By Linda Rex
August 4th, PROPER 13—This week the TV caught my eye at the veterinarian’s office where my daughter was having her cat given her yearly checkup. I saw people taking old furniture and revamping it, giving it a more modern feel. Some of the results I liked, some I didn’t like.
Usually this channel is full of stories of how people take an old fixer-upper house and renovate it, selling it for more than what it was worth originally. The process of “flipping” a home seems very challenging to me because there is always the danger of hidden problems such as asbestos removal, an unstable foundation, or damage to critical structural elements. But I feel there is something ultimately satisfying about taking something broken and dirty and turning it into a masterpiece. Maybe this is because this is what God does with us.
The thing is, we can be so focused on the externals of our existence that we don’t tend to the internals as we ought. What I mean by that is, God wants us to attend to the internals of our souls more than the externals of our human existence. We are responsible to do what work is necessary to provide for ourselves and to care for what belongings are ours. But the God who takes care of the birds and the flowers is quite capable of caring for us when we allow him to, trusting him to help us meet our obligations and to provide for our needs (Matt 10:29-31; Luke 12:6).
Indeed, there may be some of us who want to live free from any responsibilities or effort and yet have every luxury at our fingertips—our culture encourages this. We may pursue a carefree life without responsibilities or the need to work or provide for anyone but ourselves—this is especially true for those who have parents or others who are willing to carry the responsibilities we should be carrying. However, the apostle Paul writes that if a person isn’t willing to work, then he or she shouldn’t eat. This is a reminder to carry our own load, to be responsible for ourselves—to do our part. (2 Thess. 3:10-11)
Even though some people seem to have all they need with no financial or personal struggles, some of us may be constantly in motion, working every moment to create our perfect world as we envision it to be. We may work very hard just to get ahead only to find ourselves bound by debt or health problems or broken relationships. Wouldn’t it be nice to actually be able do what the rich man Jesus talked about wanted to do? He had a bumper crop, and decided to put everything up into storage, and to tell himself, “You have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” (Luke 12:16-21)
But Jesus had words to say about such a life philosophy. He reminded his listeners and the man who was focused on getting his share of his family’s property that what really matters in life becomes truly evident when we are faced with death. Death brings everything in our lives into focus—showing us our humanity and the transience of our existence. We can make all the plans we want, we can save up all the money we want, and it just takes an instant or an event out of our control and it is all over. Everything we worked for goes to someone else—and we can’t even control who gets it all after we are gone.
Ultimately, each of us must humble ourselves under a recognition that God is God and we are not. Even as Christians we can be pretty arrogant and atheistic when it comes to money and providing for ourselves. Life can go well for quite a long time, and our diligent efforts can bring us great success and abundant wealth. But the externals of our human existence are transient and one day they will disappear. If we depend upon them or count on them, we are placing our life on an uncertain foundation.
As followers of Jesus, we can even embrace the idea that if we live good lives and do everything right God has to bless us and make everything go right in our lives. This sets us up for great disappointment and tests our faith when bad, unexplainable things occur in our lives. We may try to, but we cannot control the decisions others make nor can we protect our loved ones or ourselves from the evil or brokenness of the world we live in.
Stuff happens. Death occurs. Illness breaks our health. People steal our money. Hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes destroy our homes. And all our precious plans go out the window. Then we start asking the tough questions: What am I going to do? Where is God in all this? Doesn’t he care? Why did this happen to me?
Here in the middle of the brokenness, death, and destruction we are meant to find new life. God wants to meet us in the middle of this place and show us what we should have known all along—the life we are seeking is above, hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). The real peace, joy, and comfort is found in Jesus, in the One who took on our humanity, joined us in our broken, sinful human existence, and brought us through death into resurrection and ascension into life with God both now and forever. Jesus redeemed our broken existence—God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21 NASB).
Our real existence, the one which will last, is in knowing and being known by our Abba and his Son Jesus Christ in the Spirit. What we have in this life is passing away—what we have in Christ is everlasting. This is why Paul says to keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, not the things on earth (Col. 3:1-2)
We are to consider ourselves dead to greed, which is a form of idolatry. Greed and covetousness, along with the other passions of our flesh, are a way in which we go about life focused on and drawing our life from the things which are transient and will one day disappear. Like worshipping idols made of gold and silver, our worship of our human efforts or goals or the physical trappings of our existence—nice home, good job, wealth, power, fame, ease and pleasure—is an insult to the God who made us and called us into relationship with himself, and who came for us and redeemed us in Jesus Christ. All of this idolatry hung with Christ on the cross—in Christ we are dead to our idols, so we might live in the newness which is ours in him.
God created the earth and all its abundance for our enjoyment and pleasure. God means for us to work and to take pleasure in the fruit of our efforts. God wants us to work hard and be responsible for ourselves. But nowhere in all of this are any of these gifts meant to replace the Giver. Nothing is to take the place of the One who took our place and stands in our stead on our behalf as our Redeemer and Savior and Lord—Jesus Christ. The spirit of greed, lust, envy, selfishness, or any other demonic or fleshly spirit is never meant to replace the living Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is meant to fill us with God’s love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, and so on—to be the dominant Spirit in our being, to rule our existence both now and forever.
We have been given the greatest gift of all, life in Christ by the Spirit. We are called to live humble lives, in all godliness and honesty, sharing with others all we have been given, so that as one, we are joined together in the body of Christ as Abba’s children, together living in the new lives forged for us by Jesus out of our broken human existence and poured into us by the Holy Spirit.
When we have been given something by God, perhaps it is so that we can share it with others, or maybe he means for us to use it in furthering the scope of the Kingdom of God. God’s gifts are meant to create gratitude and praise, to move us to rejoice in the gift of our blessed hope and to live as the adopted children we were created to be, loving God and one another both now and forever as true image-bearers of the God who is love.
Dear God, thank you for all the gifts you have for us in our everyday existence—food, clothing, shelter, friendship, companionship, work, and so many other things. Keep us focused in the midst of all our blessings on you, the Blessed One, who blesses us with everything we need for life and godliness. Fill our hearts with gratitude and praise, for you are more than worthy. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen
“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. … Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him…” Colossians 3:1-3, 9-10 NASB
“Then He said to them, ‘Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” Luke 12:15 NASB
by Linda Rex
One of the most difficult ministry experiences I’ve had recently has been to be with members of my congregations as they go through the process of watching a loved one die of cancer. The strength they show in fighting this awful disease, dealing with the heartbreak and loss, and rebuilding after loss has been awesome and is a testimony to the grace and power of God. Losing a loved one is devastating, but it seems even more so when a family has to watch the loved one suffer and die slowly and progressively, whether from cancer or any other long-term disease.
Cancer, specifically, is so destructive to the human body because the building blocks of the body—the cells—turn into something they were never meant to be and subsequently attack the body they are a part of and are meant to help build up and sustain.
According to Wikipedia, cancer can occur when there is a loss of cell to cell interaction. When proper contact with neighboring cells is prevented from happening, cells become stunted and begin to collect into tumors and the unhealthy cells spread into other organs and places in the body. As the cancer continues it eventually spreads into the blood stream and lymph system and is carried throughout the body. And in time, and often after much suffering, the body dies. 1
Death, of course, happens to each of us at some point in our lives. It is inevitable. But I don’t believe God ever intended any of us to have go through the suffering and horror of cancer.
Yet it happens. It happens because we are frail and flawed human beings and we live in a broken world. It happens because we attempt to step away from and live apart from the God who designed and made us and the world we live in.
Thankfully, this life is not the end—God never meant it to be. He always meant for us to live in eternity with him in glorified human bodies which are strong, beautiful and whole, and in relationships with him and one another that are healthy and intricately intertwined by love and grace through Christ in the Spirit—just like the intricately intertwined relations of the cells in a healthy human body.
Even though the apostle Paul probably did not know what a cell was, his description of human interaction in the body of Christ reflects the truth of how we have been intertwined together by the Holy Spirit into one body in Christ. When we lose healthy interaction with one another, we begin to destroy one another instead of building one another up. When we believe things that are not true about God, about ourselves and others and act on those beliefs, we begin to destroy not only ourselves, but the body of Christ as a whole. This is also just as true in our communities, our state, nation and the world.
Even though we often try to live like it isn’t true, none of us exists apart from someone else. We were created to live in loving relationship with the Creator and one another. We were designed to exist in intricately woven webs of relationships which require healthy interaction and reciprocal caring in order to function in the best way possible.
We were each created uniquely, not so that we would be separate from one another, but so that we would all fit together into a united, well-coordinated whole—a body. This body’s life was given to us in Jesus Christ and has its source in the Holy Spirit.
Because there is one Spirit manifested in many ways, we are each unique and yet one. Just as a blood cell is not the same as a brain cell or a skin cell, none of us are the same. But the human body would not be what it should be if it did not have all three and every other different type of cell it needs to be whole and well.
When a person lives in a way that is contrary to their design by God, when they are abusive, selfish, fearful, hurtful to others, then they are like a stunted cancer cell. Such a person influences, affects, harms other people around them who in turn harm, wound and corrupt others—just as cancer cells metastasize and spread.
When society, culture, cities, nations, organizations, and churches become twisted and unhealthy, it is because the individuals within have lost their center in Jesus Christ. They are living out of their human brokenness instead of in the Spirit of life as God originally created them to live—in healthy relationship with God and one another. A cancer is created that in time, if unchecked, destroys families, churches, communities, organizations, cities, and nations.
So is cancer inevitable? Will cancer always win? Where’s the hope in this?
Our only hope is what it always has been from the beginning—in the God who loves us so much that he came himself in the Word, took on our human flesh and cleansed and healed it with his own divine Presence. Jesus Christ is the answer because he is the whole, cleansed and purified human we were all meant to be. He lived the life we were meant to live, suffered our pains, died our broken death and rose from the grave. He took our human flesh into the presence of God and gave us the gift of his blessed Presence in the Holy Spirit so that we could be regenerated or made new.
In Jesus Christ, every broken, cancerous cell in the human body, both individually and collectively, has been healed, cleansed and restored. God has declared us to be whole and well. He is offering to you and to me life in Jesus Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit. When we receive and embrace this, believing this truth and living accordingly, our hearts, minds and lives will be healed and transformed.
The corrupting cancers of sin, self and Satan have been neutralized and transformed by the healing Presence of the life-giving Spirit in Christ. Death has been defeated. Jesus triumphed over the cancers of evil, sickness and death. They can only make a big noise, bluster and try to cause pain, fear and suffering and to destroy our faith. But they have no power over us any longer. One day they will be only a forgotten memory. In the presence of the Living God they are nothing but a moment in the eternity of his Love.
As we embrace new life in Christ and live in the intimate fellowship with God and each other we were created for, the cancers of sin, self and Satan will be supplanted by spiritual, mental, emotional and social wholeness and health.
Sometimes it is a battle. Just as we battle cancer of the human body with every possible instrument we have available to us, we battle these cancers of the spirit with the divine weapons of the Holy Spirit—receiving God’s gift of salvation, trusting in Christ’s righteousness, and believing and living in the Spirit of truth and the Word of God. We use divine methods of treatment, but we do this in Christ. He is our life. He is our breath. He is the One who lives the life we seek to live.
It is the Presence of the living Word within, the Holy Spirit, who reminds us we are God’s beloved children and who guides us and teaches us how to live in healthy relationship with God and others. As we listen to him and grow up in this divine Life, we become a healthy part of the body of Christ, of our family, our community, our state, nation and world. Our true value and worth can begin to be seen and contributed to the whole. And this is what God created us to be in our own uniqueness and giftedness. This is the intercellular life God designed us to have from, with and in him forever. This is worth living and dying for.
Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth and all that is in them, thank you. Thank you for life and breath, for all that you give us each and every day. Holy, Eternal Father, we believe in and embrace the gift of new life you have made possible for us in the life, death and resurrection of your precious Son Jesus Christ. Thank you for giving us new life even now in Christ by your Holy Spirit, your Presence within. Dear Jesus, we acknowledge you as our Lord as you are our Savior—we commit ourselves to live not in ourselves and our sin and brokenness, our guilt and shame, but in the forgiveness, healing and wholeness we have been given in you. Be our life, be our breath, our healing, health and wholeness. Almighty God, in your One Name as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we pray. Amen.
“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:3-5
1 “Cell–cell interaction”, “Metastasis”, “Metaplasia”, “Dysplasia”, “Anaplasia”, Wikipedia.com. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cell-cell_interaction (Accessed 11/22/13).