humanity

Telling Your Story

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by Linda Rex

How important is it for us to tell our story? Do we even have a story worth telling? Sometimes we expend all our energy trying to hide from others, and telling our story is the last thing we want to be caught doing.

I would imagine that the first approach we would all take to telling our story would be to talk about all the things we have done in our lives, and what we are doing today. But I believe we need to rethink this whole approach and begin to approach telling our story, and indeed all of our life, from the point of view of our being rather than our doing.

The reason I say we need to approach our story, and our life, from this point of view, is we do not consist of our doing—what we do does not determine who we are. It is rather who we are which determines what we do.

When we read a story about a person who does something amazing or dangerous, we often find ourselves asking, “Why did he do that?” or “What made her decide to attempt that?” We want to know the reason, the motive, behind the doing. In other words, we want to know about the person’s being which caused them to do the doing.

It is unfortunate our culture today is so obsessed with productivity. Unless someone is a productive part of society, they seem to have no value or place in this world. Those who are unable, due to health issues, or age, or some type of disability, to do what a “normal” person would do are easily cast aside or ignored. They become a problem, a burden on society, rather than a reason for care and concern.

This is because of our focus on the “doing” of life. Rather than valuing the being of a person, we value what they can produce, what they can do, and how they can contribute to society. If we do focus at all on their being, it is in regards to how well they can perform. In other words: Are they gifted? Are they intelligent? Are they extremely well skilled? This really doesn’t have to do with their being per say, but rather with the value of their being with regards to their productivity or doing.

If we were to look at this discussion from a totally different point of view, we might begin from the point of view of God’s Being. One of the things we focus on in the Trinitarian, incarnational faith, is the Being of God as Father, Son and Spirit. God’s Being is relational. God’s Being consists of three divine Persons who are intricately related in a perichoretic relation of love. And all that God does has its roots within that Being of superabundant love.

In other words, all God does arises out of Who God is. And Who God is is a Being in relationship of love. God’s story is a story of Who he is and what he did because of Who he is. God’s story, because it is a story of the Being of God who pours himself out in superabundant love, is our story. And we, whether we like it or not, are caught up in God’s story, because we have been caught up into the inner relations of Abba, his Son and his Spirit, through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension.

To bring this down into the zone of our personal experience, we need to understand how relationships are integral to our human existence. None of us exist apart from a relationship of some kind. Even if we are orphans, at one point we had a mother and a father. If at any time we believe we are alone in the world and no one cares about us at all, we find ourselves in relationship with someone somewhere, even if it is a hostile relationship. Relationships are integral to our being as they are integral to God’s being—for we are made in God’s image.

Who we are is intricately related to who we are in relationship with. Our relationships influence us, affect us, form us, harm us and help us. Often, whether we like it or not, our relationships identify us—we are fathers, mothers, sisters, friends, companions, enemies. Relationships are integral to our being.

What we don’t often realize is we all have a relationship which is at the basis of all other relationships—we are bound together in relationship with the God who made us in his image. Through Christ and in the Spirit, we are caught up into a personal relationship with the One who created us and calls us into relationship with himself—into the truth of the relationship which existed with you and me before we ever came into existence.

We may not wish to be related to God in any way, especially if we don’t even believe he exists, or we believe he has failed us in some way. But nevertheless, God has declared we are his, and he is never going to leave us or forsake us.

He has bound himself to us in the humanity which his Son took on in the person of Jesus Christ, and he has borne all the hate and anger we could throw at him through the crucifixion. He has experienced the death we all experience but has raised our humanity from the dead and brought it into the inner relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit. We are bound together with God in Christ in such a way we cannot be removed.

So God has interwoven our story with his story. We can pretend we are all alone in the world, but in reality, we are not—we are held in the grip of God’s love and grace for all eternity. We are beloved, cherished, adopted children of God—this is who we are.

And as we live in the truth of this relationship, we find deep within us by the Spirit, lives Jesus Christ, and through him, our heavenly Father. We find there is a real God who interacts with us, speaks to us in our hearts, guides us through his written Word, and watches over us moment by moment. He is with us in the sorrows and griefs of life, as well as the successes and joys of our existence.

As we experience the life in Christ by the Spirit, we find there is a lot happening in our lives and within us which is transforming and life-renewing. And so we find we have a story to tell. And in telling our story, we find we are telling God’s story as well. And what a story it is!

When Jesus sent out his disciples he told them to say, “The kingdom of God has come near you.” This proclamation is the same one we make today when we tell our story. For the story we tell is how God has come near, and joined us in our humanity and is transforming us by his Spirit just as he transformed us through Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. In the gift of his Holy Spirit through whom God lives in us today we are experiencing and participating in the kingdom of God, which is both here and is yet to come.

This is a great story to tell. And if you are feeling a little left out of this story—don’t believe it. You are just as much a part of this story as I am—we are all included in God’s love and life through Jesus and by his Spirit. We all share in this gift God has given us—God’s story, and my story, and everyone’s story is your story too, because Jesus Christ’s story is a story which includes every human being from the beginning of time until today and on into the future. And so, it includes your story.

Thank you, Holy One, for including us in your life, and for allowing us to participate in telling your story. Thank you for sending your Son and sending your Spirit so we can experience life in you and share in your superabundant divine love. Grant us the grace to see ourselves in the midst of your story, and the shared story of all humanity, and to have the courage and wisdom to tell the story you have given us wherever we go. May these Words of life bring healing and transformation to all. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

“Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” Luke 10:8–9 NASB

Reflections on a Blood Bath

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by Linda Rex

It’s always distressing to me to hear about another massacre of innocent human beings, and this week’s event in Orlando was no different. How can we, after all we have received of the grace of God, still turn on one another and steal the life God has given and redeemed? The inhumanity, or shall I say insanity, of such an act is beyond comprehension. I hope and pray this event will not end up trivialized like all the others, and just boiled down into a political or religious statement about gun control, human rights or the moral depravity of humanity.

For all the people who had to arrange and attend a funeral for someone dear to them, this is so much more than that. Such unnecessary and horrific loss! To have one’s world so violently rearranged by someone else creates such unimaginable pain and anger.

Unfortunately, this is not an unusual happening nowadays. It is still somehow so deeply engrained in our humanity to participate in the evil one’s kingdom in which he comes to kill, steal and destroy. Even our ideologies can be at fault when it comes to the taking of other human lives. But we must go deeper even than that.

We can blame radical Islam for this event, but if we were truly honest with ourselves, we would have to admit, that were the situation right, we could do exactly what this man did. Each of us has the capacity to commit horrific acts of evil, because each of us, at our core, is broken. Each of us has our own demons which we fight. None of us is truly innocent.

As Christians, or even as humans of any creed or belief, we need to be really careful not to assume we do not possess the capacity for evil. Too many people have been hurt and crushed by the infidelity or abuse of someone who claimed to be a Christian. History is full of stories of people who said they were godly men or women, but who turned out to be truly evil at their core.

This morning I looked to see how often the word kill was used in the Bible. The Old Testament is full of stories where people killed one another. Yes, sometimes even God allowed or encouraged it, due to the circumstances involved. But this capacity to turn as one human against another began with Cain and has not ceased since.

As I continued to look at the use of the word kill, I noticed there was a change when it came to the gospels. In the gospels, we see Jesus talking about how the Jewish people killed their prophets and telling his disciples the Jewish authorities would kill him too. We see Jesus telling his followers not to fear people who can and will take their life, but to fear, or respect, the God who gives and takes away life. Jesus stressed giving one’s life, not taking one’s life away. He laid down his life for each of us, and calls for us to do the same.

It is instructive that the Jewish leaders of the day worked very hard to be pious, good people, well-respected by others. But their piety was demonstrated by their determined effort to put Jesus to death. The man Saul, who we know as the apostle Paul in his later years and who held the clothes of Stephen as he was martyred, was a clear illustration of this reality. His effort to be God-fearing resulted in his participating in the death of an innocent man, and the killing and imprisoning of many other people in the early church.

The expansion of the early church into the Roman culture came about not because the believers threatened to kill people who weren’t followers of the Way, but because they willingly laid down their lives for the sake of Jesus. It was through their suffering, loss and death that the early Christians impacted the culture around them. Great change came about because of their willingness to suffer and die rather than give up their relationship with Jesus Christ and the blessing of life in the Spirit.

We need to understand the difference between living by a law or moral code, and living and walking in the Spirit while following Jesus. Paul said when talking about the new covenant in Jesus Christ that “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor 3:6) When we are living and walking in our flesh according to some form of ideology, or some moral code, it is easy to justify killing and destroying another human being. But when we are living and walking in the Spirit, participating in the life of Jesus, we have the desire and capacity to give life rather than take it, and may find within ourselves the capacity to lay down our life for another human being who could even be our enemy.

We see the life-giving Spirit of Christ at work in many places and ways in the world. I see the Spirit at work in the hearts and lives of the parents who so faithfully and diligently minister daily to an autistic or disabled child. I see the Spirit of Christ at work in our community as people work to bring about peaceful resolutions to difficult problems. I see the Spirit of Christ at work in the life of the person who works to care for and studies the environment and the wildlife in exotic locations in the world, and in the life of the one who cares enough about the animals in their neighborhood that they make sure they each have safe homes and good health care.

This is the new covenant life Jesus bought for us with his blood shed on the cross and which he made available to us in the gift of his Spirit. We are bathed in his crimson flood so that we can have real life instead of our natural manner of life which so often leads to death. Why should we continue to live life on our own terms when we have been offered something so much better?

In the taking of the Eucharist, in our sharing through the wine and bread of the body and blood of Jesus, we are reminded as Christ wished us to be, that he stands in our place. It is his life, his death, his resurrection, and his life eternal in his glorified humanity which is ours. We are awakened again to the Spirit poured out on us, alive within us, and are renewed in our capacity to share in the divine life and love, even now in the daily ins and outs of life. It is Christ in us by the Spirit who enables us to love the unlovely, forgive the unforgiveable, and to lay down our lives for those who do not deserve it.

Such suffering as is incurred in the terrorist attacks we are witnessing is not going unnoticed. Such destruction and death will not be ignored. It is a violation of the Spirit of life in Christ which we have been given. And Christ promised never to leave or forsake his children—he is here with us in the midst of our pain and suffering and death, and inhumanity of human to human. He grieves and weeps with us, he endures suffering with us, and is hurt and angered by what we do to one another.

But this is also why he came and took upon himself the whole injustice and evil of humanity. This is why he allowed the pious Jews of his day to torture him and crucify him. So every time something like these horrific events happens, we are not alone. He has joined himself to us in our sin and suffering, and has made us one with himself, so we are and can become something we would not otherwise be.

In Jesus we have the hope that evil does not have the last word, and one day will be fully eradicated from our humanity. In the gift of the Spirit, we see Jesus beginning to work his kingdom life out in our world today in the midst of its brokenness. May God grant us the grace to walk by faith, not by sight, looking beyond this broken world and our broken humanity into the true reality purchased for us by the Son of God and made possible for us in the gift of his Holy Spirit.

Dear God, forgive us for all the horrible things we do to ourselves and to one another. Thank you for joining with us in the midst of our brokenness and evil, and raising us up to life with you in Christ and by your Spirit. Please finish what you have begun—do not give up on us. You know how desperately we need you to transform and heal us and our world. May your kingdom come and your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.” They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.” John 8:37–40 NASB

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 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

Growing in Neighborliness

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by Linda Rex

I grew up in the suburbs of metropolitan Los Angeles and know what it’s like to live in a big city. Today I live and work in and near metropolitan Nashville.

I find living in a large city such as Nashville or L.A. has its strong points, and I can see why people would want to live and work in these hubs of humanity. There are many opportunities to be found in close proximity, especially with regards to cultural and recreational attractions, employment opportunities, and educational institutions.

Living in a big city is not what I would prefer, but I can appreciate the benefits of this lifestyle. I personally prefer small town living, but have learned to adapt to the higher stress, less privacy and less relaxed environment of this area. This is because I have learned over the years that whether urban or rural, the people who live in this world are at their heart, the same as you and me—we all are made in God’s image to live together in loving community.

Between these two adventures in big city living, I also lived in rural southeast Iowa, where the closest city of any real size was at least forty-five minutes from home. In that part of the United States of America, it was not uncommon for people to leave their homes and cars unlocked, and for neighbors to enter by the back door.

When I was eight months pregnant and going to town on a hot summer day, my car ran out of gas two miles from the closest town. I was a lot less nervous then about having someone help me than I am today because that’s what people did there when someone was in trouble. Neighbors were neighbors and looked out for one another.

As I’ve gotten to know more of the people who live next door to Good News Fellowship in Nashville, I’ve come to see that same heart of true neighborliness also exists here and there in the community around our church. Many of our neighbors are kind, helpful people who want their neighborhood to be a safe, upbeat, and warm community where old and young people alike can live free from abuse or neglect.

Our neighbors want to be able to walk or run down their streets during the day and the night, and not fear they will get mugged, or simply shot because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. They would like to be able to trust that someone will not steal their belongings, or damage their cars, or invade their homes. They would like to live without fear, and to be able to trust others with their lives, their homes and their belongings.

Our neighbors simply want to be good neighbors who live in loving community. They want to help people who need to be watched out for, such as elderly or sick neighbors who can’t get out or who are easily taken advantage of. They want to get together to share a meal or to clean the trash off the streets. Whether or not they realize it, in doing these things in community, they are sharing in the unmistakeable heart of love and compassion which exists within the inner relationship of the Father and the Son in the Spirit.

In our common humanity, whether urban or rural dwellers, we were created to live with one another in this kind of loving community. We were not created to prey on one another or to take advantage of one another. We were created to love one another and to look out for one another. When we don’t live together with love and respect and understanding, all kinds of misery is the result. This is because we are not being who we really are—who we were created by God to be.

True neighborliness which is loving and respectful cannot be legislated. It is not really possible to tell people to be good to one another and expect them to do it just because there are laws which say they should and penalties for when they don’t. External efforts to create loving community are no guarantee such community will come into existence and then stay.

The heart of love and compassion which is at the root of true neighborliness has its source in our God of love—the One who pours his love into us by his Holy Spirit. We find God at work in many places and in many people who we, because of our prejudices and presuppositions, believe are not good people. We need to open our hearts and minds to the reality God is at work in each person’s life and heart—we are all made in God’s image and redeemed by his Son and given the gift of the Spirit who is at work in this world.

Our participation in the work the Spirit is doing in this world to bring the love of the Father and the Son to full fruition is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to pray for, love and respect each person God places in front of us. Those who are so broken as to prey upon us, violate us and steal from us need this love just as much as we need it. So we follow Jesus’ instruction to pray for them, to love and bless them, while guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Sometimes in order to do God’s work of loving others, we need to have and use healthy boundaries.

As members of the body of Christ, we as members of Christian churches have a responsibility to lead others in loving the unlovely, and caring for the broken and downtrodden. We are called to demonstrate through loving actions the real caring and compassion which exists within the Trinity and should exist within the body of Christ. We should all work together, no matter our creed, in the unity of the Spirit and the oneness of Christ, to show the neighborly love of God to others in our church neighborhood.

When we do this, we are entering into a battle for our community. The kingdom of darkness does not appreciate any light we may bring into our neighborhood, and so there is a struggle. But we walk in the assurance that Christ has done what was needed to defeat the darkness. We walk by faith, not by sight. In other words, we keep loving, praying for and showing compassion to those Christ places in front of us, and bear up, by God’s grace, under whatever opposition may come our way. We walk the difficult road of building up community when efforts are being made to tear it down.

Holy Father, by your Son and in the Spirit, empower us to love one another as you created us to. Give us hearts of compassion and respect. Make us “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” as we interact with our neighbors, whoever they may be. God, by your great love, create loving community within our neighborhood so we can experience the same love which exists in your very Being as Father, Son and Spirit. In your Name, we pray. Amen.

“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8 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

Face to Face

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by Linda Rex

One of the hazards of a long-distance relationship is the inability engage a person in face-to-face conversation. Communication tools such as Skype™ and Vsee™ make video-chats possible now, and I love the way we are able to see someone while we talk with them without having to make a long trip somewhere in order to do so. A conversation via computer may not be the same as having a face-to-face conversation, but it is much better than simply having one on the phone.

Face-to-face conversations have the advantage of enabling us to see the body language and facial expressions of the person talking with us. We are able, if we are good at it, to sense the sincerity and intent behind what is being said. Often we can determine a person’s mood, their hostility or friendliness, just by how they respond as they talk.

To some limited extent we can have meaningful and deep conversations over the phone. But in order to have an honest and open relationship, we really need to meet with someone face-to-face. We need to be able to meet with them in person. If we want get to know someone in a deeper way than just an ordinary, casual conversation, we’ll want to get them by themselves, and spend time just talking, face-to-face.

I love the way God made the effort to engage Moses in these kinds of conversations. In Exodus we read about the relationship God built with Moses over time, and how the Lord spoke to Moses “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.” As time passed, their relationship grew to where they conversed just like we do when we are talking with a close friend.

We may think to ourselves, that’s just Moses. God doesn’t have those kinds of conversations with ordinary people like you or me. After all, he is God. He has much more important things to do than talk to all the people in the world individually. We can kind of grasp the idea of everyone praying to God, but God replying and having a conversation with each person? Now that’s a different story entirely.

And yet, this is what each of us was created for. When God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden, it was a prelude to what he had in mind for each of us. He created you and me for relationship—with him and with one another. He did not intend for us to live independently of him, or of one another. We are created for interdependence, for intimate relationship.

And when I say intimate relationship, I’m not talking about a sexual or romantic relationship. I’m talking about sharing the deep parts of our minds, hearts and souls with another person—sharing life and being at a very deep level.

I believe the current obsession with sexual and romantic relationships of every kind has short-circuited our capacity for true, deep relationships—the kind we were created for with God and one another. Our ability to use social media for relationships is great, but we need to be careful not to let this keep us from building deep, meaningful relationships with the people in our lives through face-to-face interactions. It is very easy to keep people, and God, on the fringes of our lives and never really engage anyone at any kind of a deep level. And this is not healthy.

Going deep with people and with God in this way means becoming vulnerable and facing up to the mess inside ourselves. We don’t want to expose our deepest hurts and brokenness to others, much less to God. And yet, this is the path to healing.

Opening up these wounds to others, to us, or to God, means facing things we don’t want to face. We may have to change or deal with things we don’t want to have to deal with. We may have to do the dirty work of dealing with family dysfunctions or grieving our losses. Sadly, we often prefer taking painkillers and finding other ways to numb our pain rather than facing our issues. But we weren’t created to ignore our pain or to try to hide it—we were created to engage it, and through sharing it with God and others in healthy ways, find comfort and renewal.

Face-to-face sharing is an important part of the process of healing. Getting real with someone about what’s going on at a deep level in our hearts and minds is essential to our mental, emotional and spiritual health and our physical health as well. We need to drop our facades, and our false selves, and just be real with God and one another. And this is not easy to do, much less safe. Not everyone can be trusted with our secrets.

But God understands our need for face-to-face, conversations at this deep level. This face-to-face sharing is so important to God, he came himself to share in our humanity. He became one of us—the Word in human flesh. He experienced what it was like to be born of a woman, grow up as a child, be baptized and live as an adult, and he shared every part of our human existence. God came and met with us face-to-face in an even more personal way than how he met with Moses centuries before.

God wanted to share every part of our existence and be included in it. This was so important to him, he was willing to take on our humanity and share all we experience as human beings, including death and suffering. But he did much more than that.

He brought our human existence to a new level by raising Jesus Christ from the dead, and by sending his Spirit to dwell in human hearts. God’s Spirit in you and me means God dwells in humanity—he meets with us face-to-face within our own human hearts. Nothing can be more intimate than that!

In fact, we cannot escape him now—no matter how much we try. Eventually he will open our inner eyes to see, we have Christ in us, the hope of glory. We have God in us—Immanuel. Better than any Skype™ conversation—we can converse with God in our hearts and have a dialogue in which, by the Spirit, God knows us intimately and we can know God’s heart and mind as well. Our conversations with God can be just as deep and wonderful as those Moses had because God calls you and me friend, and speaks to us in our hearts.

You may say, “How can this be? God doesn’t speak to me. And that’s kind of creepy, you know—someone talking to me in my heart.” Well, perhaps it’s not that God hasn’t been speaking, but rather, that we haven’t been listening.

I was taught to be afraid of that inner voice who spoke in my heart and so I never listened. I ignored it and pushed it away. But when I did finally talk with God and invite him to speak to me and to help me to hear and discern what was his voice (and not the other unhealthy voices), I discovered he was speaking words of love and grace to me all along. I found that God really does want to walk and talk with us, and share all of life with us. And this has been the experience of many others who have sought a deeper walk with Jesus.

God has brought each and every one of us through Jesus and by the Spirit to a place where we are able to have a deep, intimate, face-to-face relationship with him. In growing in our relationship with him, we will find ourselves growing in our ability and desire to have deep, meaningful relationships with one another. And we will be living out who we really are—human beings, created for loving relationship with God and one another.

Father, thank you, through your Son and by your Spirit, you have brought us into deep, intimate relationship with yourself. Thank you for making it possible for us to have close, intimate relationships with one another as well. Grant us the grace to set aside time and space to listen and talk with you and one another face-to-face, for this is what we were created for. Through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. … And He said, ‘My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.’” Exodus 33:11a, 14 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