participation

Free From Accusation

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By Linda Rex

The antics of my daughter’s pets are keeping me amused this morning. Earlier this week we brought home a kitten to be a companion for my daughter’s black cat. This half-grown kitten is white with gray and orange patches and has beautiful green eyes. She had surgery right before we brought her home, so my daughter has had to keep her calm and the kitten has had to wear an e-collar to keep her from tearing up her stitches.

My daughter’s dog is about 15 years old and has raised pups in her past life. She’s decided she is this new kitten’s keeper. When the kitten is placed on the floor, the dog follows her around and keeps track of where she is. She talks gently to her and tries to help her understand she just wants to be friends. Right now, they are resting together in the sun next to the sliding glass doors. She has been gentle and kind to the kitten, doing her best to make her feel safe, while at the same time not allowing her under any circumstances to come near her food dish.

The kitten, however, seems to believe the dog is a fearful creature. If the dog gets too close, the kitten snarls and aims her claws for the dog’s nose. But the dog keeps trying to be friends, hoping the kitten will get over her fear. It seems that even the creatures God has made for our pleasure and companionship struggle with understanding one another and making room for one another.

This puts me in mind of how we as human beings so often live our lives in fear of God and/or in fear of one another. Fear, as opposed to love, keeps us in the fight or flight mode and prevents us from really being at rest in our circumstances and in right relationship with one another. When we view the world around us through the eyes of fear, we see things differently than how they really are. What we believe about the people, situations, and circumstances around us affects our ability to truly know God and others and to be known. Fear puts us on the defensive, causing us to hide, self-protect, self-justify, and accuse.

Even though God has reconciled us with himself and restored us to our true humanity in Christ, we still distance ourselves from God and one another. We so often allow fear to dominate our minds and hearts rather than trusting in the truth about who God is and who we are in him. We allow fear, and a host of other false concepts, feelings, and prejudices, to come between ourselves and our loving God and those God meant for us to live in loving relationship with.

Looking with fallen human eyes, we see our differences rather than what unifies us. God is so other than we are, we don’t see how we can relate to him. Even though we as human beings are constantly coming up with new ways of trying to appease God, we cannot on our own come to an understanding of who our loving God is as Father, Son, and Spirit apart from the revelation of Jesus Christ in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension and in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We may believe that God doesn’t want us to enjoy life. He’s always making demands on us that just aren’t realistic: do good to those who hate you and persecute you, for example. We may believe that God allows bad things to happen to us to punish us. What we’re being punished for, we’re not certain. But all hell has broken loose in our life and the only explanation must be that either God hates us or is punishing us because we have been bad. Maybe we do think we know what God is punishing us for and we believe we even deserve hell because of what we did. It never crosses our mind that maybe God isn’t holding anything against us and is not accusing us of anything whatsoever.

We may believe God is the cosmic vending machine who owes us when we have lived a good life, done lots of good deeds, and have done our best to be good people. When God doesn’t seem to understand that this is how life works (in our view), we get angry with God and angry with one another. We begin to allow fear to dominate our being rather than continuing to trust in the love and grace of God.

Can you see that the issue isn’t on God’s side, but solely on our side? God has never changed in his love and faithfulness toward us. God has never ceased to reach out and draw us deeper into loving relationship with himself. He even took on our humanity so we could come to know and understand who he really is as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He was willing to allow us to do whatever we desired to him in Jesus Christ and the cry from his lips on the cross still was, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Often, in our fear, we are very busy accusing God of being someone he is not and doing things he hasn’t done, merely because we do not really know who God is. We are only able to apprehend a little about the nature and being of God and what he is doing in this world. We cannot ever fully comprehend any of this because we are merely creatures God has made. God revealed himself to us in his Son Jesus Christ, but even so, we only see and understand a tiny bit of the truth.

In the same way, we are often very busy accusing ourselves and others of being people we are not and doing things which we may very well have not even conceived of doing. Sometimes our accusations of ourselves and one another have some substance in truth, but we tend to forget that any and all of these things have been and are forgiven and accepted in the Beloved.

I’m not saying that we as human beings can live however we please without any negative consequences. That is not the case. Living apart from our true humanity in Christ produces negative fruit and destroys relationships. That’s the reality of our existence.

But I am also saying that we have an accuser who from the beginning has accused God and us of things which were lies. He has planted so often in our hearts, via circumstances and unhealthy relationships, a lot of lies about who God is and who we are, creating in us an unhealthy fear of God and one another. He reminds us, as the prince of the power of the air, of all the things we and God have supposedly done wrong or neglected to do. And we believe him.

What we believe does have power. But God’s power is greater. What God did in Jesus Christ has conquered all that. Jesus, in his grace and truth, has poured out on us his Spirit of grace and truth, enabling us to begin to apprehend the truth about who God is and who we are as his beloved, forgiven, adopted children. Jesus gives us his faith in Abba and Abba’s faith in us as those created in his image to reflect his likeness. God never gave up on us, and he will never give up, no matter what the accuser may do or say in contradiction to this.

The truth is—and we are reminded again and again in our weekly participation in communion to believe anew this is so—we are accepted and forgiven, we are healed and made whole, we are adopted and received as God’s very own. We are a part of God’s household and have a place at this table. There is no room for accusation or fear, for in Christ all is made new and restored to its original design. We can lay down all our burdens and labors and truly rest in the Son, together will all the other members of God’s household.

Abba, thank you for never giving up on us, but for doing all you could possibly do to tear down the walls of fear and accusation between us and you, and us and one another. Grant us the grace to rest in your Son Jesus Christ, in your love and grace, and to walk in your truth—the truth of who you are as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and who we are in you, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

21 Your indifferent mindset alienated you from God into a lifestyle of annoyances, hardships, and labors. Yet he has now fully reconciled and restored you to your original design. (The word, poneros, means annoyances, hardships, and labors, often translated as evil. [See Septuagint: tree of knowledge of good and hard labor!] To reconcile: apokatalasso, fully restored to the original value. (In Thayer Definition: to change, exchange, as coins for others of equivalent value.]) 22 He accomplished this in dying our death in a human body, he fully represented us in order to fully present us again in blameless innocence, face-to-face with God; with no sense of guilt, suspicion, regret, or accusation; all charges against us are officially cancelled. 23 Remain under the influence of what your faith knows to be true about you, firmly consolidated in the foundation of your belief so that nothing can distract you from the expectation of the Gospel, a hope that is consistent with what you have heard. Just as I, Paul, am in the ministry to proclaim the one and only message that rings true with resonance in all of creation under heaven. (The dimension of the invisible spiritual realm. “You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this Message.”—The Message.) Colossians 1:21-23 Mirror Bible

Poor as I Am

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By Linda Rex

Yesterday I found myself humming and whistling a tune as I was using Adobe InDesign® to create a brochure where I work. The tune just kept popping back into my head. When I finally paid attention to what it was, I realized it was the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas.” I was amused that this particular song was running around in my head, but I decided the intense summer heat made caroling quite appropriate—anything to stay cool!

It’s not unusual, though, for the Spirit to spark a hymn or spiritual song in my thoughts—many times this happens when I wake up in the morning, and it usually is an indication of what’s on God’s mind and/or my mind at the moment. I believe this is what the apostle Paul was talking about when he told the Ephesians, “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; …” (Eph. 5:18b-19 NASB)

This carol has several stories associated with it, but just taken at face value, it tells how a king and his page determine to aid a poor man by bringing him food and wood for fuel during a severe winter snowstorm. The conclusion of the song tells us that those who bless people in need will themselves be blessed.

When I look back at my life, I did have times when life was very difficult for me and my family. We struggled to make ends meet, and I would have been very happy at times to have had someone to simply bring me food and fuel. But the truth is, if I am very honest with myself, no matter how bad things got, we were still very well off and blessed. We were not really in need the way people in other countries or even in certain places here in America struggle just to find their next meal or to have a place to live.

I believe there were very good reasons we were extremely blessed. First, we had a support system. We had family, friends, and church members who were willing to come alongside us and offer a helping hand, often without us even asking for help. They were not ashamed of our poverty but were willing to lend a hand as they saw a need.

On the other hand, they kept their distance when they knew it would not have been to our benefit or theirs for them to help us. I struggled with my attitude at times because we were left to struggle when we could have been helped. But as time when by, I began to see that I had things to learn which I would not have learned if someone had stepped in and taken care of things for me in those particular situations.

The other reason I believed we were so blessed and did not have to struggle as much as I know others struggle was because of God’s mercy. He was very gracious to us and answered prayers when I turned to him in total dependency upon him. So often a need which I believed was impossible to meet was taken care of when I brought it to him in prayer. And many of those times I knew I didn’t deserve God’s help because I had to admit the struggle was usually due to my own mismanagement or neglect. It was solely because of God’s gracious provision that we were blessed.

To struggle in life in some way, though, is to open a space for God to work—if we are willing—and to prepare us to be able to lift up and help others who are struggling. Because we have borne heavy burdens, we find we have the strength to come alongside those who are overburdened and to help ease their load. God doesn’t mean for us to carry every burden of every person—they need to be responsible for what is theirs. But we are to be there to help ease the burdens of those who cannot carry their own load by themselves. (Gal. 6:2, 5)

The real story inside the story I find in this Christmas carol may be something of my own creation—I don’t know. But what I see is Jesus inviting you and me to participate with him in his care of the poor and needy. Sometimes the storms in people’s lives are powerful and dangerous, and they may drive us away and sap our strength as we try to help. But as we walk in Christ by the Spirit, allowing him to walk in front of us and carry the weight of the storm, we will find the heart, strength, and endurance to continue in our service to others in spite of the difficulty and danger.

What’s been on my mind a lot lately is what Greg Williams wrote in his article “Mind the Gap.” He wrote: “We say we value being a healthy expression of church, actively following the Spirit in participating with Jesus in seeking the lost and making new disciples, but that is not what we always do. There is a gap between our aspirational values (what we say we value) and our actual actions. We need to close the gap…” It is so easy to have great intentions but not to actually live out the truth of what we believe.

For me, personally, this last couple years has been a reawakening to God’s call upon my life in a lot of areas. As a pastor it is easy to slip into a way of living in which there are gaps between what we believe and teach, and how we live out our daily lives. I certainly do not want to be a hypocrite, but if I am honest with myself, I have to admit in many areas how I live doesn’t necessarily match up with what I believe about who God is and who I am in Christ. And that grieves me deeply. It is not how I want to be. The good news is, though, that very grief shows the Spirit at work within me through Jesus Christ.

In other words, before we see ourselves as the page following in the king’s footsteps, we must first see ourselves as the poor man gathering sticks in the storm for a little fuel. Our own efforts are feeble at best—we do pretty well for a while, but when the storms of life come, we find ourselves inadequate to the task. Or we find that gathering sticks when we already have sticks is empty and fruitless work. Either way, we need to recognize that our poverty is poverty of spirit and heart, not always of physical provision. Receiving help for the moment is good, but we need help which will last into eternity.

This is why we need Jesus. We need to lay aside the old garments which are of no use to us any longer and put on Christ. The old ways which sustained us for so long need to be replaced by our new life in Christ. The poor man gathering fuel might have refused to receive the blessing offered him. If he had, he would have continued to suffer, not only going without food and fuel, but now also without companionship on his journey of suffering. In refusing the new life offered to him, his poverty would have increased all the more.

God does not mean for any of us to stay in our poverty-ridden state of unbelief and disobedience. We have been given all the heavenly blessings in Christ Jesus—this is our new life. We are included in God’s life and love and are encouraged to participate in all God is doing in this world to bring about healing, renewal, and wholeness. We are blessed by God with all these gifts not so we can keep them to ourselves, but so we can share them with others. So, this is what we need to be actively doing—blessing others as we have been blessed. This is the perichoretic life.

Thank you, Abba, for your faithful love and your boundless grace in your Son Jesus. We pray by your Spirit that we will begin more and more to actually live out the truth of who we are in you and what Christ has forged for us in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. May we each and every day acknowledge our poverty of spirit and heart is fully supplied in Jesus, and freely share all these spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus with others. In your Name, we pray. Amen.

“Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. …You were running superbly! Who cut in on you, deflecting you from the true course of obedience?” Galatians 5:1, 7 MSG

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. …You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” Galatians 5:1, 7 NASB

Good King Wenceslas

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even;

Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
Gath’ring winter fuel.

‘Hither, page, and stand by me,
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?’

‘Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence,
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.’

‘Bring me flesh and bring me wine,
Bring me pine logs hither,
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear them thither.’

Page and monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together,
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.

‘Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.’

‘Mark my footsteps, good my page,
Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.’

In his master’s steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

(https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/3674124/The-story-behind-the-carol-Good-King-Wenceslas.html: Accessed 7/12/2018)

Giving Living

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By Linda Rex

It’s been an interesting journey as I have participated with Good News Fellowship in caring for the community in which we located here in Nashville. I’ve experienced a wide spectrum of responses to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed. Some were expected, while others were very unexpected.

As a Christian in today’s culture, I have found that people have unspoken expectations of me. Because I am a Christian, they seem to believe I will be, or should always be, nice, friendly, and well-behaved—and I inevitably disappoint them. Many people assume because I am a Christian that I am examining them and their lives in detail so I can have something to criticize or put down—and I’m not.

As a Christian, many people say, I must never make anyone feel bad or tell them that they are wrong and must change—after all, they are free to do whatever they want—it’s a free country, right? But sometimes the most loving thing I can do is to bring to their attention something hurtful or dangerous they are doing to harm themselves or others.

Some people seem to believe that since I am a Christian, I’m obligated to help anyone who comes to me and asks for help, no matter what the circumstance or situation. If someone is in need or struggling, it is my responsibility to help them and give them whatever it is they ask for, no matter the cost to myself or the inconvenience it may be for me to help them, or that it might not be in their best interests for me to help them in that way.

Yet God calls us to be, as followers of Christ, generous and giving. We are to share all the gifts God has given us with others. We are to be compassionate, understanding and loving. We should be positive examples of “giving living”—by nature being generous with all God has given us as our participation in Christ’s own generosity.

The fundamental thing is, we are not created as human beings to have a life centered around our own selves. Self-centered living destroys relationships. A self-centered person expects people to orbit around them as they slowly drain people’s energy and heart out like a black hole consumes the stars around it. When we center our lives and other people’s lives about our own needs, desires, and plans, we become more and more selfish, cold, and calculating.

Now, speaking for myself, I recognize there are times when I am self-centered and do not even realize this is what is going on. How disconcerting to walk away from a situation or conversation and realize I have made myself the center instead of keeping Christ and others at the center! These types of realizations keep each of us humble and dependent upon God’s grace and the patience of those near and dear to us.

If we want to be followers of Christ, though, we need to be attentive to these nudges of the Spirit and realign our center to where it should be—in Christ. It is important to be attentive to what the Spirit is saying in each moment and to follow Christ’s lead in our generosity because if we focus on ourselves, we will come up empty. God is the source of all things, including the capacity to be generous and giving, especially when we do not have the energy, resources, or heart to give.

A life centered in Christ is a life which draws its sustenance and well-being from the Source of all things, our Abba. When we are drawing our life from the Life-giver, we will find that our life and our being will be enriched and grow. If we are drawing our life from within ourselves or from the other people in our lives, we will eventually find ourselves frayed, worn-out, and exhausted, and our relationships in shambles.

This is also the case when it comes to our giving. Our generosity must have its roots in Jesus Christ himself. He is the one who came into our humanity, laid down his life, died our death, and rose again on our behalf and for our sake. He set aside the benefits and privileges of his divinity to live within our humanity, even though it cost him his human life. There is a fundamental generosity in the being of God which is rooted in God’s very nature as love.

First, and foremost, God in Christ is the center around which everything in this cosmos orbits and from which everything draws its life. Giving to others and being a giving person must begin with this center. Our center, the center of every part of our being and our life, is in Christ. It is not in ourselves or anyone else. What we do in our lives comes out of who we are, and who we are must be and is based in Christ as the perfect image-bearer of God himself, and the Source of all things.

So fundamentally at the core of our being, because we are made in our Generous and Giving God’s image to reflect his likeness, we are generous and giving people. Our lives, then, are centered around generosity because we are, in Christ by the Spirit, full of a heart of generosity. We recognize all we are and all we have has their source in God himself, and everything in this cosmos, including us and all we think we own, belongs to him.

This true humility with regards to our existence enables us to be open-handed and free with all we have been given since we realize it all came to us as a gift. Even if we worked hard to earn our resources, we recognize and admit that even the ability to earn a living came from the One who gave us the opportunity and capacity to do the work we are doing. There is no holding back what we have been given when we are in the position to help another who is in need or to further the work God is doing in this world to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

But this doesn’t automatically mean we give to every person in every situation without attention to the wisdom of doing so. Yes, we need to be putting our resources to work to further God’s agenda in the world and to spread his gospel. Yes, we should always be generous and giving to those in need. But sometimes the better gift is not to give at all, but to enable that person to trust God to meet their needs in another way.

Maybe we are hindering God’s work in their lives by just giving them cash when we need to be giving them our time and attention instead. Perhaps rather than just giving them our resources, we should be helping them learn what is needed so they can provide them for themselves. These are complicated issues which must be guided by the Word of God and the Spirit, and wisdom.

There is plenty in this world but too often we do not see our plenty as a resource to accomplish Jesus’ mission in this world or to provide for others so they might have what we have. Granted, we’re not all able to share—some of us are the needy as well. But even the needy have something to offer others. We all can share and give, when we draw upon the infinite resources of our generous and giving God, recognizing whatever we have has been given to us as a gift from him to share with others. This is the perichoretic life.

Dear Abba, thank you for being so generous with us, giving us all we need for life and godliness, and for giving us your very best in your Son and in your Spirit. Grant us the grace as you give us the resources to always be generous with others and share diligently in your ministry to this broken and hurting world. In your Name, amen.

“But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also…. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich…. For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality;…” 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-14 NASB

Lost Children

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By Linda Rex

One of the Bible characters I admired most when I was younger was Daniel. I was impressed by the way even though he was overwhelmed with adverse circumstances throughout his life, he still came out on top. His devotion to God in the face of an anti-God culture has always been inspiring to me.

In his day, tyrants and despots ruled the known world. They believed they could move people about like pawns on a chess board (Sound like anyone we know today?). When Judah was conquered by Babylon, many of the people were carried away from their homes and taken to a new location. Daniel, a child of Israelite nobility, was along with others like himself, taken away from his country and family and placed in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace.

Now, true, Daniel was given the opportunity for three years to learn things many other people never had the privilege of learning. He was offered the finest of foods and wines and was being prepared to enter the king’s service. These were unimagined opportunities which no doubt other people longed for, but he had to pay a high price—giving up his nation, his people, and his God.

From the beginning, though, Daniel determined he would not sacrifice his personhood or his faith in God for the sake of this ruler and his political ambitions. He first risked the wrath of the king by asking to alter his diet to match the humble requirements of his faith—and was given permission to make the change. Throughout his life he came up against the simple question, do I do what is politically expedient and participate in evil plans, or do I stand for what is true and just, and do what I believe my God says I am to do?

The unique thing about Daniel is that he understood what his ruler did not fully understand—there is a God, and he is Lord of all. When he was a young child, he was forcibly removed from his family, taken to a new land, and put into a new environment. He had no control over what was done to him during this whole experience. But he did have faith in the God who did have control over it all, that he would work it out in the end for his best. And God did orchestrate Daniel’s life in amazing ways, allowing him and his Jewish companions to participate in bearing witness to the Babylonians about who God was.

We as human beings are often very arrogant. We presume to make decisions and to assume control of things in this world, acting as though we are in total control of the outcome. We have managed our world so well, with our technology and other advancements, that we feel we don’t need a God—God must just be a figment of our imagination. For centuries and even millennia the cry has been, “There is no God.” In this post-Christian culture, believing in God or in the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ is seen as a liability, a problem which creates trouble and bad feelings between people, not as a precious gift which creates healing and unity.

Sometimes leaders or business owners, especially here in the Bible belt, will use Christianity as the means by which they gain the trust of their constituents or customers. You may walk into a business which has a Bible verse prominently displayed on the wall above the counter, expecting to be treated honestly and justly. But beware—what is hung on the wall may have nothing to do with how they do business.

The problem is, when people rule themselves and others in such a way that God is set aside and replaced by dogmas or creeds of their own making, we end up with rulers like Nebuchadnezzar or Hitler. Hitler even went to the point he reconstructed the Bible to fit his agenda and reorganized the German church to fit in with his ambitions and prejudices. And, sadly, many people followed him and accepted his rule, not willing to stand against the evil he perpetrated.

The one who leads and does not acknowledge the living Lord will in the end answer to God for his or her decisions. Even Nebuchadnezzar had to deal with God, spending seven years in insanity before he humbled himself enough to acknowledge the authority of God in the world. Decisions leaders make are held to a high standard by God, because they affect the lives of many people—people who are unable to defend or protect themselves from a powerful government or leader. God will and does hold them accountable for the harm they perpetrate on innocent people and children.

The lives of those who are victims of the evil and/or injustice of such a leader will be redeemed and restored as they trust in the love and faithfulness of God. The story of Daniel reminds us there are ultimately no lost children. God has his hand on the lives and futures of each and every person who walks this earth. Whoever may be in power and whatever decisions they may make will ultimately be made subject to the will and purposes of our Almighty God who seeks our best, and who loves us so completely he was willing to sacrifice what he held most dear—his own unique Son.

In Christ, each and every person has hope. The Jesus who held children in his lap and blessed them is not indifferent to the suffering they have been subjected to in being torn from their families and homeland. They are intimately known and loved by our Abba, who knew them before the creation of the world and counted them as his very own in his Son, and he holds them in the midst of their trials and struggles.

As believers, we have a responsibility to speak up on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, and to provide hospitality and welcome to those who are far from home. We are to show mercy, do justly, and walk humbly before the God who created us and redeemed us. These are simple, and yet very difficult things to do, especially in the midst of a culture which seems to have opposing values. And yet, we continue to participate in our Abba’s love and Christ’s redeeming grace by the Spirit as we reach out to provide healing, help, and support to those who have lost home or family.

And we assume responsibility for our leadership of this country as we vote, participate in community leadership, and reflect the light of Jesus in the areas in which we live. And we never cease to pray not only for those who have lost home and family, but also for our leaders. We pray for those who are in positions of responsibility, that we can live at peace and in unity with one another and continue to freely share the good news of Abba’s love and grace expressed to us in the gift of his Son Jesus Christ.

Thank you, Abba, for your faithful love and the grace you have shown us in Jesus. We know you love each and every child and adult, no matter who they are. You hold each of us in your loving hands, whether we are lost or we are found, whether we have been stolen away or we are safe at home with our families. God, please remember those who are mourning the lost of their home and family this day—comfort them and keep your promise to place the lonely in loving families and homes. Lord, your justice is perfect and restorative—judge our leaders and cause them to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before you, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service. Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.” Daniel 1:1-6 NASB

Seeds and Flowers, and Maturing in Christ

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By Linda Rex

Outside the house next to our patio door sit two flower pots. Last summer we moved some tiger lilies out of a flowerbed and into these pots because the local mole had decided he had a hankering for flower bulbs and managed to eliminate most of them we had planted earlier in the year.

Even though we planted the tiger lily bulbs in the flowerpots, we assumed they were too far gone to even come up. But this spring they began to grow and after quite some time they put on buds. We were delighted when the bright orange blossoms opened fully—they are quite stunning when in full bloom.

In comparison with a tiger lily, the bloom of an avocado tree is quite tiny and unimpressive. If one were to look at an avocado flower, one would have to get up really close in order to even see it. It has six tiny white or green petals surrounding an intricate white and yellow center. And yet, when the flower has done its work properly, it produces a seed the size of a walnut enclosed within a thick layer which we consume as fruit. The entire avocado can be bigger than the size of a human fist—a far cry from the tiny flower it came from.

The size and beauty of a flower may be large and glorious, but this is not what determines what type of fruit it produces. Nor does it determine whether or not it produces fruit which matures in such a way as to produce seeds. Some flowers produce fruit which is seedless—a natural process which botanists and producers have taken advantage of in order to provide us with such produce as seedless grapes and seedless watermelons.

Plants come in all shapes and sizes, and so do the “fruit”—this word includes nuts, vegetables, and fruit. Fruit from a plant may mature beyond the state any of us would be willing to consume, but for many plants, this is what is necessary for the seed to fully ripen so when it is put in the ground it will produce a new plant. We often consume what is produced before it is fully mature—corn on the cob is a good example of this. In order to plant corn, the corn kernel has to ripen completely and then dry—only then is it mature enough to be used as seed for planting. But dried corn kernels are quite hard to chew and they’re not very tasty either.

A lot of what I’ve shared here is common knowledge for a farmer, botanist, or master gardener. They understand the process by which a plant reproduces and how to work with seeds, plants, and flowers to produce the best crop possible. It is interesting that Jesus, our Master Gardener, often used the process of planting, growing, and harvesting crops in order to talk about himself and the kingdom of God.

In one parable, Jesus used seed to represent the Word of God. He was explaining the different ways in which the Word of God was planted and the results of each scenario:

“Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” Luke 8:11-15 NASB

It seems that the problem with producing quality fruit lies not with the seed, but with the soil it lands on. The Word of God always produces a result—it is fruitful—there’s no doubt about that. But the ground which receives the seed can be harsh and unreceptive, or provide little room for the roots to grow, or be so filled with weeds that a new plant can’t grow and thrive.

If we were to consider this parable for a bit, we might see that the point of putting the seed in the ground is not just to have pretty flowers. Flowerbeds are lovely and I personally enjoy a garden filled with colorful blooms. But this was not the point of this parable—the focus is on the seed and what the seed was to produce—more seed. This means each seed needs to produce a plant which will grow to the place it flowers, it produces fruit, and the fruit matures to the point that it produces seed.

Seeds come in all shapes and sizes, and travel all over by a variety of means. Seeds are not meant to stay on the plant, but to be spread to new places. We experience the reality of this when we find oak trees growing in our pansy bed or an apple tree coming up in the vegetable garden.

When we hear the Word of God—the good news of God’s love for us expressed to us in his Son Jesus Christ, it is meant to take root in our hearts by faith. The Word of God, the indwelling Christ by the Spirit, works transform our hearts and lives. We open ourselves up to the work of the Spirit in our walk of faith and begin to mature as followers of Jesus Christ. Our lives begin to reflect the Word of God at work within us. Like beautiful blossoms on a plant, we glow with the glory God created us to bear—the image of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This flowering is not the end of the story though. We are meant to go even farther and mature into seed-bearing plants. Our lives and words are to be a testimony to Christ. In other words, the life-giving Word is carried to new places and planted in new ground—new hearts—because we have become mature seed-bearing plants. Jesus said as we go, we are to make disciples. Making disciples, sharing the Word of God with others, is to be a natural by-product of our spiritual growing up in Christ.

The environment in which the Word of God exists within us is critical in this process. Do we allow ourselves to be deceived by a word other than that which given to us in Jesus Christ? Do we allow ourselves to be tempted by other things which supplant the Word of God? Do we allow ourselves to be so absorbed in the cares and pleasures of this life that we suffocate the Word of God? All of these are ways in which we disrupt or hinder the process of spiritual growth God meant for us to participate in.

The healthier alternative is to receive the Word with an “honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” The Word of God sinks deep roots in the soil of our heart as we practice spiritual disciplines which open us up to the work of the Spirit within us. The Word of God can transform our lives and hearts as we obey the Spirit’s inner prompting to put away our idols and distractions and focus wholly on Christ. We make space for God to work by making sure we are not preoccupied with the cares and pleasures of this life.

And we are not satisfied with just the external trappings of spiritual growth. It’s easy to look as though we are a stunning example of spiritual maturity. But the proof is when what God has done and is doing in us is duplicated in the lives of those around us. When the Word of God begins spreading into the hearts and lives of those around us, then we know we are being fruitful, and that God’s Word is living and active, taking root in many new hearts and lives.

Thank you, Lord, for planting your Word in our hearts. By faith, may we allow your Word to grow and develop, transforming our hearts and lives in such a way that your Word may be planted anew in others hearts and lives as well. May we be productive plants for your glory, through Jesus our Lord and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

“As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” Luke 8:14 NRSV

Living Beyond the Ordinary

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By Linda Rex

Ordinary Time
Last Sunday at Good News Fellowship we celebrated Trinity Sunday, with an emphasis on the way God revealed himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit through our Lord Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension. We were reminded of the beauty of the Trinitarian perichoretic life—the divine dance—we were all created for and welcomed into by God’s grace and love.

Trinity Sunday is in some ways a highlight on the Christian calendar, as though all which has gone before has led us to this place of revelation and understanding. Rather than being just a mystery we can only gaze upon in amazed wonder, the Trinity is the place where we exist—we are held in Christ, in the midst of the love and life of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Our ordinary life is no longer just ordinary. It is a life swept up into the very Being of God.

Our lives as human beings—ordinary or not—are full of ups and downs, joys and sorrows. Sometimes we struggle just to make it through another day. Other times it seems we are on the top of the world. Life can be pleasant and easily enjoyed, or it may be excruciatingly painful and unbearable.

But whatever it is for us at the moment, we can know and believe this one thing—we are loved. We are never alone and forgotten. The psalmist wrote:

O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O LORD, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. (Psalm 138:1-10 NASB)

No matter where we are or what we are doing, we live every moment in God’s presence. But more than that, God brought us even closer in his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus took on our humanity and lived the very existence you and I live. He experienced life in this physical body, with all its frailty, in a world full of evil and struggle. God came near in Jesus Christ. God, in Jesus Christ, became God with us, Immanuel.

In Christ, God laid himself open for us as human beings to do with him however we wished. It is a sad commentary on us as human beings that when God came to dwell in human flesh, we crucified him. But that’s the very reason he came.

God’s purpose in Jesus Christ was to get down to the bottom of our broken humanity, down into the depths to which evil could go, and to turn evil, sin, and death on its head. He took our twisted humanity and untwisted it. He allowed us to do as we wished to him, so he could cure us of our bent toward evil and sin.

It was not enough that God in Jesus would allow us to do crucify him. He had even more in mind for us than just dying for us—that was not the end. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus was just the next step in what God had in mind for our humanity. For when Jesus ascended into the presence of the Father, he requested on our behalf that his Father would send the Holy Spirit. And Abba did send the Spirit.

The sending of the Spirit was critical. For not only is God present by the Spirit to all creation, he is also present through Jesus within you and me. By the Spirit, as we trust in Jesus Christ and what he has done in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, God comes to dwell in our very hearts. We are forever joined through Christ in union with God, and by faith, we can participate in Christ’s intimate relationship with his Father through the Holy Spirit. We are swept up into the intimate relations between the Abba and Jesus in the Spirit as we trust in Christ.

Now, by the Spirit, we live our ordinary lives in an extraordinary way—in union and communion with the God who created us and called us into life with him. We live our everyday lives in real companionship with Jesus in the Spirit, with God’s ever-present whisper to our heart telling us which direction to go, and how best to love and serve God and others. By the Spirit, the Word of God comes alive and begins to reveal Jesus the living Word to us, opening us up to the transforming work of the Spirit in new and deeper ways.

As we follow Christ and respond to the call of the Spirit upon our hearts and lives, we begin to change. And as we begin to change, the world around us begins to change. The Spirit leads us down new paths of creativity, compassion, and service. We are so grateful and joyful in our extraordinary living, we want to share it with others—and so we participate with Jesus in welcoming others into Abba’s loving embrace. This is the Trinitarian life we are included in and were created for.

The love of God is so great, he will not allow anything to stand in the way of his completion of this amazing creative work. God is sharing his life and his love with those he created. In spite of our failures, God will finish what he has begun—we have his Word on this.

Thank you, Abba, for all you have done to include us in your life and love. Thank you for the gift of your Son Jesus Christ, and for the precious outpouring of your Holy Spirit. Grant us the grace to humble ourselves to receive with gratitude your precious gifts. We give you praise and thanksgiving through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 9:35-39 NASB

Why Surrender is Hard

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By Linda Rex

There is something unsettling about realizing you are not in control of your circumstances or the people in your life. This inability to manage the people and circumstances of one’s life may create a deep sense of anxiety or distress, especially if we are the product of a dysfunctional family where chaos, control, or abuse were the normal, everyday experience of our youth.

Our deepest inner struggle sometimes may be to obey the call by the Spirit to surrender. We may cling so tightly to the outcome of what needs to happen, that we stifle the process, and we restrict the free flow of the Spirit of life.

Surrender is a real struggle for some of us. It is our natural human inclination to demand our own way, to figure out our own solution, and to determine for ourselves what the beginning and end will be. Truly, we have never fully let go of our effort to decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil. It seems our natural tendency is to stand under that tree longingly looking upward, reaching incessantly for what we in our hearts know is not the real solution to our problems.

Whether we like it or not, this unwillingness or inability to surrender, is deeply rooted in this simple reality: we do not know who God is. The God we believe in—if we say we do believe at all—is apparently not the kind of God who is really trustworthy and faithful, and truly loving. If he were, we would implicitly, completely, and without reservation, trust him.

Perhaps the reason we don’t have any faith in God is because the God we learned about or have been exposed to, is not a God we feel we can give our allegiance to and trust in. Perhaps the issue is not whether or not God exists, but rather, coming to a different understanding about who he is.

Joel Davila spoke this past Sunday at Good News Fellowship (access his sermon here) about this very thing. It is important we reexamine at times what it is we believe and don’t believe, and why we believe what we do. We need to ask ourselves, “Is it possible I have been wrong in my understanding about who God is, and what the Bible teaches about him?”

Many people first read the Bible beginning in Genesis and right on through. They see a God who is angry and vindictive, and who consciences the destruction or genocide of whole people groups. And then Jesus shows up and is not understood at all. He seems to indicate he is God even though he is demonstrably very human—and he seems to be the antithesis of the God of the Old Testament. And the people who follow him end up dead, or even worse, perpetuate the death and genocide of people groups in his name.

And that is the root of the problem. We just do not know nor do we understand the truth about who God is. We don’t read the Bible in the light of who God really is, as he has revealed himself to us. We cling tightly to our prejudices, our views, and our culturally or religiously influenced beliefs about the being and nature of God.

This is why the Spirit through the Body of Christ calls us to repentance—to a turning around or metanoia—to a turning away from our false beliefs about God toward what is true. God has revealed his true nature and being to us in the Person of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit has come to open our minds and hearts to understand, receive, and believe this truth, and to live in and by it.

One of the greatest misunderstandings of us as followers of Christ is in regard to how we read the Bible. We often believe that if it’s in the Bible, then it is something we should do. The Israelites and other Biblical figures did and wrote things in the name of God which were quite truly, awful and hard to understand or forgive. But the Bible must always be read with the understanding these people were inspired by God to write, yet they were broken people who wrote about God for God from a paradigm in which they did not fully know or understand the nature and being of God as he really was.

We must never read the Old Testament, or any part of the Bible, for that matter through any lens other than the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Scripture, and as Hebrews 9:19 says, even the book of the law, needed to be sprinkled with blood—to have God’s grace extended to it.

Jesus Christ is “the radiance of his glory and the exact representation [or ikon] of his nature.” (Heb. 1:3 NASB) Whatever we read in the Bible to learn about God’s Being must agree with the Person of Jesus Christ and his revelation of the Father. If it doesn’t seem to jive, then we need to be open to the possibility that we, or those who wrote these things, may have misunderstood or misinterpreted the motives, heart, will, mind, and actions—indeed, the very nature—of God.

How we read the Old Testament is also critical. I share this often because it made such an impact on me. My professor and mentor, Dr. John McKenna, taught the proper way to read the Torah is to read it in the order it was written. This means we don’t start in Genesis 1:1, but rather in Exodus 1:1. In Exodus we see God calling, and revealing himself to, Moses. Moses had the privilege of hearing from God’s own lips a description of his Being (Ex. 34:5-7). This description by God of himself is summed up in the apostle John’s words, “God is love,” (1 John 4:8) and “God is Light” (1 John 1:5).

This God of love and light drew a people into covenant relationship with himself at Mount Sinai, bearing with them as they wandered the wilderness, and finally bringing them to the edge of the Jordan River. It is here Moses wrote Genesis. His purpose was to teach the people the truth about who this God was they were in covenant relationship with, and who they were as his people. He was their Creator and their Redeemer, their God of covenant love and faithfulness. He was a gracious God who called them into relationship with himself and gave them a way to live in loving, faithful relationship with him by teaching them his way of being.

The nation of Israel wrestled through the centuries in this relationship with their God. They struggled to love, follow, and obey him. They always seemed to fall into the default of our human brokenness, into the lies perpetuated about the angry, condemning God of the nations who demanded servitude and sacrifice. Worst of all, they applied God’s name to things which could not have possibly come from the heart of their loving, gracious God.

How do I know this? Because when God chose to reveal himself to us by sending his Word into our humanity, this is not the way Jesus Christ was. Anything which does not coincide with who Jesus was and is, as he revealed the Father to us, needs to be reconsidered and reexamined. We need to have the humility and personal honesty to say it is possible we, all of humanity and us personally, have misunderstood.

This makes some of us very uncomfortable. But the Spirit calls us to see Abba in the face of Jesus, not only through the written Word. Apart from the revelation of the Living Word, the written Word has no substance. Jesus is the exact representation of the Father, so whatever we read in the Old Testament, or all of the Bible for that matter, must be seen and understood through the lens of Jesus Christ.

And so, the apostle John writes Jesus was very human and tangible, while at the same time he was fully God. The early church fathers sought to put words to all this and came to see the God revealed to us in the Person of Jesus Christ was One God in three Persons. This relational God is a God who is Light and who is Love. The followers of Jesus Christ worship this God of Light and Love because he was revealed to us in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

This relational God of Love and Light revealed to us in Jesus Christ can inform and transform not only our reading of the Bible, but every facet of our lives. We can find hope, strength, and an ability to trust in this God. This is the God who is willing to, and who does, join us in our darkness and brokenness, just so we can come to know him and to live in relationship with him. He comes to us even now in the midst of our struggles in the real Person and power of the Holy Spirit.

His purpose is not to harm us, condemn or reject us, but to draw us closer to him, and to share every aspect of life with us. He doesn’t expect us to carry everything ourselves but invites us to participate with him in finding and carrying out a solution to our struggles. When we can’t carry on, he carries us. But, then, we find ourselves in the place of needing to do the difficult thing: surrender.

Surrender is the hardest thing for us to do. But what if God was just like Jesus? Then could we surrender? If God was just like Jesus, could we trust him in every situation and allow him to care for us and provide for us, and maybe even direct us where we should go?

Surrender is tough. But not impossible, because Jesus completely surrendered himself to his Abba, and to us, even to the point of death. Any surrender which may be required of us is within the context of Christ’s perfect surrender. And he, by the Spirit, shares that surrender with us even now. Whatever we have need of is ours in Christ by the Spirit. This is why Jesus is the central point of the Christian faith.

If it is true of Jesus, it is true of our Abba, and therefore, of his Spirit. In the Spirit, through Jesus, it is becoming true of us, as we surrender and trust in the perfect love and light of God as expressed to us in Jesus Christ.

Dear Abba, thank you for never giving up on us, but continuing throughout the millennia to teach us the truth about who you really are—the God who is Light and who is Love. Thank you for sending your Son to us in Jesus and now by your Spirit so we can come to know you in truth and participate in your love and grace. Awaken us to the reality of your Love and Light through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.” Hebrews 1:1-3a NASB

“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:1-3 NASB