God

All the Best Laid Plans…

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By Linda Rex

The planning commission met this evening, and one of the items on the agenda was the East Nashville Community Plan Amendment. The Planning department staff was recommending the approval of this plan amendment which would provide additional policy guidance for properties falling within the boundaries of the Highland Heights neighborhood where we meet for services.

As the members of Good News fellowship know, the process of preparing and doing this study has taken quite a bit of time. I have tried to share bits and pieces as it has gone along, and I did attend as many of the meetings as I could. I requested prayers for the meeting this evening, and for myself too, because I had agreed to say a few words along with other members of the community.

As I wrestled over what to say in the two minutes I was allotted, I scribbled this down, then crossed it off, and wrote something else. I prayed about it. And finally, I just went, trusting I would know what to say when the time came.

I was sitting there this evening, and eventually it came time for public input on the plan. The line formed, and I waited until several people had spoken. It seemed what they were saying was different than what I had planned on—which is what I was afraid of—so I was rapidly reassessing what to say. The line of people grew shorter, so I joined in, and eventually stepped up to the microphone.

It was an intense, critical moment for me, introvert that I am, and at that moment when I needed to know exactly what to say, I fragmented. I stumbled over my introduction and finally just apologized for being nervous, and dove right in.

I did my best to say what really mattered in that moment, but if you were to ask me now what I said, I’m not sure I could tell you what it was. I do know I thanked them for their efforts to hear all voices, and I expressed my concern for those who could not speak for themselves or defend themselves. I did express concern for those who have lost homes through no fault of their own, and while validating the need for growth, I expressed concern for the safety and wellbeing of our neighbors. I ended by expressing support for the plan they had put together.

I walked away convinced I made an idiot of myself, but prayerfully hoping the little I said was of some help. As I inched my way home through the rush hour traffic, I battled shame and humiliation and all the negative darts that could possibly be tossed at my heart. Thankfully, the voice of grace is louder than all those lies. I knew when I walked out the door of the meeting room, I was trusting God would take whatever was said and done by me and those around me and would turn it to the best for everyone involved. It was an act of faith.

I hope to hear soon about the results of the meeting. From what I heard early on, there was every reason to believe the policy would be passed. This means in the near future we can expect some significant changes around the church building where we meet, some significant growth and development along the corridors, but also some support of keeping the residential atmosphere in some portions of the neighborhood where there are single-family residences.

It occurs to me now as I write this that no matter what plans we may make, they are not set in stone. It is arrogant for us to assume that because we have decided things are going to be a certain way, that they are actually going to turn out that way (James 4:13-16). And sometimes we believe that if we pray about it, and we mean well, that God’s going to work it out the way we think it ought to work out, and we’ll know exactly what to say and do in the moment and will actually say and do it when given the opportunity.

The reality is that God has his own agenda. And sometimes he allows what we consider unthinkable because he has a greater purpose in mind. We need to learn to live with open hands—willing to receive from God something other than what we have set our hearts and minds on. What may seem just and right to us may be the very thing which is causing hardship for another person.

The struggle between various viewpoints of what should be done in this neighborhood is a good example of this. One neighbor doesn’t want to see one older house replaced by two or three new higher priced homes—especially when it means people who are renters have their homes sold out from under them. But another neighbor with an older home wants their home to sell in this way, because that is why they have kept their home—it’s their retirement—without it being sold, they lose all they have invested in that home. And that’s only one scenario. There are many more.

We can make our plans and set our agenda. We can pray, and fast and pray. We do our best in each situation and say what we believe needs to be said. But the outcome—how it will all work out—is fully in God’s loving hands. We trust he will do what is in the best interests of everyone involved. And we believe that even when evil, greedy people do get their way, in his good time he will make everything right in the end.

This is the walk of faith. It’s not always easy, and it’s best done with our hands in God’s hands. We trust he’s holding us, and we remember he has promised to never leave us or forsake us. He is our trustworthy Abba, our faithful Jesus, our ever-present Spirit. We can confidently rest in his perfect love and care. And so, as much as lies within us, we trust and we rest in him.

Thank you, Lord, that you are always aware of what is going on at every moment of our lives. You are faithful and loving—grant us the grace to trust you implicitly and completely in every circumstance, especially in the ones where we mess up or disappoint ourselves and others. You will work all things to fulfill your perfect plan. Bring our desires into unity with yours so you may grant us all we ever ask for. All through Jesus we pray, amen.

“May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble! …. May He grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your counsel! We will sing for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners. May the Lord fulfill all your petitions. Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand…. Save, O Lord; may the King answer us in the day we call.” Psalm 20:1a, 4-6, 9 NASB

Seeds and Flowers, and Maturing in Christ

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By Linda Rex

Outside the house next to our patio door sit two flower pots. Last summer we moved some tiger lilies out of a flowerbed and into these pots because the local mole had decided he had a hankering for flower bulbs and managed to eliminate most of them we had planted earlier in the year.

Even though we planted the tiger lily bulbs in the flowerpots, we assumed they were too far gone to even come up. But this spring they began to grow and after quite some time they put on buds. We were delighted when the bright orange blossoms opened fully—they are quite stunning when in full bloom.

In comparison with a tiger lily, the bloom of an avocado tree is quite tiny and unimpressive. If one were to look at an avocado flower, one would have to get up really close in order to even see it. It has six tiny white or green petals surrounding an intricate white and yellow center. And yet, when the flower has done its work properly, it produces a seed the size of a walnut enclosed within a thick layer which we consume as fruit. The entire avocado can be bigger than the size of a human fist—a far cry from the tiny flower it came from.

The size and beauty of a flower may be large and glorious, but this is not what determines what type of fruit it produces. Nor does it determine whether or not it produces fruit which matures in such a way as to produce seeds. Some flowers produce fruit which is seedless—a natural process which botanists and producers have taken advantage of in order to provide us with such produce as seedless grapes and seedless watermelons.

Plants come in all shapes and sizes, and so do the “fruit”—this word includes nuts, vegetables, and fruit. Fruit from a plant may mature beyond the state any of us would be willing to consume, but for many plants, this is what is necessary for the seed to fully ripen so when it is put in the ground it will produce a new plant. We often consume what is produced before it is fully mature—corn on the cob is a good example of this. In order to plant corn, the corn kernel has to ripen completely and then dry—only then is it mature enough to be used as seed for planting. But dried corn kernels are quite hard to chew and they’re not very tasty either.

A lot of what I’ve shared here is common knowledge for a farmer, botanist, or master gardener. They understand the process by which a plant reproduces and how to work with seeds, plants, and flowers to produce the best crop possible. It is interesting that Jesus, our Master Gardener, often used the process of planting, growing, and harvesting crops in order to talk about himself and the kingdom of God.

In one parable, Jesus used seed to represent the Word of God. He was explaining the different ways in which the Word of God was planted and the results of each scenario:

“Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” Luke 8:11-15 NASB

It seems that the problem with producing quality fruit lies not with the seed, but with the soil it lands on. The Word of God always produces a result—it is fruitful—there’s no doubt about that. But the ground which receives the seed can be harsh and unreceptive, or provide little room for the roots to grow, or be so filled with weeds that a new plant can’t grow and thrive.

If we were to consider this parable for a bit, we might see that the point of putting the seed in the ground is not just to have pretty flowers. Flowerbeds are lovely and I personally enjoy a garden filled with colorful blooms. But this was not the point of this parable—the focus is on the seed and what the seed was to produce—more seed. This means each seed needs to produce a plant which will grow to the place it flowers, it produces fruit, and the fruit matures to the point that it produces seed.

Seeds come in all shapes and sizes, and travel all over by a variety of means. Seeds are not meant to stay on the plant, but to be spread to new places. We experience the reality of this when we find oak trees growing in our pansy bed or an apple tree coming up in the vegetable garden.

When we hear the Word of God—the good news of God’s love for us expressed to us in his Son Jesus Christ, it is meant to take root in our hearts by faith. The Word of God, the indwelling Christ by the Spirit, works transform our hearts and lives. We open ourselves up to the work of the Spirit in our walk of faith and begin to mature as followers of Jesus Christ. Our lives begin to reflect the Word of God at work within us. Like beautiful blossoms on a plant, we glow with the glory God created us to bear—the image of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This flowering is not the end of the story though. We are meant to go even farther and mature into seed-bearing plants. Our lives and words are to be a testimony to Christ. In other words, the life-giving Word is carried to new places and planted in new ground—new hearts—because we have become mature seed-bearing plants. Jesus said as we go, we are to make disciples. Making disciples, sharing the Word of God with others, is to be a natural by-product of our spiritual growing up in Christ.

The environment in which the Word of God exists within us is critical in this process. Do we allow ourselves to be deceived by a word other than that which given to us in Jesus Christ? Do we allow ourselves to be tempted by other things which supplant the Word of God? Do we allow ourselves to be so absorbed in the cares and pleasures of this life that we suffocate the Word of God? All of these are ways in which we disrupt or hinder the process of spiritual growth God meant for us to participate in.

The healthier alternative is to receive the Word with an “honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” The Word of God sinks deep roots in the soil of our heart as we practice spiritual disciplines which open us up to the work of the Spirit within us. The Word of God can transform our lives and hearts as we obey the Spirit’s inner prompting to put away our idols and distractions and focus wholly on Christ. We make space for God to work by making sure we are not preoccupied with the cares and pleasures of this life.

And we are not satisfied with just the external trappings of spiritual growth. It’s easy to look as though we are a stunning example of spiritual maturity. But the proof is when what God has done and is doing in us is duplicated in the lives of those around us. When the Word of God begins spreading into the hearts and lives of those around us, then we know we are being fruitful, and that God’s Word is living and active, taking root in many new hearts and lives.

Thank you, Lord, for planting your Word in our hearts. By faith, may we allow your Word to grow and develop, transforming our hearts and lives in such a way that your Word may be planted anew in others hearts and lives as well. May we be productive plants for your glory, through Jesus our Lord and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

“As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” Luke 8:14 NRSV

Living Beyond the Ordinary

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By Linda Rex

Ordinary Time
Last Sunday at Good News Fellowship we celebrated Trinity Sunday, with an emphasis on the way God revealed himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit through our Lord Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension. We were reminded of the beauty of the Trinitarian perichoretic life—the divine dance—we were all created for and welcomed into by God’s grace and love.

Trinity Sunday is in some ways a highlight on the Christian calendar, as though all which has gone before has led us to this place of revelation and understanding. Rather than being just a mystery we can only gaze upon in amazed wonder, the Trinity is the place where we exist—we are held in Christ, in the midst of the love and life of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Our ordinary life is no longer just ordinary. It is a life swept up into the very Being of God.

Our lives as human beings—ordinary or not—are full of ups and downs, joys and sorrows. Sometimes we struggle just to make it through another day. Other times it seems we are on the top of the world. Life can be pleasant and easily enjoyed, or it may be excruciatingly painful and unbearable.

But whatever it is for us at the moment, we can know and believe this one thing—we are loved. We are never alone and forgotten. The psalmist wrote:

O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O LORD, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. (Psalm 138:1-10 NASB)

No matter where we are or what we are doing, we live every moment in God’s presence. But more than that, God brought us even closer in his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus took on our humanity and lived the very existence you and I live. He experienced life in this physical body, with all its frailty, in a world full of evil and struggle. God came near in Jesus Christ. God, in Jesus Christ, became God with us, Immanuel.

In Christ, God laid himself open for us as human beings to do with him however we wished. It is a sad commentary on us as human beings that when God came to dwell in human flesh, we crucified him. But that’s the very reason he came.

God’s purpose in Jesus Christ was to get down to the bottom of our broken humanity, down into the depths to which evil could go, and to turn evil, sin, and death on its head. He took our twisted humanity and untwisted it. He allowed us to do as we wished to him, so he could cure us of our bent toward evil and sin.

It was not enough that God in Jesus would allow us to do crucify him. He had even more in mind for us than just dying for us—that was not the end. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus was just the next step in what God had in mind for our humanity. For when Jesus ascended into the presence of the Father, he requested on our behalf that his Father would send the Holy Spirit. And Abba did send the Spirit.

The sending of the Spirit was critical. For not only is God present by the Spirit to all creation, he is also present through Jesus within you and me. By the Spirit, as we trust in Jesus Christ and what he has done in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, God comes to dwell in our very hearts. We are forever joined through Christ in union with God, and by faith, we can participate in Christ’s intimate relationship with his Father through the Holy Spirit. We are swept up into the intimate relations between the Abba and Jesus in the Spirit as we trust in Christ.

Now, by the Spirit, we live our ordinary lives in an extraordinary way—in union and communion with the God who created us and called us into life with him. We live our everyday lives in real companionship with Jesus in the Spirit, with God’s ever-present whisper to our heart telling us which direction to go, and how best to love and serve God and others. By the Spirit, the Word of God comes alive and begins to reveal Jesus the living Word to us, opening us up to the transforming work of the Spirit in new and deeper ways.

As we follow Christ and respond to the call of the Spirit upon our hearts and lives, we begin to change. And as we begin to change, the world around us begins to change. The Spirit leads us down new paths of creativity, compassion, and service. We are so grateful and joyful in our extraordinary living, we want to share it with others—and so we participate with Jesus in welcoming others into Abba’s loving embrace. This is the Trinitarian life we are included in and were created for.

The love of God is so great, he will not allow anything to stand in the way of his completion of this amazing creative work. God is sharing his life and his love with those he created. In spite of our failures, God will finish what he has begun—we have his Word on this.

Thank you, Abba, for all you have done to include us in your life and love. Thank you for the gift of your Son Jesus Christ, and for the precious outpouring of your Holy Spirit. Grant us the grace to humble ourselves to receive with gratitude your precious gifts. We give you praise and thanksgiving through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 9:35-39 NASB

Steeped in God’s Love

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By Linda Rex

Moving into “Proper” Time
One of the simple pleasures of life I enjoy is a nice cup of tea. I like different types of teas, and lately have had to limit myself pretty much to caffeine-free teas. During the summer, I fill up the sun tea jar with water and tea bags and set it outside to steep. Once the tea is made, I am able to enjoy iced tea—emphasis on the “iced” part of the drink.

Steeping tea is an interesting process. Putting tea bags in very hot water accelerates the process of steeping, while placing tea bags in cold water and placing them in the hot sun presupposes it will take awhile for the tea to steep. On cooler days, it takes most of the afternoon for the tea to penetrate the water, while on a hot Tennessee summer day, it only takes a couple hours.

Now that we have attended to the events of Pentecost, we move on the Christian calendar into what the lectionary calls “Proper” time. The time between Trinity Sunday and Thanksgiving Day is called “ordinary time.” During ordinary time we live out our Christian faith and the meaning of Christ’s resurrection in ordinary life. What we have learned and have come to believe about Jesus in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension now become a part of our everyday existence.

This morning I was struck by the Message Bible translation of Matthew 6:33: “Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. …” In my mind I can see a picture of you and me being the sun tea jar—vessels for God’s presence. We have been filled with the water of the Spirit, and the tea bags are present, full of God’s very life within us—Christ dwells in our hearts by faith. Now we are set in the sun of God’s loving presence each and every moment of our lives. What will come out of this?

I’m sure there are times when God allows the process of steeping to be accelerated. All it takes is a horrific or difficult event in our lives to put the heat on. The Spirit is always at work either way, and Jesus is always present in every moment—whether difficult or joyful. It is his indwelling presence which makes a profound difference in how we handle the events of our lives. Trusting him and allowing his life to penetrate fully our inner being is the process of steeping—and this is what we were created for.

All of life now is to be lived as we are led by Christ and filled with the Spirit in the loving presence of Abba. This is the “God-reality” of our existence. The “God-initiative” of our life is that Abba loves you and me. Christ is Lord, and he calls the shots—but always in love, looking out for our best interests and caring about our every concern and need. We listen to him and follow him wherever he leads us by his Spirit. There is a direction to our lives now—and it’s in devotion to him, not to our dead-in-Christ passions and lusts.

As we go through life, we are not to be anxious about anything, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6 NASB) We acknowledge our dependency upon God and allow him to be who he is—our Provider and Sustainer, the One who cares for us. This is the “God-provisions” of our existence: we understand everything comes from his loving hand, and so we live in humble gratitude each and every moment.

In this way, we are “steeping our life” in the One who is our Life, Jesus Christ, and we are drinking in of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. We are living day by day in the presence of Abba, growing in our love for him as we embrace more and more the truth of our being—who we are as his beloved adopted children, made in his image, after his likeness, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and being and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

It’s important to note the role the jar plays in the steeping of the sun tea. It’s not really a passive role, but neither is it the controlling role in this whole scenario. It many ways the jar is merely a “receptacle”—notice the similarity to the word “receptive.” Receptive is what we are asked by God to be—to receive the abundant love of God, the gift of that love expressed to us in Christ. God says to us: Receive the indwelling presence of God in Christ—the Holy Spirit—and allow him to have his way in you. Allow the Spirit to penetrate your entire existence so you are steeped completely in God’s love.

The jar is made of clear glass, enabling the sun to penetrate through the walls of the container, to interact with the water and the tea. Abba, Jesus, and the Spirit are all apart of the process of transformation, and work together to take what was and to transform it into something new. Our water-filled jar becomes a jar filled with a delicious drink which can be poured out to bless others.

We are not meant to have this transformation in our life only for ourselves. Part of the blessing of ordinary time is the opportunity to begin to see how we can share the life God has given us with others. We have received new life—and as we embrace God’s heart of love and grace, we can begin to share it with others, helping them to see the God-reality, God-initiative, and God-provisions are for them as well.

The sun tea jar sits on the table in the bright sunshine, not anxious or worried about making sure it gets the tea made properly. There is a restfulness about the entire process. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” He reassures us—he has it all under control. It’s not about our perfect performance, but solely about Christ by the Spirit completing what Abba has begun in us. He calls us merely to trust him, to trust the process, and to trust in the unending love of Abba—for he will finish what he has begun.

Thank you, Abba, for your perfect and unending love. Thank you that it’s not about us and how well we perform, but about what you have done and are doing even now through your Son Jesus Christ and your Blessed Spirit. We open ourselves to your perfect work. May we live each day in the truth of our existence and allow ourselves to be filled with the fullness of your love and life. In your Name we pray. Amen.

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33 NASB

“Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” Matthew 6:33 MSG

Fully Present and Filled

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By Linda Rex

Pentecost
I was sitting in a restaurant the other day with my family. Looking around the restaurant, I noticed a sight which is quite commonplace today—everyone at the table was looking at their smart phone. I was a little amused, because just a few minutes before that, I had caught myself looking at mine when I really didn’t need to.

It can be a real challenge to stay present in the moment with family, friends, and the task at hand, because there are so many distractions. Believe me—I love my smart phone. But I have had to learn to limit its use, or I will not be present to what is going on right in front of me and will miss valuable moments in my relationships and home life.

I think there are things we can learn about our relationship with God from this. Years ago, I believed the Holy Spirit was the substance God was made up of, that the Spirit was a force or power, but definitely not a Person. To see the Spirit as an object or force meant I was always having to ask God for more of the Spirit. Even though, as I believed then, I had been given the Spirit at baptism and God wouldn’t take the Spirit away, I was still in danger of Spirit starvation.

A song I fell in love with in those days was “More Love, More Power.”(1) This is a great song which was very inspiring to sing. But I began to see that it began with a false paradigm. This paradigm said—I don’t have enough love or power from God—I am starving spiritually. I only have a little bit of God’s power, so I have got to have more or I’m in real trouble. I desperately need God to give me more or I can’t be good enough (so I will be worthy of God’s love and attention or be a good person).

When Jesus spoke about the Holy Spirit, though, he did not seem to use this type of terminology. He spoke of the Holy Spirit as being a Person like himself (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13) Yes, he spoke about the Spirit as being given or poured out. Jesus said the disciples would be baptized with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. But Christ made it quite clear that the Holy Spirit was not just a power or force—he was a Person who would not speak on his own initiative but according to the Father’s will, guide them into all truth, and testify to them about Jesus.

A person such as the Holy Spirit cannot be divided up without destroying the Person in the process. The Spirit isn’t hacked up into pieces to be given a little here and a little there. At Pentecost, the apostle Peter—filled with the Spirit—explained how the events which had happened that day (the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on those gathered for prayer and worship) was a fulfillment of the prophetic word of Joel 2:28-29, which said the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh.

The Scriptures indicate God has become present by the Holy Spirit to each and every person. So why did Peter say in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit?”

Apparently there is a difference in how the Holy Spirit came to the believers on Pentecost (and how he comes to us today) than when he came on the men and women of the Old Testament. Back then, it seems as if they would be overcome by the Spirit and find themselves prophesying or doing extraordinary things, apart from their decision to have the Spirit’s involvement in their lives. I don’t think Saul really wanted to go about prophesying, but Samuel told him the Spirit would make him do this as a sign he would be anointed king over Israel. God seemed to work more externally with human beings back then.

The significance of repentance and faith in Christ which precedes baptism is the key. The New Testament church was born out of the events which had occurred during Jesus’ time here on earth. Jesus, the Word of God in human flesh, had lived, died, and then been resurrected, ascending into the presence of God taking our common humanity with him. The perfected humanity of each human being lies hidden with Christ in God. Our response, what we do with these events and what we believe about who we are in Christ is critical.

Jesus told his disciples toward the end of his life here on earth, “A little while, and you will not see Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me” (John 16:19 NASB). He indicated that he had to leave so that the Spirit would come to them. And when the Spirit came, Christ would be coming to them. The Spirit of Christ would indwell human beings, and in this way, Abba himself would be present.

Through Christ and in the Spirit, God is now present and available to each and every person. Notice the important details—through Christ, and in the Spirit. If you or I, or any other person, does not believe Jesus Christ was who he was, of what use is the gift of the Spirit? True, the Spirit works in mighty ways in spite of us—there is plenty of evidence of this in the Old Testament. But God always protects and honors our human dignity. He does not force himself upon us. The Spirit protects our personhood and invites us into relationship with God through Jesus, creating in us—as we are willing—the faith to believe.

The Spirit testifies to who Jesus is, and who he is for us individually. This is important, because at some point we need to repent of all our false beliefs about Abba, Jesus, and ourselves. We need to turn away from ourselves and turn to Christ. To receive the Spirit is to open ourselves up completely to the presence of God, allowing him full reign in our being.

The apostle Paul wrote, “do not get drunk with wine, … but be filled with the Spirit.” Being drunk means our bloodstream is filled with a substance which is altering our decision-making capability and reducing our inhibitions, often in unhealthy ways. Being filled with the Spirit means being filled with the Person and Presence of God himself and being governed by his heart and mind, not our broken, fleshly heart and mind. It means we are led by his will, purposes and plans, not our selfish, self-willed desires and efforts. We live undistractedly, fully attentive to and participating with Christ as he dwells in us by the Spirit.

It’s not that God has to give us more of himself, but rather that we are fully surrendered and open to him. What part of us are we holding back from God? What doors in our heart and mind are closed to God? What do we refuse to give up or surrender to him? How are we resisting or quenching the Spirit?

Coming to see this moved me to change the words to that song so we could sing it at church: “Your Love, Your Power, I give you all my life…And I will worship you with all of my heart, and I will worship you with all of my mind, and I will worship you with all of my strength, for you are my Lord.” There is a call to surrender in the preaching of the gospel. This is why each generation is so resistant. None of us want to turn over the reins of our being to someone other than ourselves—most especially not God, because he has definite views on what it means to be a human being made in his image.

What part of our lives and beings are we unwilling to surrender to the God who made us and saved us by his grace? Will we give him all, turning away from ourselves and turning to Christ? In turning to Christ, then, we are baptized—showing we agree that yes, we did die with Christ, and we rose with Christ, and one day we will be fully Christ-like, when we see him in his glory. We are agreeing with the truth of our being and are open to the indwelling Christ by the Spirit, having received the gift God has given us of his indwelling Presence.

Each moment of our lives, then, is spent in the indwelling Presence of God. Being baptized in the Spirit means we are swimming in the Triune life and love—in the midst of the Father, Son, and Spirit—participating in what they are doing in this world.

We can focus on our distractions—and there are plenty of them—or we can be present to the One who is present to us by the Spirit. Paul says to keep our hearts and minds on the things of heaven, not on the things of earth—meaning, be present to God and his Presence rather than the things of the flesh (Col. 3:1-4). This is what we were created for, and how we are meant to live—in the life and love of Abba and Jesus in the Spirit, forever.

Thank you, Abba, for the gift of your Beloved Son, and for the gift of your precious Spirit. Thank you for the gift of your indwelling Presence, and for inviting us into relationship with yourself. Grant us the grace to welcome and surrender to the gift of your Being through Jesus and by your Spirit, Amen.

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” Eph. 5:18 NASB

(1) “Worship” album, Michael W. Smith (2001)

Rising With Christ

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By Linda Rex

Ascension
I was reading an article this morning about the decline and mortal end of a famous actor who committed suicide. I remember the world being stunned by the news of his sudden death. He was, by all appearances, a warm and caring person who was trying to make the world a better place through the medium of film. He had been struggling in his career and personal life, yet this did not seem to warrant taking his life.

The unfortunate reality of show business is the inevitable fall which comes after the flight into stardom. Some actors and music artists spend their entire career trying to keep their place in the sun and doing whatever it takes to stay there. We see them having plastic surgery and following intense diet regimens, while looking for their next opportunity to ascend in their career.

The unfortunate reality is actors and music artists are dependent upon the approval of their audience, and human beings are unreliable when it comes to things such as music and film. Their tastes change, and the culture is always in flux. Hoping for continued success is a tenuous thread which may at any moment break.

What is it which drives the human heart to want this type of success? There must be an underlying yearning which causes people to tread this difficult, and in many ways, dangerous path.

King Solomon said, God “places eternity in our hearts.” Indeed, we each have a deep, internal yearning for paradise, which drives our efforts to create little heavens on earth. We find ourselves dissatisfied with the status quo—most probably because we were created for something so much more wonderful than this. There is a world we were meant for, created for even, and this broken, evil-filled world just doesn’t seem to be it.

Jesus took the path of a rising star, and in his final days was met with praise and acclaim as he entered Jerusalem that last Sunday. He had been followed by the crowds who loved his miracles, and to some extent, his preaching. Here was a man at the height of his “career.” Soon, if the crowd were to have their way, he would be crowned king of the Jews.

But crowds are fickle, and Jesus had many enemies. There are always those who do not want to share the spotlight, or who feel they are best able to run the show. Jesus encountered the worst in our human hearts as the tide turned against him and the crowd demanded his crucifixion.

The crucifixion of Jesus, however, was not the end of his story. The reality was, he was not who they thought he was. There was much more going on than was visible at first glance. Jesus was not just a rising star which fell from heaven. He was the Lord who created the stars, and moon, and sky. He sustained all things by the word of his power. He was God in human flesh.

His death was not the end, for he rose from the grave. And, after showing himself to those who would be witnesses to his glory, he ascended to his father in heaven. Stephen the martyr, saw a vision of Jesus standing next to his Father in heaven. He was alive, dwelling in inexpressible light, in Abba’s presence.

The great miracle which accompanied Jesus’ ascension was, he did not ascend to his Father’s throne alone. Because Jesus bore our collective humanity in his Person, his ascension meant all humanity ascended into the Father’s presence with him. The apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” (Col. 3:1-4 NASB) The objective reality of our human existence is our real life is in Christ, in his hypostatic union as the God/man. We are, even now, at this moment, in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

What we believe about Jesus Christ is critical. Our participation in the heavenly realities is in Christ, so we do not experience the truth of our heavenly inclusion apart from faith in Christ. Do we believe the truth of our existence? We died with Christ. We rose with Christ. We share in his glory both now, and forever. We are in Christ. By faith, we participate in his perfect relationship with the Father in the Spirit and share the glories of eternity with him.

Our longing for bigger and better things is at its root a longing for life as it was meant to be. We were created for eternity, for the Garden of Eden, for more than the best our human life has to offer. We were meant for flowing streams of crystal clear water and stunning, star-filled night skies. We were created to dwell in harmony, unity, and peace. This is the root of our human longings and is what we really seek, if we are willing to admit it.

We have the promise in the Scriptures that one day Jesus will return in the same way in which he left. We can look forward to his return with joy and expectation, as we trust he is the Person who is our redemption, our salvation, and our deliverance. If Jesus indeed holds within his Person the truth of our human existence, that we were created for life with God forever, then his return means we will finally experience our true heaven on earth. And this is definitely better than anything we could create for ourselves, since it will never come to an end.

It is true: We were meant for so much more than this. Our promise of a future in the new heavens and new earth is the gift of the Spirit. Embracing the Spirit of life in Christ enables us to begin to live in the truth of our existence right now. At this very moment, we are able, in the Spirit, to participate in the inner relationship between the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. By faith, we can live, even now, in the truth of our existence as God’s adopted children. And God has done everything necessary to make sure we will shine as the stars forever and ever (Dan. 12:3).

Thank you, Abba, for your great heart of love and grace. Thank you for offering us true life in relationship with you and one another, in a glorious future we cannot even begin to imagine. Grant us the grace to seek our true life in you and not in the temporary, transient things of this world. Thank you for giving us your precious Spirit, and your beloved Son, in whose Name we pray. Amen.

“And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.’” Acts 1:9-11 NASB

Tending the Cathedral

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By Linda Rex

I have been blessed with the opportunity over the years of visiting churches from many denominations. I have played a grand piano in a Methodist church, a spinet in a Christian church, attended a wedding in a Catholic church, a choral concert in a Catholic cathedral, and high mass in an Episcopalian cathedral. I have attended worship services in a Bible church and in a Baptist church, and meetings in churches of other faiths. I have been exposed to many different forms of worship and celebrations of communion.

Over the years I have met followers of Jesus from all over the world as well. There is a common spirit among these believers, which I often sensed from the first moment I encountered them. The Holy Spirit, who binds us together into the Body of Christ, was present in each of these encounters, for there was a unity which harmonized our differences, creating a oneness which could not humanly be explained. Between us was an understanding, an openness, and a gracious patience which made room for others to share in the community of faith.

A few years ago, I attended a meeting at a very large and beautiful church with lots of stained glass windows and tall towers. I was introduced to the person who tended to the building and grounds. This person was responsible for maintenance and repairs, as well as seeing the gardens were weeded and the grass was mowed. He was the one who made sure the bathrooms were cleaned, the sanctuary was dusted and vacuumed, and the kitchen was kept ready to be used.

In a large church—maybe less so in a small one—all of these items need to be taken care of in a responsible way so the church building may be used on a regular basis for worship services, children’s classes, and other important events in the life of the members. Often the pastor tends to the word of God and prayer, while other people tend to the physical details of the building—unless, of course, the congregation is so small that the pastor does everything.

When the tabernacle was built and put into use by Moses, he was told by God that Aaron and his sons would tend to the holy place and the sacrifices—the worship and liturgy of the people of God (Ex. 28:1). The tabernacle itself with all its equipment would be tended by the Levites (Nu. 3:6-8). There was a responsibility to the place where God put his Presence, which in that day was the tabernacle.

We can draw upon these pictures of God’s dwelling place when we look at the way God works today. The apostle Paul told the crowd on Mars hill: “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; …” (Acts 17:24-25 NASB) Paul was explaining that the God he worshiped did not live in buildings. This God is not contained within anything physical in that way. As we read in Psalm 139, God is present everywhere in every place in and through his Spirit.

People for centuries—millennia even—have assumed God needed a place to live in so he could be close to them. In order to worship God, they thought they needed to create a place for God to be. Indeed, even King David fell prey to this sort of thinking when he decided he wanted to honor and please God by building him a temple. God called him on it, asking him whether he at any time had asked for a place to live (2 Sam. 7:4-7). It was a rhetorical question—God doesn’t need any place to live—he is present all the time in every place.

And the truth was, at that moment and even when the tabernacle was being built, God was in the process of redeeming the temple he had already created for his presence to reside in. He was in the process of working out the redemption of humanity—those vessels who were created to bear his image and his likeness, and in due time, his very Presence.

In Christ, God entered our humanity, taking on our unique being as those made in his image—those who were distinct from God and yet meant to be one with him. And in joining himself to us in hypostatic union, God brought us into a unique relationship with himself, enabling us as human beings to receive the indwelling presence of God himself through Christ in the Spirit. We became the dwelling place for God. As the Body of Christ, we are also where God dwells by his Spirit within the spiritual community of believers.

What this means then is, we need to take seriously the reality we are, personally and collectively, the dwelling place of God in Christ by the Spirit. The apostle Paul reminds us: “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20 NASB) He understood we are the temple in which God dwells by his Holy Spirit, and we are responsible to care for and tend that temple.

One of the biggest struggles within the Body of Christ which I see today (and it’s a common struggle for humans everywhere) is the struggle to care for the temple of the Holy Spirit, the human body. I know from my own personal battles over the years, and hearing the painful stories of others, that food and sex can be direct channels into the desecration and destruction of the temple of the Spirit.

Those who have nurturing and caring personalities and gifts are especially vulnerable to this because they can be so busy pouring themselves into others, they fail to care for and tend to themselves. When we are busy with life, have many responsibilities, and are always on the go, we can neglect the temple of the Spirit, allowing ourselves to eat, drink, view, or participate in what is convenient and culturally acceptable rather than in what is best for us. Instead of nurturing the indwelling Spirit and the real Presence of God within, it is often much easier and more tempting to numb one’s pain or distract one’s mind or resolve one’s loneliness by becoming involved in illicit and unhealthy relationships, viewing pornography, or abusing food or other substances.

But God is gracious. He may have made us tenders of the temple of his Spirit when he created us, but he knew our tendency to go the wrong way and to do what is unhealthy and unloving. This is why we are so blessed to have the real Presence of God within. Because Jesus was willing to live and care for his own flesh the way we ought to, we can have the assurance that if we fail to properly tend ourselves, he is willing to intercede on our behalf. As we turn to him in repentance and faith, he continues to infuse us with his real Presence by the Spirit so we can and will overcome our failures to nurture and care for ourselves.

Because God dwells in human hearts by his Spirit, each and every person can come to know God in a real and intimate way. Each and every person, as they turn from their false concepts of a God external to them and detached from them, to Christ who by his Spirit comes to dwell within them, can live and walk with God in real spiritual union. This was what God intended from the beginning and wants us to share in both now and forever. As we tend to the temple of the Spirit (our own persons as well as the Body of Christ) we will find ourselves growing in our relationship with God and others, and becoming healthier and more Christlike in the process. And this was God’s purpose from the beginning.

Abba, thank you for calling us into relationship with yourself through Jesus and by your Spirit. Thank you that you have created us in your image to be your dwelling place. Create in us a reverence and respect for your dwelling place, for our own persons as well as the Body of Christ. Grant us repentance so we may turn away from our false concepts of you and our unhealthy ways of living and being. We trust you to finish what you have begun in us through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“But in the same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying, ‘Go and say to My servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord, ‘Are you the one who should build Me a house to dwell in? For I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the sons of Israel from Egypt, even to this day; but I have been moving about in a tent, even in a tabernacle. Wherever I have gone with all the sons of Israel, did I speak a word with one of the tribes of Israel, which I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?”’” 2 Samuel 7:4-7 NASB