joy

Coming out of Darkness

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By Linda Rex

This morning as I padded my way into the kitchen early in the morning, my eye was caught by a shaft of bright light on the floor. Since it was still dark, I peeked out the window to see the source of the light. All was black, but up in the night sky hung a silver moon, big, round, and glowing with white light.

I have a fondness for moonlight. Perhaps it is my romantic side that calls to me when I see a huge orange moon rise over the horizon. I have to stop and take notice—God’s playing with his creation—all the colors, shapes and creatures in constant motion, taking on new forms each moment of each day.

I think it is significant that God creates such beauty for us to enjoy at night when the earth is at its darkest. For it is an excellent illustration of what God does in the midst of the darkness in our lives.

Surely all of us know the experience of having some place, some event, some experience in our lives which we don’t want anyone else to know about. There are places of shame, guilt, anger, loss and grief. We keep these hidden, out of view, sometimes even hidden from ourselves. It seems to be the safest, most painless way to live.

But God woos us with the moonglow of his love in the midst of our dark places. He doesn’t allow us to wallow in shame or self-pity, but calls us to bring everything out into the light of his presence. Jesus, as the Light, is now joined with us and has sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts.

We are living in the Light now, but we seem to think we can hide behind the bushes with Adam and Eve. God never meant for us to live in fear of him. He meant for us to live in a covenant relationship of love with him, moment by moment living out our human existence in his presence. All that we do is a participation in his divine life and love.

So Jesus calls us into the light of his presence and reminds us that when we are truthful about who and what we are, we will live and walk boldly with him, no matter where we are at in our journey. If indeed, we are struggling with some character flaw or relational issue, he isn’t amazed or appalled. Rather, he is concerned. He wants to help. He wants us to acknowledge our dependency upon him to do the right thing in hard situations.

His calling to us is to live and walk in truth, in relationship with the Lord of all, in the light of his presence. Even if we have fallen short in some way of Christ’s perfections, the truth is that Jesus stands in our place. We can come boldly before the throne of grace because it is Jesus who is there already, holding for us the grace we desperately need. He’s already paved the way for us to be forgiven.

As we live in this intimacy with God through Christ in the Spirit, doing all of life in God’s presence in constant conversation with him and knowing his great love for us, we find that we don’t want to do anything to mar that relationship. We dread the possibility of ruining that beautiful relationship. We don’t want to grieve our divine Daddy, and we don’t want to insult the Spirit of grace. Our brother is so precious to us that we wouldn’t dream of hurting him—no, we’d rather die first. And so we find that we begin to live out of a new center. We find that old ways of being and doing begin to fall away.

Those things we have to continue to wrestle with, we find the grace for in the midst of this ongoing relationship with God in Christ. It’s not about being good enough, and it’s not about being saved or not saved. That was all taken care of a long time ago in the coming of the Word in Christ. No, now it’s about living in the presence of God each and every moment, and yielding to the will and work of God as he conforms us to the image of his Son.

Transformation is something God is working out in each of us. Christ is there, and the Spirit awakens us to reality that the Light of God is now present with us, in us and for us. God loves us and always will love us. He won’t forsake us, but has promised himself to us forever.

This is where darkness becomes light. For surely we would, if we realized, run to the Light and not away from it. Why hide when being in the Light is so freeing and so filled with joy and peace?

Lord Jesus, you are our Light. You are the one who comes to us in the Spirit and frees us to be all that we were created to be from before time began. Thank you, Father, that in your Son we are free now to live in the light of your presence every moment of every day. Thank you for this gift of life and of love. We love you and may, dear God, our lives bring you joy every moment of every day. Through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” John 3:19–21

The Fragrance of Grace

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by Linda Rex

This morning I had a quiet chat with my daughter as I was preparing to write this blog. When she began to leave the room, she asked why my room smelled like perfume. We had lit a couple of candles while we were talking, but what she didn’t know was that I had lit both candles earlier, long before she came in, and had just blown them out before she arrived. They had filled the room with a combination of the scents “Midnight Oasis” and “Sweet Lavender”, both of which were pretty strong scents.

I like the way some scents hang in the air and give a room a pleasant feel when you enter it. Sometimes a soft, spicy scent can make a room feel pleasant and homey—like the scent of cinnamon that lingers in the air of the kitchen after I’ve finished baking snickerdoodles or apple pie.

I’m not real fond of the heavy scent that I often smell at a flower or candle shop. Usually it is much too overpowering for me to really enjoy. For the most part, a barely discernible scent is more my style.

Speaking of scents, I wonder if we realize that sometimes we leave behind a strong scent—and I don’t mean a physical scent, but the kind that is a feeling or impression. We leave behind something that sticks in people’s minds about us after we’re gone. And I wonder whether or not it is what the apostle Paul describes as “a fragrance of Christ to God” or “a sweet aroma of the knowledge of him.”

Jesus offered himself in our place as a sacrifice, the aroma of which was and is pleasing to God. He calls us to be living sacrifices as well, ones who leave behind the sweet aroma that is our participation in Christ’s fragrance as we share with others the knowledge of Christ. When we walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, we are a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God just as he was.

Have you ever met someone and immediately known that you’d better watch yourself or you would be the brunt of criticism and/or ridicule? Some people just have this air of condemnation about them. They give off an odor of a critical spirit, of impatience and sometimes even cruelty. The air fairly sizzles with negative energy when you get close.

Personally, I know that there are days when I am guilty of walking about with a cloud over my head, dripping raindrops all over everybody I come near. When I have an “Eeyore” day, I’m not much fun to be around. In fact, I can be downright stinky on days like that.

Whether we like it or not, we’re always giving off some sort of aroma, bad or good. Paul counsels us to make it an aroma of love—the fragrance of grace that is shared with us in Jesus. When others are around us, they should catch the scent of God’s mercy and compassion, and be influenced by it. They should experience God’s grace in a real way as they interact with us. And it should linger in their hearts and minds when we leave.

It’s a good thing that it’s Christ in us who is the true fragrance we are to manifest. We share in his perfect life and perfect love. It is his grace that we live and walk in and share with others. He is our life, and we share that life with others. What a blessing that it is all of grace!

How often I have been struggling to keep a good attitude and have found myself in conversation with someone who doesn’t need my junk—they just need a good dose of Christ! Thankfully God hears the quiet prayers of our hearts, for it seems that he gives me just the right thing to say or do in that moment. So in spite of me, there is left behind a gift of his grace and love to minister to the one who is hurting. I am so grateful that he is the true minister, not me in those moments. The fragrance of grace is Christ in me.

No matter what God has called you or me to do in our lives, no matter where we may find ourselves, or what we may be asked to do at any moment, God is present and powerful in us, with us, and for us. His grace makes it possible for us to exhude the very life and love of God himself. We place our trust in him and he goes to work. And then in the end—he gets all the praise and glory, not us. God “manifests through us the sweet aroma” and we are all blessed in the process. Praise God!

Thank you, Lord, that you take our stinky selves and transform us by your grace into sweet smelling sacrifices that are a reflection of your love and mercy. Grant us the grace to let you transform us and make us into people who are a joy to be around and a blessing to others. We trust you to finish what you have begun in us, through Jesus Christ and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.” 2 Cor. 2:14–17

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
Eph. 5:1–2

When God Creates Leftovers

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pink hibiscus flower

by Linda Rex

It struck me this morning that God has this thing about creating leftovers. He doesn’t just provide in times of need. He often does it in such a way that there are plenty of leftovers for another day.

I think this must be his way of reminding us that he’s got it all under control and that we don’t need to fear that we’re going to run out somehow. I think, at least from my personal experience, that we tend to think God only gives just enough for what we need each day. He does that at times, it’s true. But many times he overflows us with plenty just as an outpouring of his love for us.

This morning I was reading about Jesus feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. I was reminded that this wasn’t the first time God fed a crowd with a very small amount of food. And to top it all off, there were plenty of leftovers both times.

In the Old Testament we find the story of Elisha the prophet, who along with a large crowd of disciples was dealing with the reality of a famine in his land. Typically a prophet or a teacher like Jesus did not have the means to feed or support his disciples. It was more appropriate that the disciples provide for the one who was instructing them in spiritual matters.

So a man came to Elisha and gave him what the Torah commanded—firstfruits—a precious gift in that time of famine. Twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain—but for a hundred people? And yet God blessed and multiplied that gift and there was plenty left over. From one man’s obedience, another man’s faith, and the power and blessing of God Almighty, came an abundance for many with plenty leftover for the future.

I wonder if the disciples of Jesus’ day gave any consideration to this story when Jesus suggested that they feed the multitude. Since it wasn’t the teacher’s role to feed his disciples, Jesus was showing a hospitality that was unexpected. The disciples’ incredulity was evident. I can almost hear them say, “Are you kidding, Jesus?”

I imagine Jesus must have really enjoyed the experience of providing for a hungry crowd, watching with amusement and pleasure as their hearts and eyes filled with wonder at the miracle occurring before them. How tickled he must have been as the disciples who were so worried about tomorrow’s meal found in the end that there was a full basket for each of them to carry. What joy Jesus must have taking in providing, not just for their daily needs, but also an abundance for their future needs.

How much more so, does the God whom Jesus most perfectly reflects, want to do the same for you and me? Sure, there are times when we just have to depend on him daily and grow in our faith, trusting him to provide moment by moment. But aren’t there also many times in our lives, if we would just stop long enough to see and to be grateful, that God just rains down the blessings? When he pours out more than we can really take in?

Perhaps you are standing there today with a single loaf and a piece of fish and wondering how you are going to feed your family. You’re stressing out because you are behind on your bills and new problems keep stealing what funds you do have. Well, that’s where Jesus comes in.

It’s helpful to see Jesus as being the same today as he was in that secluded place with the multitudes. He still has a heart of compassion and an ability to provide so abundantly that there are plenty of leftovers. He just asks us to have a seat, to be still, and to trust him to multiply our loaf and fish so that our need will be more than met.

It’s also helpful to realize that Jesus didn’t do this all the time. We only have a couple of episodes recorded for us when he actually fed a crowd. But it seems that his disciples were always fed and cared for, the bills were paid, the taxes turned in on time (even though it took a little fishing first to come up with the required coin, Matt 17:27). When we walk with Jesus day by day, he takes care of us, and many times more abundantly than we could ever ask or imagine. (Eph. 3:20) God provides and he also doesn’t seem to mind leaving behind some leftovers.

Generous Father and Gracious Jesus, thank you for all you provide by your Spirit day by day and moment by moment. Thank you that you give freely and with such love that we are at times overwhelmed by your goodness. Fill us with the faith we need to trust you in times of scarcity and want. And grant us the grace to just as freely and in faith offer all that we have to others, trusting you to make up the difference and to provide the leftovers. In Jesus name. Amen.

“Now a man came from Baal-shalishah, and brought the man of God bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And he said, ‘Give them to the people that they may eat.’ His attendant said, ‘What, will I set this before a hundred men?’ But he said, ‘Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, “They shall eat and have some left over.”’ So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the LORD.” 2 Kings 4:42–44 NASB

“Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets.” Matthew 14:19–20 NASB

Expectancy

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by Linda Rex

One of the things that I enjoyed when my children were younger was buying them gifts for a special occasion. Months before the event I would be listening to them as we did things together, trying to see what kind of things they enjoyed and what they might be interested in having. We would walk through a store while I was getting some household items, and I would watch them linger over a toy or game that caught their eye.

I’d watch them plan out the number of chores they would have to do or how much allowance they would have to save up to buy it. Often it would be more than what they could manage immediately. They’d talk about it occasionally, maybe even hint around about it, but for them it was just a dream—their heart’s desire that they couldn’t see their way to achieving.

So it was with much secret delight that I would find a way to purchase the item and wrap it up so I could give it to them on a special occasion. Then I would expectantly look forward to the day when I could watch their face light up with joy as they opened their gift.

Can you imagine with what expectancy God awaits to reveal his Son to us in all his glory? And how he joyfully anticipates the day when you and I along with all his children will be revealed in the full glory he has given us in Jesus Christ—a glory that is already ours, but is for now, hidden with Christ in God? (Col. 3:3-4)

The ascension, which we will celebrate this Sunday, is so significant an event!

Jesus brings each and every one of us into the presence of the Father in the Spirit, so that our redemption is secure. And each and every moment, as a living Lord bearing our humanity, Jesus Christ intercedes for us and intervenes in our lives day by day.

He is actively working, building his temple, the dwelling place of God, even now—working for the day when everything he accomplished in his life, death, resurrection and ascension into glory will be worked out in our human sphere, when his kingdom will be on earth as it is in heaven.

And we get to participate in what he is doing in bringing his kingdom here on earth! We can stand expectantly waiting and doing nothing. Or in our expectant waiting, we can be busy participating in his work of bringing his kingdom to earth.

We can respond to the lead of his Holy Spirit as God shows us ways to love God and love others. God has given each of us a way to participate in what he is doing in the world—let us do it in union and communion with the Father, Son and Spirit and with one another day by day.

And let’s do it in expectant joy! Our ascended King rules even now and is handing us the gift we’ve only dreamed of having. He’s saying to you and to me: “Open it! It’s yours! I bought it, made it, just for you! You’ll love it!”

Thank you, Daddy-God, for the great gift you’ve planned from before time and have prepared for us. You gave everything up so we could have this gift. And you gave us your Son and now you’ve given us your Spirit. We have been given all we need for life and godliness. What a gift! Thank you so much! We receive it with great joy and gratitude. Amen.

“And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” Acts 1:9-11

Glory Days

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by Linda Rex

Have you ever had one of those days when everything went exactly as you planned it? And everyone who saw you had something upbeat to tell you? You were in your glory—all was wonderful and beautiful?

Sometimes life gets pretty gloomy and we forget that good things do happen to us. If you’ve never experienced a really good day or even part of a good day, then I pray you will have that experience. There’s nothing quite like it.

I’ve talked a lot in my blogs and my preaching about how God shares all of life with us, especially the suffering, grief and sorrow of life. But he also shares the glory days with us.

We will be celebrating Palm Sunday this weekend and as I read through the story again it occurred to me that here is a time in Christ’s humanity when he had a glory day. The pilgrims entering Jerusalem to worship at the temple during the Passover season were welcomed and celebrated. Jesus, however, received an even more special greeting, for he was being welcomed as the Messiah. And, indeed, he was the King of the universe, come to save his people. Even though they misunderstood what kind of king and savior he was, they were absolutely right in acknowledging his glory.

Oftentimes we will run into someone who objects to us receiving the glory that is ours. In Jesus’ case, the religious leaders objected to all this praise. It infringed on them receiving the glory they thought was theirs alone. And it most certainly looked like the people were giving glory to Jesus that only God deserved.

But Jesus said if the people didn’t praise him, the stones themselves would cry out in praise. No one would stand in the way of God in Christ receiving the praise and glory due him. Jesus himself would not prevent anyone from giving glory to God at this moment. God was keeping his Word, fulfilling every promise made to man since the beginning of time in the person of his Son. How could anyone be silent in this moment?

What can help to keep our feet on the ground in the midst of our own personal glory day is recognizing that whatever glory we receive is taken up in Christ and perfected in him. Whatever glory we receive is a participation in Christ’s glory.

We were created to be reflections of God’s glory. Glory was never meant to be ours alone, independent of God. For it is in him that we “live and move and exist” as the apostle Paul said. As we shine, God is glorified, and we can point to him as the source and meaning of whatever recognition, praise and blessing we may receive from others.

Yes, we were meant to shine, to excel, to be praiseworthy. But all in union and communion with God in Christ. Gathered about us—in us, with us, for us—we find the Father, Son and Spirit overflowing with love, joy and pleasure at the accomplishment and success and beauty of their child. God’s glory overflows into us and shines for all to see.

When the praise that is due comes, the compliments are showered on you, the recognition is given to you—receive them. Don’t reject them in false humility. Rather embrace them as opportunities to share in Christ’s glory. Turn them into the praise of God they are meant to be. Experience them as a participation in the life and love of the Father, Son and Spirit. You are God’s beloved child and he gets real excited when you have a glory day. So enjoy it with him!

Holy God, thank you so much for sharing your glory with us in Christ. Thank you for giving us happy times and times when we do well and praise comes. Grant us the grace to remember that it all is a participation in your life and love, your glory, rather than trying to hoard it and keep it for ourselves. For we acknowledge that it is in you, and you alone, that we live and move and have our existence. Amen.

“As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” Luke 19:37–40

The Foolish Wisdom of Christmas

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by Linda Rex

One of the things I can’t help but reflect on as I go through the Christmas season is how at one point in my life I totally misunderstood the celebration of Christmas. It did not make sense to me why everyone made such a big deal about a baby being born and laid in a manger. Sure, he was the Lord of all, but why worship him as a baby? He was human after all.

I believe a lot of people go through the holidays and do not have any foundation for the celebration of them. This, obviously, may be why Thanksgiving has lost its luster, and Christmas has become a major marketing tool rather than the celebration it was meant to be. We can celebrate the solstice if we wish, we can light candles for Hanukkah if we wish, and observe whatever festival we wish. But there is no reason to celebrate Christmas if we remove Christ from it. Why?

The celebration of the “Christ mass” (Christmas) was set at the same time as an old pagan holiday, because of the Christian tradition of replacing the pagan with Christ. Replacing the pagan with Christ is fundamental to the whole Christmas story and the Christ child.

In the Christian Scriptures the apostle Paul talks about the foolishness of God that is in reality wiser than any human wisdom. This wisdom, or foolishness, however you wish to look at it, is found in the Person of Jesus Christ. For in him, God has made possible and real the perfection, redemption, and restoration of each and every one of us. For Christ has taken our place: he stands in for us, being our goodness, holiness and purity, in our place. (Gal. 2:20) It is Christ who makes us new creatures.

He did this, as the apostle John wrote, by coming as the Word of God, God’s one and unique Son, and taking on our human flesh. (Jn. 1:14; 3:16) The baby in the manger we read about in the Christmas story was God and yet was at the same time fully human. It seems foolish that God would put himself at risk in this way—but in order to bring us as humans in with the union and communion of the Father, Son and Spirit, he sent his only Son to live in human flesh—to go through all the human experiences we go through, living in the Spirit as we are called to do, dying a horrific death in our place—so that one day we could dwell with God.

God risked it all for us—even the eternal fellowship of Father, Son and Spirit—the love that God lives in. As Jesus hung on the cross and cried out in pain, feeling the separation caused by the evil we as humans embrace, all of that oneness and love hung in the balance. All of us and our relationship with God hung in the balance at that moment—as God said ‘No!’ to evil and ‘Yes!’ to us being with him forever. It is in Christ’s life, death and resurrection that we have hope. For Jesus did in our place what none of us could do. His perfect response to the Father on our behalf in the Spirit made possible a future that otherwise could never have happened.

So the foolishness of a little baby in a manger which we celebrate at Christmas actually shows God’s tremendous and loving wisdom. Reject it, ridicule it, mock it if we wish. But it is still true. It is still there for us. The perfect gift, from a perfect God—a life filled with love in his presence forever. It is through the miracle of Christmas and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who once was a baby in a manger, that we enter into a new day—the Lord’s Day—and a new life in fellowship with God forever.

May you find comfort, peace and healing as you believe and receive God’s perfect ‘foolish’ gift of Jesus Christ, his Son, to stand in your place. And may God bless you with his hope, peace, joy and love throughout this New Year!

Thank you so much, Lord, that you are so much wiser than we are, and that you were willing to be ‘foolish’ so that we can participate in your holy fellowship of love and eternal life. Thank you for giving us a place at your table. We celebrate you and thank you for your precious gift. Bless us throughout this New Year with a deeper appreciation for all you have given and do give, as you pour out on us every heavenly blessing in Christ Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.

“But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” 1 Cor. 1:30-31 (NASB)