God’s love

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

Why Surrender is Hard

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By Linda Rex

There is something unsettling about realizing you are not in control of your circumstances or the people in your life. This inability to manage the people and circumstances of one’s life may create a deep sense of anxiety or distress, especially if we are the product of a dysfunctional family where chaos, control, or abuse were the normal, everyday experience of our youth.

Our deepest inner struggle sometimes may be to obey the call by the Spirit to surrender. We may cling so tightly to the outcome of what needs to happen, that we stifle the process, and we restrict the free flow of the Spirit of life.

Surrender is a real struggle for some of us. It is our natural human inclination to demand our own way, to figure out our own solution, and to determine for ourselves what the beginning and end will be. Truly, we have never fully let go of our effort to decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil. It seems our natural tendency is to stand under that tree longingly looking upward, reaching incessantly for what we in our hearts know is not the real solution to our problems.

Whether we like it or not, this unwillingness or inability to surrender, is deeply rooted in this simple reality: we do not know who God is. The God we believe in—if we say we do believe at all—is apparently not the kind of God who is really trustworthy and faithful, and truly loving. If he were, we would implicitly, completely, and without reservation, trust him.

Perhaps the reason we don’t have any faith in God is because the God we learned about or have been exposed to, is not a God we feel we can give our allegiance to and trust in. Perhaps the issue is not whether or not God exists, but rather, coming to a different understanding about who he is.

Joel Davila spoke this past Sunday at Good News Fellowship (access his sermon here) about this very thing. It is important we reexamine at times what it is we believe and don’t believe, and why we believe what we do. We need to ask ourselves, “Is it possible I have been wrong in my understanding about who God is, and what the Bible teaches about him?”

Many people first read the Bible beginning in Genesis and right on through. They see a God who is angry and vindictive, and who consciences the destruction or genocide of whole people groups. And then Jesus shows up and is not understood at all. He seems to indicate he is God even though he is demonstrably very human—and he seems to be the antithesis of the God of the Old Testament. And the people who follow him end up dead, or even worse, perpetuate the death and genocide of people groups in his name.

And that is the root of the problem. We just do not know nor do we understand the truth about who God is. We don’t read the Bible in the light of who God really is, as he has revealed himself to us. We cling tightly to our prejudices, our views, and our culturally or religiously influenced beliefs about the being and nature of God.

This is why the Spirit through the Body of Christ calls us to repentance—to a turning around or metanoia—to a turning away from our false beliefs about God toward what is true. God has revealed his true nature and being to us in the Person of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit has come to open our minds and hearts to understand, receive, and believe this truth, and to live in and by it.

One of the greatest misunderstandings of us as followers of Christ is in regard to how we read the Bible. We often believe that if it’s in the Bible, then it is something we should do. The Israelites and other Biblical figures did and wrote things in the name of God which were quite truly, awful and hard to understand or forgive. But the Bible must always be read with the understanding these people were inspired by God to write, yet they were broken people who wrote about God for God from a paradigm in which they did not fully know or understand the nature and being of God as he really was.

We must never read the Old Testament, or any part of the Bible, for that matter through any lens other than the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Scripture, and as Hebrews 9:19 says, even the book of the law, needed to be sprinkled with blood—to have God’s grace extended to it.

Jesus Christ is “the radiance of his glory and the exact representation [or ikon] of his nature.” (Heb. 1:3 NASB) Whatever we read in the Bible to learn about God’s Being must agree with the Person of Jesus Christ and his revelation of the Father. If it doesn’t seem to jive, then we need to be open to the possibility that we, or those who wrote these things, may have misunderstood or misinterpreted the motives, heart, will, mind, and actions—indeed, the very nature—of God.

How we read the Old Testament is also critical. I share this often because it made such an impact on me. My professor and mentor, Dr. John McKenna, taught the proper way to read the Torah is to read it in the order it was written. This means we don’t start in Genesis 1:1, but rather in Exodus 1:1. In Exodus we see God calling, and revealing himself to, Moses. Moses had the privilege of hearing from God’s own lips a description of his Being (Ex. 34:5-7). This description by God of himself is summed up in the apostle John’s words, “God is love,” (1 John 4:8) and “God is Light” (1 John 1:5).

This God of love and light drew a people into covenant relationship with himself at Mount Sinai, bearing with them as they wandered the wilderness, and finally bringing them to the edge of the Jordan River. It is here Moses wrote Genesis. His purpose was to teach the people the truth about who this God was they were in covenant relationship with, and who they were as his people. He was their Creator and their Redeemer, their God of covenant love and faithfulness. He was a gracious God who called them into relationship with himself and gave them a way to live in loving, faithful relationship with him by teaching them his way of being.

The nation of Israel wrestled through the centuries in this relationship with their God. They struggled to love, follow, and obey him. They always seemed to fall into the default of our human brokenness, into the lies perpetuated about the angry, condemning God of the nations who demanded servitude and sacrifice. Worst of all, they applied God’s name to things which could not have possibly come from the heart of their loving, gracious God.

How do I know this? Because when God chose to reveal himself to us by sending his Word into our humanity, this is not the way Jesus Christ was. Anything which does not coincide with who Jesus was and is, as he revealed the Father to us, needs to be reconsidered and reexamined. We need to have the humility and personal honesty to say it is possible we, all of humanity and us personally, have misunderstood.

This makes some of us very uncomfortable. But the Spirit calls us to see Abba in the face of Jesus, not only through the written Word. Apart from the revelation of the Living Word, the written Word has no substance. Jesus is the exact representation of the Father, so whatever we read in the Old Testament, or all of the Bible for that matter, must be seen and understood through the lens of Jesus Christ.

And so, the apostle John writes Jesus was very human and tangible, while at the same time he was fully God. The early church fathers sought to put words to all this and came to see the God revealed to us in the Person of Jesus Christ was One God in three Persons. This relational God is a God who is Light and who is Love. The followers of Jesus Christ worship this God of Light and Love because he was revealed to us in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

This relational God of Love and Light revealed to us in Jesus Christ can inform and transform not only our reading of the Bible, but every facet of our lives. We can find hope, strength, and an ability to trust in this God. This is the God who is willing to, and who does, join us in our darkness and brokenness, just so we can come to know him and to live in relationship with him. He comes to us even now in the midst of our struggles in the real Person and power of the Holy Spirit.

His purpose is not to harm us, condemn or reject us, but to draw us closer to him, and to share every aspect of life with us. He doesn’t expect us to carry everything ourselves but invites us to participate with him in finding and carrying out a solution to our struggles. When we can’t carry on, he carries us. But, then, we find ourselves in the place of needing to do the difficult thing: surrender.

Surrender is the hardest thing for us to do. But what if God was just like Jesus? Then could we surrender? If God was just like Jesus, could we trust him in every situation and allow him to care for us and provide for us, and maybe even direct us where we should go?

Surrender is tough. But not impossible, because Jesus completely surrendered himself to his Abba, and to us, even to the point of death. Any surrender which may be required of us is within the context of Christ’s perfect surrender. And he, by the Spirit, shares that surrender with us even now. Whatever we have need of is ours in Christ by the Spirit. This is why Jesus is the central point of the Christian faith.

If it is true of Jesus, it is true of our Abba, and therefore, of his Spirit. In the Spirit, through Jesus, it is becoming true of us, as we surrender and trust in the perfect love and light of God as expressed to us in Jesus Christ.

Dear Abba, thank you for never giving up on us, but continuing throughout the millennia to teach us the truth about who you really are—the God who is Light and who is Love. Thank you for sending your Son to us in Jesus and now by your Spirit so we can come to know you in truth and participate in your love and grace. Awaken us to the reality of your Love and Light through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.” Hebrews 1:1-3a NASB

“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:1-3 NASB

Looking Forward

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By Linda Rex

I apologize for not writing a blog last week. My goal is to write one every Friday or thereabouts, but last Thursday I took my family to a cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains to spend a long weekend. This was the first time we had done this together as a family, and I appreciated this opportunity for a change a scenery and some time away from my ministry responsibilities.

At Clingman’s Dome Visitor Center

During our visit there I visited the Clingman’s Dome visitor center. The view from there was stupendous. The mountains stretch out as far as the eye can see, and they were just beginning to come alive with new spring growth and blossoming trees.

This may sound odd, but I was impressed with the numbers of people who were there just to see the sights. Some were all decked out in hiking regalia, ready to take on the challenge of a mountain trail. Others were there with family, taking pictures of one another, with the mountains as a backdrop.

There was a constant bubbling hum of joy—of sharing the common appreciation of the beauty and wonder of the creation. To me, this is the calling we all have and that we share in, whether we realize it or not—to bear witness to the glory of God, and all he has done and all that he is. In many ways, this is a hint as to what we are called to as God’s adopted children—to revel in and celebrate the wonders of God’s goodness, love, and grace.

This theme continued on throughout the visit for me. One afternoon I went over to Cherokee to sit by the Ocanaluftee River and do some personal reflection. The water was swift and clear, running over rocks and creating little spurts of white here and there. The trees were just beginning to put on leaves, and some were filled with flowers. The birds were singing their hearts out, creating a pleasant atmosphere. The place where I sat was surrounded on all sides by the mountains, so it seemed tucked in and cozy.

Down the river from me, a man was fly fishing, without much success that I could see. A couple of children were playing in the water opposite from where I was sitting, pretending their dolls were swimming. Upstream, two girls were relaxing in the water where it was deeper, coming up occasionally, soaked and laughing. A couple was pushing an elderly lady across the pedestrian bridge in a wheelchair, stopping occasionally so she could enjoy the view. Groups of families were having lunch together, their voices carrying across the water to where I was sitting.

It occurred to me after a while that I was experiencing one of those moments in life which are foretastes of our future with God in the new earth. We’ve been talking about the new earth and heaven at our Wednesday night discussion group, and we’ve seen the scriptures which describe the new earth where God comes to dwell with humanity forever.

The apostle John describes a river, the water of life, flowing from the presence of Abba and his Son—the ever-flowing river of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. We find our life, our renewal, and our healing in him. The life we live together forever will be the perichoretic life in which the Father, Son, and Spirit have existed for all eternity. Their way of being is filled with outgoing love, generosity, and creativity, and we have been made to share in this through Jesus and by the Spirit.

Our future life as glorified humans will be filled with such beauty and joy, we can only catch little glimpses now. We anticipate the day when we all will live together in each moment in the truth of our existence as human beings—loving God with all we are and loving our neighbor as ourselves. There will be ongoing joyful celebration of all God has made and all God has done through Jesus and by the power and presence of his Spirit, forever.

It is essential for us as broken people to take time to slow down enough to catch these “glimpses of joy.” It is good for us to be attentive to the signs of eternity which are evident all around us, but we often are too busy or too broken to attend to. When we allow ourselves to have eternity on our minds, we will find ourselves recognizing these moments more easily, for they are all around us, happening all the time—but we are usually too busy, distracted, or pain-filled to notice them.

What the Word of God did in coming into our human flesh and joining our humanity with the divine Being, made possible for each of us a sharing in the life and love of God even now. We have the future to anticipate, but we also have the present to enjoy. God has brought us into relationship with himself. He has done in Jesus Christ all that is needed for us to share both now and forever the blessing of living in his presence.

But God does not force himself on us. He has reconciled himself to us in Christ, and he invites us by the Spirit to reconcile ourselves with him. He has brought us into oneness with himself in Christ, and by his Spirit invites us to accept, embrace, and live in the truth of this. He has created a future for you and me which is filled with joyful celebration of all God has done and all he has made, and offers it to us to receive it and begin to participate in it even now.

By the Spirit, Abba calls to us right now, saying, “Come rejoice with me! All is well! Drink up—the water of life is all yours! Don’t just take a sip—soak in it, play in it, build your life around it, let it affect and influence all of your relationships, decisions, experiences—from now on into eternity.” We are to trust in the blessedness of the gift of God’s Son and live, both now and forever, in the truth of our being as God’s adopted children, in and through Christ and by his Spirit. This is our real life, and one we can begin to experience right now, as we are willing.

Abba, thank you for the blessed gift of joy and celebration we have in your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Thank you for all your blessings, all you have created for our enjoyment and pleasure. Grant us the grace to be attentive to the glimpses of glory you give us in our everyday lives, and the grace to always live gratefully and joyfully in your presence both now and forever, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:1-2 NASB

The Gated Way

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By Linda Rex

Lent
We’ve been discussing heaven on Wednesday nights at our group meeting. This week we were examining how the beginning of the Bible and the end of the Bible come together with humanity having access to the tree of life.

In Genesis, we learn God created Adam from the earth, and then picked him up and placed in in a special garden. In time, God brought Eve from Adam to join him in this Garden of Eden. And within this special garden was the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were told they could eat of any tree in the garden they wanted to, but they were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

From the beginning God offered humanity the tree of life. This true life was meant to be ours—a joining together of our life with God’s life. We were meant to participate in an abundance of being in which we drew our life from God himself, in fellowship and harmony with him.

Adam and Eve, in choosing to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil brought upon themselves and all humanity the sentence of death. For millennia since we have as human beings chosen the way of death rather than the way of life, by going our own way and determining for ourselves what is good and what is evil. We have closed the door between us and our Creator and Redeemer, refusing to receive our life and being from him (even though our life really does come from him).

The cherubim which God set at the door to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve left there, he set there to protect us. He knew in this state of self-determination, self-reliance, and self-will, humanity would only spiral down into nothingness and self-destruction. And this was not what he created us for. We were meant for so much more than this—we were meant to truly live.

The pages of the Bible are filled with God’s story of how he brought this cosmos and its inhabitants into existence out of nothing. It tells how he created human beings in his likeness to share in his glory, and how when they chose the way back to nothingness, he came to reveal himself to them and to deliver them.

The One who was the Son of God and through whom all things came into being entered our sphere of existence: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men (John 1:3-4 NASB)”. This God in human flesh, Jesus Christ, stood on earth and said to those around him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life (John 14:6 NASB).”

In the final chapters of the Bible, in the apocalyptic language of the day, the apostle John describes the coming of the New Jerusalem down to earth. All has been made new—new heaven and new earth—and God has come to dwell with humanity here on earth. From the place where God dwells flows the river of life, and by it the tree of life, which bears fruit and leaves which bring healing to the nations (Rev. 21-22).

Somehow along the way, we as humans seem to always manage to wander off the path which would take us to the tree of life. Our best efforts actually prevent us from participating in what God meant to be ours all along. It’s like we’re standing at the gate, fumbling with the latch, and yet we can’t seem to figure out how to open the door. We’ve tried climbing over the fence, crawling underneath it, and even attempted to cut our way through. But in the end, it turns out, there is only one way to get in—through our Lord Jesus Christ.

This doesn’t mean anyone is excluded, but rather that all are included. This means the opening is available to each and every human being—because Jesus stood in the place of each and every human being. Because he is God in human flesh, Jesus Christ is the redemption of each and every human being—he is the Gate, the Door, the Way—the Path to true life, the life we were created for.

This Stone which the builders rejected (Psalm 18:19) is the very foundation of the new life which is ours. And, so, we cry, “Hosanna!”—save us! We long for this life, and we seek so often and in so many ways to find it in our human, temporal existence. But we end up in slavery or in some form of death because of our efforts. In our hearts, we are always crying in some way, “Lord, if you are real, then please, save us!” And yet, we avoid with horror the very source of our true life—Jesus Christ.

This is what we each must wrestle with as we seek our path to real life: Who or what is the source of my life? From what, or who, do I draw my existence, my joy, and my very being?

There are many paths to walk, but only one trodden first by our Maker and Sustainer. There are many doors we can walk through, but only one Door which leads to real life. There are many reasons to get up in the morning, but only one Logos, or Reason, which gives real purpose to our lives. God will bring us each to the place where we must deal with the truth of our existence—we must face up to the reality there is only one way to live as human beings, and it’s not our way, it’s his.

Our humanity has been swept up into the divine life and love in Jesus Christ. He has purchased for us, through his broken body and shed blood, an entirely new human existence. He has in essence, in himself, recreated us as human beings and picked us up and placed us once again in the garden from which we were expelled. He has led us by the hand to the tree of life and is standing there with the fruit in his hand, inviting us to eat.

We can reach out, take the fruit, and bite off a large piece and begin chewing. Or we can try to run to the other end of the garden and grab some more of that knowledge of good and evil. Jesus calls out to you and to me, “Eat and live!” This is why we come to the table of communion each Sunday: We are invited again to come to Christ, to find our life in him, to share in his broken body and shed blood by partaking of the bread and the wine once again—our participation in communion is a turning away from ourselves and our feeble attempts at finding our own path and life, and a turning to him, showing we are drawing our life from him and him alone.

And this is why we participate in the act of baptism—the one-time expression of our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection through being immersed in water. We demonstrate in this act our immersion in the Spirit of life which Abba has sent through his Son. We show in a real way our inclusion in the body of Christ—the gathering of those who are actively participating in the life which is ours in and through Jesus Christ. We are dead to our old ways of living and being and we have been raised to new life.

Whatever we may understand heaven to be or not be, we do not need to wait until the end of our life to experience eternal life. Eternal life begins now—in our participation in Christ’s life. Jesus has entered triumphantly into our human existence, bearing it in himself to the cross, and bringing it through death by crucifixion to the resurrection into new life. He bears our humanity, even now, in the presence of Abba—this is the ultimate reality of our existence we celebrate during Holy Week.

We are included in God’s life. Every moment of our existence is lived in the real presence of God, through Jesus and by his Spirit. This is why the apostle Paul said, “Be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18 NASB)”. We embrace the indwelling Christ, the One who is the Way, the Life—our real existence, for he lives in us by the Spirit. We have real life, now and forever. This is the true blessing of our existence, for which we give thanks and praise to God.

Thank you, Abba, for sending your Son and your Spirit, so we may share in true life with you both now and forever. This Holy Week, remind us anew of your grace and love, and awaken us to a deeper faith, through the gift of your Son, Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Open to me the gates of righteousness; I shall enter through them, I shall give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous will enter through it. I shall give thanks to You, for You have answered me, and You have become my salvation.” Psalm 118:19-21 NASB

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matt. 7:13-14 NASB

The Wind of Hope

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By Linda Rex

Lent
The other day I was sitting outside in a garden when I felt a breeze begin to blow across my face. The tree branches swayed and bent with the movement of the wind. The air was comfortably warm, and the color of the deep blue sky contrasted with the browns and grays of the winter foliage.

As the gentle wind blew the trees about, I was reminded of what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit. He said we don’t really know where the wind comes from or where it is going. In the same way, he said, we don’t know where and how the Spirit is at work in someone. The Spirit is not a thing we control or manipulate—the Spirit is a person we have a relationship with.

It seems when we come up against struggles in this life or we experience difficulty with being unable to change what we would like to see changed, we often blame God or ourselves for it. If we are a believer in Christ, we may even accuse ourselves of not having enough of God’s Spirit, or not praying hard enough, or of not “being in the Word” enough. We pour out upon ourselves condemnation for our failures and shortcomings.

It is easy to lay the blame for much of our faults and difficulties at our own door. If only I had…. If I just would…. And often, there is good reason for us feeling we are to blame. There may be some basis in fact.

It is just as easy to lay the blame elsewhere, at other people’s feet. I wouldn’t have this problem if he hadn’t…. Or, if she hadn’t done that, then I wouldn’t be in this position right now. There’s always room to blame someone or something.

Yet Jesus, in his preaching, taught us to throw away all the stones. None of us should be casting stones at anyone else, since we are all equally guilty and at fault. There is no place for stone-casting in the kingdom of God (John 8:1-11).

We can forget, though, that we may still be in our stone-casting mode when it comes to ourselves. We may hold things against ourselves which God forgave a long time ago. In fact, God forgave it all millennia ago on the cross—so why do we hold onto it? Why do we wander about in the darkness, thinking we are rejected or unloved by God, when in reality he has forgiven and is forgiving us?

In our struggle against those things in our lives which do not reflect the glory of Christ we were created to bear, we can find ourselves wallowing in our failures. Life is a struggle, full of difficulties and pains and griefs. We are going to trip up and not live in the way we know we should. Other people are going to point the finger and remind us of our shortcomings. But what we do with our failures is critical.

We must not lie about them. The apostle John says when we act as if we don’t have any faults, we are lying and not walking in the truth (1 John 1:5-10). To lie about, ignore or deny our failures means we are walking about in the darkness. We are not walking in truth.

The truth is we are all walking in the Light of God’s presence in each moment of our lives. By the Spirit we are all in the presence of God at all times. There is no existence apart from God’s Being as Father, Son, and Spirit. Whatever we do, good or bad, is in God’s presence—to say we have not done anything wrong is to say something that God already knows isn’t true. So why even try to pretend we are perfect?

When Jesus ascended to heaven, he sent the Spirit from our Father—he gave us the indwelling presence of God within. This is a perfect gift, as it is the gift of an ongoing relationship with Abba through Jesus in the Spirit—a relationship we were created for and were intended to have from before time began. This relationship is not dependent upon our perfection, but solely dependent upon God’s infinite love which was demonstrated to us in his Son Jesus and what he did for us in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

The struggle we may have as individuals is receiving this gift and embracing the truth we live as forgiven sinners each and every moment of our lives. Sometimes the idol we need to cast down is the belief we could, if we tried hard enough, attain perfection of some kind in this life. This doesn’t mean anything goes, but rather we live daily in the humility of our creatureliness—we’re capable of the worst, but God has declared that’s not who we are. Rather, we are forgiven, beloved, and accepted in his Son Jesus—he is our saving grace.

Laying down the stones we’d prefer to cast at ourselves is hard to do sometimes. It may be that castings rocks at ourselves is the normal thing for us to do, since everyone who we truly cared about has done this to us—so we believe this is what we deserve. We may feel better, temporarily, about ourselves if we cast a few stones, because casting stones is easier than facing up to our failures and asking for forgiveness and help with them. There is some measure of pride in being able to cast stones at ourselves rather than humbly owning our need to repent and trust in Christ, asking him to transform us by his Spirit.

In their novel Healing Stones, Steve Arterburn and Nancy Rue create a character who struggles with a major personal failure and who desperately wants to make things right. At one point her counselor hands her a rock, and says to her, “…take this stone with you…and find a use for it besides throwing it at yourself.” The truth is, there are times when our worst enemy is ourselves. We can be more of an accuser than the Accuser himself—and save him the effort in the process.

We don’t always know what the Spirit is doing in us or in those around us. The process of healing is intricate and difficult, and very time-consuming. The work the Spirit does in a person’s mind and heart is often hidden and isn’t seen until after the fact—we see the effects, not the actual work the Spirit does.

We can participate in the healing process in others and in ourselves by throwing away our rocks and stones. In fact, we may even consider turning them into something useful instead. Rather than condemning others for their failures, perhaps we can help them–being honest enough about our own failures we could come alongside them and help them to grow and heal in ways in which we didn’t receive help and encouragement.

This opens up space for the Spirit to do an even greater work of healing and renewal. Sometimes our failures are, when we surrender them to the grace of God in Christ and the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit, the means by which the wind of the Spirit brings hope to others. In this way, we participate in the grace given in Jesus for all humanity and find healing for ourselves in the process.

Abba, thank you for embracing us in spite of our failures and weaknesses. Thank you for embracing us in your grace, in the gift of your Son and the Spirit. Holy Spirit, blessed Wind of God, blow in and through us, filling us anew with the heart and mind of the Father, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8 NASB

Signs of Spring

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By Linda Rex
Lent
For me, driving to the post office means taking a spin in my car through the Tennessee countryside. I get to see pretty ranches with horses and cattle, rocks and trees on the hills, and lovely homes in the valleys. I pass a pond where the ducks paddle about looking for tidbits to eat. Though right now most of the trees have no leaves and the ground is covered with brown leaves from last fall, there is still a quiet sense of beauty and the presence of God.

As I drove through the woods this morning, the road opened up to where I passed by a tall willow tree. Though the other night the tree was gray and seemed to be dripping sorrow, this morning it was covered with little green leaves. The difference was striking and quite beautiful.

On the ground nearby where grass was beginning to turn green again there were some yellow daffodils blooming their hearts out. The signs of spring were everywhere this morning. And I had to ask myself, as one who spent many a winter in southeast Iowa, what’s going to happen when it freezes again? It is only February—it’s too soon for all this!

In the story of Abraham and Sarah, we are reminded there are always signs of spring, even when the evidence tells us otherwise. God came to them when they were too old to have children, when their bodies were beyond the capacity for child-bearing, and told them Sarah would have a child. God presented them with a paradox of hope in which the only proper response would be faith—an implicit trust in the faithfulness and goodness of God.

We may find ourselves today in the winter of our lives where all our hope is dead and we don’t see any hope for new life. We may be stepping out into new ways of living and being, but all we are meeting with is opposition and resistance. And yet, it is good to be reminded these bleak and difficult times may be the very place where we experience the greatest new growth and transformation.

What we need in the midst of our winter or death and dying is hope. We need to see with the eyes of faith the evidence that spring is on its way. We need to recognize the reality that even when death is all around us, there is new life being birthed in that very moment.

During the season of Lent, we have the opportunity to reexamine the life of Christ at work within us and be reminded of how God has called us into relationship with himself in Jesus Christ. The Spirit enables us to see what is really going on in our hearts and minds, and in those areas we have turned away from Christ, he invites us to turn back again. At the basis of our examination, though, needs to be an assurance of God’s love and faithfulness to us as expressed in the gift of his Son and the pouring out of his Spirit.

We were created for life—life in close relationship with Abba and Jesus in the Spirit. The real life we were created for is a communion and oneness of being in which there is a mutual pouring out of and pouring into by each and every participant of God’s life. We make room for others as they make room for us. We make room for God as he has and does make room for us in Christ and by his Spirit.

It is the disruptions of this perichoretic life which we attend to during Lent. We may ask ourselves, “How am I participating in God’s life and love? Am I living in the truth of who I am as God’s child, made in his image? Does my life and how I live it orbit around myself, or am I keeping in step with the divine dance—receiving and giving—receiving what God pours into me and pouring it back out into God and others? In what ways should I turn away from myself and turn back to Christ and Abba, and out to those around me?”

The point of this contemplation is not to focus upon ourselves. If our examination of the life of Christ at work within us revolves around us and our failures, we have missed the point. This kind of self-examination only creates discouragement and defeat. It focuses on death and dying. And it does not attend to what really matters—the life of Christ at work within us by the Holy Spirit.

Our journey during Lent can echo Christ’s journey during his forty days in the wilderness. He was challenged by Satan to deny his identity as the Son of Man and to live out of his being as the Son of God. But Christ identified with you and me instead by choosing to live in total dependency upon his Abba by the Spirit.

This is our life. As Satan attempts to draw us away from this truth of our being, distracting us with all the ways we can live as gods and goddesses under our own steam, we can instead choose life. We can choose instead the eternal life Jesus spoke of which is the deep knowing of our Abba and the Son he sent. Instead of focusing on our failures and shortcomings, we focus on the reality Jesus stood in our place—his life for our life. We share in his perfect relationship with his Abba by the Spirit.

Instead of relying upon ourselves in self-centered living, we can live in total dependency upon Abba through Jesus in the Spirit. Satan and his ways of self-centered living are defeated foes. Death, evil, and sin may still be all around us, and still haunt the inner recesses of our mind and heart, but the true reality of our perfected humanity is hidden with Christ in God. There is life in the midst of death—hope in the midst of failure, sorrow, and defeat.

We need to attend to the signs of spring and ignore the overwhelming evidence of winter all around us. We need to walk by faith, not by sight. Christ is our life, and he lives within us by his Spirit. God is at work even now, and will not cease working to make all things new—in heaven, and on earth, and within us. And he will finish what he has begun—we have his word on this—and, thankfully, God always keeps his word. He is trustworthy.

Abba, thank you for your faithful and compassionate love. Thank you for your boundless grace expressed to us in the gift of your Son. And thank you for pouring into our hearts your precious Holy Spirit. Thank you for including us in your life through your Son in your Spirit. Grant us the grace to trust you will finish what you have begun in us, believing what you have in mind for us is far beyond our capacity to ask or imagine. May we leave winter behind and focus on spring, no matter how bleak things may look at the moment, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“[Abraham] is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why it was ‘credited to him as righteousness.’” Romans 4:17b-22 NIV