by Linda Rex
I grew up in the suburbs of metropolitan Los Angeles and know what it’s like to live in a big city. Today I live and work in and near metropolitan Nashville.
I find living in a large city such as Nashville or L.A. has its strong points, and I can see why people would want to live and work in these hubs of humanity. There are many opportunities to be found in close proximity, especially with regards to cultural and recreational attractions, employment opportunities, and educational institutions.
Living in a big city is not what I would prefer, but I can appreciate the benefits of this lifestyle. I personally prefer small town living, but have learned to adapt to the higher stress, less privacy and less relaxed environment of this area. This is because I have learned over the years that whether urban or rural, the people who live in this world are at their heart, the same as you and me—we all are made in God’s image to live together in loving community.
Between these two adventures in big city living, I also lived in rural southeast Iowa, where the closest city of any real size was at least forty-five minutes from home. In that part of the United States of America, it was not uncommon for people to leave their homes and cars unlocked, and for neighbors to enter by the back door.
When I was eight months pregnant and going to town on a hot summer day, my car ran out of gas two miles from the closest town. I was a lot less nervous then about having someone help me than I am today because that’s what people did there when someone was in trouble. Neighbors were neighbors and looked out for one another.
As I’ve gotten to know more of the people who live next door to Good News Fellowship in Nashville, I’ve come to see that same heart of true neighborliness also exists here and there in the community around our church. Many of our neighbors are kind, helpful people who want their neighborhood to be a safe, upbeat, and warm community where old and young people alike can live free from abuse or neglect.
Our neighbors want to be able to walk or run down their streets during the day and the night, and not fear they will get mugged, or simply shot because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. They would like to be able to trust that someone will not steal their belongings, or damage their cars, or invade their homes. They would like to live without fear, and to be able to trust others with their lives, their homes and their belongings.
Our neighbors simply want to be good neighbors who live in loving community. They want to help people who need to be watched out for, such as elderly or sick neighbors who can’t get out or who are easily taken advantage of. They want to get together to share a meal or to clean the trash off the streets. Whether or not they realize it, in doing these things in community, they are sharing in the unmistakeable heart of love and compassion which exists within the inner relationship of the Father and the Son in the Spirit.
In our common humanity, whether urban or rural dwellers, we were created to live with one another in this kind of loving community. We were not created to prey on one another or to take advantage of one another. We were created to love one another and to look out for one another. When we don’t live together with love and respect and understanding, all kinds of misery is the result. This is because we are not being who we really are—who we were created by God to be.
True neighborliness which is loving and respectful cannot be legislated. It is not really possible to tell people to be good to one another and expect them to do it just because there are laws which say they should and penalties for when they don’t. External efforts to create loving community are no guarantee such community will come into existence and then stay.
The heart of love and compassion which is at the root of true neighborliness has its source in our God of love—the One who pours his love into us by his Holy Spirit. We find God at work in many places and in many people who we, because of our prejudices and presuppositions, believe are not good people. We need to open our hearts and minds to the reality God is at work in each person’s life and heart—we are all made in God’s image and redeemed by his Son and given the gift of the Spirit who is at work in this world.
Our participation in the work the Spirit is doing in this world to bring the love of the Father and the Son to full fruition is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to pray for, love and respect each person God places in front of us. Those who are so broken as to prey upon us, violate us and steal from us need this love just as much as we need it. So we follow Jesus’ instruction to pray for them, to love and bless them, while guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Sometimes in order to do God’s work of loving others, we need to have and use healthy boundaries.
As members of the body of Christ, we as members of Christian churches have a responsibility to lead others in loving the unlovely, and caring for the broken and downtrodden. We are called to demonstrate through loving actions the real caring and compassion which exists within the Trinity and should exist within the body of Christ. We should all work together, no matter our creed, in the unity of the Spirit and the oneness of Christ, to show the neighborly love of God to others in our church neighborhood.
When we do this, we are entering into a battle for our community. The kingdom of darkness does not appreciate any light we may bring into our neighborhood, and so there is a struggle. But we walk in the assurance that Christ has done what was needed to defeat the darkness. We walk by faith, not by sight. In other words, we keep loving, praying for and showing compassion to those Christ places in front of us, and bear up, by God’s grace, under whatever opposition may come our way. We walk the difficult road of building up community when efforts are being made to tear it down.
Holy Father, by your Son and in the Spirit, empower us to love one another as you created us to. Give us hearts of compassion and respect. Make us “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” as we interact with our neighbors, whoever they may be. God, by your great love, create loving community within our neighborhood so we can experience the same love which exists in your very Being as Father, Son and Spirit. In your Name, we pray. Amen.
“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8 NASB
by Linda Rex
There are some things in life we just don’t like doing, and not everyone shares the same dislike of doing certain things. For much of my life I haven’t liked washing dishes, probably because it was a household chore forced on me as a child and it involved washing an entire counter’s worth of dirty dishes. Today washing dishes is something I’ve learned to tolerate, and I thank God for my dishwasher all the time because it is such a blessing to me. I doubt I will ever grow to love the task of cleaning the grime off dishes, but I do remember on occasion to thank God I even have the dishes to wash and the food to wash off of them.
And that’s what got me to thinking. What about those things in life we just don’t like doing, but we know doing them is the right thing to do—something God wants us to do? We run up against these things all the time—it’s a part of our human existence. Sometimes we feel we don’t have the heart to do what we know we need to do. But maybe we’re wrong.
The Israelites stood on the shores of the Jordan River and Moses began to talk with them about the journey they had been on with their God, how he had created them and then redeemed them by bringing them out of slavery, and how he would bring them into their new land. And Moses gave them the directive God had placed in his mouth: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:5)
The evidence of Israel’s travels through the wilderness show they did not and didn’t seem to be capable of truly loving the God who created and redeemed them. They seemed to always drift back towards their days in slavery or over into the idolatry of the nations they encountered. They definitely did not have the heart to obey God, much less love him wholeheartedly. If anything, their heart was turned away from God and not towards him.
There were times in my life where I felt it was monstrously unfair for God to expect Israel to love him with their whole heart when they weren’t capable of doing it. It seemed horribly unjust.
But as time has gone by, I have come to know God a little better. I have learned to look at these stories from a different perspective. In the context of this directive to Israel we hear Moses describing all the ways in which God had shown his love and faithfulness to them, and how he was going to continue to faithfully fulfill his covenant love relationship with them as they moved on into the promised land.
The basis of God’s request Israel love him wholeheartedly was within himself, in his love and faithfulness. It was not something they had to drum up on their own—which is what they kept trying to do. God had called them into relationship with himself, had given them all the ways in which they needed to live to fully and joyfully participate in that relationship. By his love and grace he would ensure their relationship with him would last and they would indeed love him with all their heart and soul and might.
As time went by, God sent prophets to Israel to call them back into their covenant relationship of love. We read in Hosea and other places of the heartache this nation continually caused God by their infidelities and indifference and outright rebellion against him. But God was faithful to them in spite of their unfaithfulness. God was loving and gracious to them in spite of their ingratitude and rejection of him. The prophets told the people one day God would give them a new heart and a new mind which would enable them to love their Redeemer with their whole hearts. He would make it possible for them to do what they were created to do—to love God wholeheartedly and to love one another.
This should be a comfort to you and to me. We know in our heart of hearts we are incapable of truly loving God and each other as we ought. All we have to do is listen to the daily news to understand how true it is—people cannot and do not love God wholeheartedly, much less love one another. Even the ones we expect to be truly loving people—pastors, preachers, teachers, caregivers—turn out to be just as selfish, greedy and cruel as the next person. And we see within ourselves the reality of our own inability to love God or others as we should. And it scares us.
It is important for us to see our capacity and desire to love God wholeheartedly comes from God himself and is not something we do under our own power or by our own efforts. It is all of grace.
The reason God came to earth in human form was so each of us could one day share in God’s very own capacity to love and be loved. In Jesus Christ we are each taken up through his life, death, resurrection and ascension into the very life and love of God himself. When the Father, through Jesus, sent the Spirit to humanity, he gave each of us the capacity to love with God’s love. He gave us the heart to love God wholeheartedly and to love one another. We have a new heart, a new mind and a new soul—we share in Christ’s capacity to truly love.
God is gracious and allows us to choose for ourselves what we will live out of—the broken and diseased heart which died with Christ, or the new heart bought and paid for and given to us in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and in the gift of the Spirit. The evil one likes to keep us focused on the old dead, evil heart, and does his best to destroy the heart God created within us in Christ. He likes to distract us with all the old ways of being and doing, making us think we are incapable of loving God or others.
But nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ—in God we live and move and have our being. (Rom. 8:38-39; Acts 17:28) God’s love is as much a part of us as Christ is, for he shares fully in our humanity even now. The Spirit awakens us to faith in Christ. He gives us the capacity to be the loving people we are in Christ. He grows us up into Christ and enables us to love God wholeheartedly and to love others with Christ’s love. He works to change us, to transform our hearts by faith.
God does not ask us to do what he does not give us the capacity to do. He continually is the basis of our relationship with him, and he pours himself into us through Jesus in the Spirit so we can grow in our love for him and our love for one another. Our freedom to resist and reject his work within us is also a part of his gracious loving act, for he will not have robots in his family—only adopted, loving children who love him wholeheartedly out of a love which has its roots within himself, in the perfect perichoretic love which exists between the Father, Son and Spirit.
So this whole thing of loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength is not a matter of our efforts, but rather a matter of faith—of trusting in the love and faithfulness of God and relying upon his gracious work in us through Jesus and by the Spirit to create within us a desire and willingness, and even a passion, to love God completely and entirely with a deep, everlasting love.
In a way, I suppose, it’s kind of like me putting the dishes in the dishwasher, throwing in the detergent and turning the dial to “normal”. All I’m doing is participating with the dishwasher in getting the dishes done. I don’t have to do them, I just have to bring them to the dishwasher and allow the dishwasher to do its work.
Thank God that he is not like a machine which breaks down and does only what I tell it to do. Instead he is a loving, compassionate Being who is faithful and has already taken care of everything through his Son and by his Spirit. I just get to be a part of what he’s doing. I can rest fully in him and trust he will give me the heart to love him wholeheartedly, and when I don’t, I can trust I’m already forgiven and accepted in Christ. Isn’t that just great? I just love that about him!
Thank you, God, that you never give us anything to do which you do not give us the capacity to do through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Do finish what you have begun in us—we trust you will enable us to love you wholeheartedly and follow you wherever you lead. Through Jesus and by your Spirit we pray, amen.
“And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’” Luke 10:27 NASB
“They shall be My people, and I will be their God; and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me. I will rejoice over them to do them good and will faithfully plant them in this land with all My heart and with all My soul.” Jeremiah 32:38–41 NASB
By Linda Rex
Lent: This morning I am sitting in the office of the social security administration, waiting to finish up some business regarding my mother’s estate. As I sit in the hard, plastic chair, I look around me. People of all shapes, sizes, colors and ages are all waiting too, anxiously eyeing the board to see if they will be helped next.
It seems all of us waiting have a common concern this morning—having our particular need met by a government agency staffed with human beings like us. Each of us sitting here has our own unique story, and our own special problem we need help with. We each want to be heard, and we each want to receive a solution to our own dilemma.
At a window nearby a lady raises her voice. She is frustrated because she is having to state her personal affairs out loud because, she thinks, the agent won’t read her paperwork. The agent continues to quietly help her, doing her best to understand the lady’s situation. Unfortunately, there are laws and restrictions that prevent the agent from being able to do what the lady wants done, so the lady becomes angry and leaves.
When we are out in the midst of life, interacting with others, we come up against people who are very different from us. Our uniqueness meets up with their uniqueness. This can cause friction, misunderstandings and/or pain. Or it can be an opportunity for one to help or strengthen or bless the other.
I recall a conversation I had last night where I was owning up to my tendency to be more spontaneous and easy-going than I am organized and controlled about my affairs. When I come up against someone who is very precise, disciplined and organized, I can drive them crazy if I don’t make some effort to be considerate of our differences. It is important to make room for one another and not to expect everyone to be the same as we are.
We can get so bent out of about our differences that we miss the most important realization of all: even though we each have unique stories and ways of being, we also at the same time share a common humanity. We need to remember that all of us come out of the same earth as Adam. The same elements which composed his body are those which exist in ours. The same Spirit who breathed life into him breathes life into each one of us. And the same God who created and sustains each of us came and lived as a human being just like each one of us.
As I sat last night and watched the preview of the new movie “Young Messiah”, I was touched again by the realization of the humanity of Jesus as a young child. I have so many questions about what it was like for him: What was it like to be moved from one country to another as his family traveled from Egypt and settled in Nazareth? How was he able to grow up and come to a realization of who he was, while at the same time dealing with Satan’s constant efforts to kill and destroy him? When did Jesus realize that he was not just Joseph’s child, but was the Son of God? How did he feel when his stepfather Joseph passed away and he became the leader of his family in his place?
The battle Jesus fought in his humanity began at birth. I’m sure the angels were kept very busy watching over him as he grew up. When I think of all the children around the world today who lose their innocence and/or their lives on a daily basis due to man’s inhumanity to man, it is a miracle indeed that Jesus, living in the Roman Empire, grew up to be the man he was. But having been a child, experiencing the things he experienced, Jesus could with a warm and tender heart hold children near and bless them when he was an adult. He knew what it was like to grow up in a dark, scary and dangerous world.
I have a hard time believing as a child Jesus was someone who took everything seriously and walked about preaching and praying all the time. I’m more inclined to believe he reveled in his heavenly Father’s creation—running through the fields, wading in the streams and chasing after the butterflies just as my children did when they were little. I’m also inclined to believe Jesus enjoyed living and so he laughed, joked with his friends, and played just like you and I do.
Talking and thinking about Jesus’ humanity does not diminish him in any way. If anything, it makes him more amazing and worthy of our adoration and praise. Through Jesus we can begin to find a commonality with God rather than just a separateness and uniqueness. Humanity is completely other than God, but God took on humanity in Jesus Christ so that we would be and are connected with God in the very core of our being—God in human flesh, transforming humanity from the inside out so that we can dwell forever with he who is completely other than us.
Jesus was not just a vague human being without distinction. He was born and raised in a specific culture and in a specific area of the world. He was a particular race and a particular gender. This does not mean that he did not identify with others different than himself, but rather that no matter who we are in the specific way of our being, Jesus was that for us. He identified with us in our unique situation, in our unique time, place and circumstance. Because he understood the context of his specific life, he understands the context of each of ours.
Unlike the agent sitting in the booth waiting to hear another person’s concerns, Jesus is present and able to hear each and all of our concerns at every moment because he God. And he is present and able to understand and act in our best interests in every situation because he has experienced our humanity and shares it even now.
Wherever we are and in whatever situation we may find ourselves, we can trust we are not there all by ourselves. God has come through Christ and in the Spirit to live in human hearts. He is working to complete Christlikeness in each of us, because Christlikeness is our perfected, glorified humanity which Christ lived out here on earth which is poured out into each of us by the Holy Spirit.
We have nothing to fear, because whatever road we are on, Christ has walked it and will walk it with us all the way through to death and resurrection. We don’t have to get anxious that God won’t call our number in time—he’s got each of us covered—he knows us intimately. We don’t have to get upset if we aren’t helped immediately—he’s already working in our situation even though we may not see or recognize this is true. And we can trust that he understands the details and will do what’s best for us, no matter how things may appear to us at the moment.
Holy Father, grant that we each might be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus so that we may all with one voice glorify you. May we accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us, so you might be glorified in us. [Rom. 15:5-7] Thank you that before time began you chose to adopt us as your children through your Son Jesus Christ, and even when we were so terribly human and unlike you, you became like us so we could participate in your divine nature. [Eph. 1:5-6; 2:4-7] Grant us the grace to love one another as you have loved us, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:19–22 NASB