By Linda Rex
May 23, 2021, DAY OF PENTECOST—Recently while on vacation, I pulled out an empty canvas and some acrylic paints a dear friend had left me, and began to paint. Staring at an empty canvas that needs to be filled is a lot like staring at an empty page and trying to figure out what to write. There are so many possibilities ahead that one hardly knows where to begin. Consider for a moment what it was like as the Spirit hovered over the waters, as everything was without form and empty.
In times past I have avoided painting due to the difficulty I have in controlling the outcome. The brush has a mind of its own and I cannot always get it to do what I want. My preferred method of artwork usually involves colored pencils or pen and ink for this very reason. But there is a loss of freedom in such control of the outcome.
But the Creator sees things differently—he gives each and every thing which he creates an incredible freedom. He does not need to control every movement and every decision—otherwise we would all be robots. Instead, God allows each tree, plant, fish, bird, animal, and human to be who he created them to be. By his creative Spirit, he moves in all he has made to accomplish his purposes, but always with this element of true freedom based in his love.
This creates a built-in risk for our Creator—what if a creature he has made decides to live in a way which is different from his design? When my brush takes off across the canvas in a way I didn’t plan for, I get frustrated—in my mind, I now have a big mistake to rectify. But what if mistakes are part of the picture? What if the possibility of something not turning out in the way I expected actually ends up adding to the result, making it better?
What we find is that the Creator of all things planned in advance for this reality in what he created. We discover in the written Word of God that even before he created all things, the Maker of all had a plan to redeem and restore his creation should it wander away from its intended life path. He made our mistakes a part of his picture—redemption and restoration in and through the gift of his Son was allowed to be an essential part of his creation process. In fact, God always meant to include us in his life and love—and our turning away from him did not prevent this purpose from being realized.
Think about the history of human beings and how God has worked in and through each one to accomplish his purpose. Over the millennia before Christ, we find kingdoms rose and kingdoms fell, people lived and died, children were born and grew up. Through all these events, natural calamities, and over a long period of time, the creative Spirit worked. God even included certain people in his efforts—calling Noah to build an ark, Abraham to leave his country and people, and Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt. Flawed people included in his plan—and yet the Creator continued his masterpiece.
Indeed, we find that all along God was working to restore and renew his creation, and allowing us as broken human beings to be a part of the process. When he sent his Son, we find angels celebrating this momentous event. Now God had moved even closer to his creation—he had taken on human flesh to live and walk on earth as one of us! The divine Painter had himself become the brush in the hand of the creative Spirit!
How amazing that God reconstructs the creatures he made in his image from the inside out. He enters our space and time, experiences our limitations and frailties, and begins to redeem and restore as one of us. He develops personal relationships with those he made and begins to teach them what it means to be truly human, demonstrating it by the way he lived. Rather than being enslaved by the sin which controls us, he conquered it, taking it all the way to the cross and delivering us from it through death and resurrection. And then he took our humanity up with him into the presence of the Father—our humanity restored and renewed in his person, dwelling forever with God as was always intended.
Jesus told his disciples when he left at ascension that he would not leave them as orphans. He was going to send them the Spirit, the other Helper like himself, who would be with them forever. The creative Spirit was poured out on all flesh from the Father by Jesus so that we all could participate in Christ’s true humanity. Instead of the masterpiece being so flawed that it must be thrown out, all God has made has incredible possibilities in store!
Think for a minute about Judas Iscariot, the son of perdition. This man had many choices in his life, the capacity to be a true follower of Jesus Christ. But he was given over to thievery—often stealing money from the common purse. And when push came to shove, he sold the Savior for thirty pieces of silver. Here was a mistake beyond mistakes—selling the Messiah for a paltry sum so that he ended up being crucified.
But the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a part of the masterpiece God was creating. It was not as though God wanted Judas to do this idiocy, but rather, that he included it as a necessary part of the picture. It was not God’s choice for Judas, but it was Judas’ choice, which God honored and allowed, using it to accomplish a greater purpose in the end, the redemption of all humanity.
What if, instead of focusing on our faults and failures, we offered them up to the creative Spirit to pour into them his recreative power to renew and redeem? What if we allow Jesus to be who he is—our Savior and Redeemer, the One who restores all things? What is it in your life and mine which needs to be reconstructed?
There may be a time of deconstruction first—God sometimes needs to remove some things so there is space for something new. But God’s purpose is to transform, heal and renew—and we can participate with him in that process. And who knows what the outcome will be? God says that through Christ and by the Spirit, it will be better than we can ever ask or imagine! His masterpiece—humanity transformed and renewed—will live with him forever in the new heavens and new earth, as we begin by his Spirit to experience this life in relationship with the Father and Son even now.
Thank you, Creator of all, for everything you have made and how wonderfully you have worked and will work to transform, heal and renew your creation. We invite you, Creative Spirit, to finish what you have begun in us and in our world. Keep our focus on you, Jesus, and the incredible possibilities that are ahead, because of all you have done and will do by your Spirit to the glory of the Father. Amen.
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” Acts 2:1-4 (5-21) NASB
“O LORD, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; | The earth is full of Your possessions. … You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire | And return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; | And You renew the face of the ground.” Psalm 104:24, 29-30 NASB
By Linda Rex
January 10, 2021, BAPTISM OF THE LORD | EPIPHANY—Recently my son and I visited the new location of the Tennessee State Museum here in Nashville. The time tunnel, which I clearly had issues trying to follow the timeline on, began with the origins of earth. Over the years, I have read many different versions of the creation story, so I was not surprised by the approach used by those who wrote the inscription for the display.
Often, we as human beings are intrigued by beginnings. As my family had a celebratory meal at a local restaurant recently, we noticed a pictorial history of the restaurant was posted on the wall and was being played on a television screen high over a window. Beginnings do matter, for often they explain how and why we end up the way we are today. What happens along the way also matters, because the circumstances in our lives affect where we are and who we are. The choices we and others make also play a big role in where and how we end up—examples of such consequences filled the walls of the history time tunnel I visited.
In the book of Genesis when it says “In the beginning…” we find the Spirit of God brooding over the nothingness and God’s voice speaking life into it. The apostle John began his gospel with the words, “In the beginning…” The Word of God through whom all things were made out of nothing had come into our humanity, the apostle John wrote. It was as though he was rewriting the human story beginning with the coming of the Son of Man into our humanity in the incarnation.
There is something significant here we should attend to, I believe. This God by whom all things came into being from nothing sent his Word through whom all things were made by the Spirit to be embodied in human flesh in the womb of Mary. This Son of God and Son of man, Jesus, was born like a human baby is born and grew up as every human child does. Christ brought his divine life into the darkness of our broken humanity and into this world which we have filled with our human depravity, evil, and sin.
Once again God created something out of nothing. As God in human flesh, Jesus Christ forged into our humanity the capacity for God to dwell in man. When Jesus rose from the grave after his crucifixion, he sent the Holy Spirit so that each human being could participate in his life with the Father in the Spirit. The Spirit he sent awakens us to our new birth in Christ—we are new creatures. What we lost in the fall, Jesus redeemed, restored and renewed and offered back to us in the Spirit.
When the apostle Mark described John the Baptizer, he showed us a man who acted and looked like Elijah the prophet, ate locusts and wild honey, and baptized people for the remission of sins, telling them to repent and turn to the Messiah who was coming. The other writers of the gospels say the Baptizer pointed out the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders at that time, told soldiers not to practice extortion but to be content with their pay, and instructed others of their need to repent and change the way they lived.
John was doing a powerful ministry, calling his people to repent of their sins and to be baptized even though they thought they didn’t need to be baptized—after all, they were God’s special people. But then John did a very special baptism. John the Baptizer was so humble that he did not even feel worthy to loosen the strap of Jesus’ sandal—but here Christ was, wanting to be baptized. The Baptizer knew then that Jesus would baptize in a way John never could baptize. John could only baptize people in water—Jesus would baptize people with the Holy Spirit.
How did John know this was the case? God had told him that the person on whom the Spirit would descend like a dove was the Messiah, the One who would baptize with the Spirit. So, one day Jesus came to be baptized. He didn’t have any reason to be baptized—he was the sinless Son of God. Why be baptized? Perhaps this was his initiation into his official ministry. Perhaps he was showing us what we are supposed to do as an entry into the congregation of the people of God. Certainly, it can be seen in this act of baptism that he identified with each and every sinner in the world and as the representative sinner was baptized in our place and on our behalf.
When Christ rose out of the waters of the Jordan River, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending upon him as a gentle dove. He heard his Father’s voice, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” We see present in this moment the oneness of the Father, Son, and Spirit—the unity of their purpose, love, and blessing. We heard the voice of God speaking to Jesus and today it resonates within our own hearts as we picture ourselves within the Holy Son, rising out of the waters of baptism to receive our own blessing by the Father.
We can take comfort that no matter how we were baptized, when we were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, we were baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, and we share in his inheritance as the Son of the Father. While we share in Jesus’ death and resurrection through baptism, we share in his receiving of the Spirit as well. The Holy Spirit comes to live within, gives us new life, allows us to participate in Christ’s life with the Father in the Spirit and to share in Christ’s mission in this world of spreading the good news.
In Jesus Christ, we find both God and man in one being. In Jesus we find that God has made something new—a restored humanity in which God dwells by the Spirit now and forever, enabling humanity to dwell with God today in the Spirit and tomorrow in the new heavens and new earth in our glorified humanity. In Jesus we find a capacity to be the human beings God created us to be—image-bearers of the divine being—to love God and one another as we were meant to, beginning now as little children, and growing up into Christlikeness as we mature spiritually.
Whatever state we may find ourselves in today, we can be assured of this—no one is so far gone or so insignificant that God cannot redeem, restore, or renew. We are free to say no to God, as we so often do, and to reap the consequences that go with having done so. So, just know—God is as equally passionate today about removing evil, sin, and death from us and our world as he was when he hung on the cross to get rid of it within our humanity. In Christ, God has done everything we need for our redemption and restoration and has sent his Spirit to awaken us to this new life. Perhaps others may not receive this gift and trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior. But what really matters right now is, what about you?
Do you believe that Jesus is God come into our human flesh to live our life, die our death, and to rise again, freeing us from evil, sin and death? Are you committed to turning away from your self and your way to Jesus Christ, surrendering to him as your Lord and Savior? Will you receive and welcome his gift of the person and presence of the Holy Spirit? Do you believe he will come again one day to deliver us once and for all from evil, sin, and death, and to usher in the new heavens and new earth?
If you wholeheartedly say yes to all these things, then I encourage you, if you haven’t done so already, to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit as a public affirmation and celebration of this commitment and be joined together in Christ with his body, the church through baptism. All of us at Grace Communion Nashville would love to join with you on your journey with Christ—it takes a lifetime, even an eternity, and a village to come to fully know and be known by the One who saved us. Let’s do it together!
Abba, Heavenly Father, I receive your gift of life in Christ Jesus–may your Spirit fill me to overflowing, and may my life from this day forward fully reflect your glory, life and love. Finish what you have begun in me this day–I am yours and you are mine, one in Jesus my Lord by your heavenly Spirit. Amen.
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.’ ” Mark 1:9–11 NASB
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” Genesis 1:1–3 NASB
By Linda Rex
LENT—My personal Lenten wilderness wanderings are taking me through some painful memories. They are also taking me to the place of recognizing and acknowledging my failures to love. This process is humbling and calls forth in me an anguished cry to God for deliverance and renewal.
The hardest thing for me to accept is the realization that if I had only listened more carefully to what the Spirit was telling me and had promptly done things his way, not in my own stubborn “righteous” way, things in my life would have been a lot better, a lot less people would have been hurt, and the lessons life had for me would have been much easier to swallow.
So often God’s love and grace stand ready to bring healing and wholeness, but we are not willing to open ourselves up to them. God’s love and grace don’t always appear the way we expect them to—case in point being the Messiah who would be a suffering servant rather than a conquering hero. We want God to conform to our ideas of how things should be rather than simply surrendering to him and his plans and ways.
Now I could wallow in guilt and shame, but it would really serve no purpose but to keep me in a place where the evil one can create even more destruction and death. No, the better thing is to receive what God is offering and be open to what he wants to change in me and in my life. Having an open heart to receive all God has for me is a better place to be.
There are many times in life when circumstances and situations are beyond our control. We struggle to do the next right thing in what seems to be an impossible situation. We seek God’s will and guidance and take another step forward. We try to live the best we know how. And still we fall short. Life takes its toll. Relationships are broken or severed. People die. Businesses fail.
We find ourselves wondering how to find the capacity to move on. Life in this broken world is tough. Becoming a Christian isn’t the solution to every little problem in this world. Sometimes becoming a Christian actually makes things even more difficult or painful. The road we walk on as we follow Christ is a path through death to resurrection. There are sacrifices and suffering which go with the Christian life, as well as many deep joys and pleasures.
God doesn’t remove the realities of our human experience. Rather he enters into them with us and walks with us through them. He carries our sorrows, lifts our burdens, and shares our struggles. Sometimes he makes things easier and gives us great redemption in an impossible situation. There are times when he allows us to go through a great trial, but he never intends us to go through it on our own—we are meant to have him present, in us, with us, and for us in every circumstance.
God has covenanted with us in Christ to be ours and has made us his. Nothing can separate us from his love (Rom. 8:38-39). He longs to gather us to himself and to express his great love and devotion. He doesn’t want us to suffer needlessly, so he gives us not only a relationship with himself, but also Christ to follow. Christ is our life (Col. 3:4) and is the substance of our existence. He is the perfected humanity we are being formed into by the Holy Spirit.
The cry of Jesus to the city of Jerusalem is the cry of Abba’s heart to you and to me. He doesn’t want us to struggle or to suffer but rather to rest in his embrace—to be at peace with him. So he has given us this rest, this peace, in Jesus. The Spirit affirms the truth that we are accepted in Christ, we are forgiven children, beloved and always welcome in our Abba’s heavenly home.
When faced with the reality of our failures to love or to be faithful to God, we need not be overwhelmed with failure. Rather we need to focus on the power and love of the God who overcame death through resurrection. Our gracious God can take a situation full of brokenness, guilt, and shame, and turn it into a means of redemption and renewal. He can turn it into opportunity to show to many the glory of his goodness, love and grace.
When we resist his grace and love, when we refuse to allow God to redeem a situation or to bring about redemption and renewal in a broken relationship, we are like Jerusalem refusing to receive and acknowledge their Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. All that’s left to us is our desolate house, our broken life, our shattered dreams.
If God’s purpose is to redeem, restore, and renew all things (which it is) then we want to have open hearts to receive God’s restoration, redemption and renewal. We want to be open to the possibilities rather than resistant to the Spirit’s work. We want to available to participate in God’s work, joining with him as he rebuilds, transforms, and heals.
This is the kingdom life we were included in through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension and in the sending of the Spirit. This is the life of the church, the Body of Christ, in this world as participants in Jesus’ priesthood, his ministry to all humanity. God is at work to heal, restore and renew, and we are included in his mission in this world. May we always be open to his possibilities in the midst of our impossibilities, to his light in our darkness, to his life in our death.
Dear Abba, thank you for the gift of life, grace and love through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Give us open hearts and open hands that we may receive all you have done for us through Christ and all you desire to give us in every moment. We praise you for your faithful love and abundant grace through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate; …” Luke 13:34b-35a NASB
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” Philippians 3:20-21 NASB
By Linda Rex
TRANSFIGURATION—Lately I have had to reexamine the way in which I view people in my life. I thought that I was very open to people growing and changing. But God has shown me that I’m not as gracious and open to his work in people’s hearts and lives as I thought I was.
I’m also being reminded that real love works towards the other person’s best rather than only working toward their happiness. I grew up believing it was important to keep the people in my life happy. In reality this is a very selfish approach to life because the effort to keep people happy is more about my comfort level and my convenience than it is necessarily about the well-being of those around me. It’s not wrong to want to bring joy to the people in my life, but that is significantly different in my mind than just trying to keep them happy—a task which is nigh to impossible and ultimately comes under the heading of codependency and enabling.
To bring joy to someone is more than just keeping them happy. We can feel loving toward someone but our love for them must move beyond feeling into expressions of genuine love. Real love for someone takes conscious effort and discipline. One chooses to express love to another, using one’s reason along with responding to one’s feelings. These expressions of love seek the other person’s best interests and personal growth, rather than just giving the other person what they want, when and how they want it.
When we grow up in a family in which love was not expressed in healthy ways, our efforts to love can actually be sick and maybe even destructive. In some families the parents discipline their children in the name of love, but do so in ways which are abusive and cruel. The discipline God gives us isn’t abusive and cruel but rather is laden with mercy and compassion. In fact, the curse and death we deserved because of our sinful ways and thoughts, Jesus took upon himself. He allowed us to crucify him and kill him, and did not retaliate in any way.
Love as expressed by God is self-sacrificial, humble, yielding, and gracious. And yet, God’s love always seeks our best. His purpose in taking on our humanity, living the life we were meant to live, dying our death, and rising again was so that we could fully become and be the people God intended us to be from the beginning. The apostle Paul uses the concept of having letters etched on a page, and Jesus taking our hand and writing those letters with us (and on our hearts) by the Holy Spirit. Jesus not only went before us, but by the Spirit, goes before us and with us as we grow in Christlikeness.
This beautiful love of God as expressed to us in Christ and in the gift of the Holy Spirit is meant to transform us and to draw us deeper into loving relationship with God. The reality of our human brokenness doesn’t alter God’s love for us, rather it awakens his compassion and moves him to do everything possible to bring healing, renewal, and transformation. God is ever working to transform us into the image of Christ, because even now Christ bears our true humanity in his Person as he is united forever with us in hypostatic union.
When I say that we work towards another person’s best interests and personal growth, I do not mean that we work to change them. Changing people is the sole dominion of the Holy Spirit. We can participate in the Spirit’s work by allowing our own selves to be grown up in Christlikeness and by expressing genuine godly love so we are a positive influence in someone’s life. We can tell them about our own broken path which Jesus has worked to heal and transform by the Holy Spirit. But we do not and cannot change another person. Often our efforts to change someone actually cause them to become more deeply entrenched in unhealthy ways of being and living.
I learned this the hard way and never want to try to do it ever again. The human tendency is to try to fix people and situations which in reality only God can fix. It is the Spirit’s work. And sometimes he will not work his transforming work in someone’s heart and life until we get out of the way and allow him to do it. Even the twelve-step program recovering addicts follow teaches that we cannot change another person—we can only work on ourselves. And as for me, even changing myself is problematic—I need God to change me, as I really struggle to change anything about myself.
What if someone in our lives is actually changing? What if they are growing up in Christ and beginning to manifest new ways of being and doing? How supportive are we of those changes? It is much too easy hold someone to their past ways of being and doing and to their brokenness, and not allow them to move into their new life in Christ. At the first sign of struggle or failure, we say, “They’re just the same as they’ve always been” and turn away in disgust.
I’m grateful God has not done that to me. When Paul uses the Greek word we draw our modern word “metamorphosis” from, I cannot but help think of the process which turns a caterpillar into a butterfly. The change from a leaf-eating monster into a beautiful nectar drinking butterfly is a long and difficult process. It actually includes the complete destruction of the caterpillar’s body and its reconstruction into something new. And this takes time.
And in exiting the cocoon, the butterfly goes through an intense struggle. If it did not press its wings through the small opening, it would never be able to fly. So the struggle is part of the process. We, as well-meaning friends and family, often snip the hole to make it larger so the struggle is not so difficult. But that only harms the butterfly. We can participate through being present, encouraging, praying, but we don’t want to do for the butterfly what it needs to do on its own.
I’m committing myself to becoming more aware of what God is doing in another person’s life and how I can be a helper in their joy. I want to encourage, pray, and be present as the people I encounter walk the road of transformation. I want to embrace and thank God for the work he has done and is doing to grow people into the likeness of his Son Jesus. And I want to fully participate in what God is doing to transform and change me. I hope you will join me in this commitment.
We are approaching Ash Wednesday this week. It is a good time to reflect not only on our brokenness and need for God’s mercy and rescue in Jesus, but also on the deliverance God has given us through his death and resurrection, and on the power of God to heal, transform, and renew given to us in the Person and presence of the Holy Spirit. May God bless you on your own personal journey of transformation.
Thank you, Abba, that you love us so much you want us to reflect your glory, the glory which shown in the person of Jesus Christ. Enable us to see what you are doing to grow those around us in Christlikeness and what you are doing to grow us up in Christ as well. Holy Spirit, we trust you to finish your perfect work in them and in us. Thank you for never stopping, but always working for our best, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 NASB
By Linda Rex
In the past few years I have had to rethink previous decisions I had made about a certain relationship in my life. The biggest struggle I have found is how to reconcile reality with the possibility that a person might actually be transformed by grace. Does God truly change people? Or, as I have been told on many occasions, do people essentially stay the same and never change?
Looking at this question from the viewpoint of what I see around me, I struggle. Some people never seem to change—they are always the sandpaper in our lives, causing rashes in our emotional skin due to their abrasiveness and broken ways of being. Then I look inside and ask myself, “Has anything in me changed? Am I any different than I was years ago?” And I wonder.
The thing is, the secular viewpoint in the world around us either says, “That’s just the way I am—accept me,” or “I just need to try harder and I’ll be different—be patient with me.” The act of personal transformation or inner change is left fully up to us. We, especially us perfectionists, set impossible standards for ourselves and/or others, and then get all bent out of shape when we don’t attain them. Then again, some of us just toss all standards out the window and live free of any restrictions or inhibitions. Somehow this seems to be better than playing by the rules, struggling to become better people and failing.
The truth is—and I have seen this play out in my life and in other people’s lives—God changes people. When God goes to work in a person’s life, they are never the same as they were before. No doubt, they participated in the process, but the real heavy-lifter in the whole transformational experience is God himself.
And the key element is grace. The reality is that our transformation begins and ends with God. God meant us to be adopted children who live as unique persons in an equality and unity which mirrors the divine love and life of Abba, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. The amazing Being who created us was not willing to settle for anything less than this—we were to share in his life and love, and so in the person of the Word, God ensured this would be our reality. We are meant to love God with all our being and to love one another as ourselves.
Obviously, if we are honest with ourselves, we fall short of this spiritual reality. The closer we get to God, the more we get to know him for who he is as our Lord and our Redeemer, the more we are faced with the fact that we are not what God intended from the beginning. When held to the mirror of the image of God, we are but a cracked and broken replica. There is significant work which needs to be done to bring us to the place where we reflect God’s image perfectly.
In the book of Isaiah, the prophet tells about his encounter with God, where he “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, / The whole earth is full of His glory.’” (Isa. 6:1-3 NASB) Isaiah’s immediate reaction to this amazing sight was to be overcome with a deep sense of unworthiness. Who could possibly be worthy to stand in the presence of such divine holiness, of perfect relatedness?
What I see in this passage is that Isaiah makes no effort to make himself worthy. No, he knows he isn’t, and so he simply falls on the grace of God to make him worthy to be in his presence. God, via the seraphim, offers him grace—the burning coal on his lips, the forgiveness of sins. All Isaiah was asked to do was to receive it, and then to offer himself to God for his service in gratitude.
In the giving of the burning coal, Isaiah’s concern about being a man of “unclean lips’ was dealt with summarily and completely. Isaiah was given new lips through the burning coal—there is a picture of transformation here. He is moved to offer himself to God to carry a message to the people of Israel in spite of God’s warning of their resistance to the word he would carry. And his life, however broken it may still have been, became an offering of service to God.
So often we run from intimacy with God because drawing close to the One who loves us so completely forces us to face the truth about ourselves. God’s grace, love, and compassion aren’t meant to make us feel unworthy, dirty, and shameful. Rather, they are meant to assure us that even in our brokenness we are held in God’s perfect love—we are chosen by God for relationship with himself and he has done and will do all that is needed so that we can enjoy that relationship with him both now and forever.
Jesus brought grace and truth to us. We can at the same time we see ourselves in our brokenness, see ourselves as forgiven, accepted, and beloved. In Jesus we see the perfect humanity we were all meant to have at the same time we see our desperate need for transformation. In the acknowledgement of that need, in our surrender to the claims of Christ, grace goes to work. By the Holy Spirit, that which Christ has made true about us becomes ours in our personal experience. In the moment in which we receive God’s love and grace, our hearts are touched, our lives are changed.
It is not a magical transformation. Rather it is a journey of renewal. God, by his grace and power, begins to work to change, heal, and renew us inside. As we acknowledge and accept our belonging to God, believe in the truth of what Christ has done and is doing on our behalf, we will experience a change in our behavior. What God is working out inside by the Spirit becomes our reality in our words and actions. It is not just a momentary experience, but a journey—a movement which may go forward, backward, and in circles. Ultimately, though, the change in our hearts and lives is real.
Do people really change? Yes, I have seen it and have experienced it firsthand. Sometimes people may revert back to old behaviors or ways of being—the brokenness of our human flesh plays a role in this. But when Jesus by the Spirit gets involved, and people are walking in the truth of who they are in Christ, they change. They are healed. They are renewed. They are transformed.
This is why the gospel is so much more than just a promise for life after death. The gospel is the word of redemption—of renewal for us and for our entire cosmos. Jesus is making all things new and we want to be a part of that process. We want healing and transformation in our lives, in our relationships, and in our world, and we can join in with Jesus as he works to bring this about. We can share this good news with each person he brings into our lives while walking with them on the road of redemption, as we walk the road of renewal ourselves.
Dear Abba, thank you for loving us in our brokenness, for never leaving us but rather, bringing us near through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Do finish what you have begun—let the cleansing power of grace and truth transform, heal, and renew us. We offer ourselves to you with grateful hearts, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.’” Isaiah 6:5-7 NASB
By Linda Rex
For whatever reason, probably mostly due to the family dynamics and church legalism I grew up in, I struggled for years with a deep sense of being unwanted and unloved. My personal history has been filled with the struggle to fill these empty places—as many others around me have struggled as well. This journey often led me into unhealthy relationships or situations, though I will be the first to admit that God graciously kept me safe so many times when I deserved painful consequences for my choices.
I was born to two parents who cared deeply about God and wanted to live their lives according to what they understood God required of them. They were careful about what they ate, believing they needed to keep the old covenant commands regarding clean and unclean meats, and that as caregivers for the temple of the Spirit, their bodies, they needed to only eat the healthiest, organic foods and drink the cleanest water. Part of this concern about health led them to choosing to give birth to me at home with the assistance of a midwife.
The facts of my birth, though, were that I was a breech birth—a long and difficult process that the doctor had to help with. Mom really struggled and was in grave danger during the process. I was eventually born, with the umbilical cord rapped around my neck and my body blue from lack of oxygen. My dad told me years later that I was laid aside so they could tend to my mom—I was not expected to live.
I think sometimes we live our lives as though we are babies God has tossed aside and given up on. We somehow believe God has his attention elsewhere, with more important things to tend to than us. We impute to God some indifference or coldness which is not in his heart at all.
In fact, our view of God and ourselves very often reflects the important relationships in our lives. If our parents were indifferent or cold, we may believe God is indifferent and cold. If our parents were controlling and had unreasonable expectations for us, we may believe God expects more from us that we could ever give, so why even try? In our refusal to be controlled, we may give ourselves over to substances and/or relationships which eventually begin to control us.
Our experiences as children and teens impact us in greater ways than we often realize. The ridicule we experience about our clothes or poverty may drive for years our determination to never be considered less than ever again, and so we become successful, well-to-do adults. The loneliness we felt as an isolated, unloved child may drive us to be a social butterfly who never wishes to be alone or without a partner—even though many of our relationships may be shallow and transient, at least we’re not abandoned or isolated.
What we believe to be true about ourselves often works at such a deep level within our soul that unless we take the time and make the effort to examine these things, our brokenness can become something which sabotages or undermines whatever good may be happening in our lives. In Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, the authors explain how these wounds from the past may drive us to be successful and effective adults, but if they do not find healing within the reality of our new life in Jesus Christ, they will trip us up or cause us to have a major failure later in life. (1)
Many leaders today, both secular and Christian, are reaping the consequences of not dealing with the truth of their brokenness and need for redemption. We need to accept the reality that we are broken people with flaws and wounds. We are utterly dependent upon Jesus to redeem, restore, and renew us. Every moment of every day, we need his transforming power at work in us and in our lives. We need to not be afraid to do the hard work of looking inside and allowing ourselves to be the needy, hurting, and broken people we really are, because God loves us and has already redeemed and forgiven us.
Remember that baby, laid aside so the doctor could attend my mom? A few years ago, I had a dream that was so incredibly vivid I have been unable to forget it. In the dream, the baby I was laid there alone and forgotten. But all at once, I saw this man there. He was loving, kind, and compassionate, like a heavenly Father or a gentle Savior. He walked over to the abandoned, forsaken baby, and picked it up and held it. Broken, but beloved. Set aside, but chosen. Given up on, but believed in and held.
In spite of what we may believe about ourselves, and in spite of what others may believe about us or say about us, the truth is, we are loved. We are chosen. We are held. Broken we may be—but God determined before we were even born that we were his and would be his forever. And he never breaks his promises, for he is a faithful, loving Abba, a tender-hearted Dad, a loving Father. You are his, and he is yours. Both now and forever.
Thank you, Abba, that even though we may believe we are forgotten, forsaken, and unloved, we are in reality remembered, held, and beloved. Remind us again, Holy Spirit, of who we are and that we share in Jesus’ perfect relationship with our heavenly Father. Give us courage to face our brokenness and to bring it to you, Abba, that we may be healed, restored, and renewed, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Yes, you have been with me from birth; from my mother’s womb you have cared for me. No wonder I am always praising you!” Psalm 71:6
(1) McIntosh, Gary L. and Rima, Sr., Samuel D., Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: The Paradox of Personal Dysfunction. Grand Rapids, MI (Baker Books, 1997).
By Linda Rex
Yesterday, as the sun peeked out occasionally from storm clouds and a cool breeze kept us wishing for a jacket, we sat outside the church and talked. Good News Fellowship was stepping out of our comfort zone and had invited the community to stop by for the administration of ashes on Ash Wednesday.
Although no one from the community joined us for this event, or for the Community Ash Wednesday service which followed, it was still a good opportunity for us to reflect on the reality of what Christ has done and is doing in our lives.
As a denomination, in the past we have not celebrated this particular day or tradition. But our pastoral team felt it was an opportunity for us to open our doors and begin to step outside of them, offering others an opportunity to share with us the good news of what God has done and is doing in our lives.
As I studied the common practices for the observation of Ash Wednesday, I was struck by the focus on our humanity—“from dust you came, and to dust you will return”—and by the emphasis on repentance and penitence. As we move into the Lenten season, a season of fasting, prayer and repentance, Ash Wednesday provides a good marker and way of getting us focused on and looking forward to the events of Holy Week and the resurrection of Jesus.
It is a good thing to be reminded we are made from dust and will return to dust. There is a sense of humility which comes from realizing apart from the grace of God, we would have no existence at all. In fact, we only exist because of the love and grace of a God who determined before time began we would share in his glory.
I was reminded, though, that any thought of repentance or penitence needs to be kept within the reality of who God is, who Christ is, and who we are in him. We begin not by gazing at ourselves, our faults and failures, but first at the God who created us and made us his own. This God isn’t focused on our limitations or our weaknesses, but on the relationships he created us for, and on the love he has for us.
One of the lectionary readings for Ash Wednesday this year was Joel 2:1–2, 12–17. These particular verses leapt out at me: “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, ‘Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.’ Now return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil.” (Joel 2:12–13 NASB) The prophet Joel placed the call to repentance within the framework of who God is, just as God had described himself to Moses so many centuries before, a God who is compassionate, gracious and slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and truth (Exodus 34:6-7).
God indeed wants us to own our stuff, to face up to the truth of how we fall short as human beings. But he more importantly, wants us to face up to the truth of who he is—the kind of God who is loving and forgiving, not cruel, condemning and rejecting. In giving us his Son Jesus Christ, God didn’t push us away in our brokenness, but rather brought us close, joining with us in our sin and shame, washing it away, and drawing us into deeper relationship with himself.
In fact, one of the first things which occurred in Jesus’ life after his baptism, when he heard the words of blessing from his Father “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”, was being, in effect, “cast out” into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted of the devil. This forty days of fasting and testing, this penitence, was done on our behalf, for our sake. Jesus took the road of repentance we need to take, where we own our stuff and we choose to turn to God in faith rather than make our own way to glory.
As we enter this season of penitence, this Lenten season of reflection on our need for deliverance and salvation, I feel it is essential we begin with the reality of God’s love and mercy rather than just ending with it. Start with owning what is ours—the gift of forgiveness, and love which comes from the heart of our loving Father—as well as his Spirit who works in us our transformation and healing. And in the light of that, we look at our fallenness and need for grace.
When we keep these things in that order, then repentance is not a move toward despair and despondency, but rather a move toward joyful gratitude. We are compelled to say, “Thank you, Lord, for your mercy.” This is why I could not bring myself just to tell people as I administered the ashes “You came from dust and you will return to dust.” For me, it seemed to leave them in the dust in despair—that doesn’t seem to be what God had in mind. Why else would we have Christ at all?
To me repentance is an essential part of our walk as followers of Jesus Christ. We confess our fallenness, our brokenness, our ungodly ways of living and being. But we do it all in the context of the forgiveness which is already ours and available to us in Jesus Christ. We act as if we are forgiven and act as if we are healed. This is why I felt compelled to use these words in the administration of the ashes this year, “You came from dust, and you will return to dust. So thank the Lord Jesus for joining you in your dust and lifting you up to glory.”
Perhaps I will see things differently in the future—God is always working to heal, transform and renew. But in owning our stuff, I believe we not only need to own our fallen and broken ways of living and being, but also the heart of our loving Father who in Christ and by his Spirit says to us, “You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.” Owning our stuff means owning the reality we are forgiven, accepted and cherished by the God who calls us his own, and living and acting as though it were true.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the great love which compelled you to not only create us out of the dust of the earth and to breathe your life into us, but to also send your Son to join us in our humanity and to raise us up to live with you in the Spirit. Grant us the grace of true repentance and faith, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
A psalm of David.
Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.
Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.
Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment. For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory.
The LORD says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”
Many sorrows come to the wicked, but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the LORD. So rejoice in the LORD and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!” (NLT)
by Linda Rex
The other night in our weekly discussion group, we talked about why God allows bad things to happen to innocent children and to “good” people. I put “good” in quotes because in reality, the goodness any of us do have is merely a reflection of and participation in God’s goodness. So why does God allow people to harm others, especially the innocent and those who are defenseless?
This can be a difficult question to answer sometimes, because not everyone is open to the possibility of owning responsibility for the way we as humans live our lives and the many ways we hurt and abuse one another. It is as if we want to hold God responsible for our faults and shortcomings.
It’s God’s fault, we say, that so-and-so abused his neighbor’s child, and so he grew up to be an abuser of children. It’s God’s fault that priest or pastor was unfaithful to his wife and destroyed his marriage. Sounds whacky, doesn’t it? Is it really God’s fault we make stupid choices and hurt each other?
Think about it. Say, you are a parent and you have three children, and you send them to play outside. You tell them to behave themselves and to not get into trouble. You want them to get along and have fun while they are out there.
In about an hour, you begin to hear screaming and crying, so you go out to investigate. One child is on the ground, with a big bump on her arm, obviously in great pain. Another child is yelling at the oldest child, tell him what an idiot he is. The oldest child is holding a large stick, with which he quite obviously hit his sister. Now I ask you—how could it possibly be your fault that your daughter got injured and all your children are quarreling?
Well, we could say it is your fault, because you sent them outside to play by themselves. You didn’t go with them. We could say it is your fault because you didn’t watch them every minute they were out there, telling them what to do and what not to do as they were playing. We could say it is your fault this happened because you allowed your children to play with sticks. There’s a lot of ways in which we could place the blame on you—but would you really be at fault?
Placing blame nearly always happens when we are not willing to be responsible for what is ours. If you want your children to grow up into healthy adults, they need opportunities to learn how to play nicely with others. Part of that learning process is having minimally supervised playtime where they have to apply what they have learned about getting along with other children. As they negotiate the rocky road of relationship building, they will make mistakes, and injuries will happen. As parents, we just try to minimalize the hurts while maximizing the learning.
God didn’t just send all humanity out to play though, and then ignore them. That’s the difference. What he did was to take on a human body in Jesus Christ, and join us in our humanity. He experienced, just as we do, the ups and downs of human life, including the unjust and degrading imprisonment, torture and crucifixion at the hands of the Jewish and Roman authorities. He allowed us as human beings to dump our worst on him so he could redeem it and turn it into his best.
Because, in Christ, the worst we as humans have done has been turned into our transformation. We have a new humanity which Jesus forged in the midst of all he lived and suffered while he played with us here on earth. We don’t have to stay in the brokenness which is ours, but can embrace the gift of a new way of thinking and being, and Christ’s way of living together. He illustrated for us and formed in us the unity amid diversity in equality the Father, Son and Spirit live in, and sent his Holy Spirit so we can live in this way with one another.
But we as human beings have always insisted on doing things our way. Just like stubborn, rebellious children, we believe we know what is best, and that our way is the only way that matters. And we are reaping the results of this way of believing and behaving. And God is not at fault in this—we are.
It’s okay to accept the reality we are messed up human beings. We hurt each other. We hurt ourselves. We do not live the way we are meant to live. And that’s why Jesus came—so we could share in the truth of real loving relationship with God and one another.
God doesn’t prevent all the bad things from happening to us, but rather takes them and uses them as a means to heal and restore relationships with him and with others. These bad things, if we are willing to place them where they belong—at the feet of Jesus, become our stepping stones to a greater maturity and a deeper walk with the God who created us.
Assuming responsibility for what is ours is key. We need to own the truth when we mess up our lives. As human beings, we need to accept the reality we are broken and flawed people. This is not God’s fault, other than he allowed us the freedom to choose, so he would not have robots or animals, but persons who could live in loving relationship with the divine Persons.
God has given us personhood. And this personhood means there are things which are ours and things which are God’s—and the line really doesn’t become blurred, except in Jesus. He, as the perfect God/man, is the one who takes what is ours and transforms it, healing it, and restoring it to the place where God meant for it to be in the first place. Jesus made and makes for us the decisions we ought to have made but didn’t—and then by the Spirit—he gives them to us.
But we are always responsible for what is ours—God doesn’t do for us what is ours to do. We receive what Jesus has done and begin to live in the truth of who we are in him. We no longer live as bratty children who stubbornly want our own way. We begin to play nice, and to get along with our siblings the way we should so we can have a happy family.
We take the bumps and bruises, the encounters with hurtful people, and allow God to transform them into compassion, understanding, and a willingness to help and heal others. We comfort others who are suffering with the comfort we receive from Christ in the midst of our own suffering. And stronger, healthier relationships of love and acceptance result.
In Christ, all these negative, hurtful experiences can become the means by which God binds us to himself and to one another—if we are willing. When we stop blaming God and put the blame where it really belongs and receive the grace given to us in Jesus Christ, we find ourselves beginning to heal and to have a heart to help others who are in need of healing and restoration. May God give us compassionate, understanding hearts as he works to heal and restore all we have broken and wounded.
Heavenly Father, thank you for forgiving us all the times we do not get along with one another, and when we hurt and abuse one another and ourselves. Grant us the grace to bring our wounds and broken selves to you, to allow you to transform and heal us with the life you have given us in your Son Jesus. May we become more and more like you each day, learning to live in the truth of who we are as your beloved, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3–7 NASB