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Comfort Amidst Our Failed Resolutions

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Tree covered in ice silhouetted against the sky.
Tree covered in ice silhouetted against the sky.

By Linda Rex

I’m sure by now that many of you have fallen off your January resolutions for self-improvement and life improvement. And I’m sure many of you are currently in the process of self-flagellation, beating yourself up because you didn’t meet your own expectations, whatever they were.

It is a given that we are broken human beings and we struggle with habits and behaviors that often are not healthy and life-giving. And most all of us want to improve ourselves, have better relationships, and grow as individuals. Now I’m all for New Year’s resolutions, but too often they are our own attempt at self-discipline, rather than a lifestyle change rising out of the deep inner power and conviction of the Holy Spirit, which is the spiritual gift of self-control.

When we look at the Scriptures which talk about being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2), and we are reminded at this time of year when we celebrate Christ’s transfiguration that we are being transformed from our human glory to the glory that is Christ’s, I think it is real easy to look at transformation as being something solely behavioral. What I mean is we often think that our transformation means that we will be better people who will act in better ways.

Indeed, God wants to transform our behavior, but I believe that he wants to go much deeper than that. I believe God wants to transform our inner being. And he wants to transform our relationship with himself—so that in relationship with him we become the people he created us to be—his adopted children who live eternally in intimate relationship with him and one another for all eternity.

It occurred to me this morning as I contemplated the transfiguration that what Jesus said about this process was significant. When he prayed to the Father the night before his crucifixion, it is recorded that he asked that the glory he was given by the Father would be given to those who were his so “that they may be one, just as we are one”. In other worlds, the purpose for sharing in Christ’s glory, in Jesus’ mind, was not so much that we become good people, but that we could and would share in the unity, the intimacy, the oneness of the Father and the Son in the Spirit.

Jesus’ prayer was a request with regards to unity and oneness. Going on, he said, “I in them and you in me, that they may be perfected in unity.” This has to do with our sharing in the divine perichoresis or mutual indwelling of the Father, Son and Spirit. This is a relational oneness that we struggle to have with almost everyone in our lives.

Apart from the grace of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit, it is difficult or next to impossible for us to have the relationships in our lives the way we should have. We don’t realize how often the Spirit is at work interceding between us with one another and in our relationship with God so that we can have unity, peace and harmony. I think if we did, we would be a whole lot bolder and consistent about asking the Spirit through Jesus to intercede in every relationship in our lives, whether individually, as communities, or as nations.

Indeed, it is our rejection of our Father, Jesus and the Spirit who indwell human hearts that creates such havoc in our lives. When we are fully in control of all that happens in a relationship and insist that others behave in the ways we think they should behave—we create havoc and destruction in those relationships. When we suffocate the people in our lives because we expect them to take the place only God should take in our lives, we reap the consequences that go with such behavior. When we demand things from others that only God can do for us, we create relational holes that are impossible to fill.

God created us for relationships. They are important and essential to our human existence. Introvert or extrovert, we all need people in our lives to love us, to affirm us, and for us to share life with. Some of the saddest people I know are those who have shut out everyone and have holed up in a place all by themselves. The twisting of the human soul often comes with the significant relationships in our lives harming or attempting to destroy us. And it is only through loving, healthy relationships with God and one another that we find true healing.

Our behavior is often a reflection of what is going on inside of us. It rises out of the depths of our being—the being that we really are inside, not what we project to everyone around us. There are times when we find ourselves doing things we don’t want to do and we can’t figure out why.

This is because there are depths to our being we push down or hide away, or reject because either we don’t want to face them, or we are afraid to let them surface because we may not be able to control what happens when we do allow them to come to light. Indeed, there are times when it would be good to see a counselor or therapist to get help with these deep issues of the heart. And in other cases, to be in a spiritual community where we can be authentic, transparent and accepted is essential.

But other times it’s more a matter of inviting the divine Counselor, the Holy Spirit, to go with us into the dark places and inviting him to bring the healing light of our divine Physician Jesus Christ there. And God will heal us as we ask and cooperate with him in our healing.

Transformation of our lives begins first by the transformation God gives us through Jesus and in the Spirit in our relationship with himself. God draws us near so that we can draw near to others.

When we have a strong foundation in our lives of a deep, intimate relationship with God through Jesus and in the Spirit, we will find that our relationships will begin to reflect that change. Sure, some of them will fall away because there is no room for God or the divine realities in them. But others will begin to heal and blossom and grow. And as we choose to respond to God’s guidance in making healthy choices in our relationships, we will find ourselves in the midst of a healthy spiritual community, and we will find ourselves beginning to heal.

It is in our healthy relationships with God and one another that our true being is reflected back to us in such a way that we begin to change. This change comes not by following a list of rules, mind you, but by God’s work of transforming us by his Holy Spirit.

Our relationships, when they are filled with God’s love and grace, begin to influence us and change begins in our hearts and our minds. True, it is good to study the living and written Word of God so that our minds are renewed in the true realities, but it is God through the Spirit who brings about our true transformation. We are merely participants in the work God has done and is doing through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit. May it be our new resolution to receive this gift of transformation God has given us and to actively participate in what God is doing in our hearts and lives.

Dear loving Father, thank you for the gift of yourself through Jesus and in your Spirit through which we may experience loving relationship with you and one another. Please finish the work of transformation you have begun in us, and grant us the grace to fully participate with you both in listening to the living Word and obediently following the Spirit as he leads us, so that we might ever walk in step with Jesus. May we be fully transformed by grace through faith. In your Name we pray, amen.

“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” John 17:22–23 NASB

My Next of Kin

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By Linda Rex
When I was growing up, I believed I had very few relatives. I vaguely remember meeting my grandparents when I was little and a couple aunts and uncles and cousins on occasion, but the first time I recall meeting any significant number of my relations was when I was thirteen. Even then, I had no grasp of what it meant to be a part of an extended family with all the relational dynamics that go with it.

It wasn’t until I began dating my husband to be and I married into his family that I began to experience what it is like to be a part of an extended family who lived within the confines of a small community. I remember on drives around the local area, they would point out a significant number of relations of theirs, whether near relations or shirt-tail relations, and they would tell me a little about each of these relatives’ particular story. I was amazed to see who was related to whom and found myself quite nervous about possibly saying the wrong thing to the wrong person and creating a relational and community disaster in the process.

This type of community and family situation is much like the one Jesus grew up in. In Nazareth, no doubt, everyone knew everyone else, and their relationships were all intertwined as children grew up together, married and had children who repeated the process. In his day the family and continuation of the family line were of paramount importance. As the elder son he had responsibilities to his family which he was expected to fulfill, and part of those involved having a sense of loyalty to his family and a commitment to their goals and expectations.

However, early on, beginning with his experience at the temple when he was twelve, we see Jesus beginning to differentiate between his relationship with his parents and his family, and his relationship with his heavenly Father in the Spirit. He may have helped his mother with the wine supply issue at a local wedding, but he did so in such a way that reminded her and others of who he was as the Messiah. It must have been very hard for Mary to have her dear son draw this kind of a line in her relationship with him, but we see from early church history that eventually she understood and accepted the reality of who he really was.

Jesus’ family was not always supportive of his ministry. In fact, at one point they tried to force him to come with them and said, in effect, “You are out of your mind!” Then there was the time when Jesus was speaking to the crowds and his family came to see him. Someone told him they were outside waiting to speak with him and he replied, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” Talk about a slap in the face!

But he wasn’t trying to be insulting. Instead, he was making a point about the centrality of relationships to the gospel—that we are all related to the Father through him in the Spirit. He is the Son of the heavenly Father, and those who live in the same perichoretic, mutually submissive, harmonic manner in which the Father and Son live in the Spirit, are his close relatives—his next of kin.

There are benefits to being Jesus’ next of kin, you know. One of the significant reasons this is a good thing is because Jesus, being our next of kin due to sharing in our humanity, has the right of redemption.

The people of Israel understood what it meant to be a close kinsman with the right of redemption. That meant that when a person lost property due to debt or lack of heirs, the kinsman could and often would buy it back for them—it was not supposed to be allowed to go into anyone else’s permanent possession—it was supposed to stay in the family. The story of Ruth gives a good description of what it was like to have a near relative redeem your land which you lost due to not having heirs to give it to.

God created you and me to bear the image of the Father, Son and Spirit. We chose instead to define our own image of God, and to follow our own way of being instead of reflecting the Being of the living God. In many ways we did, have and still do damage to our inheritance as God’s children, and have incurred tremendous physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual consequences we seem to only be making worse as time goes along. Our debts to God are impossible to pay, both collectively and individually, especially since we refuse to quit incurring them.

It is instructive that God’s way of entering into our impossible situation was to join us with himself by taking on our humanity. He became as closely related to us as he could possibly be. He became our nearest relative by sharing with us in our human existence—joining with his creation as a creature in human flesh (John 1:14; Heb. 2:11, 14-15, 17). He even did this to the extent that God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:12). Now that is taking his kinship to us seriously!

Being fully human as we are human does not in any way diminish Jesus’ divinity. Rather, it is the tension of the two—that Jesus is both fully human and divine—that enables Jesus to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.

As your closest kinsman and mine, Jesus bought back our inheritance as God’s adopted children. Running out to meet us as his prodigal children, in Jesus the Father welcomes us home and is throwing us a great celebration. All that he has is ours in the gift of the Spirit—the indwelling Christ lives the life in us by the Spirit we were created to live as we respond to him in faith.

Some of us were not blessed with big happy families to include us and to surround us with love. For many of us being a part of our family of origin has not been a blessing or a joyful experience. The miracle of God’s grace to us in Christ is that we are all included in God’s family.

And God meant for those who believe to live together in such a way that they reflect the divine life and love, and become a family of love and grace who embraces the lost, lonely, broken and needy people who are looking for a home. If God can embrace and welcome broken, sinful humanity into his family by sharing in our broken, sinful flesh, and living and dying for us, how can we do any less for others?

Perhaps it is time that we stop the “us and them” way of thinking, and start practicing the reality formed in Christ that we are all “members of one another” (Eph. 4:25) We are all brothers, sisters and mothers in Christ, children of the Father, bound together in the Spirit. We are all kinfolk. Perhaps if we believed and behaved according to the truth of who we really are as God’s beloved, adopted and redeemed children, we might find the world becoming an entirely different place in which to live.

Heavenly Father, thank you that you have given us your Son to share in our humanity and to redeem us and bring us back into the right relationship with you which you foreordained for us to have before time began. Forgive us that too often we ignore and hide ourselves away from you and from each other. Grant us the grace to live according to the truth that we are your beloved, redeemed children made to reflect your image, and that we are all joined to one another in Jesus Christ. May we love others as you have loved us, through Christ and in your Spirit. Amen.

“While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.’ But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.’” Matthew 12:46–50 NASB

Putting New Wine in this Old Wineskin

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By Linda Rex

Recently I spent several hours in the emergency room because my heart was in atrial defibrillation and would not go back to a regular rhythm until I had been given several medications. I do not know yet what the real reason for this episode is yet—I have a couple tests the cardiologist wants to put me through first. But I do know that having an event like this in my life has given me an opportunity to simply appreciate the moments I have left, as well as the relationships God has blessed me with over the years.

Going through this is also helping me once again to face the over-fifty reality that I’m getting older and my health is not what it used to be. Genetics, lifestyle consequences, you name it—it all adds up to, I can’t do everything I used to be able to do. My mind and my will may want to do certain things, but my body just can’t take it anymore, whether I like it or not.

When I worked at the care center I used to laugh with the seniors about this. We’d agree that just like a fine wine, we don’t get older, we get better and more refined with age. It’s not that getting older is so bad, it’s just having to live with the body that goes with it—it just doesn’t work like it used to and that’s no fun.

Sometime in the midst of my musings over my forced rest from any stress or exertion, my morning reading included the passage in Matthew 9 where Jesus talked about not patching an old piece of clothing with new cloth, and not putting new wine into old wineskins. For some reason this really stuck out in my mind, probably because our lectionary passage for Sunday is the story about Jesus turning water into wine.

Jesus had this deal about wine. I think it’s pretty funny that Jesus would do an “in your face” type of move like turning the water used for ritual washing into wine for drinking. How like him! And he didn’t just make enough for the day’s meal. He made more than one hundred gallons! There could be some serious inebriation going on with that amount of wine at the wedding. But that didn’t seem to matter to him.

Changing water used for ritual washing into wine to drink—there are a lot of ramifications to what he did when he did this simple miracle. When he talked about the importance of not putting new wine into old wineskins, he was talking about something similar, but totally different as well. The first things most commentators point out about both is that Jesus was pointing out the reality that the old way of the Jewish temple worship was to be superseded by the living Messiah, who would be both our sacrificial Lamb and our High Priest. The old way of approaching God and worshiping him was being replaced with the new way of the ministry of the Spirit through Christ.

But it struck me this week that there was a lot more going on here than just the removal of an old sacrificial system through the coming of the Messiah. Indeed, Jesus did a lot more than just create a new way of worshiping God. What he did in sharing our humanity, dying our death and rising again was so much more than just that.

We learn in Ephesians 1 and elsewhere that before time God intended humanity to share his life and love as his adopted children. But as we were, we could not hold the majesty of the life of the Trinity within us in the way that God wanted us to. We could not share in the divine life the way God intended us to. Truly, God holds all things and nothing exists outside of him. But there was a lack in our human capacity to relate to and grasp the spiritual realities we were created to exist within. We could only see ourselves as alienated from God and unworthy of his love. In many ways our humanity was like those old wineskins. If God would have tried to pour into us the fullness of his glory and love would we not have been broken? For surely God offered us his life, but we rejected it.

Jesus in coming into our humanity, dying and rising again created for all of us a new wineskin, and then sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in human hearts. What amazing love God has that he would do whatever it took so that we could share in the divine life and love! Now, as Jesus said it would be, we have the amazing gift of the indwelling Father and Son in the Spirit. New wine in these old wineskins that have been made new so they could contain that new wine. Instead of those old clothes that are patched and worn, God gave us new wedding clothes.

And there I am, back at the wedding again, where there’s an overabundance of wine. Surely God’s Spirit is limitless and God has poured out on us the tremendous precious gift of his Spirit who brings all God’s blessings into full expression in us and in our world as we participate actively in the divine life and love. Drink in of this wonderful luxury—God’s Presence in us and with us at every moment, as we are held in union with God through Christ, and experience loving communion with God and one another in the Spirit. That’s some wedding!

Thank you, Father, for inviting all of us to the wedding of your Son to his beautiful Bride, and for creating in Christ a new humanity to be filled with your divine Presence in the Spirit. How wonderful that we all may live each moment in anticipation of the day when we can sit at this wedding feast in glory, but thank you also that even now we sit in glory with you through Christ in the Spirit and can drink in of that heady glorious wine of eternity each and every moment of every day. In your Name, Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.

“Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:17 NASB

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough.’ ” Luke 5:37–39 NASB

Gifts for the Dead and Dying

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Ice on holly leaves and berries

By Linda Rex

Recently I had the privilege of participating in the funeral of one of the members of our Nashville congregation. What made it a beautiful event was the family members standing up and telling everyone of the impact their loved one had on their lives. The legacy he left in the lives of his friends and family was the most important thing he left behind.

It reminded me that one of the best gifts we can give to others while we are alive is a life lived well and for the sake of God and others. Walking my mother through her end of life and handling her affairs after her death is necessarily causing me to reflect on issues regarding death and dying. And I can’t help but ask myself, “What I am going to leave behind?” and “What impact am I really having on the people around me right now?”

On the Christian calendar, we celebrate the coming of the wise men from the East on Epiphany, which took place this year on Wednesday, January 6th. Epiphany reminds us that Jesus did not come just as the Messiah for the Jewish people, but for the deliverance of all people from sin and death. The gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh that were given to Jesus and his parents pointed to Jesus’ role as the prophet, priest and king who would die on humanity’s behalf.

Jesus didn’t come to earth just to live. He also came to die. Here, shortly after his birth, his family was faced with the reality that there was going to be a whole lot more to Jesus’ life than that of the typical Jewish child of his day. And it might not even end well. Did not Simeon say that Jesus would be a light to the Gentiles, but “a sword will pierce even your own soul”? (Luke 2:35) Death and dying, apparently, were to be an important part of Jesus’ future.

Whether we like it or not, death and dying are an important part of our future too. We don’t like to talk about death or dying, much less think about it. It can be a struggle to get ourselves to do simple things like writing out a will or planning our estate, because somehow it seems to create a sense of finality about our lives—there is an end and it’s coming soon, and we’d rather not think about it right now.

Have you ever thought about the reality that God wrote a will out for you and me and planned an estate for us already? That he has some very special gifts for you and me—all of us who are at this moment dead and dying? (Col 2:13) Like the “three kings of Orient” brought gifts that spoke to the reality of the Christ child and his future, the Father, Son and Spirit have brought us gifts as well that speak to the reality of our future.

Like the gift of gold which was presented to Jesus the King, God gives to each of us the wealth of his kingdom life and love through the gift of his Son. God has given each of us the gift of a High Priest who intercedes for us on our behalf, offering perfected prayers as the frankincense which was offered to the Christ child would bring a sweet aroma when presented by the priest. And the myrrh, used to anoint a dead body, reminds us that Jesus anointed each of our dead bodies with his eternal life and the gift of his Spirit. What better gifts could we receive than these?

Yes, the decisions we make now affect our prospects for the future, but not as much as the decisions we make now about our relationships with God and each other. Yet none of these decisions are as earth-shatteringly important as the one God made before time began, that each of us would be his adopted child, and that his Son would live and die to make that possible. His Son’s legacy would be millions and billions of glorified human beings, bound together through Jesus and in the Spirit in a relationship of love and grace with one another and with God forever.

We get all bent out of shape about death and dying, but for God, it is merely a step into eternity. His Son Jesus not only left behind for us a legacy, but also prepared for us a future. We need to adjust to an eternal perspective about life and living, death and dying.

We may live in the not yet of God’s kingdom life now, but we are also just passing through, headed on our way to the fullness of the kingdom life to come. And it is only a short breath away from being our own turn to face it. May we do so with courage and confidence, knowing God’s gift comes to us through faith, hope and love in the gift of his Son and his Spirit, and we have nothing to fear.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit, for all the spiritual blessings you have poured out on us now and also in anticipation of eternity with you. Grant us the grace to receive all your gifts with gratitude and joy, and to live in the light of eternal values and goals in the today of our lives. May each moment shine with your eternal light so that others can see there is so much more to life than just death and dying, but there is also faith, hope, and love, and eternity with you. Through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:9-11 NASB

The New Year and the Blessing of Snow

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By Linda Rex

It was almost Christmas Day and I was listening to yet another Christmas carol. The thought came to my mind that a lot of these Christmas songs, and the movies that come out this time of year, are about winter and specifically, snow. What’s the big deal about snow, anyway?

Well, I’m sure there are a lot of reasons that snow is considered an important part of people’s celebration of this day. But the reason I like the idea of snow being associated with Jesus’ birth is that it is a reminder that Jesus came to give all of us a new start.

It’s like when the dirty dingy sidewalks and the brown grass suddenly disappear under a thick coat of new snow. When everything is caught in the silent beauty of a falling snow that is covering everything with glittering whiteness, it’s easy to believe that there are new possibilities for life. All of a sudden we see things in a new way.

God calls us to the joy and wonder of a new start when he says: “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18) Christ’s life was all about new beginnings, about giving each of us a clean slate.

Here we pause at the beginning of a New Year, a new year full of new possibilities and new beginnings. Each of us has been given another year in which to live life to the fullness in a relationship of love with the Father, Son and Spirit and with one another. We look out onto a yard full of snowy whiteness and we consider what we will do.

There are so many possibilities! Some of us will run out in our snowboots and hats and will start making snowmen and snow angels. Some of us will complain about the mess and get out our snowblowers to get rid of the snow. Some of us will just sit and gaze on the snow through the windows, wistfully wishing we could enjoy it. And some of us will go out and start a snowball fight.

In every case, we find that we are given the opportunity to do something new in our lives. We have the opportunity to be creative and build something, or do something useful with what’s been given. We can be productive and helpful or wasteful and destructive. We can experience joy and have fun in the midst of the new life God has given us, or we can wallow in negativity.

What will your New Year be like? My wish for all of you is that you will experience in a deep, real way the Presence of God in your lives each and every day of this New Year, and that as you walk with the Triune God, you will grow in his faith, hope and love. May you experience God’s fullest blessings in 2016!

Holy God, thank you for wiping our slate clean and giving us a new start. Thank you that we can experience new beginnings all the time—with each new day, month and year, even each moment—because of what you have done for us in your Son. Give us the heart to offer this same grace to each person in our lives as you offer it to us. Through Jesus and in your Spirit we pray. Amen.

“There is an appointed time for everything.
And there is a time for every event under heaven
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NASB

Indeed, The Lord is With You

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Christmas Day
By Linda Rex

During Christmas we often read or hear quoted the prophecy of Isaiah regarding the Messiah. We are caught by the foretelling of the birth of One who would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. Into Israel’s darkness, Isaiah said, would come a great light. This prophecy was meant to comfort the nation Isaiah was warning to repent of their sins.

In between these descriptions of the Messiah is a reference to the battle of Midian. I thought this seemed so out of context to the rest of the passage—what does the battle of Midian have to do with the Messiah?

So I went and read about this famous battle in Judges 6 and 7. Typically, the people of Israel had been “doing what is right in their own eyes” and ended up being overrun with armies from other nations. These armies from Midian and other nations would come at harvest time and strip the land of all the food and animals. So the Israelites were starving and had to hide anything they wanted to keep.

Eventually the nation of Israel cried out to God and he sent an angel to Gideon. This man was hiding in a winepress, trying to thresh his wheat while hiding it from the invading armies. He, like the other Israelites, was fearful and just trying to find a way to survive.

I was struck by the conversation Gideon had with the angel, because the first thing the angel said was, “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior!” Obviously, valiant wasn’t probably the first thought anyone would have about Gideon. The youngest son of his family, he was hiding in a winepress, hoping no one would find him and his wheat.

His reply to the angel is so classic: “If the Lord is with us, then why has all this happened to us?” It is so like us as humans to blame God when things don’t go well in our lives. Even when the angel told him he would lead Israel to victory over the invading armies, Gideon demanded sign after sign from God—he didn’t believe that God really was with him.

In this story, we see God allowing Gideon to participate with him in his deliverance of Israel. But when he first called the people to battle, God had him whittle the 32,000 volunteers down to only 300. And when those 300 men went down into battle that fateful night, they merely blew trumpets and broke jars covering torches, and shouted “For the Lord and for Gideon!” And God did all the rest. It was only after the enemy was on the run that Gideon called for others to help in the mop-up process.

This story really fits in with the Christmas story because we believe the lie that God is not with us and doesn’t care about the oppression and suffering in our lives. We believe that we are weak and cowardly and without favor in God’s eyes. We deny that our struggles are as a result of our resistance against God and not living in agreement with the truth of who we are as God’s beloved, redeemed children.

But God comes and speaks truth into our lives—he even sends angels. And we still don’t hear him. We question the truth of who God is, if he even exists and if he really cares. God’s Word to us is “I am with you” but we believe he is not. We believe we are all alone and masters of our own fate.

But the zeal of the Lord is to accomplish the coming of his Word to show us once and for all who he is: He is a supernatural counselor, a mighty God, an everlasting loving fatherly ruler, a prince of never-ending peace and prosperity—and he is God with us, Immanuel.

The Word of God to humanity came to Mary (Luke 1:28-38) first through an angel, then through a tiny baby. The angel said to Mary, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!” God spoke the truth into Mary’s heart—she was favored by God and God was with her. And through Mary, God’s Word has come in human flesh—Immanuel—God with us—sharing every part of our human existence.

God cared enough about the suffering and oppression in our lives even when sometimes we deserve it to share it with us by sharing our humanity.

God cared enough about our failure to live according to the truth of who we are that he became one of us and lived the life we are to live perfectly so that we are all accepted in him—the beloved Son of the Father.

God cared enough about us being able to live in union and communion with him as the Triune God that he became one of us, lived our life, died for our sins at our hands and rose the third day, and ascended to heaven, carrying us with him into the presence of the Father.

And that wasn’t enough—he sent us the Holy Spirit so we could share in his abundant life, and have the living, indwelling Presence of the Holy Father and Son right now through the Spirit. God who is Light entered our darkness, the darkness of this world and the darkness of our souls—He shines on us, in us and through us.

He calls us to be heralds of his deliverance—to blow the trumpet and break the jars of our humanity that hide his light, to call others to join us in the battle—and to watch God do the deliverance.

God will finish what he has begun in sending his Son into human flesh and sending his Spirit into the world. He is zealous to bring many sons and daughters into glory—and he will finish this when Jesus returns in glory. One day we will be like him for we will see him as he is. Maranatha! May he come soon!

Hallelujah! You are an awesome and great God, full of all glory and Majesty. Thank you, Father, for sending us your Son and your Spirit—so that you, God, might be with us forever! Amen.

“The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them.
You shall multiply the nation,
You shall increase their gladness;
They will be glad in Your presence
As with the gladness of harvest,
As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders,
The rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian.
For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult,
And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire.
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.”
Isaiah 9:2–7 NASB

Reaching for Joy

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HandmadeOrnaments2015

Advent: JOY
By Linda Rex

This time of year can really be difficult for some people. It seems that the songs we listen to, the Christmas movies we watch and the stories that are told tell about all this lovely holiday joy we should have. And yet, so many of us struggle just to put one foot in front of the other and make it through another day.

I don’t think God expects us to walk around all day, every day, with a big smile on our face. That’s actually kind of creepy, you know. Because it’s not real. God gives us our humanity back renewed in Christ and it’s a humanity that feels things deeply, that sorrows and grieves as much as it laughs and sings for joy.

I read a devotional this morning from New Life Ministries that reminded me the psalms in the Bible are filled with expressions of the whole spectrum of our human existence. There isn’t an emotion there that Christ didn’t feel. It is good to read them and experience God’s heart joining with our heart within the full expression of our humanity.

The psalms tell us that the trees and the animals and all creation sing for joy in praise to God. Over and over we are called to rejoice even in times of persecution and difficult circumstances. If it was left up to us to find the joy to do this, we couldn’t do it. Because, humanly, we tend to allow our situations and struggles to define our emotions rather than the other way around.

But the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus counted his sufferings—the cross and its shame—as joy. He was able to do so because he looked beyond them to the glory that was to come, not just for him, but for us as well. He went first so that we could follow.

We find our joy in Christ. He lives forever in the divine joy he shares with the Father in the Spirit. He calls us to look beyond this life to the life he purchased for us and gave us in the Holy Spirit. He lives in us today and gives us his joy. He gives us the eyes to see beyond our present circumstances into the kingdom of God he brought in his life, death, resurrection and ascension.

This is why the apostle Paul repeatedly reminded people to keep their eyes on things above, not on earthly things (Col. 3:1-4). We need to keep a spiritual vision of there being so much more to life than this everyday human existence we currently have. Our joy comes from knowing this is not all there is to life. There is somethings very transcendent going on and we get to be a part of it right now.

One of my favorite hymns of joy came to mind this morning. It is a classical piece that causes my heart to overflow with joy as it is sung. It reminds us that our joy comes from beyond us and overflows in our hearts from Christ in the Spirit. It is my prayer for you this holiday season, that you experience God’s divine joy in a profound way through Jesus and by his Spirit. Amen.

Hymn to Joy
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!

All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heaven reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.

Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blessed,
Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.

Mortals, join the happy chorus, which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us, brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward in the triumph song of life.
Henry J. van Dyke, 1907
Sung to “Hymn to Joy” from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony

“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 12:1–2 NASB