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A Real Reversal

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By Linda Rex

3rd SUNDAY OF EASTER—As the years go by, I find myself reflecting on the journey I have been on with Jesus. The person I am today is profoundly different from the person I was as a young adult. I had lots of dreams back then, and I voiced many strong convictions about what I believed to be true about God, myself, and others, much of which I have since renounced as wrong or inaccurate.

Life seemed to be a lot less complicated back then. I believed that if I just did everything the way it should be done, my life would be blessed, I would be happy, and things would go along quite well without any difficulties or suffering. Whatever difficulty or suffering that might come would be because I sinned or because I was being persecuted for doing what was right. It seemed as though I was on God’s side so he had to be on mine, making sure everything went as it should.

I’m a little embarrassed to think about how naïve and unschooled I was, but it was merely the outgrowth of unhealthy theology and a protected yet legalistic childhood. I have, through the conditioning of God and everyday human existence, come to have a more rounded and mature view of things. There is indeed evil at work in this world, and evil affects anyone and everyone at some point. No matter who we are, we won’t escape failures, difficulties, struggles, and challenges.

A fundamental change in my life began when my view of who I believed God to be was challenged. I believed God was Father and Son, and the Spirit was their power or essence. As I grew in my understanding of who the Holy Spirit really is as the third Person of the Trinity—reading in the scriptures and believing all the examples of his personhood illustrated there and growing in my personal relationship with the Spirit through prayer and listening—my understanding of who Jesus and the Father are began to change as well.

Knowing the Father as our loving Abba and Jesus Christ as his Son the Messiah, the Word who came and took on our human flesh, dying our death, rising again, to bear our glorified humanity in the presence of the Father forever, is life-transforming. As the Spirit brought me nearer and deeper into the life of the Trinity, what I believed kept moving beyond just a religious creed into the realm of personal experience. The reality of Jesus Christ in me, with me, for me, began to take a clearer shape. Jesus was no longer some story character—he had revealed himself to me personally by the Holy Spirit. I began to hear God’s still small voice in my heart and mind, and I began to know and believe I am loved, forgiven, and accepted. The more I believed the truth about who Jesus was and why he came and the more I knew I belonged and was included in Jesus’ perfect relationship with his Abba in the Spirit, the more my behavior began to change.

I was more than happy to do my part in obeying God—I had constantly been bombarded by the shoulds, oughts, and have-tos of the belief system I held and all it did was make me worse. The harder I tried, the more I found myself shackled by unhealthy ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. I struggled often with depression and self-loathing. This obviously wasn’t God’s way of doing things. Eventually, the change I noticed within myself did not come about because I tried harder, but rather because I admitted I couldn’t do it and I needed Christ to do it in me and through me by his Holy Spirit. It happened when I was honest with others about my struggles and failures, and sought help. It happened when I was transparent about my failures, became fully known and yet loved, accepted and forgiven within a healthy spiritual community.

The worst thing about toxic or legalistic religious environments is that they do not allow people to be authentic and real and so find genuine healing and renewal. It seems that when people come together to form a church, they bring with them their masquerade gear and spend copious amounts of energy hiding from one another. In this type of environment, addictions and co-dependencies thrive. Healing and renewal are often limited or are complicated by unhealthy boundaries and toxic relationships.

It is much better to be in a safe spiritual community where each person is able to be genuine and transparent, and is allowed to grow up in Christ. Growing up in healthy ways requires the freedom to make mistakes without condemnation and with the support and encouragement of those who have previously traveled those same difficult paths. A healthy spiritual community allows for falling short without condemnation, but challenges brothers and sisters to grow up into the fullness of who they are in Christ.

Saul was not a bad person. He was a zealous God-fearing Jew. He meant to do the right thing, and he was trying to live life the way he believed God wanted him to. I don’t know why he was so adamant about imprisoning and executing the believers in Christ, but perhaps his zeal for God was also inspired by a need for the approval of his Jewish peers and a need to accomplish what no one else was doing quite as well. Whatever his reasoning, it seemed to be borne out of a heart seeking to please God.

Imagine how horrifying it must have been to realize that the One Saul had been trying to impress was actually the One he had been persecuting. His efforts to earn God’s love and approval, and the adulation and approval of his peers, was actually an action in opposition to God and in persecution of Jesus. Saul needed to know who Jesus Christ really was. He needed to have his image of God reformed into something which more perfectly apprehended the Triune God of love. As Saul sat in the darkness of blindness for a few days, he must have thought at least once—now what do I do? How can I possibly make amends for this?

What if Ananias had refused to listen to Jesus when the Lord told him to go lay hands on Saul so he could see again? What if he had stood in judgment of Saul and had condemned him, insisting he pay for his crimes against Ananias’ friends and fellow believers? But he didn’t. He humbly obeyed Jesus’ command and met Saul right where he was, offering him grace and love, and entrance into the body of Christ, the church.

Saul, whom we know today as the apostle Paul, never minced words when he spoke about his past and his failures in life. He was transparent and honest about the people he had harmed and the suffering he had incurred. Instead of being a reason for shame and guilt, God made his failures an essential part of his witness to the resurrection power of the risen Christ and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s proclamation of the gospel was effective often because people saw the profound reversal which had occurred in his life when he met Jesus Christ.

A church should be a spiritual community where people can be authentic and transparent, and safely transverse the changes necessary between spiritual infancy and the spiritual maturity of Christlikeness. This is a journey that takes time, and we all have ups and downs as we travel. We are bound together in Christ to offer one another both grace and truth—to enable one another to be challenged as well as upheld when things don’t go as we planned or hoped they should, or when we fall short of Christ.

The Spirit creates such a community as we respond to his work in our hearts and minds, and live and walk in him, tossing aside the old as unneeded scraps of clothing ready to be burned, and putting on Jesus Christ who is our life and the truth of our being. As we live out the truth of our real reversal in Jesus, the Spirit enables us to participate in bringing others to experience this transformation as well, creating a fellowship of care which reflects the inner life of the Triune God. Our spiritual community isn’t meant to be a closed group but rather a welcoming place where others may find healing and renewal as well.

Dear Abba, thank you that by your Spirit you bring together people to form spiritual communities where they can find healing and renewal, and share that gift with others who are broken and suffering. As believers, change our hearts and minds so that we begin to live together in ways which are transparent and authentic, and are safe for others to participate in and to come to know and grow up in Christ in a healthy way. We thank you for never ceasing to bring us to yourself through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.’ … and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, ‘Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?’ ” Acts 9:5-6, 20-21 NASB

He is Risen Indeed

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By Linda Rex

RESURRECTION SUNDAY/EASTER—I’ve been noticing how often we act as though Jesus is still hanging on the cross or laying dead in the tomb. As Christians we can talk a lot about how Jesus died on the cross for us and our sins and how he rose from the grave, but do we live and speak as though this is actually true?

As I was sitting in the last session of a recent GCI women’s leadership forum, I was invited to write myself a permission slip. We had written one on the opening session, and now we were going to write one as we prepared to leave. I closed my eyes and asked the Lord what he wanted me to write on my slip. The still small voice said, “Be free.”

As I wrote this down on my yellow post-it note, I thought about this statement. Why would God ask me to give myself permission to be free when in Christ I already was free? I was struck by the reality that I could know quite well that I am made free from evil, sin, and death through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension, and yet be thinking, feeling, and living as though this were not true.

This is similar to Paul’s direction to us to be reconciled to God because we are reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18-20). There is the spiritual reality of our reconciliation with God on his side and spiritual reality of our freedom from evil, sin, and death in Jesus. And then, on the other side, there is our personal experience of and participation in these spiritual realities through Jesus in the Spirit.

The apostle Peter had told Jesus he believed he was the Messiah, his Lord. He had refused to believe that he would ever betray Jesus. But standing in the courtyard trying to stay warm the night Jesus was taken and was being tried, Peter denied vehemently that he knew him. When the rooster crowed and Jesus caught his eye, Peter was devastated. He was caught between the two parts of himself—what he meant to do and what he did, what he believed and how he acted—and subsequently found himself in a place he never meant to be and experienced sorrow and deep remorse as a result.

As we read the Easter story in Luke 24:1-12, we find Peter again caught between what actually had happened, and what his human reasoning would have him believe and do—Jesus was not in his tomb. Were the women right? Had he indeed risen from the grave? How could that be? Peter saw the empty tomb and went away marveling—but apparently, not believing.

All of these experiences including his subsequent encounters with the risen Jesus, and his calling to be a shepherd to God’s people, helped to form and shape Peter. It was this Peter, the one who not only knew Jesus had died and risen again, but who had personally experienced Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, who was praying on a rooftop in Joppa when the men sent by a centurion stopped at the gate and asked for him.

In the companion scripture for this Sunday in Acts 10:34-43, Luke tells us about the sermon Peter preached to these Gentiles. He began by saying that it was obvious to him that God was not someone who showed partiality. He could say this confidently because not only had God given him a repeated vision which told him he was not to differentiate between people, but also because he had been directed to treat these Gentiles as though they were brothers. What Peter had learned at the feet of Jesus, he was now experiencing in the midst of his own ministry—Jesus had torn down those divisions held near and dear by the Jewish people and had made all people one in himself.

As Peter preached and told of his experience of the life, death, and resurrection of his Lord, the Spirit came upon these people. What was true in Jesus Christ was now true for each person there. They were included—they were God’s people not just as a spiritual reality, but now by personal experience. They were baptized, showing their participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, by participating in the baptism Jesus did on all humanity’s behalf.

But even Peter struggled with what he knew to be true and making it a reality in his life. At one point the apostle Paul took Peter to task for not acting in accordance with the truth about the Gentiles being included in table fellowship through Jesus. Peter got caught up with some Jewish members’ refusing to eat with Gentiles, and even Barnabas was led astray (Gal. 2:11-14). Didn’t he know better? Obviously, yes, he did. But in that moment, he missed the mark.

The spiritual reality is that all are included in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. As Paul wrote: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:20-21 NASB) Because of our inclusion, Paul calls us to lay aside the old self and be renewed—put on the new self which has been through Christ created in the image of God (Eph. 4:22-24). Yes, we were dead in our sins, but God made us alive together with Christ, seating us in his presence in Christ (Eph. 2:4-7).

Our flesh calls to us to live in the old ways—to act like dead people. But we have been given new life, and God is calling us to act like the new creations we are. Paul says, keep seeking the things above, since that is where you (according to the spiritual realities) really are right now; keep thinking about the heavenly realities instead of obsessing on the fleshly realities of our old human existence.

Let all that is not of God continue hanging on the cross where Jesus hung. Leave the sin, evil, guilt and shame in the tomb with Jesus. Walk in the newness of life which is yours in Jesus. Cease living for yourself alone, for your own pleasure and personal indulgence and begin living as a member of God’s body—fulfilling that special place you were created to fill with your gifts, talents, knowledge, and experiences in love and service to God and others.

The truth is that, like Peter, we can be confident of the spiritual realities but fall far short in our personal experience of or participation in them. This is why we turn to Jesus and trust solely in him, and in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. We don’t count on our own ability or strength, but rather on the resurrection power which raised Jesus from the dead. It is God’s life at work in us which enables us to live in newness of life.

We trust, not in the empty cross, but in the risen Lord who died on the cross. He isn’t still in the tomb—the tomb is empty and his body has been glorified. Jesus is both seated at God’s right hand bearing our humanity in his presence and is present and near to us moment by moment by the Holy Spirit. We are reconciled to God, so by the Spirit we respond to God’s call to be reconciled to him and others. We are freed from sin, evil, and death—so we live through Jesus by the Spirit in the true freedom by which we love God and our neighbor as we were created to. By the Spirit, Abba’s resurrection power, we live, act and speak as though Jesus Christ is risen indeed.

Thank you, Abba, for the gift of new life given us in your Son Jesus Christ. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for making Jesus’ gift our very own, enabling us to participate fully in all Christ has done. Dear Abba, enable us to walk in the life which is ours in Christ, living reconciled and free, through Jesus and in the Spirit. Amen.

“While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen.’ “ Luke 24:4-6a NASB

The Great Renewal

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By Linda Rex

GOOD FRIDAY—Submission. Surrender. Relinquishment. Obedience. Many people in America today do not see these as qualities to embrace. What is valued is independence, freedom, and self-reliance—all stand in opposition to what really matters to God. The reality is that our way of looking at all of these things needs to be renewed so that it is driven by the spiritual realities rather than our fleshly passions and desires.

For example, freedom is a treasure we hold dearly to. Yet true freedom is much different than the freedom most people seek. There is a profound difference between the freedom to do whatever we want, however we want, whenever we want, no matter the cost to another, and the freedom to be that person we were created to be by God—to love him wholeheartedly and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The first kind of freedom is a movement inward, toward the self; the other freedom flows ever outward and upward—moving in unity with the divine dance of love, endlessly drawing its life from God and pouring it out freely and abundantly toward God and others.

This dissonance between the two types of freedom has its roots in our human proclivity to seek our own way—to be self-reliant and to establish our own “rules for living.” Even when we call ourselves Christians, we tend to find things we can pull out of the Bible as laws by which, we say if we just live, then God has to bless us, love us, or do things for us. Underlying such a view of “obedience” is really just another method of independent thought or self-reliance.

What Isaiah wrote is so true: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, / Each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa. 53:6a NASB). We may not want to admit it, but we like doing things our own way. Even when we believe and trust in Christ, we find we still have within us a stubborn resistance to God and his way of being. We prefer to do things on our own, to seek our own salvation, so to speak. When we can set things in stone—do this, don’t do that, wear this, don’t wear that—we think that somehow we can control the outcome, not realizing even so, we are trying to control God. We have missed the mark.

When God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, he turned our human values on their head. He didn’t value independence or self-reliance—no, he came as an infant in his humanity, fully dependent upon a young woman to care for his every need. In his ministry and life, he lived fully dependent upon his heavenly Father. He drew strength and wisdom from God in the Spirit, and spent many hours in prayer, drawing what he needed from his Abba.

Jesus lived free from human expectations and requirements and yet submitted himself to human government as necessary. He taught his disciples to pay taxes and not to resist when his life was at stake. He knew the evil inclinations of the human heart, so he did not place his trust in humans, but placed his trust fully in his Father. He lived in an outflowing way, drawing his strength from his Abba and pouring into the lives of others as they came to him for instruction, healing, and deliverance.

In his life here on earth as God in human flesh, Jesus showed us he valued the qualities of submission, surrender, relinquishment, and obedience over those of independence, self-reliance and self-directed freedom. Every moment of his life was a battle to resist the pull of his humanity into the false values of his flesh and to hold fast to the true values of his Abba.

Submission, for Jesus, was his way of being in relationship with his heavenly Father. He also lived in submission to those around him, allowing them so often to direct his daily life. When he went to a private place to pray and draw strength from his Father, the crowds followed and demanded his attention. His compassionate response was a submission and surrender not only to his heavenly Father’s will, but also to the needs and desires of those coming to him for help.

Jesus said that he only did what he saw his Father doing. He obeyed his Abba’s will in everything, not because he had to, but because he chose to. His walk to the cross on your behalf and mine was not because he didn’t have any choice but to obey. It was because he voluntarily chose to obey his Father. His heart was a heart of obedience.

The scene of agony and passion in the garden of Gethsemane is a real demonstration of the battle waged within Christ’s own being. The evil one whispers to each of us that there is a better, easier way which doesn’t involve submission, surrender, or obedience. Hang on, he says—you don’t need to relinquish anything. Yet he lies—he seeks only our death and destruction, not our salvation.

To be saved from our misdirected ways of being and from our reliance upon ourselves and our resistance to God required divine intervention. God’s love for each of us from before time began was so great, the Son of God was willing to take on our human flesh, live in full surrender and submission to his Father and in a surrender and submission to humanity that would result in his torture, crucifixion, and death.

Knowing what would happen to him, he walked forward to those led by Judas Iscariot and surrendered himself into their hands. He relinquished his rights as the Son of God, allowing himself to be falsely accused, beaten, humiliated and shamed. As Jesus hung on the cross, he had the power and authority of heaven at his disposal—he could have called legions of angels to his aid. But he chose to submit himself to the evil plans of human beings and to this ignominious death for your sake and mine.

Jesus knew what we as humans can only barely begin to understand. It is in dying that we live. It is in humility that we are exalted. It is in submission that we find our true ennobling. It is in relinquishing all we have that we receive what really matters and will last for all eternity. It is in obedience to Jesus and the Father in the Spirit that we find true freedom.

The kingdom of God is a great reversal of all our distorted fleshly values which Jesus brought about in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. This is why we are called to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 13:2 NASB). To value surrender, relinquishment, obedience, and submission is to value what really matters and what will last on into eternity.

Abba, Jesus, Spirit, thank you for all you did for us on the cross—for enduring the agony and choosing to submit yourself to the temporary will of man so that your eternal will was accomplished in Christ. Remove our resistance, our stubborn insistence on going our own way. Fill us anew with your heart of surrender, submission, relinquishment and obedience. Thank you, Jesus, that by your Spirit, you will make this so. Amen.

“All of us like sheep have gone astray, / Each of us has turned to his own way; / But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all / To fall on Him.” Isaiah 53:6 NASB

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

Learning to Trust

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By Linda Rex

MAUNDY THURSDAY—A few years ago I was wrestling with a command God had given me that I wanted to obey but found so very often I couldn’t. The simple command from God to me was, “Trust me.”

Often I would hear this command in my inner spirit and I would ask, “How? How are you wanting me to trust you—to do this or to not do this? What does it mean to trust you?” Trusting God probably is a very simple thing but for me, personally, it seemed to be very complicated. Just what does it mean to trust God?

In many situations we are faced with the choice of relying upon ourselves and our good judgment and wisdom, or relying upon God, his wisdom and guidance. Pausing in the midst of our everyday lives to seek the heart and wisdom of God can be counter-intuitive and may seem to be a waste of God’s time and energy—shouldn’t we be able to handle this on our own?

It wasn’t until I began to hear the still, small voice of the Spirit telling me to trust that I became aware of how often I don’t trust God. Trusting God means I will do the uncomfortable thing rather than the easy thing when it’s what he wants done. It means I will love and serve and share when I absolutely don’t in my flesh want to love, serve, and share. It means I will look for the ways God is in the midst of a circumstance rather than seeing and experiencing only the discomfort, pain, or loss.

To trust is to believe in the good and loving heart of the one we are placing our trust in. It is believing that in spite of how things appear at the moment, that person has our best interests in mind and means well, and does not mean us harm in any way. Trust relies on the goodness, integrity, and compassion of the one we are trusting in.

As part of my current work of reconciliation and restoration, I have been studying the ways in which I as a woman need to grow in having a healthy relationship with a spouse. One of the hardest things to do as a woman is often this very thing—to trust the man I love. I want to trust him, but sometimes it is hard. When I lose faith that he means well, that he has my best interests at heart, I can really struggle with being able to trust him.

Yet trust is what he needs most from me. Sometimes we don’t see obvious reasons to trust. My words, my actions, and even my thoughts can deny this trust and express to this man that I don’t trust him. And not to trust can hurt and wound him. Here relationships can get really hard—trusting when we don’t feel like trusting means drawing upon a source beyond ourselves for the ability to trust.

I find myself praying, “I may not feel I can trust him at this moment, but God, I know I can trust you.” What or who we put our trust in is essential to our mental, emotional, as well as physical health. A breath prayer I have learned to pray is, “Trustworthy Father, I trust you.”

The Lord calls us to put our trust in him and in him alone. It is not the other person necessarily that we put our trust in solely, but rather, we put our trust in the One who lives in them. Our trust is in the indwelling Christ by the Holy Spirit—for he is fundamentally and wholly trustworthy. We can trust Abba and Jesus living in that person by the Spirit—we know he is at work and will not stop until he is done transforming their hearts by faith.

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus knelt to wash his disciples’ feet. In humility he offered an act of service, knowing that in a few hours they would abandon him and leave him to suffer agonizing death on a cross. Jesus did not trust in his human relationship with them, but in what his Father was accomplishing in their midst by his Holy Spirit. Jesus knew that in order for them to fully trust his Father, he would need to walk this path through death to resurrection.

But Jesus still called them to faith. As he sat with them that night, he blessed and shared with them the bread and the wine. The bread, he said, was his body which would be broken for them—they were to eat it. The cup of wine he handed to them and had them drink from represented his blood which would be shed for them. In eating the bread and drinking the wine on a regular basis, they would be sharing in his death and resurrection. They would be participating in the renewal of all things which he was working to accomplish.

This communal meal means that Jesus has committed himself to us in a real way. As the bride of Christ, we eat and drink the bread and wine as an ongoing remembrance of Christ’s commitment to us and his promise to us to return and consummate our relationship with him. Sharing in the communion meal is a way in which we find renewal in our relationship with God and one another, and encourages us to continue to trust in God’s love and grace.

The one thing Israel was to do was to trust their Redeemer, but they refused to believe he loved them and wanted what was best for them. Because of their lack of trust, they broke their covenant relationship with their God over and over. Jesus, in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, removed all barriers to our trusting God. Jesus proved once and for all that God loves us, and sent his Son to save us, not to condemn us (John 3:16-17). We have every reason to trust in the love and grace of God because of who Jesus is and what he has done.

In pouring out his Spirit, God has enabled us to participate in Jesus’ perfect trust and reliance upon his Father. Jesus entrusted himself fully to his Abba as he hung on the cross, knowing death was certain and that evil would seemingly triumph for a time as he lay in the tomb. But Jesus knew his Abba well—the eternal bond between him and his heavenly Father could never be broken, no matter what attempts Satan might make to destroy it. Jesus trusted in the faithfulness and goodness of Abba, surrendering his Spirit into Abba’s care even at his last breath.

It is Christ’s complete trust in the faithfulness and goodness of Abba we share in by the Spirit. We can trust God, and in trusting God, learn to trust the indwelling Christ, the Spirit, in those we love. Trust becomes our language, our way of being, as we live and walk in the Spirit, not in our broken humanity. Christ, the One who fully trusts his Abba, lives in you and me, and is fully trustworthy—and he enables us to live in loving, trusting relationships with one another.

Dear Abba, thank you for being trustworthy and faithful. Thank you, Jesus, for including us in your trusting relationship with your Father. Spirit, grow in us a heart of trust and reliance upon our Abba, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” John 13:1 NASB

Embracing Conflict

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By Linda Rex

PALM/PASSION SUNDAY—I remember years ago sitting in a church service listening to a pastor talk about conflict and how as couples, it was important to have good communication skills and be able to handling conflict in positive ways. I had learned over the years that the best way to deal with conflict was to avoid it altogether. Now, granted, approaching conflict through avoidance does seem temporarily to create a more peaceful atmosphere in the home. The reality is, though, this method of dealing with conflict exacts a pretty steep price in the end.

When we don’t engage issues as they come up between us and the significant people in our lives, we really don’t create peace. What we create is a mound of unresolved issues that may erupt later as a destructive volcano when stressful events occur in our lives. Avoidance can actually prevent the true resolution of conflict. Handling conflict in healthy ways may in fact increase intimacy and bring healing to the relationship—we may miss out on opportunities to deepen our relationship with another by avoiding conflict.

Yes, we are told “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18 NASB). In the context of this passage, though, we are told not to give back to others the evil they have done to us and we are not to exact revenge on them for the harm they have done us. The point Paul was making, I believe, was that we respond to their evil with good—this is the best way to treat someone who is mistreating you.

This is nigh to impossible for us as humans to do in our own strength. It is definitely counter-intuitive and rubs against the grain of our fallen humanity. If we are honest with ourselves, our response to conflict with another person is make sure our position is defended, our opinion protected and affirmed, and that the other person understands and accepts that we are right and they are very wrong. The way we often do conflict when driven by our flesh involves opposition, condemnation or criticism, and unforgiveness. And when we feel unable to defend our position, we may choose to avoid engaging altogether.

During Lent, we are walking the journey with Jesus toward death and resurrection. What might be helpful is to remember that this journey began long before this cosmos was ever created. The Word of God could have said to Abba, “I really don’t want to have to deal with these humans. I know what they are like. They’re not going to live in relationship with us like they were created to—all they will want to do is go their own way and live in opposition to us. We’ll have conflict all the time.” And he would have been right.

But the Word of God did not avoid conflict by not coming to be with us. Rather he expressed a divine humility in embracing our humanity and taking it upon himself. He did not reject our weaknesses or failures to love, but engaged them fully, face-to-face with us in our human flesh. For him, this conflict would serve a purpose—to restore us to the relationship with God we were created for and to remake our humanity into what it was created to be, enabling us to truly reflect the image of God.

This Sunday we are reminded both of the events of Palm Sunday and those of Holy Week. On Palm Sunday, we see Jesus intentionally walking towards Jerusalem and the events which would transpire there. In the gospel accounts, we hear Jesus warning his disciples of what he was facing—his death and resurrection. Even though all his disciples didn’t fully realize what he was saying, they believed what Jesus was doing as he entered Jerusalem that day was significant enough that they participated in the celebration of hosannas and laying down palm branches.

Symbolically, we see Jesus being treated as a triumphant deliverer. The Jewish leaders wanted the hosannas silenced. But Jesus acknowledged this was his day—this was his time. Creation knew its Maker and would honor him even if these people did not.

Jesus wasn’t interested in being acknowledged as a hero, though. He knew the path he walked was a path of conflict and betrayal. Even the one who promised he would never walk away or deny him did. And the one he knew would betray him did so, offering him up to the Jews for a few coins. Jesus did not try to defend himself, but allowed himself to be misunderstood, misrepresented and humiliated. How many of us are willing to engage in a conflict with this measure of self-effacing humility?

The journey of Holy Week takes us from triumph to ignominy. In engaging humanity on its own ground, Jesus experienced crucifixion and death. He was willing to go to these lengths in order for him and his Father in the Spirit to be reconciled with humanity once and for all. What price are we willing to pay in order to make things right in our relationships with others?

Needless to say, it has been impressed on my heart once again that there is no place for avoidance in our significant relationships. Walking in the Spirit rather than in the flesh means walking in the reality of Jesus’ complete offering of himself in spite of what he knew we would do to him on the cross.

It also means that there will be times when on our side, there is no conflict—we are fully accepting, forgiving, and loving toward the other. These can be times where all the other wants to do is live in opposition to us, pouring out on us whatever venom or destruction they can muster up. This is when we don’t avoid the conflict, but rather respond as Jesus did, in offering love and grace—God’s goodness—in place of the evil being offered us. We don’t act in our flesh and take revenge, but walk in the Spirit and with healthy boundaries in place we offer God’s grace and love. The ground of Jesus’ death and resurrection is where we take our stand, and in Christ by the Spirit we find the power and heart to love and serve the one who opposes us.

Conflict then becomes not a ground for hostility or relational destruction, but a sacred offering of openness to the power of the Spirit to deepen and heal the relationship. We don’t need to fear conflict, for in Christ it becomes a way in which Jesus’ can work to bind us together with God and with one another in deeper and healthier ways. The beauty of Jesus’ wilderness journey is that it ends up in an eternal loving relationship of God and humanity bound together forever, not at conflict with one another but in perfect unity. The humility of the cross ends in glory!

Dear Jesus, thank you that you did not refuse to engage us in face-to-face conflict but chose to embrace conflict as a means by which we would be forever united with you and Abba in the Spirit. Thank you, Abba, for participating with Jesus in this mighty work of redemption and renewal. And thank you, Holy Spirit, for working into our being and our relationships that grace and love which Jesus lived out in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Amen.

“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:8 NASB

“I gave My back to those who strike Me, / And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; / I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting. For the Lord GOD helps Me, / Therefore, I am not disgraced; / Therefore, I have set My face like flint, / And I know that I will not be ashamed. He who vindicates Me is near; / Who will contend with Me? / Let us stand up to each other; / Who has a case against Me? / Let him draw near to Me. Behold, the Lord GOD helps Me; / Who is he who condemns Me? / Behold, they will all wear out like a garment; / The moth will eat them.” Isaiah 50:6-9 NASB

Rivers in the Desert

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By Linda Rex

LENT—As we continue our Lenten journey, it is possible that the Spirit may be bringing to our attention areas of our lives which need transformation or healing. We may be recognizing our failures to love or our self-centered ways of being and living. We may experience grief and pain in knowing we fall short of what God meant for us to be, or we may be overcome with feelings of guilt, shame, or remorse.

The path we walk this time of year is the path Jesus walked as he headed towards death and resurrection. Jesus purposefully walked this path, knowing full well the suffering and betrayal he would experience in Jerusalem. This did not deter him from his goal. He had something he needed to accomplish and not even the gates of hell would prevent him from fulfilling the promises of his heavenly Father.

Jesus knew the heart of man and the reality that we were broken and desperately in need of being saved. His love for you and me and every other human being who has ever lived or will one day walk this earth was so great, he determined that whatever was necessary would be done so we would be with him forever. Nothing would stand in his way. He would finish what he began.

The wilderness journey we take with Jesus is an opportunity to embrace the reality that apart from him we are powerless over evil, sin, and death. When we look into the true mirror of our humanity, Jesus Christ, we find ourselves on the one hand as sorry, pathetic prodigals, and on the other as beloved, forgiven, and accepted children of God. That which was is gone and that which Jesus made us to be is here—this is what we learn during Holy Week.

Jesus walked the path of our human existence in order to create for us a new way of being and a new life in himself in which we would be included in his union and communion with his heavenly Father in the Spirit. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life in his humanity as the God/man and on our behalf was willing to experience death by crucifixion at the hands of some of the very people he was working to save. The betrayal of those he loved and the evil which laid him in the tomb did not keep him from achieving his objective. Rather, Jesus’ death on the cross set the stage for the redemption of all humanity. This is the glory of the crucifixion.

When we face our brokenness and our failures to love, we need to, in that moment, turn to the one who stood and stands in our place on our behalf. We are not lost—we are found. We are not rejected and forsaken—no, we are embraced and welcomed home. We turn to Jesus Christ, in his broken body and shed blood, and receive the gift of forgiveness and acceptance the Father, Son, and Spirit determined to give before the creation of the cosmos and accomplished on the cross.

Christ’s death for our death. Christ’s life for our life. His perfect relationship with his Abba given freely to us in place of our broken turning away from God. The apostle Paul says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21 NASB). Jesus became what we are so that we might now and forever share in his glory as God’s beloved adopted children.

In Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension our humanity is made new and our relationship with our heavenly Father is brought back into what God always meant it to be and even more. In rising from the grave in his glorified humanity, Jesus brought us all home to the Father—we find that our new life, what God means for us to have and be, is present even now, “hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col. 3:3-4 NASB).

We can feel overwhelmed by shame, guilt, or just a recognition of our failures to love. It is good to realize our powerlessness to live as we ought to live. To be truly human as God intended, we need to recognize and admit to our need for him. We are created to be fully dependent upon God and we need to walk in the truth of this. Admitting our powerlessness and our need for Someone beyond ourselves to heal us and to make us what we ought to be is an important step toward transformation and renewal.

Jesus Christ walked the path we were meant to walk. And he sent the Spirit so we could participate even now in his perfect relationship with his Abba and in our perfected humanity held within his person at God’s right hand. We walk by faith, not by sight. It’s hard right now to see the glory of our true humanity because what is evident at the moment is our brokenness and weakness and the ways we fall short of our perfection.

We must look beyond our sins and failures to the truth—we are accepted, forgiven, and beloved. God is still at work. Jesus is still making all things new. The Spirit is still at work taking all Jesus did for us in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension and making it ours as we respond to him in faith.

The Spirit speaks to our hearts and reminds us we are God’s children, we are forgiven, we are included in God’s life and love. The Spirit is our seal or evidence of the truth of what God has done and is doing in us. We can trust that what God has begun in us he will complete. God has poured his River into the desert of our souls, and through Jesus and by his Spirit he is doing something new.

Pausing to be silent in God’s presence and to meditate on his goodness enables us to become aware of what God is doing, and how he is at work within us and in our lives. Attending to the things of the Spirit enables us to drink in God’s presence and power, and prepares us for greater opportunities of love and service. God has in Jesus given us a path to walk and by his Spirit the resources we need to walk in it. Let us turn to him in faith and in gratitude for all he has given.

Dear Abba, thank you for all you have done and are doing to redeem us, to save us from evil, sin, and death. Thank you, Jesus, for coming and living in our humanity, dying death at our hands, and rising again, including us in your perfect relationship with Abba. Thank you, God, for sending us your precious Spirit—may we always make the divine River at home in our hearts and may be with you both now and forever, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Do not call to mind the former things, / Or ponder things of the past. / Behold, I will do something new, / Now it will spring forth; / Will you not be aware of it? / I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, / Rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:18-19 NASB

Seeking Earnestly for God

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By Linda Rex

LENT—As I walked through the grocery store the other day, I was struck by the amount of choices placed before me of things to drink. Moving through a large open section filled with a wide variety of bottles of wine, I came to an aisle filled with beers, ales, and other cold alcoholic drinks. Beyond that was an even larger aisle filled with flavored and unflavored bottled water. And after that was an aisle filled with cans and bottles of all different kinds of soda pop.

The irony I felt was that God has given us fresh water to drink, but if I were to go anywhere in this country, hold a cup under a flowing fountain of running water, I probably would not be able to drink it. I would have to boil it first, maybe even filter it before I could safely drink it. The risk of illness would limit my ability to enjoy what God originally provided for my health and refreshment.

We live in a “dry and weary land where there is no water” not because there is no clean natural running water, but because we are parched for the living water of God’s real presence and power. Even within our churches today we find ourselves longing for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit’s renewal, yearning to see God at work in our lives, our families, and in our world. We live in a world where the Spirit’s presence is easily ignored and where our appetite for the things of God may be conveniently filled with anything our human flesh might crave.

God has given us so many things in this world to enjoy. They are meant to give us pleasure and to brighten our existence, and to show us the love and grace of our Creator and Redeemer. Yet they can so easily become the focus of our attention instead of turning us to the One who has given them to us for our joy and renewal. Rather than being a blessing to us they can enslave us or distract us from our unity with God through Jesus in the Spirit.

During Lent we may set aside some item, food, or habit in a worshipful offering to God as a means of fasting. This spiritual discipline is not meant to change God’s mind about us, but rather to open us up to the work of the Spirit in a new way. Setting something aside for a time reminds us of our dependency upon God and all he has done for us in giving his Son and his Spirit. We are reminded that our real sustenance is not in ourselves but in Jesus Christ—he is our life, and his lovingkindness is better than life (Ps. 63:3).

It is so easy for us to replace a deep abiding relationship with God with an abundance of cheap substitutes. We wander about from day to day constantly bombarded with temptations and distractions. It is so easy to find ourselves drinking from the well of our flesh rather than the free-flowing crystal waters of the Spirit. Our pause during Lent to attend to the things of the Spirit draws us away from this and turns us back toward our Savior and Lord.

When we feel we are far from Christ, God does not want us to wallow in guilt and shame. This is not his purpose. What he wants us to see is that even though we may believe we are totally lost, Jesus has already come to us, found us and brought us home to the Father. In reality, if we were to turn around and start moving in God’s direction, we would find Abba already running down the road to meet us, longing to embrace us and welcome us home.

God’s thoughts are so far above ours when it comes to the things of love and grace. God doesn’t hold anything against us, but freely and generously forgives us, even before we ever get around to saying we’re sorry. Admitting our guilt and saying we’re sorry merely affirms the reality that God needed to forgive us and so he did. God’s purpose is not to get us to feel bad and to try to do better—it is to bring us back into right relationship with himself so once again we can live in in joyful fellowship and unity with God and one another.

During Lent, our fasting can be a means by which we can attend to our thirst or need for God. A lot of times we don’t realize what’s really going inside of us because we are so distracted by our human, secular existence. Because we are so busy or caught up with the details of everyday life, we may not even realize we have turned away from our Abba and started down the road to destruction.

Our life at work, and in our family, school, and community are full of great relationships and experiences. There are challenges which stretch us and grow us into stronger, healthier people. There are circumstances and relationships which crush us and break us, causing us to wonder how we will ever be able to move on. Our human, secular existence isn’t evil in and of itself. But there is often evil at work in the things of this world and our human flesh has a proclivity apart from God’s work in us to succumb to the pulls of sinful thoughts and desires.

The only way we rise above the downward pull of our broken humanity is to drink in deeply of the free-flowing Spirit. We allow the recognition of our need for God to turn us toward him, not away from him in guilt and shame. Acknowledging our thirst, even hunger for God is an initial step toward healing and renewal. Seeking God in earnest means crying out for his redemptive power and presence, the living Christ, to finish what he has begun in us by the Holy Spirit.

Seeing how far we have fallen is not meant to create in us a determination to try harder. Yes, we want to leave behind old, broken ways of being and doing. But this realization of our need to change is in reality a thirst for the things of God which can only be filled by drinking in of the Spirit of love and grace given to us through Jesus. It is the Spirit who transforms our hearts by faith. He is the One who empowers us to live and walk in truth by the faith of the Son of God.

The spiritual disciplines we practice open us wide to the Spirit, allowing him to penetrate new parts of our being and relationships with his presence and power. Spiritual disciplines have been practiced by Christians for millennia and include such things as prayer, meditation, study of God’s word, celebration, praise and worship, service, truth-telling, humility, simplicity, contemplation, and fasting.

By creating spaces in our everyday lives to open ourselves up to the Spirit and grow in our relationship with Jesus through the practice of spiritual disciplines, we are able to drink in deeply of the living waters of God’s love and grace. We will find ourselves empowered to live in ways which are more compassionate, loving, and in tune with the heavenly realities. We will experience a nearness with Jesus and Abba by the Spirit which will be life-transforming. This drinking in of the life-giving Spirit will quench our thirsty souls in a way nothing else can.

Dear God, you are so gracious and kind! Turn our hearts once again back to you, Lord. Enable us to see our true hunger and thirst are for you and your ways. Thank you, Abba, that you did not leave us in our broken and thirsty flesh, but you sent Jesus heal us, to bring us home to you, and you gave us your Spirit to refresh and renew us. Cause our beings to resonate with your being, Lord. We are so grateful you do not leave us as we are but ever work to make us new through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Seek the LORD while He may be found; / Call upon Him while He is near. / Let the wicked forsake his way / And the unrighteous man his thoughts; / And let him return to the LORD, / And He will have compassion on him, / And to our God, / For He will abundantly pardon. / For My thoughts are not your thoughts, / Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. / For as the heavens are higher than the earth, / So are My ways higher than your ways / And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:6-8 NASB

“O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; / My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
Psalm 63:1 NASB