forgiveness

Our God of Hope

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By Linda Rex

ADVENT—Hope
What if you found yourself in the midst of a committed relationship in which no matter how hard you tried, you could never get it right? What if you were the one who was unfaithful, unloving, and insensitive? What if you found yourself too often breaking the other person’s heart rather than sharing your own heart in humility and gratitude?

If we were honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that at some point in our relationships, most probably more often than we realize, we are this way. We find ourselves saying hurtful things, being unfaithful in our thinking and/or behavior, and showing our loved one disrespect by the things we say and do. We may or may not care about the effect of our behavior upon them, depending upon the state of our own heart and our relationship with them and God.

We may find ourselves despairing of ever being other than what we are, of never experiencing the blessings of a life in loving relationship with another human being, or even with God.

The story of the Old Testament tells us how God, even while knowing what the outcome would be, entered into a relationship with human beings, calling them his own, and giving them life in relationship with himself. He gave them a way of life which would enable them to experience his grace and grow in their knowledge and understanding of him and his ways of being.

In spite of all of God’s efforts to love his people and to be gracious towards them, his covenant people more often than not were unfaithful and unloving toward him. They ignored his clear revelation of what life in the presence of God looks like, and chose to establish their own rules for living. They depended upon other people, themselves, and the things of the earth rather than relying upon God for everything. God’s most loving efforts were met with resistance, rejection, and disrespect.

And yet, God did not dissolve the relationship. He relentlessly pursued his beloved children. Yes, he allowed them to experience the consequences of their unloving behavior, but he never made it a condition to his relationship with them. He is a covenant God, who keeps his covenant relationships while at the same time being free to dissolve them if he wishes to.

He sent prophets who warned them of the consequences of continuing their unfaithful, unloving behavior. Jeremiah acknowledged their inability to fulfill their covenant commitment to their God apart from his gracious intervention. He called for God, The Hope of Israel, to intervene: “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are my praise.” (Jer. 17: 14 NASB)

In the midst of the darkest days of Israel’s history, they heard no prophetic word from God and were exiled far from their homeland. They knew they deserved the desolation of their temple and being removed from the land they loved: “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.’” But God said to them, “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me.” (Isa. 49:14-16)

God’s word to his covenant people through the prophet Isaiah gave them hope. The prophet wrote of a messiah who would come to deliver his people from oppression and to usher in the new age of the Spirit, when “all flesh will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (Isa. 49:26b)

And it was not enough for God to redeem his people and restore his relationship with them. He went on beyond and included all humanity in the prophetic word of hope. The prophet Isaiah spoke of God’s Suffering Servant who would come and restore his people and through them, all humanity: “And now says the Lord, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him (For I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and My God is My strength), He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations… Break forth, shout joyfully together, you waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God.” (Isa. 49:5-6, 52:9-10 NASB)

Today we can look back on the events which took place following these prophetic messages. We know the amazing way God kept his word of hope which he gave to his people in the gift of his Son Jesus Christ. We can recognize God’s faithfulness and compassion, and understand we are included in God’s redemptive work.

Because of what God has done and is doing for us through his Son, and how he is working today in and with us by his Spirit, we can have hope in the midst of our own difficult circumstances. We may find ourselves in dark places, but we can know Jesus is present with us in the midst of them by his Spirit. We know Abba is carrying us, faithfully loving us and working for our redemption and salvation.

And this gives us hope within our own broken relationships. We turn to Christ, to Abba, and by the Spirit gain the grace to live in ways with one another which are a reflection of the divine life and love. We find in Christ by the Spirit the ability to say no to that which is unhealthy and evil, and yes to that which is wholesome and healing. It is Christ dwelling within us by his Spirit who brings us into his own faithful, loving relationship with his Abba, and enables us to participate with him in it. And this overflows into our own human relationships as the Spirit flows between and amongst us all.

And so, the apostle Peter calls us to “fix [our] hope completely on the grace to be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13 NASB) We are to hope in Jesus Christ—in the God of hope, who is our blessed hope in every situation and circumstance, because he is gracious, loving, and faithful.

Thank you, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for sending us your Son, and giving us your Spirit. Thank you that you are The God of Hope who rescues us from sin, evil, and death, and you meet us in the midst of every relationship by your Spirit so we may live together in oneness, in a recognition of and respect for our uniqueness and our equality. Grant us the grace again, to trust you in every circumstance, and when things grow dark and dreary, please shine your bright rays of hope in and through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 NASB

Plank Pulling

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By Linda Rex

Do you ever have one of those days when you don’t realize the plank in your eye is getting so big you are no longer seeing what’s right in front of you? Worst of all is when suddenly the plank is pulled out and the light of the truth about your own brokenness is so strong you are overwhelmed by it.

I had this experience the other day when talking with a group of friends. We were and are concerned about someone very dear to us who is doing something self-destructive and unhealthy. My heart was breaking about this, so I mentioned my real concern about her indifference to the harm she was doing to her own body. As I said this I reached across the table for my fifth handful of chocolate-peanut candies.

Later, in the quiet of my own home, I was praying about these concerns for this person and sharing my thoughts with Abba. I quite clearly saw that picture in my mind’s eye, of me reaching for another handful of goodies. God’s love for me understood my concerns for someone else, but would not let me off the hook about the harm I was doing to myself. A taste here and there is fine—but this was more than I probably should have been eating at the time.

Here’s the point: whatever harm I am doing to myself is no different than the harm someone else is doing to themselves. Yes, I need to love them enough to not enable them to continue in self-destructive behavior. But I also need to love Abba and the others in my life as well as myself enough to not continue in my own self-destructive behavior. It goes both ways.

God often brings us to these places, if we are willing, where we are faced with the reality of how our ways of living do not reflect the truth of who we are in Christ. The apostle James says it’s like looking at ourselves in a mirror:

“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:23–25 NASB)

This perfect law of liberty—our true freedom in Christ to love God and love one another—is written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. It is Jesus Christ living his life in us by the Spirit who moves us to be the doers of this law of liberty. God pours his love into our hearts and we find ourselves loving others in ways we never could or would before.

Recognizing the indwelling presence of God in our hearts gives us hope. When we are burdened by our failures to love and receive love, we are comforted by God’s grace and compassion.

We are helped in this redemptive process by healthy relationships which are full of grace and understanding. Often in order to forgive ourselves or receive God’s forgiveness, we need to experience abundant grace and mercy from those around us.

One of the biggest struggles some of us may have is with receiving love and care from others which points out our need to grow in Christlikeness. On the one hand, we may like people taking care of us, but on the other, we don’t want them challenging us to change. We may want them to do good things for us, but we don’t like them asking us to assume responsibility for what is ours to do.

This is where the redemptive grace of God becomes a cause of offense to us rather than the sweet-smelling aroma of God’s blessing and favor. Over and over in our lives God draws near to us through people and circumstances, showing us the truth of who we are in him. The miracle of grace in the life, death, resurrection of God’s Son causes us to see our failures to love and receive love.

The gift of forgiveness in Christ Jesus says to each of us, whether we like it or not—you and I are in great need of forgiveness. But God doesn’t just leave us in that place of need. The realization of our need for forgiveness creates space in our hearts and lives for him to enter in and begin his transformation process. In opening ourselves up to receive God’s grace, we participate with Christ in the redemptive process.

One of the blessings poured out on us in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is the realization we are Abba’s beloved child in Christ Jesus. The Spirit enables us to experience the living presence of Christ and Abba in us, and he is at work transforming our hearts by faith. We see the evidence of God’s indwelling presence by the way we love God and love others as ourselves. Over time it becomes obvious to us and to others we reflect the nature of the living Lord.

As the Spirit works, he grows us more and more into the image of Christ. This means he brings us to deeper and deeper levels of self-awareness as well as to a greater awareness of the real Being God himself. Our relationship with God develops over time, and as it grows, we are brought into a greater realization of the size of the planks in our own eyes as well as a greater compassion and concern for the well-being of others.

Drawing nearer to God means we draw nearer to others, but it also may mean we come to see ourselves and God in new ways. The Spirit gives us greater insight into the deepest parts of our person, and there are times when we find we must once again repent, or turn back to Christ, and trust him to heal and restore us. Repentance and faith are an ongoing part of our life-long journey with Christ. As we continue to participate with Christ in our salvation through repentance and faith, he by the Spirit will continually bring us into a deeper, more authentic relationship with God and others.

Dear Abba, thank you for your faithful love. Thank you for freeing us to love you and love others through your Son Jesus Christ. Thank you for the gift of your Spirit who draws us deeper and deeper into intimate relationship with you. Grant us the heart and mind to turn to Christ and respond moment by moment to your Spirit’s work, so we are not offended by grace, but rather are transformed, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.


“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test.”
2 Corinthians 13:5–10 NASB

The Real Debt

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By Linda Rex

Recently I got to thinking about how we as Americans, in general, think nothing of being in debt. Nowadays it seems as if owing someone money is an accepted way of life. To not have a credit card is more unusual than having one. I have lost count of how many credit card offers I threw away last month.

When my children were little I remember having one of those money conversations with them. We were wanting to do something together which would have been fun for all of us and which would have been a good thing to spend money on in my opinion. But the money just wasn’t there.

So I was trying to explain to my children how we would need to wait until I had the money for this opportunity. One of my children popped up and said, “Just write a check, Mom.” I explained that in order to write a check I had to have money in the bank to cover the check.

“Just use your credit card,” they said. So I began to explain how with a  credit card I would still need to have the money to pay it off when the bill came. This was just one of the many conversations needed to help my children understand that we can’t just have what we want whenever we want it. Sometimes we just have to say no to ourselves and to others.

Being in debt or owing another party for the use of their money has become a way of life for many of us in this country. Borrowing money is how we buy a car or purchase a house. We even borrow money to send our children to college.

Perhaps one of the reasons our country is struggling is because we have ignored the description of life in Christ which says, “Owe no man anything but to love one another.” It would be quite radical if all of a sudden every debt was forgiven and people shared freely with one another rather than expecting payment with interest in return.

This seems rather Pollyanna-ish, doesn’t it?

The breaking in of the kingdom of God in our world often takes on forms such as these. In loving one one another rather than using one another, the kingdom of God receives its full expression. When someone forgives a debt or offers to pay in our place we experience the real presence of the Living Lord. When people freely offer financial and physical help to one another even when it’s not deserved, this manifests Abba’s heart. We’ve seen many illustrations of this in the aftermath of hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes.

To offer mercy rather than just retribution is what our Lord does best. We can trust he is not out to get his share, but instead is sharing with us all which is his. He is not seeking his own, but is seeking our best.

In the midst of the havoc of the storms of our lives, he is not exacting retribution, but is holding us and carrying us, and offering us his strength, comfort, and provision. He puts people in our lives who can and will lift us up, encourage us, and help us to carry the burdens which are too heavy for us.

I would imagine if we were more occupied with serving and loving one another and less with indulging ourselves, we might not only be happier and more at peace, but we might also be a lot more financially sound. If we were more involved in blessing one another rather than using one another, we might find ourselves in an entirely different world.

We can go along and live as we are or we can live as though the kingdom of God has come to us in Jesus. We can live now in the truth of who we are in him. But we must realize this society is uncomfortable with and resists such truth while at the same time embracing  the beauty of the possibilities it might brings.

To live in love and debt-free requires a radical life change I’m just beginning to get my mind around. But God-willing, as we embrace Christ’s debt-free life we will be catalysts for change within our debt-laden society.

Abba, forgive us our refusal to live free of all our debts, personal and financial, toward you and one another. Give us the courage to swim upstream against the current and to daily offer grace to one another in and through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.     Romans 13:8 NASB

 

It’s Just Not Who We Are

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By Linda Rex

In the past few years it has been brought to my mind over and over how our relationship with God is very much like that of an expectant mother, and our relationships with one another are very much like the cells in a human body. These are only analogies and they have their shortcomings and flaws, but they provide windows into the human soul and our human existence.

This morning I was reminded again how wonderful our bodies are. When something foreign enters our skin or enters our bodies, if we have a healthy immune system, the object or alien cell is immediately surrounded and attacked. The self-defense system within our human bodies is really amazing, but it has been known to even attack an unborn child if the antibodies are triggered by any antigens within the fetus. Obviously, this is not what antibodies were meant to do, but it can and does happen.

I pray God will help each of us to see ourselves as human beings held in the life and love of God, who upholds all things by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3). And to see ourselves as sharers in Jesus Christ who has in his life, death, resurrection and ascension has made us participants in his very being, in his perfected humanity. For then we might begin to grasp—and I myself struggle to fully grasp this—sin and evil are alien to our true being. Any way of being which brings death instead of true life—the life Jesus brought us into—the life and love which exists in the Father, Son, Spirit relations—is foreign to our true humanity.

Maybe it’s time we begin to see our human proclivity to do what is evil and unhealthy from the point of view in which it is foreign to who we are. As the apostle Paul said, “if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” (Romans 7:20). That which is not you or me is what we find ourselves doing, even when we do not wish to do it. The desire to do what is life-giving and loving comes from God the Spirit, not our natural human flesh. When we are awakened to Christ in us, we find we want to do what creates harmony, joy, peace and communion, not division, destruction and death.

As humans, we have been joined with Christ in the hypostatic union of God and man which he took on as the Word of God in human flesh. Jesus Christ took our broken humanity with him through the process of forging out a sinless life, he hauled us with him onto the cross, and with him we died the death we deserve to die. In Christ, as he rose from the grave, our humanity has taken on a new form. We do not live anymore in our human brokenness because God in Christ by his Spirit is awakening us to a new way of being which he has created—Christ in us, the hope of glory.

This new way of being is who we really are—this is our true humanity. Persons living in union and communion with the Father, Son, and Spirit, and with one another, are who we were created to be. To live in opposition to the perfected humanity which is found in Christ is to live in opposition to who we really are. We are the beloved children of Abba, sharers in the perfect relationship which exists between the Father and the Son in the Spirit. We are created to reflect and to live in this way of being—where our personhood is bound up in these inner relations in God, and in loving relationship with one another.

So saying that, the elephant in the room is our proclivity to not live in the truth of who we are in Christ. In other words, there are a lot of things we think, say, and do which do not agree with who God has created us to be. We live with others and with God in ways which are self-centered, greedy, lustful and broken, and which bring death rather than life. We are created for life, not death. But we find so many ways to live in death and sometimes we even imagine these wrong ways of living bring about life.

We walk in darkness, not realizing the Light of God shines in us and through us. We even think following a bunch of rules, manmade or God-breathed, will give us life, forgetting that our real Life is found in a Person, Jesus Christ, and in our relationship with Abba through Jesus in the Spirit.

Our sinfulness is not our bad self, and our obedience to God and his ways is not our good self. We are not divided in two. We talk about bad people and good people, and I wonder whether we have ever considered exactly what it means to be a bad person or a good person. Exactly how much badness makes someone a bad person? And just how much goodness is needed to make someone good instead of bad?

What a revelation it can be when we realize we are all just a messy mixture of dark and light, of bad and good—we are all just very human. And as humans, made in the image of God, warts and all, we are, in Christ, God’s beloved and forgiven children. That’s who we are!

Evil and the evil one are constantly seeking to destroy this new body of Christ, as members in particular and as the corporate body. But the sins and sinful passions of our broken human flesh do not define us. Christ defines us. We are citizens of a new kingdom. And even though we don’t always live like we belong to the kingdom of light, we do indeed belong there.

We’ve been given the glorious clothing of the kingdom of light to wear, and we have the privilege of living moment by moment in a close, personal relationship with the King of the kingdom right now. We have a new humanity we are able to fully participate in because the old is rapidly passing away—in fact, in Christ it is already gone.

Maybe it’s time to quit listening to the lies and sitting in the dark, and awaken to the reality we are already a part of a kingdom of light which has been in the works since before the beginning of time—an absolutely amazing kingdom in which righteousness dwells. Maybe it’s time to embrace our true humanity.

Lord Jesus, thank you for including us in your life with the Father by the Spirit. Thank you, Father, for drawing us up into the life and love between you and your Son in the Spirit. Enable us to turn a deaf ear to evil and the evil one, and to never again fear death, knowing we are hidden with Christ in you, God. Amen.

“On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.” 1 John 2:8 NASB

“For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another;…” 1 John 3:11 NASB

A Simply Divine Outfit!

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by Linda Rex

Last week I did my best to come up with a blog to post, but due to my involvement with vacation bible school (VBS), and other family and work responsibilities, I found myself drawing on empty when it came time to write. But I would like to share what stood out in my mind from our work with the young people in the Old Hickory community.

The topic of our VBS last week was the armor of God. At first, when we were reviewing the curriculum at one of our planning meetings, I and others were struck by the emphasis it had on our human efforts to put away sin and defend ourselves against Satan’s attacks. Our challenge was to revise the curriculum in such a way as to put Jesus Christ as the foundation and center of it rather than our own human efforts.

It is my personal belief what is lost in most discussions and devotions about the armor of God is the reality that each part of the armor is in essence Jesus Christ himself. Even the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, points us to the living Word, Jesus Christ. To separate each part out individually as if it stands on its own is to miss the point of this whole passage.

Paul starts out this section of scripture by saying, “…be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” God’s might is our might, his strength our strength. In Jesus by the Spirit we have the capacity to resist evil and the evil one. It’s not something we have to figure out or do on our own.

We need to beware of any way of looking at scripture which casts us back upon ourselves, as if we are capable of resisting or overcoming evil on our own, or are responsible to do so. Trying to overcome or resist evil on our own by keeping the law or doing lots of good deeds is basically human religion. And such a religion does not save us—rather it can enslave us and bind us to unhealthy and unfruitful ways of living and being.

What Paul seems to be saying here in Ephesians 6 is we have an adversary who is always scheming against us, and there are forces of evil at work which impact our lives on a daily basis. But we have a simply divine outfit laid out on the bed for us—we just need to put it on and stand firm in Christ, while resisting the devil’s efforts to deceive or distract us.

Salvation isn’t something we have to make sure we run to the boutique and buy, but rather something Christ has already done in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. We have been delivered from sin and death by the Son of God, who was victorious over them. But there is an action we do—we pick up the helmet of salvation, and we put it on. We experience a change in our mind and heart—we repent and turn away from our self-centered ways of thinking and being, and we turn to Christ. We stop trusting in our human efforts to save ourselves and start trusting in Christ instead. We put on Christ.

The thing is, the helmet of salvation isn’t something you take off and put back on. Salvation just is, because Christ has done it and won’t go back on his action of taking our humanity on and redeeming it. So we just receive this gift and live in the truth of it from now on. Our decision to live in the reality of our salvation in Christ does not alter whether or not Jesus saved us. It merely enables us to enjoy all the benefits of what he has done for us and in our place, and what he is doing today by his Holy Spirit. It is life-transforming.

This theme of putting on Christ can be found throughout this whole discussion about the armor of God. When we put on Jesus Christ, we are wrapping around ourselves the truth of who God is and who we are in him. Jesus is our belt of truth. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life—we draw our being and life from him as the One through whom and by whom all things were created. As made in the image of God, through the Spirit we reflect Jesus Christ, the One who is both God and man—he is our perfected humanity. The truth about our existence is found in him. Whatever lies may be said to us or we may believe need to be held up against this plumbline, recognized for what they are, and discarded. The truth of our being, which is found in Jesus Christ, orients us toward our true north, our heavenly Father, in every area of our lives as we live and work in community with others.

The gospel of peace—how the Word of God took on our humanity to bring us peace with God and peace with one another—is the story of our lives. This good news, who is our Savior Jesus Christ, has transformed our lives, and we spend our existence sharing this good news with others. We don’t hold grudges or refuse to forgive people’s slights against us because we are living in the reality of and sharing with others the immense gift of grace given to us from God through our Lord Jesus Christ. All the human barriers we place between ourselves are removed in Christ, because he has made us one in himself, taking on our humanity and redeeming it. Because Christ is our life, we walk in him in the Spirit, in this path of grace and peace he has walked before us, in our place and on our behalf.

As we put on Christ as our footwear, we also put him on as our righteousness. Jesus is our right relationship with God and one another. God has reconciled to himself all things in Jesus Christ. In Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension we are brought up into the very life and being of God himself, at one with the Father, Son, and Spirit, and in Christ, made at one with every other human being. We put on Christ by living in the truth of our reconciliation and our right relationship, by being truly reconciled with God and one another, because of Jesus’ finished work.

Even when it comes to faith, we are reminded to turn to Christ for the faith we need when we are being assaulted by the lies of the evil one. The one weapon the devil uses against us over and over again is the lie which says God is not good and is not trustworthy, and he does not really love and care about us. When these lies begin to overwhelm us, we need to draw upon Christ’s perfect faith. Jesus trusted his Father implicitly, even when he hung dying on the cross and it seemed to his human mind his Father had forsaken him. Jesus’ perfect faith caused him to trust his Father even at the very end of his suffering—this faith is ours. All we need to do is ask—to pick up the shield—to put on Christ.

So we have put on Christ, and it seems it is not enough for us just to have our armor on. God also gives us an offensive weapon—the sword of the Spirit. The capacity of the word of God to penetrate down to the core of our being is made possible through the living Word, Jesus Christ, by his gift of the Spirit from the Father. It is Christ at work in us by his Spirit which transforms us and enables us to effectively live out and share the gospel of peace. It is the Spirit of truth at work within which enlightens us and enables us to see and walk in the truth who is Jesus. Any faith or righteousness which may well up within us is the work of the Spirit, who writes God’s ways on our minds and hearts, gives us the heart to obey, and enables us to live in accordance with the truth of who we are in Jesus Christ.

The centrality of Christ to this entire discussion on the armor of God can be clearly seen when we start and begin with Jesus as the One who is the Word of God come into our human flesh. This can be a comforting and encouraging study when we do it this way. It’s not up to us to do this battle with the enemy all by ourselves. Rather, it is a battle Jesus already fought and won, and he shares his decisive victory with us as we respond to the Spirit’s work, and put on and use the divine outfit he created for us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. Jesus Christ is our mighty warrior, and we get to participate by the Spirit in his perfect deliverance against sin, evil, and death. What a blessing!

Dear Abba, thank you for giving us, in Jesus and by your Spirit, total victory over evil, sin, and death. Thank you for giving us this perfect armor to wear, and the sword of the Spirit to wield. Grant us the grace to daily put on Christ and to respond fully to the Spirit’s work in our hearts and lives, and in the world around us. May we trust in you fully, resting in Christ, and drawing upon the Spirit each day. Amen.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:10–17 NASB

The Death and Renewal of Community

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by Linda Rex

This week I was reading an article about the recent upswing in homicides which has been happening in our church neighborhood. Although it’s hard to know exactly what is sparking this upswing in these individual events which don’t seem to have any tie to one another, the article made an interesting observation: “…most shootings are not completely random. If you look closely, they’re often fallout of interpersonal conflict that can go back and forth over months or even years.” ( See http://nashvillepublicradio.org/post/homicides-spike-east-nashville-precinct-its-commander-looks-answers#stream/0 )

Everywhere I look I am beginning to see and sense a deep sense of rage underlying people’s response to politics, relationships, and even stopping too long at a red light. It seems to me that we are growing into a generation who do not know how to have healthy relationships or how to handle conflict in healthy ways. It’s so much easier to defriend someone on Facebook than to have a difficult conversation in which healthy limits are set and respected by each person involved.

But there is a reality we cannot ignore and it is that in spite of all our efforts to create an orderly, safe society, we cannot create one by simply legislating right behavior and enforcing laws. I believe there is a fundamental disconnect between our desire to be free individuals who can make our own choices and live our own agenda, and the reality of living in community. This is because living in loving, respectful community requires a change in our being, not just in our doing. And that is the issue.

We have, whether we want to admit it or not, an inner drive to be our own masters and in control of what we do and don’t do. We also want to be free to live uninhibited by rules or the control of another human being—unless of course, giving that control over to another person allows us to feel in control of our safety and peace. We want to be free to do what we want, when we want, how we want, without God (if we believe there is one) or anyone else telling us otherwise.

The problem with this type of freedom and control is, we live in a world with millions of other people who also have this same desire for freedom and control. When one person’s desires and plans clash with another’s—we have conflict. When one group’s agenda clashes with another group’s agenda, we end up with war. And this is not what we were created for.

Such an intense desire to be free and rulers over our own lives is not necessarily an evil thing in and of itself. In many ways it is a reflection of the God in whose image we were created. God has given us this world and our lives to be responsible for—they are ours to care for, use responsibly, and to share with others. And we need to be doing those things. And God, in his being, is fully and completely free. We reflect that.

But we need to realize God’s freedom is not the type of freedom we believe we were created with and for. This is a different kind of freedom from just doing what you want, when you want, and how you want. God’s freedom is held within his real existence as a Being who lives in other-centered love. The Word of God who came into our human flesh revealed to us a God who is Father, Son and Spirit and who lives in a relationship of equality, diversity and unity which the church fathers would later call circumincession or perichoresis.

These are interesting terms. The first one, circumincession, was used to express an ongoing movement of pouring out from one into another and receiving in return. If we were to give this some consideration, we would realize we as human beings, made in the image of this God, were designed to be other-centered persons who live in a constant existence in which we pour out from ourselves into others so we may receive that which is poured out into us. This constant pouring out and receiving is a movement which exists within true loving community.

A misguided sense of personal freedom shortcircuits true community. When a person turns away from those around them and seeks only to receive and not to give, this kills healthy relationship. The natural give and take which should occur between people cannot because there are walls between them, or there is abuse, neglect, indifference—you name it. We do all these things to one another because we are broken. And we find ourselves unable or unwilling to live together with others in the mutual submission, the compassion and understanding, and the mutual giving and receiving we were created for.

In my opinion, we do not need more rules to live by. Rules just create in us a desire to break them or to beat other people over the heads with them. We don’t need more legislators or enforcers. What we need is to realize and live out the truth of what God meant for us to be from the beginning. We need a deep realization of who we are, and whose image we were created to reflect, and to begin to live out of this center or core in our being.

God created us with good hearts, to live in loving relationship—this is the truth of our being. When we don’t live in this way, we are miserable and we make everyone around us miserable too. It seems we choose to live in misery, and God knew that wasn’t what we were created for. So he came himself in Jesus and allowed us to dump on him all the rage and evil of our broken humanity. And in doing so, he restored our broken humanity.

God’s purpose in allowing what we did to Jesus was to provide each one of us with the capacity for true humanity again. God gives us through his Son Jesus and by his Spirit what we really need—a change of heart and mind. We need a change of being which will drive a change in our doing. We need to be transformed by grace. So God in Jesus Christ made a way.

When a person comes to themselves—i.e. realizes they are not living as they were created by God to live, and not being the person they were created by God to be—it is a humbling experience. And I think God intends us to come to this place over and over in our lives, not so we can beat ourselves up, but so that we will face our need for him to heal, transform and renew us, and so we will invite him to enter in and begin to create in us anew the capacity for true, healthy relationship with God and with the people in our lives.

This is the whole purpose of the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. The Spirit creates true community among all people, because all people have been included in Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. The Spirit can be resisted, rejected, and even quenched, but this gentle Dove works diligently to resolve differences, to renew relationships and to heal wounded hearts. The Spirit can be invited to stay or be ignored. Either way, the Spirit is still present and at work—it is our experience of God’s presence which is unfelt or felt.

When we open ourselves to the Spirit’s work, we experience the reality that Christ is here in the midst of us, drawing each and every one us together into loving community. I am more and more convinced each day what we really need in our neighborhood, and throughout our world, is for God by his Spirit to breathe new life into each of us.

Darkness and evil will continue to resist the Spirit of life and truth. But in time Light will drives away the darkness, for darkness is merely the absence of light. Those who live and walk in the Light of God’s love and grace need to be willing to share in the sufferings of Jesus—for truth and grace are always resisted in some way. May we have the strength and wisdom to continue to demonstrate in a real way in spite of resistance and opposition what it means to live in loving community, and to suffer for the sake of love and grace, through Jesus our Lord, and by his Spirit.

Abba, thank you for the gift of your love, truth and grace. Thank you for rescuing us from evil, sin and death through your Son Jesus, and for sending us your Spirit so we could begin to recognize and experience true community. We pray you will breathe your Life into our neighborhood and indeed our world so we can live once again in the love and fellowship we were created for. Drive out the darkness with your Light. Enable us to experience the truth of the perichoretic life we were created for. In your Name Jesus we pray. Amen.

“You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Eph 4:20–24 NASB

The Consuming Fire of Love

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by Linda Rex

At our group discussion last Wednesday night we were talking about how misdirected anger can ruin relationships. On the one hand, we dump our anger in violent and hurtful ways, and on the other, we stuff and deny our anger in many ways which are ultimately self-destructive. Neither use of our anger is healthy, nor do they serve the real purpose for us experiencing anger in the first place.

We misdirect our anger. We may be angry at one person, and tell others all about it, but never deal directly with the person who is the cause of our anger. Some of us deny our anger and bury it, but the anger which demands expression manifests itself in psychosomatic illnesses, passive-aggressive behavior, and/or depression. Sometimes we are angry about something someone has done to us or said to us, and we begin to behave in ways which are painful and destructive toward people we love and value.

I’ve heard so many stories in recent times about people expressing a deep-seated anger through violence. For example, when some people are frustrated about their inter-racial issues, they express that anger by destroying and looting businesses. I’m always nervous about having ticked someone off in traffic, because I don’t know if they will pull out a gun and shoot me! These expressions of anger are nonproductive and destructive—they don’t solve anything. They only create more problems and more misery.

So much of our anger is retributive. In other words, our anger is a response to a violation of some kind in which we judge that person worthy of punishment or destruction. We seek vengeance—to give them what we believe they deserve. We condemn them and pour out our anger on them in destructive ways.

Some of us realize this is a wrong response, but we still feel in our heart of hearts we want them to “get what they deserve”—to reap what they have sown. We might even be angry with God when he doesn’t bring down the wrath of heaven on this person who so deserves to be punished with eternal fire.

Whether we realize it or not, it is this way of thinking and this belief system which influences how we read what is written in God’s word. We assume God is just like us—that he’s just hanging out in heaven looking for opportunities to crush anyone who misbehaves. When we read “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29), we think we are being told this very thing—that God’s anger is going to consume anyone who violates God’s holy standards.

But the reality is, if God’s anger were going to consume any and every person who violates God’s holy standards, we would all have been wiped off the face of the earth millennia ago. This isn’t who God is. He’s not that type of Being. God’s anger doesn’t annihilate and destroy—it refines, renews, and restores. The truest expression of God’s wrath is not against human beings, but against the evil which infests their souls and twists their lives, and expresses itself in so many hurtful ways in our world.

The truest expression God’s wrath against sin and evil was in the Person and Presence of his Son Jesus Christ. First of all, the Son of God the Word took on our human flesh—he entered our darkness. Jesus encountered evil face-to-face within himself and forged for us a humanity unbound by sin and evil. He willingly limited himself to living as a human being, dependent fully upon his Father and the Spirit, and allowed himself to be rejected, tormented, and crucified.

Secondly, he permitted us as human beings to pour out on him all of our fear of a Punishing God, and all of our anger against this God, and all of our refusal to repent of our determination to be God in God’s place. Humanity’s response to whatever God they have worshipped so often has been a fearful “expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire.” We realize even turning our back on Jesus and what he has done for us means we deserve an even greater punishment and destruction. But no matter what we may believe about God and his feelings about our sin and sinful rejection of him, the truth is manifest in our Lord Jesus Christ: we are forgiven, accepted, and beloved. And we can’t seem to get our minds around that.

God’s wrath, his anger, is not so much aroused against each of us as it is against the evil and sin which consume us. His judgment of you and me and every other person who lives is that we are worthy of love, and we need to be rescued from sin, evil, and death. He has done a major part of the work by coming himself in Jesus, taking on our humanity, and allowing himself to be crucifed, and by wonderfully rising from the dead after sharing our death. He is busily working out the other part by his Holy Spirit as we embrace his presence in our world and in our hearts and lives.

Quite honestly, falling into the hands of the living God may be a terrifying thing to us, but it is the best possible thing which could happen. Being judged by the Lord means he goes to work to remove anything which is holding us captive, or causing us and others pain. It means we allow God to begin to transform our hearts and lives as we surrender to his will and his ways. We begin to acknowledge and live within the truth of the reality we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into his kingdom of light.

But this is so hard for us. When God goes to work, we abdicate our insistence we are the lord of the universe. We surrender to his lordship and begin to do things his way rather than our way. He becomes the purpose for our lives rather than our selfish desires or opinions. And this is why we resist the Spirit and his work in our hearts and lives. Submitting to the living Lord who submitted himself to us and our rejection of him over two thousand years ago doesn’t come naturally.

Considering the reality of how God deals with our sin and our anger against him, it is worth reflecting on how we respond to evil and how we deal with the anger we feel when we are violated in some way. Jesus took all evil and anger upon himself centuries ago, and what is left is our need to forgive, accept and love. Jesus is the truest expression of grace and truth—and this is what we need in our relationships with one another: grace and truth.

If and when we feel angry, we look with the eyes of Jesus. We start with, in what way have I or others been violated? This is a place of truth and truth-telling. We need to face ourselves and others with integrity—who am I angry with? And why?

If we are angry with God, that’s okay. He can take it. We just need to be honest about it and engage him in face-to-face ongoing conversation about our anger against him. It is not a sin to be angry with God—sin arises when we try to deny or suppress or misdirect our anger.

Another question we need to ask ourselves is, what about this situation am I able to change? And how to I go about changing it? Once we have our answer, we need to go do it, or get help doing it. We need to go have that difficult conversation with that difficult person and quit putting it off or triangulating to others. We need to place and enforce those healthy boundaries which have been missing in our relationship with someone, or we need to end an unhealthy, destructive relationship which is causing us harm. We need to use our anger as a springboard to change, healing and wholeness.

And we also ask ourselves, what about this situation must be surrendered to the grace of God in Christ? And how to I go about forgiving and accepting this wrong which has been done? And we begin to do the hard work of forgiveness and acceptance. This doesn’t let the person who has hurt us off the hook so much as it releases them to God’s work of transformation in their lives, and relieves us of the twisting of our soul which comes through resentment and bitterness.

These are all positive, healing ways of dealing with our anger which reflect the inner life and love of the Father, Son and Spirit. Living in this way better reflects the truth of Who God is and who we are in him. It creates a healthier, more joyful society in which to live. This is what God is, in his wrath against sin and in his judgment, preparing us for. This is God’s heart for us as his beloved children, and it is what we were destined to enjoy forever in God’s presence through his Son Jesus and by his Spirit.

Abba, thank you for loving and forgiving us. Thank you for judging us worthy of love and grace rather than destruction and rejection. Finish what you have begun in us through Jesus by your Holy Spirit. You are an awesome, amazing God, and we love you. Amen.

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Heb 10:26–31 NASB