Do Not Be Afraid
by Linda Rex
February 19, 2023, Transfiguration Sunday—What might God do if you were willing to let him take you somewhere you don’t want to go or ask you to do something don’t believe you were able to do? Is it possible that God might do more than you could ever ask or imagine? (See Eph. 3:20.)
Think of how Jesus was thrust into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. In the midst of that dramatic confrontation, Jesus was pushed beyond human limits. But in the end, he stayed true to his heavenly Father in the Spirit, and all of us as those who share his flesh. And he experienced an amazing victory—a victory we all participate in today by the Spirit. (See Matt. 4:1-11.)
I don’t know about you, but I tend to choose things that I’m certain I can do or can at least figure out and do. When I’m asked to do more than I am capable of doing, the “fear of failure” monster creeps in and removes any confidence I may have that I can accomplish what God is asking of me. The problem with this way of living is that there is minimal room for the Spirit to work great things in and through me, and life ends up often being about me walking in the flesh rather than in the Spirit. And it also means that I am walking by sight rather than by faith.
What about that “fear of failure” monster? I’m caught by the lyrics of the song by Zach Williams which came out a while back called “Fear is a Liar.” Here’s a part of the refrain:
Fear, he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
‘Cause fear he is a liar“Fear is a Liar” by Zach Williams
How often do we refuse to follow Jesus simply because we’re afraid—afraid of failure, afraid of looking different, afraid of what people might think, and so on? We may even discover that we are afraid of God—of what he might do or not do, and believe that our heavenly Father doesn’t really love us (though Jesus seems to). How often do we let fear get in the way of seeing things as they really are?
Today is Transfiguration Sunday on the Christian calendar. Our reading in the gospel, Matt. 17:1–9, reminds us of and moves us to reflect on when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on the mountain, and was transfigured before them. In that moment, Jesus’ external form began to reflect the true essence of who he was on the inside—God in human flesh. As eyewitnesses of this fantastic event, these men could not forget the powerful experience of seeing Jesus in this way, and remember the fear and awe which overwhelmed them and drove them face down to the ground in response.
Jesus was not appalled by, nor was he put off by their response. No, he tenderly touched them and told them not to be afraid. He had specifically chosen them to be eyewitnesses of his glory in this moment. It was never his intention to frighten them or to overwhelm them. Rather, he believed this experience was an essential part of their spiritual development and preparation for what they each were going to face in the years ahead when he was no longer present on earth in his human flesh.
Peter was deeply touched by the words of our heavenly Father, who spoke of the belovedness of his Son. Not only was Jesus beloved of his Father, but his Father was well-pleased with him. In that great pleasure of our Father in his Son, we find ourselves swept up, for Jesus was bearing in that moment our human flesh in his person. How is it that our heavenly Father could be well-pleased with his Son, when his Son was bearing our human flesh?
I believe this says something about who we are as those who are meant to reflect the image of God in our persons. We have a divine dignity given to us by God, which was marred by our turning away from God to ourselves and this world. Blinded by the lies we believe about God and ourselves, we struggle to see the truth that God loves us, is committed to our best interests, and desires to live in face-to-face relationship with us now and forever.
It is Christ, coming and taking on our human flesh, to live our life, die our death, and rise again, who brings us into the midst of the fellowship of Father and Son in the Spirit. We can take comfort in the reality that God isn’t opposed to us, but is opposed to evil, sin, and death, and has taken and will take every step needed to once and for all eradicate them from us and from our world. He will not stop until he had finished what he has begun in us—this is our comfort and peace.
What about our fears, especially our “fear of failure?” God’s perfect love expressed to us in Jesus Christ reminds us we have nothing to fear. Jesus, who is God in human flesh, has personally come to us and has touched us, telling us, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus has done, and will do all that is needed in this moment and in the next, as we turn to him in faith and trust him, allowing his Spirit free reign in our hearts and lives. May we trust in God’s perfect love and allow him to do what only he can do—save and redeem us, through Jesus our Lord and by his heavenly Spirit.
Dear Father, thank you for your faithfulness and love, expressed to us in the gift of your Son and your Spirit. Grant us the grace to turn to you in faith, to trust in your love and grace. May your perfect love cast our all our fear, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased’—and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” 2 Peter 1:16–21 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2023/02/olitdo-not-be-afraid-edited.pdf ]
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No Reason to Fear
by Linda Rex
November 20, 2022, CHRIST THE KING or REIGN OF CHRIST—It’s hard to believe that we have reached the end of another cycle on the Christian calendar! Next Sunday, November 27, we will celebrate the first day of Advent, the beginning of Year A in the Revised Common Lectionary.
As I was reading the gospel passage for this Sunday, Luke 23:33–43, it occurred to me that Jesus was never more truly himself as Lord of all and as truly human as all of us as when he hung on the cross, dying at our hands, humbly submissive to his Father’s will. Even in that moment, when he could have simply climbed down from the cross and walked away, he was held by the nails of his love for the Father and the Spirit, and his love for all of us.
Often, it seems, when people think of Jesus Christ returning in glory, they picture him riding in triumphantly on his white horse, annihilating all the people who are standing in opposition to him in that moment. The apocalyptic language of the prophetic Word plants this idea in our minds and hearts, and our earnest longing and desire for God to make everything right fuels our belief that this is the way Jesus, as king of kings and lord of lords, will return in glory.
Looking at the readings for this Sunday, I found a theme—God does not want us to be afraid. He promised long ago that he would “raise up … a righteous Branch” who would reign as king, acting wisely, justly, and righteously—“the Lord our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:1-6 NASB). He said, because of this Lord there would be no need for fear or of being afraid.
Another reading for this Sunday, Luke 1:68–79, talks about how God would free us from our enemies, so we could serve God without fear. God never meant us to dread his coming or to be afraid of him or anyone else. Fear is not what should be uppermost in our hearts when we think of God, or of Jesus returning in glory. The psalmist says that: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;…” (Psalm 46:1-2 NASB).
What if Jesus’ response to all that is standing opposed to him when he returns in glory looks a lot less like the dropping of a nuclear bomb and looks a lot more like what he did on the cross? In the midst of mockery, ridicule, and humiliation, Jesus quietly asked for his Father’s forgiveness of his opponents, tended to the care of his grieving mother, and offered grace and reconciliation to a criminal. Could it be that Jesus’ triumphant entry will be more of a calling of all people everywhere to wake up to the truth of who they really are—who Jesus made them to be when he took on our human flesh and brought it through death into resurrection, into his eternal relationship with the Father in the Spirit?
This is the crisis of judgment—to see things as they really are, and to be given a choice as to what we are going to do in that moment. For some, there will be a refusal to live in that truth. For others, there will be joy and gratitude, and embracing of all God has made us to be as his adopted children in Christ by the Spirit. On the one side, a sickening realization that everything one has built his or her life on is now gone, for the other a celebration of all that they had hoped for in Christ finally becoming a reality.
What crisis might you be facing in your life today? The older I get, the more I realize how often I have pushed off to the future any crisis of judgment I probably ought to be facing right now, today. For example, even though I may know that having that lovely piece of cake right now probably won’t harm me, in the long run it might, if I continue to eat as though large amounts of sugar won’t affect me. Putting off the inevitable isn’t going to make it go away. Truth is, I can have a little here and there, but I must not continue to eat large numbers of very sweet things unless I want the consequences of a serious illness.
I realize this is just a dietary concern, but I’m using it as an example to help us think in terms of the other things we face day by day: our little habit of “being nice” instead of telling the truth in love; our “adjusting” the numbers to get the best return possible; our private addiction which we believe no one knows about (“so it won’t hurt anyone”)…. Do you see how easy it is for us to put off God’s judgment about things?
One day we’re going to have to wake up to the reality that some things just aren’t a part of who we are as God’s beloved children. Some of the things we think, say, and do are in opposition to the truth of who God created us to be. These things were never meant to be a part of our way of being as those who love God with all our being and who love one another as ourselves. One day, when Jesus returns in glory and ushers in the new heavens and new earth, all of that which is not truly us will need to once and for all come to an end. Then there will be no other way to live but that way which is our true self in Christ by the Spirit,
Jesus hung voluntarily on the cross facing our crisis in our place on our behalf. He stayed there, in spite of the legions of angels who longed to deliver him from his suffering. He allowed himself to undergo our worst so we could receive his best, handling himself with such kingly dignity in such a humiliating circumstance. We have no need to dread Jesus’ return in glory—unless, of course, we refuse to wake up to the reality of who Jesus is as king of all. Perhaps we ought to consider facing our crisis today, embracing his loving judgment right now, instead of putting it off until then. Is there something you would like to say to Jesus right now, today, about who you really are?
Heavenly Father, thank you for moving us by your Son from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. Lord Jesus, you are our King, now and forever. You are the One who made all things and sustains all things, and who brought all things with you through death into resurrection, reconciling all things through your self-offering. Today we open ourselves up to your judgment, that you may remove all that is not of you and that you may make us truly as you always meant us to be. Thank you, Father, for removing, by your Spirit, our fear and giving us faith, through Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
“… strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” Colossians 1:11–20 NASB
“When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.’ The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, ‘If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!’ Now there was also an inscription above Him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, ‘Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!’ But the other answered, and rebuking him said, ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’ And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’ ” Luke 23:33–43 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/11/olitno-reason-to-fear.pdf ]
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The Counterfeit Wheat
By Linda Rex
July 19, 2020, PROPER 11—If we were to take a hike up a mountain in the Colorado Rockies, we may, as we arrive breathless at the summit, see an amazing view below us. We may be awed by the grandeur of such a sight and find it to be quite inspiring and invigorating.
But if we were honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that in the midst of all that glory were signs of this world’s fragility and brokenness. There seems to be no place on earth where everything is exactly perfect, unblemished and unmarred. The apostle Paul speaks of how even the creation anxiously awaits the coming of the glorification of God’s adopted children and the coming of the new heavens and new earth.
What we tend to forget sometimes is that this world only gives us glimpses of glory. What we were created for, the glory which was meant to be revealed in us, was to be the adopted children of God, living forever in the oneness and love of the Father, Son, and Spirit. We were created to be image-bearers of our Abba, to reflect God’s very nature in our being. And this is why God determined before time began that he would join himself with us in the person of Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, there is a deep, dark place in all of us where we believe that God does not love us nor does he care one whit as to how we are suffering or as to whether we live or die. This lie we believe about ourselves is the infection of sin which we humans contracted in the Garden of Eden. We allow it to poison our view of God and ourselves, as well as other people. This lie becomes the lens through which we view all of life, and guides our decisions and choices.
As we live out of this lie, we find the result is death. We may decide we need to be a good person, to follow our conscience, but don’t realize that even our human efforts to make ourselves good, good enough to be loved and accepted by God, don’t work. If anything, our efforts to clean up evil and to make things good often result only in more pain, suffering, and death.
Jesus often encountered this while interacting with his countrymen who were the leaders of the nation, the rabbis, scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. The intent of the leaders over the centuries had been to get the people to be good, to keep the law meticulously, that they might be acceptable to God and be blessed by him. Unfortunately, their efforts merely created burdens that could not be borne by the people and caused much suffering. Their efforts to be free from their Roman overlords often ended up in the suffering and death of many Jews. It seemed that they could not accomplish the eradication of evil and the establishment of the kingdom of God by any of their human efforts. They were powerless over evil, sin, and death.
Jesus told a parable which described a sower who sowed good seed. As the sower went and rested, which all farmers do at night, an enemy came in and sowed bad seed among the good seed. The servants, when realizing what had been done, wanted to rush out into the field and get rid of all the bad seed. But the sower told them to forbear, to allow the plants to grow together until the time of the harvest, so that the good seed would not be harmed by their efforts to remove the evil seed.
In this parable, the sower turns out to be Jesus himself and the enemy, the evil one—the devil. The good seed was sowed in the field, the world, but then in the midst of this good creation, this sowing of good seed, was sowed evil and sin which results in death. The good or bad seed, in this parable, is what grows from what was planted, either the sons of the kingdom or the sons of the evil one. The Greek word used to tell the servants to forbear, resonates with the word to forgive, to permit it to be so for the time being—a gracious act by the sower of the seed.
The tare or darnel was a weed which when it first began to grow, looked just like wheat. It could easily be mistaken for wheat, and it would grow close enough that if you pulled it out, you would pull out the wheat with it. It isn’t until both plants were ready to be harvested that it could be clearly seen which plant was which. Then the wheat could be harvested and the darnel cut down and bundled to be used for fire.
This is a good illustration for us as human beings. We may all look the same on the outside, but what is going on inside is what really matters. We cannot and must not judge others as to whether they are the bad seed or good seed—that is yet to be determined. Eschatologically—when the end comes—this will be determined by the One who knows everyone down to the bottom of their heart. In the meantime, God’s call to his angels is to forbear, to allow, to permit—to offer you and me grace.
The apostle Paul reminds us that we no longer focus on the flesh, because we are now new creations in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:16-17). Our true life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). We may look sometimes like a son of the evil one, but in reality, in Christ, we are sons of the kingdom. This is why we need to be careful not to assume we know who is the true wheat and who is the counterfeit. Jesus is now the true measure of any human being.
The counterfeit wheat looks good, but its grain can be toxic. In the same way, the sons of the evil one may look just like the sons of the kingdom. They may even do and say all the things that we assume godly people would say and do. But on the inside, they are actually a churning mass of darkness—they have never given up the lie that God doesn’t love them, that they have to earn his love and salvation, that they are going to go about life in their own way under their own power. They have struggles, pain, and sin that has never seen the light of day. For them, being good has replaced being in relationship—they do not realize that eternal life isn’t something to be earned or bought or worked at. Eternal life, Jesus said, is a gift—it is to know him and to know the Father who sent him—an intimate knowing and being known which is only possible by grace.
When the time for harvest arrives, it then becomes obvious what is counterfeit wheat and what is true wheat. It was Jesus who said that some would stand at the door and knock and they would be turned away because he did not “know” them (Matt. 25:11-12). All of our human efforts will not buy us entry into the kingdom of heaven—only grace will. It is those who know their need for God to rescue them who will be saved.
The others never did believe God was love and that he loved and included them—they turned away from their only hope for salvation, which was in Jesus Christ. They trusted in themselves, in their own method of self-preservation. And so, in the end, they find themselves face to face with Jesus, the One who is both Judge and Advocate and who defeated evil, sin, and death. As the God who is “a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29), he will determine their ultimate destination.
We might want to pause for a moment to consider this: What is going on deep down inside of us? Does the Spirit bear witness with our spirit that we are God’s beloved children? Do we know that when the voice of condemnation and accusation speaks, that it is a lie, that now there is no condemnation for us, we are forgiven in Jesus? Are we trusting in Christ or in our own ability to get it right? Whatever our answer, we have no reason to fear, because God is gracious and forbearing—we turn to Jesus in faith. As sons of the kingdom, we have joyous hope in Christ!
Dear God, thank you for your faithful love and gift of grace. Grant us the humility and faith to open ourselves up fully to you, to release ourselves from the hamster wheel of human works and self-salvation. Awaken us to reality of the indwelling Christ by the Spirit, to our inclusion in your love and life. In your Name we pray. Amen.
“Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?” And he said to them, “An enemy has done this!” The slaves said to him, “Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?” But he said, “No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’”’” Matthew 13:24–30 NASB
Also read Romans 8:12–25.
Follow Him Free From Fear
By Linda Rex
June 21, 2020, PROPER 7—Lately it seems that much of our media is focused on finding things for us to be afraid of. Social media has been especially bad, with a proliferation of information, false and true, regarding possible apocalyptic outcomes of the pandemic, politics, and natural occurrences.
It is unfortunate that we as human beings are enchanted by the spectacular, the exciting and the fascinating. This is what sells and so this is what is focused on by our media. What is everyday and ordinary, however marvelous and beautiful, is often pushed aside by that which is sensational or dramatic. The overwhelming value of a human life becomes small change in exchange for the appeal to our human senses.
What Jesus asks us to do when we encounter him is to follow. To follow Jesus seems like a simple process—just go do what you think Jesus would do. But there is more to it than that—Jesus comes to dwell in human hearts by the Holy Spirit. The human body is the temple of God the Spirit, and the Lord the Spirit often asks us to do things much differently than how we think Jesus would do them.
For example, we may believe that if we are going to follow Jesus, we have to make sure everyone in our church is a good person (and we define that). When a man who is smelly and disheveled enters our church doors, we may ask him to leave and find a different place to meet. Surely we must keep the sanctuary pure for the Lord, right? Wrong.
This is far from how Jesus works. As we trust in Christ and the Holy Spirit comes to dwell, to rest and abide within our hearts, God enters into a place which is like a rundown shack on an isolated mountainside with trash all over inside and out. What was designed in the beginning to be a showpiece had become a dump, but in Christ we become a dwelling of the Holy Spirit.
As Christ by the Spirit goes to work, transforming our hearts by faith, the old rundown shack begins to change. We discover as time goes by that we never were the rundown shack in God’s mind—he always knew the truth about us. He always knew the tremendous potential of what he created when he made us.
But the coming of the Spirit to dwell within isn’t all God is doing. When we encounter Jesus and place our faith in him, he tells us to follow him. Following Jesus means leaving behind all that was and moving toward all that God has in mind for us. Jesus becomes the defining factor in our lives, not our own decisions and preferences. As Jesus laid down his life, we learn to lay down our own for others, trusting him to make things right when they don’t seem to be working out the way we expect.
Jesus pointed out to his disciples, as they were asked to follow him, that when we start on this road of obedience, that not everyone in our lives will agree with us or honor our efforts to follow the Lord. In fact, those we are closest to may become, in essence, our enemies—turning against us and rejecting us. We must not think this is solely due to us—it is often their own wrestling with the claims of Christ that brings about this crisis, this anxious desire to resist any semblance of godliness, truth, or righteousness. Because they reject Jesus Christ, they reject his followers, no matter who they are.
But Jesus says to us, three times in fact in this passage: Do not fear. Don’t fear what anyone might say or do. Just follow me, he says. In spite of the risk, the danger, the opposition—follow me.
The reason we don’t need to fear is because of who we are. We are God’s beloved in Christ the Beloved One. When Abba looks at us, he sees the ones who are his very own—the ones whom he cares deeply for and watches over and protects. If God cares about whether or not a little bird falls to the grown and dies, how much more does he care about his very own adopted children?
Even if we are brought to the place where our very life is threatened, we have no reason to fear. Because in Christ, we have hope beyond this life. No one can take us from the Father’s hand, as he holds us near his heart. This should give us great boldness in the midst of all our struggles, persecutions, and difficulties.
But Jesus does say, follow me. He does ask us to give up all we value in this life, trusting that he has our real life in his hands—a life so much more wonderful than this one. There is a showplace with a glorious view he is working on, but we need to be willing to give up our rundown shack and let him do the work he needs to do to renovate it. If we hang on to our rundown shack and resist the Spirit’s work, refusing to participate in what God is doing in our lives, we may find ourselves standing in the midst of a pile of rubble rather than in a comfortable home for our soul.
There is only one thing that we should ever fear and that is that we might miss out on the love and grace of our Lord because we refuse to follow him. Instead, let’s allow God’s perfect love to cast out all our fear and let us follow Jesus wherever he may lead us. Let us surrender to the inner workings of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus as he does reconstruction surgery in our hearts. And as we do so, we will find our real life, a life both now and for all eternity, held in the midst of the love and life of our Father, his Son and Spirit.
Dear God, thank you for making us your very own, for watching over us and loving us so completely. Turn our hearts and minds toward you, and enable us to know that you do indeed hold us in the palm of your hand. Enable us to respond to the work you are wanting to do in our hearts and lives. Jesus, give us the courage to follow you wherever you may lead us, no matter how difficult and dangerous it may be. In your name we pray. Amen.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household! Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. … And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 10:24-31, 38-39 NASB
Lamenting the Very Good
By Linda Rex
June 7, 2020, HOLY TRINITY—Lately it seems as though this has been a long, drawn-out season of lament. There have been repeated reasons to feel and express sorrow, to regret, to mourn over the loss of lives to mass shootings, natural disasters, and the most recent pandemic.
The exact figures of the lives lost just to COVID-19 are unknown, but according to the World Health Organization website on May 28th, there were 357,736 deaths reported worldwide. Where were these 357,736 people last year at this time? What were their lives like? How many lives did each one touch? What about their families and friends, work colleagues, and teachers? If we do not make the effort to lament, to grieve the loss of each of these people, then we lose our ability to value the worth of each human being we meet.
Our cellphones and other devices make it possible now to interact with a large number of people immediately, creating a response by what we post on social media or on websites. We can affect thousands and even millions of people simply by what we say or do, what pictures we take, and what movies we create. In the midst of this freedom of expression, we find ourselves exposed not just to the best of humanity, but also to the dredges.
Most recently a wave of protest erupted over a film posted which showed the unlawful use of power and authority by police against someone of color. The violent response of many to this event echoes the reality that here in the U.S. we still have not learned the true value of a human being. The fact that we still create artificial divisions between us using race, ethnicity, gender, income, intelligence—the list goes on—shows we still do not know our story and our identity as humans.
It is important that we lament our failure to love our fellowman. We fail so often to love our fellowman simply by refusing to give him or her the status of fellowman. By refusing to treat every other human being as an equal, we actually diminish our own dignity as human beings. We make ourselves less than what we were created to be—image-bearers of God himself, the One who did not think it beneath himself to come to earth and take on our human flesh, becoming what we are to bring us into union and communion with himself.
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed even more of our inhumanity, simply by putting leaders and caregivers in the position of having to decide who gets treatment and who does not, who is protected and who is not. It seems that, in reality, the decision being made is, who is expendable? Is it true that someone who has lived a long good life does not have the same value as someone who is just starting out? How is it than we can place a value on a human being based simply on their age or productivity?
Do you see the issues here? We are forced into a corner where we must make these impossible decisions, but at some point we have got to admit that we have made someone less than human in the process of trying to decide who lives and who dies. As human beings, we really have no excuse, for God has been trying to tell us for millennia that we are made by God’s love, to love him and one another. We must pause and lament our failure to love God and one another—we have failed to be the image-bearers of the Triune God we were meant to be.
In my book, Making Room, I talk about how we as human beings find our identity in the God who is Father, Son, and Spirit. This God was revealed by Jesus Christ to be three Persons in one Being—each unique yet equal to the others while united in unbreakable communion. This communion in which they exist, this perichoretic love, is the overflowing abundant source of our existence as human beings. We are made to be image-bearers of this God.
This is the same God who, after creating the cosmos, the earth and everything in it, pronounced it all very good. Even though he knew that we had the capacity to turn away from his love and attempt to live apart from his abiding presence, he still pronounced us very good. He still sought conversation and fellowship with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. And even when they chose the knowledge of good and evil over real life in intimate relation with him, he covered it all with his love and grace as he covered them with animal skins.
In coming into our human flesh, the Word of God did not isolate himself from those who were less than him or who were powerless, but rather joined himself to them and gave them his presence and power. In Christ we have God restoring us to the very good which was ours in the very beginning. This above all things should teach us that to offer ourselves to those whom society deems less than or weaker than, giving them our strength, resources, and support, is to more accurately bear the image of the God who made us.
God is teaching me that one of the biggest obstacles that stands in the way of our offering ourselves to one another in this way is fear. Fear occurs when we do not know one another well—when we make assumptions based on past experience, hearsay, gossip, or someone else’s opinion and do not make the effort to get to know the person ourselves on a one-to-one basis. Our Scriptures say it is perfect love which casts out fear—that he who fears is not made perfect in love.
If God, in and through Christ and by the Spirit, can love each and every person on this earth enough to join us in our humanity, live the life we were meant to live, to die our death and rise again, and then come in the person of the Spirit to enable us to participate in the heavenly Triune fellowship, then I would say God has given us everything we need to begin to live in loving relationship with one another. The apostle Paul calls to us, “Strive for full restoration…be of one mind, live in peace.” We do this as the God of love and peace is in us and with us by the Spirit.
Let us lament our failures to love our brothers and sisters. Let’s turn away from ourselves and our stubborn willful independence and turn towards the One who offers us his grace and love, Jesus Christ. Receive from him the gift of life in union and communion with the God who made and sustains all things.
It is in this life with our Triune God, with Jesus as our Mediator between God and man, that we find the capacity and power to love and understand those whom we normally reject and fear. It is Christ in us by the Spirit who binds us together in oneness, enabling us to be likeminded and to live in peace with one another.
It is Jesus living his life in us who works to restore the image of God in each of us, bringing us to completeness, enabling us as human beings to properly reflect the image of the God who is three Persons in one Being. It is in the name of this Triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit—we are baptized, and it is at his table we take communion, gratefully receiving all he has done for us in Jesus. We live our lives from then on, showing those around us what it looks like to live in loving fellowship with God and our fellowman as image-bearers of the Trinity.
Abba, thank you for loving us in spite of our inability and unwillingness to live in loving relationship with one another. We are so dependent upon your grace and forgiveness for our prejudices, our hatred, our fear, our murder and abuse of those who you have given us as brothers and sisters. Lord, if you do not lift us up, renew and restore us, we have no hope—we trust in the finished work of Christ. Let your kingdom come, your will, Abba, be done here on earth, in every city, state, and nation, as it is in heaven, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” 2 Corinthians 13:11 NIV
“God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. … By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” Genesis 1:31a; 2:2 NASB
“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’” Matthew 28:18–20 NASB
Reason to Believe
By Linda Rex
May 10, 2020, 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER—One of the many difficulties people express their concern about during this time of pandemic is the inability to know who to believe. So much information comes our way nowadays and through so many sources which seem legitimate, that it is difficult to wade our way through them all to ascertain who we should believe and who we should ignore.
Often, I hear from people who have become incensed because of something they read, heard, or saw on social media or in the news. Not everyone considers the source of such news, nor do they remember that often what drives news isn’t the effort to clearly present the facts, but rather to provide readers sensational stories that will grab their attention and move them to pay. There are others who espouse and emphatically proclaim a political or religious position that polarizes people and moves them to respond in the way they desire, even though there is hard evidence to the contrary. Having to be aware of all of this, to not be seduced by false news, is a stressful challenge for everyone.
So, how do we weather all this? How do we find out what is really going on? What if we never get to the bottom of it all and so find ourselves at the mercy of whatever may be happening at the moment? How do we deal with so many unknowns in our lives?
Undergirding so much of our response to what we hear or see is often anxiety, concern, and fear, because most of us are not deeply grounded in a sense that we are loved and are held safely in that love. We tend to gravitate to fear or anger as our natural response to the world around us—this is the self-protect mechanism we rely on to keep us safe in a dangerous world. Any one of us may be influenced by what we see, hear, or read, and find ourselves responding with concern, anxiety, fear, or anger.
This has historically also been our human response to any encounter with the divine. And people today often associate discussion about Jesus with being religious, but do not approach the person of Jesus as though he is anything more than a historical person, a prophet who claimed to be God and who did many great works. We celebrate Christmas for the traditions and the joy, but often not understanding the importance of the baby in the manger.
In many ways we find ourselves blind to the spiritual realities. Are there spiritual realities? If you have not encountered the divine for yourself, you will believe that there are not. But when and if you meet for yourself the Lord Jesus Christ who is very much still alive, you will be unable to escape the reality that the divine and this human existence have intersected and forever are linked in his person.
When faced with his human death, Jesus was concerned for his disciples. He didn’t want them to be fearful or anxious. “Do not let your heart be troubled,” he said. But then he provided the solution to that fear: “…believe in God, believe also in Me.” What we believe about the divine impacts our response to the fear and anxiety we experience in this world. When we are faced with death, with danger, with conflicting stories about what’s really going on, or with differing positions on critical matters, we need to be grounded deeply—and that grounding needs to be in something solid and immoveable.
But all the conflicting stories and transient positions, false and true news meshed together into a collage that is sometimes impossible to decipher, causes us to doubt even the spiritual realities. We need something to believe in—something worth believing in—to hold us fast in the middle of all this. We may simply reject the spiritual realities just because they are not tangible to us—but in doing this, we may miss out on what we need to provide us grounding in the midst of all we are experiencing in the world today.
Jesus comes to us and says to us—believe in God, believe also in me. Why? Because he has something to offer us that no one else can offer us—he is the One who made all things and who joined himself to his creatures, uniting his divine life with our human existence in such a way that we are grounded forever in the Being who is the Creator and Sustainer of all.
When Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” he isn’t trying to create conflict between nation groups or to demean any other culture or ethnicity. His purpose is to say that our humanness is intricately bound up with God’s glory because of who Jesus is as God in human flesh. He is the way we interact with God because we now share in his intimate relationship with his heavenly Father in the Spirit—we are centered forever in sacrificial, outflowing love.
This provides a solid base for us to stand on when we are surrounded by and harassed by lies, deceit, confusion, anxiety, and fear. We are everlastingly held in the intimate relation Jesus has with his Father in the Spirit—and so we can know that whatever may happen, we are held. In fearful times, we have no reason to fear, because we are loved and we are held in that love. Not even death will ultimately separate us from God or those we love.
All Jesus asks us for is a response of faith—to believe. Believe what you cannot see, touch, feel, taste or hear. Believe that there is Someone at work behind all this who has your best interests at heart and who is at work in this world bringing about healing, renewal, restoration, and redemption. His purpose isn’t to make us all feel good all the time, but to enable us to participate fully in the oneness and unity of the divine life and love, sharing in it with God and with one another both now and forever.
When we come to see and believe that Jesus is the center of our existence, the life which undergirds us and sustains us, and that we have a Father who holds us safely in the midst of even suffering, evil, and death, we may begin to face life more courageously and at peace. Even though things around us are unsettling or unsure, we may begin to recognize the Spirit’s voice speaking in our hearts, giving us guidance, direction, and a sense of what is true and what is not true. We may begin to have an assurance, by the Spirit, that we are going to be okay, that no matter what happens—good or bad—and no matter whether we figure it all out or not, we will be okay.
We may, the next time we feel fear, anger, anxiety or distress rising in our soul, stop for a moment and reflect on what we believe about God and Jesus his Son. Who are we putting our faith in? Is our faith grounded in what is eternal, loving, and good? Pause and invite Jesus to help you to believe in Abba and in him, no matter what your senses or reason may be telling you at the moment. Ask him to give you the heart and will to trust him. Deeply feel and embrace the peace and sense of the divine presence the Spirit pours into you in response.
Thank you, Father, that we can rest in your fatherly love which holds us safely in the midst of this rapidly changing, confusing world. Thank you, Jesus, for joining us in our broken humanity that we might find healing, wholeness, and renewal in you. Thank you, Spirit of truth, for being the source of all our peace, comfort, and hope, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“‘Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.’ … Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.’ … ‘Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.’” John 14, 1, 6-7, 11 NASB
When Love Casts Out Fear
By Linda Rex
April 12, 2020, RESURRECTION OF THE LORD, EASTER—During this pandemic season, the one common note I have heard in the news and on social media is that of fear. The fears we have are multiple and include concerns about politics, health, and economic security. We cannot watch or listen to much in the outside world without being confronted with real concern about many things.
As we enter into the end of the season of preparation for Easter, we are confronted with a reality in which, when we embrace it and believe it, is meant to free us once and for all from fear. Our anxiety about so many things is founded in a belief that we are unloved, left alone in this universe, and that the solution to our problems is all up to us. We may even believe in God, but often, we don’t act like it—instead, we act as if he were dead, laying in the grave we have created for him in our fear, unbelief, and rebellion.
What makes us do this? We were created as image-bearers of God, and so it should be so natural for us to reflect that image. Often, we do reflect the image of our God who is love and don’t even realize it. I see this in the parents who care for an autistic child, an adult child caring for both her family and her disabled parents, a person leaving their work to care for their parent with Alzheimer’s—so many examples exist when we begin to look around us. Where is the source of such humble, self-sacrificing love? It can have no source other than in the heart of God.
Fear often arises out of our inability to connect with others, to find a common ground where two people can be of like mind and interests. Our fears about other people often come to the fore when we don’t understand or accept the ways in which we differ or have opposing viewpoints or preferences. Fear is also created when one person or group imposes its will upon another without an appropriate acknowledgement of their God-given personhood and dignity. Fear is a useful tool to those who want to enslave, control, and manipulate others.
We were never meant to fear God in this way, nor were we meant to live in fear of one another. This is not what we were created for. We were created for connection, for unity, for oneness. We were created to be in relationship with God and man that is filled with joy, peace, and respect. A mutual indwelling, a deep sharing of heart and mind borne out of God’s very nature, is what we were created for. Anything less than this is the stomping ground of fear.
So often we project onto God all of our fear, making him out to be a condemning, cruel master rather than the loving, forgiving Father he is. We believe his sole purpose of existence is to find fault with us and execute punishment which we are so sure we deserve. We know we fall short of all we were meant to be, so we deserve to be punished. This is where fear comes in and causes us to be alienated in our minds from the God who is our Abba, our loving Father.
And this is why the Word of God to us was and is the God/man Jesus Christ. We needed to be freed once and for all from our fear—our terror of God and our fear of death. It is significant on resurrection morning that the ladies who came to the tomb were, in Matthew’s account, told by the angels and by Jesus, “Don’t be afraid.” If there is one thing they needed to know beyond all else in that moment, it was that there was nothing left to fear. The ultimate expression of the love of God had once and for all cast out our fear.
What is needed is for us to wrestle with what it means to live life without fear. How is our human existence different now that Jesus is risen from the dead? What does this mean for us as we face the difficulties of life, the pandemic, our job loss, or our business failure? How do we continue to face all these things with patient courage and grace?
If we are not in tune with the spiritual realities, we can resemble the Roman guards who, at the presence of the angels, were so overcome with fear they became like dead men. They had been diligently doing their best to prevent the disciples from stealing the body of Jesus away. But they hadn’t planned on an encounter with angels, nor with the resurrection power of God himself. The insignificance of their careful grave-watching became evident in the presence of the risen Lord. Nothing could keep the stone against the tomb once God decided it needed to be moved so people could see inside and know Jesus was risen.
The angels gave the women instructions—no doubt from the mouth of Jesus himself: Don’t be afraid; come and see—Jesus is risen; go tell the others; meet Jesus in Galilee. The practicality of the instructions left no place for fear or anxiety—they had things to do! Caught between the two emotions of fear and joy, the women headed back to the city. Wait till the others heard! And then they encountered the risen Lord. Can you imagine how overwhelmed they were with the reality of what they were experiencing? They were overcome with a desire to worship him—our best response to encountering Christ.
What Jesus said to them echoed the words of the angels—don’t be afraid, go tell the others, meet me in Galilee. There was in his words a renewal of the connection he had with them, a commitment to their relationship, and hope for more time together in fellowship with one another. All of these expressions of his continuing love for them removed their fear. They could trust that he was still the Jesus they knew before the crucifixion—he was still their friend and brother—only now he was the risen Lord.
The apostle Paul reminds us to keep our mind, not on what’s going on in the world around us or on everything people are doing wrong, or on the bad things which are happening, but on the things above, where Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of God in glory. We’re not to have our hearts set on what’s in this transient human society and culture, but on the eternal realities where Jesus is the risen Lord, holding in himself our real life, our true existence. Our zōē life is not in this transient, dying world, but in Christ, held in heaven for us, to one day be revealed in the new heavens and new earth.
This is how we can live each day without fear. Death is not the end, but the passage into our eternal connection with all those who are in Christ. Suffering in this life is not something to fear, but to embrace as participation in Christ’s suffering or resisted as participation in Christ’s efforts to make all things new. Every part of our existence is swept up in Christ where we participate with him in his life, sharing in his love for all humanity as the One who plumbed the depths and brought us up into the divine life and love. We are called to faith, to believe in the reality of what Christ has done in living our life, dying our death, and rising again, bringing us into the presence of Abba.
Fear is a tough taskmaster, and we easily fall prey to it. This time of year, as we celebrate the resurrection, we are reminded of the abundance of God’s love and grace, of the forgiveness which is ours in Jesus Christ. In the sending of the Spirit, God makes possible for us to share in Jesus’ resurrection life. Trusting in Jesus, in his death and resurrection, we are awakened to new life—a life freed from the fear of death and all that comes with it.
Our resurrected Lord comes to you and to me again and again in the presence and power of his Spirit to say, “Don’t be afraid. Tell others the good news. Find your home in and with me.” Live life with a focus on the risen Christ and be busy about his business. There will be no room for fear because there is nothing left in this cosmos which can ever separate us from his love, not even the grave.
Thank you, Abba, for being a God we do not need to fear but can rest in, trusting in your never-ending love. Thank you for your faithfulness, for raising up not only Jesus, but in him our humanity, enabling us to participate in his risen life in and through your Holy Spirit. Grant us the faith to believe, to trust in all that Christ is and has done, that we may share in your divine life and love both now and forever, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” Colossians 3:1–4 NASB
See also Matthew 28:1–10.
Finding Gladness and Joy
By Linda Rex
December 15, 2019, 3rd Sunday of Advent—In spite of the overflow of Christmas decorations, holiday events and carols on the radio, I find an undercurrent of sadness and despair rearing its head here and there. There are memories of the past which bring sorrow and pleasure and there’s news of the present, both personal and community, which bring pain, anger, and compassion. How do I reconcile this season of Advent with the real struggles of the human heart and mind?
Whether we like it or not, we need to be able to come to terms with the contradiction or conflict between what we want to believe is true or do believe is true and what we experience in our day to day lives. There are times when we can’t help but ask, “What kind of God would …. ?”—and insert those questions which immediately come to our mind. They are all summed up in this—what kind of God would leave us in our hell and not come to deliver us?
We’re not the only ones who wrestle with the disconnect between reality and belief. Imagine believing that God has given you the responsibility and inspiration to prepare the way for the coming Messiah, so you go out and courageously begin to tell everyone to repent and believe, and the next thing you know you are rotting away in prison waiting for the day you will quite literally lose your head. And the Messiah who you were preparing the way for is doing nothing to deliver you. He’s your first cousin, after all, shouldn’t he be doing something about it? If he was really the Messiah, wouldn’t he intervene in a dramatic way to save the day?
Whether we like it or not, God seems to be a God of contradictions, of two seemingly polar opposites held together in the tension of love and grace we find in Jesus Christ. Here he is, a fulfillment of all the hopes and dreams of his people, of the promises for deliverance, renewal, gladness and joy, and yet he comes as an infant, born of a virgin yet the cause of many other babies being slaughtered, growing up as a human boy ridiculed by his peers for being illegitimate, eventually rejected by his people, and executed on a shameful cross. The profound contradictions are an essential means of expressing the reality of Christ’s identity as being both fully God and fully man.
And this is where Advent finds its joy and gladness in the midst of sorrow, suffering, abuse, evil, and horror. What we must understand more than anything else is that we were never meant to be left alone in the midst of all we are going through. Even though these consequences are most certainly a result of our choices as human beings and the brokenness and imperfections of our cosmos and our humanity, we were never intended to have to resolve any of this on our own. We were always meant to be partners in our existence with the One who made it all.
A better question would be to ask, “What kind of God would so ache for his lost and suffering creation that he would set aside the privileges and community of his divinity to enter into his creation and begin to heal it from the inside out?” And what would it take for God to heal what he has made? It would require assuming upon himself what was broken and sinful, and step by step, moment by moment, hour by hour, within our humanity, forging a new existence for us even when it meant dying an excruciating death at the hands of those he came to save.
This seems all pie in the sky. Why even believe there is such a God? He doesn’t seem to care about the fact that I can’t come up with enough money to pay for Christmas presents this year. He doesn’t seem to care that my child is laying in a hospital bed, dying of incurable cancer. He seems indifferent to the reality that I cannot solve this problem with my family member who is shackled by a habit that won’t let him go. What kind of God would let these things go on and on and not solve them?
Jesus’ answer to John the Baptizer was much different that the one he was probably expecting. John wanted to know whether or not Jesus was the fulfillment of all the expectations of his people. By what was happening in his life at that moment, it really didn’t seem like he was. But Jesus sent his disciples back to John, saying “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” (Matthew 11:2-6 NASB) I am doing the work of the Messiah, he said, so don’t be offended if it doesn’t look the way you expect it to look or that I don’t release you immediately from your personal dilemma.
Did you notice what Jesus was doing for the poor people? He wasn’t giving them money. He wasn’t making them rich—he was preaching the gospel to them. People who needed to be healed were being healed, some people were even being raised from the dead, and others who were struggling were being given the message of hope, a call to turn away from themselves and to turn to Christ. In all these things, Jesus was fulfilling his role as Messiah, but there were many people who were present on earth at this time who did not experience what these people Jesus helped experienced. And John, as a witness to the Messiah’s ministry, was for a time one of these seemingly overlooked ones.
Perhaps John needed to be reminded of the story from his people’s history of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, three men who served with the prophet Daniel as leaders in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom of Babylon. The king built a great golden image in Dura and then told everyone they had to worship it or be thrown into a furnace. The day came when the three men were challenged by some Chaldeans with not obeying this decree. The king asked them why they would not obey him.
Their reply is instructive. They told the king that they would only worship Israel’s God and that their God would save them. But even if he didn’t save them, they would still not bow the knee to the king’s idol. They had the opportunity to face the possibility that God might not intervene for them in the way they expected and they determined beforehand that even if God didn’t come through in the way they expected, they would still believe and trust in the goodness and love of God. How many of us can say we would respond with the same fortitude, faith, and humility?
So, the story continues: They are thrown into the furnace which had been heated seven times hotter than before. In fact, it was so hot, that the men who threw them in died from the heat and fire. At this, the king’s anger began to subside. But after a while, the king saw four men walking around in the fire, one of which they described as being like “a son of the gods”. At this point the king called them out of the fire, and the three men came out, untouched by the flames.
Even though these three men bore witness to God, refusing to compromise their belief in him, they still were faced with death and destruction, the loss of life and liberty. God did not come through for them in the way they wanted him to. But they had already decided beforehand not to be offended by God’s lack of intervention in their circumstances. Are we as equally willing to allow God to be the God he is? Are we willing to, rather than asking God to repent and to change his mind, allow him to work things out his own way on his own time schedule, trusting in his perfect love?
This is a real struggle for us as human beings. If Jesus really is God in human flesh, where is he right now while my life is falling apart before my eyes? If God really does care about me and love me, then why doesn’t he intervene and remove my suffering and struggle? How can he be a loving God and expect me to deal with this pain, this personal struggle, day after day after day?
It is important to grab hold of the beautiful mystery of Christmas—of God coming into our humanity, living our life, dying our death, and rising again. This means there is no part of our broken human existence that he does not, in this moment, share in. Perhaps we must linger in the fire a little longer, but we were never meant to bear these flames alone. Maybe we must cry again for the loss of someone dear, but here is Jesus weeping with us, present in this moment by the comforting Spirit in our pain. Awaken to the spiritual reality that Jesus is in us, with us, for us. This isn’t just wishful thinking, but a true reality.
May the Holy Spirit awaken in you an awareness of the real, present Lord. May you begin to experience God’s comfort and infinite peace in the midst of your struggles and pain. May you not be offended that God does not meet your expectations of deliverance. And may you know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that you are deeply loved and cherished, in spite of what your circumstances and feelings may be telling you in this moment. May you find and experience the inner gladness and joy which is solely a gift of the blessed Spirit of God straight from the heart of the Father through the indwelling Christ.
Dearest Abba, come to us. Meet us here in the flames of our suffering, grief, loneliness, and pain. Holy Spirit, make real to us the endless deep love of God. Remove our doubts and fear. Free us from the shackles of our resentment, bitterness, and feelings of offense. Forgive us for refusing to believe. Grant us instead the grace to rest, to trust in your perfect love, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“The wilderness and the desert will be glad, | And the Arabah will rejoice and blossom; | Like the crocus | It will blossom profusely | And rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy. | The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, | The majesty of Carmel and Sharon. | They will see the glory of the Lord, | The majesty of our God. … And the ransomed of the LORD will return | And come with joyful shouting to Zion, | With everlasting joy upon their heads. | They will find gladness and joy, | And sorrow and sighing will flee away.” Isaiah 35:1–2, 10 NASB
“My soul exalts the Lord, | And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. | For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; | For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. | For the Mighty One has done great things for me; | And holy is His name.” Luke 1:46b-49 NASB
Looking Through the Wrong Lens
By Linda Rex
PREPARATION FOR EASTER OR LENT—In our relationships with one another, we can find ourselves at odds with someone we used to be close to. Over time, through various situations and conversations, we become more and more convinced that they are opposed to us or have negative feelings toward us, or that our relationship is broken and unrepairable. We begin to believe things about them that may or may not be true.
How we interact with one another as human beings can be largely based upon how we see ourselves and the world we live in. If we are looking through the lens of our pain and our brokenness, we are going to see ourselves and others, as well as God, as “in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12 NASB). This lens will cause us to believe lies about them, us, and even God which will create disorder, division, and distrust. These things are destructive to relationships.
The way we were raised in our family of origin impacts the way we do relationship in profound ways. What we believe about people, and about God, is often informed by our experience with the significant people in our lives as we were growing up. How we respond to certain situations can be automatic, based on unhealthy ways of relating we learned at the feet of our broken and hurting parents and grandparents. Add in factors such as post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental/emotional challenges and we find ourselves really struggling in our relationships.
The culture in which we live is also full of lies regarding relationships. We are taught by all the media we watch and listen to that romantic/sexual love is the greatest good. Advertisements tell us that if we would only purchase and use this or that product, we would have an amazing love life and would experience the ultimate bliss. Movies and stories tell us that we can have a love-filled, pleasure-oriented life, with ourselves and other people at the center, and our experience of love will always be good—and when it’s not we can and should move on.
From the time of Adam and Eve, we as human beings have sought to find such a life through the means of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We base our concept of life and of love upon our feelings, our passions, and our desires. We believe if we do or say the right things, we will produce a good relationship with God and each other. It is a human-based, human-centered existence which in the end, we find, results in death—the death of relationships, dreams, and hopes, and sometimes even our physical death.
Our true life, though, is in God himself and in his love for us. As the psalmist says, “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, / My lips will praise You” (Psa. 63:3 NASB). Jesus says he is our life, the way of our being, the truth of our existence (John 10:25-26). Real life comes from giving our life away as Jesus did—from pouring ourselves and God’s love into another and receiving that love back. This love we share in is humble, sacrificial and willing to serve. This type of love is counter-cultural and only comes about as we turn to Christ and receive it from Abba in the Spirit.
One of the most difficult things I have had to face recently is the reality that in a certain significant broken relationship we were duped, we were deceived. We had based our decisions about our relationship upon a false paradigm. The lenses we were looking through were the lenses of our pain and brokenness, our weakness, fears, and insecurities. The people in our lives were unable to help us see the truth or to deal with the difficulties we were facing because they too were working out of a false paradigm.
The lenses we were looking through were clouded and blurred. We were not seeing correctly because we were not using the glasses of God’s unconditional love and acceptance. We could not see the truth of our relationship because we believed things about ourselves and about one another which were (as we see them now) lies. We based our decisions upon partial information and unwise counsel, as well as our own pain, grief, and fear.
Today I feel a deep sense of humility and also of sorrow as I look at these things with clearer, more honest eyes. What seemed so real to me then I have found was a lie perpetrated by the evil one, the one who seeks to kill, steal, and destroy, to divide and conquer (which unfortunately he succeeded in doing). Sure, there may have been some basis in reality: there were things being done and said which were not appropriate in any relationship. But, the upshot of it all is, if we both had understood and embraced the magnitude of God’s grace and had been living in the truth of it, these difficult struggles would have been handled by both of us in entirely different ways.
I grieve most of all for the years of joy which are now lost, and most especially for the dear ones who were hurt by us. This is the human journey—we must ever live in humility and dependence upon God’s grace. And I realize now that I can never depend upon my own judgment, for I can easily be looking at things through the wrong lens.
Turn to Jesus, I remind myself. He is the lens through which we need to see all of life, even our past failures to love. The reality is that we are not going to get it right. We must trust that he will redeem, heal, and restore all that we have lost.
The prodigal son wasted his inheritance on self-indulgent decadent living. We don’t know what happened after he returned home and the celebration occurred. Did he regret all the wasted years and his lost inheritance? And what about the older son? Did he ever get beyond trying to win his father’s love by doing the right thing and being good? (Luke 15:1–3, 11b–32)
The common factor in both these people’s lives and in our lives is Jesus, the One who went into the far country of evil, sin, and death and brought us home to the Father. He teaches us of the Father’s heart of love—that he is pacing the porch and anxiously looking down the road, longing to see our form rise above the road in the distance, so he can run to meet us and welcome us home.
Whatever lens we may have looked through in the past we need to replace with the lens Jesus has given us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. Jesus has replaced our clouded, blurry lenses with the clear lens of Abba’s love and grace. We grow in our deep knowing of God and that informs and heals our deep knowing of one another. We open ourselves up to the transforming, healing power of the Holy Spirit, grow in Christlikeness, and find healing in all our relationships, including those we discarded as spent and empty.
There is real life in Jesus—drink it in, soak it up, wallow around in it. Allow Christ’s life in the Spirit to penetrate every part of your existence. You will never be the same again.
Dear Abba, thank you for loving us in so many ways. Your love and grace are amazing, and we are such need of them. Wash us again in the pure, light-filled water of your Spirit of life. Let Jesus fill us, renew us, and transform us. Remove our blurred, broken lenses and replace them with your eyes of love and grace. May we, from this day forward, see things as you see them and live and walk in truth, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” 2 Corinthians 5:16–17 NASB
Loving the Fear Away
By Linda Rex
Epiphany—As we enter into this season of manifestation, we begin with the story of the wise men following a star to Jerusalem. As Matthew tells the story, we read that “magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matt. 2:1b-2 NASB).
This simple statement seems to imply much. What did the magi believe about the “King of the Jews” that was so important that they would travel for miles and miles carrying precious treasures over rough terrain at the risk of attack from robbers and bandits? And what made them believe he would be a person worthy of worship when they arrived?
Perhaps they were misguided in their real understanding of who this baby was who they found living with his parents in a home in Bethlehem. Maybe they did not grasp the reality he was the Son of God in human flesh. But they believed something King Herod found frightening and offensive. Their pursuit of the star’s mystery resulted in King Herod’s destruction of the children of Bethlehem due to his fear of being supplanted by another more worthy than himself.
Like King Herod, when we are faced with the mystery and reality of Jesus Christ, do we find ourselves filled with fear rather than faith? If this is the case, it must be because we do not recognize in Jesus Christ the profound and amazing reality of God’s love expressed toward us, or made manifest, in Jesus Christ. Encountering Jesus through the Word of God, or through our relationships with those who know and follow Jesus, should not create fear, but rather enable us to come to a deeper understanding of the heart of Abba, for Jesus Christ is the exact representation of his heavenly Father.
If we find ourselves filled with fear rather than with faith, perhaps it is because we, like King Herod, have supplanted worship of the Holy One with worship of ourselves or the things and passions of this life. To worship Jesus means to acknowledge we do not call the shots—we are not in control, God is. To worship Jesus means to acknowledge that God has entered into our existence and clarified for us what it means to live in loving relationship with God and one another. Kneeling before the Christ child means submitting ourselves to the One who humbled himself so significantly, he allowed himself to be cared for by humans and ultimately crucified by them.
In the presence of the child Jesus, these magi offered their precious gifts. In their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh we can see Jesus as our prophet, priest, and king, as the One who was to suffer and die, but ultimately reign over all. These gifts are like a snapshot of the life of Christ and enable us to see a glimpse of the story we celebrate throughout the year in the Christian calendar. They bore witness to who this child was—the miracle of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, born of a virgin in Bethlehem, the fulfillment of God’s promise to his people of deliverance and salvation.
It is significant that throughout the life of Christ on this earth, he was opposed by the Jewish religious leaders who feared the loss of their position and the crushing opposition of the Roman government more than they loved God. They were filled with fear rather than recognizing and welcoming God’s love fully expressed to them in Jesus Christ. Their obsession with power, money, and position blinded them to the miracle of God’s presence in their midst in the person of Jesus. They were the blind leading the blind—preventing others from seeing the truth about God’s love for humanity due to their unwillingness to acknowledge what was right before their eyes.
In the story of the magi we also see the heart of the Father toward all humanity. It is ironic that those who were not Jews, who were not the called people of God but people of different lands and peoples, bent their knees before the Christ child. It was the Gentiles who acknowledged the Messiah, not the ones to whom the Messiah was sent. The love of God expressed to his people was rejected by his people, but sought out by and worshiped by those who were not necessarily the called-out ones.
In this story we see then, that God kept his word to his people, but his people would not acknowledge the One who was sent. It is possible to deeply love someone who rejects your love—and this was Abba’s experience through Jesus with the people he loved. God’s purpose was not to punish his people or to harm them, and his purpose for all humanity was to save them, not to condemn them (John 3:16-17). Abba was bringing all humanity into union with himself in Jesus so we could all participate in the warm fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit—to share in the divine dance both now and for all eternity.
No matter humanity’s response to the gift of God’s love, God will not remove it. God has entered our cosmos, taken on our humanity, and defined for us what it means to be humans living in loving relationship with God and one another. To truly love unselfishly and wholeheartedly is to lay down one’s life for another. God has given his very self—his heart and soul—in his Son Jesus, no matter the cost to himself. Nothing can separate us from God’s love, ever (Rom. 8:38-39). And this is the perfect antidote to fear.
Father, enable us to trust in your perfect love as expressed to us in your Son Jesus. May your Spirit fill our hearts with faith, and with the same love for others which you have for us. Grant us the grace to love as you have first loved us, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18 NASB
“Fear cannot co-exist in this love realm. The perfect love union that we are talking about expels fear. Fear holds on to an expectation of crisis and judgment [which brings separation] and interprets it as due punishment [a form of karma!] It echoes torment and only registers in someone who does not realize the completeness of their love union [with the Father, Son, and Spirit and with one another.] 1 John 4:18 Mirror Bible