, the death of a community or business, or the death of a career. For us, as humans, death seems so final and devastating. It is an end, and such ends are unbearable.

We tend to approach death a lot like the way my kids approach coconut—with tight lips and a clenched jaw, and a refusal to even give it a taste. Death to us is anathema in any form, even when it’s hidden in something we like. Death is not something we embrace but something we reject, flee from, or despair in the midst of.

I believe this is one reason why Jesus by God’s grace came to “taste death for everyone.” Jesus experienced death in a wide variety of ways—not only the death of his body at his crucifixion, but also, for example, in the death of his close relationships and ministry when his disciples abandoned him at the end, and the death of the public acclaim for him that he experienced entering Jerusalem, which turned into the shout, “Crucify him!” His death on the cross was a collection of many little deaths that culminated in the end of his life as Son of God and Son of man.

Jesus tasted the fullness of death. His body was placed in a tomb and he laid there just as every human being lies in death when the life God gives by the Spirit leaves his or her body. His disciples believed it was all over. His family grieved his loss deeply. Death was effectively and completely a part of Jesus’ story from that day on.

There is nothing about death that Jesus is not familiar with. No matter how bad the taste, Jesus drank death to the last drop, all for our sake. He tasted death for everyone.

The thing is, Jesus’ purpose in tasting death for all of us was so we would have our taste buds changed. In other words, death would no longer have a hold on us or be for us such an offensive, devastating thing. Because of Christ, the apostle Paul said, death has lost its sting.

How can this be? The reason is because death is now so intimately connected with the resurrection. For you and me, death is not an end in and of itself. Death is merely the flipside to a new beginning. Instead of dreading death or running from death, because of Christ we can embrace death as God’s means of bringing about new life.

This doesn’t mean that death isn’t painful and doesn’t involve suffering. Death is still a difficult and heart-rending experience for us as human beings.

The reason death hurts so much is because we were not created for death. We were created for life. God meant for us to eat only of the tree of life, not to experience the consequences of eating of the wrong tree. Death is the result of our choices. Our brokenness and the brokenness of creation mean that death is a part of the human story now.

But Jesus embraced our death in himself. He included himself in our story and he turned death on its head. Death and resurrection are now inseparable twins—in Christ God has made all things new. This means in our loss and grief, we have someone who shares it with us. And we have hope for life beyond death. There is so much more to our human existence than just this!

So really, when facing death, all God is asking of us is merely to taste it—for in tasting death, we find that God in Christ has given us victory over it. If we are facing the death of a relationship, we turn to Christ. In the midst of this death, as we turn to Christ, we will find our new life—whether healing of the relationship or the possibility of new, healthier relationships. The same holds true for all the other little and big deaths we face during our lives.

At some point we have to accept that the human experience is going to include the experience of death of some kind. How we experience death is going to depend upon our willingness to align ourselves with the truth of what Jesus has done in tasting death for everyone. We can see death as an end in itself or as it really is, merely the flipside to a new beginning.

The truth is, we died with Christ and we rose with Christ. And when he comes, we will share in his glory. This is our hope and our assurance—thank you, Jesus.

Holy Father, thank you for your amazing love. You did not leave us in our brokenness and lostness, bound by chains of death. You gave us your Son, who by your Spirit tasted death for all of us, so we could be free to truly live in you. What a blessing and gift! We have new life in Jesus! Thank you. In your Name we pray, amen.

“But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” Hebrews 2:9 NASB

It’s Tempting, But…

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by Linda Rex

Lent: In our two churches we have been considering the reality of temptation. We’ve been learning that temptation is something every human faces, especially when it comes to our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. Falling prey to temptation is part of our human condition—none of us are exempt from the lure of sin.

As we look towards Holy Week and the gift of the death and resurrection of God’s Son on our behalf, we can find comfort in the life Jesus lived, the death he died, because he faced every temptation we face, but did not sin. We participate in his perfected humanity by the Holy Spirit, and in that way we are able to endure temptation and resist the pull to sin.

It is normal for us as human beings to come up against something in our lives that tells us quite convincingly that God is not to be trusted—that he is not the loving, compassionate God he is in reality. Life circumstances, the way significant people in our lives treat us and our response to these experiences, all play a role in the way we view God and whether or not we believe he is trustworthy and loving.

What we believe about God and who he is, and about ourselves and who we are, directly impacts the way we respond to the events in our lives as well as the way we respond to the desires and pulls of our broken humanity. The emptiness we may feel at times and the hidden dark areas we push down inside ourselves because they are too painful to face often drive us in ways we don’t recognize or expect. Sometimes it seems that our behavior is beyond our control.

We may find ourselves addicted to substances or habits we’d rather not be held to, and we may find ourselves in relationships or circumstances that are unhealthy and destructive, but we don’t know how to step away from them and move on. We may hear some preacher say that we need to repent and put sin out of our lives, but sin doesn’t hear the sermon and stays in spite of all our efforts to get rid of it.

If facing temptation is a common human experience, and temptation is something that Jesus faced alongside each one of us during his life here on earth, then we need to understand being tempted to do or say or be something that does not express love for God or for others is not a sin in itself. Temptation happens. How we face that temptation will determine whether we will endure and resist it, or whether we will give in to it.

The key, when it comes to resisting temptation, has to do with our relationship with God in Christ through the Spirit. We need first to understand that God is faithful. He would not allow us to be tempted if he hadn’t first provided us with what we needed to overcome that temptation and to resist it. And he did this—he gave us Jesus Christ and the Spirit.

Jesus Christ endured the same temptations and yet did not sin, no matter how enticing those temptations were. His perfected humanity is ours through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit, Jesus dwells in our hearts. The “mystery of godliness” the apostle Paul said, is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ in us by the Spirit is what we need to overcome every temptation and resist it. Christ did it, and we participate in that finished work by the Spirit in us.

When we are living in intimate relationship with the Father, through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit, in a daily walk with God that involves transparency, authenticity, humility and an acknowledgement of our dependency upon God for all things, temptations begin to be seen for what they are. We begin to see that temptations are invitations to break fellowship with God and others.

When we experience the broken relationships, alienation and separation that comes with yielding to temptation, and we face the pain that comes with the consequences of our sins, this can be a springboard to a deeper relationship with God. It is God’s mercy and kindness that brings us to the place of repentance so that we will give up our idolatries, our immorality, and our ingratitude towards God.

When we have experienced what it is like to walk in a close relationship with God, where the Spirit begins to work to transform us and we encounter Christ in a personal, intimate communion, we find that we don’t what to do anything that will mar or break that relationship. We won’t want to offend or insult or harm God or others in any way. This is Christ in us—God’s heart and mind are beginning to become ours. This is our best resistance to temptation.

Granted, we do participate in the process of resisting temptation. We do this by growing in and deepening our relationship with God. We open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit, and invite him to grow Christ in us, and we do this by practicing spiritual disciplines such as prayer, meditation on God and his Word, meeting together for worship and fellowship, reading the Word of God, caring for others, and participating in small groups.

We may need to practice a spiritual discipline which offers up to God our commitment to put away things that cause us to be tempted to do what is wrong. We may need to eliminate certain things or particular relationships out of our daily existence because they cause us to be tempted to break fellowship with God or others. We may need to stop listening to or watching things that encourage us to participate in ungodly ways of living or being.

Not all of us are strong in every area of our lives to where we are never tempted in some way. It is foolish to constantly tempt ourselves, especially when God is calling us to put off the old self and to put on our new self which was given to us in Christ Jesus. Part of our participation in Christ’s perfected humanity involves choosing to live in agreement with the King of the kingdom of God rather than insisting on being a law unto ourselves.

But ultimately, we will face temptations that seem beyond our ability to resist. We will have areas in our lives where we cannot seem to ever overcome some flaw or fault or sin. We will struggle in some areas and no matter how hard we try to resist the temptation, we fail. God will, more than once, bring us to the place where we have to recognize and acknowledge that we are incapable of resisting sin on our own. We are incapable of perfection in this life—it cannot be done by us, on our own.

God says to you and to me—accept the reality of your need for grace. Turn to Christ. He is your perfected humanity—he is your life. Respond to the gift of the Spirit God has given you. Open yourself to the work he is trying to do in you and in your life even now. God is at work in you, providing the way of escape from temptation and enabling you to endure the temptations you are facing. He is faithful. He will not stop until he has finished what he began in you—to reveal Christ in you. Praise his holy Name.

Lord Jesus, I thank you that you endured every temptation you faced and you did not sin. And thank you for sharing this perfect resistance against temptation with us by the Spirit. I pray, Father, that you will finish the work you have begun in us so that we might fully reflect the image of Christ and that by your Spirit we may live in close fellowship with you and one another. We look forward to an eternity spent in gracious loving communion with you and one another. In your Name we pray. Amen.

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 NASB

Dread, or Anticipation?

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By Linda Rex

Have you ever had one of those situations that come up in life where you know you have to go do something, maybe go to a meeting, or see the doctor or dentist, or go visit a friend, and you don’t know whether to be excited about it or to absolutely dread it? It seems like I’ve had a few things I really wanted to do this week, but the thought of doing them has not given me any sense of anticipation, but only a dread of what might happen and how difficult they were going to be to get done.

The irony has been that this week, the weather has been such that a couple of the meetings I had to go to were cancelled. It’s not that I didn’t want to go to them—it’s more that my health is such right now that I cannot handle very much stress or exercise without having more fluttering or pressure in my chest from my heart acting up. I anticipate going to have the tests done on my heart next week, but I also dread what that is going to involve since I don’t really care that much for having medical procedures done on me.

It’s hard to know exactly how something is going to turn out. We, as far as I am aware, do not have the capacity to predict these type of life events with much accuracy. So we plan ahead the best that we are able to, and then we are in a position of needing to trust God the rest of the way. We walk by faith, not by sight.

I think we have to keep this faith perspective in front of us when we begin to talk about what happens after death. I believe this is especially true when it comes to dealing with issues of judgment. By that I mean that we have certain people we or others have encountered in life who seem to be just evil at their very core. In our minds, we believe that at the least they deserve to be punished for all the harm they have done in their lives. And we form this idea in our minds that becomes our apocalyptic end time, or our concept of hell.

But if we take seriously our belief that Jesus became sin for us, meaning all humanity, and he lived our life and died our death because he shares in our humanity, and arose carrying all humanity with him into the presence of the Father, then we need to rethink some things. Because our concepts of judgment and condemnation may need to be adjusted.

We can face death with either dread or anticipation. I’ve watched people mourn and grieve because a loved one did not know Christ before they died—and they are convinced that they have gone straight to hell—which for them means painful agonizing suffering forever. Surely we need to reconsider what hell may be, because even though the Scripture talks about the fire that is not quenched, I’m not convinced that the fire is a literal thing that burns people forever.

Let me explain. What if we consider the situation of someone who everyone believes was horribly evil and did awful things in his life—let’s say—Hitler. Here is a man who orchestrated genocide and the twisting of the German church and state into a horror not yet forgotten. We still have people among us who bear the imprint of the numbers of their incarceration. He was a scary, twisted human being. Of all people who deserve to “go to hell”, he is one.

The first concern I have is the issue of judgment. Who is Hitler’s judge? It is not me or you but Christ. And ironically, the One who is the Judge is the One who paid the price for all that Hitler thought and did while he was alive. Hmmm…that can’t be right—Hitler has the ultimate “Get Out of Jail Free” card—Jesus Christ!

So what about all the things he did while he was alive? Doesn’t he deserve to be punished? Shouldn’t he have to suffer the way he caused so many others to suffer? How can God be a just God if he just lets him off the hook? Doesn’t he deserve to be condemned?

That’s a really good question. If indeed, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and we are all “in Christ” because in him “we live and move and have our being” and we live, die and rise in Christ’s humanity, then he is not condemned. That can’t be right, can it?

But the real thing we need to consider is the overwhelming majesty and passion (or fire) of God’s love, which never ends, and in the end will burn away all that is not of God and his grace and love. God’s love for such a man is greater than anything we can think of or even imagine.

God’s heart for Hitler is the same as his heart for you and me—that he share in the life and love of the Father, Son and Spirit for all eternity. And the only way he can share in that love and life is to be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit within and without, through grace by faith. Just because he died and is now in the presence of God, does that mean that God is going to stop loving him into the person he created him to be?

What if the fire of God’s love continues to rage against the evil that has control of Hitler’s mind and heart? For example, what if Hitler has to come face to face with each and every person he ever harmed or betrayed, and in doing so, has to experience not only the horror of what he did to people, but also the guilt and shame that goes with it? And what if those people and Christ himself, offers him grace over and over? And what if he doesn’t want any of it, but just wants to escape it all or not have to face up to anything he did?

When it comes to the place that all evil is cast away and all that is left is what is good, and holy, and right—will there be a place for him? In that place where the evil one has no control or influence any longer, he cannot blame anyone but himself for what he did. He comes face to face with who he really is—both his broken humanity and the new life offered him in Christ.

This is God’s love for him in the midst of eternity. And this for him can be heaven—a joining in the celebration and joy of communion with all others in the life and love of God, or hell—a refusal to accept or acknowledge the reality of the grace and love being offered to him in and through Christ by the Spirit. This refusal of God’s grace and love means a life lived in isolation and alienation, one of self-condemnation he has chosen to live in for all eternity.

The fire of God’s love never ceases to burn away all that is not what we were meant to be as humans made in God’s image. For someone who refuses to repent and believe, that is hell, because it goes against the grain, and it forces them to face spiritual realities they do not want to face. It means all they depended upon and believed in is of no value and no longer exists. They have nothing left, but the truth. And that can be excruciating, especially if they don’t want to believe or accept it.

God is not ungracious and mean. He is not a horrible monster. He loves people enough that he gave them eternal life even when they didn’t deserve it. But the quality of the life they enjoy has fundamentally to do with what they believe about God and who he is, and what they believe about themselves and who they are.

The future after death can be anticipated or dreaded—either way it will be an expression of God’s love for humanity and his firm belief that we will be the adopted children he created in the first place to bear his very image in our being. But as C.S. Lewis wrote, heaven’s door is open on the outside, and we can enter in if we so choose, or stand outside and feel sorry for ourselves.

Some of us may decide when we get there that we don’t have any interest in the celebration whatsoever. But the fire of God’s love will not cease drawing us to himself and purifying us forever. How we will experience that fire, as a consuming fire that can’t be quenched or a transforming flame that warms our souls, will be determined by our response to God’s love and grace. May we anticipate and not dread the day we come face to face with the living Christ.

Loving Father, thank you for giving us a promise of eternity in your Son and in the gift of your Spirit. Grant us the grace to receive your gift of life today so that we may experience your love even today in every way in our lives. May we also rejoice with you in the eternal celebration of life forever through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit. Amen.


“For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, ‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’”
1 Peter 4:17–18 NIV

Putting New Wine in this Old Wineskin

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By Linda Rex

Recently I spent several hours in the emergency room because my heart was in atrial defibrillation and would not go back to a regular rhythm until I had been given several medications. I do not know yet what the real reason for this episode is yet—I have a couple tests the cardiologist wants to put me through first. But I do know that having an event like this in my life has given me an opportunity to simply appreciate the moments I have left, as well as the relationships God has blessed me with over the years.

Going through this is also helping me once again to face the over-fifty reality that I’m getting older and my health is not what it used to be. Genetics, lifestyle consequences, you name it—it all adds up to, I can’t do everything I used to be able to do. My mind and my will may want to do certain things, but my body just can’t take it anymore, whether I like it or not.

When I worked at the care center I used to laugh with the seniors about this. We’d agree that just like a fine wine, we don’t get older, we get better and more refined with age. It’s not that getting older is so bad, it’s just having to live with the body that goes with it—it just doesn’t work like it used to and that’s no fun.

Sometime in the midst of my musings over my forced rest from any stress or exertion, my morning reading included the passage in Matthew 9 where Jesus talked about not patching an old piece of clothing with new cloth, and not putting new wine into old wineskins. For some reason this really stuck out in my mind, probably because our lectionary passage for Sunday is the story about Jesus turning water into wine.

Jesus had this deal about wine. I think it’s pretty funny that Jesus would do an “in your face” type of move like turning the water used for ritual washing into wine for drinking. How like him! And he didn’t just make enough for the day’s meal. He made more than one hundred gallons! There could be some serious inebriation going on with that amount of wine at the wedding. But that didn’t seem to matter to him.

Changing water used for ritual washing into wine to drink—there are a lot of ramifications to what he did when he did this simple miracle. When he talked about the importance of not putting new wine into old wineskins, he was talking about something similar, but totally different as well. The first things most commentators point out about both is that Jesus was pointing out the reality that the old way of the Jewish temple worship was to be superseded by the living Messiah, who would be both our sacrificial Lamb and our High Priest. The old way of approaching God and worshiping him was being replaced with the new way of the ministry of the Spirit through Christ.

But it struck me this week that there was a lot more going on here than just the removal of an old sacrificial system through the coming of the Messiah. Indeed, Jesus did a lot more than just create a new way of worshiping God. What he did in sharing our humanity, dying our death and rising again was so much more than just that.

We learn in Ephesians 1 and elsewhere that before time God intended humanity to share his life and love as his adopted children. But as we were, we could not hold the majesty of the life of the Trinity within us in the way that God wanted us to. We could not share in the divine life the way God intended us to. Truly, God holds all things and nothing exists outside of him. But there was a lack in our human capacity to relate to and grasp the spiritual realities we were created to exist within. We could only see ourselves as alienated from God and unworthy of his love. In many ways our humanity was like those old wineskins. If God would have tried to pour into us the fullness of his glory and love would we not have been broken? For surely God offered us his life, but we rejected it.

Jesus in coming into our humanity, dying and rising again created for all of us a new wineskin, and then sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in human hearts. What amazing love God has that he would do whatever it took so that we could share in the divine life and love! Now, as Jesus said it would be, we have the amazing gift of the indwelling Father and Son in the Spirit. New wine in these old wineskins that have been made new so they could contain that new wine. Instead of those old clothes that are patched and worn, God gave us new wedding clothes.

And there I am, back at the wedding again, where there’s an overabundance of wine. Surely God’s Spirit is limitless and God has poured out on us the tremendous precious gift of his Spirit who brings all God’s blessings into full expression in us and in our world as we participate actively in the divine life and love. Drink in of this wonderful luxury—God’s Presence in us and with us at every moment, as we are held in union with God through Christ, and experience loving communion with God and one another in the Spirit. That’s some wedding!

Thank you, Father, for inviting all of us to the wedding of your Son to his beautiful Bride, and for creating in Christ a new humanity to be filled with your divine Presence in the Spirit. How wonderful that we all may live each moment in anticipation of the day when we can sit at this wedding feast in glory, but thank you also that even now we sit in glory with you through Christ in the Spirit and can drink in of that heady glorious wine of eternity each and every moment of every day. In your Name, Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.

“Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:17 NASB

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough.’ ” Luke 5:37–39 NASB

Gifts for the Dead and Dying

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Ice on holly leaves and berries
Ice on holly leaves and berries

By Linda Rex

Recently I had the privilege of participating in the funeral of one of the members of our Nashville congregation. What made it a beautiful event was the family members standing up and telling everyone of the impact their loved one had on their lives. The legacy he left in the lives of his friends and family was the most important thing he left behind.

It reminded me that one of the best gifts we can give to others while we are alive is a life lived well and for the sake of God and others. Walking my mother through her end of life and handling her affairs after her death is necessarily causing me to reflect on issues regarding death and dying. And I can’t help but ask myself, “What I am going to leave behind?” and “What impact am I really having on the people around me right now?”

On the Christian calendar, we celebrate the coming of the wise men from the East on Epiphany, which took place this year on Wednesday, January 6th. Epiphany reminds us that Jesus did not come just as the Messiah for the Jewish people, but for the deliverance of all people from sin and death. The gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh that were given to Jesus and his parents pointed to Jesus’ role as the prophet, priest and king who would die on humanity’s behalf.

Jesus didn’t come to earth just to live. He also came to die. Here, shortly after his birth, his family was faced with the reality that there was going to be a whole lot more to Jesus’ life than that of the typical Jewish child of his day. And it might not even end well. Did not Simeon say that Jesus would be a light to the Gentiles, but “a sword will pierce even your own soul”? (Luke 2:35) Death and dying, apparently, were to be an important part of Jesus’ future.

Whether we like it or not, death and dying are an important part of our future too. We don’t like to talk about death or dying, much less think about it. It can be a struggle to get ourselves to do simple things like writing out a will or planning our estate, because somehow it seems to create a sense of finality about our lives—there is an end and it’s coming soon, and we’d rather not think about it right now.

Have you ever thought about the reality that God wrote a will out for you and me and planned an estate for us already? That he has some very special gifts for you and me—all of us who are at this moment dead and dying? (Col 2:13) Like the “three kings of Orient” brought gifts that spoke to the reality of the Christ child and his future, the Father, Son and Spirit have brought us gifts as well that speak to the reality of our future.

Like the gift of gold which was presented to Jesus the King, God gives to each of us the wealth of his kingdom life and love through the gift of his Son. God has given each of us the gift of a High Priest who intercedes for us on our behalf, offering perfected prayers as the frankincense which was offered to the Christ child would bring a sweet aroma when presented by the priest. And the myrrh, used to anoint a dead body, reminds us that Jesus anointed each of our dead bodies with his eternal life and the gift of his Spirit. What better gifts could we receive than these?

Yes, the decisions we make now affect our prospects for the future, but not as much as the decisions we make now about our relationships with God and each other. Yet none of these decisions are as earth-shatteringly important as the one God made before time began, that each of us would be his adopted child, and that his Son would live and die to make that possible. His Son’s legacy would be millions and billions of glorified human beings, bound together through Jesus and in the Spirit in a relationship of love and grace with one another and with God forever.

We get all bent out of shape about death and dying, but for God, it is merely a step into eternity. His Son Jesus not only left behind for us a legacy, but also prepared for us a future. We need to adjust to an eternal perspective about life and living, death and dying.

We may live in the not yet of God’s kingdom life now, but we are also just passing through, headed on our way to the fullness of the kingdom life to come. And it is only a short breath away from being our own turn to face it. May we do so with courage and confidence, knowing God’s gift comes to us through faith, hope and love in the gift of his Son and his Spirit, and we have nothing to fear.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit, for all the spiritual blessings you have poured out on us now and also in anticipation of eternity with you. Grant us the grace to receive all your gifts with gratitude and joy, and to live in the light of eternal values and goals in the today of our lives. May each moment shine with your eternal light so that others can see there is so much more to life than just death and dying, but there is also faith, hope, and love, and eternity with you. Through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:9-11 NASB

The Battle Against Despair

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FOR ADVENT: Hope
By Linda Rex

I recall a conversation I had a while back with a beautiful lady who has seen the struggles and difficulties of life. She had recently experienced the cruelty of unjustly losing her livelihood after having worked very hard to finally have her own home and to pay off all her bills. When she was finally starting to see some light in her dark life, she was knocked down again.

In the midst of this situation, the one thing she needed, she said, was to have some glimmer of hope. She needed to be able to believe that there was a good reason to go through another day, to try one more time to do things in a way that was honorable and ethical in the midst of a culture that told her to take the easy route of dependency, addiction and sloth.

To tell her to keep believing, to insist that she try one more time, was not enough. She had reached the end of her resources—there wasn’t anything left inside to carry her, and there wasn’t anything left outside in her life to lift her up. She felt all alone, forgotten, unloved, and unwanted. She felt a deep sense of despair. Nothing could help her.

Or so she thought. It was in the midst of this place that she encountered the living Lord.

How Christ comes to meet us in the midst of our despair and darkness is unique to each of us. He met his people Israel in a time when they despaired of ever hearing from God again—a time when they were held in the grip of a pagan government which disrespected their heritage and their God. And he came to them in a form they never expected—a tiny, helpless infant lain in a manger by a common carpenter and his bride.

One of the ways Christ came to this lady in despair was in the people of faith he began to place in her life. These particular people began to share life with her, expressing God’s love for her in various ways.

They did not always do what she expected. They did not pay her bills or take care of her problems the way she wanted them to. But they did provide her with love and concern and prayer. They did provide her with the means to better her life and to grow as a human being into greater Christlikeness. It turns out that through them and through the Word of God, they gave her what she needed most—hope in the midst of her despair. They introduced her to Jesus Christ.

Christ is our hope in the midst of despair. He is that divine Word from the Father of Lights who entered our humanity and joined us in the midst of our human depravity and our broken world. He even “became sin for us,” taking on that very thing that keeps us in our despair and brokenness. And he died our death and rose from the dead, giving each of us a new life, a hope in the midst of despair.

In sending the Holy Spirit, God through Christ, made a way for us to begin to experience the kingdom life even now in the midst of our broken and sinful world. We are able to interact with God in a real way through our union with God in Christ and our communion with God and one another in the Spirit. Through Christ and by the Spirit we are able to experience a living, ongoing relationship with God himself, coming to hear and understand the living Word of God personally, and having God’s way of being written on our hearts and minds.

This means that Christ becomes and is a real part of our day-to-day existence. As we respond to his nudges by the Holy Spirit, we come to experience healing, hope and change in our lives. Things don’t always get better immediately as far as our circumstances may go, but somehow that doesn’t matter so much to us anymore.

In the midst of our struggles and dark places, God begins to shed his light. We begin to have a new perspective. We begin to see and experience possibilities when there were none before. God brings us into relationships that are healing, helpful and restorative. He begins to work change in our lives.

But God doesn’t do this all by himself. He calls us to participate with him in this transformation. We can continue to wallow in despair if we wish, and deny the real grace God offers us in the midst of our suffering and grief. We can cling to our darkness if we wish—God allows us to do that. But he calls us out of it and offers us himself, through Christ and by his Spirit, as a means of lifting us up and transferring us from darkness and despair into light and life.

As participants in God’s light and life, we need to be sensitive to the work the Spirit is doing to draw others out of despair and darkness. We are called by God to share with others the Word of life we have been given. We can give them a real hope in the midst of despair when we introduce them to Jesus Christ and show them God’s real love and compassion.

We come into their lives the way God in Christ entered ours—humble, insignificant, and truly human. We share the mundane parts of our existence with them, along with the relationship we have with our heavenly Father through Christ his Son and by his Spirit. We give what we can to help them become the children of God they were created to be, so they can also be full participants in God’s love and life. This is our participation in what Jesus is doing in the world today.

Offering someone just a little bit of hope may seem trivial. We may think we have to accomplish great things in the world or become well known for our Christian faith and piety. But the simple gift of hope can be life-transforming and healing in more ways than we could ever imagine. Just ask someone who has received it.

Lord, thank you for coming into our world and joining us in our humanity and our brokenness, and for healing us from the inside out. Thank you that you offer each of us hope in the midst of our despair. Do not leave us here in our dark places, but please come to us and lift us up into your arms of love and life. Make us compassionate to others who need the gift of hope. Through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, …” Psalm 146:5 NASB