light

Our Light and Life

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By Linda Rex

During my time pursuing my master’s degree with Grace Communion Seminary I was deeply impacted in my understanding of God and humanity and life itself through the instruction and counsel of my professors. I found theology to be quite fascinating, especially when it intersects with science. This is why reading T.F. Torrance’s books, though quite a challenging process, is something I enjoy doing.

One of my professors, Dr. John McKenna, gave an interesting workshop that brought together the science of light with the biblical revelation of light. I had known that the word light is often used in the Bible and many times in reference to God. But as we went through and talked about light and God and humanity and the creation in which we live, I began to “see” light in a new way.

One of my favorite traditional hymns talks about God and light. It is thought-provoking poetry that points to the glory of the God who is Light:

‎Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, thy great Name we praise.

‎Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

‎To all life thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish, like leaves on the tree,
Then wither and perish; but nought changeth thee.

‎Great Father of Glory, pure Father of Light,
Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
All praise we would render; O help us to see
‘Tis only the splendor of light hideth thee!

(Walter C. Smith, 1824-1908)

Light and life are inseparable. When my daughter and I visited Mammoth Cave earlier this year, we learned that there are creatures who live there in complete darkness. But they are unable to live in the light. And a person or animal that can see and live in the light will not be able to see at all when in that deep darkness. They may even lose their ability to see if they remain there for an extended length of time without some form of light to penetrate their eyes.

Without the light of the sun, we would not be able to exist or do much of what we consider necessary to life. Light is essential to our life. Just as we need the physical light of the sun to sustain our life, we also need the inner light of God to sustain us and give us both physical and spiritual life. Our life, our existence and being, are dependent upon the Father of Light and the Light of the world, his Son Jesus Christ. Light and life are inseparable.

Light itself is invisible. What we commonly see or experience is the refraction/reflection of light. Jesus described the Holy Spirit as the wind we cannot see but we experience the effects of all around us. In the same way, when we “look” at God, he is invisible. But he is Light. We experience the reality of God in everyday life in every part of our existence.

In Christ we have been freed from the chains of darkness and brought into his ‘marvelous light.’ What this means is that we have been brought out of the cave of darkness, evil and depravity and into the light of God’s love. It’s going to take a while to adjust. We have to learn new ways of thinking and doing life. We will find it much easier and more comfortable to run back into the darkness. It will seem a lot less painful and frustrating. It will seem to be the way of freedom. But true freedom is finding our life in the Light and allowing that Light to slowly and surely transform and heal us.

Holy Father of Light and Jesus, Light of the World, we praise you. Thank you for your gift of life and light. Grant us the grace to embrace your gift and to never cease to turn to you for the strength to hold tight to all you have given us. Thank you that it’s not all up to us. You hold us in your hands and shine your marvelous light upon us in unceasing love. We trust in you, Jesus, and in your healing love. Fill us the marvelous Light of your Holy Spirit. In your name we pray. Amen.

“All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:3–5 NIV

“End of the World” Addiction

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by Linda Rex

A Facebook friend of mine posted a story the other day about a new opiate drug that started in Russia and is making its way into America. It was difficult for me to read the story about the drug krokodil (pronounced like crocodile) or desomorphine because the users of this highly addictive heroin-like drug will use it even though the use of it may cost them the loss of parts of their body. It made me physically ill just to think of it. How tragic that we seek so hard to end our pain or escape our world that we are willing to self-destruct in order to do it!

The truth is that users of krokodil are not much different than us abusers of food, especially those of us who are so addicted to sweets that we are willing to risk similar consequences in an effort to feel good for a few moments. We are all guilty of this escapism in one form or another. Our method may vary: watching a game or video on TV, playing video games endlessly or reading another fairy-tale sex-laden romance novel.

We can see our desire for a savior to come and rescue us from our insanity in many of the plotlines of the stories we watch and read. Superheroes such as Superman, Spiderman or Batman are popular. Legendary heroes, superstars and sports giants all capture our imagination. The key is that they are human and down-to-earth like us, but they are more than us—they achieve what we only dream of.

Wanting the world to end, or the carousel to stop so we can get off, is not unique to us in our generation, however old we may be. It’s the human condition, really.

Christians down through the ages have had a similar focus. This is the “end of the world” mentality that grows especially intense whenever there are calamities ahead or Christians are facing intense persecution. Maybe now Jesus will come, they think, and those who are addicted to prophecy begin to reinterpret the Bible to fit the new hope of deliverance.

Indeed, Christian believers hold fast to the hope of the return of Christ in glory to make all things right in the end. He will one day bring about justice in every way. But if we focus solely on this as a means to escape whatever it is we are going through at the moment, we are missing a golden opportunity to participate in God’s work in this world today in a real and personal way, helping to ease the pain and suffering of those around us and making this world a less painful place in which to live.

Jesus’ disciples were constantly expecting him to bring about an overthrow of the Roman government and to restore the Jewish people to their “rightful” place. Jesus worked throughout his ministry to get them to understand that he came to establish an entirely different kingdom, the kingdom of God. This was not a kingdom that was apparent in a physical way, but was a kingdom of the heart and soul. This was a kingdom of the spirit that involved trusting in him as Savior and Lord, knowing that he was the Son of God in human flesh, and believing that through him we all are adopted by God as his own sons and daughters. What Jesus was looking for was faith.

What if all the energy we put into escaping those things that are our rulers today was put into trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior and participating in his mission to extend his kingdom into all the world so that others could be free as well from their slavery to the addictions and compulsions that control them? What if we had such an intimate relationship with the One who is willing to walk with us through every problem that we were in tune with his Spirit and were walking in his Word day by day, sharing it boldly with those around us? What if our Christianity were more than just a profession or an ideology and was instead a transformed way of being, thinking and living that involved a daily encounter with the living Lord and embracing each and everyone around us in God’s love?

With such a faith, we would embrace the pain and suffering we encounter and by God’s grace begin to be transformed ourselves and then begin to positively influence the world around us. We would bring Jesus’ healing touch into places that hunger for freedom from oppression. But we would not do this under our own power or in an effort to establish God’s kingdom on earth in a physical way. It would solely be a work of the Spirit who lives within us. He would bring about a changed world as we put our faith in the Lord Jesus who gave us the Spirit as the gift of his Presence in the world today. It is Christ’s faith, not our faith, that is world-changing and life-transforming.

God loves you and me and each person who has ever lived. He has demonstrated this love by sending us the savior we long for—one who is fully human and understands our frailty and faultiness without being faulty himself, and yet is transcendently divine—so beyond us that with him everything is possible. And he has sent his very Presence in the Holy Spirit to dwell in the hearts of those who believe. Will you let him rescue you from every oppressor and bring you into his heavenly kingdom of light?

Lord God, thank you for sending us a Rescuer in Jesus Christ and a present Comfort and Help in the Holy Spirit. We trust you to save us and to transform us by your grace into all you mean for us to be. Grant us the faith to believe and to trust fully in you for your salvation in every way. In Jesus’ name, amen.

“And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:7-8

When Words Aren’t Enough

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by Linda Rex

I was thinking about the lost art of Bible reading. The Bible used to be the main textbook in the classroom. Many parents and teachers used the Bible to teach their children to read. Although I don’t really see the benefit of teaching a child to read using, “and Attai begat Nathan, and Nathan begat Zabad, and Zabad begat Ephlal, and Ephlal begat Obed,…” (1 Chr. 2:36-37 YLT) when most adults including myself can’t even pronounce the names correctly, there is benefit in the Bible being used so frequently. The words and content were more readily available to the average person, so that many learned a basic form of morality and Christian basis for living as part of their daily life.

The great Protestant tradition of each person being able to read and interpret the Bible as the Spirit leads has allowed for a great variety in translations and religions within the realm of Christianity. But, naturally, there is some danger in this. When a person believes that they have received a specific revelation out of scripture and they begin to spread it around as though it is the truth (when really it is a misinterpretation of Scripture) then this is a problem. When the Scriptures are used to lead people away from the central truth of Scripture—Jesus Christ and salvation through him alone—this is a serious situation indeed.

In Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees and scribes, who were taking him to task for associating with and caring for the sinners and outcasts of society, he brought up the fact that even though the Israelite nation had had the word of God for centuries, they really never did hear it. Or when they did hear it, it did not transform their lives. It pointed them to Jesus Christ, who would be the fulfillment of the scriptures and bring salvation for all people, but they didn’t recognize him when he came.

The truth is that a person can have the Bible and even read it and memorize it, but without a heart of faith, a heart that is humble and surrendered to the Father, that trusts in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and is open to the work and will of the Holy Spirit, the Bible will make no difference in their life. Until God, by his Spirit, writes the law of love on a person’s heart and mind, the words cannot and will not be understood correctly, or believed and obeyed as God intended.

Surely, a person can have an outstanding “form of godliness.” We had a form of godliness for many years as members of the former Worldwide Church of God. We had seventh day Sabbath-keeping, holy day keeping, tithing (3 of them even) and clean foods eating godliness. We had the “we are the nation of Israel” holiness that excluded people of other races and ethnicities through our Anglo/British Israelism. And we brought the Holy Spirit along as the power we needed—always asking God for more of it because we never could be quite good enough. We definitely stood out in the society as being “separate.”

It was a “feel good” religion because all of us felt how good we were compared to everyone else because we were doing what was right while everyone else was obeying pagan holidays and disobeying God. The truth was that this “form of godliness” was a slavery and we didn’t really feel that good after all, because in our hearts we knew we never could be good enough. We were constantly striving to “overcome” so we could make it into God’s kingdom. We lived daily with that nagging feeling of guilt and shame that comes when we are striving to do relationship with God in our own strength. We were never sure that God really did love us, individually, fully, unconditionally.

Being immersed in this religion since the day I took my first breath and having seen and heard the founders, movers and shakers of this religion since the time I could first remember, I, much like the apostle Paul in his day, feel a deep yearning for the freedom of all those who are still bound by these ways of thinking and believing. How I long to help others see that Jesus Christ, who is/was God in human flesh, brought together all of Israel and all other people together in himself, in his person! He joined us forever in himself so that now he is the law, the law written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The testimony of the Scriptures points to Jesus Christ as the center—the old covenant and new covenant have him at the core. It is all about him—he is our Sabbath rest, he is our holy day, he is our clean food as the Bread and the Wine, he is our baptism, he is our tithe—the One set apart for holy use!

Was it not enough that he lived in our place, died for us and rose from the dead? Must we continually add things to this in order to feel good enough? If we need guidelines for living, then we need to look to him and look to those he taught when he came. They provide plenty of “rules for living” if we need them—but the apostles all began at a central place, faith in Jesus Christ and in our union with God in him through the Holy Spirit. This is the beginning of our faith and from there we build. This means we have a unified basis for belief and faith.

Jesus warned of the dangers of attributing the work of the Spirit to Satan. This is what our church did. We taught that the early church was deceived and left the faith. This is a denial of the Spirit and his work and I shudder to think that we disrespected him by professing this. May God forgive us! The real truth is that as the Spirit led the early church into a new and deeper understanding of the nature of God that had been revealed to them by Jesus Christ, they included this in the creeds and in their worship. Rejected by the Sabbath-keeping Jews, they began to center their life around Jesus Christ, with the Christian calendar focused on his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. This was not a twisted deception, but a leading of the Holy Spirit and a handing down faithfully of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles. It was Spirit-led and Spirit-filled.

Moses and the Prophets spoke of these days, when the knowledge of God would fill the earth like waters cover the seas, when the worship of God would be found in all nations. Moses and the Prophets pointed us to the One who would come and transform the world by transforming human hearts. When God goes to work in someone’s life and heart through the Spirit and Christ becomes the foundation of their faith, they become a new person. There is a joy and light in their eyes that comes from them knowing to their core that they are loved and cherished by God. I pray that that light will never be extinguished by the lie that somehow being loved and forgiven, being in Christ, is not enough—that they have to add something to this, that they have to add all the things Christ did in their place. May God grant us all the grace to truly trust in Christ and to trust in him alone!

Holy Father, it breaks my heart that so many cannot see the wonder of what you have done for all of us in Jesus Christ. It makes me sad that we are so easily deceived by words, words that twist and corrupt the simple message of the gospel, of faith in Christ. Holy Spirit, forgive us for grieving you, for attributing your gracious work for humankind to the devil. I’m so sorry! Lord Jesus, please come in your Spirit and transform hearts. Forgive and bring healing, liberation, hope, regeneration, God, please. Jesus, in your name, for your sake, I pray. Amen.

“But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’ ” Luke 16:31 (NASB)

When Light Dawned

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by Linda Rex

I wandered through my yard in the early morning blackness. I was alone with the crickets, hearing them creak and an occasional car pass on the highway nearby. There were a few streetlights that pierced the darkness, but across the farm fields nearby, there was only blackness.

I sat down in my iron lawn chair, quietly awaiting the dawn. This was a favorite part of my day, watching as a pale light began to glow in the sky. I loved when the crickets would suddenly go silent and there would only be one sound—that of a single bird’s carol welcoming the morning. One by one other birds would join in the chorus as the sun burst into view through the trees. It was a magical time—one I savored.

It is a comfort to me that God created and placed me in a world where morning always follows night. There is always light to welcome us on the other side of darkness. God has ensured that there is no darkness deep enough that he will not come and bring his Light there. He came into our darkness and brought his eternal Light to us in Jesus Christ and he has promised to never leave us or forsake us.

How sad that too often we would prefer the darkness to the Light! And how unfortunate that after all he has done to bring us into the Light and to welcome us into oneness with himself, we would reject this gift! Why wander about in loneliness and lostness when we could have his presence, his comfort and his peace? Why struggle with the will to live when the One who gives life wants to enable you to live it to the full?

When we wrestle with the darkness and feel it overwhelming us, there is one assurance we can have. We need only cry out and God will come near. And if we are in that darkness and we have cried out to him again and again and have not heard from him—that is the time to hold fast to the promise that morning always follows night. In the “dark night of the soul” it is the time to hope when all hope is gone, to believe when no reason to believe is left—to hold to the promise when it seems all expectation of its being answered is gone. This is when we choose to love and trust God even when we feel he has given us no reason to do so.

The truth is, as it says in Psalm 139:12, darkness is as light to God. God has met us in the midst of our darkness in Jesus Christ and has reconciled it with himself. Darkness and evil only exist in opposition to God and his Light—they are always subject to God’s will. No darkness is ever dark enough to prevent him from bringing us back to himself. For Jesus Christ is the Victor and in him the Light has come. Come welcome the dawn with me—share in his glorious light with me forever!

Lord, come to our darkness and let your Light shine on us once again. Give us strength to hold on through this dark night till the morning comes. Let your glory, love, and mercy dawn on us anew. Thank you for making it possible for us to live this brand new day with you. In your name, Father, Savior, and Comforting Spirit. 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.” John 3:19 (NASB)

The Better Thing

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by Linda Rex

I’ve often thought about the story of Mary and Martha, wondering what their relationship must have been like when Jesus wasn’t around. Was Martha one of those “managing females” who was forever telling everyone else in the house what to do, and when and how to do it? Was she like some of us who are incorrigible perfectionists who never have any peace unless everything is absolutely perfect? It’s not very hard to picture her in those roles.

Mary comes across as the quiet timid soul, who finds a deep well in Jesus and lingers there at his feet to drink in of all the spiritual richness she can. Forgotten is every other detail of life, for now her soul is being renewed and replenished in this special moment with her teacher.

Indeed, it is easy to see the simple lesson here, that it is important to focus on what really matters—our relationship with our Lord and Savior—rather than always on the mundane details of life. We have to keep our spiritual priorities straight and put God first in our lives. When we do that, it’s amazing how much better our lives will run!

But when we look at the context of these verses and take into account that Jesus was in the process of deliberately heading towards Jerusalem and his crucifixion, trying to get his disciples to understand what the future truly held for him, then we can see an underlying message that could be missed here. Jesus was calling to his disciples to follow him as the Suffering Servant Messiah with a sense of commitment—a willingness to lay down their all for his sake—a willingness to follow him to and through the crucifixion to his resurrection and new life.

A lawyer had asked him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus had told the story of the man who was left for dead and the Good Samaritan who came and cared for him and even took him somewhere and paid to ensure his care there. Through this story Jesus put the question before the lawyer, what price are you willing to pay to be rightly related to God? Are you willing to sacrifice your dignity, your spiritual purity, your time and resources, and your convenience to live in union with the lost, the least and the ones in need? Are you willing to be identified with the One the world would reject?

These are critical questions. Was Martha aware that she did not need to do a bunch of stuff in order to be rightly related to Jesus? Did she realize that she could rest fully in what Jesus had done and would do in, with and for her? Mary apparently had come to see this and so was not concerned about the other details of hospitality and household management that were of such importance to Martha.

We can reflect on what Luke wrote in his gospel and ask ourselves how well we understand the message of grace. Do we realize that in Christ, we have been fully reconciled to God, and that he is waiting for us to give up our human efforts to do all these things, and to just trust in him, in what he has done for us and will do for us in Jesus Christ, in his life, death and resurrection, and in the precious gift of the Eternal Spirit?

God is calling to us, giving us the opportunity to choose “the better thing” by embracing his gift of love and eternal life in Jesus Christ and by forsaking all other loyalties in our lives. When we choose Christ first over all else, then he goes to work to make sure the rest gets done—and we can fully trust him to finish what he has begun.

Dear God, thank you for your perfect love that you have shed out on us in Christ. We trust you, Father, to accomplish all you set your hand to do, including transforming us and making us to reflect the image of Christ. You are a glorious and faithful God and we praise you, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (NIV) Luke 10:41-42

Helping the Healing

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By Linda Rex

As I closed the book, I reflected on the many stories I had read recently that told of the power of relationships to bring healing into the lives of the suffering. Each author told of how a person found healing from trauma, abuse or even physical ailments within the context of a friendship or pastoral relationship.

In a technological world that communicates through cell phones, computers and other media rather than through face-to-face encounters, it is getting harder to find people who understand and practice the skill of healthy relationship-building. Many have grown up in relationships that lacked healthy boundaries or in which one or both parents were missing or were no longer a part of their home life.

One of the keys to healthy life and being is living in relationship with others in healthy ways. If those relationships are missing in our lives, we ought to begin the process of looking for positive relationships to be a part of. This can be difficult, if not even painful, as we struggle to relate to others who may or may not respect our boundaries and know how to love us in healthy ways.

The first and most important relationship we can begin to build and strengthen is our relationship with the One who made us and called us into relationship with himself. The thought of having a relationship with God can be intimidating, so a way to start is to find someone who does have a strong relationship with a loving, relational God. They can be recognized by how they relate to the people in their lives.

Sadly, there are those who say they believe in God but their relationships are in chaos and are destructive because the God they worship is not the relational Lord of the Bible, but the God of their own passions, traditions and/or imaginations.

The Triune God of love and grace, who lives in an eternal relationship of mutual submission, service, and unity, is the God to seek a relationship with. When he is worshiped and adored, when he is the center of a person’s life, their relationships will reflect his love, compassion and unity.

Their families and friendships will be relationships in which each person seeks not their own self-interest, but that of others, while at the same time being responsible for their own needs. When there is hurt or unhealthy ways of living and relating, they will courageously speak the truth and offer help, forgiveness and reconciliation. They will be real people who are flawed, and yet in whom there is that unique quality of inner love and peace that cannot be explained but can be felt by others they are around.

If you are a person who is living in relationship with this God of love and grace, it may be time to ask yourself whether you are an effective reflection of him. Keeping in mind that all relationships require much grace, much room for faults and failures, it may be that you are the person who could offer relationship to someone who has not had the blessing of healthy relationships to learn from. Could you be the person someone is seeking to find, to teach them what it means to be respected, loved and cared for? Could it be that you are the one they need to hear the truth from in the context of trust and compassion?

Perhaps it is time for all believers of Jesus Christ, who have the inner light of God’s love filling them and leading them in his ways of truth and light, to step up and provide leadership in relationship building. Perhaps it is time to leave behind our isolationist thinking and behavior and begin to relate to others for Christ’s sake alone—because that is what we were created by God to be and do. Perhaps? No, it is time. The need is there. Let’s meet it. Let’s participate in God’s gift of healing to others through relationship. And let’s do it now.

Holy Triune God, We are so often alone. You never meant for us to be so. Grant us those relationships we need to fully be all that you created us to be. Thank you for being the One who calls us into relationship with yourself so that we never need to be alone. We trust you to provide the other relationships we need in our lives to help us heal and grow into all you have in mind for us. Lord, forgive us when we refuse to share the gift of love and grace you have given us in Christ by not living in healthy relationships with others. Grant us the grace to always give as well as receive your love as you intend us to. In the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.

“I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” John 17:23

When Angels Marveled

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by Linda Rex

Sometimes I wonder what angels think about and talk about. Just imagine the conversations that went on in heaven when the Word announced that he would be joined with an embryo in a baby here on earth! No doubt the reverence and awe of the angels was tinged a bit by amazement and incredulity. The apostle Paul tells the believers of his day that the working out of God’s mystery hidden through the ages was for the edification of the angels. How fascinating!

The prophets over the millennia sought to know and understand what God was doing and would do to save his people by sending a messiah. Yet even with their best efforts, the people of Jesus’ day did not recognize him for who he was as God in the flesh, the Messiah, who would suffer and die and then be glorified, uniting himself with humanity forever.

No doubt this is why Jesus took such pains to explain the fulfillment of scriptures and prophecy to his disciples, especially after his resurrection. This awesome miracle of the incarnation and the subsequent work of Christ for us is a marvelous mystery that was unveiled at the perfect time in history and in the perfect way. Praise God for his faithfulness in keeping his Word to us and also for faithfully revealing his Word to all his creation when the time and situation were just right.

We are to faithfully search these things out, but the Holy Spirit gives us revelation and understanding. We seek not to gain more information but to deepen a relationship with the living God as revealed in Jesus Christ. We need to grab hold of this privilege of knowing what so many sought to know and seek out these marvelous mysteries of the kingdom that are revealed in Jesus Christ. He is the revelation of all that the prophets and angels sought to understand and know. As we come to know him more fully and completely, we will come to know God and ourselves more fully and completely, for in Jesus Christ, the perfect God/man, they are each revealed.

Lord, thank you for revealing to us the mystery of the ages which is Christ in us the hope of glory. Thank you for not hiding yourself from us, but by your Spirit, revealing yourself in Jesus Christ in your perfect time and in your perfect way. Please grant us the desire and ability know you more fully and more perfectly each and every day. For this is eternal life, to know you and to be known by you. Thank you for this precious gift given to us in Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

“It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even the angels long to look into these things.” –1 Peter 1:12