God

Much Deeper Than the Body

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by Linda Rex

February 12, 2023, 6th Sunday in Epiphany—One of the readings for my recent coursework at Grace Communion Seminary talks about the way in which God does who God is. What I mean by that is, who God is in his being is what he does in his actions. God is a Redeemer, and so he redeems us. God is Savior, and so he saves us. When Jesus says to his disciples, if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father, he is saying that the love and grace of his Father was in that moment being expressed in the person and life of his Son Jesus. And it was fully expressed in Jesus’ self-offering on the cross.

The reason I am bringing this up is because of how the gospel reading for today, Matthew 5:21–37, resonates with this. Jesus pointed out that our human way of doing things just will not work in the economy of the Triune life or kingdom of God. Jesus calls us to go much deeper than just putting on an outer show of religiosity. He was “meddling”—telling people that going through the motions was not enough. The way we live and act needs to go much deeper than just the externals—it must involve the heart and soul of a person. And it has to do with our passions, desires, impulses, and motivations.

But there is even more going on here than just that. Who we are drives what we do. In this passage, we can see that Jesus is so much more than just the words he was speaking. In his life, death, and resurrection Jesus was in many ways all of these things in action. Who he was as God in human flesh was an expression of these very things in a real and tangible way as a human, fleshly person led by and filled with the Holy Spirit.

For example, when we think of God, we often think of a being who is mad at us for being such awful sinners, to the point that he had to kill his Son for us. But consider the way God in Christ really does approach our evil and sin, and our broken relationship with himself. He doesn’t despise us for our failure to measure up to our obligations to him and one another. Rather, he recognizes our inadequacy and lack of even desiring to do what is right at times. Because he knows this about us, he comes, takes on our human flesh, and forges within us a new away of being—giving us his own desire to do what is right and holy. And then he dies and rises, and sends the Spirit so we can live in right relationship with him now and forever.

Going further, consider how Jesus deals with the reality of our offenses against him. In his own self-offering, the Son of God set aside his need for revenge or self-gratification when we became his opponents, and instead, laid down his own life. He came to us in our human flesh, to live our life and die our death, for our salvation and redemption. We had something in our hearts against God, and Jesus came to us and made things right, reconciling us to God in himself and calling us to be reconciled in that same way to God and each other.

Notice how Jesus used hyperbole to express our need to get rid of those parts of ourselves which cause us to sin. Truth be told, he never meant us to actually physically cut off or remove these parts of our body. What he did demonstrate to us in his life and death was that he was willing to do for us what we could not do in this regard. None of us is capable of eliminating those parts of us that cause us to sin—which is why Jesus took our human flesh to the cross and allowed us to crucify it so that our human flesh would die once and for all to evil, sin, and death. And in the resurrection, Jesus gave our human flesh new life—a new way of being grounded within himself. As Paul wrote, we don’t look at people through the lens of their sinful human flesh any longer because in Christ they are new creations (2 Cor. 5:16-17).

Going on, even when Jesus is talking about the topic of divorce and adultery, he takes us into the realm of committed or covenant relationship. The religious leaders of his day had added and subtracted so much to the law that it was possible to divorce for any reason, and women were being left without anyone to care for them because of the selfish choices of the men who had give them a promise of fidelity and then had broken it.

When we look at the history of the ancient nation of Israel, God’s covenant people, we see that the prophets often spoke of this nation’s relationship with God as a marriage or covenant relationship. Even though this nation was repeatedly unfaithful to God, he was always faithful to her. The prophet Hosea, in a living parable, showed God’s willingness to go the extra mile by faithfully loving and caring for his unfaithful spouse. Jesus, in his person, was the fulfillment of this beautiful picture, coming to his people in God’s faithfulness to them, so that he could bring home to his Father his beloved bride, his covenant people, which in his life, death, resurrection, and the giving of the Spirit, were the newly forged, redeemed and restored body of Christ, the church.

And in this way, we see that God is what God does. He is a God of his word. When he says “yes”, that is what he means. And when he says “no”, he means no. When he said that he would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15), he did so, as God in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, dying on the cross for our salvation. When God said he would send the Suffering Servant Messiah to his people to redeem not only them, but the whole world—that is what he did. God has kept his word to us and will keep his word to us. He is trustworthy, faithful, and true.

This is why we can rest in the reality that God will finish what he has begun in us. In the New Testament reading, 1 Corinthians 3:1–9, the apostle Paul points out that there is a difference between living in the truth of what Christ has done in our place on our behalf or living in our unredeemed flesh. Are we walking as mere human beings, or are we walking as spiritual people, those who are filled with and led by God’s Spirit, Christ in us? Our belief isn’t what makes us different people. Cutting off parts of our body or trying to make radical changes to our behavior doesn’t change us. What is life-transforming is Christ—the indwelling presence of God by the Holy Spirit. We are God’s field, God’s building, and he is at work in us, as we respond to him in faith. And we participate in his work in this world as we are led by the Spirit to love and serve others as we are gifted and called by God. It is a comfort to know it is all up to him, not all up to us—we just get to be a part of what he is doing!

Thank you, Abba, for allowing us to be a part of what you are doing in this world. Thank you, Jesus, for giving yourself so freely to us and for including us in your own relationship with the Father in the Spirit. Grant us the grace to live and walk so that all that we do is a true expression of who we are in you, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”    1 Corinthians 3:1–9 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2023/01/olitmuch-deeper-than-the-body.pdf ]

[More devotionals may be found at https://lifeinthetrinity.blog ]

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Blessed Are You…

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by Linda Rex

January 29, 2023, 4th Sunday in Epiphany—What is the value of knowing Jesus Christ? What is the big deal? Is he just part of a story or myth people tell during the Christmas and Easter holidays, but is irrelevant the rest of the time? It can appear from first glance that there really isn’t anything worth delving into when it comes to Jesus, but the reality is that in Jesus there is a deep story each of us is a part of, whether we embrace it or not.

Nowadays, it doesn’t seem reasonable to believe in a real, personal, tangible God. So much of life can be lived apart from any need for God. And many of the problems we face, no matter how difficult, can be solved or at least coped with without the need of calling upon a deity. What our age of reason has taught us is that we can use our minds and aptitudes and skills to run our world and deal with whatever comes our way. I imagine that it is possible to go through life and never believe in a power or presence beyond ourselves.

But it is significant, from what I’ve seen, that the first step in any recovery program is for a person to come to see that apart from a “higher power” or a power beyond themselves, they will never be free from their addiction. An addict will struggle and struggle to conquer their addiction until they “hit bottom” and realize their desperate need for a power beyond themselves to save them.

It is often in this encounter with a real and personal God that their life turns around and they begin to heal. But as long as they insist on doing it on their own, they remain enslaved to the substance or activity or behavior which holds them in prison. There is something real and substantial which happens in an addict’s life when they surrender to that “higher power.”

It’s not just addicts who go through this process of coming to see their need for something or someone beyond themselves. Every person comes to places during their lives when they are faced with the reality that they cannot and will not get to where they need to be without help beyond themselves. At times we turn to another person, hoping they will do what is needed or give what is required—and for a time, they may be able to do that. But there are limits to what we can give each other as humans, and if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that no human being can play the role of God in another person’s life without there being some very destructive and painful fallout as a result.

So why do we have such an issue with Jesus? I wonder sometimes if it is because we see in him what we know we were always meant to be, as well as our own capacity for evil and betrayal as it was demonstrated during his crucifixion. We see in Jesus and in his story both the heights and depths of our humanity. We realize, in looking at him, that we are not what we should be, that God doesn’t do things as we expect him to, and that the way God does things is the exact opposite of how we believe they should be done.

The New Testament passage for this particular Sunday is 1 Corinthians 1:18-23, in which the apostle Paul contrasts our human wisdom with God’s wisdom. In that congregation were many believers who were poor people from the lower classes, but also wealthy people from the upper classes. Roman society venerated nobility, wealth, and status, as well as intellectual learning and wisdom. What Paul was faced with was helping these believers see that in Christ, none of this was essential or significant in the long run, since every one of them stood at the same place—at the foot of the cross.

I’ve personally experienced the positive and negative cultural expectations that come with wealth, status, and higher education. I’ve been close to people on the bottom rung as well as the top rung, and I don’t really care for either place. The reason is that neither place is where Jesus lives. Where he lives is in the space where each person’s uniqueness comes together in equality and unity—and other-centered love dwells.

At some point we need to come to terms with the reality that we find our true identity, not in the wealth, status, intellect, giftedness, or position (or lack thereof) in this world, but in Jesus Christ alone. He is our true identity, for in him we find our worth, our value, our connection with one another and with God.

It is significant that God’s way of handling things is often the opposite of the way we prefer to handle them. One of the passages for this Sunday is Matthew 5:1-12, which is often called The Beatitudes. What Jesus put out there was an impossible agenda as the means for our participation in his kingdom life. For example, if you want to see God, you must be pure in heart—that’s usually how we read it. Actually what Jesus said is the pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God. Yet I read in the Old Testament that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. How will I ever see God, if my heart is so awful?

Remember that I said Jesus is our true identity. Why? We learn in the Scriptures that all things were made through him, by him, and for him. He holds all things together by the word of his power. We find that the God who is our Creator is also the one who took on our sinful human flesh and was not stained or dirtied by it—rather, he purified it, restoring back to its original design. The original human person walked and talked with God—we see this in the story of Eden. And this was what we were created for. And this is what Jesus forged within our human flesh—our pure heart was restored in his perfect work, and offered to us in the gift of his Spirit.

There is a beauty and wonder in a life that is restored, transformed by the indwelling Spirit. Most of the time we live oblivious to the reality of God’s life in us and with us. If we are content in our life as it is, we may see the cross and all that pertains to it as being foolishness and some clever man-made story. But the moment of crisis will come and does come to each of us. Are we willing to open ourselves to the possibility that there is so much more going on than this?

I cannot explain effectively what happens when I come to the place with regards to a struggle I am having and admit to myself, to God, and to another that I am not enough and I need help. When I experience a strength beyond myself, a capacity to love that is not my own, and an ability to say or do what is needed when on my own, I could never do or say it—this is the power of Christ in me. I cannot boast in myself at all. No, there is something wonderful which happens in and through me when I fully surrender to the Lord and allow his Spirit to work in and through me.

So often, we take credit for what, in reality, is God’s presence and power at work in us through Jesus by the Spirit. What makes us able to love our children when they are absolute pills to be around? What makes us able to offer help to someone who most certainly doesn’t deserve our help? What moves us to get up and go to work each day, to pay our bills on time, and kiss our spouse goodbye? Does that simply come from our brain cells firing a certain way? Or is it possible that along with healthy brain cells is the movement, inspiration, and power of the one who created us with the desire and capacity for other-centered love?

We are incredibly blessed, for Christ has given us himself in the Spirit, enabling us to live the perichoretic life we were always meant to live with God and each other. Perhaps it is worth our while to start each day in quiet, asking Jesus, “Are you in me?” and have received his assurance, asking him, “What would you have me do today?” We may be astonished to discover that what may be considered foolishness by many is a beautiful reality for us.

Dear Jesus, are you truly in me and with me? Free me from every lying voice, false belief and evil spirit which keeps me from seeing you as you truly are, living in me and at work in this world. How may I participate in what you are doing right now, as you live in me by your Spirit? Amen.

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ ”      1 Corinthians 1:18–31 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2023/01/olitblessed-are-you.pdf ]

[More devotionals may be found at https://lifeinthetrinity.blog ]

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Come, and You Will See

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by Linda Rex

January 15, 2023, 2nd Sunday in Epiphany—This morning as I write this blog for Epiphany, I find myself still in the season of Christmas. One of the songs running through my head is a hymn called O Come, All Ye Faithful. Part of the hymn goes like this:

“Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning
Jesus to Thee be all glory giv’n
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!
Oh come, let us adore him
Oh come, let us adore him
Oh come, let us adore him
Christ, the Lord!”

(John Francis Wade; trans. Frederick Oakeley)

As you can see, the emphasis of this hymn is on the incarnation, on the coming of the Word of God, the Son of the Father, as God in human flesh.

What struck me this morning as the song rolled through my head is that this hymn calls us once again to come to the side of the manger, to gaze anew upon the wonder of the Christ child–God’s gift to humankind—and calls us to worship. Once again, we kneel in adoration as we look upon this precious and wondrous gift to all of us.

Our Old Testament reading for today is full of prophetic pointers to the coming of this child: “The Lord called Me from the womb; from the body of My mother He named Me”; “…the Lord, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to him…”; “…I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa. 49:1b, 5a, 6b NASB). When we take the time to prayerfully and reverently observe this holy child, to contemplate what God has done in coming to us in this way, we are moved to worship in gratitude for God’s faithfulness and goodness.

Who is this marvelous child which sparks such celebration and wonder? Who is Jesus? Epiphany, then, is an expression of this wonderful sense of “Eureka” we get when we discover the amazing treasure of God in human flesh. God comes to us in a real and personal way, to join us in our mess, to raise us up into a new existence with him in the Spirit and one day in glory. What a good and compassionate and gracious God we have!

The apostle Paul calls us to a deep appreciation of God’s gift to us in the New Testament reading for this Sunday. He reminds us of “the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor.1:4b-8 NASB). Jesus, in his incarnation, came to live a truly human life, to forge within our human flesh our capacity to live in right relationship with God (and others). When Jesus is fully revealed in glory, we will be found blameless, because of what he has done. We lack nothing—because of him.

In our gospel reading, John 1:29–42, John the Baptizer saw Jesus approaching and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The first word is “Behold.” To behold something is to gaze upon it with intense attention. Here, in the Greek, it is used to point to what is being said next—that this man is the Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sin of the world. We need to pay attention to this reality about who Jesus is. Jesus is this one—the one who takes away the sin of the world. Not just the sin of a few special people. Not just the sin of the people who get their acts together. But the sin of the world.

This is a eureka moment—a moment when we pay attention to a revelation about who Jesus is—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is the one unique Son of God, the One who left the benefits of divinity for a time to join us in our humanity, in order to do what only he could do—free us from sin, from all that stands in the way of being rightly related to God.

There were a couple of John the Baptizer’s disciples who were profoundly affected by the prophet’s words regarding Jesus. They heard that this man, Jesus, was the one who baptizes in the Spirit. And they heard John say that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. So they did what each of us needs to do—they followed Jesus. As they did, Jesus asked them what they were seeking. They asked where Jesus was staying, perhaps in hopes of having a deeper conversation with him. So Jesus said to them, “Come and you will see.”

If we never take the time to come and see, to stop long enough to listen and learn more about who Jesus is and why he came, we will continue upon our life’s path, never any wiser regarding what really matters. But if we slow down and come to Jesus and sit at his feet awhile, gazing upon him and pondering all he has done, is doing, and will do, we will begin to see the truth about who he is and why he came. As we take time in his presence to converse with him, to dialogue with Christ through prayer, study of his Word, meditation, and the other spiritual disciplines, the Spirit will enable us to see more clearly who Jesus is. And the Spirit will even enable us to begin to see more clearly who we are, and how much we need Christ to transform, heal, and renew us. We will begin to see we are beloved of the Father, and are included in Jesus’ own relationship with his Father in the Spirit. And we will have even more reason to celebrate and worship the Lord.

Thank you, Father, for sending your Son to us, to bring everyone of us salvation. May we turn away again from all the things in this life which distract us and draw us away from focused attention on our Lord Jesus. Throughout this new year, may your Spirit enable us to have many eureka moments when we see anew and embrace again the wonder of your most perfect and precious gift—Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, “After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.” I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.’ John testified saying, ‘I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, “He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.” I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.’ Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, ‘What do you seek?’ They said to Him, ‘Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come, and you will see.’ So they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which translated means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).”     John 1:29–42 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2023/01/olitcome-and-you-will-see.pdf ]

[More devotionals may be found at https://lifeinthetrinity.blog ]

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Because God Smiled

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by Linda Rex

December 18, 2022, 4th Sunday in ADVENT | Love—We’ve come to the fourth Sunday in Advent already, and while contemplating the topic of love, it occurred to me that Joseph is a hidden gem in the Advent story.

Today in our media and literature, it is common to ridicule or demean men, especially fathers or men of faith. Granted, some of us have had fathers who utterly failed at their job of reflecting the nature of God and his love to their children. But I have met men who, though faulty and broken like the rest of us, took seriously their responsibility to serve, care for and honor the people in their lives, especially their wives and children.

Reflecting upon Mary’s story, it must have been so hard for the young woman after the angel told her she was going to become pregnant with a child who would be the Messiah. According to custom, she probably would not have had a single private conversation with Joseph at any time during their engagement. And though their engagement meant she was technically married to Joseph, they had to wait for a year to prove she was not expecting a baby by some other man. For her then, to end up pregnant meant disaster for her relationship with Joseph.

Joseph had every reason to divorce Mary, and was expected to. Thankfully, the custom of stoning unwed mothers was not as faithfully observed as divorce and public shaming was. It says something about Joseph’s heart and character that when he discovered Mary was pregnant, he sought to privately divorce Mary, not wanting to bring her to public shame. Considering the public humiliation of having a pregnant fiancée he himself was going to experience, Joseph also had to deal with all of the family and social consequences of what had occurred.

Then Joseph had a dream. In his dream, an angel told him to wed Mary, that the child she carried was conceived by the Holy Spirit and should be named Jesus, for he would save his people from their sins. Most of us don’t remember our dreams when we wake up in the morning. But Joseph was singularly moved by this dream, so much so that he broke all custom and immediately married Mary and brought her home. He honored her and her baby by caring for them and providing for them from then on.

Throughout Mary’s pregnancy, travels to Bethlehem, and subsequent travels to Egypt and Nazareth, Joseph listened to and obeyed the instructions he received from God through angels about taking care of the baby Jesus. Joseph was a father to Jesus, one who was led by the Spirit, so that Jesus could fulfill the mission his heavenly Father had given him while here on earth.

Whatever Joseph did, though, was merely a participation in God’s story. Israel for years had cried out, longing for redemption and deliverance. They would slide into slavery and sin, and then God would rescue them again, only to repeat the process. One of the readings for this Sunday is a beautiful psalm which reminds us that our only hope of being anything other than our broken, sinful selves, is for God to smile on us and to restore us into right relationship with himself. The psalmist says:

“Oh, give ear, Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock; You who are enthroned above the cherubim, shine forth! Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up Your power and come to save us! O God, restore us and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved. O LORD God of hosts, how long will You be angry with the prayer of Your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and You have made them to drink tears in large measure. You make us an object of contention to our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves. O God of hosts, restore us and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved. … Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand, upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself. Then we shall not turn back from You; revive us, and we will call upon Your name. O Lord God of hosts, restore us; cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.”

(Psalm 80:1–7, 17–19 NASB)

Do you see the repetition of the request, “O God restore us…cause Your face to shine upon us”? The expression “cause your face to shine upon us” is another way of asking God to smile on us. This song hints at the coming of God’s Son, the Son of Man, who will be instrumental in our salvation—our only hope of being restored and revived. And only because God smiled on us.

Since our heavenly Father was so willing to smile on us that he would send his own unique Son for our salvation, we truly have great hope, no matter how difficult our struggles. Since our heavenly Father was so willing to smile on us that he made provision for our forgiveness and our reconciliation with himself, we truly have peace and joy no matter how far we have fallen or how miserably we have failed. And since our heavenly Father was willing to do whatever it took to turn us back to himself, even offering us his own Son to us, we are able to rest and find comfort in his everlasting love.

We are caught up in the midst of God’s story, and like Joseph, are participating in what God is doing to turn us all back to himself. Advent reminds us that even when we are at our worst, God has smiled on us. Christ has come, is coming even now by his Spirit in our everyday lives, and will return again in glory one day. We are reminded to look away from our problems, look away from ourselves, and to look up into the face of our loving Father, to see him smile on us. And right there—we discover, we are saved.

Heavenly Father, thank you for smiling on us and giving us the gift of your Son and your Spirit. Remind us anew to turn away from ourselves and our sorrows and to turn to you. Smile on us again, so that we might experience anew our salvation, through Jesus, your Son. Amen.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,’ translated means, ‘God with us.’ And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”     Matthew 1:18–25 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/12/olitbecause-god-smiled.pdf ]

[More devotionals may be found at https://lifeinthetrinity.blog ]

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Faith and Persevering Prayer

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By Linda Rex

October 16, 2022, PROPER 24—Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is that I really believe about God and his attitude towards me as one of his creatures. On a good day I believe God is loving, compassionate and kind, but on other days, I find myself responding to life and circumstances as though God is grumpy and wishes he hadn’t bothered with creating these annoying creatures, of which I am one.

Granted, when life isn’t going well and it seems as though my prayers are hitting the ceiling, it is easy to project onto God the face of the people in my life who have rejected or hurt me when I failed to measure up to their expectations. When God doesn’t answer my prayers in the way I expect, or doesn’t seem to care when I am struggling and barely getting by, it’s very easy to believe that God is indifferent or even angry with me for some reason.

As I was putting together the study questions for this Sunday, I was reminded that my inner view of God and his attitude toward me directly impacts how I pray to him, or if I even pray to him at all. Of course, I wouldn’t pray at all if I didn’t believe there was a God to pray to. And I wouldn’t even try to pray to the God there is, if I believed he didn’t want to hear what I had to say. What would be the point?

But there are times when what’s in my heart, what I’d really like to say to him, I’m really not sure he would want to hear. What if all I want to do is yell at him and tell him how disappointed I am in him? Would that even be appropriate? Actually, I know that it is—I know that God wants to hear my all prayers, and treasures and protects my heart, but at times it’s just easy to question whether I can simply be real with God and to not be open with him.

Right before the passage for today in Luke 18:1-8, Jesus was talking with his disciples about things having to do with his death and resurrection, and with his second coming. He began to tell a story to help them be encouraged to always pray and to not lose heart. Like when he told the story of the dishonest manager, Jesus used a negative character, an unrighteous judge.

A widow, someone who would have been considered vulnerable and helpless, approached the judge and asked him to defend her against her opponent, who apparently was taking advantage of her. The judge, being a godless and irreverent man, refused to help her. The widow in Jesus’ story continued to go back to the judge and plead for him to assist her. Eventually the judge said to himself, “I could care less about what God or anyone else thinks, but if I don’t do something soon, she’s might give me a black eye!” So, he interceded on her behalf, simply to avoid any more harassment from her.

In contrast to the unrighteous judge in this story, Jesus said that his Father would “bring about justice for his elect who cry to Him day and night.” He said that God’s intent was to help right away and not to delay his response. God isn’t indifferent or insensitive to what is going on in our lives. But then Jesus said, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

At first glance, it may seem a little off for Jesus to ask this question. But really, it goes back to story and the point he had been trying to make. What we believe about who God is does affect how we approach him in prayer. Do we believe God is listening and wants to hear what we have to say? Do we believe God has our best interests in mind? Do we believe that when God doesn’t seem to answer that there may be a good reason for it, and that it’s not because he doesn’t care or that he’s condemning us? In Christ, our relationship with God is secure enough that we can be frank and real and open with him. But are we?

Who is this Son of Man who is coming again one day? And what kind of God is this that will be intervening in human affairs when Jesus returns? These are critical thoughts we need to wrestle with—is the God who will return to restore all things when Jesus returns a punitive, indifferent God or is he a God who bears our flawed human flesh which he himself took through death into resurrection and ascension? Is this Son of Man a God who is only interested in destroying “bad” people or is he the God who is once and for all removing from our total human existence all evil, sin, and death, and making everything right?

God’s intent and purpose in Christ is to renew all things and to bring all of us into right relationship with himself. If God is for us, who can be against us? He loves us and wants us to participate with him in this process, and one of the ways we do that is in prayer. Effective prayer doesn’t begin with us, but within the inner life of loving relationship between the Father and the Son in the Spirit. By the Spirit, Jesus shares with us the heart of the Father, then we are moved to pray, and our prayers back to God are lifted by Jesus in the Spirit to the Father, made exactly what they need to be in each moment.

As we participate with the Father and Son in the Spirit in what they are up to in the world, we pray. We may not see the results we think need to be happening, but realizing that prayer is birthed within the Trinity, we can trust that God is still at work in the situation and is bringing about what is best for all involved. So, we continue to pray—persevere—having faith that our trustworthy God isn’t going to let us down. We keep in close relationship with God because he loves us and is including us in what he is doing in the world, and we want to see things from his point of view and have his heart about it all. Jesus is entirely sure the Father will do what is needed and his faith poured into our hearts by the Spirit enables us to trust the Father as well, and encourages us to keep praying.

Jesus sent the Spirit from the Father so that each of us can experience life in relationship with God and be a part of what God is doing in this world. When we need faith and we need the ability to endure or persevere, we look to Jesus, who is the source of everything we need for life and godliness. Jesus himself is the source of the faith he is looking for—a gift which comes to each of us in the Spirit. Prayer is one way in which we actively participate in the wonderful relationship God has given us through Jesus in the Spirit. And faith in our trustworthy God is a gift Jesus gives us to enable us to persevere when it seems that no answer is coming.

Thank you, heavenly Father, for including us in your inner relationship with Jesus in the Spirit. Thank you for your gift of faith and enabling us to participate in all you are doing through prayer. Grant us the grace to persevere in prayer, especially when there seems to be no hope. Our hope and faith are in you alone, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, “Give me legal protection from my opponent.” For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.” ’ And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?’ ”       Luke 18:1–8 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/10/olitfaith-and-persevering-prayer.pdf ]

Lord, Increase Our Faith

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By Linda Rex

October 2, 2022, PROPER 22—Nowadays, when someone wants to move a grown sycamore tree, if they can afford it, they call up the local landscape company who sends out a large truck with a digger on the back. The workers use this machine’s massive teeth to dig the tree up, roots and all, and to tip it back and up over the truck in order to carry it. Then the workers drive the truck with the sycamore tree on top to its new location, dropping the tree there into the ground.

In reality, a lot of us exercise some kind faith without knowing we are doing it. Looking at this activity on the surface, we may wonder exactly how much faith is needed to move that full-grown tree to a new location. For example, the workers need to trust that the people who put the truck together and the digger together did their job properly, enabling the workers to drive the truck back and forth, and to use the digger to safely remove the tree from the ground. The workers trust that the spade will hold the tree safely until they get it to its new location rather than dropping it in the middle of the highway, creating a massive traffic snarl. The workers trust in the digger’s ability to place the tree safely in its hole, and in the owner’s promise to pay them for their efforts. There is a lot of faith being expressed in this simple act of everyday labor.

In my recent studies with Grace Communion Seminary on the topic of Paul’s epistles, I am learning about his concept of faith. Faith, for the apostle Paul, not only has to do with the trustworthiness of the One being trusted—Jesus Christ, but also about his complete and perfect trust in the Father expressed in his self-offering on the cross. This faith is given to us to participate in by the Holy Spirit, who lives in us. The matter of having sufficient faith to move anything at all has been taken care of by the One who is not only perfectly trustworthy, but who also has total faith in our trustworthy Father—and Jesus enables us to participate in that perfect faith in the Spirit.

When Jesus said that with the faith the size of a mustard seed one could move a tree and plant it in the ocean, he probably had in mind the previous conversation he and his disciples were having about forgiveness. When we come face to face with impossible tasks such as continually and freely forgiving those who deeply wound us, we discover our inadequacy, our inability to do what God asks of us in those situations. It is not a bad thing to realize that our best efforts are insufficient—it reminds us to turn to the One who, by his Spirit, can and will live our best response in and through and out from us.

In our New Testament reading for this Sunday, 2 Timothy 1:1–14, we hear the apostle Paul reminding us to “kindle afresh” or “fan into flame” (NIV) the gift we have been given. Adding fuel to a fire or kindling to hot coals causes the flame to leap up and again begin to burn intensely. Paul is reminding us that there is a fire we are baptized with, the Holy Spirit, and we do not want to “quench” this fire in any way. Rather we want to facilitate and encourage its continued flame.

In speaking of this gift of the Spirit, Paul reminded Timothy that this “sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice” was indeed living within him. Because God by the Spirit was living within Timothy, he did not have a spirit of timidity or fear, but one of “power and love, and discipline”. The indwelling presence of God by the Spirit enabled Timothy to do the ministry he was called into, and it was by the Spirit that Timothy found God’s grace and purpose at work in his life. It was not all up to Timothy, but rather a walk of faith in which the “faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” were expressed as he lived out God’s calling on his life.

When asked by the disciples, “Lord, increase our faith,” Jesus spoke of the tiny amount of faith necessary to pick up and move a large tree from land into the sea. And then he went on to use a parable, which in our culture does not really resonate with us, since so many of us object so strongly to slavery. But what if we looked at it a little differently?

Think of a college intern, Gracie, who works for a fashion designer, Laurel, in hopes of one day she might have her own designs looked at and used. (Sorry if this sounds like a romcom plot.) Gracie spends her days fetching Laurel’s coffee, running her errands, picking up her dry cleaning, and taking care of the designer’s everyday tasks. Gracie doesn’t get paid much of anything since she is an intern—she’s lucky to barely have enough income to cover her expenses with her side job waitressing in the student union.

If Gracie is out running errands for Laurel, is the designer going to call her up and invite her in for tea and crumpets, offering to serve her? No. Instead, Laurel will probably call her up and tell Gracie that while she is running around, she is to stop by Laurel’s favorite dinner spot and pick up a meal to go and to be sure to bring home Laurel’s favorite coffee while she is at it. Gracie will be expected to do all that, finish her errands, and clean off the coffee table so Laurel has a place to eat her dinner. And while Laurel is eating, Gracie will be expected to take the dog Feathers out for a walk and to feed her. And when Gracie shows up and finishes all her tasks, she should not expect praise and gratitude from Laurel, since Gracie is simply supposed to do what she was instructed to do, since she is just an intern.

Now, in the real world, I would like to hope that if there are any Laurel’s out there, that they would reconsider how they treat their interns. But this is a parable, right? It is to help us see in our minds eye what Jesus is saying. The disciples wanted Jesus to increase their faith, and Jesus said that even the tiniest bit of faith can move a large tree to the sea should it be exercised.

The only way any of us has any faith at all is in Christ, as we participate with him in his death and resurrection. It is Christ’s faith at work in us by the Holy Spirit which enables us to do difficult things such as forgiving what seems impossible for us to forgive. And when we do forgive, when we do live like we should, when we do say what is healing and encouraging rather than hurtful, should God stand up and applaud? No, because we are simply doing what we were created to do, being who we were created to be—image-bearers of the divine, reflections of the glory of God in Christ by the Spirit.

It is God’s life at work in us by the Spirit who gets the credit. It is for his glory and to fulfill his purpose. The life of faith begins with a God who is trustworthy and who, in Christ, lives the life of faith we were created to live within, and who gives us, in Christ, the faith necessary to follow him and live in the truth of who we were created to be as children of the Father. I would imagine that even the angels of heaven have delight as does the Father when his children return home to their real selves, living in right relationship with him and each other. But truly, isn’t that where we belonged all along?

Father, Jesus, Spirit, you made us to live in loving, other-centered relationship with you and each other. We cannot and will not do this apart from your life in us and with us by your heavenly Spirit. Thank you for giving us the faith of Christ by the Spirit, enabling us to trust you in any and every situation, as you always meant for us to trust you, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and be planted in the sea”; and it would obey you. Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, “Come immediately and sit down to eat”? But will he not say to him, “Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink”? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.” ’ ”       Luke 17:5–10 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/09/olitlord-increase-our-faith.pdf ]

God’s Unkept Promises

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By Linda Rex

August 14, 2022, PROPER 15—Even though I have experienced many healings from God in my life and have felt his comforting presence with me through this current battle with cancer, a part of me still asks at times, “But what about all those prayers and anointings for healing? Doesn’t God keep his promises?”

It is not unusual for us to come up against the reality that we do our best to trust God and he doesn’t seem to follow through on his promise that if we ask, we will receive. In fact, such seeming fickleness with regards to our sincere efforts to trust and depend upon God might even cause us to turn away from him, as we question God’s goodness, love, and faithfulness.

The book of Hebrews is a powerful testimony to what Jesus Christ, as God in human flesh, did in our place and on our behalf. And chapter 11 reveals a gallery of witnesses to the faithfulness and love of our gracious God, witnesses who experienced a full range of responses from God to their circumstances of life. “By faith,” it says, many of these people experienced God’s powerful intervention in their lives and circumstances as they participated in what God was doing in their world.

But then comes verse 39: “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised.” Apparently, some people never received from God what was promised. Having faith was not an issue for these people. And they had gained God’s approval by faith. But in spite of their faith and God’s approval, they did not receive what was promised. Instead, they experienced great suffering, loss, deprivation, and even death. How can this be? Why go through all those experiences if they would never receive the promises?

There is an underlying story beneath these stories which we need to keep in mind. All of our stories, as those made in the image of the God who is love, are swept up into his story, creating the history of our lives as a participation in all God is doing in this world. Because we share in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we have an existence far beyond this current one. And we can participate in that new life both now and in the world to come.

We discover, if we look closely, that our temporary existence in this world is merely a prelude to our full real life in eternal union and communion with the Father, through Jesus in the Spirit. Even if we were restored back to our physical human existence through “resurrection”, we would still eventually die. So, we seek a more wonderful resurrection, one in which we share in the glorified resurrected humanity of Jesus Christ.

It was in expectation of this that Jesus, with joy, faced the challenges, suffering and shame of the crucifixion. The writer of Hebrews calls Jesus the author and perfector of our faith, which means that it’s not all up to us to come up with enough faith to be pleasing to God. Jesus had and has perfect trust in our heavenly Father. His Father did not leave him in the grave after the crucifixion, but kept his promise to raise him up, restoring him to his place in face-to-face relationship with the Father in the Spirit.

So, if faith in a trustworthy God is not the issue, then what? Well, apparently there are times when what God asks of us is perseverance and endurance. He wants us to keep our focus off ourselves and to keep it on Jesus Christ, the one who bore so much suffering and shame on our behalf, for the joy that would come when all those who believe in him would receive in fulness what was promised them—life in intimate relationship with the Father in the Spirit.

In the gospel reading for this Sunday, Luke 12:49–56, Jesus expressed his longing that he didn’t have to wait for the crucifixion to be done with. For our sakes. Because he knew what a blessing and benefit his death and resurrection would be for all humanity. He knew we needed to be able to trust in and rely upon a good, good Father, and that was the very reason he had come—to bring us home to the Father, restoring our right relationship with him.

In this passage, Jesus reminded his followers that following him exacts a cost. And that cost may include being rejected by those closest to us, by our friends and/or family. This cost may include going through situations and circumstances without the answers we prefer—did not Jesus tearfully ask his Father for some way to accomplish his will other than the cross? And his Father, who promised to deliver him (Psalm 22) did not do so on this side of the grave. No, he waited while Jesus suffered horribly at the hands of human beings and while he laid in the grave.

Sometimes the cost of new life is death. I was walking the other day at Fontanel, feeling the presence of God so near to me. And I was enjoying the flowers and the fragrant scents on the air. The trees, grass, and kudzu were so green, and the butterflies were flitting here and there as they gathered the nectar from the blooms. In the midst of all that green, though, were the brown, black, and grey heads of dead plants and flowers. This thought came to me then: “In the midst of death lie the seeds for new life.”

In Christ’s death, we have been given the seeds to our new life. What we do with those seeds is up to us. Just because some circumstance, relationship, or desire comes to the place of death does not mean that is the end. When we look at Jesus Christ, to what extent he was willing to go so that we might be with him and his Father in the Spirit forever, we can discover the seeds to our own new life in him.

What may seem for a moment to be God’s unkept promises may, in fact, be his offering to us something greater, more wonderful, more eternal. What if, instead of focusing on the suffering, the difficulty, or the loss, we focused on Jesus Christ? What if we allowed God to be who he is, our loving heavenly Father, who knows what is best for us and who wants to bring us into new life, deeper into warm fellowship with himself both now and forever?

Heavenly Father, thank you for your love and faithfulness. Grant us the grace to keep our eyes on Jesus and off of the difficulties and struggles of this life. Enable us to walk by faith, trusting in your perfect love and faithfulness, no matter how things may appear at the moment, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace. And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”      Hebrews 11:29–12:2 NASB

See also Luke 12:49–56 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/08/gods-unkept-promises.pdf ]

Our Hidden Life in Christ

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By Linda Rex

July 31, 2022, PROPER 13—I was making some updates on my blog site this morning when I realized that my profile and the site welcome page were outdated. As I was making the appropriate adjustment to what I had written there, it came to my mind how easy it is for us to find our identity in the everyday things of life such as what we do for a living, who we are related to, and how we spend our time, rather than simply finding it in Jesus Christ.

How do you answer when someone asks you to tell them about yourself? I did not realize how often I use the phrase “I am…” when telling someone about myself. For example, “I am a pastor.” Well, yes, for a time I have done the work of a pastor. Or, “I am a wife and a mother.” Now, yes, I do have a husband so in that sense I am a wife—Ray’s wife. And yes, I do have two adult children, so in that sense, I am a mother. But are these things my sole identity? Why are these often the first thing out of my mouth, rather than something about who I am in Christ?

What I realized in reading the New Testament passage for today, Colossians 3:1-11, was that we often find our identity everywhere but where it has its true source—in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wrote that our life is hidden with Christ in God. Our true life, our true self, is found in Christ, in his beloved sonship in relationship with the Father. We are dead to anything that does not fit within the realm of Christ and his oneness with the Father in the Spirit. We can, because of Christ, say, “I am the beloved son or daughter of the Father.”

In that simple statement there is so much life! Think of it. The simple use of “I am” means that we participate in God’s life—in his personhood, in the sense that he has included us in his life as the “I Am” through Christ in the Spirit. To say we are beloved is to say we participate in Christ’s own relationship of other-centered love and affection between the Father and the Son in the Spirit. And to say we are a son or a daughter of the Father is to say we participate in Christ’s own sonship, thereby sharing in his rights and privileges as adopted children of the Father in the Spirit. As I begin to ponder these things, I zone off into oblivion—it is too much to get my mind and heart around all at once.

And thinking of where we find our true life, the apostle Paul tells us that we are dead to the rest—those things that no longer define us: anger, wrath, slander, immorality, impurity, evil desire, greed, abusive speech, and dishonesty. I’m sure there are many other things we think, say and do that are not a part of what God created us to think, say and do. There are many things we think, say and do which are not a healthy and genuine participation in Christ’s life of oneness with the Father in the Spirit. But they all died in Jesus’ death and are no longer a part of who we really are.

Our identity now is in the crucified and risen Christ. In Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension we find ourselves restored to God’s initial creative genius—bound through Christ in the Spirit to the Father in an eternal embrace of love which will never be broken. Nothing can or will separate us from God’s love in Christ. Praise God!

The kicker is—do we believe this? It’s true, whether we see it or know it or not. Our experience of it is enhanced as we begin to believe in the truth of it and begin to live it out. This is why the apostle Paul tells us to “keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” We prefer to focus on what we can see and touch, not believing in the invisible, intangible things of our existent such as the spiritual realities. But those spiritual realities are where we find our true life and our real identity.

Think of the gospel reading for today in Luke 12:13–21. A man rushed up to Jesus, interrupting his teaching session, to insist that he intercede in a family dispute over an inheritance. Jesus’ penetrating answer moved the discussion straight to the real issue: greed. Telling a story to demonstrate his point, he described a wealthy farmer who had just reaped an over abundant crop. This farmer decided he would build himself bigger barns to store the crop and sit back, and enjoy the good life. Jesus then asked a poignant question: “What if the rich man died that night? Who would get all that he had worked so hard to collect?” Then Jesus made his point, “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” We find our true wealth solely in our relationship with God.

There is so much more to this life than what we feel, see, hear, taste, or touch. All of our inner thought life and our senses find their true existence now within Christ’s life with the Father in the Spirit. That means that we are dead to anything that is not found within that life and so, as Paul wrote, we leave all that behind. We are dead to greed, so we no longer live in greedy ways. We are not defined by our money, by how much we earn, or how we earn it, or how we use it, other than in what way it is a reflection of Christ’s own way of being with regards to money. We are not defined by our wrath, slander, or impurity, but by Christ’s own way of self-control and chastity. What we keep our focus on is so important. Because Jesus is the centre of our life, we want to keep Jesus as the centre of our life, for he is the One who defines our true humanity.

We so easily get focused on the earthly realities that we often forget there is a life beyond this life that is grounded in the very person of Jesus Christ. He is the king of God’s kingdom and in his self-offering, has brought every one of us up into an objective union with God in which we find our genuine life hidden within his own life in relationship with the Father in the Spirit. It is by faith in Christ that we experience subjectively that relationship in tangible ways. We participate in Christ’s own death and resurrection, in his life with the Father by faith. And we live and walk now and forever by faith in gratitude and devotion as Abba’s beloved adopted children through Jesus in the Spirit.

Thank you, Abba, for making us your very own beloved children, for including us in your life now and forever. Grant us the grace to live in the truth of who we really are, in the hidden life that is already ours, through Jesus in the Spirit. Amen.

“Someone in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But He said to him, ‘Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?’ Then He said to them, ‘Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.’ And He told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’ ”  But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.’ ”     Luke 12:13–21 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/07/our-hidden-life-in-christ.pdf ]

Making Requests of God

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By Linda Rex

July 24, 2022, PROPER 12—Looking back at your life, what would you say is your perception of God when it comes to asking him for things? Would you say that God wants to hear from you or that he cares about what is important to you? Or are you hesitant about asking God for anything, believing that he is indifferent to what is important to you or what you are currently going through?

In the gospel reading for this Sunday, Luke 11:1–13, Jesus was asked by his followers to teach them how to pray. They had witnessed his dependency upon God expressed through daily prayer, and wanted to know more about how to do this themselves.

Jesus, rather than teaching them a technique, gave them a template for their prayer and then took them down a different road, a road straight into intimate relationship with his Father. He taught them that they needed to have a different conception of God and what it meant to ask God for things. He began with the words, “Our Father.”

In this beginning of his model prayer, Jesus brought them and each one of us into the midst of his own conversation with his divine Father, the One with whom he had been in relationship before time began as the eternally begotten Son and Word of God. Jesus insists that each of us join with him in engaging his Father in conversation, acknowledging just who he is. We are held with Christ in God even now, so every prayer is a participation in Jesus’ life in the Spirit.

God wants to draw us close to himself, to teach us how to truly be who we are as reflections of his life and love through Jesus in the Spirit. God wants us to reflect his glory and to live in ways that encourage, heal, and bless others. God wants us to experience his forgiveness and acceptance so profoundly that we begin to offer it to those around us. And God wants us to live in full dependency upon him, trusting him to protect us from Satan and the evil in this world. He doesn’t want us to have to deal with constant temptations, but to live victorious, productive lives in his kingdom even now by the power of the Spirit.

Our conversations with God are meant to be two-sided. Most of the time we tend to fall into the ditch of monologues, forgetting that every healthy relationship involves listening and speaking on both sides, going both directions. Constantly having one-sided conversations with someone eventually causes a sense of disconnect in the relationship and prevents true union and communion from developing. Eventually it may become evident that the party doing all the talking is rather self-centered and self-absorbed. The other party may end up asking themselves, “Do they even care how I feel or what I think?”

Have you ever paused in prayer long enough to ask God what he thinks about what you have said or asked, and then sat silently for a while to listen? God speaks to us in more ways than through his written Word. Sometimes the Spirit gives us nudges or impressions or thoughts or pictures as we commune with him in silence. If we never pause to listen, we may not realize he is speaking. And just a suggestion—we may want to write down what he has to say to us. We may want to remember it later and act on it.

In Genesis 18:20–32, the Old Testament passage for this Sunday, we read about three men visiting Abraham, one of whom was the Lord. As they were preparing to leave and visit the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah to see the state of the cities, Abraham dared to ask the Lord whether he would be willing to spare the cities if a certain number of righteous people could be found there. We read about Abraham negotiating with the Lord about the future of the people in those cities. This was a two-way conversation in which Abraham sought to remind the Lord of who he was, while the Lord graciously listened and responded to Abraham’s intercessions on behalf of those living rightly in these towns.

The book of Acts is full of stories of how the early believers had two-way conversations with the Lord in prayer. On one occasion, Ananias questioned the Lord when he told him to go find Saul (Paul) and to lay hands on him so he could receive his sight back. He had a valid concern—possibly dying at the hands of this zealot. The Lord listened to this concern and answered it, telling Ananias why it was important that he go and do as he was asked.

We participate in Jesus’ life with the Father in the Spirit. In this passage in Luke, Jesus emphasized asking, seeking, and knocking. He gave the impression that we need to keep asking, and to intensify our asking when we believe God isn’t immediately hearing us. Like the neighbor asking for bread in the middle of the night, we want to keep knocking and asking until we receive a response from God. His answer may not be what we expect, but it will be what is best for us.

And that is the tough place we may find ourselves in. Jesus reminded his disciples that the Father they would be praying to is a Father who wants what is best for his children. God may not give us what we want, but he will give us what we need or what is ultimately best. Sometimes his response is the opposite of our desire, and that is when it is imperative that we remember who God is and who we are as his children. We need to remember that the most precious and powerful answer to prayer the Father gives is the gift of his Holy Spirit, Christ in us, at work in our circumstances, hearts, and lives, bringing us into deeper fellowship with himself both now and on into eternity.

In our conversations with God, we want to keep in mind who God is. He is our God who loves us so much that he wants us to live in relationship with him now and forever as his beloved adopted children. God wants us to look and act more and more like his own beloved Son Jesus Christ, so he has given us the Spirit. God’s life, Jesus’ close relationship with the Father in the Spirit, is our very own, to participate in and live inside. And one way we can experience this close fellowship with God is through the spiritual discipline of prayer.

Father, thank you for inviting us into relationship with you through Jesus in the Spirit. Thank you, Jesus, for teaching us to pray and for making our prayers an acceptable offering for your Father’s pleasure. Heavenly Spirit, inspire us to pray and to listen, to have meaningful conversations with the One who has made us his very own, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul.”    Psalm 138:5 NASB

“It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.’ And He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” ’ Then He said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him”; and from inside he answers and says, “Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?’ ”       Luke 11:1–13 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/07/making-requests-of-god.pdf ]

Calling Fire from Heaven

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By Linda Rex

June 26, 2022, PROPER 8—As I was preparing to write this blog, I began to hear a noise outside my window. The fury of a thunderstorm was being unleashed, dropping heavy raindrops and tiny pellets of hail on the concrete. The thunder growling from the sky caused the cat napping nearby to raise her head and stare at the sheets of rain flying sideways by my window.

This was a timely event because I had just been reading the gospel account in Luke 9:51–62 where Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, was passing through Samaria. He had sent some disciples ahead of him to prepare a place for them to stay, but they were rejected by the people in that city. James and John, attempting to be helpful, were indignant and asked Jesus if he wanted them to call down fire from heaven and consume the errant ones. It’s understandable where James and John got their nickname “Sons of Thunder”!

Jesus’ response to their request isn’t in the earliest manuscripts, but it coincides with the apostle Paul’s message in our New Testament reading for this Sunday, Galatians 5:1, 13–25. Paul contrasted the works of our flesh—things like outbursts of anger, strife, dissensions, and factions, with the things of the Spirit—things like kindness, peace, patience, and self-control. The apostle reminded his readers that we live by the Spirit—our true life is in Christ by the Spirit, but we are meant to walk by the Spirit—our daily existence is meant to be walked out moment by moment in every situation in the Spirit, not in our flesh.

Our automatic human response to things like rejection, abuse, or disrespect may resemble that of John and James—we may ignite with passionate fury, seeking the harm of the responsible party. But Jesus’ response is different. Here, he just moved on to another town, recognizing that he could not do the job which he had been given by his Father in that particular town. And he began to talk with his followers about the cost of discipleship.

In the gospel passage for today, Luke described three separate responses to Jesus’ call to follow him. The first person gave an emphatic commitment to Jesus, that he would follow the Messiah wherever he went. But Jesus pointed out that, unlike the foxes and birds, the Messiah didn’t have a place to stay at night. His disciples had requested a place to stay but had been rejected—would this person be willing to accept such rejection and continue to follow Jesus, especially if it meant doing without the basics of life?

Bring this forward to today: As the cost of filling our gas tanks here in America begins to double or triple and the prices of our groceries skyrocket, we are faced anew with the question, will we trust God to care and provide for us? Will we continue to follow Christ when it seems that he isn’t going to make our life easier or more comfortable? What price are we willing to pay in order to follow Christ?

The second person who was asked by Jesus to follow him requested that Jesus allow him to bury his father before he did so. Though Jesus would not want us to harm or neglect our families, the reality is that we often make elaborate excuses for not simply obeying Jesus’ command to follow him. We find reasons that we cannot do as he asks, and we excuse ourselves by reasonable arguments as to why we should be able to continue on our way, unhampered by Jesus’ calling upon our lives.

In essence, Christ was saying to the man, “Let the spiritually dead take care of the physically dead. You go and proclaim the good news. That is the more urgent task.” We can care for and love our families, and still share the good news with the world while we are doing it. Jesus was reminding his disciples that there is an all-encompassing priority about the gospel. As he said elsewhere, seek his kingdom first, and all those things we’re concerned about will be provided.

The third person Luke described in this passage asked if he could first say goodbye to his family before he followed Christ. The disciples would have remembered that Elisha had asked Elijah this very thing when he was asked to follow the prophet, and Elijah had permitted it. But Jesus was describing an even more radical commitment to himself, one in which all took second place, including the customary expectations of society and family.

Jesus told this person that someone who begins to plow needs to keep looking forward, and not look back. Today most people in our nation plow using large equipment. Back then though, there was a single plow, possibly pulled by animals. Unless the person guiding the plow kept their eyes on where they were going, they would not create a straight row, thus ruining the possibilities of a good harvest. If they turned to look back from where they came, the row would end up horribly crooked and their efforts would be fruitless—a good picture of what happens when we take our eyes off of Jesus.

Keeping our eyes on Jesus in many ways is like walking by the Spirit and not by our flesh. The spiritual reality is that true life has come in the sending of the fire of the Spirit. The Spirit’s indwelling is the life the Christ in us, bringing us into fellowship with the Father. We live our lives in moment-by-moment dependency upon and in relationship with God by the Spirit. We follow the lead of the Spirit and in doing so, we follow Christ. We listen to and heed the living Word of God, Jesus, as we, by the Spirit, drink in of the written Word, allowing God to speak deep into our souls, moving us to obey.

We don’t turn back to gaze upon the spiritual death we once were living in, but keep our eyes focused forward on the living Word Jesus. He has set us free—so we live free, abandoning our past associations, plans, and deeds, and we embrace the new life he has given us by the Spirit. Jesus has moved us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. We have no desire to go back to our slavery to evil, sin, and death. So we keep our eyes on him, our mind and heart fixed upon his, trusting him to finish what he has begun in us, no matter the cost to ourselves.

This is a challenging passage for us today. Our world is changing. Times for many are getting more and more difficult. It is a struggle for some to simply find something to eat or a place to live. The good news is we are not doing any of this on our own. We have a Savior who dwells in us and with us, who knows what it means to be homeless and hungry, to be despised and rejected, and yet be held in the midst of the Father’s love. In the midst of the fury of the evil one’s efforts to kill, steal, and destroy, he holds us in his care and will lead us safely home. As we follow him in faith, he will finish what he has begun in our lives. Praise God!

Heavenly Father, as things get harder and harder for us, continue to keep us in your tender loving care. Thank you, Jesus, for understanding us so well and for holding us steadfastly in the Father’s arms. Grant us the grace by your Spirit to pay the cost of discipleship you ask of us, faithfully enduring to the end. Amen.

“When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem; and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him. But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But He turned and rebuked them, …. And they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, ‘I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’ And He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’ But He said to him, ‘Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.’ Another also said, ‘I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’ ”     Luke 9:51–62 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/06/calling-fire-from-heaven.pdf ]