By Linda Rex
During Christmas we often read or hear quoted the prophecy of Isaiah regarding the Messiah. We are caught by the foretelling of the birth of One who would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. Into Israel’s darkness, Isaiah said, would come a great light. This prophecy was meant to comfort the nation Isaiah was warning to repent of their sins.
In between these descriptions of the Messiah is a reference to the battle of Midian. I thought this seemed so out of context to the rest of the passage—what does the battle of Midian have to do with the Messiah?
So I went and read about this famous battle in Judges 6 and 7. Typically, the people of Israel had been “doing what is right in their own eyes” and ended up being overrun with armies from other nations. These armies from Midian and other nations would come at harvest time and strip the land of all the food and animals. So the Israelites were starving and had to hide anything they wanted to keep.
Eventually the nation of Israel cried out to God and he sent an angel to Gideon. This man was hiding in a winepress, trying to thresh his wheat while hiding it from the invading armies. He, like the other Israelites, was fearful and just trying to find a way to survive.
I was struck by the conversation Gideon had with the angel, because the first thing the angel said was, “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior!” Obviously, valiant wasn’t probably the first thought anyone would have about Gideon. The youngest son of his family, he was hiding in a winepress, hoping no one would find him and his wheat.
His reply to the angel is so classic: “If the Lord is with us, then why has all this happened to us?” It is so like us as humans to blame God when things don’t go well in our lives. Even when the angel told him he would lead Israel to victory over the invading armies, Gideon demanded sign after sign from God—he didn’t believe that God really was with him.
In this story, we see God allowing Gideon to participate with him in his deliverance of Israel. But when he first called the people to battle, God had him whittle the 32,000 volunteers down to only 300. And when those 300 men went down into battle that fateful night, they merely blew trumpets and broke jars covering torches, and shouted “For the Lord and for Gideon!” And God did all the rest. It was only after the enemy was on the run that Gideon called for others to help in the mop-up process.
This story really fits in with the Christmas story because we believe the lie that God is not with us and doesn’t care about the oppression and suffering in our lives. We believe that we are weak and cowardly and without favor in God’s eyes. We deny that our struggles are as a result of our resistance against God and not living in agreement with the truth of who we are as God’s beloved, redeemed children.
But God comes and speaks truth into our lives—he even sends angels. And we still don’t hear him. We question the truth of who God is, if he even exists and if he really cares. God’s Word to us is “I am with you” but we believe he is not. We believe we are all alone and masters of our own fate.
But the zeal of the Lord is to accomplish the coming of his Word to show us once and for all who he is: He is a supernatural counselor, a mighty God, an everlasting loving fatherly ruler, a prince of never-ending peace and prosperity—and he is God with us, Immanuel.
The Word of God to humanity came to Mary (Luke 1:28-38) first through an angel, then through a tiny baby. The angel said to Mary, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!” God spoke the truth into Mary’s heart—she was favored by God and God was with her. And through Mary, God’s Word has come in human flesh—Immanuel—God with us—sharing every part of our human existence.
God cared enough about the suffering and oppression in our lives even when sometimes we deserve it to share it with us by sharing our humanity.
God cared enough about our failure to live according to the truth of who we are that he became one of us and lived the life we are to live perfectly so that we are all accepted in him—the beloved Son of the Father.
God cared enough about us being able to live in union and communion with him as the Triune God that he became one of us, lived our life, died for our sins at our hands and rose the third day, and ascended to heaven, carrying us with him into the presence of the Father.
And that wasn’t enough—he sent us the Holy Spirit so we could share in his abundant life, and have the living, indwelling Presence of the Holy Father and Son right now through the Spirit. God who is Light entered our darkness, the darkness of this world and the darkness of our souls—He shines on us, in us and through us.
He calls us to be heralds of his deliverance—to blow the trumpet and break the jars of our humanity that hide his light, to call others to join us in the battle—and to watch God do the deliverance.
God will finish what he has begun in sending his Son into human flesh and sending his Spirit into the world. He is zealous to bring many sons and daughters into glory—and he will finish this when Jesus returns in glory. One day we will be like him for we will see him as he is. Maranatha! May he come soon!
Hallelujah! You are an awesome and great God, full of all glory and Majesty. Thank you, Father, for sending us your Son and your Spirit—so that you, God, might be with us forever! Amen.
“The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them.
You shall multiply the nation,
You shall increase their gladness;
They will be glad in Your presence
As with the gladness of harvest,
As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders,
The rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian.
For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult,
And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire.
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:2–7 NASB
By Linda Rex
This time of year can really be difficult for some people. It seems that the songs we listen to, the Christmas movies we watch and the stories that are told tell about all this lovely holiday joy we should have. And yet, so many of us struggle just to put one foot in front of the other and make it through another day.
I don’t think God expects us to walk around all day, every day, with a big smile on our face. That’s actually kind of creepy, you know. Because it’s not real. God gives us our humanity back renewed in Christ and it’s a humanity that feels things deeply, that sorrows and grieves as much as it laughs and sings for joy.
I read a devotional this morning from New Life Ministries that reminded me the psalms in the Bible are filled with expressions of the whole spectrum of our human existence. There isn’t an emotion there that Christ didn’t feel. It is good to read them and experience God’s heart joining with our heart within the full expression of our humanity.
The psalms tell us that the trees and the animals and all creation sing for joy in praise to God. Over and over we are called to rejoice even in times of persecution and difficult circumstances. If it was left up to us to find the joy to do this, we couldn’t do it. Because, humanly, we tend to allow our situations and struggles to define our emotions rather than the other way around.
But the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus counted his sufferings—the cross and its shame—as joy. He was able to do so because he looked beyond them to the glory that was to come, not just for him, but for us as well. He went first so that we could follow.
We find our joy in Christ. He lives forever in the divine joy he shares with the Father in the Spirit. He calls us to look beyond this life to the life he purchased for us and gave us in the Holy Spirit. He lives in us today and gives us his joy. He gives us the eyes to see beyond our present circumstances into the kingdom of God he brought in his life, death, resurrection and ascension.
This is why the apostle Paul repeatedly reminded people to keep their eyes on things above, not on earthly things (Col. 3:1-4). We need to keep a spiritual vision of there being so much more to life than this everyday human existence we currently have. Our joy comes from knowing this is not all there is to life. There is somethings very transcendent going on and we get to be a part of it right now.
One of my favorite hymns of joy came to mind this morning. It is a classical piece that causes my heart to overflow with joy as it is sung. It reminds us that our joy comes from beyond us and overflows in our hearts from Christ in the Spirit. It is my prayer for you this holiday season, that you experience God’s divine joy in a profound way through Jesus and by his Spirit. Amen.
Hymn to Joy
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!
All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heaven reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.
Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blessed,
Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.
Mortals, join the happy chorus, which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us, brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward in the triumph song of life.
Henry J. van Dyke, 1907
Sung to “Hymn to Joy” from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1–2 NASB
By Linda Rex
This past Sunday was the Advent service at Good News Fellowship during which we lit a candle for peace. As we moved into the time following the sermon, and we listened to Casting Crown’s powerful song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,”1 I couldn’t help but think how feeble our words and efforts are at keeping peace.
Truly we are so dependent upon something outside ourselves to live at peace with one another. I think that we all recognize our inability to be at peace with God, ourselves and one another—if we don’t, we ought to. Our do-it-yourself peace nearly always falls short in some way.
In Romans 12:18, my New American Standard Bible says this: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” The New International Version is very similar: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This particular verse says that to the best of our ability, whatever depends upon what we say or do, we are to live at peace with one another.
And truly, that is often our approach to how we live in relationship with one another. We just do the best we can, but we can’t always guarantee there will be peace, especially if the other party doesn’t want to live at peace with us. They might be nasty, horrible people to be around, and living at peace with them is just an impossible thing to do. So sometimes we can’t help but be nasty back.
But there is another translation that kept coming to my mind as I thought of these things. The King James Version, which is taken from the Latin Vulgate, puts it differently: “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” The Catholic Bible, which has the same source, puts it this way: “If it be possible, as much as is in you, have peace with all men.”
The thing that struck me in these translations were the words, “as much as lieth in you” or “as much as is in you.” From this vantage point, this seems to be a call by Paul for us to draw upon an inner peace that lies within us.
So that brought up another question. What did Jesus mean when he told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27)? In some way, Jesus gave us his peace and this peace is in us, and as much as that peace lies within us, we are to have peace or live in peace with one another.
Indeed, the Apostle Paul talked often about a mystery he was given by God to preach to the Gentiles—the mystery “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27) He calls this same mystery “the mystery of godliness.” (1 Timothy 3:16) It is Christ in us, by the Holy Spirit, who enables us to be the peace-filled people that we were meant to be. It is Christ’s peace in us that we draw upon so that we can and will live at peace with God and others.
Our ability to live at peace is a participation in Christ’s peace. The question then, is not in our ability to live at peace with others but in our willingness to respond to the Holy Spirit’s gift of the peace of Jesus Christ placed within us. Paul says to the Colossians, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts….” The peace of Christ has been given to us—the question is, does that peace rule in our hearts?
God has shown us great love and grace—extreme good will. He has even shared with us his very own nature, his life in Christ through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. And that was not enough for him—he sent the Holy Spirit so that we could participate in Christ’s perfected humanity. Therefore we have God’s peace within us by the Holy Spirit. The peace of Christ is in our hearts. But do we let Christ rule?
Our struggle is with the reality that sometimes being at peace means that we have to suffer, to be taken advantage of, to be harmed and devastated by the evil others do to us. We forget that Jesus Christ took everything humanity could throw at him and bore it on the cross. It is not enough that we only take the good from others—to share in Christ’s sufferings and in his glory requires our willingness to take the evil as well, and to respond with love and grace.
We have many brothers and sisters today who are willingly sharing in Christ’s sufferings for his sake. They believe that to respond to the atrocities being done to them with violence is to participate in the evil themselves. They refuse to deny the Savior who rescued them and drew them into relationship with the God who loves them. God has poured into them by his Spirit the ability to bear with grace severe persecution and genocide.
Jesus Christ did not give us his peace as the kind of peace the world gives. Our human peace exists only as nation forces another nation into submission, or buys another’s cooperation through trade agreements. Or we silently allow ourselves to be destroyed while others take advantage of us, use us and abuse us. When these fragile methods of peace fail, we are often at war with one another again. This kind of peace is false and futile. It is not the divine shalom God calls us to and has given to us in Christ by the Spirit.
There is the peace of God present in the world today—this mystery of godliness—Christ in us, our hope of glory. This peace that God gives us passes all understanding when we turn to Christ in the midst of our struggles, disagreements and suffering. There is a capacity to live in peace in impossible situations that comes from beyond us and fills our hearts and minds. This is the gift of God poured out on us in the Holy Spirit.
The question is not, is peace possible? The question is, will we let God’s peace rule us? Will we, as much as lies within us, live peaceably with one another? When God’s peace rules us, and we live with all that is within us of Christ in the Spirit—there will be a change in the whole fabric of our human existence.
In the meantime, we only see the surface—the wars, the suffering, our broken humanity. The mystery, though, is at work. Deep beneath it all is a peace that passes understanding, that we can draw upon now to live at peace with one another in difficult and impossible situations. This is the true peace we have in Christ and in the Spirit. May you experience that peace in a real way this Christmas and on into the New Year.
Heavenly Father, our Prince of Peace, remind us again of the peace you have given us in your Spirit that passes all understanding. Renew our hearts and minds, and enable us to live in your peace with one another. Thank you for being gracious to us in the midst of our refusals to live in peace with one another—grant that we would surrender to your peace at work in us and in our world. And grant your grace and deliverance to all to suffer today because others near them refuse to live in your divine shalom. Through Jesus and by your Spirit, we pray. Amen.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” Colossians 3:15 NASB
FOR ADVENT: Hope
By Linda Rex
I recall a conversation I had a while back with a beautiful lady who has seen the struggles and difficulties of life. She had recently experienced the cruelty of unjustly losing her livelihood after having worked very hard to finally have her own home and to pay off all her bills. When she was finally starting to see some light in her dark life, she was knocked down again.
In the midst of this situation, the one thing she needed, she said, was to have some glimmer of hope. She needed to be able to believe that there was a good reason to go through another day, to try one more time to do things in a way that was honorable and ethical in the midst of a culture that told her to take the easy route of dependency, addiction and sloth.
To tell her to keep believing, to insist that she try one more time, was not enough. She had reached the end of her resources—there wasn’t anything left inside to carry her, and there wasn’t anything left outside in her life to lift her up. She felt all alone, forgotten, unloved, and unwanted. She felt a deep sense of despair. Nothing could help her.
Or so she thought. It was in the midst of this place that she encountered the living Lord.
How Christ comes to meet us in the midst of our despair and darkness is unique to each of us. He met his people Israel in a time when they despaired of ever hearing from God again—a time when they were held in the grip of a pagan government which disrespected their heritage and their God. And he came to them in a form they never expected—a tiny, helpless infant lain in a manger by a common carpenter and his bride.
One of the ways Christ came to this lady in despair was in the people of faith he began to place in her life. These particular people began to share life with her, expressing God’s love for her in various ways.
They did not always do what she expected. They did not pay her bills or take care of her problems the way she wanted them to. But they did provide her with love and concern and prayer. They did provide her with the means to better her life and to grow as a human being into greater Christlikeness. It turns out that through them and through the Word of God, they gave her what she needed most—hope in the midst of her despair. They introduced her to Jesus Christ.
Christ is our hope in the midst of despair. He is that divine Word from the Father of Lights who entered our humanity and joined us in the midst of our human depravity and our broken world. He even “became sin for us,” taking on that very thing that keeps us in our despair and brokenness. And he died our death and rose from the dead, giving each of us a new life, a hope in the midst of despair.
In sending the Holy Spirit, God through Christ, made a way for us to begin to experience the kingdom life even now in the midst of our broken and sinful world. We are able to interact with God in a real way through our union with God in Christ and our communion with God and one another in the Spirit. Through Christ and by the Spirit we are able to experience a living, ongoing relationship with God himself, coming to hear and understand the living Word of God personally, and having God’s way of being written on our hearts and minds.
This means that Christ becomes and is a real part of our day-to-day existence. As we respond to his nudges by the Holy Spirit, we come to experience healing, hope and change in our lives. Things don’t always get better immediately as far as our circumstances may go, but somehow that doesn’t matter so much to us anymore.
In the midst of our struggles and dark places, God begins to shed his light. We begin to have a new perspective. We begin to see and experience possibilities when there were none before. God brings us into relationships that are healing, helpful and restorative. He begins to work change in our lives.
But God doesn’t do this all by himself. He calls us to participate with him in this transformation. We can continue to wallow in despair if we wish, and deny the real grace God offers us in the midst of our suffering and grief. We can cling to our darkness if we wish—God allows us to do that. But he calls us out of it and offers us himself, through Christ and by his Spirit, as a means of lifting us up and transferring us from darkness and despair into light and life.
As participants in God’s light and life, we need to be sensitive to the work the Spirit is doing to draw others out of despair and darkness. We are called by God to share with others the Word of life we have been given. We can give them a real hope in the midst of despair when we introduce them to Jesus Christ and show them God’s real love and compassion.
We come into their lives the way God in Christ entered ours—humble, insignificant, and truly human. We share the mundane parts of our existence with them, along with the relationship we have with our heavenly Father through Christ his Son and by his Spirit. We give what we can to help them become the children of God they were created to be, so they can also be full participants in God’s love and life. This is our participation in what Jesus is doing in the world today.
Offering someone just a little bit of hope may seem trivial. We may think we have to accomplish great things in the world or become well known for our Christian faith and piety. But the simple gift of hope can be life-transforming and healing in more ways than we could ever imagine. Just ask someone who has received it.
Lord, thank you for coming into our world and joining us in our humanity and our brokenness, and for healing us from the inside out. Thank you that you offer each of us hope in the midst of our despair. Do not leave us here in our dark places, but please come to us and lift us up into your arms of love and life. Make us compassionate to others who need the gift of hope. Through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, …” Psalm 146:5 NASB
By Linda Rex
When my children were little, I was looking for a way to guide them into healthy ways of thinking and being without being punitive or constantly having to scream at them. I began to read about parenting with grace and found lots of different ideas on how to go about participating with Christ in my children’s growth and maturity.
It was a struggle because I was a single mom. I didn’t have the luxury of saying, “Just wait till your father gets home!” I was the one who had to call the shots and draw the lines in my home if I wanted my children to have the benefits of living in unity with who they are in Christ. I have two strong-willed children who are very intelligent and gifted in their own way. It was a challenge to keep ahead of them on so many levels.
I’ve tried a lot of different tactics over the years, but for a while one of the practices I came upon was that of a family charter. I sat my children down and together we came up with a list of rules for the house that had to do with respect. It was important to me that my children learn to respect God, themselves, each other, the authorities in the world around them, and their belongings.
These house rules were pretty simple and had consequences that the children picked out themselves. Once we had agreed on the important things to bring peace, kindness and harmony to the family, we would each sign the charter.
If I felt things were getting out of hand at home, we would meet again to discuss the charter. Occasionally we might make some changes. The consequences might very from one family meeting to the next, but most just stayed the same.
One of the things we agreed upon was that we would guard our tongues. We agreed that we would not use foul language in our home, or say things that were nasty and hurtful to each other. My children decided the appropriate consequence for violating another family member’s ears and heart with unkind words or foul language was to clean the toilet. My children would take great delight in catching me using a mild expletive because then I would have to do toilet duty. Of course, they didn’t have equal delight in being caught themselves.
After a while my children became frustrated with the family charter and no longer seemed to need it to guide their everyday behavior. So I did not use it in the same way, though I left it up for a while as a way of reminding us of what we valued as a family.
But I have often reflected on the whole idea of joining together as a family to agree to live together in harmony, peace and kindness. Is not this the definition of “koinonia”—of the “perichoresis” that God calls us to live in with the Father, Son and Spirit?
To teach my children to live in harmony with others in a way that involves love in unity, diversity and equality is to teach them to live within the truth of who they are as children of God. This is to teach them to live in agreement with who they are as God’s children, made in his image, redeemed by Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit. To live in harmony with who we are as God’s children is to live in the truth of God’s kingdom here on earth even now through Christ and in the Spirit.
So when we begin to turn the air blue around us with foul expletives, or we begin to slide into some other form of hurtful behavior, we need to reconsider just who we are affecting with our words and behavior. Jesus said that what we do to one another, we do to him.
If indeed we sit in heavenly places in Christ right now, as Paul said, and we already have been brought out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light, then everything we say and do is somehow bound up in Christ. For in God, through Christ and in the Spirit, we live and move and have our being.
Changing the way we act and talk is not a simple thing we can do if we just try hard enough. It is much more effective to begin to grow in awareness of Christ in us and in others, and to come to realize and live in accordance with the reality of the Spirit’s constant presence in us and with us. This is the spiritual discipline some people call “practicing the presence.”
This discipline involves being sensitive to God’s real, abiding presence with us each and every moment of every day, and engaging God in constant conversation as we go about our daily activities. The mundane activities of life begin to have a different tone when we do them in God’s presence, knowing he is aware of every nuance of thought, feeling and desire.
We also become more and more aware of the real presence of God in one another. We begin to see Christ in our neighbor and the Spirit of God at work in people we didn’t used to consider being “good” people. We begin to experience the real presence of God in everyday experiences and conversations. This is the kingdom life.
This is living in the reality that we are already participants in the kingdom of God. We already share in God’s kingdom life with one another—unless we choose to continue to participate in the kingdom of darkness. And we all know the consequences of continuing to live in the darkness of sin and death—because we see them being realized all around us, and even in our own lives. And we know the pain and horror that goes with them.
Jesus Christ is the gate to the kingdom of God, and his Spirit of life flows through us all. May we all live in this truth of our being, in grace, peace and harmony with one another. May God’s kingdom be fully realized here on earth as it is in heaven. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
Thank you, Holy Father, for binding us together with you in love through Jesus and by your Spirit. Grant us the grace to live in the truth of our being, in the harmony, grace and peace you bought for us in your Son. May we live in warm fellowship and love with you and one another forever, through Jesus Christ our brother and by your precious Holy Spirit. Amen.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4–7 NASB