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
By Linda Rex
My officemate and I were sitting at our desks one day. The whole atmosphere of the day had been pretty gloomy, with dark, cloudy skies, and endless buckets of rain. We both agreed it was a really good day for curling up with a blanket on the couch to read a good book.
Curling up in a chair or on the couch with a book and an apple was something I used to do a lot when I was younger. I loved reading—it was the way I escaped the boredom and unpleasantness in my life. I would bring home a stack of books from the library, and within a day or two, I would have read them all completely through. The books took me to worlds I would never visit in real life, and helped me learn things I would never learn in school or at home.
Somehow dark and rainy days always remind me of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. I haven’t figured out why, but I’m pretty sure it was a comfort food which my mom used to serve us when I was little. She would make homemade bread into patties, cut them open and put butter and honey on them—mmm. She had a lot of special foods she would serve us—she loved fussing over us in this way.
If we were to think about it, we could come up with a list of things we learned to do as children which give us comfort. As we’ve gotten older, the comfort measures we use can take on new, and sometimes, more dangerous forms. We have boundless opportunities around us to distract us. Nowadays, it’s much easier to escape and find relief in these things than it is to face up to and deal with the unpleasantries and responsibilities of life.
While I’m all for having enjoyable pastimes and comfort foods, I’ve noticed it is really easy to become dependent upon these things and drift away from our sole dependency upon God. Instead of being attentive to the real desires in our hearts for connection, healing, and community, we numb ourselves with distractions and pleasures.
The psalmist, King David, reminds us the only rock and salvation is God alone. He is the only thing or Person we are to place our hope in, because he is the only One who can truly be counted on in every situation. Whether it is rest, comfort, peace, or even our value as human beings—there is only one Place where we are truly and always affirmed, beloved, and held.
Too often our relationship with God is a place of anxiety and distress rather than one of life and peace. Most often, our anxiety and distress is unnecessary, for, as the apostle Paul says, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31b) When our distress and anxiety is valid, it is only because we have not seen God for who he really is—gracious, longsuffering, and kind, but loving enough to hold us responsible for the things we say and do which destroy or break our communion with God and others. Perhaps he is calling us to humble ourselves and turn back to the direction we know in our hearts we should have been going in the first place.
It is important for us to be attentive to what is going on in our hearts and minds, and to not distract ourselves away from it. We need to wrestle with our desires and pain and anger, and to not deny it, numb it, or wish it away. It’s there for a reason. Pain and anger are signals we or our boundaries have been violated. True desire is the heart of God at work in our hearts, calling us to what is holy, pure, and a real reflection of the nature and being of the God who created us in his image.
Truth be told, we live in a society which is filled with distractions. Much as I love my smartphone, I realize it’s capacity for keeping me from dealing with the things which really matter. If I am feeling an ache in my heart regarding my need for connection with God or others, it is easier to flip on the radio in my car than it is to have that meaningful conversation. Rather than dealing with the heartache or worry which is boiling inside, it’s so much easier to flip on my computer and bury myself in a game or a social media site.
But God calls us into relationship with himself and with others. And relationships are a messy business. And relationships require space and listening to hearts.
God also calls us into silence–into quieting ourselves in his presence so we can hear what’s going on in God’s heart and ours. Silence is a spiritual discipline which has been practiced by Christians for centuries. It involves taking time away from all distractions, and opening ourselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit. Being silent and undistracted means making ourselves fully available to God for inner work he wants to do in our hearts and minds.
Since this can be uncomfortable for us, we need faith–the faith of Christ. Our hope and trust must be fully in the God who created us and holds us in his love. Everything rests on him. And that’s a good thing, for he is the only One who can carry us and sustain us in each and every situation within which we find ourselves.
Dear Abba, you are truly trustworthy and faithful. Thank you for your love and grace in your Son Jesus. By your Spirit, please enable us to wait in silence for you, and to be attentive and obedient to your heart and mind. In your Name we pray. Amen.
“My soul, await in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken. On God my salvation and my glory rest; the rock of my strength, my refuge is in God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” Psalm 139:5-8 NASB
By Linda Rex
Creative people such as writers, songwriters, and artists will most likely at some point experience the painful reality of rejection or dismissal of their creative efforts. Sadly, many a gifted person has walked away from pursuing a career in a particular field because a significant person or instructor has rejected or harshly criticized what they have offered.
I remember as a youth I had loved to write little stories and poetry. I thought maybe I might like to be an author someday, but my writing always seemed inadequate and trite. When I first went to college I turned in a paper for an American literature course. The teacher gave me a C, which was a new experience for an A student. I finally got up the courage to ask her why she gave me such a low grade on what I thought was a good paper. She proceeded to annihilate all my efforts at writing. If I had been emotionally healthier, I believe I might have handled her criticism better, but as it was, it took me a long time before I allowed someone else to read or critique my creative writing.
I realize today rejection is a part of our human experience. None of us like it, especially when we have become hypersensitive due to attachment wounds. Rejection can feel very much like a death, because it penetrates down to the core of who we believe we are. We can allow fear of rejection to hamper us and tie us down, even to the place we are immobilized by it in the very areas we are the most gifted.
Rejection is not something we are alone in experiencing, though. Throughout the centuries, our loving God has experienced the rejection of his chosen people, and the rejection of the creatures he created in his own image after his likeness.
I would say in many ways our experience of rejection, whatever it may be, is a sharing in the rejection God has experienced since the first rejection of Adam and Eve. They chose to turn away from him and trust in their own ability to determine what is right and wrong rather than embracing his gift of the tree of life in relationship with him.
If we were to accept our common experience of rejection, we might find ourselves better able to handle rejection when it happens to us. We can be compassionate when it happens to another person, and more thoughtful before rejecting someone else. And if anything, it ought to at least make us sympathetic enough to reconsider our own personal response to God’s personal offer of love and grace to us.
Truly, we are each put in the place of having to make a decision when we encounter Jesus Christ. When we come face to face with the living Lord, we must embrace him or reject him—he does not give us any middle ground.
The story in the Christian calendar which is normally told on December 28th involves the encounter of the wise men from the east with the newly born Messiah. In this story, we see two completely different responses to Jesus Christ’s arrival. The correct response is illustrated by the wise men following the lead of the Spirit and the light of a star, seeking out the Christ child, and upon finding him, worshiping him and offering him gifts. This is the best response any of us can give when we come face to face with the truth of God’s love and presence in the person of Jesus Christ.
The other hell-bent response is illustrated by King Herod. Yes, he sought to know where the Christ child was, ostensibly to worship him, but in reality, for the sole purpose of destroying him and preventing him from fulfilling his purpose for coming into the world. King Herod wasn’t satisfied with ignorance of Jesus’ location, No, his rejection of the Messiah went so far as to include massacring all the boy babies in Bethlehem.
The rejection of the Messiah by King Herod is only the beginning of the many ways in which Jesus was rejected during his lifetime on earth. Though he “grew up healthy and strong” and “he was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him” as a human boy (Luke 2:40), we find out later by some of his people he was considered an illegitimate child only worthy of contempt (John 8:41).
Throughout his ministry, we see Jesus either embraced or rejected by the people he encountered. Indeed, the ones we expect to see him welcomed by are the ones who actually opposed him. Sitting at his feet were the lost, the least, and those rejected by the religious leaders. Those same leaders rejected Jesus’ person and ministry, even though he demonstrated by miracle and acts of love he was the Messiah, the Son of God in person.
Toward the end of his ministry on earth, Jesus began to push the buttons of these leaders. He brought them face to face with the sinfulness of their hearts, and exposed the evil motives which drove them. He brought them to judgment, to krisis, to a place where they would have to choose. He sought to bring them to repentance and faith—but he knew they would not make that choice. He knew the Jewish leaders would reject him, and he warned his disciples this would happen.
We are reminded on Palm Sunday how the crowds welcomed Jesus with joy, celebrating his entrance into Jerusalem. And then on Good Friday we are reminded anew of the real extent of all of humanity’s rejection of the Savior of the world as Jesus died at our hands in the crucifixion. It is not enough that Judas Iscariot betrayed him, but then Peter his close companion denied him. You and I stand there in each moment of rejection, betrayal, and denial, and we find ourselves betraying, denying, and crucifying Christ Jesus ourselves.
This should not create an oppressive sorrow, but rather the deep sorrow of repentance which is overwhelmed by the joy of renewal and forgiveness in the resurrection. This rejected One took your place and mine and in our stead gave us new life—the acceptance and embrace of our heavenly Abba.
Jesus Christ, the rejected One, does not reject us—he saves us! Abba, the Father we turned our backs on and rejected, receives us in his Son Jesus Christ—we are accepted in the Beloved. The Spirit is sent to us so we can participate fully in the divine perichoretic relationship of love and grace.
We find in Christ, the rejected One, a unity with God and with one another which would not otherwise exist. In Jesus Christ by the Spirit we find the capacity to forgive those who reject us, and the ability to embrace those we would normally reject.
The beauty of the Triune life in each Person’s unique relationship, equality, and unity begins to be expressed in our relationships with God and one another as we turn to Christ and receive the gift of the Spirit he gives us. This time of year, as we ponder the loss of so many innocent lives both then and now, we are comforted by the gift God gave us in his Son Jesus Christ. As we receive this precious gift and open ourselves up to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, we will find we are not rejected, but beloved and held forever in the Triune embrace of love and grace, in and through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Dearest Abba, thank you for your infinite patience, compassion, and grace toward us in spite of our rejection of you and our refusal to humble ourselves to accept your love as obedient children. Grant us repentance and faith—a simple trust in your perfect love and grace—a turning away from ourselves and a turning toward your Son Jesus, and an opening up of all of ourselves to you and the work of your Spirit of truth. May we walk in love and grace towards one another in Christ and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
“They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11 NLT
by Linda Rex
This morning I was listening to Casting Crowns sing “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. In this song, the lyricist tells about how he was overwhelmed by the evil, pain, and suffering of the world around him, and how he allowed it to darken his view—until the light of grace and love dawned and he truly heard the eternal song, and it transformed his perspective.
Indeed, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the negativity in the world around us. How is it possible to continue to struggle day by day and never seem to see the light at the end of the tunnel? There are times in our lives when one bad thing happens after another, and soon we have lost hope anything will ever get better.
But God calls out to us in the midst of the midnight darkness in the cry of an infant. He proclaims the amazing news: “I am here! You are not forgotten! You are loved!” And he says to you and to me: “There is nothing which could ever come between us—nothing that could ever be so awful I will not enter into it and save you from it.”
And he is here. He is Immanuel. And in him, death, evil, and sin are defeated. We in our broken humanity, are rescued and brought into the marvelous light of the presence of Abba through Jesus.
We are included in the divine life. As we by the Spirit embrace the living Lord, we begin to realize we are not alone. The Spirit bears witness to our spirit—we are God’s adopted children, we are beloved, we belong. Abba holds us in his arms, welcomes us home to be with him forever, in his Son and by his Spirit.
Whatever struggles there may be in this life, whatever isolation we may feel, whatever suffering and abuse we may encounter—these are but a straw to be blown away by the wind of the Spirit. They are but a passing moment of pain in the midst of eternal joy and glory.
Yes, they are a real part of our human existence—something we must experience and endure. These things won’t just disappear. Rather, it’s our perspective which needs changed. We need to realize, as the apostle Paul wrote, it is in these moments of weakness we are strongest, for Christ is our strength and our redemption in the midst of our troubles, sorrows and struggles.
If there is one thing we as humans have proven over the millennia, it is we don’t know what we are doing. On our own, we are incapable of walking in the paths of peace with God and one another. Since the Garden of Eden when we chose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we have been determining for ourselves a path which involves achieving some human-defined goal of perfection. And along this path, we have found suffering, evil, death, and a host of human ills.
The way of peace—a way we have not known. We have tried to create our own paths of peace. We try conformity—forcing others to our will and expectations. We try silencing any voice other than our own. We try unlimited freedom and self-indulgence. But these only create suffering, chaos, or slavery.
But God offered us a tree of life—this life which is in his Son. This is the eternal life which Jesus himself defined as the intimate knowing of our Abba and his Son Jesus Christ in the Spirit. This is a relational path—one of out-going love and care for God and others. This is the perichoretic life our heavenly Father, Son, Spirit-God has lived in for all eternity. This is the life we were created to dwell in. And this life—is the way of peace.
The way of peace is in reality a Person, not just a way of doing things. This Person lived his life in a communion of intimate relationship with our heavenly Father in the Spirit—in total freedom bounded only by outgoing love and concern, and filled with gracious compassion and purity of mind and heart. This Way of Peace, established in our humanity a way of being which defines us—it is the truth of who you and I really are. And he sent his Spirit so we could begin to live in the truth of our being as we embrace our divine life in him, in Jesus Christ.
God’s will toward you and me from the beginning has been a Spirit of good will. God wishes for you and me—peace—the same peace which he has dwelt in for all eternity in his perfect life as Father, Son, and Spirit. God so passionately desires we share in this peace with him, that he came in person, and joined with us in our broken humanity in Jesus Christ, so we could experience true peace.
And on that starry Bethlehem night, he came—a tiny, fragile human life—an infant in the arms of a young mother. And as Abba promised through the prophet Micah centuries before: “This One will be our peace.” Abba knew it would take nothing less than the gift of his Son for us to experience true peace.
This Advent, may you begin to experience more and more the blessing of true peace, with God and with others, through Jesus Christ our Lord by his heavenly Spirit. May God bless you with his true peace.
Abba, thank you for the gift of peace through your Son, the Prince of Peace. Thank you for being our God of Peace, who through your Spirit of Peace enables us to share in your heavenly peace. Grant us the grace to embrace the truth of who we are in Jesus, and to walk in the way of peace you have established for us, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. Therefore He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel. And He will arise and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they will remain, because at that time He will be great to the bends of the earth. This One will be our peace.” Micah 5:2-5a NASB
“To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, ‘to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death’, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:77–79 NASB
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 NASB
By Linda Rex
What if you found yourself in the midst of a committed relationship in which no matter how hard you tried, you could never get it right? What if you were the one who was unfaithful, unloving, and insensitive? What if you found yourself too often breaking the other person’s heart rather than sharing your own heart in humility and gratitude?
If we were honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that at some point in our relationships, most probably more often than we realize, we are this way. We find ourselves saying hurtful things, being unfaithful in our thinking and/or behavior, and showing our loved one disrespect by the things we say and do. We may or may not care about the effect of our behavior upon them, depending upon the state of our own heart and our relationship with them and God.
We may find ourselves despairing of ever being other than what we are, of never experiencing the blessings of a life in loving relationship with another human being, or even with God.
The story of the Old Testament tells us how God, even while knowing what the outcome would be, entered into a relationship with human beings, calling them his own, and giving them life in relationship with himself. He gave them a way of life which would enable them to experience his grace and grow in their knowledge and understanding of him and his ways of being.
In spite of all of God’s efforts to love his people and to be gracious towards them, his covenant people more often than not were unfaithful and unloving toward him. They ignored his clear revelation of what life in the presence of God looks like, and chose to establish their own rules for living. They depended upon other people, themselves, and the things of the earth rather than relying upon God for everything. God’s most loving efforts were met with resistance, rejection, and disrespect.
And yet, God did not dissolve the relationship. He relentlessly pursued his beloved children. Yes, he allowed them to experience the consequences of their unloving behavior, but he never made it a condition to his relationship with them. He is a covenant God, who keeps his covenant relationships while at the same time being free to dissolve them if he wishes to.
He sent prophets who warned them of the consequences of continuing their unfaithful, unloving behavior. Jeremiah acknowledged their inability to fulfill their covenant commitment to their God apart from his gracious intervention. He called for God, The Hope of Israel, to intervene: “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are my praise.” (Jer. 17: 14 NASB)
In the midst of the darkest days of Israel’s history, they heard no prophetic word from God and were exiled far from their homeland. They knew they deserved the desolation of their temple and being removed from the land they loved: “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.’” But God said to them, “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me.” (Isa. 49:14-16)
God’s word to his covenant people through the prophet Isaiah gave them hope. The prophet wrote of a messiah who would come to deliver his people from oppression and to usher in the new age of the Spirit, when “all flesh will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (Isa. 49:26b)
And it was not enough for God to redeem his people and restore his relationship with them. He went on beyond and included all humanity in the prophetic word of hope. The prophet Isaiah spoke of God’s Suffering Servant who would come and restore his people and through them, all humanity: “And now says the Lord, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him (For I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and My God is My strength), He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations… Break forth, shout joyfully together, you waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God.” (Isa. 49:5-6, 52:9-10 NASB)
Today we can look back on the events which took place following these prophetic messages. We know the amazing way God kept his word of hope which he gave to his people in the gift of his Son Jesus Christ. We can recognize God’s faithfulness and compassion, and understand we are included in God’s redemptive work.
Because of what God has done and is doing for us through his Son, and how he is working today in and with us by his Spirit, we can have hope in the midst of our own difficult circumstances. We may find ourselves in dark places, but we can know Jesus is present with us in the midst of them by his Spirit. We know Abba is carrying us, faithfully loving us and working for our redemption and salvation.
And this gives us hope within our own broken relationships. We turn to Christ, to Abba, and by the Spirit gain the grace to live in ways with one another which are a reflection of the divine life and love. We find in Christ by the Spirit the ability to say no to that which is unhealthy and evil, and yes to that which is wholesome and healing. It is Christ dwelling within us by his Spirit who brings us into his own faithful, loving relationship with his Abba, and enables us to participate with him in it. And this overflows into our own human relationships as the Spirit flows between and amongst us all.
And so, the apostle Peter calls us to “fix [our] hope completely on the grace to be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13 NASB) We are to hope in Jesus Christ—in the God of hope, who is our blessed hope in every situation and circumstance, because he is gracious, loving, and faithful.
Thank you, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for sending us your Son, and giving us your Spirit. Thank you that you are The God of Hope who rescues us from sin, evil, and death, and you meet us in the midst of every relationship by your Spirit so we may live together in oneness, in a recognition of and respect for our uniqueness and our equality. Grant us the grace again, to trust you in every circumstance, and when things grow dark and dreary, please shine your bright rays of hope in and through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 NASB
By Linda Rex
On Wednesday evenings at our discussion group we have been addressing the topic of hell. One of the concerns which was raised this week was how we determine whether or not we are getting off track in our reading and studying. This is a really good question.
Sometimes we can be so afraid of being deceived or getting off track we become afraid of reading anything other than the Bible. We can take this fear even to the place where we restrict our reading of the Bible to only one translation, or we only use a Bible put out by our particular denomination, rejecting all others as heretical.
At other times we may believe only one particular Bible teacher has the truth about God’s Word. We read everything this person writes, listen only to this person speaking, and we believe they are the only ones who really know the truth about God’s Word. We refuse to listen to what anyone else may have to say about the Bible or what to believe because we do not trust them to be telling the truth.
Unfortunately, our approach to learning about God and about the Bible may end up being governed by fear and mistrust rather than by the faith, hope, and love God gives to us in Christ by the Spirit. Instead of resting in Jesus Christ and trusting he will keep us in the center of his will, we anxiously work to make sure we don’t accidentally wander off the path of holiness.
The Scriptures say God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and sound mind. The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth as we trust in Christ and allow him to lead us. Yes, it is important to ground ourselves in the Word of God, but only as we allow the living Word of God to take precedence in all things, and allow the Holy Spirit to convict us of where we may be getting off track.
This whole process of studying the written Word of God and seeking to know the truth which will set us free is a relational effort—a participation with Christ by the Spirit in listening to, hearing, and acting upon what the Father is saying to us in the Scriptures. The question is, do we trust God to keep us on the right track, and if we wander off somewhere, to bring us back to the Truth who is Jesus Christ?
How do we gauge if a teaching or a translation is off track? How do we know if what someone is teaching doesn’t agree with the truth presented to us in Christ? And this is the key: Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. He is our living relationship with our Abba, and he gives his Spirit to us to lead us into all truth. He is the center.
When we begin to look at difficult topics such as hell, we begin with the appropriate lens. That lens is the Lord Jesus Christ and who he is as God in human flesh, and what he teaches us about the Father, himself, and the Spirit, and what he teaches us about ourselves. This grounds us and enables us to see more clearly the difference between truth and error. Looking through this lens also involves comprehending, believing, and receiving the reality of God’s love expressed to us in the giving of his Son and his Spirit for salvation and redemption.
We need to stay centered in the incomprehensible reality God willed not to be God without us: he chose before time began to include us in his life and love, and so he ordained before time began to send his Son in human flesh to draw us up into life in himself. Understanding and believing in the truth of this reality enables us to begin to read the Scriptures with greater clarity and less confusion. We are less likely to be swept aside by false concepts of God and eschatology (any system of doctrines concerning last, or final, matters, as death, the Judgment, the future state, etc.).
What God did for us in Jesus wasn’t an afterthought or a reaction to what humanity did, but rather what he intended all along. It was not an outflow of his anger against humanity or the rejection of his Son, but rather an embracing of all of us as lost, broken, rebellious children in need of redemption. That God, in his freedom to be the God he is, would do something new—not only creating creatures to share life with, but also joining them to himself forever—is an amazing and wonderful thing.
It is equally amazing that he who lived ever and always in love, joy, and peace, was willing to reconcile suffering, sorrow, and evil with himself in such a way it would be forever nullified and transformed into the very thing which binds us to himself in love.
Jesus is God’s judgment on sin, evil, and death. This judgment (or krisis) each of us encounters is not something or Someone which we should fear, but the Person which we should embrace in faith, trusting Christ is for us all we need in the face of our sin, brokenness, and depravity. Jesus Christ, who is God in human flesh, is the perfect answer or response to God for each one of us, no matter our situation or history or failure.
For this reason, we have nothing to fear when it comes to seeking to know God more fully and completely. Christ has gone ahead of us and has sent his Spirit so we might know which direction to go.
Yes, we have the responsibility to choose our teachers wisely. They need to coincide in their teaching and life with what we know about who Jesus Christ is as the God/man, and who he reveals God to be in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and in the sending of the Spirit. Our teachers need to be willing to submit to being taught and to sit humbly under the mentorship of those with greater spiritual depth, maturity, and knowledge. The Spirit in them will resonate with the Spirit in us, and we will begin to see with greater clarity the magnitude and depth of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ in their teaching.
One of the healthiest things we can do to keep ourselves on the right track is to find other believers who are well-grounded in Christ and to study the Word of God with them. As we pray together, listen to the written Word of God together, and wrestle with our questions and thoughts about what we are learning, the Holy Spirit brings us into a deeper knowledge and understanding of the truth. As we are open to it, we have brothers and sisters who can point out when we are drifting away from our center in Christ. And at the same time, we by the Spirit are growing into a deeper fellowship with God and one another.
Are there times when we may wander off the path? No doubt. But this is why it is essential to walk by faith, not by sight. We trust in the perfect work of Christ and in the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We hold all we read, hear, and see up against the mirror of the living Word of God as revealed in the written Word of God, and we ask ourselves, does this agree with the truth revealed to us in Jesus Christ? Does this diminish Christ or magnify him? And we go from there—it’s a walk of faith.
Thank you, Abba, for the gift of your Son the living Word, and for the gift of your precious Spirit. Keep us on the narrow path of faith, and free us from fear and anxiety about missing the mark. When we wander here and there, please bring us back to our center in Christ. We thank you that you are faithful and dependable, and that you will not leave us as orphans, lost or without direction. Open your written Word to our understanding, and transform our hearts by faith, we pray, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” 1 John 4:1-6 NASB
By Linda Rex
I was chatting with my son this morning and I was talking about how God has always taken care of us as a family. “Even when I was only making $6.50 an hour,” I said. “He’s always taken care of us. I’ve always tried to put God first in my finances…”
He interrupted me. “You’re not drifting into that health-and-wealth gospel stuff, are you?” he asked, amused. I laughed. “No, but it probably was starting to sound like it.”
I was reminded how easily we can slip into the cause-and-effect manner of thinking which we prefer as humans. We like to be sure God is going to do what we want in every situation, and so we come up with the perfect plan to make sure he does. We’d like to believe if we always pay our tithes off the gross and give generously to the poor and other charities, then God will always make sure we are taken care of. We hope if we always eat the right thing and drink clean water and do a good job of exercising and staying in shape, we will never develop cancer or die of a heart attack.
Doing things this way takes all the guesswork out of our relationship with God. In fact, we don’t have to even get into any of the messy stuff of dealing with our false motives or bad attitudes. As long as we’re doing the “right” thing, we’re in good with God and we have no reason to expect any issues in our life.
Of course, as we grow in our spiritual maturity in Christ, I would like to hope we get to the place we recognize this isn’t the way God works. Indeed, he seems at times to do the exact opposite of what we expect him to do in certain situations. And we can get pretty bent out of shape about it if we are not careful. It seems God likes to remind us about who is the Lord of the universe, and it’s not us. And he also likes to remind us even when it seems like everything is falling apart, he can still take it and work it all out for the best.
The real issue here is God’s real nature is relational, and all he does with us as human beings is with this relationship in mind. To live in the Triune relationship is to live in a relationship in which there is uniqueness and equality of Personhood in oneness of Being.
We are created in the image of this God, called into relationship with this God, and embraced in the midst of our turning away from this relationship in and through Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. In the gift of the Spirit, God works to bring us fully into the Triune embrace in such a way we know we share in Christ and we begin to intentionally participate in God’s love and life.
The thing is, this is a relationship we are called into and created for. And within this relationship we have been given great freedom. God has freed us from sin and death so we may live forever in the true freedom which exists in God’s being—a freedom to truly be who God created us to be—children of God who love their Abba with all their being, and who love their neighbor as themselves. This is the true freedom Christ won for us—to live out by the Spirit our true humanity which is hidden with Christ in God.
This freedom given to us by our Creator and Sustainer is what we wrestle with as human beings. On the one hand we like being able to do what we want, when we want, and how we want. We want to call the shots in this universe, while having God take care of us and give us everything we want when we want it and how we want it.
We live, if we are honest with ourselves, too often as if we are our own little gods, not realizing that such freedom is a false freedom. It is a lie—and whatever it is we have chosen which is not in within the truth of our being as God’s children will in the end enslave us and consume us, and without God’s intervention, may even eventually destroy us.
And these things we choose are not always the vices most of us easily acknowledge as being wrong or unhealthy. The worst choices we make are the most deceiving—the choice to objectify God and one another, the choice to put our trust in money, people, and other things rather than in God alone, or the choice to try to control God, or even one another, by the things we do or say—acting as though we can change the way God or others behave if we just act correctly or speak perfectly. We do our best manipulate, use, manage, and/or control God and one another, rather than respecting each one’s personhood and honoring him or her as the person he or she is.
If I choose to honor God with my finances by tithing, for example, by giving 10% off my gross income, that is a good thing to do as an expression of my love for God. I am free to tithe or not tithe, and no doubt, if I genuinely wish to bless God by tithing, he will be pleased by my heart of gratitude and generosity. But tithing does not obligate God in any way to make sure my bills are paid or I have money for a new car. It demonstrates a heart of devotion and trust toward God but it does not cause God to do anything in return. The cause-and-effect rule does not apply.
My experience in my relationship with God, however, has been when I was making next to nothing and felt convicted of the need to continue to tithe in spite of my poverty, God honored that and somehow always made sure I had what I needed. I did not control or manipulate God by my giving—but I did express my genuine heart of devotion and commitment to God through my giving, and I found myself being blessed and helped by God in the midst of my poverty.
I remember one ongoing conversation with God expressed my anxiety about the bills which I thought I couldn’t pay. Anxiety in itself demonstrates a lack of faith in my Abba, and I have struggled with this over and over—it’s one of those subtle yet encroaching sins. But God merely would remind me to write down my needs and to ask him to take care of them. That is a relational thing, not a cause-and-effect thing. It is an act of trust. I felt compelled by the Spirit to do write down my needs and give them to God, I obeyed God and did it, and God responded by hearing and answering my prayers. It began with God and ended with God, and I got to be in the midst of it and be blessed in the process.
Looking back, I know too often in my life I thought I had to do this or do that other thing in order to be blessed by God or experience his good will towards me. In reality, God’s will toward me was already good, and he was looking out for me when I didn’t even realize it. He intervened in so many situations, and I never realized what was going on until later, if at all, and was amazed by his tender love and concern.
What I have learned is God is love and God is faithful. And we are held in his love and grace, He is always at work, no matter what is going on, bringing us to a place of redemption and healing. We are free to make choices, and God allows us to experience the joy or pain of those choices. But he is ready and willing at any time to embrace us when we come running and are ready to participate in making choices his way, in the way which best expresses our true humanity as God’s beloved children.
Dear Abba, thank you for your faithful love and gracious provision for our needs each and every day, whether we realize it or not. Thank you for holding us in your love and grace, and that your heart toward us is good and full of compassion. Grant us the grace to live in the true freedom which is ours in your Son and by your Spirit so our lives and ways of being are a true expression of your nature and Name as Father, Son, and Spirit. In your Name we pray, Amen.
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.” 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 NASB