relationship

Living Beyond the Ordinary

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By Linda Rex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tending the Cathedral

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By Linda Rex

I have been blessed with the opportunity over the years of visiting churches from many denominations. I have played a grand piano in a Methodist church, a spinet in a Christian church, attended a wedding in a Catholic church, a choral concert in a Catholic cathedral, and high mass in an Episcopalian cathedral. I have attended worship services in a Bible church and in a Baptist church, and meetings in churches of other faiths. I have been exposed to many different forms of worship and celebrations of communion.

Over the years I have met followers of Jesus from all over the world as well. There is a common spirit among these believers, which I often sensed from the first moment I encountered them. The Holy Spirit, who binds us together into the Body of Christ, was present in each of these encounters, for there was a unity which harmonized our differences, creating a oneness which could not humanly be explained. Between us was an understanding, an openness, and a gracious patience which made room for others to share in the community of faith.

A few years ago, I attended a meeting at a very large and beautiful church with lots of stained glass windows and tall towers. I was introduced to the person who tended to the building and grounds. This person was responsible for maintenance and repairs, as well as seeing the gardens were weeded and the grass was mowed. He was the one who made sure the bathrooms were cleaned, the sanctuary was dusted and vacuumed, and the kitchen was kept ready to be used.

In a large church—maybe less so in a small one—all of these items need to be taken care of in a responsible way so the church building may be used on a regular basis for worship services, children’s classes, and other important events in the life of the members. Often the pastor tends to the word of God and prayer, while other people tend to the physical details of the building—unless, of course, the congregation is so small that the pastor does everything.

When the tabernacle was built and put into use by Moses, he was told by God that Aaron and his sons would tend to the holy place and the sacrifices—the worship and liturgy of the people of God (Ex. 28:1). The tabernacle itself with all its equipment would be tended by the Levites (Nu. 3:6-8). There was a responsibility to the place where God put his Presence, which in that day was the tabernacle.

We can draw upon these pictures of God’s dwelling place when we look at the way God works today. The apostle Paul told the crowd on Mars hill: “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; …” (Acts 17:24-25 NASB) Paul was explaining that the God he worshiped did not live in buildings. This God is not contained within anything physical in that way. As we read in Psalm 139, God is present everywhere in every place in and through his Spirit.

People for centuries—millennia even—have assumed God needed a place to live in so he could be close to them. In order to worship God, they thought they needed to create a place for God to be. Indeed, even King David fell prey to this sort of thinking when he decided he wanted to honor and please God by building him a temple. God called him on it, asking him whether he at any time had asked for a place to live (2 Sam. 7:4-7). It was a rhetorical question—God doesn’t need any place to live—he is present all the time in every place.

And the truth was, at that moment and even when the tabernacle was being built, God was in the process of redeeming the temple he had already created for his presence to reside in. He was in the process of working out the redemption of humanity—those vessels who were created to bear his image and his likeness, and in due time, his very Presence.

In Christ, God entered our humanity, taking on our unique being as those made in his image—those who were distinct from God and yet meant to be one with him. And in joining himself to us in hypostatic union, God brought us into a unique relationship with himself, enabling us as human beings to receive the indwelling presence of God himself through Christ in the Spirit. We became the dwelling place for God. As the Body of Christ, we are also where God dwells by his Spirit within the spiritual community of believers.

What this means then is, we need to take seriously the reality we are, personally and collectively, the dwelling place of God in Christ by the Spirit. The apostle Paul reminds us: “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20 NASB) He understood we are the temple in which God dwells by his Holy Spirit, and we are responsible to care for and tend that temple.

One of the biggest struggles within the Body of Christ which I see today (and it’s a common struggle for humans everywhere) is the struggle to care for the temple of the Holy Spirit, the human body. I know from my own personal battles over the years, and hearing the painful stories of others, that food and sex can be direct channels into the desecration and destruction of the temple of the Spirit.

Those who have nurturing and caring personalities and gifts are especially vulnerable to this because they can be so busy pouring themselves into others, they fail to care for and tend to themselves. When we are busy with life, have many responsibilities, and are always on the go, we can neglect the temple of the Spirit, allowing ourselves to eat, drink, view, or participate in what is convenient and culturally acceptable rather than in what is best for us. Instead of nurturing the indwelling Spirit and the real Presence of God within, it is often much easier and more tempting to numb one’s pain or distract one’s mind or resolve one’s loneliness by becoming involved in illicit and unhealthy relationships, viewing pornography, or abusing food or other substances.

But God is gracious. He may have made us tenders of the temple of his Spirit when he created us, but he knew our tendency to go the wrong way and to do what is unhealthy and unloving. This is why we are so blessed to have the real Presence of God within. Because Jesus was willing to live and care for his own flesh the way we ought to, we can have the assurance that if we fail to properly tend ourselves, he is willing to intercede on our behalf. As we turn to him in repentance and faith, he continues to infuse us with his real Presence by the Spirit so we can and will overcome our failures to nurture and care for ourselves.

Because God dwells in human hearts by his Spirit, each and every person can come to know God in a real and intimate way. Each and every person, as they turn from their false concepts of a God external to them and detached from them, to Christ who by his Spirit comes to dwell within them, can live and walk with God in real spiritual union. This was what God intended from the beginning and wants us to share in both now and forever. As we tend to the temple of the Spirit (our own persons as well as the Body of Christ) we will find ourselves growing in our relationship with God and others, and becoming healthier and more Christlike in the process. And this was God’s purpose from the beginning.

Abba, thank you for calling us into relationship with yourself through Jesus and by your Spirit. Thank you that you have created us in your image to be your dwelling place. Create in us a reverence and respect for your dwelling place, for our own persons as well as the Body of Christ. Grant us repentance so we may turn away from our false concepts of you and our unhealthy ways of living and being. We trust you to finish what you have begun in us through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“But in the same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying, ‘Go and say to My servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord, ‘Are you the one who should build Me a house to dwell in? For I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the sons of Israel from Egypt, even to this day; but I have been moving about in a tent, even in a tabernacle. Wherever I have gone with all the sons of Israel, did I speak a word with one of the tribes of Israel, which I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?”’” 2 Samuel 7:4-7 NASB

Why Surrender is Hard

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By Linda Rex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Forward

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By Linda Rex

I apologize for not writing a blog last week. My goal is to write one every Friday or thereabouts, but last Thursday I took my family to a cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains to spend a long weekend. This was the first time we had done this together as a family, and I appreciated this opportunity for a change a scenery and some time away from my ministry responsibilities.

At Clingman’s Dome Visitor Center

During our visit there I visited the Clingman’s Dome visitor center. The view from there was stupendous. The mountains stretch out as far as the eye can see, and they were just beginning to come alive with new spring growth and blossoming trees.

This may sound odd, but I was impressed with the numbers of people who were there just to see the sights. Some were all decked out in hiking regalia, ready to take on the challenge of a mountain trail. Others were there with family, taking pictures of one another, with the mountains as a backdrop.

There was a constant bubbling hum of joy—of sharing the common appreciation of the beauty and wonder of the creation. To me, this is the calling we all have and that we share in, whether we realize it or not—to bear witness to the glory of God, and all he has done and all that he is. In many ways, this is a hint as to what we are called to as God’s adopted children—to revel in and celebrate the wonders of God’s goodness, love, and grace.

This theme continued on throughout the visit for me. One afternoon I went over to Cherokee to sit by the Ocanaluftee River and do some personal reflection. The water was swift and clear, running over rocks and creating little spurts of white here and there. The trees were just beginning to put on leaves, and some were filled with flowers. The birds were singing their hearts out, creating a pleasant atmosphere. The place where I sat was surrounded on all sides by the mountains, so it seemed tucked in and cozy.

Down the river from me, a man was fly fishing, without much success that I could see. A couple of children were playing in the water opposite from where I was sitting, pretending their dolls were swimming. Upstream, two girls were relaxing in the water where it was deeper, coming up occasionally, soaked and laughing. A couple was pushing an elderly lady across the pedestrian bridge in a wheelchair, stopping occasionally so she could enjoy the view. Groups of families were having lunch together, their voices carrying across the water to where I was sitting.

It occurred to me after a while that I was experiencing one of those moments in life which are foretastes of our future with God in the new earth. We’ve been talking about the new earth and heaven at our Wednesday night discussion group, and we’ve seen the scriptures which describe the new earth where God comes to dwell with humanity forever.

The apostle John describes a river, the water of life, flowing from the presence of Abba and his Son—the ever-flowing river of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. We find our life, our renewal, and our healing in him. The life we live together forever will be the perichoretic life in which the Father, Son, and Spirit have existed for all eternity. Their way of being is filled with outgoing love, generosity, and creativity, and we have been made to share in this through Jesus and by the Spirit.

Our future life as glorified humans will be filled with such beauty and joy, we can only catch little glimpses now. We anticipate the day when we all will live together in each moment in the truth of our existence as human beings—loving God with all we are and loving our neighbor as ourselves. There will be ongoing joyful celebration of all God has made and all God has done through Jesus and by the power and presence of his Spirit, forever.

It is essential for us as broken people to take time to slow down enough to catch these “glimpses of joy.” It is good for us to be attentive to the signs of eternity which are evident all around us, but we often are too busy or too broken to attend to. When we allow ourselves to have eternity on our minds, we will find ourselves recognizing these moments more easily, for they are all around us, happening all the time—but we are usually too busy, distracted, or pain-filled to notice them.

What the Word of God did in coming into our human flesh and joining our humanity with the divine Being, made possible for each of us a sharing in the life and love of God even now. We have the future to anticipate, but we also have the present to enjoy. God has brought us into relationship with himself. He has done in Jesus Christ all that is needed for us to share both now and forever the blessing of living in his presence.

But God does not force himself on us. He has reconciled himself to us in Christ, and he invites us by the Spirit to reconcile ourselves with him. He has brought us into oneness with himself in Christ, and by his Spirit invites us to accept, embrace, and live in the truth of this. He has created a future for you and me which is filled with joyful celebration of all God has done and all he has made, and offers it to us to receive it and begin to participate in it even now.

By the Spirit, Abba calls to us right now, saying, “Come rejoice with me! All is well! Drink up—the water of life is all yours! Don’t just take a sip—soak in it, play in it, build your life around it, let it affect and influence all of your relationships, decisions, experiences—from now on into eternity.” We are to trust in the blessedness of the gift of God’s Son and live, both now and forever, in the truth of our being as God’s adopted children, in and through Christ and by his Spirit. This is our real life, and one we can begin to experience right now, as we are willing.

Abba, thank you for the blessed gift of joy and celebration we have in your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Thank you for all your blessings, all you have created for our enjoyment and pleasure. Grant us the grace to be attentive to the glimpses of glory you give us in our everyday lives, and the grace to always live gratefully and joyfully in your presence both now and forever, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:1-2 NASB

The Exception Clause

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By Linda Rex

This week has been a busy one and when I am overwhelmed timewise in this way, I find it very easy to slip into unhealthy habits of losing sleep or eating things I wouldn’t, and probably shouldn’t, normally eat. The magical thinking begins with this one little phrase “just this once won’t hurt.”

If I was honest, I would have to say this magical phrase too often governs such decisions. For the most part, “just this once” isn’t a bad thing. Really, such impromptu delights bring joy to our lives. We can take pleasure in the here and again treasures we encounter in our daily life—and I believe God meant us to. Life was meant to be filled with such moments of delight in the presence of Abba.

However, when such pleasures begin to govern our decision-making and begin to rule our thoughts and passions, we find ourselves in the midst of what the apostle John calls the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” This is why he says we are not to love the world or the things in the world—it is very easy to become enslaved to anything we put in the place in our hearts, minds, and lives which was meant for God alone.

God is so emphatic or passionate about this because he knows this is not what we were created for. The things we lust after or become addicted to do not fill up the empty place in our hearts and lives we attempt to use them to fill. They may temporarily numb the pain we are experiencing or dull the anxiety we may be feeling, but ultimately, they do not resolve the real issues we need to face and in which we need to experience God’s healing or help.

Our momentary personal pursuit of happiness often actually derails our experience of true joy. In dulling or avoiding the pain, anxiety, or anger we feel, we may lose opportunities to deeply engage God (or others) in some serious one-on-one conversations which may resolve long-lasting resentments, false beliefs, or disagreements. In not engaging these negative feelings, we may be missing out on opportunities to experience healing, renewal, forgiveness, and cleansing—all of which are paths to true joy in the presence of Jesus.

Sometimes I think our culture encourages two extremes with regards to this. On the one hand, we are willing to put people on national television so everyone can see and talk about their messed up thinking and messed up lives. On the other hand, there are people who end up going on a shooting rampage because they’ve never gotten proper help with or healing for their mental and emotional struggles—often we hear no one even knew or cared they were struggling.

In this culture which celebrates indulging our pleasures and passions, we can find it difficult to pursue true joy in our life with Christ. We can be derailed in so many ways, not realizing we’re bound up in unhealthy ways of living or being until we are caught and find it’s not so easy to get out. And the solution isn’t always just as simple as “repent and believe”. It may require something more—relationship. It may require getting up-close and personal with someone about our struggles, failures and pain. And this we avoid.

When God calls us by his grace into relationship with himself, he places us by his Spirit into the Body of Christ. He joins us with other believers. He means for us to live in spiritual community and not to isolate ourselves. He wants us to experience the true joy we were created for, and he know this can only be found within the context of faithful, loving relationship, specifically as children held together within the inner relations of Father, Son, and Spirit.

God does not intend for any of us to have to go through life wounded, broken, and forsaken. He does not mean life to be a depressing, empty struggle. Yes, life will be tough and bad things will happen, but when we engage such a life from within the context of loving, committed relationship with God and our spiritual community, it becomes bearable and even joyful. We may find in the middle of our struggles we experience a deep, inner joy—not because of our human attempts at medicating our pain, but due to Christ indwelling our hearts by the Holy Spirit and us experiencing loving relationships with others within our spiritual community.

As a classic avoider, I have learned there comes a time when the price we pay for avoiding our issues becomes much higher than what it would cost for us to face up to our issues and deal with them. There comes a time when we need to embrace the truth and speak the truth in love or get professional help for our issues. At some point we need to delve into the unpleasant, slicing the festering sore open again so the accumulated pus can be removed and the wound cleansed—this may be what is needed to let real healing start. And this may require professional help, or it may only require healthy the intervention of Christ by his Holy Spirit within the context of spiritual community.

At other times, though, we may just need to experience the little joys of life. The “exception clause” may actually apply in these cases. God sometimes places these little moments of joy in front of us and means for us to experience little tastes of heaven to increase our anticipation of what is to come when we are truly living as glorified humans in the presence of Abba forever. He reminds us in this way of his affection for us and of his faithful love and grace, drawing from us the gratitude and praise he deserves to receive in response.

All the things we attach ourselves to in this life and believe are necessary for our fulfillment and pleasure must be seen within the context of eternity. Some are just passing pleasures which will one day be supplanted by the genuine eternal pleasures of life in Christ.

True lasting joy may be found in what will endure beyond this life on into the next—giving to, sharing with, serving, helping, forgiving, and loving others. Notice these are all ways in which we pour out from ourselves and into others, and in which we receive from others what they have to give. This is the divine perichoretic life—and this is what we were created to participate in forever. In this life, there are no exceptions—there will be no “just this once”, but an eternal participation in the life and love of Abba, Jesus, and the Spirit which is filled with joy and peace, and all God’s blessings through Jesus our Lord.

Thank you, Abba, for all your good gifts and for sharing with us the life you share with your Son and your Spirit. Grant us the grace to face up to the truth as we need to and to get the help which may be required for us to get well and stay healthy. Enable us to find, experience, and live in the true joy you created us for—pour into us your joy, for all our springs of joy are found in you. May we celebrate now and forever, in perfect joy, the gift of eternal life with you, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.” Psalm 51:12 NLT

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:15-17 NKJ

Signs of Spring

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By Linda Rex
Lent
For me, driving to the post office means taking a spin in my car through the Tennessee countryside. I get to see pretty ranches with horses and cattle, rocks and trees on the hills, and lovely homes in the valleys. I pass a pond where the ducks paddle about looking for tidbits to eat. Though right now most of the trees have no leaves and the ground is covered with brown leaves from last fall, there is still a quiet sense of beauty and the presence of God.

As I drove through the woods this morning, the road opened up to where I passed by a tall willow tree. Though the other night the tree was gray and seemed to be dripping sorrow, this morning it was covered with little green leaves. The difference was striking and quite beautiful.

On the ground nearby where grass was beginning to turn green again there were some yellow daffodils blooming their hearts out. The signs of spring were everywhere this morning. And I had to ask myself, as one who spent many a winter in southeast Iowa, what’s going to happen when it freezes again? It is only February—it’s too soon for all this!

In the story of Abraham and Sarah, we are reminded there are always signs of spring, even when the evidence tells us otherwise. God came to them when they were too old to have children, when their bodies were beyond the capacity for child-bearing, and told them Sarah would have a child. God presented them with a paradox of hope in which the only proper response would be faith—an implicit trust in the faithfulness and goodness of God.

We may find ourselves today in the winter of our lives where all our hope is dead and we don’t see any hope for new life. We may be stepping out into new ways of living and being, but all we are meeting with is opposition and resistance. And yet, it is good to be reminded these bleak and difficult times may be the very place where we experience the greatest new growth and transformation.

What we need in the midst of our winter or death and dying is hope. We need to see with the eyes of faith the evidence that spring is on its way. We need to recognize the reality that even when death is all around us, there is new life being birthed in that very moment.

During the season of Lent, we have the opportunity to reexamine the life of Christ at work within us and be reminded of how God has called us into relationship with himself in Jesus Christ. The Spirit enables us to see what is really going on in our hearts and minds, and in those areas we have turned away from Christ, he invites us to turn back again. At the basis of our examination, though, needs to be an assurance of God’s love and faithfulness to us as expressed in the gift of his Son and the pouring out of his Spirit.

We were created for life—life in close relationship with Abba and Jesus in the Spirit. The real life we were created for is a communion and oneness of being in which there is a mutual pouring out of and pouring into by each and every participant of God’s life. We make room for others as they make room for us. We make room for God as he has and does make room for us in Christ and by his Spirit.

It is the disruptions of this perichoretic life which we attend to during Lent. We may ask ourselves, “How am I participating in God’s life and love? Am I living in the truth of who I am as God’s child, made in his image? Does my life and how I live it orbit around myself, or am I keeping in step with the divine dance—receiving and giving—receiving what God pours into me and pouring it back out into God and others? In what ways should I turn away from myself and turn back to Christ and Abba, and out to those around me?”

The point of this contemplation is not to focus upon ourselves. If our examination of the life of Christ at work within us revolves around us and our failures, we have missed the point. This kind of self-examination only creates discouragement and defeat. It focuses on death and dying. And it does not attend to what really matters—the life of Christ at work within us by the Holy Spirit.

Our journey during Lent can echo Christ’s journey during his forty days in the wilderness. He was challenged by Satan to deny his identity as the Son of Man and to live out of his being as the Son of God. But Christ identified with you and me instead by choosing to live in total dependency upon his Abba by the Spirit.

This is our life. As Satan attempts to draw us away from this truth of our being, distracting us with all the ways we can live as gods and goddesses under our own steam, we can instead choose life. We can choose instead the eternal life Jesus spoke of which is the deep knowing of our Abba and the Son he sent. Instead of focusing on our failures and shortcomings, we focus on the reality Jesus stood in our place—his life for our life. We share in his perfect relationship with his Abba by the Spirit.

Instead of relying upon ourselves in self-centered living, we can live in total dependency upon Abba through Jesus in the Spirit. Satan and his ways of self-centered living are defeated foes. Death, evil, and sin may still be all around us, and still haunt the inner recesses of our mind and heart, but the true reality of our perfected humanity is hidden with Christ in God. There is life in the midst of death—hope in the midst of failure, sorrow, and defeat.

We need to attend to the signs of spring and ignore the overwhelming evidence of winter all around us. We need to walk by faith, not by sight. Christ is our life, and he lives within us by his Spirit. God is at work even now, and will not cease working to make all things new—in heaven, and on earth, and within us. And he will finish what he has begun—we have his word on this—and, thankfully, God always keeps his word. He is trustworthy.

Abba, thank you for your faithful and compassionate love. Thank you for your boundless grace expressed to us in the gift of your Son. And thank you for pouring into our hearts your precious Holy Spirit. Thank you for including us in your life through your Son in your Spirit. Grant us the grace to trust you will finish what you have begun in us, believing what you have in mind for us is far beyond our capacity to ask or imagine. May we leave winter behind and focus on spring, no matter how bleak things may look at the moment, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“[Abraham] is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why it was ‘credited to him as righteousness.’” Romans 4:17b-22 NIV

Bound Together in Community

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By Linda Rex

The door to my bedroom opened. In walked my daughter’s dog. She headed straight for the bed and jumped up on it. Rather than curling up at the foot of the bed as she often does, she curled up right next to me so her side was pushing against my body.

It seems my daughter’s dog understands better than we do sometimes the need for physical connectedness. She knows by instinct the need for relationship and belonging.

It is too bad we are often so busy pushing one another away or protecting our space, we end up alone and disconnected. We prefer our independence rather than understanding and living in the truth we are all interdependent. We cannot and should not live as separate satellites. This was not God’s intent when he created us.

I think it is interesting that when we pack ourselves together in big cities, people become more and more disconnected. We find ways to hide from each other and to protect ourselves from being harmed. We isolate ourselves and then wonder why we are lonely and depressed.

I was reading an online article this morning about these utopic wellness communities which are being created. They are places where people live together in natural and wholistic communities where their environment is kept as close to nature as possible, and in which people live together and interact together in a community life.

Unlike the inner city, such a community leaves room for people to interact with nature as well as with one another. There is space to just be out and free, rather than concerned about one’s safety and one’s belongings.

I first felt this sort of freedom when I moved to southeast Iowa many years ago. The place I moved to was out in the midst of rural Iowa where any city of any size was about half an hour to forty-five minutes away. Leaving the back door unlocked was the norm, and taking a walk in the woods was a normal daily occurrence when the weather was nice and one wasn’t working. Letting the kids roam at will in the outdoors was a just a part of everyday life.

I noticed a couple of things when I first moved there. The first and most immediate was a sense of relaxation, of rest. I was not in a constant state of subtle inner anxiety. I could just be. The self-protective angst of the big city was not necessary in the same way anymore.

The second thing I noticed and had a hard time getting my mind around, was how everyone knew everyone else. Relationships in a small community were the norm, not the exception. It seems if you didn’t open up and be friendly with your neighbors, that was more of a reason for talk than if you did.

The sense of community all of us long for is a precious commodity. Not all of us have the financial resources or the ability to move to some place which can be more conducive to such a way of life. But we can learn to live in community right where we are. We can learn to live in the rest and freedom of knowing we are included and held in God’s love and life.

In creating the Body of Christ, the Church, Jesus created a community where people who are sharing in God’s love and life are brought together into relationship. The work of the Spirit brings people to faith in Christ and binds them together in spiritual family. The Church then becomes a place of rest where people can grow in their relationship with God and one another, and can find themselves in a “safe” place. This is what the Body of Christ is meant to be for God’s people.

The Body of Christ is also meant to be a safe haven for those buffeted about by this world—a place where they can encounter the Lord Jesus Christ and experience a little bit of the kingdom of God on earth, and the love of God expressed in and through his people.

When someone enters the door of our fellowship hall or our chapel upstairs, they should feel as though they could come in and snuggle up against us, trusting we will not kick them out the door. This requires a lot of grace and understanding. It requires being able to set healthy limits on what we can do and can’t do as far as our behavior toward one another. The house of God is meant to be a place of order, of peace, and a place of worship—but also a place of welcoming, understanding, and grace.

In Christ, the kingdom of God was initiated here on earth. Over the centuries, the Church of Christ has taken on different forms and shapes. But the one identifying factor we can all cling to is that the Church is meant to be a reflection of the very nature and being of Jesus Christ himself. The Church is his hands and feet in a dark world. The Church is a place of hospitality and welcoming when all other doors are shut.

The Church is never meant to be a place of hurtfulness, abuse, or rejection. It is never meant to be a place of separation, cliques, or snobbery. When we find ourselves treating people in these ways, it is time for us to rethink who we are. As God’s children, made in his image, we all gather at the table to share the abundance of his goodness and love. May we never forget the blessings and benefits of sharing in his divine community, and let us never fail to share them with others.

Lord, I thank you for all you have done and all you are doing now, and all you will do, to bring us together into one body in Christ by your spirit. Open our hearts to the truth of our inclusion in your community of faith. Grant us repentance and a change in our way of living so we will begin to experience and live in the truth of how you created us to be as your children. Do continue to work to tear down the walls between us and to create places of community, peace and unity in our world, through Jesus Christ our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 NASB