love

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

Walking in Unity With God

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By Linda Rex

May 8, 2022, 3rd Sunday in EASTER—When we had our Community Café ministry running strong, I remember sitting at the table talking with some of our church neighbors. Around us, busily taking care of all of us, were the Martha’s of our congregation—those with the gifts of hospitality, service, and helping. How tangible was the expression of the love of God through their hands!

I believe this is the significance of the story in Acts 9:36–43 about the disciple named Tabitha (or Dorcas). Luke tells us that she was “abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did.” Apparently, she used to make clothing for people, providing a necessary service for those in her spiritual community. When she passed away, the loss was felt keenly—keenly enough that they call for Peter to immediately come.

Indeed, I think about those who are no longer with us who had this same gift of the Spirit of service and helping. It would be nice if they could have stayed awhile with us so we could continue to enjoy the blessing of their loving care. But this was not God’s best for us or them, and they have moved on.

What we can learn from them, though, is that we help to make Christ visible to others when we serve, help and care for others. These tangible expressions of God’s love enable people to not just hear about Jesus, but to feel and experience his love in a real way that can be life-changing. These expressions of God’s love testify to the truth of the good news of Jesus’ finished work. When we live out what we say we believe, then the gospel, or good news, begins to carry some weight. When we don’t live out what we believe, we dishonor and grieve the Spirit, and make all that we might say about Jesus appear to be false.

The apostle John told about a time when Jesus was walking in the temple during the Feast of Dedication, what we today call Hanukkah. The Jews there gathered around him, hoping to catch him saying or doing something they could use as an excuse to arrest him. They wanted him to plainly tell them that he was the expected Messiah. But Jesus knew their intentions were not honorable and that they did not have his best interests in mind.

Jesus reminded them that he had already clearly told them the truth about who he was. Then he said to them, “…the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me.” Jesus was saying that they should have known who he was by looking at the things he was doing. What he was doing—healing the sick, casting out demons, giving the blind sight and the deaf hearing—was all done in his Father’s name by the power of the Holy Spirit. No one else could do these things in the way he was doing them. His actions quite clearly showed who he was—the Son of the Father, the Anointed One.

Question: do our actions quite clearly show who we are—the adopted children of God? How well are we reflecting our Lord Jesus Christ? We may preach the gospel effectively with our words, but how are we doing with our actions?

This question can be quite intimidating for a pastor. I realize that I stand up each week and preach, telling people what I believe God wants us to hear and do. But it never ceases to amaze me how that very thing I preached on or planned to preach on becomes an object lesson for me personally. God doesn’t want us to just talk about Jesus and his ways. He wants everyone of us to live and walk at all times “in Christ”—so all of life is swept up into walking in the Spirit in such a way that when others look our way, they tangibly experience God’s love—Jesus Christ in us by the Spirit.

Every one of us has opportunities throughout the week to offer help, care, and service to others.  When GCI talks about the Love Avenue, this is what is meant. We are each called and gifted by God to love others. God has shed his love abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Participating in the Love Avenue is what we all do, though some of us are more gifted by the Spirit for these specific types of ministries.

And those who are especially gifted in the area of helping, service, and hospitality, I encourage you to be sure to find ways to use your gifts to express God’s love. You are a blessing to this world and I am very grateful for each of you—you are the reason that we have truckdrivers, farmers, caregivers, nurses, cooks, and all of those who work in hospitality, medicine, and many other fields where having people who serve others is essential to our well-being. When you are busy and active using your gifts to serve others as to the Lord, not only are people blessed, but you become a vibrant, tangible expression of God’s love.

Some of us find serving others in this way to be challenging. For all of us, trusting in the Spirit is essential. The apostle Paul said that if we work, we work as if we are working for the Lord. All of life is lived “in Christ” now. Just as Jesus did what he did in his Father’s name, we do what we do now in Jesus’ name and for the Father’s glory. What Jesus did, he did motivated by God’s love, since he was filled with the Spirit. Paul says for us to let the Spirit fill us. And, knowing we are compelled by God’s love, we are to love one another—proving we are Christ’s disciples.

The reason Jesus did the works he did was that he lived in united with his Father in the Spirit. It is because Jesus and his Father were one in will and action that by the Spirit Jesus expressed love so powerfully and profoundly. The reason we do caring, helping, and serving things is because we are united with Christ by faith, therefore united with the Father in the Spirit. It is our unity with God through Christ in the Spirit that we receive the capacity and desire to love and serve others effectively—and God offers this to everyone. May the Lord fully express through each of us by his Spirit the love and grace of our God.

Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us people in our lives who are especially gifted to serve, help and care for others. Thank you for pouring your love into our hearts by your Spirit so each and every one of us can serve, help and care for those you place in our lives. Grant us the grace to love others even as you have loved us, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“At that time the Feast of the Dedication [Hanukkah or Festival of Lights] took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, ‘How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’ ”      John 10:22–30 NASB

[Printable copy of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/04/walking-in-unity-with-god.pdf ]

The Grace to Follow

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By Linda Rex

May 1, 2022—3rd Sunday in EASTER—Have you ever thought about how you would respond if Jesus told you that you were going to die an excruciating death because you chose to follow him? I’d like to hope I was brave enough to cast all care to the wind and follow him anyway, but truth be told, I’m not sure I’d be that courageous and committed in the face of such dire circumstances apart from the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.

In many ways, I can identify with Simon Peter, who bravely said that he would follow Jesus no matter where he went, yet, when faced with imminent arrest, refused to acknowledge he was one of Jesus’ followers. What we say and do when times are easy and our circumstances are convenient is often a great deal different than what we say and do when faced with rejection, exclusion, violence, and death.

Initially, Peter went to the tomb with John to check out the tale that the women told about finding the gravesite empty. John and Peter’s usual rivalry was evident, for John took note that he got to the tomb first, before Peter. But Peter was the bold, brash one, for he immediately stepped in to see how things really were. John, however, was the one who believed. We don’t know for sure what Peter was thinking at this point.

After the resurrection, the disciples hid in the upper room behind locked doors, but two Sundays in a row, Jesus showed up. He offered to show them his wounds so that they could verify that it was indeed him. And he pointedly offered this to Thomas, who had refused to believe until he saw Jesus’ wounds with his own eyes. How thrilling it must have been for the disciples to see and talk with Jesus after the resurrection!

Still, we don’t see Peter’s direct response to Jesus’ resurrection until John’s story of the third Sunday following the resurrection. The disciples had returned to Galilee, and Peter took the lead by deciding he was going to go fishing, the one thing he knew how to do. The other disciples joined him. They fished all night long, without catching anything. When morning came, they began to head back to shore. Someone on the beach called out to them, asking whether they had caught anything. They told him they didn’t catch a thing. The stranger suggested that they throw the net off the right side of the boat instead.

Why in the world would they do what a stranger asked? But sure enough, they threw the net one more time as instructed and the net collected so many fish that the men were concerned that it would break. At this point, John leaned over to Peter and stated the obvious—“It’s the Lord.” This whole experience felt like déjà vu to them, since this is what happened when they were first called by Jesus to follow him. Rash Peter donned his jacket and dove into the water to swim to Jesus, while John stayed and helped with the fish.

I’m not sure what drove Peter to go back to fishing after the crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus didn’t seem to mind that he had. He simply met them there on the shore and invited them to breakfast with him. Just as Peter had denied Jesus three times while gathered around a campfire, now Jesus affirmed Peter’s commitment to Christ three times.

“Peter, do you love me more than these?” Perhaps Jesus was asking, “Do you love me more than you love fishing?” Or maybe, “Do you love me more than your friends?” Peter could no longer boldly proclaim his devotion by rash promises, but finally had to confess, “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.” Jesus was confirming that he still had work for Peter to do: “Feed my lambs… take care of my sheep…feed my sheep….”

But Peter needed to move beyond bravado and rash promises into genuine humble commitment in the face of opposition. This time Jesus didn’t tell him he would deny Christ three times before the rooster crowed. This time, Jesus said, Peter would end his days at the mercy of those who would murder him. But he was to follow Christ anyway.

What a prediction! Jesus obviously believed that Peter would never again deny Christ in the same manner in which he had denied him at Jesus’ trial. Did Peter ever make the same mistake again? Well, in a way, he did struggle with this issue, for we read in the book of Galatians that the apostle Paul called Peter out for not standing against the Judaizers who were denying the sufficiency of Christ (Gal. 2:11-14). But ultimately, tradition tells us that Peter was crucified in Rome and he insisted that he be crucified upside down, in honor of his Lord.

Whatever we may face in our future as we follow Christ, we must trust that God will grant us the grace to go where he leads and that he will keep us faithful. We cannot count upon our own ability to do so in the face of opposition. But there also is the matter of commitment on our part. What price are we willing to pay? Jesus gave his all. Will we give ours in return?

Lord Jesus, we love you. But we humbly realize our inadequacy when it comes to devotion and faithfulness. You know us completely and love us entirely. Grant us the grace to follow wherever you lead, no matter the cost, all the way until the end, whatever that end may be, by your Holy Spirit, to the glory of the Father. Amen.

“Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened. Several of the disciples were there—Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples. Simon Peter said, ‘I’m going fishing.’ ‘We’ll come, too,’ they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night. At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. He called out, ‘Fellows, have you caught any fish?’ ‘No,’ they replied. Then he said, ‘Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!’ So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it. Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It’s the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore. The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread. ‘Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,’ Jesus said. So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn. ‘Now come and have some breakfast!’ Jesus said. None of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead. After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ Peter replied, ‘you know I love you.’ ‘Then feed my lambs,’ Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ Peter said, ‘you know I love you.’ ‘Then take care of my sheep,’ Jesus said. A third time he asked him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, ‘Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Then feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.’ Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, ‘Follow me.’”     John 21:1–19 NASB

[Printable copy of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/04/the-grace-to-follow.pdf%5D

Anointed for Death

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By Linda Rex

April 3, 2022, 5th Sunday in LENT—I love reading the book of Isaiah. This prophet has a way of writing which resonates with my current human experience while taking me into a deeper sense of God’s presence and power in the midst of all I am going through.

In the Old Testament reading for this Sunday, Isaiah 43:16–21, the prophet brings to his people’s remembrance the way in which God brought them through the horrifying experience of being pursued by Egypt’s army, and being caught up against the shores of the Red Sea, with nowhere left to go. God’s intervention on their behalf involved opening up a path for them through these waters to the other side, where they celebrated the defeat of their adversary, who had been crushed under the returning waters.

Isaiah called forth this memory for a reason. He was pointing them to the faithfulness of their God. He told them that in comparison to that great, amazing event in their history, what God was going to do next would be unforgettable. He was going to do a new thing—make a path in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

In this season of preparation for the events of Holy Week, we have been reflecting upon our need for God’s deliverance in every area of our life. Apart from God’s grace and love, we are left orphans in this broken world, and struggle to make our way forward against the mighty waters of evil, sin, and death. The opponent we are facing is intimidating—his weapons are spiritual, and he attacks us on every side. Within our human experience we struggle to fight against evil, sin, and death, but find ourselves easily losing our battle, apart from the presence and power of God at work in our circumstances.

In the gospel story this week, the apostle John describes a pleasant gathering at Jesus’ friends’ home in Bethany. Reclining at the meal, Jesus is approached by Mary, who breaks open an expensive bottle of nard, and begins anointing him with the perfume. John distinctly remembers how the fragrance filled the room, and how Mary lowered her dignity to the place where she untied her hair and began to use it to wipe Jesus’ feet.

Judas Iscariot, and the other disciples apparently, took offense at this extravagant gesture of affection for our Lord. He knew the perfume was valuable—a year’s worth of wages were needed to pay for it. Judas brought up the poor and needy as the reason for his complaint, when in reality—as the disciples were to discover later—he was pilfering from the money box. He wanted those funds for himself.

We find illustrated here two approaches to the presence of Jesus. Judas Iscariot, bent on his own avaricious agenda, is concerned about the bottom line, keeping the money available for his own personal use. And he’s not above using an appearance of righteousness and goodness in order to do it. He isn’t truly concerned about the poor, nor is he devoted to Jesus. His devotion is to himself, and his greed, lust, and avarice.

Mary, in contrast, is concerned for Jesus and his agenda. She, as it appears, is the only one who gets it—she seems to know Jesus is headed for death. So, she prepares in advance for his burial, by anointing him ahead of time. She isn’t selfish and greedy, but rather extravagant in her demonstration of devotion to Jesus. She isn’t arrogantly trying to impress everyone with how spiritual she is, but rather, she humbles herself, violating the customary conventions of her day to express her devotion to Christ.

What Mary seemed to get to some extent, and Judas didn’t, was that Jesus stood, as Israel had stood many years before, on the brink of disaster. Yes, he would march into Jerusalem, celebrated and adored—just as Israel left their slave chains behind in Egypt that fateful night, with a high hand. But within a few short days, he would be held hostage at the shores of his death, betrayed by this one who pretended to care about the poor and the needy, but who only cared about his own pocketbook.

Standing on the edge of the mighty waters of death, Jesus was prepared for his Father’s next step. He was going to do a new thing—something never done before. Already, God had entered into our human sphere to become one of us. God, in Christ, had lived a genuinely human life without sin. Now he was going to submit himself to the plots of evil human beings, and allow himself to be crucified and killed. He was doing the one thing needed to create a path in the wilderness of evil, sin and death.

Soon, he would hang on a cross, he would die, and lay in a tomb. But we know in advance that this was not the end of the story. We know that Israel made it safely to the other side of the Red Sea. And we know Jesus rose on the third day, ascending in his glorified humanity into the presence of the Father.

And we also know, as we celebrate at Pentecost, that Jesus sent the Spirit from the Father—making rivers in the desert of our human experience. What God promised through his prophet Isaiah, he accomplished. He did a new thing—God in human flesh, living our life, dying our death, and rising again to send the Spirit so we each can live in newness of life.

What a precious gift we have been given, in the gift of God’s one and only Son and the pouring out of his Spirit, bringing new life into this wilderness desert of our human existence! We do not need to remain on the shores of our dilemma, whatever it may be. We have the victory in Jesus Christ. What God promises, he does deliver.

And what he accomplished in Christ is being worked out in each of us and in this world by his Spirit, as we respond in faith. Here, in this place of impending disaster, we turn to Christ in faith—he is our divine deliverer, and he will bring us through. We trust in God’s love and grace, allowing him to finish in us individually what he has done for us all—make a path through the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Blessed Father, thank you for your faithfulness and your generosity. Thank you, Jesus, for creating a path for us through the wilderness of evil, sin, and death—we trust you to finish what you have begun. Thank you, heavenly Spirit, for drawing us deeper into relationship with our God, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?’ Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. Therefore Jesus said, ‘Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.’ ”       John 12:1–8 NASB

[Printable copy of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/03/anointed-for-death.pdf]

Blind to Our Best Blessing

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By Linda Rex

March 27, 2022, 4th Sunday in LENT—As we journey through the season in preparation for the events of Holy Week and reflect upon our own personal need for the Savior, it’s a good time to consider the many blessings we receive at the hand of God—many of which are undeserved, especially when we are more like prodigal children than faithful ones. However, the miracle of Holy Week is that God cares not only for all of the prodigals in the world, but also for all of the older sons who year after year faithfully serve God and seek to do his will.

In his book, “The Pressure’s Off”, psychologist and author Larry Crabb draws attention to our tendency to focus more on working to receive God’s blessings than we do seeking God himself and being in relationship with him. It is easy to see why he would say this—simply walk into a bookstore and you can see the many books written about ways in which we can be blessed in our lives if we just follow the authors’ guidance in getting our act together and living in a way that pleases God.

Now, I agree that we were created to love God and love one another—that this is our way of being we were created to live in. And when we don’t live in that way, we experience a lot of unnecessary heartache and suffering. But the central issue Jesus pointed us to was loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and being—i.e., all that we are—and to love our neighbor as ourself. This has more to do with a focus on right relationship and a lot less on having a good life in which we are free from pain and suffering.

As I was reading the narrative for today’s gospel reading, Luke 15:1–3, 11b–32, I was struck by the similarity of our misguided focus and the story’s ending where the older son came home from a hard day of work only to find everyone having a huge party in his absence. When he asked what was going on, he was told that they were celebrating because his younger brother had arrived safely home. This, understandably, made him livid.

Furious, he ranted at his father, “All these years I worked to the point of exhaustion, obeying every little instruction you gave me, and not once did you ever even buy me lunch or take me out to dinner! And now, this wastrel, who threw all your money away and made us almost lose the farm, shows up and you throw a party? You even killed the calf we’d been fattening up and invited the whole neighborhood over!”

If we are honest with ourselves, we would have to say that the response of this older son is not much different than our own response when we see God go to work in the life of someone we can’t stand and turn them completely around, drawing them out of their broken, shattered life into one centered in Christ. The memories of all the harm they have done, the broken promises, the losses and griefs we suffered at their hands, are hard to ignore. No, it’s just not that simple to let them off the hook, especially when we see little or no proof that they have genuinely changed.

Or, we may have spent our whole life doing our best to be a good person, going to church faithfully, donating to every good thing we thought might be worthwhile, and trying to take good care of our health and our family. But then we end up in the doctor’s office facing the reality that we are dying of cancer. Or the officer shows up at the door to tell us our teenage child was killed in a car wreck by a drunk driver. Or…the list could go on. Our best efforts at being an obedient child of God seem insignificant in the face of such loss and grief, suffering and pain.

The point we are missing, unfortunately, is that it isn’t about anyone’s performance or lack thereof. It isn’t about the fact that we have been faithful and obedient all these years and they haven’t. The point is that God is love, and that he loves them and he loves us, and that everyone of us is given, in Christ, an intimate relationship with the God who wants to live in union and communion with each and every person now and for all eternity. He does not want anyone to miss out on all that is truly theirs—life in the midst of the oneness of the Father and the Son in the Spirit—something each and every person was created to participate in.

Notice the father’s response to the son’s tirade: “Son, you’ve always been with me. Everything I have is yours. What we’re celebrating is that your brother was dead, but now he is alive! He was lost, but now he is found! How can we do anything less than celebrate?” In every word, he reminded his son that he was near and dear to his heart and that everything he owned was at his son’s disposal at all times. In order to give the inheritance to the younger son, the father had distributed all he owned between them both. This father had held nothing back, but had given it all up—for both his sons.

We find the older son was a whole lot more concerned about the fatted calf and the party and the welcome given the prodigal child, than he was about his own personal relationship with his father. Isn’t that like many of us? We get more concerned about how someone else is or isn’t living the Christian life (as we define it) than we do about our own right relationship with God in Christ. We want to know why we aren’t being blessed by God the way they are, rather than realizing the extent God went to in Christ so that we, along with everyone else, could spend eternity in his presence. What really matters most to us?

It is so easy for us to be blind to our best blessing—life in relationship with the God who loves us and has offered us everything in the gift of his Son and his Spirit. What in this life is so very important that it is worth giving this up? Yes, there may be a prodigal God wants us to welcome home with gratitude, celebrating he or she who was dead is alive again, for the one who was lost is, in Christ, now found. But possibly, we might be the one who is blind to the true blessing God has given us in Christ, unable to see how marvelously wonderful it is to be included in God’s love and life, to be given his own precious Spirit, to be held close to the Father’s heart, with all of heaven at our disposal, now and forever, as his beloved child.

Thank you, heavenly Father, for giving us all we need for life and godliness through Christ and in the Spirit. Thank you for, in Christ, becoming the prodigal one yourself and bringing us home from the far country to be welcomed now and forever in the Father’s embrace of love and grace in the Spirit. Thank you for removing our blindness and helping us to see how beloved and cherished we really are, now and forever, through Jesus Christ your Son. Amen.

“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”     2 Corinthians 5:16–21 NASB

[Printable copy of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/03/blind-to-our-best-blessing.pdf%5D

Overshadowed by God’s Presence

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By Linda Rex

February 27, 2022, TRANSFIGURATION—One of the interesting things I have found to be true for me about life transitions is that it motivates me to go deeper in my relationship with God. I begin to be more intentional about spending time both talking to God but also listening to what he has to say to me.

Recently I was told that I have high-risk melanoma which is spreading, and I am going through the tedious and complicated process of discovering how bad the cancer is and what my treatment will be. This process, along with the recent changes in my church and job status, have been reminding me how important it is to stay connected with God, both by speaking with him and listening to him. How do I deal with all that is on my plate right now? I can only do it “in Christ.” Otherwise, it is more than I can bear.

What I am going through really is no different than what many humans go through and have gone through throughout the centuries. God often meets us in the midst of our difficulties and draws us even closer to himself. He does not mean any of these things for our harm, but seeks to work them for our good, as we trust in him. The struggle is the trusting in the midst of the not knowing and the intense challenges we face, especially when we are facing great loss or death.

This Sunday we celebrate the transfiguration of Jesus, a time when for a few moments Peter, James, and John saw beneath the humanity of Jesus into the glorious divinity of his Person. In that divine moment, they saw a glimpse of the kingdom of God in glorious splendor in the face and clothing of Jesus. They saw him speaking with the dead men, Moses and Elijah, and were overcome by the significance of the moment. As Peter was suggesting the building of three tabernacles, a cloud overshadowed them and they heard a voice saying to them, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”

This is the struggle these men had. So often they found themselves telling Jesus what he should and should not do. They could not simply allow Jesus to be the Savior he was—the Suffering Servant Messiah who would take away the sins of the world by his suffering sacrifice on the cross. Remember what happened when Peter said he knew Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, and then when Jesus told them about his upcoming betrayal and crucifixion? Peter tried to convince Jesus he didn’t know what he was talking about—that it wouldn’t happen. And Jesus told him, “Get behind me, Satan. You care more for the things of men than the things of God.”

This is really our struggle as human beings. We want God to guide us and direct us. But we certainly don’t appreciate it when God asks of us things we don’t want to do. And we don’t like it when God takes us down the road he took his Son Jesus down—the path to death and resurrection. That’s when life gets difficult and uncomfortable, and we don’t have control over the outcome. The path of the crucifixion of our flesh is hard, but a necessary task that Jesus took on in our place and on our behalf. When we go through difficulties and struggles in this life, we participate in his suffering and death. But ultimately, the purpose is to enable us to participate in the new life which is ours in him.

This brings me back to the importance of what the men experienced upon the mountain when they saw a glimpse of Jesus’ glory. The overshadowing presence of God was real, and they were frightened by it. Jesus was living in union and communion with the Father in the Spirit, so to him it was a welcome experience. How joyfully he must have appreciated the encouragement of the Father in that moment! But for the disciples, it was frightening.

If the disciples had understood more fully the love and grace of God present right there in that moment in Jesus Christ, perhaps the overshadowing presence of God would not have been as frightening to them. What if they themselves had had a relationship with God that was close and affectionate? Wouldn’t their response have been different?

And the voice they heard told them to listen to Jesus. Here was the Prophet foretold by Moses that they were to listen to and heed. What these disciples needed to do was take seriously the command from God to listen to and obey Jesus—to follow where he was leading them, to death and resurrection. His “exodus” from this life was essential to their salvation and ours. More important than the building of tabernacles was the building of their faith in Jesus Christ. They needed to place their trust in him and in what he was intending to do on behalf of all humanity in his upcoming sacrificial death and resurrection.

In the same way, today we need to take seriously the reality of what Christ did for us in his sacrificial offering and in the giving of the Spirit by which God comes to dwell in human hearts. We need to embrace the reality that God’s presence is near to each of us, overshadowing us by the Spirit and drawing us near. And we do not need to be afraid or anxious as God draws near to us and draws us to himself.

God is present and real by the Spirit, and is calling us into intimate relationship with himself through Jesus. He wants us to catch a glimpse of the glory that is ours, which he forged within our humanity in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. He wants us to embrace the gift he has given us of life in him by the Spirit—sharing in the union and communion with the Father he dwells and invites us into. He wants us to be filled with the Spirit, not with the things of this life. He wants us to be led by the Spirit, to walk in the Spirit—to live life moment by moment in the Spirit, aware of his presence and joyfully experiencing a tangible relationship with God that involves both speaking and listening to the One who calls us his beloved child.

We were created to love God and love one another, to live life in healthy, holy relationship. We were created to reflect the glory of God as image-bearers of the divine One. What better way to grow up in being Christlike than by growing in our intimate relationship with God through listening to and speaking with the One who made us and redeemed us. What is God saying to you and to me today? Are we listening to and actually acting on the things he is saying to us?

Thank you, Father, for including us in your relationship with your Son in the Spirit. Thank you for loving us so completely that you want to share your life with us now and forever. Grant us the grace to hear what you say and to obey, and to simply trust in your love and grace expressed to us in Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not realizing what he was saying. While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!’ And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen.”     Luke 9:28–36 NASB

[Printable copy of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/02/rexlinda2022feb27-overshadowed-by-gods-presence.pdf ]