By Linda Rex
If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit our God-concepts are at their best flawed and broken. We see God through the lenses of our past experiences, the misguided teachings we have embraced, and the hurt feelings we harbor toward others. These lenses may create within us a sense of anxiety and fear toward God when we suspect our behavior doesn’t measure up with what we believe God wants it to be.
What we believe about who God is and who we are in relationship with him often impacts us more than we realize. It becomes the underlying frame by which we measure ourselves and others, and we anticipate a just God giving us or others what is deserved—punishment, damnation, and hell.
We seem to set limits on what God will and can do in this world, whether now or in the future. We believe God is limited by a person’s sin in that God must punish a person for their evil thoughts and behavior, and their depravity. For God to not punish a person in this life or in the next, seems to us to be unjust or at the least, unfair, and certainly not something God would do.
But at the same time, isn’t this the reason Jesus Christ came? Isn’t this the reason Christ took on our humanity, lived the perfected life which is to be ours, and died our death in our place? Didn’t he take upon himself the punishment we all deserve? Then why must a person bear that punishment now or in the future? Why must they get what they deserve when it is God’s heart and will they get what they don’t deserve?
Yes, we are facing the whole issue of participation—of each and every person participating in the perfected life created for them in Jesus Christ in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and given to them in the Person and power of the Holy Spirit. This brings into the picture the critical issue of faith. What does a person believe about who God is, who they are, and who Christ is for them personally? This must be answered by each and every human being.
We believe God is limited by death in that God must save a person now before they die, or they are lost for all eternity. For God to work with someone beyond death is unthinkable, because death is the end—now is the time of salvation. A person must come to Christ now, or all is lost. Death in this case, is the winner.
But even the just, fair, holy God confesses in and through his Son Jesus Christ that these limits no longer exist. Death has been conquered by life in Christ Jesus. Salvation has been worked out in him for each and every human being. What they do with that is the question we must all wrestle with. But must this wrestling be completed before death? Or can it continue beyond death into the place where this person encounters the One who stood in their stead and on their behalf, and sees the true realities for the first time in his or her existence?
Such questions may make us very uncomfortable. These questions may even anger us. But I believe that, in wrestling with them, we are brought face to face with the current state of our own heart. We need to ask ourselves, why does this make us uncomfortable? Why does this anger us? Is there someone in our life or in our past whom we believe needs to experience the just deserts of their unbelief and disobedience? Is there someone in our life we feel does not deserve to be forgiven and to be embraced by God and given eternal life?
Whether we want to admit it or not, we like to determine for God whom he can and cannot welcome into his eternal embrace. We’re the ones who feel it is so important that the damnation, and ever-burning fire be a literal reality for every person who denies Christ. Whereas God’s heart is to make sure no human being is left out of his eternal embrace. God’s will is that every human being experience the blessed and glorious life held in the life and love of the Father, Son, and Spirit—the beautiful life in the presence of the true Light which enlightens every person.
And God is free to do this. His unlimited freedom to be as he really is and to do as he really does as our loving, gracious God, is what drives his passion to see that every human being shares in and is held in his loving embrace. God’s freedom to be as he truly is and to do what he purposes in his heart of overflowing love and grace, is not only beyond our comprehension, but also beyond the ability of any of us to resist.
The majesty of God’s love, though, also allows you and me the freedom to resist all of that which God pours out for us on our behalf. The question of whether or not we trust in Christ for salvation is settled on God’s side—but is still in abeyance on our side. Christ stepped up as God in human flesh, and did it on our behalf—he stood in our place. He said “Yes” to Abba in the place of our “No”. But there is still a work God is doing in and through the Holy Spirit to make Christ’s “Yes” a reality for each and every person in their own being and doing.
And this is where the whole issue of faith becomes critical. What is your faith in? Is it in your ability to make sure you say the right words, or do the right things? Is your faith in being a member of the “only” church who believes the correct doctrine? What are you counting on when you come face to face with the living Lord?
Ultimately, it will come down to what Jesus emphasized over and over during his ministry here on earth: It is not about what you have, what you’ve done or not done, or what others believe about what you’ve done or not done. It all boils down to putting your trust outside of yourself, and outside of anything in your life, and solely trusting in the grace of God demonstrated to us and given to us in his Son Jesus Christ.
In embracing Jesus Christ, we find we are embraced by the living God himself, and filled with his very presence by his blessed Spirit. In turning from ourselves to Christ, we discover God has been turned toward us the whole time. He never did leave us or forsake us, but has been drawing us steadily into his love and life, that perfected existence we were created for from before time began.
And in surrendering our life, our future, our will, and our very significance to Jesus Christ, we find our true life, a blessed hope, and a Divine Companionship which we will enjoy for all eternity. And this is what it means when Jesus says repent and believe, be baptized, and receive the gift of God Spirit.
This is what God meant for each and every one of us from the beginning. This is the whole reason Christ came, and the whole purpose for all God has done since he first got the idea to create human creatures who could and would share his life and love. We are held in his embrace, whether we like or not, whether we want to be held or not. All he wants is for us to turn around and embrace him as he is embracing us. So why wait? Why not do it right now?
Dear Abba, thank you for the gift of your Son and your Spirit. Today, this day, I turn away from my dependence upon anything or anyone but you, God, and I turn towards you. I embrace you, and your ways, and your blessed Spirit, and what your Son has done in my stead and on my behalf in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. I believe—Lord, please free me from my unbelief. Enable me to trust fully in you, and you alone, in every situation of life, no matter how hard things may get. Fill me afresh with your Spirit—make me new. My life is in you, through Jesus my Lord, and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” Revelation 22:12-14 NASB
“‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.’ (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)” Revelation 19:6b-8 NASB
By Linda Rex
On Wednesday evenings at our discussion group we have been addressing the topic of hell. One of the concerns which was raised this week was how we determine whether or not we are getting off track in our reading and studying. This is a really good question.
Sometimes we can be so afraid of being deceived or getting off track we become afraid of reading anything other than the Bible. We can take this fear even to the place where we restrict our reading of the Bible to only one translation, or we only use a Bible put out by our particular denomination, rejecting all others as heretical.
At other times we may believe only one particular Bible teacher has the truth about God’s Word. We read everything this person writes, listen only to this person speaking, and we believe they are the only ones who really know the truth about God’s Word. We refuse to listen to what anyone else may have to say about the Bible or what to believe because we do not trust them to be telling the truth.
Unfortunately, our approach to learning about God and about the Bible may end up being governed by fear and mistrust rather than by the faith, hope, and love God gives to us in Christ by the Spirit. Instead of resting in Jesus Christ and trusting he will keep us in the center of his will, we anxiously work to make sure we don’t accidentally wander off the path of holiness.
The Scriptures say God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and sound mind. The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth as we trust in Christ and allow him to lead us. Yes, it is important to ground ourselves in the Word of God, but only as we allow the living Word of God to take precedence in all things, and allow the Holy Spirit to convict us of where we may be getting off track.
This whole process of studying the written Word of God and seeking to know the truth which will set us free is a relational effort—a participation with Christ by the Spirit in listening to, hearing, and acting upon what the Father is saying to us in the Scriptures. The question is, do we trust God to keep us on the right track, and if we wander off somewhere, to bring us back to the Truth who is Jesus Christ?
How do we gauge if a teaching or a translation is off track? How do we know if what someone is teaching doesn’t agree with the truth presented to us in Christ? And this is the key: Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. He is our living relationship with our Abba, and he gives his Spirit to us to lead us into all truth. He is the center.
When we begin to look at difficult topics such as hell, we begin with the appropriate lens. That lens is the Lord Jesus Christ and who he is as God in human flesh, and what he teaches us about the Father, himself, and the Spirit, and what he teaches us about ourselves. This grounds us and enables us to see more clearly the difference between truth and error. Looking through this lens also involves comprehending, believing, and receiving the reality of God’s love expressed to us in the giving of his Son and his Spirit for salvation and redemption.
We need to stay centered in the incomprehensible reality God willed not to be God without us: he chose before time began to include us in his life and love, and so he ordained before time began to send his Son in human flesh to draw us up into life in himself. Understanding and believing in the truth of this reality enables us to begin to read the Scriptures with greater clarity and less confusion. We are less likely to be swept aside by false concepts of God and eschatology (any system of doctrines concerning last, or final, matters, as death, the Judgment, the future state, etc.).
What God did for us in Jesus wasn’t an afterthought or a reaction to what humanity did, but rather what he intended all along. It was not an outflow of his anger against humanity or the rejection of his Son, but rather an embracing of all of us as lost, broken, rebellious children in need of redemption. That God, in his freedom to be the God he is, would do something new—not only creating creatures to share life with, but also joining them to himself forever—is an amazing and wonderful thing.
It is equally amazing that he who lived ever and always in love, joy, and peace, was willing to reconcile suffering, sorrow, and evil with himself in such a way it would be forever nullified and transformed into the very thing which binds us to himself in love.
Jesus is God’s judgment on sin, evil, and death. This judgment (or krisis) each of us encounters is not something or Someone which we should fear, but the Person which we should embrace in faith, trusting Christ is for us all we need in the face of our sin, brokenness, and depravity. Jesus Christ, who is God in human flesh, is the perfect answer or response to God for each one of us, no matter our situation or history or failure.
For this reason, we have nothing to fear when it comes to seeking to know God more fully and completely. Christ has gone ahead of us and has sent his Spirit so we might know which direction to go.
Yes, we have the responsibility to choose our teachers wisely. They need to coincide in their teaching and life with what we know about who Jesus Christ is as the God/man, and who he reveals God to be in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and in the sending of the Spirit. Our teachers need to be willing to submit to being taught and to sit humbly under the mentorship of those with greater spiritual depth, maturity, and knowledge. The Spirit in them will resonate with the Spirit in us, and we will begin to see with greater clarity the magnitude and depth of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ in their teaching.
One of the healthiest things we can do to keep ourselves on the right track is to find other believers who are well-grounded in Christ and to study the Word of God with them. As we pray together, listen to the written Word of God together, and wrestle with our questions and thoughts about what we are learning, the Holy Spirit brings us into a deeper knowledge and understanding of the truth. As we are open to it, we have brothers and sisters who can point out when we are drifting away from our center in Christ. And at the same time, we by the Spirit are growing into a deeper fellowship with God and one another.
Are there times when we may wander off the path? No doubt. But this is why it is essential to walk by faith, not by sight. We trust in the perfect work of Christ and in the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We hold all we read, hear, and see up against the mirror of the living Word of God as revealed in the written Word of God, and we ask ourselves, does this agree with the truth revealed to us in Jesus Christ? Does this diminish Christ or magnify him? And we go from there—it’s a walk of faith.
Thank you, Abba, for the gift of your Son the living Word, and for the gift of your precious Spirit. Keep us on the narrow path of faith, and free us from fear and anxiety about missing the mark. When we wander here and there, please bring us back to our center in Christ. We thank you that you are faithful and dependable, and that you will not leave us as orphans, lost or without direction. Open your written Word to our understanding, and transform our hearts by faith, we pray, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” 1 John 4:1-6 NASB
By Linda Rex
I was chatting with my son this morning and I was talking about how God has always taken care of us as a family. “Even when I was only making $6.50 an hour,” I said. “He’s always taken care of us. I’ve always tried to put God first in my finances…”
He interrupted me. “You’re not drifting into that health-and-wealth gospel stuff, are you?” he asked, amused. I laughed. “No, but it probably was starting to sound like it.”
I was reminded how easily we can slip into the cause-and-effect manner of thinking which we prefer as humans. We like to be sure God is going to do what we want in every situation, and so we come up with the perfect plan to make sure he does. We’d like to believe if we always pay our tithes off the gross and give generously to the poor and other charities, then God will always make sure we are taken care of. We hope if we always eat the right thing and drink clean water and do a good job of exercising and staying in shape, we will never develop cancer or die of a heart attack.
Doing things this way takes all the guesswork out of our relationship with God. In fact, we don’t have to even get into any of the messy stuff of dealing with our false motives or bad attitudes. As long as we’re doing the “right” thing, we’re in good with God and we have no reason to expect any issues in our life.
Of course, as we grow in our spiritual maturity in Christ, I would like to hope we get to the place we recognize this isn’t the way God works. Indeed, he seems at times to do the exact opposite of what we expect him to do in certain situations. And we can get pretty bent out of shape about it if we are not careful. It seems God likes to remind us about who is the Lord of the universe, and it’s not us. And he also likes to remind us even when it seems like everything is falling apart, he can still take it and work it all out for the best.
The real issue here is God’s real nature is relational, and all he does with us as human beings is with this relationship in mind. To live in the Triune relationship is to live in a relationship in which there is uniqueness and equality of Personhood in oneness of Being.
We are created in the image of this God, called into relationship with this God, and embraced in the midst of our turning away from this relationship in and through Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. In the gift of the Spirit, God works to bring us fully into the Triune embrace in such a way we know we share in Christ and we begin to intentionally participate in God’s love and life.
The thing is, this is a relationship we are called into and created for. And within this relationship we have been given great freedom. God has freed us from sin and death so we may live forever in the true freedom which exists in God’s being—a freedom to truly be who God created us to be—children of God who love their Abba with all their being, and who love their neighbor as themselves. This is the true freedom Christ won for us—to live out by the Spirit our true humanity which is hidden with Christ in God.
This freedom given to us by our Creator and Sustainer is what we wrestle with as human beings. On the one hand we like being able to do what we want, when we want, and how we want. We want to call the shots in this universe, while having God take care of us and give us everything we want when we want it and how we want it.
We live, if we are honest with ourselves, too often as if we are our own little gods, not realizing that such freedom is a false freedom. It is a lie—and whatever it is we have chosen which is not in within the truth of our being as God’s children will in the end enslave us and consume us, and without God’s intervention, may even eventually destroy us.
And these things we choose are not always the vices most of us easily acknowledge as being wrong or unhealthy. The worst choices we make are the most deceiving—the choice to objectify God and one another, the choice to put our trust in money, people, and other things rather than in God alone, or the choice to try to control God, or even one another, by the things we do or say—acting as though we can change the way God or others behave if we just act correctly or speak perfectly. We do our best manipulate, use, manage, and/or control God and one another, rather than respecting each one’s personhood and honoring him or her as the person he or she is.
If I choose to honor God with my finances by tithing, for example, by giving 10% off my gross income, that is a good thing to do as an expression of my love for God. I am free to tithe or not tithe, and no doubt, if I genuinely wish to bless God by tithing, he will be pleased by my heart of gratitude and generosity. But tithing does not obligate God in any way to make sure my bills are paid or I have money for a new car. It demonstrates a heart of devotion and trust toward God but it does not cause God to do anything in return. The cause-and-effect rule does not apply.
My experience in my relationship with God, however, has been when I was making next to nothing and felt convicted of the need to continue to tithe in spite of my poverty, God honored that and somehow always made sure I had what I needed. I did not control or manipulate God by my giving—but I did express my genuine heart of devotion and commitment to God through my giving, and I found myself being blessed and helped by God in the midst of my poverty.
I remember one ongoing conversation with God expressed my anxiety about the bills which I thought I couldn’t pay. Anxiety in itself demonstrates a lack of faith in my Abba, and I have struggled with this over and over—it’s one of those subtle yet encroaching sins. But God merely would remind me to write down my needs and to ask him to take care of them. That is a relational thing, not a cause-and-effect thing. It is an act of trust. I felt compelled by the Spirit to do write down my needs and give them to God, I obeyed God and did it, and God responded by hearing and answering my prayers. It began with God and ended with God, and I got to be in the midst of it and be blessed in the process.
Looking back, I know too often in my life I thought I had to do this or do that other thing in order to be blessed by God or experience his good will towards me. In reality, God’s will toward me was already good, and he was looking out for me when I didn’t even realize it. He intervened in so many situations, and I never realized what was going on until later, if at all, and was amazed by his tender love and concern.
What I have learned is God is love and God is faithful. And we are held in his love and grace, He is always at work, no matter what is going on, bringing us to a place of redemption and healing. We are free to make choices, and God allows us to experience the joy or pain of those choices. But he is ready and willing at any time to embrace us when we come running and are ready to participate in making choices his way, in the way which best expresses our true humanity as God’s beloved children.
Dear Abba, thank you for your faithful love and gracious provision for our needs each and every day, whether we realize it or not. Thank you for holding us in your love and grace, and that your heart toward us is good and full of compassion. Grant us the grace to live in the true freedom which is ours in your Son and by your Spirit so our lives and ways of being are a true expression of your nature and Name as Father, Son, and Spirit. In your Name we pray, Amen.
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.” 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 NASB
By Linda Rex
One of the prophecies in the Old Testament which I find to be most interesting is in the book of Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah wrote about Cyrus years before he became the conquering king written about in the history books.
Ironically, even though he played a type of messianic role for the Jewish people, he was not a Jew. It speaks volumes that God would work through and with a non-Jewish king to rescue his people. In Isaiah’s prophecy, God says through Isaiah that even though Cyrus didn’t even know God, God still singled him out, called him by name, and gave him a special job to do. And it wasn’t for Cyrus’ sake God did this, but for the sake of God’s relationship with his covenant people, the Israelites.
Even though Cyrus was not acquainted with the God of Israel and worshiped gods who were not real gods, he was still equipped by God for this special mission and blessed by God as he performed it.
Cyrus was indeed responsible for conquering and killing a lot of people as he took power and invaded nations. I’m sure such bloodshed was not in God’s heart—it was something in Cyrus’ heart and was his way of doing things. Yet God chose to work in and through Cyrus in the midst of all this so that he, the God of Israel, would be made known as the one and only true God, who creates and sustains all there is in heaven and on earth, and his people would be returned to their promised land to prepare the way for the real messiah.
A lot of times we differentiate between good people and bad people, assuming God only works with, in, and through good people. We figure if God is going to do something significant in this world, he’s going to do it through people who are moral, righteous people or who are people who share a particular faith or belief system.
God is a Being who can and will work out his plans to love and care for his covenant people and to accomplish his purposes in the world by whatever means he feels are necessary. He can do and sometimes does do this all on his own. But it seems more often than not he includes human beings in the process. He likes to have us participate with him in what he’s doing in the world.
Our participation in what God is doing in the world often looks much different than what we assume it should look like. Sometimes humans do evil and horrible things. But God takes these things and in spite of them, or by transforming and redeeming them, he draws us all deeper into real relationship in and with him, into life eternal within the God who is Father, Son, and Spirit.
And those of us who participate with him in his work in this world are not always aware of the significance of how we are participating with God while he works out what he is trying to do. Many times, we go through life like little children, believing it is all about us, about what we are trying to accomplish, and what we are wanting to do or what we believe is important. We can be quite narcissistic in how we approach life and living. But that doesn’t keep God from finding ways to include us in what he is doing.
I don’t know how many times in my life I have realized after the fact something I said or did turned out to be a significant event in another person’s life. It may have been to me a simple, unimportant thing I did. It may have actually been a thoughtless word or deed. It could have just been an offhand comment. But in some way, it impacted another person or impacted some situation in such a way it completely altered the direction it was headed. And really, I was unaware of it at the time—I was just doing what I was doing, being me, and this amazing thing happened in spite of me.
For those of us who are trying to live good Christian lives it may be a challenge to take our focus off our efforts to do good and be good. It is easy to get caught up in whether or not we are being good people, and whether or not we are pleasing God. We can get so focused on how well we are living our lives we miss the real point of it all—that God knows us and loves us completely and thoroughly, and calls us into relationship with himself in and through Jesus Christ. God wants us to know him and love him, and to come to the place we really know and love one another as well. There is a relational focus to life in Christ which is a far cry above just being good, moral people.
Instead of being focused on how well we are performing, or whether or not we are achieving success in some enterprise or conquering some country, maybe we need to be focused on getting to know the real God—the One who made all things and sustains all things by the Word of his power. Maybe this has more to do with growing in our relationships of love and grace with God and our fellow human beings than about exactly what we are doing in a specific moment. Maybe what is really significant is living each moment of our lives in the presence of and in real relationship with our God, and acknowledging the truth of who he is and who we are in Christ.
I don’t think any of us truly understand the significance of Jesus sharing in our humanity. There is something about him as God being here in human flesh which is important to our day to day existence. He shares in our particular profession or human activity, and we can participate in some way in what God is doing in the world while we are doing it.
Yes, we need to consider whether or not it is a real participation in what God is doing in the world. Is Jesus in the midst of it and does it reflect his nature and way of being? Is it life-giving and life-sustaining? What does it mean to have real life in and with the Father, Son, and Spirit—and how is doing this particular thing a sharing in God’s life?
But we also need to remember it’s always more about our relationship with God and with those around us than it is a matter of perfect behavior, abundant production, and material success. It’s learning to walk through life knowing and believing God is in you and with you in the midst of whatever you are doing in every moment.
We live in and with our God, and he is always at work in us and in our world, and he invites us to come along and participate in what he’s doing. We may not know him fully yet, but he knows us thoroughly and completely, and loves us, and calls us to live in and with him both now and forever, and we can do this in and through Jesus Christ and by his Spirit.
Dear Abba, thank you for inviting us to share life with you in and through your Son Jesus Christ and by the gift of your Holy Spirit. Enable us to focus less on our material success and physical accomplishments and more on living in loving, gracious relationships with you and all those we encounter day to day. Enable us to do all things in a way which is a real participation in your love and life through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“God’s Message to his anointed, to Cyrus, whom he took by the hand to give the task of taming the nations, of terrifying their kings—He gave him free rein, no restrictions: “I’ll go ahead of you, clearing and paving the road. I’ll break down bronze city gates, smash padlocks, kick down barred entrances. I’ll lead you to buried treasures, secret caches of valuables—confirmations that it is, in fact, I, God, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. It’s because of my dear servant Jacob, Israel my chosen, that I’ve singled you out, called you by name, and given you this privileged work. And you don’t even know me! I am God, the only God there is. Besides me there are no real gods. I’m the one who armed you for this work, though you don’t even know me, so that everyone, from east to west, will know that I have no god-rivals. I am God, the only God there is. I form light and create darkness, I make harmonies and create discords. I, God, do all these things. Open up, heavens, and rain. Clouds, pour out buckets of my goodness! Loosen up, earth, and bloom salvation; sprout right living. I, God, generate all this.” Isaiah 45:1-8 MSG
By Linda Rex
Five years ago, when I first arrived in Tennessee, I was visiting with people after services during our Community Café free meal when I noticed a lady who seemed to be in tears on the other side of the room. I remember going over to her and asking her if I could help. We had a long conversation that day about all the struggles she was having in her life. I prayed for her, and hoped in my heart she would experience God comfort and peace in the midst of her struggles.
As time passed, I and the members of Good News Fellowship began to get to know this woman better. And as we watched, she grew in her relationship with Jesus and her love for God and his ways. She still had struggles as she continued her journey of growing up in Christ, but she was learning to live and walk daily in a relationship of love and grace with God and others. It was wonderful for me and my spiritual family at Good News Fellowship to see her blossom and grow as time went by.
This journey she was taking was the journey of faith, of developing a deeper relationship with the God who made each of us in his image and who is growing each of us up into the likeness of his Son Jesus Christ by the Spirit. I like to use the image of a journey because when a person comes to faith in Christ, turning away from all other idols and distractions and turning towards Jesus in face-to-face relationship, God doesn’t suddenly make that person perfect. Rather, their perfection is hidden with Christ in God and the Spirit works it out in them as they walk through life and respond to Jesus’ work by the Spirit in their hearts and lives.
Growing up in Christ takes time. And it takes experiences in which we engage in relationships with other people and in circumstances in life in which we are challenged to live out the truth of who God is and who we are in him. We sometimes do a great job of responding to the work of the Spirit, but other times it seems as if we are the same as we always have been. Even to those closest to us it may look in some ways as if nothing has changed, while in others, we are not the same at all.
This is the work of the Spirit. He seems to have his own agenda as he goes to work in our lives. And the more I learn from God’s Word, the more I see it’s a whole lot more about interacting with our Abba and Jesus on the journey than it is about reaching some impossible ideal in this life. There is a life for us, eternal life, which involves an ongoing conversation and interaction as we go through our everyday circumstances. We learn to trust and we grow in faith as we walk with God in the Spirit.
As people of faith, we have the opportunity to share our relational journey with others. We can share with them how we struggle, what we have learned, and how we have encountered the living God in our life situations and difficulties. We can learn things about ourselves and God on this journey, and then share what we have learned with the significant people in our lives. And we can include them in our journey with the Triune God through prayer for them and with them.
At different times and at the perfect moment, God puts people in our lives with whom he wants us to share our journey of faith. He creates opportunities for us to share with these people what we have learned about Abba, Jesus, and the Spirit, and what we have learned about ourselves. He puts us in situations where the only answer we can give to another person is Jesus Christ, and so we respond to this reality by praying in his name for the blessing of God upon this person in the midst of their troubles or their joy.
And so we find ourselves interconnected in relationships of compassion, grace, and love. We grow close to each other, and our differences in personalities and preferences come into play, causing us to have to wrestle with and work them out with one another. What we are doing is growing up in Christ—growing up into the type of persons who can and will live together in eternity with one another in a oneness in which each is able to be distinctly themselves, and yet in which each is found to be equal in person and being with the others. This is a true reflection of the being of the God who is Abba, Jesus, and Holy Spirit.
Yes, this life is but the beginning of a relational journey which will last for all eternity. If we insist on living independently of others, or on preying on others, or on creating division and suffering in our relationships, we will find ourselves isolated, alone, and uncomfortable in a place where God’s goodness, love and grace reign. Missing those material goods and temporal values we clung to in this life, we will feel lost and devastated—something God never meant for us to have to experience.
It’s not easy to open ourselves up to God or others, but it’s what we were created to be—relational beings. When we make room for God and others in our lives, and we acknowledge our utter dependence upon God in each moment, living in the truth of who we are in Christ, we will find ourselves not only filled with God’s peace and joy, but also held by God in the midst of the struggles and griefs of this life. And we will want to tell others about what God has done and is doing in our lives.
This is the life God created for us in Christ and is calling us to share in. This is the eternal life which is ours and we can participate in even now when we turn to Jesus Christ. My prayer is that each of us will begin to see more clearly Abba’s face in the face of his Son Jesus by his Spirit, and that our hearts and lives will be transformed in the process. There is such joy, peace, and personal blessing available to each of us, and God wants us to experience them both now and forever, and so do I.
Thank you, Abba. You are always at work revealing yourself to each of us in your Son and by your Spirit. Thank you for transforming our hearts by faith as we turn to Jesus and surrender to your ways of living and being. May you finish what you have begun in us so we may spend both now and eternity growing in our relationship with you and all those you place in our lives, through Jesus our Lord, and by your Spirit. Amen.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4 NASB)
By Linda Rex
Many years ago, I attended a mega church for a while. It was located a little distance from me but provided some important counseling resources which were not available in my neighborhood, nor with the other church I normally attended.
One of the first things I noticed about this church was that nearly every car in the parking lot was only two to three years old and in good condition. I was a little embarrassed to have to park my old clunker next to the shiny minivans and SUV’s, but I did it anyway. As I walked inside the building, the people around me seemed friendly, though preoccupied. They were good folks, and I found it quite easy to melt into the crowd and not have to engage anyone in conversation.
After a few weeks, I became more and more aware of the subtle difference in financial status between me and the other people in the church. Most of the conversations between the people in the study group I joined involved decisions about a second or third car, a summer home, or a long vacation in Hawaii. I did not feel able to contribute anything to these conversations because I was still wondering how on minimum pay I would handle all the bills I had coming due in the next week. It was rather awkward for me, but I was there to study the Word of God with fellow believers, not to wrestle with financial inequities. So I let it go.
As the years have passed I have on occasion experienced more of this disparity between the wealthy church, and the broken community within and without the church who needs helped and healed. I have met and grown to love some pretty amazing people for whom the distress of suffering financially or physically is a foreign concept, or one they have experienced only briefly in their lives.
These people are compassionate and generous, but they can sometimes be completely out of touch with the everyday struggles of the needy. It’s not that they don’t care or are indifferent, but that it’s either not a part of their everyday experience, or they feel it would not be genuinely helpful for them to take on responsibilities which belong to the people who are struggling. And they have a valid point.
The culture we live in today often looks perplexedly at the Christian church, wondering why we are not more helpful to those who are suffering. I have no doubt there is room for us to grow in our generosity and helpfulness towards the poor and needy. But it may be that those who are being critical of us have a skewed view of what it means to have life and to have it abundantly. In other words, it’s possible we value different things than they do.
Historically the church understood that divine abundance doesn’t necessarily involve monetary wealth. The kind of abundance Jesus spoke of has a whole lot more to do with the generous outflowing of love and grace from the God who made us and redeemed us than with physical wealth, popularity, and material goods. True abundance involves growing in our relationship with the God who made us and growing in Christlikeness, which involves struggle and sometimes suffering. It involves our participation in a spiritual community which has Christ at the center.
Wealth in itself is not a bad thing. Nor is it a sin to live comfortably in a safe neighborhood where everyone has large homes, big yards, and a swimming pool in the backyard. These blessings provide ample opportunities which would not exist otherwise, and include their own unique set of dangers and temptations. There are benefits and potholes in every walk of life.
Throughout the centuries the church as a whole and individually has at times fallen prey to the subtle deceit of greed in all of its forms. The financial well-being of churches and their leaders sometimes preempts the care of the poor and needy. The health-and-wealth gospel distorts the truth about the Word of God, equating financial and material success and abundance with proof of goodness, success, and godliness. It’s easy for well-blessed Christians to slide into a place of spiritual apathy or an unconscious desire for more and more when all their needs are supplied and they don’t have to struggle to make ends meet. Because of all this, those who are critical of Christians have been well-supplied with ammunition to find fault with us.
But the calling to the Christian church, whether wealthy or poor, still is to preach the gospel to those we encounter on the roads of life. We are to share with others the good news about Jesus Christ, no matter who they are, or in what situation we may find them.
In some ways it can seem easy to preach a meaningful gospel to someone who is starving or homeless. We can offer them what they are needing at the moment and then tell them about Jesus and his love for them. I would imagine it must be much easier to see God’s love in a real way when you are in real trouble and someone offers you love and grace in the midst of it.
It also seems to be much more difficult to preach the gospel and be heard by those who really have no need for God in their lives. When a person is reasonably content with their life, and is able to handle everything they face day by day, God is extraneous to them. In their lives, he really serves no purpose except perhaps to limit them in some way. Or their faith may just be something that is part of their family heritage and really has no personal impact upon their lives.
This is why as I see the material abundance in this country and encounter financially successful people in every walk of life, the question arises in my mind: How in the world do you share the gospel with people who feel no need for it? What do you offer to those who believe they already have all they need or can earn enough to supply it themselves? What if these people are much more generous to the needy and poor than those worshipping in your own church down the street? Why should they care about becoming a Christian when Jesus or those who represent him seem indifferent to them, as well as to those who are suffering or doing without?
The gospel we need to tell must offer something much deeper than just relief from suffering or freedom from sin. The gospel must touch at the core of our humanity. We need to help people personally encounter in Jesus Christ the amazing God who created us and sustains us and who calls us into relationship with himself.
The gospel we offer has great power. It is such good news! In Jesus Christ, we are given the real presence of God in our humanity, living our life, dying our death, and raising us to new life, a life which is at this moment hidden with Christ in God and offered to us right now in the gift of the Holy Spirit. Surely, there is a deep hunger hidden somewhere in the human heart, longing to hear this good news, no matter how distracted a person may be by their abundance and blessings.
And so, we pray. We serve. We love. We pray and care for each and every person we meet, helping them see God is offering them the same gift which was given to us. And we trust in God’s good time, he will enable them to encounter the truth of their need for him, and the wonder of his precious gift of life in Christ Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
Abba, thank you for your faithful love and for all the abundant blessings we receive from you. Thank you for the gift of both prosperity and poverty, for in the midst of each of these we can come to know you and learn to trust you more. May we always be on guard against greed and indifference, and freely share with others all you have provided for us, through Jesus, and by your Spirit. Amen.
“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
“For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” 1 Thessalonians 2:3-8 NASB
By Linda Rex
This month at Good News Fellowship we are celebrating all the hands which join together to minister to the people in our community and to the body of Christ. We have so many people in our little congregation who are integral in some way to the ministry of Community Café and to the church itself. I am grateful to each person who contributes their gifts, prayers, and financial support.
I realize there are times when we wonder whether or not all the effort is worth it. We sacrifice and struggle to serve, and it may seem like it doesn’t make a difference or we can’t seem to do enough to satisfy the needs or expectations of those we are serving.
Needs seem to multiply the more we try to meet them. We cannot control the weather, or the destructiveness of fire and wind. Jesus said we would always have the poor among us, for there will always be someone who can’t or won’t live within their means. It seems there will always be needs for us to meet as a participation in God’s care for his creation.
Expectations, however, are a different thing entirely. The longer I am in pastoral ministry, the more I realize the power of expectations to cause disappointment, discouragement, resentment, and disunity.
Some people do not realize the unreasonable expectations they put on pastors and others in pastoral ministry. I know of pastors’ wives who dread the phone ringing just when the family is setting down to dinner because it seems to always be the same person demanding instant attention about something which is not urgent nor life-threatening.
Pastors and those in pastoral ministry have to have really strong personal boundaries otherwise it is very easy for them to allow people to invade every part of their lives to the extent there is nothing left for their own family. They often find themselves saying yes to too many things. There are a lot of good things to do—people to care for and needs to be met. And the list of things to do seems to grow all the time.
It is because we have a heart to care for others and to show them God’s love that it is easy to say yes to too many things. It is easy to burn ourselves out working for Christ, when Christ never once asked us to do any of the things we are doing. This is why it is so important we be able to discern God’s real calling to each of us individually and collectively, and to only participate fully in those particular things God is calling us to do with him.
But in saying no to certain things, we need to be willing to accept the reality we are going to disappoint someone. We are going to fail to meet someone’s expectations of us, and that is going to feel uncomfortable for a while for both us and for them.
I have a hard time saying no to opportunities to serve in my community group. I would really like to be doing everything they ask me to do. But I have learned I cannot say yes unless I am certain it is what God wants me to be doing and I genuinely have the time, the ability, and the calling to do it. I realize saying no is going to make them unhappy just as it makes me unhappy, and it very well may cause them to draw away from me and not include me in future opportunities. But no is what I need to say.
I am grateful I minister to a congregation which is so respectful of my time and home life, I have to remind them to call me when they are going through a difficult time. I am grateful they remind me to take care of myself and my family, and they often step up when I have more going on than I can do on my own.
I don’t have a spouse to share my load, and I am deeply grateful when my brothers and sisters are willing to help me and serve me in so many ways. But realize I also have to be respectful of their time, energy, and capacity to serve as well. I need to not have expectations of people in my congregation which are unreasonable or insensitive.
Sometimes I forget to be thoughtful and considerate to my spiritual community, and I regret it when I do. My brothers and sisters in Christ pour themselves out generously and freely, so I pray Abba will pour generously and freely back into them in every way possible so they will be renewed and encouraged rather than drained and exhausted.
Sometimes we can have and do express unreasonable and unrealistic expectations of people and do not realize we are doing it. Unhealthy expectations of others can cause pain and disrupt relationships. When we know someone has a caregiving, generous personality, we need to protect them from their tendency to over give rather than taking advantage of it all the time.
We also need to respect the humanity of those who serve or lead others in the body of Christ. I cannot enumerate the veiled criticisms I have received about decisions which cost me hours of prayer, fasting, and tears to make. It seems sometimes people expect me as a pastor to not have anything in my life which I regret or which I did not have control over. Their expectation is I will always have lived my life in a way which meets their idea of perfection. Such expectations are unreasonable and unhealthy. The truth is, any pastor I know who is worth their salt is an ongoing creation of redemption in Christ and has places in his or her life where God is at work right now healing, transforming, and renewing.
There are times when in conversation with someone, I perceive sly innuendo and subtle hints of how I need to improve my ministry or home life. This seems to be an unpleasant but natural part of the journey of pastoral ministry. I have always been open and transparent, and it tends to open me up to criticism. But I would rather live this way than to feel like I need to hide myself away from the people I love and serve all the time. Real relationship requires authenticity, even though such transparency opens us up to criticism and unrealized expectations. Real relationship requires a lot of grace—grace which pastors and those in pastoral ministry need a lot of.
Perhaps as we celebrate this month, it is good time to be reminded of the generosity and kindness of the God who laid everything down for us. This is the God who in Christ willingly joined himself to our humanity and sent his Spirit so he could share in every part of our life and our service to others. This is the God who replenishes, renews, and restores us, and who inspires us to care for and love others. We draw our life and our being from him. May we be filled anew with his love and grace, and find renewal in him as we serve him and those he brings into our lives.
Thank you, Abba, for each and every person in our lives who serves you and each one of us. Thank you for those who give of their time, prayers, and resources so that others may be blessed, cared for, and comforted. Free us from our unhealthy and insensitive expectations of others, and enable us to be gracious and compassionate in every circumstance, and sensitive to the limitations of those who serve us. Replenish and renew all those in pastoral ministry, and remind them what they do to share in your ministry is valuable and worthwhile, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.” Philippians 2:17-18 NASB
“Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” 1 Thessalonians