diversity

Battling it Out

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cross

By Linda Rex

One of the stories I remember from my early years was when I was just not getting along with my older brother. It seems somehow he always got the best of me in everything and I was always having to prove myself as an equal to him.

Being run off the Risk game in a few moves—well, I guess I could just find something else to do while my two brothers fought it out between themselves. Being bought off the board in Monopoly—well, it’s hard to take, but it’s just a part of the game. Being creamed in chess in just five moves—it’s humiliating, but I bore up under it—I knew the men in my family were really smart—I just wasn’t savvy in the same way they were.

But after a while it seemed like they could do everything better than me—play football, baseball, play cards. You name it. I could keep up with them pretty well, but for a while, there was this kind of competition between my older brother and me. In my heart, I wished there was just one thing I could get the best of him in.

One day we were barricaded behind couch pillows and were battling it out with rubber bands. I’m pretty sure he started it. I retaliated only in self-preservation. At least that’s how I remember it.

I seemed to always end up on the worst end of such battles, but this particular day, I had a secret weapon—I had found a very large, very nice rubber band. So I loaded up and let it fly, hoping it would hit its mark. It was a lucky shot, but I hit him in the soft part of his arm near his elbow—it smarted and even drew a little blood.

The satisfaction I felt at finally getting him back for all his harassment was dimmed only slightly and momentarily by the wrath of my mother when she found out what had happened. Rubber band fights were henceforth banned (again), and we both got in trouble for having had one.

I may have felt a secret glee for a few moments but ultimately I felt sorry for having hurt him, and decided I wouldn’t do it again. It was never my intent to hurt him. I just wanted to gain his respect and to get him to quit persecuting me. Quite honestly, I lost all interest in rubber band fights after that experience.

Looking back, I recall there was a time when I just could not get along with my older brother, and there was also a time when I just could not get along with my younger brother. I’m not sure why now, but it was just the way it was. We had to work out our differences between us—our parents could not resolve them for us, other than threatening us with dire consequences if we didn’t get along.

In later years when my children were about the same age, I began to understand a little better my mother’s perspective on the constant squabbles between me and my brothers. There was a time when my two children just could not get along, no matter how many discussions we had about how they were not to squabble and fight. It seems like learning to get along with one another comes with the territory of siblinghood.

What I didn’t know then, but I realize now, is the way we live with one another is meant to reflect the inner life of God as Father, Son and Spirit. There is a mutual indwelling, a oneness in diversity and equality, which we are to mirror in our relationships with one another. Fighting it out with rubber bands is obviously not the best reflection of the inner love and life of the One we are to mirror.

Some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years can actually be understood more clearly with this image in mind. For example, I learned that unity is not the same as uniformity. It is entirely possible for people to be quite different from each other and to still get along. The Father is not the Son and is not the Spirit, and the Son is not the Father or the Spirit—and I’m so glad they are not exactly the same but still are One in Being.

Just because someone in your family likes to place chess and is really good at it does not mean everyone else in the family has to like chess and play chess too. They can be quite good at watching you play chess and reading a book, and they can be getting along with you just fine while they do it. We are each unique—I am not you and you are not me, and that’s okay. It’s a hard lesson to learn. Sadly, I think there are nations and national leaders who haven’t quite figured this one out yet.

One of the other things I’ve learned about getting along with my siblings is to stop seeing people in over/under ways. What I mean is, we tend to put people either above us or below us, rather than seeing them as another one of us. We look at the well-dressed lady in the next aisle and think, “She’s really blessed—she must have a really easy life,” not realizing she is on her way to the hospital to visit her husband who is dying of cancer, and is barely holding everything together.

I don’t know how many times I’ve stood in line with a fellow who is in grungy clothes, has dirty spots on his face and arms, and thought inappropriate thoughts to myself. Over the years, I’ve learned that such men are often the most hardworking, good-hearted men I know—the farmers, mechanics, contractors, and plumbers—people who make and keep our homes and belongings running well. My unworthy thoughts were putting them down below me, rather than elevating them to a place of equality and respect. They are a reflection of the equality in the Trinity—they each have a place of love and service in God’s family.

I know the pain of watching my children squabble when they could not and would not get along with one another. No doubt this pain is a participation in the pain God feels when we refuse to and cannot get along with one another, whether as people in a family, church or organization, or as nations and races and cultures.

God has provided a way in his Son Jesus by his Spirit for each of us to live together in unity while making room for each other’s uniqueness and acknowledging each other’s value and worth. There is no reason for us to be taking pot shots at one another, discriminating against one another or demeaning each other in any way. We need to work out our differences, yes, but it’s a whole lot more pleasant to do it around the table with milk and cookies, than in trenches with grenades and artillery. And there’s a whole lot less regret and pain when we’re done.

May God by his precious Spirit teach all of us how to live with one another in the way he created us to. May his Son live in us, and come to be for us the Center in which we all gather together and live as One.

Abba, forgive us for our human proclivity to fuss and fight and to refuse to get along. Grant us the grace to forgive and to be reconciled with you and one another, as you have reconciled us all with you and one another in your Son Jesus Christ. Make us all of one heart and mind, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” John 14:20 NIV

“This is my command: Love each other.” John 15:17 NIV

Light-filled World

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by Linda Rex
I don’t know if you ever get one of those wierd, wacky questions which come to mind now and then, but I had one come up last night (I was pretty tired). It’s not one of those I have an answer for, but it aroused my curiosity, nonetheless.

I got to thinking: What would it be like to live in a world where there is no darkness, no shadows, and no shade? What if in this different world each person, and each plant and animal, glowed with its own inner light or glory as its sharing in the divine Life and Light?

Many religions stress the importance of keeping all things in balance, and for many, this includes the balance between good and evil. In many world views good and evil are seen as being equals. In the Christian worldview, for the most part, evil is merely the absence of good, or in effect, that which exists in opposition to and in resistance against God and all that he stands for in his goodness, love and truth.

It seems to me that so often religion focuses on the constant battle between good and evil. A lot of time evil seems to be a strong, almost unbeatable foe. Humans are expected to do certain things and not do others so that in the end evil never truly conquers good. Of course, as far as the external evidence we can see, there has apparently not yet been a decisive victory in this battle between good and evil, between light and darkness, and we’re not quite sure there really ever truly be one.

But Paul says there aleady has been one.

For example, the apostle Paul wrote, “For he rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, …” (Col. 1:13). He writes in the book of Colossians as though these things are already so, not as though they are something still to be worked out by us. He speaks as though evil, or darkness, is a defeated foe even now.

Elsewhere we read how Jesus, in his life, death, resurrection and ascension, has conquered sin and death. In the words of the New Testament writers, light has overcome the darkness–we have nothing to fear.

This work of Jesus which overcame sin and death and ensured for every human a place at Abba’s table, means there is a place waiting for you and for me, by faith, where there is no darkness or death, but only light in the Lord. With there being only light and no darkness, all things must be permeated with God’s light, or there would be shadows. What would that look like? I’m not sure our fleshly eyeballs and brains could handle that much light and intense color.

And what about balance? It seems to me, that the only balance would not be that of good vs. evil, but rather that which would reflect the nature of God. This would be all things in their divine diversity living in their equality together in loving harmony and unity, in perichoretic love.

I’m beginning to understand more and more how we need to be careful not to exclude people from God’s love and life, but to remember they are all included. God is at work in every people and nation to bring them into a complete experience of the life he forged for them in and through his Son. How God by his Spirit brings each person to this place is unique to each one and fits within God’s specific time frame for that person.

There is a glory each of us was meant to shine with. When we are turned toward Jesus, who is the Light, we shine with that same light. When we turn away from the Light, we are still standing in the Light, but now we can only cast shadows. If Christ has given us his glory–and scripture says we share in his glory–then how can we cast any shadows while we are aglow with his Presence?

At this moment we see only with a blurred mirror, but then we will see clearly. It is a walk of faith, of trusting in the perfect work of Christ, that all he has done and will do, is all which is needed for each of us to share in his glory both in the world to come and as we live and walk by faith each day today.

Beginning today and on into eternity, we can truly be ourselves, free from the “dark side” which prevents our true light from shining. To be truly who we are, means we have nothing to hide–we are transparent, free, full of grace and truth. Whatever our brokenness is and has been is now the means by which Christ shines in and through us, and becomes our strength in the midst of our weakness. There remains no room for shadows or shade, no place for darkness–only Light.

Abba, may you shine in and through us even now in your Son and by your Spirit so that we and our world might be filled with your Light. In your Name, we pray. Amen.

Harmony in the Home

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Colorful pumpkins and mums--fall's here!
Colorful pumpkins and mums–fall’s here!

By Linda Rex

When my children were little, I was looking for a way to guide them into healthy ways of thinking and being without being punitive or constantly having to scream at them. I began to read about parenting with grace and found lots of different ideas on how to go about participating with Christ in my children’s growth and maturity.

It was a struggle because I was a single mom. I didn’t have the luxury of saying, “Just wait till your father gets home!” I was the one who had to call the shots and draw the lines in my home if I wanted my children to have the benefits of living in unity with who they are in Christ. I have two strong-willed children who are very intelligent and gifted in their own way. It was a challenge to keep ahead of them on so many levels.

I’ve tried a lot of different tactics over the years, but for a while one of the practices I came upon was that of a family charter. I sat my children down and together we came up with a list of rules for the house that had to do with respect. It was important to me that my children learn to respect God, themselves, each other, the authorities in the world around them, and their belongings.

These house rules were pretty simple and had consequences that the children picked out themselves. Once we had agreed on the important things to bring peace, kindness and harmony to the family, we would each sign the charter.

If I felt things were getting out of hand at home, we would meet again to discuss the charter. Occasionally we might make some changes. The consequences might very from one family meeting to the next, but most just stayed the same.

One of the things we agreed upon was that we would guard our tongues. We agreed that we would not use foul language in our home, or say things that were nasty and hurtful to each other. My children decided the appropriate consequence for violating another family member’s ears and heart with unkind words or foul language was to clean the toilet. My children would take great delight in catching me using a mild expletive because then I would have to do toilet duty. Of course, they didn’t have equal delight in being caught themselves.

After a while my children became frustrated with the family charter and no longer seemed to need it to guide their everyday behavior. So I did not use it in the same way, though I left it up for a while as a way of reminding us of what we valued as a family.

But I have often reflected on the whole idea of joining together as a family to agree to live together in harmony, peace and kindness. Is not this the definition of “koinonia”—of the “perichoresis” that God calls us to live in with the Father, Son and Spirit?

To teach my children to live in harmony with others in a way that involves love in unity, diversity and equality is to teach them to live within the truth of who they are as children of God. This is to teach them to live in agreement with who they are as God’s children, made in his image, redeemed by Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit. To live in harmony with who we are as God’s children is to live in the truth of God’s kingdom here on earth even now through Christ and in the Spirit.

So when we begin to turn the air blue around us with foul expletives, or we begin to slide into some other form of hurtful behavior, we need to reconsider just who we are affecting with our words and behavior. Jesus said that what we do to one another, we do to him.

If indeed we sit in heavenly places in Christ right now, as Paul said, and we already have been brought out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light, then everything we say and do is somehow bound up in Christ. For in God, through Christ and in the Spirit, we live and move and have our being.

Changing the way we act and talk is not a simple thing we can do if we just try hard enough. It is much more effective to begin to grow in awareness of Christ in us and in others, and to come to realize and live in accordance with the reality of the Spirit’s constant presence in us and with us. This is the spiritual discipline some people call “practicing the presence.”

This discipline involves being sensitive to God’s real, abiding presence with us each and every moment of every day, and engaging God in constant conversation as we go about our daily activities. The mundane activities of life begin to have a different tone when we do them in God’s presence, knowing he is aware of every nuance of thought, feeling and desire.

We also become more and more aware of the real presence of God in one another. We begin to see Christ in our neighbor and the Spirit of God at work in people we didn’t used to consider being “good” people. We begin to experience the real presence of God in everyday experiences and conversations. This is the kingdom life.

This is living in the reality that we are already participants in the kingdom of God. We already share in God’s kingdom life with one another—unless we choose to continue to participate in the kingdom of darkness. And we all know the consequences of continuing to live in the darkness of sin and death—because we see them being realized all around us, and even in our own lives. And we know the pain and horror that goes with them.

Jesus Christ is the gate to the kingdom of God, and his Spirit of life flows through us all. May we all live in this truth of our being, in grace, peace and harmony with one another. May God’s kingdom be fully realized here on earth as it is in heaven. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Thank you, Holy Father, for binding us together with you in love through Jesus and by your Spirit. Grant us the grace to live in the truth of our being, in the harmony, grace and peace you bought for us in your Son. May we live in warm fellowship and love with you and one another forever, through Jesus Christ our brother and by your precious Holy Spirit. Amen.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4–7 NASB

Leaving Behind the Ignorance of Prejudice

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Serene lake
Serene lake

by Linda Rex

Yesterday I was watching with interest the speech given by Pope Francis to Congress. I was impressed by his finesse in taking the stories of four Americans and drawing from them positive principles by which our leaders and our people could move forward into the uncertain future.

As he was speaking, someone said to me, “Well, there’s our enemy.” It took me aback for a moment, but then I remembered how for centuries some Protestants have seen the pope and the Roman Catholic church as being exactly that—as being the anti-Christ spoken about in the Bible. Of course, this requires a misinterpretation of Scripture, but it has been assumed to be true by many and is still believed to be so by some today.

I’m a little ashamed to say today that I used to be one of those people who believed the pope and the Roman Catholic Church were the enemy of all that is truly Christian. This was born out of ignorance and false teaching I had adopted as a child. But God was not content to leave me in my ignorance.

One of the first things he did was to place me in a relationship in high school where I grew to know and respect a teen who was the daughter of Polish immigrants. She had attended Catholic school in her youth and was a devout believer. She had a crucifix on the door to her room and she would cross herself every time she passed it to go in and out. I saw a devotion to Christ that was different from mine but equally, or perhaps even more, genuine. Although I had other friends in school who were Catholic, she left an impression on me that was not easily forgotten.

As time passed, I had a family member who married someone who was Catholic. I still remember the beautiful ceremony in her church. I could feel the presence and power of God there in a way that amazed me. The song that invited the believers to communion with Christ was inspiring and captured my heart. God was slowly and surely destroying the arrogance in me that kept me believing my faith was superior to and more real than these Catholic believers.

In the years since then, God placed me in the position of coming to know more and more people of the Catholic faith. Many of them were devout, and some were actively pursuing a relationship with Jesus Christ. Sure, there were an equal number who were merely nominal Christians, whose faith was just something they adopted as part of their family heritage. But what God did over the years was to bring me to a repentance, a change in my mind and heart and in my beliefs, about the Roman Catholic Church and its followers.

The way God changed my mind and heart was by placing me in relationships with people in which I was forced to reevaluate what I believed and why I believed it. I could have been stubborn and refused to acknowledge and repent of my prejudice. But my personal integrity would not allow me to do that. The truth was—I was wrong—and I needed to admit it and change accordingly.

I have found as time has gone by that God keeps me in a continual state of needing to reevaluate, repent and change when it comes to what I believe about certain people, their beliefs and cultures.

Technology is making our world smaller by bringing together people and cultures that would probably otherwise never interact. We are being forced to build relationships with people of all faiths and political, economic backgrounds. We are being forced to reevaluate what we believe about them and how we should interact with them.

This is actually a good thing. Because one day, in our future, lies a time when all peoples of all nations and all cultures will be joined together in a world that has no political, religious, cultural boundaries. In this place, what will matter most will not be what clothes we wear, how much money we make, or what kind of foods we prefer to eat. Rather what will really matter will be our relationships with one another and with God. What will really count is how well we love and care for one another.

This is why Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” To have these heavenly values is more important than seeking the earthly values that are transitory and passing. We look beyond the human designations that separate us into the heavenly qualities that unite us. We are all one in Jesus Christ—he is our humanity—our unity, our equality, our diversity. He joins us together in such a way that all these other things we count as important become truly insignificant in the long run.

Our challenge is to remain in an attitude of a willingness to see and admit to our prejudices, and to consciously make an effort to change when we see we are wrong. When we respond to the work of the Holy Spirit as he brings us together with others we may feel uncomfortable with, we will find an amazing harmony and healing that can only be explained as divine.

God wants his children to be joined together with him in Christ, and when we respond to that, miracles happen in our relationships. We experience his divine life and love in a multitude of ways as we yield to the Spirit’s work to bind us all together as one in Christ. May we always respond in faithful obedience to him.

Thank you, God, for the amazing ways you bring healing and restoration in our broken relationships. Grant each of us the heart and mind to repent of our prejudices and to open ourselves to making room for others in the divine fellowship. We have so far to go! May we always turn to you for the love and grace we need so that we may love and forgive others. In Jesus’ name and by your Spirit. Amen.

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33 NASB

But What About Positive Expectations?

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By Linda Rex

Wednesday night at our Hermitage small group we were discussing “Killing Expectations”. Judy, who leads discipleship class at Good News Fellowship, brought up an excellent question. As a former school teacher, she was familiar with the use of positive expectations in helping children to achieve their personal best in school. So, what about positive expectations—aren’t they a good thing?

What I gathered from the ensuing discussion was that we need to clarify the difference between expectations of performance based on subjective standards with the more objective standards of being which have their basis in the Being of God. Expectations of being involve our character, personality, temperament, and aptitudes—in other words, our capacity as human beings—something that is unique to each person.

These expectations of being have their basis in God, and like the nature of God’s Being, they reflect the Persons who exist in loving communion, in unity, diversity and equality. Jesus Christ, who is the perfect reflection of the Father, is the supreme standard from which all humans draw their being. And Jesus performed perfectly all that is expected of each of us during his life here on earth, and died and rose in our place. He took up into himself our humanity with all its missing of the mark and failure to meet expectations, and he stands in our place.

God calls us to put on Christ—to put on his perfected humanity—so that we can and will become all that God intended each of us to be as humans. God’s expectations, whatever they are, are fulfilled in Christ, and now he calls us to participate in Christ’s perfected humanity, to grow up into Christlikeness.

The thing is, we tend to read the scriptures, with its lists of commandments, from the viewpoint of expectations that God has for us. We read the scriptures backwards, putting performance first, and then grace and love. But God always puts grace and love first.

For example, we say we have to keep the Ten Commandments or we are worthy of death and God will punish us. Then we say, if we repent and confess our breaking of these commandments, then God will forgive us and we will be saved. This puts grace after law instead of prior to it.

We can forget that before God ever gave any commandments, he made a covenant agreement—something which was not based on performance, but on the love, grace and character of God. God rescued his people from slavery, not because they were good, obedient people, but because he loved them, had made a commitment to them, and they needed saving. He was the one who over the centuries, not only guaranteed the keeping of the covenant, but also renewed it over and over whenever it was broken.

Jesus in his life, ministry and teaching, put grace first. For example, in Mark 2, we read the story of a man who was paralyzed, whose friends brought him to Jesus to be healed. What’s interesting is that Jesus saw the faith of his friends, not the paralyzed man’s faith. And the first thing he said to him was not “Repent and believe”, nor was it “Be healed!” No, it was “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The first thing Jesus addressed in this situation was forgiveness—something only God could give, and he gave it without any expectations in advance.

Later, after dealing with the unbelieving scribes, Jesus gave the man a command—to pick up his bed and walk, to act upon the forgiveness he had given him. Obedience to Jesus followed receiving forgiveness for sins the man hadn’t even confessed. Grace before law. How counterintuitive is that?

That beautiful phrase Jesus spoke on the cross, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing,” shows us again that God’s heart of grace precedes any command God may give us. W. Paul Young in “The Shack”, points out that it isn’t God’s nature to put expectations on us, so much as it is to wait with expectancy to see what we will do and how we will do it. God already knows the extent of our inability to reflect his perfection. And it does not keep him from loving us and encountering us in grace. His focus is on his relationship with us, not on our performance.

Whatever lists of things we find in the Bible that tell us what we should do and how we should live are not prescriptive—as in a doctor’s order for medicine. But rather they are descriptive. They describe what it looks like when we live in union and communion with the Father, Son and Spirit and are fully sharing in their Triune love and life. Not doing these things means we are not living in agreement with who we are as God’s beloved children, and so we will experience painful consequences as a result. And God doesn’t want that for us.

So, going back to the question of positive expectations. We need to keep in mind what we are talking about isn’t necessarily expectations of being, but mostly probably expectations of doing. We are expecting a person to perform in a certain way or to achieve a certain standard. These standards may be established by institutions, society, businesses, or even by people. Often these standards do not take into account the reality that people are unique and don’t all perform or achieve in the same way or to the same level.

Benchmarks, such as those used by schools to monitor their students’ scholastic performance, are useful tools. They encourage achievement and improvement, and help prevent failures in learning or service. They can be quite subjective, depending on how they are defined and assessed. They most likely do not take into account differences in being or circumstance, or relational factors such as grace and love.

We would like people to achieve their personal best and be effective contributors to the overall goals of the group. But unless we remember that we are all persons, with limitations and brokenness that inhibit our perfect performance in every situation, we will hold others to expectations that may be destructive rather than life-giving. The key, I believe is relationship—grace and love first. Then expectations or rules. In that order.

Thank you, Father, that you were the first One to move in our relationship with you. You forgave us long before we even realized we needed forgiveness. Thank you that you did not wait for us to say or do the right thing first, but you went ahead and offered us grace anyway. Grant us the heart and will to offer forgiveness freely to others as you have offered it to us. And may we always live in a way that shows our gratitude through love and obedience. Through Jesus and by your Spirit, amen.

“And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:5