by Linda Rex
Nothing can bring me to tears faster than to hear the story of a broken life. Growing up as I did in a church that was once insular and self-protective, I did not hear such stories very often. As I child I knew that evil and heartache were “out there” but I did not experience it in a real way as part of the life of someone I knew personally.
But no household, not even that of my family, is safe from the hardships and griefs of life. In time my family also experienced the reality of brokenness and the pain that comes from living life in a way that contradicts that which God ordained from the beginning. No one is immune from brokenness or pain or suffering. It is a part of the human condition. Our best efforts cannot protect us from experiencing the fallout from living out of ourselves, our self-determination, and our self-will.
In a culture where self is worshiped and served in every imaginable way, and people are told right and left to “have it your way,” it is no wonder so many are suffering from the tragic results of self-centered living. Freedom, when ungoverned by love (unconditional, out-going concern for others), is destructive and creates chaos and brokenness.
So, what hope do we have?
For many, the solution is found in the establishment of rules for living. They say that if you follow a particular set of rules, of principles for living, that you will never experience broken lives or families. If you keep the Ten Commandments, obey the 5 Principles, or the 7 Keys to Effective Living, that your life will be hunky-dory, full of happiness and joy.
I will not debate the value of these rules to live by here, for they serve a purpose, but I would like to point out the reality that the success of such a venture is fully dependent upon the self-discipline and self-will of the person attempting to follow them. And since the human self cannot be depended upon to do what is right and best and truly loving in every situation, the attempt is doomed from the outset. Some progress may be made and a person’s life may be significantly improved by the attempt, but the person’s inner being most likely will not be transformed in the process. Something else is needed.
If a person does not believe in a divine One who loves and cares for him or her personally, he or she will reach an impasse here. For the person’s only hope will be in a human’s ability to change or control him or herself and/or other people and circumstances. There will be a constant struggle for, or persistent denial of the need for, self-control and true compassion for others. Perhaps the person is strong of will and purpose—he or she can go on indefinitely in this condition. The person has the freedom to do so, if she or he wishes.
If a person does believe in God, then he or she is also faced with a choice. Will she or he receive the gift of the One who saved her or him, or continue in her or his own frantic efforts to handle everything by her or himself? I believe Christianity has received a black name in so many ways because Christians are frantically attempting to live a perfect, sinless life out of their own selves, on their own strength, and in their own way. It was never God’s intention for us to do this. Otherwise he would not have come in the person of Jesus Christ. He would have let the Old Testament laws stand for themselves. He would not have taken on human form. What would be the point?
But the eyewitnesses of the New Testament record tell us that Jesus Christ was a man in which the fullness of Deity lived: all of God as a human being. And in this Being, this God/man, we are made complete. God did not leave it up to us to save ourselves, to be perfect ourselves, to do what is loving and right and best on our own. He did it himself, and then offered us the opportunity to share in what he had done and is doing in Jesus Christ.
This is why the Scriptures, especially here in Colossians 2, use the expression “in Him” or “in Christ” over and over. We are to “put on Christ” or “abide in Christ.” These are all ways of saying that we share in Christ, in his perfect work which he performed in his life, his crucifixion and death, and his resurrection and ascension. It is in this relationship with God in Christ that we experience transformation and salvation, not in our human efforts to abide by a bunch of rules.
As we share in his death, we die to what we once were—our self-centered, selfish way of living and being. As we share in his resurrection, we find new life—that we are a new creation in him. This is not just a one-time event expressed through the Christian rite of baptism. It is an ongoing daily event—daily dying to self and living to Christ. Christ’s faith for our lack of faith. Christ’s love for our lovelessness. Christ’s obedience for our disobedience. This is how we put on Christ.
We share in Christ’s ascension through the gift of the Holy Spirit through whom we receive the power and the love of God, the personal presence of God within. We receive Christ’s moment-by-moment intercession for us in the presence of the Father, where he enables us to hear and receive the Word of God, and he presents our requests, our needs to God, interceding for us so we may continuously be forgiven and reconciled to God. We are given a relationship with God, not through our own efforts, but through the efforts of God, who reached down to us and brought us to himself, wiping away anything that once stood between us.
How refreshing is the wonder of grace! This is such good news that we don’t want to hear it. We prefer to continue our own efforts at self-preservation and self-glorification, even after we believe. For in receiving Christ as being all that we need, admitting we are complete in him and him alone, we have to give up all the glory to God for our wholeness and transformation. It begins with him, and is completed in him. To him be the glory! Amen.
Thank you, Father, for your great love, which you have lavished on us in your Son, Jesus Christ, and in your precious Spirit through whom you have come to dwell in human hearts. We praise you for your precious gift of a personal relationship with you, of life in you and with you, forever. To you be the glory and honor forever and ever. Amen.
“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete…” Colossians 2:9-10a (NASB)
by Linda Rex
I stood in the hallway of the house that was used as the food and clothing pantry I helped to get started back in Iowa, Heavenly Hands. A young woman in her twenties was talking with me and with Jo, the lady who was instrumental in growing our outreach ministry. Tears filled the young woman’s eyes as she told me about standing at the gas pump and finding she had to decide between putting gas in her car so she could go to work, or buying groceries for her children and her to eat that week. Unlike those of some of the visitors to the pantry, hers was a real story of poverty and loss. I found I too had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.
Over the years I learned that what was most meaningful about participating in an outreach ministry such as this was seeing the difference we made in another person’s life, most especially when that person came to see and experience the love of God in a real way in their lives. What compensated most for the negativity of those taking advantage of God’s generosity were the stories of those people whose lives were transformed by the Holy Spirit along with these human gestures of help, prayer and support.
The story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 is most often used as an instructional passage to teach us about the importance of caring for those who are lost, wounded, forsaken and/or ill. This is indeed a meaningful way to look at the passage. But I believe that it is important to consider the small detail of exactly who Jesus wanted us to understand as being our neighbor.
In Luke 10:25-29 we read about a lawyer who was testing Jesus, asking him what he should do to inherit eternal life. (Question to ponder: how does anyone “do” something to inherit something? Doesn’t it come about mostly due to how you are related to someone?) Jesus gave him the standard rabbinical answer—another question: “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” The lawyer answered by repeating the two great commandments, loving God and loving one’s neighbor. Jesus answered him, “Do this correctly, and you will live.” And then he told the story of the man who is left for dead by the side of the road, those who passed him by, and the social outcast, the Samaritan, who tended his wounds, took him to an inn, and paid for his continuing care. This was the true neighbor to the one left on the road. But let’s go a little deeper.
We find elsewhere, in Matthew 25:31-46 that when a person tends to someone who is ill, in prison, or in need, Jesus said that they are actually tending to Christ himself. In many ways, the man left for dead is a true Christ figure in this parable, not just the Good Samaritan. Do we see that in loving and caring for our neighbor, those in need or in trouble, that we are actually caring for Jesus himself? Are we willing to commit ourselves to Jesus as the Good Samaritan did to the man in the road—risking our reputation, sacrificing our time and resources, providing Jesus with care and, paying for his needs and care in a committed and ongoing way?
Taking it even further—perhaps the real question here in regards to inheriting eternal life and in caring for one’s neighbor is the question of relationship: how well and in what way are we related to Jesus Christ? Do we recognize that in him we died and rose again, and are now living a new life in him? For eternal life is this: knowing God and the One whom God sent, Jesus Christ. How well do we know him? Are we willing to lay down our lives and live in newness with him each and every day, and in such a way that we are tending for others who are in the same predicament we are in?
When we see ourselves as the one laying by the side of the road left for dead in commonality with the One who died for us as well as others, we begin to see ourselves and Jesus more clearly for who we truly are and we can begin to have greater, true compassion for others. We find that the power, the will and the heart to care for others comes not from ourselves, but from his compassion that is now ours as we trust him for it. It is Christ in us by the Holy Spirit, who is this neighbor, who cares not only for us but for each person we may encounter, and who gives us the heart and mind to truly care for God and for one another.
To truly and properly love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves requires the very person of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit living his life in us. Because he lives in us and we truly know him in this way, we then have eternal life. This is the correct answer to the lawyer’s question of what to do to inherit eternal life. There is only one way—to be rightly related to God and to truly know him and the One he sent, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, our dearest and closest neighbor.
Holy God, please open our eyes to see you in a new way, as being our nearest and dearest neighbor, and to open our lives and hearts to you completely. Grant that we might truly know you and begin to live in right relationship with you and with others as you intend. Fill us with your love and compassion, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
“But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Luke 10:29
by Linda Rex
Recently my daughter and I returned home from spending more than a week at The Rock summer camp. This camp was held at lovely Camp Sertoma in Westfield, North Carolina, with its antique hotel, green trees and bubbling creeks. One favorite pastime in the searing heat was spending time in the pool. I made a point of visiting it as often as I could.
There were many opportunities at this camp to be challenged with something new and out-of-the-box. The high ropes, giant swing, rock wall and evening banquet all presented unique challenges for the campers. Counselors and other staff had their own challenges, but God’s Spirit was actively at work throughout the camp, bringing healing, comfort, and deliverance in many lives.
The highlight of each morning was the chapel service, where the campers met to share positive moments through shout outs, to sing praise songs, and to hear the word of God for the day. Worship director Bill Winn and his volunteers provided great music for the campers and staff to sing to. The theme for the camp was “Built on the Rock”*, and had its own camp chant to go with it. Campers or staff would shout “Built on the Rock” and the response from other campers would be “Rock On!”
Chaplain Rocky Ray led the first chapel service and talked about the way God has known and planned for each of us before the world began, and prepared for us by giving us Jesus Christ. When we were born, he began working in our lives, preparing the ground for laying the foundation of Jesus Christ in our lives.
Jeff Broadnax from Generations Ministries came for a brief visit. He gave the Tuesday chapel message and talked about how Jesus Christ is the foundation for our lives and our relationships with God and others. By joining his humanity with ours, Jesus joined himself with us in such a way that we will never be separated from him, but instead are able to participate with him in the life and love of Father, Son, and Spirit. So whatever we may be going through in our lives, we are not alone in it, but God is always with us.
As co-chaplain, I was given the privilege of leading the session on Wednesday morning. I reviewed how God prepared the ground and Jesus is the foundation, and then began to talk about how we go about building our lives on the foundation God has given. I pointed out the critical connections we have been given by God: being fully united with God in Christ forever; being given the gift and Presence of the Holy Spirit; through the Spirit being bonded with other believers and with the living Word of God. I also pointed out our need to build with quality building materials: the faith God gives to us, the hope in Christ we receive from him, and the love he pours out in our hearts that enables us to fully reflect the image of God we were created to reflect.
As an illustration of these messages, the campers and staff worked to build two small houses. One was built on a foundation of sand, while the other was built on a concrete foundation. After chapel Wednesday, the campers built the house on the sand using small logs. On top they placed a roof made of cardboard and styrofoam. Later in the day, some staff members constructed the other house out of similar logs and a metal roof, nailed and connected together and connected to the foundation.
On Thursday, camp director Stephen Webb gave the message. He talked about the storms of life God allows to come out way and how they can help us to see how well we have built our house. They help us to see where we have built on sand, and begin to wash that sand away so we can build on the proper foundation of Jesus Christ. After his message all the campers went outside and chaplain Rocky Ray used a pressure washer on the buildings. The sand under the campers’ house washed away and the house fell, while the other house stood firm.
Friday was an opportunity for campers and staff to share some final thoughts on the theme and to give personal testimonies about how God had worked in their lives during the week. It was a very moving experience and gave an opportunity for campers to share. The consensus was that God had shown his love and power throughout the week. Campers were encouraged to be positive influences in their world and to be builders, building up their friends, families, communities and country in all they would say and do. Built on the foundation of Jesus Christ and bound together in the Spirit, they are and will be transformers of their world.
Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, thank you for the privilege of participating in your kingdom work last week. It was wonderful to see you at work each and every day in the lives of the staff and campers. Be with each of them as they seek to do your kingdom work in this world. May you be glorified in every way in their lives, words and conduct. Continue to build them up in you, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 (NKJV)
by Linda Rex
Have you ever been through the experience of having someone count out your faults? One by one, they pointed out everything you ever did wrong, and you weren’t sure you could really defend yourself against their accusations? Do you remember how it made you feel?
Luke tells a story in his Gospel about a woman who had an experience like this. A Pharisee had repeatedly requested that Jesus be his guest at a banquet, so Jesus agreed to attend. As was customary, they reclined on couches around the table, and anyone from the community was welcome to listen in on the conversation or to stand quietly next to the wall and observe the festivities.
What is interesting about this story is that even though it was customary in that day to have your guests’ feet washed, and their head anointed, and to greet them with a kiss, the Pharisee Simon had done none of these things for Jesus, even though he was his guest. As they were dining, a woman came, poured out an expensive jar of perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. For a woman to do any of these things was considered inappropriate and culturally defined her as a woman of loose morals.
Being a man who was quite proud of his meticulous obedience to God, Simon thought to himself, “If this man were a genuine prophet, the predicted Prophet to come, he would know what sort of person this woman was that was touching him. He would know she was a sinner.”
Jesus knew what he was thinking, so he began to tell him a story about two men who owed a moneylender some money. One owed him a lot and the other owed him a little. The moneylender forgave both their debts. Jesus asked Simon, “Which one of these debtors loved the moneylender the most?” The obvious answer was the one who was forgiven the most.
So Jesus brought up the elephant in the room—the lady who was anointing his feet with perfume and kisses. He pointed out that Simon had not shown him any customary courtesies when he came, and yet, this woman was showering him with kindness and love. For that reason, she was forgiven, not Simon, who did not even know or admit that he was wrong in any way, nor did he show Jesus any kindness and respect.
Then Jesus turned to the woman and said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Then he told her that her faith had saved her, that she should go in peace. Nowhere in this conversation do we see Jesus pointing out all the things the woman had done wrong in her life. Simon had definitely gone through the list in his mind. But Jesus merely acknowledged her contrition and sent her away forgiven, with a new life ahead of her.
So what kind of people are we really? It seems it is better to acknowledge the reality of our need for forgiveness and our appreciation of God’s grace than it is to deny Jesus Christ our devotion and respect. If we are so busy looking at the faults of others, we may miss the important thing and that is our own poverty-stricken soul that is full of evil. Perhaps we are so sure of our spiritual insight and wealth that we don’t realize we are really poor, blind and naked in God’s sight.
But Jesus’ response to all of us is the same. “You are forgiven. Therefore, go and sin no more.” We are invited to live life in the fullness of God’s love, for we are welcomed home with open arms. Let’s run home to our Daddy-God who loves us so completely that he forgives us even before we ask.
Dear Lord, Father of us all, forgive us for our blindness and cold-hearted devotion to ourselves and not to you and to others. Refresh us in your love and forgiveness, and give us each a new heart and mind so that we might truly know and love you, our Father, Jesus, Spirit of truth. Amen.
“’For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ Then He said to her, ‘Your sins have been forgiven.’” Luke 7:47–48
Ode to List-makers
by Linda Rex
Have you ever seen a List-maker,
Their conscience all aglow
With the wonders of their goodness
And the horrific sins of those they know?
Too bad they miss the point,
It’s their own sin they cannot see,
Otherwise they’d welcome sinners
And forgive them like God forgave me.
by Linda Rex
I still recall an argument I had many years ago in high school with a classmate who was a member of another faith. We argued about the rightness and wrongness of what we believed. I was sure that he was not a true believer because he did not keep the Sabbath and holy days, or all the other Old Covenant laws that I kept. I was pretty proud of the fact that I did all these things. He was so sure I was an unbeliever because I did not worship in the temple as he did, observe the rituals and worship days he believed were right, and sing the songs he sang. He was, of course, so absolutely wrong, I thought. It was a stupid argument between two people who didn’t understand the truth about who we are in the light of who Jesus Christ is for us in the incarnation.
The ironic thing is that years later God has helped me to see and grieve the reality that indeed I was very much a member of what was more or less a cult. And though this person, and many others, did not observe what I had believed at that time was necessary for salvation, it did not automatically follow that they were not believers. How often I mocked what I now understand to be true! God has taught me true humility in this regard.
It is only more evidence that God gives us the gift of himself in “jars of clay.” It is a testimony to his greatness, his mercy and his patience that he did not ignore me or reject me, but instead, turned my entire belief system and manner of life on its head and turned me completely around. What I never would have dreamed of doing before, God is now doing in my life, not for my exaltation but for his glory. In this, there is no glory for me—only glory and praise for God, and a life committed to serving and worshiping him.
But this is the way God works in human lives. Just yesterday I was reminded of the way God takes someone who is caught in a lifestyle of addiction and transforms their life completely, so that in the end they are free to reach out to others with the Word of life and freedom in Christ. This is the magnificent work of Christ in the world through the Spirit. It is so beautiful and inspiring to see God at work in someone’s life in this way!
So, the question is: Where is God at work in us and in our lives today? What is he doing in the lives of those around us? Where is he taking us? What does he have for us to do today? God is at work each and every moment, working out his will that all people would come to know him and to understand the wonder of the love he has for them as demonstrated in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. God holds us in the midst of his life and love each and every moment, and wants to us share every part of our lives with him each and every day. All he asks is that we believe it, and then share it.
Thank you, God, for the infinite love you show us each and every day. Thank you, that mercifully you raise us up out of our blindness, ignorance and hostility toward you, and transform us by your Holy Spirit. Work that miracle in each of us again today. Show your glory in these “jars of clay”. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; but only, they kept hearing, ‘He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.’ And they were glorifying God because of me.” –Galatians 1:22-24 (NASB)
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
by Linda Rex
“He’s gone.” These words spoke of the end and the beginning of a story of a life well lived. The end—because he had taken his last breath. The beginning—because he had begun his eternal journey into places we have yet to explore.
I had gone to see him earlier this week. When I told him I had intended to bring him a joke but couldn’t think of one, he cracked the slightest smile. He wasn’t able to speak anymore, but he had not lost his sense of humor.
During my visit, one thing came apparent. This man had grown in his walk with Christ to the place that he had begun to reflect the life and love of Jesus in a deep way. As his wife held his hand and talked to us about him, his eyes never left her face. It was as if he was trying to drink her in—every last drop.
At one point I had to step out with his mom onto the porch so he could be cared for. We talked for a while. When we stepped back into the house, I told the gentleman I had met his mom and that we had been chatting. With an extreme effort that lifted him off his pillow, he blurted out the words, “All right?” I assured him that she would be all right. He relaxed, as though it had been on his mind for some time.
This man set a powerful example of how to love: Here he was in the midst of his own crucifixion but his concern was for his wife, his mother and his children. Doesn’t that sound familiar to those of us to have heard the story of Jesus’ crucifixion? This is the legacy of a saint. May we each find the grace to leave such a legacy behind us as well.
Lord, I thank you for being given the privilege of witnessing the legacy of a life well lived. Thank you, that in you, Jesus, we are never alone in any of our circumstances, but you are always and ever present in the Spirit, sharing with us in our joys and our sorrows. Father, please pour your Comforter out in new ways in the hearts and lives of those who have suffered loss. Remind us all of your faithful love and grace—in Jesus name. Amen.
“When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.” John 19:26–27