human flesh

Blessed Are You…

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by Linda Rex

January 29, 2023, 4th Sunday in Epiphany—What is the value of knowing Jesus Christ? What is the big deal? Is he just part of a story or myth people tell during the Christmas and Easter holidays, but is irrelevant the rest of the time? It can appear from first glance that there really isn’t anything worth delving into when it comes to Jesus, but the reality is that in Jesus there is a deep story each of us is a part of, whether we embrace it or not.

Nowadays, it doesn’t seem reasonable to believe in a real, personal, tangible God. So much of life can be lived apart from any need for God. And many of the problems we face, no matter how difficult, can be solved or at least coped with without the need of calling upon a deity. What our age of reason has taught us is that we can use our minds and aptitudes and skills to run our world and deal with whatever comes our way. I imagine that it is possible to go through life and never believe in a power or presence beyond ourselves.

But it is significant, from what I’ve seen, that the first step in any recovery program is for a person to come to see that apart from a “higher power” or a power beyond themselves, they will never be free from their addiction. An addict will struggle and struggle to conquer their addiction until they “hit bottom” and realize their desperate need for a power beyond themselves to save them.

It is often in this encounter with a real and personal God that their life turns around and they begin to heal. But as long as they insist on doing it on their own, they remain enslaved to the substance or activity or behavior which holds them in prison. There is something real and substantial which happens in an addict’s life when they surrender to that “higher power.”

It’s not just addicts who go through this process of coming to see their need for something or someone beyond themselves. Every person comes to places during their lives when they are faced with the reality that they cannot and will not get to where they need to be without help beyond themselves. At times we turn to another person, hoping they will do what is needed or give what is required—and for a time, they may be able to do that. But there are limits to what we can give each other as humans, and if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that no human being can play the role of God in another person’s life without there being some very destructive and painful fallout as a result.

So why do we have such an issue with Jesus? I wonder sometimes if it is because we see in him what we know we were always meant to be, as well as our own capacity for evil and betrayal as it was demonstrated during his crucifixion. We see in Jesus and in his story both the heights and depths of our humanity. We realize, in looking at him, that we are not what we should be, that God doesn’t do things as we expect him to, and that the way God does things is the exact opposite of how we believe they should be done.

The New Testament passage for this particular Sunday is 1 Corinthians 1:18-23, in which the apostle Paul contrasts our human wisdom with God’s wisdom. In that congregation were many believers who were poor people from the lower classes, but also wealthy people from the upper classes. Roman society venerated nobility, wealth, and status, as well as intellectual learning and wisdom. What Paul was faced with was helping these believers see that in Christ, none of this was essential or significant in the long run, since every one of them stood at the same place—at the foot of the cross.

I’ve personally experienced the positive and negative cultural expectations that come with wealth, status, and higher education. I’ve been close to people on the bottom rung as well as the top rung, and I don’t really care for either place. The reason is that neither place is where Jesus lives. Where he lives is in the space where each person’s uniqueness comes together in equality and unity—and other-centered love dwells.

At some point we need to come to terms with the reality that we find our true identity, not in the wealth, status, intellect, giftedness, or position (or lack thereof) in this world, but in Jesus Christ alone. He is our true identity, for in him we find our worth, our value, our connection with one another and with God.

It is significant that God’s way of handling things is often the opposite of the way we prefer to handle them. One of the passages for this Sunday is Matthew 5:1-12, which is often called The Beatitudes. What Jesus put out there was an impossible agenda as the means for our participation in his kingdom life. For example, if you want to see God, you must be pure in heart—that’s usually how we read it. Actually what Jesus said is the pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God. Yet I read in the Old Testament that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. How will I ever see God, if my heart is so awful?

Remember that I said Jesus is our true identity. Why? We learn in the Scriptures that all things were made through him, by him, and for him. He holds all things together by the word of his power. We find that the God who is our Creator is also the one who took on our sinful human flesh and was not stained or dirtied by it—rather, he purified it, restoring back to its original design. The original human person walked and talked with God—we see this in the story of Eden. And this was what we were created for. And this is what Jesus forged within our human flesh—our pure heart was restored in his perfect work, and offered to us in the gift of his Spirit.

There is a beauty and wonder in a life that is restored, transformed by the indwelling Spirit. Most of the time we live oblivious to the reality of God’s life in us and with us. If we are content in our life as it is, we may see the cross and all that pertains to it as being foolishness and some clever man-made story. But the moment of crisis will come and does come to each of us. Are we willing to open ourselves to the possibility that there is so much more going on than this?

I cannot explain effectively what happens when I come to the place with regards to a struggle I am having and admit to myself, to God, and to another that I am not enough and I need help. When I experience a strength beyond myself, a capacity to love that is not my own, and an ability to say or do what is needed when on my own, I could never do or say it—this is the power of Christ in me. I cannot boast in myself at all. No, there is something wonderful which happens in and through me when I fully surrender to the Lord and allow his Spirit to work in and through me.

So often, we take credit for what, in reality, is God’s presence and power at work in us through Jesus by the Spirit. What makes us able to love our children when they are absolute pills to be around? What makes us able to offer help to someone who most certainly doesn’t deserve our help? What moves us to get up and go to work each day, to pay our bills on time, and kiss our spouse goodbye? Does that simply come from our brain cells firing a certain way? Or is it possible that along with healthy brain cells is the movement, inspiration, and power of the one who created us with the desire and capacity for other-centered love?

We are incredibly blessed, for Christ has given us himself in the Spirit, enabling us to live the perichoretic life we were always meant to live with God and each other. Perhaps it is worth our while to start each day in quiet, asking Jesus, “Are you in me?” and have received his assurance, asking him, “What would you have me do today?” We may be astonished to discover that what may be considered foolishness by many is a beautiful reality for us.

Dear Jesus, are you truly in me and with me? Free me from every lying voice, false belief and evil spirit which keeps me from seeing you as you truly are, living in me and at work in this world. How may I participate in what you are doing right now, as you live in me by your Spirit? Amen.

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ ”      1 Corinthians 1:18–31 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2023/01/olitblessed-are-you.pdf ]

[More devotionals may be found at https://lifeinthetrinity.blog ]

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Beloved of the Father

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by Linda Rex

January 8, 2023, EPIPHANY | Baptism of the Lord—In the season of Advent, we have prepared our hearts and minds for the entering of God into our cosmos in the incarnation. As God in human flesh, Jesus Christ came into our world to live a truly human life, and during the twelve-day season of Christmas (between Christmas and Epiphany), we celebrate this amazing gift. Pondering the richness of God’s indescribable love gives depth to our holiday celebrations, enabling us to bear up under the inevitable realities of loss, grief, brokenness, and struggle.

We are reminded that it was not enough that God had compassion on us as frail and faulty human beings. It was not enough that God saw and forgave our shortcomings and incessant unfaithfulness to him. No, the Son of God chose to enter our own place of existence, into our material cosmos, and to take upon himself a truly human existence, personally forging within our human flesh the capacity and desire to live in right relationship with his own Father in the Spirit.

Our American individualism often prevents our ability to think in terms of place-sharing. So often, we seek to do things ourselves, on our own, for our own satisfaction or to accomplish our personal goals and plans. We may not even consider that a better and more fulfilling life would be ours if we opened ourselves up to the concept of place-sharing—of putting ourselves in another person’s place, to understand and participate with them in what they are going through. Place-sharing is part of living a truly human life as image-bearers of the divine. And this is what Jesus did in the incarnation and invites us into as participants in his life with the Father in the Spirit.

After Christmas begins the season of Epiphany, when we begin to consider more about who this person Jesus Christ really is. What does it mean that God has come in Jesus Christ to live a truly human life? Why would this man of Middle Eastern descent, born of a virgin, raised by a carpenter, whom John believed was the sinless Messiah, come to the Jordan River and insist on being baptized?

From his birth on, Jesus’ human experience involved place-sharing. Part of Jesus’ truly human experience involved walking up to John that day at the Jordan River and being baptized by him for the remission of sins. Jesus’ heavenly Father commissioned John to call people to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, and in obedience to the word of the Father through John, Jesus came to be baptized—not for his own sake, but for the sake of every human being. Jesus immersed all of us in his own obedience to the Father and in his own baptism, including all of humanity in his sacrificial self-offering, in his death and resurrection.

Can you imagine the glow within the Father’s heart when he saw his beloved Son willingly identifying with us and offering himself in our place on our behalf? It is no wonder the Spirit descended so lovingly and the Father’s word of affirmation came in that moment, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” How delighted the Father was in his Son! He knew the extent of the sacrifice Jesus was making, having left the privileges of divinity behind to identify with us and participate with us in our messy, broken world, even when his Son knew the cost would be his own crucifixion at our hands.

John was blessed with the ability to see the divine gifting of Jesus for ministry which occurred in that moment. He had been told by God that the one upon whom the Spirit alighted as a dove would be the Messiah. And here, in this sacred moment, John bore witness to the anointing of Jesus by the Father in the Spirit for his mission and ministry in that very way. It was John’s blessed privilege to participate in what God was doing by bearing witness to the person Jesus Christ was as the Anointed One.

As Jesus began his messianic ministry, John heard stories of his miracles and teachings. As John bore up under the assault of the Roman government, he had to come to terms with Jesus’ focus on the Father’s mission and ministry. Was Jesus truly the Messiah? Was he truly the deliverer that his nation had longed for all these centuries?

The truth is, Jesus’ place-sharing went far beyond simply being baptized on behalf of all. In the everyday moments of his ministry and mission, Jesus joined people where they were, scandalizing the religious elite by hobnobbing with prostitutes and tax collectors. His friends and colleagues weren’t the upstanding, prestigious leaders of the community, but humble fishermen and down-to-earth people of all walks of life. Jesus touched the leprous and the dead, offering healing and restoration. Jesus embraced the sick and comforted the grieving, offering grace to the shamed and rejected, calling them up into a new life in right relationship with God and others. In every aspect of his life, Jesus embraced and shared life with others, without respect to their personhood or their position in the community.

Those who walked this life with Jesus bore witness to his place-sharing, and following his death and resurrection, began themselves to live and care for others as he did. In the book of Acts are stories of how those who were witnesses of Jesus’ place-sharing lived themselves in ways which involved joining people where they were to bring them into renewal and transformation. We see Philip on the road, joining with a gentleman who was not understanding what he was reading from Isaiah—and the resulting conversation ended in this man’s baptism.

Where might Jesus be inviting us to join with him in touching the life of another? Where might he be wanting us to enter in and become a part of someone else’s journey? How might we be able to share in what another person is going through, thereby offering God’s grace, compassion, and love in the midst of their suffering, sorrow, or need?

We all have been immersed in Jesus’ baptism and are given to share in his receiving of the Spirit for mission and ministry. Our tangible identification with Jesus Christ in his baptism, thereby in his death and resurrection, is by being baptized ourselves into the Father, Son, and Spirit, and becoming part of the body of Christ, the Church. We also tangibly identify with Jesus Christ and participate in Jesus’ baptism, thereby in his death and resurrection, as we ourselves participate in taking communion on a regular basis, eating bread and drinking wine (or grape juice) with other believers as a member of the body of Christ, the Church.

For many of us, joining a local expression of the Church isn’t easy, but we need to be a part of the body of Christ which is filled with the Spirit and actively participating with Jesus in caring for and loving others, if we want to grow in spiritual maturity and participate with others in place-sharing. Asking for God’s direction and guidance is a good place to start. And following the lead of the Spirit and the instruction of the Word of God, the Bible, is also helpful. In God’s good time, he will lead us to where he wants to nurture and care for us spiritually, as well as work through us to nurture and care for others.

Dear Abba, our heavenly Father, thank you for delighting in us as you delighted in your own Son, Jesus. Grant us the grace by your Spirit to fully participate with you as you bring healing, renewal, and reconciliation to this world, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Opening his mouth, Peter said: ‘I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)—you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”       Acts 10:34–43 NASB

“Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’ ”      Matthew 3:13–17 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/12/olitbeloved-of-the-father.pdf ]

[More devotionals may be found at https://lifeinthetrinity.blog ]

[Subscribe to Our Life in the Trinity YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/@ourlifeinthetrinity ]

From Small, Insignificant Beginnings

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By Linda Rex

June 13, 2021, PROPER 6—One of the things I learned years ago while still living on the farm was that although my husband participated in the growing process by preparing the soil, planting the seed, fertilizing and cultivating the soil, and applying pesticides and herbicides, the outcome of planting row crops was ultimately dependent upon forces over which we had no control. We could not predict how much sunshine or rain we would have, nor could we plan for out-of-season freezing temperatures, floods, or hailstorms.

There is something about working the land and caring for livestock that can keep a person humble and dependent upon God. When we are aware of the reality that only God really has control over the outcome, then we are actually in a very good place. In this place of trust and dependency, we can experience rest, trusting that God will make it all right in the end, creating a harvest beyond our expectations. Even if there is no harvest, we are still in a good place, because we are safely in the care of our Creator and Redeemer, who loves us and seeks our best.

Take a moment and contemplate the process of growing things. A small, insignificant brown seed, small enough to be lost in your hand, is placed in soil. This dirt, which rubs on our hands and into our jeans as we kneel on the ground, is full of microorganisms and living creatures. The little seed may simply rot away or die, or one day, when we least expect it, send forth a shoot and a root. Over time, this tiny fledgling plant will grow. We nurture it in whatever way we are able, encouraging it to survive and thrive in the sun, rain, and wind until it is harvest time. The neat thing about growing a plant from seed is, we begin with next to nothing and then, at harvest time, we have a multitude of seeds in return.

Jesus used an illustration of a sower and seed, as well as a mustard seed, in reference to the kingdom of God. The sower planted seed in the ground, and it sprouted and grew without his efforts, until harvest time. The mustard seed Jesus described next was a very tiny seed. But in a very short period of time, this plant sprouted and grew into a shrub up to twelve feet tall, with branches on which little birds could sit.

Jesus Christ, who was God present at that time in human flesh, was like an insignificant and tiny seed planted in the ground—a hidden mystery that would someday bear fruit. And just like the seed in these parables, Jesus was, in time, planted in a tomb, having been crucified in our place and on our behalf. The planting of this Seed, the Son of God in human flesh, is enabling the harvest of many children of God, a reality which will be fully manifest at the coming of Christ in glory.

The kingdom of God, his reign in human hearts, began with Jesus Christ planted in our human flesh, and is at work in this world right now by the Holy Spirit, and will culminate in the renewal of all things at Christ’s return. God has come to dwell in human hearts—our faith response, trusting in Christ and living in him—enables us to participate in this kingdom life right now and ultimately, in the new heavens and earth when all things are made new.

The problem we have as human beings is that we so often attempt to bring about the kingdom of God ourselves and on our own terms. We decide what the kingdom of God looks like and we work to bring it about under our own efforts. This has been true for millennia, with the resulting devastation and destruction of war, genocide, starvation, and slavery which accompany it. God never meant for us to bring about his kingdom under our own power, but for us to surrender to the lordship of the One, Jesus Christ, who brought it about in his person and who is present and active right now by his Spirit, working his kingdom into every part of this world.

We want to see active proof right now that Jesus is at work, whereas Christ said that we cannot see or control what the Spirit is doing—we can only see the ultimate results of it. That God is at work in this world by his Spirit is what we need to trust in—Jesus Christ is still present and is still Lord, even though it may seem to our eyes that God is indifferent to what is happening all around us.

What God is doing involves human hearts and minds—something which is hidden but still very important and real. In our world in which reason is worshipped and human achievements are celebrated and tangible, physical realities are preferred, the things of the Spirit and the human heart are often ignored, ridiculed, and rejected. But this makes them no less real.

We can deny that Jesus Christ ever lived, believe that the stories about him are simply religious myth, but we cannot escape the reality of a changed, transformed life in which Christ is the only redeeming factor. And a changed life does not necessarily mean that person is perfect—we are still humans in need of redemption even though our trajectory may have changed and we are finally turned in the right direction. When Christ by the Spirit goes to work in someone, they are never the same. But they are still free, able to make good or bad choices, and sometimes they are seduced by past passions, desires, or habits that cause them to fall. But they continue, daily, to turn to Jesus, trusting not in their own ability to get it right, but in the finished work of Christ and his intercession on their behalf, and in the power of his Spirit.

The divine Sower has planted Christ in humanity and given the Spirit. All is present for the growth of God’s reign in human hearts. We have a part to play—our response is important. What we trust in and build our life around is important. God invites us to cooperate with the grace God has given us in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul reminds us not to quench, resist, or grieve the Holy Spirit. We can choose to insult the Spirit of grace by continuing to live in the sinful ways God freed us from in Christ, or we can daily turn around and choose to live as the image-bearers of God we were meant to be. And yes, one day we will give an answer for our response to God’s gracious gift of eternal life.

But be encouraged. We “walk by faith, not by sight.” We are not what we once were—in Christ, we are new creatures (2 Cor. 5:6–10, 14–17). God is at work, the Seed has been sown, is being watered by the Spirit, and this new life is being nurtured and cared for by the Light of the world. We grow up in Christlikeness as we respond in faith, trusting in Christ’s finished work. And our hope is in the promise that what God has begun in us, he will finish. He is the trustworthy Sower who is working toward an abundant harvest, one in which we can participate by faith in the Seed he sowed.

Father, great Sower of the Seed, we thank you for your love, grace and faithfulness, and for what you are doing right now in and through us by your precious Spirit. It is your love which compels us to no longer live for ourselves, but for Jesus, who lived and died on our behalf. May your kingdom come, your will be done, here on earth as in heaven. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

“And He was saying, ‘The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.’  And He said, ‘How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that ‘the birds of the air’ can ‘nest under its shade.’ With many such parables He was speaking the word to them, so far as they were able to hear it; and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.”     Mark 4:26–34 NASB

With Jesus in the Wilderness

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By Linda Rex

February 21, 2021, 1st SUNDAY IN LENT [Easter Prep]—There is one thing which has become clear in my mind recently and that is that we as the body of Christ are in a time of wilderness wandering. In many ways we are being brought face to face with our fragility as humans in the face of powerful temptations such as those Jesus faced when he was led into the wilderness following his baptism. During this Lenten season as we move toward celebrating the events leading to the crucifixion and resurrection, we have the opportunity to reflect on our need and weakness in the midst of Jesus’ sufficiency and provision.

In the book of Mark we find the condensed version of Jesus’ early ministry. First he was baptized in the Jordan river by John the Baptizer, and as he came up out of the Jordan, his heavenly Father affirmed him as his beloved Son and the Spirit descended upon him in the tangible form of a dove. Mark tells us next that Jesus was driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan.

As Jesus was in a place in the wilderness which was filled with wild animals, so he was vulnerable and in danger, open to harm. During his wilderness experience, he went without food, causing him physical weakness. In the midst of this preliminary walk through death’s dark valley, he stood in opposition to God’s adversary, faithfully keeping his focus on his heavenly Father, and on his identification with all of humanity as God in human flesh, and on his purpose in laying down his life on behalf of all people.

We all, in ways similar to Jesus, experience the temptation to resolve our problems under our own power by taking matters into our own hands or manipulating people and circumstances to accomplish what we believe needs to happen. Jesus, being extremely hungry from fasting for several days, was challenged to prove he was Son of God by turning stones into bread—something he could have easily done simply with a word, since he was the Word of God in human flesh. But to do so would have caused him to cease to identify with you and me in our weakness and need, our human frailty and weakness. Jesus instead drew upon the written word of God to combat this temptation, saying that we as humans are not to live only by bread we put in our mouths, but by every word of the living God.

We all love magical solutions to our problems, a simple app to resolve our difficulties. But we often miss out on a deeper solution which goes down into the very core of our being. The real difficulty often lies in our refusal to believe that we can’t work it out somehow—we keep believing we can solve it, if we just try a little harder, or change things up a little, or maybe find a better way of doing what we’ve been doing. However, we often need to come to the simple realization that we are powerless—we do not have within us the capacity to heal ourselves, to fix things, to make things the way they need to be.

We need to embrace the truth that we need a power greater than ourselves—we need a savior or rescuer to deliver us. Jesus expressed this truth on our behalf when he chose to honor his own humanity by depending upon his heavenly Father to care for him, rather than solving his temporary need for food by using his hidden divine capacity to turn stones into bread. Following the confrontation in this story, we find that Jesus had angels tending to his needs, providing for him as he recovered from his conflict with the evil one—which proved the point that he did not need to do this himself under his own power—his Father faithfully provided.

In the midst of these challenging times, as we struggle with the pandemic and accompanying financial and political stress, are we questioning God’s goodness and faithfulness? Are we testing God with poor decisions and irresponsibility, attempting to make him prove to us that he loves us and wants what is best for us? Jesus himself was tempted by the evil one to prove he was the beloved Son of God by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple, trusting that the angels would catch him. The adversary even used scripture in an effort to prove to Jesus that he should do this. To jump in this way would have tested his Father’s goodness and faithfulness—something Jesus refused to do. Like Jesus, we need to refuse to test God, choosing instead simply to trust and obey him, and walk each moment in loving obedience to him in spite of how difficult or dangerous our experiences may be at the moment.

Again, the Son of God did not need to prove his Father’s love and faithfulness—he was confident of it, having experienced it since before time began. But as a human being, the temptation was there and was real. We may have walked with God for many years, and have experienced his love and faithfulness through many circumstances and situations. But in this time of crisis, have we lost our confidence in God’s goodness and love? Will we simply trust that he has our best interests in mind and is still watching out for us and providing for us even though the evidence seems to show otherwise? Or will we take matters into our own hands and try to work it out ourselves?

Finally, Jesus faced the third temptation—that of being offered the all kingdoms of the world if he would just bow and worship the evil one. This temptation is not unique to him, but is one we each face as children of the Father. Surely we all have had opportunities where we were promised the world, if we just did that one thing which was unjust, unholy, inhumane, or unloving. How often have we traded in our eternal glory for the transient glories of this world? We are not alone as we face this temptation—we turn to Jesus who knew and gave the perfect response which silenced the enemy.

Jesus was thrown out by the Spirit into the wilderness. And we can see that while he was there, he faced the reality of what it meant to be truly human and to face the evil one’s temptations, while he was at his weakest and most vulnerable. In identifying with us in the wilderness, Jesus joins with us as we wander through our own wilderness times.

Experience this Lenten season or preparation for Easter as a wilderness journey, similar to Israel’s forty years in the wilderness with God, and Jesus’ own forty days in the wilderness battling the evil one. During this time, we may choose to fast or practice other spiritual disciplines as a participation with Christ in his own wilderness experience. We may want to spend extra time in reflection and humble repentance, acknowledging our need and weakness, and our dependency upon God. We may want to surrender ourselves anew to the purposes and will of our heavenly Father, trusting in him for provision, healing, renewal, and restoration, through Jesus Christ and by his Spirit. As we wander through these forty days of Lent or Easter preparation, let’s draw near to God as he draws near to us, resist the evil one as Christ resisted him, and rest in God’s faithfulness, grace and loving care.

Dear Father, thank you for always being with us in every circumstance, caring for us and strengthening us even when we are at our weakest. Thank you, Jesus, for being with us in the middle of our temptations and struggles, enabling us to resist the evil one and endure whatever may come our way. Spirit, grant us renewal, refreshment, and transformation, as we turn to Christ in faith, praying in his holy name. Amen.

“Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.’ Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.” Mark 1:10-13 NASB

See also 1 Peter 3:18–22.

Consequences and the Final Cure

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By Linda Rex

I remember when my children were toddlers how difficult it was to help them to understand not to touch the oven door on the stove when I was baking something. I would explain that it was hot. I would tell them “No!” when they reached toward it. And I would tell them they would hurt themselves if they touched it.

Even with all the explaining, instructions, and prohibitions, invariably they would reach out and touch the door of the oven. Then I would have to deal with sore fingers and tears and all the ramifications of their disobedience. I did not want them to get their fingers burned and took every precaution so they wouldn’t, but because of their stubborn willfulness they experienced pain and suffering as a consequence of their decision to touch the hot stove.

At no point, though, did my relationship with them change. They were still my beloved children and I was still committed to their well-being and health. I still did my best to guard and protect them and provide for them in spite of their disobedience and resistance to my will. They may have felt my anger and concern regarding the danger they were facing and the harm their disobedience was causing. But on my side, my love and care and gracious compassion, were unaltered.

There is something about the human heart that leads us into trouble and causes us to do things which in the end cause pain, heartache, and suffering. I don’t believe God has to go around punishing us all the time for “being bad” because most of the time we and those around us already suffer the consequences of the unhealthy and unloving things we say and do. God can quite easily give to us “according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds” without lifting a finger. Life deals us all the blows we need and more, and if it doesn’t, we can trust in due time God will see that all is made right.

We know this because of Jesus Christ. Jesus, who stands in our place and on our behalf, experienced the consequences of our sick hearts as humans who turned away from their Creator and Lord and turned toward themselves and the works of their hands. It seems that God was willing to let us be stubborn and willful and to do things our own way even if it meant the Son he gave us died at our hands.

It’s not like God didn’t give us any guidance or instruction. God went to the effort to create a nation whom he bound himself to in a covenant relationship. He taught this people, and in them the world, how to live in loving relationship with him and with one another. We look at the law as being prescriptive—something we’re supposed to do. Rather, the law was meant to be descriptive—it describes what it looks like when people live in loving relationship with God and one another and how gracious God is when we fall short.

This means that God told us what it looks like to participate in the loving relationship he has existed within for all eternity—in perichoretic oneness, in mutual submission, in interpenetrating unity of being—three Persons in one Being. This is the image of God we were created to reflect. This is the image we were made to bear in our own relationships with God and each other.

Even Moses understood that the human heart resists living in this way. He knew that what was needed for the nation of Israel was a change of heart, because their natural human response to God was resistance, rejection, and disobedience. The human heart, our human flesh, when left to itself seeks only its own pleasure and will, not God’s. We, quite naturally, give ourselves over to the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.”

God never intended for us to live in this way. He knew we would choose this way of being, so he planned from before time began to provide us with a new heart and mind, a new way of being. Jesus voluntarily offered himself so we could one day be freed from our carnal humanity and be given a new heart and mind grounded in God himself.

Our very act of resistance toward God in crucifying Jesus was part of God’s plan of salvation. Indeed, in dying our death in our place and on our behalf and at our hands, Jesus crucified once and for all our human proclivity towards rebellion, disobedience, and stubborn willfulness. Our sick human heart was regrounded in Christ’s perfect heart of obedience, submission, and service. In Christ, we died to sin and death, and rose to new life. We have been given Christ’s new heart of love—in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit God has, through Christ, given us new hearts and minds.

So the apostle Paul says things like, “put on the new self (Eph. 4:24)”, or “since you’ve been raised with Christ, keep seeking things above (Col. 3:1)”, “put on a heart of compassion, kindness… (Col. 3:9)”. We are “being transformed … from glory to glory… (2 Cor. 3:18)”, as we turn to Christ in faith and the Spirit reforms us in the image of Christ. Who we really are—those perfected in Christ as imagebearers of God—is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). There might not be a whole lot of outward evidence of change, but God’s still at work. On his end it’s a done deal, while on ours it’s a work in progress.

In Christ, God wrote his law, his way of being, on human hearts. As we respond to the work of the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves living in the truth of who we are—God’s beloved children who reflect his likeness, who have his heart and mind. We have been given a new heart and God has written on it through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension a new way of being, which includes a desire to live in loving relationship with God and one another.

There is a new existence we participate in through Jesus in the Spirit. What we struggle with is, we believe we are still slaves to sin. We believe we are evil at our core and so God is opposed to us and against us. This is the lie we have been taught in so many ways. But the truth is, we have always been upheld by God in our human existence, and we have been rescued and redeemed by Christ. Any barrier we or the evil one may have placed between us and God has been removed by Jesus Christ. We have been made, are being made, and will be made one with God through Christ in the Spirit.

We have been given the ultimate cure for the sick human heart—Jesus Christ—and he is written there by the Holy Spirit. We are blessed as we live in the truth of this and so, as we participate in Christ’s perfect relationship with his Abba in the Spirit, we experience all the benefits of having a new heart and mind. The beauty of all this is the love God puts in our heart for him and one another. He empowers us to live in loving relationships and to do what is kind, compassionate, and truthful. He inspires heartfelt obedience and genuine humility as we turn to him in faith.

In all things, then, he receives the glory and praise. He is the divine Physician—the One who has provided and does provide the ultimate cure to our diseased human heart. If we never acknowledge our illness, it will be difficult for us to experience the cure. We may as well admit to the truth of our need for his transforming work in us. We can participate in his healing work by keeping a daily appointment with him and allowing him to do what is needed to transform our hearts by faith.

Dear Abba, thank you for doing all you can to keep us from unnecessary suffering, pain, and sorrow. We know we are so often the cause of this in our lives. Thank you for giving us your Son so we could be healed of our sick hearts and be given your own heart and mind. May your Spirit continue to transform our hearts by faith and bring us fully into the fullness of Christ. We praise and thank you for your goodness to us and your faithful love through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.” Jeremiah 17:9-10 NASB

Back to the Who of Jesus

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by Linda Rex

One of the hazards of being a pastor, I am learning, is receiving emails from concerned people who diligently attempt to correct what I believe and teach. For the most part, the emails I have received from these people directly contradict sound theology and attempt to persuade me to believe some esoteric prophecy about the end of the world coming at a particular time in the near future. And of course, none of these things have happened as predicted in these emails.

I received one of these emails recently in which the author boldly declared a new prediction of upcoming events in the light of what occurred with the ministry and death of Herbert Armstrong. I won’t go into what he believes or predicts because it is not worth your time or mine to review it, but I was struck by his statement that with Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, Jesus is no longer the Son of Man, but is today only the Son of God.

I’m sorry to hear he believes this. It is a useful belief for him, because in his predictions, saying the Son of Man is Jesus would contradict what he believes. It does away with what he believes is going to happen in the future. Apparently, it seems to me, it is inconvenient for him to believe the risen Jesus Christ is today, both the Son of God and the Son of Man.

Personally, I feel it is very important we understand who Jesus Christ is. Understanding who he is as the Son of God and the Son of Man establishes a basis for our belief in God and who he is, and what he is doing in the world today and will do in the future. If we do not grasp who Jesus is as the God/man who delivered us from sin and death, how can we understand ourselves and who we are? How can we understand who God is, and how much he loves us and desires to have a relationship with us?

Believe me, I cannot be critical of anyone who sees this whole thing differently from me. There was a time in my life when I had no clue of the significance of Jesus being both the Son of God and the Son of Man. I don’t think I even knew what this meant. I had no idea of the fundamental nature of this belief, much less how the early church came, by the Spirit’s direction, to establish the boundaries around this doctrine.

For this reason I am very grateful for my classes at Grace Communion Seminary on the history of the church since the time of Christ. So much I had been taught as I grew up in Worldwide Church of God was not true, or at the least, very misguided. The more I learned, the more I began to see how the Spirit worked to bring the church (and no, back then it was not the Roman Catholic Church or any other specific church. It was just the universal body of believers.) into a unified understanding of the nature of God and Jesus Christ, and the central core beliefs surrounding this truth.

In one of my textbooks, “What Christians Believe: A Biblical and Historical Summary” by Johnson and Webber, the authors quote a rule of faith which appeared at the same time in various parts of the Roman Empire toward the end of the second century. I’d like to quote it here:

“[We believe] in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father.” (p128, 129)

Even back then, while there were still people who were closely related to those who had known, heard and seen Christ, there was the understanding of the humanity of Jesus continuing on after his death into a glorified humanity. It was important to the body of believers to stress this because of the Gnostic heresy which was pressing in upon them.

The authors go on to say, “The rule of faith clearly affirmed an enfleshed God. Jesus Christ, it proclaimed, is no apparition, but a true human being who lived in the flesh, died in the flesh, and rose in the flesh. In this affirmation the church made a statement that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man.” (p. 129)

This, of course, was hammered out then in greater detail as the earlier church fathers met and began to clarify just what the incarnation of Jesus Christ involved, and what occurred before and after his crucifixion and resurrection. And fundamental to this discussion was, “Who is and was Jesus Christ?” The conclusions drawn from the Chalcedon council in 451 A.D. clarified the creed, and spoke of Jesus Christ as having two natures present in one person.

Of course, there has always been some debate as to the nature of Jesus’ person—how can someone be both God and man at the same time? What does this mean? Does he only have God’s will, or does he have a human will as well?

These are all great questions and worth consideration, but we need to consider some of these things pertain to the divine mystery of God’s transcendent being. Subsequent councils discussed and hashed out many things. There were disagreements and contradictions, and errors were made. At times, believers, especially those with more naturalistic or liberal interpretations, have drifted away from this fundamental belief about Who Jesus was.

In recent years, Karl Barth challenged these views and called the church back to an understanding of God being present in Jesus Christ in his human flesh, and in this way drawing all humanity up into true relationship in his resurrection and ascension. In spite of the Gnostic and other heresies which continue to raise their heads, there are believers today who hold to the understanding that Jesus was indeed God the Word present in human flesh, who both was and is God and man, and who has not ceased to be the Son of man now that he is risen from the dead.

I believe it was Athanasius who said, “The unassumed is the unhealed.” If Jesus did not and does not bear our humanity now, as he did then, then we as human beings have no hope. I agree with Johnson and Webber who write, “We stand in the historical tradition and affirm that our Savior was fully divine, for only God can save, and we affirm that our Savior is fully human, for only that which he became in the Incarnation is saved (salvation requires one who is fully man to represent us).” (p. 146)

I worship a God who is so holy and pure and just he is able to take on our humanity and transform it into something completely new. If he had and has the capacity to take on our humanity, to “be sin” on our behalf, he has the capacity to remove our sins and to make us new, uniting us with himself in his own being as Jesus Christ, the God/man. And as Jesus himself said, “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matt. 19:6) Let’s not separate God from us as humanity, for he has joined himself to us forever in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Thank you, Father, for your great love, and your faithfulness in fulfilling your covenant with humanity and with Israel. Thank you that in Christ and by the Spirit, you took on our humanity and transformed it, and you have brought us up in Christ’s glorified humanity to participate in your divine life and love forever. Open our hearts and minds to fully grasp and receive the truth of your loving gift to us of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, who lives forever in glory with you, and your precious Spirit, by whom you dwell in us. In your Name we pray, amen.

“You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.” 1 John 3:5 NASB

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15 NASB

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB

“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” 1 John 3:2 NASB

Losing My Identity, or Finding It

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by Linda Rex

This afternoon I was wandering about in a car lot in the blazing hot sun trying to find a particular automobile. I had spent hours researching this project and I was determined to find what I believed would be the solution to my transportation issues. I was growing hotter and sweatier and no closer to my goal, and was beginning to think the whole thing was a bad idea, when a young man in a golf cart stopped me and asked if he could help.

I was grateful to be allowed to explain my dilemma and to take a seat in the shade of the cart’s canopy. My simple request was one he was immediately able to offer me an acceptable answer to. And in the end, the result of his helpful assistance was I ended up in the showroom filling out documents which would ultimately lead to me being the happy new owner of another pre-owned car.

As I was filling out this form and that form, and handing over my license and credit card, and giving my personal information, I grew more and more nervous. I don’t like having to give a perfect stranger this type of information. How do I know whether they will use it only for the purpose for which it is intended? With all the stories I’ve heard about identity theft, I get the willies about freely disbursing my personal information.

My only hope is in the mercy of a loving God. Dear Lord, I thought, please make them blind to what they see, deaf to what they hear and forgetful to what they’ve had access to. It’s kind of chilling for me to be putting myself at someone’s mercy in this way. My only hope is a gracious God looking out for me.

Later I got to thinking about this whole situation and about my discomfort with it. So much is bound up in our identity nowadays. We can’t get a job without certain documents, and we can’t make purchases or have a bank account without specific documentation.

Our identity seems to be boiled down to a social security number, a birth certificate, a passport or a driver’s license. Our place in the world, and our ability to function in this culture, is based on a few facts, numbers and letters. All it takes it is someone to “borrow” that information and we’re sunk.

This put me in mind of what is written in Genesis about our beginnings as human beings. We were made in the image of the God who is Father, Son and Spirit. This God said we are made to live in loving relationship with him and one another, and as men and women, to be like him. And he declared this creation to be “very good”.

Isn’t it interesting what the serpent said to the man and the woman—that if they ate of the tree which was forbidden, their eyes would be opened and they would be like God? I am grateful to the person who reminded me of what God had done in the first place—human beings already were like God—they were made in God’s image. So they did not need to eat anything to become what they already were!

It seems we as human beings have spent millennia trying to become what God has already declared we are. And God came in human flesh to finish what he began by making humanity in his image. In fact, in Hebrews it says Jesus Christ was the exact replica of his Father. In Jesus, our humanity takes on its most perfect form, and he, by the Spirit, is working this out in each of us, making us into the humanity we were meant to be—made in the image of God.

Our identity—something we are usually so busy trying to create and protect—is not really bound up in all the things we think it is bound up in. Yes, we need ways to function in this culture so we can buy, sell, interact and do all the things we do as humans. But even so, our real identity is not something external to us, or something which can be placed upon us. Our identity is not determined by other people, or by our feelings and desires, or by our parents. Our identity is so much more fundamental than that.

Being made in the image of the God who called himself “I Am” means we as human beings are all who God declares we are. The evil one constantly tries to tell us, as he did Adam and Eve, we are not, and we believe him. Just take a minute to think about all the times you, and I, have believed the lying tapes which run in our heads and say, “I am not smart; I am not pretty; I am not loveable; I am going to amount to anything; I am not good.”

These lying tapes even tell us what we are: “I am a jerk; I am worthless; I am a failure.” It seems the evil one always knows exactly what to tell us about who we are so we will be stopped from being those things which truly reflect the divine glory which is ours. He doesn’t want us to shine with the image of God, and so he does everything he can to divert our attention from the truth that we already are God’s image bearers, and in Christ we can live like we are by the Spirit.

The evil one seeks to steal, besmirch and destroy our identity every chance he gets. He even uses human beings to take from us what is rightfully ours, so we lose faith in ourselves, our world, and even our God. How devastating to lose our identity! And yet most of us don’t realize we haven’t lost the identity God gave us when he created us, and which he redeemed through his Son Jesus.

God knows who we really are. And he constantly speaks to us through his Spirit and his Word, reminding us of the reality we are his adopted children, made in his image to reflect his nature and to share in his love and life. This is the truth, and all the evil one’s efforts to steal this from us are fruitless. Because in Jesus, God has bound us to himself with cords of love, and has reaffirmed in his Son we reflect the exact image of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Our true identity is secure in Jesus Christ. And that, we can count on.

Thank you, Father, for determining from the beginning we would reflect your image and likeness. Thank you for sending your Son to become human as we are human so our broken humanity might be redeemed and restored to reflect your glory. Thank you we share in your identity even now. And even though someone may steal from us the items which we use to identify ourselves in this world, we are still secure in our true identity as your image bearers. Comfort us with your tender, protective care—watch over your children and keep us and those things which are ours, safe. Defend us. Our trust is in you, through your Son Jesus. Amen.

“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:27 NASB

Sharing the Same Earth

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By Linda Rex

Lent: This morning I am sitting in the office of the social security administration, waiting to finish up some business regarding my mother’s estate. As I sit in the hard, plastic chair, I look around me. People of all shapes, sizes, colors and ages are all waiting too, anxiously eyeing the board to see if they will be helped next.

It seems all of us waiting have a common concern this morning—having our particular need met by a government agency staffed with human beings like us. Each of us sitting here has our own unique story, and our own special problem we need help with. We each want to be heard, and we each want to receive a solution to our own dilemma.

At a window nearby a lady raises her voice. She is frustrated because she is having to state her personal affairs out loud because, she thinks, the agent won’t read her paperwork. The agent continues to quietly help her, doing her best to understand the lady’s situation. Unfortunately, there are laws and restrictions that prevent the agent from being able to do what the lady wants done, so the lady becomes angry and leaves.

When we are out in the midst of life, interacting with others, we come up against people who are very different from us. Our uniqueness meets up with their uniqueness. This can cause friction, misunderstandings and/or pain. Or it can be an opportunity for one to help or strengthen or bless the other.

I recall a conversation I had last night where I was owning up to my tendency to be more spontaneous and easy-going than I am organized and controlled about my affairs. When I come up against someone who is very precise, disciplined and organized, I can drive them crazy if I don’t make some effort to be considerate of our differences. It is important to make room for one another and not to expect everyone to be the same as we are.

We can get so bent out of about our differences that we miss the most important realization of all: even though we each have unique stories and ways of being, we also at the same time share a common humanity. We need to remember that all of us come out of the same earth as Adam. The same elements which composed his body are those which exist in ours. The same Spirit who breathed life into him breathes life into each one of us. And the same God who created and sustains each of us came and lived as a human being just like each one of us.

As I sat last night and watched the preview of the new movie “Young Messiah”, I was touched again by the realization of the humanity of Jesus as a young child. I have so many questions about what it was like for him: What was it like to be moved from one country to another as his family traveled from Egypt and settled in Nazareth? How was he able to grow up and come to a realization of who he was, while at the same time dealing with Satan’s constant efforts to kill and destroy him? When did Jesus realize that he was not just Joseph’s child, but was the Son of God? How did he feel when his stepfather Joseph passed away and he became the leader of his family in his place?

The battle Jesus fought in his humanity began at birth. I’m sure the angels were kept very busy watching over him as he grew up. When I think of all the children around the world today who lose their innocence and/or their lives on a daily basis due to man’s inhumanity to man, it is a miracle indeed that Jesus, living in the Roman Empire, grew up to be the man he was. But having been a child, experiencing the things he experienced, Jesus could with a warm and tender heart hold children near and bless them when he was an adult. He knew what it was like to grow up in a dark, scary and dangerous world.

I have a hard time believing as a child Jesus was someone who took everything seriously and walked about preaching and praying all the time. I’m more inclined to believe he reveled in his heavenly Father’s creation—running through the fields, wading in the streams and chasing after the butterflies just as my children did when they were little. I’m also inclined to believe Jesus enjoyed living and so he laughed, joked with his friends, and played just like you and I do.

Talking and thinking about Jesus’ humanity does not diminish him in any way. If anything, it makes him more amazing and worthy of our adoration and praise. Through Jesus we can begin to find a commonality with God rather than just a separateness and uniqueness. Humanity is completely other than God, but God took on humanity in Jesus Christ so that we would be and are connected with God in the very core of our being—God in human flesh, transforming humanity from the inside out so that we can dwell forever with he who is completely other than us.

Jesus was not just a vague human being without distinction. He was born and raised in a specific culture and in a specific area of the world. He was a particular race and a particular gender. This does not mean that he did not identify with others different than himself, but rather that no matter who we are in the specific way of our being, Jesus was that for us. He identified with us in our unique situation, in our unique time, place and circumstance. Because he understood the context of his specific life, he understands the context of each of ours.

Unlike the agent sitting in the booth waiting to hear another person’s concerns, Jesus is present and able to hear each and all of our concerns at every moment because he God. And he is present and able to understand and act in our best interests in every situation because he has experienced our humanity and shares it even now.

Wherever we are and in whatever situation we may find ourselves, we can trust we are not there all by ourselves. God has come through Christ and in the Spirit to live in human hearts. He is working to complete Christlikeness in each of us, because Christlikeness is our perfected, glorified humanity which Christ lived out here on earth which is poured out into each of us by the Holy Spirit.

We have nothing to fear, because whatever road we are on, Christ has walked it and will walk it with us all the way through to death and resurrection. We don’t have to get anxious that God won’t call our number in time—he’s got each of us covered—he knows us intimately. We don’t have to get upset if we aren’t helped immediately—he’s already working in our situation even though we may not see or recognize this is true. And we can trust that he understands the details and will do what’s best for us, no matter how things may appear to us at the moment.

Holy Father, grant that we each might be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus so that we may all with one voice glorify you. May we accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us, so you might be glorified in us. [Rom. 15:5-7] Thank you that before time began you chose to adopt us as your children through your Son Jesus Christ, and even when we were so terribly human and unlike you, you became like us so we could participate in your divine nature. [Eph. 1:5-6; 2:4-7] Grant us the grace to love one another as you have loved us, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:19–22 NASB

My Next of Kin

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By Linda Rex
When I was growing up, I believed I had very few relatives. I vaguely remember meeting my grandparents when I was little and a couple aunts and uncles and cousins on occasion, but the first time I recall meeting any significant number of my relations was when I was thirteen. Even then, I had no grasp of what it meant to be a part of an extended family with all the relational dynamics that go with it.

It wasn’t until I began dating my husband to be and I married into his family that I began to experience what it is like to be a part of an extended family who lived within the confines of a small community. I remember on drives around the local area, they would point out a significant number of relations of theirs, whether near relations or shirt-tail relations, and they would tell me a little about each of these relatives’ particular story. I was amazed to see who was related to whom and found myself quite nervous about possibly saying the wrong thing to the wrong person and creating a relational and community disaster in the process.

This type of community and family situation is much like the one Jesus grew up in. In Nazareth, no doubt, everyone knew everyone else, and their relationships were all intertwined as children grew up together, married and had children who repeated the process. In his day the family and continuation of the family line were of paramount importance. As the elder son he had responsibilities to his family which he was expected to fulfill, and part of those involved having a sense of loyalty to his family and a commitment to their goals and expectations.

However, early on, beginning with his experience at the temple when he was twelve, we see Jesus beginning to differentiate between his relationship with his parents and his family, and his relationship with his heavenly Father in the Spirit. He may have helped his mother with the wine supply issue at a local wedding, but he did so in such a way that reminded her and others of who he was as the Messiah. It must have been very hard for Mary to have her dear son draw this kind of a line in her relationship with him, but we see from early church history that eventually she understood and accepted the reality of who he really was.

Jesus’ family was not always supportive of his ministry. In fact, at one point they tried to force him to come with them and said, in effect, “You are out of your mind!” Then there was the time when Jesus was speaking to the crowds and his family came to see him. Someone told him they were outside waiting to speak with him and he replied, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” Talk about a slap in the face!

But he wasn’t trying to be insulting. Instead, he was making a point about the centrality of relationships to the gospel—that we are all related to the Father through him in the Spirit. He is the Son of the heavenly Father, and those who live in the same perichoretic, mutually submissive, harmonic manner in which the Father and Son live in the Spirit, are his close relatives—his next of kin.

There are benefits to being Jesus’ next of kin, you know. One of the significant reasons this is a good thing is because Jesus, being our next of kin due to sharing in our humanity, has the right of redemption.

The people of Israel understood what it meant to be a close kinsman with the right of redemption. That meant that when a person lost property due to debt or lack of heirs, the kinsman could and often would buy it back for them—it was not supposed to be allowed to go into anyone else’s permanent possession—it was supposed to stay in the family. The story of Ruth gives a good description of what it was like to have a near relative redeem your land which you lost due to not having heirs to give it to.

God created you and me to bear the image of the Father, Son and Spirit. We chose instead to define our own image of God, and to follow our own way of being instead of reflecting the Being of the living God. In many ways we did, have and still do damage to our inheritance as God’s children, and have incurred tremendous physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual consequences we seem to only be making worse as time goes along. Our debts to God are impossible to pay, both collectively and individually, especially since we refuse to quit incurring them.

It is instructive that God’s way of entering into our impossible situation was to join us with himself by taking on our humanity. He became as closely related to us as he could possibly be. He became our nearest relative by sharing with us in our human existence—joining with his creation as a creature in human flesh (John 1:14; Heb. 2:11, 14-15, 17). He even did this to the extent that God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:12). Now that is taking his kinship to us seriously!

Being fully human as we are human does not in any way diminish Jesus’ divinity. Rather, it is the tension of the two—that Jesus is both fully human and divine—that enables Jesus to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.

As your closest kinsman and mine, Jesus bought back our inheritance as God’s adopted children. Running out to meet us as his prodigal children, in Jesus the Father welcomes us home and is throwing us a great celebration. All that he has is ours in the gift of the Spirit—the indwelling Christ lives the life in us by the Spirit we were created to live as we respond to him in faith.

Some of us were not blessed with big happy families to include us and to surround us with love. For many of us being a part of our family of origin has not been a blessing or a joyful experience. The miracle of God’s grace to us in Christ is that we are all included in God’s family.

And God meant for those who believe to live together in such a way that they reflect the divine life and love, and become a family of love and grace who embraces the lost, lonely, broken and needy people who are looking for a home. If God can embrace and welcome broken, sinful humanity into his family by sharing in our broken, sinful flesh, and living and dying for us, how can we do any less for others?

Perhaps it is time that we stop the “us and them” way of thinking, and start practicing the reality formed in Christ that we are all “members of one another” (Eph. 4:25) We are all brothers, sisters and mothers in Christ, children of the Father, bound together in the Spirit. We are all kinfolk. Perhaps if we believed and behaved according to the truth of who we really are as God’s beloved, adopted and redeemed children, we might find the world becoming an entirely different place in which to live.

Heavenly Father, thank you that you have given us your Son to share in our humanity and to redeem us and bring us back into the right relationship with you which you foreordained for us to have before time began. Forgive us that too often we ignore and hide ourselves away from you and from each other. Grant us the grace to live according to the truth that we are your beloved, redeemed children made to reflect your image, and that we are all joined to one another in Jesus Christ. May we love others as you have loved us, through Christ and in your Spirit. Amen.

“While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.’ But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.’” Matthew 12:46–50 NASB

A Chance Meeting With My Sister

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Colorful pumpkins and mums--fall's here!
Colorful pumpkins and mums–fall’s here!

By Linda Rex

I was waiting in line at the post office the other day, waiting to pick up a letter I needed to sign for. The postal employee who was helping the people at the kiosks asked if anyone in line was picking up a package. I waved my little form in hopes he would help me out.

It was at this point I realized the lady behind me had waved her card too. But he told me to come first and then indicated that he would help her next. Behind me I heard her make some rather loud remarks about “rednecks”—apparently the lady was upset because he didn’t help her first.

As we moved over to the gentleman who was helping us, he asked if we were sisters. Before I could answer, the lady began a diatribe about how she was from Bristol, England, and she had lived in five states and hated Tennessee the most. She began to deride the people of Tennessee in a loud voice. I just tried to keep a friendly, calm demeanor, smiling at her when she looked at me. I wasn’t sure how to respond since she was clearly upset. The wise postal employee made himself scarce, and everyone in the line did their best to ignore the rude comments.

An older gentleman, when he finished at the counter, paused next to the lady and told her in a kind but firm voice that he took offense at her insults of the fine people of Tennessee. She grabbed her bag and scurried away around me, trying to avoid him. She repeated her criticisms, and his parting words to her as he left were in essence, “If you don’t like it here in Tennessee, you should leave.” To this she replied, “If I could afford to, I would.”

She and I returned to our waiting positions, and that inner voice we don’t always want to listen to said to me, “You know, she is your sister—in Christ.” I felt like I wanted to say something to her about this but the words stuck in my throat.

At this point the postal employee called the lady over for her letter and apologized to her for the wait. She grabbed her letter and left with whatever dignity she could muster. She was still clearly upset.

“I’m sorry,” he said to me. “I thought you two were related. You looked like you were sisters.”

“No,” I replied. “I don’t know her. I’ve never met her before.”

I signed for the letter from the funeral home, and left. As I stepped out of the rear door of the post office, I looked across the parking lot. She was sitting in her car and she was crying. The irony which struck me at that moment was that this woman who was so rude to me and to everyone else, was the same woman who I had let go first when it was clearly my right-of-way into the post office driveway.

In spite of all she had said and done, my heart went out to her. She was clearly in distress, but my presence and knowledge of that fact seemed to only be making things worse.

I left, but that whole conversation stuck in my mind. I joked about it later, telling people that I was finally a real Tennessean now—a true redneck apparently. But what kept echoing in my mind were those phrases: “She is your sister—in Christ”, and “I don’t know her.”

Later on as I pondered this experience I thought of those three conversations that Peter had when Jesus was on trial. Three times he denied Christ—“I don’t even know the man,” he said. This one, Jesus, who said Peter was his brother and his friend, Peter refused even to acknowledge.

Jesus said that when we welcome another person in love and compassion, we are welcoming him. To call this lady my sister was to acknowledge Jesus Christ and all he has done and is doing to bind all humanity to himself in his human flesh through his life, death, resurrection and ascension. She is as Christ is to me—bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh—we are one in Jesus Christ.

To deny that relationship in essence is to deny Christ. To reject her or to refuse to have compassion on her in her need is to close my heart to the Spirit’s call to love her with the love of the Father for his Son.

This was just an everyday happening in my life. Nothing to get too excited about or beat myself up about. But through the lens of eternity, it can be seen in an entirely new way.

Here, in view of the kingdom of God, is a fellow citizen—someone who may or may not know that their place of birth is in the Son—a birthplace they share with all humanity. As a sister to this person, I have the opportunity—no, the challenge—to acquaint her with the truth about her beginnings, her real family, the place where she truly belongs. Why should I be silent about so great a thing?

This is the good news we share. We are all one in Christ Jesus—God has claimed us as his own in spite of our brokenness and sin. He has said that he would not be God without us—and he made sure of that by giving us himself in the Son and in the Spirit. Each person we meet is truly and completely loved by God and forgiven whether they deserve it or not—and most of the time, if they are like me, they don’t deserve it.

More and more God is leading me to pray a simple prayer as I go about my daily life asking God to show me what he has for me to do or say in each moment. As my friend Steve calls them—I ask God for “spiritual conversations”. I ask God to set me up and to give me the words to say and the courage and wisdom to say them in the right time and in the right way.

Our confession of Christ is in our common humanity that we share with him and with one another. We cannot and must not stand aloof from one another, even though there may be a fear in our hearts that the person we are helping may harm or hurt us. We can be wise and have healthy boundaries with people, but at the same time God calls us to tear down our barriers and to truly love one another from the heart in the same way he loves us through his Son Jesus Christ. May we be faithful in so doing.

Holy Father, thank you for not rejecting us but rather calling us your very own. Thank you, Jesus, that you call us your brothers and sisters, and your friends. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for being our Paraclete—the One who comes alongside us to share in every sorrow, joy, struggle and celebration. Thank you, God, that you are faithful and true, and you have made us all to be one with you and each other, and to live together forever in love. Through Jesus and in your Spirit we pray. Amen.

“Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 10:32–33 NASB

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” Matthew 25:34–40 NASB