By Linda Rex
JOY—Who is Jesus to you? At this time of year, we often focus on an infant, born in Bethlehem, who was placed in a manger. The Christmas story can seem like a sentimental fairy tale which really has no application to real life. How is does any of this apply to those of us who are struggling to find the strength to go through another day, to keep from drowning in sorrow and grief?
This sweet child in reality came into a world under Roman rule which was plagued by unrest and discontent. Jesus Christ was born in a Jewish culture which over the years had mixed with Greek Hellenism, and had substituted a historical religious faith with one based on political expediency, money and power, and faithfulness to a human standard and the seeking approval and applause of others.
The circumstances of this infant’s birth illustrate the difficulties which arise when a couple struggles to obey God’s call upon their lives while living in the midst of an often violent and officially pagan culture. It seems that often their obedience to God was intertwined with their necessary obedience to the government. Joseph found he had to go to Bethlehem, to the region of his forefathers, because of a Roman census. But in doing so, he fulfilled the prophetic word about the Messiah. The family was told they needed to flee the wrath of the king and go to Egypt, and it turns out this was prophetically exactly where they needed to be to fulfill Scripture.
We are often so immersed in our culture, our circumstances, and our experiences, that we can easily believe God is uninterested, uninvolved, and indifferent to our struggles and suffering. We feel as though we ourselves cannot change anything, or that we must bring about change.
In reality, God is the one who must bring about real, lasting change. We forget that whatever we do if it is not founded in God himself, has no enduring value. What this means is that all which God created from nothing was going to return to nothing apart from the entrance of God himself into creation to redeem, restore, and renew it.
God worked even from before the beginning of this cosmos to ensure that what he made would endure and fulfill the purposes for which it was created. This meant orchestrating different events, working with and through different people and patiently enduring their failures, stubborn willfulness, and disobedience. And then, when the time was exactly right, when all was prepared, when the world and the Jewish people were prepared to give birth to the Messiah, the Word took on our human flesh.
The human story is one filled with struggle, pain, suffering, and death. But it is also filled with joy—joy in the midst of sorrow, grief, and dark nights. There is great joy expressed in the Scriptures by those who experience God intervening in their difficult circumstances and saving them in impossible situations. It seems that in reality, our Lord is a victorious warrior who loves to rejoice over us as we experience his love and grace in the midst of our darkness, hopelessness, and despair.
On that dark night when Jesus was born, the shepherds saw and heard the angels share the wonder and joy of God over his Son’s birth. Our heavenly Father had waited and prepared for a long time for this special event—it was a wonderful, joyous occasion which he knew would change things forever. He knew that in giving his one unique Son, he would in time have many other adopted sons and daughters as his beloved children. And this would bring him even greater joy.
Advent is a great opportunity to reflect on our need to wait on God—to learn to wait as God waits. We wait, not apathetically, but intentionally, working to prepare the ground for the planting of the Word of God. John the Baptist came to prepare the Jewish people for the coming of the Messiah. He had a significant role, for he was to testify that this person who he baptized and who received the Holy Spirit in a special way was indeed the Messiah.
His words seem harsh to us—he was critical of the religious and civic leaders, and called people to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. But he never pointed to himself—he always pointed away—to the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Jesus would transform our humanity in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and would send the Spirit so that each and every person could participate in that true renewal and transformation he had forged for them.
Today we wait for the return of Christ, the second Advent, in the same way. We prepare our hearts and our lives by removing the weeds of sin, self, and Satan through repentance and allow the seed of God’s Word to penetrate into the core of our being. We receive the gift of God’s indwelling Christ, the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, and we walk in the Spirit day by day. We daily testify to the truth of who Jesus Christ is—our Savior and Messiah, the Redeemer, the One who baptizes with Holy Spirit and fire.
We testify to the reality that Jesus Christ, beyond his entrance into this world as a tiny infant, is our divine warrior who went into battle on our behalf. He left behind all the glories and privileges of divinity to join us in our humanity. And he fought in hand-to-hand combat against sin, evil, Satan, and even death. His weapons of warfare involved submission, humility, and simplicity, and the ultimate weapon—death and resurrection. And he won. He rose victorious, ascending to his Father, carrying all of humanity into his Abba’s presence.
What Advent and the birth of Jesus mean for us today is that in the midst of darkness, loss, sin, evil, and even death, we can have joy, real deep joy. This joy reaches beyond our human experiences into the true spiritual realities where we are held in Christ in the presence of Abba by the Spirit. There is hope, peace, joy, and love in the presence of Abba, and it is all ours—we are fully victorious in Jesus Christ. Nothing can ever come between us and the love of God in Christ. We, even on a dark and gloomy night, can gaze upon the face of the divine Son and rejoice, because he is a victorious warrior!
Thank you, Abba, for the precious gift of your Son. Thank you for not leaving us in our darkness, pain, and sorrow, but for lifting us up and giving us the victory over evil, sin, Satan, and death in Jesus. Holy Spirit, bring us close and enable us to see clearly the face of the Father in the face of his Son, so that we can fully participate in the divine love and life Jesus has created for us. Abba, fill our hearts overflowing with your joy, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“The LORD your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” Zeph. 3:17 NASB
A video of this blog may be accessed here.
By Linda Rex
PEACE—I awoke this morning to negative news. Apparently last night the law-abiding citizens of this city were put in danger by the exploits of those who defy the law as our law officers sought to bring them to justice. Then I read that some friends of the family lost a loved one—another loss in my list of recent losses. There are times when it seems like it’s safer to be in bed than out of it.
Seeing and experiencing the evil and pain in this world can really weigh us down. Though I would never want to grow indifferent to suffering and loss, there are times when I wish I could always keep an eternal perspective about such things. It would be nice to be able to only focus on the benefits of such things rather than on the pain and grief they bring with them.
This morning my daughter called up the stairs to let me know her almost grown kitten had found a new toy. She was tossing it around and hiding it under things and playing with it. She was really having fun. But what disturbed my daughter was that it wasn’t her favorite mouse toy—it was the real thing.
There was absolutely nothing evil or bloodthirsty in what the kitten was doing. She was just enjoying her new toy—embracing the joy of play. But the poor mouse, on the other hand—it had an entirely different perspective. It had merely been doing its thing—finding a warm place to hide during the winter—when suddenly, its life was over and it had become an object of delight.
In this instance we can see two completely different perspectives as to what has happened and to what is currently going on in a situation. Perhaps this can help us to understand a little better what it means for us as human beings to live in a world where we are constantly experiencing the results of our human brokenness while at the same time we are participants in the entering of God’s kingdom into this broken world. We may only feel pain, suffering and grief, but we are actually participating in God’s joyful dance of love, grace, and peace.
Loss, separation, pain, evil—these cause suffering, anxiety, fear, and grief, and a host of other feelings and consequences we were not originally intended to experience. We were created for joy, peace, hope, and to share in the love of our heavenly Father and his Son Jesus Christ in the Spirit. This is the “way of peace” we were created for.
C.S. Lewis, in “The Problem of Pain,” talks about how human beings were created to live in joyful obedience to and full dependency upon God. We were meant to be and were masters of our flesh and our world, as we drew upon God for our life and our strength of will. But we decided in Adam that we would take to ourselves the prerogatives which were solely God’s. We became self-sufficient, self-centered, self-directed. And rather than walking in the garden to commune with our Creator, we walked away from the garden and began to establish for ourselves a new way of being.
The problem is, we chose a way of being which was non-sustainable. We do not have the capacity within ourselves apart from God to properly manage ourselves or our world, much less to live in harmony with one another or to continue our existence. What the incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmastime, means is that God took our plight seriously, took on our humanity, and reformed it in himself. As God in human flesh, Jesus lived a human existence which was fully dependent upon his Abba and completely and joyfully obedient to his Father’s will. He redeemed us, forging for us “a way of peace.”
The enemy of our soul has always sought to destroy us by the incessant lie that we do not need God and we most certainly do not need one another. He deceives us into believing that our human perspective about everything is the true reality—that our experience of what is occurring is what is actually at work in this world. He tells us there is no life beyond this life, or that what we do now does not affect what comes after, or that if we work hard enough and achieve a high enough standard, we’ll receive abundant rewards in the hereafter.
Notice how all these lies we are bombarded with us tell us we are sufficient within ourselves for whatever is needed in every situation. To live in full dependency upon God and in joyful obedience to his will is something contrary to our broken human way of being. We resist this, and seek a multitude of methods to avoid having to surrender to the reality God is God and we are not. And we experience suffering, grief, pain, and sorrow as a result.
Christ has come. He has reconciled all things with God and has brought humanity up into the love and life of the Trinity—by faith we participate with Jesus in his perfect relationship with his Father in the Spirit. As we participate with Jesus, we find ourselves walking in the “way of peace” he forged for us, and we find by the Spirit we have the capacity for self-control, other-centered living, and joyful obedience to God we would not otherwise have.
In Christ, we are new creatures—experiencing a new way of being—Christ in us, the hope of glory. We find as we die with Christ to ourselves and our old way of being that Christ’s new “way of peace” finds greater and greater expression in us and through us. And we begin to experience real peace—peace within ourselves, peace in our relationships and in our communities.
As we turn to God in real dependency upon him in every situation, heeding the Word which tells us to “cast all our cares upon him” (1 Pet. 5:6), we begin to experience that peace “which surpasses understanding” (Phil. 4:6-7). We find a deep joy even in the midst of our sorrow and grief. This is the blessing of the amazing gift of God in his Son Jesus Christ we celebrate during the Advent season.
Abba, thank you for not leaving us in our brokenness and our stubborn resistance to your will. Thank you, Jesus, for forging for us “a way of peace” which we have not known and which we desperately need. Holy Spirit, enable us to turn away from ourselves and to Christ, trusting in his perfect relationship with Abba, and enable us to walk in the “way of peace” we were created for through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,/For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, … To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies,/Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. … To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,/To guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:68, 75, 79 NASB
A video of this blog may be accessed here.
By Linda Rex
This morning I was browsing social media as I was finishing up my morning exercise routine. I was touched by a friend’s post which described a very painful and difficult circumstance they were going through. My heart went out to them and I wished there was some way to help. But there wasn’t.
My go-to response, of course, is to pray. This can seem such a feeble response when often people need some real tangible assistance in difficult circumstances. But for those of us who do pray and count on prayer as our go-to response, this is actually the most powerful and effective thing we can do when encountering a life tragedy, struggle, or difficulty.
This week there was another mass shooting, this time in my home state of California. No doubt, there will be more cry for effective gun laws, and, which I think is more to the point, more focus on getting veterans the help they need when they are struggling with PTSD and other post-conflict issues. But all the laws we can write do not change or heal the human heart. We live in a society which seeks to regulate human conduct from without by laws or by social pressure, and to heal broken human beings with social programs and medication.
This is the struggle we have in our world today—a society in which each feels free to do whatever they want according to their conscience and desires, but often without concern for the others who share this world with them or for the creation either. I keep being brought back to the basic fundamental description of how we are to live as human beings—of what we have been created for. As made in the image of God, we are meant to live as unique yet equal individuals in a unity which reflects that of the Father, Son, and Spirit—created for this divine relationship with God and one another. Jesus described it as loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Our struggle to exist together in this world to day is due to our refusal to acknowledge there is an ultimate Source which defines our existence and which gives us direction for our lives. We want to have control over our existence and our decisions, and not allow anyone to infringe on our preferences or our space. Somehow we think that submitting ourselves to someone, most especially to God, limits us in some way, and deprives us of our ability to be all we can be.
In reality, our greatest struggle lies within ourselves. We are broken and wounded, and all these things affect how we handle life, and how we treat one another. When Jesus said that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, I believe he was pointing out our need to be fully integrated as human beings, with all of us being fully devoted to our Abba. He knew the human proclivity to create inner silos, where the good parts of us are separated from the bad parts of us, and where our inner divisions become a space for the evil one to enter and cause destruction and despair.
To be fully integrated within ourselves by necessity means that God needed to reform our humanity after his image—we had rejected our humanness as God had meant it to be. Jesus, when he walked on earth, lived in intimate relationship with his Abba. He said that he and his Father were one. Jesus lived fully focused on that relationship, seeking out his Abba in the midst of trouble and stress, and drawing upon his strength and power by the Spirit to deal with the issues he faced in his life.
In spite of how he was treated and the uniqueness of his personhood as the God/man, Jesus stayed fully integrated to the end. He, by the Spirit, held fast to the truth of who he was as the Son of God and the Son of Man. Jesus did not have a good side and a bad side, but was simply the Word of God in human flesh—the One who became sin for us so we could become the righteousness of God in him. He came to redeem our humanity and give us a new life by the Spirit which in him is fully integrated within itself and in relationship with God and others.
As I was reading the lectionary scriptures for Sunday, one of the passages from the book of Ruth popped out at me. We read in Ruth’s story that her mother-in-law Naomi, who lived for a time in Moab, had lost both her sons and her husband, and so sought to move back to her home town of Bethlehem to rebuild her life. Ruth, being a Moabitess, was considered a Gentile but she embraced Naomi and her faith, and went with her back to Bethlehem.
Ruth was in a very difficult position, but it seems that God kept his eye on her. She went to glean grain after the harvesters, which was what poor people did back then, and she ended up in the field of someone who was in her extended family, a relative named Boaz. In due time, Naomi told Ruth she should invoke the levirate law of that day and ask Boaz to redeem her property and by extension give her the children she did not have by her first husband so her property would stay in the family. So Ruth courageously did as her mother-in-law instructed, not knowing what the result would be.
Boaz’s reaction is interesting. When she appealed to him to exercise his right of redemption, he told her he couldn’t—there was someone closer who could. But he said he would see that this was done, either by himself, or by the other who was more closely related to her. Then he sent Ruth home. When Naomi heard how it went, she said, “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today.”
A lot of times we think and act as if God is indifferent to our suffering and our struggles. We may believe he shouldn’t be bothered with the little details of our lives, or that he’s not really willing to intervene in our difficult circumstances. When we lose dear ones, we often believe God doesn’t care about us any more—why else would he let them pass away? In reality, we need to see God as the One who will not rest until he has settled the matter today—immediately, as promptly as he possibly can. It may not be according to our time schedule, but in God’s time schedule, he is treating it as urgent, as needing his immediate attention.
Secondly, God is the one who has the right of redemption. He is as closely related to us as he could possibly get in the Person of Jesus Christ. He took on our humanity, reintegrated it with its Creator and within himself as God in human flesh, and took it with himself through death and resurrection, so we each could have new birth—a new life in him. God in Christ is to us a restorer of life and a sustainer in our youth and old age—no matter where we are in life, he is our Redeemer.
The cry I am hearing in the media today, social and otherwise, is for a redeemer. Humans such as political leaders often try to fill this role, and we temporarily give them our allegiance. But in reality, none can do what our Redeemer does—they cannot change or heal the human heart, nor can they transform people’s lives or give them divine redemption. There is no one like our God, who saves! We pray because we have a Redeemer who will not rest until he has healed, restored, and renewed. We pray because we know and trust he is faithful, gracious, and loving, and he will finish what he has begun in us.
Only God has the capacity and the heart to heal someone from the inside out. Only Jesus, the divine Physician, can change someone’s heart and desires into what they ought to be. Only the Spirit, our Comforter and our Peace, can work transformation in human beings, bringing them into Christlikeness.
Our participation in all of these things is to, like Ruth, place ourselves at Jesus’ feet and ask him to exercise his right of redemption on our behalf, to wait patiently for him to move in our circumstances and in our lives, and to embrace the relationship offered to us and to faithfully live within it for the remainder of our days. Our participation includes learning to live and walk in truth, to be integrated within ourselves so that we, in Jesus and by the Spirit, are loving God with all our being and loving our neighbor as ourselves. We have every reason to hope—for he is ours and we are his, and he will be faithful to the end. This is why we turn to him, believing he will not fail us. And this is why we pray.
Thank you, Abba, for your faithful love, and for giving us your Son to redeem us. Thank you for sending your Spirit to renew, restore, and heal us—transforming us by your grace and love into the very image of your Son, and so to reflect your likeness. We desperately need a move of your Spirit in our world today. We need you to heal, restore and renew all this we have broken, and to transform human hearts by faith. We trust you will not rest until this is accomplished. Show us how we can participate with you in your mission, and to passionately do so as you lead us, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed is the LORD who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.’” Ruth 4:14-15 NASB
By Linda Rex
The recent news here in America has been filled with heated discussions and fervently expressed opinions regarding the appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in the light of the allegations by women such as Christine Blasey Ford. I have friends and family on both sides of this issue, and I find myself appalled that here in America, this what our political and justice system has come to.
Of course, if I am honest with myself, I have to admit that probably this has been going on for millennia in every country on earth. People in positions of power and in positions of judgment have always been just that—people, people with flaws, failures in their past, and ambitious plans for their future. There have always been people who took advantage of other people, who denigrated, abused, and sexually assaulted women (and children).
There have always been victims, too. On my visit to the Freedom Center, I was reminded of the millions of people who were devalued and dismissed by others as being merely property—objects to be used and then discarded. The magnitude of what humans do to one another is appalling. And it breaks my heart.
Both the perpetrator and the victim are in a difficult place in any of these situations. The victim, because they are at the mercy of someone who is allowing evil to run rampant in their soul, and the perpetrator, because they are at the mercy of evil, surrendering momentarily or throughout their life to the pulls and passions of their broken humanity or to the twistings of their soul which arose out of the evil done to them.
In this case, we add the additional level of concern which arises when someone such as a Supreme Court judge has the capacity and the authority to affect millions of people. Then such things as character flaws or broken pasts become so much more than just a personal matter—they become an essential part of the decision-making process.
For a victim to stand up and say, “This person did this,” takes more courage and requires greater fortitude. Does our political process have room to truly hear and respond to the victim with justice and fairness? And are we also able to discern when this is just a political move by an opponent? In my view we are treading in areas where the human heart and mind has great limitations. Who can read another’s motives and intent?
There is only One who can always be just and truthful; there is only One Man of integrity. And it’s not me. Nor is it any of these candidates for the Supreme Court. Neither is it any of these witnesses at the place of judgment. Neither is it any of these people making these decisions, giving their opinions, or executing judgment in these situations.
The wider venue which now surrounds any such decision which has been created via social media and the international scope of our news networks prevents a small group of people from simply listening to the facts brought before them and making a decision. People who, before all this modern technology, would never have even heard about what was going on, much less participate or give an opinion, are now part of the political and judgment process.
But this is not necessarily a bad thing. What complicates this issue could actually be its solution—if people were drawing their life from the correct source. The problem is, we draw our life from within our broken humanity, from the evil which twists us, or from the people around us, or the media which informs us. We ignore the real life which could and would not only inform us, but also expose the evil and work to redeem, heal, and transform it.
The answer is not religion. It is not having a theocracy (yes, I just wrote that.) It is not making everyone into a Christian, although that would be nice, I suppose, depending on what you meant by Christian—Christians are not always very nice people. Actually, it’s not really any of these things. In fact, I’m not sure exactly how to resolve this apart from the Man of Justice—the only One with perfect integrity, purity of motive, and genuineness of heart.
In the Scriptures we read how the people of Israel were God’s people—a theocracy. They had great laws—God’s laws, and celebrated religious festivals, and gave meaningful prayers. But they still had evil, unjust kings and judges. They did not care for the marginalized or do justice for those who could not defend themselves. There was something fundamentally wrong with the spirit of the nation—it was turned from its center and this was reflected in its public policy and government.
The reality is, what we are seeing in America as well as in the world today is a reflection of our broken humanity when it refuses to acknowledge the truth of its existence and its center in its Source. Our identity as human beings is rooted in the Trinity whether we like it or not. Made in the image of God to reflect his likeness means we are created as unique persons who are of the same essence to live as equals in unity and harmony. The purpose of our existence is to love God and glorify him forever. We are meant to love God and love one another—not to exist in any other way.
Because we choose define ourselves and not let God define us, we end up in messes, overcome by evil, and at the mercy of sin and death. God came in the person of the Word to share our humanity—not so we could continue to define ourselves, but so that we could share in his perfect Person who holds our true identity, and come to our senses. Christ has forged within our humanity a New Man—a new person who bears the divine likeness, who is capable of living and walking in integrity, in humility, and in love. The old man is, in reality, dead and buried. The problem is, we don’t want to give the “old man” up—he is comfortable, familiar, and fully under our control (or so we believe.)
But we must give him up. He died with Christ and rose with Christ. Jesus sent the Spirit so the New Man would take his place in human hearts. If we want a world where justice and integrity prevail, we must leave the “old man” in the tomb and walk out into the morning light in the new existence which is ours.
There is a new spirit at work in this world—Jesus said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5 NASB). This Spirit has been poured out on all flesh as predicted, the apostle Peter said (Acts 2:17), and now the New Man has come to dwell in human hearts. As we turn from ourselves and turn to Christ, and trust in God’s perfect love and grace in Christ, we will discover a new existence which is available to us—Christ in us, the hope of glory. As Abba through Christ in the Spirit lives in us, we find a discernment, an integrity, a purity, and a capacity to love and be loved we have never experienced before. The Spirit begins, in transforming us, to transform our world.
The issue now is our rejection of our new humanity as created for us and redeemed for us in the person of Jesus Christ. And this is the issue: Just bring up Jesus’ name and listen to the response! Like I said before, I’m not insisting that everyone become Christian—Christianity is flawed because it is a human religion. I am saying, though, that there is a way of being which involves Jesus Christ and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit—an acknowledgement of the Source and meaning of our existence being Someone outside of ourselves and our human constructs.
Because we reject Jesus Christ, we reject our renewed, transformed humanity. Christ is Source of our existence—“in Him we live and move and exist,” (Acts 17:28 NASB)—so his is the Spirit which surrounds us, fills us, cares for us, and sustains us. Should we not allow his Spirit to guide and motivate every moment of our human existence? Should we not permit his Spirit to inform, teach, heal, transform, and renew us in every part of our politics, our justice system, and our marketplace? Should not the Spirit of Christ be the essence of our integrity, our honesty, and our purity at every point in our life?
We are all one humanity in Jesus Christ—he stands in your place and in mine. There is no condemnation in Christ, so before the heavenly tribunal, the only accuser for any of us is the evil one, unless we choose to accuse. To point the finger at anyone, is to point it at ourselves. To fail another person by violating them in any way is to violate ourselves. To refuse Christ as the center of our life and being, is to refuse ourselves. For we are his, and he is ours.
May we humbly come before the mercy of our Abba, who has included us in his life through his Son. He has sent his blessed Spirit so we could participate in his way of being—of outgoing love and unendless abounding grace. This, if allowed to permeate every part of our human existence, would transform our world. But God is patient and, respecting our personhood, allows us to resist and refuse him. I wish we would not, but we do. And so, this is our world today.
Dearest Abba, we acknowledge how far we have fallen from what you meant for us to be. Thank you for forgiving us, for surely, we are in great need of your grace. May you turn our hearts away from ourselves and our idols and turn us toward you. May we surrender to the truth of our being, allowing you to transform our hearts by faith, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“When you come to appear before Me,/Who requires of you this trampling of My courts?/Bring your worthless offerings no longer,/Incense is an abomination to Me./New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies—/I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly./I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts,/They have become a burden to Me;/I am weary of bearing them./So when you spread out your hands in prayer,/I will hide My eyes from you;/Yes, even though you multiply prayers,/I will not listen./Your hands are covered with blood./Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;/Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight./Cease to do evil,/Learn to do good;/Seek justice,/Reprove the ruthless,/Defend the orphan,/Plead for the widow./Come now, and let us reason together,’/Says the Lord,/’Though your sins are as scarlet,/They will be as white as snow;/Though they are red like crimson,/They will be like wool./If you consent and obey,/You will eat the best of the land;/But if you refuse and rebel,/You will be devoured by the sword./Truly, the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” Isaiah 1:12-20 NASB
By Linda Rex
The apostle Paul wrote that there is now, at this moment, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We wrestle with condemning ourselves and others, and yet God has said that this is not what is true about us. So much of our perspective on others and ourselves has its basis outside of us, in what others say, think, or do—in our subjective experience—rather in what is objectively true of us—that we are all beloved, accepted, and forgiven, and redeemed.
We see our healing or becoming whole as something external to us which we must attain to and strive for, rather than realizing and believing it is something which has already been done that we participate in through the indwelling Christ by the Spirit. We have been made new, Christ is making all things new, and all things will be ultimately transformed completely when our glorified Savior ushers in the new heaven and new earth.
The key here is participation. What is objectively true does not change at all, while our subjective experience of it changes according to the seasons of our lives and the ebb and flow of our day by day existence and how much we actively participate in what the Spirit is doing in this world. The evil one, too, does his best to twist, confuse, and destroy our grasp of the spiritual realities, attempting to drain away the resources of faith, hope, and love poured into us by the Spirit.
Our external attempts at lawkeeping may give us a veneer of goodness, but real change is something which happens from the inside out. In fact, it was brought to my attention again recently that lawkeeping inevitably has only one result for us as humans—the wages of sin is death. Death is what we invariably end up experiencing because we are unable to live as we ought in perfect relationship with God and one another.
The issue is an internal one, and involves things I don’t fully understand such as our subconscious, our motivations, our memories, our passions, and all that other stuff which goes on inside of us. We can keep up a beautiful façade but in due time, the real brokenness at the root of our humanity will ooze out, often in ways which will astonish others who know us. In the book “Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership” the authors give many examples of effective, strong leaders who during a successful career experience a major moral failing, all because they did not attend to what was going on inside and deal with the brokenness which was part of what made them so successful.
When we recognize that Jesus Christ by the Spirit dwells within human hearts and seeks full expression in and through each of us, we begin to awaken to the reality that there is so much more going on in us and in others than what might at first be apparent on the outside. The Lord Jesus who has taken on our humanity and forged for us a new human existence is at work making this real in us and through us by his Spirit. He is at work in each of us bringing us into the fullness of our true identity in Christ.
Whatever obedience we may attempt is not meant to be a means by which we bring ourselves into union with God or into relationship with him—that is an external act which really achieves nothing. Rather, obedience is meant to arise out of the indwelling Christ—the Spirit making real in and through us the right relationship of Jesus with His Abba, making that perfect relationship our very own to participate in and enjoy. We pray, “Thy will be done here on earth as it is in heaven”, desiring the reality of that heavenly perfect relationship to be our own experience with Abba—and the Spirit affirms that this is so, manifesting Christ in us and through us, enabling us to share in Jesus’ perfect relationship with his Father.
In the same way, our obedience with regards to those around us is not an act we do independently of God. Our obedience on our own, God says, is as filthy rags—dirty, smelly, and needing to be burned in the fire. We never do quite get our relationships right. This does not mean we do not need to be obedient. What it does mean is that Jesus has gone through the fire in our place and on our behalf, living our obedience out perfectly in his humanity, giving us his perfected obedience in the gift of the Spirit.
The law fulfilled in Christ said that we were worthy of death, and so we died—with him. And we rose with him. There is nothing left to condemn us. We have a new existence and a new relationship with Abba and one another which has been infused into our humanity and made ours in Christ. The Holy Spirit is now at work making this a reality for each of us individually as we respond to God in faith. Our obedience is a real participation in Christ’s obedience.
When we experience some sense of self-condemnation or the condemnation of others—and we will—we have nothing to fear. “If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and knows all things.” Our life is in him because he lives in us. Our obedience is a manifestation of the reality of God’s indwelling presence in our hearts and lives. Because of Christ being at work in us and our participating by faith in his real presence, we are free from condemnation. We are accepted, beloved and forgiven, all because of Christ. (1 John 3:18-24 NIV)
Jesus said we condemn ourselves when we hide our deeds in the darkness and do not put our faith in the Son of God. It is much better to acknowledge our dependency upon Christ than to go through life trying to hide our flaws and failures. Confession does not save us, but it does free us—telling the truth sets us free by bringing what is dark into the Light so that we may find healing and wholeness. This frees us to live in the truth of who we were created to be as image-bearers of Christ. (John 3:16-21 NIV)
Healing from many emotional, mental, and even physical ailments often begins with acknowledging and admitting to the truth. It also is aided by the most difficult of tasks—offering and receiving forgiveness. Living in the Light is living exposed and open, allowing the Spirit to transform us over time, in the midst of our broken existence in this broken world.
We want to experience the fullness of our perfection now, especially if we are perfectionists. But Jesus doesn’t promise us that. What he does promise us is that he will never leave us or forsake us. What he does promise us is a Companion, his Spirit, who will be with us and in us, to come alongside us and draw us more and more deeply into our life in the Trinity. We, like the apostle Paul, may be left with a thorn in our side of some kind, but we will still be useful, beloved children in the kingdom of our heavenly Father, free of any and all condemnation both now and forever, all because of God’s grace to us in Jesus.
Thank you, Abba, for loving us and forgiving us. Thank you for not condemning us, but for freeing us to be the children you created us to be as your image-bearers. Thank you, Jesus, for living in us by the Spirit and transforming our hearts by faith. We trust you to finish what you have begun so we can celebrate both now and forever the wonder of your Abba’s great love. Amen.
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1-4 NASB
By Linda Rex
Rather than extending this series on judgment (which I could easily do), I will instead sum up all of these thoughts in one question we must ask ourselves: What do I know and believe about Abba’s heart towards me and every other human being on this earth? Our answer to this question directly impacts how we approach the topic of judgment.
Seeing our heavenly Father through the eyes of Jesus gives us a clarity we would not otherwise have. But we must be careful in doing so or we will neglect to see the entire spectrum of God’s love and grace toward us. God made us in his image after his likeness as reflections of his glory. For us to fall short of that in any way pains God’s heart because it keeps us from participating fully in his life and love as he intended. He does not want us to experience the consequences of living in opposition to our true humanity, but he does want us to experience the joy that comes with living in harmony with him and one another.
However, if we believe God is constantly examining our every action or motive to see if it measures up to some standard so he can pour out on us some predetermined punishment, I believe we are not seeing God clearly. Perhaps our eyes have been blinded by some past hurt which has never been healed or some wrong which has never been righted. Maybe we feel that no one should be let off the hook until they say the “sinner’s prayer” or a sufficient number of “Hail Mary’s”. Seeing God through the lens of past hurts or injustices rather than through Christ blinds us to the true nature of our loving and forgiving Abba.
How is it we can believe in a just Abba at the same time we believe in a loving and forgiving Abba? Thomas Torrance in his book “Incarnation” describes the nature of this God who is both. He is fully expressed and revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. In Christ, God has entered into the blackness of our brokenness by taking on our humanity whether or not we wanted him to.
We as humans locked the door in fear just like the disciples in the upper room, thinking the issue is with those around us. But the real issue is our fear of God which is rooted in our blindness and rebellion. We hid from God and made him into the evil ogre rather than owning our sin. We needed God to come into the midst of us and to show us his participation in our darkness and death just as Jesus showed his disciples the scars in his hands and side in his resurrected body. What Jesus has done in his very person because he is both God and man is he has brought us into judgment at the same time he has redeemed us. In Jesus we find both God’s truth about our fallenness and the truth about God’s holiness joined together in such a way that darkness is overwhelmed by light and all is forgiven and made new.
In the sending of the Spirit, God enables us to experience the truth of all this, and to see our Abba through Jesus’ eyes. The Spirit helps us see and know that just as Jesus is Abba’s beloved child, so too are we. And the Spirit works to make our Lord Jesus manifest in us–bringing us into the full expression of his perfected humanity living in right relationship with our heavenly Abba, this being the glory we were meant to reflect from the beginning.
The Refining Fire goes to work, bringing us into the truth of our being, cleansing us of all those things which break our fellowship with God and one another. The Breathe of life breathes into us the very life of God forming Christ in us just as Ezekiel’s dry bones put on flesh and then came to life. The Water of Life washes away our old nature sweeping us into the river of God’s love and life, filling us with faith, hope, and love.
But God invites our participation in this process. He values and respects our personhood and our freedom. So he allows us to refuse his love and grace, and to experience the consequences of having done so. He allows us to swim upstream against the current and to resist his efforts to form in us that new life which is ours in Christ. He permits us to live in disobedience, but in due time ensures that we will reap the harvest of what we have sowed as it is necessary for us to be healed, transformed, and renewed. The pain in God’s heart, his wrath against evil and all its consequences, moves him to always and ever work for our redemption and salvation, whatever might be necessary to accomplish this–the sacrifice offered in his Son included.
Seeing as this was Abba’s purpose all along, whatever God may have done or not done in Old Testament times (and all the times since) was meant to help accomplish this. What we might see as God being cruel and unjust we need to see in the perspective of God’s divine purpose and his love and grace expressed toward all humanity in Jesus.
The truth is, even though we may have some serious questions to ask God as to why or for what purpose he did things or allowed them to happen, we may never receive an answer other than that final word given to us in Jesus Christ. As the Incarnate Son, the one who is both the Judge and the Judged, Jesus is the fullest and complete expression of Abba’s heart, and nothing else even comes close to this wonderful, and blessed Word of God.
Thank you, dear Abba, for your great love and grace. Cleanse our eyes and our hearts so we can see you for who you really are. Holy Spirit, enable us to know and believe in the truth of our Abba’s loving and forgiving heart as expressed to us in Jesus. We thank you that you won’t stop until this is true for all of us, as we respond in faith, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And he is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of his power.” Hebrews 1:1-3a NAS
By Linda Rex
Last weekend I was in Grove City, Ohio for a Together in Christ Summit. During my time there we visited the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati where we looked at exhibits which talked about the history of slavery here in America, as well as the reality of slavery today in countries around the world. We took some tests on implicit bias, discovering our own hidden proclivities towards prejudice. And we had some excellent discussions on what we as followers of Jesus Christ can do to open up safe spaces in which both victim and perpetrator may find healing and wholeness.
The call we all felt, I believe, was to participate more fully in Christ’s ministry of reconciliation in the world with regards to these issues. We are called, as God’s redeemed children, to be reconciled to God as he has reconciled himself with us in his Son Jesus Christ in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. We participate in Jesus’ work of reconciliation as we, as forgiven and redeemed children, through repentance and forgiveness are by faith in Christ reconciled with God and one another.
Parts of the exhibits were difficult to look at, due to the awfulness of the way people over the millennia have been treated by their fellow humans. The most painful for me to see were the exhibits on the third floor which were dedicated to modern slavery. One would think that by now human beings would have learned something from all we have experienced as time has passed. But greed is still greed, and economic success and lucrative production based on the suffering of certain people groups still has the power to hold people in its grasp. And whether I like it or not, there are ways in which I participate in this suffering without even realizing it.
As I stepped into the restored building which was once used as a slave pen, I felt the presence of those who had been held against their will, and grieved. It seems that throughout history, people have preyed on other people—the lost and the least victimized, used, and discarded by others who were in reality their brothers and sisters in Christ. What is Abba’s heart about all this?
We can learn something about this in the story of his chosen people, Israel, when God heard their cry in the land of Egypt where they were enslaved. The only reason this group of people was in Egypt was because their forefather Joseph had, by God’s intervention, saved Egypt from certain disaster during a famine (Gen. 41-46). At that point, they were important people in Egypt due to Joseph’s position as the ruler second only to Pharoah himself. But as time passed and circumstances changed, they became enslaved to the Egyptians.
There is a way in which humans begin to view one another which leads to such things happening. In Exodus 1, we read how the Egyptians began to fear the Israelites, so they set harsh taskmasters over them. Ironically, the more they were oppressed, the more the Israelites grew in numbers. In response, the king of Egypt demanded that their sons be killed as they were born, while their daughters could be saved (note the gender inequality). But the midwives and mothers managed to find a way to avoid doing this, because their fear of God was greater than their fear of the king.
But when one group of people subjugates another, the oppression merely grows worse, and this is what happened in the land of Egypt. The government began legislating oppression, moving the enslavement of this people group deeper into the nation’s consciousness. One of the tragedies of slavery in America is how we, a democratic people, voted into place such things as considering a slave to only be 3/5 of a person and fleeing slaves having to be returned to their owners, no matter the state of the circumstance involved. Written into the laws of various states in this nation were statements about the status of people based upon the color of their skin, whether they were born to a white man or a white woman, or if they married someone who was a slave.
This mentality of over/under, of greater than/less than, isn’t unique to America, nor to the people of ancient Egypt. This is a way of thinking and believing which arises out of our broken humanity. We set ourselves against one another, being blinded by fear, greed, and simply the lies we believe about God and each other.
Going back to the story of the Israelites in slavery, we find that God had a purpose for this particular people. They had a unique relationship with God, not because of anything they had done, but because of what their forefather had done when he had trusted in the goodness and mercy of his God, believing the promises made to him that one day he would be the father of many nations (Gen. 17:4). God had made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and these enslaved people were the chosen ones, beloved of Abba, the ones through whom the Savior of the world would come.
What the Pharoah of Egypt and his people did not realize was that they were viewing the Israelites through a false lens. Their paradigm was inaccurate and needed to be changed. They worshipped a variety of gods, none of which had anything to do with the One who created and sustained all things. The ruler of this people, no doubt, was used to being treated as though he were divine, and expected that his word was law, with no other law being superior to his. I imagine that submission was a very foreign concept to this Pharoah and that he saw himself as being above any law or authority other than his own.
When Moses brought the word of God to Pharoah, telling him to let Abba’s people go free, this began a conflict between God and the king which affected the two nations profoundly. At first, Moses’ efforts only resulted in harder bondage and greater suffering. But God told him:
“‘I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name Lord I was not known to them. I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, in which they were strangers. And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. Therefore say to the children of Israel: “I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the Lord.’” (Gen. 6:2-8 NASB)
God’s purpose from the beginning was to bring us all into relationship with himself, to truly know him as we are known by him. He also purposed to redeem all humanity, freeing us from our slavery to sin and to death. This meant his interaction with the nation of Egypt via the Pharoah would involve a revelation of his being as the One God, the Lord, who is the Redeemer of his people. Unfortunately, Pharoah’s resistance to this revelation would mean suffering and death for many of his people, including his very own firstborn son.
God’s judgments on Egypt were not meant to harm, but were meant to free his people and to reveal his power, glory, and goodness. They were based in his covenant love and his compassion for his people who were being oppressed. When God opposed and resisted the stubborn pride and arrogance of Pharoah, there were consequences and many suffered as a result. The plagues which affected the Egyptians were a direct attack upon the false gods they trusted in and were meant to teach them the difference between idols and the true God so they could come to know God for who he really was. The resistance of Pharoah against God provided a venue in which the Lord revealed his covenant love and grace toward the nation of Israel through whom one day the Deliverer would come who would deliver all nations from evil, sin, and death.
The cost of resistance to the purposes and ways of our loving God is often a price we don’t want to pay, but we do it all the time. Slavery in America was insidious and awful. The cost of eradicating it was tremendous and included suffering and death for many people. And the sad thing is, we are still fighting this battle even today. Suffering and death are the result of resisting the love and grace of our good God, and refusing to live in the truth of who we are as those made in his image. We are meant to live in oneness in which we, though unique in our persons and relations, are equals. This is our identity—and when we don’t live in the truth of this in our relationships with one another, there are painful, awful consequences which permeate all of life.
In Christ, God has reconciled each and every person with himself, and is calling each and every one into relationship with himself by the Spirit. He calls us by his precious Spirit to live together in the oneness we were created for and redeemed by Christ to share in. Christ revealed Abba’s heart as he ministered to and embraced the lost and the least of these when he came to share in our humanity. In the sending of his Spirit, he breathes out on each of us the new spirit of unity and oneness we were created for. May we open our hearts and minds and willingly embrace our new humanity, beginning to live and walk in this truth, no matter the cost.
Abba, thank you for offering us forgiveness in your Son Jesus. Grant us repentance of all the ways in which we enslave and subjugate one another, and treat each other as if we were less than or worthless. Grant us the grace to forgive one another and to be reconciled to one another and you even as you have reconciled yourself to us in Christ. In his name we pray. Amen.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.’ So Moses and Aaron did it; as the Lord commanded them, thus they did.” Exodus 7:1-6 NASB