By Linda Rex
May 3, 2020, 4th SUNDAY OF EASTER—As I recently looked at how well we as a community, a state, a nation, and a world are coping with COVID-19, I was reminded anew that all this COVID-19 data are not just numbers on somebody’s spreadsheet. They are actual people and families and businesses which are being impacted by what is happening right now. These people have names, relatives, jobs (or at least they used to), and are doing their best to deal with those concerns which weigh heavily on them in this moment—illness, death, job loss, financial stress, or being separated physically from those they love.
How we deal with the particular stresses we are facing right now individually and as a nation depends primarily, I believe, on our perspective—the lens through which we view all these events. In a culture in which there is such a strong emphasis on our ability, even our responsibility, to solve these life and death issues on our own, it is easy to understand why there are so many views regarding this whole situation. These include a sense of fear or anxiety at all the inevitabilities or possibilities and an insistence that our government resolve all these issues apart from any personal political preference or leaning.
Honestly, I’m not sure what a person does when faced with catastrophic issues such as these if they believe it is all up to us solely as human beings to solve these issues. How can we have any assurance that any of this will work out all right in the end?
If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we want there to be people in our lives who know us by name and care about us enough to look after our interests, not just their own. We want to have governments who seek the best for every citizen and for the country as a whole, without taking advantage of anyone or neglecting those who cannot care for themselves. We want community leaders to take an interest in providing the basics of life for residents while at the same time providing quality of life for each person who lives there.
We ask for a world, nation, state, or community, in which each person is known by name, cared for according to their needs and preferences, and is able to pursue his or her own goals or ambitions. In this life, these are obviously not realistic expectations, yet I believe we often have these expectations even though we may never openly admit to it. It is made obvious by our response to events such as COVID-19 and all its accompanying restrictions and changes.
I believe we may be a lot wiser if we were willing to surrender these expectations to the reality that there is a profound difference between the human systems, governments, societies and culture of this world and the kingdom life described for us within the pages of the Bible. One of the flaws throughout the ages of the Christian church was its equating the kingdom of God with a particular human government or ruler. This was never meant to be the case.
What Jesus teaches us is that in his coming to us as God in human flesh, the kingdom of God came near or came among us. In his power and presence, God’s kingdom is real, tangible, and planted within our cosmos, to effectively, in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension, alter our human existence both now and forever. There is an over-reaching, undergirding, cosmos-filling kingdom which supersedes and surpasses any human government or leadership. This is a spiritual kingdom which can only be entered into by faith in Jesus Christ.
This may be hard to understand and accept. To say that Jesus is the center, the only door by which we enter by faith into these tangible spiritual realities, is, for many, a way of saying that these realities are exclusive and leave people out. This is far from being true. Rather than leaving anyone out, this is the assurance that everyone is included. This means that no person needs to live life apart from the blessing of knowing and being known by the One who created, redeemed, and sustains all. No one need struggle through life and its catastrophes and troubles all alone without comfort, solace or help.
Yet we do it. We choose to believe that none of this is true and that we can get through life just fine on our own—we don’t need anyone telling us what to do, how to do it, or to rescue us when we fall. This is especially true in these parts of the world where we do not really struggle to make ends meet or to take care of the everyday necessities. Many, if not most of us, can comfortably live our lives apart from any of the spiritual realities.
This is why Jesus said that we need to enter the kingdom of heaven as little children (Matt. 18:3-4). Children tend to realize their dependency upon those who care and provide for them. We need to recognize that we are more like wandering sheep who get ourselves into dangerous situations when we don’t listen to and follow our shepherd. Sheep who know and follow their shepherd are the ones who find themselves in pastures where they have the water and food they need, and they will be tenderly cared for should they be sick or injured.
There will be struggles and suffering in life, whether we believe in Jesus or not. The difference will be that as believers we know that God knows us and calls us by name. We have come to realize that God not only knows us personally, he loves us, and he is personally interested in what is happening in our lives. He is working moment by moment for our best, even though that may mean we temporarily struggle or suffer. The psalmist writes, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 NASB, emphasis added).
Jesus knows the way of suffering, for he has walked it himself. He does not ask us to go anywhere he has not gone or will not go with us. To follow Jesus is to share both in his glory and in his suffering. But we do so in the knowledge that God knows us by name and we belong to him—we don’t go through anything in this life that he is not going through with us right now and helping us through. There is no reason any of us need face life apart from being intimately connected at the core of our being with the One who is our life, and spiritually connected with others who share our life as adopted and beloved children of God, sheep of the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls.
Today, take a moment to ponder—in what way am I personally wandering about like a lost and forgotten sheep? In solitude and silence, invite God to call your name and to speak his words of love and grace to you. Consider, even if you do not sense God’s presence or words, what it means to be a sheep who hears his voice and follows. What does it mean that God knows you by name? What does it mean to be loved by God? Share with Jesus your commitment to follow him wherever he leads, from this day onward, no matter the cost.
Dear God, thank you for offering us life in Jesus Christ. Grant us the grace to listen to your voice, to hear you call our name, and to know we are your very own. Enable us to know we are loved and held, cared for tenderly as a shepherd cares for his sheep. We want to follow you wherever you lead, Jesus, even if it requires suffering and struggle. Grant us the grace to do this. In your name, Jesus, we pray. Amen.
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you can example for you to follow in His steps, ‘who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth’; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:21-25 NASB
“But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” John 10:2-5 NASB
By Linda Rex
The recent news here in America has been filled with heated discussions and fervently expressed opinions regarding the appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in the light of the allegations by women such as Christine Blasey Ford. I have friends and family on both sides of this issue, and I find myself appalled that here in America, this what our political and justice system has come to.
Of course, if I am honest with myself, I have to admit that probably this has been going on for millennia in every country on earth. People in positions of power and in positions of judgment have always been just that—people, people with flaws, failures in their past, and ambitious plans for their future. There have always been people who took advantage of other people, who denigrated, abused, and sexually assaulted women (and children).
There have always been victims, too. On my visit to the Freedom Center, I was reminded of the millions of people who were devalued and dismissed by others as being merely property—objects to be used and then discarded. The magnitude of what humans do to one another is appalling. And it breaks my heart.
Both the perpetrator and the victim are in a difficult place in any of these situations. The victim, because they are at the mercy of someone who is allowing evil to run rampant in their soul, and the perpetrator, because they are at the mercy of evil, surrendering momentarily or throughout their life to the pulls and passions of their broken humanity or to the twistings of their soul which arose out of the evil done to them.
In this case, we add the additional level of concern which arises when someone such as a Supreme Court judge has the capacity and the authority to affect millions of people. Then such things as character flaws or broken pasts become so much more than just a personal matter—they become an essential part of the decision-making process.
For a victim to stand up and say, “This person did this,” takes more courage and requires greater fortitude. Does our political process have room to truly hear and respond to the victim with justice and fairness? And are we also able to discern when this is just a political move by an opponent? In my view we are treading in areas where the human heart and mind has great limitations. Who can read another’s motives and intent?
There is only One who can always be just and truthful; there is only One Man of integrity. And it’s not me. Nor is it any of these candidates for the Supreme Court. Neither is it any of these witnesses at the place of judgment. Neither is it any of these people making these decisions, giving their opinions, or executing judgment in these situations.
The wider venue which now surrounds any such decision which has been created via social media and the international scope of our news networks prevents a small group of people from simply listening to the facts brought before them and making a decision. People who, before all this modern technology, would never have even heard about what was going on, much less participate or give an opinion, are now part of the political and judgment process.
But this is not necessarily a bad thing. What complicates this issue could actually be its solution—if people were drawing their life from the correct source. The problem is, we draw our life from within our broken humanity, from the evil which twists us, or from the people around us, or the media which informs us. We ignore the real life which could and would not only inform us, but also expose the evil and work to redeem, heal, and transform it.
The answer is not religion. It is not having a theocracy (yes, I just wrote that.) It is not making everyone into a Christian, although that would be nice, I suppose, depending on what you meant by Christian—Christians are not always very nice people. Actually, it’s not really any of these things. In fact, I’m not sure exactly how to resolve this apart from the Man of Justice—the only One with perfect integrity, purity of motive, and genuineness of heart.
In the Scriptures we read how the people of Israel were God’s people—a theocracy. They had great laws—God’s laws, and celebrated religious festivals, and gave meaningful prayers. But they still had evil, unjust kings and judges. They did not care for the marginalized or do justice for those who could not defend themselves. There was something fundamentally wrong with the spirit of the nation—it was turned from its center and this was reflected in its public policy and government.
The reality is, what we are seeing in America as well as in the world today is a reflection of our broken humanity when it refuses to acknowledge the truth of its existence and its center in its Source. Our identity as human beings is rooted in the Trinity whether we like it or not. Made in the image of God to reflect his likeness means we are created as unique persons who are of the same essence to live as equals in unity and harmony. The purpose of our existence is to love God and glorify him forever. We are meant to love God and love one another—not to exist in any other way.
Because we choose define ourselves and not let God define us, we end up in messes, overcome by evil, and at the mercy of sin and death. God came in the person of the Word to share our humanity—not so we could continue to define ourselves, but so that we could share in his perfect Person who holds our true identity, and come to our senses. Christ has forged within our humanity a New Man—a new person who bears the divine likeness, who is capable of living and walking in integrity, in humility, and in love. The old man is, in reality, dead and buried. The problem is, we don’t want to give the “old man” up—he is comfortable, familiar, and fully under our control (or so we believe.)
But we must give him up. He died with Christ and rose with Christ. Jesus sent the Spirit so the New Man would take his place in human hearts. If we want a world where justice and integrity prevail, we must leave the “old man” in the tomb and walk out into the morning light in the new existence which is ours.
There is a new spirit at work in this world—Jesus said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5 NASB). This Spirit has been poured out on all flesh as predicted, the apostle Peter said (Acts 2:17), and now the New Man has come to dwell in human hearts. As we turn from ourselves and turn to Christ, and trust in God’s perfect love and grace in Christ, we will discover a new existence which is available to us—Christ in us, the hope of glory. As Abba through Christ in the Spirit lives in us, we find a discernment, an integrity, a purity, and a capacity to love and be loved we have never experienced before. The Spirit begins, in transforming us, to transform our world.
The issue now is our rejection of our new humanity as created for us and redeemed for us in the person of Jesus Christ. And this is the issue: Just bring up Jesus’ name and listen to the response! Like I said before, I’m not insisting that everyone become Christian—Christianity is flawed because it is a human religion. I am saying, though, that there is a way of being which involves Jesus Christ and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit—an acknowledgement of the Source and meaning of our existence being Someone outside of ourselves and our human constructs.
Because we reject Jesus Christ, we reject our renewed, transformed humanity. Christ is Source of our existence—“in Him we live and move and exist,” (Acts 17:28 NASB)—so his is the Spirit which surrounds us, fills us, cares for us, and sustains us. Should we not allow his Spirit to guide and motivate every moment of our human existence? Should we not permit his Spirit to inform, teach, heal, transform, and renew us in every part of our politics, our justice system, and our marketplace? Should not the Spirit of Christ be the essence of our integrity, our honesty, and our purity at every point in our life?
We are all one humanity in Jesus Christ—he stands in your place and in mine. There is no condemnation in Christ, so before the heavenly tribunal, the only accuser for any of us is the evil one, unless we choose to accuse. To point the finger at anyone, is to point it at ourselves. To fail another person by violating them in any way is to violate ourselves. To refuse Christ as the center of our life and being, is to refuse ourselves. For we are his, and he is ours.
May we humbly come before the mercy of our Abba, who has included us in his life through his Son. He has sent his blessed Spirit so we could participate in his way of being—of outgoing love and unendless abounding grace. This, if allowed to permeate every part of our human existence, would transform our world. But God is patient and, respecting our personhood, allows us to resist and refuse him. I wish we would not, but we do. And so, this is our world today.
Dearest Abba, we acknowledge how far we have fallen from what you meant for us to be. Thank you for forgiving us, for surely, we are in great need of your grace. May you turn our hearts away from ourselves and our idols and turn us toward you. May we surrender to the truth of our being, allowing you to transform our hearts by faith, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“When you come to appear before Me,/Who requires of you this trampling of My courts?/Bring your worthless offerings no longer,/Incense is an abomination to Me./New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies—/I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly./I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts,/They have become a burden to Me;/I am weary of bearing them./So when you spread out your hands in prayer,/I will hide My eyes from you;/Yes, even though you multiply prayers,/I will not listen./Your hands are covered with blood./Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;/Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight./Cease to do evil,/Learn to do good;/Seek justice,/Reprove the ruthless,/Defend the orphan,/Plead for the widow./Come now, and let us reason together,’/Says the Lord,/’Though your sins are as scarlet,/They will be as white as snow;/Though they are red like crimson,/They will be like wool./If you consent and obey,/You will eat the best of the land;/But if you refuse and rebel,/You will be devoured by the sword./Truly, the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” Isaiah 1:12-20 NASB
by Linda Rex
Is it possible for a human to do what only God can do?
What a question! But what if a person does not believe there is a God and believes it’s all up to us as humans to save ourselves? What if we do have to rescue ourselves from this mess we’ve created and there is no help to be expected from any other place?
I suppose too, if a person did perhaps believe there was a God, but believed this God was indifferent or condemning, we would still be in a very difficult position. After all, it has been our choices as humans which have brought us to the place we are facing ecological disaster and economic, immigration, racial, cultural issues—you name it, we are facing it, and it’s due to our decision to do things the way we see fit.
But it is interesting how people have responded during this election season to the question of who should lead our country. It seems on the one hand many people were happy to give the candidates the benefit of the doubt, but at the same time their supporters are expecting them to solve all the issues which face the American people. But can any human being actually do that?
Others are adamant we are just getting what we deserve as Americans because of our decadence, hedonism and greed. So they are assuming God is executing his judgment on our nation because of our sinfulness. But is that really the way God works? What kind God would act like that?
I was reading an article this morning which explained all the changes the president-elect promised to make once he was elected. In the article, it explained how difficult it would be to do any of these things due to the checks and balances in our government, the entrenched bureaucracy and not to mention the immense baggage created by all the leaders before him. No matter which person would have been elected, he or she would have faced this same problem, and would have struggled to bring about lasting change.
The thing is, all any human leader can hope to do is to temporarily alter the physical circumstances of the people in the nation he or she is leading. Bringing about real change requires so much more than just electing a human being to an office in a human government. Giving someone the position, and I suppose even the power, to lead and govern others does not guarantee all of the problems people are facing will be solved.
What is missing from this whole discussion, I believe, is some true introspection about the human heart and mind. Caught in our own humanity, we are blind to the spiritual realities. The best way to bring about change in a nation like ours is to begin with an internal change within ourselves. We need to come to the place in which we realize we are powerless to change and heal what needs to be changed and healed. We need to acknowledge the reality we are broken humans who cannot properly and effectively govern ourselves, much less others.
As long as we seek to be self-sustaining and self-governing, we end up in the same place. Our best efforts to govern ourselves and to discipline our human flesh keep bringing us to the place we are dependent or co-dependent when we seek to be independent. This is because we are missing the point of the whole process which is to live interdependently with God and each other in a relationship of love and grace. We need to understand we are only who we are because there is One Who is above and beyond us and Who has included us in his life and love.
It’s not about creating more rules or getting a bigger police group to enforce those rules. It’s not about punishing people whose race, religion, culture, life choices and life styles differ from our assumptions of what is good and what is evil. It’s about an internal transformation which happened over 2000 years ago in spite of us—a heart transplant given to every human being. Will we live in the truth of that new heart which was given us—the true spiritual reality of our identity as children who are persons in the divine Persons?
The real question is how can we? And that is a really good question—because we cannot. We need to realize we are the humans here, not the God. We need our Messiah to come even now. We need rescued. We need saved. But how? If Jesus isn’t going to return tomorrow, how are we able to go forward into an uncertain and maybe even dangerous future?
See, the thing is, we live as though we and God are separate. We think and act as though Jesus is off somewhere and we need him to come here to fix things. But that is not the case. It is my personal testimony, and the testimony of many others, that God is present here and now in you and in me, in us and among us by his Holy Spirit. He is at work in every situation, and acutely aware of every fear, every bit of guilt and shame which plagues us. Jesus is present, real and near to us—speaking to us his words of hope, encouragement and guidance to our hearts and minds.
We see people interceding for the oppressed and the needy, providing for the hungry, and healing the sick—God is at work in this world. He doesn’t always work the way we think he should work—after all, his perspective is eternal not temporal. But he is busy tending the garden, pulling weeds, tying up vines and trimming off branches, and is working in and through human beings in the process.
Yes, there is a lot more work to be done—so let’s get in the dance and start dancing! As we respond in faith to God’s Word to us in Christ and the inner promptings of the Spirit, we will find our world and ourselves being healed and transformed. We will begin to have a vision of life beyond this life, being able to accept the reality this world is passing away and our true life is waiting for us beyond the grave.
It is our response to the leadership of the Spirit which is the issue here rather than our need to find the perfect president for our country. Are we willing to trust God to do what we as humans cannot and have not done to heal our land and to heal us as human beings? Perhaps we cannot—but that’s okay. Because it is not our faith which saves us, it is the faith of the Faithful One Who did save us, Who is working to save us right now, and Who will save us in the future. He will finish what he has begun in us—growing us up into the fullness of our Christlikeness, the image of God we were created to reflect, as we respond to him with humility and love in gratitude.
Lord, we acknowledge we cannot save ourselves, we cannot keep ourselves safe, we cannot govern ourselves as we ought. We hurt and disrespect, abuse and misuse, ourselves, our earth and each other. Forgive us, Lord, and grant we may live according to the truth of our being and begin to reflect your image as we ought, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord while I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish. How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, Who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them; Who keeps faith forever; Who executes justice for the oppressed; Who gives food to the hungry. the Lord sets the prisoners free. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord raises up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous; the Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, but He thwarts the way of the wicked. The Lord will reign forever, Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!” Ps 146:1–10 NASB