love

Because God Smiled

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by Linda Rex

December 18, 2022, 4th Sunday in ADVENT | Love—We’ve come to the fourth Sunday in Advent already, and while contemplating the topic of love, it occurred to me that Joseph is a hidden gem in the Advent story.

Today in our media and literature, it is common to ridicule or demean men, especially fathers or men of faith. Granted, some of us have had fathers who utterly failed at their job of reflecting the nature of God and his love to their children. But I have met men who, though faulty and broken like the rest of us, took seriously their responsibility to serve, care for and honor the people in their lives, especially their wives and children.

Reflecting upon Mary’s story, it must have been so hard for the young woman after the angel told her she was going to become pregnant with a child who would be the Messiah. According to custom, she probably would not have had a single private conversation with Joseph at any time during their engagement. And though their engagement meant she was technically married to Joseph, they had to wait for a year to prove she was not expecting a baby by some other man. For her then, to end up pregnant meant disaster for her relationship with Joseph.

Joseph had every reason to divorce Mary, and was expected to. Thankfully, the custom of stoning unwed mothers was not as faithfully observed as divorce and public shaming was. It says something about Joseph’s heart and character that when he discovered Mary was pregnant, he sought to privately divorce Mary, not wanting to bring her to public shame. Considering the public humiliation of having a pregnant fiancée he himself was going to experience, Joseph also had to deal with all of the family and social consequences of what had occurred.

Then Joseph had a dream. In his dream, an angel told him to wed Mary, that the child she carried was conceived by the Holy Spirit and should be named Jesus, for he would save his people from their sins. Most of us don’t remember our dreams when we wake up in the morning. But Joseph was singularly moved by this dream, so much so that he broke all custom and immediately married Mary and brought her home. He honored her and her baby by caring for them and providing for them from then on.

Throughout Mary’s pregnancy, travels to Bethlehem, and subsequent travels to Egypt and Nazareth, Joseph listened to and obeyed the instructions he received from God through angels about taking care of the baby Jesus. Joseph was a father to Jesus, one who was led by the Spirit, so that Jesus could fulfill the mission his heavenly Father had given him while here on earth.

Whatever Joseph did, though, was merely a participation in God’s story. Israel for years had cried out, longing for redemption and deliverance. They would slide into slavery and sin, and then God would rescue them again, only to repeat the process. One of the readings for this Sunday is a beautiful psalm which reminds us that our only hope of being anything other than our broken, sinful selves, is for God to smile on us and to restore us into right relationship with himself. The psalmist says:

“Oh, give ear, Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock; You who are enthroned above the cherubim, shine forth! Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up Your power and come to save us! O God, restore us and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved. O LORD God of hosts, how long will You be angry with the prayer of Your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and You have made them to drink tears in large measure. You make us an object of contention to our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves. O God of hosts, restore us and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved. … Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand, upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself. Then we shall not turn back from You; revive us, and we will call upon Your name. O Lord God of hosts, restore us; cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.”

(Psalm 80:1–7, 17–19 NASB)

Do you see the repetition of the request, “O God restore us…cause Your face to shine upon us”? The expression “cause your face to shine upon us” is another way of asking God to smile on us. This song hints at the coming of God’s Son, the Son of Man, who will be instrumental in our salvation—our only hope of being restored and revived. And only because God smiled on us.

Since our heavenly Father was so willing to smile on us that he would send his own unique Son for our salvation, we truly have great hope, no matter how difficult our struggles. Since our heavenly Father was so willing to smile on us that he made provision for our forgiveness and our reconciliation with himself, we truly have peace and joy no matter how far we have fallen or how miserably we have failed. And since our heavenly Father was willing to do whatever it took to turn us back to himself, even offering us his own Son to us, we are able to rest and find comfort in his everlasting love.

We are caught up in the midst of God’s story, and like Joseph, are participating in what God is doing to turn us all back to himself. Advent reminds us that even when we are at our worst, God has smiled on us. Christ has come, is coming even now by his Spirit in our everyday lives, and will return again in glory one day. We are reminded to look away from our problems, look away from ourselves, and to look up into the face of our loving Father, to see him smile on us. And right there—we discover, we are saved.

Heavenly Father, thank you for smiling on us and giving us the gift of your Son and your Spirit. Remind us anew to turn away from ourselves and our sorrows and to turn to you. Smile on us again, so that we might experience anew our salvation, through Jesus, your Son. Amen.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,’ translated means, ‘God with us.’ And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”     Matthew 1:18–25 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/12/olitbecause-god-smiled.pdf ]

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The Power of the Scars

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By Linda Rex

October 9, 2022, PROPER 23—Have you ever thought about the profound power a scar has to transport you into another time or place? A scar holds within itself the capacity to remind us of events, people, and experiences. A scar can remind us of suffering, of pain, of healing, and of forgiveness.

I believe this is why the apostle John in his apocalyptic book of Revelation gave us a picture of Jesus bearing the scars of the cross as he sits in glory. I believe it is significant that Jesus chooses at times to bear the marks of our betrayal, condemnation and murder of him as God in human flesh. This brings to mind his initial post-resurrection appearances in the upper room, where he showed the disciples his hands and side where he had received such severe wounds. It was the scars he bore that enabled them to see that the One who died was the One who lived again.

The difference between the scars that Jesus bears and our scars, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, is that within Jesus’ scars lies our redemption, healing, and restoration. Whatever we may carry with us through this life he bears within his own human flesh—a thought which can give us great comfort when the scars we bear today remind us of the pain, suffering and loss we have experienced.

In this Sunday’s gospel passage, Luke 17:11–19, Jesus encounters ten men who had been ostracized from society due to their leprosy. As the story unfolds, we discover that some of the people in this group of lepers were Jews and some were Samaritans. It is significant that the nature of this disease was such that lepers were forbidden to be around other people (they were considered ritually unclean), and this exclusion by society actually created a small leper community where normal social barriers were ignored.

The ten men called out to Jesus from a distance, simply asking him for mercy. Jesus often touched the ritually unclean when he healed them, but this time Jesus didn’t get close to the lepers at all. He simply told them to go and show themselves to the priests, honoring the rite given in the Torah regarding ritual cleansing of healed lepers. And as the ten men walked away, assumably traveling towards Jerusalem, they were cleansed.

As Luke is telling this story, he introduces an unexpected twist. It would make sense for the ten men to simply walk away, go to the temple for the ceremony, and then go back to their everyday lives, returning to those tasks and relationships the leprosy had stolen from them. But by doing this, they would have missed the huge significance of what had just occurred in their lives.

As they traveled on their way, the leprosy on the men disappeared. One of the men stopped, convicted of the reality of something which had escaped his notice before—just who had answered their plea for mercy. Sparked within his heart was a well of gratitude that overflowed into loudly glorifying God, and running quickly to throw himself at the feet of Jesus. On his knees before Jesus, the healed leper thanked the Lord profusely.

Here, Jesus points out the astonishing reality to those standing about him, that the only person of the ten who returned to show appreciation was a Samaritan, a foreigner despised by the Jews. This was the only one who recognized who Jesus was and gave him the gratitude and honor he deserved. Jesus told the man to stand up and leave, that his faith had made him well.

What is often not seen in this parable is that it has a lot more to say than just simple home truths about gratitude and faith. In fact, it is an acted parable about what Jesus was actively working out as the One who came to deliver every one of us from the leprosy of evil, sin, and death. Unable to free ourselves, incapable of restoring ourselves to right relationship with God, we all desperately needed God’s redemption and salvation. As God come in human flesh, Jesus was headed toward death on the cross, a death not much different than that of the lepers he healed, who had lost everything, possibly including limbs and skin, due to their affliction.

It is important to pay attention to the reality that all ten lepers were healed. Jesus’ healing involved all of the lepers even though only one, a Samaritan, returned to offer Jesus gratitude and glory to God. In the same way, Jesus has included all human flesh in his self-offering, in his death and resurrection, but not everyone sees the significance of the gift and responds with gratitude and adoration. In Christ’s resurrection, all have risen, but their experience of that resurrection, of their healing and renewal, depends upon their response to Jesus in faith, seeing him for who he really is—their Savior and Lord.

The kingdom of God was present in that moment in the person of Jesus Christ. The man who returned to glorify God and thank Jesus was participating in the kingdom of God in his recognition of who Jesus was—his Healer and Redeemer. He was experiencing the kingdom reality of life in relationship with his loving Father through Jesus in the Spirit as the joy and wonder of what God did for him penetrated through the darkness in his soul and awakened him to divine light.

I started this blog with a thought about the power of scars. Did this man who returned to Jesus bear any scars from his bout with leprosy? Did he bear the scars of his broken relationships caused by his forced isolation? What was his life going to be like after having been healed?

When Jesus gives us new life, he doesn’t simply erase our previous life. Often Jesus takes the scars of our previous life and brings them along with himself through death into resurrection, giving the scars of our lives tremendous power to testify of his goodness, love, and grace. Instead of hiding the wounds under guilt, shame, and fear—like a leper being isolated away from human society—we want to bring our wounds out into the light of Jesus, allowing him to transform them into scars which testify of God’s love, grace and goodness by carrying them with him through death into resurrection.

This can be a difficult and scary process. Sometimes we need other people to walk through this journey of healing with us. Sometimes we need support and help. But we never go through any of this on our own. Jesus stands firm, having already declared our healing, calling us to walk it out day by day in a faith journey with him. Our part is simply, like this tenth leper, to offer up to our Triune God our gratitude and praise. And we allow our scars, shining with the healing grace of Jesus, to give a powerful testimony to what God does when we simply ask for mercy.

Lord, sometimes our wounds can seem to be overwhelming. We feel like the lepers in this story, isolated and despairing. We ask you, Jesus, for mercy. And, recognizing you have included us already in your death and resurrection, giving our scars a testimony of your grace, goodness, and love, we offer glory to you, Father, and thanks to you, Jesus, for all you have done by your Spirit. Amen.

“While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; and they raised their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they were going, they were cleansed. Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered and said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?’ And He said to him, ‘Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.’ ”      Luke 17:11–19 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/09/olitthe-power-of-the-scars.pdf ]

Lord, Increase Our Faith

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By Linda Rex

October 2, 2022, PROPER 22—Nowadays, when someone wants to move a grown sycamore tree, if they can afford it, they call up the local landscape company who sends out a large truck with a digger on the back. The workers use this machine’s massive teeth to dig the tree up, roots and all, and to tip it back and up over the truck in order to carry it. Then the workers drive the truck with the sycamore tree on top to its new location, dropping the tree there into the ground.

In reality, a lot of us exercise some kind faith without knowing we are doing it. Looking at this activity on the surface, we may wonder exactly how much faith is needed to move that full-grown tree to a new location. For example, the workers need to trust that the people who put the truck together and the digger together did their job properly, enabling the workers to drive the truck back and forth, and to use the digger to safely remove the tree from the ground. The workers trust that the spade will hold the tree safely until they get it to its new location rather than dropping it in the middle of the highway, creating a massive traffic snarl. The workers trust in the digger’s ability to place the tree safely in its hole, and in the owner’s promise to pay them for their efforts. There is a lot of faith being expressed in this simple act of everyday labor.

In my recent studies with Grace Communion Seminary on the topic of Paul’s epistles, I am learning about his concept of faith. Faith, for the apostle Paul, not only has to do with the trustworthiness of the One being trusted—Jesus Christ, but also about his complete and perfect trust in the Father expressed in his self-offering on the cross. This faith is given to us to participate in by the Holy Spirit, who lives in us. The matter of having sufficient faith to move anything at all has been taken care of by the One who is not only perfectly trustworthy, but who also has total faith in our trustworthy Father—and Jesus enables us to participate in that perfect faith in the Spirit.

When Jesus said that with the faith the size of a mustard seed one could move a tree and plant it in the ocean, he probably had in mind the previous conversation he and his disciples were having about forgiveness. When we come face to face with impossible tasks such as continually and freely forgiving those who deeply wound us, we discover our inadequacy, our inability to do what God asks of us in those situations. It is not a bad thing to realize that our best efforts are insufficient—it reminds us to turn to the One who, by his Spirit, can and will live our best response in and through and out from us.

In our New Testament reading for this Sunday, 2 Timothy 1:1–14, we hear the apostle Paul reminding us to “kindle afresh” or “fan into flame” (NIV) the gift we have been given. Adding fuel to a fire or kindling to hot coals causes the flame to leap up and again begin to burn intensely. Paul is reminding us that there is a fire we are baptized with, the Holy Spirit, and we do not want to “quench” this fire in any way. Rather we want to facilitate and encourage its continued flame.

In speaking of this gift of the Spirit, Paul reminded Timothy that this “sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice” was indeed living within him. Because God by the Spirit was living within Timothy, he did not have a spirit of timidity or fear, but one of “power and love, and discipline”. The indwelling presence of God by the Spirit enabled Timothy to do the ministry he was called into, and it was by the Spirit that Timothy found God’s grace and purpose at work in his life. It was not all up to Timothy, but rather a walk of faith in which the “faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” were expressed as he lived out God’s calling on his life.

When asked by the disciples, “Lord, increase our faith,” Jesus spoke of the tiny amount of faith necessary to pick up and move a large tree from land into the sea. And then he went on to use a parable, which in our culture does not really resonate with us, since so many of us object so strongly to slavery. But what if we looked at it a little differently?

Think of a college intern, Gracie, who works for a fashion designer, Laurel, in hopes of one day she might have her own designs looked at and used. (Sorry if this sounds like a romcom plot.) Gracie spends her days fetching Laurel’s coffee, running her errands, picking up her dry cleaning, and taking care of the designer’s everyday tasks. Gracie doesn’t get paid much of anything since she is an intern—she’s lucky to barely have enough income to cover her expenses with her side job waitressing in the student union.

If Gracie is out running errands for Laurel, is the designer going to call her up and invite her in for tea and crumpets, offering to serve her? No. Instead, Laurel will probably call her up and tell Gracie that while she is running around, she is to stop by Laurel’s favorite dinner spot and pick up a meal to go and to be sure to bring home Laurel’s favorite coffee while she is at it. Gracie will be expected to do all that, finish her errands, and clean off the coffee table so Laurel has a place to eat her dinner. And while Laurel is eating, Gracie will be expected to take the dog Feathers out for a walk and to feed her. And when Gracie shows up and finishes all her tasks, she should not expect praise and gratitude from Laurel, since Gracie is simply supposed to do what she was instructed to do, since she is just an intern.

Now, in the real world, I would like to hope that if there are any Laurel’s out there, that they would reconsider how they treat their interns. But this is a parable, right? It is to help us see in our minds eye what Jesus is saying. The disciples wanted Jesus to increase their faith, and Jesus said that even the tiniest bit of faith can move a large tree to the sea should it be exercised.

The only way any of us has any faith at all is in Christ, as we participate with him in his death and resurrection. It is Christ’s faith at work in us by the Holy Spirit which enables us to do difficult things such as forgiving what seems impossible for us to forgive. And when we do forgive, when we do live like we should, when we do say what is healing and encouraging rather than hurtful, should God stand up and applaud? No, because we are simply doing what we were created to do, being who we were created to be—image-bearers of the divine, reflections of the glory of God in Christ by the Spirit.

It is God’s life at work in us by the Spirit who gets the credit. It is for his glory and to fulfill his purpose. The life of faith begins with a God who is trustworthy and who, in Christ, lives the life of faith we were created to live within, and who gives us, in Christ, the faith necessary to follow him and live in the truth of who we were created to be as children of the Father. I would imagine that even the angels of heaven have delight as does the Father when his children return home to their real selves, living in right relationship with him and each other. But truly, isn’t that where we belonged all along?

Father, Jesus, Spirit, you made us to live in loving, other-centered relationship with you and each other. We cannot and will not do this apart from your life in us and with us by your heavenly Spirit. Thank you for giving us the faith of Christ by the Spirit, enabling us to trust you in any and every situation, as you always meant for us to trust you, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and be planted in the sea”; and it would obey you. Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, “Come immediately and sit down to eat”? But will he not say to him, “Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink”? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.” ’ ”       Luke 17:5–10 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/09/olitlord-increase-our-faith.pdf ]

Our Royal Beginning and End

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By Linda Rex

September 25, 2022, PROPER 21—It appeared that the topic of interest this weekend was her majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s death and the succession of Prince Charles (III) to the throne of England. For better or for worse, people from all over the world have been touched in some way by the long arm of this royal family’s commonwealth and country.

I sometimes wonder if our fascination with royalty is bound up in some way with the spiritual reality of our royal beginning in the Triune God. Is there perhaps a core realization that we were made for so much more than this mundane existence? Could it be that God’s “very good” descriptor of his human creations includes our calling to steward the creation he set us within just as a godly king or queen stewards a country?

In both of the bookends of the Bible, Genesis and Revelation, we see humans in the garden in relationship with God and participating in his care of the creation. The revelation that we are to be “kings and priests” with God as the end result of all Christ has done resonates with our original call to stewardship, and calls us up to a new way of looking at how we live even now in this world as citizens of God’s kingdom. This stewardship, or being kings and priests with Christ, involves a real participation in Christ’s own self-offering—a laying down of one’s life and a sharing of all we have been given with others.

Indeed, with the coming of Christ, the kingdom of God entered our human sphere and set up shop. Like the stone “cut out without hands” in Daniel’s vision (Dan. 2:34, 45), the kingdom of God was inaugurated in our human sphere in a new way by the incarnation of Jesus Christ—God in human flesh. The king of the kingdom forged within human flesh our true citizenship in his eternal kingdom, life in relationship with the Father in the Spirit. In what many call the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus showed how the “prodigal” or “wasteful” Father freely welcomed home our wandering humanity (younger son) and forgave our futile efforts to work ourselves into his good graces (older son).

We move from this parable in Luke’s gospel to one about the unjust steward, and then on into the parable for today in Luke 16:19–31. In this story, it may seem that Jesus is simply talking some more about money and being rich, and about going to heaven or hell, but in the progression of the parables, we find he is talking about kingdom realities. He is focused on his reason for being there and the listeners’ need for what Jesus was doing and would do as he worked his way forward toward his upcoming death and resurrection in Jerusalem.

In this Sunday’s parable, Jesus began talking about a rich man who wore splendid, luxurious clothes and merrily enjoyed the benefits of his wealth. I get the sense that, in itself, having nice things and enjoying what blessings God gives is not a problem in Jesus’ eyes. It is the heart and motivation, and what we do with them, that is a concern though. I also realize that some of Jesus’ listeners were probably thinking to themselves, “He must be a good man like me. He loves the Lord and is one of God’s chosen—that’s why he’s so blessed.”

Jesus wasn’t content to leave them in this false state of self-exaltation—his story got a bit darker. There was a poor beggar name Lazarus lying at this rich man’s gate, covered in sores. Lazarus would have been happy simply to have had some crumbs from the rich man’s table, but all he got was what was left from the slop that he couldn’t keep the stray dogs from eating first. And what was worse, these dogs hung around and licked the poor man’s wounds whether he wanted them to or not. Were they waiting for him to die?

In ancient Jewish thought, every Jew after death ended up in Hades (or Sheol), the place of death, either in torment or paradise. Jesus used this cultural understanding with regards to death to explain his point (not to establish some doctrine regarding our eternal destiny). Lazarus died, Jesus went on to say, having starved to death lying outside the rich man’s front gate. And he ended up where every good Jew wanted to end up, in Abraham’s bosom—an ancient expression which meant paradise. A little later, the rich man died and also went to the place of the dead, but in a much less pleasant location.

Going on with Jesus’ story: while he suffered torments, the rich man saw Lazarus in paradise, where he thought he should be. He asked Abraham to send Lazarus to him with a drink of water. Let’s pause for a moment. What does this say about the rich man’s view of himself and of Lazarus? Hasn’t this been humanity’s issue since the fall, this determining that some of us are over while others are under? Wasn’t this the reason Lazarus was in Hades in the first place? Perhaps he would not have died had the rich man simply saw him as worthy of his love and grace (something each of us desperately need from God) and had helped him.

But this was not the sole point Jesus was making. He went on to say that the rich man then told Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers so they wouldn’t make the same mistake he did. Notice the rich man is still treating Lazarus like an errand boy or slave. He has not repented or changed his attitude towards those who were not as blessed as he was. Abraham replied that the five brothers already had the law and the prophets to warn them so sending Lazarus would be pointless. As those who heard the law and prophets read in synagogue each sabbath, every Jewish man had no excuse for not knowing what God says about caring for the poor and needy, and helping the sick.

The rich man said that if his brothers saw someone rise from the dead, then they would repent. And Abraham countered that even if they did see someone rise from the dead they would not repent. Here is Jesus’ pointed reference to his own death and resurrection, the very event he was at that moment intentionally walking toward on behalf of all humanity, counting each and every one of us worthy of God’s love and grace, and working to ensure that we each have a place in his kingdom. The One who had all the riches of divine existence had not been content to allow our beggared humanity to starve to death and suffer outside his gates. No, he had come and had joined us in our very sorry state in order raise us up into new life through his death and resurrection.

The Jewish leaders listening to Jesus had made up their minds that they were already members of God’s kingdom, the special people who were already included and blessed. They did not see themselves as the hungry, sick beggar lying outside the gate. Nor did they see they were meant to reflect the divine Majesty who would lay down his life for the sake of others. And they certainly did not see their need for Jesus nor did they see their need to repent or change their minds. And the greatest bit of irony to this whole parable—Jesus did raise a real Lazarus from the dead, and what did the leaders do? They immediately went out and plotted to kill him—and Jesus. They certainly did not repent and turn to Jesus.

In the New Testament reading for this Sunday, 1 Timothy 6:6–19, the apostle Paul tells us to grab hold of eternal life and to fight the good fight of faith. Part of this has to do with having a healthy view of money and the pleasures of this life—embracing contentment and generosity as part of our human stewardship of all God has made and given us the responsibility to care for. And there is also the need to, as Jesus did, make the bold confession of faith—laying down one’s life for others, being willing to offer it all on the behalf of those who are suffering and in need. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi, it is in forgiving that we experience forgiveness, in giving of ourselves that we receive, and in dying that we are born to eternal life. As God’s kings and priests even now, we acknowledge our own need for Jesus, while freely sharing with others the abundant blessings God has given to us in Christ and by his Spirit.

Lord, thank you for reminding us that all that we consider our own we receive from the Father of lights as a gift, through your generous self-offering in the Spirit. Grant us the grace to see others as you see them, Father—our own brothers and sisters, unique equals who have been made at one with you and each other and have been given stewardship over all you have made, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ 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 16:19–31 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/09/olitour-royal-beginning-and-end.pdf ]

[If you are interested in participating in an in-person discussion group in the Nashville, TN area or in an online Zoom group, contact me at ourlifeinthetrinity@gmail.com. ]

Freeing the Bent and Bound

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By Linda Rex

August 21, 2022, PROPER 16—Sometimes I long to be able to touch people in the same way Jesus touched them. There’s a person I see on occasion at a store I frequent whose physical condition seems to be a lot like the woman in the story for this Sunday in Luke 13:10–17. I long to be able to touch her so she could stand fully upright again.

The woman in the story Luke tells was bent over severely, probably to the place that she could no longer look up or reach up above her. Luke wrote that she had been bound by this infirmity caused by a spirit for eighteen years. I wonder how many times she had gone to the rabbis, hoping one of them might free her from her imprisonment. Was she told that the reason she was crippled in this way was her fault, because she was a horrible sinner or born in sin? Was she excluded from going to the temple due to her condition? In any case, she was in a really bad situation from which she could not extricate herself.

Luke wrote his gospel in an effort to share the good news of what Christ did in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. How fitting is this parable as a picture of what Jesus did for all of us! All of humanity was bound by Satan, doubled over and held captive by evil, sin, and death, unable to free ourselves from our imprisonment.

The Son of God in human flesh, Jesus Christ, came to set humanity free through his sacrificial self-offering. Just as Jesus touched this woman, telling her she was finally free, Jesus touched each of us by taking on our human flesh, becoming sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him. Jesus set each of us free from all that has bound us, rising from the grave and ascending to the Father, bringing all of humanity home to a right relationship with the Father in the Spirit. He offers us that freedom of evil, sin, and death in his precious gift of the Spirit by faith in Christ.

Just as Jesus was criticized by the synagogue leader for healing on the Sabbath, telling him to only work during the week, we often want to be the ones who tell Jesus what to do with his self-offering on our behalf. We often replace Jesus’ finished work with our own religious rules and requirements, our own spiritual practices which may become more important than caring for others. What is more important, Jesus wants to know: keeping yourself religiously pure and “holy” or helping someone be released from years of bondage and suffering? What is more important—observing your traditions and religious regulations, or participating with God in setting someone free?

Growing up in my religious tradition, I was taught that having a good relationship with God meant praying and studying the bible and going to church, along with obeying all of the legal requirements of the Bible. In later years I discovered that loving God and loving my neighbor is central to my identity as a follower of Christ. There are so many ways of living in relationship with God and loving my neighbor that do not involve religious traditions or rituals! Indeed, our love of God is most effectively expressed by our loving, outgoing concern toward others shown by deeds of service, kindness, understanding and compassion. It is in our other-centered sacrificial care of others that we begin to truly reflect the nature and glory of our Triune God as his beloved adopted children.

I’ve never realized before how often I have been like the synagogue official in this story. Here he had been for eighteen years gathering with the crowd for reading the scriptures and praying together, and working on being holy, and that whole time this woman had been a part of that community. She was suffering acutely and I wonder how many people during that long period of time really touched her in the way that Jesus did when he showed up. She needed the touch of healing and restoration, but how many people during all those years actually prayed for her or offered her a kind word or reached out to help her?

This year Grace Communion International is challenging us to participate with Jesus in his expression of love and care for those who are suffering or are in need. Our tangible acts of compassion can become an expression of God’s love that genuinely touches the lives of others, enabling them to actually experience the love of God in meaningful ways. Rather than simply talking about spiritual things or doing religious deeds, we can intentionally become a part of other people’s lives, sharing in their concerns and easing the burdens they cannot carry on their own.

For some of us, this can be a real challenge. Our tendency is to live in cocoons, protecting ourselves from the evil and danger of the world around us. To open ourselves and our lives up to make room for others is a struggle. But by God’s grace and his Spirit working in and through us, we can begin to participate with Jesus in touching the lives of those who are bent and bound, sharing the good news that freedom is theirs in Christ.

Who are the people God has placed in your life? Who do you encounter as you go about your daily activities? Are there people you meet at the store or the coffee shop you frequent with whom you can begin to have conversations and pray for or help?

Do you have a unique talent or gift that can be a blessing to others? How can you share it in such a way that you don’t do for others what they need to do for themselves, but still bless and help them? What makes you uniquely you and how can you offer that up to make this world a better place in relationships with the people around you?

These are questions I am asking myself as I ponder the next steps in my life. In what way can my faith move beyond religious practice into practical expressions of the love of God in Christ? It is a question worth wrestling with.

Father, thank you for sending your Son to touch us in our bent and bound condition, to set us upright in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. Grant us the grace to share your love with others in tangible ways so they might also by your Spirit experience your loving and healing touch, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, ‘Woman, you are freed from your sickness.’ And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God. But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, ‘There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.’ But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?’ As He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.”      Luke 13:10–17 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/08/freeing-the-bent-and-bound.pdf ]

Christ the Image of God

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By Linda Rex

July 17, 2022, PROPER 11—Yesterday, my son told me about another mass shooting that had occurred—a heart-rending devastation for innocent people just going about their everyday lives. These aches joined with angst over the increasing inflation and some recent experiences of rampant disrespect expressed by the loss of simple courtesies, made my heart ache even more than ever.

The Old Testament reading for this Sunday, Amos 8:1–12, as well as the psalms, Psalm 52 and 15, express a cry from God’s heart against all that is destructive and evil in this world. The evil one seeks control, disunity, and destruction, while Christ seeks to express his love, restoration, and unity by his Spirit through human hearts. Too often we respond to the inner cry to do as we please, to seek self-gratification and self-glory rather than to humble ourselves to be who we really are, the ones created to reflect the love and other-centered way of being of the God who made us.

How easy it is for us to get sucked down into the vortex of self. Its cry is siren and its influence is strong. It is seductive—we are often halfway into our surrender to the pleasure before we realize that we may never get out again. What we defend as our freedom to choose is so often a lie. What we lose sight of is that God has given us freedom—but in Christ he has freed us to truly be ourselves—children of God who love him and one another, who are free to know and be known by God down to our deepest level. This is true freedom.

We shine with the majesty of God’s nature when we are being true to who we are as God’s children. When we live in other-centered ways, making room for one another, we shine out as lights in a world darkened by satanic self-absorption and self-will. The darkness does not appreciate the entry of true light into its sphere. We cannot shine with our own light, though—it is too easily dimmed or refracted. We must draw the light with which we shine from the true Light, Jesus Christ, in order to be true reflections of God’s glory in this dark world.

This is an incredible mystery—how we shine with the light of God’s very being as we open ourselves to the Spirit of Christ, allowing him to live in and through us that life which he forged in our humanity when he walked the earth. What we used to believe about God is held up to the mirror of Jesus who is the exact image of the Father, being God in human flesh. We discover, when looking into the mirror who is Jesus Christ that we are not alienated from God or hostile to him, but we are held with Christ in God by the Spirit, participants in his very life and love.

It was the Father’s good pleasure that the fulness of the divine One dwell in Christ, in his human flesh, living our life, dying our death, and rising up into new life. God was pleased to have his Son dwell among us, taking our human flesh upon himself to be redeemed, restored, and renewed, enabling us to be fully reconciled with God in every way. And indeed, in Christ, we discover that God has reconciled all things, in heaven and on earth—an incredible thought that I struggle to get my mind around. How far is the extent of the reconciliation or peace God achieved for us in Christ if it includes both heaven and earth? Apparently, it has no end.

The mystery arises again—how can we shine brightly when our flesh so often seems to fill this world with darkness? We live in that complex place where the kingdom of God reigns and yet the kingdom of darkness attempts to maintain control of what God has declared is his. We are in the midst of the already-but-not-yet of God’s kingdom, where we only experience bittersweet glimpses of the world to come. We are ambassadors of Christ—finding ourselves as foreigners in a world that doesn’t understand or accept us at times. Our customs and ways of living may seem odd to those around us, because we have adopted a design for living—our true way of being—which is often counter-cultural.

We need to stay focused on Jesus Christ, the true Light. We draw our real existence or life from him. We are held with Christ in God (Col. 3:3), and what matters most is that in Christ, we live face to face with the Father in the Spirit. It is Christ in us by the Spirit who holds us safely in the presence of the Father, in his eternal embrace of love. No person, no force, no created thing—nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Rom. 8:38-39). This is God’s word to us as his children.

Just as the Father is the fulness of Christ in their divine oneness in the Spirit, we find our fulness in Jesus’ humanity held in the presence of the Father in the Spirit. All things in heaven and earth were created by Christ, through Christ, and for Christ. He has always existed, and holds all things together. He is the beginning and the end—the Lord of all. He has done, is doing, and will do, all that is needed to finish what he has begun in us. That is our comfort and peace—thank you, Jesus!

Heavenly Father, thank you for delighting in us and for making us your very own. Thank you, Jesus, for holding us ever in the eternal embrace of the Trinity, enabling us to participate in your life and love. Thank you, Spirit, for making all that is ours in Christ individually our own, enabling us to see the face of the Father in the face of his Son. Amen.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I 1do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”      Colossians 1:15–28 NASB

“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.; But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.’ ”      Luke 10:38–42 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/07/christ-the-image-of-god.pdf ]

Go and Do the Same

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By Linda Rex

July 10, 2022, PROPER 10—This blazing hot summer weather here in Tennessee has driven a colony of tiny black ants into my kitchen looking for water and food. On the one hand, it is fascinating to see how busy and diligent they are in their daily business, but on the other rather irritating that I can’t seem to get them to change their mind about being in my house.

So often we find ourselves like the ants, diligently going about our daily business of life, while we don’t seem to realize the difficulties we are creating for others in our lives. We, as humans made to reflect the image of God, are meant to love God with all our being and to love others as we love ourselves. When we don’t do this and it is brought to our attention, our first instinct is to self-justify—to make excuses for or rationalize away our behavior.

It is amazing to what extent I can go in my own effort to justify things I’ve said or done that have caused harm to others. What is especially amazing is how we can even use our efforts to do good or to serve God as an excuse for unacceptable behavior or neglect. Sometimes our efforts at self-justification are so effective, we don’t even see this is what we are doing. What we need is a mirror to show us the truth about ourselves. But would we even accept the truth if we saw it?

The question that the lawyer asks in the gospel story for this Sunday, Luke 10:25–37, is a very good one. But it most certainly exposed the truth as to the lawyer’s stubborn resistance to loving all others, no matter whom they might be. “Who is my neighbor?” is a question that when honestly asked of ourselves, exposes our prejudices and our preferences, and opens us up to the possibility that we may need to repent or turn away from our own self-centeredness.

What about the man in Jesus’ story, who laid beaten, rejected, left for dead by the side of the road? Isn’t that the way Jesus ended up at the hands of those he came to save? Do we understand first of all that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Word of God, who came into our sphere of existence to live as one of us? Indeed, Jesus became a brother to every one of us, making himself our kinsman-redeemer, willing to suffer and die at the hands of those he created and made so that we might be welcomed home to the Father in the Spirit.

Taking this a bit farther, we find in this story that the Samaritan—the one who is considered an outcast and a heathen—is the only one who stops to join with the fallen traveler who laid dying by the side of the road. Our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection necessitates us accepting our own reality—that we are the outcasts, and that we participate in Christ’s death and resurrection, the only place where we find redemption, restoration and renewal.

When we find ourselves exposed as being unloving and inhumane, self-justifying may seem the easiest and most convenient response. It sure seems to come naturally to us. But its consequences are often bitter, eternal, and not easily remedied. A much more difficult and often painful, but significantly more appropriate and redeeming response, is to speak the truth in love, to confess what we actually did say, think or do, and to receive the grace we need, and to accept the challenge to make amends as is appropriate.

Why is it so difficult for us to be honest about our failures to love? Perhaps it is because we forget that confession and truth-telling are things that we do “in Christ”. It’s all of grace. It’s all an inclusion in what Christ did in sharing in our human flesh and bringing us through his death into resurrection and ascension. It is his confession and truth-telling as to the truth of who we are as God’s beloved children, forgiven and accepted, that we participate in—allowing ourselves to be exposed fully and yet at the same time being held in the midst of Christ’s love and grace.

When Jesus asked the lawyer which of the three men in his story proved to be a neighbor to the wounded traveler, it is interesting that the lawyer could not bring himself to even say the name Samaritan. He bypassed this name and said instead, “the one who showed him mercy.” It must have burned his heart and mind to have to admit that someone so despised and rejected might possibly have done what he knew in his spirit he might not have done had he been in the same circumstance.

Christ was willing to pay the ultimate price for our healing, health, and wholeness so that we, through him, could live in intimate relationship with the Father in the Spirit. Like the Samaritan who told the innkeeper to do whatever was needed and to charge it to his account, Jesus has done all that was needed for each of us to find healing and wholeness, and continues to stand in our place, interceding for us in each moment in our relationship with the Father in the Spirit.

How beautiful is Jesus’ simple command, “Go and do the same”! If showing mercy is God’s way of being, and he has expressed that to us in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and gives us his Spirit so Christ’s life may find its full expression in and through us, then we are to be people of mercy just as God is merciful. Our acts of mercy come out of God’s heart poured into ours by the Spirit, and are not limited by any of the distinctions we tend to put upon our interactions with others. As the apostle Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28 NASB).

This is a challenge for us as followers of Christ. Do we make room for those who don’t know Christ to come to know him and to grow in their relationship with God? Do we make room for people to be who they are, while inviting them to become all God created them to be? This is where love becomes a decision, a choice—an action of our will by the power of the Holy Spirit. To “go and do the same” is to walk in the path Jesus forged for us and gives us by his Spirit. May we bravely and courageously love as he first loved us.

Dear Father, thank you for loving us in spite of all our ugliness and willfulness, and our petty grievances against one another. Thank you for your forgiveness—we desperately need it and receive it humbly and gratefully. Grant us the grace to love others as you have first loved us, for Christ’s sake and by your Spirit. Amen.

“And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; “Do this and you will live.”’ But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied and said, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.” Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?’ And he said, ‘The one who showed mercy toward him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do the same.’”     Luke 10:25–37 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/07/go-and-do-the-sameb.pdf ]

One People, One Language

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By Linda Rex

June 5, 2022, PENTECOST—There have been so many changes in our world these past few years. The technological advancements are getting to be overwhelming at times—it’s hard to keep up with them all. Many of these, though, came about through the cooperative efforts of gifted and talented people coming together for a common purpose.

It seems that many of us do not realize the capacity we have as human beings to accomplish goals, develop strategies and create new things. As image-bearers of the divine Creator and Sustainer of all things, we have been given a great ability and potential that is meant to benefit our world and those who live on it. This capacity is enhanced and empowered when we come together, each bringing his or her own unique contribution to the whole, and as a single body begin to address a common purpose.

This is something God knew about us from the very beginning. After all, he created us to be a reflection of his very nature as the God who lives in perichoretic love—three distinct, uniquely related equal Persons in one Being. Out of that union and communion was birthed our cosmos and everything in it. As the humans God created began to multiply on this earth, they came together to build a great civilization and a massive structure that would showcase their greatness. At that time God said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them (Genesis 11:6 NASB).’ ” 

We find that humans from that point on were given by God the challenge of multiplicity of languages, making it difficult to communicate with one another. They developed into separate countries, ethnicities and races, and ultimately, division and conflict were more common than union and communion. It has been the development in recent years of common languages and powerful communication tools that has begun to make it possible for greater collaboration and bringing together of different people from around the world to solve problems.

Apart from some effort to work together, much lies undone or incomplete. And without the natural checks that come from all sides coming together in unity, so often what is created ends up being used for the wrong reasons or for selfish and evil ends. Or people who seek unity fall into the ditch of uniformity and end up creating unhealthy or dangerous situations that are destructive, with coercive insistence upon everything being done one particular way.

It is our broken way of doing things that gets us into trouble all the time. What happens when we do things our way, insist on our own path apart from God, is evident by the conflict, war, and other destructive experiences that can be seen in every area of our lives. This is why God, knowing even before he created us our capacity to end up this way, did what was needed for our healing and renewal.

The way God did this was by his Son taking on our human flesh in Jesus Christ, living a genuinely human life, dying unjustly at the hands of those he came to save, and then bringing our restored and glorified humanity up in his resurrection and ascension to be in the presence of the Father. He sent the Holy Spirit from the Father so that by faith each of us individually could now participate Christ’s perfected humanity and begin to live within the intimate relationship the Son of God has with the Father in the Spirit. We can, by the Spirit, live in union and communion with our God now and forever as his adopted children.

The Spirit now given to all, is ever working to create union and communion—to draw people together into loving unity to fulfill God’s purposes on this earth. We find the Spirit at work in many places, tearing down walls that would otherwise exist between people, healing relationships that would otherwise be estranged, and bringing harmony between people who would otherwise be at odds.

We find the Spirit, since that first Pentecost, has been at work, within Christ’s Church and elsewhere, to bring people together to accomplish amazing feats of kindness, charity, healing, restoration, and renewal. He brings people together, not just to be churches, but to be those who care for the orphans, for the sick, and for those in prison. We find people caring for the safety and protection of citizens and countries. We find people working together to find cures for illnesses and solutions for caring more tenderly for the world on which we live. We find people gathering together to create things of beauty, that bring joy, peace, and encouragement to others.

Jesus told his followers, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with [meta] you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with [or by; para] you and will be in [en] you (John 14:16-17 NASB).” The way in which we are able to live and work together in unity and oneness is simply by the presence of God through Christ in the Spirit, who is with us, by us, and in us. Vincent puts it this way: “With you (μετά), in fellowship; by you (παρά), in His personal presence; in you (ἐν), as an indwelling personal energy, at the springs of the life (Vincent, Marvin, Word Studies in the New Testament).” Through Christ, God’s indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit brings us into personal relationship with our Creator in such a way that we are joined in union and communion with one another.

Thinking this through then specifically in terms of the body of Christ, the Church, we have been brought together in the Spirit to share the good news of God’s love expressed to us in Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension and in the giving of the Spirit. We do this, not on our own initiative, but on the instructions of Jesus Christ. He is the head of the body, and the head tells the body what to do. So, the body of Christ, the Church, acts on the initiative of its head, Jesus, and does as he instructs her.

There are many things Jesus calls us to do. We are each uniquely gifted and uniquely called. We are created with different personalities and natures. But we are brought together, like all the unique parts of a human body, in order to work together to do a common purpose—the will of God—sharing the good news.

Just as Jesus never did anything on his own initiative—he did what he saw the Father doing and said what the Father told him to say. In the same way, we don’t do anything on our own initiative—we do what we see Jesus doing and say what he tells us to say. This can be very challenging for us. We often busily find projects we’re going to do for Jesus or people we’re going to save and never once consider that maybe that is not what Jesus wants us to be doing. He may have a different priority at the moment.

Just as Jesus lived all of his human existence while on earth in union and communion with his Father in the Spirit, we are individually called, no matter who we are, to live our human existence in union and communion with the Father through Jesus in the Spirit. What we see Jesus doing we by the Spirit participate in, using those gifts and abilities and personalities which are uniquely our own. Together, by the Spirit, we become a more effective whole in service to Christ, and in obedience to his will and purposes, we accomplish amazing and wonderful things in this world. These amazing and wonderful things are a work of the Spirit in and through us, and they glorify our heavenly Father and his Son Jesus.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the marvelous and wonderful way in which you have created us and designed us to live and work together in union and communion with you. Grant us the grace to act only on Jesus’ initiative and to only say and do what he directs, by your Holy Spirit, for his name’s sake. Amen.

“Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”     John 14:8–17 (25–27) NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/05/one-people-one-language.pdf ]

Living Sent While Abiding

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By Linda Rex

May 22, 2022, 6th Sunday in EASTER—Many of those who know my husband Ray and I recall that recently we experienced God asking us if we would “go.” We both affirmed that we would go wherever God intended to send us, but we are still listening for God’s direction as to a specific location. While we are abiding here in the Nashville area currently, we are also living in the reality that we are “sent” by God to participate in his mission in this world.

The reality that each of us as followers of Jesus Christ is called to “go” is hard to reconcile sometimes with the need to continue to live our day to day lives. The “go” Jesus gave every one of us is found in what is often called the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19–20 NASB).

Notice the double reality of that instruction from Jesus: 1) He told the disciples to go and make disciples of all the nations, and that 2) he had been given all authority in heaven and on earth and would be with them even to the end of the age. Jesus never asks us to do something without equipping us for the task and promising to be with us in the midst of it, empowering us to do it.

Think about the story of Moses, meeting God for the first time at the burning bush. God sent him back to Egypt to deliver his people, but he also instructed him about who he was (the I Am), and equipped him with signs to show God was with him, and he promised to be present in the midst of all that happened. But in order for the people of ancient Israel to be freed, Moses had to take the steps of obedience God had given him, trusting God would be with him and would do what was needed in each moment. It was a walk of faith.

If you look at the story in John 5:1–9, which is the partner gospel passage for this Sunday, you will find Jesus entered the pool at Siloam where a multitude of sick, diseased and lame people lay. He walked up to a man who had laid there paralyzed for thirty-eight years and asked him if he wanted to be well. Why would he ask him such a question? Possibly, this man needed to decide whether or not he really wanted to be well or if he wanted to continue in his hopeless, pathetic state. To want to be well required that he act upon what Jesus said to him next, “Get up, take up your pallet, and walk.”

Inherent within Jesus command lay the power and capacity for the man to do exactly that. But he needed to actually do what Jesus told him to do about the situation he was in. When he acted upon Jesus’ command, he discovered that he was able to get up off the ground, bend over to pick up his mat, and to begin walking. What a delightful discovery!

The book of Acts is filled with stories of how the members of the early church would hear a command from Jesus or from the Spirit and would act upon it, thereby bringing about transformation in their spiritual community. An example of this can be found in the first reading for this Sunday, Acts 16:9–15. The apostle Paul and Silas were traveling about on one of their missionary journeys, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. One night, Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing there, asking him to, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Now if anybody in many churches today had that experience, what would they say? They probably would say, “That was such a weird dream. Maybe I ate too much pizza last night. No, it was the anchovies. I did have one too many glasses of wine before I went to bed, that’s true. Where is Macedonia anyway?” They most certainly would not wake up and say, as Paul and Silas did, “We need to go to Macedonia and share the good news with them.” More than that, Paul and Silas immediately got on a boat and took a long trip to Macedonia. And having arrived, they looked for and found a group of people gathering for prayer, shared the gospel with them, and a new house church was born.

Do you see the connection between hearing what God says and then acting upon it? The key to our ability to actually do as God asks, though, is the abiding presence of God. The disciples, toward the end of his ministry, were saddened by Jesus constantly teaching that he was going to leave them or die. Jesus told them that if they really loved him, they would be excited that he was leaving, since that meant that afterward the presence of both he and the Father would be in them by the Holy Spirit. God’s abiding presence in the Spirit would bring to mind everything Jesus had taught them and would give them a deep understanding they could not otherwise have. By the Spirit they would receive that profound sense of peace Jesus had promised them, and they would be able to do even greater works than Jesus had done while on earth.

Jesus was not asking the disciples to do anything he was not willing to be a part of and present within. He had every intention of abiding with them as they abode in him. It was to be a relationship between their Lord and them that, by the Spirit, not only directed them in where they were to go and what they were to do, but also empowered them to do it as they obeyed his word. Jesus wanted them to keep his word, to preserve and spread his good news message to the world, and live it out by loving God and loving others. They, as we are today, were sent to share with others in every nation, the truth about who our loving God is, what he has done for us and is doing in his Son Jesus Christ, and to be empowered by the Spirit as they did this.

Followers of Jesus Christ are given the same calling today that Jesus gave his disciples. He does not ask us to “go” without being present with us and in us, and does not leave us struggling to figure out what to do next. The testimony of Scripture teaches us that Jesus by the Spirit led the disciples wherever he wanted them to go. As the disciples abode in Christ, everyday activities like traveling on the road, moving to another community due to persecution, and going to the marketplace or temple all became places where Christ was present by the Spirit, and where the good news could be shared with others.

We can do the same thing today as we go about our lives. We can live “sent” by God knowing he is present right now, abiding in us as we abide in him. We can listen attentively to the Spirit and obey his directions to us about people to talk to, deeds of kindness to do, and places to visit. What is he saying to you today? More importantly—will you go do it, knowing Jesus is with you and in you as you “go”?

Father, thank you for meeting us in the midst of our sickness and paralysis by sending us your Son to tell us to arise, to take up our mat of indifference and complacency, and to walk in love. Grant us the grace to obey your word by your Spirit, and to simply do as you ask, trusting you are in us and with us to the end, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. You heard that I said to you, “I go away, and I will come to you.” If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. Now I have told you before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe.’ ” John 14:23–29 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/05/living-sent-while-abiding.pdf ]

As He Loves Us

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By Linda Rex

May 15, 2022, 5th Sunday in Easter—Many years ago, while sitting on the banks of the Des Moines River, I chatted with a Vietnam veteran who was helping with a display of the traveling wall of honor. My memories of the war in Vietnam were very vague since I was very young when it occurred. This man, seasoned by conflict and suffering, was frank and relentless in his descriptions of the event, as he sought to acquaint me with a little of his experiences during the war.

I’m more and more convinced that the struggles our veterans face when returning from conflict are often rooted in the reality that God never meant for us to have to experience the horror and atrocities of war. Nor did he intend for us to experience betrayal, subterfuge, corruption, or destruction. The consequences of war are so great—and yet we still use war as the means by which we solve our disagreements with one another.

The war occurring currently in Ukraine is a good example of humans continuing to use unhealthy and unholy ways of resolving their differences. And what is really tragic about this conflict is what is being said with regards to the Christian beliefs of those involved. Is war ever an appropriate solution to differences between followers of Christ?

The struggle many have with following Christ is that his response to conflict and differences of opinion is often the opposite of what ours is as his followers. In the gospel reading for this Sunday, John 13:31–35, we hear Jesus telling us that the way others see God’s love is by the way followers of Christ love one another. If we resolve conflict by accelerating it and using weapons and warfare, we are not reflecting the nature of the God who is love nor are we being Christ-like, for our Lord allowed himself to be crucified by his enemies rather than sending his legions of angels to fight on his behalf.

The first reading for this Sunday, Acts 11:1–18 (NASB), describes when Peter went to Jerusalem to meet with the other believers and was accused of defiling himself by having fellowship with Gentiles, the people excluded from Jewish worship. Peter explained how the Spirit had given him a vision of unclean animals, telling him three times to kill and eat. Peter had never eaten anything unclean before, and said so. But the Spirit told him, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” Peter then discovered that what was more important than his religious rules was his relationship with God and those with whom God was calling himself into relationship.

The Jewish rules at that time regarding what a person could eat or not eat and do or not do, created a rigid wall that kept out anyone who was not of their own background and beliefs. God had called the people of ancient Israel to be witnesses to the world of who God was, but they had been isolating themselves from the world instead. For Peter to walk into the home of a Gentile required a commitment to Christ and to his Spirit that superseded his religious background and belief system. Was he willing to meet these Gentiles on the common ground of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Was he willing to be obedient to the Spirit rather than following his rigid list of rules?

As he stood before his Jewish accusers, Peter explained his reasoning for having obeyed the Spirit’s instruction to go to this Gentile’s home and preach the gospel. As soon as he spoke the words of life—the gospel of Jesus Christ—to them, the Spirit descended upon his listeners just as the Spirit descended upon the disciples on Pentecost. Peter remembered that Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit and said, “who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” We don’t choose our siblings in Christ—God does. And we need to learn how to live in right relationship with them, just as Jesus brought us into right relationship with the Father in the Spirit.

This is why Jesus so often stressed that we are to love one another. In his conversation with his disciples before he died, Jesus emphasized that his disciples need to love one other. Our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ is a tangible sign of God’s love expressed to all humanity in Jesus’ self-offering.

Jesus laid down his life for us, setting aside for a time the privileges of divinity to join us in our humanity so that he might draw us into the circle of love between the Father, Son, and Spirit. What God has done for us in Christ, we are compelled by the love of Christ to do for one another, and to do for those who are not followers of Christ as well. To not love God and to not love one another is to be inhumane—to be not truly human as we were intended by God to be. Every one of us was created to live in loving, other-centered relationship with God and one another, no matter who we are. To not live in that way is to not truly be ourselves.

This leaves us in a difficult position as followers of Christ. Jesus tells us that the evidence of our being his followers is our love for one another. When a brother or sister is not walking in love, they are walking in darkness rather than in the light. As people of light, how do we respond in the most loving, light-bearing way possible to the deeds of darkness? What does it mean to be a peace-maker in a circumstance of war?

The evil one always seeks to divide, disrupt, kill, destroy and steal. His kingdom is not the one we are members of, so his ways must not be our ways. We must, as followers of Christ, follow the lead of the Spirit as he draws people together rather than ripping them apart. God loves us and gives us air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat even when we reject and ignore him. Can we do any less for our brothers and sisters, no matter who they are? What is the Spirit saying to you and to me today about the people in our lives? Are we building walls to keep others out, or are we welcoming them with open arms into the fellowship of Christ?

Heavenly Father, forgive us our petty squabbles and disagreements, our refusal to live with one another in peace. Forgive us for looking down on others and for refusing to make room for them in our lives. Grant us the grace to love others in the same way you have loved us, by laying down your life in your Son Jesus. Move in us by your Spirit to truly love one another, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

“Therefore when he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately. Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.’ ”      John 13:31–35 NASB

[Printable copy of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/05/as-he-loves-us.pdf%5D