by Linda Rex
Nothing can bring me to tears faster than to hear the story of a broken life. Growing up as I did in a church that was once insular and self-protective, I did not hear such stories very often. As I child I knew that evil and heartache were “out there” but I did not experience it in a real way as part of the life of someone I knew personally.
But no household, not even that of my family, is safe from the hardships and griefs of life. In time my family also experienced the reality of brokenness and the pain that comes from living life in a way that contradicts that which God ordained from the beginning. No one is immune from brokenness or pain or suffering. It is a part of the human condition. Our best efforts cannot protect us from experiencing the fallout from living out of ourselves, our self-determination, and our self-will.
In a culture where self is worshiped and served in every imaginable way, and people are told right and left to “have it your way,” it is no wonder so many are suffering from the tragic results of self-centered living. Freedom, when ungoverned by love (unconditional, out-going concern for others), is destructive and creates chaos and brokenness.
So, what hope do we have?
For many, the solution is found in the establishment of rules for living. They say that if you follow a particular set of rules, of principles for living, that you will never experience broken lives or families. If you keep the Ten Commandments, obey the 5 Principles, or the 7 Keys to Effective Living, that your life will be hunky-dory, full of happiness and joy.
I will not debate the value of these rules to live by here, for they serve a purpose, but I would like to point out the reality that the success of such a venture is fully dependent upon the self-discipline and self-will of the person attempting to follow them. And since the human self cannot be depended upon to do what is right and best and truly loving in every situation, the attempt is doomed from the outset. Some progress may be made and a person’s life may be significantly improved by the attempt, but the person’s inner being most likely will not be transformed in the process. Something else is needed.
If a person does not believe in a divine One who loves and cares for him or her personally, he or she will reach an impasse here. For the person’s only hope will be in a human’s ability to change or control him or herself and/or other people and circumstances. There will be a constant struggle for, or persistent denial of the need for, self-control and true compassion for others. Perhaps the person is strong of will and purpose—he or she can go on indefinitely in this condition. The person has the freedom to do so, if she or he wishes.
If a person does believe in God, then he or she is also faced with a choice. Will she or he receive the gift of the One who saved her or him, or continue in her or his own frantic efforts to handle everything by her or himself? I believe Christianity has received a black name in so many ways because Christians are frantically attempting to live a perfect, sinless life out of their own selves, on their own strength, and in their own way. It was never God’s intention for us to do this. Otherwise he would not have come in the person of Jesus Christ. He would have let the Old Testament laws stand for themselves. He would not have taken on human form. What would be the point?
But the eyewitnesses of the New Testament record tell us that Jesus Christ was a man in which the fullness of Deity lived: all of God as a human being. And in this Being, this God/man, we are made complete. God did not leave it up to us to save ourselves, to be perfect ourselves, to do what is loving and right and best on our own. He did it himself, and then offered us the opportunity to share in what he had done and is doing in Jesus Christ.
This is why the Scriptures, especially here in Colossians 2, use the expression “in Him” or “in Christ” over and over. We are to “put on Christ” or “abide in Christ.” These are all ways of saying that we share in Christ, in his perfect work which he performed in his life, his crucifixion and death, and his resurrection and ascension. It is in this relationship with God in Christ that we experience transformation and salvation, not in our human efforts to abide by a bunch of rules.
As we share in his death, we die to what we once were—our self-centered, selfish way of living and being. As we share in his resurrection, we find new life—that we are a new creation in him. This is not just a one-time event expressed through the Christian rite of baptism. It is an ongoing daily event—daily dying to self and living to Christ. Christ’s faith for our lack of faith. Christ’s love for our lovelessness. Christ’s obedience for our disobedience. This is how we put on Christ.
We share in Christ’s ascension through the gift of the Holy Spirit through whom we receive the power and the love of God, the personal presence of God within. We receive Christ’s moment-by-moment intercession for us in the presence of the Father, where he enables us to hear and receive the Word of God, and he presents our requests, our needs to God, interceding for us so we may continuously be forgiven and reconciled to God. We are given a relationship with God, not through our own efforts, but through the efforts of God, who reached down to us and brought us to himself, wiping away anything that once stood between us.
How refreshing is the wonder of grace! This is such good news that we don’t want to hear it. We prefer to continue our own efforts at self-preservation and self-glorification, even after we believe. For in receiving Christ as being all that we need, admitting we are complete in him and him alone, we have to give up all the glory to God for our wholeness and transformation. It begins with him, and is completed in him. To him be the glory! Amen.
Thank you, Father, for your great love, which you have lavished on us in your Son, Jesus Christ, and in your precious Spirit through whom you have come to dwell in human hearts. We praise you for your precious gift of a personal relationship with you, of life in you and with you, forever. To you be the glory and honor forever and ever. Amen.
“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete…” Colossians 2:9-10a (NASB)
by Linda Rex
Have you ever been through the experience of having someone count out your faults? One by one, they pointed out everything you ever did wrong, and you weren’t sure you could really defend yourself against their accusations? Do you remember how it made you feel?
Luke tells a story in his Gospel about a woman who had an experience like this. A Pharisee had repeatedly requested that Jesus be his guest at a banquet, so Jesus agreed to attend. As was customary, they reclined on couches around the table, and anyone from the community was welcome to listen in on the conversation or to stand quietly next to the wall and observe the festivities.
What is interesting about this story is that even though it was customary in that day to have your guests’ feet washed, and their head anointed, and to greet them with a kiss, the Pharisee Simon had done none of these things for Jesus, even though he was his guest. As they were dining, a woman came, poured out an expensive jar of perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. For a woman to do any of these things was considered inappropriate and culturally defined her as a woman of loose morals.
Being a man who was quite proud of his meticulous obedience to God, Simon thought to himself, “If this man were a genuine prophet, the predicted Prophet to come, he would know what sort of person this woman was that was touching him. He would know she was a sinner.”
Jesus knew what he was thinking, so he began to tell him a story about two men who owed a moneylender some money. One owed him a lot and the other owed him a little. The moneylender forgave both their debts. Jesus asked Simon, “Which one of these debtors loved the moneylender the most?” The obvious answer was the one who was forgiven the most.
So Jesus brought up the elephant in the room—the lady who was anointing his feet with perfume and kisses. He pointed out that Simon had not shown him any customary courtesies when he came, and yet, this woman was showering him with kindness and love. For that reason, she was forgiven, not Simon, who did not even know or admit that he was wrong in any way, nor did he show Jesus any kindness and respect.
Then Jesus turned to the woman and said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Then he told her that her faith had saved her, that she should go in peace. Nowhere in this conversation do we see Jesus pointing out all the things the woman had done wrong in her life. Simon had definitely gone through the list in his mind. But Jesus merely acknowledged her contrition and sent her away forgiven, with a new life ahead of her.
So what kind of people are we really? It seems it is better to acknowledge the reality of our need for forgiveness and our appreciation of God’s grace than it is to deny Jesus Christ our devotion and respect. If we are so busy looking at the faults of others, we may miss the important thing and that is our own poverty-stricken soul that is full of evil. Perhaps we are so sure of our spiritual insight and wealth that we don’t realize we are really poor, blind and naked in God’s sight.
But Jesus’ response to all of us is the same. “You are forgiven. Therefore, go and sin no more.” We are invited to live life in the fullness of God’s love, for we are welcomed home with open arms. Let’s run home to our Daddy-God who loves us so completely that he forgives us even before we ask.
Dear Lord, Father of us all, forgive us for our blindness and cold-hearted devotion to ourselves and not to you and to others. Refresh us in your love and forgiveness, and give us each a new heart and mind so that we might truly know and love you, our Father, Jesus, Spirit of truth. Amen.
“’For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ Then He said to her, ‘Your sins have been forgiven.’” Luke 7:47–48
Ode to List-makers
by Linda Rex
Have you ever seen a List-maker,
Their conscience all aglow
With the wonders of their goodness
And the horrific sins of those they know?
Too bad they miss the point,
It’s their own sin they cannot see,
Otherwise they’d welcome sinners
And forgive them like God forgave me.
by Linda Rex
In this verse for today, Peter admonished his readers to have a mind that is prepared for action. This means we are alert and aware of what is happening or may happen, what God is doing in the world and our role in it, what we are doing and saying as we live and walk in this world in his presence. We cannot predict what may happen, but we can be prepared and ready to deal with it when we are walking in the Spirit. The Spirit will prompt us and give us an alertness when we are listening and living in tune with him.
Peter said we are to be self-controlled. Being self-controlled is a humanly impossible task. The human will and spirit often insists on being in control and going its own way. As we are governed by the Holy Spirit, we find the strength, wisdom and ability to be self-controlled.
If we depend on our own ability to be alert and self-controlled, we will be sorely disappointed. The human condition is such that at some point we will falter and fail. This is why Peter added the following thought: “Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you…” There is no way we will be fully and completely alert or self-controlled at all times. There will be moments when we aren’t alert, and moments when we are not self-controlled.
That is why we must fully trust in the hope we have in Jesus. In him, we will not fail but receive fully God’s grace for ourselves, our circumstances, our life, our growth and our salvation. Nothing will be left out as we stand in Christ when he is revealed. We will remain while all sin and evil will dissolve away. There is nothing that God’s grace cannot and will not cover. We can fully trust in God’s grace.
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” –1 Peter 1:13
Lord, it is easy to get caught up in trusting in myself and my own ability to be self-controlled and alert. I agree that I am limited in every area and must fully trust in you. I ask you for the grace to trust fully in your grace so that I may stand firm and remain when all else is extinguished in the furnace of your presence in glory. Thank you for making me what I am and for ensuring that I may have a relationship with you for all eternity. I praise and worship you for your generous, loving nature and goodness towards me. In your name, I pray. Amen.
by Linda Rex
This morning I was puttering around, putting the teakettle on the stove so I could have hot water for my morning cup of tea. I glanced out the window and was astonished to see that a heavy snow was falling, just like the snows we used to enjoy back in Iowa. I could not keep this news to myself!
My daughter was still asleep and I wanted so much to wake her up and tell her. I stood outside her door and thought to myself, “It would be such a shame for her to miss this.” It was a struggle to keep quiet about what I had seen especially when I knew she would absolutely love it.
Have you ever felt so compelled to share something that you couldn’t keep quiet about it? It’s like you have a fountain spilling over inside and filling you up to the place you feel like you’re going to explode if you don’t have some way of releasing the pressure. Sometimes it’s a bit of good news that you know everyone is going to love when they hear it and you can’t wait to share it.
When we come to faith in Christ, we are given the blessing of God’s very presence within, with the Presence and power of the Holy Spirit. We experience the wonder and grace of the life and love of the Father, Son and Spirit as we welcome into our hearts and lives Our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit poured into our hearts and lives is a spring of living water that overflows, bringing refreshment and renewal. We find ourselves wanting to tell everyone about it, to share with them the good news of how our lives and hearts have been transformed by God.
The sad thing is that after a while we may get so used to all that water that we become a stagnant pool. Why? Because there is no outlet for all that water. When we keep the life and love of God to ourselves, secure within our own little world and confines of goodness, the fountain begins to lose its freshness.
The good news is that Jesus has promised never to leave us or forsake us. We are assured that when we spend time with him, removing the clutter that has muddied the water for us, and open ourselves up fully to the Holy Spirit, inviting him to fill us, our fountain will again flow freely. Filled with the Spirit, we will be compelled to share what God has given so freely to us. As we share the live and love of the Father, Son and Spirit with those around us, the living water will flow out from us, refreshing others as we are refreshed. And God will smile, for it all begins and ends with him, in Jesus.
Holy God, Fountain of all life and love, refresh us. Renew our hearts and minds, and cause your Spirit to flow freely and fully within us and out from us once again. May we share freely your generous gift in Christ of our participation in your life and love. We thank you and praise for the Living Water you give. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:38 (NASB)
by Linda Rex
I recall a day many years ago when I was out in a small pasture on my mother-in-law’s farm, trying to find a missing lamb. One of our ewes had given birth to twins, and it was necessary for us to bottle-feed them. Their mother could not supply them enough milk.
That day on the farm, at feeding time, one of the twins was nowhere to be found. This particular twin had a fondness for the greener grass on the other side of the fence. Sure enough, it had squeezed through the fence to the other side. Sad to say, it was not in very good condition when I found it.
That particular lamb did not survive because it would not do the one thing that would have kept it safe and strong—it would not stay near its mother. It insisted on going its own way, seeking adventure outside the safety net of the pasture fence.
Often we as human beings are much like that poor little lamb. In fact, that lamb’s story brings to mind how we as humans, from the beginning, have so often declared to God we would go our own way and choose to find our own “greener grass.” We find ourselves harried by the wolves and coyotes of life, not realizing that if we stayed within our pasture, we would be safe and secure.
The good news is that God took care of that problem many years ago in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Unlike the poor little lamb that lost its way and lost its life, we have the blessing of a Savior who joined us in our humanity and brought us up into his eternal life and love, healing us of our brokenness and our need to live out on our own. Jesus calls himself the “good shepherd” who cares for his sheep.
Our good shepherd was willing to join us in our human mess, and meet us in the midst of our search for the “greener grass.” He has reconciled us with our heavenly Father and sent his Spirit to be with us. He draws us to himself, calling to us to leave our frantic search for something more and to be content in the life and love of the Father, Son and Spirit. When we fall or suffer or struggle, when we make a wrong turn or wander off too far, he is faithful to bring us back home. We need only believe, to trust in his love and faithfulness, to trust in our loving, good shepherd, Jesus Christ.
“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.” Ezekiel 34:11