By Linda Rex
3rd SUNDAY OF EASTER—As the years go by, I find myself reflecting on the journey I have been on with Jesus. The person I am today is profoundly different from the person I was as a young adult. I had lots of dreams back then, and I voiced many strong convictions about what I believed to be true about God, myself, and others, much of which I have since renounced as wrong or inaccurate.
Life seemed to be a lot less complicated back then. I believed that if I just did everything the way it should be done, my life would be blessed, I would be happy, and things would go along quite well without any difficulties or suffering. Whatever difficulty or suffering that might come would be because I sinned or because I was being persecuted for doing what was right. It seemed as though I was on God’s side so he had to be on mine, making sure everything went as it should.
I’m a little embarrassed to think about how naïve and unschooled I was, but it was merely the outgrowth of unhealthy theology and a protected yet legalistic childhood. I have, through the conditioning of God and everyday human existence, come to have a more rounded and mature view of things. There is indeed evil at work in this world, and evil affects anyone and everyone at some point. No matter who we are, we won’t escape failures, difficulties, struggles, and challenges.
A fundamental change in my life began when my view of who I believed God to be was challenged. I believed God was Father and Son, and the Spirit was their power or essence. As I grew in my understanding of who the Holy Spirit really is as the third Person of the Trinity—reading in the scriptures and believing all the examples of his personhood illustrated there and growing in my personal relationship with the Spirit through prayer and listening—my understanding of who Jesus and the Father are began to change as well.
Knowing the Father as our loving Abba and Jesus Christ as his Son the Messiah, the Word who came and took on our human flesh, dying our death, rising again, to bear our glorified humanity in the presence of the Father forever, is life-transforming. As the Spirit brought me nearer and deeper into the life of the Trinity, what I believed kept moving beyond just a religious creed into the realm of personal experience. The reality of Jesus Christ in me, with me, for me, began to take a clearer shape. Jesus was no longer some story character—he had revealed himself to me personally by the Holy Spirit. I began to hear God’s still small voice in my heart and mind, and I began to know and believe I am loved, forgiven, and accepted. The more I believed the truth about who Jesus was and why he came and the more I knew I belonged and was included in Jesus’ perfect relationship with his Abba in the Spirit, the more my behavior began to change.
I was more than happy to do my part in obeying God—I had constantly been bombarded by the shoulds, oughts, and have-tos of the belief system I held and all it did was make me worse. The harder I tried, the more I found myself shackled by unhealthy ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. I struggled often with depression and self-loathing. This obviously wasn’t God’s way of doing things. Eventually, the change I noticed within myself did not come about because I tried harder, but rather because I admitted I couldn’t do it and I needed Christ to do it in me and through me by his Holy Spirit. It happened when I was honest with others about my struggles and failures, and sought help. It happened when I was transparent about my failures, became fully known and yet loved, accepted and forgiven within a healthy spiritual community.
The worst thing about toxic or legalistic religious environments is that they do not allow people to be authentic and real and so find genuine healing and renewal. It seems that when people come together to form a church, they bring with them their masquerade gear and spend copious amounts of energy hiding from one another. In this type of environment, addictions and co-dependencies thrive. Healing and renewal are often limited or are complicated by unhealthy boundaries and toxic relationships.
It is much better to be in a safe spiritual community where each person is able to be genuine and transparent, and is allowed to grow up in Christ. Growing up in healthy ways requires the freedom to make mistakes without condemnation and with the support and encouragement of those who have previously traveled those same difficult paths. A healthy spiritual community allows for falling short without condemnation, but challenges brothers and sisters to grow up into the fullness of who they are in Christ.
Saul was not a bad person. He was a zealous God-fearing Jew. He meant to do the right thing, and he was trying to live life the way he believed God wanted him to. I don’t know why he was so adamant about imprisoning and executing the believers in Christ, but perhaps his zeal for God was also inspired by a need for the approval of his Jewish peers and a need to accomplish what no one else was doing quite as well. Whatever his reasoning, it seemed to be borne out of a heart seeking to please God.
Imagine how horrifying it must have been to realize that the One Saul had been trying to impress was actually the One he had been persecuting. His efforts to earn God’s love and approval, and the adulation and approval of his peers, was actually an action in opposition to God and in persecution of Jesus. Saul needed to know who Jesus Christ really was. He needed to have his image of God reformed into something which more perfectly apprehended the Triune God of love. As Saul sat in the darkness of blindness for a few days, he must have thought at least once—now what do I do? How can I possibly make amends for this?
What if Ananias had refused to listen to Jesus when the Lord told him to go lay hands on Saul so he could see again? What if he had stood in judgment of Saul and had condemned him, insisting he pay for his crimes against Ananias’ friends and fellow believers? But he didn’t. He humbly obeyed Jesus’ command and met Saul right where he was, offering him grace and love, and entrance into the body of Christ, the church.
Saul, whom we know today as the apostle Paul, never minced words when he spoke about his past and his failures in life. He was transparent and honest about the people he had harmed and the suffering he had incurred. Instead of being a reason for shame and guilt, God made his failures an essential part of his witness to the resurrection power of the risen Christ and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s proclamation of the gospel was effective often because people saw the profound reversal which had occurred in his life when he met Jesus Christ.
A church should be a spiritual community where people can be authentic and transparent, and safely transverse the changes necessary between spiritual infancy and the spiritual maturity of Christlikeness. This is a journey that takes time, and we all have ups and downs as we travel. We are bound together in Christ to offer one another both grace and truth—to enable one another to be challenged as well as upheld when things don’t go as we planned or hoped they should, or when we fall short of Christ.
The Spirit creates such a community as we respond to his work in our hearts and minds, and live and walk in him, tossing aside the old as unneeded scraps of clothing ready to be burned, and putting on Jesus Christ who is our life and the truth of our being. As we live out the truth of our real reversal in Jesus, the Spirit enables us to participate in bringing others to experience this transformation as well, creating a fellowship of care which reflects the inner life of the Triune God. Our spiritual community isn’t meant to be a closed group but rather a welcoming place where others may find healing and renewal as well.
Dear Abba, thank you that by your Spirit you bring together people to form spiritual communities where they can find healing and renewal, and share that gift with others who are broken and suffering. As believers, change our hearts and minds so that we begin to live together in ways which are transparent and authentic, and are safe for others to participate in and to come to know and grow up in Christ in a healthy way. We thank you for never ceasing to bring us to yourself through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.’ … and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, ‘Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?’ ” Acts 9:5-6, 20-21 NASB
By Linda Rex
PALM/PASSION SUNDAY—I remember years ago sitting in a church service listening to a pastor talk about conflict and how as couples, it was important to have good communication skills and be able to handling conflict in positive ways. I had learned over the years that the best way to deal with conflict was to avoid it altogether. Now, granted, approaching conflict through avoidance does seem temporarily to create a more peaceful atmosphere in the home. The reality is, though, this method of dealing with conflict exacts a pretty steep price in the end.
When we don’t engage issues as they come up between us and the significant people in our lives, we really don’t create peace. What we create is a mound of unresolved issues that may erupt later as a destructive volcano when stressful events occur in our lives. Avoidance can actually prevent the true resolution of conflict. Handling conflict in healthy ways may in fact increase intimacy and bring healing to the relationship—we may miss out on opportunities to deepen our relationship with another by avoiding conflict.
Yes, we are told “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18 NASB). In the context of this passage, though, we are told not to give back to others the evil they have done to us and we are not to exact revenge on them for the harm they have done us. The point Paul was making, I believe, was that we respond to their evil with good—this is the best way to treat someone who is mistreating you.
This is nigh to impossible for us as humans to do in our own strength. It is definitely counter-intuitive and rubs against the grain of our fallen humanity. If we are honest with ourselves, our response to conflict with another person is make sure our position is defended, our opinion protected and affirmed, and that the other person understands and accepts that we are right and they are very wrong. The way we often do conflict when driven by our flesh involves opposition, condemnation or criticism, and unforgiveness. And when we feel unable to defend our position, we may choose to avoid engaging altogether.
During Lent, we are walking the journey with Jesus toward death and resurrection. What might be helpful is to remember that this journey began long before this cosmos was ever created. The Word of God could have said to Abba, “I really don’t want to have to deal with these humans. I know what they are like. They’re not going to live in relationship with us like they were created to—all they will want to do is go their own way and live in opposition to us. We’ll have conflict all the time.” And he would have been right.
But the Word of God did not avoid conflict by not coming to be with us. Rather he expressed a divine humility in embracing our humanity and taking it upon himself. He did not reject our weaknesses or failures to love, but engaged them fully, face-to-face with us in our human flesh. For him, this conflict would serve a purpose—to restore us to the relationship with God we were created for and to remake our humanity into what it was created to be, enabling us to truly reflect the image of God.
This Sunday we are reminded both of the events of Palm Sunday and those of Holy Week. On Palm Sunday, we see Jesus intentionally walking towards Jerusalem and the events which would transpire there. In the gospel accounts, we hear Jesus warning his disciples of what he was facing—his death and resurrection. Even though all his disciples didn’t fully realize what he was saying, they believed what Jesus was doing as he entered Jerusalem that day was significant enough that they participated in the celebration of hosannas and laying down palm branches.
Symbolically, we see Jesus being treated as a triumphant deliverer. The Jewish leaders wanted the hosannas silenced. But Jesus acknowledged this was his day—this was his time. Creation knew its Maker and would honor him even if these people did not.
Jesus wasn’t interested in being acknowledged as a hero, though. He knew the path he walked was a path of conflict and betrayal. Even the one who promised he would never walk away or deny him did. And the one he knew would betray him did so, offering him up to the Jews for a few coins. Jesus did not try to defend himself, but allowed himself to be misunderstood, misrepresented and humiliated. How many of us are willing to engage in a conflict with this measure of self-effacing humility?
The journey of Holy Week takes us from triumph to ignominy. In engaging humanity on its own ground, Jesus experienced crucifixion and death. He was willing to go to these lengths in order for him and his Father in the Spirit to be reconciled with humanity once and for all. What price are we willing to pay in order to make things right in our relationships with others?
Needless to say, it has been impressed on my heart once again that there is no place for avoidance in our significant relationships. Walking in the Spirit rather than in the flesh means walking in the reality of Jesus’ complete offering of himself in spite of what he knew we would do to him on the cross.
It also means that there will be times when on our side, there is no conflict—we are fully accepting, forgiving, and loving toward the other. These can be times where all the other wants to do is live in opposition to us, pouring out on us whatever venom or destruction they can muster up. This is when we don’t avoid the conflict, but rather respond as Jesus did, in offering love and grace—God’s goodness—in place of the evil being offered us. We don’t act in our flesh and take revenge, but walk in the Spirit and with healthy boundaries in place we offer God’s grace and love. The ground of Jesus’ death and resurrection is where we take our stand, and in Christ by the Spirit we find the power and heart to love and serve the one who opposes us.
Conflict then becomes not a ground for hostility or relational destruction, but a sacred offering of openness to the power of the Spirit to deepen and heal the relationship. We don’t need to fear conflict, for in Christ it becomes a way in which Jesus’ can work to bind us together with God and with one another in deeper and healthier ways. The beauty of Jesus’ wilderness journey is that it ends up in an eternal loving relationship of God and humanity bound together forever, not at conflict with one another but in perfect unity. The humility of the cross ends in glory!
Dear Jesus, thank you that you did not refuse to engage us in face-to-face conflict but chose to embrace conflict as a means by which we would be forever united with you and Abba in the Spirit. Thank you, Abba, for participating with Jesus in this mighty work of redemption and renewal. And thank you, Holy Spirit, for working into our being and our relationships that grace and love which Jesus lived out in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Amen.
“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:8 NASB
“I gave My back to those who strike Me, / And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; / I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting. For the Lord GOD helps Me, / Therefore, I am not disgraced; / Therefore, I have set My face like flint, / And I know that I will not be ashamed. He who vindicates Me is near; / Who will contend with Me? / Let us stand up to each other; / Who has a case against Me? / Let him draw near to Me. Behold, the Lord GOD helps Me; / Who is he who condemns Me? / Behold, they will all wear out like a garment; / The moth will eat them.” Isaiah 50:6-9 NASB
By Linda Rex
For whatever reason, probably mostly due to the family dynamics and church legalism I grew up in, I struggled for years with a deep sense of being unwanted and unloved. My personal history has been filled with the struggle to fill these empty places—as many others around me have struggled as well. This journey often led me into unhealthy relationships or situations, though I will be the first to admit that God graciously kept me safe so many times when I deserved painful consequences for my choices.
I was born to two parents who cared deeply about God and wanted to live their lives according to what they understood God required of them. They were careful about what they ate, believing they needed to keep the old covenant commands regarding clean and unclean meats, and that as caregivers for the temple of the Spirit, their bodies, they needed to only eat the healthiest, organic foods and drink the cleanest water. Part of this concern about health led them to choosing to give birth to me at home with the assistance of a midwife.
The facts of my birth, though, were that I was a breech birth—a long and difficult process that the doctor had to help with. Mom really struggled and was in grave danger during the process. I was eventually born, with the umbilical cord rapped around my neck and my body blue from lack of oxygen. My dad told me years later that I was laid aside so they could tend to my mom—I was not expected to live.
I think sometimes we live our lives as though we are babies God has tossed aside and given up on. We somehow believe God has his attention elsewhere, with more important things to tend to than us. We impute to God some indifference or coldness which is not in his heart at all.
In fact, our view of God and ourselves very often reflects the important relationships in our lives. If our parents were indifferent or cold, we may believe God is indifferent and cold. If our parents were controlling and had unreasonable expectations for us, we may believe God expects more from us that we could ever give, so why even try? In our refusal to be controlled, we may give ourselves over to substances and/or relationships which eventually begin to control us.
Our experiences as children and teens impact us in greater ways than we often realize. The ridicule we experience about our clothes or poverty may drive for years our determination to never be considered less than ever again, and so we become successful, well-to-do adults. The loneliness we felt as an isolated, unloved child may drive us to be a social butterfly who never wishes to be alone or without a partner—even though many of our relationships may be shallow and transient, at least we’re not abandoned or isolated.
What we believe to be true about ourselves often works at such a deep level within our soul that unless we take the time and make the effort to examine these things, our brokenness can become something which sabotages or undermines whatever good may be happening in our lives. In Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, the authors explain how these wounds from the past may drive us to be successful and effective adults, but if they do not find healing within the reality of our new life in Jesus Christ, they will trip us up or cause us to have a major failure later in life. (1)
Many leaders today, both secular and Christian, are reaping the consequences of not dealing with the truth of their brokenness and need for redemption. We need to accept the reality that we are broken people with flaws and wounds. We are utterly dependent upon Jesus to redeem, restore, and renew us. Every moment of every day, we need his transforming power at work in us and in our lives. We need to not be afraid to do the hard work of looking inside and allowing ourselves to be the needy, hurting, and broken people we really are, because God loves us and has already redeemed and forgiven us.
Remember that baby, laid aside so the doctor could attend my mom? A few years ago, I had a dream that was so incredibly vivid I have been unable to forget it. In the dream, the baby I was laid there alone and forgotten. But all at once, I saw this man there. He was loving, kind, and compassionate, like a heavenly Father or a gentle Savior. He walked over to the abandoned, forsaken baby, and picked it up and held it. Broken, but beloved. Set aside, but chosen. Given up on, but believed in and held.
In spite of what we may believe about ourselves, and in spite of what others may believe about us or say about us, the truth is, we are loved. We are chosen. We are held. Broken we may be—but God determined before we were even born that we were his and would be his forever. And he never breaks his promises, for he is a faithful, loving Abba, a tender-hearted Dad, a loving Father. You are his, and he is yours. Both now and forever.
Thank you, Abba, that even though we may believe we are forgotten, forsaken, and unloved, we are in reality remembered, held, and beloved. Remind us again, Holy Spirit, of who we are and that we share in Jesus’ perfect relationship with our heavenly Father. Give us courage to face our brokenness and to bring it to you, Abba, that we may be healed, restored, and renewed, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Yes, you have been with me from birth; from my mother’s womb you have cared for me. No wonder I am always praising you!” Psalm 71:6
(1) McIntosh, Gary L. and Rima, Sr., Samuel D., Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: The Paradox of Personal Dysfunction. Grand Rapids, MI (Baker Books, 1997).
By Linda Rex
This morning I was browsing social media as I was finishing up my morning exercise routine. I was touched by a friend’s post which described a very painful and difficult circumstance they were going through. My heart went out to them and I wished there was some way to help. But there wasn’t.
My go-to response, of course, is to pray. This can seem such a feeble response when often people need some real tangible assistance in difficult circumstances. But for those of us who do pray and count on prayer as our go-to response, this is actually the most powerful and effective thing we can do when encountering a life tragedy, struggle, or difficulty.
This week there was another mass shooting, this time in my home state of California. No doubt, there will be more cry for effective gun laws, and, which I think is more to the point, more focus on getting veterans the help they need when they are struggling with PTSD and other post-conflict issues. But all the laws we can write do not change or heal the human heart. We live in a society which seeks to regulate human conduct from without by laws or by social pressure, and to heal broken human beings with social programs and medication.
This is the struggle we have in our world today—a society in which each feels free to do whatever they want according to their conscience and desires, but often without concern for the others who share this world with them or for the creation either. I keep being brought back to the basic fundamental description of how we are to live as human beings—of what we have been created for. As made in the image of God, we are meant to live as unique yet equal individuals in a unity which reflects that of the Father, Son, and Spirit—created for this divine relationship with God and one another. Jesus described it as loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Our struggle to exist together in this world to day is due to our refusal to acknowledge there is an ultimate Source which defines our existence and which gives us direction for our lives. We want to have control over our existence and our decisions, and not allow anyone to infringe on our preferences or our space. Somehow we think that submitting ourselves to someone, most especially to God, limits us in some way, and deprives us of our ability to be all we can be.
In reality, our greatest struggle lies within ourselves. We are broken and wounded, and all these things affect how we handle life, and how we treat one another. When Jesus said that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, I believe he was pointing out our need to be fully integrated as human beings, with all of us being fully devoted to our Abba. He knew the human proclivity to create inner silos, where the good parts of us are separated from the bad parts of us, and where our inner divisions become a space for the evil one to enter and cause destruction and despair.
To be fully integrated within ourselves by necessity means that God needed to reform our humanity after his image—we had rejected our humanness as God had meant it to be. Jesus, when he walked on earth, lived in intimate relationship with his Abba. He said that he and his Father were one. Jesus lived fully focused on that relationship, seeking out his Abba in the midst of trouble and stress, and drawing upon his strength and power by the Spirit to deal with the issues he faced in his life.
In spite of how he was treated and the uniqueness of his personhood as the God/man, Jesus stayed fully integrated to the end. He, by the Spirit, held fast to the truth of who he was as the Son of God and the Son of Man. Jesus did not have a good side and a bad side, but was simply the Word of God in human flesh—the One who became sin for us so we could become the righteousness of God in him. He came to redeem our humanity and give us a new life by the Spirit which in him is fully integrated within itself and in relationship with God and others.
As I was reading the lectionary scriptures for Sunday, one of the passages from the book of Ruth popped out at me. We read in Ruth’s story that her mother-in-law Naomi, who lived for a time in Moab, had lost both her sons and her husband, and so sought to move back to her home town of Bethlehem to rebuild her life. Ruth, being a Moabitess, was considered a Gentile but she embraced Naomi and her faith, and went with her back to Bethlehem.
Ruth was in a very difficult position, but it seems that God kept his eye on her. She went to glean grain after the harvesters, which was what poor people did back then, and she ended up in the field of someone who was in her extended family, a relative named Boaz. In due time, Naomi told Ruth she should invoke the levirate law of that day and ask Boaz to redeem her property and by extension give her the children she did not have by her first husband so her property would stay in the family. So Ruth courageously did as her mother-in-law instructed, not knowing what the result would be.
Boaz’s reaction is interesting. When she appealed to him to exercise his right of redemption, he told her he couldn’t—there was someone closer who could. But he said he would see that this was done, either by himself, or by the other who was more closely related to her. Then he sent Ruth home. When Naomi heard how it went, she said, “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today.”
A lot of times we think and act as if God is indifferent to our suffering and our struggles. We may believe he shouldn’t be bothered with the little details of our lives, or that he’s not really willing to intervene in our difficult circumstances. When we lose dear ones, we often believe God doesn’t care about us any more—why else would he let them pass away? In reality, we need to see God as the One who will not rest until he has settled the matter today—immediately, as promptly as he possibly can. It may not be according to our time schedule, but in God’s time schedule, he is treating it as urgent, as needing his immediate attention.
Secondly, God is the one who has the right of redemption. He is as closely related to us as he could possibly get in the Person of Jesus Christ. He took on our humanity, reintegrated it with its Creator and within himself as God in human flesh, and took it with himself through death and resurrection, so we each could have new birth—a new life in him. God in Christ is to us a restorer of life and a sustainer in our youth and old age—no matter where we are in life, he is our Redeemer.
The cry I am hearing in the media today, social and otherwise, is for a redeemer. Humans such as political leaders often try to fill this role, and we temporarily give them our allegiance. But in reality, none can do what our Redeemer does—they cannot change or heal the human heart, nor can they transform people’s lives or give them divine redemption. There is no one like our God, who saves! We pray because we have a Redeemer who will not rest until he has healed, restored, and renewed. We pray because we know and trust he is faithful, gracious, and loving, and he will finish what he has begun in us.
Only God has the capacity and the heart to heal someone from the inside out. Only Jesus, the divine Physician, can change someone’s heart and desires into what they ought to be. Only the Spirit, our Comforter and our Peace, can work transformation in human beings, bringing them into Christlikeness.
Our participation in all of these things is to, like Ruth, place ourselves at Jesus’ feet and ask him to exercise his right of redemption on our behalf, to wait patiently for him to move in our circumstances and in our lives, and to embrace the relationship offered to us and to faithfully live within it for the remainder of our days. Our participation includes learning to live and walk in truth, to be integrated within ourselves so that we, in Jesus and by the Spirit, are loving God with all our being and loving our neighbor as ourselves. We have every reason to hope—for he is ours and we are his, and he will be faithful to the end. This is why we turn to him, believing he will not fail us. And this is why we pray.
Thank you, Abba, for your faithful love, and for giving us your Son to redeem us. Thank you for sending your Spirit to renew, restore, and heal us—transforming us by your grace and love into the very image of your Son, and so to reflect your likeness. We desperately need a move of your Spirit in our world today. We need you to heal, restore and renew all this we have broken, and to transform human hearts by faith. We trust you will not rest until this is accomplished. Show us how we can participate with you in your mission, and to passionately do so as you lead us, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed is the LORD who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.’” Ruth 4:14-15 NASB
By Linda Rex
I apologize for not writing a blog last week. My goal is to write one every Friday or thereabouts, but last Thursday I took my family to a cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains to spend a long weekend. This was the first time we had done this together as a family, and I appreciated this opportunity for a change a scenery and some time away from my ministry responsibilities.
During our visit there I visited the Clingman’s Dome visitor center. The view from there was stupendous. The mountains stretch out as far as the eye can see, and they were just beginning to come alive with new spring growth and blossoming trees.
This may sound odd, but I was impressed with the numbers of people who were there just to see the sights. Some were all decked out in hiking regalia, ready to take on the challenge of a mountain trail. Others were there with family, taking pictures of one another, with the mountains as a backdrop.
There was a constant bubbling hum of joy—of sharing the common appreciation of the beauty and wonder of the creation. To me, this is the calling we all have and that we share in, whether we realize it or not—to bear witness to the glory of God, and all he has done and all that he is. In many ways, this is a hint as to what we are called to as God’s adopted children—to revel in and celebrate the wonders of God’s goodness, love, and grace.
This theme continued on throughout the visit for me. One afternoon I went over to Cherokee to sit by the Ocanaluftee River and do some personal reflection. The water was swift and clear, running over rocks and creating little spurts of white here and there. The trees were just beginning to put on leaves, and some were filled with flowers. The birds were singing their hearts out, creating a pleasant atmosphere. The place where I sat was surrounded on all sides by the mountains, so it seemed tucked in and cozy.
Down the river from me, a man was fly fishing, without much success that I could see. A couple of children were playing in the water opposite from where I was sitting, pretending their dolls were swimming. Upstream, two girls were relaxing in the water where it was deeper, coming up occasionally, soaked and laughing. A couple was pushing an elderly lady across the pedestrian bridge in a wheelchair, stopping occasionally so she could enjoy the view. Groups of families were having lunch together, their voices carrying across the water to where I was sitting.
It occurred to me after a while that I was experiencing one of those moments in life which are foretastes of our future with God in the new earth. We’ve been talking about the new earth and heaven at our Wednesday night discussion group, and we’ve seen the scriptures which describe the new earth where God comes to dwell with humanity forever.
The apostle John describes a river, the water of life, flowing from the presence of Abba and his Son—the ever-flowing river of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. We find our life, our renewal, and our healing in him. The life we live together forever will be the perichoretic life in which the Father, Son, and Spirit have existed for all eternity. Their way of being is filled with outgoing love, generosity, and creativity, and we have been made to share in this through Jesus and by the Spirit.
Our future life as glorified humans will be filled with such beauty and joy, we can only catch little glimpses now. We anticipate the day when we all will live together in each moment in the truth of our existence as human beings—loving God with all we are and loving our neighbor as ourselves. There will be ongoing joyful celebration of all God has made and all God has done through Jesus and by the power and presence of his Spirit, forever.
It is essential for us as broken people to take time to slow down enough to catch these “glimpses of joy.” It is good for us to be attentive to the signs of eternity which are evident all around us, but we often are too busy or too broken to attend to. When we allow ourselves to have eternity on our minds, we will find ourselves recognizing these moments more easily, for they are all around us, happening all the time—but we are usually too busy, distracted, or pain-filled to notice them.
What the Word of God did in coming into our human flesh and joining our humanity with the divine Being, made possible for each of us a sharing in the life and love of God even now. We have the future to anticipate, but we also have the present to enjoy. God has brought us into relationship with himself. He has done in Jesus Christ all that is needed for us to share both now and forever the blessing of living in his presence.
But God does not force himself on us. He has reconciled himself to us in Christ, and he invites us by the Spirit to reconcile ourselves with him. He has brought us into oneness with himself in Christ, and by his Spirit invites us to accept, embrace, and live in the truth of this. He has created a future for you and me which is filled with joyful celebration of all God has done and all he has made, and offers it to us to receive it and begin to participate in it even now.
By the Spirit, Abba calls to us right now, saying, “Come rejoice with me! All is well! Drink up—the water of life is all yours! Don’t just take a sip—soak in it, play in it, build your life around it, let it affect and influence all of your relationships, decisions, experiences—from now on into eternity.” We are to trust in the blessedness of the gift of God’s Son and live, both now and forever, in the truth of our being as God’s adopted children, in and through Christ and by his Spirit. This is our real life, and one we can begin to experience right now, as we are willing.
Abba, thank you for the blessed gift of joy and celebration we have in your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Thank you for all your blessings, all you have created for our enjoyment and pleasure. Grant us the grace to be attentive to the glimpses of glory you give us in our everyday lives, and the grace to always live gratefully and joyfully in your presence both now and forever, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:1-2 NASB
By Linda Rex
This week has been a busy one and when I am overwhelmed timewise in this way, I find it very easy to slip into unhealthy habits of losing sleep or eating things I wouldn’t, and probably shouldn’t, normally eat. The magical thinking begins with this one little phrase “just this once won’t hurt.”
If I was honest, I would have to say this magical phrase too often governs such decisions. For the most part, “just this once” isn’t a bad thing. Really, such impromptu delights bring joy to our lives. We can take pleasure in the here and again treasures we encounter in our daily life—and I believe God meant us to. Life was meant to be filled with such moments of delight in the presence of Abba.
However, when such pleasures begin to govern our decision-making and begin to rule our thoughts and passions, we find ourselves in the midst of what the apostle John calls the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” This is why he says we are not to love the world or the things in the world—it is very easy to become enslaved to anything we put in the place in our hearts, minds, and lives which was meant for God alone.
God is so emphatic or passionate about this because he knows this is not what we were created for. The things we lust after or become addicted to do not fill up the empty place in our hearts and lives we attempt to use them to fill. They may temporarily numb the pain we are experiencing or dull the anxiety we may be feeling, but ultimately, they do not resolve the real issues we need to face and in which we need to experience God’s healing or help.
Our momentary personal pursuit of happiness often actually derails our experience of true joy. In dulling or avoiding the pain, anxiety, or anger we feel, we may lose opportunities to deeply engage God (or others) in some serious one-on-one conversations which may resolve long-lasting resentments, false beliefs, or disagreements. In not engaging these negative feelings, we may be missing out on opportunities to experience healing, renewal, forgiveness, and cleansing—all of which are paths to true joy in the presence of Jesus.
Sometimes I think our culture encourages two extremes with regards to this. On the one hand, we are willing to put people on national television so everyone can see and talk about their messed up thinking and messed up lives. On the other hand, there are people who end up going on a shooting rampage because they’ve never gotten proper help with or healing for their mental and emotional struggles—often we hear no one even knew or cared they were struggling.
In this culture which celebrates indulging our pleasures and passions, we can find it difficult to pursue true joy in our life with Christ. We can be derailed in so many ways, not realizing we’re bound up in unhealthy ways of living or being until we are caught and find it’s not so easy to get out. And the solution isn’t always just as simple as “repent and believe”. It may require something more—relationship. It may require getting up-close and personal with someone about our struggles, failures and pain. And this we avoid.
When God calls us by his grace into relationship with himself, he places us by his Spirit into the Body of Christ. He joins us with other believers. He means for us to live in spiritual community and not to isolate ourselves. He wants us to experience the true joy we were created for, and he know this can only be found within the context of faithful, loving relationship, specifically as children held together within the inner relations of Father, Son, and Spirit.
God does not intend for any of us to have to go through life wounded, broken, and forsaken. He does not mean life to be a depressing, empty struggle. Yes, life will be tough and bad things will happen, but when we engage such a life from within the context of loving, committed relationship with God and our spiritual community, it becomes bearable and even joyful. We may find in the middle of our struggles we experience a deep, inner joy—not because of our human attempts at medicating our pain, but due to Christ indwelling our hearts by the Holy Spirit and us experiencing loving relationships with others within our spiritual community.
As a classic avoider, I have learned there comes a time when the price we pay for avoiding our issues becomes much higher than what it would cost for us to face up to our issues and deal with them. There comes a time when we need to embrace the truth and speak the truth in love or get professional help for our issues. At some point we need to delve into the unpleasant, slicing the festering sore open again so the accumulated pus can be removed and the wound cleansed—this may be what is needed to let real healing start. And this may require professional help, or it may only require healthy the intervention of Christ by his Holy Spirit within the context of spiritual community.
At other times, though, we may just need to experience the little joys of life. The “exception clause” may actually apply in these cases. God sometimes places these little moments of joy in front of us and means for us to experience little tastes of heaven to increase our anticipation of what is to come when we are truly living as glorified humans in the presence of Abba forever. He reminds us in this way of his affection for us and of his faithful love and grace, drawing from us the gratitude and praise he deserves to receive in response.
All the things we attach ourselves to in this life and believe are necessary for our fulfillment and pleasure must be seen within the context of eternity. Some are just passing pleasures which will one day be supplanted by the genuine eternal pleasures of life in Christ.
True lasting joy may be found in what will endure beyond this life on into the next—giving to, sharing with, serving, helping, forgiving, and loving others. Notice these are all ways in which we pour out from ourselves and into others, and in which we receive from others what they have to give. This is the divine perichoretic life—and this is what we were created to participate in forever. In this life, there are no exceptions—there will be no “just this once”, but an eternal participation in the life and love of Abba, Jesus, and the Spirit which is filled with joy and peace, and all God’s blessings through Jesus our Lord.
Thank you, Abba, for all your good gifts and for sharing with us the life you share with your Son and your Spirit. Grant us the grace to face up to the truth as we need to and to get the help which may be required for us to get well and stay healthy. Enable us to find, experience, and live in the true joy you created us for—pour into us your joy, for all our springs of joy are found in you. May we celebrate now and forever, in perfect joy, the gift of eternal life with you, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.” Psalm 51:12 NLT
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:15-17 NKJ
By Linda Rex
This week as my daughter and I were experiencing the unique dimming and darkness of the total eclipse, I could not help but express how cool God is. An eclipse is one way in which the sun, moon, and stars participate in bearing witness to the glory of God—this God who set planets and heavenly bodies into motion and who holds them in their particular relationship with one another.
And God made it so we each could have this extraordinary experience of a total eclipse in which we might see our smallness in comparison with the magnitude of the cosmos in which we live. It is a blessing, though, we live in a generation which isn’t intimidated and frightened by eclipses. Not too many centuries ago this type of event would have been accompanied by great fear and distress.
I thought it was wonderful how this day actually became a holiday of sorts in America. I know it might have made us look a bit ridiculous to other nations, but to celebrate the wonders of the heavens is not in itself a bad thing. It actually is a way in which can we point out the goodness, power, and glory of our Creator and Sustainer to one another.
Unfortunately, I heard some say this eclipse would be signaling God’s judgment on America because of the error of her ways. Why create fear in the minds and hearts of people over something which is meant to point us to the power and glory of our amazing God—something in which we can celebrate his majesty, glory, and power, and his ability to do all things, including saving the human race?
Now I agree—America and her people have some very serious errors going on right now. And the consequences of those errors are pretty profound. Many unwilling souls are experiencing loss, torment, suffering, and even death because of the errors of our ways. And I say our—we are all participants in these evils to some extent.
I believe what we are experiencing as a result of our ways of living is a significant judgment in and of itself. Living in a certain manner has unhealthy and unpleasant consequences—it’s just the truth about living life apart from the reality of our created and redeemed being as image-bearers of the Triune God. We create our own living “hells” when we seek our existence apart from our true humanity in Christ.
And apart from the unifying power and presence of the Spirit of love and grace, we find ourselves divided and at war with one another. Away from the Spirit of humility, service and compassion of the living Lord, we become insensitive and indifferent to the suffering and grief of those around us. When we focus merely on good and evil, we cease to focus on life—the true life which is found in real relationship, in knowing and being known intimately by the God who created both us and the amazing cosmos in which we exist.
God’s purpose isn’t to condemn us. In fact, Jesus himself said:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17 NIV)
God was most concerned with bringing us up into communion with himself in Christ, not with condemning or judging us. God in Christ saved us from evil and the evil one by becoming sin for us—taking on any judgment or condemnation we deserve upon himself.
God in Christ judged all of humanity worthy of eternal life—of grace and forgiveness—of spending eternity within the Father, Son, and Spirit relation. God determined not to be God without us.
However, we as human beings are really good at judging ourselves and judging one another. And we actually condemn ourselves as not worthy of God’s love and grace. We reject Jesus Christ, the One who stands in our place and on our behalf. We believe more in ourselves and our way of living—making our own choices, following our own agenda—than we do the One who created everything and who sustains it by the Word of his power. Here’s how Jesus put it:
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:18–21 NIV)
I don’t believe we as Christians need to go around condemning anyone. Yes, we can be discerning. We can tell the truth about what is being said and done which does not align with who we are as God’s children and his image-bearers in this world. We can work to bring about healing, change, and renewal so all people may live together in the unity we have in Christ.
But only God can change a person’s mind and heart, and bring them to faith. Only God can enable someone to believe the truth about who God is and who they are, and what Christ did, is doing, and will do to save them. Only God can change a person’s mind and heart in such a way their actions become different. Only God can truly heal relationships in such a way people live joyfully and at peace with one another.
And God always honors our right to choose—our freedom to say “no” to him and to reject him, and thus experience the consequences of living life in the shadows. Even though the Light has come, people do choose to turn away from the Light and live in the shadows. We can show them they need only to turn back to the Light into face-to-face relationship with the God who made them and redeemed them. But we must realize, God has granted each of us the freedom to say “no” to him.
In this way—by saying “no” to God—we pass judgment upon ourselves. God does not condemn us—we condemn ourselves as unworthy of the love and grace God has already poured out and made available to each and every human being who has ever existed. And this is what breaks my heart.
But thankfully, God is not willing that any person perish apart from his grace and mercy. And so he is patiently at work in each and every human’s life to bring them to faith—into trusting him rather than themselves for salvation—into finding their life in Jesus Christ rather than in the temporary things of this world which will one day be burned away and replaced by a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness (right relationship with God and humanity) dwells.
And I, as well as others, am able to participate with God in this ministry by sharing his life and love with each and every person I meet. This is my small way of participating, along with the amazing cosmos, in bearing witness to the glory of God.
Abba, Jesus, Holy Spirit, thank you for your amazing creation which testifies to your glory and power. You have done and will do awesome things as you work to redeem, restore, and renew all you have created from nothing. We trust you to finish your work, to bring to pass a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Grant, please, that we may participate fully with you in this new life you created for us in Christ and are creating for us and in us by your Holy Spirit. In your Name and by your power and for your glory. Amen.
“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” 1 Peter 3:18 NIV