Taking the Lower Place
By Linda Rex
September 1, 2019, Proper 17—A while back my ministry team and I were invited to attend the 150th anniversary banquet of the Stones River Missionary Baptist Association from whom we rent our church building. My outreach ministry leader, Pat Brazier, and I attended this event as a gesture of gratitude and goodwill toward the association and its members.
As we entered the building, I was hoping we could find a table at the back which would not be conspicuous. I tend to be shy at large gatherings like this, especially if I don’t know anyone—I describe myself as an extroverted introvert. I prefer to hide rather than open myself up when there are a lot of people around me in a room whom I don’t know.
On this occasion, though, I could not have my wish of anonymity. Even though we were the only people there of white skin, the harmony of God’s Spirit made us one with these brothers and sisters in Christ. Pat and I were escorted to the front of the room to a special table reserved for guest pastors. We ended up seated across from Tennessee Senator Brenda Gilmore and two other pastors and their wives. It was a wonderful, inspiring experience for Pat and me.
During the event, I learned a lot of things I did not know about this group of fellow believers and their journey with Jesus. And I learned some things about myself as well. I experienced what it meant to be faced with challenges to my beliefs, preferences, and opinions. Whatever hidden prejudices I have, they were also brought a little closer to the light, as such encounters often expose those things we try, consciously or unconsciously, to keep in the dark.
Our interactions with other human beings are the place where the Holy Spirit does its greatest work, bringing us face to face with others and by doing so bringing us face to face with ourselves and Jesus. It is in relationship with others that the Spirit works to transform hearts and minds, specifically in teaching us about the Father’s love for us in Christ expressed in our love for one another. We are broken human beings, often due to significant relationships which have demonstrated to us and taught us everything but God’s love. Our way of doing things is often the exact opposite to the way God does things, and our broken world with its broken people clearly shows the result of trying to do it our way instead of his.
One of the greatest struggles as human beings sometimes is this whole question of self-exaltation and humility. We live in metropolitan Nashville, a place where musicians and singers come when they want to make their mark in the music world. Often I talk with people who tell me they moved to Nashville from somewhere else in America and when I ask why they moved here, they tell me they wanted to get a job in the music industry and maybe even to be a star. Almost every one of these people is not working in the music industry today but in some other job entirely unrelated to it.
Were they wrong in coming to Nashville and seeking to make their mark? I doubt very much that any of these people were seeking self-exaltation. I’m more inclined to believe most of them were seeking self-expression, to obtain some personal significance, worth, and value through their music. I imagine they wanted to do what they loved and make a living at it. The real world often stands in the way of people being able to achieve their dreams in this way.
The issue, I believe, is not in the desire to take one’s talent, abilities, and gifts and use them to their fullest expression. In God’s kingdom life, we receive all of these things as gifts from God and pour them back out to him in gratitude and in the service of others. We are meant to shine with the glory God has given us as his adopted children and if that includes our musical gift, then it is meant to be fully expressed as God guides and provides us with the opportunities.
The problem seems to be more in what our motive is and why we do what we do. Christian musicians and pastors can very easily care more about their popularity, prosperity, and getting noticed than how they go about being a follower of Jesus Christ. Even while they are up in front of the audience talking about Jesus and his ways, they may be drawing their worth and value from the applause and approval of others rather than resting confidently in the grace and love of their Abba. We are broken human beings—we do these things, whether we are willing to admit it or not.
In Jesus Christ we see exemplified the epitome of humility. The One who was the Word, who had all power, glory, and honor, set the privileges of his divinity temporarily aside to take on our humanity. He who lived in inapproachable light joined us in our darkness, in the tiniest cells in Mary’s womb, so that we could be lifted up from our abasement and drawn up into the Triune life and love.
Jesus told his followers that when they were invited to a banquet, they were not to take the prominent seats, but to sit in the lower places and to allow themselves to be moved up by the host. Jesus did not seek his own exaltation, but sought the exaltation of humanity. When challenged in the wilderness by Satan, he rejected his offer to give him ultimate human power and rule. He refused to stop identifying with us as broken human beings and serving us by offering his life for us in our place and on our behalf.
There is no place low enough that Jesus was not willing to enter. Even though the most shameful death for someone in Christ’s day was to be crucified, Jesus intentionally walked toward the cross throughout his ministry. It was not beneath him to enter the realm of the dead nor to become sin for us. His whole purpose was in lifting us up, not in promoting himself.
The kingdom value of true humility as exemplified in Jesus is countercultural. It opposes everything our culture and society work toward. It stands in stark opposition to any leader who promotes himself as being a messiah or savior to his people or someone to be revered. It resists the human pull to self-promotion, arrogance, and pride which often afflicts those in the public eye.
To follow this value of humility is to open up oneself to crucifixion, to being negated, harmed or destroyed. And yet, when we seek the way of true humility, we find that our relationships begin to be healed, our life moves away from darkness into greater and greater light. Leaders who are truly humble and seek to serve those under them rather than manipulate, control, or manage them create a healthier community which more closely resembles God’s kingdom life.
But being humble exacts a price. The price we must pay to be truly humble is to share in Christ’s death and resurrection, and in his sufferings. In this life we may never experience our exaltation, but we can trust in the exaltation of Jesus. We will be exalted in his presence as the adopted children of Abba, fully glorified and reigning with him forever—this is our hope and expectation as we walk in humility before him. In the meantime, our challenge is to live counterculturally in in a world which venerates self-exaltation, self-promotion, and self-interest, by participating with Jesus in his true humility.
Thank you, Jesus, for demonstrating so wonderfully the grace of true humility. Abba, please grow this in us by your Spirit, enabling us to participate fully in your humble nature. Give our human leaders hearts and minds which are truly humble. If they are stubbornly resistant to your humility, may you take them through the consuming fire of your love and grace that they may learn humble servants. We are grateful that you are the true Lord of all and have included us in your life and love in and through Jesus. Amen.
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:11 NASB
Thankful for Gratitude
By Linda Rex
Thanksgiving Day did not go as I had planned. I worked really hard on Wednesday preparing food for a large number of people who had signed up to have Thanksgiving Day dinner with me at the church. My outreach partner Pat worked equally hard to have everything ready for our guests. One of the guests, Sarena, had struggled to prepare some items to bring, burning herself in the process of making it. Thursday noon finally arrived, though, and we were prepared. It was going to be a great feast!
And we waited. A few people came. We talked, laughed, and finally, about an hour after the announced time and with less than half our expected guests, we decided to start eating. The food turned out okay, I thought. And the company was pleasant. The music made us want to dance. There were a few bumps and bruises, but for the most part, it was a great meal. But we regretted we could not share it with more people.
I thought about this yesterday and today, and it brought to mind the story Jesus told of the banquet invitations which were sent out but not responded to, and how they even gathered people from the streets nearby to fill the seats. Those who came and sat at the table were the ones who were able to participate in the joy of the celebration, not the ones who didn’t show up.
But how often in life have I been the one who didn’t show up? What about the time my child was to receive a special award in a ceremony at school and I had to be at work? And the time when my friend celebrated a special occasion and I completely forgot about it?
And I have to admit that there have been times in my life where I believed that God should have showed up and didn’t. I may have expected him to “show up”, and I may have wanted him to do something specific to demonstrate to me than indeed he was present, but God didn’t seem to think that that was something he needed to do at the time or that was in my best interests—and that was hard to take.
But we can focus so hard on what wasn’t or isn’t that we miss what was and is. Perhaps not as many people showed up as said that they would, but those who did had a good time, and enjoyed a festive meal with us. Yes, it may have been disappointing to have done all that work and not have things turn out as expected, but on the other hand, it was a joyful celebration of God’s many blessings. We had a good time, for the most part, ate some excellent food, I thought, and had some real good meaningful conversations as well as humor and laughter.
Like I said—it’s easy to focus on what didn’t happen, who wasn’t there, and not on the reality that God was present, and that relationships were encouraged and strengthened, and that people experienced friendship, fellowship, and caring. The ability to stand back and find gratitude in such situations comes as a gift from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us a heart of gratitude—Jesus’ thankful heart. That we can move beyond our regrets to gratitude for the pleasant gathering and good food, is God’s gift to us through Jesus in the Spirit.
I hope you all had a very lovely Thanksgiving Day, and were able to enjoy time with friends and family, renewing relationships and giving thanks to God for all his abundant blessings. As we come to the end of this calendar year and tomorrow celebrate Christ the King Sunday, may we give thanks to our Abba for giving us his Son and his Spirit, and for raising Christ victoriously from the grave to reign forever over all he has made. We are so very blessed to share in that victorious reign in Christ by the Spirit. May he rule in our hearts today and forever, filling us forever with his heart of gratitude.
Dear Abba, thanks. Thanks for each and every thing. Thanks for all the dear friends and family we have in our lives to love us and to celebrate with us. Thanks for the abundance and benefits you provided. Apart from you, we have nothing—so we praise you now and forever, through Jesus and in the Spirit. Amen.
“Therefore Pilate said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’” NASB
Our Response to God’s Overflowing Benefits
by Linda Rex
As I was looking at some scriptures this morning, I was struck by the way the psalmists often remind us to not forget God’s benefits. It got me to asking myself how many benefits are out there for us we are not even aware of, and are we even enjoying the benefits God offers to us each and every day?
Even though I work full-time hours as a pastor, I also work part time for another organization. One of the things I do at my other job is to help sign people up for benefits. These benefits are determined by the organization, and people are eligible for them if they meet certain criteria such as working the equivalent of 30-40 hours a week.
It is important for me to determine whether or not someone who is eligible for certain benefits has actually signed up for them and is receiving them like they should. There may be some really good benefits they could be receiving, but they might not even know those benefits are available to them or that they qualify for them.
Now in the working world, benefits can be things the employer pays for, but they can also be things we pay for. But God’s benefits to us are freely given to us by him. Any cost incurred was paid in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of his own Son Jesus Christ. We don’t owe him anything for these benefits other than gratitude, a gratitude which expresses itself by living in loving relationship with God and others.
So what are some of God’s free benefits? The most significant and life-transforming benefit God gives us is eternal life—a knowing and being known at an intimate level both now and for all eternity by God, because of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ, and his gift to us of his Spirit. God through Jesus and by the Spirit intervenes in our human existence and brings redemption, healing, renewal and abundant living. God’s benefits also include a deep and abiding love and compassion, and personal participation of Christ by the Spirit with us, in the midst of our suffering and daily struggles.
So, this begs a question: Do we have to sign up for these benefits in order to receive them? What if we don’t even know about these benefits? Does this mean we never receive them at all—we’re just out of luck—too bad, so sad?
The truth is, God’s giving of his benefits to us as his creatures, made in his image, is a freely given gift. God gives us all of his benefits, not because we deserve them, or we have earned them, but merely out of the abundance of his great love. He is the Benefit-giving God. It is his nature to be beneficent.
Considering all God has provided for us not only in this amazing cosmos we live in and earth we live on, but also in all he has given us in sending his Son and giving us his Spirit, we are really overflowing each moment with benefits. It may feel like our world is falling apart, or God is indifferent to our existence, but the truth is, we are held in the midst of his love and grace, and we are abundantly blessed with his benefits.
These benefits are ours just because we are God’s creatures, his beloved and redeemed children. The thing is, we have an extremely difficult time participating in and enjoying these benefits when we either don’t know about them, don’t recognize them, or refuse to embrace and receive them as a free gift from the Giver of all Benefits.
We may think we need to sign up for them in order to have them, but the reality is—they belong to us already. How we participate in, enjoy and experience these benefits has more to do with our relationship with the Benefit-Giver than in our experience of the benefits themselves or our need to do something to enjoy them. When we turn to Christ in faith, we find our eyes and hearts opened to the deeper reality of an immense array of benefits at our disposal, many of which we didn’t know existed or thought were worthless.
And God is not expecting us to pay him back for the benefits he gives us. Rather, he is inviting us to turn away from ourselves, and all our other loyalties, and to turn back to him in face-to-face relationship so we can experience the fullness of his benefits. He’s offering us what the deepest longings of our hearts cry out for—to be truly and deeply known and loved. And this comes as a free gift to us—something he has already paid the price for.
This leaves us with only one thing to do—to give thanks! And we do this out of a heart overflowing with gratitude for all God’s goodness, grace and love. Yes, there will be times when we lose sight of all God has done and is doing because life is such a struggle or so distracting. But even then, God will remind once again to live gratefully by sending his Spirit to whisper his Word into our heart: the echoes of the psalmist’s song, “forget none of His benefits.”
Abba, thank you for all your overwhelming abundance of benefits which you pour out to us moment by moment, day by day. You are so generous to us! May your Spirit ever remind us when we forget of all the benefits which are ours, and grant us the grace to live gratefully in response, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits; Who pardons all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases; Who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; Who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle. Psalm 103:1–5 NASB
The Seduction of Ingratitude
by Linda Rex
Recently while I was having one of those days when all I could see were the issues and struggles which come with trying to make ends meet, I had a small epiphany. I say small, because I know I have had this revelation before, but it never seems to have a lasting effect on my psyche.
It occurred to me, as I struggled to work out how I was going to manage to do this, that and the other thing, that I was so busy trying to hold everything together that I wasn’t thanking God for how he has held everything together for me all these years. It’s not that I haven’t thanked him over the years as he has held me and rescued me over and over, and it’s not that I haven’t been aware of his provision and support all these years. It’s just that, in the midst of those particular struggles of the moment, I was forgetting God’s faithfulness and love for me.
In reality, God has carried me through some very difficult and painful times over the years. He has helped me through some impossible situations, and has healed some excruciating hurts. He has provided for me when I had nothing and blessed me beyond my expectations. I have every reason to believe God is going to do for me now what he has done for me before.
But sometimes, in the midst of a particular time of struggle, it can be really hard to see what is true about Who God is for me in the midst of the darkness which surrounds me. It is as though what I am going through becomes the lens through which I see my life, God, the world and everyone around me. It’s as though I’ve put on dark lenses on a cloudy day—everything is dimmed and it’s hard to see any light of any kind.
I can find myself in the midst of ingratitude and not even realize it. It’s as though ingratitude, or not being thankful for what God has done for me or given me, sneaks up on me while I’m busy going about the business of living my life, solving my problems and getting my life in order. I’m working on moving forward with my life, when what I need to be doing is pausing for a moment to look back, and to reflect on what God has done, is doing, and will do in my life, and to thank him for loving and caring for me.
It’s important for us to take time to reflect, and to ponder the reality of the ways in which God’s life intersects with our life and how we, moment by moment, participate in the divine life and love. When we take the time to think back to look at what God has done and to thank him for it, what becomes the central focus of our mind and heart becomes gratitude, rather than worry, concern or fear. When we accept the truth of God’s faithfulness and begin to trust he’ll care for us as he’s cared for us before, we are filled with hopeful gratitude rather than anxious concern.
Gratitude in many ways is a spiritual discipline. It is a spiritual discipline in which showing gratitude to God opens us up to the work of the Spirit as he builds within us a heart of humility, dependence upon the Father, and hope and trust in the love and grace of God. Practicing the spiritual discipline of gratitude enables us to take off the dark lenses which dim our view and enables us to experience the reality and blessings of God’s kingdom of light. The more we express our gratitude to God, the more we sense the bright light of God’s presence and peace, and have hope for the future in the midst of our difficult circumstances.
One of the ways to practice gratitude as a spiritual discipline is to keep a journal of thankfulness. Those who have done this, and I agree with them, say practicing the discipline of writing down several things they are thankful for every day enabled them to have a more thankful and hopeful heart and mind. There is something to be said for intentionally making the effort to express our gratitude to God for the big and little things of life which both bless us and cause us to struggle.
One of the things which can be challenging to do as a spiritual discipline of gratitude, is praying for our needs, wants and concerns from a point of view of gratefulness and trust rather than in a tone or attitude of despair. I have been finding myself apologizing to God lately for assuming that somehow he isn’t going to come through for me—what kind of God do I or we believe God is? It sure makes a difference in our approach to the problems of life and our prayer about them.
Ingratitude can sneak up on us in so many subtle ways. If all we do is assume God doesn’t care about us or isn’t going to help so we have to beg and plead for him to intervene, it seems perhaps we need to pause and reflect on the reality we are still breathing air and there is still an earth to live on and the sun is still shining. It may be difficult to do in the midst of a crisis, but we need to remember Who God is—the One who joined us in our humanity, shared our broken existence, and died and rose so this world is not the end. There is so much more to life than just this!
The Spirit is available to remind us of God’s real presence in every situation. Jesus shares every difficulty with us—and he puts the resources of heaven at our disposal. He is still Lord over the universe and holds all things in his hand—and his love is unmistakable—he has proven it in a way which cannot be reversed or retracted. And he will not quit until he finishes what he has begun in us and in all creation.
The Light has come. So we need to take off our dark glasses and revel in this truth—God’s got it! Whatever it is in this life which we struggle with is only a light and momentary difficulty. In the end it will be seen as just a bump in the road in our journey of life with Jesus in the Spirit. So we thank our Abba, Jesus and the Spirit for their faithful love and grace, and move on with grateful hearts.
Abba, thank you. Thank you for understanding and being patient with us when we forget to express our gratitude to you for all you are and all you do in your great love and mercy. Thank you for the gift of your Son and your Spirit, and for the big and little ways in which you care for us moment by moment. Grant us grateful hearts and minds, and make us alert to the ways in which we give ourselves over to ingratitude so we can turn from them and turn back to you in praise and gratitude. Through Jesus, our Lord, amen.
“Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God.” Heb 12:28 MSG
The Rise and Fall of Terror
by Linda Rex
I stopped to get gas Tuesday at a gas station near I-24. I sometimes stop here on my way home from Nashville, and have never had any trouble with their service or their gas (which has happened at other gas stations).
On Tuesday the pumps all had a very large sign covering two of the selection buttons which told us as buyers the station was out of everything but the low octane gas. I felt myself to be pretty blessed I could still buy gas because I had heard horror stories of how people had to travel to several gas stations before finding any gas to buy.
As I was standing there pumping gas to top off my tank so I could be sure to have enough gas for the rest of the week, I remembered another time I lived through a gas crisis out in southern California. If I remember correctly, they had gas rationing back then—we had to take turns at the pumps. There seemed to be a lot more concern in those days than there was this week about there not being any fuel. But, I suppose, having a governor declare an emergency due to an oil spill must be some indication of the severity of what recently happened.
Right now I’m extremely grateful, maybe selfishly so. I’m grateful there wasn’t enough of a disaster to prevent people here from buying gas because I really need to get moved this weekend. And without gas to put in the tank, there is no point in renting a truck to move things with. The last thing I need is to be afraid of not being able to do something I’ve got to get done.
I’ve noticed several occurrences recently in my life and the lives of those around me, which could have resulted in some very horrible experiences for those of us who were involved. I won’t go into detail, but the truth is, when you are ministering to broken people, you get to deal with broken stuff, and not all of it is safe and pretty. But in the end, it seems as though these particular situations resolved themselves without a lot of destruction and suffering, for which I am extremely grateful.
Not everyone has been so blessed. Yet I would hazard to guess that many of us have gone through life without ever personally experiencing what people in places like Mozambique or Syria are experiencing right now. Many of us do, however, experience our own little and big disasters in our lives—losing a job, having a health crisis, or having a loved one die, leave or reject us. We constantly face uncertainty and danger in our lives.
I was reading a story on the Web the other day which talked about the most dangerous cities in the world. Who would have thought that St. Louis would be among those mentioned? I guess I’m not really surprised. After all, the people who live in St. Louis are just like the rest of us—broken people who are trying real hard to meet their needs at the expense of those around them and in opposition to the true reality of their humanity and who they were created to be and how they were created to live. We are all in the same boat of humanity and it feels like the boat is headed toward an iceberg or has already hit it and is starting to sink.
I’ve been receiving mail encouraging me to vote for the candidate who will “make America great again.” I’m not real inspired by such advertisements. They actually just create disrespect in me for such candidates, for I believe there is nothing any one of the candidates can do to truly restore America to greatness because America is broken at her core. No matter how godly or good intentioned a candidate may be, he or she cannot change people or control people’s minds and hearts, and force them to live in loving cooperation and peace. They can only coerce, manipulate and attempt to control people in their efforts to create a “great” nation.
I’m sure there have been, and are, leaders well gifted in the art of propaganda and the use of fear and anger and shame in manipulating the masses. But all they do is create more broken people who create more brokenness. Whatever greatness is created in these ways is not the greatness of our true humanity, but rather a sharing in the brokenness of the evil one whose only purpose is to kill, steal and destroy. Its ultimate result is death, suffering and devastation.
Right now the evil one seems to be seeking to create in the hearts of human beings a deep fear. He is working to terrorize us so we are afraid of what might happen, we are afraid of one another, and we are afraid to do anything about what is happening for fear something worse might happen. Those who are stepping into the gap or are by necessity experiencing the worst of it, are paying a heavy price including losing their homes, their human dignities and even their lives.
We need to cling to the reality of God’s love for us which supersedes all of these efforts to terrorize us, to control and manipulate us. We need to experience the truth of the reality of God’s love for us which is immeasurable and boundless, and has existed since before time began. We need to receive from Christ the faith to believe we are held, held so tightly in Abba’s loving arms, the evil one cannot snatch us away or harm us without God’s express permission. We need to live without fear.
God gives us his Son to enable us to do this. And he pours out his Spirit into our hearts so we can be assured of and believe God’s love is boundless, endless and unending. We can pause for a moment throughout each and every day to give thanks to God for his love, for the big and little things he does for us and in us. And we can thank him for watching over us, guarding and keeping us safe in the midst of a dark and dangerous world.
Yes, we’re going to have trials and difficulties. We need to own our part in those problems and surrender to Christ our human inadequacies as well as our fears so he can do what only he can do—transform, heal and bind together human hearts and lives into a loving spiritual community. Jesus holds in himself the faith we need to trust God in the midst of a scary, constantly changing world, knowing no matter what happens, God’s “got it”. He’s holding on to us and to all things, and will bring everything to its blessed, intended end, raising us up as his adopted children to dwell in the midst of his love and life for all eternity. May that day come soon.
Dear Abba, thank you for holding us in your two hands of love and grace, your Son and your Spirit. May your love be perfected in our lives and in our world so we may daily experience great peace rather than fear or terror in the midst of this scary, ever-changing world. In your Son Jesus’ name we trust and pray. Amen.
“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:16–19 NASB
Tomorrow Still Comes
By Linda Rex
This morning my pastor friend Carrie and I were driving up I-65 as the sun was coming up. As the sky turned glorious colors of gold, orange and blue streaked with purple and gray clouds, I felt God’s presence and peace in the wonder of a new day dawning.
I thought about the conversations I had had recently with Mom when we talked about what it would be like to live in the new world God has for us beyond death. We talked about how Mom would be able to garden to her heart’s content and not have to worry about the weather and the weeds.
For me, saying goodbye to her these past few days was so much like saying, “See you in the morning!” There is the momentary sense of the loss of immediate companionship. But then there is this delightful sense of expectancy, as the mind and heart begin to look forward to a renewal of the relationship and the opportunity to spend more time together doing things we love.
There is an assurance of a future time when we will share sweet companionship together again. This is what the apostle Paul meant when he said that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Indeed, we have a great hope through Jesus Christ. He has purchased eternity for us, establishing a new humanity through his life, death, resurrection and ascension.
But what about the loss? Doesn’t it hurt?
Yes, actually it does. And how much it hurts and how we deal with that hurt is unique to each of us. For we each grieve our losses and experience our relationships in our own particular ways. Grief is not a one-size-fits-all process.
And how our losses occur and what those losses actually are in our lives is specific to each person in each situation. That means that for some people grieving a significant loss may be a simple and easy process, where others may grieve in a very complex and difficult way because of grief over unresolved losses in the past, or because of complications in the relationship in the past. To compare oneself to another person in how we are affected by our losses is not a wise thing to do.
Sometimes complications in our lives hinder the grieving process. There may be difficult circumstances surrounding our loss of a dear one that may prevent us from being able to deal with our feelings about the loss right away. It may be much later—days or weeks or even years—before we are able to come to the place where we can face the truth of the pain and begin to allow ourselves to feel it, grieve our loss and begin to heal.
As friends and families of those who have experienced a great loss, it is important for us not to be afraid to engage the suffering one in a healthy relationship of comfort, compassion and companionship. What a person who is grieving needs is not instruction, criticism or indifference. The one who has suffered a loss needs to know that they are loved, and that others are sharing in their grief and loss with them. It is important to come alongside them and to offer them our love and support, even if it means just sitting silently with them in the midst of their pain.
I have been very blessed to have family and friends join me and my children in the midst of our loss. I am grateful God brought my mother and me back together after life had taken us away from each other. He redeemed the difficult situations in our home and now I have happy memories to carry with me until I see Mom again. There is much reason for gratitude in the midst of this loss.
So rather than having a great sorrow about losing Mom, right now I am feeling comfort and peace. Perhaps that will change later when life slows down and I can truly grieve the loss of the mother who invested so much in my life. Meanwhile I am looking forward to that new morning when the sky will be even more glorious than anything I saw today. May it come soon!
Heavenly Dad, I am grateful that we are not alone in the midst of our losses, but we have you and each other to carry us through. Thank you that in the Spirit, you and Jesus join with us in our suffering, offering us comfort, peace and hope. Lord, lift us up. Enable us to find and live out the new life you have in mind for us as we let go of the past and our loved ones, and move on into the future. Through Jesus and by your Spirit we pray. Amen.
“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:22 NASB
But What About Positive Expectations?
Wednesday night at our Hermitage small group we were discussing “Killing Expectations”. Judy, who leads discipleship class at in our church, brought up an excellent question. As a former school teacher, she was familiar with the use of positive expectations in helping children to achieve their personal best in school. So, what about positive expectations—aren’t they a good thing?
What I gathered from the ensuing discussion was that we need to clarify the difference between expectations of performance based on subjective standards with the more objective standards of being which have their basis in the Being of God. Expectations of being involve our character, personality, temperament, and aptitudes—in other words, our capacity as human beings—something that is unique to each person.
These expectations of being have their basis in God, and like the nature of God’s Being, they reflect the Persons who exist in loving communion, in unity, diversity and equality. Jesus Christ, who is the perfect reflection of the Father, is the supreme standard from which all humans draw their being. And Jesus performed perfectly all that is expected of each of us during his life here on earth, and died and rose in our place. He took up into himself our humanity with all its missing of the mark and failure to meet expectations, and he stands in our place.
God calls us to put on Christ—to put on his perfected humanity—so that we can and will become all that God intended each of us to be as humans. God’s expectations, whatever they are, are fulfilled in Christ, and now he calls us to participate in Christ’s perfected humanity, to grow up into Christlikeness.
The thing is, we tend to read the scriptures, with its lists of commandments, from the viewpoint of expectations that God has for us. We read the scriptures backwards, putting performance first, and then grace and love. But God always puts grace and love first.
For example, we say we have to keep the Ten Commandments or we are worthy of death and God will punish us. Then we say, if we repent and confess our breaking of these commandments, then God will forgive us and we will be saved. This puts grace after law instead of prior to it.
We can forget that before God ever gave any commandments, he made a covenant agreement—something which was not based on performance, but on the love, grace and character of God. God rescued his people from slavery, not because they were good, obedient people, but because he loved them, had made a commitment to them, and they needed saving. He was the one who over the centuries, not only guaranteed the keeping of the covenant, but also renewed it over and over whenever it was broken.
Jesus in his life, ministry and teaching, put grace first. For example, in Mark 2, we read the story of a man who was paralyzed, whose friends brought him to Jesus to be healed. What’s interesting is that Jesus saw the faith of his friends, not the paralyzed man’s faith. And the first thing he said to him was not “Repent and believe”, nor was it “Be healed!” No, it was “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The first thing Jesus addressed in this situation was forgiveness—something only God could give, and he gave it without any expectations in advance.
Later, after dealing with the unbelieving scribes, Jesus gave the man a command—to pick up his bed and walk, to act upon the forgiveness he had given him. Obedience to Jesus followed receiving forgiveness for sins the man hadn’t even confessed. Grace before law. How counterintuitive is that?
That beautiful phrase Jesus spoke on the cross, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing,” shows us again that God’s heart of grace precedes any command God may give us. W. Paul Young in “The Shack”, points out that it isn’t God’s nature to put expectations on us, so much as it is to wait with expectancy to see what we will do and how we will do it. God already knows the extent of our inability to reflect his perfection. And it does not keep him from loving us and encountering us in grace. His focus is on his relationship with us, not on our performance.
Whatever lists of things we find in the Bible that tell us what we should do and how we should live are not prescriptive—as in a doctor’s order for medicine. But rather they are descriptive. They describe what it looks like when we live in union and communion with the Father, Son and Spirit and are fully sharing in their Triune love and life. Not doing these things means we are not living in agreement with who we are as God’s beloved children, and so we will experience painful consequences as a result. And God doesn’t want that for us.
So, going back to the question of positive expectations. We need to keep in mind what we are talking about isn’t necessarily expectations of being, but mostly probably expectations of doing. We are expecting a person to perform in a certain way or to achieve a certain standard. These standards may be established by institutions, society, businesses, or even by people. Often these standards do not take into account the reality that people are unique and don’t all perform or achieve in the same way or to the same level.
Benchmarks, such as those used by schools to monitor their students’ scholastic performance, are useful tools. They encourage achievement and improvement, and help prevent failures in learning or service. They can be quite subjective, depending on how they are defined and assessed. They most likely do not take into account differences in being or circumstance, or relational factors such as grace and love.
We would like people to achieve their personal best and be effective contributors to the overall goals of the group. But unless we remember that we are all persons, with limitations and brokenness that inhibit our perfect performance in every situation, we will hold others to expectations that may be destructive rather than life-giving. The key, I believe is relationship—grace and love first. Then expectations or rules. In that order.
Thank you, Father, that you were the first One to move in our relationship with you. You forgave us long before we even realized we needed forgiveness. Thank you that you did not wait for us to say or do the right thing first, but you went ahead and offered us grace anyway. Grant us the heart and will to offer forgiveness freely to others as you have offered it to us. And may we always live in a way that shows our gratitude through love and obedience. Through Jesus and by your Spirit, amen.
“And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:5
The Grace of Gratitude
by Linda Rex
Sitting around the table enjoying our Thanksgiving gathering, we sought to answer the question, what are you thankful for? At that particular moment, it was easy to say family, food, and our gift of grace from God. There was food on the table and laughter in our voices.
But there have been times in my life when there was anxiety about putting food on the table and there was very little laughter in our voices or in our hearts. To have these things is to have a blessing or grace from God, and to have an opportunity to express our gratitude to him for his goodness and love. To not have these things is a temptation to question the goodness and love of God.
But God’s goodness and love are not based on what we have or don’t have. God’s love is infinite and is based in who he is. God’s goodness is his nature, which never changes, though our circumstances and situations may change.
We may find, like the nation of Israel, that our human nature is to question God’s goodness and love when things are not going well and we don’t have what we need or want. And when we do have what we need or want, we may forget who it is that gave it to us. We may live believing we worked it all out all by ourselves, that there is no divine Providence gifting us with life and blessings.
Somehow, we need to learn and practice the spiritual discipline of gratitude. In the midst of suffering or grief, we need to learn to choose to be grateful. Giving thanks in everything does not mean denying the suffering we are experiencing, but rather acknowledging that everything we have is utterly dependent upon God’s goodness and love towards us.
One of the spiritual disciplines I have seen others practice, and I practice it myself at times, is keeping a gratitude journal. Using a journal with blank pages, I commit to writing down a certain number of things I am grateful for each day. At the beginning, in order to get myself to do this discipline, I had to force myself to write down a certain number of items each day. I was in a dark place in my life at that time and had a hard time seeing God’s goodness like I should have. But the longer I’ve done this, the easier it has become to write down several items at once, and the more grateful and positive I have felt about everything in my life.
At the top of each page I write, “Things I am Grateful to God for…” That is my reminder of what I am trying to write down—a record of the awesome things God has done and is doing in my life and in the lives of those around me. I number each item in order to keep track of my progress. Currently I’m at number 662. I’ve done this journal off and on for quite a while and hope to continue it as time goes by.
There are many other practical ways to practice the spiritual discipline of gratitude. Thanksgiving Day highlighted our need to express gratitude to God for all he has done, will do in us, with us and for us. I am grateful for each of you who are seeking to grow up in Christ. It is an inspiration to me and I thank you for allowing me to share in your life through our online ministry as well as my pastoral ministry. May it all be for God’s glory.
Lord, our hearts today are full of gratitude and praise for all you have done, all you are doing and all you will do in years ahead in each of our lives. May we all express fully Christ’s attitude of gratitude and praise in our family, church, and community. Through Jesus our Lord and in your Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.
“When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you.“ Deuteronomy 8:10
by Linda Rex
Note to self: Shop for Thanksgiving before Halloween, not after.
I was rather frustrated this year when I found that the Halloween items took precedence over the Thanksgiving items at the store. In fact, once Halloween was over, it was next to impossible to find any Thanksgiving, fall or harvest decoration and gift items to buy. I had assumed (wrongly) that they would stay on the shelf until Thanksgiving. But apparently they only stay until Halloween is over and then it’s time for Christmas.
I forget sometimes how our mercantile system drives our culture, especially when it comes to our celebration of our holidays. I’m happy to have access to so many fun things to celebrate with, but it is obvious that our culture has moved beyond the Judeo-Christian basis for its holidays.
Whether or not one is a Christian, there is always a place for gratitude in one’s life. Gratitude is a way of thinking and living that genuinely appreciates the little and big things of life as gifts. It is a way of being thankful for the people and relationships and blessings that come to us everyday unbidden and unsought—the air we breathe, a beautiful sunset, dear friends and family, a newborn baby.
When we lose our appreciation for these things that come into our life with or without our effort, we may become calloused, cold, and cynical. Nothing is ever enough for us—we will always need or want more. We can become sad, depressed and overwhelmed by all the negative stuff in life.
Gratitude in some ways is a discipline—a choice in how we approach life and the events we encounter day by day. When we make the effort to pause and be grateful for what we have and share it with others, we begin to have a more positive attitude and spirit with which to approach life.
Our gratitude and appreciation for all the good things of life, in my view, merely points to the reality that we have been given life, breathe, all the resources we need to be alive and to live blessed because of God’s grace. We can believe that God does not exist, but the truth is, we would not exist if it weren’t for his kindness and mercy in sustaining what he created.
And that wasn’t good enough for God—just giving us life and breath and food and things we could do. He wanted a relationship with us as well—so he came to our universe, to our earth to live as one of us. He forged a permanent bond with us in Jesus Christ—living a perfect life we could participate in, dying our death so we could live with him forever, bringing us into the presence of God so we could be in relationship with the Creator our Redeemer forever.
To me, that gives us every reason to celebrate not just once a year, but every day, with gratitude.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day! May God bless you abundantly each and every day throughout this holiday season!
Lord, I give you thanks for all the wonderful people and blessings you have poured into my life. I pray you will watch over each of those who are reading this and bless them in every way. Let them feel your presence and peace in a deep way so they may be able to endure whatever hardships they are facing or struggling with. Thank you for your faithful love shown to us in Jesus. Amen.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1