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A Shiny, Salty Heart

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by Linda Rex

February 5, 2023, 5th Sunday in Epiphany—The two courses I am currently taking with Grace Communion Seminary are both related to the practice of ministry. The practice of ministry involves taking what I believe and applying it to what I do in my everyday life and activities in caring for others. For many people, practice of ministry comes instinctively and naturally because they are gifted and designed in that way, while for me it is a real challenge and requires intentionality and discipline, and a whole lot of the Spirit of God.

In the New Testament passage for today, 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, the apostle Paul tells his readers he didn’t come to them in superiority of speech or wisdom when he preached the gospel to them. If anything, he was weak and fearful, speaking solely what the Spirit gave him, rather than using rhetorical skills and persuasion. His point was that he wanted their faith to rest on something other than his ability to present the gospel in intriguing and captivating ways—he wanted it to rest on the power of God rather than the wisdom of men.

When it comes to the presentation of the good news, what do we rest on? A lot of times we get focused on the presentation itself, or on knowing the right information, or on being able to prove or explain what we believe to be true. The focus becomes ourselves, our own abilities (or lack thereof), and our effectiveness. In reality, it isn’t be about any of these things. Yes, I suppose it would be helpful to learn more or be more adept at expressing ourselves or demonstrating God’s love, but when it all comes down to what really matters, it comes down to Jesus Christ in us by the Holy Spirit.

What Paul had that was so persuasive to his hearers was the indwelling Holy Spirit, filling him and pouring out from him through his words and actions. This mystery, of Christ in us, was predestined by God, for he always intended us to live in oneness with him through his Son in the Spirit. Our ability to comprehend the things of God comes from God himself—the Spirit living in us and through us, simply because Jesus lived a truly human life, died a truly human death, and rose from the grave, bringing our human flesh home to Father in the Spirit.

What might this mean for us, then, as we live our everyday lives? Too often we live as orphans, believing it is all up to us. We live in our own strength, according to our own agenda and our own plans. When the world does not function according to our expectations, we become angry, frustrated, and/or depressed. What may not occur to us is that our rage against God and how he is running his world may look a lot like the rage which drove Saul to arrest and imprison the followers of Christ, believing they were unholy heretics which needed to be stopped.

What did it take for Saul to make the about-face transition to being a follower of Jesus Christ, the powerful advocate for the gospel, the apostle Paul? It took a personal encounter with our living Lord, Jesus Christ. It took the powerful healing and transformational work of the Holy Spirit. It took something, or Someone, beyond his physical self to bring about such a radical change. It took God himself, working in Saul/Paul’s life to move him from persecuting those who believed the gospel into believing and preaching it himself.

One of the phrases I often hear in modern literature and media is “you need to follow your heart.” Whenever I hear that, I often hear echoing in my mind what I was told as a child, a scripture I had to memorize, which said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9 KJV) Sadly, what I didn’t pay attention to in all those years is the context of that passage and what the entire Bible said about the human heart.

Before this, in verse 5, the prophet writes, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord.’”  In verse 10 it says, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.” Then, in verse 14, Jeremiah says, “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, …” On the one hand, the prophet was talking about how wonderful it was when a person followed God, but on the other, he reminds his readers that going down a different path will end in destruction, and then states that we cannot be healed or saved unless God does the healing and saving.

Do you see how we can believe something about ourselves which isn’t really true and end up in a totally wrong place? What we forget is that God did not create us with a wicked, deceitful heart. God created our human flesh with a heart designed to love him and love others in a warm fellowship of other-centered love. God did not lose his desire for us to share in that relationship simply because we turned away from him. He began to work in human events and circumstances to bring about, in spite of our surrender to evil, sin, and death, what he always intended. What Jeremiah predicted in Jeremiah 31:31-34 was that God would give us a new covenant, writing his law on human hearts and minds. In other words, this heart which is “deceitful” and “desperately wicked” is not the truth about each of us. God knows our hearts and minds, and, in Christ, did what was necessary to heal and save us in his incarnation, crucifixion, and ascension, and in the giving of his Spirit. Jesus became a curse for us that we might be included in his own right relationship with God.

Jesus told his disciples they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13–20). They were not salt and light by their own efforts, but because of who he was—the Light of the world, the Creator of salt and the earth, present with them. It is his life in us by the Spirit who shines brightly in a dark world, adding flavor and zest to our mundane human existence and frantic struggles to survive. Notice that Jesus did not say in this particular place that we needed to find some way to make ourselves a light source. He simply said to put ourselves as a light in a place where we will shine brightly and provide illumination to a specific area. He quite clearly said we can’t make salt salty—but we can be the salt we are as God’s presence and power at work in and through us by the Spirit in a place which needs spiritual flavor.

God has given us Christ in the Spirit, living his life in and through us, in a dark world which desperately needs light and could really use some heavenly flavor. He has given us Jesus’ heart and mind by the Spirit. How do we express his heart and mind in and through our everyday lives as we walk and talk on this planet Earth? All of life is a participation in Christ’s life by the Spirit. Jesus told us he was in the Father, we are in Christ, and Christ is in us. That means our everyday life is Spirit-infused as we trust in Christ and walk hand-in-hand with Father through each situation and circumstance we face. This is the meaning of eternal life—and we participate in it right now, in this moment, through Jesus and by the Spirit who lives in us.

Thank you, Father, for giving us your heart and mind through Jesus in the Spirit. Grant us the grace to shine with your light, to salt this earth with the heavenly flavor of your eternal life of love and unity in this tasteless human existence. Amen.

“And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, ‘things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and’ which ‘have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.’ For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, ….”      1 Corinthians 2:1–12 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2023/01/olita-shiny-salty-heart.pdf ]

[More devotionals may be found at https://lifeinthetrinity.blog ]

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Beloved of the Father

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by Linda Rex

January 8, 2023, EPIPHANY | Baptism of the Lord—In the season of Advent, we have prepared our hearts and minds for the entering of God into our cosmos in the incarnation. As God in human flesh, Jesus Christ came into our world to live a truly human life, and during the twelve-day season of Christmas (between Christmas and Epiphany), we celebrate this amazing gift. Pondering the richness of God’s indescribable love gives depth to our holiday celebrations, enabling us to bear up under the inevitable realities of loss, grief, brokenness, and struggle.

We are reminded that it was not enough that God had compassion on us as frail and faulty human beings. It was not enough that God saw and forgave our shortcomings and incessant unfaithfulness to him. No, the Son of God chose to enter our own place of existence, into our material cosmos, and to take upon himself a truly human existence, personally forging within our human flesh the capacity and desire to live in right relationship with his own Father in the Spirit.

Our American individualism often prevents our ability to think in terms of place-sharing. So often, we seek to do things ourselves, on our own, for our own satisfaction or to accomplish our personal goals and plans. We may not even consider that a better and more fulfilling life would be ours if we opened ourselves up to the concept of place-sharing—of putting ourselves in another person’s place, to understand and participate with them in what they are going through. Place-sharing is part of living a truly human life as image-bearers of the divine. And this is what Jesus did in the incarnation and invites us into as participants in his life with the Father in the Spirit.

After Christmas begins the season of Epiphany, when we begin to consider more about who this person Jesus Christ really is. What does it mean that God has come in Jesus Christ to live a truly human life? Why would this man of Middle Eastern descent, born of a virgin, raised by a carpenter, whom John believed was the sinless Messiah, come to the Jordan River and insist on being baptized?

From his birth on, Jesus’ human experience involved place-sharing. Part of Jesus’ truly human experience involved walking up to John that day at the Jordan River and being baptized by him for the remission of sins. Jesus’ heavenly Father commissioned John to call people to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, and in obedience to the word of the Father through John, Jesus came to be baptized—not for his own sake, but for the sake of every human being. Jesus immersed all of us in his own obedience to the Father and in his own baptism, including all of humanity in his sacrificial self-offering, in his death and resurrection.

Can you imagine the glow within the Father’s heart when he saw his beloved Son willingly identifying with us and offering himself in our place on our behalf? It is no wonder the Spirit descended so lovingly and the Father’s word of affirmation came in that moment, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” How delighted the Father was in his Son! He knew the extent of the sacrifice Jesus was making, having left the privileges of divinity behind to identify with us and participate with us in our messy, broken world, even when his Son knew the cost would be his own crucifixion at our hands.

John was blessed with the ability to see the divine gifting of Jesus for ministry which occurred in that moment. He had been told by God that the one upon whom the Spirit alighted as a dove would be the Messiah. And here, in this sacred moment, John bore witness to the anointing of Jesus by the Father in the Spirit for his mission and ministry in that very way. It was John’s blessed privilege to participate in what God was doing by bearing witness to the person Jesus Christ was as the Anointed One.

As Jesus began his messianic ministry, John heard stories of his miracles and teachings. As John bore up under the assault of the Roman government, he had to come to terms with Jesus’ focus on the Father’s mission and ministry. Was Jesus truly the Messiah? Was he truly the deliverer that his nation had longed for all these centuries?

The truth is, Jesus’ place-sharing went far beyond simply being baptized on behalf of all. In the everyday moments of his ministry and mission, Jesus joined people where they were, scandalizing the religious elite by hobnobbing with prostitutes and tax collectors. His friends and colleagues weren’t the upstanding, prestigious leaders of the community, but humble fishermen and down-to-earth people of all walks of life. Jesus touched the leprous and the dead, offering healing and restoration. Jesus embraced the sick and comforted the grieving, offering grace to the shamed and rejected, calling them up into a new life in right relationship with God and others. In every aspect of his life, Jesus embraced and shared life with others, without respect to their personhood or their position in the community.

Those who walked this life with Jesus bore witness to his place-sharing, and following his death and resurrection, began themselves to live and care for others as he did. In the book of Acts are stories of how those who were witnesses of Jesus’ place-sharing lived themselves in ways which involved joining people where they were to bring them into renewal and transformation. We see Philip on the road, joining with a gentleman who was not understanding what he was reading from Isaiah—and the resulting conversation ended in this man’s baptism.

Where might Jesus be inviting us to join with him in touching the life of another? Where might he be wanting us to enter in and become a part of someone else’s journey? How might we be able to share in what another person is going through, thereby offering God’s grace, compassion, and love in the midst of their suffering, sorrow, or need?

We all have been immersed in Jesus’ baptism and are given to share in his receiving of the Spirit for mission and ministry. Our tangible identification with Jesus Christ in his baptism, thereby in his death and resurrection, is by being baptized ourselves into the Father, Son, and Spirit, and becoming part of the body of Christ, the Church. We also tangibly identify with Jesus Christ and participate in Jesus’ baptism, thereby in his death and resurrection, as we ourselves participate in taking communion on a regular basis, eating bread and drinking wine (or grape juice) with other believers as a member of the body of Christ, the Church.

For many of us, joining a local expression of the Church isn’t easy, but we need to be a part of the body of Christ which is filled with the Spirit and actively participating with Jesus in caring for and loving others, if we want to grow in spiritual maturity and participate with others in place-sharing. Asking for God’s direction and guidance is a good place to start. And following the lead of the Spirit and the instruction of the Word of God, the Bible, is also helpful. In God’s good time, he will lead us to where he wants to nurture and care for us spiritually, as well as work through us to nurture and care for others.

Dear Abba, our heavenly Father, thank you for delighting in us as you delighted in your own Son, Jesus. Grant us the grace by your Spirit to fully participate with you as you bring healing, renewal, and reconciliation to this world, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Opening his mouth, Peter said: ‘I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)—you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”       Acts 10:34–43 NASB

“Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’ ”      Matthew 3:13–17 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/12/olitbeloved-of-the-father.pdf ]

[More devotionals may be found at https://lifeinthetrinity.blog ]

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The Power of Conversation

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by Linda Rex

October 30, 2022, PROPER 26—Have you ever had an unexpected, unplanned conversation with someone which totally changed your life? The other day, I was listening to the members of the Perichoresis ministry talk about how they met one another—a chance conversation here, a chance conversation there. Through all of these circumstances, God brought together people who shared a growing understanding of what it means that, in Christ, we are all included in God’s Triune life and love.

One thing Jesus did a lot of while he walked the earth was have conversations with the people he met along the way. It seems he was always talking with somebody, and usually with people the leaders of his day believed he should have been avoiding. The conversations recorded in the gospels which Jesus had with everyday people often went deep, getting into places where people preferred not to go, asking them to do things they would have preferred not to do.

In Luke 18 is a story of a conversation Jesus had with a wealthy young ruler who asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus responded as a good rabbi might have, telling him to observe the laws Moses gave, the young man responded by saying he had kept all of them from his childhood on. Then Jesus, seeing this person’s heart and loving him, took him a little deeper, telling him to sell all he owned and to give the proceeds to the poor. This took the young ruler deeper than he was willing to go, causing him to turn and walk away.

At this point, Jesus told his disciples that it was difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. This statement conflicted with the culture’s belief that wealth was a sign of good favor with God, and poverty was a sign of affliction or punishment from God. Jesus said that wealth actually made it hard for people to enter the kingdom of God. The people of ancient Israel were the chosen people, already in the kingdom of God, the crowd thought, so this would have been a difficult statement to swallow. They said to Jesus, “How then can anyone be saved?”

Jesus’ response was that what is impossible for human beings is possible with God. The saving of a rich man, or a poor one for that matter, was something only God could do. And, as he again told them, it required Jesus going through the crucifixion and death into resurrection. Jesus had no qualms about telling his disciples what it would cost in order for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God—it would cost Jesus everything.

Shortly after that event, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, asked Jesus to restore his eyesight. And he did—a task only the Messiah could do. And the result was that Bartimaeus chose to be a follower of Christ. Soon after, Jesus entered Jericho, where his Father, by the Spirit, was already at work in the heart and mind of a man named Zacchaeus.

This man was having difficulty, probably due to a short stature, with seeing which of the persons entering the city was Jesus. So he ran to a tree with low branches and climbed up to see more clearly. Looking to see who the man Jesus was, Zacchaeus was astonished to see him right below him and talking with him, telling him he was to stay at his house.

For a lot of people, in the culture I’m most familiar with—modern America—someone inviting himself or herself to stay at and eat in our home without our invitation would be considered a rude and presumptuous act, especially if we had no idea who the person was or why she or he was there. But in that culture, hospitality was the norm and was expected, and inviting someone to stay in your home was a necessity when there really were no other options for travelers.

What struck me this morning, though, about Jesus’ request was something about the way in which he said it. In the New American Standard Bible, it says it this way: “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” The New International Version says it like this: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Even the King James Version has the same vibe: “Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house.” Do you see it? Jesus is telling Zacchaeus he must stay at his house. Why?

Whose idea was it for Jesus to stay at Zacchaeus’ house? Who put it into Zacchaeus’ heart and mind to climb that tree so he could see more clearly who Jesus was? It sounds to me like Jesus had a conversation with his Father in which he was told to have a conversation with Zacchaeus and to stay at his house. Apparently, the Holy Spirit had been working on this man’s mind and heart, and had brought him to the place where he was seeking to learn more about Jesus. And then, as Jesus invited himself to his home, Zacchaeus discovered exactly what he had been looking for—a new start.

The crowd never seemed to be happy with Jesus’ decisions about who he had conversations with. Perhaps they had planned to invite Jesus to a great banquet in the synagogue leader’s home, where they could discuss the law and the prophets with him, and show off their new garments and flowery speeches and prayers. Who knows. But this idea of Jesus eating with someone so loathed by the Jews—a tax collector in league with the Romans, a thief who betrayed his people—was repellant to them all. So, the crowd grumbled.

But remember, what is impossible with us humans is possible with God. And Jesus was in sync with what his Father was doing. The Father had his eye on a rich tax collector who was looking for a new start, and he had been working with him to bring him to this place. So, Zacchaeus was the center of Jesus’ focus and his home the place where he would eat and rest. And now, faced with the truth of his dishonesty and betrayal, Zacchaeus did an about face, offering restitution for every bit of money he had stolen, and a willingness to set aside his wealth and give it all to the poor—all of the things the rich ruler could not bring himself to do.

The Lord’s been showing me lately the power of conversation, of the need to be present in each moment where he is at work. Often, we are so distracted we are not mindful of what is happening right in front of us, missing where God is at work and is inviting us to participate with him in what he is doing in someone’s life. I am reminded that, first, my most significant conversations are with the Lord himself, listening for the Father’s heart, and tuning in to the Spirit. When I am attentive to what God is up to, and then begin to participate in a conversation with someone else, God does things I cannot explain, that only he can do, especially with regards to bringing sons of Abraham back home to the kingdom of God.

What conversations might you find yourself in the midst of today? What might the Lord be wanting to say to you about them? Is there some impossibility he wants to make possible he would like you to be a part of? May you attentively live each moment in the middle of all God is doing, surprised daily by the wonder of what Jesus does by his Spirit in the lives of those you invite with you into conversation.

Dear Father, thank you for inviting us into conversation with you through Jesus in the Spirit. Who might you want us to speak with today? What is it you are doing, and how is it you want us to join in? Grant us the grace to be ever attentive to you and to what you are doing and saying, that we may keep in step with you and be surprised by joy as you bring others back home to you. Amen.

“With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”          2 Thessalonians 1:(1–4), 11–12 NIV

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way.  When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, ‘Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’ And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly.  When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.’ ”      Luke 19:1–10 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/10/olitthe-power-of-conversation.pdf ]

[More devotionals may be found at https://lifeinthetrinity.blog, along with links to our Sunday sermon audio and video. Find our Our Life in the Trinity channel on YouTube and subscribe. ]

Standing in the Rain

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by Linda Rex

October 23, 2022, Proper 25—Several years ago, I took a brief trip to the community of Cherokee, North Carolina. My kids and I stayed at a cabin back in a beautiful glen in the Smoky Mountains. One morning I woke up to the sound of rain on the roof. I wrapped a blanket around myself and went to sit in a rocker on the porch.

There is something uniquely comforting and soothing about the sound of a gentle rain. The glen looked as though a cloud had descended, wrapping wreathes of wispy cotton candy around each tree and bush. The silence was almost sacred, as though the whole world had paused to take a breath. Soon everything was dripping with water, including the cattle in the field nearby, who were contentedly chewing their cuds.

One of the Psalms for this Sunday describes this gift from God (Psalm 65:9–11) and reminds us that God prepares the soil, softens it with rain, and prepares it so that it can begin to produce abundantly when the season comes for tilling and growing. And we rejoice when the result of God’s generous provision is an overwhelming harvest of good things.

Another passage for this Sunday, Joel 2:23–32, begins by describing how God would again provide the early and latter rains, making an abundant harvest possible. And then the prophet said that God would “pour out” his Spirit upon all mankind. He reiterated about the pouring out of God’s Spirit, affirming that all people of every status would be given this gift.

Where we are now on the Christian calendar, which is post-Pentecost, we are reminded of the gift we have been given of God’s indwelling presence by the Holy Spirit. Everyone of us has been included in Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and by faith participates in Christ’s own relationship with his Father in the Spirit. The gift of the Spirit poured out for each and every person, flows down, in and around us alike a flood.

Jesus, in the passages prior to our gospel passage for today, Luke 18:9–14, told his disciples about his upcoming rejection and suffering. Then he told them that the day of the Son of man would be like the days of Noah. We find that Noah and his family survived because of God’s mercy, while everyone else was drowned in the flood waters. In a similar way, our flesh, with its accompanying evil, sin, and death, was drowned in the flood waters of Jesus’ death, and given new life in the dry land of his resurrection.

Jesus also used the example of Lot and his wife having to leave Sodom and Gomorrah. Like evil, sin, and death, these cities were consumed by the fire and brimstone sent by God. In the same way our old life was consumed by the fire of God’s love through Jesus’ sacrificial self-offering. Jesus said, “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33 NASB). We do not want to look back to try to find our real life, but to move forward into the new life God created for us through his Son and by the Spirit.

In the gospel story for today, Jesus tells of a Pharisee and a publican. The Pharisee came to the temple to pray. He took up the appropriate stance, with hands up and eyes lifted to heaven, and began to enumerate to God all the reasons he was just in God’s sight. He thanked God for this, of course, but to emphasize how just he was in comparison, he pointed out the sinful publican.

The publican, on the other hand, stood at a distance, humbly and earnestly praying, asking God for mercy. He could not even lift his eyes up in the normal stance of a Jew—he didn’t feel worthy. The astonishing turn of events in this story is that this man, the publican who was doing everything “wrong” in his life, was the one who went home justified in the eyes of God.

Robert Capon, in his book Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, pointedly asks what God would do when the publican showed up the next week (Capon, 337ff.). What if he hadn’t changed at all, continuing in his selfish, greedy, and sinful lifestyle—would God forgive him again? Or is there a limit on what God would do? What if the publican suddenly changed everything and started living like the Pharisee—would that mean that he would not be justified before God as Jesus said the Pharisee wasn’t?

Shortly after this parable, Luke includes the story of the children coming to Jesus to be blessed. The Lord had to stop the disciples from preventing their approach, telling them that in order to inherit the kingdom of God, the disciples needed to become like little children. We like to keep things simple—he’s bad, she’s good, they’re not important, I am, I’m saved, he’s not. But that’s not the simplicity Jesus is looking for.

Then Jesus told a ruler who came to ask Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life to sell all that he owned and to give it to the poor and needy, and to follow him. This man could not make that commitment, and so, walked away. When it came to keeping the law and following the demands of the synagogue and scripture, this ruler thought he had it made. But Jesus showed him this wasn’t enough. Apparently, Jesus set the bar so high, this ruler, and the disciples, couldn’t see any way over it. Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus how, then, anyone could possibly be saved. Jesus told them, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God” (Luke 18:27 NASB). Then Jesus went back to preparing his disciples for his upcoming crucifixion and death, and subsequent resurrection.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are the interpretive key for this whole section of scripture. He wanted his disciples to understand that being justified before God is not something they could achieve by flawless performance or faithful adherence to pious practices. Jesus would pour himself out as a libation or poured out offering before God on our behalf, because of our rejection of him and our crucifixion of him. But Jesus did not remain in the grave—death had no hold on him. He rose and ascended, keeping his promise to send the Spirit, enabling us by faith to share in his own life in union and communion with the Father in the Spirit.

Jesus sent the Spirit, not so we could justify ourselves or do a better job of being Christians, but so that we may participate in his own life, his own death and resurrection. It is Christ’s life poured out so generously and freely into us by the Spirit who enables us to pour out freely and generously into others.

The apostle Paul described his life in service to God as being a poured-out libation, or liquid offering to God (2 Timothy 4:6–8). Like the man who was told to sell all he had and give it to the poor and needy, we each have some way in which Jesus has told us how to participate with him in death and resurrection, for the sake of others. This is almost always some way of laying down our lives which goes far beyond observing religious rules and rituals.

We don’t do this to justify ourselves or to make ourselves right with God, but simply as a participation in Christ’s own life in the Spirit. Christ lives in us by the Spirit, and leads us where he wants us to go. In Christ, we have died to our old life, and have been brought into Jesus’ own life in union and communion with his Father in the Spirit. What is Jesus doing in our world? How does he want us to join in? What does that look like for us?

This moves us way beyond the Pharisee and the publican in the temple praying, seeking their justification, each in their own way. Jesus brings both of them to the same place—at the foot of the cross—where they each are brought down into the reality of the consequences of evil and sin, which is death, and up into the consequences of Jesus’ poured out self-offering, which is eternal life, an undeserved but much-needed gift given to all humanity in the Spirit. This is a rain-enriched abundant harvest well worth celebrating.

Our loving Lord, thank you for sending us the early and latter rains, the abundant showers of your presence in the Spirit. Lord Jesus, flood us with your life and love; flow freely through us and from us, pouring yourself out into the lives of those around us, for the glory of the Father. Amen.

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”       Luke 18:9–14 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/10/olitstanding-in-the-rain.pdf ]

[More devotionals may be found at https://lifeinthetrinity.blog, along with links to our Sunday sermon audio and video. Find our Our Life in the Trinity channel on YouTube and subscribe. ]

Lord, Increase Our Faith

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By Linda Rex

October 2, 2022, PROPER 22—Nowadays, when someone wants to move a grown sycamore tree, if they can afford it, they call up the local landscape company who sends out a large truck with a digger on the back. The workers use this machine’s massive teeth to dig the tree up, roots and all, and to tip it back and up over the truck in order to carry it. Then the workers drive the truck with the sycamore tree on top to its new location, dropping the tree there into the ground.

In reality, a lot of us exercise some kind faith without knowing we are doing it. Looking at this activity on the surface, we may wonder exactly how much faith is needed to move that full-grown tree to a new location. For example, the workers need to trust that the people who put the truck together and the digger together did their job properly, enabling the workers to drive the truck back and forth, and to use the digger to safely remove the tree from the ground. The workers trust that the spade will hold the tree safely until they get it to its new location rather than dropping it in the middle of the highway, creating a massive traffic snarl. The workers trust in the digger’s ability to place the tree safely in its hole, and in the owner’s promise to pay them for their efforts. There is a lot of faith being expressed in this simple act of everyday labor.

In my recent studies with Grace Communion Seminary on the topic of Paul’s epistles, I am learning about his concept of faith. Faith, for the apostle Paul, not only has to do with the trustworthiness of the One being trusted—Jesus Christ, but also about his complete and perfect trust in the Father expressed in his self-offering on the cross. This faith is given to us to participate in by the Holy Spirit, who lives in us. The matter of having sufficient faith to move anything at all has been taken care of by the One who is not only perfectly trustworthy, but who also has total faith in our trustworthy Father—and Jesus enables us to participate in that perfect faith in the Spirit.

When Jesus said that with the faith the size of a mustard seed one could move a tree and plant it in the ocean, he probably had in mind the previous conversation he and his disciples were having about forgiveness. When we come face to face with impossible tasks such as continually and freely forgiving those who deeply wound us, we discover our inadequacy, our inability to do what God asks of us in those situations. It is not a bad thing to realize that our best efforts are insufficient—it reminds us to turn to the One who, by his Spirit, can and will live our best response in and through and out from us.

In our New Testament reading for this Sunday, 2 Timothy 1:1–14, we hear the apostle Paul reminding us to “kindle afresh” or “fan into flame” (NIV) the gift we have been given. Adding fuel to a fire or kindling to hot coals causes the flame to leap up and again begin to burn intensely. Paul is reminding us that there is a fire we are baptized with, the Holy Spirit, and we do not want to “quench” this fire in any way. Rather we want to facilitate and encourage its continued flame.

In speaking of this gift of the Spirit, Paul reminded Timothy that this “sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice” was indeed living within him. Because God by the Spirit was living within Timothy, he did not have a spirit of timidity or fear, but one of “power and love, and discipline”. The indwelling presence of God by the Spirit enabled Timothy to do the ministry he was called into, and it was by the Spirit that Timothy found God’s grace and purpose at work in his life. It was not all up to Timothy, but rather a walk of faith in which the “faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” were expressed as he lived out God’s calling on his life.

When asked by the disciples, “Lord, increase our faith,” Jesus spoke of the tiny amount of faith necessary to pick up and move a large tree from land into the sea. And then he went on to use a parable, which in our culture does not really resonate with us, since so many of us object so strongly to slavery. But what if we looked at it a little differently?

Think of a college intern, Gracie, who works for a fashion designer, Laurel, in hopes of one day she might have her own designs looked at and used. (Sorry if this sounds like a romcom plot.) Gracie spends her days fetching Laurel’s coffee, running her errands, picking up her dry cleaning, and taking care of the designer’s everyday tasks. Gracie doesn’t get paid much of anything since she is an intern—she’s lucky to barely have enough income to cover her expenses with her side job waitressing in the student union.

If Gracie is out running errands for Laurel, is the designer going to call her up and invite her in for tea and crumpets, offering to serve her? No. Instead, Laurel will probably call her up and tell Gracie that while she is running around, she is to stop by Laurel’s favorite dinner spot and pick up a meal to go and to be sure to bring home Laurel’s favorite coffee while she is at it. Gracie will be expected to do all that, finish her errands, and clean off the coffee table so Laurel has a place to eat her dinner. And while Laurel is eating, Gracie will be expected to take the dog Feathers out for a walk and to feed her. And when Gracie shows up and finishes all her tasks, she should not expect praise and gratitude from Laurel, since Gracie is simply supposed to do what she was instructed to do, since she is just an intern.

Now, in the real world, I would like to hope that if there are any Laurel’s out there, that they would reconsider how they treat their interns. But this is a parable, right? It is to help us see in our minds eye what Jesus is saying. The disciples wanted Jesus to increase their faith, and Jesus said that even the tiniest bit of faith can move a large tree to the sea should it be exercised.

The only way any of us has any faith at all is in Christ, as we participate with him in his death and resurrection. It is Christ’s faith at work in us by the Holy Spirit which enables us to do difficult things such as forgiving what seems impossible for us to forgive. And when we do forgive, when we do live like we should, when we do say what is healing and encouraging rather than hurtful, should God stand up and applaud? No, because we are simply doing what we were created to do, being who we were created to be—image-bearers of the divine, reflections of the glory of God in Christ by the Spirit.

It is God’s life at work in us by the Spirit who gets the credit. It is for his glory and to fulfill his purpose. The life of faith begins with a God who is trustworthy and who, in Christ, lives the life of faith we were created to live within, and who gives us, in Christ, the faith necessary to follow him and live in the truth of who we were created to be as children of the Father. I would imagine that even the angels of heaven have delight as does the Father when his children return home to their real selves, living in right relationship with him and each other. But truly, isn’t that where we belonged all along?

Father, Jesus, Spirit, you made us to live in loving, other-centered relationship with you and each other. We cannot and will not do this apart from your life in us and with us by your heavenly Spirit. Thank you for giving us the faith of Christ by the Spirit, enabling us to trust you in any and every situation, as you always meant for us to trust you, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and be planted in the sea”; and it would obey you. Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, “Come immediately and sit down to eat”? But will he not say to him, “Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink”? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.” ’ ”       Luke 17:5–10 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/09/olitlord-increase-our-faith.pdf ]

God’s Unkept Promises

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By Linda Rex

August 14, 2022, PROPER 15—Even though I have experienced many healings from God in my life and have felt his comforting presence with me through this current battle with cancer, a part of me still asks at times, “But what about all those prayers and anointings for healing? Doesn’t God keep his promises?”

It is not unusual for us to come up against the reality that we do our best to trust God and he doesn’t seem to follow through on his promise that if we ask, we will receive. In fact, such seeming fickleness with regards to our sincere efforts to trust and depend upon God might even cause us to turn away from him, as we question God’s goodness, love, and faithfulness.

The book of Hebrews is a powerful testimony to what Jesus Christ, as God in human flesh, did in our place and on our behalf. And chapter 11 reveals a gallery of witnesses to the faithfulness and love of our gracious God, witnesses who experienced a full range of responses from God to their circumstances of life. “By faith,” it says, many of these people experienced God’s powerful intervention in their lives and circumstances as they participated in what God was doing in their world.

But then comes verse 39: “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised.” Apparently, some people never received from God what was promised. Having faith was not an issue for these people. And they had gained God’s approval by faith. But in spite of their faith and God’s approval, they did not receive what was promised. Instead, they experienced great suffering, loss, deprivation, and even death. How can this be? Why go through all those experiences if they would never receive the promises?

There is an underlying story beneath these stories which we need to keep in mind. All of our stories, as those made in the image of the God who is love, are swept up into his story, creating the history of our lives as a participation in all God is doing in this world. Because we share in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we have an existence far beyond this current one. And we can participate in that new life both now and in the world to come.

We discover, if we look closely, that our temporary existence in this world is merely a prelude to our full real life in eternal union and communion with the Father, through Jesus in the Spirit. Even if we were restored back to our physical human existence through “resurrection”, we would still eventually die. So, we seek a more wonderful resurrection, one in which we share in the glorified resurrected humanity of Jesus Christ.

It was in expectation of this that Jesus, with joy, faced the challenges, suffering and shame of the crucifixion. The writer of Hebrews calls Jesus the author and perfector of our faith, which means that it’s not all up to us to come up with enough faith to be pleasing to God. Jesus had and has perfect trust in our heavenly Father. His Father did not leave him in the grave after the crucifixion, but kept his promise to raise him up, restoring him to his place in face-to-face relationship with the Father in the Spirit.

So, if faith in a trustworthy God is not the issue, then what? Well, apparently there are times when what God asks of us is perseverance and endurance. He wants us to keep our focus off ourselves and to keep it on Jesus Christ, the one who bore so much suffering and shame on our behalf, for the joy that would come when all those who believe in him would receive in fulness what was promised them—life in intimate relationship with the Father in the Spirit.

In the gospel reading for this Sunday, Luke 12:49–56, Jesus expressed his longing that he didn’t have to wait for the crucifixion to be done with. For our sakes. Because he knew what a blessing and benefit his death and resurrection would be for all humanity. He knew we needed to be able to trust in and rely upon a good, good Father, and that was the very reason he had come—to bring us home to the Father, restoring our right relationship with him.

In this passage, Jesus reminded his followers that following him exacts a cost. And that cost may include being rejected by those closest to us, by our friends and/or family. This cost may include going through situations and circumstances without the answers we prefer—did not Jesus tearfully ask his Father for some way to accomplish his will other than the cross? And his Father, who promised to deliver him (Psalm 22) did not do so on this side of the grave. No, he waited while Jesus suffered horribly at the hands of human beings and while he laid in the grave.

Sometimes the cost of new life is death. I was walking the other day at Fontanel, feeling the presence of God so near to me. And I was enjoying the flowers and the fragrant scents on the air. The trees, grass, and kudzu were so green, and the butterflies were flitting here and there as they gathered the nectar from the blooms. In the midst of all that green, though, were the brown, black, and grey heads of dead plants and flowers. This thought came to me then: “In the midst of death lie the seeds for new life.”

In Christ’s death, we have been given the seeds to our new life. What we do with those seeds is up to us. Just because some circumstance, relationship, or desire comes to the place of death does not mean that is the end. When we look at Jesus Christ, to what extent he was willing to go so that we might be with him and his Father in the Spirit forever, we can discover the seeds to our own new life in him.

What may seem for a moment to be God’s unkept promises may, in fact, be his offering to us something greater, more wonderful, more eternal. What if, instead of focusing on the suffering, the difficulty, or the loss, we focused on Jesus Christ? What if we allowed God to be who he is, our loving heavenly Father, who knows what is best for us and who wants to bring us into new life, deeper into warm fellowship with himself both now and forever?

Heavenly Father, thank you for your love and faithfulness. Grant us the grace to keep our eyes on Jesus and off of the difficulties and struggles of this life. Enable us to walk by faith, trusting in your perfect love and faithfulness, no matter how things may appear at the moment, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace. And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”      Hebrews 11:29–12:2 NASB

See also Luke 12:49–56 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/08/gods-unkept-promises.pdf ]

Why Look at the Sky?

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By Linda Rex

May 29, 2022, ASCENSION Sunday—The past few years I have been slowly working toward a divinity degree. Last week I started a new course with Grace Communion Seminary called Church Planting and Development. As I was writing a reflection paper last night, it occurred to me that the timing of this class fits right in with where we are on the Christian calendar.

Indeed, this Sunday we are celebrating Jesus Christ’s ascension, a significant event in God’s story. Here we focus on the spiritual reality of the fulfillment of an essential part of Jesus’ mission here on earth, him having been sent by the Father to bring all humanity home to eternal fellowship with the Triune God. It was necessary for Jesus to live, die and rise again as God in human flesh in order for all of us to be included in his own intimate relationship with the Father in the Spirit. It is in Jesus’ ascension that the mission of God to restore our relationship moves into the realm of the Spirit, who is sent so that each of us individually can participate by faith in what Christ has done.

Luke’s gospel version of the ascension event, Luke 24:44–53, gives the impression that it all happened on the same day as the resurrection. However, when he describes the event in Acts 1:1–11, we see that all these things happened over a period of forty days following the resurrection. The disciples and others were given many opportunities to experience firsthand the risen Lord, to talk and eat with him, and to hear him expound the Old Testament scriptures which spoke of his coming and his mission. At the end of this time, he blessed his followers and ascended to his Father’s side.

In Acts 1, Christ’s followers stood there for a while after being blessed, looking up into the sky. This makes me ask: I wonder how long they stood there before the angels spoke to them, saying, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky?” I can imagine Jesus, having already made the transition into glory, saw them standing there still trying to see him and he finally said to the angels nearby, “I think you’re going to have to tell them to quit looking for me and get busy.”

But this does speak to what we as the body of Christ have often done when it comes to the whole idea of the ascension. It’s as though we believe Jesus is done with his project, has gone home, and we just have to wait until he comes back. Faith in Christ and salvation become all about us being good people who live good lives until Jesus returns in glory. And we miss the point of it all—God bringing all of humanity back into relationship with himself through Christ in the Spirit.

What had Jesus told the disciples to do? He had told them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the promised Holy Spirit. Then they were to go and make disciples, baptize them, teach them, and include them in Christ’s mission to the world. Jesus came as God in human flesh to draw all of humanity up into right relationship with God in the Spirit. He’s still on that mission. Having been sent by the Father, he has returned home and sent the Spirit to continue his efforts. We, as the body of Christ, are set apart to participate in that mission of reaching out to all the world, sharing the good news and making disciples or new followers of Christ. Our unity and our love in the body of Christ, the church, are meant to testify to the presence of the kingdom of God here on earth by the Spirit, a kingdom in which all people are welcome to participate.

Even at the end of John’s apocalypse, he points out the reality of the body of Christ, his bride, being on mission with Jesus. He writes, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ Let anyone who hears this say, ‘Come.’ Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life (Rev. 22:17 NASB).” Our role is to join with Jesus in the Spirit to say to the world around us, “Come.” Anyone who is thirsty is welcome to come. The water of life is available to everyone now in Christ, so every is able to drink if they so wish. And the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the church, is called by God in participation with Jesus by the Spirit to freely offer that water of life to all.

And, if this seems to be an intimidating prospect, consider the indicatives which went with Jesus’ command to preach the good news and to make disciples. First of all, as we read in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus has ascended to his Father’s side and has received all authority and power and glory in his exaltation as the risen Lamb of God (Ephesians 1:15–23). Secondly, he has promised to be with us until the end. And thirdly, he has sent the Spirit, the One who empowers us to do the ministry and mission Jesus has called us to. God is doing the heavy lifting—we just get to join in with what he is doing through Jesus in the Spirit.

As Luke explains, our mission to the world begins where we are, and moves in ever-widening spheres of influence as we respond in faith to the voice of the Spirit and move out, sharing the good news of God’s love expressed to all of us in Jesus Christ. What is your current sphere of influence? Are there people God has placed in your life that you have conversations with and do everyday activities with? These are opportunities for the gospel. And sharing the good news is what Jesus has called us to participate with him in doing.

When I think about how far God has brought me in this journey of faith, I see that we have traveled a longways together. But I also see that I have only begun to really understand what it means to live on mission with Jesus, and to be a genuine follower of Christ. It is so easy to be distracted with the concerns of everyday life. And so easy, too, to place my focus on how well I am doing in my own relationship with God, rather than on remembering that others need to hear the good news too, and need to experience the joy, unity, and love of the body of Christ for themselves. Oh, for the heart of Jesus for others!

May we remember today, and every day, to pray for the people in our lives, to ask Jesus for opportunities to share the good news, and for the courage and faith to do so. May we quit looking up at the sky and be busy doing what Jesus has called us to do—to move out on mission with him, sharing the good news of all God has done for us in sending his Son and his Spirit for our salvation.

Heavenly Father, thank you for all you have done in sending your Son and your Spirit for our salvation, for drawing us up into life with you now and forever. Grant us the grace to move outside of ourselves into genuine relationship with the people around us, and give us the inspiration, courage, and wisdom to share with them all you have given to us through Jesus and in the Spirit. Amen.

“The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.’ And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.’ ”     Acts 1:1–11 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/05/why-look-at-the-sky.pdf ]

When It’s Hard to Love

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By Linda Rex

February 20, 2022, 7th Sunday of EPIPHANY—Last night my husband, Ray, and I were talking about how hard it is sometimes to love people, especially when they make it very difficult to do so. In our everyday lives, we come across people who are thoughtless, inconsiderate, or downright rude, and we are asked by God to be gracious and to not hold it against them. And that is difficult, if not impossible, at times.

We’ve all had those experiences where we are simply going about our everyday lives and someone does something that totally disrupts and ruins our day. What is our response to the person who cut us off in traffic, causing us to miss our exit or to spill our coffee all over ourselves? If I look at what the apostle Paul says I should do, I find that “love…puts up with anything” (1 Cor. 13:7 MSG). Did he really mean that I have to put up with anything that people do to me?

What is unspoken in this passage in Luke 6:27–38 is the reality that often love looks much different than what we assume it looks like. Love, at times, is not very nice. Indeed, there can be a profound difference between being nice and being loving. One can be incredibly nice to someone and at the same time be holding them hostage to unhealthy ways of living and being. We often do this to one another when the most loving thing might be to speak the truth in love or to set healthy boundaries in the relationship by not doing for others what they need to do for themselves.

This is where it is a real challenge for us to love. I’m learning that I still have a long way to go when it comes to loving the people in my life well. Love, in the way Jesus describes it, is something sacrificial, serving, humble and self-effacing. It involves losing, dying, being taken advantage of, and being taken for granted. It means being willing to be the one who suffers undeservedly for the sake of another. This certainly doesn’t come naturally for us.

Jesus calls us up to a higher standard—one beyond our human ability. When have we ever gotten to the place where we could and would love our enemies and do good to those who mistreat us? It takes an inner transformation by the Holy Spirit to bring us to the place where we would actually love in the same way that God loves us. It takes the love of God shed abroad in our hearts to enable us to think, live, speak and act like the sons of God we are in Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:5; 8:14).

If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that there is probably nothing someone else has done to us that we have not in some form or fashion done to others. Indeed, if we believe we’ve never done to others what has been done to us, then we need to consider whether or not there are a few things we’ve done to God that he didn’t deserve. Oh, yes—I went there. We do stuff to God all the time that he doesn’t deserve. And most certainly, he did not deserve to be crucified when he came in the person of Jesus Christ.

And love is a challenge when we must do the right thing in the face of someone doing the wrong thing. When someone is unjust toward us, do we remain just and fair? When someone is cruel to us, are we kind back? When someone is indifferent or cold to us, do we respond with intentional compassion and concern? This is hardest to do in our closest relationships, where our everyday lives wear down our respect and patience with one another. When someone we love repeatedly messes up, it’s really hard to let them off the hook one more time. But isn’t that what God does with us?

Jesus really got down to the basics when he began talking about blessing those who curse us and doing good to those who hate us. He didn’t ask us to give up our human dignity, to allow ourselves to be abused, but he did ask us to go way beyond what comes naturally to us, so that we might be as gracious to others as his Father is to us. What standard do we want God to judge us by—the criticism and condemnation we hand out to others or the gracious patience and understanding we offer them when they mess up or hurt us?

This passage is really hard to read, because I realize how impossible it is for us to actually live this out in our world full of users and abusers. How was Jesus able to actually do this when he lived here on earth? It was only possible because he was filled with the Spirit from birth and was, as God in human flesh, living in union and communion with his Father moment by moment as he interacted with those he encountered day by day. How else could he have handled so graciously the constant condemnation, rejection, and abuse? How else could he have allowed himself to be crucified by those he came to save?

The reality is that living in right relationship with God and others comes to us only as a gift. It is Jesus’ right relationship with God and others that we participate in by the Holy Spirit. Jesus lived out loving relationship with his Father in the Spirit while he was here on earth, loving others in the way we were meant to love. And he forged within our humanity the capacity to love and be loved as God intended when he created us. When we love God and love one another—we are truly human the way God meant us to be human.

So, Jesus, having lived our life and died our death and risen from the grave, sent the Spirit from the Father. The Spirit shed abroad in human hearts enables us to truly love and be loved in the way we were meant to. We find the ability to love when it gets hard as we trust in Christ’s love being poured out within us by the Holy Spirit. When we are faced with unpleasant or difficult situations in which it is impossible to love another, we turn to Jesus. We find in him the capacity, by the Spirit, to do what we would not otherwise do.

Seeing our need for Christ, for his grace, for his ability to love and be loved, enables us to offer the same grace and compassion toward others. Understanding our dependency upon a power greater than ourselves to be able to simply love and care for others, enables us to graciously understand when others fail to love and care for us. May God awaken us to the depths of the love and grace he has toward us that we may offer it freely to all those whom we struggle to love.

Thank you, Abba Father, for your unfailing love and grace. We are so dependent upon your mercy and compassion! Fill us with your love that we may love others as you have loved us, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”     Luke 6:27–38 NASB

Reaching Out Rooted in Christ

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By Linda Rex

May 9, 2021, 6th SUNDAY OF EASTER—A friend gave me a gift of Guideposts magazine a while ago, and today I came across a quote in the latest issue from best-selling author Glennon Doyle. The quote goes like this: “I really, really think the secret to being loved is to love. And the secret to being interesting is to be interested. And the secret to having a friend is being a friend.”

I have learned over the years by experience that our ability to form attachments with others often does have to begin with our first reaching out and offering others love and friendship. But I believe our ability to reach out to others in this way is best rooted in the self-offering of God towards us in Jesus Christ. When it is rooted in Christ, we find the attachment has a spiritual rooting that holds it through the storms and changes of life, and often, on into eternity.

In our passage for this Sunday, John 15:9-17, we see that there is no greater love than when a person lays down his or her life for another, as Jesus laid down his life for all humanity. This love has its roots in the perichoretic love of the Father and Son in the Spirit, and is expressed to each and every one of us in Jesus Christ’s self-sacrificial offering of himself in our place and on our behalf.

Jesus said he loved his disciples just as his Father loved him. He told his disciples that he remained in the oneness of the Triune life and love as he did those things his Father asked of him. His experience of joy and love becomes ours as we participate in Christ’s obedience to his Father’s will. Jesus calls us beyond what comes naturally to us into what is more difficult—to love even to the point of laying down one’s life. There is no greater love, he said.

It is in the context of this life of union and communion with the Father through Jesus in the Spirit that Jesus gives us our purpose and mission as his followers. We are individually and collectively chosen by him and appointed to go and bear fruit, fruit that will remain. It is in our ongoing abiding or remaining in Christ that we bear fruit that abides or remains. This fruit is an expression of the Father’s will—love for one another, life in spiritual community—now as the body of Christ and ultimately, on into eternity as the Bride of Christ.

This moves obedience from the place of following a list of rules to one of honoring the desires and will of a friend, Jesus, and those of our heavenly Father. Jesus shares his heart with us and we do as he asks—loving as he loved, laying down our lives as he laid down his, loving one another as we are loved by him and he is loved by the Father. As we are centered in the Father’s will in this way, whatever we ask of our Father will be ours—we are participating in a real way in what he is doing in and through his Son, and so his answer is quite naturally, yes!

When we put this in the context of mission, we see that Jesus’ sending of us is immediately rooted in his obedience to his Father’s sending of him. We reach out with God’s love because Jesus loves us as he is loved by the Father. Sharing God’s love then becomes a part of our life in union and communion with the Triune God, and a true participation in what they are doing in this world.

We share the good news of God’s love and grace expressed to us in Jesus because that is the will of the Father. As we do the Father’s will in this way, we pray and ask according to his will that each individual and all people might experience God’s love and grace. We know God will hear and answer this prayer because this is the Father’s will which is expressed to us in the gift of his Son and in the pouring out of his Spirit. This is what God is doing in this world—so our prayers are heard and answered.

As the body of Christ, we are often tempted to isolate or create safe zones where we do not need to deal with a society which is often opposed to what is holy, gracious, and compassionate. It is a real challenge to live a Christ-like life in places that are unsafe and decadent. How do we live out the truth of who we are as God’s adopted children—loving God and loving others—around people who are indifferent to or opposed to these spiritual realities?

We can begin with prayer. Our prayers have power because they are rooted in the will and purposes of God himself. He has sent his Son to reconcile all things to himself in Jesus and is calling each and every person to be reconciled. God wants everybody to participate in the oneness and love of the Father and Son in the Spirit. So, when we pray for a certain person or for particular people to come to faith in Christ, we are sharing in a tangible way in what God is doing in this world. These are prayers God will answer because they are according to his will.

Secondarily, we participate in God’s mission in this world by sharing God’s love. Love, as we are to express it to God and one another, is an action. It involves seeking the best of the other person and having a willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to accomplish what is best. Sometimes loving others can be difficult and painful. It may involve telling them no, or not giving them what they want or think they need. It may involve setting up boundaries that prevent them from hurting you or hurting themselves.

Loving people in this way is not something we do on our own or by our own strength. We do this in spiritual community, where we have support, accountability, and a safe place to land. And this is why our life in Christ needs to be just exactly that—a participation in Christ’s life in relationship. God first loved us, sending his Son for our salvation, and Jesus first loved us by laying down his life, so we are able to love God and love one another. God gives us his Spirit, pouring out his love in our hearts (Rom. 5:5), so that we are able to love him and love others in the way we were meant to.

Life change in another person is not something we really have any control over. We are powerless—and we must acknowledge this reality constantly. Only God has the ability to change the human heart and mind. Only God can turn someone around or heal them. Only God can make a person who is broken whole again. We may be able to influence them by expressing God’s love in some tangible way, but we cannot fix them—and God is not asking us to.

In reality, the greatest gift we can give another person is to bring them to Jesus, including them in our own relationship with Christ in the Spirit. We can offer them the grace and truth, the love we have received from God, and a spiritual community where the sick find healing, the broken are mended, and the lonely are offered fellowship. What God includes us in—his life and love—we are called to include others in. How well are we doing this?

Thankfully, it’s not all up to us. Jesus went first, and we get to tag along as his friends as he brings others to himself. Is there someone God has placed on your heart and mind lately who needs to know he or she is loved by God and forgiven? You might make this person a focus point of your prayers each day, and ask God to show you how you can include them in your life in Christ. You might ask Jesus, “What are you doing and how do you want me to join in?” And then, as you begin to participate in what he’s doing, watch to see what he does—it may surprise you!

Thank you, dear God, for including each of us in your life and love. Thank you, Jesus, that we get to share in your loving relationship with the Father in the Spirit. Show us the person or people you want us to tell about your love expressed to us in Jesus. How do you want us to include them in our life? Keep us centered where you are, Jesus, diligently doing all that you ask to the glory of your Father. Amen.

“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another.” John 15:9–17 NASB

Vine Branches in a Storm

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By Linda Rex

May 2, 2021, 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER—This week I got a phone call telling me the sum of my car repair expense was in the four-digit range rather than the three-digit range. This news was quite upsetting since I would have postpone taking care of several other important things I was planning to do. Once again, I was reminded that all I own does not belong to me, but to the One who gives and who takes away. Job stands as the great OT example of someone who learned this the hard way and had to come to terms with the reality that life includes suffering and loss, and that everything in this life is transient and not to be clung to.

Indeed, it is helpful to periodically be reminded of our need to remain detached from the things of this life while remaining solidly attached to the One from whom all things come. We find this in Jesus’ illustration of the branches on a vine—a branch’s fruit-bearing ability is directly related to the branch’s connection to the vine and how well the branch has been pruned. The idea of pruning in this passage involves the cleansing or removal of anything from the branch that inhibits its ability to produce good and abundant fruit.

Jesus said that we need to abide in him in order to bear spiritual fruit and that this involves his words abiding in us. There is a mutual indwelling which occurs via the Holy Spirit, and we participate in Christ’s intimate relationship with the Father by faith. The life we live, we live by the faith of Jesus Christ—it is Christ in us who is our hope of glory. When we live unattached to Jesus Christ, we die spiritually—we become fruitless and of little spiritual value, only useful as fuel for the fire, the Savior said.

Abiding in Christ has a lot to do with relationship. Relationship with God is something we talk a lot about at Grace Communion Nashville because a relationship of mutual indwelling with God through Christ in the Spirit is what we as human beings were created for and redeemed for by Jesus. When we invite people to turn to Christ in faith, we are encouraging them to participate in that union and communion with God that each and everyone of us was created for, and for which Jesus saved us. We have this incredible gift from God in which we can live, but will we open our hands and our hearts to receive it and live in it?

Sometimes the reason it is so difficult for us to receive this gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus is simply that our hands and our hearts are too full with other things. I am reminded of the passage from Matthew 13:22 where Jesus described the seed that was sown among the thorns. This seed or person was unable to thrive and produce abundant spiritual fruit because he was a person who heard the word, but the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choked the word, and it became unfruitful. Jesus reminded us that it is very easy for us to become preoccupied with the daily necessities or interests of life and to neglect what really matters—Jesus Christ and his word being deeply rooted in us and producing fruit.

Abiding is a word that we don’t use very often nowadays. But there is this sense of setting down deep roots and staying in a place for a long while. To indwell, which is another way of saying abide, is to reside within the same space as another person or object—something the members of the Trinity do, indwelling one another in union and communion.

The ideas of sharing the same space with Jesus Christ or setting down deep roots into Christ should help us to understand what it means when Jesus says we are to stay attached to him as the vine so we can produce much fruit. He is the means by which the fruit is produced, where we are the place the fruit grows and ripens, preparing to be harvested. He calls us to set our roots deeply into him, putting his words into our minds and hearts, loving one another, and living a life of prayer, of talking with and listening to God day by day.

What about those Job-like times when we are dealt difficult blows and we struggle in our relationship with God? We will all face hardship because of the choices we as human beings have made—not just our own choices, but the collective choices of humanity which disrupt our earth, our communities, and our families. As we are grounded in the reality of God’s love for us and reminded of his faithfulness, we can weather such storms with grace, trusting in Christ in the midst of tragedy, loss, and suffering.

This has been a long season of struggle and suffering for the people of the world, especially in view of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related economic devastation. There are many whose lives will never be the same due to what occurred these past months. We can sit on our ash heaps and bemoan our fate, or we can move closer to Jesus Christ, asking him to open our eyes to the goodness, grace, and love of God, and to enable us to trust him to walk us through to a better place.

It may be, if we are willing, that God may be wanting to release us from some burdens we have been carrying that he never meant for us to carry. It may be that God wants to grow us in new ways into the likeness of his Son and in order to do so, he must have our full attention. Perhaps God is wanting to take something out of our hands so he can give us something new, something much better. What is it that God wants to do for us in this season of pruning? Are we open to it?

I believe it is significant that immediately after the descent of the heavenly gift as a dove upon Jesus and his Father’s words of affirmation, “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased,” the Spirit thrust Jesus out into the wilderness for a time of testing. God may be wanting to do a new thing in and through his body, the church. In order to do this, perhaps a time of pruning is needed. We can resist this, complain about it, or even deny it. But a better response would be for us, individually and as a whole, to go deeper into Christ, to connect ourselves more deeply with the One who lived our life, died our death, and rose again, bringing us into his intimate relationship with the Father in the Spirit.

I invite you to participate with me in this season of renewal, of seeking God’s face, of opening ourselves up more fully to what Jesus is wanting to do in us and through us. Will you join me in letting go of all these things that are distracting us from drawing close to Christ and hearing his word to us each day? Will you join me in a season of listening and of intentional obedience to God’s instruction? What is God asking you to do right now in this moment? What will your response be?

Dear Abba, heavenly Father, thank you for drawing us to yourself through Jesus in the Spirit. Grant us the grace to toss aside anything that distracts us from Christ, and to embrace all that he is for us. Let us abide in Christ as he abides in us, that we might produce abundant fruit that will glorify you, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:4–5 (1–8) NASB

“No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” 1 John 4:12–16 (7–21) NASB