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The Power of Presence

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by Linda Rex

I recall many years ago when I would sit down at the piano for a few quiet moments with the music, I was never able to finish more than a song or two before I was interrupted. A tiny hand would begin tapping on my knee and one of my children would begin to snuggle up next to me and try to crawl into my lap.

I would try to talk with them while I was playing and avoid the lapful, but soon I would feel both their hands reaching up to clasp my face and to turn it towards theirs. They wanted all of mommy, not just her voice. They wanted my full attention!

This reminds me of a song that I heard again recently—“From a Distance.” It is a beautiful song with lyrics that remind us of the importance of keeping our perspective when looking at ourselves and our lives here on earth. However, there is one phrase from the song that really bothers me: “God is watching us, from a distance.”

Perhaps the reason it bothers me so much is that I feel it contradicts the very nature of God in his relationship with humanity. From the beginning we see God walking in the garden with Adam and Eve, talking with them and building a relationship with them. The Scriptures show God interacting with human beings throughout their history here on earth in a real, personal way.

In Psalm 139, the psalmist reminds us that wherever we go, wherever we are, God is already there. He knows us before we are born and what we will be when we grow up. He knows when we rise and when we lay down, and knows what we are going to say before we say it. In fact, we cannot go anywhere, where God isn’t because God is everywhere. He is omnipresent. It is God’s nature, in the Spirit, to be everywhere in his creation all at the same time, as well as being fully present in his Triune relations of Father, Son and Spirit.

God did not intend to deal with humanity “from a distance.” In coming himself in the person of the Word and taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus, Christ became one of us. Being God “from a distance” was not something he wanted to do. Instead, he wanted to share in our humanity and he took on all that was and is ours, transforming it by his very presence and power into a new humanity in himself. The God who was wholly other than us and who made us became one of us, forever joining himself to us, becoming something he had not been before.

Why would this God do such a thing? His love for all of the humans he created was so great that he did not want to live in eternity without us. He did not want us to return to the nothingness out of which he created us, even though in Adam that was our choice. No, he was willing to do everything he could to prevent it. In this case it meant his very presence in our world, in our humanity. God gave us his full attention! He gave us his one, unique Son, so that we might have eternal life in him.

Recently we celebrated Resurrection Day, commonly called Easter. This day remembers the miracle of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the grave after his crucifixion and death. The death of Christ was a horrific experience that so profoundly affected his disciples that they locked themselves away in fear of the Jews. Closed away, they had great difficulty believing the story of the women who came to tell them of the resurrection. Even when they saw the empty grave themselves, they still closeted themselves away in fear.

One of the first things Jesus did after his resurrection was to appear in the locked room where the disciples were gathered and to greet them with the customary greeting, “Shalom.” “Peace be with you,” he said to his fearful followers. He graced them with the reassurance of his presence and ensured that they would have his presence within them in the person and presence of the Holy Spirit, the “other Helper.” He had promised his disciples that he would never leave or forsake them but would always be present with them, and he kept that promise.

We can be comforted in the knowledge that the promise of God’s constant presence continues for each of us today. God continues to be for us, with us, and in us, as we believe and trust in him to work his saving grace in us and our lives. We may hear the music of God singing over us as we go about our work and play, and at any time we can reach out to him, and we will have his full attention. God is fully present in every way at all times, whether we realize it or not. What a precious and perfect gift from the Father of lights!

Holy God, thank you for your complete and perfect love for each and every one of us. Thank you for your gift of your personal presence in us and in our lives. Thank you for your precious Spirit who is always present in every possible way, and that we have Jesus as well. For you, God, as Father, Son and Spirit are ever omnipresent, always in us, with us and for us, and so you are more than worthy of our praise. Amen.

“So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” John 20:19-20

A Faded Inheritance

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by Linda Rex

Have you ever experienced the transience of an inheritance? I spoke one time to a lady who had worked all her life to save up a pension and to set aside money for her retirement. All of that money was slated to be given to her children upon her death. It was to be a substantial inheritance for them.

However, due to an unexpected and unfortunate set of circumstances, the lady ended up needing long-term care. As she was receiving her care, she ended up in the hospital for an extended length of time. Within six months, every penny of her children’s inheritance was gone and she was left living on Social Security. She could not believe that all those years of doing without to save those funds ended with nothing to show for it. She was devastated.

But this is the nature of human inheritances. They are transient and easily fade away. A simple fluctuation in the economy can eliminate thousands of dollars in value. To many people, it is a tragedy beyond belief. Or is it?

In reality the greater tragedy is to place one’s dependency there rather than on an eternal inheritance that cannot fade away. God has an inheritance waiting for you and me—a living hope—who is Jesus Christ, our living Savior who rose from the dead in triumph over self, sin and Satan, and death. This inheritance cannot be stolen or spoiled.

We need to invest daily in our eternal inheritance by growing in our relationship with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. For this is eternal life, to know God and to be known by him. Our daily walk with Jesus, our care and concern for one another shown by good deeds are ways of investing in our eternal inheritance. We cannot earn this inheritance because it is a gift in Christ from God to his children. But we can invest in it.

Jesus said not to worry so much about the physical but to invest in the eternal instead. Our inheritance will never fade because it is secure in Christ as we trust in him. One day we will share eternal glory with all our brothers and sisters in Christ forever. For this we give God thanks and praise each moment of our lives.

Lord, thank you for the many blessings you give us in this life. Help us, though, to set our hearts and minds on what is eternal and will last forever rather than on things that are transient and can fade away. Help us to make choices with eternity in mind—to do good and share with others, and to invest in our relationships with you and with others. Thank you for this living hope and inheritance that will not fade away which you have freely given us in Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” –1 Peter 1:1-3

Trusting Fully

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by Linda Rex

In this verse for today, Peter admonished his readers to have a mind that is prepared for action. This means we are alert and aware of what is happening or may happen, what God is doing in the world and our role in it, what we are doing and saying as we live and walk in this world in his presence. We cannot predict what may happen, but we can be prepared and ready to deal with it when we are walking in the Spirit. The Spirit will prompt us and give us an alertness when we are listening and living in tune with him.

Peter said we are to be self-controlled. Being self-controlled is a humanly impossible task. The human will and spirit often insists on being in control and going its own way. As we are governed by the Holy Spirit, we find the strength, wisdom and ability to be self-controlled.

If we depend on our own ability to be alert and self-controlled, we will be sorely disappointed. The human condition is such that at some point we will falter and fail. This is why Peter added the following thought: “Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you…” There is no way we will be fully and completely alert or self-controlled at all times. There will be moments when we aren’t alert, and moments when we are not self-controlled.

That is why we must fully trust in the hope we have in Jesus. In him, we will not fail but receive fully God’s grace for ourselves, our circumstances, our life, our growth and our salvation. Nothing will be left out as we stand in Christ when he is revealed. We will remain while all sin and evil will dissolve away. There is nothing that God’s grace cannot and will not cover. We can fully trust in God’s grace.

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” –1 Peter 1:13

Lord, it is easy to get caught up in trusting in myself and my own ability to be self-controlled and alert. I agree that I am limited in every area and must fully trust in you. I ask you for the grace to trust fully in your grace so that I may stand firm and remain when all else is extinguished in the furnace of your presence in glory. Thank you for making me what I am and for ensuring that I may have a relationship with you for all eternity. I praise and worship you for your generous, loving nature and goodness towards me. In your name, I pray. Amen.

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

Grace for the Mockers

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by Linda Rex

I was chatting with some volunteers one day as we waited for our next round of clients. As I listened to the comments they were making about some Christians of other faiths, I felt acutely uncomfortable. The condemnation in their tone and words was severe because they believed that these particular Christians should accept the same position they held on secondary matters of faith. I felt that the position that those that were being critical held was based on prejudice and a theologically unsound understanding of certain scriptures. I guess I was uncomfortable because, unbeknownst to them, I was one of the ones they were mocking.

But I felt very much like the apostle Paul when he underwent such persecutions and sufferings. Because he at one time had persecuted and condemned Christians, he accepted his persecutions and condemnations as a Christian with great grace. For he knew at one time he was such as they were. I also had a time in my walk with God when I was equally critical and condemning of those who did not believe as I did. So I must approach such things with the great grace God in his mercy showed me in bringing me to a more accurate and healthy faith.

The key is understanding in whose image we were made. We were made in the image of God to reflect his likeness. Humans have the unique ability to replicate the image of God through childbirth. We were created to bear the image of God in that we might be temples of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling place of the living God. In Christ we have been reborn into God’s image, purified and renewed by his pure and holy life, death and resurrection. And in his ascension God sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

When we see ourselves through Jesus Christ as God sees us, we see that we are all one in him. There is no male or female, no Jew or Greek, no slave or freeman. These distinctions no longer apply. We are all one in the same way that the Father, Son and Spirit are unique and yet one, living in “perichoresis” with one another. And God has included us in this divine life and love in Jesus Christ, who died for all that all may be forgiven.

If our salvation and faith are based fully on Jesus Christ, on what he did, has done and will do, then there is no basis for prejudice or condemnation. We all stand at the same place, the throne of mercy, at the feet of the One who is both the judge and the condemned sinner who was sin for us, in whom we died, rose again and ascended to the Father’s side, our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.

So whatever differences we may have find their unity and diversity in Jesus Christ. In him we find a place of unity where we can reconcile our differences in grace. In him we find a standard by which we may accurately judge but not condemn those who reject his saving grace and choose to find their own path of salvation.

Yes, we will be different, but there is no need for cursing others. For God has called us to bless not to curse. Are we not even to bless and pray for our enemies? So let us rather pray for and bless those who oppose Christ or who do not acknowledge the centrality of his grace. But let us not curse. For that does not reflect the image of God in Christ we are to bear.

Lord, forgive us for our prejudices and our condemnations with regards to others of different faiths and beliefs. Open our eyes to see what you are doing in each person’s life we meet and grant us the grace to bless, not to curse, to forgive, not to condemn, to pray for them, not to reject them. Unite our hearts and wills in you, Jesus, that we may worship at your feet forever in the unity in which you dwell, Holy God. In the name of the Father, Son and Spirit, we pray and thank you. Amen.

“With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.”
— James 3:9-10

Transitions

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by Linda Rex

Last summer my daughter and I made the difficult transition of moving from a quiet rural town in southeast Iowa to metropolitan Nashville. We have noticed not only the change in climate, but also the change in the number of people and homes and cars that we see on a daily basis. No longer can we step out of the house at night and see a blanket of stars. Instead we see only a few of the brighter stars, and we hear the noise of the city with the cars, trains and trucks constantly on the move.

We have been blessed with a nice home in a pleasant neighborhood. We have enough room and all that we need. But it is not the same as our home back in Iowa, no matter how we look at it. At times we feel uprooted like plants lying on the ground, with our roots withering in the hot sun. At other times we feel like transplants stuffed into hard clay soil, with no soft loam tucked around us to comfort us or ease the transition. Sometimes adjusting to the transition can be very difficult.

But there is one thing that has enabled us to weather the transition in positive ways. It is the knowledge that when all is said and done, this physical home is not our ultimate habitation. God has invited us to make him our habitation, our dwelling place. God has invited us to rest in him, to take up residence in Jesus.

When we live and walk in him, there is a comfort and peace that passes all understanding. When we live each day in his presence in this way, God brings people and circumstances into our lives that are encouraging and healing. He surrounds us with his love and feeds us with his grace.

It is his body, the Body of Christ, who expresses his love and care for us. We are blessed by the support and generosity of our brothers and sisters in Christ, whether members of our fellowships or not. God has shown over and over that he is with us in this transition, that in Christ, in him, “we live, and move and have our being” as the apostle Paul wrote. We are held in the center of the life and love of Father, Son and Spirit, for God is our dwelling place. We are truly grateful for this blessing.

Thank you, Lord God, that we may dwell even now “in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Thank you that in the midst of upheavals and transitions in life and those times when we feel uprooted we have a permanent dwelling place in you. You are our refuge, our place of safety, our comfort and peace. We praise you and thank you. In Jesus name. Amen.

“For you have made the LORD, my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place.” Psalm 91:9

Countercultural Faith

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by Linda Rex

“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” 1 Peter 2:15

Sometimes we may find ourselves asking the question, “What is God’s will in this situation?” There are many verses that talk about the will of God. In this particular instance, Peter is talking about the will of God in the midst of a pagan anti-Christian culture with an oppressive government.

The people of that time lived under Nero and other Roman caesars, who took pleasure in the persecution and destruction of Christians. Peter himself would eventually experience a martyr’s death. This was a difficult, and no doubt, fearful time in which to live. Many of the issues Christians faced in those days are similar to ones Christians face in their world today.

Peter wrote that the way to silence those who know nothing about God and the way of life Jesus taught his disciples was to live in love with fellow Christians and others in the community in the face of suffering, rejection and death. What got the attention of the people of the day was the love and affection of the Christians. They had formed communities in which those in need were cared for and relationships were built. Not only that, but they reached out to those who were not Christians and showed them love and compassion even when it meant putting their lives at risk.

The Christians may have been ridiculed by their neighbors and community members for their funky observances like eating the body and blood of a dead guy (participating in communion), but the criticism was often silenced by the love and compassion these people witnessed these Christians sharing in the midst of suffering and difficult circumstances. It was the “doing good” and the non-violent response to martyrdom and suffering that eventually silenced the persecutors and paved the way for the Roman empire to embrace Christendom.

As we go about our daily lives and experience troubles and trials as Christians, it would be good for us to keep in mind the impact we have on others by our words, actions, and attitudes. We are preaching the gospel in the way we “do good” in our daily lives. As we reflect to the world around us the grace and love and truth of Jesus Christ, we pave the way for God to ultimately silence those who oppose him by transforming their hearts by faith. This is the path toward accomplishing the will of God–giving his Spirit full expression in and through us in the midst of a broken and hurting humanity who are ignorant of or live in opposition to God’s love and grace and truth in Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord of Life, please grant us the vision to see beyond our daily trials to understand the impact we can have on the world around us by living upright, godly, loving lives no matter what we may face or suffer. Help us to fully reflect the wonder of your love and grace in Jesus as we go about our daily business. You have worked mightly through your people to change the world. Please work mightly thorough us as well. Grant us the strength, wisdom and courage to bear whatever suffering or sorrow this may require and to do whatever you may ask of us. For Christ’s sake and by your great power. Amen.