Holy Spirit

Over My Dead Body

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Honeysuckle on the fence
Honeysuckle on the fence

By Linda Rex
I was reflecting the other day on some of my experiences out on the farm. When you live with and interact daily with animals of any kind, you experience the realities of life and death. Death of humans and animals is inevitable and can happen at the most inopportune times, creating the unpleasant task of finding a place for burial.

And death normally isn’t a very pleasant experience. After a day or two, the dead body will begin to bloat and stink, and the scavengers will begin to make a meal off of it. The stench of a rotting corpse, to me, is quite nauseating and disgusting, even though it is the normal process of decomposition. I prefer to get as far as I can from any dead body.

It’s interesting that the apostle Paul uses this stench of death as a way of describing how those who reject Christ see the lives of those who are living in communion with God. In one way we are seen as a fragrance—a lovely scent—of Christ rising to God. In the other, we are seen as a “dreadful smell of death and doom”. How can we be both at the same time?

Really it comes down to perception. What is real about each of us is not readily apparent to everyone all at once. Our new life in Christ—which is true for each and every person—is hidden with God in Christ. This means that it is a spiritual reality, an objective truth that may or may not be subjectively evident in each of our lives. In Jesus Christ each and every person lived, died and rose and again. God sent the Spirit to all. But what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and by sending the Spirit is not necessarily immediately obvious because not everyone believes or receives the gift of God in Christ and lives it out.

When a person meets and comes to know well someone who is actively participating in a new life in Christ, they are faced with the truth of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus, in which we are all included, means that Jesus, and all of us in him, died. There was a time when Jesus’ body was a corpse—he died—and so we each died. And we all rose from the grave in him.

The thing is—if we died in Christ—what we used to be is now, dead. That scripture that says “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9) no longer applies. Sure, it can certainly look as though this old way of living and being is still alive. We can live and act and talk in a way that implies this is still the case. But God has declared in Jesus Christ a definite “No” to this being our nature any longer. He has given us the new heart he promised his people.

But what if we don’t want a new heart? What if we think the heart we have is just fine? What if we don’t see any problem with the way we are living now? What if we don’t believe that God has done any of this for us?

If this is the case, we will perceive this way of being—of living a new life in Christ—as something it is not. We will see it as being a lie, or as being something offensive that we want no part of, and so we will resist and reject the Spirit and his work of renewal. To us it will be a stinking, rotting mess. Because the evidence of this new life in Jesus tells us that without Jesus, a smelly, rotten corpse is just what we are.

We don’t like to be told the truth about ourselves. If we concede that in Jesus Christ we are made new, that means we have to die to our old ways of being and doing. If we agree that Jesus Christ defines our new humanity, that means we have to give up being lord of our lives and submit to his ways of being and doing. And that just stinks!

Jesus pounded out the importance of death and resurrection over and over in his ministry. We die with Christ and we rise with Christ—he is our life. Apart from him we have no hope. We are just old rotting corpses that God never meant for us to be.

God created beautiful things when he created human beings and he didn’t create humans to be the mess we are today. This is not who we are. In God’s purpose we are made to reflect and bear his image. When others look at us, God intends for them to see a reflection of his perichoretic nature of unity, diversity and equality. God’s purpose is for us to be creatures in whom and with whom he will dwell, who will participate with him in a relationship full of love and grace.

But because evil and sin and death has entered our cosmos, God sent his Son to take it all on himself and in the process create a new humanity with God’s nature hidden within. Then he sent his Spirit to awaken each of us to faith in Christ, so that we can participate in this new humanity. God has replaced all the dead corpses with vibrantly alive beloved children—but not everyone is willing to make the exchange. Some still want to hang on to their old dead bodies.

Personally, I’m more than happy to participate with God in the process of replacing the old with the new. The old me, which is dead, was not a very pleasant person to be around. She was pretty stinky and disgusting. As far as I’m concerned, this new life he has given me is what I want to be a part of and share with others, even if to them I am a reminder of the death of their old selves in Christ.

To a culture enamored with old ways of living and being I may be offensive and disturbing, like an old rotting corpse that stinks. But in the end, this old rotting corpse will dissolve into the ground from which it was made, and I will shine, like so many others who share Christ’s new life, as the stars in the heaven. To me, that seems to be the better, more satisfying choice.

Thank you, Father, for the gift you have given us of new life in your Son and by your Spirit. Awaken each of us to the new life that is ours. Grant us the grace to participate with you in your divine life and love as your beloved children, and to leave all that died with Christ buried with him in the tomb. Through Jesus, our Lord, and by your Spirit. Amen.

“But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?” 2 Co 2:14–16 NLT

Our Response to God and his Grace

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Stream Scene from trip to AR, taken by Linda Rex
Stream Scene from trip to AR, taken by Linda Rex

by Linda Rex

At our last group meeting in Hermitage we talked about the concept of inclusion. We in Grace Communion International have been accused of being universalists due to our belief that God has brought all humanity into union with himself through Jesus Christ and has made his transforming Spirit available to all. The key element to this discussion is humanity’s individual response to the gift of salvation he is offering us in Jesus Christ. (For an excellent discussion of inclusion and our acceptance in Christ, see this article on the Grace Communion International website: https://www.gci.org/jesus/acceptance.)

So, how does a person respond to this gift of grace? As I was asked earlier this week: “How is the response to Jesus different from someone saying the sinner’s prayer? I thought that the sinner’s prayer was you making the decision to accept Christ and you bridging the gap between yourself and God. How is the response to Jesus’s acceptance different?

This is a very important question and it speaks to the whole understanding of separation vs union with Christ. Saying the sinner’s prayer is indeed seen as bridging the gap between you and God, with the idea of repentance and faith bringing about a change in our position–from separation into union. It requires the process of repentance, faith, baptism, new behavior in order to be valid. Dr. Wauchope in his series on “God, the Who and Why” (there is a link for it on my blog site), explains how this method of bridging the gap between the spiritual world and our human world actually has its roots in Aristotle and the philosophers. It is as though we change the heavenly realities by our human efforts–which we know is a falsehood. Only God can change God.

So what does it mean that we respond to Jesus? Do we need to say the sinner’s prayer? I don’t believe that a particular prayer is necessary–the Ethiopian merely asked whether and where he could be baptized, and Philip baptized him. I think that is significant.

Baptism isn’t done in order to change our status with God. It is done as a sharing in Christ’s baptism, a sharing in his life and death. Peter called people to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins–what Jesus did when he was baptized for us in our place. He was calling them to receive the gift already given to them in the life, death, resurrection of Jesus–to participate in what Christ had already done for them.

In other words, at some point God is going to bring each of us to the point where we see that apart from Jesus, we have no hope–that without Jesus we are lost. Jesus said in his preaching–repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand (ie. I’m the Messiah and I’m here bringing in God’s kingdom), and he told his disciples to preach the Word, teach the Word and to baptize and disciple. That means there is a point of turning away from ourselves and our world and our way of living and being and a turning to Christ (ie. repent and believe, and receive the gift of life in him), at which point, symbolically through baptism, we identify with Christ, acknowledging that our life is in him.

This is why when someone comes to me and says, I believe in Jesus Christ and I want to be a Christian, I ask them, “Have you talked with God about this?” And then I will pray with them and encourage them to pray about their commitment to Christ and his will. And I will then talk with them about baptism as a sign of their commitment, as an acknowledgement of their participation in Christ’s finished work.

But Barth and the Torrance’s are real clear that there is a definite turning away from oneself and a turning to Christ at some point. It’s a point in time and a process where a person acknowledges their need for and reliance upon Christ and a turning away from themselves and their ways, and a turning to Christ, and a submission to him as Lord of their life. This can take some time with people and may occur well after their initial understanding at baptism.

This is why discipleship of new believers is so important. They need to come to know and rely on Jesus and to begin to live their life in him. It is his life they are participating in–the new life they live is defined by Christ’s life, not by them. A person’s response to Jesus is, therefore, not just an event in time, but a whole turning of their life and being away from themselves and to Christ throughout the rest of their life–as Jesus said, a dying to self and a living in him.

As you can see, the latter approach does not at any point bring up some form of separation, but rather says that Jesus is our life. In God, through Christ and in the Spirit, we live and move and have our being. Christ did for us in our place all that is needed–so believe it and receive it, and then live it out. It’s all in terms of participating in the life Christ made for us in our humanity as a sharing in his divinity. I think this is a much more hopeful and joyful word of life.

The following is a response to a related question, “Does the Holy Spirit work on each person individually at some level continually or is God not working with everyone yet?”:

Sometimes our inclusive language can be a little too free. Yes, we need to keep the concept of inclusion in our language. All are included in God’s life and love. That is a given. All are united with God in Christ.

But our calling and full participation in that is something the Spirit does in a unique time and way for each of us. The communion of the Spirit is a different story from our union with God in Christ. The communion of the Spirit is experienced by the body of Christ through whom God is bearing witness to the world about Jesus in the Spirit today.

It does not mean that all do not have the Spirit but rather that there is an awakening of some to the calling to bear witness to Jesus Christ as a community of faith. We want to let all people know they are included in God’s love and life. But the thing is–if a person is living and being in a way that does not coincide with how God is and how Christ is for them, then how can they fully participate in God’s love and life? There is a call to repentance–to a change of mind and heart in how we look at God and who we think he is and a turning away from ourselves to Jesus, trusting in him for life and godliness rather than in anything else. The Holy Spirit does a work in a person’s heart, mind and life that is transformational–it is real.

My friend Bob likes to say, “all are included, they just don’t know it yet.” That’s not really a bad thing to say–but there is still the call to repent and believe. Barth and Torrance say the best way to present the gospel is to say, “God loves you so much he sent his Son to live, die, rise again in your place. He’s done all that is needed for you to be reconciled to God and redeemed. Jesus Christ stands in your place, interceding for you with the Father, and he gives you his Spirit so you can share in God’s life and love. You are loved and forgiven. [ie you are included] Therefore, repent and believe.”

The gospel continues to require a call to repent and believe, even when all are included. The thing is, this repentance and this faith is taken up in Jesus Christ just like everything else–it comes as a gift from God through Christ in the Spirit. It’s not on us as humans to find something within ourselves to be able to repent and believe. Christ gives us his own repentance and faith as a gift of God through the Spirit. So it’s not all up to us–it’s all of grace. Really the only response left for us gratitude or grateful obedience, and even that we participate in with Christ. It’s all of grace.

When we think of the work of the Holy Spirit in terms of inclusion, we see that because the Spirit is poured out on all, he is available to all. He is working even now in and with each person. But as far as the transformational work the Spirit does in bringing someone to faith in Christ and into the body of Christ and into the obedience that comes with faith, that is something that is unique–it is a setting apart of certain persons for the purpose of bearing witness to Jesus Christ and to share the gospel. All are included in the kingdom of God, but not all are willing and obedient participants.

Father, I thank you for including all in your life and love through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Grant us the grace to receive and fully participate in your precious gift. Through Jesus our Lord, amen.

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mk 1:14–15 NIV

When Forgiving is Hard

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Stream Scene 2
Stream Scene 2

By Linda Rex

This morning I was listening to the You’re Included interview with David Torrance “The Grace of the Finished Work of Christ” (https://www.gci.org/yi/dtorrance104) and “Already Forgiven” (https://www.gci.org/yi108). I was struck once again by the significance of all that Jesus did for in his life, death and resurrection, specifically in regards to our ability to forgive the unforgiveable. And he calls for us to do just that, because being forgiving people properly reflects who we are as image-bearers of God.

I’m beginning to see that much of the mental anguish we go through in life has its basis in our inability or unwillingness to forgive wrongs done to us. Many of us go through life with deep emotional, mental, even spiritual wounds caused by significant people in our lives. We carry the hurts from our childhood into adulthood or from relationship to relationship, and they twist our thinking and feeling, holding us hostage in ways we don’t even realize or may even be willing to acknowledge.

It is inevitable that at some time in our lives we are going to be faced with the challenge of forgiving someone a wrong that we just can’t let go of. When that event comes back over and over in our mind and colors the way we think and feel about what’s going on in our life today, that is the time when we need to take seriously Jesus’ command to forgive.

But facing the challenge to forgive does not begin with us. We, of ourselves, are inadequate for the task. Even if we knew we needed to forgive and wanted to forgive, we may find ourselves unable to. The hurt or wrong may just keep rehearsing itself in our minds and hearts and we are unable to let it go.

This is especially true when there is a significant injustice involved. Forgiving may feel like we are letting someone off the hook for a very real wrong they have done.

But this isn’t the case at all. What a person may have done or said that violated us in some way is not ignored or passed over. Rather, it is put in its proper place—in the hands of a loving, just God, who is both our Judge and the one who was judged in our stead. Instead of us seeing that justice is done, we place this issue into the hands of the One best qualified to handle it—he is impartial and he is gracious, and he will deal with the issue in his own time and way.

Yes, there are times when we have to take action to protect ourselves and others from future harm. But, even so, we need to do so in a spirit of grace. Forgiveness does not require us to turn our backs on justice, but asks that justice be executed with mercy and compassion.

Placing our hurts and wrongs into the hands of a loving, just God, not only frees us from the need to make someone pay, but it also enables us to approach our need to forgive within the context of community. God does not ask us to forgive all on our own, under our own power.

God is the one, who since the beginning of time, forgives. If God had executed justice without mercy every single time one of us humans had done something wrong or hurtful, the human race would have long ago become extinct. Thankfully, forgiveness is God’s nature.

Because God knows we can’t forgive the way we should and need to, God gave us his forgiveness in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus, in his life and death, experienced some tremendous violations of his personhood and was horribly abused. There is nothing that we as humans experience that he cannot and does not sympathize with. Yet, his final words on the cross included these: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

This same divine capacity to forgive is ours. God has given us in Christ and by his Spirit all that we need for life and godliness. (2 Pet. 1:3) Therefore we are able to forgive—in Christ. It is Jesus’ forgiveness that we draw upon and live out.

Jesus taught his disciples that forgiving others is something we need to do so that we are able to participate in God’s forgiveness of us. (Luke 17:3-4) It’s a relational thing, something we do in community with God and each other. We forgive and we are forgiven. We are forgiven and so we forgive. This is what it looks like to live joyfully and lovingly within the Triune relationship of Father, Son and Spirit and with each other. It is our nature as God’s children to forgive, so we forgive.

So in the midst of whatever we are struggling with, we acknowledge the reality that forgiveness is not going to be something that is humanly possible on our own, but is instead, a divine reality that we participate in. We agree with God that forgiveness is not something we are able to do on our own, but is something we need from him—we need Christ’s forgiving heart and mind. We need the forgiving Spirit of God to change us from the inside out and enable us to forgive.

And God will do that. We make the choice to forgive and we seek from God the power and ability to forgive. God will begin, as we participate with him in the process, to change our hearts and minds and enable us to forgive. And we thank God for the gift of forgiveness that he gives us from his Son Jesus Christ through his Holy Spirit.

This gift of forgiveness is life-transforming and healing, and we participate in it gratefully throughout our lives, in every situation we may find ourselves needing to be forgiving or forgiven. It is God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ and by his Spirit. May you experience and share with others the grace of God’s forgiveness in your life today.

Forgiving God, thank you for the gift of forgiveness. May we be as forgiving of others as you are of us. Thank you that in Jesus and by your Spirit we participate in your divine life and love, sharing in your forgiveness just as we share in every other part of your divine nature, through Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives…. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” Hebrews 2:14-15, 17 NASB

A Different Road Home

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by Linda Rex

Yesterday a friend and I drove to another city to pick up my car which had been getting worked on. It was a long drive and we talked about which road would have the least amount of traffic and would be the easiest to drive. It was pouring down rain at times, so we really didn’t want to be driving on the interstate.

I told her the way I usually drove the route, and so we took that path to get to our destination. It worked out well and we got there in good time. But on the way home, she suggested that I try a different route since it would help me to avoid a potential roadblock. I took her advice and found my way home, quickly and without incident.

It occurred to me that we go through life often making plans for ourselves. We do our best to try to find the quickest, easiest or most comfortable path for ourselves. We do our best to avoid roadblocks and hassles, and we work hard to find the shortest, quickest route to the successes and blessings we seek.

Many of us don’t realize it but we go through life seeking to find our way home each and every day. There is a place we are looking for where we are loved, accepted and forgiven—where we can just truly be ourselves and know that it is enough. We long for and are driven by an inner need to find rest in this place—this place which is our true home.

The thing is that too often we define for ourselves what the route to our true home is. We set particular standards in place and believe that the only way to get home is to follow that one precise set of directions. We have to really work at following these directions perfectly or we won’t end up in the right place. We believe that the only way we will get to our true home is to meet these standards exactly. If we fail we will miss out and end up in oblivion. It seems that the onus is upon us to make sure we are heading the right direction and that we arrive safe and sound.

Thankfully Jesus Christ is the path to our true home. He is the only way, and thankfully he is the forerunner of our faith. Wherever he is, there is our true home. So guess what? There is no path he has not already been down. He knows the best route to take in every situation. We can just climb in the car and he will take us where we need to go. And wherever we are going, he’s already there in the Spirit, anyway. So we might as well just enjoy the journey!

This is why Jesus calls us to rest in him. All this anxiety about finding the best route home to God is totally unnecessary. We can relax because Jesus has already made sure we’ll get there—we just need to trust in him—he will bring us safely home to be with the Father.

It is inevitable that there will be roadblocks in the way of us getting where we need to go. Life isn’t simple and the path to our true home with God in Christ isn’t always a direct one.

Sometimes we are taken down a difficult path—one that may be filled with boulders or floodwaters. We may find ourselves at an impasse or caught up in slow traffic. We find that Christ often takes a different road home than we expect. It may involve sitting through some rush hour traffic or avoiding some children playing in the street. But it will be the best path for each of us, because he loves us and knows what’s best for us. And he is with us in the midst of whatever we come across on our way home.

The really cool thing about Jesus taking us home to be with his Father is that he wants us to invite others to go with us on the journey. He’s got room for everybody in the car.

Not everybody is willing to drive along with him. Some are too busy planning out their own route or running down the street to catch a bus. Others want to sit in the back seat and give him directions—they want to tell him where to go and how to get there.

But he’s very gracious and tells us to keep asking people to join us. And he says to us each day, “Let’s go—Dad’s waiting!” And by his Spirit he carries us farther on our way to our true home.

Thank you, Jesus, for being the only and most direct path to our true home with the Father in the Spirit. Grant us the grace to let you tell us which way to go and to follow it. And give us the heart and willingness to share this journey with others by inviting them to join it. We praise you for your freely given grace and love. In your name, amen.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28–30 NASB

Talking it Out

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by Linda Rex

One of the lessons I’m still learning in life is how to handle interpersonal issues in a healthy way. For example, someone in my life says or does something hurtful or causes a serious problem for me or someone else. How do I respond? How do I deal with this?

As a pastor I think that sometimes people use me as the go-to person in these situations. It is common for someone to come to me with “he said this to me and that was wrong” or “she was so hateful to me—you need to talk to her.” It’s as though I’m supposed to be carrying around a big stick so I can “whomp” anyone who gets out of line. Even though there are times when I may feel like a good whomping is in order, I do not believe that’s what God would have me do.

Another thing people do in these situations is to talk to everyone else in their circle of family or friends, making sure that everyone knows what’s going on. But they never go to that person who was at fault and try to talk with them about it. Sadly, in some families and social groups, this is the most common way of dealing with issues. I’ve learned by personal experience this is one of the most destructive ways of handling a problem—and sadly, in a lot of cases, the person who was at fault never even realized they had hurt someone and if they had they would have made every effort to make it right.

In any case, when someone says or does something hurtful, two things for sure come into play. First, we are called by God to love unconditionally and to offer them grace. It is imperative that we create an atmosphere in our relationship with that person, however strained that relationship may be, in which they may feel free to be real, and in which they know and are reassured they are loved and accepted.

Secondly, it is important that we promptly, but at an appropriate time, go to that person and do our best to speak the truth in love to them. This needs to be done with “I feel” language not accusatory language. We can talk to them about how specific words and deeds affected us, and describe the harm we feel that they did. This gives the person an opportunity to see and feel the pain they caused and to consider a change of heart, mind and behavior.

If we never tell someone the truth about their hurtful words and behavior, we deprive them of the opportunity to grow in Christlikeness. This is not loving. If we tell everyone else about what they’ve said and done, we’ve destroyed the spiritual fellowship God has called us to live in, creating suspicion, distrust, and a host of other unnecessary evils. This is definitely not loving, nor is it gracious.

Christ says that if this person won’t hear us, then we are to find a trusted confident or two who would be willing to go with us to that person to talk. The foundation of this whole meeting needs to be grace while speaking the truth in love. Reconciliation and restoration, the redemption of the relationship, is the goal. If they will not hear us, that is when we call on the elders of the church to assist. But the purpose or goal does not change throughout this whole process.

There is a time and place for others to join in the reconciliation/restoration process. One of the reasons for this is that there are relationships that are for the most part one-sided. In some relationships, one of the people involved doesn’t feel that they have a voice or that it is safe to speak the truth. This may be because they have given that right or freedom away by passivity. Or it may be due to abuse. Either way, there is an appropriate time for advocacy in this process of reconciliation/restoration.

Healing and restoring human relationships takes time and effort. There must be a commitment on both sides to working things out, and a willingness to concede wrongdoing. This requires a deep humility and an inner integrity that will not fudge the truth or try to self-justify. Not everyone is up to this task. But it is a necessary and essential part of life in a spiritual community.

As members of a spiritual community, when we see two people at odds with one another, we should feel the brokenness in that relationship ourselves. This should motivate us to encourage reconciliation and restoration within that relationship. Because what happens to our brothers and sisters impacts us as well. We are all sharers in Christ and participate with one another through the Spirit. To allow the evil one to cause division and harm within the community, is to participate in darkness not in the Light. And we don’t want to do that.

Thankfully, this is not a task that we take on all by ourselves. In fact, we read in scripture that Jesus is the Mediator between us and God, and between us and each other. He took on our humanity so that whatever divisions may exist between us become moot—we all are joined together now in an unbreakable bond. The Spirit also works as our intercessor—he binds us together and works incessantly to create unity and peace within our relationships.

I have found that the best solution to relationship problems begins in a relationship with God through prayer. When I take a relational problem to God and ask him to intervene, I am often surprised by the joy of finding the problem resolved in a way I never expected. When I see Jesus’ description of how relational problems are resolved within a spiritual community and begin to practice them, I find a new wisdom and power for reconciliation and restoration.

Will there be some relational problems that are never resolved? Yes—but only because God has given us the freedom to resist his Spirit and to reject his way of being. We have that choice—and we will live with the consequences of the choice we make, and sometimes, sadly, with the consequences of the choice someone else will make to refuse to live in loving relationship. And that is when we turn to Christ and to the spiritual community for the love, grace and support to heal and move on.

Father, how you must grieve when your children don’t play nice and don’t get along! Forgive us for all the ways we ruin our relationships and destroy the spiritual communion and love you call us to live in. Grant us the grace to do relationships your way and not our way. Give us the heart, mind and will to truly love and forgive one another in the way you love and forgive us. Through Jesus, our Lord, and by your Spirit. Amen.

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, …” Mt 18:15-16a NASB

The Un-self Self

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Honeysuckle on the fence
Honeysuckle on the fence

By Linda Rex

A while back I was getting some help with health issues from a local chiropractor. It was good to receive some assistance with my problems, but I was appalled at the way shame and guilt were used there to try to motivate people to take care of their bodies through eating right, exercise and chiropractic care. If a person did not leave that place feeling bad about themselves, I would have been surprised—it was hard to escape the message that was being given.

As I began to look around me, I found many cultural messages that try to tell us we are guilty and ought to be ashamed of ourselves. Often it is churches or parachurch groups that push this message—with the best of intentions, of course. But it can be seen and experienced in many places, even in advertising and in the business place.

I remember a pastor saying once that guilt and shame are healthy—they tell us when we have crossed the line between wrong and right, and they show us our need to repent. That’s all well and good, but I really don’t see Jesus using shame and guilt as a motivator anywhere in his ministry. Even his call to repent pointed people to himself as the coming and presence of the kingdom of God in their midst.

For example, when the woman who is caught in the act of adultery is brought before him, he merely asks that the one who is without sin be the first to cast a stone. So instead of shaming the poor woman further, or making her feel more guilty than she already probably felt, he pointed out our common humanity—that we are all imperfect and in need of grace. Then he invited the woman into a new way of living and being—“Go, and leave your life of sin.”

Jesus’ ultimate invitation to a new way of living and being came through the cross. The apostle Paul helps us to understand that in Christ we are all new creatures—all that old self with its guilt and shame was taken up with Christ on the cross, crucified, buried and resurrected into a new self. God not only gives us a perfected humanity in Jesus, he also transforms us by his Spirit into a new person who can fully participate in Christ’s intimate relationship with the Father.

At some point we all face the reality that we are not what we should be. It isn’t helpful to pile on guilt and shame in such situations. It is a whole lot more helpful to address such personal failures through love and grace within the context of community and loving relationship.

In other words, we are offered in Christ and by the Spirit a relationship full of unconditional acceptance and forgiveness, predicated on Christ’s perfected humanity and the power of the Holy Spirit to bring us into alignment with all we were created to be as image-bearers of God. We offer this same relationship to one another, understanding that Christ defines our humanity now, and our shortcomings and failures, which are real, are buried in Christ and transformed by the Spirit as we are willing to participate with God in his work of transforming us into Christlikeness.

There is an appropriate time to speak truth into someone’s life about the harm they are doing to themselves and to others. This is a participation in God’s justice, and must always be done with love and grace. It is not constructive to go from there to shame and guilt—it is much more productive to offer forgiveness and unconditional acceptance while at the same time refusing to allow the person to continue to hurt themselves or others.

I’ve heard this called passive resistance. I once heard someone say that this is actually what Jesus was talking about when he said to turn the other cheek. In the culture of the time, turning the other cheek wasn’t about letting someone abuse you freely, but rather about exposing the one who was being abusive to the public exposure and criticism of his behavior since it was culturally inappropriate and wrong to be abusive in that way. And therefore, within the context of community, the person would be motivated to change.

This means our communities and relationships need to be places where love and grace abound, and where people are accepted and forgiven rather than overwhelmed with shame and guilt. They need to be places where we point out our common center in Christ, and where we invite one another to grow up into all that Christ won for us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. Here the Holy Spirit is welcomed and obeyed, as he leads us into all truth and creates in us and among us the holy fellowship of the Triune God and the perfected humanity of Jesus Christ our Lord.

In this place of our common center in Christ, we both acknowledge our own failures and weaknesses, but we also acknowledge where others are growing up in Christ as well. We create a safe environment in which people can face up to their shortcomings, confess their faults and receive the grace and help they need to begin to change. We open ourselves up through spiritual disciplines and shared community life to the work of the Holy Spirit who is the only one who can truly transform a person from the inside out.

This is what James Torrance and others call Christian community. This is a sharing in the divine fellowship of Father, Son and Spirit. It is a wonderful experience to participate in such a community, so I encourage all my readers to find a group they can be a part of where such grace, love and truth are lived out in the presence of the Triune God. It can be hard to find people who are willing to be this transparent, humble and gracious. But it is definitely worth it.

Father, thank you that through your Son and by your Spirit you have freed us from guilt and shame, and you offer each of us participation in Christ’s perfected humanity and your Triune life of love. Grant us the grace to offer one another this same love and grace, and to live in fellowship with one another as you do. In Jesus’ precious name, amen.

“But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Eph 4:20–24 NASB

Killing Expectations

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Incarnation by Linda Rex, copyright 2005
Incarnation by Linda Rex, copyright 2005

By Linda Rex

I was reflecting back on some of my life events recently, when it occurred to me that we don’t take seriously enough our participation with Christ when it comes to our relationships. It seems as though we go through life interacting with others and building relationships without taking into consideration all of our life is bound together in union with Christ in the Spirit.

For example, we bounce or in my case, crawl out of bed in the morning, go through our routine, and find ourselves in the middle of the day, wondering why our spouse is cranky, our boss is rude, or our friend is ignoring us. We may decide then that we need to follow some Biblical principles in order to try to fix the relationship. Following them may or may not help, but sometimes even our best efforts don’t change anything—in fact, at times, they seem to only make things worse.

I think the error is in believing that somehow by doing and saying the right things we cause the right things to happen in a relationship. We turn people into objects we act upon, which automatically respond in preset ways to certain words and actions. How many books have you and I read which teach us this very thing: In order to have a good marriage, you have to do x, y and z, in that order?

We approach our marriages, our child-raising, and our friend and work relationships in this way. And we approach our relationship with God in this way too.

But the thing is, relationships involve persons. And persons derive their identity from the three Persons of the One God who are united, diverse and equal. In the oneness of the Trinity, there is always freedom based in love. That freedom means that no one causes the Persons of the Trinity to do anything. God acts out of his own nature as Father, Son and Spirit in love, in whatever way he chooses to. The Persons of the Trinity may respond to our efforts, but they are not obligated in any way by anything we say or do to act in certain ways.

Some of the greatest hurts in our relationships occur because of these types of expectations we place upon God and upon one another. Expectations in a relationship are helpful only if they are held within a framework of grace, because no human being can perfectly and fully meet another human being’s expectations. Rigid expectations, when they are unmet, create resentment, bitterness, hate, and anger. They create a separation within a relationship—they do not build unity. Nor do they facilitate love.

Holding God to our human expectations is actually arrogant. After all, God is free to do whatever he wishes in any and every situation. Whatever we may expect of him, he is going to do the good and right thing. He’s going to be loving and gracious, faithful—he is and will be true to his nature as God. Our expectations do not change who God is and what he does. They only hurt us, because when God doesn’t perform to our expectations, we end up hurt, angry, and frustrated.

Holding our loved ones to rigid expectations can be very abusive. To expect a child to do something beyond their age and capacity and to punish them when they fail to meet our expectations is destructive to their mental and emotional health. To expect a spouse or loved one to perform something exactly how we think it should be done, with no room for individuality, personality or preference is selfish and controlling, and destroys trust and love, and stifles affection.

The sad thing is, not only do our rigid expectations ruin our relationships, but they also blind us to our own shortcomings. We become so focused on the other person’s failures that we cannot and do not see the many ways in which we ourselves have not kept our word or have been unfaithful. We are so “right” that we don’t realize how very wrong we are.

The truth is that there is only one Being, our Father, Son and Spirit God, who is able to fully keep his side of a covenant. It is his covenant with us as humanity that is the basis of our relationships with others. Because we could not fulfill our part of the covenant agreement, the Word came into our human flesh and lived out our part perfectly and completely. It is Jesus Christ who is the One who is the perfect human, who never fails to keep his promises and perfectly fulfills his Father’s will.

Jesus is the risen High Priest who stands in our stead, bearing us in the presence of the Father. He also, as the Mediator, intercedes between each of us, being the One who perfectly relates to us and to his Father in the Spirit. God sends his Spirit into human hearts so that we are bound together, not only by our common breath in the Spirit, but also by our common sharing in the humanity of Christ. At the basis of all our relationships is Jesus Christ in us by the Holy Spirit.

This means that all our relationships with God and each other are set upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, our Intercessor and our Lord. They are mediated by Christ in the Spirit, who works to bring about love, joy, peace and unity in our relationships. Whatever efforts we may make to heal, bless and grow our relationships need to have their center in Christ by the Spirit, because it is his relationship with his Father in the Spirit which defines what true relationship is.

Christ’s relationship with the Father does not require or use expectations. Christ does the will of the Father because his own will is in perfect unity with the Father’s will. Christ’s will and the Father’s will are one in the Spirit. Their relationship is based on love and mutual submission, not on fulfillment of expectations or obligations.

If in our human relationships we were to release everyone from any and all expectations, and instead focus on the relationship Christ has brought us into with the Father in the Spirit, we would experience a huge shift in our dynamics. When we begin to treat one another as persons who equally yet diversely share in our common union with Christ in the Spirit, we open the door for love, unity and peace. Accepting that we are all broken people sharing in the grace of God in Christ will begin to create in us a spirit of humility, mutual submission and service.

When Christ admonished his followers to be people of their word, he was well aware of their inability to always be faithful and truthful. Jesus himself is the only human capable of actually keeping his word and fulfilling the will of God. Thankfully, God’s relationship with each of us as faulty, frail and at times untruthful people is not based upon our ability to perform, but upon the inner relations of the Father, Son and Spirit in their perichoretic union and communion, and upon the grace and love showered upon us through Jesus Christ.

Our relationships with one another, especially in marriage and family, need to be built upon this same foundation. It is in looking to Christ and participating in his perfect relationship with the Father in the Spirit that we find the grace to love and respect one another, and to be faithful and truthful in every circumstance of life. Whether we bound out of bed or crawl out in the morning, we all share in Christ, and can by God’s Word and through the Spirit find the wisdom, strength and whatever we may need to truly love and care for one another like we should. May God find us so doing!

Father, thank you that by your Son and in your Spirit we have been given a relationship with you and each other we could not have otherwise. Grant us the grace to throw away all our expectations of you and others which create division and hurt in our relationships. Instead, may we live together in love and grace, awake to the life you have given us through Christ and in the Spirit, expectantly looking forward to all you will do to heal, restore and renew. Through Jesus, our Lord, amen.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:33–37 NIV