disciples

God Redeems Our Children’s Past

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by Linda Rex

Last weekend I not only had a house full of company, but I also attended the Converge 2017 event, which was held this year at the Scarritt-Bennett Center here in Nashville. The venue was very pleasant, with its buildings of cut stone and stained and cut glass windows. The food was excellent, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to share good times with old friends and new.

The focus of this Generations Ministries event was encouraging to me. It was good to hear and see the emphasis on interlacing the ministries of camp and mission (and internships) ministries with those of local congregations. There was also much talk about building leaders, starting with our children all the way up through the generations. We can build leaders in any area of camp or mission ministry or in our local congregations, when we are intentional about the process and are actively involved in building relationships with God and one another in every part of life, and encouraging one another towards growing up in Christ.

While on the one hand I am very excited about the direction GCI is headed, I grieve the reality my children will most likely not be participants in these new initiatives, nor benefit from them. It’s sad to think there might not be a place for them where they can really feel at home in GCI. Perhaps in time God will prove me wrong. I hope he will.

It has been very difficult for me to watch my children grow up without the benefit of a group of young people their age within the church who enjoy doing the things they enjoy doing. I’m thankful they met a few friends in school and in camp, but for the most part they have lived without the benefits of a large church social group. It might not matter to them as much as it matters to me, since they are both shy, reserved people who aren’t really social butterflies at heart.

I think what bothers me the most is the price my family paid over the years for staying with WCG/GCI. This is not the denomination’s fault by any stretch of the imagination. It was more a matter of my personal choice. Many of my friends chose to attend a neighborhood church, even though they did not fully agree with their doctrines. It was more important to them that their children have the benefits of a group of friends and activities they could participate in.

Since I felt the calling many years ago to return to WCG because God had something he wanted me to participate with him in doing, I have attended with my children in a WCG/GCI congregation. I do not regret having responded to God’s call upon my life, but I am sorry it came at such a price. And yet, over the years, God has shown me ways in which he has redeemed the years of service.

When we lived in Iowa, we traveled an hour and fifteen minutes one way to attend services in Illinois. The benefit of such lengthy travel time was a captive audience with my children at least once a week. We could talk about things of importance because they had my full attention. We found ways to turn the travel time into a positive experience. No doubt they would rather have done many other things instead, but we learned a lot about sharing life with one another, and about bearing with what we would rather not have to do.

They didn’t have friends at church they could hang out with. But my son found friends at school who would travel the long drive to church with us and go to camp with him in the summer. I don’t think he ever realized how good he was at making disciples—or at least, at bringing people along with him to encounter Jesus. But these experiences have helped him to grow in his relationship with God and with other people as he has matured.

When we moved to Tennessee, the worship team graciously included my daughter, and she began to sing in the worship band. She has really grown over the years in her ability to sing and praise God through music because of this opportunity. And I don’t think she realizes how gifted she is at this. So recently, when she chose to step down from serving the church in this way on a regular basis, it surprised everyone, and they have expressed how they would like her to continue to sing in the band.

Maybe my children didn’t have a large group of peers to hang out with when they were kids and teens. But what they did have during all those years was family. This was a group of people, most of them older than me, who adopted my two as their very own, who loved them and wished them well. These members of our church family encouraged my children, sometimes irritated and offended them, but more often, remembered them on their birthdays, prayed for them, and listened to them tell their stories.

No doubt, this may not have been the kind of relationships my kids would have preferred to have, but these were the relationships through which my children learned how to be kind, loving and compassionate adults, with strength of character and strength of will. These adults modeled healthy (and unfortunately on occasion, unhealthy) relationships and behavior. They valued my children, and so taught my children to value themselves as God does.

I am grateful for each and every warm and loving person God placed in our lives through GCI over the years. He cared for us and loved us through the churches we attended whose members embraced us and held us during some very difficult and painful years. God provided many opportunities, especially with enabling my children to attend camp at Heartland Summer Educational Program in Illinois and The Rock summer camp in North Carolina. These experiences, which were both bad and good ones for my kids, were an important part of their education and growth as God’s children.

Today, in GCI and at Good News Fellowship, we long to see children come together to learn about Jesus and about themselves as God’s beloved children. We long to see them have friends they can share everyday life with, and share Jesus with. As we prayerfully seek God’s face about this desire of our hearts, we can love well those children God has already given us to care for, sharing with them both in word and in deed the good news of what Christ has done for each and every one of us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension, and in the gift of God’s precious Spirit.

And we can trust God will redeem the lost years, and the times of loneliness and struggle, turning them into opportunities, and growing our young people up in Christlikeness. God will never cease tending our lambs and doing all he can to enable us to fully participate with him in being good shepherds to our young people. And he will finish what he has begun, because he is a good God we can count on.

Abba, thank you for being faithful to watch over and care for the little ones who we participate with you in raising, teaching and loving. God, grant us the grace to love well those you put in our lives and in our congregations and in our homes. Work with and through us to grow them up into all you have in mind for them to be. We thank you that ultimately, you are the one who grows us each up into the image of your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.

“So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Tend My lambs.’” John 21:15 NASB

The Whole Message

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Honeysuckle on the fence
Honeysuckle on the fence

By Linda Rex

I recall when I was growing up being told by ministers the true gospel preached by Jesus was about the kingdom of God to be would be inaugurated when Jesus came back to earth after the great tribulation had occurred. I remember these men ridiculed the messages taught by mainstream Christian faiths, saying that the gospel preached by such churches wasn’t the true gospel but a false, misleading one.

Since that time, the Spirit has been gracious and has helped me see there was a lot of misleading information I took in and believed which I needed to reexamine. And when I did reexamine the gospel message Jesus and his disciples preached, I found that it wasn’t at all what I was being told it was. In fact, it was something entirely different.

For example, in Acts 4, Peter and John were put into prison because they were “teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” (Acts 4:2) Later when the Council threatened them and told them not to preach in Jesus’ name any longer, they replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19–20) In other words, they were telling people what they had witnessed in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, not about some new kingdom, or some laws they were to live by, or some days they were to keep.

The apostle Paul, after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, “immediately … began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’” (Acts 9:20) His message had to do with who Jesus was and what he did when he was here on earth. And whenever Paul made a defense in regards to why he was doing the ministry he was doing, he told who Jesus was and what he did, but also what Jesus had done in his life, and how Paul had been changed by his encounter with Jesus. The gospel he shared had to do with the life of Jesus, and how the living Jesus impacted his own life in a powerful way.

When Stephen was taken before the Council and was accused of speaking against the temple and the law, his defense did not involve preaching about some soon-coming king or kingdom. His defense involved telling God’s story—the story of how God worked with Abraham and his descendants to bring them into relationship with himself, and how they had over and over rejected his love and grace, and how in that same way they had rejected his Son Jesus Christ. Stephen died because he told God’s story—the story of God’s life with Israel and the Spirit’s work to bring Israel into a loving, obedient relationship with their covenant God through his Son Jesus Christ. (Acts 7)

When the high priest and the Sadducees put the apostles in prison out of jealousy because the crowds were being healed and delivered from evil spirits, we read an angel came and released them from prison. Then the angel told them, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” (Acts 5:20) And so they did what they were told. And they were found again in the temple preaching the “whole message of this Life”. The high priest and the Sadducees were upset not only because they were preaching about Jesus, his death and resurrection, but they were also angry because the power behind that message was being experienced through people being healed and delivered.

When Peter was sent for by Cornelius, he obeyed the will of the Spirit. Cornelius and his household were prepared to hear the word of the Lord from Peter—he was going to preach the message they needed to hear. And when he spoke, he began with God’s acceptance of all men, but then told them about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and he finished his message by telling them that all who believe in Jesus Christ receive forgiveness of sins. As they listened to this message, God poured out his Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his household—this was a transformational event in the life of the church.

Jesus called certain people to be eyewitnesses of his whole human existence. They had seen, heard and touched him. They knew he was both human and divine. They would truthfully tell “the whole message of this Life” they had experienced firsthand. As the apostle John wrote: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:1–3)

So part of this message which includes the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the good news we all have forgiveness available to us through him. We learn in this message about who Jesus is—the Son of God and the Son of man. We learn that in Jesus Christ we all died and rose again. This message includes God’s story—his life with humanity, with Israel and with his disciples, and with the Church through the ages—as God has interacted with, healed and restored and delivered people by his Holy Spirit. This “whole message of this Life” is so much more than just a message about some king and a kingdom or some rules to live by.

This “whole message of this Life” is life-giving because it is the Spirit who gives the words life. The good news of who Jesus is and what he has done and is doing is transformational because in Christ, we are all forgiven and are given new life. In Jesus Christ we have a hope and a future, no matter what we may be going through right now.

Just as Jesus has become a part of our daily life, he becomes a natural part of our conversation with others. The early persecuted church, “who had been scattered went about preaching [bringing the good news of] the word.” (Acts 8:2) Sharing the good news of Jesus became a part of their everyday life they took with them everywhere they went, no matter their circumstances. As we go about our daily lives, we tell others about who Jesus is and what he has done and is doing. We share with others the ongoing story of what God is doing to transform our lives and the world we are living in.

Even though we have not personally lived with Jesus or personally witnessed his crucifixion and resurrection, we each have our own story of how Jesus met with us and transformed our lives by his indwelling Spirit and his intervention in our lives. We can tell how our lives intersected with God’s life through Jesus and by his Spirit. All God asks us to do is to tell the story, to tell the “whole message of this Life.” Jesus and his Spirit will do the rest.

Holy Father, I pray by your Spirit you would enable us to share with others the “whole message” of your love for humanity expressed to us in the gift of your Son and your Holy Spirit. Empower us to speak with courage and conviction as we tell your story and our story, and the story of Jesus and his transforming and healing power through his life, death and resurrection. I pray more and more people would come to know and receive the forgiveness available to them through Jesus Christ. In his name, we pray. Amen.

“But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, ‘Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.’” Acts 5:19-20 NASB

“’It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.’” John 6:63 NASB

Leaving it All for Love

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Fall in Arkansas
Fall in Arkansas

by Linda Rex

Many years ago I packed everything I owned in a U-Haul truck and left my southern California bungalow for the hills of rural southeast Iowa. It was quite a cultural shock for someone who had grown up in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Over the years people have often asked me what in the world made me do this.

At the time, it just seemed the logical and right thing to do. I was in love and had married an Iowa farmer. To leave my home, my family, my friends, my job, and all that was familiar to me seemed to be only a little thing in the face of building a new life based on love.

One of the stories many of us had to read in high school was Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. In this classic story of love and tragedy, we find the age-old question asked, “What would I do for love?” It is a question many of us face in our day-to-day lives as we interact with family, friends and our community. What exactly are we willing to do in the name of love?

Throughout his ministry, Jesus engaged his disciples in conversations that challenged them with this very same question. He walked up to Matthew as he collected the taxes and said to him, “Follow me.” And he dropped everything and followed him. He went to John and James and said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And they left it all and followed him.

Throughout this ministry, the disciples kept being faced with the question: Am I really ready and willing to leave all behind and follow Jesus? At one point they reminded Jesus of all they had given up to follow him, and asked what they were going to get out of the deal. Jesus said they would receive abundantly in the world to come as well as receive some rewards now. But the greatest gift they would receive through it all would be eternal life, in relationship with the God who loved and cared for them.

In his book “The Call to Discipleship”, Karl Barth writes about our tendency to adopt Christianity like we join a fraternal organization—it’s a nice thing to do and it fits in beautifully with our life plans. Sadly, we can tend to treat our call to faith with an indifference borne out of our jaded human experience where we’ve seen it all, done it all and this is just one more thing to do to guarantee a healthy, happy life.

But the call to discipleship is a call to leave all behind and follow Christ. It means letting go of all that has gone before in such a way that we hold loosely to the things of this world and we hold tightly to Jesus Christ, our new humanity. God calls us to let go of all of the things in our life that we identify ourselves by, for our new identity is in Jesus Christ alone.

This can be very difficult, especially when what we need to leave behind is something we have built our whole life around, thinking that it defines us and our humanity. Just what exactly are we willing to do for love? Just what are we willing to leave behind to follow Christ?

Perhaps if we were willing to look at this question from the other way around we might find some compelling reason to leave everything behind.

We need to look intently at Jesus Christ—who is he? Here is One who lived eternally in a relationship of love and companionship in which he was content, fulfilled and complete. He had no need of anyone or anything else. He did not need us, nor did God have any reason to create us other than as an expression of his overflowing, abundant love.

Yet this God, who was rich in every way, set all the privileges and dignity of his divinity aside, and joined us in our humanity. He left everything that was familiar and comfortable, and took up residence in a human body. He allowed himself to be carried about and mothered by Mary, and to be instructed in the temple by the rabbis. He walked about on earth, getting his feet dusty and dirty like every other human being. And he did it all for love.

And that wasn’t enough for him. He even allowed himself to be insulted, abused, shamed and crucified by us. He died an ignoble death with a word of forgiveness and compassion on his lips. Isn’t that the truest expression of love?

Taking all this into account then, how can there be anything we are not willing to give up for him? Love and gratitude for this amazing act of love compels us to drop everything and to do whatever it takes to follow him, even if it means leaving everything we value behind.

It will not always be easy to follow Christ. We will be faced with the decision at some point in our lives—do I cling to what is comfortable and convenient, or do I hold fast to Christ? Is this relationship I’m in more important to me than living in agreement with the One who gave it all up for me? Do I hold fast to my integrity or to the job I desperately need so I can keep my house? Will I hold on to my pride or be willing to eat humble pie and admit to my spouse that I am wrong?

What are we willing to give up for love? Jesus gave it all up for you and for me—perhaps what we need to give up really isn’t that significant after all.

Lord, thank you for leaving everything behind and joining us in our humanity. Thank you for loving us so much that you were willing to give it all up for love. Grant us the grace to give ourselves fully to you and to others in the same way you have given yourself to us. In your name, Jesus, amen.

“Peter said, ‘Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.’ And He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.’” Luke 18:28–30 NASB

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.” John 15:12–14 NASB