faith

A Matter of Life and Death

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by Linda Rex

One of the great themes of Jesus’ preaching and life was death and resurrection. Normally we think of these things in terms of having our life come to an end and then being raised to live eternally with Christ. The apostle Paul wrote about this in his epistles (1 Thess 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:20-58).

But Paul also emphasized the reality that we participate even today in Christ’s death and resurrection. He said “I die daily.” (1 Cor 15:31) We have a connection with Christ’s death and resurrection that impacts much more than just our future in eternity with God. It also impacts how we live each moment of each day.

There was a young man who was very wealthy. He ran up to Jesus and asked him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. He had done all the requirements the Jews understood to be in the law, and yet he was thinking there was still something else he needed to do. Jesus went to the core of the issue by addressing the one thing this young man was drawing his life and self-worth from—his wealth.

Jesus told him to sell all he owned, to give the proceeds to the poor and to begin following him. He touched him at the very core of his self-reliance, self-absorption and told him to die to what mattered most to him—himself—and to trust fully in Jesus Christ for all the essentials of his life. And the young man turned and walked away. (Mark 10:17-22)

Death and resurrection. God never stops calling each of us away from drawing our life and value and meaning from our physical existence, material substance and self-effort. He keeps drawing us away from all this into a personal relationship with himself in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

At no time did Jesus call this young man to follow a certain list of do’s and don’t’s, although he did acknowledge his efforts to live according to the law. What he did call him into was a relationship in which the man would follow and obey Jesus, sharing life with Jesus day by day, drawing his sustenance, worth and value from outside of himself in God and pouring it out in service to others as Jesus ministered to the poor, sick and needy.

What he called the young man into was a sharing in the perichoretic life of self-giving. God created us in his image to share in the circle of self-giving between the Father, Son, and Spirit. But from the beginning, humans have been and have become self-absorbed and self-centered. The feeding and protecting of the black hole of self is the way of death not the way of eternal life.

Jesus died our death, rose again and ascended, sending the Spirit of the Father to us so that we could and would be free from our broken sinful selves. He gives us his life, the perichoretic other-centered life of God, pouring it out into us so we have a new Source and Center for our existence. We no longer depend upon our efforts, our strength, our faith, our goodness, but depend solely upon Jesus Christ. He is and becomes our life.

God gives us a new life, a new body, and a new way of thinking and being. Through the Spirit he gives us a sharing in his life. We can continue our frantic efforts to live on our own under our own power. We can continue the path that leads to death—death of relationships, death of our dreams and hopes, death of people and possibilities. Or we can turn away from all these things, put our trust in Jesus, and begin to live a new life in him, living and walking in the Spirit.

Through Jesus Christ God sets us free to be this new person. He gives us a new life. We can participate in this new life that is ours, living in fellowship or communion with God in Christ, or we can continue in our old ways of being. But our old way of being is not who we really are—it is a lie. That life, that being died when Christ died and rose when Christ rose. God calls us to give up the old and live in the new because that is who we are.

We are people who are held in the midst of God’s love and life. We are—as Jesus is—loving, giving, caring, serving people. We are—as Jesus is—humble, honest, gentle people. We are—as Jesus is—faithful, sincere, kind people. Jesus Christ lived the life we are to live, and he lives in us through the Holy Spirit. We can resist the Spirit’s work of transformation, or we can participate in Christ’s death and resurrection by responding to what the Spirit is doing to make us into the people God has declared us to be. We quit our efforts at being ethical people under our own power and allow God by his Spirit to make us into Christlike people. We participate in Christ.

This is all God asks of us—to live in relationship with him, participating in Jesus’ perfect response to the Father of filial obedience and love. We awaken by the Spirit to the reality that God is at work in us and all around us, bringing this dead world and our dead selves into a new way of living and being—bringing in his kingdom in its fullness each and every moment. And we get to be a part of that process. What more could we ask for? For this is eternal life.

Our loving God, thank you for this precious gift of life in the midst of our death and dying. Grant each of us the grace to receive and live out this perfect gift of your Son in the Spirit, so we may reflect and participate in your perfect self-giving nature and love as you desire us to. We trust and praise you that you will not quit until this is so for all of us. Through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’” Mark 10:21 NASB

Our Response to God and his Grace

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Stream Scene from trip to AR, taken by Linda Rex
Stream Scene from trip to AR, taken by Linda Rex

by Linda Rex

At our last group meeting in Hermitage we talked about the concept of inclusion. We in Grace Communion International have been accused of being universalists due to our belief that God has brought all humanity into union with himself through Jesus Christ and has made his transforming Spirit available to all. The key element to this discussion is humanity’s individual response to the gift of salvation he is offering us in Jesus Christ. (For an excellent discussion of inclusion and our acceptance in Christ, see this article on the Grace Communion International website: https://www.gci.org/jesus/acceptance.)

So, how does a person respond to this gift of grace? As I was asked earlier this week: “How is the response to Jesus different from someone saying the sinner’s prayer? I thought that the sinner’s prayer was you making the decision to accept Christ and you bridging the gap between yourself and God. How is the response to Jesus’s acceptance different?

This is a very important question and it speaks to the whole understanding of separation vs union with Christ. Saying the sinner’s prayer is indeed seen as bridging the gap between you and God, with the idea of repentance and faith bringing about a change in our position–from separation into union. It requires the process of repentance, faith, baptism, new behavior in order to be valid. Dr. Wauchope in his series on “God, the Who and Why” (there is a link for it on my blog site), explains how this method of bridging the gap between the spiritual world and our human world actually has its roots in Aristotle and the philosophers. It is as though we change the heavenly realities by our human efforts–which we know is a falsehood. Only God can change God.

So what does it mean that we respond to Jesus? Do we need to say the sinner’s prayer? I don’t believe that a particular prayer is necessary–the Ethiopian merely asked whether and where he could be baptized, and Philip baptized him. I think that is significant.

Baptism isn’t done in order to change our status with God. It is done as a sharing in Christ’s baptism, a sharing in his life and death. Peter called people to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins–what Jesus did when he was baptized for us in our place. He was calling them to receive the gift already given to them in the life, death, resurrection of Jesus–to participate in what Christ had already done for them.

In other words, at some point God is going to bring each of us to the point where we see that apart from Jesus, we have no hope–that without Jesus we are lost. Jesus said in his preaching–repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand (ie. I’m the Messiah and I’m here bringing in God’s kingdom), and he told his disciples to preach the Word, teach the Word and to baptize and disciple. That means there is a point of turning away from ourselves and our world and our way of living and being and a turning to Christ (ie. repent and believe, and receive the gift of life in him), at which point, symbolically through baptism, we identify with Christ, acknowledging that our life is in him.

This is why when someone comes to me and says, I believe in Jesus Christ and I want to be a Christian, I ask them, “Have you talked with God about this?” And then I will pray with them and encourage them to pray about their commitment to Christ and his will. And I will then talk with them about baptism as a sign of their commitment, as an acknowledgement of their participation in Christ’s finished work.

But Barth and the Torrance’s are real clear that there is a definite turning away from oneself and a turning to Christ at some point. It’s a point in time and a process where a person acknowledges their need for and reliance upon Christ and a turning away from themselves and their ways, and a turning to Christ, and a submission to him as Lord of their life. This can take some time with people and may occur well after their initial understanding at baptism.

This is why discipleship of new believers is so important. They need to come to know and rely on Jesus and to begin to live their life in him. It is his life they are participating in–the new life they live is defined by Christ’s life, not by them. A person’s response to Jesus is, therefore, not just an event in time, but a whole turning of their life and being away from themselves and to Christ throughout the rest of their life–as Jesus said, a dying to self and a living in him.

As you can see, the latter approach does not at any point bring up some form of separation, but rather says that Jesus is our life. In God, through Christ and in the Spirit, we live and move and have our being. Christ did for us in our place all that is needed–so believe it and receive it, and then live it out. It’s all in terms of participating in the life Christ made for us in our humanity as a sharing in his divinity. I think this is a much more hopeful and joyful word of life.

The following is a response to a related question, “Does the Holy Spirit work on each person individually at some level continually or is God not working with everyone yet?”:

Sometimes our inclusive language can be a little too free. Yes, we need to keep the concept of inclusion in our language. All are included in God’s life and love. That is a given. All are united with God in Christ.

But our calling and full participation in that is something the Spirit does in a unique time and way for each of us. The communion of the Spirit is a different story from our union with God in Christ. The communion of the Spirit is experienced by the body of Christ through whom God is bearing witness to the world about Jesus in the Spirit today.

It does not mean that all do not have the Spirit but rather that there is an awakening of some to the calling to bear witness to Jesus Christ as a community of faith. We want to let all people know they are included in God’s love and life. But the thing is–if a person is living and being in a way that does not coincide with how God is and how Christ is for them, then how can they fully participate in God’s love and life? There is a call to repentance–to a change of mind and heart in how we look at God and who we think he is and a turning away from ourselves to Jesus, trusting in him for life and godliness rather than in anything else. The Holy Spirit does a work in a person’s heart, mind and life that is transformational–it is real.

My friend Bob likes to say, “all are included, they just don’t know it yet.” That’s not really a bad thing to say–but there is still the call to repent and believe. Barth and Torrance say the best way to present the gospel is to say, “God loves you so much he sent his Son to live, die, rise again in your place. He’s done all that is needed for you to be reconciled to God and redeemed. Jesus Christ stands in your place, interceding for you with the Father, and he gives you his Spirit so you can share in God’s life and love. You are loved and forgiven. [ie you are included] Therefore, repent and believe.”

The gospel continues to require a call to repent and believe, even when all are included. The thing is, this repentance and this faith is taken up in Jesus Christ just like everything else–it comes as a gift from God through Christ in the Spirit. It’s not on us as humans to find something within ourselves to be able to repent and believe. Christ gives us his own repentance and faith as a gift of God through the Spirit. So it’s not all up to us–it’s all of grace. Really the only response left for us gratitude or grateful obedience, and even that we participate in with Christ. It’s all of grace.

When we think of the work of the Holy Spirit in terms of inclusion, we see that because the Spirit is poured out on all, he is available to all. He is working even now in and with each person. But as far as the transformational work the Spirit does in bringing someone to faith in Christ and into the body of Christ and into the obedience that comes with faith, that is something that is unique–it is a setting apart of certain persons for the purpose of bearing witness to Jesus Christ and to share the gospel. All are included in the kingdom of God, but not all are willing and obedient participants.

Father, I thank you for including all in your life and love through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Grant us the grace to receive and fully participate in your precious gift. Through Jesus our Lord, amen.

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mk 1:14–15 NIV

God In the Midst of the Dying

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In the Midst of Dying audio by Linda Rex
by Linda Rex

I’m seeing more and more that what we unconsciously say and do often reflects a belief about who God is and who we are in relation to him that is unhealthy and even wrong. Even our language as followers of Christ is often filled with a deep anxiety that God’s not going to come through for us. Deep down we believe that if we don’t get things exactly right, the outcome is not going to be good.

I hear this a lot of times when people are talking about the growth and development of things they believe God wants them to be doing, such as ministries or churches, or even families. There is an underlying belief that if they just get all their ducks in a row, so to speak, then everything will turn out wonderful. If they follow this particular plan or complete these specific tasks in the correct order, then something awesome is going to happen. And if they don’t, all hell will break loose.

This God-concept also shows up when I talk with people about the darkness or chaos in their lives. And truly, how can I blame someone for seeing God in this way, when everything they are experiencing or have experienced in their life tells them it is true? What could I say that would convince them otherwise?

I know what it feels like to have everything you believe in fall into pieces at your feet. I know the pain of deep betrayal by those you trusted and counted on, including God. I know how it feels to be surrounded with mountains of problems that can’t be climbed. The despair that goes with such hopelessness can be overwhelming.

Whether we like it or not, we are faced with these ultimate questions over and over in life: Is God trustworthy and good? Does he really love me? Will God come through for me when I need him? Can I count on him? Does he really forgive sinners?

For whatever reason, we are never fully satisfied with the truth about who God is and who we are in relation to him, no matter how many times we are told it. It seems as though we have to experience the truth before we allow it to shape us and transform us. God spends our lifetimes bringing us through one circumstance after another, showing us the truth of his goodness, mercy and love.

It is refreshing to come to the realization that the whole issue about the success or failure of anything isn’t whether I’m doing it right, or someone else is doing it correctly, or whether we’re just letting God do it all himself. The real foundational paradigm is participation—sharing in relationship—doing it together. It’s not really about what you’re doing, but about doing it together, in relationship with God.

We get worried about the goodness and badness of things, and are agitated about having everything fulfill the perfect plan (whoever the architect may be). But God is interested in the process and in sharing life with us. It’s the conversations we have with him as we are doing this, the building of intimacy with him, that he cares about. It’s the knowing and being known that matters.

I read somewhere that what children remember most about their childhoods is not necessarily the gifts they were given, but the special times they spent with certain people doing things that were meaningful. It was the relational sharing, the sacrifices made, the unconditional love and grace in the midst of brokenness that was most significant.

Likewise, it is the abusive and harmful significant relationships that are so devastating to children. When authority figures or trusted people do not image God’s love and grace, but the brokenness of our humanity to children, it causes them to question these very core beliefs about God and who they are in the midst of such a dangerous, chaotic world.

We find ourselves then, as grownups, faced with all the same stuff, and our response hinges upon these fundamental beliefs about God, ourselves, and each other. William Paul Young said recently at Grace Communion International’s Converge 2015 conference that it took him 55 years to get the face of his father off the face of God. Personally, it has taken me much of my own life to see God in some way other than how I believed a father was, since my only experience with a father was with my own dad.

Thankfully, as we grow in our relationship with God, he works to change how we think and feel about him as Father, Son and Spirit. That’s what’s involved in repentance—changing our minds and hearts about God, who he is and who we are in relationship with him. We begin to see how we were totally wrong and we turn around and go the other way.

It takes great faith to be caught in the midst of devastating circumstances and still be able to say to God, “I trust you.” It takes a deep assurance of God’s love to stand strong in our relationship with God when it looks by all appearances as though he has turned and walked away. It takes great humility to allow God to work out circumstances in whatever way he thinks is best, when we would rather take the easy road, or go our own way.

This Holy Week teaches us that Jesus paved the way in all these areas. Even though he asked his Father to find a way different than the cross, Jesus yielded to his Father’s will and wisdom and took the high road to the cross. His final words to God, even when he was experiencing the silence of our humanity, was that he entrusted his Spirit to the Father. He knew his Father well enough to know that he was not leaving him or going away. Nothing can or will divide the Trinity.

There is a deep rest that Jesus created for us in his relationship with the Father by the Spirit. He proved that even in the midst of dying and death, there is resurrection. Our God can be completely and totally trusted. His love never fails. However bleak things may look or feel, the truth is that God’s got it. He’s going all the way with us, to and through the cross and tomb, to the glory of the resurrection. In the end, all that matters is that he was with us through it all and will be with us forever.

Thank you, Father, that you are indeed who Jesus showed us you are, and that your Spirit never stops working to show us the truth about who you are. Thank you that we are held each moment in life and in death in your loving embrace, and that you have given us the hope of the resurrection. We trust you to finish what you have begun in us, just as you finished what you planned before time began through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He heard.” Ps 22:24 NASB

Seed of Glory

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Incarnation by Linda Rex, copyright 2005
Incarnation by Linda Rex

By Linda Rex

The other day I was listening to a presentation in which William Paul Young spoke about the story of his life and the events which led to his writing the best-selling book “The Shack”. This book has been quite controversial, especially since his approach to the presentation of the nature of the Trinity in the book is quite out of the box. Some Christian believers have been and are quite critical of the book and the author, while many millions of people of all walks of life and belief systems have found healing in their souls and in their relationship with God through Young’s writing.

In his presentation, William Paul Young talks about the horrors he experienced as a missionary child and how they created an inner world of shame that nearly destroyed him. In fact, at a critical moment in his life when he could no longer bear the truth of who he believed he was, a friend spoke into his shattered, broken being some simple words which gave him a reason to live. When all he could see was the abyss of his black, dark soul, she pointed him to the divine reality that in the midst of this darkness and death, was a tiny seed. A tiny seed—that was enough to give him hope.

I believe this was what Jesus was talking about when he told his disciples that he would soon be glorified. But his disciples could not grasp the truth that the path to glory was through death and resurrection. Over and over Jesus sought to explain how the kingdom of God would be inaugurated in this new way. At one point Jesus used the example of a grain of wheat which falls into the ground and dies, and through its dying ends up bearing a large amount of fruit.

When a person is sitting in the midst of a soul full of shame and guilt, and no matter where they turn they can see no hope, it is essential that they see the truth about who God is and who they are in him.

Unfortunately, the God many Christians believe in is a God of wrath, who is so holy that he cannot look upon evil, much less be touched by it. This leaves broken people in a very dark place. If God is the only One who can rescue broken people out of their darkness, shame and guilt, and yet he will not sully himself with sin, death or evil, then broken people have no hope.

This view of legal holiness is choking the life out of the Christian church today. And, sadly, it ignores the truth the early believers came to see and hammered out about the God who is Father, Son and Spirit and who is love.

The hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” talks about the broken and sinful nation of Israel pining away in the darkness, waiting for the light of the Messiah to dawn upon them. It is the cry of the ages—we are caught within a web of death created by our sinfulness and brokenness, and the evil one who seeks our demise. Where can we turn, if there is no God who will love us and rescue us?

But God, the God of the Bible, is concerned about a whole lot more than our holiness. He does not stand aloof from our brokenness and darkness. The Scripture says that even before the foundations of the world were set into place, this God who is love, knew and prepared for each one of us. He intended all along that you and I, every one of us, were to share eternity with him. He intended, even before any of us were created, to bind each one of us to himself in the incarnation.

The entrance of the God of the cosmos into our humanity changed the whole sweep of human existence. God in human flesh. This means that forever our humanity is joined with his divinity. There is life in the midst of death. There is healing in the midst of brokenness and darkness.

The simple statement of truth in scripture—Jesus became sin for us—is transformational. God is not too holy to be sullied by sin, death or evil! He took it on, and overcame it, transformed and healed it. He cleansed us and made us new—through Jesus Christ, through pouring into our humanity his glorious divine life.

Yes, of course! If anyone wants to participate in the kingdom of God, he or she must be born again—have new life (John 3). This is what Jesus did for all of humanity through his life, death and resurrection. We share in his life, death and resurrection and are made new. We are transformed because we receive God’s very life in our human flesh. Participating in the eucharist, in eating the bread and drinking the wine, reminds us of the beauty of this gift of God’s of life in Christ poured out into our human flesh.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are not the end of the gospel. There is so much more to the story! Because with Jesus, each of us died and rose again and were carried with Christ into the presence of the Father. Jesus bears our humanity even now in the presence of the Father. (Eph. 1)

This means that when we are sitting in the midst of our shame and guilt, in the darkness and brokenness of our human existence—no matter how dark or lost we may feel and be—we are not left hopeless. There is hope for you and for me! In the midst of all that death we experience and feel, there is a seed. There is life.

Death and resurrection—that is the path to glory. Jesus took it and invites each of us to travel it with him. He will not leave us in our darkness, but holds us by the hand and leads us to the Father. When he is done with us, we will see that in the midst of our darkness, the Father was with us the whole time, holding us and helping us, carrying us through.

Jesus’ words of loss on the cross, where he cried out for his Father and expressed his grief at not sensing his Father’s presence were taken from Psalm 22. In that psalm we see that our human experience of separation from God because of our brokenness is a lie—that no matter how bad things get—God never leaves us.

Jesus, as the incarnate Word, had through all eternity, never been separated from his Father or the Spirit. God, who is a Oneness of unity, equality and diversity was threatened with separation, but nothing could ever separate the triune Oneness—not even death on a cross. Jesus, as a human being may have experienced this silence, but it was a lie—God cannot be separated from himself—he is not a schizophrenic God.

The evil one struck at the very heart of the triune Oneness when he inspired the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But he could not separate God from himself. Jesus may have died in his humanity, but he entrusted his Spirit to the Father. He trusted God would raise him from the dead. He knew and trusted the Father’s heart, and so he rested in that deep knowing when he died.

In the midst of our darkness, however black it may be, there is always a glimmer of light. In our human death—whatever form it may take—there is a seed, a seed that will bear much fruit. Trust the Father’s heart, that it is good and it is love. God so loved—you and me, in the midst of our darkness, shame, guilt and sin—that he gave us himself. He planted a seed of glory in you and in me. He holds this pulsing, glowing promise of life in his hands, tenderly working until we all shine in glorious splendor like his Son. Trust him to finish what he has begun. Because he will.

Father, thank you for giving us the gift of yourself, in your Son and in your Spirit. Thank you that in the midst of our brokenness, darkness, and death we have the promise of life in Christ. Thank you for giving us hope. We trust you to finish your perfect work in us as you transform us into masterpieces of glory through Jesus Christ and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

“And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:23–24 NASB

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

The Relationship Factor

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pinkhibiscus

by Linda Rex

If I were to summarize the programs currently available on my cable television, I would say that the majority have something to do with either crime and murder investigation, magic and the supernatural, or broken and confused relationships of some kind. If I work at it, I can occasionally find something uplifting and educational, but it seems that any more, movies rarely have community at their core.

Yesterday I was reading an article posted by a family member which showed that tests on mice indicate that the best antidote for drug addiction is healthy relationships with family and community, and meaningful things to do with one’s life. (See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936.html) This did not come as a surprise to me, since I’ve been told in the past as a parent that the best way to keep my kids off of drugs is to build a strong, loving relationship with them. There is something powerful and significant about relationships based on love and grace.

I believe that society’s current obsession with materialist consumerism, as James Torrance calls it, contributes to the prevalence of addictions in just about every form imaginable. We are preoccupied with taking care of our needs, wants and desires. If we are barely scraping by financially, we can begin to see the world through the lens of how we are going to take care of our needs—food on the table, gas for the car, paying our growing medical bills. Even if we are comfortable financially, we may often still struggle, because we see the world through the lens of desire, passion and loneliness.

In either situation, our focus is inward, toward ourselves. We are preoccupied with taking care of what we believe needs to be taken care of. Taking care of our needs is indeed an important thing to do, but the way we go about meeting those needs is significant. Too many people are trying to meet the needs of their body, soul and spirit on their own, without any faith, hope or love in their lives. So many of us are living as isolated human beings, without meaningful, loving relationships with others.

I saw this many times when I served doing intake at Greenhouse Ministries. When a person or family came in with catastrophic circumstances in their life, they were often at a place of dire need. Those who had some form of relational support, especially those who had a personal relationship with God and with a community of faith, would approach their circumstances with serious optimism and hope. They were just looking for a little help to get over the hump.

Others who had none of these things were often overcome by despair, desperation and could only think about getting their next meal or a place to stay. When asked about a relationship with God, they thought of it only in terms of making it to church, which for many of them would have been problematic, seeing that they probably would not have been warmly welcomed even if they had shown up at church on Sunday. It’s not hard to see how many medicate themselves with drugs and alcohol so that they don’t have to deal with the pain of loss, loneliness and despair.

I believe God is calling the church today to open up our hearts and doors to people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and cultures. He is calling us all back into loving, intimate relationships with him and with others—he’s calling us into Christian community. He never meant for any of us to go through the struggles of life alone.

When we seek first to build authentic, wholesome relationships with others that are centered around a common love and devotion to the God who made us and sent us his Son Jesus Christ and his Spirit of love, we will find that all the rest will fall into place in new ways.

The early church had many of the same struggles with poverty and need that we do today, and they met those needs through sharing and caring. It was that loving community which bore witness to the love and care of God for each and every one of us which he demonstrated in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. This is what is meant by the kingdom of God or universal church. It is a community of faith, hope and love centered in Jesus Christ.

We, as followers of Jesus Christ, have a lot of repenting to do, and a lot of growing as well. It is God’s love and grace given in Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit which has been so transformational for us. We dare not try to keep it to ourselves, but rather must begin to open it wide to the world around us which is in such desperate longing for faith, hope and love expressed through relationships. To feed the hungry, visit the lonely and imprisoned—this is more than just meeting physical needs—it is meeting the deep hunger of the human heart for relationship with God and with others that we were created for. It is being truly human.

Thank you, Father, that you have given yourself to us in Jesus and through the Spirit, opening yourself up to us in a relationship of love and grace. Impart to us your heart of faith, hope and love, and pour out from us into others your Spirit so that they may join together with us in Christian community. Bind us together in love and grace. Through Jesus, our Lord and in your Spirit. Amen.

“Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:31–33 NASB

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.