honesty

Receiving Abba’s Words of Love

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By Linda Rex

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2020, TRANSFIGURATION—Today I can walk into any supermarket or department store near me and be met with an effusive display of Valentine’s Day gifts, flowers, and cards. Many people today will be taking their loved ones out for coffee, lunch, or dinner, and some may even decide that today is the perfect day to pop the question, “Will you marry me?”

For the most part, I think that we all love a good love story, especially when it has a “happily ever after” ending. It’s almost as if, written into our very being, is the longing to love and be loved. Without this, our lives become shadows—a constant steady motion forward, but no interweaving of our lives with others around us, except at work or play. The longing for deep connectedness is real, but many of us don’t slow down long enough to ponder its source and to seek its resolution.

One of the ways in which we long to be loved is often a deep inner longing to hear our father, or mother, say, “I love you.” How many people today live their lives in a effort to somehow win the approval and affection of a parent? Many times, we don’t even realize we are doing this, and it is after years of passionate struggle to succeed and gain significance that we finally awaken to the reality that we will never gain either, nor can we ever work hard enough to gain the love and approval of another person. Love is not earned—it is a gift we give one another.

Sometimes our wounds go so deep that even though we are surrounded by loving people, we are unable to receive the love they desire to give us. It is very easy for us to close our hearts to others, to put up walls that are so high that no one can enter in and touch us. We may prefer to live life behind walls—relationships involve risk, especially intimate ones. But we will never truly experience real life, real living, until we are willing and able to let someone else know us deeply, and to love us in the midst of our messes and failures.

Jesus spoke to his disciples about the oneness between him and his heavenly Father, and in his prayers, he expressed their intimate oneness. Jesus goes so far as to say, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3 NASB). We were never meant to live life alone and unconnected, empty of relationship. Deep connectedness is what we were created for. We were meant to share in the oneness which has always existed between the Father and the Son in the Spirit.

At the transfiguration, John, James, and Peter witnessed the Father’s expression of love for Jesus, his Son. Being in the presence of God, they were terrified. Instead of feeling warmed by the presence of a loving, affectionate Father, they were filled with fear. Jesus’ immediately said to them, “Don’t be afraid.” They needed to have a clearer picture of what kind of God they were obeying—not a punitive God to be afraid of, but an affectionate Abba to love.

The reality is that our conception of God is often distorted by our experiences, most especially our own relationship with our parents or other people, even well-meaning Christians. We can allow these distortions to get in the way of encountering God on his own merits, and end up refusing to receive the love and grace God offers us. God has been as loving as possible with us in giving us Jesus and his Spirit, and often surrounds us with loving people, but we can and do resist and refuse his love.

This unfortunate, because God really wants to give us the “happily ever after” ending. He wants us to live in joyful, loving connectedness both now and forever. This is why he went to so much effort to prepare for and orchestrate the coming of the Word into human flesh, to live our life, and die our death, raising us into glory.

There is a hidden glory in every human being. Just as in Jesus the disciples discovered the hidden glory of God’s very being, in each of us is an inherent design, a script which reflects the very being and nature of God himself. We were made in the image of God, after his likeness, to live in the same oneness, interconnectedness of unique equal persons, as do the Father, Son and Spirit. Our inclusion in this holy love is by faith in Jesus. There is no distinction made between any of us as human beings—our common humanity is centered in Christ and we share in his glory, both now and forever.

Why do we as humans so often choose fear of God over receiving this immense, overwhelming love of God? Why don’t we allow ourselves to be loved? Perhaps one reason is that love often calls us up out of our worst into our best—love may ask us to change things we don’t want to change, to give up things we don’t want to give up. And love can hurt at times. Love requires vulnerability, transparency, honesty—requiring us to lay ourselves out at the mercy of others. Sometimes loving in this way means we suffer immeasurably—like the living Lord who became human only to end up crucified.

It is much easier to fear God and to try to be a good person, to earn his love and affection, than it is to lay ourselves fully in his hands and surrender to his love. To earn God’s love, we can follow a list of rules or set up systems in our lives that make us feel like we’re being good people and we’re obeying God. It doesn’t require openness or authenticity—it looks good on the outside, and we’re always in control. But it does not get us any closer to God—in fact, it may actually become a god in itself, separating us from any real relationship with the Lord.

To come, as Jesus teaches us, to the cross and lay ourselves at God’s feet, knowing our only hope is his love and grace, is the perfect place to encounter the living Lord. It is acknowledging our failures to love God and each other that paves the way for God to enter in and be for us what we cannot be. It is in expressing our need for God and our desire to know him better that we find ourselves growing in deep connectedness with him. When we understand our need for the daily bread of his love and grace, his Word to us, and our words in response to him, then we are beginning to understand what it means to receive Abba’s words of love.

Today is a good day to practice the spiritual discipline of silence and solitude. Find a place where you can be undisturbed—preferably somewhere in nature, where you can experience the beauty of what God created for your joy. Give yourself a few moments in silence to still chaotic thoughts, and then tell God you are there to hear his words of love. Ask him to help you to receive them and to believe what he says to you is true, and to guard you from any lies the deceiver may use to confuse you. Then just sit for a time in the silence. If your thoughts wander, just give them to God, and ask him again what he has to say to you. You may only hear silence or you may hear Abba’s words of love in your heart. Either way, you are on the path to deeper connectedness with God—and opening yourself to hear and receive the words of love Abba has for you.

Thank you, Abba, that you meet us wherever we are, and in your love, work to bring us to where you are. As we take the time to listen to your words of love, enable us to hear and to receive them, and to begin to live as though they were true. Thank you that you have already expressed your love to us in the gift of your Son and your Spirit. We are grateful. Amen.

“For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.” 2 Peter 1:16 NASB

When Truth of Being Hurts

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By Linda Rex

In this discussion about truth and the truth of our being, it occurs to me that just having truth or being people who value truth is insufficient. God, who is truth, has sent the Spirit of truth through Jesus who is “the way, the truth, and the life” to us to dwell in human hearts. So we have the Spirit of truth available to us at all times.

But the reality is that even though we have the truth at our disposal, we also need a huge helping of God’s grace to go with it. Truth without grace and love is dangerous and destructive. Being truly open about one’s self or being authentic about who we are can bring about deeply painful and horrific consequences when it is told to the wrong person, and/or at the wrong time, and/or in the wrong way. Anyone who has been the victim of malicious gossip or Internet bullying is well aware of this fact.

Living out the truth of our being does not automatically ensure that the people in our lives are going to accept or embrace this reality when it appears. Jesus lived authentically his whole life and look how he ended up!

Sincerity, integrity, authenticity were a part of his nature, but the people around him often did not appreciate this, especially when it exposed their own hypocrisy, insincerity and deceitfulness, and their own prejudices. In fact, whenever we find Jesus pointing out the truth of who he was and the truth that the listeners were not living in agreement with their truth of being as God’s children, we also see them plotting his death and destruction. In these situations we see the huge contrast between, as Paul puts it, the expression of fleshly wisdom and the administration of the grace of God through holiness and godly sincerity.

Fleshly wisdom in this area is the natural human response of self-preservation and self-protection through image-management, manipulation of others, pretense and hypocrisy. Soon we become like the white-washed tombs which Jesus talked about—they look great on the outside, but on the inside is only death and dead men’s bones. We may think we’re fooling everyone else, but we’re really only fooling ourselves.

Because all the pretense, image-management and spinning of the truth in the world cannot remove the reality that we are completely and thoroughly known and loved by a God who knows us down to the very depths of our soul. The Spirit of truth doesn’t just dwell in heaven, but in human hearts—and he knows the truth of who we really are. In fact, the Spirit of truth is the very Breath of God who breathes life into our human bodies so we live and breathe every moment of every day.

The reality is, if he decided to do so, the Holy Spirit could just stop breathing life into you or me and we would simply die. When Peter pointed out the truth to Ananias and Sapphira they both had conspired to lie to the Spirit of truth, they died on the spot—their breath left them. They had been trying to be something they were not by impressing the early church with how generous and good they were when in reality they were hedging their bets because they didn’t truly trust God to care for them and provide for them if they donated all they had to help others.

I don’t know about you, but I know that I have on occasion been equally guilty of image-management and being generous under false pretenses. It has only been due to the love and grace of God that I am still breathing and doing ministry today. I’m reminded by all this to treat the Spirit of truth with a great deal of respect—honoring him by being sincere and truthful—but I am also reminded that in the end, it’s all of grace.

So in receiving God’s grace to be sincere, authentic and a person of integrity, I also receive the grace to love and forgive others who are insincere, inauthentic and lacking in integrity. In receiving God’s love in the midst of my mess, which is who I really am, I am able to offer to others the freedom to be the beautiful mess they truly are.

God is always at work to bring the truth to light, because it is in his nature of truth. He is the Spirit of truth, and Jesus is the truth of our being. God will not stop working to bring us all to the place where we are people of integrity, honesty and authenticity, because he is conforming each one of us to the image of Christ, who is truth. This is why we put our faith in Jesus Christ, in the Truth, and not in ourselves or in any one or anything else. May God complete his work in each of us to bring us into all truth, and may he grant us the grace to love and forgive others as well.

Thank you, God, that you are our God of truth, our Spirit of truth, our Messiah who is the way the truth and the life. Thank you that you are gracious and loving at the core of your Being, for we are fully dependent upon your grace and love. Thank you, Spirit of truth, that you overlook our shortcomings, for without you we would not live and breathe. Finish, Lord, all your work of transformation so that we may reflect you as you really are, in truth. In your name, Father, Son and Spirit, we pray. Amen.

“For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.” 2 Cor. 1:12

Being Truthful vs. Truth of Being

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Honeysuckle on the fence
Honeysuckle on the fence

By Linda Rex

I don’t know if there is such a thing as social dishonesty, but I think there ought to be a term for fudging the truth for the sake of one’s relationship with others. Maybe it’s called telling a white lie. I guess, in reality, the real term for it would be hypocrisy. But none of us want to be accused of hypocrisy when all we want is to avoid hurting someone or to keep other people’s good opinion of us.

One of the most powerful tools of destruction when it comes to domestic violence is silence. In destructive relationships there is a rule, unspoken or not, that what happens within the relationship or family stays within it. Nobody is allowed to tell the truth about what is going on, no matter how hurtful or wrong it may be.

This type of silence and our “social dishonesty” create relationships based on a lie. It becomes very difficult to determine exactly what is true and what is false, because what is being said and done does not come from a place of safety, transparency and authenticity but from a place of fear, shame, guilt and/or manipulation. Rather than living out of truth, we live out of something we are not.

At some point God will bring all of us to the place where we have to face the truth of who we really are inside. And most of us are so terrified by the thought of what we might find there that we will do anything we possibly can to avoid this confrontation.

What if we discover, or worse yet—if someone else discovers—we’re not the image we’ve been trying to portray all these years? What if the truth about who we are is that we are a smuck, a selfish, thoughtless idiot? What if all the hateful things that have been said to us over the years are true? What if we really are worthless, useless and deserve only to die like our mom or dad told us over and over as we were growing up?

We so often seek to be what we are not, or believe that we are not, because that is what is expected of us. We hold each other to impossible standards, which none of us are capable of fulfilling—this is the result of a society built on the lie that to be truly human is to be attractive, charismatic, athletic, clever, smart and talented. Just like the Greeks who worshiped the perfect human form—we worship the superhuman who can do impossible feats.

Even though there is no such thing as a supermom, women still feel driven to “do it all”—have the perfect body, the perfect family, the perfect job, and the perfect home. Even though Superman is just a story, men feel the pressure to have the perfect physique and to be a person of presence and power in the marketplace or industry—wherever they work and live.

For those who seek to be moral people, there are the impossible standards that we hold ourselves and other people to. I know from personal experience how destructive and self-defeating it is to try and live up to someone else’s or my own interpretation of the Bible’s commandments. The best we can do is to keep up appearances and to hope that no one finds out the truth about who we really are.

At this point, I think it might be helpful to reevaluate our self-concept. We are so resistant to people finding out the truth about who we are because we believe the truth of our being is that we are awful, horrible monsters. I appreciate William Paul Young’s observation that when we try to live out of this lie—that the truth of our being is that we are evil and depraved—we find ourselves unable to become what we ought to be. We expend a lot of effort hiding, self-medicating or self-destructing as a result. We need to change the way we think about ourselves and about what the truth of our being is.

As I was reading 2 Corinthians 4 this morning, it struck me that if we could truly grasp the reality that Jesus is the truth, the truth of who we are, our lives and how we think and act would be entirely different. When we look deep inside ourselves, often all we see is evil and depravity. But God calls us to look further.

God shines the light of his Spirit in our hearts because he wants us to see ourselves honestly and in reality. We need to see that the evil and depravity, whatever form it may take, is not the truth of who we are. Whatever evil and depravity may lie at the heart of our being, along with all the good stuff that we are as well, died with Christ and rose with Christ.

The truth of our being is that we are made in the image of God and declared to be very good—and so God in Jesus Christ redeemed and redeems us so that we, in truth, are and can be that very thing. We need to see the truth of our being as being defined by Jesus Christ, who is our life and the truth of who we are.

This does not mean that we stop being ourselves, but rather that the ourselves that we are have been redeemed and made new. When we find ourselves living in ways that do not coincide with the truth of who we are in Christ, that is when we are living a lie. Evil and depravity no longer define us—no matter what anyone may say—Christ does. So our entire life now is sacred, devoted to God, to be lived in agreement with the person God has declared us to be.

This is why I love the Voice translation of 1 Cor. 1:6 which says that our life story confirms Christ’s life story. How we live now is a confirmation of the very nature and life of Christ. We are uniquely ourselves but we live in and with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit—a life surrounded by, filled with, and defined by God, and no one else.

This makes living authentically a whole lot easier. We’re not held to any standard other than the life of Christ. Since his life, death, resurrection and ascension is ours and we are united with him, our faults, failures and idiocyncrasies are redeemed. We are new creatures.

We can have hope in the midst of our faults because we can know that, as the apostle Paul points out, we have the treasure of God’s very presence and life in these “jars of clay”, right within our humanity. When we are criticized or ridiculed by others, we can look at ourselves with honest eyes, with a willingness to see the truth. Are we indeed what they say we are, or is there some part of us that is in the process of being redeemed by Christ and we need to participate in that process?

Because there will always be some brokenness in us that God is working with as long as we are in this human flesh. We will have the appearance of being faulty as long as we are not yet fully transformed into Christ’s likeness. It is a process—from glory to glory. We cannot just focus on what is seen, but must trust in what is unseen—that God is at work, transforming us and making us what he means for us to be.

This creates the groundwork for authentic, transparent relationships that are truly loving. In a relationship based on this foundation of Christ, both parties are able to be honest and truthful with one another because there is always Christ between them. They each live and walk in truth, leaving no room for “social dishonesty” or destructive silence, because at the same time, they are walking in grace and love. And this describes the Triune life we participate in through Christ and in the Holy Spirit. May we each experience this blessing of authentic relationship today and every day, and forever.

Thank you, God, that you have included us in your divine life and love. Thank you that you define who we are, and that you are at work redeeming us by the Spirit, renewing us and making us what we were meant to be. Grant us the grace to trust you, allowing you to work your process of renewal in us and participating with you as we live in agreement with the truth of who you have declared us to be. Through Jesus our Lord and by your precious Spirit. Amen.

“… we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:2 NASB

“Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” 1 Corinthians 4:5 NASB