power of the holy spirit

Living in the Newness

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By Linda Rex

5th SUNDAY OF EASTER—As many of my friends and family know, I will be getting remarried next Saturday. I was sharing our story of repentance and renewal when a friend asked whether someone could really change that much. Perhaps one of the greatest struggles in our relationships with one another is this very question—is it really possible for people to change for the better?

We are still in the season of Easter, the time of renewal and redemption in the story of Jesus Christ. We have talked about how the Word of God set aside for a time the privileges of his divinity in order to join us in our humanity and was willing to go to the cross on our behalf so that we would be brought up into the divine circle of love and grace, the perichoresis of the Trinity.

As broken human beings, we muddle our way through life doing the best we can in every situation, often following the leadings of our heart and mind even when they lead us down some very difficult and painful paths. Years ago, as two broken people caught up in the legalistic religious mentality we were brought up in and drawing upon the broken template of our parents’ relationships as an example, my ex-husband, Ray, and I tried to piece together a happy marriage. We were good at the image of happiness, but in reality, we did not know the first thing about how to resolve our differences and we certainly didn’t know what it meant to love with the self-sacrificial and redemptive love of Jesus.

We had a marriage based on rules, on performance, rather than based in the love and grace of God himself. Our two wonderful children were raised in the midst of this brokenness and our greatest grief is what they had to suffer because of our failures to love. It took many years for God to work with the two of us to get us to the place where we were healed enough that we could move on. And it was a surprise to me that God wanted this renewal in our relationship to happen.

But this healing and renewal is meant to bear witness to the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives. We are both fundamentally the same and will probably struggle with many issues similar to what we struggled with in the past. But we are both in a different place due to what God has done in each of our hearts and lives by his Holy Spirit.

As Christ has been at work within us and we have responded to his leading, we have both grown and healed, and are being renewed day by day. There is a humility and a willingness to be taught new ways of relating and resolving issues. There is a grace that has come through suffering and sorrow. Our personal renewal isn’t always evident to those around us—it is often buried under the default of our old habits and ways of talking and acting. But God is making all things new and he has begun this renewal in our relationship as a witness to his glory and grace.

When there is so much hurt and pain in a relationship, it is very difficult for the adults and the children to say, “I forgive you,” and to let people start over. The wounds and the bad memories often get in the way of reconciliation. Forgiveness and reconciliation often have to begin with an intentional decision rather than a desire or feeling. The Lord Jesus reconciled all humanity with the Father—we are to participate with him in this reconciliation by choosing to forgive and to be reconciled in all the relationships in our lives which are broken.

The renewal Jesus is bringing about is something which he accomplished in his life, death, resurrection and ascension, and is working into our individual experience by the pouring out of his Holy Spirit. In our broken relationships with one another we have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to express the redemptive purpose and power of God, bearing witness to God’s ability to renew and restore in the midst of our brokenness and failures to love.

When Jesus says, “Behold I am making all things new,” he isn’t just talking about some distant future event. He is also talking about right now, in each and every moment. God’s way of being is one of renewal. His purpose is to move in our hearts and lives such a way that renewal is a continual process. What we are today, if we are willing and respond to the work of the indwelling Christ, will be different from what we will be tomorrow—Jesus is bringing us deeper and deeper into intimate relationship with the Father by the Spirit.

As we draw closer to God, we begin to change. We begin to put on more and more of the nature of God, just as children over time begin to resemble their parents. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11 NASB) Even though by all appearances, we may be just the same, God has declared in Christ that we are washed, sanctified, and justified. We are made new, and as Christ goes to work within us by the Holy Spirit, over time that newness becomes a reality for us individually.

There are no promises that the man I love or I will get it right the second time around. So our faith isn’t in ourselves, but in the God who brought us together and who lives within us. We are committed to Christ and to one another—the rest is up to our all-powerful God. Through Jesus and by his Spirit, we trust that our second marriage will reflect the mercy and glory of our Triune God of love. We rest in Christ’s ability and power, not our ability and capacity to make this work. Loving relationship is a work of the Spirit; may he create a beautiful loving relationship which gives God glory and honor for the rest of our time together.

Abba, thank you for your ministry of reconciliation which you have accomplished through your Son Jesus and are making real in this world, in our lives and in our relationships by your Holy Spirit. Please bring healing and wholeness to every broken relationship. Enable us to choose forgiveness, to choose to be reconciled to one another, just as you have reconciled us to you. Bind us together in loving, gracious, and truth-filled relationships through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’ And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” Rev 21:3-5

A Real Reversal

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By Linda Rex

3rd SUNDAY OF EASTER—As the years go by, I find myself reflecting on the journey I have been on with Jesus. The person I am today is profoundly different from the person I was as a young adult. I had lots of dreams back then, and I voiced many strong convictions about what I believed to be true about God, myself, and others, much of which I have since renounced as wrong or inaccurate.

Life seemed to be a lot less complicated back then. I believed that if I just did everything the way it should be done, my life would be blessed, I would be happy, and things would go along quite well without any difficulties or suffering. Whatever difficulty or suffering that might come would be because I sinned or because I was being persecuted for doing what was right. It seemed as though I was on God’s side so he had to be on mine, making sure everything went as it should.

I’m a little embarrassed to think about how naïve and unschooled I was, but it was merely the outgrowth of unhealthy theology and a protected yet legalistic childhood. I have, through the conditioning of God and everyday human existence, come to have a more rounded and mature view of things. There is indeed evil at work in this world, and evil affects anyone and everyone at some point. No matter who we are, we won’t escape failures, difficulties, struggles, and challenges.

A fundamental change in my life began when my view of who I believed God to be was challenged. I believed God was Father and Son, and the Spirit was their power or essence. As I grew in my understanding of who the Holy Spirit really is as the third Person of the Trinity—reading in the scriptures and believing all the examples of his personhood illustrated there and growing in my personal relationship with the Spirit through prayer and listening—my understanding of who Jesus and the Father are began to change as well.

Knowing the Father as our loving Abba and Jesus Christ as his Son the Messiah, the Word who came and took on our human flesh, dying our death, rising again, to bear our glorified humanity in the presence of the Father forever, is life-transforming. As the Spirit brought me nearer and deeper into the life of the Trinity, what I believed kept moving beyond just a religious creed into the realm of personal experience. The reality of Jesus Christ in me, with me, for me, began to take a clearer shape. Jesus was no longer some story character—he had revealed himself to me personally by the Holy Spirit. I began to hear God’s still small voice in my heart and mind, and I began to know and believe I am loved, forgiven, and accepted. The more I believed the truth about who Jesus was and why he came and the more I knew I belonged and was included in Jesus’ perfect relationship with his Abba in the Spirit, the more my behavior began to change.

I was more than happy to do my part in obeying God—I had constantly been bombarded by the shoulds, oughts, and have-tos of the belief system I held and all it did was make me worse. The harder I tried, the more I found myself shackled by unhealthy ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. I struggled often with depression and self-loathing. This obviously wasn’t God’s way of doing things. Eventually, the change I noticed within myself did not come about because I tried harder, but rather because I admitted I couldn’t do it and I needed Christ to do it in me and through me by his Holy Spirit. It happened when I was honest with others about my struggles and failures, and sought help. It happened when I was transparent about my failures, became fully known and yet loved, accepted and forgiven within a healthy spiritual community.

The worst thing about toxic or legalistic religious environments is that they do not allow people to be authentic and real and so find genuine healing and renewal. It seems that when people come together to form a church, they bring with them their masquerade gear and spend copious amounts of energy hiding from one another. In this type of environment, addictions and co-dependencies thrive. Healing and renewal are often limited or are complicated by unhealthy boundaries and toxic relationships.

It is much better to be in a safe spiritual community where each person is able to be genuine and transparent, and is allowed to grow up in Christ. Growing up in healthy ways requires the freedom to make mistakes without condemnation and with the support and encouragement of those who have previously traveled those same difficult paths. A healthy spiritual community allows for falling short without condemnation, but challenges brothers and sisters to grow up into the fullness of who they are in Christ.

Saul was not a bad person. He was a zealous God-fearing Jew. He meant to do the right thing, and he was trying to live life the way he believed God wanted him to. I don’t know why he was so adamant about imprisoning and executing the believers in Christ, but perhaps his zeal for God was also inspired by a need for the approval of his Jewish peers and a need to accomplish what no one else was doing quite as well. Whatever his reasoning, it seemed to be borne out of a heart seeking to please God.

Imagine how horrifying it must have been to realize that the One Saul had been trying to impress was actually the One he had been persecuting. His efforts to earn God’s love and approval, and the adulation and approval of his peers, was actually an action in opposition to God and in persecution of Jesus. Saul needed to know who Jesus Christ really was. He needed to have his image of God reformed into something which more perfectly apprehended the Triune God of love. As Saul sat in the darkness of blindness for a few days, he must have thought at least once—now what do I do? How can I possibly make amends for this?

What if Ananias had refused to listen to Jesus when the Lord told him to go lay hands on Saul so he could see again? What if he had stood in judgment of Saul and had condemned him, insisting he pay for his crimes against Ananias’ friends and fellow believers? But he didn’t. He humbly obeyed Jesus’ command and met Saul right where he was, offering him grace and love, and entrance into the body of Christ, the church.

Saul, whom we know today as the apostle Paul, never minced words when he spoke about his past and his failures in life. He was transparent and honest about the people he had harmed and the suffering he had incurred. Instead of being a reason for shame and guilt, God made his failures an essential part of his witness to the resurrection power of the risen Christ and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s proclamation of the gospel was effective often because people saw the profound reversal which had occurred in his life when he met Jesus Christ.

A church should be a spiritual community where people can be authentic and transparent, and safely transverse the changes necessary between spiritual infancy and the spiritual maturity of Christlikeness. This is a journey that takes time, and we all have ups and downs as we travel. We are bound together in Christ to offer one another both grace and truth—to enable one another to be challenged as well as upheld when things don’t go as we planned or hoped they should, or when we fall short of Christ.

The Spirit creates such a community as we respond to his work in our hearts and minds, and live and walk in him, tossing aside the old as unneeded scraps of clothing ready to be burned, and putting on Jesus Christ who is our life and the truth of our being. As we live out the truth of our real reversal in Jesus, the Spirit enables us to participate in bringing others to experience this transformation as well, creating a fellowship of care which reflects the inner life of the Triune God. Our spiritual community isn’t meant to be a closed group but rather a welcoming place where others may find healing and renewal as well.

Dear Abba, thank you that by your Spirit you bring together people to form spiritual communities where they can find healing and renewal, and share that gift with others who are broken and suffering. As believers, change our hearts and minds so that we begin to live together in ways which are transparent and authentic, and are safe for others to participate in and to come to know and grow up in Christ in a healthy way. We thank you for never ceasing to bring us to yourself through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.’ … and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, ‘Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?’ ” Acts 9:5-6, 20-21 NASB

He is Risen Indeed

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By Linda Rex

RESURRECTION SUNDAY/EASTER—I’ve been noticing how often we act as though Jesus is still hanging on the cross or laying dead in the tomb. As Christians we can talk a lot about how Jesus died on the cross for us and our sins and how he rose from the grave, but do we live and speak as though this is actually true?

As I was sitting in the last session of a recent GCI women’s leadership forum, I was invited to write myself a permission slip. We had written one on the opening session, and now we were going to write one as we prepared to leave. I closed my eyes and asked the Lord what he wanted me to write on my slip. The still small voice said, “Be free.”

As I wrote this down on my yellow post-it note, I thought about this statement. Why would God ask me to give myself permission to be free when in Christ I already was free? I was struck by the reality that I could know quite well that I am made free from evil, sin, and death through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension, and yet be thinking, feeling, and living as though this were not true.

This is similar to Paul’s direction to us to be reconciled to God because we are reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18-20). There is the spiritual reality of our reconciliation with God on his side and spiritual reality of our freedom from evil, sin, and death in Jesus. And then, on the other side, there is our personal experience of and participation in these spiritual realities through Jesus in the Spirit.

The apostle Peter had told Jesus he believed he was the Messiah, his Lord. He had refused to believe that he would ever betray Jesus. But standing in the courtyard trying to stay warm the night Jesus was taken and was being tried, Peter denied vehemently that he knew him. When the rooster crowed and Jesus caught his eye, Peter was devastated. He was caught between the two parts of himself—what he meant to do and what he did, what he believed and how he acted—and subsequently found himself in a place he never meant to be and experienced sorrow and deep remorse as a result.

As we read the Easter story in Luke 24:1-12, we find Peter again caught between what actually had happened, and what his human reasoning would have him believe and do—Jesus was not in his tomb. Were the women right? Had he indeed risen from the grave? How could that be? Peter saw the empty tomb and went away marveling—but apparently, not believing.

All of these experiences including his subsequent encounters with the risen Jesus, and his calling to be a shepherd to God’s people, helped to form and shape Peter. It was this Peter, the one who not only knew Jesus had died and risen again, but who had personally experienced Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, who was praying on a rooftop in Joppa when the men sent by a centurion stopped at the gate and asked for him.

In the companion scripture for this Sunday in Acts 10:34-43, Luke tells us about the sermon Peter preached to these Gentiles. He began by saying that it was obvious to him that God was not someone who showed partiality. He could say this confidently because not only had God given him a repeated vision which told him he was not to differentiate between people, but also because he had been directed to treat these Gentiles as though they were brothers. What Peter had learned at the feet of Jesus, he was now experiencing in the midst of his own ministry—Jesus had torn down those divisions held near and dear by the Jewish people and had made all people one in himself.

As Peter preached and told of his experience of the life, death, and resurrection of his Lord, the Spirit came upon these people. What was true in Jesus Christ was now true for each person there. They were included—they were God’s people not just as a spiritual reality, but now by personal experience. They were baptized, showing their participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, by participating in the baptism Jesus did on all humanity’s behalf.

But even Peter struggled with what he knew to be true and making it a reality in his life. At one point the apostle Paul took Peter to task for not acting in accordance with the truth about the Gentiles being included in table fellowship through Jesus. Peter got caught up with some Jewish members’ refusing to eat with Gentiles, and even Barnabas was led astray (Gal. 2:11-14). Didn’t he know better? Obviously, yes, he did. But in that moment, he missed the mark.

The spiritual reality is that all are included in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. As Paul wrote: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:20-21 NASB) Because of our inclusion, Paul calls us to lay aside the old self and be renewed—put on the new self which has been through Christ created in the image of God (Eph. 4:22-24). Yes, we were dead in our sins, but God made us alive together with Christ, seating us in his presence in Christ (Eph. 2:4-7).

Our flesh calls to us to live in the old ways—to act like dead people. But we have been given new life, and God is calling us to act like the new creations we are. Paul says, keep seeking the things above, since that is where you (according to the spiritual realities) really are right now; keep thinking about the heavenly realities instead of obsessing on the fleshly realities of our old human existence.

Let all that is not of God continue hanging on the cross where Jesus hung. Leave the sin, evil, guilt and shame in the tomb with Jesus. Walk in the newness of life which is yours in Jesus. Cease living for yourself alone, for your own pleasure and personal indulgence and begin living as a member of God’s body—fulfilling that special place you were created to fill with your gifts, talents, knowledge, and experiences in love and service to God and others.

The truth is that, like Peter, we can be confident of the spiritual realities but fall far short in our personal experience of or participation in them. This is why we turn to Jesus and trust solely in him, and in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. We don’t count on our own ability or strength, but rather on the resurrection power which raised Jesus from the dead. It is God’s life at work in us which enables us to live in newness of life.

We trust, not in the empty cross, but in the risen Lord who died on the cross. He isn’t still in the tomb—the tomb is empty and his body has been glorified. Jesus is both seated at God’s right hand bearing our humanity in his presence and is present and near to us moment by moment by the Holy Spirit. We are reconciled to God, so by the Spirit we respond to God’s call to be reconciled to him and others. We are freed from sin, evil, and death—so we live through Jesus by the Spirit in the true freedom by which we love God and our neighbor as we were created to. By the Spirit, Abba’s resurrection power, we live, act and speak as though Jesus Christ is risen indeed.

Thank you, Abba, for the gift of new life given us in your Son Jesus Christ. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for making Jesus’ gift our very own, enabling us to participate fully in all Christ has done. Dear Abba, enable us to walk in the life which is ours in Christ, living reconciled and free, through Jesus and in the Spirit. Amen.

“While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen.’ “ Luke 24:4-6a NASB

Seeking Earnestly for God

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By Linda Rex

LENT—As I walked through the grocery store the other day, I was struck by the amount of choices placed before me of things to drink. Moving through a large open section filled with a wide variety of bottles of wine, I came to an aisle filled with beers, ales, and other cold alcoholic drinks. Beyond that was an even larger aisle filled with flavored and unflavored bottled water. And after that was an aisle filled with cans and bottles of all different kinds of soda pop.

The irony I felt was that God has given us fresh water to drink, but if I were to go anywhere in this country, hold a cup under a flowing fountain of running water, I probably would not be able to drink it. I would have to boil it first, maybe even filter it before I could safely drink it. The risk of illness would limit my ability to enjoy what God originally provided for my health and refreshment.

We live in a “dry and weary land where there is no water” not because there is no clean natural running water, but because we are parched for the living water of God’s real presence and power. Even within our churches today we find ourselves longing for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit’s renewal, yearning to see God at work in our lives, our families, and in our world. We live in a world where the Spirit’s presence is easily ignored and where our appetite for the things of God may be conveniently filled with anything our human flesh might crave.

God has given us so many things in this world to enjoy. They are meant to give us pleasure and to brighten our existence, and to show us the love and grace of our Creator and Redeemer. Yet they can so easily become the focus of our attention instead of turning us to the One who has given them to us for our joy and renewal. Rather than being a blessing to us they can enslave us or distract us from our unity with God through Jesus in the Spirit.

During Lent we may set aside some item, food, or habit in a worshipful offering to God as a means of fasting. This spiritual discipline is not meant to change God’s mind about us, but rather to open us up to the work of the Spirit in a new way. Setting something aside for a time reminds us of our dependency upon God and all he has done for us in giving his Son and his Spirit. We are reminded that our real sustenance is not in ourselves but in Jesus Christ—he is our life, and his lovingkindness is better than life (Ps. 63:3).

It is so easy for us to replace a deep abiding relationship with God with an abundance of cheap substitutes. We wander about from day to day constantly bombarded with temptations and distractions. It is so easy to find ourselves drinking from the well of our flesh rather than the free-flowing crystal waters of the Spirit. Our pause during Lent to attend to the things of the Spirit draws us away from this and turns us back toward our Savior and Lord.

When we feel we are far from Christ, God does not want us to wallow in guilt and shame. This is not his purpose. What he wants us to see is that even though we may believe we are totally lost, Jesus has already come to us, found us and brought us home to the Father. In reality, if we were to turn around and start moving in God’s direction, we would find Abba already running down the road to meet us, longing to embrace us and welcome us home.

God’s thoughts are so far above ours when it comes to the things of love and grace. God doesn’t hold anything against us, but freely and generously forgives us, even before we ever get around to saying we’re sorry. Admitting our guilt and saying we’re sorry merely affirms the reality that God needed to forgive us and so he did. God’s purpose is not to get us to feel bad and to try to do better—it is to bring us back into right relationship with himself so once again we can live in in joyful fellowship and unity with God and one another.

During Lent, our fasting can be a means by which we can attend to our thirst or need for God. A lot of times we don’t realize what’s really going inside of us because we are so distracted by our human, secular existence. Because we are so busy or caught up with the details of everyday life, we may not even realize we have turned away from our Abba and started down the road to destruction.

Our life at work, and in our family, school, and community are full of great relationships and experiences. There are challenges which stretch us and grow us into stronger, healthier people. There are circumstances and relationships which crush us and break us, causing us to wonder how we will ever be able to move on. Our human, secular existence isn’t evil in and of itself. But there is often evil at work in the things of this world and our human flesh has a proclivity apart from God’s work in us to succumb to the pulls of sinful thoughts and desires.

The only way we rise above the downward pull of our broken humanity is to drink in deeply of the free-flowing Spirit. We allow the recognition of our need for God to turn us toward him, not away from him in guilt and shame. Acknowledging our thirst, even hunger for God is an initial step toward healing and renewal. Seeking God in earnest means crying out for his redemptive power and presence, the living Christ, to finish what he has begun in us by the Holy Spirit.

Seeing how far we have fallen is not meant to create in us a determination to try harder. Yes, we want to leave behind old, broken ways of being and doing. But this realization of our need to change is in reality a thirst for the things of God which can only be filled by drinking in of the Spirit of love and grace given to us through Jesus. It is the Spirit who transforms our hearts by faith. He is the One who empowers us to live and walk in truth by the faith of the Son of God.

The spiritual disciplines we practice open us wide to the Spirit, allowing him to penetrate new parts of our being and relationships with his presence and power. Spiritual disciplines have been practiced by Christians for millennia and include such things as prayer, meditation, study of God’s word, celebration, praise and worship, service, truth-telling, humility, simplicity, contemplation, and fasting.

By creating spaces in our everyday lives to open ourselves up to the Spirit and grow in our relationship with Jesus through the practice of spiritual disciplines, we are able to drink in deeply of the living waters of God’s love and grace. We will find ourselves empowered to live in ways which are more compassionate, loving, and in tune with the heavenly realities. We will experience a nearness with Jesus and Abba by the Spirit which will be life-transforming. This drinking in of the life-giving Spirit will quench our thirsty souls in a way nothing else can.

Dear God, you are so gracious and kind! Turn our hearts once again back to you, Lord. Enable us to see our true hunger and thirst are for you and your ways. Thank you, Abba, that you did not leave us in our broken and thirsty flesh, but you sent Jesus heal us, to bring us home to you, and you gave us your Spirit to refresh and renew us. Cause our beings to resonate with your being, Lord. We are so grateful you do not leave us as we are but ever work to make us new through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Seek the LORD while He may be found; / Call upon Him while He is near. / Let the wicked forsake his way / And the unrighteous man his thoughts; / And let him return to the LORD, / And He will have compassion on him, / And to our God, / For He will abundantly pardon. / For My thoughts are not your thoughts, / Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. / For as the heavens are higher than the earth, / So are My ways higher than your ways / And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:6-8 NASB

“O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; / My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
Psalm 63:1 NASB

Glimpses of Hidden Glory

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By Linda Rex

TRANSFIGURATION—Lately I have had to reexamine the way in which I view people in my life. I thought that I was very open to people growing and changing. But God has shown me that I’m not as gracious and open to his work in people’s hearts and lives as I thought I was.

I’m also being reminded that real love works towards the other person’s best rather than only working toward their happiness. I grew up believing it was important to keep the people in my life happy. In reality this is a very selfish approach to life because the effort to keep people happy is more about my comfort level and my convenience than it is necessarily about the well-being of those around me. It’s not wrong to want to bring joy to the people in my life, but that is significantly different in my mind than just trying to keep them happy—a task which is nigh to impossible and ultimately comes under the heading of codependency and enabling.

To bring joy to someone is more than just keeping them happy. We can feel loving toward someone but our love for them must move beyond feeling into expressions of genuine love. Real love for someone takes conscious effort and discipline. One chooses to express love to another, using one’s reason along with responding to one’s feelings. These expressions of love seek the other person’s best interests and personal growth, rather than just giving the other person what they want, when and how they want it.

When we grow up in a family in which love was not expressed in healthy ways, our efforts to love can actually be sick and maybe even destructive. In some families the parents discipline their children in the name of love, but do so in ways which are abusive and cruel. The discipline God gives us isn’t abusive and cruel but rather is laden with mercy and compassion. In fact, the curse and death we deserved because of our sinful ways and thoughts, Jesus took upon himself. He allowed us to crucify him and kill him, and did not retaliate in any way.

Love as expressed by God is self-sacrificial, humble, yielding, and gracious. And yet, God’s love always seeks our best. His purpose in taking on our humanity, living the life we were meant to live, dying our death, and rising again was so that we could fully become and be the people God intended us to be from the beginning. The apostle Paul uses the concept of having letters etched on a page, and Jesus taking our hand and writing those letters with us (and on our hearts) by the Holy Spirit. Jesus not only went before us, but by the Spirit, goes before us and with us as we grow in Christlikeness.

This beautiful love of God as expressed to us in Christ and in the gift of the Holy Spirit is meant to transform us and to draw us deeper into loving relationship with God. The reality of our human brokenness doesn’t alter God’s love for us, rather it awakens his compassion and moves him to do everything possible to bring healing, renewal, and transformation. God is ever working to transform us into the image of Christ, because even now Christ bears our true humanity in his Person as he is united forever with us in hypostatic union.

When I say that we work towards another person’s best interests and personal growth, I do not mean that we work to change them. Changing people is the sole dominion of the Holy Spirit. We can participate in the Spirit’s work by allowing our own selves to be grown up in Christlikeness and by expressing genuine godly love so we are a positive influence in someone’s life. We can tell them about our own broken path which Jesus has worked to heal and transform by the Holy Spirit. But we do not and cannot change another person. Often our efforts to change someone actually cause them to become more deeply entrenched in unhealthy ways of being and living.

I learned this the hard way and never want to try to do it ever again. The human tendency is to try to fix people and situations which in reality only God can fix. It is the Spirit’s work. And sometimes he will not work his transforming work in someone’s heart and life until we get out of the way and allow him to do it. Even the twelve-step program recovering addicts follow teaches that we cannot change another person—we can only work on ourselves. And as for me, even changing myself is problematic—I need God to change me, as I really struggle to change anything about myself.

What if someone in our lives is actually changing? What if they are growing up in Christ and beginning to manifest new ways of being and doing? How supportive are we of those changes? It is much too easy hold someone to their past ways of being and doing and to their brokenness, and not allow them to move into their new life in Christ. At the first sign of struggle or failure, we say, “They’re just the same as they’ve always been” and turn away in disgust.

I’m grateful God has not done that to me. When Paul uses the Greek word we draw our modern word “metamorphosis” from, I cannot but help think of the process which turns a caterpillar into a butterfly. The change from a leaf-eating monster into a beautiful nectar drinking butterfly is a long and difficult process. It actually includes the complete destruction of the caterpillar’s body and its reconstruction into something new. And this takes time.

And in exiting the cocoon, the butterfly goes through an intense struggle. If it did not press its wings through the small opening, it would never be able to fly. So the struggle is part of the process. We, as well-meaning friends and family, often snip the hole to make it larger so the struggle is not so difficult. But that only harms the butterfly. We can participate through being present, encouraging, praying, but we don’t want to do for the butterfly what it needs to do on its own.

I’m committing myself to becoming more aware of what God is doing in another person’s life and how I can be a helper in their joy. I want to encourage, pray, and be present as the people I encounter walk the road of transformation. I want to embrace and thank God for the work he has done and is doing to grow people into the likeness of his Son Jesus. And I want to fully participate in what God is doing to transform and change me. I hope you will join me in this commitment.

We are approaching Ash Wednesday this week. It is a good time to reflect not only on our brokenness and need for God’s mercy and rescue in Jesus, but also on the deliverance God has given us through his death and resurrection, and on the power of God to heal, transform, and renew given to us in the Person and presence of the Holy Spirit. May God bless you on your own personal journey of transformation.

Thank you, Abba, that you love us so much you want us to reflect your glory, the glory which shown in the person of Jesus Christ. Enable us to see what you are doing to grow those around us in Christlikeness and what you are doing to grow us up in Christ as well. Holy Spirit, we trust you to finish your perfect work in them and in us. Thank you for never stopping, but always working for our best, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 NASB

The Loss of a Brother

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By Linda Rex

We never know how our lives may be touched by another person. Sometimes it is just a momentary conversation that we never forget; other times it is sharing a traumatic event with someone. We may be connected to someone in a long-term relationship or they may be a casual acquaintance we share life with only on occasion. In whatever way a person may be connected with us, they do touch us in some way, and when they go, we often feel a sense of loss or even a deeper grief—part of us leaves with them, it seems.

This morning I was notified of the death of a pastor friend, John Novick. I grieve for his family and pray they will experience God’s near presence and comfort in their loss. I also feel sad at his passing because he touched my life in a very special way.

For a time, John and I worked together on a regional pastoral team for Paul David Kurts. We spent time going through leadership training together with the team. During our service on the regional team and as my brother in Christ, he heard my struggles as a pastor and a woman in leadership, and on more than one occasion he prayed for me and my family. He offered me his encouragement and many reminders of God’s faithful love. Even though we were co-workers in Christ and not connected in any other way, John ministered God’s love and grace to me in a way which helped bring me healing, renewal, and challenged me to grow up in Christ.

John had a special ability to articulate well the reality that we are held in God’s love. He believed that you and I were created to, and do through Christ, participate in the Triune relationship of love between the Father and the Son in the Spirit. When I was caught in my “I am not” way of thinking, he would remind of the “I am” I was in Christ—I am beloved, I am forgiven, I am accepted, I am held—the list goes on. He struggled as we all do to fully embrace the truth of who we are in Christ, but that which he did grasp he was quick to share with those around him. For this I am grateful.

It was my heart’s desire that John be able to continue to be with us a little longer. But it would have been a struggle for him, so God was gracious and took him home. The life he has now is so much better than anything he would have had here, so I accept God’s will in this and pray for comfort for his family and friends.

I am grateful for the hope we have in Jesus. What a blessing it is that we can look forward to sharing in Christ’s “life-giving spirit” because Jesus died our death, laid in the tomb, and then rose from the grave. Apart from the resurrection of Christ, the crucifixion is only a partial solution for us. In the same way, the resurrection does not have it’s fully meaning apart from the crucifixion.

Jesus was a living soul in the same way Adam and the rest of us are living souls. Jesus laid our human flesh, our living souls, our humanity, in the grave. Jesus’ flesh was a “perishable body”, “sown in dishonor” and “in weakness”. It was a “natural body” which quite naturally came to an end at some point and needed to be buried because it was going to decompose and go back to its basic elements.

The reality now is that death is nothing to be feared. Death is going to happen to each of us. It is part of the natural progression of our humanity after the fall. But it has no power over us any longer—we have been given eternal life through Jesus Christ, and in him we are new creatures. Just as Jesus rose from the grave, we now rise from the grave by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who was sent to us by Jesus from the Father.

Jesus walked out of the tomb with a humanity which was glorified. This humanity was an “imperishable body”, “raised in glory” and “in power”. It is a “spiritual body” which shares in Christ’s “life-giving spirit.” The “seed” of our broken, spent deceased flesh is planted, the apostle Paul says, but what comes from it is a glorified, spiritual body.

We can get some glimpses of what this body may be like when we read about what Jesus did while on earth with his disciples after the resurrection. He appeared and disappeared at will. He caught fish and ate it; he broke bread, thanked his Father for it. He walked and talked, and spent time teaching his disciples. I can picture John sitting with Jesus and John, the son of Zebedee, on a seashore eating fish together and talking about their mutual friend Baxter Kruger’s latest book.

Even though another of my friends has “moved on”, I’m happy he is free from his suffering and is now able to do what he was really looking forward to doing. I’m looking forward to a day when I can thank him for the little, but big way in which he touched my life. Although I still don’t think I will want to eat fish for breakfast, I may be willing to try it if I can have a chance to do so with Jesus.

Dear Abba, thank you for the people you place in our lives—the ones we learn from, the ones who bless us and pray for us, even the ones we get to help. Thank you for giving us opportunities to grow in relationship with people day by day, learning more about you and about ourselves in the process. God, please offer comfort to each person who is grieving a loss today. Let them know you are near and are weeping with them, and offering them your comfort and love, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. … So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised can imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” 1 Corinthians 15:36-37, 42-45 NASB

Pending Judgment–Part VI

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By Linda Rex

Rather than extending this series on judgment (which I could easily do), I will instead sum up all of these thoughts in one question we must ask ourselves: What do I know and believe about Abba’s heart towards me and every other human being on this earth? Our answer to this question directly impacts how we approach the topic of judgment.

Seeing our heavenly Father through the eyes of Jesus gives us a clarity we would not otherwise have. But we must be careful in doing so or we will neglect to see the entire spectrum of God’s love and grace toward us. God made us in his image after his likeness as reflections of his glory. For us to fall short of that in any way pains God’s heart because it keeps us from participating fully in his life and love as he intended. He does not want us to experience the consequences of living in opposition to our true humanity, but he does want us to experience the joy that comes with living in harmony with him and one another.

However, if we believe God is constantly examining our every action or motive to see if it measures up to some standard so he can pour out on us some predetermined punishment, I believe we are not seeing God clearly. Perhaps our eyes have been blinded by some past hurt which has never been healed or some wrong which has never been righted. Maybe we feel that no one should be let off the hook until they say the “sinner’s prayer” or a sufficient number of “Hail Mary’s”. Seeing God through the lens of past hurts or injustices rather than through Christ blinds us to the true nature of our loving and forgiving Abba.

How is it we can believe in a just Abba at the same time we believe in a loving and forgiving Abba? Thomas Torrance in his book “Incarnation” describes the nature of this God who is both. He is fully expressed and revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. In Christ, God has entered into the blackness of our brokenness by taking on our humanity whether or not we wanted him to.

We as humans locked the door in fear just like the disciples in the upper room, thinking the issue is with those around us. But the real issue is our fear of God which is rooted in our blindness and rebellion. We hid from God and made him into the evil ogre rather than owning our sin. We needed God to come into the midst of us and to show us his participation in our darkness and death just as Jesus showed his disciples the scars in his hands and side in his resurrected body. What Jesus has done in his very person because he is both God and man is he has brought us into judgment at the same time he has redeemed us. In Jesus we find both God’s truth about our fallenness and the truth about God’s holiness joined together in such a way that darkness is overwhelmed by light and all is forgiven and made new.

In the sending of the Spirit, God enables us to experience the truth of all this, and to see our Abba through Jesus’ eyes. The Spirit helps us see and know that just as Jesus is Abba’s beloved child, so too are we. And the Spirit works to make our Lord Jesus manifest in us–bringing us into the full expression of his perfected humanity living in right relationship with our heavenly Abba, this being the glory we were meant to reflect from the beginning.

The Refining Fire goes to work, bringing us into the truth of our being, cleansing us of all those things which break our fellowship with God and one another. The Breathe of life breathes into us the very life of God forming Christ in us just as Ezekiel’s dry bones put on flesh and then came to life. The Water of Life washes away our old nature sweeping us into the river of God’s love and life, filling us with faith, hope, and love.

But God invites our participation in this process. He values and respects our personhood and our freedom. So he allows us to refuse his love and grace, and to experience the consequences of having done so. He allows us to swim upstream against the current and to resist his efforts to form in us that new life which is ours in Christ. He permits us to live in disobedience, but in due time ensures that we will reap the harvest of what we have sowed as it is necessary for us to be healed, transformed, and renewed. The pain in God’s heart, his wrath against evil and all its consequences, moves him to always and ever work for our redemption and salvation, whatever might be necessary to accomplish this–the sacrifice offered in his Son included.

Seeing as this was Abba’s purpose all along, whatever God may have done or not done in Old Testament times (and all the times since) was meant to help accomplish this. What we might see as God being cruel and unjust we need to see in the perspective of God’s divine purpose and his love and grace expressed toward all humanity in Jesus.

The truth is, even though we may have some serious questions to ask God as to why or for what purpose he did things or allowed them to happen, we may never receive an answer other than that final word given to us in Jesus Christ. As the Incarnate Son, the one who is both the Judge and the Judged, Jesus is the fullest and complete expression of Abba’s heart, and nothing else even comes close to this wonderful, and blessed Word of God.

Thank you, dear Abba, for your great love and grace. Cleanse our eyes and our hearts so we can see you for who you really are. Holy Spirit, enable us to know and believe in the truth of our Abba’s loving and forgiving heart as expressed to us in Jesus. We thank you that you won’t stop until this is true for all of us, as we respond in faith, through Jesus our Lord. 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 NAS