By Linda Rex
August 25th, Proper 16—There are hazards to being kind. We may open the door and find ourselves face to face with a stranger who needs help. Should we help them? Would we be unkind if we didn’t?
I remember years ago when I lived in a small duplex cottage in southern California, my roommate and I faced this question. At three in the morning, someone knocked on our door asking for help. I didn’t want to answer the door, but my roommate (who was much braver than I) did. This person wanted to come in and use our phone so he could get help with his car.
I’d like to believe that my roommate and I were both kind people. But opening the door at three in the morning to a perfect stranger under these circumstances was non-negotiable. We offered to make a call for him, but he wanted to come in and do it himself. We refused and sent him on his way.
I’m pretty sure we made the right decision, considering the situation, the neighborhood, and the time of day. But it’s really hard to be kind under those conditions. Our instinct of self-preservation kicks in. We realize it is easy for someone to take advantage of us, to harm us or steal from us. We realize we make ourselves vulnerable when we are kind, so we keep our guard up and resist the urge to be kind in some situations.
Yet kindness is a part of God’s nature, and we are designed to be kind as creatures made in his image. It was God’s intention to form in each of us as human beings his own way of being which includes lovingkindness. The lovingkindness which is a part of God’s nature is hesed, a kindness which includes loyal love, mercy, and favor. It is a gracious kindness which endures suffering, rejection, and a failure to love by the one God is in relationship with.
In Exodus 34:6-7, the God of Israel described himself to Moses:
Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
When we read the story of God’s people Israel, we find that they spent more time wandering away from their covenant relationship with God than they did living within it as they should have. They were easily distracted by the nations around them and how they lived their lives. They sought fulfillment in the pleasures of this life rather than in growing closer to the God who loved them and had delivered them from slavery in Egypt and had given them the land they lived in.
But God was kind—going out of his way to forgive and be gracious to them. Early on, when Moses had been on the mountain with God receiving his instructions, Aaron and the people made an idol. As Moses returned down the mountain, he found the nation had succumbed to idolatrous worship of a golden calf. Was God upset? Absolutely. He was more than willing to end the nation and start over with Moses and his children. But Moses reminded God of his nature, his lovingkindness, of how God had described himself (Numbers 14:11-19)—this was the truth of God’s being. And God relented, and was kind.
Over the centuries as his people turned away from him, God sent prophets to remind his beloved people to return—to turn back to him in devotion and obedience. It took quite a bit before God would say to them, since this is what you want, then you may have it and the consequences which go with having it. And the nation would go into slavery or subjection to another nation. But whenever the nation would experience the pain that went with turning from their Redeemer, the people would turn back and God would renew his covenant with them. This covenant relationship was tested over and over, but on God’s side, there was always faithfulness and lovingkindness.
God’s kindness to Israel has never ended, though the nation has been through many crucifixions over the millennia. God’s nature does not change, and he is faithful to his covenant even when his people are not. The greatest expression of God’s kindness to us is expressed to us in the incarnation of the Word. The coming of God into human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ expresses God’s lovingkindness in a powerful way, as Israel’s Redeemer put himself fully at the mercy of the humans he had created.
Jesus, while here on this earth, allowed human beings to do as they wished with him. But never to the point that his divine will was thwarted or his plan of salvation was diverted. Jesus was always kind, except when he needed to resist evil. There were times when Jesus, in his love for his people, spoke the truth directly to their hearts, calling them back to a right relationship with his Abba. This is when the greatest kindness he could show them was to point out their need to turn back to their God and to accept the One he had sent to save them.
Sometimes genuine kindness involves taking a risk and telling someone the truth. Sometimes it means drawing a line and saying, “You may not hurt me or my family, because that is not how God meant us to treat one another.” There is a time when kindness must be lovingkindness—a loyal love which shows favor, faithfulness, and takes godly action. A true kindness is the kindness of covenant love and grace, of refusing to be pushed away from our grounding in Jesus Christ and who we are as God’s beloved adopted children.
Today, is there someone you can be truly kind to? What shape will that kindness take? Is it time for you to take the risk of true kindness, of genuine lovingkindness?
Dear Abba, thank you for your heart of lovingkindness and grace. Thank you for being filled with compassion and concern for each of us. And thank you that the greatest kindness you showed us was in the gift of your Son Jesus. Thank you for pouring your lovingkindness into human hearts by the Holy Spirit. Make us open to receive your heart of kindness and to truly be kind to those around us, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, / Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.” Psalm 103:8 NASB
By Linda Rex
This morning I was browsing social media as I was finishing up my morning exercise routine. I was touched by a friend’s post which described a very painful and difficult circumstance they were going through. My heart went out to them and I wished there was some way to help. But there wasn’t.
My go-to response, of course, is to pray. This can seem such a feeble response when often people need some real tangible assistance in difficult circumstances. But for those of us who do pray and count on prayer as our go-to response, this is actually the most powerful and effective thing we can do when encountering a life tragedy, struggle, or difficulty.
This week there was another mass shooting, this time in my home state of California. No doubt, there will be more cry for effective gun laws, and, which I think is more to the point, more focus on getting veterans the help they need when they are struggling with PTSD and other post-conflict issues. But all the laws we can write do not change or heal the human heart. We live in a society which seeks to regulate human conduct from without by laws or by social pressure, and to heal broken human beings with social programs and medication.
This is the struggle we have in our world today—a society in which each feels free to do whatever they want according to their conscience and desires, but often without concern for the others who share this world with them or for the creation either. I keep being brought back to the basic fundamental description of how we are to live as human beings—of what we have been created for. As made in the image of God, we are meant to live as unique yet equal individuals in a unity which reflects that of the Father, Son, and Spirit—created for this divine relationship with God and one another. Jesus described it as loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Our struggle to exist together in this world to day is due to our refusal to acknowledge there is an ultimate Source which defines our existence and which gives us direction for our lives. We want to have control over our existence and our decisions, and not allow anyone to infringe on our preferences or our space. Somehow we think that submitting ourselves to someone, most especially to God, limits us in some way, and deprives us of our ability to be all we can be.
In reality, our greatest struggle lies within ourselves. We are broken and wounded, and all these things affect how we handle life, and how we treat one another. When Jesus said that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, I believe he was pointing out our need to be fully integrated as human beings, with all of us being fully devoted to our Abba. He knew the human proclivity to create inner silos, where the good parts of us are separated from the bad parts of us, and where our inner divisions become a space for the evil one to enter and cause destruction and despair.
To be fully integrated within ourselves by necessity means that God needed to reform our humanity after his image—we had rejected our humanness as God had meant it to be. Jesus, when he walked on earth, lived in intimate relationship with his Abba. He said that he and his Father were one. Jesus lived fully focused on that relationship, seeking out his Abba in the midst of trouble and stress, and drawing upon his strength and power by the Spirit to deal with the issues he faced in his life.
In spite of how he was treated and the uniqueness of his personhood as the God/man, Jesus stayed fully integrated to the end. He, by the Spirit, held fast to the truth of who he was as the Son of God and the Son of Man. Jesus did not have a good side and a bad side, but was simply the Word of God in human flesh—the One who became sin for us so we could become the righteousness of God in him. He came to redeem our humanity and give us a new life by the Spirit which in him is fully integrated within itself and in relationship with God and others.
As I was reading the lectionary scriptures for Sunday, one of the passages from the book of Ruth popped out at me. We read in Ruth’s story that her mother-in-law Naomi, who lived for a time in Moab, had lost both her sons and her husband, and so sought to move back to her home town of Bethlehem to rebuild her life. Ruth, being a Moabitess, was considered a Gentile but she embraced Naomi and her faith, and went with her back to Bethlehem.
Ruth was in a very difficult position, but it seems that God kept his eye on her. She went to glean grain after the harvesters, which was what poor people did back then, and she ended up in the field of someone who was in her extended family, a relative named Boaz. In due time, Naomi told Ruth she should invoke the levirate law of that day and ask Boaz to redeem her property and by extension give her the children she did not have by her first husband so her property would stay in the family. So Ruth courageously did as her mother-in-law instructed, not knowing what the result would be.
Boaz’s reaction is interesting. When she appealed to him to exercise his right of redemption, he told her he couldn’t—there was someone closer who could. But he said he would see that this was done, either by himself, or by the other who was more closely related to her. Then he sent Ruth home. When Naomi heard how it went, she said, “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today.”
A lot of times we think and act as if God is indifferent to our suffering and our struggles. We may believe he shouldn’t be bothered with the little details of our lives, or that he’s not really willing to intervene in our difficult circumstances. When we lose dear ones, we often believe God doesn’t care about us any more—why else would he let them pass away? In reality, we need to see God as the One who will not rest until he has settled the matter today—immediately, as promptly as he possibly can. It may not be according to our time schedule, but in God’s time schedule, he is treating it as urgent, as needing his immediate attention.
Secondly, God is the one who has the right of redemption. He is as closely related to us as he could possibly get in the Person of Jesus Christ. He took on our humanity, reintegrated it with its Creator and within himself as God in human flesh, and took it with himself through death and resurrection, so we each could have new birth—a new life in him. God in Christ is to us a restorer of life and a sustainer in our youth and old age—no matter where we are in life, he is our Redeemer.
The cry I am hearing in the media today, social and otherwise, is for a redeemer. Humans such as political leaders often try to fill this role, and we temporarily give them our allegiance. But in reality, none can do what our Redeemer does—they cannot change or heal the human heart, nor can they transform people’s lives or give them divine redemption. There is no one like our God, who saves! We pray because we have a Redeemer who will not rest until he has healed, restored, and renewed. We pray because we know and trust he is faithful, gracious, and loving, and he will finish what he has begun in us.
Only God has the capacity and the heart to heal someone from the inside out. Only Jesus, the divine Physician, can change someone’s heart and desires into what they ought to be. Only the Spirit, our Comforter and our Peace, can work transformation in human beings, bringing them into Christlikeness.
Our participation in all of these things is to, like Ruth, place ourselves at Jesus’ feet and ask him to exercise his right of redemption on our behalf, to wait patiently for him to move in our circumstances and in our lives, and to embrace the relationship offered to us and to faithfully live within it for the remainder of our days. Our participation includes learning to live and walk in truth, to be integrated within ourselves so that we, in Jesus and by the Spirit, are loving God with all our being and loving our neighbor as ourselves. We have every reason to hope—for he is ours and we are his, and he will be faithful to the end. This is why we turn to him, believing he will not fail us. And this is why we pray.
Thank you, Abba, for your faithful love, and for giving us your Son to redeem us. Thank you for sending your Spirit to renew, restore, and heal us—transforming us by your grace and love into the very image of your Son, and so to reflect your likeness. We desperately need a move of your Spirit in our world today. We need you to heal, restore and renew all this we have broken, and to transform human hearts by faith. We trust you will not rest until this is accomplished. Show us how we can participate with you in your mission, and to passionately do so as you lead us, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed is the LORD who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.’” Ruth 4:14-15 NASB
by Linda Rex
I had a dream last night. And no, it wasn’t anything like Martin Luther King’s great inspirational vision. It was just an ordinary dream in which I was standing on a hill next to a building. Below me to the left was another building and a group of people who I was helping and was in some way responsible for.
As I was standing there interacting with the people down the hill, I realized the weather had suddenly changed and there was a storm approaching. For whatever reason—it’s hard to know how or why—after all, it is a dream—I rose on tip-toe to look over the house next to me. That’s when I saw just over a small river next to the house, there was a tornado headed our way.
At that moment I realized I needed to make a decision. I felt it was important to go back into the house and grab my bag, with the computer and my personal ID, and to run down the hill to join the others. And yet, I also felt it was equally important to get everyone to safety. I knew they could do it themselves, but I felt it was essential I help. There I stood, torn between the two urgent things which needed done in those final moments before we were overtaken by the funnel cloud.
Of course, I woke up right at this place, so now I have no idea what I would have decided had I kept on dreaming. But it got me to thinking about the way we are faced with difficult decisions in which we are inwardly torn about which direction to go, and how we find ourselves struggling to come to some clarity about them.
The two options may each be important things to do, but with different priorities or different outcomes. They may affect our relationships, our career, or our reputation. Usually they are things which need to be done immediately or in the near future, but may have a lasting impact which will affect us and everyone else in our lives for some time to come. We want desperately to do the right thing and to make a decision which will be wise and discerning, but we find ourselves of two minds.
So we struggle. We may pray and ask God’s direction. We may seek counsel and draw from other people’s wisdom. We may research and investigate and consider. These are all excellent and necessary things to do. But at some point, at this critical juncture—we need to make a decision, from which there is no turning back.
When the rubber meets the road—in other words, when things come to the place where a decision absolutely needs to be made—then what?
It’s easy to get caught up in the process and to focus on the ramifications of each decision. But I believe too often we miss out on the real purpose for such situations in our lives. Such situations provide ample opportunity for us to grow in our relationship with God and to become more intimately connected with and to grow in trust with Abba, Jesus and the Spirit.
I am grateful God leads us and guides us in our decisions, and by his Spirit he prompts us, encourages us, and even closes doors in our lives so we can see more clearly which direction to go. But I don’t always see God making decisions for us. Often he puts us in a place where we need to turn to him and to walk with him in faith through the decision-making process.
One of the things I have struggled with in the past is the fear of making a wrong decision, thereby creating complete havoc and destruction in my life and the lives of my loved ones. I was so afraid of making the wrong decision I found myself immobilized by this fear, and unable to—or unwilling to—make any decision at all, at least not with any confidence.
Such fear grew out of broken relationships in which my decisions were questioned, ridiculed and diminished. So then, it is hard to confidently make decisions when you are constantly second-guessing yourself. And this is made much worse when you believe God expects you to get it right on the first try. This is a lose-lose position in which to find oneself, believe me!
It has taken me many years to come to the place where I can allow myself permission to take the risk of making a mistake in my decision-making process. This has come about, not because I’m better at taking risks or making decisions, but rather because I have grown in my understanding of who God is, and how he views the decision-making process in his adopted children.
The face of the God watching me make decisions is no longer the stern, critical parent, and is now the compassionate, understanding parent who wants to see me step out and try new things and to grow into all he meant for me to be. And he realizes and accepts I cannot do that apart from taking risks and making mistakes along the way.
And he also knows we’re going to face storms and difficult life events, and to have to make painful, hard decisions as we go. He’s got us in his grip of grace and will not let us go as we make these decisions, even though in the heat of the moment, we may make some bad choices. The Creator Who made and sustains all things is also our Redeemer, Who is working to make all things new. There is nothing he cannot turn to good in the end.
It is important to walk the path of the decision-making process with our hand in the hand of Jesus, swept along by the Spirit’s impetus, in the presence of our Abba, who delights in watching us grow up in Christ. As we pray, do our research, seek good counsel, and walk in faith, we do it all in the context of spiritual community—in relationship with God and one another. And we grow in our knowledge of God, others and even ourselves in the process—and isn’t that what Jesus said eternal life was all about?
Abba, thank you that through Jesus and by your Spirit, we are not alone in our decision-making process. Indeed, by your Son and your Spirit, you have placed us in community and empowered us with wisdom, and given us the assurance of your presence, your love and acceptance, no matter how our decisions turn out. It is such a blessing to know and be able to trust that in your Son who made all the right decisions in our place, we have all we need to be good decision-makers. In your Name, we praise and thank you for this precious gift. Amen.
“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3 NASB
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