evil

Pending Judgment—Part V

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By Linda Rex

Last weekend I was in Grove City, Ohio for a Together in Christ Summit. During my time there we visited the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati where we looked at exhibits which talked about the history of slavery here in America, as well as the reality of slavery today in countries around the world. We took some tests on implicit bias, discovering our own hidden proclivities towards prejudice. And we had some excellent discussions on what we as followers of Jesus Christ can do to open up safe spaces in which both victim and perpetrator may find healing and wholeness.

The call we all felt, I believe, was to participate more fully in Christ’s ministry of reconciliation in the world with regards to these issues. We are called, as God’s redeemed children, to be reconciled to God as he has reconciled himself with us in his Son Jesus Christ in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. We participate in Jesus’ work of reconciliation as we, as forgiven and redeemed children, through repentance and forgiveness are by faith in Christ reconciled with God and one another.

Parts of the exhibits were difficult to look at, due to the awfulness of the way people over the millennia have been treated by their fellow humans. The most painful for me to see were the exhibits on the third floor which were dedicated to modern slavery. One would think that by now human beings would have learned something from all we have experienced as time has passed. But greed is still greed, and economic success and lucrative production based on the suffering of certain people groups still has the power to hold people in its grasp. And whether I like it or not, there are ways in which I participate in this suffering without even realizing it.

As I stepped into the restored building which was once used as a slave pen, I felt the presence of those who had been held against their will, and grieved. It seems that throughout history, people have preyed on other people—the lost and the least victimized, used, and discarded by others who were in reality their brothers and sisters in Christ. What is Abba’s heart about all this?

We can learn something about this in the story of his chosen people, Israel, when God heard their cry in the land of Egypt where they were enslaved. The only reason this group of people was in Egypt was because their forefather Joseph had, by God’s intervention, saved Egypt from certain disaster during a famine (Gen. 41-46). At that point, they were important people in Egypt due to Joseph’s position as the ruler second only to Pharoah himself. But as time passed and circumstances changed, they became enslaved to the Egyptians.

There is a way in which humans begin to view one another which leads to such things happening. In Exodus 1, we read how the Egyptians began to fear the Israelites, so they set harsh taskmasters over them. Ironically, the more they were oppressed, the more the Israelites grew in numbers. In response, the king of Egypt demanded that their sons be killed as they were born, while their daughters could be saved (note the gender inequality). But the midwives and mothers managed to find a way to avoid doing this, because their fear of God was greater than their fear of the king.

But when one group of people subjugates another, the oppression merely grows worse, and this is what happened in the land of Egypt. The government began legislating oppression, moving the enslavement of this people group deeper into the nation’s consciousness. One of the tragedies of slavery in America is how we, a democratic people, voted into place such things as considering a slave to only be 3/5 of a person and fleeing slaves having to be returned to their owners, no matter the state of the circumstance involved. Written into the laws of various states in this nation were statements about the status of people based upon the color of their skin, whether they were born to a white man or a white woman, or if they married someone who was a slave.

This mentality of over/under, of greater than/less than, isn’t unique to America, nor to the people of ancient Egypt. This is a way of thinking and believing which arises out of our broken humanity. We set ourselves against one another, being blinded by fear, greed, and simply the lies we believe about God and each other.

Going back to the story of the Israelites in slavery, we find that God had a purpose for this particular people. They had a unique relationship with God, not because of anything they had done, but because of what their forefather had done when he had trusted in the goodness and mercy of his God, believing the promises made to him that one day he would be the father of many nations (Gen. 17:4). God had made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and these enslaved people were the chosen ones, beloved of Abba, the ones through whom the Savior of the world would come.

What the Pharoah of Egypt and his people did not realize was that they were viewing the Israelites through a false lens. Their paradigm was inaccurate and needed to be changed. They worshipped a variety of gods, none of which had anything to do with the One who created and sustained all things. The ruler of this people, no doubt, was used to being treated as though he were divine, and expected that his word was law, with no other law being superior to his. I imagine that submission was a very foreign concept to this Pharoah and that he saw himself as being above any law or authority other than his own.

When Moses brought the word of God to Pharoah, telling him to let Abba’s people go free, this began a conflict between God and the king which affected the two nations profoundly. At first, Moses’ efforts only resulted in harder bondage and greater suffering. But God told him:

“‘I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name Lord I was not known to them. I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, in which they were strangers. And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. Therefore say to the children of Israel: “I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the Lord.’” (Gen. 6:2-8 NASB)

God’s purpose from the beginning was to bring us all into relationship with himself, to truly know him as we are known by him. He also purposed to redeem all humanity, freeing us from our slavery to sin and to death. This meant his interaction with the nation of Egypt via the Pharoah would involve a revelation of his being as the One God, the Lord, who is the Redeemer of his people. Unfortunately, Pharoah’s resistance to this revelation would mean suffering and death for many of his people, including his very own firstborn son.

God’s judgments on Egypt were not meant to harm, but were meant to free his people and to reveal his power, glory, and goodness. They were based in his covenant love and his compassion for his people who were being oppressed. When God opposed and resisted the stubborn pride and arrogance of Pharoah, there were consequences and many suffered as a result. The plagues which affected the Egyptians were a direct attack upon the false gods they trusted in and were meant to teach them the difference between idols and the true God so they could come to know God for who he really was. The resistance of Pharoah against God provided a venue in which the Lord revealed his covenant love and grace toward the nation of Israel through whom one day the Deliverer would come who would deliver all nations from evil, sin, and death.

The cost of resistance to the purposes and ways of our loving God is often a price we don’t want to pay, but we do it all the time. Slavery in America was insidious and awful. The cost of eradicating it was tremendous and included suffering and death for many people. And the sad thing is, we are still fighting this battle even today. Suffering and death are the result of resisting the love and grace of our good God, and refusing to live in the truth of who we are as those made in his image. We are meant to live in oneness in which we, though unique in our persons and relations, are equals. This is our identity—and when we don’t live in the truth of this in our relationships with one another, there are painful, awful consequences which permeate all of life.

In Christ, God has reconciled each and every person with himself, and is calling each and every one into relationship with himself by the Spirit. He calls us by his precious Spirit to live together in the oneness we were created for and redeemed by Christ to share in. Christ revealed Abba’s heart as he ministered to and embraced the lost and the least of these when he came to share in our humanity. In the sending of his Spirit, he breathes out on each of us the new spirit of unity and oneness we were created for. May we open our hearts and minds and willingly embrace our new humanity, beginning to live and walk in this truth, no matter the cost.

Abba, thank you for offering us forgiveness in your Son Jesus. Grant us repentance of all the ways in which we enslave and subjugate one another, and treat each other as if we were less than or worthless. Grant us the grace to forgive one another and to be reconciled to one another and you even as you have reconciled yourself to us in Christ. In his name we pray. Amen.

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.’ So Moses and Aaron did it; as the Lord commanded them, thus they did.” Exodus 7:1-6 NASB

The Gift of Surrender

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By Linda Rex

This morning I read an excellent devotional by Steve Arterburn called “Surrender or Fight”. In it, using the example of King Saul from the Old Testament, he pointed out how often we as humans are faced with the choice between surrendering our lives and wills to God or continuing to fight God’s plan for our lives.

King Saul was notorious for being a people-pleaser, who valued the opinion of the people more than he did his relationship with God. Rather than doing just as God asked, he did what would gain him the most approval from those whose opinions he valued. For this reason, King Saul failed as ruler of his people, and was eventually replaced by God with King David.

Surrendering to the will and purposes of God is one of the most difficult things for us as humans to do. At times it is really hard to accept what God permits in our world and allows to happen in our lives. This is especially true when it means the loss of something dear to us, such as a beloved family member or friend, or our reputation, or our comfortable way of life.

In many parts of America, being self-sufficient is an honored tradition. Dependency upon God is seen, not as a necessary part of our existence, but as a weakness or flaw. Acknowledging one’s dependency upon God may even be seen as unmanly or foolish. Truth is, in this country, a person could live their entire life without recognizing their need for or confessing a belief in God. Every need is fulfilled, and everything can be explained without introducing any thought of a higher power or a supreme being.

Believers in Christ can also fall prey to this way of thinking. We can go through our everyday lives with very little thought as to what God wants us to be doing or not doing. We have rules we can follow and laws we can obey. We have the expectations of our church and its members which we can work to fulfill. And we can be so busy doing all this, we miss God’s call to surrender completely to him. Instead of living in moment-by-moment humble, obedient, dependency upon God, we rely upon our own efforts and wisdom, and we work to please those around us.

This is an ongoing struggle. Relationships ebb and flow, and this is also true about our relationship with God. As human beings, we struggle to maintain any form of consistency about how we live our lives and handle our relationships. Maintaining a consistent and fruitful relationship with God, if left entirely up to us, would be an exercise in futility.

This is why we are called by Jesus to come to him and to find our rest in him. Jesus was fully surrendered to his Father, and yielded entirely to his Abba’s will even when it meant dying an ignoble, agonizing death. He wrestled with our humanity in the garden of Gethsemane, with tears and groans, begging on the one hand for another path to follow, but on the other, surrendering in humble obedience, saying, “…yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39b NASB).

The surrender God calls us to is a denial of self. As Oswald Chambers says in My Utmost for His Highest, “It is a question of being united with Jesus in His death until nothing ever appeals to you that did not appeal to Him.” This is a surrender of all our preconceived ideas of what it means to be a good person or even to be a Christian. Following Christ means he has the right to redefine who we are and how we live our lives.

Surrender means giving up our idols—those things we count on, or depend upon for our value and self-worth, our security and our sense of well-being. Surrender sometimes means releasing our hold on those we hold near and dear to our hearts. It can mean letting go of a toxic relationship, or setting free that loved one who is hovering near death. Surrender can also mean doing the difficult thing, like telling the truth in a difficult situation, or being willing to admit fault and ask for forgiveness.

But any surrender we attempt to do finds its roots in the wholehearted, complete surrender of Jesus Christ. We are called to rest in him, and participate fully in his communion with his Abba both now and forever. In some respects, surrender is a way of being—a frame of reference out of which we live our lives. Our decisions, day by day, are drawn out of this orientation of surrender to our Abba through Jesus in the Spirit.

In high school when talking of a particular war, one of my teachers liked to use the term “capitulation.” According to dictionary.com, to capitulate is to: 1) to surrender unconditionally or on stipulated terms, or 2) to give up resistance. God is calling each of us to capitulate, to surrender unconditionally to his perfect, loving will, and to give up our resistance to his Spirit at work in and with us and in our world.

Our capitulation, or unconditional surrender is our response to what God has done in Christ and is doing by the Spirit to bring our broken humanity into conformity with Christ’s perfected humanity. Our response, however feeble it may be, though, is swept up into Jesus’ perfect capitulation to his Father. This means we rest in Christ, in his perfect surrender or capitulation to his Abba’s will and purposes.

God brings us, at different times in our lives, to places of surrender. Circumstances in our lives, the evil Satan seeks to work in this world and in us, also create situations in which we are faced with the decision to either surrender to God’s will or to fight it. Growing in our intimate knowledge of God, learning to trust in his perfect love and grace as demonstrated to us in Jesus, enables us to capitulate. We rest in Christ and yield to the will and purposes of God, believing he will, in the end, take whatever is happening and work it for the best of all involved.

Thank you, Abba, that you are completely trustworthy and faithful. Thank you, Jesus, for fully surrendering to the will and purposes of your Father, and for including us in your perfect capitulation. Grant us, by your Spirit, a heart of surrender, and grant us the grace to rest fully in you, Jesus. Free us from our stubborn resistance to you, dear God, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but loses or forfeits himself?” Luke 9:23-25 NASB

Just How Radical is God’s Grace?

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By Linda Rex

I’m so grateful God loves every stubborn, willful child! If he didn’t, I would be in a very difficult place right now. And a lot of other people I know would be as well.

Do you know what it is like to raise a strong-willed child? I do. This is the child who, when given the choice between obedience and consequences, will choose consequences almost every time. This child is the one who may grudgingly obey, but in their heart of hearts is plotting some way of getting out of doing what they were told to do. Often, they are more inclined to do the exact opposite of what is asked of them rather than simply doing what they are told.

The neat thing about such a child is when they turn that strong will in the right direction, they become determined, decisive, and diligent adults. They accomplish things which us less strong-willed people never quite get around to finishing. They stand their ground on those issues which those of us less stalwart of heart tend to yield on. There is a hidden glory in a strong-willed child—one designed by God to reflect part of his own glory.

One thing I have learned from these precious children of mine is that often I am that strong-willed, stubborn child. I am the one who knows better and yet does it anyway. I am the one who chooses the consequences over obedience because “no one is going to tell me what to do!” As time has gone by, and the merciful Spirit has done his work, I have come to see more and more how my Abba has had all these years to “put up with” the stubborn, willful child I am.

Surely this must resonate with some of you. Every day I see or meet someone who is stuck in the consequences of the life choices they have made. Even though they know a better way, and could choose a better way of living, over and over they choose consequences over obedience. The Spirit says to them, give up your broken path and follow Christ—and they hear and turn back to the way which they freely have chosen for themselves, refusing to turn back to Abba and to his way of being.

The hardest thing we face as human beings is surrendering to the truth, to the One who is the truth of our existence—Jesus Christ. We don’t want anyone, Christ especially, to tell us what to do or how to live our lives. We want to be free—free to decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil, what we can and should do, and what we shouldn’t do. Freedom for us means we do whatever we want, whenever we want, to or with whomever we want, no matter the consequences.

But true freedom, the freedom which reflects the image of God, is a freedom bounded by the love of God, which is the very way of being of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This love makes room for others in a mutual submission and a giving and receiving which is fully reciprocal and genuine. In Christ we participate in this divine freedom, as we surrender ourselves to the truth of our beings as those made in the image of our God after his likeness.

As I drove home today and enjoyed the sight of newly mowed hay in the fields near where I live, I was reminded of the many ways in which I tend to stubbornly refuse to allow anyone to dictate to me how things should be done. So often in my life I have intentionally done the exact opposite of what I knew I should do just because someone told me I shouldn’t do it. I know I have reaped the consequences of these decisions, but I also know that this has also been a way in which God has taught me the meaning of grace and divine forbearance toward each of us.

Has God ever given me just what I deserve in these situations? More often than not, God has not given me what I deserved, but rather what I did not deserve—his unconditional love and patient, compassionate forbearance. Even when I was wallowing in the midst of my well-deserved consequences, God has heard my plea for deliverance and forgiveness and has lifted me out and let me start over again. Even when I was sitting in the wreckage of what I did wrong, God came and held me, and gave me the courage and strength to get up and start doing the next right thing.

Sometimes we need to experience the consequences of our foolhardiness and stubborn disobedience. But more often than not, God is gracious and overlooks things, enabling us to turn around and start going in the right direction. Not only does God pass over our shortcomings, he also forgives our stubborn, rebellious disobedience. He doesn’t do this so we’ll keep taking the wrong path and making bad decisions, but so that we may turn the other way, and begin living and walking in truth.

Repentance and faith are lifelong companions on our journey with Jesus. As we get to know him better, we come to see how far we fall short of his perfected humanity. And yet this does not alter our relationship with Abba or Jesus. For in Christ we are united with Abba in the Spirit, and this perfect relationship which Christ forged for us in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension is ours forever. It is unchanging and our failures do not alter it on God’s side. They only blind us to the reality of God’s infinite love and grace and cause us to suffer all kinds of needless consequences.

The repentance, or metanoia, which God brings us to by his Spirit’s work in our hearts and minds, is a turning around. We turn so that we no longer stubbornly have our back towards Abba, but rather we are turned toward him in a face-to-face relationship which is our participation in Christ’s perfect relationship with his Abba.

When we get turned the correct direction, toward Abba instead of away from him, and begin living in the truth of our real being as his beloved children, we will find our hearts and minds beginning to change. The way we think, say, and do things will begin to change. We won’t lose our unique way of being, but we will begin to shine with that glory which was our all along, that glory which is a reflection of the very glory of the God who made us, redeemed us, and who loves us unconditionally and freely in and through his Son Jesus Christ both now and forever.

Abba, thank you for your faithful love and endless amazing grace. Grant us repentance and faith, in deeper and deeper ways—so we grow in our trust of you, and in our relationship with you through Christ in the Spirit. Open our eyes to see you, our ears to hear you, and our hearts to know you, as you have revealed yourself to us in your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. We thank you and praise you for your goodness and faithful love, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:12-17 NASB
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Lost Children

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By Linda Rex

One of the Bible characters I admired most when I was younger was Daniel. I was impressed by the way even though he was overwhelmed with adverse circumstances throughout his life, he still came out on top. His devotion to God in the face of an anti-God culture has always been inspiring to me.

In his day, tyrants and despots ruled the known world. They believed they could move people about like pawns on a chess board (Sound like anyone we know today?). When Judah was conquered by Babylon, many of the people were carried away from their homes and taken to a new location. Daniel, a child of Israelite nobility, was along with others like himself, taken away from his country and family and placed in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace.

Now, true, Daniel was given the opportunity for three years to learn things many other people never had the privilege of learning. He was offered the finest of foods and wines and was being prepared to enter the king’s service. These were unimagined opportunities which no doubt other people longed for, but he had to pay a high price—giving up his nation, his people, and his God.

From the beginning, though, Daniel determined he would not sacrifice his personhood or his faith in God for the sake of this ruler and his political ambitions. He first risked the wrath of the king by asking to alter his diet to match the humble requirements of his faith—and was given permission to make the change. Throughout his life he came up against the simple question, do I do what is politically expedient and participate in evil plans, or do I stand for what is true and just, and do what I believe my God says I am to do?

The unique thing about Daniel is that he understood what his ruler did not fully understand—there is a God, and he is Lord of all. When he was a young child, he was forcibly removed from his family, taken to a new land, and put into a new environment. He had no control over what was done to him during this whole experience. But he did have faith in the God who did have control over it all, that he would work it out in the end for his best. And God did orchestrate Daniel’s life in amazing ways, allowing him and his Jewish companions to participate in bearing witness to the Babylonians about who God was.

We as human beings are often very arrogant. We presume to make decisions and to assume control of things in this world, acting as though we are in total control of the outcome. We have managed our world so well, with our technology and other advancements, that we feel we don’t need a God—God must just be a figment of our imagination. For centuries and even millennia the cry has been, “There is no God.” In this post-Christian culture, believing in God or in the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ is seen as a liability, a problem which creates trouble and bad feelings between people, not as a precious gift which creates healing and unity.

Sometimes leaders or business owners, especially here in the Bible belt, will use Christianity as the means by which they gain the trust of their constituents or customers. You may walk into a business which has a Bible verse prominently displayed on the wall above the counter, expecting to be treated honestly and justly. But beware—what is hung on the wall may have nothing to do with how they do business.

The problem is, when people rule themselves and others in such a way that God is set aside and replaced by dogmas or creeds of their own making, we end up with rulers like Nebuchadnezzar or Hitler. Hitler even went to the point he reconstructed the Bible to fit his agenda and reorganized the German church to fit in with his ambitions and prejudices. And, sadly, many people followed him and accepted his rule, not willing to stand against the evil he perpetrated.

The one who leads and does not acknowledge the living Lord will in the end answer to God for his or her decisions. Even Nebuchadnezzar had to deal with God, spending seven years in insanity before he humbled himself enough to acknowledge the authority of God in the world. Decisions leaders make are held to a high standard by God, because they affect the lives of many people—people who are unable to defend or protect themselves from a powerful government or leader. God will and does hold them accountable for the harm they perpetrate on innocent people and children.

The lives of those who are victims of the evil and/or injustice of such a leader will be redeemed and restored as they trust in the love and faithfulness of God. The story of Daniel reminds us there are ultimately no lost children. God has his hand on the lives and futures of each and every person who walks this earth. Whoever may be in power and whatever decisions they may make will ultimately be made subject to the will and purposes of our Almighty God who seeks our best, and who loves us so completely he was willing to sacrifice what he held most dear—his own unique Son.

In Christ, each and every person has hope. The Jesus who held children in his lap and blessed them is not indifferent to the suffering they have been subjected to in being torn from their families and homeland. They are intimately known and loved by our Abba, who knew them before the creation of the world and counted them as his very own in his Son, and he holds them in the midst of their trials and struggles.

As believers, we have a responsibility to speak up on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, and to provide hospitality and welcome to those who are far from home. We are to show mercy, do justly, and walk humbly before the God who created us and redeemed us. These are simple, and yet very difficult things to do, especially in the midst of a culture which seems to have opposing values. And yet, we continue to participate in our Abba’s love and Christ’s redeeming grace by the Spirit as we reach out to provide healing, help, and support to those who have lost home or family.

And we assume responsibility for our leadership of this country as we vote, participate in community leadership, and reflect the light of Jesus in the areas in which we live. And we never cease to pray not only for those who have lost home and family, but also for our leaders. We pray for those who are in positions of responsibility, that we can live at peace and in unity with one another and continue to freely share the good news of Abba’s love and grace expressed to us in the gift of his Son Jesus Christ.

Thank you, Abba, for your faithful love and the grace you have shown us in Jesus. We know you love each and every child and adult, no matter who they are. You hold each of us in your loving hands, whether we are lost or we are found, whether we have been stolen away or we are safe at home with our families. God, please remember those who are mourning the lost of their home and family this day—comfort them and keep your promise to place the lonely in loving families and homes. Lord, your justice is perfect and restorative—judge our leaders and cause them to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before you, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service. Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.” Daniel 1:1-6 NASB

All the Best Laid Plans…

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By Linda Rex

The planning commission met this evening, and one of the items on the agenda was the East Nashville Community Plan Amendment. The Planning department staff was recommending the approval of this plan amendment which would provide additional policy guidance for properties falling within the boundaries of the Highland Heights neighborhood where we meet for services.

As the members of Good News fellowship know, the process of preparing and doing this study has taken quite a bit of time. I have tried to share bits and pieces as it has gone along, and I did attend as many of the meetings as I could. I requested prayers for the meeting this evening, and for myself too, because I had agreed to say a few words along with other members of the community.

As I wrestled over what to say in the two minutes I was allotted, I scribbled this down, then crossed it off, and wrote something else. I prayed about it. And finally, I just went, trusting I would know what to say when the time came.

I was sitting there this evening, and eventually it came time for public input on the plan. The line formed, and I waited until several people had spoken. It seemed what they were saying was different than what I had planned on—which is what I was afraid of—so I was rapidly reassessing what to say. The line of people grew shorter, so I joined in, and eventually stepped up to the microphone.

It was an intense, critical moment for me, introvert that I am, and at that moment when I needed to know exactly what to say, I fragmented. I stumbled over my introduction and finally just apologized for being nervous, and dove right in.

I did my best to say what really mattered in that moment, but if you were to ask me now what I said, I’m not sure I could tell you what it was. I do know I thanked them for their efforts to hear all voices, and I expressed my concern for those who could not speak for themselves or defend themselves. I did express concern for those who have lost homes through no fault of their own, and while validating the need for growth, I expressed concern for the safety and wellbeing of our neighbors. I ended by expressing support for the plan they had put together.

I walked away convinced I made an idiot of myself, but prayerfully hoping the little I said was of some help. As I inched my way home through the rush hour traffic, I battled shame and humiliation and all the negative darts that could possibly be tossed at my heart. Thankfully, the voice of grace is louder than all those lies. I knew when I walked out the door of the meeting room, I was trusting God would take whatever was said and done by me and those around me and would turn it to the best for everyone involved. It was an act of faith.

I hope to hear soon about the results of the meeting. From what I heard early on, there was every reason to believe the policy would be passed. This means in the near future we can expect some significant changes around the church building where we meet, some significant growth and development along the corridors, but also some support of keeping the residential atmosphere in some portions of the neighborhood where there are single-family residences.

It occurs to me now as I write this that no matter what plans we may make, they are not set in stone. It is arrogant for us to assume that because we have decided things are going to be a certain way, that they are actually going to turn out that way (James 4:13-16). And sometimes we believe that if we pray about it, and we mean well, that God’s going to work it out the way we think it ought to work out, and we’ll know exactly what to say and do in the moment and will actually say and do it when given the opportunity.

The reality is that God has his own agenda. And sometimes he allows what we consider unthinkable because he has a greater purpose in mind. We need to learn to live with open hands—willing to receive from God something other than what we have set our hearts and minds on. What may seem just and right to us may be the very thing which is causing hardship for another person.

The struggle between various viewpoints of what should be done in this neighborhood is a good example of this. One neighbor doesn’t want to see one older house replaced by two or three new higher priced homes—especially when it means people who are renters have their homes sold out from under them. But another neighbor with an older home wants their home to sell in this way, because that is why they have kept their home—it’s their retirement—without it being sold, they lose all they have invested in that home. And that’s only one scenario. There are many more.

We can make our plans and set our agenda. We can pray, and fast and pray. We do our best in each situation and say what we believe needs to be said. But the outcome—how it will all work out—is fully in God’s loving hands. We trust he will do what is in the best interests of everyone involved. And we believe that even when evil, greedy people do get their way, in his good time he will make everything right in the end.

This is the walk of faith. It’s not always easy, and it’s best done with our hands in God’s hands. We trust he’s holding us, and we remember he has promised to never leave us or forsake us. He is our trustworthy Abba, our faithful Jesus, our ever-present Spirit. We can confidently rest in his perfect love and care. And so, as much as lies within us, we trust and we rest in him.

Thank you, Lord, that you are always aware of what is going on at every moment of our lives. You are faithful and loving—grant us the grace to trust you implicitly and completely in every circumstance, especially in the ones where we mess up or disappoint ourselves and others. You will work all things to fulfill your perfect plan. Bring our desires into unity with yours so you may grant us all we ever ask for. All through Jesus we pray, amen.

“May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble! …. May He grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your counsel! We will sing for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners. May the Lord fulfill all your petitions. Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand…. Save, O Lord; may the King answer us in the day we call.” Psalm 20:1a, 4-6, 9 NASB

Living Beyond the Ordinary

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By Linda Rex

Ordinary Time
Last Sunday at Good News Fellowship we celebrated Trinity Sunday, with an emphasis on the way God revealed himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit through our Lord Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension. We were reminded of the beauty of the Trinitarian perichoretic life—the divine dance—we were all created for and welcomed into by God’s grace and love.

Trinity Sunday is in some ways a highlight on the Christian calendar, as though all which has gone before has led us to this place of revelation and understanding. Rather than being just a mystery we can only gaze upon in amazed wonder, the Trinity is the place where we exist—we are held in Christ, in the midst of the love and life of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Our ordinary life is no longer just ordinary. It is a life swept up into the very Being of God.

Our lives as human beings—ordinary or not—are full of ups and downs, joys and sorrows. Sometimes we struggle just to make it through another day. Other times it seems we are on the top of the world. Life can be pleasant and easily enjoyed, or it may be excruciatingly painful and unbearable.

But whatever it is for us at the moment, we can know and believe this one thing—we are loved. We are never alone and forgotten. The psalmist wrote:

O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O LORD, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. (Psalm 138:1-10 NASB)

No matter where we are or what we are doing, we live every moment in God’s presence. But more than that, God brought us even closer in his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus took on our humanity and lived the very existence you and I live. He experienced life in this physical body, with all its frailty, in a world full of evil and struggle. God came near in Jesus Christ. God, in Jesus Christ, became God with us, Immanuel.

In Christ, God laid himself open for us as human beings to do with him however we wished. It is a sad commentary on us as human beings that when God came to dwell in human flesh, we crucified him. But that’s the very reason he came.

God’s purpose in Jesus Christ was to get down to the bottom of our broken humanity, down into the depths to which evil could go, and to turn evil, sin, and death on its head. He took our twisted humanity and untwisted it. He allowed us to do as we wished to him, so he could cure us of our bent toward evil and sin.

It was not enough that God in Jesus would allow us to do crucify him. He had even more in mind for us than just dying for us—that was not the end. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus was just the next step in what God had in mind for our humanity. For when Jesus ascended into the presence of the Father, he requested on our behalf that his Father would send the Holy Spirit. And Abba did send the Spirit.

The sending of the Spirit was critical. For not only is God present by the Spirit to all creation, he is also present through Jesus within you and me. By the Spirit, as we trust in Jesus Christ and what he has done in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, God comes to dwell in our very hearts. We are forever joined through Christ in union with God, and by faith, we can participate in Christ’s intimate relationship with his Father through the Holy Spirit. We are swept up into the intimate relations between the Abba and Jesus in the Spirit as we trust in Christ.

Now, by the Spirit, we live our ordinary lives in an extraordinary way—in union and communion with the God who created us and called us into life with him. We live our everyday lives in real companionship with Jesus in the Spirit, with God’s ever-present whisper to our heart telling us which direction to go, and how best to love and serve God and others. By the Spirit, the Word of God comes alive and begins to reveal Jesus the living Word to us, opening us up to the transforming work of the Spirit in new and deeper ways.

As we follow Christ and respond to the call of the Spirit upon our hearts and lives, we begin to change. And as we begin to change, the world around us begins to change. The Spirit leads us down new paths of creativity, compassion, and service. We are so grateful and joyful in our extraordinary living, we want to share it with others—and so we participate with Jesus in welcoming others into Abba’s loving embrace. This is the Trinitarian life we are included in and were created for.

The love of God is so great, he will not allow anything to stand in the way of his completion of this amazing creative work. God is sharing his life and his love with those he created. In spite of our failures, God will finish what he has begun—we have his Word on this.

Thank you, Abba, for all you have done to include us in your life and love. Thank you for the gift of your Son Jesus Christ, and for the precious outpouring of your Holy Spirit. Grant us the grace to humble ourselves to receive with gratitude your precious gifts. We give you praise and thanksgiving through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 9:35-39 NASB

Out Of the Compost Heap

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By Linda Rex

This morning I was researching information on the Nashville Metro government website about brush pickup and recycling. I came across an interesting document on composting.

I’m quite familiar with composting. My mom and dad were quite religious about having a compost pile in the backyard to use with their organic gardening projects. They were gifted at taking a desert or wilderness and turning it into a garden. Part of the process involved taking what most people throw in the trash and using it to fertilize their plants through the process of composting.

Their companions in this process were worms of various types. The article I was reading told about a way I could create a home for red worms, who would in return for this privilege decompose my kitchen scraps. Worms are amazing creatures—they take what is decomposing and turn it into valuable elements for the soil, so new things can grow.

It seems we as humans avoid death and dying, and decomposition, as much as possible. We fear death—creating whole industries in an effort to avoid or delay the decomposition and decay of our bodies, even though this is the natural process of our physical form. We have an inherent desire to live and to endure.

What’s interesting is that we are drawn toward health and healing, toward wellness, while at the same time we live and make choices in ways which actually hasten the destruction of our bodies. We are a mess of complications, and we struggle in various ways to be sound of mind, body, and emotions.

The same is often true of our inner selves. The inner drive of our being is to live—to experience the fullness of life in this body—to really know another and to be truly known and loved. And we seek it in a variety of ways—in our experiences, in our relationships, in our indulgences, and in the goals we strive toward. We may do things we know probably aren’t wise just because we are driven by this inner longing.

In all our seeking of life, we may find ourselves held captive by those things we have hoped would bring us life and happiness. It seems death always finds a way of creeping in and ruining our hopes and dreams, and the pleasures of this life.

If death and dying, and decomposition, are a natural part of our human existence, perhaps we should reconsider how we approach our life. The Bible tells us our God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit, made all things including us as human beings out of nothing. And we had the opportunity to share in their existence by eating of the tree of life, but we chose to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God told Adam our choice (and I say ours, because we all invariably make this choice in our natural humanity) leads to death.

Death, rather than life, became the governing force in our cosmos. All things eventually come to an end and begin decomposing into the more basic elements of the universe, to become part of something new. The miracle is in the becoming something new—for apart from the sustaining hand of God himself, the cosmos would return to the nothingness from which it came.

God did not want all things to return to nothing—he made something very good and wanted it to remain and flourish. God did what needed to be done, for only God can bring to life what is dead and dying. Only God can make something out of nothing.

So, God took on our broken and dying humanity—he came into our existence to live as we live, and to die our death, experiencing the worst of human depravity in the process. This death Jesus went through on our behalf was for a purpose—to raise us, and all that he had made, up into new life.

Before we can have new life, there has to be an ending of the old life. Jesus described this in John 12:24-25: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.” Just as in Jesus our old way of being died on the cross and was buried, so in Jesus our new life rose and walked out of the tomb. We have new life in our Lord Jesus Christ, but we need to embrace it and live it out.

Death is never the end now. Decomposition is merely the next step in our broken human existence after we die. But Christ has done what the little red worm could only do as a shadow of his perfection—he has taken our death and turned it into life. He has made all things new. There is a new life awaiting on the other side of death. Death is not our enemy, nor is it something to be feared. Now it is only a gateway to glory—as we trust in Christ and what he has done and will do for us in our place and on our behalf.

Perhaps we need to think of those things in our life we need to be freed from as items to be placed on the compost pile. We need to toss out our old ways of thinking and acting, putting them on the pile, and allowing Christ to eliminate, renew, and restore as needed. They died with him and are really of no use to us anymore except to keep us in the stranglehold of death.

As we participate in Christ’s death, dying to old habits and ways of thinking, we make room for God to bring new life, healing, and wholeness. We will begin to see new life sprout up in us and all around us as we become more aware of and sensitive to the work of the Spirit in our lives, as he brings the risen Lord Jesus Christ to full expression within us. May we respond to God’s work—the work of the Divine Composter—as he finishes his perfect work in us through Jesus and by his Spirit.

Abba, thank you for your faithful, tender care as you work in us what you began before the cosmos was. Finish your work to heal, transform, and renew all things—and grant us the grace to respond fully and freely to you as you work out in us your salvation, through Jesus and by your precious Spirit. Amen.

“Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them; and I will reveal to them an abundance of peace and truth. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel and will rebuild them as they were at first. I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned against Me and by which they have transgressed against Me. It will be to Me a name of joy, praise and glory before all the nations of the earth which will hear of all the good that I do for them, and they will fear and tremble because of all the good and all the peace that I make for it.” Jeremiah 33:6-9 NASB