evil

Repent and Believe

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Incarnation by Linda Rex, copyright 2005
Incarnation by Linda Rex, copyright 2005

By Linda Rex
Have you ever had that experience where you were praying about something, asking God to move in some situation, and when things actually began to improve, you were still in the “I have to do something to fix this” mode? It reminds me of the story of Peter being released by the angels from prison, going to find the brethren who were praying for him, but when he knocked no one would believe it was him knocking on the door.

I have no doubt that we want God to intervene and to answer our prayers. But do we really expect him to? Do we really believe God exists and that he wants to and will intervene in our lives and circumstances?

In this culture which is so heavily wrapped around science and proving things according to empirical data, I think it is interesting that we even have scientific studies that prove that praying for the sick actually works. But why do scientific studies of such a thing? Why do we have to prove that prayer works and is helpful?

I wonder if there is a deep inner longing in each of us to experience in a real way something outside of our human existence, something beyond ourselves that is more than we could ever be and that is lovingly inclined towards us and willing to help us when we are in need. And yet if there is such a Being or Force, we most certainly don’t want them to interfere with us or to tell us what to do. We want all the benefits of such a relationship, but none of the responsibilities.

We want to have help when we need it, to have success and good health and all of the glitz and glamour of a blessed life, but we surely don’t want anyone to dictate to us how to go about obtaining it or living it. We like to do life on our own, to deal with our problems our own way, and then to blame God or karma when things don’t turn out like we expect.

And prayer seems to be that guilt thing that we think maybe we ought to do more of now and again. We know prayer would be good to do when we’re in crisis and we don’t know where else to turn. But what do we know and believe about the God who we are praying to? Do we really believe he cares and that he will give us an answer? Or are we essentially atheists or humanists in our prayer life?

There is something fundamentally wrong here, and I believe it has to do with what we believe about God. First off, it is wonderful if we can get it through our minds and hearts that God is real and that God loves us. Period. He did, does and will love us unconditionally, no matter where, when, how we find ourselves—even in the midst of the stupid stuff we do.

And God gives us grace—total, unconditional forgiveness. But in the midst of that forgiveness and acceptance is the unspoken reality that we are in need of that forgiveness. Karl Barth in his Church Dogmatics often reminds his readers that inherent in our receiving forgiveness is the acknowledgement of our need for it. God offers through receiving his gift of grace the opportunity to experience a change of mind and heart. This is called repentance and faith.

One of the ways we need to experience repentance and faith in is in this area of our view of God so we see him as a loving, merciful Lord who answers our requests for help and succor. We need to come to see God as a Person who cares about every facet of our life and who is ready and willing to help.

But along with that understanding of who God is needs to come an appreciation and respect for the right he has as a living Lord to personify for us who we are to be as human beings. The lives we live ought to reflect the God he is. How we think, behave and speak ought to correspond directly to the thinking, behavior and speech of Jesus Christ as it is revealed to us through the Holy Spirit and in the Holy Scriptures. We need to acknowledge that sometimes the mess we are in is our fault and we need to change.

Don’t get me wrong. God’s not hovering over us waiting for some reason to slap us silly since he knows we’re going to mess up. No. He loves us, and he hates anything that will mess up our understanding and experience of that love. He hates anything that will mar the beauty of his image in us. He longs for us to fully experience the love, joy and peace of a life like his that is whole, blessed and healthy.

He wants us to see him for who he really is and to live accordingly. And prayer becomes a part of that reality in our lives. Because we know him as a God who loves and forgives us, we want to know him better. Knowing him better means we begin to see things about ourselves that need changed. So we go back to him, secure in his forgiveness and love. And our relationship with God grows deeper as we are continually drawn to deeper levels of repentance and faith.

Drawing closer to God means we see more areas of our being and life that do not reflect his glory. So we surrender to God in those areas rather than resisting him. Prayer then is just a natural part of our relationship with God—he shares himself with us, we share ourselves with him, he responds, we respond—throughout our lives it goes on. But we need to be careful not to allow any part of our being or life to be a place where God is not allowed to have a say in how we think, speak or live.

I’m not talking about rules. I’m talking about a real relationship with someone who wants to do more for us than we could ever think of or ask him for. I mean being so close to God in our hearts and minds that we don’t want to wound him in anyway by the things we think, say and do. We seek only to give full expression of God’s glory in and through us in every way possible.

This is tough and it is counter-cultural. It goes against our natural human inclinations and it definitely stands in opposition to all that is dark and evil and opposes the will and purposes of God.

But God stands with us and promises us that he will never leave us or forsake us. He is committed to our becoming all we were meant to be as his adopted children in Christ and by his Spirit. And he won’t quit until he is done. We can count on that.

Holy God, please forgive us our wrong-headed views and thoughts of you. Grant us the ability to see you with new eyes and hearts. Open up to us a new understanding of who you are and how your heart toward us is only good and loving. Grant us repentance and faith, through Jesus Christ and in your Spirit. Amen.

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20–21

When We’d Rather Make Them Pay

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Stream Scene 2
Stream Scene 2

by Linda Rex

Often we read the sermons of Jesus in which he advocates doing good to our enemies rather than giving them what they deserve (Matt. 5:39). Our natural response may be to say how ridiculous it is to even think of trying to do this in real life. What we experience in the normal course of events is most often the exact opposite.

A story I came across the other day in the Old Testament popped out at me, because it actually illustrated this specific principle at work. Of course, it was many millenia ago, and involved two kings who were at war with one another, and a prophet who was diligently doing the will of God.

The story goes like this. The nation of Aram was at war with the nation of Israel. Every time the king of Aram went to attack the nation of Israel, the prophet Elisha would warn the king of Israel about the ambush. This kept the Israelites safe from attack.

After a while, the king of Aram got ticked off, and began searching for a traitor among his officers. Apparently their military intelligence was working properly this time, because one of the officers told him about the prophet Elisha and what he was doing to inform the king of Israel about their plans of attack.

So early the next morning, Elisha’s servant woke up to find his beloved city of Dothan surrounded by the Aramean army with its soldiers, horses and chariots. Needless to say, he was terrified, and anxiously asked Elisha what they should do.

Elisha first asked God to give his servant an assurance of his presence in the midst of this terrifying situation. So God enabled Elisha’s servant to see that God’s army with its horses and chariots covered the hills around the city. They were perfectly safe in the midst of this danger.

Then Elisha asked God to cause the soldiers of Aram to be blinded so they couldn’t see where they were or where they would be going. Then he proceeded to tell the commander that he would lead them to the city and person they were looking for. And off they went to Israel’s capital city of Samaria.

There in the middle of Samaria with the Israelite army surrounding them, Elisha asked God to give the Arameans back their sight. Now they saw that they were totally at the mercy of the Israelites, their enemies! At that point the king of Israel asked if he should kill them.

How simple it would have been to kill all of those enemy soldiers! They had no hope of escaping, and they were guilty of harassing the Israelites with their constant attacks. It certainly would have been just, if looked at from that point of view.

But Elisha pulled out the “do good to your enemies” principle and told the king of Israel he should give them food and water and send them back to their master. So the king held a great feast, made sure they were all well supplied and then sent them home.

What’s interesting is the small statement at the end of this story—the soldiers from Aram quit raiding the Israelite territory. Now if the king of Israel had gone ahead and killed all those soldiers from Aram, it would have probably been the “just” thing to do, but it would have only escalated the tension between the two countries. It would have initiated real war. But in doing good to their enemies, the Israelites, guided by God through Elisha the prophet, invoked the power of grace and service. And hearts were changed, at least, for the time being. So how is it possible to really do this in real life?

First, we see that Elisha was living in a relationship with God in which he was in tune with God’s heart and mind, and he was trusting in God’s love, grace and protection. He was living in obedience to God, doing as God asked, even when it was difficult or dangerous.

Secondly, we need to see beyond the physical into the realm of God’s kingdom life. There is a spiritual reality that exists beyond our humanity. We participate in the spiritual realm through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit. God is with us, in us and for us. We have no reason to be afraid.

Thirdly, we need to follow God’s lead, and allow him to take us wherever he wishes us to go. He will give us the ability to see what’s really going on when the time is right. He will help us to know what to do to best resolve the situation without revenge or violence.

Lastly, we need to choose grace and service rather than revenge or cold justice. Looking at the situation through the eyes of Christ, we can ask, what would be the most gracious, hospitable thing to do? How can I offer this person God’s love in the midst of this?

The reality is that even our efforts to do good in response to evil may end in suffering, loss and abuse. Christ called us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. There is a need for caution, wisdom, and seeking counsel and help from others in the midst of dangerous or potentially harmful circumstances. But at the same time we can apply God’s principle of grace and service in the midst of it all, and experience God’s blessings as a result.

Father, thank you that you are faithful in the midst of difficult and dangerous circumstances. Grant us the heart, wisdom and strength to do good to others, no matter their response to us. Grant us courage, faith, and obedience so we will follow you wherever you lead. Show us how best to love others with Christ’s love through the Spirit in the midst of adversity. In Jesus’ name, by your precious Spirit. Amen.

“But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:20–21 NASB

(You can find the story in 2 Kings 6:8-23.)

Avoiding Apocalyptic Paranoia

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flowervase

By Linda Rex

I was reading some short quips from a book called “Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations” when I came upon the following:

Until recently, most astronomers believed that our sun could maintain its present heat-energy output for at least another eight million years, because its hydrogen supply is only about half exhausted.

More recently, however, this theory has been reappraised. It is now believed that once a star (our sun, by the way, is just a medium-sized star) has expended half of its hydrogen, it is in danger of experiencing a nova. This means that a star the size of our sun gets brighter and hotter for a period of about 7 to 14 days—then becomes darker.

There are about fourteen novas a year in the observable universe. Many astronomers believe that our own sun may be about to nova because of the increased sun-spot activity. (1)

This kind of statement usually peaks my interest, but this time, since it was not written by a scientist nor was it found in a scientific journal, I had to seriously investigate its truthfulness before I took it seriously. In fact, statements like these than can provide fuel for the fire for those of us who like to make apocalyptic warnings and prophecies.

For example, if I were to read something like the above quote, and then read 2 Peter 3:10-12, I might develop some real concerns about the end of the world coming soon and what it will be like:

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! (NASB)

Wow, it sounds on the surface that the world could really end in a flaming ball of fire at any moment! Here’s where we start preaching hail, fire and brimstone. Get your act together now or you’re going to end up in the burning flames.

Reading through the titles of so many articles on the Web also brings to mind other types of “end of the world” scenarios or other forms of possible disaster: everyday foods that create cancer, a mysterious disease causing paralysis in children, women in India being poisoned by medicine—the list goes on.

The common thread here, I believe is fear. Fear is the one thing that keeps us from seeing, hearing and believing the God of the universe loves us and holds us in his hand. Fear grabs hold of us and blinds us to the truth that we are surrounded with and held in God’s love. It is God’s perfect love which casts out our fear and removes the torment that comes when we feel we have to hold everything together ourselves.

It is worth pausing a moment to ask ourselves exactly how much it would matter in the long run if everything ended now. What if I did accidently take a medicine that ended up killing me? What if my next medical checkup does show I have cancer? What if the sun really were to go supernova tomorrow? Is there reason for panic?

None of us are really truly prepared for the thief in the night, though some of us may have a watchdog and others of us have an alarm system. The thief in the night comes when he comes, and probably when we least expect him and most definitely do not want him. But if we are alert and prepared, it won’t be as much of a catastrophe as it would be if we were totally clueless.

I believe the issue here is realizing just who we are and who we belong to. Since we are loved by a gracious, long-suffering God who came himself in his Son Jesus Christ to rescue us, we really don’t have anything to fear. We have our early warning system in the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. We are God’s children, children of the light not children of the darkness, and he is looking after us.

When we live moment by moment in close relationship with God, we know and recognize the signs of the times. We are guided by and led by the Holy Spirit. We know and obediently respond to Jesus as he calls to us to follow and to obey.

Then we, as children of light and not darkness, will not be overwhelmed by anything that comes our way. Rather, we are prepared and aware and will respond in accordance with God’s will for us before and in the midst of each situation in which we may find ourselves.

It won’t matter then whether or not the sun picks tonight to be the moment it decides to go supernova. If we get the medical report that signs our death warrant, we will be able to face it headfirst, in faith. We will trust that in the midst of it all, God is holding us and will bring us through to that glorious day when we will meet him face to face, and it will all be okay.

As we live and walk in the light of God’s Word and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we soberly approach our future with faith, hope and love. We are alert to the things in our lives that may distract our attention from the one Being who has, at every moment, our best interests at heart. We’ll be able to weather every storm that comes because we are anchored in Christ, in our eternal relationship with the Father, through Jesus and in the Holy Spirit.

So bye-bye to all these apocalyptic worries. We focus on Christ, not on the headlines. We focus on living in love and grace with others the way God lives in love and grace with us. We weather the storms of life in Christ, carried by his faith, hope and love. And all is and will be well.

Thank you Father, that we have nothing to fear. Though the stars may fall, our sun may explode and our world fall apart or burn up in flames, we are held close in your hand. Nothing but love fills your heart for us. You want us to be with you always. Grant us the grace each day and each moment to trust in your perfect love for us that you have shown to us in Jesus, and by and in the gift of your Spirit. Give us the grace to believe and to trust you in every circumstance we face, that you will bring us through. Through Jesus, our Lord and Savior, we pray. Amen.

“But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.” 1 Thess. 5:4–6

(1) Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (p. 740). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

On Halloween and Superheroes and the God Who Saves Us

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

by Linda Rex

This week I saw a couple episodes of the new series about the Flash. This young man is busily going about his life, dealing with the issues of loss and grief, when he gets caught up in a story that is bigger than himself. Because of a freak accident he becomes imbued with the superhuman ability to run faster than the speed of sound. He begins to use this ability to help others and to make his world a better place, and hopes to right the wrong that caused the great hurt in his life.

At same time that he was gifted with great powers, he finds that others have been gifted too, only their hearts and wills are bent on evil and death. He then has to come to terms with the reality that perhaps he is the only one who can stand between them and the utter destruction of all that is sane and good in his city.

I think it is interesting that ever since I can remember, we as humans have been fascinated with the idea of there being people out there who are superhuman in their abilities and are able to rescue us from destruction and danger. It seems that we never grow tired of the concept of a savior. But we want that savior to have human qualities like ours—be prone to the weaknesses and faults and insecurities of our humanity. We want to be able to identify with him or her in a real way.

I’ve noticed, too, especially in the more recent creations of superheroes for the big screen, there is a concerted effort to place them within the context of relationships. Even though they may have to hide their true identity, we find that they struggle to exist outside of relationships. There is at least one love relationship or perhaps a family relationship in which they grew up. In these particular relationships they find their unique qualities as a person, not just those as a superhero, accepted and loved.

We as humans are also fascinated by, and appalled by, the concept of evil. Not just an evil as in a bad thing or a bad day, but a deeper evil—something hideous, horrendous and horrifying. The current fascination with the supernatural tells me that instinctively, we all know there is a deeper story—something greater than ourselves that we’ve all gotten caught up in. And there is someone or something out there who opposes all that is good and fine and right.

Today is Halloween, a holiday I as a young child was never allowed to celebrate. I was told that it was a celebration of all that was evil. Actually, as I learned later in life, it is a celebration initiated by the Christian church to celebrate all the saints who died before and how all that is dark must, in this new morning, give way to the Light that has come in Jesus Christ. It ridiculed the powers of evil—mocking them and proclaiming that they no longer hold sway in the world.

In his resurrection from the grave, Jesus defeated all the powers of darkness. The devil, death, sin, evil, no longer have a place in this world. They may act like they do. They may still frighten us and hurt us. But in reality, their reign is over. Jesus has triumphed. No matter how much they may try to ruin our lives and destroy our faith and twist our souls, Satan and his minions have no power over us. In the end, we are held safely in the life and love of the Father, Son and Spirit.

Sadly, in our ignorance and stubborn refusal to submit to the Lord of all things, we can give our gifts and our lives to the service of evil. This happens all over the world and in each of our lives to some small extent. We can cater to our old human ways of doing things, of thinking and being, and deny the God who loves us and came for us. But this does not change what God has done for us and will do for us as we surrender our lives and wills to him.

God came himself into our humanity to rescue us. He didn’t give us a superhero with flaws and weaknesses, but gave us himself—God in human flesh. He understands all our faults and flaws and forgives them. He is our Father, our Brother, our Friend, our Lover—all the relationships that matter most in our life have their source and life in him. He has committed himself to us, united himself with us, forever—he is inextricably linked with us with a bond we cannot break, even though we may reject it.

Whatever we are facing, he will come to rescue us. Maybe not on our time plan or in our scheme of things, but he has ensured that we have a place with him, in his presence, forever. Hold tight to the God who made you, and who rescued you in Jesus. He has come for you and he will come for you. Never doubt it for a moment. Because he loves you and does not want to live in eternity without you. The darkness may seem overwhelming at the moment, but the morning will come and the Light will dawn.

Thank you, God, for coming for us, for not leaving us in our darkness and depravity. Thank you for rescuing us in Jesus. Thank you, Jesus, for your perfect love and gift of grace. We praise you. Holy Spirit, we expectantly await your finished work of conforming us to the image of Christ. We celebrate the Light you have brought us. Do destroy the works of darkness. In you the evil one has no power over us any longer, for we surrender fully to you, God, and submit ourselves to your will in everything. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

“After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, ‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!’” Revelation 7:9–10

“Is It Love or Is It Magic?”

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Fall in Arkansas
Fall in Arkansas

by Linda Rex

I was watching an old classic TV series recently called “Nanny and the Professor.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with this show, it is about a nanny who helps a professor care for his three children. She has a Mary Poppins-type knack for knowing exactly what is needed in every situation. She always seems to know who’s at the door before they knock or who’s on the phone before it rings. At the beginning of each show, we hear the question being asked about all the amazing things Phoebe Figalilly does: “Is it Love or is It Magic?” And it is left up to the audience to decide.

I think sometimes that the current interest in all types of spirituality blurs the lines for us between what is magic and what is love. Whether we like it or not, our view of God and spirituality is influenced by our culture and all that we see and hear in the media. What we believe about love and being loving is also affected.

The apostle John wrote: “God is love.” That, I believe, is a true statement. But what does it mean?

Does “God is love” mean that love is God? No. Love is a relational property, something expressed. Love in itself is not a being. God is a being, who is Father, Son, and Spirit, who lives in love—love describes his being. It describes how he lives in mutual submission, caring and oneness—in perichoresis.

So if God is love, does that mean that God has to always do nice things for us? I mean, if God is love, how come there are so many nasty things going on in the world—so many hurt people, ruined lives—so much rampant evil? How can God be love and let that happen?

Well, no, God isn’t Phoebe Figalilly who’s going to make everything wonderful for us all the time. And he’s not obligated to do that, even if he is love. Love doesn’t equate automatically with being nice all the time.

And love doesn’t equate with God giving us what we want all the time. That’s a magical God that we can control and use. Magic is something we use to try to manipulate spiritual realities.

But God doesn’t work that way. God is completely free to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, however he wants. He’s totally free, but he’s also totally love. And he loves us enough that he does not allow us to control, manipulate or use him. He does, rather, allow us to influence him as a child may influence a parent to say yes to his request for a new puppy.

God teaches us, through Jesus, that real love is serving, sacrificial and never works in opposition to what is right, pure, holy and true. Real love is relational in a heavenly way. Real love calls out the best in people—raising them up to be all that God intended them to be when he created them in the first place—a true reflection of himself. Sometimes this means saying “No” or putting boundaries in a relationship. Sometimes real love hurts, causing or experiencing suffering, in order to help and heal.

Much of the evil and suffering we see and experience is the result of our own choices and our own stubborn willfulness. We inflict it on one another, even sometimes without realizing we are doing it. Sometimes love allows people to feel the full impact of the consequence of their choices—not to hurt them, but to motivate them to repent and change. God does this with us.

I think there is a huge difference between magic and love, one that God demonstrates to us through his Son Jesus Christ. Real love can be seen and experienced in a personal relationship with God in Christ by the Spirit. Real love can be seen and experienced as we reflect God in Christ by the Spirit in our relationships with one another.

But God isn’t interested in our magic incantations, our self-help programs, or worship rituals that we use to try to somehow get God to do what we want—to try to fix problems or heal people. God can do that all by himself and often does do that without any of our help. He likes to include us in his miracles—but only as participants, not as magicians. It’s not about magic—it’s all about love.

“Holy God, forgive us, please, for all the times and ways in which we try to manipulate, control and use you. Forgive us for seeing you as something to fix things with rather than as a person to relate to in love. Thank you that your great love goes beyond anything we can ask or imagine, and that you have our best interests at heart all the time. Perfect us in your holy love in Jesus. In your name, Father, Son and Spirit—you who alone are God. Amen.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jn 13:34–35

The Kingdom, the Baker and Breadmaking

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Main ingredients of basic bread recipes include water, flour, salt and yeast.
Main ingredients of basic bread recipes include water, flour, salt and yeast.

by Linda Rex

Jesus had this way of taking the most everyday tasks and events and turning them into a deeply spiritual concept, especially when he started talking about the kingdom of God. One of those unique parables of Jesus was brought to my attention in a new way this week as I prepared for Sunday’s sermon.

Previously, I hadn’t given much focused thought on the idea that Jesus described God as a baker. And not just a baker, but a woman who baked bread. And she wasn’t a wimpy woman at that—she was able to handle a large amount of dough at once. Three pecks of flour is the equivalent of 16 five-pound bags—enough with about 42 cups of water to make about 101 pounds of dough. That’s a lot of dough!(1)

So, here I see pictured a woman who is doing an everyday task—making bread, and she is physically strong and capable. I like that. How often we women are called on to be physically strong and capable!

I think sometimes that we assume that the Bible and Jesus portray God as being male since most of the language used in relation to him is masculine. But there is a significant difference between human gender and the gender of human language. We have to keep that in mind when we begin to think seriously about the nature of God.

I know that many men are good bakers. In fact, I remember my dad being fond of making unleavened bread. It was something he took up doing late in life that I never expected to find him doing. I tasted some of his products and they were pretty good. But perhaps the culture in Jesus’ day expected a baker to be female—so here God is pictured as a woman.

Breadmaking is something I enjoy doing. In fact, at one point in my life, I started making all our bread by hand because the motion of kneading the dough helped me to heal from an injury to my wrist. It became a therapy that prevented me from having to have surgery. And it worked. And it’s a creative process. I love being creative—I take after the Creator in that way.

But, back to the Breadmaker. The woman with all that flour hides leaven in the flour and it all becomes leavened. One of the simplest recipes I’ve used is for making pizza dough, and it probably resembles pretty closely how bread was made centuries ago. And it got me to thinking about how hiding leaven in flour is related to the kingdom of God.

Most all of the recipes that I can think of for bread start with yeast and water (or milk), a touch of salt and oil. All of that comes first. It is possible that what is meant by leaven in this parable was sourdough starter, which is a small batch of dough that is full of active yeast cultures. Either way, the ingredients that we start bread with—oil, salt, water—along with the yeast, are often used in the Word to describe God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This is worth giving meditative thought to.

In fact, I go back to the beginning of the world and find there hovering over the deep waters, the Spirit of God, who when the Word spoke the will of the Father, brought about our existence. God breathed the Breath of life into all that lives and breathes. All the animals and humans breathe oxygen in and carbon dioxide out. It is carbon dioxide that is created when the yeast in bread begins the fermentation process. And this is what causes the dough to rise. Thought-provoking.

Once these leavening ingredients are blended with the flour, there is no separating of them. The leavening process begins to fill the whole wad of dough, especially when the strong, capable baker begins to knead the dough. I’m not even sure she could stop the process once she started. The leaven is an intimate part of the dough, and this becomes evident as the dough begins to rise, and when it is baked into bread.

The kingdom of God is not something that just appeared when Jesus came to earth. For he was in the person of the Word, present in the beginning with the Father and the Spirit when all was made. The purposes and plans of God have not been derailed, but are gradually being kneaded into the dough. In time the heat of the fire will reveal an awesome loaf of bread.

In the meantime though, we find that the dough isn’t always compliant and responsive to the baker. As she pushes the dough down with her hands, the dough pushes back. The working of the dough and its response both positive and negative are a part of the bread-making process.

We tend to think God’s goal right now is to get rid of everything bad in the world. Just slay all these dragons, Lord! But the thing is that God is allowing the evil here for the moment—though he hates what it does to his children—so that he can accomplish the kingdom work he’s trying to do. He’s allowing us to resist him—though it’s foolish to do so—because he knows that it is a part of the free will and growing up process. He’s big enough, clever enough, perfect enough to deal with evil summarily and completely in his own time and way. But he doesn’t always do it right this minute when we think he should.

The baker decides what the end loaf is going to look like. Dough can be used for many things. In fact it can be divided up and used as individual little loafs we call dinner rolls. It can be used as a base for pizza. It can be broiled, boiled and baked as bagels. It can be fried as fritters or sweetened and spiced as cinnamon rolls. Or it can just be made into a plain, old loaf of bread. That’s the baker’s call.

We don’t know what the kingdom of God is going to look like in the end. We’re not really sure what the divine Baker is doing right now or why he is doing it. But one thing is sure—the leaven is filling the whole loaf. And all that God has created shares his Breath of life and participates in his kingdom life. And God’s not going to quit until he has a perfect loaf of bread. I can’t wait to see how it turns out and what it tastes like. I have a feeling it might taste a lot like the bread on Sunday morning’s communion plate.

Holy God, our Heavenly Baker, we are so thankful that you know what you are doing. We’re grateful that we can trust you to do everything necessary to complete the breadmaking process and to bring to pass the fullness of your kingdom. We trust you to finish what you have begun, and we look forward to sharing the bread of heaven with you in eternal communion. In the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.

”He spoke another parable to them, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.’” Matt 13:33 NASB

(1) Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002. Pg. 100.

Justice and Grace—Strange Companions

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by Linda Rex

What do you do when everything that matters to you in your life shatters and falls into pieces at your feet?

Sometimes I think that until we have this experience in our lives, we are only playing at living. Because it is in these situations that we find out who we really are in the core of our beings and what it is we really believe about ourselves, God and each other. Marshall Shelley in his book writes:

“It’s doubtful that God can use any man greatly until he’s hurt him deeply,” said A. W. Tozer. In weakness, God’s strength can be revealed. Joseph was jailed, David driven into hiding, Paul imprisoned, and Christ crucified, but even in defeat, God’s servants are not destroyed. Part of the miracle of grace is that broken vessels can be made whole, with even more capacity than before.

In my life I went through a personal experience where someone I believed in and trusted completely betrayed me and rejected me. It was shattering. Here is a poem I wrote that expresses the reality of how I felt as a result of this experience:

Shattered,Rex,Linda,Jan11,2003Web

Aftermath
The bloody aftermath of choices–
Broken hearts and broken dreams,
Pain
Cascading through the pages of our lives

You wander on,
Oblivious to the bodies of the crushed

How can you be so cold,
So calloused,
So blind?
Oh, for the light!

Spit in the face
Of the grace that was given!
Ravage the hearts
Of those left behind!
One day you will pay
The cost of the pain.
Grace or no grace,
Truth will descend
And justice, justice will stand!

© Linda A. Rex, 2002
Published in “The Best Poems & Poets of 2002”, Watermark Press

Is it possible that God’s grace and justice are one and the same? When we are wounded in this way, we want God to make things right. We want justice. We want the one who has hurt us to pay in some way. We want everything to be fixed and put back together again. Or at least have the pain taken away and be able to live a normal life. It’s not fair, we think, that we have to go through this—whether or not we deserve it.

I have come to see that our perception of our loss and suffering can drive how we respond to it. Since the beginning of time, we as humans have focused on trying to resolve the problem of discerning between what is good and what is evil rather than simply eating the fruit of God’s life. We did and still do this by creating rules and laws, and by punishing misbehavior and exacting penance for sin. But the one thing we’ve never been able to swallow it seems is the bitter pill of God’s sovereignty.

We don’t seem to realize that what we really need in every circumstance is what God has offered us from the beginning—his grace. God’s love is the basis for all of his dealings with us. If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll have to admit that God has dished out a whole lot more grace or undeserved pardon, generosity and goodness than any of us deserve.

And we as humans handed God in Jesus everything but grace—we poured out on him every consequence, deserved or undeserved, in his crucifixion. We exacted full “justice” on Jesus. Yet God took it on the chin and responded by using or shall we say, intended from the beginning to use, Jesus’ life, suffering, crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension as the means of our salvation and transformation. And through Jesus God connected all of humanity with himself forever.

In reflection, I can now say that as painful and devastating as my experience was, and in spite of the years and effort—blood, sweat and tears—it took to recover, I am deeply grateful for the experience. For God used it to transform me and to change my life. He began to do something incredible and new in my life—some things I never could have ever imagined even happening. But only because I did not run away from him, but rather ran towards him in the midst of my pain and struggle.

Even though at the time, my desire may have been that justice be done, now I see that God’s way of handling it was much better. His grace was exactly what was needed in the situation. In Jesus, justice is and will be done—God’s going to make everything right in the end. In the meantime, though, it is his grace that has carried me through and used these circumstances, the pain and suffering, to accomplish something beautiful and life-giving. And my efforts to express and participate in God’s grace in the midst of it all have been rewarded as well.

So, strange as it may seem, justice and grace are odd companions, but they are well suited for one another when they meet in the person and work of God in Jesus Christ. And via the Holy Spirit, they can and do meet together in us as we surrender to the sovereignty of God in the midst of difficult and painful circumstances. And they produce beautiful, life-giving fruit—spiritual fruit that will last for all eternity. And that’s what really matters in the end.

Holy God, it is in difficult and painful times that we have a hard time understanding why things are so unjust. We don’t understand why you allow what you allow and why you do the things you do. Thank you for your grace and love—grant that we may have the grace to trust you and to surrender to your sovereign will in everything. We can only do this through Jesus our Lord and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.” 2 Co 4:7–11

The “Violence” of God

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By Linda Rex

Now that I actually do have cable TV in my house, the other day I was flipping through channels futilely trying to find something I wanted to watch. I happened upon a preacher and his wife who were diligently informing their listeners of the imminence of Jesus’ coming and they pointed to several current events, including the current cycle of “blood moons” as proof of their prediction.

Naturally I flashed back to my earlier years which were filled with “World Tomorrow” broadcasts and sermons about the tribulation coming soon! At that point, my finger hit the up key and I was looking at the next crazy option on the menu (which wasn’t much better).

Later this week I was talking with a sincere, Bible-believing Christian who is on fire for Jesus, and I found myself once again in that place. The end is near! We’ve got to get ready! We must be prepared or we won’t escape disaster! We’ve got to do something now!

Now, I respect these people’s desire to love and serve God, and their sincere belief that Christ is coming soon and that they’ve got to get everyone ready so they don’t miss out. But I am just as concerned that they do not realize how much they are like the Jews of Jesus’ day who expectantly waited for a messiah to come and rescue them from their oppressors and restore to them their kingdom. They so anticipated a conquering deliverer and majestic savior that they didn’t recognize Jesus when he did come.

Sure, John was down at the river baptizing everyone and telling them to get their act together in preparation for his coming. But even he became so unsure of Jesus that after a while he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Matt. 11:3).

John the Baptizer, whom Jesus described as the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah’s coming and was the Elijah to come, (Luke 1:17, 76) had forgotten the lesson of Elijah: God doesn’t always speak to us or rescue us in big and powerful ways. No, he prefers the opposite. Thomas F. Torrance describes it eloquently, I believe:

Recall the contrast between Elijah on Mount Carmel and Elijah under the juniper tree, dejected and dispirited because the events of history after Mount Carmel have not taken the course he had hoped. God had certainly vindicated Elijah’s faith, and the prophets of Baal had been overthrown, but the tyrant forces of evil were still in control defying God’s sovereignty. Then Elijah is taught a supreme lesson on Mount Horeb. He is shown a terrific display of violence in wind, earthquake and fire, but God was not in the wind, or earthquake or fire. After the fire there came a still small voice and immediately Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle: that was the violence of God. It is still the same story with John the Baptist. He expected the events of history after the baptism of Jesus to take quite a different course. He expected as Messiah a mighty deliverer coming in judgement and bringing upheaval and violence, who would redeem Israel from the New Testament Ahab and Jezebel, Herod and Herodias, and restore to God his sovereignty over his people. But instead of all that, he saw the meek and mild Jesus, preaching the gospel of grace and forgiveness to the poor and needy, and healing the sick…Like Elijah, John had misunderstood the violence of God and was offended at the weakness of Jesus, but in Jesus the still small voice of God had become flesh, and that was more powerful than all the imaginable forces of nature put together and unleashed in their fury….

Jesus did not repudiate the preaching of John the Baptist, the proclamation of judgment: on the contrary he continued it, and … he searched the soul of man with the fire of divine judgment….In the incarnate life of Jesus, and above all in his death, God does not execute his judgment on evil simply by smiting it violently away by a stroke of his hand, but by entering into it from within, into the very heart of the blackest evil, and making its sorrow and guilt and suffering his own. And it is because it is God himself who enters in, in order to let the whole of human evil go over him, that his very intervention in meekness has violent and explosive force. It is the very power of God. And so the cross with all its incredible meekness and patience and compassion is no deed of passive and beautiful heroism simply, but the most potent and aggressive deed that heaven and earth have ever known: the attack of God’s holy love upon the inhumanity of man and the tyranny of evil, upon all the piled up contradiction of sin.1

I do realize that the creeds tell us that one day Jesus Christ will return in power and glory. And on that day we will become most truly who we are in him and will shine like the sun. But I think we need to reconsider exactly what Jesus is going to do when he comes.

Will he start striking down all the evil people and evil governments? Will he start killing people right and left? Too often this has been the description I have heard of what Jesus is going to do when he returns.

I wonder.

Wouldn’t a greater, more violent attack upon evil be to just make it irrelevant? To so fill the world and universe with light and goodness that darkness has nowhere to go except away? To so expose the reality of human hearts that they can no longer pretend or hide behind apparent goodness and kindness but by God’s grace become what they truly always were meant to be?

Yes, I wonder.

I think that it is interesting how through the centuries since Jesus died and was resurrected we have continued to see Torrance’s “inhumanity of man and the tyranny of evil.” Even though Jesus is present in the world today by the Holy Spirit, we still see the forces of evil and humanity defying the sovereignty of God.

But at the same time, we witness daily, if we look closely, “the meek and mild Jesus, preaching the gospel of grace and forgiveness to the poor and needy, and healing the sick.” When we actively participate in the ministry Jesus is doing in the world, even now we participate in the kingdom of God. As we actively participate in what God in Jesus through the Spirit is doing and we actually live in relationship with God in Christ led by and filled with the Spirit of God moment by moment, the tyranny of evil and inhumanity of man is being violently overthrown in our hearts and lives and in the hearts and the lives of others every day.

It is in this divine ministry through human instruments that once again we see and experience the “violence” of God at work in our world. And all of this is in anticipation of the fullness of his kingdom at Jesus’ return in glory. In my view, this is what we need to be focusing on.

Dear Jesus, please give us eyes to see and ears to hear who you really are! Father, please take away all that blinds us to your great love for us. Thank you for allowing us to participate each day in your violent work of redemption. Let all we think, say and do be a pure reflection of your light in Jesus by your Holy Spirit. Amen.


“Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?’”
Matthew 11:2–3

1. Torrance, Thomas F., “Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ”, Walker, Robert T. ed. Downer’s Grove, IL (InterVarsity Press, 2008). Pages 149-150.

Our Light and Life

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By Linda Rex

During my time pursuing my master’s degree with Grace Communion Seminary I was deeply impacted in my understanding of God and humanity and life itself through the instruction and counsel of my professors. I found theology to be quite fascinating, especially when it intersects with science. This is why reading T.F. Torrance’s books, though quite a challenging process, is something I enjoy doing.

One of my professors, Dr. John McKenna, gave an interesting workshop that brought together the science of light with the biblical revelation of light. I had known that the word light is often used in the Bible and many times in reference to God. But as we went through and talked about light and God and humanity and the creation in which we live, I began to “see” light in a new way.

One of my favorite traditional hymns talks about God and light. It is thought-provoking poetry that points to the glory of the God who is Light:

‎Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, thy great Name we praise.

‎Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

‎To all life thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish, like leaves on the tree,
Then wither and perish; but nought changeth thee.

‎Great Father of Glory, pure Father of Light,
Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
All praise we would render; O help us to see
‘Tis only the splendor of light hideth thee!

(Walter C. Smith, 1824-1908)

Light and life are inseparable. When my daughter and I visited Mammoth Cave earlier this year, we learned that there are creatures who live there in complete darkness. But they are unable to live in the light. And a person or animal that can see and live in the light will not be able to see at all when in that deep darkness. They may even lose their ability to see if they remain there for an extended length of time without some form of light to penetrate their eyes.

Without the light of the sun, we would not be able to exist or do much of what we consider necessary to life. Light is essential to our life. Just as we need the physical light of the sun to sustain our life, we also need the inner light of God to sustain us and give us both physical and spiritual life. Our life, our existence and being, are dependent upon the Father of Light and the Light of the world, his Son Jesus Christ. Light and life are inseparable.

Light itself is invisible. What we commonly see or experience is the refraction/reflection of light. Jesus described the Holy Spirit as the wind we cannot see but we experience the effects of all around us. In the same way, when we “look” at God, he is invisible. But he is Light. We experience the reality of God in everyday life in every part of our existence.

In Christ we have been freed from the chains of darkness and brought into his ‘marvelous light.’ What this means is that we have been brought out of the cave of darkness, evil and depravity and into the light of God’s love. It’s going to take a while to adjust. We have to learn new ways of thinking and doing life. We will find it much easier and more comfortable to run back into the darkness. It will seem a lot less painful and frustrating. It will seem to be the way of freedom. But true freedom is finding our life in the Light and allowing that Light to slowly and surely transform and heal us.

Holy Father of Light and Jesus, Light of the World, we praise you. Thank you for your gift of life and light. Grant us the grace to embrace your gift and to never cease to turn to you for the strength to hold tight to all you have given us. Thank you that it’s not all up to us. You hold us in your hands and shine your marvelous light upon us in unceasing love. We trust in you, Jesus, and in your healing love. Fill us the marvelous Light of your Holy Spirit. In your name we pray. Amen.

“All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:3–5 NIV

Mourning in a ‘Pain-Free’ Society

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By Linda Rex

I love reading. I have a stack of books that I gathered while doing my thesis that I wanted to read but didn’t have the time to enjoy. Now that my schoolwork doesn’t take up all my down time, I’ve begun reading some of these, a few chapters each day.

This morning I was reading a chapter in the book “Authentic Faith” by Gary L. Thomas. This book is an interesting overview of certain spiritual disciplines that we as the Christian church in America sometimes overlook. I feel that learning and practicing spiritual disciplines as a means of putting ourselves in the presence of God and opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit to work is an essential part of our spiritual formation or growing up in Christ.

So, as I started to say, I came across the spiritual discipline of mourning. Now I would have to assume that mourning is not something we as human beings would naturally choose to do. If anything, I’m thinking that most of us do everything we can to avoid feeling pain or having to deal with difficult situations, horror or suffering. Taking painkillers for pain is considered normal behavior in our society. So much so that they are often abused. And many people use other forms of dealing with pain that are not always healthy—alcohol and drug abuse for example.

Unfortunately, the reality is that pain, suffering and grief are a part of our natural human condition. I believe one of the reasons such suffering, evil and pain are a part of our world today is because we as human beings do not practice the spiritual discipline of mourning. When an evil is perpetrated against another human being—we may make that a big news story in the media or on the Web, but how does it affect us personally? Do we feel the pain that goes along with the evil? Do we weep at the injustice and groan inwardly at the carnage? Are we then motivated by our sorrow to right the injustice or to heal the hurt? Rarely.

I don’t know about you, but too often I find my own self turning away from the story because I can’t bear the pain. I turn away and miss God’s invitation to mourn with him over the suffering in his world. I fail to participate in Christ’s suffering by refusing the opportunity to weep and sorrow over the injustice and depravity I witness. I too often am blind to the grief of others or am insensitive and thoughtless in responding to their suffering.

This week many Christians the world over participated in the observance of Ash Wednesday. The observance of this day marks the beginning of the season of Lent, which precedes the Easter celebrations marking the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lent is typically the season in which Christians practice penitence, fasting from certain foods or items in acknowledgement of their need for and appreciation of God’s grace.

One of the things I think we can overlook as we consider the concept of mourning evil, grieving losses, and practicing penitence, is that these things are not something we as Christians have to do all on our own as though they are something we owe God, ourselves or each other. Rather, we practice penitence, repentance, grief, and mourning as a participation in Christ’s grief, penitence, repentance and mourning. It’s never something we do on our own—we are joined with God in Christ by the Spirit, and we share in his grief, his suffering, his mourning over loss, sin, evil, pain and injustice.

Just as Jesus obeyed God’s call through John the Baptizer by being baptized on behalf of all humanity for the remission of sins, so also did he obey the will of the Spirit who led, or drove, him out into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days. In the midst of Jesus’ penitence on our behalf, he came face to face with evil. And he did not look away.

He did not give up his penitence to stifle the hunger in his stomach. The devil was right that Jesus could have made the stones into bread, but Jesus never used his divinity to serve himself. He only used it to serve others and to serve us.

Jesus did not give up his penitence, his identifying himself with us in our humanity and sinfulness, even to prove his identity as the Son of God. Nor did he pursue his own shortcut to glory by submitting to evil and turning his back on humanity. He chose the path of humility and humanity, of being the Servant Messiah even when it meant he would be treated like a common criminal, rejected, crucified and murdered by those he came to rescue.

Jesus went all the way with us and for us. And as the perfect reflection of God, he demonstrated to the core of his being that God is for us and against evil in any shape and form. If God in Jesus was willing to choose to do this so that we could be and would be free from the clutches of evil, how can we do any less ourselves?

Significantly, after Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem to the adoring cries of “Hosanna”, one of the first things he did was to weep over the city who refused to repent and receive the Messiah God had sent them. He grieved over the pain, the suffering, and the evil. He mourned.

Even though we can have great joy that God in Christ has once and for all triumphed over evil, we also are privileged to suffer and grieve with God over, and in the midst of, the pain, injustice and evil of this broken world. God has given us eternal hope in Jesus and we can, in the midst of all that breaks our heart, point suffering and grieving people to the One who suffers and grieves with them and for them. We can, in Christ, participate in God’s work to relieve the suffering and right the injustices in the world. In the perichoretic life and love of Father, Son and Spirit, there is room for the depths of grief and suffering, the struggle against evil and injustice, just as there is room for the fullness of joy everlasting. For this we live in gratitude.

Lord, we are grateful for your grace, for the reality that we are never alone in our grief and sorrow. You grant us the privilege of participating in your suffering just as you, Jesus, took on our humanity with all its weakness, suffering and brokenness. Grant us the grace to cease our efforts to kill the pain, and to begin to just walk in the midst of it with you, allowing you to redeem all that is evil, hurtful and unjust, and to cause it to serve your purposes rather than the purposes of the evil one. For you, God, will and do have the last word in all these things, and we trust you to love us and do what is best for us no matter what. Gratefully, in your precious name, Jesus, we pray. Amen.

“For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.” Romans 8:16–18 NLT