By Linda Rex
A cedar tree stands in the yard behind my neighbor’s house. Its dark green pungent branches droop a little and sway gently in the breeze. Every day that tree stands in the same place, allowing the wind to blow its boughs back and forth. The tree never seems to tire of its simple task of just being present, breathing in the carbon dioxide and breathing out the oxygen we need to survive.
In fact, as I sit here in my flimsy patio chair, the tree doesn’t seem to express any anxiety or concern about whether or not it’s doing a good job, or if it’s producing enough oxygen each day. Granted, its ability to grow to its full height and expand to its full breadth has been limited by the neighboring deciduous trees. But this doesn’t hinder the cedar from just being what it is—a cedar tree—and from doing the one simple thing it was created for—being a living, breathing contributor to the well-being of the planet, a genuine participant in God’s gracious daily provision for his living creatures.
The cedar tree seems oblivious to my neighbor talking to her plants and her spouse. It seems indifferent to my gaze as I stare and it and wonder which side of the fence it is located on. It just continues to be who it is, day in and day out, rain or shine.
I am a little jealous of the cedar tree. It doesn’t have to worry about whether it can pay the bills this month, or whether the car tires will hold out for another month or two. The tree doesn’t really have any concerns, for it doesn’t have a memory of the past, nor does it have any concept of its future. It doesn’t even know it could be cut down tomorrow—that’s not even on its radar. It’s just living right now, being who it is, doing what it’s doing in this particular moment.
The tree has this incredible capacity to just rest in Jesus. Its existence is totally dependent upon the God who made it and who supplies its daily soil, water, air, and light. And that’s okay. That’s all it needs. It doesn’t need or even know to ask for anything more.
It does me good to slow down to the pace of the cedar tree, and to silence my mind of all the myriad thoughts and concerns which consume my inner world. How hard can it be to take an hour and just be? What’s it like to just rest in the One who made me and redeems me, and to let that resting be enough in and of itself?
Five seconds into my time of silence I find this concern and that issue popping up in my thoughts. “Okay, Lord,” I think, “I’ll give these things to you for a bit. I can deal with them later.” And I can be silent again. But it’s a wrestling match with my inner self.
Silence as a spiritual discipline, as coming into God’s presence and opening ourselves up to his Spirit’s inner work, can be a real challenge for us. We often find reasons to stay too busy to stop and be silent. We know that to do so would be to open ourselves up to the possibility of having to deal with our problems, losses, or our faults. Quieting ourselves in the presence of the Living Lord may mean we have to stop running away from ourselves and the harm we have done or are doing to ourselves or others.
Yet, silence as a spiritual discipline is a real opportunity to be filled with presence and power of God in a new way. It creates an inner space for the Spirit to enable us to listen to our Abba’s heart, and the Word of Life speaking in our hearts. When we are quiet before God, that inner voice of the Spirit grows louder and our assurance of our Abba’s love grows stronger.
It seems foolish to pause in the midst of our busy schedule to just sit and be in the presence of God. And yet, I have found this is the best possible use we could make of our time. In having done so, we find a greater inner strength, a clearer vision and insight we would not have otherwise. We pause to take a deep breath of the Spirit, and in breathing out, we find ourselves participating more fully in God’s life and love.
Perhaps we are more like the cedar tree than we realize. Yes, God has gifted us and given us many opportunities and abilities the cedar tree does not have. After all, we do reflect the being of God himself. But we are still here as participants in God’s story—sharing in his care of this world and everything in it. We each have a place in his life where all he asks of us is just to be who we are—his beloved and redeemed children.
Acknowledging the simplicity of our existence as God’s beloved and redeemed children, participants in his life and love, means we can rest. We can trust God to hold all things together by the Word of his power, to care for each and every living creature. Our failures as humans do not prevent God from accomplishing anything he has intended from the beginning.
Yes, we cause harm to each other and to this world. We fail to care for what we’ve been given. But none of that prevents God from loving us and drawing us to himself through Christ and in the Spirit. Nothing we can say or do is sufficient to stand in God’s way. Jesus’ prayer stands forever hung in the air: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” And he did what was necessary in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension so we can be assured of the outcome—a new heavens and earth and perfected humanity in which righteousness dwells.
We can for a moment have a deeper grasp of this spiritual reality when we pause in the midst of our existence and just be in the presence of the One who made us and sustains us, and breath in deeply the living Spirit—our Breath of Life. As we are silent and present in the moment, drinking in the living Presence of God himself, we can taste just for moment the blessing of the cedar tree—our eternal rest in Christ who is our Life and our real existence in this broken world. In him we have our being—our peace, hope, and joy—our past, present, and future, for he holds all things in his hands.
So, pause for few moments, and take in a deep breath of Divine Air. Lean back, resting in the Everlasting Arms. For Abba is holding you, and singing over you his songs of joy and love. Listen carefully, and you just might hear him singing…
Abba, thank you for your love, for your gift of your Son and your Spirit. Thank you for holding us and caring for us, whether we realize it or not. Grant us the grace to rest in you and in your perfect love, Enable us to just be, as we are always and forever yours, your beloved and redeemed children, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 ESV
By Linda Rex
Do you ever have one of those days when you don’t realize the plank in your eye is getting so big you are no longer seeing what’s right in front of you? Worst of all is when suddenly the plank is pulled out and the light of the truth about your own brokenness is so strong you are overwhelmed by it.
I had this experience the other day when talking with a group of friends. We were and are concerned about someone very dear to us who is doing something self-destructive and unhealthy. My heart was breaking about this, so I mentioned my real concern about her indifference to the harm she was doing to her own body. As I said this I reached across the table for my fifth handful of chocolate-peanut candies.
Later, in the quiet of my own home, I was praying about these concerns for this person and sharing my thoughts with Abba. I quite clearly saw that picture in my mind’s eye, of me reaching for another handful of goodies. God’s love for me understood my concerns for someone else, but would not let me off the hook about the harm I was doing to myself. A taste here and there is fine—but this was more than I probably should have been eating at the time.
Here’s the point: whatever harm I am doing to myself is no different than the harm someone else is doing to themselves. Yes, I need to love them enough to not enable them to continue in self-destructive behavior. But I also need to love Abba and the others in my life as well as myself enough to not continue in my own self-destructive behavior. It goes both ways.
God often brings us to these places, if we are willing, where we are faced with the reality of how our ways of living do not reflect the truth of who we are in Christ. The apostle James says it’s like looking at ourselves in a mirror:
“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:23–25 NASB)
This perfect law of liberty—our true freedom in Christ to love God and love one another—is written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. It is Jesus Christ living his life in us by the Spirit who moves us to be the doers of this law of liberty. God pours his love into our hearts and we find ourselves loving others in ways we never could or would before.
Recognizing the indwelling presence of God in our hearts gives us hope. When we are burdened by our failures to love and receive love, we are comforted by God’s grace and compassion.
We are helped in this redemptive process by healthy relationships which are full of grace and understanding. Often in order to forgive ourselves or receive God’s forgiveness, we need to experience abundant grace and mercy from those around us.
One of the biggest struggles some of us may have is with receiving love and care from others which points out our need to grow in Christlikeness. On the one hand, we may like people taking care of us, but on the other, we don’t want them challenging us to change. We may want them to do good things for us, but we don’t like them asking us to assume responsibility for what is ours to do.
This is where the redemptive grace of God becomes a cause of offense to us rather than the sweet-smelling aroma of God’s blessing and favor. Over and over in our lives God draws near to us through people and circumstances, showing us the truth of who we are in him. The miracle of grace in the life, death, resurrection of God’s Son causes us to see our failures to love and receive love.
The gift of forgiveness in Christ Jesus says to each of us, whether we like it or not—you and I are in great need of forgiveness. But God doesn’t just leave us in that place of need. The realization of our need for forgiveness creates space in our hearts and lives for him to enter in and begin his transformation process. In opening ourselves up to receive God’s grace, we participate with Christ in the redemptive process.
One of the blessings poured out on us in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is the realization we are Abba’s beloved child in Christ Jesus. The Spirit enables us to experience the living presence of Christ and Abba in us, and he is at work transforming our hearts by faith. We see the evidence of God’s indwelling presence by the way we love God and love others as ourselves. Over time it becomes obvious to us and to others we reflect the nature of the living Lord.
As the Spirit works, he grows us more and more into the image of Christ. This means he brings us to deeper and deeper levels of self-awareness as well as to a greater awareness of the real Being God himself. Our relationship with God develops over time, and as it grows, we are brought into a greater realization of the size of the planks in our own eyes as well as a greater compassion and concern for the well-being of others.
Drawing nearer to God means we draw nearer to others, but it also may mean we come to see ourselves and God in new ways. The Spirit gives us greater insight into the deepest parts of our person, and there are times when we find we must once again repent, or turn back to Christ, and trust him to heal and restore us. Repentance and faith are an ongoing part of our life-long journey with Christ. As we continue to participate with Christ in our salvation through repentance and faith, he by the Spirit will continually bring us into a deeper, more authentic relationship with God and others.
Dear Abba, thank you for your faithful love. Thank you for freeing us to love you and love others through your Son Jesus Christ. Thank you for the gift of your Spirit who draws us deeper and deeper into intimate relationship with you. Grant us the heart and mind to turn to Christ and respond moment by moment to your Spirit’s work, so we are not offended by grace, but rather are transformed, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test.” 2 Corinthians 13:5–10 NASB
By Linda Rex
I spent a large portion of my early years believing the Holy Spirit was merely God’s essence and power, and not a Person who I could come to know and have a relationship with. In fact, the idea of talking to the Spirit or having a conversation even with Jesus was considered inappropriate. All my prayers were directed to the Father in the name of Jesus Christ.
Any mention of the Holy Spirit in my prayers came about only because I felt it was necessary to occasionally ask God for more of his Spirit so I could have better behavior and stop doing stupid stuff. I understood there was God the Father and Jesus his Son, and they were a family I could be a part of if I worked hard enough and qualified to belong. I believed the Holy Spirit was something God would pour out or withhold according to how well I behaved or just according to his own preference, which could change on a whim.
When it was brought to my attention how in the Bible the Spirit is repeatedly shown to have all the attributes of personhood, and was spoken of by Jesus himself as being another Helper just like himself, a light went on in my mind and heart. Could this be true? Is the Spirit another One just like Jesus and the Father? Do they live together in a oneness in which each is distinct and equal? Is the Spirit Someone I can have a relationship with?
Coming to this place in my understanding was critical to being able to understand God’s grace and love toward me. I had been denying the personhood of the One who is instrumental in enabling each of us to awaken to faith, the One who makes possible our participation in the finished work of Christ. I had objectified the One who enables us to see the Father and the Son—the Spirit unites us to Christ, enabling us to participate in Christ’s intimate relationship with his Abba.
Over the years as I have grown in my relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I have come to see more and more how I had traded in real love and grace for empty religion. I learned how to be very religious from an early age, and it appalls me to hear someone still tell me today I’m very religious.
I don’t like being called a religious person because I don’t want to be religious—I want to be rightly related, to God and to others. There is a difference. I don’t want to work hard at being good enough. I don’t want to be constantly striving to win my Father’s approval. What I want is to rest in God’s amazing grace, and in his unconditional love and acceptance.
I want to be actively participating in a personal, intimate relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit in which I am trusting in the perfect work of Jesus Christ—in that which he did in his life, death, resurrection and ascension—in the work he is actively completing in each of us today by the Holy Spirit he sent from the Father. The Holy Spirit is bringing to completion in us individually what Christ accomplished for us, in our place, on our behalf in our humanity.
I realize part of this process of growing up in Christ requires my participation. Participation is a lot different than being religious, or working hard or striving to win God’s love and approval. Participation is a sharing—where Christ is in us and we are in him, and we are in the Father and the Father is in us. This is the Person of the Holy Spirit uniting us together in harmony and oneness—a beautiful perichoretic relationship—a mutual indwelling. This is life together in a beautiful give and take, an ongoing conversation, a perilous yet joyful and thrilling journey.
Today I don’t ask for more of the Spirit. I pray to him (and the Father and the Son). The Spirit is a Person, a beautiful, amazing Being, who fully indwells me. He doesn’t split himself up into thirds, fourths, or sixteenths. He just is. And he is present. I can shove him away, resist him, reject him and even try to quench him. But in the end, he is still present—for his is the Breath who sustains me and the Water of Life I need to exist, both physically and spiritually.
The Spirit woos me, invites me deeper and deeper into this perichoretic relationship God has called me into. He opens my mind to a deeper understanding of who God is, and therefore, as one made in his image, who I am. He enables me to know the depths of Abba’s heart, and the love of Jesus.
He gives me the capacity to understand and be sensitive to those to whom I am normally indifferent. He gives me the heart to love those who are cruel and insensitive—and enables me to bear up under difficulty and sorrow. Sometimes he gives me a sense of what will happen in the near future, preparing me so I can bear what is coming.
And sometimes the Spirit just gives me the pleasure of a word of affirmation or inspiration in my mind and heart which I am needing in that particular moment. He is able to do this because he knows and understands the depths of my heart and mind—he is the Spirit, and discerns things about my spirit, my heart, and my mind I don’t even recognize. He is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the One who took on my humanity and lived the life I was meant to live, and who died my death. The Spirit is one with Jesus who lives in me.
This indeed is the mystery of godliness—Christ in us, the hope of glory. Today I live and walk in Christ because I live and walk in the Spirit. The Father, Jesus, and the Spirit are one, so I live and walk each moment of my life within the embrace of the Triune God. I cannot escape this—for Christ has united his being with our humanity. And the Spirit is drawing me into the fullness of Christ’s glory. What a wonderful present and future I have in this relationship!
My faith was so empty in comparison with this. I am extremely grateful to God for awakening me to this life in Christ Jesus. I still struggle, for it is much easier to slide back into religious doing than it is to rest, trusting fully in Jesus to finish his perfect work in me by his Spirit. I still fall asleep on occasion, and have to be reawakened to the reality of what God has done for me in Christ and what he is doing in me by his Holy Spirit. But I can and do rest in the completed work of Christ and trust in Abba’s faithfulness, for he will not quit until I fully reflect the perfected humanity I was meant to bear.
Dear Holy Spirit, thank you for continuing to point us to the Father and the Son, and for making them and yourself real to us day by day. Please finish the work you have begun in us so that we might fully reflect the glory of the Lord we were meant to bear. Thank you, Abba, you will never quit until we are all what you meant for us to be in your creation and your redemption, through Jesus our Lord, and by your Spirit. Amen.
“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” John 16:13–15 NASB
“The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” 1 John 3:24 NASB
“… 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 1:26–28 NASB
“Without the distinct and inseparable gracious ministry of the Holy Spirit, we could not and we would not participate—we would and could not share in Christ’s own (vicarious) responses of repentance, faith, hope and love for God and receive his grace given to us. Our salvation requires the ministry of all three Persons of the Trinity and all three moments of God’s saving action towards us, each contributing to the one whole will, purpose and accomplishment of our salvation.” Dr. Gary Deddo, “Clarifying our Theological Vision”, Pt. 3.
by Linda Rex
The last thing I would ever want to do would be to make God look like he is an evil monster looking for opportunities to destroy you or me because of our badness. It seems our ways of looking at God and thinking about him do enough of that without my helping them along.
But we do need to understand that God isn’t just a nice, feel-good sort of Person all the time. Just because he is loving and compassionate doesn’t mean there aren’t things he really truly hates. Indeed, God abhors and vehemently opposes anything which mars the beauty he created you and me to reflect—he is passionately opposed to those things which keep us from being the image-bearers of God he created us to be.
This passion of God—this “wrath” of God—is behind all he has done in sending his Son to live, die, rise and ascend on our behalf, and behind his sending of his Spirit to dwell in human hearts. This passion of God has driven him from before time to ensure what he began in us would be completed through Christ and in his Spirit.
There is one who has opposed God from the beginning, and who, with his followers, seeks to destroy God’s work and to undermine his efforts in renewing all things. The adversary opposes all which is good and holy. He labors constantly in an effort to turn human beings against the God who made them, sustains them and redeemed them. Any effort we make to trust in and obey the God who is Father, Son and Spirit is resisted and thwarted by the evil one.
In many world views, good and evil are seen as equal opposites, who must be kept in a constant state of balance for people to be able to exist in harmony and peace. The balance I see being kept in the divine life and love is not of the balance between good and evil, but the perfect harmony and oneness of the Trinity in their equality and diversity. Evil in this worldview only exists as that which opposes the Trinity, and is allowed to exist only because of the freedom of will given to those who are created by God.
God summarily dealt with evil and all who oppose him in our cosmos by taking on our humanity and dealing with it from the inside out. He was very aggressive in tackling the issue of our broken humanity and the efforts of the evil one. In Jesus Christ, God conquered death and Satan, and gave us all a new life in Christ which is ours through the Spirit.
The message we find in Revelation and elsewhere is Satan and death are defeated foes, and we have nothing to fear. In fact, God sent his Spirit and he is systematically penetrating this world with his very life through his gathering of believers (which we call the church) who are the body of Christ. There is a finality about the destruction of Satan, his demons and evil, as well as death. As far as God is concerned, it is already over with. All that’s left is the mopping up. What we experience today of evil and death and suffering is just a temporary blip in the radar, and in time, it will all be gone.
Dr. Michael Heiser, in his book “The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible”, puts it like this:
The theological messaging couldn’t be more dramatic. Jesus says he will build his church—and the “gates of hell” will not prevail against it. We often think of this phrase as though God’s people are in a posture of having to bravely fend off Satan and his demons. This simply isn’t correct. Gates are defensive structures, not offensive weapons. The kingdom of God is the aggressor.(a) Jesus begins at ground zero in the cosmic geography of both testaments to announce the great reversal. It is the gates of hell that are under assault—and they will not hold up against the Church. Hell will one day be Satan’s tomb.(1)
While I may not agree with every detail Dr. Heiser writes in his book, I can appreciate his emphasis on the already, not yet, focus of the establishment of the kingdom of God today. God has invited believers to participate with him in the expansion of his renewal of all things to fill the whole cosmos. He is allowing those who follow Christ to join with him as he aggressively intervenes to bring healing, hope and restoration in many people’s lives all over the world.
We forget sometimes we are at war. We forget our Jesus is a mighty warrior fighting on behalf of all that is just, holy, right and good. And he has invited us to go with him into battle against all his foes—all which oppose the glory he created human beings to reflect.
God is not impotent against the forces of evil at work in this world. But he has invited us to share in the battle, and he has reasons for allowing things to happen the way they do. As the commander-in-chief, who died at the hands of humanity so humanity could be saved, he has a way of dealing with evil which often seems out of sync with our reality. This is why it is so important that we follow the lead of his Spirit and grow in our knowledge of Who Christ is and who we are in him. God’s ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts.
The bottom line is to trust him—to believe Abba so loves you and me that not only did he send his Son Jesus to free us from sin and death, but that he also is sending his Spirit to bring to fruition all Jesus forged into our humanity in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. Thankfully, Jesus even took care of our need for faith, by accomplishing in himself our perfect response of love toward Abba. We are held, we are loved, and we are Abba’s beloved children, and God will accept nothing less than this for you and for me. This is his passion and Jesus will see that it is realized by his Spirit.
Thank you, Abba, for your great love and faithfulness toward all you created. Thank you for giving us the freedom to choose, and the privilege of mirroring your glory and goodness. Thank you for allowing us to participate in all you are doing to renew what you created and you sustain. We trust you to finish what you have begun in us through your Son and by your Spirit. In your Name, we pray. Amen.
“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Mt 16:18 NASB
(1) Heiser, M. S. (2015). The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (First Edition, pp. 284–285). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
(a) [Note by Dr. Heiser] See the discussion in John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 2005), 675.
by Linda Rex
I grew up in the suburbs of metropolitan Los Angeles and know what it’s like to live in a big city. Today I live and work in and near metropolitan Nashville.
I find living in a large city such as Nashville or L.A. has its strong points, and I can see why people would want to live and work in these hubs of humanity. There are many opportunities to be found in close proximity, especially with regards to cultural and recreational attractions, employment opportunities, and educational institutions.
Living in a big city is not what I would prefer, but I can appreciate the benefits of this lifestyle. I personally prefer small town living, but have learned to adapt to the higher stress, less privacy and less relaxed environment of this area. This is because I have learned over the years that whether urban or rural, the people who live in this world are at their heart, the same as you and me—we all are made in God’s image to live together in loving community.
Between these two adventures in big city living, I also lived in rural southeast Iowa, where the closest city of any real size was at least forty-five minutes from home. In that part of the United States of America, it was not uncommon for people to leave their homes and cars unlocked, and for neighbors to enter by the back door.
When I was eight months pregnant and going to town on a hot summer day, my car ran out of gas two miles from the closest town. I was a lot less nervous then about having someone help me than I am today because that’s what people did there when someone was in trouble. Neighbors were neighbors and looked out for one another.
As I’ve gotten to know more of the people who live next door to Good News Fellowship in Nashville, I’ve come to see that same heart of true neighborliness also exists here and there in the community around our church. Many of our neighbors are kind, helpful people who want their neighborhood to be a safe, upbeat, and warm community where old and young people alike can live free from abuse or neglect.
Our neighbors want to be able to walk or run down their streets during the day and the night, and not fear they will get mugged, or simply shot because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. They would like to be able to trust that someone will not steal their belongings, or damage their cars, or invade their homes. They would like to live without fear, and to be able to trust others with their lives, their homes and their belongings.
Our neighbors simply want to be good neighbors who live in loving community. They want to help people who need to be watched out for, such as elderly or sick neighbors who can’t get out or who are easily taken advantage of. They want to get together to share a meal or to clean the trash off the streets. Whether or not they realize it, in doing these things in community, they are sharing in the unmistakeable heart of love and compassion which exists within the inner relationship of the Father and the Son in the Spirit.
In our common humanity, whether urban or rural dwellers, we were created to live with one another in this kind of loving community. We were not created to prey on one another or to take advantage of one another. We were created to love one another and to look out for one another. When we don’t live together with love and respect and understanding, all kinds of misery is the result. This is because we are not being who we really are—who we were created by God to be.
True neighborliness which is loving and respectful cannot be legislated. It is not really possible to tell people to be good to one another and expect them to do it just because there are laws which say they should and penalties for when they don’t. External efforts to create loving community are no guarantee such community will come into existence and then stay.
The heart of love and compassion which is at the root of true neighborliness has its source in our God of love—the One who pours his love into us by his Holy Spirit. We find God at work in many places and in many people who we, because of our prejudices and presuppositions, believe are not good people. We need to open our hearts and minds to the reality God is at work in each person’s life and heart—we are all made in God’s image and redeemed by his Son and given the gift of the Spirit who is at work in this world.
Our participation in the work the Spirit is doing in this world to bring the love of the Father and the Son to full fruition is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to pray for, love and respect each person God places in front of us. Those who are so broken as to prey upon us, violate us and steal from us need this love just as much as we need it. So we follow Jesus’ instruction to pray for them, to love and bless them, while guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Sometimes in order to do God’s work of loving others, we need to have and use healthy boundaries.
As members of the body of Christ, we as members of Christian churches have a responsibility to lead others in loving the unlovely, and caring for the broken and downtrodden. We are called to demonstrate through loving actions the real caring and compassion which exists within the Trinity and should exist within the body of Christ. We should all work together, no matter our creed, in the unity of the Spirit and the oneness of Christ, to show the neighborly love of God to others in our church neighborhood.
When we do this, we are entering into a battle for our community. The kingdom of darkness does not appreciate any light we may bring into our neighborhood, and so there is a struggle. But we walk in the assurance that Christ has done what was needed to defeat the darkness. We walk by faith, not by sight. In other words, we keep loving, praying for and showing compassion to those Christ places in front of us, and bear up, by God’s grace, under whatever opposition may come our way. We walk the difficult road of building up community when efforts are being made to tear it down.
Holy Father, by your Son and in the Spirit, empower us to love one another as you created us to. Give us hearts of compassion and respect. Make us “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” as we interact with our neighbors, whoever they may be. God, by your great love, create loving community within our neighborhood so we can experience the same love which exists in your very Being as Father, Son and Spirit. In your Name, we pray. Amen.
“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8 NASB
by Linda Rex
There are some things in life we just don’t like doing, and not everyone shares the same dislike of doing certain things. For much of my life I haven’t liked washing dishes, probably because it was a household chore forced on me as a child and it involved washing an entire counter’s worth of dirty dishes. Today washing dishes is something I’ve learned to tolerate, and I thank God for my dishwasher all the time because it is such a blessing to me. I doubt I will ever grow to love the task of cleaning the grime off dishes, but I do remember on occasion to thank God I even have the dishes to wash and the food to wash off of them.
And that’s what got me to thinking. What about those things in life we just don’t like doing, but we know doing them is the right thing to do—something God wants us to do? We run up against these things all the time—it’s a part of our human existence. Sometimes we feel we don’t have the heart to do what we know we need to do. But maybe we’re wrong.
The Israelites stood on the shores of the Jordan River and Moses began to talk with them about the journey they had been on with their God, how he had created them and then redeemed them by bringing them out of slavery, and how he would bring them into their new land. And Moses gave them the directive God had placed in his mouth: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:5)
The evidence of Israel’s travels through the wilderness show they did not and didn’t seem to be capable of truly loving the God who created and redeemed them. They seemed to always drift back towards their days in slavery or over into the idolatry of the nations they encountered. They definitely did not have the heart to obey God, much less love him wholeheartedly. If anything, their heart was turned away from God and not towards him.
There were times in my life where I felt it was monstrously unfair for God to expect Israel to love him with their whole heart when they weren’t capable of doing it. It seemed horribly unjust.
But as time has gone by, I have come to know God a little better. I have learned to look at these stories from a different perspective. In the context of this directive to Israel we hear Moses describing all the ways in which God had shown his love and faithfulness to them, and how he was going to continue to faithfully fulfill his covenant love relationship with them as they moved on into the promised land.
The basis of God’s request Israel love him wholeheartedly was within himself, in his love and faithfulness. It was not something they had to drum up on their own—which is what they kept trying to do. God had called them into relationship with himself, had given them all the ways in which they needed to live to fully and joyfully participate in that relationship. By his love and grace he would ensure their relationship with him would last and they would indeed love him with all their heart and soul and might.
As time went by, God sent prophets to Israel to call them back into their covenant relationship of love. We read in Hosea and other places of the heartache this nation continually caused God by their infidelities and indifference and outright rebellion against him. But God was faithful to them in spite of their unfaithfulness. God was loving and gracious to them in spite of their ingratitude and rejection of him. The prophets told the people one day God would give them a new heart and a new mind which would enable them to love their Redeemer with their whole hearts. He would make it possible for them to do what they were created to do—to love God wholeheartedly and to love one another.
This should be a comfort to you and to me. We know in our heart of hearts we are incapable of truly loving God and each other as we ought. All we have to do is listen to the daily news to understand how true it is—people cannot and do not love God wholeheartedly, much less love one another. Even the ones we expect to be truly loving people—pastors, preachers, teachers, caregivers—turn out to be just as selfish, greedy and cruel as the next person. And we see within ourselves the reality of our own inability to love God or others as we should. And it scares us.
It is important for us to see our capacity and desire to love God wholeheartedly comes from God himself and is not something we do under our own power or by our own efforts. It is all of grace.
The reason God came to earth in human form was so each of us could one day share in God’s very own capacity to love and be loved. In Jesus Christ we are each taken up through his life, death, resurrection and ascension into the very life and love of God himself. When the Father, through Jesus, sent the Spirit to humanity, he gave each of us the capacity to love with God’s love. He gave us the heart to love God wholeheartedly and to love one another. We have a new heart, a new mind and a new soul—we share in Christ’s capacity to truly love.
God is gracious and allows us to choose for ourselves what we will live out of—the broken and diseased heart which died with Christ, or the new heart bought and paid for and given to us in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and in the gift of the Spirit. The evil one likes to keep us focused on the old dead, evil heart, and does his best to destroy the heart God created within us in Christ. He likes to distract us with all the old ways of being and doing, making us think we are incapable of loving God or others.
But nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ—in God we live and move and have our being. (Rom. 8:38-39; Acts 17:28) God’s love is as much a part of us as Christ is, for he shares fully in our humanity even now. The Spirit awakens us to faith in Christ. He gives us the capacity to be the loving people we are in Christ. He grows us up into Christ and enables us to love God wholeheartedly and to love others with Christ’s love. He works to change us, to transform our hearts by faith.
God does not ask us to do what he does not give us the capacity to do. He continually is the basis of our relationship with him, and he pours himself into us through Jesus in the Spirit so we can grow in our love for him and our love for one another. Our freedom to resist and reject his work within us is also a part of his gracious loving act, for he will not have robots in his family—only adopted, loving children who love him wholeheartedly out of a love which has its roots within himself, in the perfect perichoretic love which exists between the Father, Son and Spirit.
So this whole thing of loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength is not a matter of our efforts, but rather a matter of faith—of trusting in the love and faithfulness of God and relying upon his gracious work in us through Jesus and by the Spirit to create within us a desire and willingness, and even a passion, to love God completely and entirely with a deep, everlasting love.
In a way, I suppose, it’s kind of like me putting the dishes in the dishwasher, throwing in the detergent and turning the dial to “normal”. All I’m doing is participating with the dishwasher in getting the dishes done. I don’t have to do them, I just have to bring them to the dishwasher and allow the dishwasher to do its work.
Thank God that he is not like a machine which breaks down and does only what I tell it to do. Instead he is a loving, compassionate Being who is faithful and has already taken care of everything through his Son and by his Spirit. I just get to be a part of what he’s doing. I can rest fully in him and trust he will give me the heart to love him wholeheartedly, and when I don’t, I can trust I’m already forgiven and accepted in Christ. Isn’t that just great? I just love that about him!
Thank you, God, that you never give us anything to do which you do not give us the capacity to do through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Do finish what you have begun in us—we trust you will enable us to love you wholeheartedly and follow you wherever you lead. Through Jesus and by your Spirit we pray, amen.
“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.’” Luke 10:27 NASB
“They shall be My people, and I will be their God; and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me. I will rejoice over them to do them good and will faithfully plant them in this land with all My heart and with all My soul.” Jeremiah 32:38–41 NASB
by Linda Rex
Several years ago I facilitated a divorce support group in a small community. The group was small and we spent our time walking through the healing process together. The members of the group shared their stories and we talked about ways to begin to build new relationships.
One of the ladies had been in a difficult and at times, dangerous, relationship, and it was important for her to begin to make some significant changes in her life. She needed to end old, unhealthy relationships with people who were drawing her into destructive habits, and to begin to build strong bonds with people who would lift her up and help her to grow in positive ways.
I wanted to invite her to attend church with me, but it was rather awkward, since it was an hour and a half one way to where I was attending at the time. I did offer to bring her with me to services, but then I suggested that perhaps she could attend one of the churches in the community. I knew several of the pastors, and was sure that they would help her to grow in her relationship with Jesus Christ.
But the problem was that she had no friends who attended church. All her near and dear friends were only found at the local bar—because that was her social life. That bar was the hub of the local community and whatever was going to happen would happen there, or she would hear about it there from her friends. It wasn’t that the bar was necessarily a bad place for her to go—it’s just that her good friends hung out there along with her abusive spouse and some other people who were not good for her to be around.
Her past experience with church told her that church was not a safe place to go. In fact, in her view the bar where she went for fun and fellowship was a safer place relationally (in spite of the negative influences) than any of the churches were. She really didn’t know any church people with whom she felt loved and accepted. So she had no reason to go to church. Church scared her, especially now that she had the stigma of being divorced.
As time passed I could see the hunger in her for a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, but my efforts to connect her with some type of Christian relationships were rejected. I continued to offer her support after the group ended, but I found that she went on struggling with the pattern of unhealthy relationships and behaviors. She was not willing to risk attending a church she knew nothing about and could not relate to, and did not want to give up the friends and familiar surroundings of the neighborhood bar. Eventually she moved away, and in the process her circumstances changed. But she did not, to my knowledge, ever begin attending church anywhere.
What was it about that neighborhood bar that made it so attractive to her that she would not give it up? She really didn’t go there to drink—she went there for the relationships. She went there because it was fun to dance, to play pool, and to talk with her buddies. When she had a rough day at work, she was able to talk with someone about it. If she was having relational problems, her pals would commiserate and give her helpful advice. She didn’t have to worry about feeling lonely, because she could go there and find someone to hang out with. If she wanted someone to celebrate with her or cry with her, there they were.
It almost sounds like church, doesn’t it?
Actually, I think it should. Because isn’t that what the body of Christ is supposed to be like? A group of people gathered together in Christ to share life—to lift each other up, share each other’s joys and sorrows, and to offer one another support, encouragement and advice?
I don’t really think the whole problem with getting people to church is bad publicity or misinformation. I think it also boils down to the reality that church today is no longer the Christian fellowship it was meant to be. Bonhoeffer’s description in his book Life in Community is a far cry from what many of us within the church community experience. It is hard to find this life-on-life way of living out the Christian faith.
Too many of us are so busy protecting our glitzy façade of ethical behavior to really form deep, meaningful relationships with others in the church. Sadly, we often create an environment that makes people feel very uncomfortable with owning up to their failures and needs. This makes it very difficult for those who are struggling to be able to freely repent and confess their faults so they can begin to find healing and hope.
I personally believe the series Cheers had such a long, successful run was because it touched a deep place in people that resonated with their need to connect in a deep way and to share life with others. What if our churches became places where people were able to be real? What if our churches made people feel like they were accepted and loved just the way they were, while encouraging them to grow into all they could be and all God wants for them? Could people get so hooked on such warm, loving fellowship that they could not do without it?
To me, that sounds a lot like participation in the divine life and love—it sounds like perichoresis. And I think we all have an inner longing for it because it is what we were created to share in. All areas of our lives provide opportunities to create and participate in such fellowship, and to share it with others. And we have all eternity to do this with one another. We can start now as we gather together for worship and prayer as God’s people, but also as we share all facets of our lives with one another the way God intended. May God bless and guide us as we grow up into true Christian fellowship.
Dear God, thank you for including us in your life and love, Grant us the grace to include others as well. May we learn to practice genuine fellowship with one another as we share life with those you bring to us to share life with. In Jesus’ name and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Philippians 2:1–2 NASB