Mission

Never Unseen—Embraced by Grace

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By Linda Rex

June 14, 2020, Proper 6—One of the things that has come out of the most recent events, alongside the killing of George Floyd and others, is a reminder that we as human beings have a tendency to be blind to that which we prefer not to look at. Sad to say, if we are honest with ourselves, we do this all the time, preferring to keep our attention on what interests us or gives us pleasure, or what we are most comfortable experiencing.

A while ago I had the privilege of attending a GCI event in Ohio. During this weekend event, our group visited the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center located downtown near the river in Cincinnati, Ohio (https://www.freedomcenter.org/). While most of the museum is dedicated to the history of slavery and its abolition here in America, there is an exhibit on the third floor which I found to be especially moving.

This area was filled with exhibits meant to educate visitors about the current issues in the world today regarding the slavery of men, women, and children. It was hard to see, to accept the reality that so many still live in bondage, but I found I could not turn away from the sights and sounds of those whose voices were seeking yet to be heard. It was almost as if, just by this exhibition being there with people visiting it, those people held in slavery today were given a tiny ability to speak their pain and suffering.

My personal struggle is then, having seen and heard their cries, what am I to do about it? Can I continue to live indifferent to their suffering and their need? But their need is so great, and the work required is so difficult, even beyond my ability! And therein lies the struggle—how do I personally address the needs of those who are still experiencing oppression at the hands of those around them.

The gospel of Matthew tells of how Jesus was going through all the cities and villages in Galilee, teaching and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and sickness. “Seeing the people,” it says, “He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36 NASB). That phrase “seeing the people” just leapt out at me today—he didn’t pass by indifferent to their suffering. No, he saw them.

Really seeing these people is what awoke a deep sense of compassion within Jesus and led to him offering them hope and healing. The NIV says these people were “harassed and helpless”. There is a picture created of people who had no one to look after them, to defend or protect them, or to make sure they had what they needed—water, forage, and a safe place to rest. This was the job of the shepherd, and those shepherds they did have were not caring for them, but were preying upon them and oppressing them instead.

Even though Jesus was going about healing and speaking life and hope into these people, he realized the magnitude of what was needed was beyond the capacity of one human being. Even though he was God in human flesh, his purpose was not to do everything by himself—he was mentoring disciples who were learning what it meant to live in other-centered love and service. He meant for his disciples to make other disciples who would make other disciples, and so begin to fill the earth with his compassion, care, and healing, and the good news of God’s love and grace.

As Jesus truly sees the people he is ministering to, he turns to his disciples and says to them that even though there is a great harvest of souls for the kingdom, there were insufficient workers available to do the task. He tells his disciples to pray that God would provide laborers who would participate in this ministry with him. Having truly seen the people in their distress, he longed to set them free and give them new life—Jesus tells his disciples to pray for laborers to help with the harvest.

Jesus himself turned his disciples to the Father as the source of laborers for his spiritual harvest. The heart of the Father toward those who were suffering was expressed by Jesus himself, and he knew the Father’s answer was to bring others to the place where they would be willing and able to help with this task.

And so, in the next scene, we see Jesus sending out twelve disciples in pairs, equipping them with the authority to cast out demons and to heal people, and instructing them to proclaim the kingdom of God. What in the beginning appeared to be a general request to God for helpers ended up being a personal mission for each of these disciples. They were sent out by Jesus and they began to participate in the ministry of God’s love and grace to these struggling people.

In Romans 5:1-8, the apostle Paul tells us that “Jesus is God’s grace embrace of the entire human race” (Rom. 5:2 MB). God saw us while we were still helpless, still sinners, and Jesus died for us. In Christ we find the inspiration to involve ourselves in situations where there are people who seem to be harassed, helpless, confused, aimless, and distressed. There are many more than we can possibly serve ourselves, so we pray God will provide others to come alongside and help. And then we open ourselves up to the possibility that we are the ones God is sending, and we do what we can to offer healing, renewal, and the good news of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ to those he places in front of us.

We find in Jesus our own calling as human beings to “see” our fellowman, to hear the voices so often left unheard, and to open our hearts to those who we in the past have preferred to leave our hearts closed to. We draw close to those whom we have pushed aside or ignored, and we allow our hearts to be broken by their suffering and need. We have the strength to speak the truth of God’s love and grace into that which is sinful and wretched, and offer the good news of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ.

These are high ideals. And the bar was set high by our Creator and Redeemer Jesus Christ. But he sent his Spirit to infuse us with not only the capacity, but the heart, to meet this challenge. We have a long way to go before every human being is able to live with the plenty and dignity they ought to experience, but we can and must be working to that end. We begin with prayer—that God would send laborers—and then listen to hear God’s call upon our own hearts and lives to participate where we are with his strength and resources to make a difference in this world.

Father, forgive us for not seeing our brothers and sisters who are suffering, harassed, and helpless. Forgive us for diminishing one another, for not speaking life and hope into the lives of those without hope. Forgive us for not living out the truth and grace of Jesus in our relationships with one another. Lord, please send laborers to help with this great spiritual harvest. And if there is a role we are to play in the healing of our family, our city, our state, our nation, our world, please reveal it to us. Send us forth with urgency to heal, bring renewal and to proclaim your kingdom life, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd.” Matthew 9:36 MSG

“God’s timing was absolutely perfect; humanity was at their weakest when Christ died their death. … Herein is the extremity of God’s love gift: mankind was rotten to the core when Christ died their death.” Romans 5:6, 8 MB

Emotional Overload

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cross

by Linda Rex

Years ago it was hard for me to imagine seeing Jesus in a tender moment with his Father, so overwhelmed by emotion he begins weeping and crying. I’m not sure if back then I was imagining Jesus with a halo, or Jesus with a stern look on his face. I’m just not really sure.

Yes, I could picture him hanging on the cross with that nasty crown of thorns causing dribbles of blood down his face. But back then, I did not see him with my mind’s eye as being someone who was just as real as me, with the same capacity to be overwhelmed by emotion and life circumstances. I did not grasp the intertwining of his humanity and his divinity in the way I do today.

The more I have studied him and grown in my personal interaction with him in the Spirit, the more I realize the real capacity of Jesus to reach down in to the depths of my heart and to share the most human of my experiences and emotions. Jesus was a humble human being when he came—he experienced the full range of human emotion, and he struggled just as we do with exhaustion, grief, anger, and the limitations of his human body. And he shares all these experiences with us today as he lives in us and with us by his Spirit.

Jesus understood the limits of his human body and human spirit in a way I’m still struggling to. He knew how to care for himself so he would have the capacity to be a fountain of living water for the people he encountered, so the Spirit could flow through him out to others to bring healing, restoration and renewal.

He understood when his limit had been reached, and would take time away to be alone with his Abba so he could be renewed. He knew when he needed to shut out the noise and sleep—even if it was in a boat. And he knew when he needed to replenish his body with food and water.

When we do ministry, or even do life, we forget sometimes we do not need to work so hard we end up exhausted and burnt out. Jesus did not set us that example. He knew his ministry power and direction came from his Abba via the Holy Spirit, and so he protected the time he spent with God. He understood where he drew his strength for fruitful ministry, so he made sure he was abiding in his Abba by the Spirit so his ministry would bear “much fruit”.

He did not consider himself above emotions or emotional expression. Rather, he expressed a full range of emotions. He was honest with his need to grieve the loss of his cousin John the Baptizer, and so took time away from ministry to others, to minister to his own soul. Jesus was not afraid of tears—he didn’t not find them to be “unmanly” for him to express. Instead, he shared in the tears of others, bearing their sorrows with them, and acknowledging his genuine sorrow and grief when it came.

Jesus was just as human as you and me. And yet the early church emphatically insisted he was not just a human being. No, what they experienced, saw, and heard, was decidedly divine. And it was walking around in the same body as the One who was so human. And so they knew they had to find a way to articulate this in such a way that the real humanity and the real divinity of Jesus was protected and preserved. And so we have the creeds today, which are very clear about the nature of Jesus being both God and man, existing in both the same essence as the Father, and the same essence as our created humanity.

It’s hard to get our minds around. But really, it’s a statement to you and to me of the value God places upon our humanity. It was important enough to him to preserve our humanity and to restore it to the glory which was our before the world began. He loved you and me with the same love he has for his unique Son, and shared his blessed Spirit with us so we can experience and realize the reality of that in everyday life.

God is not ashamed of our tears. He created us with the capacity to cry so we are able to share with God in his tears over things which grieve his heart. Maybe Abba doesn’t actually shed tears or cry like a human begin would, but I’ll be Jesus does! He’s still human today, bearing our humanity in the presence of his Abba, interceding for us and restoring and renewing us.

Jesus shares our sorrows and our joys. And he seeks a greater capacity in us for a deep spiritual relationship with God through Jesus in the Spirit so we will be about his business of being on mission, and will begin to bear spiritual fruit. He will not stop working towards that end in you and in me. May his efforts in us and through us be fruitful, while at the same time allowing us to fully rest in his gracious work rather than in our own frantic efforts.

Jesus, I pray we will not be afraid to be truly human, for you did not fear your humanness. May you continue to be with those who struggle with emotional overload, that they may find healing and renewal, and a desire to give themselves room to be real and broken in their humanity, for that is where you meet with them and bind them to yourself in your Spirit. Give us all the capacity to both hear your words of life, but also to live them out in such a way our lives and the lives of those around us are transformed. In your Name, Jesus, we pray. Amen.

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 5:7–10 NIV

Prayer as Participation

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By Linda Rex

Last night I watched one of the episodes of “A.D.” in which the disciples were gathered together praying on Pentecost. The movie showed them repeating over and over the words of the prayer Jesus gave them.

I found this quite disturbing because I have a really hard time believing after walking and talking with Jesus for three years they had nothing else to say to God other than this. Surely they witnessed many conversations between Jesus and his heavenly Father. And the intimacy in that relationship could not have been hidden from them, especially when Jesus spoke about how the Father was in him and he was in the Father.

Inherent within this prayer though is the one lesson Jesus taught his disciples over and over: The kingdom of God was not going to be the kingdom they expected it to be. In other words, the kingdom to come would not be a restoration of the human kingdom of Israel, but rather a kingdom formed without hands—God’s kingdom of heaven established on earth through the Messiah Jesus, an eternal kingdom of divine rule, of God’s will being done, in every part of our human existence.

Sometimes when it is hard to find anything to say to God, it is helpful to be able to recite a prayer from memory. This is why these written prayers, or the prayers given to us in the Bible, are helpful. They provide a way for us to reach out to God in some way, even when our hearts are resisting the relationship.

In truth, prayer is an integral part of our relationship with God. Praying, in whatever form it may take, is our conversation with God. It can be as natural as breathing, as we go through our day and include God in every moment. It can be a spiritual discipline, being expressed in many forms both privately and publically, in which we take our concerns to God and intercede on behalf of others.

But in prayer, we must always remember the direction Jesus gave us—it is God’s kingdom and God’s will we seek to be done here on earth. In other words, we release our personal expectations and desires and allow God to do whatever he believes is best in the situation we are praying about.

God has a lot of unique ways in which he deals with problems. We tend to take a pretty direct approach, asking God to fix things and fix people. But often instead of changing the thing we think needs to be changed in a situation, God opts to change something completely different. And in doing so, he succeeds in bringing about what really matters—the transformation of human hearts and the restoration of relationships.

God’s heart is expressed through and in loving relationships. It is his nature to build, heal and restore. Sometimes God will tear something down so he can build it up again in a new way, or so he can build something entirely different. His wisdom surpasses us so much—we need to trust him to do the right and loving thing in every situation. We need to believe that he is indeed good and that his heart is full of everlasting love and grace for us.

The main thing that the disciples were doing that day of Pentecost was waiting. They were waiting on God, on Jesus to send the Holy Spirit from the Father. Their participation in what God was doing through Jesus was prayer. They prayed and they waited. When the Holy Spirit came and Jesus began to give them direction, then they acted.

Because they were living and walking in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the empowering, transforming Holy Spirit was made evident in a dramatic way whenever the disciples prayed. Their prayers were effective as they were prayed in accordance with the will and purposes of God. They prayed as Jesus directed them to pray and as they were led by the Holy Spirit to pray. So when they prayed, awesome things happened.

When we pray today in agreement with God through Jesus and in the Spirit, things happen—God works in new ways. Through prayer, we participate in God’s work in the world. We are included in his missionary work of bringing his kingdom to earth and accomplishing his will in the world. May we each be diligent in prayer, participating by the Spirit in Jesus’ perfect relationship with the Father, and seeking God’s will to be done in all things through Jesus our Lord and by his Spirit. Amen.

“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]’” Mt 6:9–13 NASB

Get Out of the Boat

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I’ve really enjoyed reading John Ortberg’s book, If You Want to Walk on the Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. The parable of Peter walking on the water is full of important messages for us. Particularly, we see that (unlike the other disciples) he actually stepped out into the water. He left his place of comfort and safety and took a step forward.

My concern is too many of us never take that step. We may see Jesus out there on the water, doing miraculous things. We may even be mature enough to call to Jesus and ask him to give us direction (Peter said, “tell me to come out to you”). But I think in some circumstances, we ask, he answers, and we stay in the boat because we’re scared. Or we say, “You know what? On second thought, it looks like you’ve got this water-walking thing under control. I’ll just watch from the safety of my boat, and if anyone asks me what I’m looking at, I’ll be sure to tell them your name.” Or we suddenly play deaf — “What’s that you say Jesus? Huh? Sorry, the waves and wind are a little loud, I’m not sure I heard you right. I better take a nap and wait for the storm to die down. I’ll catch up with you later when things are quiet.”

But most often I suspect we say to ourselves and each other, “I just haven’t heard back yet from God. He hasn’t answered me yet. I’ll just keep waiting on The Lord.” But as a friend likes to say, “Are you waiting on God, or is he waiting on you?” I think we (here I sincerely include myself) use our fear of making a mistake as an excuse for not doing anything. But let’s be honest –How often in the rest of our lives do we go out on a limb and take a chance? How often do we just run out and make a decision and hope it’s a good one? My bet is every darn day, multiple times!

Yet when it comes to sharing Jesus with someone else, or when it comes to simply building a new relationship with someone, or when it comes to just sitting down to listen and help bear another’s burden — we shy away in fear that we’re not skilled, equipped, or trained enough. We forget how often we share things we’re excited about, with people around us every day. We forget about all the chances we have to form a new relationship with people we see and work with every day, however briefly. We forget all the times we hear someone avoid the “how are you doing?” question with a non-answer like “I’m still here,” and we know darn well that person is in pain and could use someone to talk to. –Usually in cases like that, all we really need to do is shut up and listen! I think most of can handle that! But worst of all, I think we forget Jesus’ promise when he sends us out — “I am with you always, until the very end.”

So seriously, what are we afraid of?? We have a God who walks on water, an assignment to spread the good news, and someone to put words in our mouth! He has already invited us out on the water with him. Let’s get out of the boat!