grief

Broken Lives

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by Linda Rex

Nothing can bring me to tears faster than to hear the story of a broken life. Growing up as I did in a church that was once insular and self-protective, I did not hear such stories very often. As I child I knew that evil and heartache were “out there” but I did not experience it in a real way as part of the life of someone I knew personally.

But no household, not even that of my family, is safe from the hardships and griefs of life. In time my family also experienced the reality of brokenness and the pain that comes from living life in a way that contradicts that which God ordained from the beginning. No one is immune from brokenness or pain or suffering. It is a part of the human condition. Our best efforts cannot protect us from experiencing the fallout from living out of ourselves, our self-determination, and our self-will.

In a culture where self is worshiped and served in every imaginable way, and people are told right and left to “have it your way,” it is no wonder so many are suffering from the tragic results of self-centered living. Freedom, when ungoverned by love (unconditional, out-going concern for others), is destructive and creates chaos and brokenness.

So, what hope do we have?

For many, the solution is found in the establishment of rules for living. They say that if you follow a particular set of rules, of principles for living, that you will never experience broken lives or families. If you keep the Ten Commandments, obey the 5 Principles, or the 7 Keys to Effective Living, that your life will be hunky-dory, full of happiness and joy.

I will not debate the value of these rules to live by here, for they serve a purpose, but I would like to point out the reality that the success of such a venture is fully dependent upon the self-discipline and self-will of the person attempting to follow them. And since the human self cannot be depended upon to do what is right and best and truly loving in every situation, the attempt is doomed from the outset. Some progress may be made and a person’s life may be significantly improved by the attempt, but the person’s inner being most likely will not be transformed in the process. Something else is needed.

If a person does not believe in a divine One who loves and cares for him or her personally, he or she will reach an impasse here. For the person’s only hope will be in a human’s ability to change or control him or herself and/or other people and circumstances. There will be a constant struggle for, or persistent denial of the need for, self-control and true compassion for others. Perhaps the person is strong of will and purpose—he or she can go on indefinitely in this condition. The person has the freedom to do so, if she or he wishes.

If a person does believe in God, then he or she is also faced with a choice. Will she or he receive the gift of the One who saved her or him, or continue in her or his own frantic efforts to handle everything by her or himself? I believe Christianity has received a black name in so many ways because Christians are frantically attempting to live a perfect, sinless life out of their own selves, on their own strength, and in their own way. It was never God’s intention for us to do this. Otherwise he would not have come in the person of Jesus Christ. He would have let the Old Testament laws stand for themselves. He would not have taken on human form. What would be the point?

But the eyewitnesses of the New Testament record tell us that Jesus Christ was a man in which the fullness of Deity lived: all of God as a human being. And in this Being, this God/man, we are made complete. God did not leave it up to us to save ourselves, to be perfect ourselves, to do what is loving and right and best on our own. He did it himself, and then offered us the opportunity to share in what he had done and is doing in Jesus Christ.

This is why the Scriptures, especially here in Colossians 2, use the expression “in Him” or “in Christ” over and over. We are to “put on Christ” or “abide in Christ.” These are all ways of saying that we share in Christ, in his perfect work which he performed in his life, his crucifixion and death, and his resurrection and ascension. It is in this relationship with God in Christ that we experience transformation and salvation, not in our human efforts to abide by a bunch of rules.

As we share in his death, we die to what we once were—our self-centered, selfish way of living and being. As we share in his resurrection, we find new life—that we are a new creation in him. This is not just a one-time event expressed through the Christian rite of baptism. It is an ongoing daily event—daily dying to self and living to Christ. Christ’s faith for our lack of faith. Christ’s love for our lovelessness. Christ’s obedience for our disobedience. This is how we put on Christ.

We share in Christ’s ascension through the gift of the Holy Spirit through whom we receive the power and the love of God, the personal presence of God within. We receive Christ’s moment-by-moment intercession for us in the presence of the Father, where he enables us to hear and receive the Word of God, and he presents our requests, our needs to God, interceding for us so we may continuously be forgiven and reconciled to God. We are given a relationship with God, not through our own efforts, but through the efforts of God, who reached down to us and brought us to himself, wiping away anything that once stood between us.

How refreshing is the wonder of grace! This is such good news that we don’t want to hear it. We prefer to continue our own efforts at self-preservation and self-glorification, even after we believe. For in receiving Christ as being all that we need, admitting we are complete in him and him alone, we have to give up all the glory to God for our wholeness and transformation. It begins with him, and is completed in him. To him be the glory! Amen.

Thank you, Father, for your great love, which you have lavished on us in your Son, Jesus Christ, and in your precious Spirit through whom you have come to dwell in human hearts. We praise you for your precious gift of a personal relationship with you, of life in you and with you, forever. To you be the glory and honor forever and ever. Amen.

“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete…” Colossians 2:9-10a (NASB)

The Better Thing

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by Linda Rex

I’ve often thought about the story of Mary and Martha, wondering what their relationship must have been like when Jesus wasn’t around. Was Martha one of those “managing females” who was forever telling everyone else in the house what to do, and when and how to do it? Was she like some of us who are incorrigible perfectionists who never have any peace unless everything is absolutely perfect? It’s not very hard to picture her in those roles.

Mary comes across as the quiet timid soul, who finds a deep well in Jesus and lingers there at his feet to drink in of all the spiritual richness she can. Forgotten is every other detail of life, for now her soul is being renewed and replenished in this special moment with her teacher.

Indeed, it is easy to see the simple lesson here, that it is important to focus on what really matters—our relationship with our Lord and Savior—rather than always on the mundane details of life. We have to keep our spiritual priorities straight and put God first in our lives. When we do that, it’s amazing how much better our lives will run!

But when we look at the context of these verses and take into account that Jesus was in the process of deliberately heading towards Jerusalem and his crucifixion, trying to get his disciples to understand what the future truly held for him, then we can see an underlying message that could be missed here. Jesus was calling to his disciples to follow him as the Suffering Servant Messiah with a sense of commitment—a willingness to lay down their all for his sake—a willingness to follow him to and through the crucifixion to his resurrection and new life.

A lawyer had asked him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus had told the story of the man who was left for dead and the Good Samaritan who came and cared for him and even took him somewhere and paid to ensure his care there. Through this story Jesus put the question before the lawyer, what price are you willing to pay to be rightly related to God? Are you willing to sacrifice your dignity, your spiritual purity, your time and resources, and your convenience to live in union with the lost, the least and the ones in need? Are you willing to be identified with the One the world would reject?

These are critical questions. Was Martha aware that she did not need to do a bunch of stuff in order to be rightly related to Jesus? Did she realize that she could rest fully in what Jesus had done and would do in, with and for her? Mary apparently had come to see this and so was not concerned about the other details of hospitality and household management that were of such importance to Martha.

We can reflect on what Luke wrote in his gospel and ask ourselves how well we understand the message of grace. Do we realize that in Christ, we have been fully reconciled to God, and that he is waiting for us to give up our human efforts to do all these things, and to just trust in him, in what he has done for us and will do for us in Jesus Christ, in his life, death and resurrection, and in the precious gift of the Eternal Spirit?

God is calling to us, giving us the opportunity to choose “the better thing” by embracing his gift of love and eternal life in Jesus Christ and by forsaking all other loyalties in our lives. When we choose Christ first over all else, then he goes to work to make sure the rest gets done—and we can fully trust him to finish what he has begun.

Dear God, thank you for your perfect love that you have shed out on us in Christ. We trust you, Father, to accomplish all you set your hand to do, including transforming us and making us to reflect the image of Christ. You are a glorious and faithful God and we praise you, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (NIV) Luke 10:41-42

Reflections on a Legacy

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by Linda Rex

“He’s gone.” These words spoke of the end and the beginning of a story of a life well lived. The end—because he had taken his last breath. The beginning—because he had begun his eternal journey into places we have yet to explore.

I had gone to see him earlier this week. When I told him I had intended to bring him a joke but couldn’t think of one, he cracked the slightest smile. He wasn’t able to speak anymore, but he had not lost his sense of humor.

During my visit, one thing came apparent. This man had grown in his walk with Christ to the place that he had begun to reflect the life and love of Jesus in a deep way. As his wife held his hand and talked to us about him, his eyes never left her face. It was as if he was trying to drink her in—every last drop.

At one point I had to step out with his mom onto the porch so he could be cared for. We talked for a while. When we stepped back into the house, I told the gentleman I had met his mom and that we had been chatting. With an extreme effort that lifted him off his pillow, he blurted out the words, “All right?” I assured him that she would be all right. He relaxed, as though it had been on his mind for some time.

This man set a powerful example of how to love: Here he was in the midst of his own crucifixion but his concern was for his wife, his mother and his children. Doesn’t that sound familiar to those of us to have heard the story of Jesus’ crucifixion? This is the legacy of a saint. May we each find the grace to leave such a legacy behind us as well.

Lord, I thank you for being given the privilege of witnessing the legacy of a life well lived. Thank you, that in you, Jesus, we are never alone in any of our circumstances, but you are always and ever present in the Spirit, sharing with us in our joys and our sorrows. Father, please pour your Comforter out in new ways in the hearts and lives of those who have suffered loss. Remind us all of your faithful love and grace—in Jesus name. Amen.

“When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.” John 19:26–27

When Running Gets Tough

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by Linda Rex

I was deeply grieved and concerned by the events that transpired at the Boston Marathon yesterday. No doubt the marathon runners had spent months and even years training, preparing to run in the event. Those who came out to watch had loved ones who were running in the race. Each of these people who were at this event, whether participating or watching, had a story—what brought them there and what they hoped to have happen at the event.

Then the unforeseen occurred. Someone, somewhere, sought only to wreak havoc on other people’s lives. They sought to harm, not to heal or to help. And they had no conscience about who they hurt, for even those who were there to tend to the wounded were harmed.

In the aftermath of such carnage, it is easy to give trite responses. I hope that I will not do that today. But I do want to call the people of America back to their heritage of resilience in the midst of struggle and suffering.

Throughout the decades of our existence as a nation, we have faced many struggles and tragedies. Native peoples and settlers alike fought to survive. Many endured the tragic loss of dear ones through war. The troughs of depression and recession have had their victims as well. Other devastating events like 9/11 have left their mark.

But there is a deep inner strength that, in years past, our people called upon to carry them through these times. Some gave in to their fear and some yielded to the call of traitors and easy money. But there have been others, many others, who looked upward and inside and found a deep faith to carry them through the hard times. This faith gave them the courage to stand against evil and its ravages. This faith gave them strength and endurance as they ran the difficult marathon of life.

In American society today where everything except perhaps our relationships comes easily for most of us, there are not as many occasions available for us to learn the skill of resilience. Many people may complain about their bills or about making ends meet, but most of them have food to eat and a place to live and a way to earn their living, as well as money for the pleasant things of life.

If people cannot make ends meet and end up on the street, there are programs and people who will feed them and may even give them a place to stay the night. There are food banks, shelters, mission houses and soup kitchens galore. This shows the compassion of our people and the love God places in our hearts to care for one another.

But what if you are the one who finds out you are going to be evicted and you know you have no place to go? What if you are the one was laid off unexpectedly and now you don’t have any money even to pay for the groceries? What if you are the one who is facing the consequences of years of mismanaging your money and overspending? What if you are the one facing an unexpected, tragic loss like those experienced yesterday in Boston?

We come to these crossroads in life, these forks where we must make difficult choices. We can give up, give in, or we can do the hard, grueling work of training like the marathon runners preparing for a race. We can bewail our loss and lose our heart for living and running the race when tragedy strikes us, or we can reach upward and inward and draw upon the deep spiritual resources of our faith in God and persevere. These are opportunities to grow in resilience, in endurance and patience, if we are willing to see them in that light.

Undergoing the loss of a loved one, the loss of a limb, the loss of home, family or occupation is not for sissies. It is tough. We need each other and we need to remember we are deeply loved by Someone who is much greater than ourselves and our circumstances. It is the crisis of faith, the final leg of the race, where we need the inner strength to push ourselves to our limits and beyond if necessary. And we are never alone as we do this, if we are willing to allow others in. May God continue to carry you through your tragedies and struggles this day, and may we offer one another the encouragement and support as it is needed.

Loving Heavenly Father, your heart is broken by the many ways in which we harm and hurt one another, and by the pain and suffering that comes from it. No doubt, Jesus, your heart goes out to those grieving and suffering in Boston, as well as elsewhere throughout the world where tragedy has occurred. Lord God, may your divine Spirit pour out upon each of us your comfort, peace and love. Give us strength of heart, courage and faith to endure the struggles and grow in endurance and resilience. Let your compassion, healing and help be evident as we care for one another in difficult times. Thank you for your faithful love in Jesus. Amen.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Heb 12:1–3 (NASB)

When In the Now of Suffering

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by Linda Rex

In my last blog, “Beyond the Now of Suffering” I talked about how to rejoice when you feel your world is crumbling or has been profoundly shattered. It is only in Christ that we may have any joy at all under such circumstances and it is a joy that looks in hope towards the future. But, as I stressed, in the midst of our heartache we are never alone in our grief and suffering—God in Christ by the Spirit is present in the midst of it, weeping and aching with us.

God does not want us to deny or ignore or try to fantasize away our suffering. God does not ask us to pretend tragedy did not happen or that loss will not or did not occur. Nor does he ask us to have a “stiff upper lip” and just brave it out, pretending that everything is okay. Living in denial, emotional numbness or in a sense of false spirituality is not healthy, nor is it godly.

There are many examples from the human life of Jesus that express his compassion and willingness to share in another person’s grief and suffering. He did not deny the real grief of Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus died. In fact, he wept with them. Yes, he pointed them beyond his death to the hope of the resurrection, but he also shared in their grief and did not minimize it in any way. This is the heart of compassion and understanding that God has given us in Christ.

I am reminded of the story of when Jesus was traveling to the city of Nain. He met a funeral procession on his way. The mourners were weeping over the death of the only son of a widow. In that culture, this was a real tragedy because, not only did she lose someone very dear to her, but now she would be forced to find some way to provide for herself whether through begging or some worse occupation. She was really at a place where there was no hope or future for her. The text says that when Jesus saw her, his heart went out to her. He was filled with compassion.

Jesus does the same for each of us today. Just as Jesus faces our suffering today with a heart of compassion, he comes alongside us as well to ease our burdens and to find a way to help us through our tragedies and difficulties to a new place. He may, in our case, not raise the dead as he did in hers, but he will bring our dead and dying circumstances and situations in time to a place of new life. Meanwhile he ministers to us in many ways.

Jesus ministers to us through the person and presence of the Holy Spirit. When we turn to Christ in our struggles and suffering, we are blessed with the real comfort and peace that comes through the ministering presence of God through the Spirit. I have had widows tell me how they have experienced the nearness of God in a profound way after the death of their spouse. They have been comforted and encouraged in a real way through his ministry and grace. This is something we can ask God to do for those we know who are suffering or going through a time of darkness.

Jesus also ministers to us through his body, the universal church of God. We are surrounded by people of faith, whether from our church or not, who offer us consolation, encouragement, support and real, human assistance. The people of God are the physical “hands and feet” of Jesus for us in the midst of our tragedy and struggle. It is important for us as believers to be sensitive to the needs of those in the midst of crisis and not to belittle or minimize or spiritualize away their suffering. God meant for us instead to express Jesus’ heart of compassion and comfort toward them in the midst of it. God meant for us to be “place-sharers” in their lives—to be present with them as they go through it—not trying to fix it or them, but just being for them the real presence of God in the Spirit in that moment.

Finally, Jesus ministers to us through his Word, whether through the Scriptures, the spoken word and through “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Many a person has been revived at a point of crisis through hearing a song on the radio, receiving a card in the mail, being given a note of encouragement, or by listening to an inspired message. These are all real tangible gifts we can extend to others in their time of need or assist others in being able to receive.

God finds ways to bring us real help and strength in the midst of our human existence which includes suffering, struggle and difficulty. He does not leave us to muddle through somehow on our own. Nor should we expect others to do so either. If we have any heart of compassion at all, we should be finding ways to ease the suffering of others, not adding to it by our insensitivity or by ignoring it or minimizing it. For as members of the body of Christ, we do not suffer alone; when one person suffers, we all suffer.

Holy God, thank you for the wonder of your great compassion and tenderness for us in the midst of suffering and tragedy. We praise you that nothing in our lives escapes your notice. Thank you for the real ministry of your Holy Spirit, of the body of Christ and of the Word of God when we are in need. Remind us now of ways in which we might bless the lives of others who are suffering this week in a real way. Encourage and strengthen each of us who are in the midst of tragedy and loss right now in a real way so that we might bear these things we are facing that are difficult and painful to bear. We are grateful that we never have to walk through these things alone—you are always with us. Triune God—Father, Son and Spirit, we need you now, more than ever—please send your comfort, your peace and your grace, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

“But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” — 1 Corinthians 12:24b-27

Beyond the Now of Suffering

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by Linda Rex

I sat with a friend one day as she told me the sad story of her husband’s tragic accident. He lingered for several agonizing days and then passed on. It was heartbreaking. I was sorry to lose his friendship as well as to watch her grieve the loss of her dearest friend. In the midst of this horrific event, how could we rejoice?

The only joy we can find in such times is in our knowledge that we may look forward to spending eternity with this dear one because of what Jesus Christ did for us. We look forward to a wonderful future spent in the presence of the Triune God, enveloped in and included in the triune life and love of Father, Son and Spirit. Next to this eternity of joy, peace, and heartwarming meaningful occupation in God’s presence, our time of struggle becomes extremely brief and almost insignificant. It’s all a matter of perspective.

This is why Paul repeatedly calls us to keep our minds and hearts on heavenly things rather than on earthly things. It is our focus on the heavenly things that gives our struggles and trials meaning.

It is a given that we will struggle in this life and may even have to suffer extreme trials. It is a given that at some point we will have to experience grief and sorrow. It is the nature of the human condition.

But our human condition is the reason why Christ came. God saw us in our pain and suffering, and in the person of the Word, he came and joined us. He became human in the person of Jesus Christ, living like us, grieving with us and dying our death for us. The answer to human suffering is found in God’s choice, made in his divine freedom, to take on and transform human flesh by living as a human being, dying, rising and ascending to heaven, taking our transformed humanity with him into the love and life of himself.

God, who is love, revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. God taught us, in Jesus Christ, that true love is forgiving, self-offering, and self-sacrificing, humble and serving in nature. Jesus, in rising from the grave, transformed our humanity, making us new in him and drawing us into the very presence of the triune God for all eternity. There is no suffering, grief or sorrow we experience in this life he will not share in. He feels it keenly himself.

So in the transient suffering of this life we are not alone. We can rejoice that Jesus Christ shares in it with us and that by his Spirit he strengthens us and carries us through these dark times. And in the end the whole purpose of all that we have suffered and gone through will be revealed in him when we are transformed into his likeness as glorified human beings and spend eternity in joyful unity with the triune God, sharing in his love and life forever.

Dear God, thank you that we are not alone in our suffering and trials. Thank you for being with us, in us and for us through them all in Christ by your Spirit. Thank you for giving us an eternal, living hope to carry us beyond them to a glorious future with you. Grant us the grace to endure and to be transformed by your gracious efforts in our trials and suffering into your glorious and radiant sons and daughters who will love and serve you faithfully forever. We pray in your name, Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,…” 1 Peter 1:6 (NASB)

When Winter Lingers

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by Linda Rex

When I walked into the business office one day, I was greeted by a wonderful floral fragrance. On the desk sat a beautiful bouquet of flowers. The lilies in the bouquet were filling the room with their pleasant scent.

We often associate lilies with Easter or with the passing of a loved one. Lilies remind us in times of death that there is always the hope of new life in Jesus. Lilies begin to bloom in the spring, and are often associated with the seasonal renewal of life. The winter season is when lilies go dormant, drawing their energy back into their bulbs. The cold soil hides the life of the lily until the warm spring sun awakens the bulb again to new life.

During the winter of our lives as our bodies begin to give way to stress and strain, we may feel that we are like the dormant lilies. We may feel lifeless and dull. We may have lost our energy and desire to do much of anything anymore. The aches and pains may overwhelm our desire to get up and face the day. Our loneliness or sadness may feel like a weight upon our soul. Like the lilies, we may withdraw into the cold bulb of our hearts or our room and wish to be just left alone.

God says in these times he will be like the dew to us so that we will blossom like a lily. To find renewal, an ability to keep going in the tough times, the strength to carry on one more day, we go to Jesus. He understands our suffering and our struggles because he bore them in person, in human flesh, just as we do. He will listen to our heart’s cry when we cannot pray, and comfort our spirits when we are overcome with sorrow.

Jesus is the sunlight that melts away the coldness of sorrow and loneliness. He is the friend who is closer than a brother. He comes near and warms us with his love and grace. When we turn to him and bask in the sunlight of his love, we find renewal and strength to face each new day. In the light of his presence, we find encouragement and comfort. In Christ, we find within ourselves the strength and wisdom to share his Light with others so they might be encouraged and comforted as well. Like the spring lilies we will blossom, and the fresh fragrance of God’s love will begin to spread to all those around us.

Lord, thank you for the beautiful lilies of the field. They remind us of your great love that is endless and faithful. Thank you, that in Christ, we may find the comfort, strength and encouragement that enables us to begin again each new day. Please grant that today we like the lilies of the field, will blossom and share the fragrance of your love with all those about us. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

“I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily.” Ho 14:5 (NIV)