While We Were Yet Sinners
by Linda Rex
March 12, 2023, 3rd Sunday in Preparation for Easter or Lent—One of the things I think we overlook when reading the gospel stories is Jesus’ intentionality with regards to building relationships with people in a variety of circumstances. One example is the woman he met at a well in Samaria, the story we read about in John 4:5–42.
In normal circumstances, the two of them would not have had any conversation at all, had they conformed to the cultural standards of the day. Back then, a good rabbi would never be seen in public talking with a woman, and most certainly not if she was a Samaritan. These two peoples, the ancient Jews and Samaritans, were passionate about the historical, religious, and cultural rifts which stood between them, and this divide was large enough that this simple conversation would never have happened if Jesus hadn’t been led by the Spirit to obey his Father’s command to seek this woman out and speak to her.
The assumption of many of the ancient Jews was that these Samaritans were the worst of sinners, apostates, in fact. There was no room for them in God’s kingdom, they believed, so they were dismissed and rejected, forbidden to enter the temple in Jerusalem and worship with the Jews. Jesus, though, goes out of his way to stop at this well and invite this Samaritan woman into a conversation. He offers her a relationship with God which is centered in himself rather than in a particular mountain or temple. He offers her grace—inviting her into a grace place where she can live reconciled with and in right relationship with God.
Relationships can be difficult and painful. The Samaritan woman had been through relationship after relationship, hoping that somehow, she might find the life she was looking for. All she had ever found was more pain, more abuse, and more suffering. How much different would her life have been if she had been drinking from the correct well all along—drinking from the living water of life in relationship with the Father through Christ in the Spirit? How would it have been different if the people in her life had been offering her a space of grace instead of condemnation, rejection, and humiliation?
The good news is that this woman drank from the well of living water Jesus offered her. She believed Jesus when he told her he was the Messiah, the Christ. And then she went and told many others this good news, inviting them into this grace space as well.
The apostle Paul, in the New Testament passage for this Sunday, Romans 5:1–11, talks about this incredible gift of grace God offers every one of us. He tells us that even while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus demonstrated the love of God in a tangible way, by reconciling us to God even when we had made ourselves enemies of God. Paul was reminding his readers that they needed to offer one another the same grace God offers each of us in Christ. Are we willing to lay our own life down as Jesus did his by inviting another person into the grace space we have come to dwell in by faith?
Father, thank you for loving us so much that you did not allow us to be estranged from you forever, but sent your Son to bring us all home again. By your Spirit, grant us the grace to turn to Jesus in faith, trusting in your abundant love, which you have shed abroad in our hearts. And move us to invite others into this grace space you’ve created for us all, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” Romans 5:1–11 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2023/02/olitwhile-we-were-yet-sinners.pdf ]
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When Light First Dawns
by Linda Rex
January 22, 2023, 3rd Sunday in Epiphany—Recently, my husband remarked about my preference for darkened rooms. I’ve always preferred a more dimly lighted room to one that is filled with bright light because of the sensory overload that I experience from constant intense brightness. When the Scriptures speak about the light which is Jesus, I often wonder if our experience of Jesus can also make us prefer a less intense experience of the truth and grace which he brings. For some of us, hiding in the darkness of our human experience is preferable to facing up to the reality that we may have aspects of our person which need redemption and healing.
The good news is that this is the reason Jesus came. He did not come to condemn us, he said, but to save us and give us eternal life (John 3:16-17). His purpose is not to shame or diminish us in any way, but to bring us into the fullness of all that he intended from the beginning, from before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:3-6), when light first touched this cosmos—life in relationship with God in the Spirit.
In our gospel passage for this Sunday, Matthew 4:12-23, the apostle quotes a passage from Isaiah 9:1-4, saying that Jesus’ life and ministry in the Galilee area was a fulfillment of this particular prophetic word. When looking back at the history of ancient Israel, we see that this area of the country was constantly invaded as a consequence of their repeated infidelity to God. Because they chose to continue to live in the darkness of sin, they ultimately experienced invasion and deportation by the Assyrians.
In Matthew’s day, the area of Galilee was distained by the people in Jerusalem and much of Judea, for the area was filled with Gentiles and surrounded by Hellenistic Jews who had in many ways assimilated into the Greek culture of their day. That Jesus would grow up in Nazareth and spend much of his life and ministry in the area of Galilee is remarkable and a telling witness to the grace and love of God for his people.
The dawning of the light of God in his birthplace of Nazareth, though, was met with ridicule and disbelief. So, Jesus went to Capernaum to live and work, and traveled around the region of Galilee, preaching, teaching, and healing the people. Here the light of God, Jesus, announced the present reality of the kingdom of God, calling the people to repent. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he was present and active in the lives of those who lived in darkness, calling them into his light, into life in relationship with his Father in the Spirit.
What is our experience when the light first dawns for us? What is our experience and response when first encountering the reality of Jesus and his claims upon us and our lives? Are we one of those who walks over to the light switch and shuts off the lamp because it is blinding us, or are we so blessed by the invasion of light in our darkness that we welcome it?
The issue may simply be that we are not clearly hearing or intently listening to and heeding what Jesus is saying. Perhaps we might want to look a little more closely at this simple message that Matthew puts forth as Jesus’ gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In that brief statement, there is a blinding light being projected, meant to illuminate the darkness which had covered these people for centuries. All of their messianic expectations needed to be revised, and all of their preferences reexamined. And this is why, perhaps, some may simply have preferred to turn the light back off rather than allow it to penetrate into their darkness.
Jesus didn’t focus on the benefits of being one of the chosen people. He didn’t celebrate the religious activities of the elite or promise blessings for obedience. At the same time, Jesus’ call to repent wasn’t a call to shame or guilt. It wasn’t a ridicule or a criticism. Instead, it was a call to a change of mind and heart—an invitation to turn around and go the right direction.
When in a darkened room, it is hard to see another person. If a person lives in darkness long enough, they lose their ability to see anyone or anything. If someone else is in the room with them, they wouldn’t know it, unless perhaps they heard them, because they wouldn’t see them. Jesus was inviting those who heard his message to see the reality that God was with them (in him) and they needed to turn around and get back into the face-to-face relationship with God they were created for. Jesus’ call to repent was a call to come back home, to live in the truth about who they were. Repent, Jesus says, and invites them into warm fellowship with himself, and thus with the Father in the Spirit.
Having reminded his listeners to come back into relationship with God through him, Jesus tells them that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The kingdom of heaven is Matthew’s euphemism for the kingdom of God. In Jesus, God’s kingdom was present and real, being established in a new and real way in his person. As the one through whom and by whom all was created, the Word of God in human flesh, Jesus was the one who ruled over all that was made. As the king of the kingdom, present in person, Jesus was calling all people to turn around and participate with him in the reality of God’s reign over all.
And that’s the catch. That’s where we get up and reach for the switch to turn off the light. We don’t want God invading our space or telling us how to run our world or our own lives. We don’t want anyone dictating to us. And we most certainly don’t want to admit that perhaps we need a power beyond ourselves in order to solve our problems, fix our world and our relationships, or even to change ourselves. We dive deeply into anything we can get our hands on that might possibly solve our problem, or at least anesthetize us from the pain, because we certainly don’t want to have to surrender to God.
What is sad, is that we as Christians are often the most guilty about avoiding the light. We find so many ways in which to bury our heads in the ground or rewire the light switch so that we don’t have to face the reality that we have turned our backs upon our relationship with God or have abandoned our dependence upon the One who has redeemed and saved us.
The good news is that Jesus comes to dark places, places like Galilee, where for a time, darkness reigns. Jesus is the Son of God who temporarily set aside the privileges of divinity to join us in our humanity in order to turn us back to God. Jesus says to all of us, “Follow me,” and invites us to live and walk within his own personal relationship with Father in the Spirit. He encourages us to live life in relationship with him day by day, in the humility of total dependence upon him, and daily welcomes us come home. As we are willing, he shines his light into our dark places, bringing renewal, healing, and restoration, and a deeper experience of God’s love.
Thank you, Father, for including us through Jesus in relationship with you in the Spirit. Grant us the grace to turn away from ourselves and this world and to turn again to Jesus, allowing your light to penetrate down into the deepest and darkest places within ourselves. May we discover that in the blackest places, the light of Jesus already shines. Amen.
“Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” Matthew 4:12–23 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2023/01/olitwhen-light-first-dawns.pdf ]
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An Opportune Time
By Linda Rex
March 6, 2022, 1st Sunday in PREPARATION FOR EASTER OR LENT—This morning I was reading about the conflict currently going on between the nations of Russia and Ukraine. There seems to be a variety of opinions on why this conflict is happening and what the motives are behind it. But I have yet to see anyone say that the conflict is a result of our natural human tendency to desire what is not ours and to raise ourselves above others, while subjugating them to our will—a biblical worldview regarding conflict (James 4:1–4).
While it’s easy to play the blame game when talking about conflict and war, the reality is that we often point out human failings while ignoring the underlying spirit of conflict which has its roots in the evil one. Satan is constantly at work creating suspicion and mistrust between people and groups, causing division and conflict. He is masterful at destroying fellowship and community. Often, we see him at work, not realizing we ourselves may be participating in his work of destruction and death by our own human tendency toward envy, greed, selfishness, pride, and unforgiveness.
This Sunday’s reading in the gospels tells how Jesus came away from his baptism experience filled with the Spirit, but then was thrown out by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the evil one. In Luke’s account, Jesus was tempted in a variety of ways—a summary of the temptations we experience as human beings—and yet he did not sin. Drawing upon the word of God as written in the book of Deuteronomy, he countered every temptation, until Satan finally left him. But then, Luke adds—“until an opportune time”.
What Luke is pointing out is that even though Jesus emerged triumphant from this great spiritual battle, Satan was not yet done. He continued to seek out opportunities to trick Jesus into sinning—to tempt him to turn away from his purposeful journey towards the crucifixion and resurrection. The evil one knew what was at stake, and did his best to trip our Savior up as he made the challenging journey to the cross.
One example of this is the conversation Jesus had with Peter regarding his identity as the Messiah. Peter understood Jesus was the Messiah, but when Jesus started describing what he as the Messiah would have to go through—rejection, arrest, abuse and death—Peter’s concern as a friend and disciple got in the way. He told Jesus that he was wrong—these things wouldn’t happen. And Jesus rebuked him strongly by saying, “Get behind me, Satan.” Jesus understood the true source of this conflict. Peter was merely a participant who had his mind on human things instead on what mattered most to God (Mark 8:29–33).
This is a good example of how Satan watches for opportune moments to bring about his agenda of discord, division, destruction and death. It’s not always obvious at first glance. Many times, it is hidden underneath the guise of what seems to be good, comfortable or pleasant. This is why we are so often reminded in the scriptures to be on the alert. Peter knew firsthand how important this is and wrote in 1 Peter 5:8–9: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world” (NASB).
Some of the opportune moments we give the evil one are moments of unresolved anger. The apostle Paul reminds us not to allow angry disagreements to go on and on without working them out. He wrote, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:26–27 NASB). It’s not wrong to be angry. Anger shows that a violation of some kind has occurred and needs to be addressed in a healthy way. There needs to be reconciliation, forgiveness, repentance—whatever needs addressed in order to restore the relationship. But it needs to be addressed, and not allowed to fester. Allowing anger, resentment, and then bitterness to fester is what creates an opportunity for Satan to enter in and begin to create a whole mess of issues and broken relationships and destructive situations. He loves it when we participate with him in creating division and disruption in this way.
The apostle Paul reminded us that our conflicts are not so much against humans as they are against spiritual strongholds and authorities. He wrote that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” For that reason, he encouraged us to put on Christ—the armor God has given us to protect us against the wiles of the devil.
In Jesus, we see the armor Paul talks about in Ephesians 6:10–18 being forged as Jesus resisted Satan’s temptations. Jesus walked the path to the cross—the way of the gospel of peace—and would not be deterred even though he knew the pain and suffering involved. Jesus, as the living Word of God, drew upon the power of the Spirit and the written word of God to counter Satan’s arguments. As the Son of God, Jesus knew the Father intimately and trusted completely in his love and faithfulness, even as he experienced Satan’s attacks. And as God in human flesh, Jesus lived in right relationship with his Father, keeping his heart in faithful devotion to his Abba.
In the garden of Gethsemane, one last “opportune time” occurred when Satan sought to turn Jesus away from his commitment in the Spirit to his Father and to all of us as humanity. Jesus wrestled in agony against the strong pull to do what his human flesh and Satan desired. Today, as we walk through these wilderness days of the Lenten season with Jesus, we are reminded how masterfully Jesus struggled in our place and on our behalf in this battle over evil, sin, and death. Soon we will rehearse again the events of Holy Week, walking with Jesus down the road toward his final moments in Jerusalem, weeping with Mary and the disciples as he hung in agony on the cross and lay silently in the tomb, and rejoicing on that glorious resurrection morn, when Jesus rose triumphantly from the grave.
The joyous good news is, that even though the evil one does his best to create conflict, division, death and destruction, Jesus is still triumphant. He is Lord. There is nothing that will stand in the way of what Jesus determines he will do in a given situation. Yes, as long as we human beings still try to be in charge and run things our way, we will have conflict and war and human suffering. But when we turn to Christ and do things his way, then healing, restoration, and renewal can begin to be experienced in this life, and most certainly will be experienced forever in the new heavens and new earth.
As long as Satan is around, he will be looking for “an opportune time”. But we have a triumphant Lord. We put on his armor. We trust in the Father’s love and care. And we live and walk filled with the Spirit. This is where we take our stand: in Christ.
Thank you, heavenly Father, for your faithful love and your grace. Thank you, holy Jesus, for the battle you waged in our place and on our behalf against the evil one. And thank you, precious Spirit, for filling us and guarding our hearts and minds, in Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. And the devil said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live on bread alone.”’ And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, ‘I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.”’ And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it is written, “He will command His angels concerning you to guard you,” and, “on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘It is said, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.” Luke 4:1–13 NASB
[A printable copy of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/02/an-opportune-time.pdf%5D
When It’s Hard to Love
By Linda Rex
February 20, 2022, 7th Sunday of EPIPHANY—Last night my husband, Ray, and I were talking about how hard it is sometimes to love people, especially when they make it very difficult to do so. In our everyday lives, we come across people who are thoughtless, inconsiderate, or downright rude, and we are asked by God to be gracious and to not hold it against them. And that is difficult, if not impossible, at times.
We’ve all had those experiences where we are simply going about our everyday lives and someone does something that totally disrupts and ruins our day. What is our response to the person who cut us off in traffic, causing us to miss our exit or to spill our coffee all over ourselves? If I look at what the apostle Paul says I should do, I find that “love…puts up with anything” (1 Cor. 13:7 MSG). Did he really mean that I have to put up with anything that people do to me?
What is unspoken in this passage in Luke 6:27–38 is the reality that often love looks much different than what we assume it looks like. Love, at times, is not very nice. Indeed, there can be a profound difference between being nice and being loving. One can be incredibly nice to someone and at the same time be holding them hostage to unhealthy ways of living and being. We often do this to one another when the most loving thing might be to speak the truth in love or to set healthy boundaries in the relationship by not doing for others what they need to do for themselves.
This is where it is a real challenge for us to love. I’m learning that I still have a long way to go when it comes to loving the people in my life well. Love, in the way Jesus describes it, is something sacrificial, serving, humble and self-effacing. It involves losing, dying, being taken advantage of, and being taken for granted. It means being willing to be the one who suffers undeservedly for the sake of another. This certainly doesn’t come naturally for us.
Jesus calls us up to a higher standard—one beyond our human ability. When have we ever gotten to the place where we could and would love our enemies and do good to those who mistreat us? It takes an inner transformation by the Holy Spirit to bring us to the place where we would actually love in the same way that God loves us. It takes the love of God shed abroad in our hearts to enable us to think, live, speak and act like the sons of God we are in Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:5; 8:14).
If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that there is probably nothing someone else has done to us that we have not in some form or fashion done to others. Indeed, if we believe we’ve never done to others what has been done to us, then we need to consider whether or not there are a few things we’ve done to God that he didn’t deserve. Oh, yes—I went there. We do stuff to God all the time that he doesn’t deserve. And most certainly, he did not deserve to be crucified when he came in the person of Jesus Christ.
And love is a challenge when we must do the right thing in the face of someone doing the wrong thing. When someone is unjust toward us, do we remain just and fair? When someone is cruel to us, are we kind back? When someone is indifferent or cold to us, do we respond with intentional compassion and concern? This is hardest to do in our closest relationships, where our everyday lives wear down our respect and patience with one another. When someone we love repeatedly messes up, it’s really hard to let them off the hook one more time. But isn’t that what God does with us?
Jesus really got down to the basics when he began talking about blessing those who curse us and doing good to those who hate us. He didn’t ask us to give up our human dignity, to allow ourselves to be abused, but he did ask us to go way beyond what comes naturally to us, so that we might be as gracious to others as his Father is to us. What standard do we want God to judge us by—the criticism and condemnation we hand out to others or the gracious patience and understanding we offer them when they mess up or hurt us?
This passage is really hard to read, because I realize how impossible it is for us to actually live this out in our world full of users and abusers. How was Jesus able to actually do this when he lived here on earth? It was only possible because he was filled with the Spirit from birth and was, as God in human flesh, living in union and communion with his Father moment by moment as he interacted with those he encountered day by day. How else could he have handled so graciously the constant condemnation, rejection, and abuse? How else could he have allowed himself to be crucified by those he came to save?
The reality is that living in right relationship with God and others comes to us only as a gift. It is Jesus’ right relationship with God and others that we participate in by the Holy Spirit. Jesus lived out loving relationship with his Father in the Spirit while he was here on earth, loving others in the way we were meant to love. And he forged within our humanity the capacity to love and be loved as God intended when he created us. When we love God and love one another—we are truly human the way God meant us to be human.
So, Jesus, having lived our life and died our death and risen from the grave, sent the Spirit from the Father. The Spirit shed abroad in human hearts enables us to truly love and be loved in the way we were meant to. We find the ability to love when it gets hard as we trust in Christ’s love being poured out within us by the Holy Spirit. When we are faced with unpleasant or difficult situations in which it is impossible to love another, we turn to Jesus. We find in him the capacity, by the Spirit, to do what we would not otherwise do.
Seeing our need for Christ, for his grace, for his ability to love and be loved, enables us to offer the same grace and compassion toward others. Understanding our dependency upon a power greater than ourselves to be able to simply love and care for others, enables us to graciously understand when others fail to love and care for us. May God awaken us to the depths of the love and grace he has toward us that we may offer it freely to all those whom we struggle to love.
Thank you, Abba Father, for your unfailing love and grace. We are so dependent upon your mercy and compassion! Fill us with your love that we may love others as you have loved us, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” Luke 6:27–38 NASB
By the Grace of God
By Linda Rex
February 6, 2022, EPIPHANY | 5th Sunday—When I started writing this blog back in 2013, my original intent was to take what I was learning about the inner relations of the Triune God as Father, Son and Spirit, and apply them to our everyday life. Often, we try to separate our life in Christ from our everyday experiences, rather than live in the reality that all of life is lived in the midst of God’s life and love. The blessing of the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus touches every part of our human experience in every moment because he lived as one of us, in a human body, as God in human flesh and lives in us today by his Holy Spirit.
Over time, I began to write these devotional pieces in conjunction with the Revised Common Lectionary so that they might be used as inspiration and edification for those planning sermons based on the lectionary. What I have discovered in writing these pieces is that the Word of God is never stale—there is always something new we can learn from God, if we are open and willing to learn. I find, too, that God’s Word inevitably has something to say to me personally, and I need to always and ever be open to God’s instruction, correction, and direction.
I am grateful to all of you readers over the years who have taken the time and made the effort to read my Our Life in the Trinity blog. I realize that there is a lot of material out there that you could be reading instead, and I appreciate your involvement in my life in this way. It means more to me than I could ever fully express.
My congregations here in Tennessee have been very supportive during the almost ten years since I first moved here in 2012. When I came, the Murfreesboro GCI congregation was part of my circuit, but in 2015 they came to the place where they opted to disband rather than continue as an unchartered GCI fellowship. I had gotten attached to the members there, so it was a difficult time of loss for both me and them when the church closed. Now I am facing the same change with my congregations in Cookeville and Nashville—apart from God’s divine intervention in a major way, they both will be losing their charters as GCI congregations at the end of June. And I will be unable to continue as their pastor.
It is not pleasant to make these changes—change is never easy nor is it comfortable. If I have learned one thing during my time here in the Nashville area—it is that God is faithful, and that even when the congregation where we meet quits meeting or becomes an unchartered fellowship, we do not lose our relationship with God or each other. God has come to us in Jesus Christ and has brought us into intimate communion with himself by his Spirit, and into fellowship with one another in the Spirit. He is always and ever present and at work, and he is faithful to us as we trust in him.
What I have seen is that when these changes occur, God has in many cases moved people into forming deeper relationships with the people in the community where they live. Rather than traveling a significant distance just to meet with other believers, many discovered that there were other believers right where they lived that they could meet with and share life with. They have discovered that life in Christ involves the everyday activities of life like grocery shopping, going to the library, and mowing the neighbor’s lawn.
Yes, we have been blessed with a very special journey as members of Grace Communion International congregations. We know from personal experience what it is like to have God take us from one direction and turn us completely around into the way of grace. We know how painful it is to experience division and accusation and condemnation from those who we thought were our brothers and sisters in Christ. And we’ve received, by God’s grace, a whole new way of coming to know and interact with the living God, who we know now as Father, Son, and Spirit—one God in three Persons. And we are learning what it is to live and walk in love—in Christ by the Spirit.
Over the years, one of the things we have tried to do as a pastoral care team was be involved in the communities in which our congregations are located. Many of us been unable to actually live in the neighborhoods in which our churches were located, which made our efforts to build relationships with people in our communities much more difficult. It has been a challenge, but we have managed to find a few ways in which we could offer Christ’s love in tangible ways to the people in the neighborhoods around where our churches meet. Unfortunately, as of late, we haven’t been able to do as many of these things. Recently, here in Nashville, we have even had to cease our Community Café ministry where we served meals weekly to our neighbors. We simply do not have the resources, human and otherwise, to continue this ministry any longer.
In 1 Corinthians 15:1–11, the apostle Paul describes how he diligently preached the good news of Jesus Christ to the people in Corinth. He knew that he was the last person who should have been doing this ministry since he had so viciously attacked the body of believers before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. He acknowledged that anything he did in furthering the spread of the gospel, the good news of God’s kingdom reign come in Jesus, was due to God’s grace. God was extremely gracious in redeeming and calling Paul to participate in his mission in the world in spite of his past history of persecuting followers of Christ.
In the same way, I realize how gracious God has been in allowing all of us to be a part of what he has been doing here in Tennessee. Considering all of the reasons God probably should not have picked any of us to do this ministry, we are here, simply following Isaiah’s example and saying, “Here I am, Lord. Send me” (Isaiah 6:1–8 (9–13)). There are many churches in this neck of the woods, and whatever little we may be able to do in service to Christ is only a small part of the work God is doing in this area. God has many people he has called into his service—we are only a small part of the picture. And we are truly privileged to participate in all the amazing things God is doing here in Tennessee.
Recently, my husband, Ray and I have been experiencing a call upon our hearts and lives to move into a small rural community in which we can both live and do ministry within either the same building, the same block, or the same square mile. We have felt God’s affirmation of this in several ways, and feel that he is guiding us down a path that will lead us to doing this when my time here as a pastor comes to an end. We invite you to pray with us for God’s guidance and provision as we seek to follow Christ going forward.
I hope to continue this ministry of writing, online ministry, and of sharing the gospel. It may take a different form—I don’t know for sure yet. But in God’s good time, I believe we will be in a place where we can share the good news of Jesus Christ in our everyday lives with others of like mind. In the meantime, please pray for my congregations as we make this necessary transition and adjustment to the changes ahead of us. Thank you for keeping us all in prayer.
Heavenly Father, thank you for including us in your life and in the ministry you are doing in this world through Jesus and in the Spirit. Thank you, Jesus, that you have included us in your life with the Father in the Spirit, so that all of life is lived in and with you. Heavenly Spirit, guide us into the path you have for us to walk, that we may leave all and follow Jesus wherever he goes, for our Father’s glory. Amen.
“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; … Your right hand will save me. The LORD will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O LORD, is everlasting; do not forsake the works of Your hands.” Psalm 138:7–8 NASB
“Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat. When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered and said, ‘Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, ‘Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.’ When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.” Luke 5:1–11 NASB
Faith, Hope and Love Abide
By Linda Rex
January 30, 2022, 4th Sunday | Epiphany—At times I am amazed at how fickle we can be when it comes to our interests and affections. I remember when we loved using our VCR. Then one day, we discovered DVD’s. Now I have a shelf full of VCR tapes destined for the thrift store, in hopes someone somewhere will still find them useful.
Unfortunately, our transient passions and affections also affect our relationships. We don’t always realize that we base our interactions with one another on this flimsy foundation of human attachments rather than in the faith, hope, and love expressed towards all of us in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. What is the basis of our relationships with family members, work associates, or community members? Are they grounded in Christ, in his self-offering of love?
This story of Jesus attending the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth is instructive. Look at how Jesus, as was his custom, enters the synagogue and is invited to speak. At first, he is welcomed with open arms, people having heard of his miracles and the popularity of his preaching. They seem to be amazed at his words of grace, saying, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Perhaps it wasn’t even astonishment. They may simply have been appalled that he would imply that he might be more than just the boy down the street.
That’s where the tide begins to turn. Joseph’s son—the child everyone knew growing up, not as a person in his own right, but as the son of Joseph, the craftsman. This young man was daring to step out of the box his hometown had enclosed him in, and was challenging them to rethink who the messiah would be and what would happen when he came. How dare this homegrown hero declare that he was the Anointed One!
Jesus was quite aware of the transition in their affections and was not fazed by it. In fact, it was almost as if he were baiting the crowd when he pointed out the historical reality of Israel’s response to the prophets of old. Anyone can read about Israel’s refusal to believe the prophets when they came. Jesus reminded them of how, during a famine, God sent Elijah to the home of a Gentile widow, and that the only leper healed by Elisha was Naaman, the Syrian. This infuriated the people listening to Jesus. In their rage, they grabbed Christ and tried to shove him off a cliff to kill him.
How interesting. The people of God, the congregation of God’s people, gathered before the living Word of the Lord reading the written word of God, and when he spoke, they were so infuriated, they sought to kill him! This gathering of God’s people should have been the place where faith, hope, and love abode, where the presence of the Lord rested by the Spirit. And instead, the spirit of hate and murder arose in their hearts and they sought to kill Jesus.
But it was not his time—so he walked right through them and went on his way. When it was his time to be killed, in the garden of Gethsemane he willingly offered himself to the temple guards to be taken to the cross to be executed. The reality is that our refusal of Christ’s finished work and our efforts to keep Jesus in our box restricted to our expectations does not alter his perfect gift as the Anointed One on behalf of all people, in his perfect timing according to his Father’s perfect plan.
In living our life, dying our death and rising again, Jesus calls us into a new relationship which we can attempt to ignore or we can joyfully embrace. Jesus, by including us in his intimate relationship with the Father in the Spirit, has brought us up into the reality of the abiding presence of faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these, of course, is love, because that is the very nature of the God who is Father, Son, and Spirit—the God who lives eternally in perichoretic love.
The finished work of Christ invites us to live in a new way—the way of love, expressed in a community of faith which offers the hope of salvation, available to us in Jesus Christ. The Spirit calls us together as the body of Christ, not just so we can hear educated people talk about the Bible. The Spirit calls us together to join in what God is doing in this world through Jesus in the Spirit. The essential ingredient to participation in God’s life and love is relationship, growing in healthy relationships with God and one another—abiding in the faith, hope, and love which is ours in Christ by the Spirit.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Growing up, I was taught to keep to myself, to not interact with people who did not think or act like me. I was expected to keep my distance from anyone who did not profess Christ in the same way I did. I was not much different than the people in the synagogue in Jesus’ hometown. I had Jesus pigeonholed into a particular belief system and way of living, and would not allow him to be who he really was, because that did not fit my expectations and preferences.
God has taken me down a long road of repentance—of turning away from what was false and misguided into what is true, healthy and whole. I still have a long way to go. I realize this because I still struggle with staying in that place where faith, hope, and love abide. I don’t always ground my everyday relationships in Christ and in his perfect self-offering. I spend way too much time avoiding intentional participation in Christ’s mission here on earth rather than immersing myself in everything he is doing. It is a challenge to participate rather than to hide or self-protect—but that is what we are called to do as God’s adopted children.
We don’t get to choose our spiritual siblings. We are all included in God’s embrace, whether we realize it or not, and in spite of our refusal to accept or embrace it. Our experience of life in the abiding presence of God through Christ in the Spirit may be like the warm fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit, or it may be like that angry, violent mob furiously hanging onto their self-dependency and stubborn willfulness. Christ has planted our existence within himself in the center of the inner relationship of the Trinity, where faith, hope and love abide. Will we live there, or continue to seek our own existence, according to our own rules and preferences? Apart from the abiding presence of faith and hope centered in God’s love, we just sound like a noisy cymbal, adding little value apart from that which has been provided by God himself, in Christ by the Spirit.
Jesus Christ is our “rock of habitation to which [we] may continually come.” He is our salvation. This is what is true. What will we do with this blessed gift? Will we abide in Christ, the place where faith, hope, and love abide within the Triune God? Will we walk in love, in the Spirit, intentionally building relationships with those around us as full participants in God’s mission in this world to let everyone know of God’s perfect love and life? Or will we go our own way?
Dear God, thank you for inviting us to participate in your life as Father, Son, and Spirit. Thank you for inviting us up into the place where faith, hope, and love abide. Grant us the grace to abide there with you and one another through Jesus in your Spirit. Amen.
“And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, He went His way.” Luke 4:(21–29) 28–30 NASB
“Be to me a rock of habitation to which I may continually come; You have given commandment to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress.” Psalm 71:3 (1–6) NASB
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. … But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:1–13 NASB
Reaching Out Rooted in Christ
By Linda Rex
May 9, 2021, 6th SUNDAY OF EASTER—A friend gave me a gift of Guideposts magazine a while ago, and today I came across a quote in the latest issue from best-selling author Glennon Doyle. The quote goes like this: “I really, really think the secret to being loved is to love. And the secret to being interesting is to be interested. And the secret to having a friend is being a friend.”
I have learned over the years by experience that our ability to form attachments with others often does have to begin with our first reaching out and offering others love and friendship. But I believe our ability to reach out to others in this way is best rooted in the self-offering of God towards us in Jesus Christ. When it is rooted in Christ, we find the attachment has a spiritual rooting that holds it through the storms and changes of life, and often, on into eternity.
In our passage for this Sunday, John 15:9-17, we see that there is no greater love than when a person lays down his or her life for another, as Jesus laid down his life for all humanity. This love has its roots in the perichoretic love of the Father and Son in the Spirit, and is expressed to each and every one of us in Jesus Christ’s self-sacrificial offering of himself in our place and on our behalf.
Jesus said he loved his disciples just as his Father loved him. He told his disciples that he remained in the oneness of the Triune life and love as he did those things his Father asked of him. His experience of joy and love becomes ours as we participate in Christ’s obedience to his Father’s will. Jesus calls us beyond what comes naturally to us into what is more difficult—to love even to the point of laying down one’s life. There is no greater love, he said.
It is in the context of this life of union and communion with the Father through Jesus in the Spirit that Jesus gives us our purpose and mission as his followers. We are individually and collectively chosen by him and appointed to go and bear fruit, fruit that will remain. It is in our ongoing abiding or remaining in Christ that we bear fruit that abides or remains. This fruit is an expression of the Father’s will—love for one another, life in spiritual community—now as the body of Christ and ultimately, on into eternity as the Bride of Christ.
This moves obedience from the place of following a list of rules to one of honoring the desires and will of a friend, Jesus, and those of our heavenly Father. Jesus shares his heart with us and we do as he asks—loving as he loved, laying down our lives as he laid down his, loving one another as we are loved by him and he is loved by the Father. As we are centered in the Father’s will in this way, whatever we ask of our Father will be ours—we are participating in a real way in what he is doing in and through his Son, and so his answer is quite naturally, yes!
When we put this in the context of mission, we see that Jesus’ sending of us is immediately rooted in his obedience to his Father’s sending of him. We reach out with God’s love because Jesus loves us as he is loved by the Father. Sharing God’s love then becomes a part of our life in union and communion with the Triune God, and a true participation in what they are doing in this world.
We share the good news of God’s love and grace expressed to us in Jesus because that is the will of the Father. As we do the Father’s will in this way, we pray and ask according to his will that each individual and all people might experience God’s love and grace. We know God will hear and answer this prayer because this is the Father’s will which is expressed to us in the gift of his Son and in the pouring out of his Spirit. This is what God is doing in this world—so our prayers are heard and answered.
As the body of Christ, we are often tempted to isolate or create safe zones where we do not need to deal with a society which is often opposed to what is holy, gracious, and compassionate. It is a real challenge to live a Christ-like life in places that are unsafe and decadent. How do we live out the truth of who we are as God’s adopted children—loving God and loving others—around people who are indifferent to or opposed to these spiritual realities?
We can begin with prayer. Our prayers have power because they are rooted in the will and purposes of God himself. He has sent his Son to reconcile all things to himself in Jesus and is calling each and every person to be reconciled. God wants everybody to participate in the oneness and love of the Father and Son in the Spirit. So, when we pray for a certain person or for particular people to come to faith in Christ, we are sharing in a tangible way in what God is doing in this world. These are prayers God will answer because they are according to his will.
Secondarily, we participate in God’s mission in this world by sharing God’s love. Love, as we are to express it to God and one another, is an action. It involves seeking the best of the other person and having a willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to accomplish what is best. Sometimes loving others can be difficult and painful. It may involve telling them no, or not giving them what they want or think they need. It may involve setting up boundaries that prevent them from hurting you or hurting themselves.
Loving people in this way is not something we do on our own or by our own strength. We do this in spiritual community, where we have support, accountability, and a safe place to land. And this is why our life in Christ needs to be just exactly that—a participation in Christ’s life in relationship. God first loved us, sending his Son for our salvation, and Jesus first loved us by laying down his life, so we are able to love God and love one another. God gives us his Spirit, pouring out his love in our hearts (Rom. 5:5), so that we are able to love him and love others in the way we were meant to.
Life change in another person is not something we really have any control over. We are powerless—and we must acknowledge this reality constantly. Only God has the ability to change the human heart and mind. Only God can turn someone around or heal them. Only God can make a person who is broken whole again. We may be able to influence them by expressing God’s love in some tangible way, but we cannot fix them—and God is not asking us to.
In reality, the greatest gift we can give another person is to bring them to Jesus, including them in our own relationship with Christ in the Spirit. We can offer them the grace and truth, the love we have received from God, and a spiritual community where the sick find healing, the broken are mended, and the lonely are offered fellowship. What God includes us in—his life and love—we are called to include others in. How well are we doing this?
Thankfully, it’s not all up to us. Jesus went first, and we get to tag along as his friends as he brings others to himself. Is there someone God has placed on your heart and mind lately who needs to know he or she is loved by God and forgiven? You might make this person a focus point of your prayers each day, and ask God to show you how you can include them in your life in Christ. You might ask Jesus, “What are you doing and how do you want me to join in?” And then, as you begin to participate in what he’s doing, watch to see what he does—it may surprise you!
Thank you, dear God, for including each of us in your life and love. Thank you, Jesus, that we get to share in your loving relationship with the Father in the Spirit. Show us the person or people you want us to tell about your love expressed to us in Jesus. How do you want us to include them in our life? Keep us centered where you are, Jesus, diligently doing all that you ask to the glory of your Father. Amen.
“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another.” John 15:9–17 NASB
Not Under Our Own Power
By Linda Rex
April 18, 2021, 3rd SUNDAY IN EASTER—This morning my son was telling me about a volcano which is erupting right now in St. Vincent, Grenadines. Although I cannot imagine what it is like to live in a place that might at any moment be disrupted dramatically by the power of a volcano, I do know how frightening and powerful a violent earthquake can be. Watching a glass of water walk across the table or frantically trying to dive under the heavy desk in my room to protect myself are two of my own distinct memories that remind me of how small we are in comparison with these powerful natural forces.
What about the human heart? It seems that we as human beings underestimate the power of our own passions and drives. We find ourselves deeply moved by an event such as September 11, 2001—it brought me to my knees. We are devastated by the death of a loved one or a favorite pet. Little do we realize the power God has placed within us as human beings to impact ourselves, our world and the people around us. And so often we use this power in unhealthy and destructive ways. Sadly, there are times we neglect to control what in time begins to control us, and we become addicts to all types of substances, behaviors, and habits.
When Jesus showed up in the upper room, he made a point of showing the disciples that he was still very human, bearing the marks of the beating and crucifixion in his body. This image of Jesus testifying to his humanity after the resurrection reminds us that he understands the struggle we have in believing what makes absolutely no sense to the human mind. It also shows us the extent God is willing to go to in order to prove that he loves us and has made us his very own adopted children (1 John 3:1–7). One day, as loving children, we will look just like Jesus in glory—what tremendously wonderful things will we be capable of then?
This world is an amazing place in all its natural glory. God made all this beauty for our enjoyment and for our pleasure. And we are amazing creatures with all the human glory God has given us, with our ability to live in relationship and to think, create, and love. I believe this is why we as human beings often need to be reminded of the cost of idolatry in all of its forms. Too often we ignore the who while focusing on the what—ignoring the divine One while focusing on the physical, tangible reality of the world he gave us to enjoy and steward. Our tendency is to worship the creation and all of its benefits rather than the One who created and sustains it.
It is a shame that so often we (note, I said we) fritter away our power to affect change, to build relationships, to heal and transform with trivial pursuits that do nothing to make our world a better place. I find too often that it is easier to entertain myself than it is to invest my gifts and talents, to do something that will make our world a better place to live in, or to exert myself on behalf of another person who is in need. Isn’t it more comfortable and convenient to stay in our cocoon than it is to take a risk or do something challenging? How easy it is to pursue pleasure, rather than pursue what is eternal and lasting!
My point isn’t to be critical or to condemn but simply to remind us anew to turn away from ourselves and the distractions of this world and to turn to Christ. Following the crucifixion of Jesus came the miracle of the resurrection. This offers us such comfort when facing the reality of our weakness and sin. It is in repentance and turning back to Christ that we find renewal and refreshment.
Peter, when reminding the crowd of how they delivered Jesus up to death told them they acted in ignorance, not realizing that their offering up of Christ was part of God’s predetermined plan for the salvation of humanity. We don’t always understand God’s reasons or methods, but we certainly can trust his heart. While we live in a world which is in a constant state of flux or change, we have the bedrock of Jesus Christ to settle into, putting down deep roots into God himself by faith as we respond to the Spirit in trust and obedience.
In Christ we have been given the capacity for true relationship with God and one another that is other-centered and truly free. By the Spirit we have the power to take the risk to love boldly, to courageously stand against evil, and to endure hardship and the struggles of life. As Christ lives in our hearts by faith, we are empowered to reflect the divine glory of self-sacrifice, service, humility, generosity, and compassion. With God’s heart, we can tend the earth with respect, understanding, care, and responsible stewardship.
In Christ we have been given a new heart and mind on which God’s will and ways are written. We can participate by faith in Jesus’ work in this world to heal, transform and renew. There is great power given to God’s people in that they can appeal to the Father through Jesus in the Spirit for healing, change, and renewal, in themselves, their circumstances, their culture, and the world. What a gift we have been given, that we can participate in what Christ is doing to make all things new!
We do all of this in Jesus’ name. It is Christ in us, the hope of glory, who empowers us to bring his kingdom life to realization in a world that rejects Jesus as a myth or a fable. The Spirit of God at work in us and in this world enables us to live as citizens of heaven, when it is much easier to live as citizens of a world in which sin and lawlessness reign. Today, we can ask ourselves—what does the Spirit want us to do right now? What words would Jesus have us say in his name? What change is God is doing in the world that we will participate in by faith? How can we live more boldly in this world while not being a part of it? How can we tangibly offer God’s grace and love to this person right in front of us?
God of glory, you have given us such dignity and worth as those made in your image to bear your likeness and share your life as your beloved adopted children! Grant us the grace to refuse to waste the gifts you have given us and to embrace the challenges of living as image-bearers of Christ in today’s culture. May we fully participate in your kingdom work in this world, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them.” Luke 24:38–43 (36b–48) NASB
See also Acts 3:12–19.
One Heart and One Soul
By Linda Rex
April 11, 2021, 2nd SUNDAY IN EASTER—One of the results of the recent pandemic and our isolation from one another has been a deeper appreciation for the significant relationships in our lives, and the opportunities we have for face-to-face interaction. It seems as though our desire for relationship has been challenged by our need for self-preservation and protecting others, and has actually been strengthened by the limitations we have had to deal with.
This desire for and ability to work through difficulty to forge healthy relationships is rooted in the Triune God himself. We find that it is God’s nature to live in warm fellowship and to include others in that relationship. When anything comes between God and those he loves, he passionately works to remove the obstacle and restore the union between himself and his beloved ones.
We see this profoundly manifested in the coming of the Word of God into human flesh to live, die and rise again so that all humanity might be included in the love and life of the Father, Son, and Spirit. The evil, sin, and death brought into the cosmos via the first Adam is eradicated by the finished work of the second Adam, Jesus Christ, who summarily dealt with it through his passion on the cross, in his broken body and shed blood.
We reflect upon Jesus’ final words on the cross and we remember him saying, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” This is a critical point, because healing broken relationships nearly always begins with forgiveness. Forgiving someone for a devastating loss, a humiliating embarrassment, or even an atrocity or ongoing sin, can seem to be an impossible task. And often, it is. This is why so many live their lives separated from others and from God, because they cannot and will not forgive the offenses that they feel have been done to them.
When we find ourselves in that place where we are filled with anger, hatred, or seething resentment and bitterness toward someone who has hurt or offended us, we may even refuse to admit that this is the issue. We may have put up so many internal walls for self-protection that we don’t even realize how deeply rooted we are in this place of unforgiveness. What has happened lately that has brought to your attention an area in which you need to forgive someone? What was your response? Are you still in denial, or have you admitted that indeed, you do need to forgive?
Perhaps it would be better to get our eyes off our internal work for a while and onto Jesus Christ and his finished work. Pondering the reality of Jesus’ willingness to intentionally go to the cross to allow humanity to pour over him all our hostility, evil, rejection, and desire for vengeance should remind us of the immensity of his gift to you and me. In the midst of all that was in opposition to him in that moment, in the face of every hateful and scornful word and vicious deed, we find Jesus offering forgiveness. In the place of our hostility against him, he offered grace.
And perhaps, before going any farther in the process of forgiving another person, we should take some time to reflect on the reality of our own failures to love. This is a place we may need to park in for a while—have we been refusing to admit that we might be part of the problem? Initially, our own failure love may simply be that we are unwilling to forgive. Or is there more going on than this?
Forgiving the unforgiveable is the work of God, and can only happen via the work of the Holy Spirit. In this place of our need we have the blessed gift of grace and the truth that Jesus went down this difficult road first. The capacity to forgive is found within Christ’s own forgiveness of all of us. What we may not be able to forgive another person for is bound up in all that Jesus, first of all, took upon himself and forgave us for. Now he imparts that very same grace to us in the Holy Spirit. He pours out into us a forgiving spirit, his own nature manifested on the cross, as we are willing to receive it.
He has made himself of one heart and soul with us, so that we might be of one heart and soul with him and one another. God offers us the grace or gift of forgiving those who wound us just as he offers us his own forgiveness for the wounds we have inflicted upon him and others. Poured like oil over these wounds, God’s grace brings about a restoration and reconciliation that would otherwise be impossible.
Moving beyond forgiveness, we find that even unity and oneness between people is a grace, a gift of the Spirit. Soon after their infilling with the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost, we find the followers of Christ living in a spiritual community characterized by all of them being “of one heart and soul.” This was reflected in their care for one another and in a willingness to share, to lay down what they owned for the benefit of their brothers and sisters who were in need (Acts 4:32–35). This unity is what was described by King David in Psalm 133 when he wrote:
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Coming down upon the beard,
Even Aaron’s beard,
Coming down upon the edge of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon
Coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing—life forever.”
This unity and oneness is a reflection of the unity and oneness within the Trinity we were created to participate in now and forever. We participate in it in and through Jesus Christ by the Spirit. God has commanded his blessing of eternal life, of knowing deeply and intimately the Father and his Son whom he sent, and we are called to respond in faith, trusting him and opening ourselves up fully to the Spirit he has poured out on us so freely.
Turning from ourselves and turning to Christ are our response to this enormous and priceless gift of forgiveness. We receive God’s grace, and begin to allow the Spirit to lead us, following Christ’s lead in our lives and in our relationships. At times we must begin by simply taking a single step of obedience and allow Jesus to do the rest. Forgiving people who have wounded us can be done—we may only be able to choose to obey and then ask Jesus for the grace to do the rest. It is Christ in us by the Spirit who is the forgiving One, and he enables us to forgive. He enables us to restore and reconcile when it seems impossible to do so.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean letting someone walk all over us again. Even Christ did not crawl back up on the cross over and over, but did it once, for all time. We do not want to receive his grace in vain, nor do we want others to receive our grace in vain. We may have to begin the process of setting healthy boundaries in place and teaching others how to treat us lovingly and respectfully by our own example of properly loving and respecting others. These are difficult tasks that may require us getting help from others who are qualified to counsel and guide us.
But we can do the most difficult work of all, forgiving and restoring relationship, by walking in the light of God’s love and grace. In Christ, the light of the world, we find the grace to be of one heart and soul with one another, as we have been made heart and soul with God himself through Jesus in the Spirit.
Thank you, Triune God, for the extent you went to in order to reconcile all with yourself in Jesus. Thank you for pouring out on us the grace to be of one heart and soul. Grant us the grace to receive all you have given and offer it others, through Jesus in the Spirit. Amen.
“If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” 1 John 1:(1–5) 6–10 (2:1–2) NASB
See also John 20:19–31.
Faith on Our Journey
By Linda Rex
February 28, 2021, 2nd SUNDAY IN PREPARATION FOR EASTER OR LENT—One of the things brought to my attention recently in a new way was how subtle the temptation is to take difficult situations into our own hands and work them out under our own power. Some of us feel an urgent need to fix things that are broken or not working the way we think they should and often jump in with both feet, not realizing that doing so may not be what God intends in the situation.
Granted, we do need to invest our best efforts in doing what we believe is the right and holy thing for us to do in each instance as we follow Christ. But when we slide into that belief that it’s all up to us, then we are spiritually on dangerous ground. I wonder if sometimes we believe we are caught in a place where we feel we have been abandoned or forgotten by God. Circumstances in our life may be such that we feel as though we are managing just fine on our own, or the opposite, we don’t see any path by which a solution could come to us for our extreme difficulties. Either way, there is a temptation to trust in our own ability to move ourselves forward rather than simply trusting in God’s promises and provision.
As members of my congregation at Grace Communion Nashville know, we are facing some difficult decisions about the future of our congregation. Over the past eight years since I have pastored this congregation, and long before that, our members have diligently worked to serve and love the people of East Nashville. They have provided free meals, prayed for people, and given what they could to help those in need, whether food, clothing, money, or just heartfelt compassion and understanding. We have done our best to provide upbeat, contemporary Christ-centered Trinitarian worship with an emphasis on communion and sharing the good news of God’s love and grace expressed to us in Jesus life, death, resurrection and ascension. We have joined in with our church neighbors in community service opportunities and events, and have participated with our neighborhood association as they served the neighbors, and have cared for those God has brought to our attention who needed extra help.
To be sure, we have hoped that our little congregation might grow some in the process, but I hope that we did not make this an expectation that had to be realized, or believe that to not have done so means we have failed in some way. I believe we need to see things much differently than that. Whatever may happen to us in the future, we do know this—we were faithful, obedient, and loving, and blameless before God in our love and service to him and others. We have trusted him to do what was needed to keep us going, and he has. We have done our best to implement best practices for church renewal so we are relevant to our community. We have asked Jesus for opportunities to serve and he has given them. We have prayed for people and baptized some, and many have experienced healing, renewal, and transformed lives, or are still in process. In my view, our little congregation has God’s handprint of masterpiece creation written all over it.
As I read Romans 4:13–25, the New Testament passage for this Sunday, I was struck by the significance of what Paul was saying there in relation to this whole topic. God gave Abraham the promise of a son and many descendants, the fulfillment of which was not based on his ability to keep the law correctly or to do all the right things, but solely on God’s goodness and grace. Abraham was honest about the reality of his and his wife Sarah’s inability to bear children at their advanced age. Abraham came to the place where he surrendered to the truth that none of this could be realized by his or Sarah’s effort or ability. Even though he and Sarah had moments of uncertainty—we see this in the circumstances around the birth of Ishmael—Abraham was brought to the place where he simply trusted in God’s faithfulness rather than in his own ability to ensure that he would have what God promised. And God counted this as righteousness.
In their book “Transformational Churches”, Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer remind the readers that one of the most critical steps in church renewal is the congregation’s ability to see and accept the reality that apart from God’s intervention, their church will not be transformed, and that God’s ability to bring about renewal and transformation is far more powerful than any obstacle which may stand against them. God’s whole mission is the transformation of our cosmos, our world, into the truth of what he means for it to be—a reflection of his glory and majesty. Why would he not do what was necessary to bring that to pass? The authors remind us that it is “ ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6b NASB). When real transformation happens to a person, or to a church, it will be obvious who did it—God did, and he will get all the glory and praise.
Every person and every church comes to a point where the reality of what they are experiencing doesn’t measure up with what they know about God and his purposes for them. In this “cathartic moment” they realize they have come to a place where there is no movement forward. Abraham and Sarah experienced this at one point, and took matters into their own hands, thinking the solution was to have a child by Hagar, a concubine. But this wasn’t God’s solution—it was theirs, and created a whole host of unnecessary difficulties which God hadn’t meant for them or Hagar or even Ishmael to have to experience. Abraham and Sarah may have erred temporarily, but in the long run their faith in God’s faithfulness won the day.
We can be honest about our weakness and our limitations without in any way preventing God from bringing transformation and renewal to pass. We can own the reality that without God’s intervention nothing will be any different than it is right now. And we can embrace the crisis in front of us in faith, trusting in God’s faithfulness and provision, allow him to show us what our next steps need to be, and then, however falteringly, take those steps. Yes, as a church, we can continue to provide leadership that is alive and open to what God is doing, express dependency upon God through prayer, and offer wholehearted, inspired worship to God. And we can embrace new relationships and circumstances God places before us where we can share the good news of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ. But anything beyond that—let’s be real. That’s all up to God. And he works in his own time and in his own way.
We stand today at a crossroads where we are reminded by the story of Abraham and Sarah that our covenant God is faithful and keeps his word. Their simple decision to trust in God for the promised child was merely a stepping stone on the journey of the Word of God coming into human flesh to live our life, die our death, and rise again, bringing all of humanity into a new place where each and every person may by faith participate in the divine union of Father, Son, and Spirit now and forever. This childless couple, if they were standing with us, would be overwhelmed seeing the millions who today by faith are their spiritual descendants. What will we see when we look back at our participation in Christ’s mission as we trust God to finish what he began in us? I believe our faith in God’s faithfulness will be abundantly rewarded, far beyond our ability to ask or imagine, both now and in the world to come. Let’s walk by faith, not by sight.
O Faithful One, you who have ever worked to bring us near you, to share in your life and love, thank you for your faithfulness. Keep us ever faithful, trusting that you will finish what you have begun in us and believing we will see you do a new thing—a thing so great, only you could possibly have done it. Even now, in faith, we offer all the glory, honor, and praise to you. In your Name—Father, Son, and Spirit—we pray. Amen.
“Faith is our source, and that makes Abraham our father. When God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, he made a public statement that he would be the father of all nations. Here we see Abraham faced with God’s faith; the kind of faith that resurrects the dead and calls things which are not as though they were. Faith gave substance to hope when everything seemed hopeless; the words, ‘so shall your seed be’ conceived in him the faith of fatherhood. Abraham’s faith would have been nullified if he were to take his own age and the deadness of Sarah’s womb into account. His hundred-year-old body and Sarah’s barren womb did not distract him in the least! He finally knew that no contribution from their side could possibly assist God in fulfilling his promise!” Romans 4:16b-19 Mirror Bible