faith

When God Creates Leftovers

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by Linda Rex

It struck me this morning that God has this thing about creating leftovers. He doesn’t just provide in times of need. He often does it in such a way that there are plenty of leftovers for another day.

I think this must be his way of reminding us that he’s got it all under control and that we don’t need to fear that we’re going to run out somehow. I think, at least from my personal experience, that we tend to think God only gives just enough for what we need each day. He does that at times, it’s true. But many times he overflows us with plenty just as an outpouring of his love for us.

This morning I was reading about Jesus feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. I was reminded that this wasn’t the first time God fed a crowd with a very small amount of food. And to top it all off, there were plenty of leftovers both times.

In the Old Testament we find the story of Elisha the prophet, who along with a large crowd of disciples was dealing with the reality of a famine in his land. Typically a prophet or a teacher like Jesus did not have the means to feed or support his disciples. It was more appropriate that the disciples provide for the one who was instructing them in spiritual matters.

So a man came to Elisha and gave him what the Torah commanded—firstfruits—a precious gift in that time of famine. Twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain—but for a hundred people? And yet God blessed and multiplied that gift and there was plenty left over. From one man’s obedience, another man’s faith, and the power and blessing of God Almighty, came an abundance for many with plenty leftover for the future.

I wonder if the disciples of Jesus’ day gave any consideration to this story when Jesus suggested that they feed the multitude. Since it wasn’t the teacher’s role to feed his disciples, Jesus was showing a hospitality that was unexpected. The disciples’ incredulity was evident. I can almost hear them say, “Are you kidding, Jesus?”

I imagine Jesus must have really enjoyed the experience of providing for a hungry crowd, watching with amusement and pleasure as their hearts and eyes filled with wonder at the miracle occurring before them. How tickled he must have been as the disciples who were so worried about tomorrow’s meal found in the end that there was a full basket for each of them to carry. What joy Jesus must have taking in providing, not just for their daily needs, but also an abundance for their future needs.

How much more so, does the God whom Jesus most perfectly reflects, want to do the same for you and me? Sure, there are times when we just have to depend on him daily and grow in our faith, trusting him to provide moment by moment. But aren’t there also many times in our lives, if we would just stop long enough to see and to be grateful, that God just rains down the blessings? When he pours out more than we can really take in?

Perhaps you are standing there today with a single loaf and a piece of fish and wondering how you are going to feed your family. You’re stressing out because you are behind on your bills and new problems keep stealing what funds you do have. Well, that’s where Jesus comes in.

It’s helpful to see Jesus as being the same today as he was in that secluded place with the multitudes. He still has a heart of compassion and an ability to provide so abundantly that there are plenty of leftovers. He just asks us to have a seat, to be still, and to trust him to multiply our loaf and fish so that our need will be more than met.

It’s also helpful to realize that Jesus didn’t do this all the time. We only have a couple of episodes recorded for us when he actually fed a crowd. But it seems that his disciples were always fed and cared for, the bills were paid, the taxes turned in on time (even though it took a little fishing first to come up with the required coin, Matt 17:27). When we walk with Jesus day by day, he takes care of us, and many times more abundantly than we could ever ask or imagine. (Eph. 3:20) God provides and he also doesn’t seem to mind leaving behind some leftovers.

Generous Father and Gracious Jesus, thank you for all you provide by your Spirit day by day and moment by moment. Thank you that you give freely and with such love that we are at times overwhelmed by your goodness. Fill us with the faith we need to trust you in times of scarcity and want. And grant us the grace to just as freely and in faith offer all that we have to others, trusting you to make up the difference and to provide the leftovers. In Jesus name. Amen.

“Now a man came from Baal-shalishah, and brought the man of God bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And he said, ‘Give them to the people that they may eat.’ His attendant said, ‘What, will I set this before a hundred men?’ But he said, ‘Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, “They shall eat and have some left over.”’ So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the LORD.” 2 Kings 4:42–44 NASB

“Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets.” Matthew 14:19–20 NASB

God Up Close

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By Linda Rex

Do you ever wonder just what to believe?

Sometimes there are so many sides to a story, I begin to think that someone is just making it all up. It’s hard to narrow it down to what actually begins to resemble truth. It’s really hard to get to the bottom of it all.

Whether or not I am able to come to some sort of conclusion is often dependent upon who is giving me the information. Is he or she trustworthy? Can I believe what they are saying? Are they reliable? Dependable? Can I trust that they are telling me the truth?

If I trust someone enough to believe that what they are saying is the truth, I will act upon that knowledge. What happens next is very much dependent upon whether or not he or she was telling me the truth. And whether or not my relationship with this person continues to be meaningful and deep depends upon whether or not they were telling me the truth.

I think most people can agree that trust is at the heart of and essential to any meaningful relationship. Trust is something that can be broken and lost. On the other hand, it can be built over time as two people spend time together and come to know each other intimately through shared experiences.

In the series Star Trek—Enterprise episode “Babel One’, we find that two warring nations who are working to establish a treaty intend to meet together at a place called Babel. The Enterprise is escorting the Tellurite ambassador and his party to Babel when they receive a distress call from Shran, an Andorian whose ship has apparently been attacked and destroyed by a Tellurite vessel.

Shran has over time, come to understand and respect the Starfleet captain Jonathan Archer through several shared experiences in which each assisted the other in spite of their mistrust of one another. But now, with both the Andorians and Tellurites on the starship, the rancor between the opposing groups comes to a head. The deep question that lies between every one of these people and a solution to the problem is, “Just who can I trust?”

Isn’t that really what is fundamental to life and to any relationship? Trust. Who is there that I can really count on when things get tough? Who can I believe? Who’ll be there every time in every situation when I need them there? Who’s the one with the answers that are reliable and dependable in every circumstance?

And just like in this story, it is often not immediately apparent just who is telling the truth. The Andorians believe the Tellurites attacked and destroyed their vessel, killing over 70 of their people. The Tellurites believe the Andorians have been attacking and destroying their vessels for years. What neither party is aware of at that moment is that there is a third party imitating, attacking and preying upon both nation’s starships. Finding out this truth is essential to the establishment of trust—of a basis for a meaningful relationship between the two nations.

In other words, it is essential for the development of a healthy relationship and the fostering of good will between the two parties that they begin to get up close and personal. There needs to be a transparency—a revealing to one another the deep secrets of the soul which they prefer to keep hidden. There needs to be an opening up, a vulnerability—which could very well open them up to attack or betrayal. And there needs to be a realization that sometimes it’s not about one or the other, but often something else entirely that is causing mistrust in the relationship.

When we read the story of God “testing” Abraham, we find that God is wanting to learn something about him that he could not find out just by talking with him. God wanted to know whether or not Abraham trusted him completely, and whether or not he truly loved God, down to the core of his being.

It is instructive that when God called to Abraham, he did not run and hide, make excuses or try to rationalize away God’s instruction to offer his son as a sacrifice. He said “Here I am” and he went and did exactly what he was told to do. He trusted God that in spite of what he saw and heard, in spite of the circumstances, God was going to keep his word and work out whatever needed to be done so that Isaac and his descendants would inherit God’s promises.

When we know God well, and over time have built a relationship of trust with him through shared circumstances and going through tough times together, we are happy to do whatever God’s will may be for us at the moment. Although God doesn’t ask people to sacrifice their children today, he does often ask us to sacrifice things we think are important—popularity, prosperity, giving in to our passions and desires, favorite unhealthy habits and improper ways of relating to others. Whether or not we do as God asks is dependent upon whether or not we trust him completely, fully, to the nth degree.

We grow in faith, in trust, over time as we walk with God through the circumstances of our lives. As time goes by, we see that God is faithful, compassionate, longsuffering and truthful. We find that he is completely dependable.

And we learn to trust God as we look at his Son, Jesus Christ. We get to know God’s story, the story of his Son and how he lived, died and rose again, and how he now intercedes for us moment by moment in the presence of the Father in the Spirit. In Jesus Christ, we see God up close. We see God’s nature, character, heart and mind. We get to know God for who he really is—a trustworthy Person Who we can believe and count on.

So when we are faced with that age-old question, “Just who can I trust?” we have a place to start. In our relationship with God in Christ through the Spirit we have a basis for trust. We have shared experiences which teach us God is trustworthy. We have God making himself fully vulnerable to the place where Jesus was willing to suffer and die at the hands of the ones who he came to love and make himself known to. We have a trustworthy God—will we trust him and place ourselves fully into his care, believing his word and doing whatever he asks in every situation? Will we believe?

Trustworthy Father, today I trust you to keep your word to me, to be faithful and loving and compassionate in every situation, and to finish what you have begun in my life and in my heart and mind in Christ. May I always reflect your perichoretic faithfulness and trustworthiness in everything I say and do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

“Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’” Ge 22:1
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, ‘in Isaac your descendants shall be called.’ He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.”’ Heb 11:17–19

Plugged In

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by Linda Rex

It’s amazing the things that come to mind when I begin to write a blog. Usually they are lots of reasons that I not write it—other things I need to be doing. It seems that it is easy to let life get in the way of sharing God’s good news with others.

Reading books or hearing speakers that attempt to motivate me to share my faith can be quite intimidating. Some have a particular method of proclamation. Others insist on a certain venue or recommend a particular tract or movie to assist in sharing the gospel. Attempting to share one’s faith seems to be a huge, difficult project that requires special techniques, talents and acuteness.

When I begin to be overwhelmed with the hugeness of sharing the gospel, then I remember the simplicity Jesus called us to when it comes to sharing our faith in him. In reality, sharing the gospel is simply extending our relationship with God out to include others.

Including others in our relationship with God does not require a lot of the things we think it requires. It merely requires love—something that is a gift of God in the Spirit. God pours over us and into us his love for others and we express it. It is God’s peace—the peace in the midst of conflict and struggle that passes understanding—that we share with others who are in conflict and are struggling.

It is significant that Jesus commanded his followers to remain in Jerusalem until they were clothed with the power of God, the Holy Spirit. It was when they received the gift Jesus breathed on them that they were able to go where Jesus was sending them and do the work he had given them to do.

Sharing the life and words of Jesus is simply living and walking in the Spirit. It is sharing the life God has given us through his Son. God gave himself to us in his Son Jesus, through his life, death, resurrection and ascension. Now that that eternal life we have in Christ is coming into real existence in our life, our human existence, through the Spirit. What is true objectively—our life is hidden with God in Christ—becomes true for us ontologically—we are conformed to the image of Christ.

As we are conformed into the image of Christ, that life includes others we are close to or who we share life with. As we share that life we have in Christ with others, the grace of God becomes manifest in their lives as well. God shares his life with us in Christ, we receive it, and we share that life with others. God makes room for us in his life. We make room for others in our life and therefore in his life. There’s that lovely word perichoresis again—making room for one another.

The Father sent Jesus so we would be included in the life and love of God as Father, Son and Spirit. Jesus sent us so that others might be included in his life and love as well. Sharing the gospel is simply sharing life—the life God has given us in his Son and has empowered us to share with others by the Holy Spirit.

This leaves me with no excuse—I must share with you, what God has given me in his Son Jesus. It is too wonderful to keep to myself…

Thank you Father, for including us in your life through your Son Jesus. Thank you for the gift of the Spirit who brings us to life in Jesus. Thank you for empowering us to share that life with others. Please bring those people into our lives that you would have us share life with and grant us the courage and love to include them in our life with you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

“So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” John 20:21-22 NASB

When God Lets You Down

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By Linda Rex

Have you ever felt like God just totally let you down? I mean, not in a little way, but in a big, huge way?

Has he ever seemed to have just closed his eyes to the disaster that was looming in front of you, that you had repeatedly told him about, that you begged him to save you from, and he seemed to have just have ignored you? Did God just let it crush you, overwhelm you and ruin your life?

It’s hard to imagine that a God who is love would even consider doing such a thing. How could he be love and yet at the same time stand by and watch us be devastated by something he could have prevented? Indeed, it’s hard for us understand the heart of God in such matters.

The apostle John tells the story of a man in Bethany named Lazarus who contracted a fatal illness. His sisters Mary and Martha sent for their dear friend Jesus to come and heal Lazarus. It seemed like a simple matter, and they trusted that Jesus, being such a loving, compassionate friend and having the power to heal, surely would do whatever was necessary to make Lazarus well.

When he heard the news of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus told his disciples to wait. They misunderstood his motives, thinking he was concerned about himself, that he wanted to avoid trouble in Jerusalem.

In fact, he deliberately waited until he got the news that Lazarus was dead. Then he said, “Don’t worry. This is all for God’s glory.” And against their protestations, he told the disciples they would be going to Bethany.

On the face of it, not responding to the plea for healing would seem to be the most arrogant, heartless thing he could have done. It is no wonder that when she finally did see him, Martha said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21) Yeah, Jesus, where were you when we needed you? I can’t believe you let us down like this!

Was Jesus really that insensitive and heartless? I think it is significant that in this place we read those two precious words: “Jesus wept.” Jesus, as God in human flesh, wept. He cried openly and fully.

He wasn’t heartless and cold. He shared the pain and loss and sorrow of his dear friends, and he expressed it. Even though he knew in the next moment that Lazarus would be alive again, he grieved with his friends and shared their pain. He understood what it cost them for the will of God to be accomplished in this moment. And it broke his heart.

In our simplicity, we often don’t perceive the depth, height, length and breadth of God’s love or wisdom. It’s hard to understand how allowing deep suffering in one person’s life in this moment can be such a blessing to others in the next. Or why God would be deaf to our pleas for intervention now, but then he may intervene dramatically some time later.

It’s easy to question God’s motives, to suspect him of being heartless and uncaring. Our trust of God is often tested, and when he fails to live up to our expectations of what a loving God must be like, we feel let down and disappointed. We find it hard then to have any faith in a God that does not deliver.

Could it be at this moment, Jesus understood the pain his disciples and followers would feel in the next few days as he would be crucified and buried in a tomb? Was he hoping that they would catch a glimpse of the glory that would come through death and resurrection and so have hope in spite of the circumstances?

We don’t know the mind of God, but we can know his heart. His heart toward us is always and ever love—the full expression of his very nature. And even when we don’t know his mind we can always trust his heart. For in the end, he will prove that he is and always has been love, just as in Jesus, he demonstrated it through death and resurrection.

Father, thank you that in Jesus you showed us depth, height, width and breadth of your love for us. Holy Spirit, renew in us the faith to believe that your heart toward us, God, is always and ever good. Grant us the grace to trust you even when we feel only disappointment, despair and loss. Remind us that every tear we shed and every pain we feel you share with us in Jesus. In his name we pray. Amen.

“Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?” John 11:35–37 NASB

The Pursuit of Perfection

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by Linda Rex

On my desk there is a block of wood with the word “MENTAL” engraved on it. A colleague of mine from several years ago knew I liked to write and he gave it to me for the times when I experience writer’s block. I can’t help but chuckle when I see it because right then, at that moment, I experience a “mental block.”

How often, though, do we find that we have a mental block when it comes to spiritual perfection? If we are expected to become perfect, how do we do it? For the perfectionists among us, this is important information, because perfectionists cannot settle for anything less than perfection.

There is way of looking at faith in Christ as an expectation that we become perfect people once we get done saying we are sorry for our sins. For some of us, we even think that we have to become perfect before approaching God or he will reject us. Either view is based on a misunderstanding of God’s expectations of us and confusion about who we are as his creatures.

First of all, part of the process of coming to faith in Christ is an acknowledgement of the perfection of God and his love for us, and the confession of our imperfection in the face of God’s perfection. As long as we see ourselves as acceptable, good enough, and able to take care of ourselves, there really isn’t much need for anyone else.

But there is a dignity in our confession of our imperfection. We are human, made in God’s image, to reflect his likeness. We were created for perfection. God desires to share his perfection with us. This is why Jesus came.

Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith—the one who began and will finish the process of perfecting us. Because he joined us to himself in his life, death and resurrection, God in Christ shares his perfection with us. We participate in God’s perfection in Christ by the Spirit.

But this is a process, a journey. It is a relationship with God in Christ by the Spirit in which we are, over time, transformed by the renewal of our minds. In light of God’s mercy in Christ, we surrender ourselves to God in obedient service and we walk in union and communion with the Father, Son and Spirit in love with God and one another.

Our spiritual perfection lies in Christ—we have the assurance that we will one day be like him in glory. For now, though, we focus on Jesus Christ and persevere in our relationship with God in him, rejecting and resisting anything that may seek to draw us away from the path of righteousness we walk in him.

When we read the history of faith in Hebrews 11, we recognize that faith does not come simply but exacts a price. Perfection is not an easy process. It is hard work. But it is not something we do on our own to perfect ourselves. And faith is not something we have to somehow come up with on our own. It is all of grace. It is a gift. Just as faith is a gift from God, so is our perfection.

So, in the midst of the messies of life and our imperfections, we can have Christ’s perfect peace, because he has given us his perfection, and he will continue to perfect us until we fully reflect him in glory. Seeking perfection isn’t a bad thing—but in the midst of all that effort, it is best to remember that there is only one who is perfect, and it is not us. But that Perfect One has graciously included us in his perfection.

Thank you, Perfect and Holy God, for including us in your perfection. Thank you that we don’t have to perfect ourselves or have perfect faith. You are the source, the author and finisher of our faith and our perfection. We trust you to finish what you have begun in us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1–3

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1–2

Reflections on a Legacy

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by Linda Rex

“He’s gone.” These words spoke of the end and the beginning of a story of a life well lived. The end—because he had taken his last breath. The beginning—because he had begun his eternal journey into places we have yet to explore.

I had gone to see him earlier this week. When I told him I had intended to bring him a joke but couldn’t think of one, he cracked the slightest smile. He wasn’t able to speak anymore, but he had not lost his sense of humor.

During my visit, one thing came apparent. This man had grown in his walk with Christ to the place that he had begun to reflect the life and love of Jesus in a deep way. As his wife held his hand and talked to us about him, his eyes never left her face. It was as if he was trying to drink her in—every last drop.

At one point I had to step out with his mom onto the porch so he could be cared for. We talked for a while. When we stepped back into the house, I told the gentleman I had met his mom and that we had been chatting. With an extreme effort that lifted him off his pillow, he blurted out the words, “All right?” I assured him that she would be all right. He relaxed, as though it had been on his mind for some time.

This man set a powerful example of how to love: Here he was in the midst of his own crucifixion but his concern was for his wife, his mother and his children. Doesn’t that sound familiar to those of us to have heard the story of Jesus’ crucifixion? This is the legacy of a saint. May we each find the grace to leave such a legacy behind us as well.

Lord, I thank you for being given the privilege of witnessing the legacy of a life well lived. Thank you, that in you, Jesus, we are never alone in any of our circumstances, but you are always and ever present in the Spirit, sharing with us in our joys and our sorrows. Father, please pour your Comforter out in new ways in the hearts and lives of those who have suffered loss. Remind us all of your faithful love and grace—in Jesus name. Amen.

“When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.” John 19:26–27