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Just How Radical is God’s Grace?

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By Linda Rex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Linda Rex

As I was looking at some scriptures this morning, I was struck by the way the psalmists often remind us to not forget God’s benefits. It got me to asking myself how many benefits are out there for us we are not even aware of, and are we even enjoying the benefits God offers to us each and every day?

Even though I work full-time hours as a pastor, I also work part time for another organization. One of the things I do at my other job is to help sign people up for benefits. These benefits are determined by the organization, and people are eligible for them if they meet certain criteria such as working the equivalent of 30-40 hours a week.

It is important for me to determine whether or not someone who is eligible for certain benefits has actually signed up for them and is receiving them like they should. There may be some really good benefits they could be receiving, but they might not even know those benefits are available to them or that they qualify for them.

Now in the working world, benefits can be things the employer pays for, but they can also be things we pay for. But God’s benefits to us are freely given to us by him. Any cost incurred was paid in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of his own Son Jesus Christ. We don’t owe him anything for these benefits other than gratitude, a gratitude which expresses itself by living in loving relationship with God and others.

So what are some of God’s free benefits? The most significant and life-transforming benefit God gives us is eternal life—a knowing and being known at an intimate level both now and for all eternity by God, because of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ, and his gift to us of his Spirit. God through Jesus and by the Spirit intervenes in our human existence and brings redemption, healing, renewal and abundant living. God’s benefits also include a deep and abiding love and compassion, and personal participation of Christ by the Spirit with us, in the midst of our suffering and daily struggles.

So, this begs a question: Do we have to sign up for these benefits in order to receive them? What if we don’t even know about these benefits? Does this mean we never receive them at all—we’re just out of luck—too bad, so sad?

The truth is, God’s giving of his benefits to us as his creatures, made in his image, is a freely given gift. God gives us all of his benefits, not because we deserve them, or we have earned them, but merely out of the abundance of his great love. He is the Benefit-giving God. It is his nature to be beneficent.

Considering all God has provided for us not only in this amazing cosmos we live in and earth we live on, but also in all he has given us in sending his Son and giving us his Spirit, we are really overflowing each moment with benefits. It may feel like our world is falling apart, or God is indifferent to our existence, but the truth is, we are held in the midst of his love and grace, and we are abundantly blessed with his benefits.

These benefits are ours just because we are God’s creatures, his beloved and redeemed children. The thing is, we have an extremely difficult time participating in and enjoying these benefits when we either don’t know about them, don’t recognize them, or refuse to embrace and receive them as a free gift from the Giver of all Benefits.

We may think we need to sign up for them in order to have them, but the reality is—they belong to us already. How we participate in, enjoy and experience these benefits has more to do with our relationship with the Benefit-Giver than in our experience of the benefits themselves or our need to do something to enjoy them. When we turn to Christ in faith, we find our eyes and hearts opened to the deeper reality of an immense array of benefits at our disposal, many of which we didn’t know existed or thought were worthless.

And God is not expecting us to pay him back for the benefits he gives us. Rather, he is inviting us to turn away from ourselves, and all our other loyalties, and to turn back to him in face-to-face relationship so we can experience the fullness of his benefits. He’s offering us what the deepest longings of our hearts cry out for—to be truly and deeply known and loved. And this comes as a free gift to us—something he has already paid the price for.

This leaves us with only one thing to do—to give thanks! And we do this out of a heart overflowing with gratitude for all God’s goodness, grace and love. Yes, there will be times when we lose sight of all God has done and is doing because life is such a struggle or so distracting. But even then, God will remind once again to live gratefully by sending his Spirit to whisper his Word into our heart: the echoes of the psalmist’s song, “forget none of His benefits.”

Abba, thank you for all your overwhelming abundance of benefits which you pour out to us moment by moment, day by day. You are so generous to us! May your Spirit ever remind us when we forget of all the benefits which are ours, and grant us the grace to live gratefully in response, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits; Who pardons all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases; Who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; Who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle. Psalm 103:1–5 NASB

Face to Face

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by Linda Rex

One of the hazards of a long-distance relationship is the inability engage a person in face-to-face conversation. Communication tools such as Skype™ and Vsee™ make video-chats possible now, and I love the way we are able to see someone while we talk with them without having to make a long trip somewhere in order to do so. A conversation via computer may not be the same as having a face-to-face conversation, but it is much better than simply having one on the phone.

Face-to-face conversations have the advantage of enabling us to see the body language and facial expressions of the person talking with us. We are able, if we are good at it, to sense the sincerity and intent behind what is being said. Often we can determine a person’s mood, their hostility or friendliness, just by how they respond as they talk.

To some limited extent we can have meaningful and deep conversations over the phone. But in order to have an honest and open relationship, we really need to meet with someone face-to-face. We need to be able to meet with them in person. If we want get to know someone in a deeper way than just an ordinary, casual conversation, we’ll want to get them by themselves, and spend time just talking, face-to-face.

I love the way God made the effort to engage Moses in these kinds of conversations. In Exodus we read about the relationship God built with Moses over time, and how the Lord spoke to Moses “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.” As time passed, their relationship grew to where they conversed just like we do when we are talking with a close friend.

We may think to ourselves, that’s just Moses. God doesn’t have those kinds of conversations with ordinary people like you or me. After all, he is God. He has much more important things to do than talk to all the people in the world individually. We can kind of grasp the idea of everyone praying to God, but God replying and having a conversation with each person? Now that’s a different story entirely.

And yet, this is what each of us was created for. When God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden, it was a prelude to what he had in mind for each of us. He created you and me for relationship—with him and with one another. He did not intend for us to live independently of him, or of one another. We are created for interdependence, for intimate relationship.

And when I say intimate relationship, I’m not talking about a sexual or romantic relationship. I’m talking about sharing the deep parts of our minds, hearts and souls with another person—sharing life and being at a very deep level.

I believe the current obsession with sexual and romantic relationships of every kind has short-circuited our capacity for true, deep relationships—the kind we were created for with God and one another. Our ability to use social media for relationships is great, but we need to be careful not to let this keep us from building deep, meaningful relationships with the people in our lives through face-to-face interactions. It is very easy to keep people, and God, on the fringes of our lives and never really engage anyone at any kind of a deep level. And this is not healthy.

Going deep with people and with God in this way means becoming vulnerable and facing up to the mess inside ourselves. We don’t want to expose our deepest hurts and brokenness to others, much less to God. And yet, this is the path to healing.

Opening up these wounds to others, to us, or to God, means facing things we don’t want to face. We may have to change or deal with things we don’t want to have to deal with. We may have to do the dirty work of dealing with family dysfunctions or grieving our losses. Sadly, we often prefer taking painkillers and finding other ways to numb our pain rather than facing our issues. But we weren’t created to ignore our pain or to try to hide it—we were created to engage it, and through sharing it with God and others in healthy ways, find comfort and renewal.

Face-to-face sharing is an important part of the process of healing. Getting real with someone about what’s going on at a deep level in our hearts and minds is essential to our mental, emotional and spiritual health and our physical health as well. We need to drop our facades, and our false selves, and just be real with God and one another. And this is not easy to do, much less safe. Not everyone can be trusted with our secrets.

But God understands our need for face-to-face, conversations at this deep level. This face-to-face sharing is so important to God, he came himself to share in our humanity. He became one of us—the Word in human flesh. He experienced what it was like to be born of a woman, grow up as a child, be baptized and live as an adult, and he shared every part of our human existence. God came and met with us face-to-face in an even more personal way than how he met with Moses centuries before.

God wanted to share every part of our existence and be included in it. This was so important to him, he was willing to take on our humanity and share all we experience as human beings, including death and suffering. But he did much more than that.

He brought our human existence to a new level by raising Jesus Christ from the dead, and by sending his Spirit to dwell in human hearts. God’s Spirit in you and me means God dwells in humanity—he meets with us face-to-face within our own human hearts. Nothing can be more intimate than that!

In fact, we cannot escape him now—no matter how much we try. Eventually he will open our inner eyes to see, we have Christ in us, the hope of glory. We have God in us—Immanuel. Better than any Skype™ conversation—we can converse with God in our hearts and have a dialogue in which, by the Spirit, God knows us intimately and we can know God’s heart and mind as well. Our conversations with God can be just as deep and wonderful as those Moses had because God calls you and me friend, and speaks to us in our hearts.

You may say, “How can this be? God doesn’t speak to me. And that’s kind of creepy, you know—someone talking to me in my heart.” Well, perhaps it’s not that God hasn’t been speaking, but rather, that we haven’t been listening.

I was taught to be afraid of that inner voice who spoke in my heart and so I never listened. I ignored it and pushed it away. But when I did finally talk with God and invite him to speak to me and to help me to hear and discern what was his voice (and not the other unhealthy voices), I discovered he was speaking words of love and grace to me all along. I found that God really does want to walk and talk with us, and share all of life with us. And this has been the experience of many others who have sought a deeper walk with Jesus.

God has brought each and every one of us through Jesus and by the Spirit to a place where we are able to have a deep, intimate, face-to-face relationship with him. In growing in our relationship with him, we will find ourselves growing in our ability and desire to have deep, meaningful relationships with one another. And we will be living out who we really are—human beings, created for loving relationship with God and one another.

Father, thank you, through your Son and by your Spirit, you have brought us into deep, intimate relationship with yourself. Thank you for making it possible for us to have close, intimate relationships with one another as well. Grant us the grace to set aside time and space to listen and talk with you and one another face-to-face, for this is what we were created for. Through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. … And He said, ‘My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.’” Exodus 33:11a, 14 NASB

Growing in Knowing

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by Linda Rex

I was sitting around the table at a restaurant a while back when a loved one reminded me that it’s important not to assume that I know everything there is to know about something, but to be open to the possibility that I might be wrong. Indeed, this is a difficult thing to accept for someone who grew up in a family where knowing the most about everything was held dear.

Over the years I have learned that how much a person knows about someone is not near as meaningful and important as how well a person knows them in a face-to-face relationship. This applies equally to our conception of God and our Christian faith. I learned at an early age the value of learning everything about God and about the Bible. But it really did not do me much good—indeed it proved to be damaging and restrictive—until I came to know God in a face-to-face, personal relationship.

A relationship with God is not something that is just a button you can turn off or on. In a real way, it is a growing in knowing. Just like any other relationship, it ebbs and flows, has its ups and downs, and grows over time as we open ourselves up to knowing God more intimately and deeply.

What I know and believe about God has changed over the years, and it has impacted my relational knowing of God. In other words, my learning about God has gone through a maturing process, and because I have grown in the way that I see, know and understand God, it has transformed and deepened my personal relationship with him.

When we read the works of Christian authors, we may assume that what they teach at the beginning of their Christian walk will be the same as what they write at the end of their life. But the truth is that we are all on a journey with God throughout our lives. And what we may write at the beginning of our lives will not be the same as what we write at the end because we change, our character and circumstances change, our relationship with God changes, and our point of view changes. In every relationship of significance, how deeply one person knows another will change over time.

Because what we know about God impacts the possibility of our knowing God relationally, it is imperative that we be open to the idea that what we know about God may be wrong. Since each of us was created in the image of God, we were designed to reflect the nature of God to one another. The problem arises when the image of God reflected by significant people in our lives is something other than who God really is. In other words, we place the face of these significant people over the face of God. How well we know God relationally, unfortunately, has a lot to do with how well we relate to people who impact our lives as we mature.

Another factor that impacts the possibility of knowing God relationally is how we interpret and understand family, culture, church and the written Word of God. Speaking for myself, I have experienced some major paradigm shifts in my understanding of all these things, but God has done this so that I could really know and understand him as the loving, caring God he really is. God has slowly, but surely, removed the idols from my life so I could see and know him in his true nature. I still have a long way to go, and I know the mystery of who God is will keep me fascinated for all eternity, but I’m extremely grateful that he is opening himself up to me more and more each day.

The story we find in the Holy Bible is God’s story. When we read it through the lens of Jesus Christ, then we are reading the Scripture through the correct lens. The Word in Jesus Christ came to reveal the true character and nature of God as Father, Son and Spirit, a God who would lay it all down so that his creatures would share life with him for all eternity. Even though we has humans have rejected this God who seeks a relationship with us individually and collectively, he has still done everything necessary and possible to ensure that we are included in his divine relationship of love.

God never ceases to draw us to himself. He works throughout each of our lives and circumstances to bring us to a deeper understanding of who he really is and how much he loves us and wants to include us in his life and love. He allows us to reject him and live in a way that is in opposition to the truth of our being (made in the image of God), and we experience the pain and suffering that go with that choice. But he never stops pursuing us.

Because he is bound to us at the core of our being through his humanity, Christ is present in a real way in every moment and in every situation. By the Spirit, God is involved in every part of our lives. We are held in God’s life and love—rest in that truth and embrace it. Awaken to the reality that you are truly and thoroughly loved and God seeks to know you and relate to you intimately. Let him be the one Friend that will never leave or forsake you, because that is Who he really is. Christ is your life.

Father, thank you that in Christ and by your Spirit, you have included each of us in your life and love. Thank you for making us your very own. Awaken us to the truth that we are deeply and thoroughly loved. Free us from the impulse to run and hide. Remove the fear of being truly known and enable us to trust you to love us without condemnation or rejection. Enable us by your grace to live in the true reality of who we are in you. Through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:25–26 NASB