Waking Up to Peace
by Linda Rex
December 4, 2022, ADVENT | Peace—We’ve made it through another election season here in America. We have yet to see the full ramifications of our choices. Some prognosticators are predicting worst case scenarios, while others are optimistic and hopeful. We can make lots of predictions, but the ultimate reality is we do not know what the future holds for us as a nation or as individuals.
It appears conflict is one way we exist as human beings. Even though we were designed with differences in mind for the sake of the greater good, we have yet to learn how to bring those differences together as a means of creating unity rather than division. What is meant to bring joy and variety to our lives so often ends up creating stress and heartache. How hard it is for us to learn to live together as unique, equal persons in oneness, peace and harmony!
On this second Sunday in Advent, we read Matthew 3:1–12 and are reminded of how John the Baptizer prepared the way for Jesus, baptizing people in the Jordan River. If we had lived in Jericho in that day, we would have heard the stories told in the marketplace about this strange man who lived in the uninhabited regions near the Jordan, who ate wild locusts and honey, and who baptized Jews—God’s own people who didn’t need to be baptized. We would have heard how he criticized the religious leaders for their hypocrisy and greed, and how he called all people to repent, for the kingdom of God was near.
But John didn’t come just for himself or simply to do an oddball, aesthetic ministry in the wilderness of Judea. No, John the Baptizer was certain he was meant to prepare God’s people for the coming of the Messiah. He was given instructions to point out God’s gift to Israel, which John did when he saw the Lamb of God and baptized him. John knew in the larger scheme of things his own ministry would end, but that of the Messiah would expand to fill the whole universe.
John was not intimidated by people in authority. He told the religious leaders they could not count on their birthright as God’s chosen people to ensure they were in right relationship with God. Just because someone was born into the right family or had a position which they purchased from the Romans, this did not mean that they were right with God. How they lived their everyday lives and how they treated others around them spoke volumes about who they were and what their relationship with God really was. And for that reason, they needed to repent—to turn away from themselves and turn to Jesus, the One who was the king of the kingdom of God, which was being set up in their midst.
The psalmist in Psalm 72:1–7, 18–19 speaks of a king and of his son. Even though it was probably speaking of a human king, the Messianic implications of the psalmist’s poetry are clear:
“Give the king Your judgments, O God, and Your righteousness to the king’s son. May he judge Your people with righteousness and Your afflicted with justice. Let the mountains bring peace to the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he vindicate the afflicted of the people, save the children of the needy and crush the oppressor. Let them fear You awhile the sun endures, And as long as the moon, throughout all generations. May he come down like rain upon the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. In his days may the righteous flourish, and abundance of peace till the moon is no more. Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone works wonders. And blessed be His glorious name forever; And may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen” (NASB).
What the “king’s son” in this psalm would do is what Jesus did. As the Son of the divine King of Israel, Jesus’ purpose was to fill the earth with his Father’s glory and peace. Jesus, as God in human flesh, ensured that we as the image-bearers of the Triune God would in the end actually reflect God’s glory in the way he intended.
Think about the leaders to whom John the Baptizer was speaking. There must have been some who were really trying hard to do the right thing. But from what John was saying, too many of them were more concerned about the opinion of the people and keeping their positions of authority and prominence than they were about vindicating the afflicted, saving the children of the needy, and crushing the oppressor. And John said that there was someone in their midst, who he wasn’t even worthy to loosen the sandals of, who would do all these things.
The reality is, though, that often we are more like the religious leaders in this story than we are like the Messiah John the Baptizer was speaking of. We wrestle within ourselves, knowing that apart from the grace of God, we are the ones who are too concerned about other people’s opinions and keeping things in our lives how we want them to be. We are the ones who so often are indifferent to the needs and suffering of others. We are the ones seeking glory for ourselves at the expense of others. And this is why we have no peace, either within ourselves nor within our relationship with others and with God.
John’s message is simple, though. “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” That message was one that Jesus also carried and passed on to his disciples. As the king of the kingdom, as the Son of the King over all, Jesus has come, is present now by his Spirit, and will return in glory to set up the new heavens and earth where God will dwell with man.
In the end, when Jesus finally returns to finish what he began centuries ago, we will see the culmination of all that began when the Triune God decided to share his loving relationship with those he had created. John’s message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” echoes even today in this world where we still have not learned what it means to live at peace with one another or to be at peace with ourselves and with God. The kingdom of heaven is at hand because Christ has come, has lived our life, died our death and risen, bringing all of us home to his Father to share in that close, loving relationship he has always had in the Spirit.
Do we hear the echo in our own souls of John’s message and of Christ’s answering response? What is it we need to turn away from so that our sole focus is on Christ and what he is doing in our lives and in this world? How is it Jesus is wanting us to join with him in caring for others the same way he has cared for us? Today, in this moment, how will you and I heed the call by the Spirit, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”?
Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of your Son and your Spirit. We realize that apart from you we have no peace, no hope, or joy. It is your love shed abroad in our hearts by your Spirit which changes us and changes our world. In this moment, Lord Jesus, we again turn away from ourselves and from this world and turn to you. Grant us anew the peace that passes all understanding. Amen.
“Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight!” ’ Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father”; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ ” Matthew 3:1–12 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/11/olitwaking-up-to-peace.pdf ]
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When Jesus Hosts a Party
By Linda Rex
August 28, 2022, PROPER 17—When I read the gospels, I am amazed at the conversations Jesus had with the people he encountered from all walks of life. And I never realized until a few years ago how many of Jesus’ conversations were in some way connected with a meal, either by occurring at a meal or having as its content eating, drinking or gathering for a celebration of some kind.
As we read the gospel passage for this Sunday, Luke 14:1, 7–14, we find that Jesus was once again participating in a social event, where leaders of the community were gathering for a meal. Interestingly enough, when Jesus first entered the home of the host, he saw a man afflicted with edema or severe swelling. He asked the Pharisees and lawyers if it was okay to heal a man on the Sabbath day. They didn’t answer his question, but he gave his own response by healing the man, and then reminding them that they would rescue a child or one of their animals on the Sabbath. They really could not come up with an adequate reply to this.
As others entered the room, they began to fuss over who had the seats of honor at the table. Jesus pointed out that it would be better if they showed some humility by taking a lesser seat at first, allowing themselves to be honored by the host choosing to move them into a better position, rather than ending up being ashamed by having to take a lesser seat because they presumed to be somewhere they didn’t belong. Jesus didn’t mean that one pretended humility in order to gain the praise and approval of others, but rather that one simply took the position of servanthood and service, letting others go first or have the best places rather than seeking them for oneself.
Then Jesus turned to the host and told him that whenever he invited people over, he needed to also invite people who could not return the favor—the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Perhaps this was a hint that the man who had been healed ought to have been invited to the meal along with everyone else. Jesus emphasized that the reward for blessing others in this way who could not respond in kind would be eternal blessings in the resurrection. So, the humility of being willing to take second place was followed up with the humility of welcoming simply out of an act of kindness those who could not repay the favor.
On the surface, we see that Jesus is speaking of the need for exercising humility as well as generous hospitality to the less fortunate. But if we look closer, we can see that Jesus is speaking of these things from his position of being the ultimate host. In fact, Jesus was in the process at that moment, as he had been for some time, of welcoming many people of all walks of life to a divine banquet where the only appropriate way to respond to the invitation was through humility and a genuine recognition and admission of one’s need to be cared for and fed. As Robert Capon wrote in Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus, “The world has been summoned precisely to a party—to a reconciled and reconciling dinner chez the Lamb of God; judgment is pronounced only in the light of the acceptance or declination of that invitation” (p. 457).
Who does Jesus invite to the heavenly banquet? Does he only invite the spiritual and those who have their acts together? If we look at the parable in Luke 14 following this one, we will find that he was inviting those who knew the scriptures, who knew God’s ways—the leaders of his people—but they didn’t want anything to do with him. He was also inviting every person from every walk of life—from the byways, out in the country, and on the streets of the city. Jesus, in his life, death, resurrection and ascension, has included each and every human being in his invitation to the heavenly banquet of eternal life with the Father in the Spirit.
Just as the best approach to being seated at the banquet was to take the lowest seat, Jesus reminds each of us to take the lowest seat with regards to our invitation to the heavenly banquet. The only seat any of us qualify for in regards to that banquet is the seat of death—we all must die and face our judgment in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one who went down into death for us, to raise us up with him to the Father’s side—our life is hidden with Christ in God. Jesus takes us from the lowest seat of death into a seat with him in the heavenly places (Capon, p. 279). The only response we can give in return that is appropriate is gratitude and praise, and a sense of humility with regards to all of the others in our lives—a willingness to include each and every one of them in what God has so graciously included us.
Jesus is the ultimate host. He invites everyone—prisoners, addicts, and every type of sinner imaginable—the lowest of the low, the sickest of the sick—to his table, to partake with him of the gift of eternal life in loving relationship with the Father in the Spirit. His only requirement is that we die, in him, acknowledging in humility our sincere need for and gratitude for including us in his blessed event. If we insist that a person be of a certain rank or worthiness before they can attend too, then we are missing the whole point of the invitation. We may even find ourselves being escorted to a lower place at the table, so to speak, because we have presumed that our worthiness is based at all on our own efforts to do good or be good, or on others’ opinions about how holy we are (Capon, 283).
The essence of the kingdom of God is life in loving other-centered relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit, and one another. This is who we are in Christ—beloved children of the Father who are each included at the table to share in the divine koinonia, now and forever. There is a true humility and reverence with which we approach our seat at the table, but there is also a sense of glee and bubbling joy at the wonderful possibilities which await us in the loving embrace of our Triune God, who invites us to celebrate with him the homecoming of all his beloved children.
Dearest Abba, thank you for including us in Jesus’ invitation to your heavenly banquet, and allowing us to participate in relationship with you even now by your precious Spirit. Grant us the grace to approach all our relationships with you and others in true humility and welcoming hospitality, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
“Treasure family bonds and friendship. Family fondness remains the essence of this kingdom. Treat strangers with equal affection; they could be a messenger of God in disguise! Identify with those who are in prison or suffering abuse for their faith as if you were the one afflicted.” Hebrews 13:1–3, (4–8, 15–16) Mirror Bible
“It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely. … And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, “Give your place to this man,” and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’ ” Luke 14:1, 7–14 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/08/when-jesus-hosts-a-party.pdf ]
Christ the Image of God
By Linda Rex
July 17, 2022, PROPER 11—Yesterday, my son told me about another mass shooting that had occurred—a heart-rending devastation for innocent people just going about their everyday lives. These aches joined with angst over the increasing inflation and some recent experiences of rampant disrespect expressed by the loss of simple courtesies, made my heart ache even more than ever.
The Old Testament reading for this Sunday, Amos 8:1–12, as well as the psalms, Psalm 52 and 15, express a cry from God’s heart against all that is destructive and evil in this world. The evil one seeks control, disunity, and destruction, while Christ seeks to express his love, restoration, and unity by his Spirit through human hearts. Too often we respond to the inner cry to do as we please, to seek self-gratification and self-glory rather than to humble ourselves to be who we really are, the ones created to reflect the love and other-centered way of being of the God who made us.
How easy it is for us to get sucked down into the vortex of self. Its cry is siren and its influence is strong. It is seductive—we are often halfway into our surrender to the pleasure before we realize that we may never get out again. What we defend as our freedom to choose is so often a lie. What we lose sight of is that God has given us freedom—but in Christ he has freed us to truly be ourselves—children of God who love him and one another, who are free to know and be known by God down to our deepest level. This is true freedom.
We shine with the majesty of God’s nature when we are being true to who we are as God’s children. When we live in other-centered ways, making room for one another, we shine out as lights in a world darkened by satanic self-absorption and self-will. The darkness does not appreciate the entry of true light into its sphere. We cannot shine with our own light, though—it is too easily dimmed or refracted. We must draw the light with which we shine from the true Light, Jesus Christ, in order to be true reflections of God’s glory in this dark world.
This is an incredible mystery—how we shine with the light of God’s very being as we open ourselves to the Spirit of Christ, allowing him to live in and through us that life which he forged in our humanity when he walked the earth. What we used to believe about God is held up to the mirror of Jesus who is the exact image of the Father, being God in human flesh. We discover, when looking into the mirror who is Jesus Christ that we are not alienated from God or hostile to him, but we are held with Christ in God by the Spirit, participants in his very life and love.
It was the Father’s good pleasure that the fulness of the divine One dwell in Christ, in his human flesh, living our life, dying our death, and rising up into new life. God was pleased to have his Son dwell among us, taking our human flesh upon himself to be redeemed, restored, and renewed, enabling us to be fully reconciled with God in every way. And indeed, in Christ, we discover that God has reconciled all things, in heaven and on earth—an incredible thought that I struggle to get my mind around. How far is the extent of the reconciliation or peace God achieved for us in Christ if it includes both heaven and earth? Apparently, it has no end.
The mystery arises again—how can we shine brightly when our flesh so often seems to fill this world with darkness? We live in that complex place where the kingdom of God reigns and yet the kingdom of darkness attempts to maintain control of what God has declared is his. We are in the midst of the already-but-not-yet of God’s kingdom, where we only experience bittersweet glimpses of the world to come. We are ambassadors of Christ—finding ourselves as foreigners in a world that doesn’t understand or accept us at times. Our customs and ways of living may seem odd to those around us, because we have adopted a design for living—our true way of being—which is often counter-cultural.
We need to stay focused on Jesus Christ, the true Light. We draw our real existence or life from him. We are held with Christ in God (Col. 3:3), and what matters most is that in Christ, we live face to face with the Father in the Spirit. It is Christ in us by the Spirit who holds us safely in the presence of the Father, in his eternal embrace of love. No person, no force, no created thing—nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Rom. 8:38-39). This is God’s word to us as his children.
Just as the Father is the fulness of Christ in their divine oneness in the Spirit, we find our fulness in Jesus’ humanity held in the presence of the Father in the Spirit. All things in heaven and earth were created by Christ, through Christ, and for Christ. He has always existed, and holds all things together. He is the beginning and the end—the Lord of all. He has done, is doing, and will do, all that is needed to finish what he has begun in us. That is our comfort and peace—thank you, Jesus!
Heavenly Father, thank you for delighting in us and for making us your very own. Thank you, Jesus, for holding us ever in the eternal embrace of the Trinity, enabling us to participate in your life and love. Thank you, Spirit, for making all that is ours in Christ individually our own, enabling us to see the face of the Father in the face of his Son. Amen.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I 1do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” Colossians 1:15–28 NASB
“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.; But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.’ ” Luke 10:38–42 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/07/christ-the-image-of-god.pdf ]
Rising With Christ
By Linda Rex
I was reading an article this morning about the decline and mortal end of a famous actor who committed suicide. I remember the world being stunned by the news of his sudden death. He was, by all appearances, a warm and caring person who was trying to make the world a better place through the medium of film. He had been struggling in his career and personal life, yet this did not seem to warrant taking his life.
The unfortunate reality of show business is the inevitable fall which comes after the flight into stardom. Some actors and music artists spend their entire career trying to keep their place in the sun and doing whatever it takes to stay there. We see them having plastic surgery and following intense diet regimens, while looking for their next opportunity to ascend in their career.
The unfortunate reality is actors and music artists are dependent upon the approval of their audience, and human beings are unreliable when it comes to things such as music and film. Their tastes change, and the culture is always in flux. Hoping for continued success is a tenuous thread which may at any moment break.
What is it which drives the human heart to want this type of success? There must be an underlying yearning which causes people to tread this difficult, and in many ways, dangerous path.
King Solomon said, God “places eternity in our hearts.” Indeed, we each have a deep, internal yearning for paradise, which drives our efforts to create little heavens on earth. We find ourselves dissatisfied with the status quo—most probably because we were created for something so much more wonderful than this. There is a world we were meant for, created for even, and this broken, evil-filled world just doesn’t seem to be it.
Jesus took the path of a rising star, and in his final days was met with praise and acclaim as he entered Jerusalem that last Sunday. He had been followed by the crowds who loved his miracles, and to some extent, his preaching. Here was a man at the height of his “career.” Soon, if the crowd were to have their way, he would be crowned king of the Jews.
But crowds are fickle, and Jesus had many enemies. There are always those who do not want to share the spotlight, or who feel they are best able to run the show. Jesus encountered the worst in our human hearts as the tide turned against him and the crowd demanded his crucifixion.
The crucifixion of Jesus, however, was not the end of his story. The reality was, he was not who they thought he was. There was much more going on than was visible at first glance. Jesus was not just a rising star which fell from heaven. He was the Lord who created the stars, and moon, and sky. He sustained all things by the word of his power. He was God in human flesh.
His death was not the end, for he rose from the grave. And, after showing himself to those who would be witnesses to his glory, he ascended to his father in heaven. Stephen the martyr, saw a vision of Jesus standing next to his Father in heaven. He was alive, dwelling in inexpressible light, in Abba’s presence.
The great miracle which accompanied Jesus’ ascension was, he did not ascend to his Father’s throne alone. Because Jesus bore our collective humanity in his Person, his ascension meant all humanity ascended into the Father’s presence with him. The apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” (Col. 3:1-4 NASB) The objective reality of our human existence is our real life is in Christ, in his hypostatic union as the God/man. We are, even now, at this moment, in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
What we believe about Jesus Christ is critical. Our participation in the heavenly realities is in Christ, so we do not experience the truth of our heavenly inclusion apart from faith in Christ. Do we believe the truth of our existence? We died with Christ. We rose with Christ. We share in his glory both now, and forever. We are in Christ. By faith, we participate in his perfect relationship with the Father in the Spirit and share the glories of eternity with him.
Our longing for bigger and better things is at its root a longing for life as it was meant to be. We were created for eternity, for the Garden of Eden, for more than the best our human life has to offer. We were meant for flowing streams of crystal clear water and stunning, star-filled night skies. We were created to dwell in harmony, unity, and peace. This is the root of our human longings and is what we really seek, if we are willing to admit it.
We have the promise in the Scriptures that one day Jesus will return in the same way in which he left. We can look forward to his return with joy and expectation, as we trust he is the Person who is our redemption, our salvation, and our deliverance. If Jesus indeed holds within his Person the truth of our human existence, that we were created for life with God forever, then his return means we will finally experience our true heaven on earth. And this is definitely better than anything we could create for ourselves, since it will never come to an end.
It is true: We were meant for so much more than this. Our promise of a future in the new heavens and new earth is the gift of the Spirit. Embracing the Spirit of life in Christ enables us to begin to live in the truth of our existence right now. At this very moment, we are able, in the Spirit, to participate in the inner relationship between the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. By faith, we can live, even now, in the truth of our existence as God’s adopted children. And God has done everything necessary to make sure we will shine as the stars forever and ever (Dan. 12:3).
Thank you, Abba, for your great heart of love and grace. Thank you for offering us true life in relationship with you and one another, in a glorious future we cannot even begin to imagine. Grant us the grace to seek our true life in you and not in the temporary, transient things of this world. Thank you for giving us your precious Spirit, and your beloved Son, in whose Name we pray. Amen.
“And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.’” Acts 1:9-11 NASB
Reaching for Joy
By Linda Rex
This time of year can really be difficult for some people. It seems that the songs we listen to, the Christmas movies we watch and the stories that are told tell about all this lovely holiday joy we should have. And yet, so many of us struggle just to put one foot in front of the other and make it through another day.
I don’t think God expects us to walk around all day, every day, with a big smile on our face. That’s actually kind of creepy, you know. Because it’s not real. God gives us our humanity back renewed in Christ and it’s a humanity that feels things deeply, that sorrows and grieves as much as it laughs and sings for joy.
I read a devotional this morning from New Life Ministries that reminded me the psalms in the Bible are filled with expressions of the whole spectrum of our human existence. There isn’t an emotion there that Christ didn’t feel. It is good to read them and experience God’s heart joining with our heart within the full expression of our humanity.
The psalms tell us that the trees and the animals and all creation sing for joy in praise to God. Over and over we are called to rejoice even in times of persecution and difficult circumstances. If it was left up to us to find the joy to do this, we couldn’t do it. Because, humanly, we tend to allow our situations and struggles to define our emotions rather than the other way around.
But the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus counted his sufferings—the cross and its shame—as joy. He was able to do so because he looked beyond them to the glory that was to come, not just for him, but for us as well. He went first so that we could follow.
We find our joy in Christ. He lives forever in the divine joy he shares with the Father in the Spirit. He calls us to look beyond this life to the life he purchased for us and gave us in the Holy Spirit. He lives in us today and gives us his joy. He gives us the eyes to see beyond our present circumstances into the kingdom of God he brought in his life, death, resurrection and ascension.
This is why the apostle Paul repeatedly reminded people to keep their eyes on things above, not on earthly things (Col. 3:1-4). We need to keep a spiritual vision of there being so much more to life than this everyday human existence we currently have. Our joy comes from knowing this is not all there is to life. There is somethings very transcendent going on and we get to be a part of it right now.
One of my favorite hymns of joy came to mind this morning. It is a classical piece that causes my heart to overflow with joy as it is sung. It reminds us that our joy comes from beyond us and overflows in our hearts from Christ in the Spirit. It is my prayer for you this holiday season, that you experience God’s divine joy in a profound way through Jesus and by his Spirit. Amen.
Hymn to Joy
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!
All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heaven reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.
Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blessed,
Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.
Mortals, join the happy chorus, which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us, brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward in the triumph song of life.
Henry J. van Dyke, 1907
Sung to “Hymn to Joy” from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony
“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. Hebrews 12:1–2 NASB
Clinging to Life
By Linda Rex
On top of the two wardrobes opposite my mom’s bed are a group of family pictures. Periodically my mom will lie quietly and gaze at the portraits of the people who are dearest to her. After a while she may remark on how well my dad looked that day in his dark gray suit. And she will ask again whether I have everything ready for when she goes.
All the complications of life have been sifted through and brought down into the simplicity of breathing in and breathing out, of eating and sleeping. There isn’t much to say or do any more that hasn’t already been considered and tossed out as being unimportant or unnecessary to her present existence.
Through her eyes I can see that when it comes down to it, there isn’t anything that really is of earth-shattering importance now when life is down to the basics.
With the little energy that she has left, my mother struggles to make another phone call. Calling her sister to say some last words to her is of paramount importance. She tries to talk to the few people she has left in her life. And cherishes the last moments she has with her family members.
Isn’t it interesting that what matters most to her now is her relationships? It made me think about how often in our lives we give ourselves over to pursuing some dream while our important relationships end up in shambles. We take our spouses for granted and neglect our children because we are caught up in the daily grind of working out the plan of our lives. We forget how transient these opportunities to share God’s love are until one day they are taken from us.
It is good to cling to life, but I’m beginning to ask myself, what is the life I’m clinging to? And what am I doing to seek out that life?
When Jesus prayed to his Father that last night before his death, he said that eternal life was intricately bound up in our knowing of God and of his Son Jesus Christ. He had earlier told his disciples that life comes through our partaking of the body and blood of Christ. There is something very central in Jesus Christ that is integral to our finding and living out true, lasting life.
It’s in the midst of our union with God in Christ that we find life that is meaningful and lasting. In sending his Spirit to us, Christ shared with us his very life and being. We are reminded of this reality when we share with one another during communion in our Eucharistic thanksgiving as we eat the bread and drink the fruit of the vine.
In Christ we are brought near to God and near to one another. There is a connection that goes deeper than even our connections by blood or by community or organization. This union is something than can never be severed, however much we may ignore, deny or neglect it.
It is worthwhile, I am seeing, to pause in the midst of our daily experiences to reflect on how all of us are joined together with God and one another in Christ and by the Holy Spirit. When we make the effort to do this, we may begin to see that some things just don’t really matter in the long run. And we may begin to value the people God has placed in our lives in new ways.
The apostle Paul stressed the importance of setting our minds and hearts on things above rather than on things on the earth. We can focus on temporary belongings and activities that in the end will come to nothing. We can value importance, power, money, and a million other things that will not follow us beyond death. Preoccupied with all this, we can miss the very things that give life its depth and meaning, and that will last on into eternity.
As another day draws to a close, I am comforted by the thought that even though there are a lot of things in my life I would like to have and don’t, I have a lot of the things that really matter. And for that reason, I find that my best response is simply gratitude. And that’s enough.
We thank and praise you God for life, breath and our human existence, but most especially for all the relationships you have placed in our lives in which we share your love with one another. Grant us the grace to appreciate and cherish them while we can, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:1–3 NASB
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.’” John 6:53–54 NASB
Leaving Behind the Ignorance of Prejudice
by Linda Rex
Yesterday I was watching with interest the speech given by Pope Francis to Congress. I was impressed by his finesse in taking the stories of four Americans and drawing from them positive principles by which our leaders and our people could move forward into the uncertain future.
As he was speaking, someone said to me, “Well, there’s our enemy.” It took me aback for a moment, but then I remembered how for centuries some Protestants have seen the pope and the Roman Catholic church as being exactly that—as being the anti-Christ spoken about in the Bible. Of course, this requires a misinterpretation of Scripture, but it has been assumed to be true by many and is still believed to be so by some today.
I’m a little ashamed to say today that I used to be one of those people who believed the pope and the Roman Catholic Church were the enemy of all that is truly Christian. This was born out of ignorance and false teaching I had adopted as a child. But God was not content to leave me in my ignorance.
One of the first things he did was to place me in a relationship in high school where I grew to know and respect a teen who was the daughter of Polish immigrants. She had attended Catholic school in her youth and was a devout believer. She had a crucifix on the door to her room and she would cross herself every time she passed it to go in and out. I saw a devotion to Christ that was different from mine but equally, or perhaps even more, genuine. Although I had other friends in school who were Catholic, she left an impression on me that was not easily forgotten.
As time passed, I had a family member who married someone who was Catholic. I still remember the beautiful ceremony in her church. I could feel the presence and power of God there in a way that amazed me. The song that invited the believers to communion with Christ was inspiring and captured my heart. God was slowly and surely destroying the arrogance in me that kept me believing my faith was superior to and more real than these Catholic believers.
In the years since then, God placed me in the position of coming to know more and more people of the Catholic faith. Many of them were devout, and some were actively pursuing a relationship with Jesus Christ. Sure, there were an equal number who were merely nominal Christians, whose faith was just something they adopted as part of their family heritage. But what God did over the years was to bring me to a repentance, a change in my mind and heart and in my beliefs, about the Roman Catholic Church and its followers.
The way God changed my mind and heart was by placing me in relationships with people in which I was forced to reevaluate what I believed and why I believed it. I could have been stubborn and refused to acknowledge and repent of my prejudice. But my personal integrity would not allow me to do that. The truth was—I was wrong—and I needed to admit it and change accordingly.
I have found as time has gone by that God keeps me in a continual state of needing to reevaluate, repent and change when it comes to what I believe about certain people, their beliefs and cultures.
Technology is making our world smaller by bringing together people and cultures that would probably otherwise never interact. We are being forced to build relationships with people of all faiths and political, economic backgrounds. We are being forced to reevaluate what we believe about them and how we should interact with them.
This is actually a good thing. Because one day, in our future, lies a time when all peoples of all nations and all cultures will be joined together in a world that has no political, religious, cultural boundaries. In this place, what will matter most will not be what clothes we wear, how much money we make, or what kind of foods we prefer to eat. Rather what will really matter will be our relationships with one another and with God. What will really count is how well we love and care for one another.
This is why Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” To have these heavenly values is more important than seeking the earthly values that are transitory and passing. We look beyond the human designations that separate us into the heavenly qualities that unite us. We are all one in Jesus Christ—he is our humanity—our unity, our equality, our diversity. He joins us together in such a way that all these other things we count as important become truly insignificant in the long run.
Our challenge is to remain in an attitude of a willingness to see and admit to our prejudices, and to consciously make an effort to change when we see we are wrong. When we respond to the work of the Holy Spirit as he brings us together with others we may feel uncomfortable with, we will find an amazing harmony and healing that can only be explained as divine.
God wants his children to be joined together with him in Christ, and when we respond to that, miracles happen in our relationships. We experience his divine life and love in a multitude of ways as we yield to the Spirit’s work to bind us all together as one in Christ. May we always respond in faithful obedience to him.
Thank you, God, for the amazing ways you bring healing and restoration in our broken relationships. Grant each of us the heart and mind to repent of our prejudices and to open ourselves to making room for others in the divine fellowship. We have so far to go! May we always turn to you for the love and grace we need so that we may love and forgive others. In Jesus’ name and by your Spirit. Amen.
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33 NASB
by Linda Rex
Some parents come up with the most unusual ways of having fun with their kids. One such crazy idea often suggested for April Fool’s Day is to have a “Backwards Day”. On this day, everything would be done backwards—clothes are put on backwards, people walk backwards, and so on. Of course, there are limits to what’s practical, but it puts a real wacky spin on everything when you try to do it all backwards.
I think our expectation that certain things go only one direction affects us in more ways than just how we put our clothes on in the morning. It also affects the way we think about God and each other, and how we approach living our daily lives.
For example, when we believe that the spiritual dimension does not exist, or that it exists totally apart from the physical dimension we experience moment by moment, then believing in any god or a god who truly loves us is very difficult. That side of our existence isn’t something that is tangible, that can be seen, felt or heard in the way we normally hear, see or experience things.
From our point of view, and from this side of the story, it is next to impossible to have any comprehension of some reality other than our own. This is because the spiritual dimension is so completely other than us. It is non-human and seems to exist apart from us. Looking from our perspective, we can believe the spiritual realities don’t exist at all.
And yet, there is an inner sense in most of us that there is much more to this life than just what we see and experience in our daily lives. We often feel drawn to something beyond us, to a greater good and a greater life than what we have at the moment. The incredible beauty of a glowing sunset, the tinkling sound of a babbling brook and the majesty of a snow-covered summit all point to something tremendous and wonderful. John Eldredge, in his books, calls these glimpses of heaven, of the Garden of Eden that was once ours.
It is as though something inside us is calling us to a deeper reality—a life beyond this human existence. And yet, our concepts of a life beyond this life are too often just the idea of a heaven where we fly away into some spiritual bliss, floating above the clouds and playing harps or being absorbed into a nebulous ethereal oneness.
But the writers of the New Testament scriptures present a different picture. They say a tangible change took place, and takes place even now, in our human existence. It’s a change not only in our being as humans, but also in all of the created cosmos. It has to do with the permanent union between all that is spiritual and all that is human and created by God.
If indeed the One who is spiritual and eternal and totally other than us entered our human existence and become one of us as a human being, lived among us, died as we died and then lived again, then humanity has a whole new basis for its existence. Death is no longer the end, but rather the ushering in of a whole new way of being. All that it means to be human is no longer the same.
Now we have new possibilities. That which is wholly other than us, which is supreme self-giving love and mercy, is now a part of our humanity. We are capable now, because of that divine life within us by the Spirit, of being truly loving and merciful. No longer should we say that we are powerless before anything that binds or destroys us—because we carry within us the new humanity Jesus Christ labored so hard to give us, and we are joined with one another in a true oneness and unity that is beyond our physical humanity.
This means there are new possibilities in our relationships. When there is hostility, division, anger, resentment—we can step back and realize that we share a common humanity and that there is something, rather Someone, within that person who is also within us. We can find within us the capacity for mercy, compassion and kindness that never existed before. The source of these things is the same Source of our human existence and he shares with us everything we need to be the human beings we were meant to be—so we may be a true reflection of the Divine One.
We can go through life believing that none of this is true. We can live as though there are no spiritual realities that are fundamental to our existence. But when we do that we are missing out on real life—we are living in an empty way that will come to an abrupt end when we die. At death, when we come face to face with the One who even now bears our glorified humanity, what will we say? How will we cope with the reality of living eternally within the scope of human existence determined by Jesus Christ?
If we are living that life now—living daily and moment by moment in an ongoing relationship with the One who lives his life in us through the Spirit—then the transition will be joyful and pleasant. We will be thrilled and excited about the possibilities ahead of us.
If we refuse to believe and receive the spiritual realities that exist for us in Jesus Christ, death for us will be quite a shock, especially when we realize that the only things we can carry into the next life are our relationships with God and each other and the quality of the character God has been able to work into our nature. Our blindness to the spiritual realities will leave us in a dark void—like the utter blackness Jesus describes. Our God, who is a consuming fire, will in his great love for us, refuse to leave us in our darkness and separateness, so his work to transform us and bring us into communion with him will seem much like a scorching flame to those who refuse to believe.
But what does any of this have to do with everyday life? With playing silly games with our kids? With trying to pay our bills and with keeping our marriage strong?
All of life can be lived even now in view of the spiritual realities that are ours in Jesus. We are already able to participate in a personal relationship with the God who made us and redeemed us. And we are able, even now, to experience the benefits of that relationship through prayer and through the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives and relationships. We have God’s wisdom for daily decisions, and God’s power to change our circumstances and to provide for our needs. And that’s a great way to live!
Thank you, Lord, for the new life we have available to us even now in Jesus Christ and by your Spirit. Awaken us to the spiritual realities, to your indwelling presence. Show us all the ways you are working in us and in our world to transform and heal and guide us. Through Jesus and by your Spirit we pray. Amen.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17