natural disasters

Sharing the Gift of Thanksgiving

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tn-hayfield

by Linda Rex

As I was driving through the Tennessee countryside this morning, I was soaking up the inherent beauty of the fall colors in the leaves of the trees and the deep blue of the clear sky. There is such a sense of God’s presence and nearness in his creation, especially when the plants, trees, animals and earth are just being who they were created to be. And how cool it is that we, as human beings and God’s creatures, get to be a part of reflecting God’s glory!

Last night I participated in a discussion at the Highland Heights Neighborhood Association meeting in which we talked about being aware of and sensitive to the needs of the people in the community who are marginalized and forgotten. In the light of this, as a neighborhood group working to improve our community, we asked the question, “Where do we go from here?” and “What can we do to help?”

Truthfully, there are people down the street from our church who live every day in such poverty and squalor they are not able, even if they wished, to soak up the beauty of the Tennessee countryside. They live in housing which is uninhabitable by modern standards, and have little hope for anything better. How, in the midst of the struggle of daily life, can they enjoy the best of life? What does it mean for them to just be who they were created to be? Is it even possible for them?

And indeed, how are they any different from you or me? They have this existence they have found themselves in and they, like you and me, seek to do the best they are able to along the way, trying to find and create life in the midst of death and poverty and struggle. They, like we do, breathe the same air, need the same food and water we do, and long to love and be loved, for that is what they, like we, were created for.

It would be easy to say, for example, that a particular group of people being considered last night as being in need were not part of our neighborhood therefore not a part of our responsibility. But indeed, we must never forget we are neighbor to each and every person in this world in our Lord Jesus Christ. In him we are connected at the center of our being to every other person who exists, no matter whether we like them or not. There is a core relatedness which Jesus Christ created in us and in himself which demands we treat each other as brothers and sisters, not as strangers or aliens.

And this is hard to do, because we as human beings are broken. We have addictions, mental and emotional and physical illnesses, and quirks which make us unpleasant people to be around. We have character flaws which sometimes make it unsafe for others to be around us. We have generational and personal habits and ways of being and talking which do not line up with who we are created to be in Jesus Christ, and they divide us from one another.

This morning I was looking at some photos from around the world taken over the last year which illustrated something significant which happened on that particular day. Most of the photos told the story of people in the midst of struggle—of war, refugees, destruction, natural disasters—all the ways in which people were wrestling with their desire for life in the midst of death and loss. Here and there was a picture of someone celebrating or worshiping, but they were few and far between.

It seems, apparently, struggle is a part of the human existence, whether we like it or not. Poverty, displacement, homelessness, and war plague us no matter where we live. Jesus said at one point, “…You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:8 NLT). There is a reality about our human existence and it is we do not live as we ought and we do not treat others as we ought, and so people end up living in ways they were never meant to have to live. Our human existence today is a reflection of how we seek to find life in the ways which only create destruction and death, and of how our earth is broken and reflects the harm we humans have done to it over the centuries.

It is no wonder the youth of our day sometimes feel a sense of despair and hopelessness. What kind of future do they have to look forward to? And what about our marginalized neighbors who expect to only see more of the same in the years ahead? What hope do they have?

I believe this is where we run into a fundamental flaw in our thinking as Christians. We see all this and can say, things are so bad we must be near the end of the world, so Jesus is going to come and punish all the bad people and establish his kingdom. This conveniently places everything back into the hands of an angry God who will deal with all this stuff so we don’t have to. It removes any need for us to encounter and deal with on a face-to-face basis the suffering of our neighbor right now, today, in our everyday lives.

I thought it was instructive last night that the heads more than once turned towards our end of the table and it was indicated that the churches in the neighborhood were expected to do something about the problems in the neighborhood. At the NOAH meeting, I heard the city officials say the non-profit organizations were the ones who ought to be solving the homelessness problem. Why do communities turn to God’s people with the needs of those who are homeless and poverty-stricken rather than to the government? What is it they believe we have and can do which cannot be found elsewhere?

At this point, I’m not really sure. But I do know this—when God goes to work in a human heart and mind, things change. When God goes to work in a community, things change. When God goes to work in a family, a church, an office or a city, things change. And one of the biggest changes to occur is a change in human hearts and minds.

It seems at times God doesn’t care as much about the poverty of our circumstances as he does about the poverty of our soul. The path to new life is through suffering and death, whether we like it or not. When he goes to work though, as hearts and minds are healed and renewed, circumstances in peoples’ lives change as well.

We as Christians need to realize the magnitude of what we bring to the table in the situations we face in our neighborhoods and in our world. We may have no power to fix the problems faced directly. But we do have the power of prayer and the community of faith. We do have the ability to walk with people through their times of darkness and to share with them the Light of life. We do have the ability to ease their suffering in some ways, even though in other ways we are impotent in being able to help.

The greatest thing we can do for others is to offer them a relationship of love and grace in which Jesus Christ is the center. We can come alongside others and share in the divine Paraclete’s ministry of counsel, intercession and comfort. We can share with others the blessings we have received from Abba so they may also experience the joy of thanksgiving as we do. We can work to help others to be and become those people God created them to be, so they may begin to enjoy the best of life, which is living in loving community with God and one another.

This is my heart and desire for the people of Tennessee, and for all people, for that matter. And I know it is also the heart and desire of our members at Good News Fellowship. We have been given our Abba’s heart of love and grace and we want to share it with others. We want all people to be overwhelmed just as we are with the overflowing joy of thanksgiving for our Father, Son and Holy Spirit who have given us true life in their presence both now and forever.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for giving us all we need for life and godliness, and for drawing us to yourself by your Son and in your Spirit, so we each and all may participate with you in a communion of love and grace both now and forever. Renew in us your heart of love and grace so we may love others with your perfect love and forgive as we are forgiven. In Jesus’ name and by your Spirit we pray. Amen.

“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” Colossians 1:9–12 NASB

Terms of Peace

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Serene lake
Serene lake

By Linda Rex

It seems in many places of the world today that the very foundations of our society and our earth are being shaken. We are facing challenges in how we care for our air, land and water, and in how we care for one another.

The current upheaval in the United States as well as in other nations regarding how we treat people different than ourselves—whether it be a difference in race, in culture, in belief system or national heritage—has some pretty significant implications for the future.

We’re seeing people groups being moved en masse from one place to another. We’re seeing people lose everything of personal value due to economic devastation, political upheaval or natural disasters. And we’re seeing the continued curse of genocide and prejudice and persecution wherever people live today.

It seems that none of these things are new events. If we were to look back through the history of humanity, we would find that all of these things have in some form or fashion happened before. Indeed, as was recorded in Ecclesiastes millennia ago, there is nothing new under the sun.

But it seems that there are a whole lot more of us around today. And we have access to a lot more information about one another than we ever had before. In so many more ways we are interconnected to one another whether we like it or not and whether we want to be or not. We cannot escape the reality that we are all individually and collectively responsible in some way for what has happened, is happening and will happen to one another moment by moment.

It seems that the harder we try to create peace in the world, the more guilty we are of enslaving, harming and destroying one another. We find that even our “peace officers” are accused of being murderous and abusive. And unfortunately, it seems that such accusations are too often justified.

Some of us long to be just left alone—to be left in peace. We want a lifestyle or religion that will give us some inner tranquility, some rest from all this inner and exterior distress. We’d like a safe place where we won’t have to worry about someone taking advantage of us, or harming us, or disrupting our world.

One of the hardest things for us to come to terms with, I think, is the reality that we were created for relationships, and that relationships are, in all honesty, messy things to live in. There’s no such thing as a perfect relationship, since—at least as far as I am aware—there are no perfect people in the world.

We have expectations of one another, and of God for that matter, that are far from reasonable or realistic. We step on toes without even trying because—whether we like it or not—we are all different people, with different personalities and opinions and upbringings, and we seem to inevitably rub against one another in unpleasant ways.

And our humanity—our inclination to live, walk and talk in unhealthy and unkind ways—seems to be really good at destroying our inner peace as well as the fragile peace with have with other people. This is why God didn’t leave it up to us to create peace. He knows that peace, whether peace among people or peace within ourselves, is something we as broken human beings cannot come up with on our own. He knows that no matter how hard we try, we are going to mess up our relationship with him and our relationships with one another.

And so God made his peace with us—a covenant of peace with Israel that included all humanity in Jesus Christ. And Jesus, in breathing on us the Spirit, poured into our hearts God’s peace. His words of peace echo through the ages:

“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 14:26–27)

Peace is a gift from God. It is something that happens when the real presence of God is welcomed and embraced by broken human beings seeking to live in peace with God and one another. This is why a group surrendered to Christ and seeking to live in love with one another and with God can be such a stunning and rare vision of peace and harmony in the midst of a broken and chaotic world. They are living in response to and are participating in the gift of peace they have been given by God. They are a reflection of the divine.

God has not and will not change his mind about the gift of peace he has given to all humanity in Jesus Christ. He has made a covenant of peace with all humanity in his Son and calls each and everyone of us to participate with him in this divine life and love. As long as we are living in this broken human flesh and in this broken physical world, we will struggle. But in the midst of our struggle, God offers us his peace.

Question is, will we submit to his terms of peace? Will we give up trying to create peace on our own, and surrender to his way of being and living? Will we let him call the shots in our relationships and in our lives? Will we wave the white flag and yield to the Prince of Peace?

Holy God of Peace, we acknowledge our inability to create and sustain peace in our hearts, in our relationships, in our families and in our world. We agree that we desperately need your peace. Wash away all that divides us and pour out on us anew your gift of peace in the Holy Spirit. We surrender and accept your terms of peace, through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit. Amen.

“’For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake,’ But My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,’ Says the LORD who has compassion on you.” Isaiah 54:10 NASB